Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bonus: Best Comics of 2013

I haven't written about comics here in a while, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to talk about the best stuff I've been reading this past year.

So, without further ado...

Astro City. I've been a big fan of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's superhero comic with a difference since it first came out. It's a great inspiration to me in gaming, because it's entirely character-focused, rather than spending all of its time on the big spectacles (the fights, the giant aliens, the gods, the crossovers) that often distract the Big Two publishers. It's still great after all these years.

Pulp Dynamite! Dynamite Entertainment has quietly been knocking out a lot of great comics lately, and a lot of the time I buy more of their books than anyone else. Why? Because I'm a sucker for the great pulp heroes, and Dynamite has acquired the rights to a lot of the big names -- the Green Hornet, the Shadow, the Spider, and now the granddaddy of them all: Doc Savage. They're all solid books, with good creative teams working on them (Mark Waid's Green Hornet and Matt Wagner's The Shadow: Year One are particularly great) but my favourite is probably King's Watch by Marc Laming and Jeff Parker. Parker manages to give us the definitive modern characterization of the old "Defenders of the Earth" characters -- Flash Gordon, the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician -- wrapped up in Laming's gorgeous art. This guy deserves to be a superstar. If you like your heroes pulpy, check out Dynamite.

Everything's Comin' Up Chaykin! After a long period of turning out work for the Big Two, an old favourite of mine -- Howard Chaykin -- really swung his output into high gear this year. His black & white Satellite Sam (written by Matt Fraction, but it's Fraction channeling Chaykin's signature style) is a return to greatness -- a sordid tale of the early live era of television, sex (of course), and murder. Chaykin's art is terrific, and he's the perfect man to render this world of jazz clubs, dirty deals, and leggy dames. Image released this one, as they did an older piece of Chaykin's that I'd never heard of: Century West, a rollicking tale of the West in its final days, when the frontier was quickly disappearing. The art in this single volume gem is absolutely beautiful, and it's full of Chaykin's witty dialogue. Thanks for giving the world more Howie, Image!

New (Old) Teen Titans! I think it probably came out last year, but it was new to me -- Games, a long, long, LONG gestating New Teen Titans graphic novel by George Perez and Marv Wolfman. Reading this book was like a trip back in time, and I was quickly reminded of what made NTT and Uncanny X-Men great books, back in the day -- like Astro City, they used to be about characters. It's sad to me now to see how far the mighty X-Men have fallen, into a trackless sea of pointless "events" and new costumes. Marv & George show us how to do it right, with a story that is as moving as it is tense and dangerous. Thanks for this one, guys; it was worth the wait.

Fearless Defenders, We Hardly Knew Ye. One of the year's biggest surprises was Fearless Defenders, by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney. Yes, this was a big, over the top action book full of team-ups and slugfests, but at least this book had a new twist on the formula: it was a book all about the female characters of the Marvel-verse. I've long been a proponent of the "Why can't women just kick ass?" argument, something that is sadly still necessary to point out about the comics landscape of 2013. Here we have a huge roster of Marvel's awesome women characters going on rollicking adventures around the world, cracking wise and kicking faces in. An absolute delight from beginning to end, featuring a wide variety of Marvel women who deserve more attention: the bionic badass Misty Knight, Valkyrie (who got a very dark makeover here, in addition to a new Don Blake style arrangement with a mortal lover named Annabelle), and Dani Moonstar to name a few. Perhaps the high point of the series was an issue that shifted the focus to the heroines' male acquaintances, who have gathered in a bar to talk about how worried (and jealous) they are about their lady friends going off on exciting adventures without them. They are hilariously put in their place by the bartender, who turns out to be a long-forgotten heroine from the early 80's, Shamrock.

Fearless Defenders was not a deep or philosophical book, just a rollicking good time with a message. Of course, it was cancelled after issue 12. It will be missed.

Knights Hits 200. And speaking of books that don't get enough love, Knights of the Dinner Table hit 200 issues this year. That's nearly 20 years of indie goodness from the little company that could, who have now become the makers of unapologetically Old School games like Hackmaster and Aces & Eights. KODT is a comedy comic book about gamers, but that's just the surface of what has become a rather broad and complex affair over the (many) years. The cast has become massive, and the storylines have grown long and complex. It's still a burlesque of gaming-gone-bad, but there is enough genuine warmth and truth in this book that it's not a one-joke affair. The characters have genuinely grown over the years, and the book has grown with them in addition to cranking out the laughs. Oh, and for grognards like myself, the recent addition of Larry Elmore's SnarfQuest as a back-up feature is just the icing on the beholder-shaped cake.

That's it for 2013 from HTHD Central! Happy New Year, gamers and comic lovers!

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