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The Best Comic Books of 2013, Part One

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 one of ComicsAlliance’s Best Comic Books of 2013.

About the General Zod Memorial Awards

Genetically bred and specifically reared to become the supreme military commander of the Planet Krypton, General Zod was encased in an enormous dildo and exiled to the Phantom Zone for waging a civil war on his home world, which he did for some reason. Among Zod’s crimes was the killing of scientist Jor-El just after he’d launched his infant son Kal-El into outer space, which he did for some reason. The son of Jor-El landed on planet Earth, where by virtue of an evolutionary fluke Kryptonians enjoy tremendous powers such as flight and invulnerability. Alas, Kal-El was forbidden to use them, for some reason. Consequently Kal-El wandered the earth in existential malaise before discovering a Kryptonian spaceship which had crashed on Earth thousands of years earlier, for some reason, and unwittingly activated a beacon which alerted the since freed General Zod to his presence. Ultimately Kal-El revealed himself and discovered that, for some reason, Zod planned to eradicate all life on Earth and terraform it into a new Kyrpton. Now known as Superman and collaborating with human agents, Kal-El bravely defeated the forces of General Zod. However, in so doing, Superman triggered some kind of Kryptonian tech support failure which, for some reason, ensured that no more Kryptonians could ever be born. The genocide of his entire race being quite literally the worst case scenario for someone specifically charged with protecting it, General Zod became upset. In a violent final battle in which both Kryptonians expressed a breathtaking disregard for human life, General Zod was murdered by Superman.

In this first of a multi-part feature, we honor General Zod’s completely fictional memory with this comprehensive recognition of the work we at ComicsAlliance enjoyed most in the year that was.

 


BEST RETRO-FUTURIST DETECTIVE STORY ABOUT THE DEATH OF PRIVACY

 
 
 

the private eye marcos martin brian k vaughanThe Private Eye
Artwork by Marcos Martin and Munsta Vicente
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by The Panel Syndicate
Available: Pay-what-you-want webcomic

Only Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin would think to make a digital-only comic about a future with no Internet. In a culture where we want everybody to know where we are and what we're doing, and the widespread outrage over the PRISM scandal settled into a disgruntled murmur after only a few weeks, The Private Eye tests our attitudes toward privacy and transparency and asks us "what if?"

Set in 2076 Los Angeles, The Private Eye takes place years after an event called “The Flood” mysteriously released all the private information on the Internet to the world at large. Bank accounts, medical records, private messages -- everything in the Cloud was dumped where everyone could see it. As a result of the fallout, the Internet has been shut down, everything is on paper again, the press are the police, and citizens walk the streets in elaborate masks and costumes that hide their true identities. Vaughan and Martin’s private eye, a paparazzo who goes by the moniker P.I., takes the case of a woman looking for the man who murdered her sister, and gets close to something much, much bigger.

The Private Eye is insightful sci-fi of the highest order, built on a conceit that challenges all of our presumptions of identity and inverts our collective vision of the future into something completely unexpected. But it’s also a detective story, a repurposing of the tropes defined by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett in a unique new setting. As usual, Vaughan creates a layered protagonist who constantly surprises with unexpected choices and hidden depths. “P.I.” is the lowest of the low, an opportunist who makes a living by breaking his contract with society while doing everything he can to maintain his own secret identity. He’s hypocritical, unfeeling, cocky, and self-serving, but he’s also loyal, clever, and has an innate morality in spite of himself. Calling in favors, making every mistake he can, and in way over his head, he’s the classic loser detective, upgraded to a mixed-race pot-smoker with an invisibility cloak.

Martin’s art is -- as always -- immaculate. He’s always had cool touches of retro-futurism in his superhero books, but in The Private Eye he goes absolutely nuts. The L.A. of 2076 manages to look like a plausible future, with sleek maglev trains and modular buildings, but even a cursory glance gives you the impression that the whole world has gone retro. Since nearly everybody is wearing a mask or costume of some sort, he flexes his considerable muscles for fashion and character design, and each issue is a smorgasbord of outlandish costumes worn by people trying to hide their identity while communicating who they are deep inside. Brilliantly colored by Muntsa Vicente, Martin’s fluid, vivacious art reaches new highs.

- John Parker

CHILLEST SUPERHERO BRO COMIC

 
 
 

Hawkeye volume 2Hawkeye
Artwork by David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Jesse Hamm, Steve Lieber, and Matt Hollingsworth
Written by Matt Fraction
Production by Chris Eliopoulos
Edited by Stephen Wacker and Tom Brennan
Published by Marvel Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / Marvel (iOS + Android)

It still blows my mind that Marvel's attempt to capitalize on the success of the Avengers movie by launching their fourth attempt at a Hawkeye title meant handing it to Matt Fraction and David Aja and letting them pretty much redefine how compelling street-level superheroics worked. Their Hawkeye is the Avenger who's just a dude, and this book is what he does when he's not saving the world. He drinks coffee straight from the pot, wears a t-shirt and Chuck Taylors, and has a string of monumentally bad luck that even Peter Parker would feel sympathy for. And everybody loves it.

Hawkeye is a book that takes risks. When everyone was suddenly interested in this guy that used a bow and arrow to help Thunder Gods, super soldiers and a walking tank fight off an alien invasion, Fraction and Aja gave them a comic book that was basically The Rockford Files with an off-duty superhero. When everyone got used to that, they switched it up to being The Rockford Files with an off-duty superhero who was also a teenage girl, and the way they pulled off the switch was by a story told by a dog. That's pretty astonishing.

What's even more astonishing is that it all works -- and not only that, but it works amazingly well. Hawkeye #11 -- "Pizza Is My Business" -- is constructed with such a perfect union of script and art that it ought to be taught in classes. Using the unique visual language of comics to show Lucky's thought process, the way scents combine to form visual maps of how he understands the characters, the way panels are constructed to highlight what he's seeing while leaving out areas he's not aware of, even the way it's laid out on the page -- it's master class level stuff, just from a technical standpoint. That it's building off a year of comics that have gotten readers emotionally invested in the characters makes it indisputably the high point of superhero comics.

It would be one thing if that was the only truly great issue that Fraction and Aja had managed to pull off in 2013, but Hawkeye #11 is a high point among high points. Every single issue has been one of the best books on the stands.

And that was before Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe started showing up to hand out life lessons to the superheroes.

- Chris Sims

BEST COMIC ABOUT ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS WITH ACTUAL HUMAN FEELINGS GOD DAMMIT

 
 
 

Sunny mangaSunny
By Taiyo Matsumoto
Translated by Michael Arias
Published by Viz Media
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / Viz (iOS + Android)

Sunny is an emotionally dense look at an underexplored part of Japanese youth culture, the sort of book that lingers after you close each volume. The first chapter features micro-slices of strangers living their lives, perfectly capturing the confusion and disorientation of new kid Sei's first few days in a new environment. Much like Matsumoto's most famous work, Tekkonkinkreet, a clear picture of the characters and their relationships forms fairly quickly, along with a surprising amount of emotional heft.

Matsumoto's work has always reminded me of jazz, using its own rhythms and flourishes to tell familiar-seeming stories -- a young child goes wandering, a dead cat is found -- in an all-new way. As the narrative moves between the residents of the Star Kids Home, the titular Sunny (a run-down 1970s Datsun parked in the front yard) provides a touchstone in all of their lives, part escapist fantasy, part confessional booth. Matsumoto's writing (thanks in part to translation by Michael Arias) takes a minimalist approach that pulls down the barriers between the reader and the work and his art is, as always, unique and occasionally startling, using textures and techniques rarely seen in the comics medium.

In interviews, Matsumoto has said that his work always has difficulty finding an audience, not fitting in with the traditional manga readership and being a bit too foreign for European or American art comix fans. Sunny, with its quasi-autobiographical nature and simple (but never simplistic) storytelling, will hopefully give lie to that, especially as the first volume made the New York Times manga bestseller list, alongside volumes 287 and 288 of Naruto.

- Kevin Church

BEST MEMOIR CONFINED TO THE GENERAL KITCHEN AREA

 
 
 

Relish my life in the kitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen
By Lucy Knisley
Published by First Second
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle)

I've been borrowing a friend's copy of Relish for going on two months now. Ostensibly, I still have it to better pen this recommendation, and that's not a complete lie -- I totally just glanced through it to remember the points I wanted to make here. But I've also re-read it, re-skimmed it, tried out some of its recipes, and read passages of it to my boyfriend. After a month, I probably could have given it back and written this without problem. I don't want to give it back, though. I want to keep it on my coffee table, where I can open to a new recipe, or skim a sunny page or two about Mexican candy, or fine cheese, or the particular pleasure of a fast food french fry. I don't want to let go of it until I can guarantee a copy of my own.

Relish is about Lucy Knisley's relationship to food, and relatedly, her relationship to her family and herself. It's a loose story, a collection of memories, really, knitted together by food. It did what all good memoirs do in that it told a life story and made even the seemingly mundane interesting and emotional. But it became a great memoir when it brought forth my own memories, enriching the book itself and my own relationship to food. Our lives are vastly different, but in Knisley's time at college, her relationship to her mother, and her teenage petulance, I saw my own.

Beyond this, the book is a sensual delight. Knisley gets right to the heart of what makes things delicious, delineating carefully between delicate chocolate tea cookies and dense cocoa bourbon balls, a pungent blue cheese and an aged cheddar. Read it, enjoy it, try out some of the included recipes, lend it to your friends. Though I speak from experience when I say that you might not get it back.

- Juliet Kahn

MOST UNPREDICTABLE AND UNCANNY AND UNCATEGORIZABLE COMIC

 
 
 

the wake snyder murphy vertigoThe Wake
Artwork by Sean Gordon Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Written by Scott Snyder
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
Edited by Mark Doyle and Sara Miller
Published by Vertigo
Available: Comics shops (print) / DC Entertainment (iOS + Android)

Each time I picked up an issue of The Wake -- five came out this year -- I reached a point where I said to myself, "Oh, I see where this is going now." Then it didn't do that at all. Or it did what I expected way, way ahead of when I expected it to happen. I thought it was underwater Alien (that reduces it down considerably, but I'll use it for the sake of description). Then it was underwater Aliens. Then it was... underwater something I can't even describe.

But I have to! The Wake is a comic about a hidden horror under the ocean. But it's like a living creature that grows and evolves into something much more complex. It's a comic about a scientist named Lee Archer; it's also kind of like a science project. There's so much discovery for the reader.

It's a book that is shockingly propulsive. When issue #5 ended, my jaw dropped open with how much of a left turn it took. The Wake is going to look markedly different in 2014 than it did in 2013. It's like it's got its own sequel built in. And yet, it all fits together. Scott Snyder's been experimenting with disjointed storytelling all year, but I think he's pulled it off most successfully with this Vertigo series.

I can't think of a more perfect artist to bring Snyder's scripts to life than Sean Murphy. Much like the series itself, Murphy melds intense detail and beautiful abstraction all at once. The Wake is such personal story, and yet it's as broad of a story as you could imagine. It's a riddle. And it keeps changing the rules. I love it.

- Matt D. Wilson

BEST BASKETBALL WIZARDRY MASHUP COMIC

 
 
 

fantasy basketball sam bosmaFantasy Basketball
By Sam Bosma
Self-published
Available: Big Cartel (print) / Gumroad (PDF)

There’s something to be said for a comic that does exactly what it says on the cover, and Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Basketball definitely contains both of the things in that title. With art that looks like a cross between Miyazaki and Hugo Pratt and a plot that combines the zaniness of an episode (or issue) of Adventure Time with the excitement of a volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk manga, Bosma tells the story of a pair of dungeon-crawling treasure-hunters who awaken an ancient wizard who, it turns out, will give them his treasure... if they can defeat him in a one-on basketball game. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: this is a comic where Dungeons & Dragons characters play magic basketball against a wizard who is also a mummy.

It’s a light story, but it’s masterfully told, with fun, perfectly-designed characters, great dialog, and flat-out fantastic cartooning. If you don’t find yourself cheering (or at the very least, grinning) by the end of this thing, then you should probably go get one of those Blade Runner tests done on you because you are probably a Replicant.

- Dylan Todd

BEST UNWIELDY KICKSTARTER ANTHOLOGY COMIC

 
 
 

Bad Karma
Artwork by Jeremy Haun, John Rauch, Mike Tisserand, Zac Atkinson, Phil Hester, Nick Filardi, Christopher Mitten, Tight Walker, Jonathan Hickman and others
Written by Jeremy Haun, Alex Grecian, B. Clay Moore, Seth Peck and others
Published by Bad Karma Creative
Available: Shopify (print)

A group of creators getting together to create a large-scale project that allows them to do their own things individually as well as collaborate on world-building. That could be the first part of a sad story about how a group of creators all turned on each other or, worse, created a bunch of crap. In the case of Bad Karma, the comic book collection and writing collective made up of Alex Grecian, Jeremy Haun, B. Clay Moore, and Seth Peck, the final product is gorgeous and the experience was apparently so enjoyable for all that they’re already working on a second volume of this 200-page graphic novel anthology of comics, prose and illustration.

Featuring stories about detectives with time machines, battles between agents of chaos and order, prohibition era crime, and cops chasing monsters and past-life regression, mysteries abound in Bad Karma. Answers are few and far between, but almost all of the stories are enjoyable either despite or because of that fact. The dark sci-fi tone of the entire book works really well, with each story taking its own approach to this strange world and playing with genre conventions in its own way. The writing throughout is particularly strong, which is no surprise given that it was produced by a writing collective, and in general the art is very good as well. Interestingly, the lettering stands out as particularly well done despite most of the stories having their own font, caption, and balloon style. Most impressively, Haun’s art on “The 9th Life of Solomon Gunn" stands out as some of the best of his entire career; Tigh Walker’s art for Peck’s “Hellbent” has the perfect amount of swagger that’s needed for the story of a brawling cop; and Moore’s “Old Dog” is a beautifully crafted tale of noir. And all of these great comics are printed on high-quality paper and packaged in a lovely slip-cased hardcover.

Bad Karma is a beautiful representation of collaboration at its best. It would not at all be surprising to see more and more creators getting together for similar collaborations. It will take a lot of skill and hard work to top what the Bad Karma team has put together, though.

- Janelle Aselin

MOST COSMOS-RENDING FUNNY ANIMAL BREAKUP COMIC

 
 
 

Fran Jim WoodringFran
By Jim Woodring
Published by Fantagraphics
Available:  Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print) / ComiXology (iOS + Android)

As risk of sounding reductive, Jim Woodring's famous, wordless “Frank” strips have always struck me as comics employing the language of Looney Tunes to easily communicate slightly more... esoteric messages about human nature; even if you don't understand THE MEANING behind every last one of Woodring's curious images, you nonetheless feel like something has been learned -- as if something fundamental and (eek!) Jungian has been triggered just from hanging around with fuzzy, capricious Frank, who's like a Bugs Bunny you've observed for long enough, after the cameras have stopped rolling, to understand what an absolute goddamned terror he must be to try and live with. Like, how would such a “person” react to a serious, for-real, no-takebacks cataclysmic end to a romantic relationship?

If it's Frank, it's vision quest time, but unlike the vision quests Woodring has doled out at not-infrequent intervals in the past few years -- Fran is a direct sequel to a 2011 book, Congress of the Animals, and sort of a thematic sibling to a 2010 book, Weathercraft, though I hasten to add that you don't need to have read any prior works to understand this piece -- here the mission is fraught with criticism of Frank's forever-childish nature, and perhaps even the whole notion of "winning back the girl," which after all is a narrative that flatters the usually-male point of view as a theory of conquest, of winning. The fact of the matter is, Frank really doesn't understand Fran, and through his always-adept command of funny animal body language and stretch-and-squash capabilities, Woodring mercilessly communicates the fact that other people -- lovers in particular -- are autonomous beings starring in the sagas of their own lives, and that the idea of realizing “happiness” as a state of cohabitation is potentially just an imposition on someone else's narrative.

In other words, it's Jim Woodring's (500) Days of Summer, which I hadn't realized I'd needed in my life until the artist's signature creation falls to his knees, stretches his jaw back to eclipse his face and screams until the sky splits and falls. Romance comics: still the best.

- Joe McCulloch

MOST POSSIBLY LITERALLY INSANE COMIC

 
 
 

mox noxMox Nox
By Joan Cornell
Published by Bang édiciones
Available: Comics shops (print) / Bang édiciones (print + digital)

Joan Cornellà might just be insane. Mox Nox, his collection of irreverent one-page comic strips, is a challenge to discuss because I almost don't know how to describe them or what to compare them to. They're like some combination of Michael Kupperman and your favorite MAD cartoonist, except they're all silent and mostly based on the same premise: something bad happens and an individual decides to fix things by doing something even worse, often with horrifying results that everyone seems to be perfectly satisfied with.

It's nuts. It's madness. But it's also brilliant, and every time I pick up the book, I can't put it down until I've gone through the entire thing again and laughed for a solid hour. And the brilliance of the humor aside, Cornellà is also a pretty great cartoonist. He does so much with just six panels and simple line work, reusing a panel but focusing in on a horrified facial expression, or using an emotionless anthropomorphic animal to drive home a joke. Until a few weeks ago I was completely unfamiliar with Cornellà's work, and now I realize I need to own everything he's ever produced.

I see Mox Nox as a kind of social litmus test. Have someone in your life who you’re getting to know, and whose company you so far enjoy, but you want to see if they’re sense of humor is as messed up as yours? Hand them a copy of Mox Nox, and one of two things will happen: Either they’ll love it and you’ll have a friend for life, or you’ll find out that you’ve completely misread them, and she or he will be horrified to discover the kind of sick individual you really are. On the plus side, when they throw the book back at you in disgust, you get to sit down and read it all over again. Either way, you win.

- Joseph Hughes

PORNOGRAPHY COMIC OF THE YEAR

 
 
 

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame
By Gengoroh Tagame
Edited by Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd and Graham Kolbein
Published by Picturebox
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print) / Picturebox (print)

Comics excel at pornography. A visual storytelling medium, paced by the reader's imagination, which can depict absolutely anything, no matter how fantastical? The most shocking thing about comics porn is that it doesn't dominate the entire industry.

As with all branches of comics, porn has its great masters. Perhaps the greatest erotic artist working in comics today is Gengoroh Tagame, whose work was translated into English for the first time this year by the sadly soon-to-be-defunct publisher Picturebox. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame is a beautifully packaged presentation of some of the Japanese artist's most intensely risque short stories.

If you want to pick up a copy as porn, you should know that it serves a particular interest. It's all gay erotica, with an emphasis on muscular, hairy, bearish men, often with impressive moustaches. It's also extremely graphic, with images of bondage, mutilation and rape that will not sit well with every sensibility. Tagame is unflinching in embracing and representing his personal peccadillos.

Yet set the subject aside, and The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame deserves to be recognized as a superb work of comics. Tagame is an exemplary draftsman with an exquisite and attentive line. His art deserves recognition. Just maybe take the book of your coffee table when your mother visits.

- Andrew Wheeler

MOST UNEXPECTEDLY HUMANE SCI-FI EPIC

 
 
 

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z
Artwork by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and Dean White
Written by Rick Remender
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Edited by Tom Brevoort, Lauren Sankovitch and Jake Thomas
Published by Marvel Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / Marvel (iOS + Android)

Of all the all the superhero comics restaffed and relaunched as part of the Marvel NOW initiative over the last year or so, Captain America is perhaps the one that most lived up to the bold promise of an all-new, all-different direction. Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Dean White, the inaugural 10-part story flew far afield of the super-espionage aesthetic of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s now-classic run, marooning Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s “Sentinel of Liberty” in a grim alternate dimension where he fought more than a decade to survive against warring tribes of monsters while defending — and raising as his own son — the child of his insane, grotesque enemy, Arnim Zola.

Titled "Castaway in Dimension Z," the audacious and occasionally heartbreaking book has more in common with the expansive, otherworldly adventure of European-style sci-fi like Brandon Graham and co.’s Prophet than any Marvel comics of recent memory, and is a good indicator of where Remender would go with subsequent works.

Captain America: Castaway In Dimension Z is also notable for its somewhat controversially grim vision of Cap's childhood, depicting young Steve Rogers as a child of poverty with a physically abusive parent. Most shockingly, Remender and Romita show Steve committing  criminal acts to survive. However, a scene in which the future Captain America confronts those immoral actions stands out as one of the most emotionally rewarding and uplifting scenes in a proper saga -- a beginning, middle and end, all created by the same writer and artists -- that truly does show us a classic character in a very new and enjoyable light.

- Andy Khouri

BEST HIGH-ALTITUDE CRIME THRILLER

 
 
 

High Crimes
Artwork by Ibrahim Moustafa
Written by Christopher Sebela
Published by Monkeybrain Comics
Available: ComiXology (iOS + Android)

Zan Jensen is running from her life. A former Olympic athlete with a bad drug habit living in Kathmandu, she makes a living as a mountain guide for the smaller summits around Mount Everest. On the side, though, she and her partner Haskell Pierce make a cool lump of cash in grave-robbing. Mountains are littered with bodies, especially Everest, and when Zan and Haskell come across a fresh body while shepherding tourists up the peaks, they cut off the corpse’s right hand, take their personal effects, and pump the families for money to bring the bodies down. When Haskell finds the body of a former spy, a cadre of hardcore government spooks come down on them like an avalanche, and soon Jensen is running for her life, all the way up Everest.

High Crimes could get away with just having a great concept and not have to do much else to be good. The hook and the setting, harshly evoked by Moustafa’s stylish images, are enough to make it an interesting read. But the book is about the characters, their bad wiring, worse choices, and the type of mania that forces someone into the Olympics or spying, or up the tallest mountain in the world. To say that Zan is imperfect would be a massive understatement: she’s a complete disaster, a junkie and a cheater always looking for the next place to hide. She's an engaging failure forced to discover she still has some fight in her. Seeing parallels in the journal of Sullivan Mars -- the spy found on Everest -- she responds when the stakes are at their highest, and her journey from trainwreck to action hero propels the story.

Sebela and Moustafa don’t have a lot of space to work with. The first issue of the digital-only series was only thirteen pages, but they wring everything they can out of what they’ve got. Mixing up the pace between high-tempo action and considered character work, they keep the intrigue at full volume and convey all the danger and mystery of the setting with an appropriate combination of fear and awe. A smart, twisting thriller with great characters and an unassailable premise, High Crimes is a gripping new Baedeker of suspense.

- John Parker

DARINGEST DEVIL COMIC (FIRST RUNNER UP: SATAN)

 
 
 

Daredevil
By Chris Samnee and Mark Waid
Color by Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Edited by Ellie Pyle and Stephen Wacker
Published by Marvel Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / Marvel (iOS + Android)

"Try the red one" is probably the single best line of dialogue in comics this year.

I talked to Mark Waid about it not long after Daredevil #25 hit stands, and he told me that he'd had that line in his head since he started working on the book, before he even knew what "the red one" was. He figured it out, though, and in the story he and Chris Samnee told about Matt Murdock once again facing off with his arch-enemy (well, okay, one of his many arch-enemies -- dude has had a pretty confrontational life), it ended up being one of the most exciting twists in all of superhero comics.

What sticks out about it is that it was as simple a reveal as it could possibly be, but that's what Waid, Samnee, Javier Pulido, Marcos Martin and Javier Rodriguez have been doing since the book launched. Everything they've done, from pitting a blind superhero against a villain made of sound to the big reveal of just who it was screwing with Daredevil's life has been, in retrospect, so obvious. Of course that fight should happen. Of course someone doens't need to be blind to have Daredevil's powers. Of course Daredevil's going to fight Bullseye. The trick is that none of it feels simple. None of it feels obvious, because every twist and turn is based on uprooting simple assumptions you have about the characters involved, assumptions that you have because the characters themselves have them.

That's one of Waid's greatest strengths as a writer, and one of the reasons that he's been able to drop hit after hit after hit across three decades: He puts the reader directly into the minds of the characters. Daredevil (and Bruce Banner, and the Flash, and the Fantastic Four, and Impulse, and... well, you get the idea) is so easy for the reader to identify with that his thoughts become our thoughts, and when he's surprised, we're surprised, and when he triumphs, we feel like we've won something. That's an important feel to strive for in a comic like this, where you're taking a character that's been defined by one style of storytelling for so long and moving him in a direction that feels new, even though all those elements of danger and paranoia and self-destruction are still there as a vital part of what's going on.

What makes it really interesting, though, is how all that's balanced out with stuff that we've never seen before. Has Daredevil ever fought Dr. Doom? Has he teamed up with the Silver Surfer and rode through Hell's Kitchen on a cosmic surfboard? I missed some of those West Coast stories from the '60s, but I don't think he has. That stuff's all folded in there, making this incredible blend of old and new, fresh takes on classic ideas, beautiful storytelling that brings Daredevil out of his isolated urban existence into the bigger Marvel universe in a way that works and doesn't detract from those brutal, gritty stories.

It's difficult to pull off, but the storytelling on this book has been universally incredible on all sides, and it's no wonder that the Ikari storyline credits Waid and Samnee as "storytellers" rather than listing them individually as writer and artist. They compliment each other so well that it's hard to imagine the book looking any different. The visuals are the storytelling, resulting in one of those books that takes advantage of everything the medium has to offer in the service of high adventure. It's not just them, either -- everyone working on the book is bringing their A-game. Letterer Joe Caramagna, for instance, deserves all the praise in the world for that panel where the elevator doors are closing over a quiet threat, obscuring the word balloon as Daredevil is shut out at the last minute.

It's a phenomenal title, and a great example of just how good comics can be when they're hitting on every level. If you're looking for the best superhero comic on the stands today, take Ikari's advice. Try the red one.

- Chris Sims

BEST REPACKAGING OF A COMIC THAT CAME OUT WAY BEFORE 2013

 
 
 

Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition
Artwork by Kevin O'Neil
Written by Pat Mills
Published by DC Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / DC Comics (iOS + Android)

If you think Alan Moore hates superheroes because he's grumbled a bit about the current state of publishing, then I'd like to introduce you to Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, two men who've created a cottage industry of superhero mockery with the brutal satire Marshal Law.

In the years before this collection, readers of a certain stripe treated the goverment-sanction superhero hunter as a shibboleth, the sort of thing you bring up in conversation to know if the person you're sitting across from has sipped from the chosen chalice. With Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition, DC has done its best to provide a definitive look at a series with an irregular (to say the least) publishing history. Starting at Marvel's creator-owned Epic imprint in 1987 with a six-issue miniseries Marshal Law hopped from publisher to publisher and was, frankly, bungled pretty much everywhere it went, appearing in short-lived anthologies and crossovers without ever quite finding a home. (In fact, Top Shelf Productions was going to be the original home for this complete collection but for whatever reason, it ended up coming out through DC Comics. Over a decade after these stories came out and it's still having problems finding a home.)

So, what about the comic itself? I rarely use words like "amazing" to describe comics that aren't my own, but Marshal Law certainly earns that word handily. Utterly deadpan plotting and delivery is combined with O'Neill's trademark itchy lines and bombast to mock, shame and otherwise abuse the genre. I can easily see someone having an allergic reaction to this book, honestly, but I've read through the deluxe edition thrice now and find new things to laugh at. Is it repellant in places? Yes, especially when it comes to its treatment of women, but at the same time that's rather the point. Mills and O'Neill are skewering tropes that were established two decades ago and are still relevant today.

The next time someone complains about Alan Moore, remember: he wrote Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?. Pat Mills wrote a story in which a billionaire's son guns down his parents to get access to their fortune so he can become the Private Eye, a vigilante detective. With the deluxe edition of Marshall Law, Mills proves that he's not the hero that superhero comics readers need, but he's the one that they certainly deserve.

- Kevin Church

BEST FILTH OF THE YEAR

 
 
 

Sex Criminals
Artwork by Chip Zdarsky and Becka Kinzie
Written by Matt Fraction
Production by Drew Gill
Edited by Thomas K
Published by Image Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / Image (DRM-free digital) / ComiXology (iOS + Android)

The title sets a certain tone. Sex Criminals. It's going to be a nasty book. A book about shame, depravity and exploitation. It's going to be the sort of book that depraves and corrupts. Frankly, if we let people read it at all it may tear at the very fabric of society.Yet anyone who has opened up an issue of Sex Criminals has quickly discovered that it's a very sweet book. It's a book about adolescent fear; a book about doubt and need; a book about profound connections. Most of all it's a book about falling in love. And it's lovely. The story of two young people who can stop time with their orgasms -- and find each other in the quiet space that creates -- is as heart-warming, soul-affirming, and blessedly intelligent a story as you'll read this year.It's also full of dildos, "money shots," porn jokes and genitals. Fraction and Zdarsky are not afraid to delight in the absurdity of sex. They also take the subject seriously when they need to. They're respectful of what sex means, from unhappy first fumblings to paid professionals at work. There is nothing nasty or shameful about Sex Criminals. To ignore that, you'd have to be an awful hidebound knee-jerk nannyish craven Comics Code Authority-wannabe.Hi Apple. Thanks for protecting us from art, you epic dicks.

- Andrew Wheeler

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