Wednesday, January 1, 2014
2014 has arrived but we aren't done with the best of 2013 just yet. Today we'll look at the best characters of 2013, from heroes to villains to teams, it's all here. Just hit the jump to see where we stand!
Grant - Sledgehammer
When I try to describe Mike Mignola and John Arcudi's Sledgehammer 44 to those unfamiliar with the character, I often reduce it to "it's Iron Man in World War 2". There's certainly an element of truth there, as it's a story set during the Second World War revolving around a robotic suit that makes its wearer stronger than a simple man, but the description is also something of a disservice to the book and its protagonist. When Sledgehammer 44 #1 dropped back in March, Jason Latour was the artist on the title. It was only a two issue miniseries, meaning Latour's time with the character was painfully short, but he really made the most of it. Under Latour's pen, Sledgehammer was a hulking figure that appeared to be made of raw power. That page where he emerges from the bomb still gives me shivers, and it made me instantly fall in love with this gorgeous character. Mignola and Arcudi's script provided some fascinating motivation and supernatural elements, but Latour's art is what locks Sledgehammer as my top hero of the year.
Gord - XO-Manowar
Aric is king, and even without his armour we can see why. He is a leader of his people and fights for what is right and reasonable. When challenged by his own, he doesn't back down and in turn teaches a lesson of empathy. His armour is almost inconsequential to his heroism and leadership. This is a character who although is a king of his people, is completely relatable for the reader. We know what it's like to have to prove our principles and passions as important in a world that has better things to do. In that trial we wish for some sort of hammer so that we could beat our challengers over the head with it. So we could beat them with what we hold close to our hearts. Aric has found that in the XO armour.
Ken - Cyclops
Still vilified but continuing to stick to his duty to protect mutants from the never-ending supply of Sentinels and aggression from the other heroes, Scott Summers is succeeding in his goal. And as has been shown repeatedly, he has no ill will to the other heroes when they meet. In fact, if the past year didn't show it, this year again proved he's doing something right. A major defection of Kitty and the original X-Men to his side, along with embarrassing the Avengers on TV while winning over millions of supporters, he's a villain in name only.
This is a bit of a cheat on my part ("Greatest Villian" would have been an easier fit), but it doesn't change the fact that DC Comics continuously made news for all the wrong reasons in 2013. The number of creators who were removed from or who walked off titles without warning this past year was truly flummoxing, signalling that all may not be well behind DC's closed doors. It's hard to have missed these ongoing stories, as there sometimes felt like a new one was cropping up every month. Robert Venditti and Jim Zub were off the books they'd been announced to write before the first issues even hit stands. Andy Diggle quit before the first issue of what was supposed to be a much vaunted run on Action Comics came out. J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman walked off Batwoman. To name but a few. The reasons would sometimes differ, but a recurring story was the amount of interference from DC editorial, placing more and more restrictions on their creators. Whatever the motivation behind these decisions, the results have been clear within the books themselves - they all seem to be the same bland and boring "dark and gritty" rubbish that isn't worth reading. My DC pull list was low to begin the year, but outside of Vertigo, where creator freedom still seems to exist, it's now down to zero. The company that really got me into comics now gets none of my money for their cape books, which seems pretty villainous to me.
Alternatively, if that's too dark for you, let's go with Loki. He was great.
Gord - XO-Manowar
The best villains have motivations which the reader can relate to, especially when those motivations are reasonable given the situations people have found themselves in. For the current wearer of the XO armour we get the enslavement of his people and the extermination of his loved ones. Returning to his homeworld, he sees that what once belonged to his people has now been buried beneath the sands of time. In response, Aric decides to return his people to their former way of life which is a crazy ass thing to do in the context of our real world. Planet Death was a great lead up to Unity and being that this is a superhero comic, we can interpret the title character as being that hero. Sure he fits the description, but as the context changes he enters into murkier ethics and actions. That's what's great about this comic. XO can be both a hero and villain, likely the most realistic in superhero profiles as all humans are that sustainable contradiction.
A man of southern distinction, I reckon, it's his ease of being the serpent in whispering sins to others that makes him so dangerous. He's playing both sides against one another in East of West, making it so you don't know what his true aim is. And the way he so simply gives up his partner in crime, that he instigated into joining him in the first place, it adds a layer of treachery that begs revenge by the end of the series. Then again, never getting his due might be a major point of the story.
Best Supporting Character
I've always had a big soft spot for B and C-list villains, and Shocker has long been at the top of my personal list. What's not to love? He's got a surprisingly interesting powerset, one of the ugliest costumes in comics, and a track record of being embarrassingly incompetent. So when I heard that he would be getting a place in Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I could not contain my eagerness. And he's been truly magical. Their Shocker is incompetent as ever, with some lovely dashes of ignorance and cowardice thrown in for good measure. The entire cast is great, but Shocker's presence is the most welcome in my books.
Grant is right about DC, but this shouldn't nullify some of the good stuff coming out of the company. There are small hints of great characters there. I thought Maxine Baker has proven herself as a supporting character who we care enough about to spur on some fairly major adventures, some even on her own. There are times where the Animal Man comic felt less like a comic about him and more a comic about his daughter, which is welcome and a great addition to the history of Animal Man. As this series comes to its end in the new year I hope we get to see more of Maxine.
Ken - Laika
This dog ain't worried about nothin'. People be messing with the Manhattan Projects, they're shot them with canine friendly machine guns. Time to fly into deep space? The dog's got it under control. If there's every some kind of crossover between Hickman and Vaughn's works, I'd put easy money on Laika taking care of Lying Cat.
Grant - The Sinister
Speaking of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, their Sinister Six has been far and away the best team of any affiliation or universe this year. While having the wrong number of members for a numbered team has been done before, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have managed to get more than their fair share of jokes out of the concept. It definitely doesn't hurt that the team's lineup seems picture perfect, with each member being more useless than the last. Fred Myers will always have his hands full managing this band of lovable losers, but if there's any justice in the world, he'll have a good long while to try to figure it out, because this is a series that should continue for as long as possible.
Gord - Young Avengers
There's a ton of things to be excited about in Gillen's Young Avengers. The way this team interacts with one another is believable as some of them can't stand to be in the same room with each other and some just can't be trusted at all. It may look like Loki carries a lot of this series, but Wiccan and Marvel Boy add plot strings that you can't deny are interesting. And I don't generally like to pick up teen titles.
Ken - New Avengers
The Illuminati return, only they face much, much greater problems. And while they have been lucky in how to handle incursions of other dimensions into our own, the tension is built up exactly the way it needs to be to show the burden of having life and death in your hands. The subplot of betrayal between Namor and Black Panther is the kind of political drama you can only hope to see on television. A group that is trying to hold it together but slowly crumbling with every new problem the universe faces, this is a team you want to read about.