2013 was an amazing year, financially and creatively, for comic books. Sales are up nearly 10%, and that’s not even including the closely guarded digital numbers. And across the board, we saw some genuinely great books this year, ranging from smart reinventions of superheroes to new ideas. Here are the fifteen best comic books of 2013, in no particular order.
Batman has been in print for decades, and it can feel like every possible version of the character has been explored. But this year, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo delivered a genuinely compelling take on Batman, whether it was the dark Death of The Family or the much more lighthearted retelling of his origin, Zero Year. While this is a strong year for Batbooks in general, especially John Layman’s great run on Detective Comics, this stood out the most.
On paper, Heck looks like a goofy adventure book from Zander Cannon; there’s Heck, looking like Doc Savage, and his adorable mummy sidekick. But in truth, this is a far more serious book, about lost opportunities, regret, faded glory, and going through your very own personal hell. It’s got plenty of action and adventure, and a twisty plot that keeps you reading, but what ultimately makes Heck stand out is its strong characters and its willingness to let an ending be bittersweet.
It takes forever for new issues to come out. It seems to get almost no promotion. But Nowhere Men is one of those books that, when you see it on the stands, you need to grab it immediately. Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegarde put a lot of love into this comic, a tale of mad science and how it’s going to change the world, like it or not, as it deftly juggles several plot threads and dryly funny moments. Bellegarde’s elaborate artwork, with Jordie Bellaire’s stunning colors, is really the icing on the cake.
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The Avengers have so many franchises at this point, they might as well be Subway. But the Mighty Avengers stands out for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a cohesive team with a sense of humor. It’s action-packed, and the snappiest, smartest team book Marvel puts out.
Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw have a seemingly simple idea for this miniseries: What if a superhero got all his powers from doing drugs? And what if, to save his life, he had to quit? The result is a smart, complex look at addiction set in a context of superhero comics that’s compulsively readable.
Astro City is a book we didn’t know we’d missed, until it finally came back. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson return with books that are essentially Silver Age comics written for adults, and it’s surprising how compelling and gripping Busiek’s stories are. Another nice touch is that you can dip in with some issues: Busiek has been using one-off stories and shorter arcs. So pick up an issue; you’ll probably want to stay a while.
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J. O’Barr’s return to the Crow has been a mixed blessing. While it’s good to see he’s gotten his demons in line and has started working again, he’s also largely delivered light riffs on a theme; it’s not exactly a ground-breaking idea that the Crow might bring back a Holocaust victim for revenge on the Nazis.
Then he delivered this, a harrowing gut punch of a story, where the Crow brings back a little girl, Carrie, who died in circumstances too horrific to truly contemplate. It’s an incredibly dark book, but O’Barr doesn’t trivialize a serious crime, and there are moments of great restraint and utter heartbreak that make this his best comics work. It’s not easy to read, but it should be read.
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“Archie vs. zombies” sounds like a bad, cynical pitch. It shouldn’t work. It should be Archie Meets The Punisher-grade goofy. Instead, though Roberto Sacasa-Aguirre and Francesco Francavilla have delivered a serious zombie story that cleverly riffs on Archie’s characters and worldview, and manages to be both an affectionate look at the Riverdale gang and a moody, scary horror book.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksy essentially send up every terrible, dumb way our society is repressive about sex in the funniest way possible, while simultaneously telling a story of freezing time and robbing banks. Never has a litany of sex jokes been quite so thoughtful. And the sex jokes are really funny, into the bargain.
The best part of this super-book is that each character is so perfectly realized as a teenager. We’ve all met, or been, these kids at some point. It’s just that they can save the world and have Toyo Harada on their ass.
Technically Numbercruncher is from 2000 A.D., but was revised and expanded into a four-issue miniseries by Si Spurrier and about life, death, rebirth… and rigging the rules of the afterlife. It’s a story that’s simultaneously hilarious and thoughtful, joyful and sarcastic, and surprisingly life-affirming while being brain-bending.
Fraction and Aja’s low-key take on Clint and Kate is a wonderful, unique series that’s kept its tone and its sense of fun even as it’s expanded the cast and gone for seemingly bizarre ideas; Pizza Dog, anyone? But it’s worked, and it’s worked superbly, making this Marvel’s best series month in and month out.
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Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso’s story of espionage didn’t get the coverage it deserved because, well, it’s a licensed book based off a silly toy line. “Knowing is half the battle”, and all that. As a result, a tense, quiet psychological thriller slipped under the radar, but even though it wrapped this year, it’ll likely stand as the best G.I. Joe series for a long, long time.
Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda fill in the gap between A New Hope and Empire with a rip-roaring story of dogfighting, espionage, backstabbing and swashbuckling. There are a lot of great moments in this book, Star Wars fan or not, that made it a joy to read, every month.
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This book undeniably had something of a rough launch last year; I actually didn’t enjoy it at all. But, I picked it up a few issues later at the behest of friends, and found that Fred Van Lente had righted the ship to create a hilarious, bizarre, over-the-top romp with the uptight Archer and overly loose Armstrong making a unique comedy duo in comics. It’s easily one of the funniest books on the stands, month in and month out, and a joy to read.
This isn’t every single good comic from 2013: Honestly, this was a year where we were spoiled for choice. Make the case for ones we missed in the comments.