As a newcomer to comics, this year involved playing a lot of catch-up, or discovering writers through less mainstream work. Here are five series I read in their entirety this year which you might consider checking out.
Written by Chris Yost & Craig Kyle
It may not go down in history as being the greatest series ever, but it will go down as the first Marvel arc I ever read in entirety. It introduced me to X-23, and her creators, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, the latter of whom has continued to write things I enjoy. Major events — Messiah War, Necrosha, and Second Coming — comprised half of this run, all of which were reasonably big events, and the latter of which remains the best crossover I’ve yet read. X-Force was a bloody entrance into comics, but it also set the foundation for my tastes in and thoughts about characters, creators, and death in comics, and for that it deserves mention here. I recommend it to anyone who wants a grittier (and bloodier) X-Men story, with high stakes and grey morals, and with copious amounts of X-23, Domino, Warpath, Wolfsbane, Archangel, and yes, Wolverine (and even a bit of Deadpool for good measure).
Written by Brian Wood, Art by Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire
Regardless of how you interpret the recent controversy, Brian Wood has always had a reputation for being a strong writer. Coupled with the phenomenal artistic contributions of Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire, Wood crafted a believable world, and an intriguing character to show us that world through in Mara. I’ll be the first to admit that this series is flawed, but that’s chiefly because it was limited to six issues and there was simply far too much to be said in such a limited space. Despite that shortcoming, Mara still had moments that dropped my jaw or misted up my eyes. At the end of the day, my biggest complaint about Mara is there wasn’t enough of it; which honestly is weak as far as complaints go. Go hunt down the trade, because this was one of the better minis of 2013.
Locke & Key (2008-2013)
Written by Joe Hill, Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
As of last week, this magnum opus of Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez has come to an end. For me it was only a few months from start to finish, but for them and their readers, it has been nearly six years in the making. It’s the story of a family with an ancient legacy tied to an ancient evil, living in a creepy mansion in a quaint New England town. Much of the action stems from the discovery by the Locke children of the many keys, forged of a mysterious metal, that allow fantastic things to happen: open minds, death, rebirth, becoming animals, controlling shadows. Beyond that, this is the story of adolescence and coming of age, of grappling with lost loved ones and family struggles, of alcoholism and rehabilitation. It’s truly one-of-a-kind. The first volume is Welcome to Lovecraft, so buy that first. But be warned: you’re going to want to buy the rest!
Avengers Academy (2010-2012)
Written by Christos Gage
Avengers Academy was a rarity in comics. It wasn’t merely good; it was (as the Tumblr crowd likes to put it) “important.” It featured primarily new characters or less mainstream established ones (none of whom were part of Marvel’s movie craze) and ran for almost two and a half years. It tackled social issues and youth issues in a way that tended to avoid hamfistedness, and injected enough seriousness to pack an emotional punch without losing a general sense of fun and energy in the process. Young heroes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if they’re yours, you should absolutely have read this series. Read the first arc, and you’ll have a good idea of the quality the whole series maintained.
Runaways (2003-2004; 2005-2008; 2008-2009; 2012)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan; BKV & Joss Whedon; Various; Christos Gage
Brian K. Vaughan created in Runaways my favorite Marvel series, bar none. I’d gone years being told by comic-reading friends that even if I didn’t generally read comics, I should try reading Runaways. Having now done so, I feel compelled to evangelize the medium through this series myself. It begins with a fun premise — what would you do if you found out your parents are actually villains — but becomes so much more: a story about family, love, betrayal, sacrifice, and freedom. It’s rare for an ensemble book to have such a strong cast, but Runaways isn’t dominated by anyone; every kid shines. It’s worth noting that the first two volumes of the series are vastly superior to the third (though the third has its fans). This is largely because Vaughan himself helmed the series through the first and most of the second run, and his replacement for the conclusion of volume two was the ever-praised Joss Whedon. As a completionist, I had to read it all (and every tie-in I could find), but as far as recommendations go I’ll stick to the first two volumes.