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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 … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my Top 15 Movies of 2012 list!  You can click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Now let’s jump into my second Best of 2012 list, my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

First up, some honorable mentions.  They didn’t make by best-of list, but I really enjoyed The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Massive, the publication of Alan Moore’s last scripted issue of Supreme, the conclusion of RASL, Ultimate Spider-Man (dropping off my best-of list for the first time since I started doing this, but still a great comic book), Daredevil: End of Days, and Peter David’s X-Factor.

15. Batman Beyond: Unlimited I am loving this continuation of the world of Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Beyond series.  The comic has picked up on many terrific story-lines left hanging by the show’s conclusion, including Terry’s membership in the Justice League, Superman’s return to Metropolis, Terry’s relationship with Dana, the tragic events that befell former Robin Tim Drake (as depicted in the Return of the Joker DVD movie), and at last the introduction of Dick Grayson into Batman Beyond continuity.  With the Justice League and the New Gods front-and-center, as well as a revitalized Jokerz gang, the stories feel suitably big and epic.  I love that each issue is double-sized, with several serialized stories running concurrently.  The art is a little inconsistent on some of the features, but I love Dustin Nguyen’s work, and I am absolutely delighted to see the great Norm Breyfogle once again illustrating a Batman comic.

14. Winter SoldierEd Brubaker’s final Captain America story-line has been terrific, returning full-circle to where his Captain America epic began years ago, with a still-alive Bucky Barnes operating on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, trying his best to be a hero in the murky world of spies and shadows.  I love the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow.  I love how heavily SHIELD and Nick Fury are involved in the story.  I love Butch Guice’s spectacular illustrations, at once retro and very modern.  This is a great noirish super-hero story, and I’m going to be sorry to see it end.

13. BatwomanJ.H. Williams III’s lavishly illustrated series continues to impress me.  Without question, the main draw is J.H. Williams III’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, so creative in terms of page and panel layout, and his use of different artistic styles for different characters/settings.  But Mr. Williams has also been doing fine work as the writer, spinning a great mystery yarn that is grounded but not afraid to embrace the supernatural or the super-heroic.  The latest story-line, featuring … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part One!

My Best of 2011 lists roll on!  Here are the links to my Top 15 Movies of 2011part one, part two, and part three.  Now on to my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!

15.  John Byrne’s Next Men When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90’s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series.  Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest.  I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative.  I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully.  I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year.  There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story.  It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before.  Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed.  Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??

14.  Ultimate Spider-Man I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey.  The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow).  Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began.  Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there.  And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!

13.  Kick Ass 2 Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original.  Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the … [continued]

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I’ve written a few pieces, recently, about some of the great comic books that I’ve been reading lately.  (Click here for my thoughts on 100 Bullets, and here for my reviews of three recent graphic novels adapted from the short stories of Alan Moore.)  What else have I been reading lately that has tickled my fancy?  I’m glad you asked!

Filthy Rich, by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos — After finishing 100 Bullets, I was eager to check out some more work by Brian Azzarello.  Luckily, this original graphic novel had just been published, so I snapped it up.  Richard “Junk” Junkin used to be a football star.  Now he sells cars.  Not very well.  When Junk’s boss asks him to work as the bodyguard for his spoiled, party-going daughter, Junk find himself swept up in the world of the young and the rich that he is at once envious of and disdainful of.  Not surprisingly, things don’t go well.  Mr. Santos’s black-and-white artwork has a bit of a cartoony, Bruce Tim bent which one might think incongruous with a gritty crime story, but I quickly found myself loving his detailed, quirky illustrations.  There are a lot of characters in this story, but under Mr. Santos’ sure hand I never found myself confused as to who-was-who.  This is a great, street-level gritty story (an Azzarello specialty), and if you’re looking for a break from comic book super-heroics, this is worth a shot.

Frankenstein’s Womb, by Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki — As noted above, last week I wrote about three Alan Moore graphic novels published by Avatar Press.  But that’s not all that Avatar has to offer.  Last month I had the pleasure of reading this recent graphic novel (or “graphic novella,” as it is labelled on its cover) written by the enormously talented Warren Ellis.  The year is 1816.  Mary Wollestonecraft Goodwin, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont are traveling across Europe.  In Germany, they come across a strange and deserted castle.  Castle Frankenstein.  This wonderfully weird and quite haunting tale of where Mary Shelley REALLY got the idea for her famous novel is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.  Mr. Ellis’ clever (and quite grim!) script is perfectly supplemented by Mr. Oleksicki’s incredibly detailed, evocative black-and-white linework.  Absolutely wonderful.

Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — Taking a break from their stellar crime series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips bring us the story (told in six issues) of former super-hero Zack Overkill.  After his twin brother (and fellow super-villain) was killed, Zack served as a secret witness against the head of his criminal organization, … [continued]

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100 Bullets

September 14th, 2009
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One of the greatest comic books that I know of took its final bow recently: Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s masterpiece, 100 Bullets.

The centerpiece of the series has been, since the very first issue, the mysterious Agent Graves.  Graves brings the powerless and the beaten-down a chance at vengeance: an attache case filled with irrefutable evidence about the person or persons who destroyed their life, as well as a gun and 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition.  Somehow, Graves has arranged so that no law enforcement agency on the globe can touch the user of that gun and those 100 bullets.

When the series began, its structure was that of short stories (some one issue long, most spanning several issues), each featuring a different protagonist — from a former gang-banger from Chicago to an ice-cream truck man in Brooklyn to a bartender in California to gas-station attendant in Texas, and many others — each faced with tough choices as to how to respond to Graves’ “gift.”

But the beauty of 100 Bullets is the way that an even more complex and fascinating larger story began to emerge, slowly, as the series progressed.  Characters from one story would re-appear in later tales in unexpected ways.  Events seen in the background of panels in one issue would, many issues later, become the focus of another story.  Slowly it came to light that the people Graves was visiting might not be as totally unconnected and random as they had at first appeared.  Eventually we readers began to discover a larger story, about the thirteen families who had long-ago divided up control of America, and the secret war that was now tearing them apart.  As great as the tough, pull-no-punches stand-alone crime stories were that the series began with, I found myself even more engaged with this epic story-line that came to dominate the series over the course of the second half of its run.

I’m not even sure where to begin in terms of singing the praises of the series’ creators.  Azzarello’s stories are both painfully, brutally intimate and also astonishingly epic.  Over the 100 issues of the series (collected in 13 volumes — and that number isn’t random, as attentive readers of the series surely know), Azzarello wove a head-poundingly intricate web of increasingly inter-connected events and characters.  I have re-read the early volumes of the series many times now, and each time I read them I discover amazing new connections — the way a major player late in the series’ run was there all along in the background of an earlier tale, or the way an off-hand comment made by one character early on the series would illuminate the motivations … [continued]

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More of Josh’s Favorite Graphic Novels!

Yesterday I wrote about several examples of my favorite graphic novels.  Today I’d like to share a few more that represent longer works:

Bone — Three cousins stumble into a mysterious valley filled with wonderful and dangerous creatures.  What begins as a whimsical, fun-filled fantasy romp gradually grows into an epic, Lord of the Rings type of adventure filled with action, death, greed, and a beautiful story of unrequited love.  The Lord of the Rings comparison does Bone a disservice, actually, as Bone is a brilliantly unique work unlike anything else I have ever read.  At times hilariously funny and at times deeply intense, Bone is a truly wonderful tale that (unlike many of the other graphic novels I have listed) is perfectly suitable for all ages.  It’s available in nine collections.  Start off with volumes I & II, Out From Boneville and The Great Cow Race, and I guarantee you won’t look back.

Cerebus — If you read 300 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (heck, if you read 50 or 100 issues!) you would probably be struck by the cyclical nature of the story-telling.  The characters don’t really change, villains return again and again… you might enjoy the stories, but it’s not remotely a chronicle of what could really happen in one person’s life (even someone bitten by a radioactive spider!).  With his comic Cerebus, writer/illustrator Dave Sim set out to do something entirely different.  What began life in the late 70’s as a parody of Conan the Barbarian became something entirely different when Sim decided to create the ultimate 300 issue “limited-series.”  His comic would chronicle the life and adventures of one character, Cerebus (an aardvark living in a medieval world of humans).  It would be told at a realistic pace (with stories unfolding slowly and action only occurring every 30 or more issues, as opposed to having complete adventures every month), and it would end with Cerebus’ death.  (And in 2004, when Cerebus #300 was finally published, that’s exactly what happened.)  Although some have said, only half-jokingly, that Dave Sim went insane over the almost 30-years of working on his epic (and having read the bizarre and erratic final volumes I’m not sure I disagree), for much of its run it was truly magnificent.  Skip the first collection and start with the phone-book sized volume II, High Society, and volumes III & IV, the two-part Church and State.  These are extraordinary works, sophisticated commentaries on the nature of politics and religion that are also terrifically fun adventure stories filled with an extraordinarily rich cast of characters, and set in a fully realized fantasy world that has been fleshed out by Sim (and collaborator … [continued]