2013's pretty much over and, boy, was it ever a great year for comics. Here's what I and other Kotaku staffers loved reading over the last twelve months.
It was fair to expect that a book from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky would have some of the raunchiest porn comedy this side of a Judd Apatow movie. But it's the sweetly awkward coming-of-age romance in Sex Criminals that comes as a surprise and makes it more than a collection of squishy sequences floating on top of a fantastical metaphor for post-coital bliss. Even if time stops after a life-changing horizontal tango, the real magic comes from being able to share it with someone. And, hey, if it got banned, then it must be worth checking out, right? (Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky, Image Comics)
It's the eye candy that sucks you in first: awesome environmental and character designs shot through with neon and pneumatic tubes and an irresistible daisy chain of all your favorite retro/future visual signifiers crammed into each other. But the best thing about The Private Eye is how it tortures you with what it means to live in a hyper-connected world. Its characters move through a world where keeping secrets is an obsession because people lived through a datapocalypse where all their collective internet dirty laundry was public. And in a year when the reality of the surveillance state was impossible to ignore, this digitally distributed title makes you think about your own web browsing and social network sharing in the worst possible way. (Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, Panel Syndicate)
What I love most about Pretty Deadly is that, three very beautiful issues in, you can feel what it is about more than you can necessarily know what it is about. The myth-concerned Western offers up its component inspirations easily—some Sergio Leone scene-setting, visual grammar from manga and a bit of fairy-tale framing—but the explicit motivations of the series' motley characters are still mysterious. But you can still tell that the swordfights and gunplay happen because of primal drives like fear, bitterness, greed and hope. It's one of the best debuts of the year and will surely get stronger as more of its world's tales get told. (Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, Image Comics)
You can't be a member of Batman's crime-fighting brigade without family trauma. And, while Barbara Gordon has had her own share of bad times at the hands of maniacs like the Joker, this past year upped the stakes exponentially. After facing down her own psychopathic brother, Barbara Gordon's come away with a fratricidal guilt so powerful that she feels unworthy to wear the Bat-symbol. And then her own father starts hunting her. It's about as dark a Bat-book as exists right now and it's all the more impressive for how it hasn't needed a big event crossover to make it compelling. (Gail Simone & Federico Pasarin, DC Comics)
Forget the wings, horns and television-heads. The players in Saga's sci-fi soap opera are as horny, scared shitless and delusional as the people in your own life. Nobody's terribly noble in this comic and it's all the more enjoyable because of it. There are families all over Saga, made up of people who've been told that they shouldn't be together and wondering if that might actually be true. When the universe is war-torn and randomly harsh, it feels stupid to believe that love can change anything for the better. But to believe the opposite, Saga tells us, is to make the universe even more fucked up. So, be stupid. Be brave. (Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Image Comics)
What if science were as big a thing as rock n roll? You'd have dudes in garages trying to whip up the next Hadron collider or cold fusion breakthrough. And you know how the break of a really awesome band can seem like the end of the world? In Nowhere Men, that threat is real. At the core of this series is the unresolved tensions between four big-brained superstars who founded mega-science juggernaut WorldCorp. The broad parallels to bands like the Beatles—the brooding idealism, fun-loving ubiquity and accusations of selling out— are part of the point, but the arguments about what science is supposed to do and what's best for humanity aren't just philosophical. They change the ways people's brains and bodies work, creating a crop of cursed and far-flung metahumans who are essentially a concept album that represents what happens when ego and experimentation go too far. The fact that there's an incredible parade of late 20th-Century graphic design tropes throughout the series so far is just super-sweet frosting on the cake. (Eric Stephenson & Nate Bellegarde, Image Comics)
Battling Boy rocks because it boils down adventure fiction formula down to its purest elements and adds a ton of sass to the mix. It's filled with fashionable characters, a fallible lead and a landscape of larger-than-life deeds and worlds that are just out-of-reach. You want Battling Boy to kick butt not just so he wins the day but also because his exploits feel like they're taking you to the fresh, of-the-moment re-thinking of what a superhero can look like. (Paul Pope, First Second)
"Remember how good things were before they got bad…" That's the lingering thought behind the melodrama of The Walking Dead. The 10th anniversary 'All-Out War' story arc in the hit series brought two opposing visions of community into conflict with each other and called into question the price that people pay to enjoy a common good. There's no question that the bad guys are terrible. The real tension comes in seeing just how long the heroes of Kirkman and Adlard's yarn can continue to be good as everything shifts around them. (Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, Image Comics)
History shouldn't ever be boring if it's told the right way. Boxers & Saints puts you right in the emotional epicenters of two people on either side of the Chinese-vs.-outsiders conflicts from the dawn of the last century without forcing you to memorize dates and the names of leaders. You come away with an electric understanding of why people fought and died and with a greater sense of empathy for either side of the battles. Boxers and Saints shows how powerful faith can be and how cultures clashing can have terrible consequences. (Gene Luen Yang, First Second)
Stephen Totilo writes: An X-Men comic that has an issue that is all about The Watchmen. A super-hero comic that never settles on a status quo. A story about David Haller, son of Professor X and a man with many personalities in his mind vying for control. Every issue of Si Spurrier's nearly-concluded series has at least one fantastic surprise and at least one thing you haven't read in an X-Men comic before. The product of fresh thinking and arguably a better Marvel comic than even the lauded Hawkeye and Daredevil. (Si Spurrier & Tan Eng Huat, Marvel Comics)
Stephen Totilo writes: What can we say? Michael Fiffe's tribute comic to DC Comics' great 1980s villains-as-government-agents Suicide Squad series that can also be read as an energetically-drawn, art comic. Great, though not widely available. Get it here. (Michael Fiffe, Bergen Street Comics)
Michael Fahey writes: Talking raccoon with a laser pistol. I will say it again: talking raccoon with a laser pistol. (Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven, Marvel Comics)
Richard Eisenbeis writes: Every year, there is no comic I look forward to more than the newest 200-page issue of Empowered—and this year's only serves to remind me why. This “sexy superhero comedy” follows D-list superhero Empowered as she moves from bondage-target to legitimate hero. The world of Empowered is full of superheroes that are more divas than heroes, and villains that range from the classically incompetent to the legitimately terrifying. Part superhero deconstruction, part emotional epic about self confidence, Empowered delivers as many laughs as it does tears.
In addition to the yearly trade paperback release, this year saw the release of a few short one-shot comics, further fleshing out the backstories of the characters.
If you think having a cosmic-powered god-entity living on your coffee table or a world where a fair share of superheroes got their powers from alien STDs is worthy of a good laugh, Empowered is the comic for you. (Adam Warren, Dark Horse Comics)