We all love a good one-off or anthology, but it’s the thrill of a series that keeps us coming back to our comic shop week-in, week-out. Whether it’s a decades-spanning ongoing or a short-run miniseries, serialized storytelling allows for bigger casts, bigger worlds, and bigger adventures. We were lucky to read a lot of great series over the past year, but it’s those that pushed the boundaries that we wanted to sing special praises of. These are our top 13 series of 2013.
13. East of West
What if the end of the world weren’t a moment in time, but a religion, a way of life, and — most horrifyingly — a reality? Jonathan Hickman’s tale about the end of the world blurs the lines between biblical speculative fiction and sci-fi-horror. What’s so fascinating about the series is that the apocalypse isn’t really what the story’s about — it’s about what happens when the horsemen of Death rejects his role in the End Times. It’s a grim nightmarescape made all the more oppressive by Nick Dragotta’s otherworldly art. In practice, Hickman finds a weird sweet-spot by swirling in some classic western elements, turning Death into a cowboy hero of the devastated planes. There’s nothing else on the shelves that tackles this flavor of darkness while maintaining such an obvious sense of adventure.
IDW’s run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been quick to embrace all of the disparate threads of Turtle mythology. That means jamming together concepts that don’t particularly jive all that well — interdimensional aliens and ancient ninja warriors and bipedal reptile-men? If you say so. Mateus Santolouco and Erik Burnham crafted a four-issue story that so elegantly married these concepts and used the miniseries to unify everything in the Turtles’ world, past and present. It’s an amazingly fun read, packed with action and a sense of mystical history that’s just a shade outside of what you could legitimately believe to be true. Santolouco is a wizard of an artist, and he breathes kinetic energy into every character he draws, whether its a ninja-rat or a witch that morphs into a fox. The series might have been only four issues, but it granted TMNT a little mythical gravitas and primed us all for the exciting City Fall storyline in the main series.
In our coverage of the madcap first issues of Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan’s Deadpool, a commenter lamented the loss of Wade Wilson as a tragic character — this wildly mugging clown, they argued, wasn’t their Deadpool. With the help of a crackerjack artistic team (including Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire), Duggan and Posehn have returned Wade to those tragic roots, but more importantly, they did so without discrediting the zaniness. That Wade was using humor as a coping mechanism was a brilliant, simple Deadpool theory-of-everything, and managed to pull one of comicdom’s most inconsistent characters into an emotionally believable timeline. They gave him just a few ounces of respect, but it was more than enough to make Wade respectable — all while keeping his adventures fun, funny and action-packed.
From their very first issue, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been absolutely fearless in their power to shape Batman’s modern mythology. They started the year off with the chillingly ambiguous conclusion of their “Death of the Family” arc, which boldly defined Bruce’s relationship with the Joker (and what that means for his closest allies), but things kicked into another gear entirely as they set to redefining Batman’s earliest days. Tossing out such a sacred text as Batman: Year One is an intimidating task, but Snyder and Capullo have attacked it with enough enthusiasm and attention to detail to make sure that Zero Year is judged on its own terms. Moreover, they’ve managed to inject plenty of suspense into a story we only thought we already knew, turning our expectations against us in the most delightfully unexpected ways.
9. The Flash
The first issue of 2013 neatly wrapped up much of the on-going story that Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul had been crafting since issue 1: the Gorillas were defeated and the Rogues were established as super-powered villains. Flash was suddenly free to, y’know, just be the Flash. Part of this meant working to solve the murder of sorta-peers. The crimes, as telegraphed early on by Manapul and Buccellato, were perpetrated by the Reverse Flash. This meant that Barry had to leverage both his crime solving skills and his less-cerebral skills of running really fast. Not only that, but the reveal of Daniel West as the Reverse Flash anchored the proceedings in some honest emotional space. We’re going to miss Manapul and Buccellato on this title (but we do sort of expect to see their version of Detective Comics on this list next year).
Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have an uncanny ability to craft fully formed characters that seem to spring to life from the very first page. It’s a testament to their desire to push themselves, then, that Lazarus opens with the death of their hero. That death turns out to be only temporary, and that hero soon becomes the beating heart of the series. Part golem, part unloved step-child, Forever Carlyle is our window on the world that is much bigger than genetically engineered killing machines. Featuring everything from machiavellian family intrigue to a kind of corporate feudal system, it’s a world we’ve only begun to explore. As we move out of the first arc, the series promises to deliver on all of the seeds Rucka and Lark have been sowing from issue one.
Jeff Lemire’s Trillium was billed as the “last love story ever told,” and it’s still unclear if that meant in the story (half of which takes place in the year 3797, at the death of mankind) or in reality (where a love story as thoroughly deconstructed as Trillium could conceivably boast killing the genre — or at least rendering it moot). Ultimately, it may prove to be both — at five issues in, things are looking extremely grim for mankind in 3797, and it’s hard to imagine two more star-crossed lovers than William and Nika, who have already Vulcan mind-melded and traded places. That every-tool-in-the-toolbelt attitude is carried over to the storytelling itself, as each issue has featured a different, experimental form that works to highlight the unlikely connections between William and Nika. It’s a strange, unpredictable series, but one that continues to be remarkably beautiful.
Fans of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets might have seen the monstrous, unforgivable Lono as an unlikely hero, but then again, fans of 100 Bullets should know that things are rarely so simple. Azzarello and Risso returned this year to find Lono trying his damnedest to clean up his act at a Catholic Mission in Mexico. As tensions between the church and the local drug cartel boil over, fate seems to be conspiring against Lono’s better angels. A beautifully complex meditation on piety, sin, and what exactly separates them, Brother Lono serves as one of the most mature essays on religion we’ve ever read — all with that hyper-noir style that made 100 Bullets an instant classic.
It’s been a hell of a year for the Man Without Fear — after finally getting to the heart of the forces that have been plaguing him since issue 1, Matt Murdock has been fighting the formidable forces of a media-savvy white supremacist gang known as the Sons of the Serpent. That’s all crazy, enormous, comic booky stuff, but the looming cloud of Foggy Nelson’s cancer treatment keeps Daredevil’s feet planted firmly on the ground. Mark Waid is a master at switching gears between the spectacular and the intimate without missing a beat. Just as artist Chris Samnee can sell you on a cosmic surfboard chase through the Manhattan skyline on one page, and interoffice intrigue on the next. The series is also constantly trotting out surprises like it’s no big deal. There have been so many Foggy-is-dead beats, we half-expect Matt’s upcoming road trip west to be called the Magical Mystery Tour.
It’s easy to mistake Sex Criminals’ high-concept premise — a couple with the ability to stop time by orgasming (and who uses that ability to rob a bank) — for the point of the series, but it’s really just an exaggeration of post-coital bliss. The series has been dead-focused on the relationship between the titular sex criminals, and their getting to know each other through the stories of their first sexual exploits. That may be a bit more personal than folks tend to get in the early days of a new relationship, but then again, few couples experience quite the same level of sexual compatibility as Suzie and Jon. It’s that notion — that their magic genitals were made for each other — that embodies the mix of sweetness and juvenile sex-humor that makes this series so charming.
Hawkeye started the year with a bit of a surprise — an issue devoted to stories of Kate and Clint weathering Superstorm Sandy. Fraction used the previous issues to establish Clint as a reluctant hero-of-the-people, so the detour into a ripped-from-the-headlines story was something of a necessity. We needed to see how our grounded New York heroes dealt with the storm. Necessity drives one of the most ambitious story arcs in comics this year — the discursive exploration of Grills’ murder. It took months, but we saw the event from every conceivable perspective — including a character we didn’t even know was there and the dog. And the artistic staff on hand to present these perspectives couldn’t really be more different: David Aja’s slick design work doubled down on Hawkeye’s graphic style, while Francesco Francavilla turned the tone on its head with his own characteristically pulpy artwork. It’s been a rock-bottom year for Clint Barton, and all that detailed retracing allows us to feel every tiny emotion with an unparalleled immediacy.
2013 saw the conclusion of Saga’s second, heartbreaking arc, and kicked off the third with a surprise flash-forward (can you tell writer Brian K. Vaughan was on the LOST writing staff?), which set the pace for the next five issues. It was a daring move, but one that actually allowed Vaughan to slacken the chase-movie pacing, giving artist Fiona Staples time to revel in character moments and lush, pastoral landscapes. It also gave Vaughan room for some tongue-in-cheek commentary on writing and writers — right down to the drunk, hermitted (but surprisingly friendly) writer our heroes spent the previous several issues idolizing. This arc may ultimately prove even more tragic than the last (with no fewer than three beloved characters dead or near-death at the end of issue 17), but Saga continues to be one of the warmest, most imaginative comics on the shelves.
1. Wonder Woman
This one’s gotta come as no surprise. The only Best of 2013 list we ran this year that didn’t rave about Wonder Woman was our list of Best Twitter Personalities (and if you look hard enough, we probably snuck in a stray compliment or two). Brian Azzarello has continued to expand his already-epic epic month after month, until the supporting cast of characters grew to rival the actual Greek Pantheon. That expansive cast is brought to vivid life through some killer designs (courtesy of series regulars Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, and Goran Sudzuka), and Azzarello’s tight command of each character’s voice. Diana’s transformation into the God of War was a mythological explosion, but thanks to that strong characterization, it was also personal, and meaningful in a very human way. As the series speeds into its third year, the mysteries continue to pile up… Hey, we still don’t know what happened to Zeus. That’s fucking crazy, right?