20. Liberator (Black Mask)
There was a lot wrong with Liberator, a Kickstarter project from Matt Miner (Occupy Comics) and Javier Sanchez Aranda. But it’s much more interesting to talk about what was right with it. It was “about” something—people who perform terrorist acts in support of animal rights—controversial, and it never answered the moral questions that it raised. It really asked more than it answered. I’m sure your own beliefs on animal testing, radical protesting, and factory farming would impact whether you enjoyed this comic, because it pulled no punches, but in the end I didn’t see its portrayal of animal rights terrorists as wholly positive. Sure, they were the focus of the story—but were they truly heroes? It’s unclear. The shortcomings of the book were symptoms of its relatively inexperienced creators, the lack of time to really develop the characters, and the need for a real storyline (it was more of a slice-of-life) and tension. Still, it left me wanting more. In these days of kickstarter and internet publishing, new and unpolished creations are a dime a dozen. This one is the needle in that haystack—the one that’s worth seeking out and reading. I’d like to see what they can do with these characters. Plus, who is telling stories about these issues nowadays? Nobody.
19. 47 Ronin (Dark Horse)
A tale that’s been told many times throughout history in many forms of media, with art by Stan “Usagi Yojimbo” Sakai and a well-researched script by Mike Richardson. The story was a little slow moving, but overall this is a very good, very different kind of comic.
Note: The Keanu Reeves mumblethon movie doesn’t have anything to do with this comic. The comic is based on an ancient Japanese myth. The movie appears to be…Well, I’ll just be kind and say not what the comic is.
18. Dream Thief (Dark Horse)
Extremely original, creepy and cool. I’m not a fan of horror comics, but this story, about a slacker who is possessed by a demonic mask that makes him kill bad guys, neatly crosses the genre boundaries of noir/action/horror. Also, there are lots of stories about guys reluctantly called to duty as a super, but this one really focuses on that dilemma. And the wrinkle is: He’s kind of a tool. The character arc reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Civilization of Maxwell Bright, in that it focuses not so much on the redemption and atonement of a damaged soul but the reluctant improvement of a douche bag brought on by circumstances beyond said d-bag’s control. Written by Jai Nitz and illustrated by Greg Smallwood.
17. The Black Beetle (Dark Horse)
A pulpy reimagining of the Batman/Shadow-like vigilante from the 1940s that is beautifully rendered (written, designed and drawn) by the great Francesco Francavilla. The script is fine, not great, not terrible, but the character concepts, art and page designs make this book undeniable. This is one of those books you buy for the art, and the story serves as a foundation to let Francavilla do some of the greatest work of his career.
16. The Wake (Vertigo)
It might be unfair to include this eight-issue mini here, as we’re only about halfway done with it in 2013, but the story is so engaging, so different, and so challenging. It’s not that it’s decompressed so much as it is deep. It’s appropriate that it takes place underwater, because the true motives of the characters and the issues they’re dealing with are submerged, and only gradually being brought to the surface. And the art … Is Sean Phillips. No more need be said.
15. Superior Spider-Man (Marvel)
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know Otto Octavius is now living out his old age in the young(er) body of Peter Parker. Yes, the premise is dumb. Even dumber than the wonderful Travolta/Cage monument to overacting that is known as Face/Off. It’s dumb even in a world where a radioactive spider can give someone powers.
But it works.
Not only does it work, it’s hilarious. And it challenges all the notions of Spider-Man that came before: If Pete’s so smart, why didn’t HE think of all the stuff Doc Ock is doing? We alI know this narrative body-switch won’t last forever, but while it lasts it’s a great change of pace. I can’t wait to see how Peter puts it all back together.
14. Rachel Rising (Abstract)
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m in love with Terry Moore. He can do no wrong in my book. His first major work, Strangers In Paradise was a long, sprawling love story wrapped in a tale of intrigue and karate. Next came Echo, a neo-realistic look at an Extremis-type Iron Man character, and an extremely thought-provoking piece of science fiction. Now, he’s moved on to horror in one of the most genuinely disturbing and (as always) beautifully drawn comic books of all time. Every page is a wonder—every panel could be framed and put on your wall. And the story is a twisty and completely unpredictable. Even if you don’t like zombies and witches, you should give it a try.
13. Five Weapons (Image)
Jimmie Robinson’s miniseries asks the question: Does anybody remember FUN? This tale of a young assassin in an assassin school was constantly inventive and surprising, twisty and joyous. The final act didn’t hold together very well, but the first four issues were gold and well worth the price of admission. As a bonus, any kid age about 10 and up will adore this book.
12. Young Avengers (Marvel)
Kieron Gillen is doing some of the best dialog and character work at Marvel, but the real trophy here has to go to Jamie McKelvie, whose innovative layouts and designs continue to push the envelope. He’s offered numbered diagrams of fight scenes, eschewed standard wide screen/six panel pages for slanted, swirling, curved and arced panels that express as much about the characters in them as the dialog itself. One of my favorite examples was having characters who were trapped escape their prison by, literally, crawling out of the panel on the page—yet, because it’s a comic book, they’re still on a page! It’s way beyond literal visual storytelling. It’s something that can only be done in comic books. Movies can’t do that. TV can’t. Books can’t. Just comics.
11. Fury MAX: My War Gone By (Marvel MAX)
Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov team up again for the first time since their brilliant work on Punisher MAX to tell the non-canon version of Nick Fury’s story. It shows the progression of a warrior from a young idealist to an old, haunted, and broken soldier. Comics about red tape and politics are hard to make, and harder to make interesting, but this one clicked on all levels—right up to the heartbreaking conclusion. If this is the last MAX book Ennis ever does, it’s a fitting end to his work with Marvel. Also: It’s got Barracuda in it. So there’s that.
Click Next for the Top 10!