Monday, December 30, 2013

A Look Back at 2013

   I've run out of new comics to review (it was a slim week), but since the end of the year is at hand, we have plenty of material to keep this blog moving.

   Tomorrow I'll post my traditional Best Comics of 2013 (Top 10) list, and as always, you're invited to send in your list - I can almost guarantee that no two lists will be the same. You can send your list in as a comment at the link at the bottom of this post or email it to and I'll post it here.

   To get things started, here's a list by a good friend who prefers to remain Anonymous - but he's got a strong lineup here:

#1 – The Manhattan Projects

   For the most part, I tend to read my comic books at the end of the day. It allows me to turn off thoughts of work and activate the escapist qualities of the medium. My wife (who sees this hobby and my fellow collectors as “odd” at best) has told me that she can tell when I like a book because I will mutter “Wow!” under my breath.

   Simply put, there is no comic book I am reading with more “Wows!” than The Manhattan Projects.

   The plot is original – post-WW2 scientists make discoveries ahead of their time and beyond our world – but this plot changes routinely in wonderful ways. Using minimal color and Pitarra’s cartoony art (which some of my friends did not care for), Hickman introduces characters that morph into totally different characters a few issues later. Simply put, everything is in play and nothing is what it seems. I’m not sure how long this creative team can keep putting out this book, but I hope it’s for many issues to come.

#2 – Fantastic Four / FF

   In my opinion, so many FF stories are… bad. Like, really bad. Without emotion, the FF tends to devolve into just another super-hero team. With the usual cast of supporting characters and villains, a gimmick like “new uniforms” is often the only way to catch my attention with this book. 

   That said, Hickman’s Fantastic Four run in 2012 (which would have been my #1 comic book run of that year) breathed new life and emotion into this book. Bringing together characters from different timelines and adding cast members at will made the book seem actually interesting and new.

   In 2013, Matt Fraction took the reigns with two books – Fantastic Four and FF. The plots of these books separate as the two teams in the books do. The traditional team along with Franklin and Valeria Richards set off to explore the universe while an alternate team, led by a formerly criminal version of Ant-Man, stay to fill the void. 

   As is often the case, everything goes wrong. While I’m no fan of Bagley’s art and thought Allred’s art was not the right choice for the FF book, I’ve gone with it and have not been disappointed. The good news is that Hickman’s amazing run was left in good hands, at least for now. 

#3 – Saga

   Another “Wow!” book. There’s really nothing like Saga

   Great plotlines, interesting alien races, cliffhanger endings, and surreal art make this book stand out. It will likely be on most Top 10 lists this year and mostly at the top. 

   While I’m sure Brian K. Vaughn knows exactly where he’s headed, the reader tends to feel a bit lost, which might be on purpose. Fiona Staples’ art adds to this confusion, but not in a way that’s unpleasant. The characters are lost as well, but the ride is worth it. 

   Another nice twist is the nature of the story’s trusty narrator…

#4 - New Avengers

   Originally invented by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed, the Illuminati were a team of heroes of a sort that dealt with the really big issues affecting the Marvel Universe, but often without fanfare or even the knowledge of their fellow heroes. 

   This book details the recent incarnation of the group, which has been through some changes. The central theme remains that these characters are put into situations where they may have to do terrible things for the greater good. 

   It’s not always action-packed and there’s a lot of talking, but, once again, Jonathan Hickman does a great job making the debate very interesting. 

   Steve Epting’s art works well, especially with the amount of tension in this book.   

#5 - Infinity

   After the utter collapse of the horrible Age of Ultron (see below), Marvel redeems itself for the most part with Infinity

   Using Thanos as the main villain and developing great lieutenants to aid in his devices, readers are taken to a cosmic conflict the likes of which have not been seen since the Kree-Skrull War. 

   Except for the one hiccup that introduces a new character that becomes the lynchpin of sorts for the whole story, we see characters used in new and interesting ways, as well as a Star Wars-level space opera with Earth hanging in the balance. 

   I’m not sure I even understood all that was going on, but it was great fun plotted, once again, by Hickman. While the art chores were shared, all did good work.  

   It bears rereading, as this storyline has some real epic moments.

#6 – Deathmatch

   Remember early in your comic collecting days when you would pick up a comic book before you knew every character’s background and motivations, and you’d wonder, “What’s this guy’s deal?” 

   Paul Jenkins’ Deathmatch recreates this feeling with a whole new cast of characters that range from the somewhat familiar to the brand new. 

   This book is an easy one to dismiss, as it draws from the overused, “We’ve been transported somewhere and now we must fight in the arena for our lives” environment, but there’s more depth here. 

   The why and how is what the book slowly spins, and that occurs as characters are killed one by one. The back of the book not only contains a NCAA basketball tournament chart of the contests, but also an encyclopedia of the characters you’ve met thus far. 

   This book is interesting, somewhat weird, and more original than the two-sentence plot synopsis would have you believe.

#7 – Fury

   I like Garth Ennis. Like Grant Morrison, he loves the old characters but seems to torture them as well. 

   Nick Fury gets the Ennis treatment in this series. Set in a post-WW2 world where military veteran Fury does not seem to fit in, this book literally ages Fury in situations where there is no right answer. 

   His enemies are everywhere and there’s no simple “Wahoo!” to sort out what’s next. 

   One aspect about the book is Ennis seems to be explaining how Fury got the way he is, which is an unpleasant but interesting explanation.

#8 - Brother Lono

   Man, I miss 100 Bullets. From the art to the black humor to the intricate storylines, Azzarello and Risso’s 100-issue work is a regular reread for me and I still miss things. It’s a very adult book that is built for an HBO adaptation. 

   It’s almost unfair for me to try to explain bringing back one of my favorite books that centers on my favorite character from that book, Lono. 

   The character has changed for multiple reasons, but you still get glimpses of the former violent beast that out-mobbed his fellow mob enforcers. 

   Lono’s attempts to stay on the “straight and narrow” are likely doomed, but that’s hardly a surprise in this limited series. 

#9 – Prophet

   If you remember reading Heavy Metal magazine in the '70s and '80s and enjoyed the weird alien stories that French artists and writers would create that, at that time, couldn’t be found anywhere else, then Prophet is for you. 

   I seem to be using the word “weird” a lot in these descriptions of my Top 10, but Prophet is the easy winner in the “most weird” department. This book is WEIRD

   Its initial premise sets this tone, drawing from the Image character in the 1990s as well as characters from Youngblood. Now I barely read these books back then, but you get the idea that, as a friend of mine would say, “There are no bad characters, just bad writing.” 

   These once laughable comic characters have a galactic feel and are changed completely, mostly due to the massive timeframe between this book’s time period and their previous versions. 

   It almost makes me want to go back and read the original Image books. Almost.

#10 – Hawkeye

   If current comic books were high school stereotypes, Hawkeye would be the hottest girl in high school. Everyone likes her and everyone talks about her. 

   Hawkeye is a great book that takes a popular character and, rather than make him a Wolverine-esque “I’m the best as what I do” type, it portrays him as, well, a screw up. 

   I’m surprised that Marvel has the guts to take this direction, especially given Hawkeye’s role in THE AVENGERS film. (Given the film’s success, I assume you’re supposed to use all caps.) 

   It’s a great, accessible book that everyone likes, which I don’t hold against the book. 

   Even the style/format of the book is intriguing. I’m going to stop writing as you’re probably reading this book as well. If you’re not, go buy it. You’ll like it. 

   Everyone does.

Honorable Mention – The Walking Dead

   Kentucky’s Robert Kirkman is amazing. I like Hickman, I read almost everything he does. 

   Beyond the ridiculous success of the AMC show, The Walking Dead comic book remains a fast-paced, terrifying book that simply does not show signs of slowing down. 

   Sure, Kirkman may kill every character in the book, but you have to hang on to see what happens. 

   He outdoes the Governor and his atrocities this year with a new villain that is so terrible, I doubt he’ll make it to the TV show, but we’ll see.

Most Disappointing Comic Book – The Age of Ultron 

   What the heck happened? Marvel’s been teasing the Age of Ultron for years. 

   The storyline makes sense – The evolving robot created by Hank Pym eventually evolves until it takes over everything. 

   This story was supposed to give us the obvious “And then what happens?” But it doesn’t. 

   It mishandles time travel and confuses everyone in a bad way, including the characters in the story. 

   What’s worse – and unforgivable to me – is the usually wonderful Bryan Hitch seems to phone in his work for this series, then leaves in the middle of the issues. 

   The final straw for me was Marvel suggesting that the change was “necessary for the storyline.” Absolute nonsense! My local comic dealer tried to explain to me why Hitch really left, but I don’t care. It stunk and made me feel like I’d be hoodwinked and had my money taken. 

   My final thought – The Age of Ultron may be the worst “event” a comic company has ever done, which is a high bar to reach given some of the past “events.” Naming THE AVENGERS sequel "The Age of Ultron" now has me worried as well. We’ll see…

1 comment:

El Vox said...

Good job Anonymous. Your descriptions were insightful & I enjoyed reading about what you enjoyed reading thru the year.

I'd have a few of those on my Top Ten as well, not in any particular order:

I'd agree on:

1. Saga--a Romeo & Juliet story set in a SF environment. I'll admit I was a bit taken back by some of the profanity, wondering if it's really necessary, but after a while, I just went with it, and I guess I can sort of understand what Vaughan is trying to do. You never know where it's going or what will happen next, which is why it has the audience it does.

2. The Black Beetle--a throw back to old pulps and serials, and I really dug the artwork by Francesco Francavilla.

3. The Walking Dead--Negan, the main villain, is hard to take, and I wonder if Kirkman isn't painting himself into a corner with all the badassery--how do you top Negan with a new villain? It's a bit much for me. I don't know if I'll continue reading or even if I've liked the direction it has taken from issue #100 onward--but I'm still reading them--guess that says something.

4. Hawkeye--it's hard not to like this book with the layout and art. I thought the stories had a stream of conscience feel to them, which took me a bit to get into. Pretty good book.

5. Fatale--I enjoy horror when done well, and H P Lovecraft, so it's a given if you throw in some pulp and a mystery, I'm going to get hooked. I really enjoy Brubaker, for whatever reason, he can hook me into something pretty quickly.

6. Lazarus--I'm a sucker for a dystopian SF tale. This one pretty much sates that itch. Lark's art is pretty slick looking.

7. Velvet--it might be unfair to have this one on the list as it just started up, but I enjoyed the first issue a lot, sort of reminded me of a female James Bond, and I liked that.

8. Godzilla, The Half Century War--this one surprised me as most of the Big G's stories are pretty much one note, but James Stokoe, put the human element into the mix in this limited series--sort of a Moby Dick tale, but with Godzilla.

9. Joe Kubert Presents--a limited series by the late Kubert. Not all the stories worked for me in the anthology, but the ones that did I enjoyed, and I always admired his art.

10. King Conan--The Hour of the Dragon. I lost some interest with the regular Conan The Barbarian comic with the run on Belit. But Hour of the Dragon filled that void. Truman knows how to tell a story and great art by Tomas Giorella.