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Top 10 Ongoing Series of 2013

A column article, Top Ten by: Taylor Lilley and the Comics Bulletin All-Stars

Astro City

(Kurt Busiek / Brent Anderson / Alex Ross)

Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross got me to do something I haven’t done for over 10 years—open a pull box and my local comic shop. I’ve switched almost exclusively to digital and collected issues this days (due to budget and apartment space), but Astro City is something I can’t live without. I can’t wait for the trades, and I want to hold that comic in my hand.

Astro City

Although I admit I was worried when I picked up the first issue. It was like seeing an old, favorite girlfriend after years of being apart. Would you still find her pretty? Would the attraction still be there? Or would you wonder what you saw in her in the first place? I’ve had that happen with many comics before; absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

But the Astro City team still has that magic. From the first issue it was bliss to be back in the city. Everything was perfect, and even a little different. There’s no nostalgia driving this comic. Just pure invention. And I don’t think Kurt Busiek has it in him to write a bad issue of Astro City. Scratch that; I don’t think he has it in him to write a MEDIOCRE issue of Astro City. They are amazing.

Even the things that shouldn’t work, work here. Like a villain who—instead of a white man in blackface—is a black man in white face who calls himself Mister Cakewalk. In anyone else’s hands this would be an offensive, racist caricature. But Busiek pulls it off. Or the Broken Man. Or … the any of the 100 million plots and subplots going on in Astro City at any given time.

A welcome return to one of the best modern comics ever made. If you are a superhero fan—or just a fan of good comics—and you aren’t reading Astro City. Well, let’s just say I question your judgment a little.

(I do have one complaint thought: Kurt, where is that issue featuring The Gentlemen that you talked to me about at Emerald City Comic Con? I want to read that! Squeeze him in there somewhere, will you? Thanks!)

- Zack Davisson


Copra

(Michel Fiffe)

Born of an unexpectedly popular Suicide Squad tribute comic called DeathzoneCopra became a fusion comics powerhouse, and arguably the definitive comic of 2013. December saw #12 and the end of volume 1, but Fiffe has already assured us that the saga will continue in mini-esque instalments, and 2014 seems that little bit sunnier for it.

Copra

In principle, another “gang of expendables overcoming the odds” comic isn’t exactly cause for celebration. Tracking this sub-genre’s development is like watching crystalline alpine waters trickle into rivulets, become churning rapids, and ultimately degenerate into a mile-wide whorl of stinky brown. The promise of the premise is that because the players aren’t on lunchboxes, don’t have cray-cray superpowers, and aren’t familiar, there’s room for off-beat characterization, for divergence from the norm, and ultimately a greater sense of risk for the invested reader, since anyone could get got. Anyone.

Copra

In practice, unfamiliarity, moth-ridden dialoguing, and hackneyed plotting usually doom these books. Not so with Copra. Fiffe provides the familiars, the powerhouse, the shot-caller, the deadly martial artist, etc, but provides each with a twist, be it youth, vulnerability, real-life cult figure resemblance. He makes each character obviously of a type, but dignifies them with depth. Similarly, Fiffe’s choreography provides flawless continuity between blows, even in a brawl, such that his “camera” appears to be moving impossibly through the midst of an actual imbroglio.

This combination of character and believable motion give Copra a consistency, a verisimilitude enriched by Fiffe’s surreal flourishes, like Hembeck knees on supervillains, or rendering certain players without ink. What it all adds up to is a Suicide Squad-style comic without all the bullshit rules of composition, without the labored predictability of endless Special Forces goons and ever-bigger guns. Fiffe stole 2013 with his creativity, but also for epitomizing the growing power of creators. He didn’t need to do work-for-hire to write a great action comic and pay his bills. He didn’t even need to go to Image, or BOOM. He did everything himself, thumbnail soup to mail-out nuts, and kept us rocking for 12 straight months, solo. Not every creator can manage that in this climate, nor should they. But it’s inspiring to see it done, and done well.

- Taylor Lilley


Daredevil

(Mark Waid / Chris Samnee / Javier Rodriguez)

The greatest trick Mark Waid ever pulled was putting the fun back in the ‘Devil.

Daredevil

In 2013 Daredevil storylines touched on, to name a few, Trayvon Martin, childhood bullying, the ongoing treatment for Foggy’s cancer, Deep South racism, black market smuggling of a uniquely disturbing kind, and, naturally, the question of Matt Murdock’s sanity. Compared to the out and out showboating of Waid’s opening issues back in 2011, that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. And that was one of the big questions that faced this swashbuckling incarnation of ol’ Hornhead as it strode deeper into double-digits: could he stand alone as cocky crimson cavalier in a sea of grim’n gritty superhero noir? Had Murdock reached escape velocity from the Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle shadows, or would he be sucked back into the gloom?

Daredevil

Team DD refused to choose. Though undeniably darker than its beginnings, this volume of Daredevil has continued to be witty, enjoyable, and nonchalant even at its characters’ lowest ebb. For alongside all the grimness mentioned above, Waid gave us a DD/Silver Surfer team-up, a snark-by with Superior Spider-Man, the buddy humour of Foggy and Matt, and some new romance. Rather than resuscitate the Elektra, Karen Page, Black Widow, or Milla relationships (again), Waid introduced Kirsten McDuffie, a legal eagle who can flirt and evade just as well as Matt can, one who kept him on his toes while watching his back. Kirsten may yet prove Waid’s greatest DD legacy.

Meanwhile artist Samnee found a neo-classical groove, erstwhile DD colour artist Javier Rodriguez stepped up to pencil with aplomb, and occasional Rivera covers, guest artists, and unparalleled palette continuity made every issue of Daredevil feel just right. No jarring fill-ins, no awkward stylistic transitions, just a blind man in red trying to do right in the world with billy club and brains. It takes a phenomenal amount of work to make superhero comics look this easy, flow this smooth. Even more impressive then, that this book proves month after month that you can have it all, the highest stakes and the warmest laughs.

- Taylor Lilley


Hawkeye

(Matt Fraction / David Aja / Francesco Francavilla / Javier Pulido / Annie Wu / Matt Hollingsworth)

Oh Clint Barton, your poor sad fuckup, I do so love to read your adventures. You drinker, you serial asshole with a good heart, you hero who's there for his friends when they need him, even if you're bored and falling asleep sitting in the back of a warm car. You good brother, you slumlord superintendent, you guy who suffers all the punches that life gives you but keeps going on, keeps being yourself through booze-induced stupors and Hurricane Sandy flashbacks. You're like any guy I know – good and bad, asshole and hero and regular damn guy all in one – and your comic is so tremendously wonderful.

Hawkeye

Yeah, Matt Fraction and his team of brilliant artists only turned out eight issues in 2013, but what great comics they were: fun, interesting, surprisingly moving and of course, it goes without saying, by general acclaim one of the best comics on the stands. We shouldn't care about how often this comic reaches the stands. It will get there when it gets there and it will be a treat every time it does. We fans should just admire the wonderful way that this book sustains mood and builds complex, ambiguous characters. We should thrill in the brilliant artwork and storytelling. We should delight in the brilliantly elegant linework by David Aja (and his legion of artistic friends) and in the elegant writing of Matt Fraction.

Oh Clint Barton, you poor sad fuckup. You may be a bit of a loser but your dog loves you and so do I. 
 
- Jason Sacks

The Massive

(Brian Wood / Garry Brown / Declan Shalvey / Danijel Zezelj / Gary Erskine / Jordie Bellaire / Jared K. Fletcher/ J.P. Leon)

Earlier this year I wrote: ''The Massive #12 is perfection, but it won't top my favorite issue of this series: the next one.'' Now, having read this sentence a few (dozen) times -- its slightly skewed syntax aside -- I stand by my statement. Of the eleven issues of The Massive released in 2013, each was better than the last. Greatness or 'best-of-ness' bears out, I believe, more often in consistency rather than in a singular accomplishment. Sustainability trumps any one-off every time. 

As a serial, The Massive resonates at the same frequency as something like Raiders of the Lost Ark -- neither ever stops and (rarely) slows down. Where the similarities end is with the stakes. Even a Frenchmen with the chic of ReneĆ© Belloq knows Indy always wins. The same can't be said for Cal, Mary, Mag, Ryan and Lars. It strikes me as odd to applaud an action/adventure story for delivering on its promise, but so it goes. How often do we read or hear about one or several issues of an on-going where 'nothing happens.' The Massive suffers no such narrative neutrality.

Garry Brown has written his own ticket with The Massive. His scruffy pencils and double-stuff inks should secure his future for years to come. Jordie Bellaire's full-time work on The Massive confers her majesty as one of the lights in the present golden age of comic book colorists. The duo of Brown and Bellaire has as much to do with the consistent success of The Massive as any other aspect on the page.

To call the issues Declan Shalvey, Danijel Zezelj and Gary Erskine penciled 'fill-in' work falls far short. Each cartoonist brought a great sense of self to the issue he worked on while not breaking from the moodiness Brown has established for the series. Shalvey's work on issue #11 and Zezelj's work on #12 were exceptional and (almost) made me stray in my faithfulness to Brown -- it'd be like having to pick the best guitarist who played with The Yardbirds, can't be done.

In his role as The Massive's Commander-in-Chief, Brian Wood persists in fine-tuning his Armageddon. It remains nihilists to the front with little hope for today or tomorrow except to settle scores and revisit past sins; and yet, Wood puts up a roadblock to doomsday in the development of Mary. The Massive #15 sees Wood take a massive narrative risk and bestow Mary with supremacy that this literally down-to-earth story hasn't had. Mary's faith, hope and charity takes The Massive from a dead pool about people and a planet and provides every apocalypse with what it (and all of us) needs: grace.

- Keith Silva


Mind MGMT

(Matt Kindt)

Mind MGMT sees its third year of publication in 2014, and, despite Matt Kindt’s ever-growing roll of writing credits, it is still one of the best comics not enough people are reading. Beginning with a journalist, Meru, researching a flight whose passengers disembarked minus their memories, we’ve since discovered a shadowy agency managing the minds of citizens around the world. How? Through the honed and improbable skill sets of their agents, who write copy that literally compels, drive towns crazy with but a thought, or send people on the same jungle-bound quest for answers over and over, their memories wiped.

Mind MGMT

Mind MGMT is a more plausible conspiracy-by-contract explanation for our world’s current state than the Illuminati, shape-shifting alien lizards, or Scientology. A piecemeal construction of random assignments and their effects, further distorted by the rogue actions of internal factions, making coin from chaos even as it splinters. Kindt’s artwork, in which simple, distinctive character designs occupy a watercolour world, is abstracted enough that we can invest fully, and is fleshed out through contextualizing shorts on the inside covers and rear of each issue. As for the watercolours, they evoke a beautiful simplicity, such that when violence does erupt it is truly shattering.

Mind MGMT

With Mind MGMT, Kindt made comics violence that was truly shocking, rather than de rigeur. If that seems a dubious criterion for praise, consider that his other major contribution was far more positive; wringing maximum comics value from the humble floppy. Displaying no adverts other than Mind MGMT ones (delicious agency spoofs), with the aforementioned inside cover shorts, a letters column, and the blue ink Field Manual notes on almost every page, you can’t get better value for re-readability or for sheer richness of content. Its comics density redefined.

Kindt always said he wanted to make a monthly comic book he’d buy in singles, something compelling enough to halt the trade-wait. In pleasing himself, he proved that the monthly floppies bar could be raised, that we could demand more. Here’s hoping readers heed that call.

- Taylor Lilley


Savage Dragon

(Erik Larsen)

Damn, sorry about forcing that spit-take. Let me give you a minute to go grab a paper towel. I hope I didn't cause you to spit water or coffee or your favorite alcoholic beverage on your computer.

But you read this subhead right. Alongside your perennial contenders for Best Ongoing of the Year, your Hawkeye and Daredevil, Mind MGMT and Massive, one of these things is not like the other. Savage Dragon? WT goddamn F? Is Sacks out of his mind? Does Comics Bulletin need a new publisher who actually has a brain in his head and decent taste?

Savage Dragon

But hear me out here, because Savage Dragon is a fantastic series: fun, unpredictable, with more twists and turns than you can find in your average star-spanning space epic from the Big Two. I defy you to find another super-hero title that's been more eventful in 2013. Sure, we've had deaths and rebirths, transitions from one hero to a legacy hero, invasions of earth and massive battles across entire company lines. But in Savage Dragon we get all that in one single series.

For a few years now, below your radar, Erik Larsen has been having an uninhibited good time, delivering the stories that he wants to create and that a small cult of readers love to read. He's been creating comics that move ahead in real time, that have fascinating moral impacts and that linger in the mind long after you put it down. His comic feels both relaxed and intense, indulgent and fan-friendly, thrilling and terrifying and occasionally funny and frequently bizarre as hell.

Savage Dragon

I know that Savage Dragon isn't cool or hip anymore and is well past its sell-by date at this point. We've all had our chance to spend time in Erik Larsen's fictional universe, and at this point many of us have turned away to embrace something different -- something newer, something maybe more innovative, something without more than fifteen years of backstory. But you're missing out. Savage Dragon is unique and interesting and has soul. Erik Larsen seldom disappoints.

- Jason Sacks


Sex

(Joe Casey / Piotr Kowalski)

Joe Casey seems determined to mess with superhero comics. From the post-superheroic shenanigans of Catalyst Comix to his stoner Spidey-type in The Bounce, through the Godland Finale, Joe Casey spent 2013 agitating, prodding, muddling the comics cocktail with eyes a-twinkle.

Sex by Joe Casey

Sex concerns one Simon Cooke, a billionaire with a massive corporation to run, who is seven months into his post-vigilante career. It isn’t going well. Guilt, impotence, and a lack of purpose make Simon an unhappy boy. Around him, meanwhile, Saturn City continues as it ever did. Simon did not eradicate crime, he did not clean up the streets once and for all, and he did not leave a contingency plan when he disappeared for those seven months. So nemesis The Old Man is still scheming, Simon’s sidekick is trapped between stepping up and stepping out, and his bad girl love interest is, well, even more interesting.

Sex by Joe Casey

Between Kowalski’s European-inflected pencils, and colourist Brad Simpson’s sensual glare, this book is a hottie. Saturn City has a subtly futuristic feel to it, its filth tacky rather than grotty, lurid but not rotten. Sex has a mood, an oppressive one of anticipation, as if we’re all awaiting the arrival of whatever darkness lurks behind the coloured lights. And, in case you’re wondering, what sex is shown looks beautiful, think Manara if he’d grown up in the internet age.

What has thrown some people off is the pace. Casey is in no rush, and easy innuendo aside, Sex will reward readers who take it slow. It isn’t “world-building”, more an understanding that sometimes readers need space to live with characters, sometimes characters need time to live for readers. We’re forced to co-habit with Simon, with his well-intentioned lawyer, with the cast members who are each working their own angle in a city where sexual currency defines. By combining the sexual dynamics that most comics won’t touch, with the post-cape period most readers don’t care for, Casey et al have built a more grown-up, more intelligent world than their title suggests. And it’s open to all.

- Taylor Lilley


Superior Spider-Man

(Dan Slott / Ryan Stegman /Humberto Ramos / Giuseppe Camuncoli)

Comics did big things this year. Big things. We visited a lot of glorious places and spent time with a lot of brilliant characters. Chief among them was the Superior Spider-Man. I'm no historian, but 2013 will probably go down as a landmark year for Marvel, a comic company that managed to kill off their single biggest hero, replace him with a vile villain, and go on about business as usual. One trip around the sun later and we have over two dozen issues of Superior Spider-Man. The court of fandom has spoken, Otto Octavius, and you've made the grade. Here's the Cosmic Cube, do as you wish.

Superior Spider-Man

Look, we were all skeptical, but it's time to admit that Dan Slott and his trio of magnificent artists thrilled and excited twice a month with their twisted body swap story. On the surface this ongoing had the look of a typical Spidey story -- there's the comforting  backdrop of New York, cast regulars like Mary Jane and J. Jonah Jameson, humor and quips,  appearances by about a dozen standard Spider-Foes and many, many nods to specific quirks and motifs from the Friendly Neighborhood Mythology. The book even managed to keep the "house look", that familiar, amiable, spacey style that has served as the norm over the last decade. Appropriately, this matches the main character's artful deception. Superior Spider-Man is an odd comic; there's strange otherness squirming just under the surface.  It evokes something like narrative vertigo, particularly if you are a hardcore fan of the webslinger.

The most insane part? Otto is partly a more effective hero than his predecessor. Slott has secretly built the ultimate deconstructive Spidey comic. Otto's version of arguably the best superhero in history is through a slanted lens. The Superior Spider-Man accentuates the crime-fighting elements not realizing that what makes Spider-Man great is his humanity, moral strength and the personal relationships he values because of  one pivotal Uncle-related tragedy.

Marvel's commitment to this idea has produced an unpredictable journey that will make for fireworks in 2014. Dissenters be damned, it worked, let's acknowledge that Superior Spider-Man represents the best of what comics has to offer and be glad it happened.

- Jamil Scalese


X-Factor

(Peter David / Neil Edwards / Jay Leisten / Matt Milla)

I first picked up X-Factor in preparation for “Messiah Complex”, figuring I should re-familiarize myself with the X-Universe before diving into the event. Finding a short run of the issues for half price (my cheapness sense kicking into overdrive) I thought I could read the previous story arc and get comfortable with the series. It wasn’t enough. I quickly snatched up every trade I could find and began the monthly purchase I thought might last forever. This year, I’d be proven wrong.

Sure, we’re promised a new X-Factor in 2014, but I’m not sure it will ever be the same again. Many years ago Peter David assembled a very special group of mutants and though some have come and gone, I don’t think I’ll ever care about a team as much as I care about these guys.

X-Factor

In 2013, it was all about looking back and realizing what an incredible book X-Factor is/was.  We were always told we’d get more info on the Longshot/Shatterstar connection, the Layla Miller/Madrox marriage, the return of Darwin and a handful of other story threads—and David did not disappoint. “Hell on Earth War” was action packed and gave us the X-Factor traditions in droves—terrific dialogue, character growth and twist endings.

Even through rough patches of art (I still wish Leonard Kirk could have seen the series through to the finale) X-Factor proved to be one of the most reliable books on the shelf. With every stack of new comics I’d bring home, I’d keep X-Factor at the bottom. I knew if I regretted any purchases, if any series took a turn for the worse or a book ended up being downright bad, X-Factor could cheer me up again.

Bye guys, it was awesome.

- Chris Wunderlich

 

 

 

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