Bag and Bored’s ‘Best of 2013’: SHAWN WARNER

BEST OF 2013
with Shawn Warner

So here we are about to close out another year and as sure as public drunkenness, unwanted gifts and over eating are all part of the festivities indulged in to celebrate the end of twelve months of doing pretty much the same, so too is the deluge of “best of” lists covering everything from power tools to self-help manuals to” urban” novels. Yes, the “best of” list is the barometer many of us use to gauge our quality of life on an annual basis and since my life consists of comic books, comic book related films and television and the comic book sub-culture in general, it doesn’t take Spock to see the logic in me making my tiny contribution to that inevitable “best of 2013” list tsunami.

It is understandably difficult to distill all of the extraordinary comic books of the past year down into a convenient compendium of the premier offerings from any publisher. I mean Marvel does make it a bit easier simply by telling us ahead of time that the book we are about to read is Amazing, Uncanny, Astonishing or just plain Superior but the other publishers are not as forthcoming with helpful adjectives leaving us to make up our minds for ourselves. I guess that’s the main reason we have yet to see the Mediocre X-Men or the Average Spider-Man. So with that in mind, I sat down to compile my list of the preeminent comic books of 2013 but I’m an indecisive individual by nature and for me to just pick one “best” for each category is an impossibility. So, what I found worked for me was to give my pick along with 2 or 3 “honorable mentions” in no particular order, and offer a brief explanation of my reasons for choosing them. With that rambling rationalization, I give you, “My Year in Comics, 2013”.

Let’s begin with the big one, Best Overall Comic of 2013. There were lots of contenders for this one from the Big 2 as well as Image but ultimately I had to go with consistency throughout the entire year as the deciding factor. Certainly Thor: God of Thunder was a strong challenger for the top spot, as were Hawkeye, Daredevil, Superior Spider-Man and Deadpool all from Marvel. Image had a spirited showing in 2013 of course with Saga, East of West, The Manhattan Projects and Jupiter’s Legacy, all brilliant offerings. However, my pick for comic book of the year comes from the divisive DC Comics New 52 which brought us such possible winners as Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Aquaman but in my opinion no book out performed Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. This book started the year strong with the Death of the Family arc then wasted no time before diving into the equally ambitious Zero Year. Snyder and Capullo share a unique synergy, a kind of visual vernacular exclusive to Batman. This book doesn’t look like any other book on the racks and that is not solely because of Capullo’s incomparable artistic style but it is a direct result of the chemistry between these two creators, both of whom are innovative storytellers in their own right. Snyder’s plots are ingenious amalgamations of intrigue, action and poignant human interest brought to life by his rapier sharp wit and authentic dialogue. Add to this Capullo’s meticulously designed, hyper-detailed visuals and you have a recipe for comic book perfection. Capullo brings an edge of horror to Batman not seen since Kelley Jones’ work on the character back in the 90’s. However Capullo is in a league of his own in both character design and page layout bringing a dynamic look to Batman that has come to define the Dark Knight Detective for a new generation in 2013 and beyond.

As for the mini-series, 2013 saw quite a few exceptional examples of the format. Some of the stand outs were; Grant Morrison’s Happy, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way and Becky Cloonan, Buzzkill by Donny Cates, Mark Reznicek and Geoff Shaw and Trillium by Jeff Lemire, any one of these could have easily been my pick for best of the year but I decided to go with another Scott Snyder title, The Wake. Although it is only halfway through its ten issue run at this point in time, I feel justified in making it my pick because the first five issues tell a story unto themselves. Snyder and artist Sean Murphy’s story is on an epic scale in both scope and dramatic content. Murphy in particular does a phenomenal job of capturing the claustrophobic and the vast worlds in which this narrative is set. The Wake contains tropes of horror, science fiction and action, combining tense, white knuckle suspense, high energy action sequences and dramatic character interaction with relatable, authentic characterizations resulting in a thoroughly entertaining story. If the second half of this series is as good as the first, The Wake will undoubtedly be my pick for best mini-series of 2014 as well.

Next up is best single issue of 2013. This is a very tough category because there were so many really good books this year; Grant Morrison had several excellent issues of Batman Inc. and Action Comics, Jeff Lemire did a fantastic story in Adventures of Superman #1, Black Science #1 was a serious contender as was Amazing Spider-Man #700. However in the end it came down to two emotionally charged Batman tales; Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s, Batman Inc. #8 and Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman and Robin #18, for me no book hit quite as hard as Batman and Robin #18. Tomasi writes the most poignant story without using a single line of dialogue. Instead he allows Gleason’s moody and emotional visuals to take center stage. This issue contained some of the most heart-rending scenes in recent memory; Bruce fighting back a father’s tears as he grieves over Damian’s possessions in his deceased son’s bedroom and the unforgettable image of Alfred’s tear streaked face as he remembers the young boy who became such an integral part of life at Wayne Manor. The silent, wordless panels speak volumes on the subject of loss and grief. Tomasi and Gleason collaborated to create a timeless ode to a character that left us too soon.

Events became the order of the day in 2013; it seemed like one event ended only to hype the next. This is the only category that had a hands down winner in my opinion. Although Battle of the Atom was extremely entertaining, a somewhat disappointing ending precluded it from being my top pick and the only other title I gave any serious consideration to was Forever Evil, but it will be running well into 2014 making it a more logical contender for next year’s list. So, all things considered, it was Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity that stood head and shoulders above the rest. This story is complex, multi-faceted and epic in scale and impact. Hickman is a consummate storyteller; his set up of this story began way back on Free Comic Book Day and was so meticulous that one issue flowed seamlessly into the next building to an utterly satisfying conclusion. The team of artists that worked on the various Avengers titles comprising the Infinity arc, included such illustrious names as Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Leinil Francis Yu, as a rotating team they produced some of the most dynamic art of the year. The ramifications of Infinity are going to shape the future of the 616, it’s that monumental. Hickman had a monster year in 2013 but in retrospect I believe Infinity will be looked at as his crowning achievement.

Artists have become like rock stars in the comic book industry these days, nowhere is that more evident than at conventions. The lines for autographs and commissions have never been longer which is indicative of the level of imaginative and innovative work being produced by these creative talents. 2013 saw some of the most visionary and original artwork in recent memory. There were some true trailblazing innovators such as; David Aja, his dynamic approach to comic book design overall as well as his groundbreaking visual storytelling placed him firmly in the upper echelon of creators this year. Chris Samnee did a brilliant job on Daredevil, his visceral style was a perfect fit for this book and the truly inspired stories told in it this year. Matteo Scalera came on like a comet at the end of the year with two of the most gorgeous books of 2013, Black Science and Dead Body Road, both of these books are not to be missed. Kenneth Rocafort’s work on Superman is just technical perfection, his realistic interpretation of anatomy along with his beautifully posed and choreographed action sequences add a cinematic dimension to his work. Fiona Staples’ work possesses much of the same visual dynamic but her fantastically ingenious character designs on Saga propelled her into the stratosphere of creators in 2013. As you can see there was no shortage of amazing artists to choose from, and I could have gone on to mention several others but it had to come down to one, my pick for artist of the year came down to two of the very best; Greg Capullo for his indescribably incredible work on Batman and the unparalleled incomparable genius of Esad Ribic and his phenomenal run on Thor: God of Thunder. It was virtually impossible to decide but I finally went with Ribic. His work on Thor is worthy to be hung in any art museum. His unprecedented style of shading gave an almost sculpted look to his drawings at times which is a perfect approach to the larger than life subject matter. Ribic’s character designs were spot on for his Thor through the ages. This was a tough call indeed because all of these gifted artists did such stunning work issue after issue in 2013 and I see no reason to expect anything less from all of them into the foreseeable future.

As if that wasn’t hard enough now we move on to the best writer of 2013 category. Like the artists of this year, the writers turned in some of the most innovative stories ever printed in comic book history in 2013. I looked at each writers output over the course of the year not just on one title to decide this one and these are the scribes who topped my list; Rick Remender had a great 2013 with his truly inspired Captain America, Uncanny X-Men and brilliant Black Science to name a few, obviously Grant Morrison turned out some top notch tales in Batman Inc., Action Comics and Happy, Geoff Johns’ Aquaman and Justice League earned him consideration, Scott Snyder could have taken it for Batman, Superman Unchained, Swamp Thing and The Wake, Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, Amazing X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men put him in contention, and Charles Soule had a standout year taking over Swamp Thing, writing Red Lanterns, Superman and Wonder Woman as well as Letter 44, again just as with the artists there were several others who could have been listed here but I had to go with one writer who I felt was the most consistent over the entire year and in my opinion that was the prolific Jonathan Hickman. Hickman was a machine in 2013 writing Avengers, New Avengers, East of West, The Manhattan Projects, God is Dead and of course the Marvel event Infinity, not bad for twelve months work. The quality and quantity of work Hickman produced this year is staggering. He delivered engrossing, entertaining and intelligent narratives that were complex without being overly complicated. I was not disappointed once by Hickman in 2013, that is a singular feat of its own.

2013 had its share of new series spanning the full scale from the subpar to the sublime and everything in between. Lots of series started this month that are off to a fine start but I tried to include those that have several issues on which to base my decision. Of course Hawkeye is a pretty obvious choice and I almost took the easy road and picked it but there was one book that for me just came out guns blazing and never looked back, my pick for new series of 2013 is Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Very similar to Hawkeye in its irreverent sensibilities, this book has a sense of humor and a dynamic style that sets it apart from the field of contenders which in my mind included; Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, Amazing X-Men, Velvet, Afterlife with Archie just to name a very few. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have assembled the most unlikely motley cast of miscreants and based a funny, action packed crime-caper book that works on every level. This is the book I can’t wait to get home and read every time it comes out. I hope Spencer and Lieber have a long run on this book and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes lots of l lists for 2013.

Comic Books spawned lots of television shows and movies in 2013 as they usually do. However this year saw an inordinate amount of announcements for future projects in these areas of entertainment. As far as television goes each of the big 2 were represented, Marvel by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and DC by Arrow. Both of these shows had good seasons and I enjoyed them pretty much equally but I think the whole Marvel cinematic universe just gives them an edge. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a well-crafted show with extremely high production values and top notch writing and acting. It serves as a thread of continuity running through the entire Marvel cinematic universe and that is what is so innovative about it, nothing of this magnitude has been done before. Television shows have spawned films and vice versa but Marvel is operating on a completely different level of marketing their brand now. The show is good on its own merits but when you factor in what it really is, it takes the prize hands down.

In the world of film, it was a year of ups and downs. Man of Steel was very divisive, however I find myself in the minority of those who enjoyed the film. The Wolverine was very good, as was Iron Man 3 but my pick for comic book film of 2013 goes to Thor-Dark World. Amazing acting, humor, action, big sets and effects, this one had it all and I pray that there is a third Thor movie because both of them are so good. The cast of this film was impeccable, Hemsworth was born to be Thor and Chris Eccleston did a fabulous job as well. Overall I think this is Marvel’s most entertaining film and that’s high praise because I love them all, so far.

That brings us to the final category which is best new talent of 2013. There were some great debuts in 2013; the creative team on Buzzkill did a really great job on that book but I went with Chad Hardin as my pick. He is the artist on the new Harley Quinn book and he is destined for great success. His style is slightly cartoony but not overly so, just enough to bring that kinetic sense of comic book chaos to the page. I don’t think Palmiotti and Conner could have found a better artist for this book. Hardin’s take on the New 52 Harley is the best I’ve seen since the acrimonious re-vamping of the character. I am going on record as saying watch this guy, he is going places and I want to see where he takes us.

Well those are my picks for the best and brightest of the past year, I can’t wait for 2014 especially for Michael Allred’s Silver Surfer and Matt Fraction’s continued work on the Inhumans. In the world of film we have Captain America-Winter Soldier first up, which looks great from the trailers I’ve seen. It’s a great time to be alive and reading comic books. So for the last time of 2013, see you at the comic book store and have a happy and safe New Year.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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