Yes, yes, another one of those best of 2013 lists that everyone is doing. I’ll save you a top ten, or a ‘best comics of the year’ and instead, do a round-up of what was good, and what was bad for the year. A retrospective on comics on 2013 then.
Image comics have had a phenomenal year. True, they’ve not exactly been quiet in the past, and over the last two years have grown in popularity, thanks to the incredible success (somewhat odd to this reviewer) of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. But this year they have managed month in, month out to deliver easily the best comics on the shelves. With Grade A talent like Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker, Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Sean Phillips, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Rick Remender, amongst others, delivering creator owned series, there is more passion across the line than with any other publisher.
The last few months of this year saw them debut three new series, Pretty Deadly, Velvet and Black Science, all of which are stunning to look at. Every month the science fiction epic Saga tops the sales charts. The Walking Dead is one of the most successful TV shows right now, with games, action figures, and even talk of prequel’s, you can buy Walking Dead novels, bottle openers and even dressing gowns. This is a publisher which was born out of writers and artists frustrations with mainstream comics back in the 90’s and it has completely come of age.
If I were to do a top ten comics of the year, it would be packed full of Image comics. The debut issues of Black Science and Velvet are both excellent, and Manhattan Projects continues to be the most delirious comic on the shelves every month.
What have DC done this year? Started a competition to depict a supervillain attempting suicide on National Suicide Prevention Week, caused two of their top creators to leave a comic because editors wouldn’t allow a lesbian character to get married, spent the year mired in dull, thudding crossovers, and firing writers after only two issues on certain titles. Even their only hope for a movie franchise, Man of Steel wound up being a plodding uber-serious beat-em-up in which the real villain appeared to be joy.
Two years ago, when The New 52 (a title still plastered on the front of their comics, despite the fact that it’s now two years old, and there are less than 52 comics being published by them) first launched, it was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, a chance to reconnect with characters long forgotten, a chance to draw in new readership, to deliver new stories without the burden of years of continuity. Instead, every comic reads the same, all of the art is unexceptional and dull. The DC universe appears to have undergone a shift into a stunningly banal house style. There is only a single title worth continuing with at the company, Brian Azzarello’s excellent Wonder Woman.
Let’s be honest – if you can’t even get Superman right, it’s probably time to rethink your strategy.
Women write and draw these things too
When China Mieville’s final issue of Dial H hit earlier in the year (reviewed in the first Pull List column), it was notable not for any particular grace in writing or plot, but for the sheer amount of female artists onboard for the issue. In fact, of the 20 artists drawing the issue, 9 were female. Just under half. Not that impressive really, is it? Except for the fact that those 9 artists represent more female artists than DC has employed in the past three years. The issue also serves as a handy statement on where comics are at now. Yes, there is a platform for women, which to be honest have been appalling represented by the genre for decades now. No, it’s nowhere near as equal as it could/should be, despite the fact that the best artists out there (Emma Rios, Fiona Staples) and the funniest writers (Kate Beaton) are female.
Elsewhere, Marvel have the fantastic Kelly Sue DeConnick writing Captain Marvel, and have announced recently that the Muslim writer GW Wilson will be writing a new Ms Marvel series, debuting in 2014.
Here’s the thing though, the medium still has a long, long way to go before it can even be considered to be equal. For every good story about the first Muslim woman to write a mainstream Marvel comic, there’s a Zero Year cover for Catwoman. For every award winning female artist, there’s a story just like the one told by Tess Fowler.
The best stuff
So what was worth reading this year then? In superhero comics, you’d do yourself a favour if you went back and picked up all of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers titles, including the excellent event comic Infinity. Matt Fraction did brilliant, if delayed stuff with Hawkeye (including a now infamous issue from the point of view of a dog). The best series’ this year though came from Image comics, and whilst every single poll on every single blog will tell you to read Saga (and you should, it’s great), the best thing they published this year was Ales Kot’s Zero, telling the story of the life of a super-soldier in non-chronological one-shots. The second issue, which has the single finest sequence of the year, is one I covered in the second edition of this column.
In collected editions, Charles Forsman released The End of the Fucking World, combining Badlands, The Wicker Man and Natural Born Killers which demands to be read. The most surprising read of the year for me though? Godzilla: The Half Century War from writer/artist Jason Stokoe, which can be summed up as Moby Dick with giant monsters. Stunning to look at, and very well written, it should be read by everyone who enjoys comic books.
Far be it from me to say that the best stuff this year was all about giant monsters, but the best one-shot of the year was Gamma from Ulises Farinas. Covered within its pages are pastiches of Pokemon, Godzilla and all kinds of Japanese cultural reference, it’s delirious and tragic at the same time and well worth seeking out.
Elsewhere, Grant Morrison ended his enormous seven year run on Batman (which began in Batman, continued through Final Crisis, Batman and Robin and two iterations of Batman Incorporated). The run is a thorough examination of Morrison’s own interpretation of the Batman mythology (commonly referred to as Bat-God and put simply concerns the idea that everything that has ever happened to Batman has happened to a single person). The final issue, Batman Inc #13 is more or less just three women telling Batman how bad a person he is, and ends on a cliffhanger which DC will likely never resolve, but as with almost all of Morrison’s work, it is never less than mind-expanding and brilliant.
So then, that was 2013. What have we got to look forward to in 2014? The publication of Miracle/Marvelman from Alan Moore The Original Writer, and even more new series from Image (including three currently classified solicits in March), DC will shift their timeline five years into the future sometime around Free Comic Book Day, and Marvel will release a Muslim Ms Marvel, and a film starring Vin Diesel as a talking alien tree will show up in the cinemas.
Should be a good ‘un then.