Saturday, December 21, 2013


Today I read the last of my new comics for the year. I actually got them from the shop a few days back, but didn't have a chance to read everything until this morning. So now here I am, another year of comicbook fandom officially behind me. I guess that means it's time to talk about the best series of this year, right?

But the thing is, I'm not wild about the idea of doing a best-of list. At best guess, I only read something like 40-60 titles this year, and many of those I dropped partway through. So to pick five or ten series out of that relatively limited group and call them the best comics published all year feels meaningless. It'd be a list based on such a small cross section of everything published this year, and honestly, most of the titles I'd choose are probably on a bunch of other lists all over the Internet. Why add a bucket of water to the deluge?

Instead, then, here are some of things I noticed popping up a lot this year and liked. A list not of my favorite comics, but my favorite comics trends:

1. Blended Genres: There were a handful of really great books that spliced elements of several genres quite nicely. Dream Thief was a magical crime mystery, Six-Gun Gorilla was a sci-fi western, Pretty Deadly is a fantasy/mythological western, Revival is a horror story wrapped in a small-town drama (or vice versa), Black Beetle: No Way Out was a superhero noir, etc. Some of these are more original mixes than others, and they all strike their own balance depending on the story being told. But I'm always in favor of this practice, because straight genre stories grow staler all the time, and a simple way to spice them up is often to smash them together. There was a good deal of that happening in comics this year, and I gobbled it up.

2. Strong Teen Characters: I highlighted this idea in my PopMatters piece on Young Avengers  and Harbinger, but there were a few other series that really nailed the voices of their young-but-not-that-young characters. Archer and Armstrong, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Afterlife with Archie are all on the list, and I'm sure I'm forgetting another example or two. Making teenagers sound real and natural, finding the right mix of genuine intelligence and complete stupidity, is a definite challenge. It's much easier to boil them down into one-note characters: the angry kid, the nerd, the bully, the shy one, etc. The teens I've been reading about this year, though, have been three-dimensional, hard to define, and believably juvenile without becoming obnoxious.

3. Accessible Weirdness: I read a bunch of stuff in 2013 that was bizarre and borderline experimental, yet still offered just enough of a clear narrative hook to pull me in quick and keep me around. Some of these are relatively new and still have time to disappoint me down the line, like Pretty Deadly and Drumhellar. Others, like Twelve Reasons to Die, are already not that great overall, but because of how strange and unique they are, I stay interested and entertained. And then there's stuff like FBP, which is basically a straightforward crime procedural that just happens to involve physics that are so far over my head I couldn't begin to tell you how real or made up all the scientific chatter in that title is. It's a combination of the overly familiar and the completely unknown, and I dig it big time. All these series were strange in their structure, hard to to predict, and artistically bananas. Though they have varying levels of quality, as a group they were a bright and beautiful reminder of how much fun comics can be, and what kinds of crazy shit they get to do that no other medium can.

4. Talking About Inequality: This isn't one from within the comicbooks themselves as much as it's something that's been going on in the creator-fan online community. The long-established lack of representation of female and minority characters, creators, and other professionals in the world of comics is getting called out and criticized more and more, and all that negative attention is exactly what it needs and deserves. Unless everyone can agree there's a problem, the solution is never going to come, and while the comics industry has been slower than many to acknowledge how unbalanced it is in this regard, there's a clear momentum in the right direction now that's exciting and will hopefully roll right into 2014 and beyond. It's going to be a slow, infuriating, uphill battle to be sure. But the first step has got to be talking about it, shining a light on the problems and refusing to turn it off until something's done, until the next steps are taken. I feel like that's where we are now, and though things are still awful, they're better than they used to be if only because the discussion is taking place. And loudly.

There it is, a brief summation of what I'll remember when I think of comics in 2013. It was a good year, as far as that goes. I'm not sure I put much stock in the idea that a specific 365 days is a timeframe that's worth anything, but that's a debate for another time and place.

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