2013: The Best So Far – Comic Books

Anghus Houvouras on the best comic books of the year so far….

Hard to believe, but the year is half over.  So far it’s been a great year for comics.  Sure, there have been some disappointments.  I’m looking at you Age of Ultron.  For the avid comic reader, there are great titles to be found.

The mainstream publishers have benefited greatly from recent reorganizations.  While not everybody has been in love with DC’s New 52, their characters have felt more energized than they have in ages.  And the Marvel NOW! retooling has been a creative home run delivering some of the most consistently excellent titles hitting the shelves each month.  The smaller publishers haven’t been slouching either putting out a run of offbeat and unique titles that are rivaling the best runs of the independent era of comics.  So here, in no particular order, the ten best comics of the first half of the year.

FF (Matt Fraction and Mike Allred)

If there’s been one theme that has worked well in 2013 it’s been going with the unconventional.  So many of the comics I’ve been loving have featured second tier characters elevated to regular series status.  FF brings together the unlikely pairing of Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and a new character Ms. Thing to fill in for the Fantastic Four while they take an inter-dimensional road trip.  The book is consistently entertaining and has a tone and cadence that reminds me of great animated comedies like Futurama.  Mike Allred’s art is, as usual, wonderfully composed and Fraction’s writing is whip smart.

Dream Merchant (Nathan Edmondson and Konstantin Novosadov)

A wonderfully trippy title with some high concepts and mind blowing artwork, Dream Merchant is one of those pleasant surprises that reminds you the medium still has unexplored corners and original voices to be discovered.  This is the current gem from Image telling the story of a guy plagued by a condition where he can’t decipher dreams from reality.  His eroding mental condition leads way to the discovery of some dark beings who inhabit his dream world which may be far more important than he originally realized.  A fun, epic journey into a surreal reality.  Dream Merchant is well worth your time.

Superior Spider-Man (Dan Slott)

Readers were outraged at the conclusion of Amazing Spider-Man when everyone’s favorite web-slinger not only lost, but was also killed by the villainous Doctor Octopus.  In a masterstroke of mad-scientist madness, Octavius took over Peter Parker’s body and started a quest to become the greatest hero the Marvel Universe has ever known.  Readers kept waiting for the reset button to be pushed, but and the status quo to be restored.  The most amazing thing is, that hasn’t happened.  Superior Spider-Man has been a major surprise with the kind of crazy, outside the box plotting that is usually reserved for alternate realities and issues of What If?  Spider-Man hasn’t been this readable in decades.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1

Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Nick Spencer)

With the success of Superior Spider-Man has come some coattail riding comics.   By the title, you would thing ‘Superior Foes‘ was a cash grab book content to ride the wake of Superior Spider-Man’s success.  Instead, we get a brilliantly written book about a cast of lovable loser trying to achieve Super-Villain success.   Led by the conniving Boomerang, The Superior Foes benefits from the same kind of B-List curiosity that titles like FF and Hawkeye have enjoyed.  Some of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe are the ones that have not been explored at great length.

All New X-Men (Brian Michael Bendis)

There was a time when the mutant filled corner of the X-Men universe was a convoluted and confused mess with too many titles for any sane person to try and follow.  Marvel NOW! has made a great effort to streamline the stories and make it somewhat accessible.  Popular scribe Brian Michael Bendis was tasked with two flagship X-Men comics.  All New X-Men sees the return of the five original X-Men due to some tampering with the space time continuim by Beast.  The young, idealistic X-men see a very ugly disjointed world that seems far removed from the future they were so intent on fighting for.  The time travelling component has led to some interesting stories that showcase just how far the X-Men have come since their modest roots.

Uncanny X-Men (Brian Michael Bendis)

Bendis brings a completely different vibe to his other X-Men book.  Uncanny X-Men is the red-headed bastard stepchild of the mutant world.  Cyclops, Magneto, Emma Frost, and Magik are once again outcasts.  Pariahs to not only humans but to their fellow mutants.  Their powers have been broken, and they are desperate to try and build some kind of legacy.  They recruit new mutants to join their ranks and start an ideological war with their former friends.  Uncanny has been showcasing unconventional stories and fantastic spreads from artists like Frazer Irving and Chris Bachalo.  Uncanny and All New X-Men have become the perfect bookends.

Daredevil (Mark Waid)

Mark Waid finally gave readers a Daredevil who was neither too dark or too slight.  He’s found that perfect balance which suits Matt Murdock so well and delivers the most entertaining super-hero book of the 21st century rivaling the epic runs by Bendis and Frank Miller. 

Jupiter’s Legacy (Mark Millar and Frank Quitely)

Mark Millar has built a reputation as a writer who likes to tinker with conventional superhero stories.  Jupiter’s Legacy is another engrossing read following in the tradition of Wanted and Kick Ass.  The story of a group of classic super heroes dealing with their addicted offspring leads to an ideological dispute pitting brother against brother.  Quitely’s art is, as always, pitch perfect.  Millar seems to be crafting another gonzo superhero universe where anything can happen. 

Hawkeye (Matt Fraction and David Aja)

Yes, the trend of B-List superheroes making the list continues.   Matt Fraction is having a banner year.  Along with Brian Michael Bendis, he has two books in my current top ten.  Hawkeye once again takes a character from the perimeter and brings them to the forefront.  I’ve always been a huge Clint Barton fan, so a tried and true Hawkeye title with exceptional writing and visionary art from David Aja feels long overdue.  Marvel NOW! is winning the comic war for me because the editorial finally seems to be taking risks with regular titles.  If we could just get rid of all those pointless event comics….

Suicide Squad (Ales Kot)

DC’s most intriguing concept has finally gotten good again.  A group of criminal scum assembled to do the bidding of a shadow Government Agency.    A Dirty Dozen style story taking some of the most warped minds in the DC Universe and assembling them for action.  Deadshot, fan favorite Harley Quinn, The Unknown Soldier, and King Shark headline a team dealing with a lot of demons.  New writer Ales Kot has tightened up the narrative and the introduction of the malevolent James Gordon Junior makes things even more interesting.  There aren’t a lot of New 52 titles that seem to be on the right track.   Suicide Squad is hands down, the pick of the litter.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know your favourite comic books of the year so far in the comments below…

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/My-Career-Suicide-Note-ebook/dp/B00D3ULU5I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371583147&sr=8-1&keywords=my+career+suicide+note

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