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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013 — Part One!

My Best of 2013 lists roll on!  I hope you enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013 (click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three) and my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 (click here for part one and here for part two).

Today we begin my third Best of 2013 list — The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013!  Onward:

Honorable Mentions: Series I loved but that didn’t make this list include: Secret, The Manhattan Projects, The Massive, Peter David’s X-Factor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman Beyond Unlimited, Mark Millar & Frank Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy, IDW’s X-Files re-launch, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman, Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw’s Wolverine & The X-Men, and Brian & Olivia Bendis’ Takio.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s DC work, including his run on Action Comics which wrapped up earlier this year (click here for my detailed thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s Superman saga) and his work on Batman Incorporated, which concluded Mr. Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for my in-depth comments on Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga).

Here now is my main list:

15. America’s Got Powers I loved this seven-issue mini-series (the final three issues of which were published in 2013) by superstar artist Bryan Hitch and writer Jonathan Ross, about a brutal reality TV show in which super-powered kids are forced to compete.  The concept is a delicious melding of super-hero action and social commentary, but what most surprised me about the series was by how hooked in I was by the series’ main character, Tommy Watts, and his struggle to somehow find his way through and survive the competing interests operating all around him.  I was sorry when this mini-series ended.  I hope that someday Mr. Ross and Mr. Hitch return to this world.

14. Wonder Woman Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang (along with Goran Sudzuka and Tony Akins)’s reinvention of Wonder Woman continues, and it has been just as thrilling in its second year as it was in its first.  I can’t believe I am actually purchasing a Wonder Woman comic book every month, let alone enjoying it so much.  Mr. Azzarello has, on the one hand, connected the Wonder Woman mythos far more strongly to Greek mythology than has ever been done before (with the series’ main cast now consisting of various Greek mythological figures, each brought to unique life by Mr. Azzarello’s writing), while also (in an even more surprising move) beginning to tie the series into Jack Kirby’s New Gods concepts (with Orion becoming a major player in the book this year).  I wish Mr. Chiang could illustrate every issue, but other than that small complaint, I have great love for this series right now.

13.  Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern Though Mr. Johns has been writing Green Lantern for years, I only started reading it last year (during my massive project to re-read Mr. Johns’ entire Green Lantern run).  Not long after I had gotten up to date, Mr. Johns decided to leave the series.  That made me sad, but I was pleased that Mr. Johns was able to bring his story to a definitive conclusion, something that can be rare in the world of super-hero comics.  And what a conclusion it was.  I wasn’t interested in continuing reading this series after Mr. Johns left, but his work completing his story earlier this year was magnificent.  (Additional props must go to Doug Mahnke for his astoundingly wonderful art.)

12. Batwoman by J.H.Williams III & W. Haden Blackman — The biggest heartbreaker on this list.  Writer Greg Rucka, working with phenomenally-talented illustrator J.H. Williams III created this incarnation of Batwoman a few years ago, in the pages of Detective Comics.  But then Mr. Rucka had a falling-out with DC and the story-line was abruptly ended.  A year or two later, I was delighted when DC launched a new Batwoman series, which would be written AND illustrated by Mr. Williams III.  Working with co-writer W. Haden Blackman and additional artists Amy Reeder and then Trevor McCarthy (who alternated story-lines with Mr. Williams III’s own work), Mr. Williams III picked the ball up right from where he and Mr. Rucka had left off, weaving a wonderfully intriguing story of this young lesbian super-hero and a variety of supernatural threats to her and to Gotham City, as well as exploring the complex personal history of her family.  And then it all came crashing down.  Mr. Williams III and Mr. Blackman publicly criticized DC Comics for what they described as unbearable editorial interference, resulting in the cancellation of their plans to have Batwoman Kate Kane wed her girlfriend, Gotham City police officer Maggie Sawyer.  They were then immediately terminated from the book, with DC refusing to publish their final two issues, which would have wrapped up the current story-line.  Instead, that story was cut off abruptly at the end of their final issue, Batwoman #24.  I am heartbroken that we will never get to see the conclusion of this story-line as the authors had intended.  Looks like this will become one of comic books’ great unfinished stories.  What a shame.  What a waste.  What a let-down.

11. Ultimate Spider-Man Brian Michael Bendis has been writing this take on Spider-Man since 2000, and Mr. Bendis’ work has long-since cemented itself in my mind as, by far, my favorite run on Spider-Man and the definitive version of the character.  With Mr. Bendis having now written around 200 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, I am continually impressed, month after month, with how unceasingly compelling he is able to make this series, keeping the book chock-full of the combination of personal drama and super-hero action that makes a classic Spider-Man tale.  I am as hooked on this series now as I was when I read the first issue almost a decade-and-a-half ago.  I am not sure what the fate of this series will be following the big Ultimate Universe “Catacylsm” event going on now, but I hope this series will continue under Mr. Bendis’ hand for another decade-and-a-half at least.  Let me also add that, this year, after a little artistic inconsistency for the past few years, I was thrilled to see the series solidify under the incredibly-skilled hands of artists Sara Pichelli and Dave Marquez.  Both are phenomenally talented artists, and they bring extraordinary life to the book.

10.  Brother Lono Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100-issue crime epic 100 Bullets was a masterpiece.  With the series (and most of its characters) having come to a definitive end in the final issue several years ago, I never expected Mr. Azzarello & Mr. Risso to return to that world.  Fortunately, I was wrong, and thus we have this eight-issue mini-series Brother Lono, which centers on the series’ most twisted, fearsome villain.  Lono in 100 Bullets was an unstoppable force, a barely-human monster.  But following the blood-drenched events of the series’ climax, we find Lono to be deeply changed.  Unusual for Lono, he is trying to stay out of trouble, but criminal goings-on in Mexico threaten to awaken the beast he has tried to bury within.  Filled with Mr. Azzarello’s usual brilliant ear for dialogue (and dialect) and his familar style of dropping the reader right into multiple over-lapping stories, coupled with Mr. Risso’s gorgeous, astounding art, Brother Lono was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013 for me.  I hope this team continues to tell many more brutal crime stories set in the world of 100 Bullets!!

9. Astro City Another pleasant surprise of 2013?  Astro City returned!  And not only did it return, but to a monthly schedule, no less!  Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross’ Astro City has been one of the very best super-hero comics out there ever since it’s launch almost twenty years ago (way back in 1995!).  Rather that trying to subvert or reinvent super-hero stories, Kurt Busiek chose instead to focus on just telling the very best super-hero yarns he could, taking the stories and the characters very seriously.  The Astro City series didn’t follow one character or set of characters, but rather explored the universe of a fictional city — Astro City — that was filled with super-heroes and super-villains.  Each story (most would just last one issue, though several great story-lines were lengthier) would focus on a different character from the city — a hero, a villain, or a non-powered denizen.  Over the years, Mr. Busiek, working with incredible artists Brent Anderson & Alex Ross, has build up an incredibly rich fantasy world.  I’m delighted to have Astro City back, long may it reign.

8. Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers/Infinity After Brian Michael Bendis’ decade-long run helming Marvel’s Avengers titles, Jonathan Hickman took the reins.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with these series after Bendis’ departure, but Mr. Hickman quickly made the books his own, telling a very different — but no less entertaining — type of Avengers story.  And with this year’s big Infinity crossover, Mr. Hickman created a new kind of event.  With the cosmic story running through the pages of Avengers, New Avengers, and Infinity (a six-issue limited series) each month, I was hooked on this almost-weekly saga.  (I’m not sure I quite understood the thematic connection between Infinity’s two main stories — the return of Thanos and the attack on the known universe by the “Builders” — nor am I sure why the series was called Infinity, except as a reference to the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos’ one-time weapon which did not factor into this story at all.  But I don’t care.  I loved this crazy, epic, interstellar saga.)  And while the Infinity event has concluded, and with it several of the story-lines Mr. Hickman has been spinning ever since he took over the Avengers books, the threat of the “incursions” (and the unsavory actions that certain of the Marvel Universe’s most well-known heroes have been taking in an effort to halt that threat) continues.  Looks like I’ll be continuing to follow and enjoy this story into 2014.

7. Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men Speaking of Mr. Bendis, after departing The Avengers, he moved to Marvel’s other enormous franchise: the X-Men!  Mr. Bendis now writes two monthly X-Men books.  In All-New X-Men, the original five X-Men have traveled from the past to the Marvel Universe’s present.  Horrified by what they have seen (the clever hook of this story is that, to the innocent original X-Men, the present-day Marvel Universe would look just as bad as the dystopia glimpsed in Days of Future Past), they decided to stay in the present-day to try to make things right.  Mr. Bendis has gotten incredible story-mileage out of exploring the impact on each of the five original X-Men as they discover how their lives unfolded in the years they jumped over.  And man is it great to have Jean Grey back in the Marvel Universe.  Meanwhile, over in Uncanny X-Men, Scott Summers and a motley crew of mutants familiar (Magneto, Emma Frost) and new attempt to evade the many factions chasing Scott (for his actions that led to the death of Charles Xavier).  The books could be read separately, I suppose, but read together they form the most entertaining X-Men story I have read in a long, long time (probably since Joss Whedon’s classic run on Astonishing X-Men a decade ago).  There are super-hero/super-villain fights, to be sure, but as always Mr. Bendis’ specialties are character and dialogue, and man am I enjoying these characters more than I have in a long, long time.  Also, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger’s art on All-New X-Men is to die for.

6. Lazarus Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have created one of the most exciting original new concepts I have seen in years.  In the not-too-distant future, the collapse of the world economy and the rise of global corporations has created a world that is ruled by a few powerful families.  There are serfs, those individuals and families that work directly for the family corporations.  The rest of the populace of the planet are considered “waste.”  Forever Carlyle is the genetically-engineered “Lazarus” of the powerful Carlyle family.  She has been created to be the perfect weapon, the sword and shield of the Carlyle family.  But Forever is not a machine — she is a young woman beginning to discover who she is, and starting to learn hard truths about the world around her.  I have no idea where this series is going, but I am thrilled to be along for the ride.  The world-building is extraordinary, and I am eager to learn more about the details of the society in which this story is set.  Michael Lark’s illustrations are perfection — this is a man who can draw anything, from a quiet dialogue scene to a brutal sword-versus-gun-fight.  There’s a grittiness mixed with a sense of hyper-detail in his art which I find to be phenomenal.  This is one of my very favorite comic book series.

And yet, as much as I adore Lazarus, there are five more series that I ranked higher!  I’ll be back here tomorrow with numbers five through one on my list.  See you then!

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