Top 10 Comics Writers of 2013

A column article, Top Ten by: The Heroes of Comics Bulletin and GodHatesGeeks

Wrapping up Comics Bulletin's "Best of 2013" lists, some friends from GodHatesGeeks joined us to talk about the best comics writers of 2013. Remember, this list is in alphabetical order. We love 'em all and it was hard to rank all of these talented scribes.

Peter David

Peter DavidI almost voted for Peter David as one of the Top 10 Villains of 2013. I then realized the rebooting and subsequent $3.99 re-pricing of X-Factor was probably not entirely David's fault. Probably. He's a tricky one.

So how did Peter David rock 2013? Oh, the usual.

Peter David's writing in X-Factor was terrific every year the book was published, but 2013 proved he could wrap it all up in style. His "Hell on Earth War" arc provided a great catalyst to the team's ending, but my favourite issues were those that wrapped up the series for good. If anyone can make you care about a character, it's Peter David. He made saying goodbye hard, but ultimately satisfying. This wasn't just the rebooting of another X-book, it was saying goodbye to an era.

The way David wrote the cast of X-Factor—I feel like I'm leaving high school friends, wondering where they're heading. Wondering if they'll be the same next time I see them; wondering if I'll ever read a team book that made me care as much and as often as Peter David's X-Factor.

I'm all teary-eyed now but let's not forget David wrote more than just X-Factor. His scripting of Marvel's brilliant Dark Tower series got me to stick around and buy every trade. While the scripts could have been heavy-handed and overly dark to match the art, David's writing elevated the series with terrific dialogue and much needed levity. The stories in Dark Tower are pitch black, but there's something incredibly inviting about David's narrating and exposition. Come to think of it, David helped wrap up Dark Tower this year as well. Dang, I'm getting teary again.

- Chris Wunderlich

Matt Fraction

This isn't about how great Matt Fraction is, but rather about the risks he takes. What I love about Matt Fraction is how much and how hard he tries. There are a number of writers working on multiple big-name titles, with varying degrees of consistency and punctuality, but none as willing to try different things as Matt Fraction, and that deserves celebrating. Over in our Top 10 Single Issues article I praised the pool party issue of FF (#9, for those keeping track), which largely took the form of a home movie being filmed by one of the Future Foundation, complete with videobombing, awkward angles, and direct-to-camera address. It's certainly a novel way to reinvigorate the tired "downtime issue" model, and let Quinones flex some different muscles. Makes you wonder why this kind of formal play doesn't happen more often, doesn't it?

Matt Fraction

Then there's the aforementioned Pizza Dog issue. Did anyone notice how they wrapped up the Kate/Clint arc (for the time being) with poignancy, with heart, but without any emo/snarky/woefully inadequate dialogue? Of all the technical accomplishments in this issue, that was the one that stood out for me. Fraction knew not to try to write the unwriteable scene. How could you wrap up the Kate/Clint relationship without defining it, and thereby ruining it? Some criticize Hawkeye for being something of a glide, a shallow book made substantial by Aja's pyrotechnics, but I see it the other way. Fraction's achievement on this book is his true partnership with Aja, more precisely, his (if not quite silent) muted partnership. I love Casanova, but look at how much he wrote over the Wonder Twins' art and you'll appreciate how hard he must be editing himself to let Aja carry the weight. If only Scott Snyder would try the same thing.

This whole musical number from Sex Criminals #3 is pure Fraction, but a book whose appeal lies in its frankness about as personal a topic as sex demands such flourishes, it needs the creators to show they're invested, not just tossing anecdotes around. Sex Criminals is the book where Fraction can express himself, and in doing so play freely without anyone checking the toys for scratches; (non)musical interludes such as this only add to the ur-narrative of a creator going beyond the mainstream's panel grid.

Sure, he hasn't stuck a landing yet on any of his 2013 titles, and several are hideously delayed. So what? Every issue that bears Fraction's name feels to me like he's trying something, like he's aiming higher than a deadline and a cliffhanger. And that's all I ask, that he continue to try.

- Taylor Lilley

Jonathan Hickman

Top ten writers of 2013? Oh I see you guys left room for the true number one. Cool. What list would be complete without the undisputed big idea frontrunner in all of comicdom? People say that comics, particularly mainstream American superhero comics, have run out of new, innovative ideas. The thrill is gone, they say. Those people haven't picked up a Jonathan Hickman book in, well ever. 2013 saw Hickman do several things in the Avengers universe that many people thought would be impossible.

Jonathan HickmanExpanding on the concept of and mission of the Illuminati in New Avengers, while laying the groundwork for both a global and universe-wide Avengers force in the main title, Hickman mixed the theoretical with the impossible in ways that reminded us all why we love big, bombastic cape comics in the first place. He introduced the Gardeners and origin bombs which led to the seeding of sites around the world where evolutionary marvels (forgive the pun) took hold in accelerated, fantastic Kirby-like fashion. He elevated the Starbrand from New Universe castaway to relevant piece of the Marvel U, returned Hyperion to full on bad-ass heavy hitter status, and gave us one of the coolest one issue origin stories in issue 5 with the new Smasher. He capped the year with the return of Thanos and Infinity. The payoffs and lead in to Inhumanity and the expansion of the Avengers world in 2014, helped erase the stink of the dud that was Age of Ultron.

As important as Snyder at DC, Hickman proved to be one of those rare creators at the Big Two: Someone capable of steering the direction of an entire line through a deep, weighty story with editorial following his lead instead of the other way around.

But it wasn't all about Hickman's Marvelous adventures expanding the House of Ideas in 2013. On the indie comics scene, Hickman continued to break exciting ground mixing hard science with fantasy, intrigue, and mystery on the big idea, world-building books East of West, Secret, and Manhattan Projects from Image. The latter book continues to take what you thought you knew about the fathers of atomic age science and, with a healthy dose of mad humor, aliens, conspiracy, and violence, blows it all up. God is Dead (But he still hates geeks) also debuted from Avatar. With his indie fare, Hickman seems intent on blurring the lines between genres. East of West is part sci-fi, part western, and takes place in a pre-apocalyptic world that casts the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as the leads. This mashup of ideas and concepts made him one of the most experimental writers in comics this past year. It also made us very damn lucky to be reading those same funny books in 2013.

- Guy Copes

Dennis Hopeless

Dennis Hopeless deserves to be one of the top ten writers of 2013. He worked his butt off to get there, to get noticed, and to get a huge buy-in from a large disparate group of comics fans, and to do it all and get out completely unscathed.Dennis Hopeless

Dennis Hopeless was at the helm of two big books in 2013. Cable and X-Force, starring Cable, Domino, Colossus, Doctor Nemesis, Hope Summers, and Forge (one of my favorite X-characters of all-time). He turned it into a heist book and made the characters into living, breathing entities. It helped that Salvador Larocca was on his side, slinging crazy art that just made the world seem real. But something about it felt like Dennis Hopeless just having a ball.

And then you get to Avengers Arena. The book comics fandom wanted to hate, wanted to despise, called names and swore up and down that it would destroy comics and everything we love. And then you read this beautiful little treasure of a book and it gives so many incredible details and so much love to these wonderful characters that it just lives and dies with his incredible work. Add in the amazing talented artists like Kev Walker and you’ve got a book that I hated to see go.

The basic premise made everyone think Battle Royale or Hunger Games, but when you looked past the basic premise, you see the thing that Dennis and company were really doing: They were making you care about these characters like you never have before. Chris Powell/Darkhawk became a hero again. Chase and Nico were in a book and felt like they hadn’t ever been gone. Cammi and the Avengers Academy kids were just too much fun to miss. Throw in the new kids and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a winning comic.

And Avengers Arena is the book of the year for me in 2013, and Dennis Hopeless is the writer of the year. By far. It was a comic filled with heart, with love, with danger, and real consequences. Just a lovely book all around and it makes me anxious for Avengers Underground. 

CW Cooke 

Kathryn Immonen

Kathryn ImmonenThere's probably some really cool independent project that Kathryn Immonen was involved in during 2013, maybe another super-couple project á la Moving Pictures, by whose omission my complete ignorance of all things worthwhile will be revealed. So apologies to more erudite readers, true Immonen fans, and any other relevant parties, I'm about to sing the praises of Kathryn Immonen's work-for-hire.

Whether it's Sif bickering with Beta Ray Bill about the best course of action, or the Avengers copping to not really wanting to spend Christmas stoically alone, Immonen manages to find the humour in superheroes without diminishing their extraordinariness. Taking the Sif and Bill example, under Immonen's guidance their amorous past remains largely subtextual, background to their alpha dog disagreements over strategy and control. They know each other well enough to not have to give ground, shared intimacy enabling more "livelier expression of opinion" than either might use when disagreeing with Cap, or the Silver Surfer. Immonen understands the effect of a deep history on the way people relate, lets it colour her dialogue and pacing. Every exchange between these sometime lovers was tinted red with the impatience of expected understanding, the frustration that after all this time still everything isn't known.

Of course, that's not to say Immonen can't be funny.

But here too are layers. Black Widow is a badass, knowingly playing up to her role as a badass for the kids visiting Avengers Tower, in a comic written for a readership more often focused on Widow's bad (meaning good) ass than her badassness. Immonen knows the characters, but she also knows her audience and works the angles accordingly. Trapping the Avengers in a tower together at Christmas creates the tension of unfamiliar closeness, as fighting Skrulls alongside someone does not prepare you for basting a turkey with them, or sharing Christmas and whatever memories it conjures, any more than being part of a book club or attending the same spin class can. Different rules apply, and even superheroes get self-conscious.

In all the Marvel comics I read in 2013 (and I work in a comics store, so I read most of them), Immonen was the writer whose words I believed, whose dialogue I felt I might've overheard rather than read. While so many others were plotting and planning, Immonen built relationships on the page, and I can only hope that in 2014 she's given more room.

- Taylor Lilley

Steve Niles

Steve Niles has said that he's not a fan of these year-end "Best of … " lists. Sorry Steve. While I respect your opinion and all, when you write such amazing series as Breath of Bones, Chin Music, and Criminal Macabre – Eyes of Frankenstein … I'm gonna put you on my list.

Steve NilesSteve Niles has spent 2013 showing that quality and quantity can come from the same hand. He writes multiple titles for multiple companies, and they are all good. Although he gets pegged as a horror writer, he is actually incredibly versatile. The wry comedy of Criminal Macabre is nothing like the esoteric elegance of Chin Music (of which I would really like to see more! Those two issues were fantastic!) I love how he is able to get inside of his characters and write their dialog appropriately, so that it never comes off as the same person in different costumes like so many other writers I know. Cal MacDonald may drop snarky quips in the face of danger, but that is a trademark of the character, not the writer.

There are few comics professionals out there where I will pick up a new series based on their name alone, and Niles is one of them. I know 100% of everything he writes is going to be worth my time and money. And sometimes I am going to get Breath of Bones.

I have banged the drum for Breath of Bones ever since the first issue appeared on the stands, and now I am going to do so again. If Steve Niles had written nothing more than Breath of Bones he would have earned a spot on this list. The most complicated, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching comic I read this year, Breath of Bones has a depth of feeling I don't see in a lot of comics. For a three-issue mini-series it is incredibly dense—one of those stories where every time I read it I get something new. If you haven't read it by now, I don't know what else I can do to convince you to give it a shot, but for one last time—read Breath of Bones. You'll thank me for it.

And you know what? Steve Niles is also just a heck of a nice guy. His Twitter feed is tons of fun, filled with rare pics from Universal Horrors films and random monster goodness. He gives back to his fans as much as he gets—maybe more. At conventions he is approachable and friendly, and an interesting guy to talk to. He is a huge supporter of creator-owned comics, and constantly strives to bring the industry up as a whole instead of pushing others down to get to the top (thus his dislike for these kinds of lists … he sees them as needless competition when everyone should be supporting each other). In a year where too many comics idols have fallen, it's nice to know that all of Niles' talent is coupled with integrity, passion, and kindness.

- Zack Davisson

Rick Remender

Rick RemenderRick Remender's Uncanny Avengers was the book that excited me the most each month this year. I perceived no drop-off in quality after John Cassaday became scarce as his artistic collaborator. I loved the concept of his book from the start. Sure, X-Men and Avengers had worked together before (and in fact Wanda and Pietro dated back almost to the beginning of both), most recently with Wolverine on the team in Bendis's New version. But that always felt too easy, just part of putting Wolverine in every comic.

Remender made sure to have his cultures clash repeatedly, to remind us how we got here, with Alex Summers looking like a mutant traitor to some eyes, a terrorist to others. Rogue felt guilty about being around at all, and sulked more than usual. Cap's methods didn't always make sense to the habitual underdogs, and unnatural conflicts from outside forces kept the pressure on. Remender is kind of a master of grand guignol superheroics, freak shows of evil that make the contrast with doing good seem all the more stark and imperative.

But the aspect I'd like to praise the most is what happened when a crossover hit, often a blow to many a mainstream team book. In #8AU, it was frigging Age of Ultron, which didn't even make sense from one issue to the next of the parent mini. But Remender didn't skip a beat, keeping his ongoing story with Uriel and Eimin and Kang percolating along while we dealt with a weird alternate world where Alex led the Morlocks and most of the Avengers were long-presumed dead or missing. Remender and Kubert came up with compelling alternate looks at our heroes that fit seamlessly and efficiently into this strange reality, drawing on years of X-Men and Avengers history but twisting possibilities up in inventive and entertaining ways. The issue was the best Days of Future Past pastiche in years. The crossovers were in general better than the main story in Age of Null-tron, but Remender's entry packed the most punch.

- Shawn Hill

Scott Snyder

Scott Snyder, yeah, we know: Batman, Swamp Thing. Great stuff. His work on Batman brought him 2013 IGN People’s Choice accolades because you love him, and a Harvey Award for best writer -- again, Batman. So, yeah, is something he’s good at a reason to land him on a list for the best writers of 2013? Well, yeah. But ignore that.

Scott SnyderIn 2013, Synder brought us The Wake and Superman: Unchained. Both are brilliant.

He gets it. Snyder’s Superman is one that always makes the moral choice. It isn’t the popular choice. But it is what is just.

So when we are introduced to Wraith, the United States secret weapon to dominate the 20th and 21st centuries, we see what Superman can be and what he has been - a soldier, a tool for policy, and an idea that what a government wants is what is right.

Wraith doesn’t hold back. He tells Superman that he will kill him because Superman is not just operating above the law but above all government. So, when Gen. Lane calls Superman a coward in Unchained #3, his charged words fall short. We know that Superman is anything but a coward and that Lane’s Machine, Wraith and the equation is cowardly. But Ascension is just the opposite side of the same coin. It's just villains attacking villains, and Superman is the only thing that will be able to stop both of them from annihilating everything.

The Wake rips from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, obscure theories of human evolution and the very real danger of climate change throws it into a blender and pours out hashtag: awesome sauce.

The brilliance of the story is that the mystery is nothing that any of the characters in the present can solve. They’re dead. The conflict will be meted out in the future, but the mystery of man’s origins lies in the very distant past.

- Matt McGrath

Si Spurrier

Si SpurrierWhen it comes to plots and story concepts, Si Spurrier doesn't cotton to conventional, unimaginative or any other run-of-the-mill synonym for dull. Spurrier's narratives possess dimension, sub-texts and sub-sub-texts, they're optical illusions like a Necker cube or Rubin's vase except, you know, with words and ideas. With Spurrier, a Sci-fi Western starring a sentient simian, Six-Gun Gorilla, turns out to be an exegesis on the power of fiction to affect change. In Numbercruncher, a street-wise cockney knuckle-dragger in a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat becomes the entrée into a dialogue about fate, karma, chaos, bookkeeping and the unruly persistence of love. For Spurrier it's always 'what if' plus. 

Spurrier's esprit de mind-fuckery plays in the hippest clubs of (less) mainstream publishers like Titan Books and Boom! Studios as well as the big arenas too. Give credit to the TVA clock-punchers at Marvel who continue to see Spurrier's genius to wrangle the multi-verse's most infamous multiple-personality, David 'Legion' Haller -- a legacy to the freewheelin' Chris Claremont if ever there was one. A.V. Club critic Oliver Sava calls X-Men: Legacy ''Marvel's best X-book [and] one of the most consistently strong superhero reads each month,'' high praise from one of the sharpest and most well-informed critics writing about comics today.

Fiction functions as an anticipation engine, the proverbial 'and then what happened.' Spurrier has the innate sense to subvert clichéd expectations and add other unforeseen and unconventional layers of implication which is a wordy way to say: Spurrier's got guts. It takes fortitude to muck about with a narrative's rhythm in order to allow characters in the narrative to muse about the fortitude it takes to muck about with a narrative's rhythm. Read the last sentence again; it's a feeble attempt to out-Spurrier Spurrier, for sure, but it makes my point. 

Gonzo storytelling is de rigueur nowadays. Spurrier goes one better with the self-awareness of a British clergyman like Laurence Sterne and the madcap laughs of a nerd's nerd like Lewis Carroll. Yeah? Yeah.    

- Keith Silva

Brian V. Vaughan

Brian K. VaughanYou couldn't possibly have a Top 10 Comic Writers list without the name Brian K. Vaughan, could you? The revered scribe of Y: The Last Man makes this list, not because he penned CBS' sleeper hit of the summer in Under the Dome (and not because I had the pleasure of "carding" him in front of my restaurant), but because of a mere four letter word: Saga. The second year of Vaughan's multi-layered, romantic sci-fi yarn arguably went better than the first, most certainly for readers if not for our star-crossed Sonny and Cher.

Vaughan writes so much of his subtle romanticism tongue-in-cheek, more often than not switching gender mentality; if you ever lived in L.A., you'd understand the effect this winged woman has on this horned man, why a child comes off more of a dangerous weapon than mere burden, and so forth. As much fun as these two zany space-shot lovers can be, it's the interplanetary hunt for these two that keeps the heart racing. Saga also reminds me of Robert Kirkman's Invincible (perhaps my all-time favorite comic series) in that it's nearly impossible to not relate to its entire wacky ensemble, and the fact there's certainly no holding back. BKV's tilt is just as fucking tragic as it is fuzzy.

Not to be completely outdone, 2013 saw witness to another tasty sci-fi BKV treat, this time in the form of digital-only comic The Private Eye. What if everyone was a watchdog? In this comic set in a 2070's Los Angeles, Vaughan bashes Facebook in a far more brilliant way than the lot of us who can't resist spending 5 minutes away from it. He builds a world where the paparazzi refuse to take punches to the face, where privacy is basically a curse word, and where folks dress as if every day were Comic-con. Crazier? It's where there's no more internet.

Though BKV has been collecting countless admirations from the web for years, I'm sure he wouldn't have it any other way

- Travis Moody

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