ED. NOTE: Over the weekend, of course, Comic Riffs shared our personal picks for Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2013 — a category largely limited to new works of comics narrative. Thing is, the year has brought an embarrassment of riches, including retrospectives (such as Art Spiegelman’s “Co-MIX”) and wordless panoramas (Joe Sacco’s “The Great War” ). And that “embarrassment” extends to superheroic stories — from archers to gunslingers to an unchained slave.
Here, then, is our separate list to honor the category of capes and cowls and quivers: Our Top 10 Superhero Comics of 2013.
(Hardcover, Vol. 1)
(Writer: Matt Fraction; artists: David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Alan Davis, Jesse Hamm. Collects: Hawkeye #1-11 and Young Avengers Presents #6. Marvel; $35.)
If you took a roll call of the current Avengers roster and tried to determine who would have the best solo comic book, you'd probably lean toward the team members who have individual movies to go with their comics (Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man). So imagine the surprise when the top Avenger solo book of 2013 turned out to be Hawkeye, the Avenger's non-superpowered, non-armored archer.
To make Hawkeye's choice as Avenger numero uno even more surprising is the title's approach — basically, a look at Hawkeye when he's not an Avenger. Who knew so few unquivered arrows, so many pots of coffee — plus being mistaken for Iron Fist — would take Clint Barton to the top this year?
The combination of Fraction's crackling writing and Aja’s wonderful art will have you wondering whether Jeremy Renner will go blond and get his own Hawkeye movie from Marvel Studios.
Hey, we can dream..
Age of Ultron
(Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; artist: Bryan Hitch. Collects: Avengers 12.1, Age of Ultron 1-10 and 10AI, Avengers Assemble 14AU-15AU, Fantastic Four 5AU, Fearless Defenders 4AU, Superior Spider-Man 6AU, Ultron 1AU, Uncanny Avengers 8AU and Wolverine and the X-Men 27AU. Marvel; $75.)
Bendis and big events often go together well. It was plenty intriguing just to know that Bendis was bringing back one of Marvel's most feared villains (Ultron). But when it was announced at last summer’s Comic-Con that the much-anticipated sequel to Marvel Studios’ "The Avengers" would be titled, "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" — well, that just kicked things up a few notches. Not only does this book give you Ultron’s wreaking havoc on all the Marvel universe (with Bendis guiding the destruction), but you could also be reading something that could help inspire the next Marvel movie blockbuster.
(Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men)
(Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; artist: Stuart Immonen. Collects: All-New X-Men 1-5. Marvel; $25.)
Bendis — perhaps Marvel's busiest writer — has been handed the reins of the X-Men universe. So what does he do? Nothing too major. He simply brings back the original founding X-Men team from the ‘60s (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel) to the present day by time travel.
The Beast (the blue furry version) goes back in time to persuade his teenage/not-blue/not-furry self and his original teenage teammates to come to the future, to try to inspire the Cyclops of the present (who's gone rather a bit rogue) to change his ways. All sorts of "consequences of time travel" chaos begin, along with the young X-Men of the past learning that they might not have the brightest futures to look forward to. Should they stay (in the present) or should they go (back to the past)?
(Writer: Dan Slott; artists: Humberto Ramos, Richard Elson, Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli. Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #698-700; Superior Spider-Man 1-5. Marvel; $35.)
When it comes to major events that have been controversially received, Spider-Man has had more than his share. Clone sagas, alien black costumes, the death of Gwen Stacy — Spidey fans had seemingly seen it all. That is, until Slott took Peter Parker to places no one ever thought he'd go. Slott's decision to have one of Spider-Man's greatest villains (Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus) take over the mind of Peter Parker and declare himself the "Superior Spider-Man" may go down as one of the most polarizing Spider-Man tales ever.
Slott has received a startling amount of criticism, but he continues to go forward with Otto/Spidey and is telling the tale he wants to tell. But eventually, Peter Parker has to come back, right? Right?
Batman: Death of the Family
(Writer: Scott Snyder; artist: Greg Capullo. Collects: Batman 13-17. DC Comics; $25.)
With the Court of Owls and the Talons, Snyder was so good at introducing new villains in the Batman universe (not easy to do when you consider Batman’s legendary rogues’ gallery) that fans couldn't wait to see his version of Bat-foe No.1: the Joker.
Snyder delivered with Death of the Family, a tale that dives into just how disturbing the relationship between Batman and the Joker is. The "Family" part of the title involves the Joker’s unleashing an all-out assault on Batman and his many allies (Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin, Batgirl, Alfred).
Does the Joker know who Batman is under the cowl? Does he care? And will the relationships between Batman and his "family" ever be the same once the Joker gets his hands on them?
Combined with the art of Capullo (who is to 21st-century Batman art what the late Jim Aparo was to Batman in the ‘80s and ‘90s), Death of the Family will go down as one of the greatest Joker tales.
(Vol. 3: The End)
(Writer: Geoff Johns; artist: Doug Mahnke. Collects: Green Lantern issue zero and #13-20. DC Comics; $25.)
Few have left their mark on a character the way Johns has upon Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. “The end” is the collection that draws to a close Johns’s nearly decade-long run on Green Lantern — a run that saw Hal Jordan rise to the ranks of the DC Comics elite alongside the trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
Johns not only made Jordan just as super as his fellow Justice League members, but he also grew the Green Lantern universe with one big event after another. From “Blackest Night” to multiple color corps, new Green Lanterns and multiple wars in space, Johns’s run will be the definitive take on Green Lantern for years to come.
(Writer: Reginald Hudlin; based on the screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. Artists: R.M. Guerra, Jason Latour, Denys Cowan, Danijel Zezelj, John Floyd. Collects: Django Unchained #1-7. DC/Vertigo; $25.)
Django Unchained is far from a comic-book copy of the Oscar-winning movie from Quentin Tarantino. In a message on the comic’s first page, Tarantino says the comic-book adaptation is the entire script he initially put together for “Django.” Had the movie followed the entire script, it would have been four hours long, Tarantino says.
But comic books aren't so limited by time, and with the help of Hudlin, who was a producer on “Django” and knows a thing or two about black heroes in comic books (after his run on Black Panther for Marvel), this adaptation gives readers a deeper look into the world of Django and other characters from the movie.
Reading this gives you a new perspective on the film, and allows you to see some supporting characters in the film (such as Broomhilda, who is given a deeper origin story in the comic) in a new light.
(Writer: Scott Snyder; artist: Rafael Albuquerque. Collects: American Vampire #28-34. DC/Vertigo; $30. )
The seemingly un-killable, candy-loving Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones, the fellow American vampire he helped create, reluctantly team up to search for a possible hidden evil lurking within the bright lights of 1950s Hollywood.
As always with this series, there's plenty of suspense, drama and surprises — the kind of elements that have made this title a crown jewel for Vertigo.
American Vampire shows off Snyder’s immense talents. After reading this, you understand why DC Comics gave him the keys to their two most iconic characters (Superman and Batman). The surprisingly sexy art of Albuquerque is a bonus.
The Sixth Gun: Gunslinger Edition
(Writer: Cullen Bunn; artist: Brian Hurtt. Collects: The Sixth Gun #1-11. Oni Press; $120.)
The Sixth Gun, one of the industry’s most distinctive comic stories, is an incredibly fun mix of fantasy and the Wild West. The story of six mystical guns — each carrying a different power and which, when combined, allow the wielder to remake the world — stars Becky Moncrief (wielder of some but not all the guns) and mystery man Drake Sinclair (who is clearly not at all what he seems).
The Gunslinger Edition collects the first 11 issues of the series and, along with being printed in an extra-large format, comes with many fun extras, including original art by Hurtt.
This edition can only be ordered directly through Oni Press, and there are only about 1,000 copies, the publisher says. The sticker price may be as scary as Sixth Gun bad guy General Hume, but with the added extras, it's a great way to get introduced to one of the industry’s best series.
(Vol. 1, Birth Rites)
(Writers: Justin Jordan, Patrick Zircher; artist: Patric Zircher. Collects: Shadowman #1-4. Valiant; $10. )
Leading the way for Valiant Comics’s return to the industry was Shadowman, one of the many remakes of their run of titles from the ’90s that was given a 21st-century makeover.
Jordan and Zircher help reintroduce Jack Boniface, who — like his father before him — has no choice but to confront the legendary power of the Shadowman.
A supernatural and refreshingly diverse title, Shadowman has the perfect setting (New Orleans) for the debut of a character who has to walk on both sides of life and death, learning the ropes of being a hero in the process.
Bloodshot, Vol. 1 (Valiant).
Daredevil, Vol. 4 (Marvel),
Justice League of America, Vol. 1 (DC Comics).
Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre (DC Comics).
Wolverine: The Adamantium Collection (Marvel).
Wonder Woman, Vol. 1 (DC Comics).
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 4 (Marvel).