In 2013, I began using the Comixology app on the iPad and have been following a few select titles over the year. Below are the books that, in my opinion, really stood out.
Green Arrow (New 52, DC)
After marathon-watching season one of Arrow on Amazon Instant Video over the summer, I was curious to check out the DC comic books the show is based upon. I had never read a Green Arrow title in my life, and perceived the character to be a bit silly based on what little I knew of him (boxing glove arrows, for instance. I mean, c'mon...). With the New 52 underway and the comic now entering its second year, I thought it would a be good time to hop on board. The initial reviews took some wind out of my sails, until I noticed a considerable uptick in ratings after Jeff Lemire took over with issue 17. Thinking I could get some necessary background and a crash course on the character's mythology, I read Green Arrow: Year One by Andy Diggle and Jock, and enjoyed it a lot. It was some good preparation and provided just enough background to to dig into Lemire's work, which has been incredibly good. The opening arc strips Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, of everything his civilian persona has going for it, and reduces him to his core. It's a bit like Frank Miller's Daredevil: Born Again in this sense, but Lemire opens up the world into a globe-trotting adventure story that puts Queen on a quest for a mythical arrow totem that is truly exciting. Every month I'm eager to find out what comes next. The art by Andrea Sorrentino is top-notch, and the coloring effects are really well-rendered (and they pop quite gloriously in digital). His layouts are expertly crafted, and often-times innovative; it's just so well done, and demands studious attention.
Sex Criminals (Image Comics)
Matt Fraction's indie is a riot, but also heart-warming. It's a story about a couple whose orgasms can stop time. Naturally, they use this power to rob a bank. And, naturally, there are other mysterious forces at work, including a group of white-clad authorities who are immune to their time-halting shenanigans. This book is high on creativity and laugh-out-loud funny. It has, justifiably, garnered much praise, so I won't blather on about this one.
Pretty Deadly (Image Comics)
Kelly Sue DeConnick (who also happens to be Fraction's wife) really impressed me this year with Pretty Deadly. It's pretty fantastic. And pretty to look at, thanks to artist Emma Rios. I liked DeConnick's work on Captain Marvel quite a bit (and am really looking forward to the eventual Marvel movie that needs to be made immediately), but Pretty Deadly is where it's at. The book started a few months ago, so it only has a few issues under its belt, but it is quickly building up a head of steam. DeConnick and Rios are building a wonderfully imaginative fantasy world here, one that seems ground in our own reality but has a bit of Old West American/Native American folklore at its core, with a heaping of Dark Tower for good measure. I'm a big Dark Tower fan, and this title is a natural follow-up for those looking for new fantasy titles akin to King's magnum opus. DeConnick and Rios have created a truly interesting twist on the Western-fantasy genre.
While it only has, as of this writing, two issues published, they are a doozy. Grant McKay and his team of anarchist scientists have created a pillar, which allows them to cross over into alternate dimensions. Under this framework, writer Rick Remender and artist Matteo Scalera have created a unique, exciting adventure into an alien realm in their series opener. The book has a welcome Quantum Leap/Sliders flavor to it, but with a darker edge. While the first issue is mostly a run-for-your-life-save-your-ass hook, it gives enough insight into the lead character's past to be worthwhile. Although I haven't gotten around to reading Remender's Fear Agent, I liked his Marvel work a great deal, and The Days of American Crime trade made my best-of list back when I was writing for Graphic Novel Reporter. Remender, like Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, and Scott Snyder, is a writer who immediately grabs my attention and whose work I always want to explore more of. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Black Science develops in the months and years ahead.
Saga (Image Comics)
Brian K. Vaughan writes, Fioana Staples does tremendous digital art work. It's funny, baudy, actiony, and other words of praise that end in -y. It's a no-brainer, safe, easy pick for a best-of, and it's hard to say anything original about how good it is, because that is a ground so well-tread by now. In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Saga continues to impress.
Lazarus (Image Comics)
I'm sensing a trend here, with all these Image Comics. Greg Rucka's Lazarus is about a genetically engineered female soldier, who protects her patriarchy. Rucka is using this narrative to develop an interesting theme revolving around class warfare as the story builds, an incorporating a lot of cutting-edge science into the narrative. It's scary-good and the plot develops naturally from real-world situations and issues. Lazarus is the kind of story that, as you're reading it, you can see the current parallels in our own society and see the seeds being planted for how we could eventually end up with a world not unlike Rucka's future America. Michael Lark draws terrific interior art, which gives the book a dark, moody edge, and presents some innovative sci-fi concepts.
FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics (Vertigo)
Speaking of innovative sci-fi concepts! In FBP, the laws of physics have gone wild, requiring a specialized task force to deal with the problems and their fallout. It's sort of like a Fringe division, and Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez have been using this world of spontaneous insanity to tell a tales that explore what would happen if gravity suddenly disappeared in a localized sector, or how to rescue a business man trapped on the wrong-side of the multiverse thanks to a breach in the space-time continuum. It has elements of science, danger, politics, and conspiracy, with some crazily vivid, eye-catching, colorful cover art. What more do you need, really?
The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW)
Joe Harris should have been a writer on this series when it was on television. It's that good. He knows the characters and writes their dialogue so well you can hear all of the actor's voices in your head. He has a firm grasp of the mytharc, and write a damn good story. The X-Files is back, and after all these years, it still makes me want to believe. Mostly, I'm just insanely happy to have Mulder and Scully back in my life, and to have them in such capable hands.
The Wake (Vertigo)
I have a weak spot for genre fiction set in the arctic or beneath the sea. I'm also a huge fan of Scott Snyder, so when I found out about The Wake, it was a no-brainer and I knew I would immediately love it. What I ended up with was a title that was even more of a sprawling epic than I bargained for, which is pure joy. I love that Snyder has poured in a terrific amount of detail and science, using things like the 52 hertz whale, alt-theories of evolution, and sea-faring mythology to tell a rocking sci-fi/horror story that spans millions of years in the past to 300 hundred years in the future. It's like James Rollins with a dash of The Abyss by way of John Carpenter. The first half of the story recently concluded, with the second arc coming in February. I, for one, cannot wait to see what comes next.
For me, Scott Snyder is, hands-down, the premiere Batman writer. While Grant Morrison was earning a lot of kudos for his work with the character during The Black Glove and RIP sagas, and the relaunched Batman & Robin and Batman, Incorporated series, Scott Snyder was toiling away with his year-long epic The Black Mirror. And, in my opinion, Snyder's work was actually superior. He took a street-level character and confronted the story head-on in a grounded fashion. The Black Mirror was a straight-up Batman book during a period in which, a few times too often, Morrison seemed to be crafting a long-form essay that was less a Batman book and more of a book about Batman, injected with heady concepts, pop-psychology, time travel, alternate realities, and all the other things we expect of a typical Grant Morrison Book. As a result of The Black Mirror's creative success, Snyder was given the reins on Batman when DC Comics rebooted the series for the New 52. Partnered with artist Greg Capullo, he dived right into another year-long epic with The Court of Owls. In 2013, he wrapped up his Death of the Family arc, which was, unfortunately, overshadowed by events in Morrison's Batman, Incorporated. The bulk of the year was then spent taking the character of Batman, and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, back to square one with Zero Year. Set five year prior, Zero Year chronicles a younger, less-seasoned Batman and his struggles with the Red Hood gang and an emerging, more serious threat from a classic foe who throws Gotham City into chaos. Rather than retread on Frank Miller's immortal Year One, Snyder and Capullo chart fresh waters with their origin tale and give the occasional sly wink to Bat-history (including a nod to the original Batman costume of Detective Comics #1). It's a love-letter to the history of the character, but one that avoids repetition or mimicry, and offers an adventure that is unique to the creators involved.
Look at that. A Jeff Lemire bookend. With Trillium, the artist/writer has crafted a nifty little love story with huge world-ending stakes that transcends time. In the year 3797, Earth is no more and humanity has nearly been wiped out by a virus. When Nika ingests a flower called Trillium, she is sent back in time to the Amazon forest circa 1921, where she meets William. William, who is recovering from the mental traumas of World War I, also eats a Trillium flower, which joins their minds. With each issue, Lemire devises a unique way of telling his story within the constraints of the printed page (think House of Leaves, or Batman (New 52), #5). For instance, book one is split in half, with the first half introducing us to Nika. Then, you start over from the back and read William's story. In another issue, the narrative is told by reading backwards and upside down. I appreciate Lemire's creativity in delivering his story, and forcing a bit of interactivity and depth onto the readers to help make the time-splits and disorienting upside-down nature of the work a bit more literal. It's a fresh approach on some rather well-tread ground.
Runner-ups: Velvet by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta.
Image is clearly the winner for the year, in my book, with a lot of top-notch titles. In addition to the titles listed above, Ales Kot's Zero has been an intriguing espionage book with a slight sci-fi hook. It was a good year for Marvel, but not earth-shatteringly so. The Marvel Now campaign turned out some solid works, like DeConnick's Captain Marvel, and Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man wonderfully turned the web-head mythos upside down following the conclusion of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 last year.
What to Look For in 2014
New solo titles for Black Widow and The Punisher are being launched under the next phase of Marvel NOW in January and February, both written by Nathan Edmondson. The Punisher will feature art by Mitch Gerads, who also illustrated Edmondson's The Activity over at Image. Given the quality of The Activity, and with the specialized espionage and military backgrounds of these Marvel characters fitting so nicely into Edmondson's wheelhouse, I expect greatness. Rick Remender has another new Image title, Deadly Class starting in January, about a school for teenage assassins. In February, Image is launching Fuse, which has the premise of solving homicides 22,000 miles above the Earth. Image has been steadily putting out terrific books from top-notch talent, and their slate for early in the new does not seem to be an exception.