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The 10 Best Comics of 2013

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The 10 Best Comics of 2013

There aren’t many ways to articulate the exceptional state of comics in 2013: this year kicked ass. The sheer degree of passion, innovation, and experimentation set a new watermark for the industry. Superheroes were forced to share their writers and artists with the growing creator-owned pastures over at Image and beyond, and when superheroes did step into the limelight, they entertained in ways they rarely have before (hello Hawkeye) from the Big Two. All the while, the indies continued to churn out provocative gold between reprints and new material.

Honing this list down to 10 choices was a painful process, but the following was ultimately founded on a democracy of opinions and previously-written reviews. There are writers who contributed to this list who will be just as devastated by certain omissions as anyone else, but the comics below are guaranteed reads that may range in tone, approach, and genre, but are united in excellence. Let us know your favorite comics of 2013 in the comments.
 

10. Heck
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Writer & Artist: Zander Cannon
Publisher: Top Shelf
Comics aren’t short on stories about male friendship (there’s this entire genre about superheroes?) but Heck circles around that topic with a degree of uncommon subtlety. Heck might be a little bloated and scattered, with its true theme too long in the background, but that turns out to be a canny creative decision on Zander Cannon’s part. The realization that the relationship between Heck and Elliott is the focal point of the book sneaks up on the reader, providing both the bond and the story with a surprising power. Although originally serialized in the digital anthology Double Barrel, this collection is Cannon’s first long-form solo work in almost twenty years — hopefully he won’t take as long with the next one. Garrett Martin


9. MIND MGMT
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Writer/Artist: Matt Kindt
Publisher: Dark Horse
MIND MGMT reads like a comic that has had an inordinate amount of thought put into it. Matt Kindt has created an expansive alternative history where a cabal of telepathic savants manipulates humanity for its betterment. Framed through the investigative travels of freelance writer Meru, the narrative reveals a tightly-connected framework of actions and consequences made by a rotating cast of fascinating characters. Most of these characters also happen to wield awe-inspiring powers, like the ability to reverse-empathize an entire city into murdering itself or force an airplane’s human cargo to undergo mass amnesia. Kindt plants each of these human WMDs into a massive canvas that he zooms in and out of with startling grace, using a cache of literary tricks like foreshadowing and narrative confusion to let you know that he’s molded something grand and wonderful. Sean Edgar


8. Hawkeye
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Writer:   Matt Fraction  
Artist: David Aja, Others
Publisher: Marvel
Hawkeye isn’t a story about grandiose universe-threatening men in outward-facing underpants fighting a pantheon of heroic men in outward-facing underpants and the lone weirdo with a bow and arrows: it’s about life. It’s about mistakes, relationships, third-life crises (we just made that up — it’s a thing now), impromptu Hurricane Katrina benefits, unreliable siblings, and not knowing what the hell’s going on. Ever. It is by far the best indie comic published by one of the biggest comic publishers in the world and you should be reading it yesterday. Sean Edgar


7. Locke & Key
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Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Publisher: IDW
As hard as it can be to create and sustain a great comic series, it’s equally hard to come up with a way to end it. For close to 40 issues, writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez have systematically crafted the epic and frightening world of Locke & Key. Equal parts gruesome, gothic horror and family melodrama, the series always managed to deliver great scares without ever once sacrificing emotional depth. With the upcoming release of Alpha #2, the story will reach its dramatic crescendo. Knowing Hill’s tendencies, not every beloved character will be left standing after the dust clears, but you can be sure that what the tale lacks in cheeriness, it will more than make up for it with the kind of gripping, high-class storytelling that has become its trademark. Goodbyes are never easy, but rarely are they this bloody. Mark Rozeman


6. Boxers & Saints
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Writer/Artist: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
Boxers & Saints addresses the story of China’s Boxer Rebellion from opposing sides with overlapping narratives. The tale consists of two chapters that can be read independently, but they’re stronger together. Writer/Artist Gene Luen Yang is alive to the possibilities of cartooning. The goofy facial expressions and physical comedy that abound help lighten the bloodshed, and a quick flip through the pages shows plenty of smiles. Saints is especially impressive for creating a comedic story around circumstances that rarely lend themselves to that context. You would be remiss, however, to stop with only one volume, and you would also miss important plot details shared in the overarching narrative. Even if you read both, you will hunger for more. Let’s hope Yang works double-time on his next project. Hillary Brown

5. Bad Houses
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Writer: Sara Ryan
Artist: Carla Speed McNeil
Publisher: Dark Horse
If the scariest thing you can imagine is turning into your parents, then maybe you should go pick up Bad Houses. That’s not entirely a joke; Bad Houses is the product of two finely-aware young minds, and in its love story/Bildungsroman, this compilation also investigates intense issues that emerge as one steps into adulthood. Anne is an unemployed photographer who lives in the aptly-named Failin, Oregon; Lewis works for his mom, who organizes estate sales for a living. Both characters are young adult children of single mothers. Somehow they come together, spark, and try to both understand their parents and leave the older generation’s legacy behind. Hillary Brown

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4. New School
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Writer/Artist: Dash Shaw
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
Dash Shaw is a relentless experimenter, never content to rely on the processes and approaches that garnered him acclaim the last go-round. Bodyworld began as a webcomic, making full use of its scrolling online medium while employing mysterious section markers with colors and coordinates. Bottomless Belly Button, Shaw’s major debut and most praised work, dealt with family relationships in neurotic, off-beat fashion. Shorter work and animation followed. Now we have another brick in Shaw’s evolving portfolio with New School, a speedy 340 pages the size and proportion of a yearbook. The story follows a pair of brothers as they visit a foreign amusement park and embrace all manner of impulse. Shaw’s ability to confidently follow his muse without justifying any artistic approach is part of what makes him such an exciting voice, and one that continues to refine itself with this excellent volume. Hillary Brown

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3. Battling Boy
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Writer/Artist: Paul Pope
Publisher: First Second
Battling Boy was nothing short of a labor of love and, like most such labors, took an inordinate amount of time to actually reach the public. Originally slated for a 2006/2007 release, Pope continued to tweak the book well past its scheduled due date. Seven years later, the ultimate result finds Pope tossing all his beloved influences, from Jack Kirby to manga, into a blender and spewing out a proverbial smoothie that’s nothing short of glorious. Rather than being a messy glob of different pieces, Battling Boy stands as a meticulously-crafted adventure story that never once loses its sense of child-like spontaneity. Mark Rozeman

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2. The Property
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Writer/Artist: Rutu Modan
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
To say The Property is an excellent book short-changes it a bit. Rutu Modan’s second big story for adults builds on the intelligence of her debut graphic novel, Exit Wounds, which won an Eisner for Best New Graphic Novel in 2008 as well as multiple best-of placements. If Exit Wounds was Modan’s Rushmore, then The Property is her Royal Tenenbaums: her earlier work an announcement of presence, her latest a wide-ranging and ambitious (and more comfortable) creation.

The Property presents the story of an elderly Polish emigré in Israel (Regina) who returns to Poland with her granddaughter (Mica), ostensibly to reclaim property confiscated during World War II. The narrative is straightforward and novelistic in many ways, but the way Modan unfolds her tale is rich and subtle, full of individualized detail. Hillary Brown

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1. Saga
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Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples 
Publisher: Image
What most people don’t say about Brian K. Vaughan, one of the most lauded writers in comics, is that he’s a romantic. Sure, he has a Joss Whedon-esque tendency to kill off characters you’ve grown to love at exactly the worst/best possible time, ripping your heart right out of your chest, but his real gift is making you care about them in the first place.

Saga is sci-fi in that it features alternative worlds, star-crossed lovers with horns and wings, a royal robot who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and, of course, spaceships, but this comic is just as accessible to those who don’t give a flip about George Lucas as those who adore him. Vaughan’s capacity for capturing subtle, complex emotion is more than matched by Fiona Staples’ fantastic artwork, which rarely falters; most panels feel both realistic and organic without overly-relying on photo reference. Together, these two creators send you spinning, balancing furious action and a host of stakeholders with well-relished moments of domesticity. Hillary Brown

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