Best of 2013: Best Issues

Best of 2013: Best Issue

It’s that time of year again: where we suck up all of our grumblings about art being unquantifiable and compile our best-of lists. Today, we’re looking at our favorite single issues. Love or hate the subjectivity of this list, at the very least, it serves as a great reminder of all of the fantastic comics we’ve read over the past year. We’re sure your list will be different (and welcome your thoughts in the comments), but here are our top 13 issues of 2013.

Sex Criminals 1

13. Sex Criminals 1

Comic books don’t have the best track record when it comes to expressing sexual maturity. Hell, we’re in the habit of praising a comic book for simply not embarrassing itself when exploring sex. Matt Fraction’s invitingly honest story about sexual self-discovery blows the competition away by embracing the embarrassment and reveling in each awkward moment. Sex Criminals 1 confidently wears the brazen tone of the series on its sleeve, featuring Chip Zdarski’s sexy-without-ever-being-exploitative character designs, and introducing a supernatural time-stopping orgasm. By issue’s end, the discovery of a second time-stopper convinces both the characters and the readers that we’re witnessing something special.

12. Wonder Woman 23Wonder Woman 23

2013 featured plenty of big showdowns, but few were as brutal — or emotionally devastating — as the battle in Wonder Woman 23. Writer Brian Azzarello had been building the threat of the First Born for over a year, finally bringing him (and his army) to bear on the protectors of little baby Zeke. Artist Cliff Chiang manages clarity throughout his chaotic war scenes, masterfully pacing the action through Diana’s climactic sacrifice — where the issue slows down for one of the most beautiful goodbyes a character could hope for. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride the series is still reeling from.

Batman 1711. Batman 17

Scott Snyder had the most unfortunate realization about Batman — it wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t spectacular, and it wasn’t even all that original: Batman loves Joker. The arc that celebrated their relationship was capped with a climax that saw every single member of the family unscarred… physically… The emotional repercussions are still rippling through the Bat Family books as everyone comes to terms with the fact that they’ll always be second in Batman’s heart to Joker. Snyder and artist Greg Capullo do a marvelous job of expressing this twisted love sincerely without ever making it wholly relatable or wholly unrelatable. Joker shares in Snyder’s victory by attacking everyone with the truth, and our view of Batman is forever changed because of it.

10. Saga 12Saga 12

Between its gorgeous art, nuanced characters, and crackerjack plotting, Saga tends to hit all of the high notes, but few comics feel as after-our-own-hearts as issue 12. Indeed, with most of the issue devoted to a conversation about the power the audience has over a work of art, we couldn’t help but fall in love with this one. The fact that it also happened to introduce everyone’s favorite adorable seal boy and the formerly enigmatic D. Oswalt Hiest was just icing on the cake. This issue’s final page twist reveals that this is actually a flash-forward, adding urgency to the otherwise pastoral arc that followed.

Batman and Robin 179. Batman and Robin 17

At the time, we weren’t quite sure what to make of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s weird little epilogue to Death in the Family. The issue sees the Wayne Household going to bed, and then being savaged by bad dreams. It’s a simple conceit, but it meditates on the enduring darkness in the relationship between father and son. We didn’t know it then, but this was the last issue we were going to see with both of the titular characters still alive. The issue serves as an elegy for the father-son relationship at the series’ core without ever letting on to his audience what was going to happen.

8. Batman Incorporated 13Batman Incorporated 13

A true sense of closure is all but impossible in the month-to-month grind of comics — especially with a character that will likely be published in perpetuity — but Grant Morrison comes shockingly close, largely by acknowledging that Batman Incorporated 13 isn’t really an ending at all. Capping a run that spent much of its time looking back, Morrison turned to the future of Batman (both in-universe and in reality), gracefully letting go of the character he helmed on and off for the better part of the last decade. It’s a beautiful love-letter to Batman, fans, and creators past, present, and future.

Daredevil 267. Daredevil 26

Mark Waid pulls a similar love-letter to comics in the backup for Daredevil 26, where Foggy learns the power of the medium first-hand from the pediatric oncology ward. It’s a heart-warming moment, but it follows a feature that is all about heart-pounding. Matt spends much of the issue as fearful as we’ve seen him, on the run from Ikari, and still trying to figure out who’s pulling his strings, but by issue end, he’s re-found his confidence, utterly turning the tables on his pursuer. It’s a brilliant issue, brought to vivid life by the killer art team of Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez, who manage not one, but two chase scenes more thrilling than most movies can muster.

6. Dial H 13Dial H 13

China Mieville’s series about interdimensional magic rotary phone dials was never going to be easy to grasp. Given the pedigree of the creative crew, there was always reasons to suggest that a more substantive story rested just below that nearly incomprehensible surface. Issue 13 showcased one of the series’ best joke characters — Open-Window Man — and gave him an origin identical to Batman. Open-Window Man is still ridiculous, but suddenly, the reader is forced to realize that he’s no more ridiculous than what we already accept for our most respected characters. When Open-Window Man meets a little boy (made of chalk, because why not?) with that same Bruce Wayne origin, the cycle begins new. It’s a thrilling moment: we’re about to see a new Batman! But Mieville artfully has the chalk man politely reject that narrative, challenging us to do the same.

Batman 245. Batman 24

One of the most impressive things about Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s retelling of the Batman origin is just how many surprises there are. Scenes where Batman pulls a gun, or seemingly rescues Bruce Wayne are so unexpected, they manage to liven what could have been a dead-in-the-water rehash of one of the best-known stories in comicdom. This issue stands out not only for the sheer volume of those surprises, but also for the cleverness with which they’re deployed. Is this a Joker origin, or isn’t it? Snyder and Capullo are just coy enough to keep that question lingering long after we’ve put the issue down.

4. Swamp Thing 18Swamp Thing 18

Rotworld was a swirling epic that brought our heroes to the end of life in the DC Universe, but it naturally had to introduce some severe do-oversies by story’s end. Without consequences, what would have been the point of any of it? Scott Snyder rights his own ship by forcing Alec Holland and Abby Arcane to give up their human forms — and with them, any hope of a life together — to restore the balance between the Red, the Green and the Rot. Their sacrifice stings a little extra because issue 18 was also the last by Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette, both of whom had proven that Swampy was no less magical when introduced into the New 52 and the DCU proper. Paquette uses this final opportunity to draw plants and decay on an epic scale, celebrating the series spectacular mix of gore and ennui.

Hawkeye 113. Hawkeye 11

Hawkeye spent much of this year in a discursive retracing of the days and hours immediately surrounding the death of Clint’s beloved neighbor, Gil. Writer Matt Fraction retraced the chronology from the perspective of just about every character involved, but no thread was more out-there than the infamous Pizza Dog issue. With minimal dialogue, Artist David Aja embraces the full capabilities of the medium, delivering a cohesive work of visual storytelling, without losing any of the wit that has so defined the series.

2. Batman and Robin 18Batman and Robin 18

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about compelling, dialogue-free visual storytelling this year without thinking of Batman and Robin 18, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s silent, moving meditation on loss. Following in the wake of Damian’s death, the issue plumbs the depth of Bruce’s famously intense grief, carrying him through the nightly routine he used to share with his son, and finally back to the stretch of crime alley where he experienced his first loss. It’s a brilliant story, which Gleason imbues with an emotional immediacy rarely seen even with the aid of dialogue.

Before Watchmen: Comedian 61. Before Watchmen: Comedian 6

Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Comedian started off with a denial: not only did Eddie Blake not assassinate JFK (as suggested by Watchmen), but he was emotionally incapable of doing so. In fact, Eddie loved the Kennedys, both personally and in the way that all Americans loved them in the 1960s. After 5 issues of being dogged by a war he was just too good at fighting, the Comedian finally reaches that unimaginable tipping point and kills Bobby Kennedy. It’s a haunting story that trades more in actual history than Watchmen-history, depicting the night RFK was assassinated with an alarmingly easy mix of history, conspiracy theory and comic book magic. It shows a depth of character that is true to the source material, but even truer to the psychological potential of the character.

Want more Best of 2013 lists? Check out our Best Covers, Best Twitter Personalities, Best Artists, and Best Writers lists!

23 comments on “Best of 2013: Best Issues

  1. Wow, man. Wait a minute, man. I’m getting ready to board an airplane for fun and family for the next five days! How am I supposed to go through my backlog of comics to answer this???

    I can’t!

    I will reply with best of sometime AFTER the new year. Rest assured my list will NOT include as much Batman (as I’ve dropped every Bats title except Snyder’s) and will include more Spider-Man. And girls with swords. (I’ve read I think 9 of the 13 stories on the list, and I can’t say I viciously disagree with any of them, but there’s a reason I dropped Swamp Thing and Batman and Robin and Batman Inc and it’s not because I thought the issues I read were the best of the year… Stay tuned! I’ll have more in a week. I’m sure you can’t wait!)

    Happy Holidays all you crazy Retcon Punchers.

  2. What really struck me about this list is how little consensus there was. Unlike best writer, best artist, or best series, where we’re likely drawing from a similar short-list, we were all over the map on this one. None of these comics were on everybody’s list, and nobody’s list had all of these comics. Because there was so little consensus, the few issues we all agreed upon ended up ranked higher than any one of us actually placed it on our lists, if that makes sense. Point is: this doesn’t reflect any one person’s list, but a hybrid of all of the lists we had.

  3. I’m sorta surprised by how many of these issues came from the first 3 or 4 months of the year. Basically all the Batman stuff (except 24), Swamp Thing, Dial H, Comedian were all very early in the year. My general opinion of DC’s line has slid WAY down since those high water marks, and generating a list like this only serves to remind me of how disappointing the Big Dumb Crossovers have been.

  4. I gotta disagree on Batman 17, not about it’s place in the list but about the summary. Snyder’s always described it as at best being a “kernel” of truth, and his changes to the HC version of that issue make it all the clearer, Batman does not really “love” the Joker. The Joker and the other rogues do make Batman more mythic and inhuman and eternal in a way, which is what Batman wanted when he first started out, while his family makes him seem to be less eternal and inhuman. That’s what the Joker was talking about, not that Batman secretly loves or is in love with the Joker. Batman actually loving the Joker doesn’t make any kind of sense with what Batman stands for. Joker literally represents everything Bruce Wayne hates the most.

    • I agree with basically everything that you’re saying, except your conclusion that Bruce doesn’t love the things that make him more mythic. Sure, logically, he hates the Joker, but he knows he would be less without him. For me, the power of that issue is that maybe (just maybe) Bruce has realized that there might just be some part of him that does love the Joker. Just a tiny part, for sure, but it’s there all the same.

      • Well, you guys said he loved Joker more than his family, which would imply it’s not just a tiny part of him that loves the Joker for helping him be more mythic.

        • Yeah, and we’re being a little reductive there for sure. A big reason we’re throwing around the L word so much is that the issue itself trades in romantic imagery (and was almost a valentine’s day release). I think it’s awesome that we can look at the revelations of that issue from so many different angles and still be upset about what it says (or implies) about Batman. Thanks for the comments Twibble!

  5. So as Drew alluded to above in the comments, this was compiled from lists from all the staff, so since I already have a list done, figured I might as well share mine, which was put together completely unscientifically and my opinions could change at a moment’s notice:

    Batman and Robin Annual 1
    Green Lantern: New Guardians 20
    Batman and Robin 17
    Batman 24
    Hawkeye 13
    Green Lantern 20
    The Flash 17
    Young Avengers 14
    Young Avengers 4
    Batman Inc. 8
    Deadpool 20
    Trillium 1
    Justice League 21

    Runners up: Avengers 11, Batman and Robin 18, The Flash 24, Harley Quinn 0, Hawkeye 11, Hawkeye 7, Justice League 17, Young Avengers 1, Young Avengers 6

    As I said, totally unscientific and based only on the books I was actually reading throughout the year (I just read all of Saga last week so not even counting it), but I forgot about how many books I truly enjoyed over the year.

    But the Official list is certainly a more comprehensive list and I’m happy with the way that it turned out. Except for the B&R Annual not being on it, I would fight tooth and nail for that issue.

  6. Everything on this list except for Before Watchmen is good. so a mostly good year end list.

    My favorite single issues of the year would be hard because I share many with this list but I’d add Green Arrow #17, Trillium #1, The Wake #5, and Zero #1 to this list. and all of Kot’s suicide squad

    • Just curious: did you read all of Comedian? I feel like a lot of people never gave it a fair shake out of respect for Watchmen (something I’m still kind of torn about), but it’s hard to deny the craft that went into some of those series, and that issue in particular. Don’t want to accuse you of being unfair, but I think there’s a knee-jerk reaction to Before Watchmen that needs to be overcome to even meet that issue on its own terms.

  7. I agree with a lot of the stuff on this list, Sex Criminals is a surprisingly good series, Batman 17 was to me the best issue of Batman since the end of Court of Owls, Swampy 18 and Batman and Robin 18 are both highlights for me as well. One thing I think is missing though is The Private Eye; that book doesn’t get as much exposure because of how it’s published but I know you guys at Retcon Punch read it and I’m surprised it didn’t make it onto the list. I’ll have to dig through my other stuff from this year to find other really worthy candidates.

    Oh, come to think of it, Swamp Thing annual 2 was great as well, beautiful art, great story, and both Lady Weeds and having Alan Moore’s Swampy were just awesome, that would totally be on my list.

    • Yeah, series that only one or two of us are reading tended to get swallowed up by those that we all agree on. I’m not sure who all is reading Private Eye, but only Patrick and I have covered it for the site (along with a guest spot from Ben). I’m totally with you on the quality of that series — basically everything about it works — but like I said, making the lists the way we did favors books that we’re all reading.

      Great call on Swamp Thing Annual 2. That was a fantastic issue, and I’m not sure it was in everyone’s mind when we were voting (I know I forgot about it).

  8. For shits and giggles, here’s my list; it has a lot in common with the official RP list (as in, a lot of the titles I swapped out are simply books I don’t read) but there are some issues in there are worthy of some extra praise. The order is somewhat random since I only had time to flip through the issuesl it’s hard to say which was better than another. Now without further ado:

    13. Velvet #1 – I only picked this up after issue 2 was already out, since I was weary of adding another title to my pull, but positive reviews and Ed Brubaker drew me in, and I’m loving this new series thus far.

    12. Villain’s month: Court of Owls – Not only was this (IMO) by far the best villains month book, it’s actually the only one I’ve bothered to re-read since October. Both the art and seeing more inner workings of the court were really great.

    11. The Wake #2 – Issue one was a great setup, and issue two just delivered in every way you hope a Scott Snyder book will; ’nuff said.

    10. Sex Criminals #1 – As I’ve said before, I wasn’t initially going to pick this up but I’m glad I did, it deals with sex in a mature yet funny way, has tons of great jokes and the characters are very relatable.

    9. Batman and Robin annual #1 – We all should have known Damian was going to die after this one; it’s such a great tribute to him, seeing him pull a detective to send his father on a wild chase all over the world so he can be Batman for a few weeks. Great stuff.

    8. Green Arrow #19 – While Jeff Lemire took over and got me interested from issue 17, this is where I officially decided to add this book to my pull. The art is stellar, the action is great and brilliantly layed-out, hell, it made me decide to pull Green Arrow so that should be enough praise.

    7. Swamp Thing annual #2 – I don’t know what I can say about this issue that I haven’t said before; the art is amazing, the script is solid and the meeting with Moore’s Swamp Thing made my geek brain explode.

    6. Saga #12 – After months of waiting, this issue not only threw me right back into the story, it also made me laugh so many times that my wife had to keep nudging me because she thought I was going to wake up our baby. BKV at his finest.

    5. Lazarus #1 & #2 (tie) – I couldn’t pick just one of these issues, both begin to build an incredible world for Rucka’s series and have incredible moments, from the opening scene in issue 1 to the tailing scene in issue 2 where Eve leaves a note to her pursuer that she’ll kill him if he keeps following her around.

    4. The Private Eye #1 – Coming straight out of nowhere and piquing my interest in all the right places, this sci-fi noir is pure gold, after issue 1 I checked the website several times a week for like 2 months before issue 2 came out, I just couldn’t take my mind off of it. If you’re not reading this title, DO IT, you can get it (legally) for free which is as much incentive as anyone should need to read a Brian K Vaughan book.

    3. Batman #17 – After an immense set-up worked into several mediocre tie-ins, I was dead certain this issue couldn’t pull it all together. I literally opened the issue only hoping that I wouldn’t be TOO dissapointed. Snyder taught me never to doubt; this issue brought a brilliant finale to Joker’s grand return and I think ends a story which deserves its place among the Batman classics (if you only read the main story in Batman 13-17).

    2. Batman and Robin #18 – Simply put: wow. If you’d have told me a year ago that I would tear up reading a Batman comic book which didn’t even feature words, I would have laughed at you. Maybe it’s because I’m a new father or just because it’s beautifully scripted and drawn, but this issue was a glorious farewell to Damian, and that scene where Bruce hugs Robin’s costume still gets me every time.

    1. Swamp Thing #18 – I went into this issue with a lot of expectations. It had to properly end Rotworld in a meaningful way (i.e. not the “it was an alternate reality we prevented” from issue 17) and had to tie the bow on Scott Snyder’s run. I was seriously considering dropping the book right after this, but this issue was so beautiful it made me want to stick with the character and his universe to see what would come next; the ending was a ray of hope that passed the torch in a very natural way. Plus, the panel where Swampy kills Abby was my desktop background for months; it is still one of my favorite panels from any comic, ever.

  9. This was way too hard.
    I probably made about 8,000 mistakes in assembling this. I made a mess of my comics room doing this. I pissed off my girlfriend about 75 times by not hearing what she was yelling at me about and I skipped lunch.

    I’m not proud.
    The near misses: Manhattan Projects 11 (so cool) and Superior Foes of Spider-Man 1 (puppy theft).

    13: Rat Queens 1: I’m leery of putting too many #1s on here, but this issue’s dialogue speaks for itself. “Did you seriously pack candy and drugs for dinner?” “I, a reformed acolyte from the blood drinking, squid worshipping sect of N’rygoth, will not lead us in prayer” and “To the slaughter, my Rat Queens.”

    12: Invincible Universe #7: Such a close call between this one and a Best Tiger feature, but Le Bruiser is awesome. The best dog issue of the year (with no offense intended to pizza dog).

    11: Afterlife with Archie #1: I skipped this until everyone told me how good it was. They were right. Sad I didn’t get a first print number one of this. I’m not a big zombie guy, but this could make me one.

    10: Batwoman #16: Gorgeous layout after gorgeous layout after gorgeous layout.

    9: Hawkeye #6: This borders on 2012, but I don’t think it made my list last year, so what the hell. Cut the green wire. Dog Cops. Hey, my laserdiscs. Hawkguy. Is on now, Bro. This looks unjoyous. You go way now, Bro. It’s everything about you that sucks. Full page Clint in front of his building with his bow. “I’m not going anywhere.” Maybe this should have been higher on the list.

    8: Scarlet Spider #23: So dark and painful. As someone who didn’t read the cloning saga in the ’90s, I spent two years getting to know Kaine and rooting for him and seeing him overcoming ALL of it and getting to win. . . and then the gutting of Donald in front of him, the killing of Kraven, and seeing it all tumble down. Just a brutal and sad story that I can’t believe Marvel canceled.

    7: Saga #10: The last page of this issue is haunting. The whole comic is a long run of the stakes rising and rising and then. . . the tail between the legs and floating away. I think you could poll 12 different people and they’d all come up with a different Saga top comic in the past year, but this one was the top for me.

    6: Amazing Spider-Man 700.5: This was a tossup for me between this and 700.3, but this one concluded in one issue (big) and included the Fantastic Four and really showed off his relationship with Johnny. It reminded me why I want Peter back and am glad he’ll be back in time for the movie in April (he will, he has to be). I don’t know who Brian Reed or Sean Chen are, but they nailed the dialogue and the art. Such a great Peter/Spidey one-shot that kept me grinning the whole time.

    5: Avenging Spider-Man #20: Yost again (my writer of the year) and my favorite Spidey artist, Marco Chechetto. Spidey infiltrates Shield’s helicarrier to kidnap the Chameleon only to have everything go wrong, culminating with, “The Hulk is standing in my way. This just got exponentially more complicated.” Brilliant issue that best showed the fun of Spider-Man team ups.

    4: Daredevil #27: I was tense through this whole issue. I loved the reveal of Daredevil’s allies protecting his friends, I loved that he beat (conclusively?) Bullseye and the conversation with Foggy at the end. Just a great issue.

    3: Uber #5: Siegland vs. Colossus. You don’t get to completely surprise me very often comic book writers, but you did this time. The quick turn around and utter destruction one inflicted on the other was so complete and total I had to reread it twice to get it through my skull. The first rereading wasn’t enough, I still was convinced the writer got it wrong or I wasn’t understanding, I had to go back a third time to understand it. Uber doesn’t get many readers (maybe it gets a lot for an Avalon book), but this is one of the few comics I can absolutely recommend. For adult readers that can handle extreme violence, but this issue capped the first arc perfectly.

    2: Thor, God of Thunder #12: As much as I enjoyed Godkiller and Godbomb, the one shot #12 with Thor just being a God delighted me. I laughed and I actually shed a tear (again with the crying at a comic book. Criminy) reading this. About a year ago I picked up a hitchhiker who followed the Asgardian religion. Literally. He prayed to some fire giant. He was pretty weird, but he knew is Norse mythology and liked cool music and prayed to a fire giant. Reading this made me understand why.

    1: The Superior Spider-Man #9: It’s hard to believe every issue of Superior Spider-Man came out in 2013. Slott has been churning these bad boys out. This may not have been the best issue of the whole run, but this was the big goodbye. It was a grueling issue that really packed a punch and I just reread it again and now want to reread the rest of the series. My girlfriend is ready to kill me.

      • Oh man, that Thor was great. I know Patrick and I are really regretting that no Superior Spider-Man made it onto the list, but with so few of our writers reading it, it was hard for an issue to gain any kind of momentum in the voting.

        • That Thor issue is no fooling around, almost a perfect Thor story. I always have kind of a hard time dealing with comic heroes that are also just gods, and I think 12 dealt with that struggle in the best, funniest way I’ve ever seen it handled.

          Oh and I FORGOT that there were two new Amazing Spider-Man 700s that came out last week. Well, I’m staying up another 40 minutes to devour savor them.

    • I feel like we should almost do some kind of Special Achievement Ward for the whole Superior Spider-Man concept. I just love it — and Soupy Foes — and it seems like a bunch of writers and artists have done a lot of great storytelling because of it.

  10. This really shows the difference in what we read. You guys had 9 DC, 2 Marvel, and 2 Image on your list. I had 1 DC, 7 Marvel, 3 Image and 2 others on the list. Of course our lists will be very different.

  11. The Hawkeye Doggy issue was one of the most disappointing comics of the year for me. I am amazed it went over so well with people. It felt like a comic that was too worried about being clever and not nearly as worried as it should be about putting forth a good narrative.

    It is a hard call between that Dial H and Swamp Thing for me. I loved both those issues. While I think Snyder’s run had some great ideas it seems overly decompressed with too few ideas compared to Soules. Snyder’s final issue was great though it was a perfect wrap up on his run.

    I am going to tip my had to that Dial H issue though for just how good a look it was at Batman what makes a hero. There were so many ideas in that issue that should not have worked and or should have been too hard to get into a single issue and have it work but it did.

    My favorite issue… might just be Daredevil 25

    “Try the red one.”

    Great issue, damned good conclusion. It floored me.

    Keep up the great work folks!!

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