Top 10 Comics Heroes and Villains of 2013

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

Top 5 Heroes of 2013

Scott Allie

Editors don't usually get a lot of props. And maybe they don't all deserve it. I've heard multiple stories of editors at the Big Two demanding unreasonable, last-second changes, or squashing controversial storylines or making arbitrary changes. But then there are other kinds of editors—the good kind. The kind that guide comic lines and continuity in smart directions; that encourage artists and writers to challenge themselves and their readers; that elevate comic art to new levels.

Scott Allie

Scott Allie, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse Comics, is the latter kind. Maybe more than that. Read enough comics, go to enough convention panels, listen to enough people talk, and you realize that Scott Allie is a respected editor and mentor on a completely different level. He is an editor who guides some of the most talented creators in comics to produce some of their most talented work. Hellboy in Hell wouldn't have be the masterpiece it is without Scott Allie. And you can say the same for every book he works on. His name on a book is a guarantee that the quality is going to be just that much higher.

He is also an incredible blur of energy. Every year at the Emerald City Comic Con it is astounding to see him in action. He is talking to new talent, listening to pitches (by the way; all prospective talent should read his "Guide to Pitching at a Convention" that he posted on his blog), signing books, and just keeping things going with his drive and enthusiasm. He's an impressive whirlwind of comic book love.

And he writes Abe Sapien on top of all that. Because clearly being a super editor isn't enough for him.

- Zack Davisson


Comixology Submit

The Internet is supposed to be flat. It's supposed to allow any creator to have direct access to existing fans and potential fans and build an audience virally. Though the Justin Biebers of the world would agree that you can get noticed and popular by creating material that people want, if you want to really get noticed, you have to go where the eyeballs are.

Comixology

Comixology has become the main way that people find and consume digital comics. That service has become so ubiquitous and easy that if you're not on there, you're invisible to thousands of potential consumers. That's why it's so encouraging that Comixology Submit was created in 2013.

Submit is Comixology's small press and self-publisher line. It provides an alternative to having your book published through one of the big guys or the hard-to find small press. Writers and artists can distribute their story through Submit for no money up front and a 50% share of sales – less than Amazon charges for a similar service. For that 50%, creators get their material posted to the most popular digital comics platform in the world, a service that will publicize and warehouse a work, provide the platform to build an audience for fulfilling your own vision, and even add guided view technology to your singular idea.

As a passionate consumer of both indie and digital comics (and co-writer every week of our "Digital Ash" column), I couldn't be more excited about this service. I have access to some of the cleverest and most interesting material on the market, both from people like Roy Thomas, Joshua Fiaklov and Tom Scioli, whose work I know well, and talented creators I've never heard of like Thomas Kovach and Quinton Miles. Meanwhile, the creators receive readers, the creators and Comixology both collects a few buck, and fans get to discover brilliant new series that they never would have had access to before, even if they had great comic stores in their town.

Submit will post their 500th comic through this service next week. That alone shows the success of this service. Thank you, Comixology, for helping to democratize access to great comics.

- Jason Sacks


Scarlet Witch

Scarlet Witch died again in Uncanny Avengers #14. Killed by her arch nemesis Rogue, at least since they've been uneasily trying to share Avengers Mansion access together. Remender started off his story hardcore with the ultimate Nazi Red Skull amping up everyone's anti-mutant prejudice, in ways sure to poison the fragile alliance Cap and Havok were trying to build. What rocked most for me, however, was that his Wanda made no apologies for past mistakes from the start. She had lost her mind, she did something horrible, and now she was moving on. Cap, based on their long history that predated her insane episode, was ready to take her back into the fold. Just as Remender did for Wasp, destroyed by Millar in Civil War and generously (even inventively, dare I say, revived by Bendis while he was cleaning house on his own Avengers era prior to all the Marvel Now-ing we'll never escape from again).

Remender proved on Uncanny X-force that he's the master of apocalyptic scenarios, weaving impossible decisions and moral compromises with cosmic-scale baddies and deeds so epic and tragic they can never be forgiven. Most of his heroes, and all of his villains, are already doomed. "No more mutants" was a drop in the bucket on his scale of doing things, and this restored to Wanda her dignity, her history, and her own always aloof way of making amends. She was an interesting force throughout the first year of this series, despite Rogue's distrust. And his writing of Rogue was just as good, coping with her culture-shock issues over behaving like an X-men even when on the Avengers turf. His Wasp was maybe a little too stridently indifferent to mutant angst, but then everyone seemed petty against the horrors planned and provided by the Apocalypse Twins, the irrevocably corrupt, damaged yet gifted horror show of Eimin and Uriel.

So when Wanda looked like she was going along with their anti-Xavier genocide of the human race, Rogue's plan of vengeance was understandable. Stupid and short-sighted, but understandable. You'd think the woman who had an on-and-off relationship with Wanda's father would see the moral complexities of a situation, but Wanda had become to her a kind of apocalypse twin for mutants all on her own, a boogey-woman of pure evil. This outcome was tragic, but inevitable and riveting. And through it all, Remender remembered the heroine Wanda has (almost always) been, and makes her last act (with her doomed erstwhile lover, really her repeated partner in star-crossed misery, Wonder Man) one of sacrifice and hope. It may also have been futile, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the only thing that ever does, that she was trying to do something right.

- Shawn Hill


Superior Spider-Man

Otto Octavius is a hero.

Though it still doesn't sit right it remains true. Over the last year one of the genre's oldest super villains transformed from unrivaled psychopath to one of the most efficient superheroes in the game.

The Superior Spider-Man gets things done. He shot a right in the face! Beat up some reddit  trolls! Murdered Smythe liked a badass! Blackmailed Mayor Jameson in giving him free reign over the city!  Razed Kingpin's fortress! Revealed the new Hobgoblin's identity on TV!  That's results, kids.

Under the pen of Dan Slott (with the assist of Christopher Yost), the drastic transformation of Doc Ock has been mostly convincing. He's spurned his former life and now looks toward his the identity of Peter Parker as tabula rasa, a way to atone not for previous sins, but rather previous failures.

Otto is a tragically flawed character, he's bigheaded and bolsters ox-like stubbornness. He wears the chip on his shoulder like a cross on his back. He's too aggressive with opponents and is completely confused and erratic in his personal relationships. The mix of duty and emotion toward Spider-Franchise stalwarts like Mary Jane and Aunt May feel false, but at times earnest. Octavius also has built his own relationships too, notably with Anna Maria Marconi, a little person whom he shares a close social and professional affiliation with.

The maturation of the Superior Spider-Man has been one of the fascinating stories of the year. The gray area of mortality that erupted from the 80's has a new spin. Often times the worry is that a hero is getting  too dark to be redeemed, that someone like Hal Jordan for example won't ever recover from committing atrocious acts. Now we're presented with the other side: can Doc Ock ever truly be a villain again after 2013? 

In the current age of Heisenberg the rules for the protagonist have flipped. It's OK to cheer for the bad guy. All hail the Superior Spider-Man. Parker who?

- Jamil Scalese


Shigeru Mizuki

 Shigeru Mizuki did three things that surprised people in 2013. He turned 91 years old. (He's still alive?) He Tweeted pics of himself chowing down with gusto on a Big Mac and large fries (At his age?) and he announced his new comic, Watashi no Hibi (わたしの日々, or My Days) making him the oldest working comic book artist in the world.

If you have never heard of Shigeru Mizuki—shame on you. He's won pretty every award the comics industry can throw at him, from the Eisner Award to the Best Comic Book award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. In his native country of Japan, he has his own museum, his own research center, and he is officially recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit. He even has his own airport named after him.

So he's kind of a big deal.

To everywhere except the English-speaking world, that is. His comics have long been available in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic … pretty much every language except English. That is until the last couple of years. Thanks to Drawn & Quarterly, Shigeru Mizuki is finally available in English. And, 2013 finally saw the first English-language release of the work for which he is best know, the yokai comic Kitaro (Think a weird version of Hellboy but with Japanese monsters). Not to mention the release of his Magnum Opus, Showa: A History of Japan. (Which—full disclosure—I translated.)

2013 has seen a lot of Kickstarters and pledge drives for ageing and ailing comic book artists in the U.S. That's a disgrace. It's nice to know that there is a country that respects and treasures its creators, and venerates them in their old age instead of kicking them to the curb. And it is incredible to see Shigeru Mizuki at 91 years old, still with gusto for life, pounding down hamburgers and drawing comics just for the pure joy of it.

- Zack Davisson


Top 5 Villains of 2013

Boomerang

People love the underdog, and it's almost impossible to not love this dog from the down under.

Fred Myers is the star and main protagonist of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man but it'd be hard to argue that his is not a villain through and through.  The conniving, selfish thief and current leader of the latest iteration of the Sinister Six makes the grade as one of best bad dudes of the year.

It's the not the size of the crime, it the hate in your heart, right? Yeah, OK, so Boomerang isn't really a vile SOB like others on this list, but he's plenty vindictive, petty and manipulative. He consistently lies to his own crew and places them in dangerous situations for his own personal gain, and shows little concern in anything but his glory. While this version of the marksman first appeared in Jeff Parker's lengthy Thunderbolt run the work that writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber have done is undeniable. They've made this perpetual doormat a likeable character, he's almost a combination of Bryan Cranston's best roles. Part Heisenberg and part Hal.

With 40 years of history behind him Boomerang represents the organic greatness of our favorite fictional universes, places methodically built over time, layered with tens of thousands of stories and characters.  With so much (deserved) focus on heroes over the years it's easy to overlook that someone like Fred has been on the hard end of THWIPS and POWS from the likes of Spider-Man and Luke Cage for decades. Losing takes a toll, and as we crawl inside Boomerang's head the reader is bamboozled into rooting for a guy that habitually breaks the law, sometimes with glee.

Good triumphs over evil, if you've been reading comics for all of five minutes you know that, and that's what so tragic about Boomerang and his buds, we know they're going to lose. The big score will evade their grasp just as it always has, but we continue to read. As this everyman, blue collar criminal scrapes forward we'll watch intently, knowing he's doomed, but also secretly hoping he finds happiness and his fair share. Good luck, and watch out for the web, Boomer.

- Jamil Scalese


DC Comics

Could we have asked for a better villain than DC in 2013? They’re brilliant at it, and what makes it even better is that they’re accidental villains; they’re not even trying to be bad guys, it just happens to them! And we’re not just talking a particular grade of villainy, DC cover it all, misdemeanours to felony and all points inbetween. Their diversity of villainous deeds is unparalleled! Sometimes it’ll just be some good ol’ mischief, like inadvertently (we assume) promoting “White Power”,

seemingly conflating “marriage” with “happiness” (“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives”), and grossly under-printing their year’s biggest books, throwing retailers and readers worldwide into panicked confusion. They do slightly more serious things, too, like issuing open calls for artist submissions of young, mentally ill ladies trying repeatedly to commit suicide. And they even do the downright dastardly, like nixing fictional lesbian marriages, permitting “Batfleck” to happen, not telling people they’re fired, and clarifying to superstar creators that they don’t make comics for kids, but for “45 year-olds”. Whatever grade of villain you wanted, in 2013 DC had you covered!

All kidding aside, DC is the kind of villain that frustrates. They’re not evil. They’re not stupid, either. And they have the smarts, the resources, the editorial team, and the characters to attract and retain top-flight creators. They can and do make some great comics. That’s why they’re the perfect villain. DC inspire that crucial amount of hope in us, hope that they’ll see the error of their ways and go straight, or produce an airtight alibi from nowhere (it was Skrulls all along!), or even (dare we hope?) start a My Name Is Earl style atonement tour of all their fans’ houses! Yes, we hope, for Bruce and Clark and Diana and Kate and all the comics reading children of the future, yet to be born. We hope for DC to straighten up and fly right. Because we love comics, and DC are a big part of our love.

- Taylor Lilley


Rocco Genovese

2013 was a big year for villains, with Thanos making a comeback, Joker playing home-wrecker, hell, we kicked it all off with “Everybody Dying” in Invincible, and now its Forever Evil. But, call me a cynic, I don’t think any of those villains are going to win. They might kill a couple of B-listers, even snag an A-lister if the timing’s right, but actual villainous victory? Verily, I say thee nay.

The world of Kick-Ass is a little different, though. With a hero as inept as Dave, whose metal plates, sheer luck, and Hit Girl can all just barely keep him alive against rank and file mobsters, bringing in a genuine Sicilian Don raises the stakes to their highest yet. Having established what happens when everyone’s calling from the same “Bigger Faster Louder” playbook, Millar smartly chose to introduce a Big Bad who’s a little more old-school. And as designed by Romita Jr, Genovese is one creepy senior citizen.

Dressed in white, old, stooped, with one dead eye and a gold-handled cane, Genovese is a rarity among comics villains now. He seems physically weak, almost handicapped by age, yet his commands are unquestioned, his authority implicit in his actions and those of his subjects. Contrasted with the half-assery of the Justice Forever crew, or the former theatrics of Red Mist, Don Genovese’s leisurely (but mercifully not leisure-suit) menace makes for a compelling change of pace. At a point where this franchise may have reached ultra-violence saturation, introducing a softly spoken older man, the extent of whose evil is as yet unrevealed, lends everything an air of renewed seriousness.

Comics readers occasionally wonder aloud why somebody hasn’t just sniped Batman, Daredevil, or Punisher, waited in ambush for them and taken them out. We know the real answer, but as a hypothetical for a title like Kick-Ass, it holds weight. Why hasn’t a serious mobster arranged for a sniper or six to take up positions on a regular patrol route, and go all pink mist on the cosplay crusaders? It could be that easy. All it takes is someone with the experience, the gravitas, to not get sucked into the monologuing egomania that the costumes inspire. Perhaps Don Genovese will be that guy? I wouldn’t bet against it.

- Taylor Lilley


Jonathan Hickman

Let me share a secret with you. Jonathan Hickman can write funny. Need proof? How ‘bout Annihilus on Peter Parker’s crapper?

For those of you who haven’t read FF #17 (from Hickman’s volume, naturally), let me assure you that in an issue where Spidey and Johnny Storm become roomies, Hickman dishes giggles two-handed from start to finish. Seek it out, and feel happy. If you can’t find that, try 2013’s Avengers #11, and wait for the “Who’s on First?” gag. It’s a genius moment in a great “caper” issue. Further examples can be found in his FF run, particularly around the teens. If I labour this point, there’s a reason. I’m wondering where the humour went.

See, Hickman’s gotten this rep for doing big things. He makes these great big charts with plot points on them, they’re colour-coded and everything. And in 2013 he had huge plans, to make the Avengers “bigger”, to introduce a series of alternate worlds colliding with ours, not to mention Black Dwarves and Black Swans and the Ebony Maw and Thanos murdering his children and the Builders not really building much and… Are you feeling a little glum reading that sentence? Tortured prose aside, I couldn’t blame you. Even at the end of Infinity, with Thanos Han Solo’d and Earth saved, instead of giving us a softball issue we got New Avengers #12, in which Black Swan crashes the Illuminati’s sigh-of-relief party to laugh at them.

Does anybody else want a break? Put your hands up if you’d like to see Cap do something other than stand up straight and look serious. Or if you’d like Captain Marvel to show some of the sass she’s renowned for. If you’d like anything other than perpetual stoicism and solemnity, raise ‘em up!

To be fair, this isn’t just a Hickman problem. He’s my villain because I have loved his work, and his attitude to writing. But if you’re a Scott Snyder fan, or a Geoff Johns fan, you too may be struggling to remember the last time you smiled, or chortled, when reading their books. Say what you will about Bendis (and there’s much to say), he understands the need for relief (just read his Powers letters page!). This is serialised fiction, it never ends, but it doesn’t have to feel unending! Further, unless Marvel’s equivalent of “Batman never sits down” is “Avengers never have fun”, it seems weird that since the unprecedented success of Whedon’s quippy Avengers Assemble, the humour quotient in the main Avengers books has nosedived. I guess what I’m really saying is, at a time in comics history when new media make new readers uniquely reachable… why so serious?

- Taylor Lilley


Talia al Ghul

I guess it was 2012 when we got the telling single issue focus of Batman Inc. on Talia, the true inheritor of all her father’s misdeeds, avarice, hubris and empire-building. Morrison showed us in that issue how a privileged young girl teaches herself to be a monster, in order to impress a father who only makes monsters, who only sees others in those terms. There was an echo of the trials of Batman Begins in her many initiations, and certainly the ground was set for her siege on Gotham and Batman (her spurned lover) and, worst of all, her child Damian. Who made the mistake of taking more after Dad than mommy despite even genetic planning. Did she think he would corrupt the Dark Knight, rather than the other way around? Or at least hope for the possibility of finally seducing him to the dark side at last? Nope, that doesn’t sound like Talia, she doesn’t like to leave too many variables in play.  Too hard to predict the outcomes she wants. When she realized Damian was lost to her, she set about making inferior copies, heedless of the dangers they represented. Did she even care about what became of her quite excellent accidental hero? I’d say so, but her end-games were already too much in play at that point to stop and assess. Talia always plays the long con, weaving webs of contingencies and escape clauses even when at her most brutal. She’s calculating rather than impulsive, seductive but never for no reason. When even her monsters fail to heed, what’s a mob mistress to do? May her failures haunt her ghost.

- Shawn Hill

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