The Best Comic Books of 2013, Part Two
The last twelve months offered comic book readers a wide variety of work ranging from the most crowd-pleasing superhero epics to the most idiosyncratic of indies, and the return of old favorites to the emergence of exciting new talent. It was a busy and productive year for the industry, and one we’re pleased to celebrate with what we’re certain will be an uncontroversial, unenumerated list of awards that will prompt only resounding agreement and unbroken fellowship amongst our readers in the comments below. Welcome to part two of ComicsAlliance’s Best Comic Books of 2013.
About the Rogue Memorial Awards
Hair icon and glove model Anna Marie Sugah Stackhouse Darkholme O’Hara, better known as Rogue, was born in the bayou, probably, or on a plantation, or… what else do Southerners have? The parking lot of a Chik-Fil-A. As a rebellious teen runaway she rejected the prevailing attitudes of the time, which said that she shouldn’t put young men in comas using her sinfully cursed bare skin. Consequently she was adopted by a shapeshifting lesbian terrorist, so sometimes sin is its own reward.
Briefly Evil with a capital E, Rogue used her take-other-people’s-stuff-by-touching-them powers to steal Carol Danvers’ ability to be in a monthly title. She quickly landed a gig in Uncanny X-Men. Though Rogue could not know the touch of a lover, she pursued a tangled romantic interest in the caddish thief Gambit, which is a clear illustration of the dangers of abstinence-only sex education.
In recent years she came to fully master her powers and gained in prominence first as a senior X-Man and then as a member of the Avengers. It was here that Rogue got into a prolonged disagreement with Scarlet Witch, the sometimes-genocidal daughter of one of her awful ex-boyfriends. This dispute ended Real Housewives-style when — spoilers — Rogue gutted the Scarlet Witch with her bone claws. Rogue’s moment of triumph was short-lived, however, as she had a date with the Grim Reaper, who isn’t really the Grim Reaper, just a cosplayer, but that doesn’t make Rogue any less dead. Moral of the story: Some of those cosplay weapons can be really dangerous, you guys.
In this second of a multi-part feature, we honor Rogue’s completely fictional memory with recognition of the work we at ComicsAlliance enjoyed most in the year that was.
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL BY A LIVING HISTORICAL FIGURE
March, Book One
By U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Designed by Chris Ross and Nate Powell
Edited by Chris Staros with Leigh Walton
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / ComiXology (iOS + Android + Web + Etc.)
Most prominently, March is a fantastic document of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, by one of the only living people who can hold claim to really being there at the heart of it, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. I spent some time covering the state legislature in Atlanta for a newspaper a few years ago, and Lewis came to speak to both houses one day. That was the only day of the whole session I saw members from both parties unified over something. There were plenty that didn’t agree with Lewis’ current politics, but everyone agreed, and went out of their way to say, that Lewis’s work with Martin Luther King Jr. during that era was monumental.
It would have been safe, then, for Lewis and his collaborators, co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, to stick to the history, to simply deliver the details of the movement that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree was on the right side of history. What’s great about March, though, is that Lewis, Adyin and Powell opt to show readers a side of the congressman that I didn’t even get to see that day he spoke to the state Senate, a side that’s very human.
My favorite story in the book is one very early on about how Lewis came to be very attached to the chickens under his care on the farm where he grew up. There’s a clear message to the scene, about how Lewis learned something about the value of life, but what I really love about it is that it shows us how even a great historic icon was once a kid with very naive notions. Likewise, there’s a frame sequence about the logistics of getting Rep. Lewis to Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration while he chats with a family. Again, it’s a wonderfully humanizing moment.
March is a recollection of history, but more than that, it’s a memoir. At its heart, it’s about a person who found himself in the midst of something much bigger than him. But the story, like the person at its center, never loses focus. That’s what makes it special.
BEST ALTERNATE HISTORY COMIC ABOUT A WORLD WITHOUT SO MANY GROSS DUDES
Ôoku imagines a feudal Japan where, 80 years after the vicious “Redface Pox,” men make up a scant 25 percent of the population. Traditionally male seats of power are now occupied by women, including the position of Shogun, who maintains the ôoku — a collection of beautiful men — for her own private indulgence.
Ôoku had me from the beginning. I love alternate histories, I love in-house power struggles, and I love Yoshinaga’s clean, powerful artwork. What I didn’t expect was such a fascinating look at the sausage-making of public memory. Less than a century of story time after the ravages of the Pox, Ôoku’s Japan is beginning to forget there was ever a time when men were as a commonplace as women. This seemed an outlandish point to make at first, but the more Yoshinaga explored it, the more I was convinced. Ôoku showcases the slow mythologization of history in a way that made me think long and hard about bias and my own knowledge of the world 80 years prior (it is lacking). Yoshinaga goes on to tackle gender roles, bureaucratic excess, and the good intentions that pave the way to rank decadence in fine detail. It’s engrossing, emotional, and intelligent, and worth anyone’s time — even if you’re not a “manga person.”
DANTE ALIGHIERI MEMORIAL SUB-AWARD
If Hell is real, and it’s as Dante described it in The Divine Comedy, then Zander Cannon is gong to the area reserved for deceivers.
Heck suckers readers into thinking it’s going to be an adventure story, one that maybe would involve a few hijinks when the lead character, Hector “Heck” Hammarskjöld, and his assistant Elliot head through the door to Hell which Heck found in his father’s old house and has parlayed into a business delivering messages to people’s dead loved ones. Cannon, who has previously contributed artwork to Top 10 and some Tick comics, simplified his style considerably for this graphic novel, giving it what you might call the look of a gag strip. It couldn’t be further from that, though.
This is a horror comic, in a very grown-up sense. It’s all about the mistakes we carry around with us throughout our lives, and if we believe in eternal punishments, how they’ll stay with us for eternity. It does an amazing job of investing the reader in Heck immediately. For characters who are rendered in such a stylized way, Heck and his sidekick Elliot are beautifully human. There’s a scene where both of them are judged for their sins — something that Heck forgets always happens to him when he visits Hell. It’s extraordinarily powerful and sets up one of the big payoffs of the book. It also makes you marvel at how much you care about this cartoon adventurer and his little mummy friend.
Heck’s enough to make a reader wonder about what they’ve done themselves. It’s also about forgetting and how we often can only force ourselves to do challenging things by forgetting what they’re really like. I’m still thinking about it, months after reading it. It spurred me to self-reflection. That’s what great art does.
BEST DEPICTION OF AN UNDEAD THUMB-WAR
The latest Zombo installment from Al Ewing and Henry flint starts off with the caption, “Meanwhile, on Panther Skull Mountain” and then just gets crazier from there. Sorry, other comics, you lose this round to the strip about a cadaverous, crime-fighting hero with aspirations in musical theatre.
Originally serialized in the 2000 A.D. anthology Zombo is a comic that has always crackled with an intensity that keeps you turning pages, but the “Planet Zombo” story ratchets up the bonkers until you’re left wondering just how much crazier this whole thing can get — and then there’s a Kirby-esque cosmic thumb-war and you know that this is something special. Collected in this year’s You Smell of Crime & I’m the Deodorant and 2010’s Can I Eat You, Please?, the story finds the titular character shambling through encounters with reality TV show contestants, Donald Trump, YouTube suicide gangs, bombastic Kirby-speak, swarms of zombie bees (you know, “zom-bees”), space rednecks, and the still-living disembodied heads of theme park magnates who are not at all Walt Disney no sireee, all with a sort of childlike politeness and curiosity that belies his deadly nature.
“Planet Zombo” takes all of that and builds on it in a way that is undoubtedly hilarious, but also manages to take all of the crazy bits that preceded it and molds them into a workable, continuing concept. This comic’s not dissimilar from Venture Bros. in that regard. Both started off as gag concepts that slowly evolved their characters and sophistication as they’ve progressed. Reading all of the stories at once, you see how both Ewing and Flint have progressed as well, with “Planet Zombo” showcasing Ewing’s ability to create crazy characters that are still relatable, melding perfectly with Flint’s Brendan McCarthy-meets-Ronin-era-Frank Miller artwork.
This is not to say it’s subtle; because hoo-boy, it is most assuredly not. There’s Fantastic Four analogues and laser swords and Beatles jokes and surprise falcons and a pacifist padre who renounces renouncing war and a death world piloted by not-Walt-Disney and his henchman, not-Simon-Cowell. Flint’s talent can’t be oversold, with You Smell of Crime being the most beautifully ugly comic out this year that wasn’t authored by Michael Deforge. And Ewing’s writing is whip-smart, bending the story momentum into impossible shapes that somehow never seem to break as it rolls along. If you’ve recently picked up his excellent A.U. (maybe the best part of) Age of Ultron issues, or if you’ve been wowed by his debut arc of Mighty Avengers, this, along with 2000 AD’s fantastic Trifecta (also containing work from Ewing and Flint) is a great place to start digging into his work. You won’t be disappointed.
BEST IN-YOUR-FACE TO OPPONENTS OF ALL-AGES COMICS
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Artwork by Andy Price, Amy Mebberson, Stephanie Buscema, Tony Fleecs, Brenda Hickey, Sabrina Alberghetti, Sara Richard and Heather Breckel
Written by Katie Cook and Heather Nuhfer
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Edited by Bobby Curnow
Published by IDW Publishing
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / IDW (iOS + Android)
The core My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series is endlessly delightful. Every creator who touches the book does so with a clear understanding of the style and spirit of the popular and acclaimed animated series. The stories manage to hold up well enough for adults (that oft-discussed “Brony” market being, of course, important to the franchise) but more importantly are also accessible and fun for kids. As such, MLP: FIM manages to do what many comics publishers wish they could do with all of their books: it hits both a market that is already reading comics and interested in things like variant covers and a market that is interested in the characters but isn’t regularly reading comics.
To really understand why My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is one of the strongest franchises of 2013, you need only look at the IDW Kids Comics panel at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer. The panel’s audience was full of enthusiastic kids who cheered and jumped up and down when their favorite ponies were mentioned, or the creators of the book talked about their work.
The cartoon has not just launched one successful comic book series, it’s launched a booming business for publisher IDW that includes multiple series and one-shots as well as the innovative Micro Fun Packs (mini comics + stickers + posters packed together in a blind pack). The sale of the Micro Fun Packs at retailers like Target and Walmart will bring the comics to a whole new audience beyond the people already reading, and those who already shop at comic book specialty shops.
The franchise is strong and is around to stay, providing its comics publisher with solid sales and a fan base that’s a mix of new and returning readers. Basically, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is what DC’s New 52 should have been.
BEST “CLASSY” PROJECT BY A DEDICATED HELL-RAISER THAT ACTUALLY PUTS THE REST OF THEIR BODY OF WORK INTO EXCELLENT PERSPECTIVE
Now, I’m not saying this is a PG-13 book or anything — there’s still penetrative sex depicted on-panel– but for those of us reared on the forbidden fruits of Ultra-Gash Inferno, our first impression might be that Japan’s undisputed ero-guro impresario has gone a little soft in vaulting the peak of middle-age. I mean, nobody hides in a toilet in this comic! Not a single child is bludgeoned to death and then fed to his unwitting mother! I scanned every panel twice, and nobody even licks somebody’s eyeball, which is like seeing a Howard Chaykin comic devoid of fishnet stockings — what, pray tell, is the point?
Of course, we ask this question of Suehiro Maruo because, unlike some practitioners of the manga dark arts, he does, generally, have a motive in mind. Like an evil Chris Ware, the design-capable Maruo adores the aesthetics of a bygone era, but insists the objects of his affection draw unmistakable attention to the cultural context surrounding them: Japan’s heightened militarization in the early Shōwa period, which lead to tremendous crimes of violence and untold suffering in the aftermath of WWII. Often, Mauro’s comics toast the most wicked characters conceivable, because they are the least hypocritical avatars for an abusive age. It’s punk, insofar as it spits in the face of valuing tradition, though the peril remains that readers might miss such deeper implications and merely embrace such work as neo-fascist delights.
But all is asked and answered in Panorama Island, adapted from a story by revered mystery author Edogawa Rampo, who lived and worked smack in the era of Maruo’s interest. The story concerns an author who decides to live his deranged fantasies by stealing the identity of a recently-departed, super-rich doppelgänger, seducing the man’s doomed, passive wife (as: the Soul of Japan), and directing all economic guns toward the erection of a mighty island of fake luxury, a walled garden that only seems to extend forever, where everyone’s life is great and the fun and indulgence never end — until, inevitably, they do, and blood verily rains from the skies.
All the while, Maruo’s storytelling becomes more and more obsessive, segueing from the whistle-clean storytelling of the book’s first 3/5s into an extended, narrated tour of the island itself, nearly 100 pages that ultimately fragment into disassociated images of pleasure, as if the very mission of society has become lost with the plot. Do you think your nation will prosper forever? Do you think you’ll have it better than your parents? This is a book that slams into a brick wall at the end, as if its author had run out of space — but for once, it’s the characters’ own bloody fault.
MOST EFFECTIVELY ASKEW PHYSICAL SIZE: EMOTIONAL IMPACT RATIO
TEOTFW is the story of James and Alyssa, two disenfranchised and disturbed teenagers, in love and on the run. At first, they’re simply running from their seemingly mundane suburban existence and the abusive, disinterested adults in their lives. But as the violent, emotionally detached James’ actions become more extreme, they’re running from much more than that. And through it all, Alyssa stays with him. “I think I love him. The boy needs someone,” she says. She isn’t wrong.
Anything you’ve read about TEOTFW being a marriage of Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts is true, but it’s more than that. If anything, Forsman’s brilliant minicomic — measuring just 6.5″ x 5″ and published earlier this year by Fantagraphics — may be an exploration, albeit on the extreme end, of what can happen to odd, isolated, and depressed kids like Charlie Brown when they grow up. With a clear, minimalist, but nonetheless arresting storytelling style, TEOTFW isn’t just the best minicomic of 2013. It might just be the best crime story and, with its fast paced action scenes and powerful cliffhangers, one of the better action stories the medium had to offer all year. An unflinchingly dark and brutally honest work, TEOTFW represents the very best of what comics can be.
BEST NEXUS-OF-30-YEARS-OF-NOSTALGIA COMIC
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: City Fall
Artwork by Kevin Eastman, Ben Bates, Ronda Pattison and Mateus Santolouco
Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Edited by Bobby Curnow
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print) / IDW (iOS + Android)
Do you like Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics? Did you enjoy the 1987-1996 cartoon? Archie’s TMNT stories? The first live action movie? The 2003 animated series? Nickelodeon’s new CG animated show? All of the above? Congratulations! You’re going to love how IDW spent most of 2013 with the sweeping “City Fall” storyline and its tie-ins.
As a reader who’s spent a decade or two… or three following the TMNT, IDW’s new Eastman, Tom Waltz and editor Bobby Curnow-steered comics continuity seemed to start off with a bit of a slower burn. The pieces were on the table, but with each passing issue I felt impatient, like I was waiting for the creators to put the puzzle together according to a picture I had already painted in my head. They had something else in mind, though. Something better. That idea was “City Fall.”
“City Fall” is essentially the tale of the TMNT growing up to meet the fully emerged threat of the Shredder and his ninja armies. The storyline — not an event, an good ol’ fashioned storyline — truly served as a culmination of the series to date. Dangling plot lines were tied up. Classic characters from all corners of TMNT lore came together in a single universe that made sense. A family was tested. Allegiances shifted. An adversary demonstrated danger far beyond physical power. Some people smooched. Things moved forward and the conclusion not only caught the comic up with my expectations, it surpassed them and left me wanting more.
And I’m not just saying all of that because Rocksteady and Bebop finally showed up… although the tie-in issue by Dustin Weaver and Ben “Dude Totally Killed It” Bates is easily one of my favorite single issue TMNT stories in recent memory.
As a concept, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has always been its best when it honors the central vision of Eastman and Laird. As a franchise, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has always benefitted from multiple series, concurrent yet-unconnected continuities and new creators bringing fresh ideas to the table. IDW is in the unique position of being able to harness it all at once and it paid off big time in “City Fall.”
RADDEST SUPERHERO ARTWORK
Artwork by Felipe Andrade and Jordie Bellaire with Joe Quinones and Jamie McKelvie
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Christopher Sebela
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Edited by Sana Amanat, Devin Lewis and Stephen Wacker
Published by Marvel Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print) / Marvel (iOS + Android)
One of ComicsAlliance’s picks for the Best Comics of 2012, Captain Marvel began the new year with a striking visual overhaul courtesy of artist Filipe Andrade and colorist Jordie Bellaire, whose work can be described in any number of ways, but “Marvel house style” is not one of them. Present in issues #9-12 (collected in the Captain Marvel: Down graphic novel) and series finale #17, these artists’ attractive collaboration made the already distinctive solo-woman superhero series stand out even further from the rest of the Marvel line with a look that’s at once fresh, exciting and frequently tender, complimenting the humorous and heartfelt stories devised by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (and from issue #10, co-writer Christopher Sebela). Whether it’s a sequence of unmasked Carol Danvers getting a cup of coffee or suited-up Captain Marvel fighting a giant dinosaur in the streets of New York City, Andrade and Bellaire bring the book to bold life in a way that’s not seen in many superhero or other adventure-style comics these days.
Without ever sacrificing clarity or character, Andrade’s daring, even audacious approach to figures and storytelling confounds the reader’s expectations for a modern cape comic. You can get impeccably drafted, photorealistic and cinematically rendered superhero action in any number of Marvel or DC comics, but on virtually every level Captain Marvel offers the capes fan something he or she rarely gets to see: a properly kick-ass, takes-her-cat-to-the-vet super-heroine drawn not just respectfully, but truly awesomely. No, these pictures aren’t staged like photographic images and interpreted in ink and Photoshop — these are comics, these are images that can only exist on the page, and they are exhilarating.
BEST NEW VERSION OF AN OLD ORIGIN
Batman: Zero Year
Artwork by Greg Capullo, Danny Mik and Fco Plascencia
Written by Scott Snyder
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Edited by Mike Marts and Katie Kubert
Published by DC Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (hardcover pre-order) / DC (iOS + Android + Web + etc.)
Rebooting an origin story is always a risky proposition. There are stacks of pre-existing history to somehow live up to while ignoring, mountains of bad feelings and expectations to traverse. New fans need to be hooked and the old readers need to be convinced that everything is still the same even as their idols are broken down into compost. The risk doubles when the character is a particularly iconic one, someone on the level of Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash. But Superman was in flux for years, and underwent a major rewrite in the 1980s. Wonder Woman has already undergone more revisions than a term paper, and there are so many versions of the Flash that a new one was never going to seriously annoy even the most-devoted fans. It’s still a big task to hit the reset button on those characters, but it’s also almost a tradition. In Wonder Woman’s case, it was practically a rite of passage.
Batman is different. His origin didn’t undergo any real changes after DC Comics rebooted its narrative continuity in the 1980s, it was just updated and expanded by Frank Miller and David Mazzuccheli to become one of the finest stories the superhero genre has to offer. In addition to that noise, at the time DC’s New 52 rolled back the continuity odometer once again in 2011, Grant Morrison and co. were almost finished with their epic reconstruction of Batman, and the franchise was in a better state than it had been in a while. Of all the iconic characters set for a new start, Batman was the biggest challenge by a country mile.
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and the rest of the team on Batman have responded with hands-down the best new origin of the New 52. “Secret City,” the first arc of the year-long “Zero Year,” revamps the Dark Knight while reaffirming him, adding new layers to the existing origin and remixing the fundamentals into something bigger, wilder, and more mythic.
It feels almost incorrect to call Zero Year a reboot. It’s more like a modernization, an update that draws from the best previous versions — including Christopher Nolan’s movies and the Warner Bros. animated series — without trying to recreate them. It re-examines everything we know, applying new twists to old plot points. The Red Hood gang is transformed into a snarling mouth of terror organization; the Joker’s possible beginning is reshaped into something more savage, but cleverly left ambiguous; the moment of Bruce Wayne’s inspiration is given odd sci-fi poetry; it’s been hinted that there’s a new twist to the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne; the Riddler is finally interesting.
By placing Batman in the context of our modern fears, Snyder and Capullo have redefined his role, made him more relevant because he challenges the things that make us feelirrelevant. Not just random, senseless crime or urban decay, but terrorism and catastrophe. In addition to being an avenger of the night and the world’s greatest detective, Batman is now the first line of defense against societal collapse, our best hope against the forces that strive to make us feel meaningless. A pitch-perfect reinvention for the hyper-accelerated, paranoid times we live in, “Zero Year” is a classic in the making.
BEST SCI-FI COMIC WHERE TEENAGE GIRLS REFER TO EACH OTHER AS “DUDE”
Artwork by Christopher Hastings and Anthony Clark
Written by Ryan North
Published by Shiftylook
Available: Free webcomic
I’m honestly surprised that the weekly Galaga webcomic hasn’t gotten more coverage over the past year, considering that the creative team behind it is basically a webcomic dream team: Writer Ryan North, of Dinosaur Comics (and, you know, that amazing Eisner award-winning Adventure Time comic), with art by Christopher Hastings of Dr. McNinja (and Marvel’s current Longshot miniseries) and Nedroid and McNinja‘s Anthony Clark. That’s as amazing a lineup as any comic could ask for, and true to form, they’re knocking it out of the park with every single strip.
If you’re not familiar with Shiftylook, it’s Namco’s (relatively) new initiative for turning older video games into comics, and they’ve recruited a ton of great webcomics talent to get the job done. They’re all pretty fun to see, but the older games like Galaga, in which the original plot was a pretty simple “aliens descend and you shoot them, scroll up and continue,” it’s fascinating to see how they build that into a full series. With Galaga, North, Hastings and Clark have come up with a story that’s consistently engaging and enjoyable, hilarious and action packed.
Their story follows Betty, Penelope and the mustachioed President of the United States, who take to the skies to defend the Earth from an invading army of two-dimensional alien bees. Betty and Penelope are two best friends who love video games, so when one of the aliens explodes and showers their back yard with giant cubes they do the sensible thing and build a spaceship out of them so they can go blow up the bad guys with lasers. The President, of course, wants to blow up aliens himself, and — spoiler warning! — he does. That’s pretty much the entire plot, punctuated with clever gags about points, extra lives, continues, and two-dimensional space combat. It’s fantastic
Spinning a plot out of “shoot and scroll up” is impressive, but doing it this well, with this kind of excitement, is rare and appreciated. I’m on record as being pretty solidly in favor of teen girls having space adventures, and North, Hastings and Clark have done it better than anybody else this year.
MOST MYSTERIOUS MYSTERY
As it moved through its second year, Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT solidified its reputation as one of the most unique serialized ventures in the industry. Our hero, Meru, peels back more of the conspiracy that’s defined and derailed her life and the readers get actual rewards for their patience, a rarity in many comics with similar themes. Mind MGMT ranks alongside Michael Fiffe’s superlative Copra as far using the serial format goes, but 2013 saw the release of a pair of deluxe hardcovers that collect the first year of the book and make it a no-brainer for inclusion on any kind of “Best Of.”
Like in his original graphic novels, Kindt creates an evocative world with minimal muss or fuss. Dialogue is never too pitched and the art, with its singular pen-and-watercolor technique, is casually masterful. If nothing else, Mind MGMT should hopefully embolden more publishers by showing that supporting writer/artists in the serial format can have incredible rewards.
MOST ENJOYABLE STUDY OF FEMINIST COMICS HISTORY
Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics
By Mike Madrid
Published by Exterminating Angel Press
Available: Amazon (print + Kindle)
Mike Madrid is doing God’s work. Before I read his previous book The Supergirls, I was — dare I say it? — kind of smug about my knowledge of women in comics. I knew about Brenda Starr, the Phantom Lady, Miss Fury, all those hellions of yore. I had not, however, heard of the Spider Widow, the Black Angel, or Pat Patriot. Googling led to little that wasn’t already in the book, and that was little enough. Luckily, Madrid came out this year with Divas, Dames & Daredevils, a collection of golden age superheroines ranging from Fantomah to the Veiled Avenger to Maureen Marine, each of them swaying on the abyss of total obscurity.
Divas, Dames & Daredevils presents more than a few interesting challenges to our idea of comics, superheroines, and American mores in general. So many of these stories are outright wild: violence, sexy costumes, and the sleazier pulp tropes flow freely here. But these divas and dames often command an autonomy and importance rarely afforded our modern heroines. It isn’t just that they slay fascists, pilot airplanes and wield everything from chlorine guns to Olympian powers — it’s that these stories are theirs. They’re not the supporting characters, they’re not the love interests, and they’re not given one or two moments of Girl Power before they’re shuffled off to make room for the real (and male-dominated) plot. Divas, Dames & Daredevils makes accessible a lost, heady land of female adventure — one drowned out by the nicer, more traditionally feminine ladies of the silver age and postwar American culture at large. This is an essential book for the comics historian, the feminist fan, even the curious outsider.
MOST CONSISTENTLY COOL SHARED UNIVERSE LINE
It’s been It’s been a banner year for comics set in the galaxy far, far away. 2013 has seen the launch of Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s adjectiveless Star Wars series, the comics adaptation of George Lucas’ first draft screenplay of The Star Wars — which is the weirdest thing ever — and Zack Giallongo’s all-ages graphic novel, Ewoks: Shadows of Endor; great comics, all.
For me, though, there have been two titles that stand out from the rest, namely Gabriel Hardman, Corrina Bechko and Brian Thies’ Star Wars: Legacy and Star Wars: Dark Times, from Mick Harrison, Douglas Wheatley and Gabriel Guzman. Both of these titles manage to take lesser-explored eras of the Star Wars timeline and tell stories that are exciting, fresh and thought-provoking.
Hardman and Bechko’s Legacy focuses on Ania Solo, a distant-descendant of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who finds herself in the middle of a galactic struggle that might break apart a newly-formed Empire. In-between space battles, lightsaber fights and awesome action set-pieces, Hardman and Bechko introduce us to a cast of characters that include our heroine, Ania, a spunky mechanic who don’t take no mess from nobody; an Imperial Knight whose loyalty will be tested; and a mysterious Sith lord who wants to bring back the Bad Old Days. It all zips along like a space adventure story should, with Hardman and Bechko bringing the same respect for an established universe that they brought for Boom! Studios’ Planet of the Apes comics, while infusing the book with a sense of adventure and spirit that most modern Star Wars endeavors only pretend at. Hardman and Thies’ gritty, kinetic art style gives everything that lived-in, dusty sheen that is essential in the Star Wars universe.
Legacy is kind of an easy sell: young Outer Rim nobody gets caught up in galactic intrigue and danger, has adventures. Dark Times is a little tougher. It’s an ambitious book, with Harrison, Wheatley and Guzman telling stories of separate and yet intertwined groups who have to figure out how to live after surviving a galactic civil war. It’s a book full of moral quandaries, bold risks, and significant losses. And while it lacks a lot of the visceral adventure of books like Wood & D’Anda’s Star Wars and Legacy, it packs an emotional punch that’s hard to ignore.
The most recently-collected Dark Times arc, titled “Fire Carrier,” from Harrison and Guzman, tells the tale of Jedi Master K’Kruhk, who, along with a small group of padawans, managed to escape the “Order 66” Purge seen in the Revenge of the Sith film. “Fire Carrier” finds them in an Imperial refugee camp where they come face-to-face with the horror that war brings. Like the rest of Dark Times’ stories, it asks you how far you’re willing to go to protect those closest to you, how much you can compromise before you’ve turned away from your core beliefs, and how you determine light from darkness in a universe where the distinction between those two ideas grows thinner by the second. It’s powerful stuff.
SPECIAL AWARD FOR HOLDING IT DOWN AND KEEPING IT TIGHT
Eric Stephenson, Publisher
Image’s very good year really began in October 2012 at New York Comic Con when the publisher announced titles including Sex Criminals, East of West, Three, and The End Times of Bram and Ben. The buzz on the con floor was enough to steal thunder from Marvel as it readied its first wave of NOW titles.
The excitement wasn’t just about these specific titles. It was about Image rediscovering its mojo as an ideas factory. Thanks to the success of Saga, and with The Walking Dead underwriting every move, Image was in a position to give voice to new ideas from established talents and emerging creators alike; Matt Fraction, Riley Rossmo, Amy Reeder, Jonathan Hickman, Jimmie Robinson. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Rick Remender, Chris Mooneyham, Howard Chaykin, Sina Grace, Joe Casey, Roc Upchurch and many, many more.
Image today has arguably the strongest slate of books it’s ever offered, and it’s a diverse slate powered by invention, impossible to narrow down to a single niche. The result has been growing market share for Image, and a growing comics market over all. Image may have made itself the first comic book publisher to succeed as both a comic publisher and as a book publisher.
Lazarus, Five Weapons, Sex, Five Ghosts, Drumhellar, Pretty Deadly, Burn The Orphanage, Rat Queens, Umbral, Jupiter’s Legacy, The Bounce, Secret, Chin Music, Ghosted, Sheltered, Manifest Destiny, Rocket Girl, Velvet, Black Science. Image had a very good year, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.