Best of 2013: Best Series

Best of 2013: Best Series

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.

east of west13. 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.

TMNT Foot Clan12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan

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.

Deadpool11. Deadpool

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.

Batman10. Batman

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.

The Flash9. 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).

Lazarus8. Lazarus

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.

Trillium7. Trillium

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.

Brother Lono6. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono

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.

daredevil5. Daredevil

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.

Sex Criminals4. Sex Criminals

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.

hawkeye3. Hawkeye

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.

Saga2. Saga

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.

Wonder Woman1. 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?

Want more Best of 2013 lists? Check out our Best IssuesBest CoversBest Twitter PersonalitiesBest Artists, and Best Writers lists!

13 comments on “Best of 2013: Best Series

  1. Great list! Not only topped by my absolut fav. guilty pleasure but some of the other picks for the list looks really interesting!

  2. My near misses: Batman (last year 12), Ultimate Spider-Man (last year 4), Red Sonja, Thor (last year 11).

    13: Invincible: The Death of Everything was sort of boring. Forced drama from Eve not being able to use her powers. More memorable single issues from Invincible Universe. Still one of the comics that I can’t wait to get home and read. (Last year #1)

    12: Rat Queens: The sword and sorcery story that I most want to read every month. Only three issues, so we have to see how the first arc actually plays out, but Wiebe has a great story, the art is unique and expressive, and the first letters column encouraged people to go out and play more D&D and roll more 20s. A ton to look forward to.

    11: Battle of the Atom: The only X-Title involved in this that I actually read is Wolverine and the X-Men (which is canceled), but this was what an event should be. Fast moving, funny, interesting, characters felt like themselves. . . It was overshadowed by Avengers vs. X-Men and Infinity and Inhumanity, but this was the best event of the year by far and I’m going to reread it soon and enjoy it all again.

    10: Daredevil: I didn’t like a lot of these issues as much as some of you (the monster stuff was weak), but the last two years made me a Daredevil fan and this year has kept me one. It’s changing up in two issues into. . . something. . . and when I can’t even predict what, that means the comic is doing its job. Great writing and an art style that brings the stories to life. (Last year #3)

    9: Cataclysm: Yeah, I know. Another event. This thing has been awesome so far. The world is REALLY ENDING. I kind of thought it wasn’t, but they have me – this is how a world ends. Vision tumbling broken through space trying to beg humanity to get Reed Richards to save them was a haunting image and while the idea of getting man-kind’s biggest enemy to save us all from a villain from another world even bigger than him seems over-used, it seems fresh here.

    8: X-Men Legacy: Dude in the cover thread was right – when I was making my best covers list, X-Men Legacy was 8 of my 13. Great story telling about a unique character that is too powerful for words. Good thing its a comic and it has pictures, too. Crazy and weird and it seems to fight everything every X-Title has done for the past 30 years. I’m sad this didn’t get more of a following.

    7: Manhattan Projects: There is something to be said for a comic where you really don’t know what you’re going to see next, other than that it will be boldly colored and probably involve dissection. (Last year #9)

    6: Astro City: Another that had a couple strong candidates for the cover list. Also another comic that goes in directions that I don’t always expect. In spite of there being a history to Astro City (and I have no idea how deep it is other than seeing the wiki page is huge), the first 7 issues have felt very world building-ish to me. I’ve liked every step. The main theme has been the invader and the door but I really don’t know what is going to happen at all with it other than we’re spending a few months looking at the origin and fight of a super hero who may or may not have anything to do with feminism in a good or not good way.

    5: Hawkeye: Still good, bro. Actually, this year was a little mailed in. They took a couple of months off and Fraction I think has fallen behind. There’s also been more about Kate, which to me is bad. I know, some of you Retconners love that little minx, but I find her to be quite grating. I want to see more of Clint. The fact I want to see more of the main character, and the great art keeps this in the top ten. (Last year #7)

    4: Uber: Gillen’s best work. There’s no fooling around, this is a brutish, gory war story that is probably going to end with no heroes.

    3: Scarlet Spider: Would probably have been number one if not for the rushed ending as they canceled it and it felt like we got three issues of wrap up crammed in to one. Can a villain be a hero? For Kaine, it looks like no. I’d strongly recommend reading this whole series to someone. It was fantastic from start to finish. For a while, they really made me believe there was going to be a happy ending.

    2: Saga: Great story, great art, great characters, great dialogue. Everyone knows it. (Last year #5)

    1: Superior Spider-Man (and all of its accoutrements): Spidey 2099 wasn’t a great story line. That was three issues. There were like 22 other great issues of this. Peter’s ghost APPEARED in 2013, was dealt with, was killed. The Goblin King, Hobgoblin, Fisk, Massacre, dating and dumping Mary Jane, Madcap and Jester (were those their names?), the exocution of Smythe – all in 2013. I don’t think any other comic accomplished as much as this comic did. Throw in the great Avenging/Superior team up book where Otto put together his new Superior Six, the insanely madcap adventures of the Superior Foes and what the Superior team did in 2013 is a tour de force that wins this year through consistent excellence and pure unadulterated volume. There was so much of it. EVERYTHING happened. This isn’t Bendis (who I like) taking six months to tell a story, this tells the story hard and fast. The art varies – everyone seems to prefer a different artist, but I have come to appreciate some of it, love other parts of it, and at least come to peace with Humberto Ramos depiction of a human head. Best comic of the year. (even though its on issue 25, didn’t exist last year)

    • Thanks for sharing your list Kaif. There’s a lot on here that overlaps with our individual lists and our narrow misses (like Soupy Spider-Man, Manhattan Projects and Astro City).

      Also, great call on Battle of the Atom – it didn’t even occur to me to consider that a “series” when there are only really two issues of it. I also REALLY enjoyed the Arms of the Octopus event, but I have no idea how the fuck to honor something like that in a year end list format. We’ve toyed with the idea of a Best Storylines list, but that’s vague to the point of not being useful, plus there’s bound to be a ton of repetition there.

      I think Invincible had it’s shot with me and I’m just opting out, but Rat Queens sounds interesting. As does X-Men Legacy. Christ, there are just so many comics…

      • Truthfully, not the best year for Invincible. It really counted on the Death of Everyone to give it some momentum and it didn’t.

        Rat Queens is just stupid fun. Full on put on your helmet (with horns) and go on quests to kill stuff and get treasure stupid. It’s wonderful.

        X-Men Legacy has been canceled (I’m 99% sure) and is wrapping up in the next few months. Not sure where it’s ending, but I’d wait for the collected versions before diving into the new stuff.

  3. A couple interesting notes.
    Your votes: DC 3, Marvel 3, Image 4, IDW 1, Vertigo 2.
    My votes: DC 0, Marvel 7, Image 4, Vertigo 1, Avatar 1.

    Both of us about half from the big 2, half from other sources. I’m a little surprised and alarmed that I have no DC titles on my top list and only Batman was close. I’m down to maybe 5 DC titles and I don’t know what I’d add. The only new thing that has looked remotely good to me in the past year that DC has added has been the new Harley Quinn (which I’ve liked).

    Last year:
    Your votes: DC 9, Marvel 2, Image 1.
    My votes: DC 3, Marvel 4, Image 4, Dynamite 1.

    You admitted last year you were DC heavy. It’s obvious you no longer are. I got back in to comics ONLY reading DC and have swayed heavily the other way. It was a good year to be a comic reader, I’ll tell you that much.

    • I gotta agree–Great year for comics! And that DC has slipped. I think Wonder Woman and Batman make my list (Wonder Woman is my #1), but Image is coming on strong. Saga is my #2, and I am digging Lazarus, Velvet, Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, Rat Queens, etc. The Saviors looks interesting–lots of good stuff from Image. Valiant, Dark Horse, and Dynamite also have some great books. It’s too bad about DC though, as they pretty much got me back into comics in the first place.

      • I still think there are some good titles at DC. I’m a big Azzarello fan, and I love Snyder’s Batman, but I’m also liking everything Lemire or Soule is writing. I don’t think any Green Lantern titles were even close to my list, but the new creative teams have a pretty good record so far. Maybe not barn-burners (which I get is what we’re talking about here), but strong, better-than-average series that might grow into something truly interesting over the next year.

        That said, yeah, I probably trust Marvel a bit more to produce a good comic, and Image has had a fantastic year. It was for sure a great year for comics, which makes me hopeful that DC will emerge from this slump with a better sense of what makes good comics.

  4. My list is a lot different this year but I have to admit that I hadn’t followed the majority of these titles so I can’t factor them in.

    1 Wonder Woman
    2 Batman
    3 Justice League proper
    4 Forever Evil
    5 Before Watchmen: Minutemen
    6 Before Watchmen: Rorschach
    7 Green Arrow
    8 Justice League Dark
    9 Astro City
    10 Action Comics (basing this solely on the Sholly Fisch Villains Month stuff and the Pak/Kuder issues)

    • Yeah, I’m really looking forward to see what Pak and Kuder do with Action. I really liked the last issue, and I think that could become a really fantastic series.

      • The art is incredible and makes me wish I’d followed New Guardians. I also love Pak’s take on Lana. So far it feels both new and old in just the right ways IMO

        • His art was actually kind of hit-or-miss on New Guardians. Patrick and I LOVED the first annual, but Kuder occasionally draws some really awful faces — the First Lantern story about Kyle was particularly bad in that regard. His sense of storytelling is solid, and I tend to like his layouts, though, so I’d say I’m mostly a fan.

        • Did any of y’all end up checking out that Parasite issue of Villains month? Kuder really impressed me, both writing and art-wise.

        • Nope, but I’m really wishing I had now. Still not as bad as when I passed on subbing Swamp Thing and Animal Man after the reboot.

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