Reading comics can bring many great joys into a nerd's life. Despite the many things it can give, however, there's one thing that comics can take a lot of... money. Comics can easily go from being a cheap hobby to an expensive habit; there was a time in my life when I would spent over $100.00 a month at my local comic shop. My last few years of being a broke college student have removed that from being a viable option in my life, but it hasn't removed the desire to read a lot of stuff. Fortunately the city of Eugene Oregon gives broke blokes like me a more frugal option to indulge in the nerdly delights of sequential art. Like many cities in the US, Eugene's Public Library has a robust and growing selection of graphic novels for patrons to check out.
While my local library affords me the opportunity to keep up on my favorite stuff and find loads of new favorites there can be some drawbacks. Most notable are the need to wait for the library to order in new volumes of whatever's come up the pike and then having to wait on a hold list with a dozen other people dying to read the same thing. As a result I'm often behind the curve of what's going on. Accordingly, some of the volumes appearing on this list might not have actually been published in 2013, but I assure you they were all read this year. So now it's time to see which of this year's massive reading stack made the grade for creme of the crop.
A post-apocalyptic series by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Orchid takes place centuries after global warming has transformed the earth into a wasteland. In addition to heavy flooding, animals have evolved into deadlier predators leaving humanity in very bad shape.
The story starts out years after a failed revolt against a tyrant with a new revolution trying to get off the ground. The lone escaping member of a band of freedom fighters makes his way to a ghetto community and gets thrown into an uneasy alliance with a young sex slave named Orchid. The two of them eventually meet up with a woman named Opal who was part of the last revolution and may know some secrets about an allegedly magical mask used by legendary leader General China.
One of the most refreshing things about Orchid is that even though it's created by a celebrity, it's not a vanity comic. Far too often, celebrities entering the medium of comics create a story centered around a character that is a very obvious stand-in for themselves but a more badass version thereof. Morello foregoes that route and instead delivers a fully fleshed out world full of fascinating history and background with characters that feel created from whole cloth. In Scott Hepburn, he's found the right artist to give his world the dingy, grimy, lived-in look and feel that a post apocalyptic jungle should have.
#9. Think Tank
A refreshingly realistic sci-fi series, Think Tank follows the plight of David Loren, a gifted genius who was recruited by DARPA at the tender age of 14 to create hi-tech wonders for the military industrial complex. In recent years, David's developed a conscience, as he's realized the horrible uses being applied to his inventions. Unfortunately he's also realized that he's too valuable an asset to the US government to ever be allowed to walk away from his job.
The first volume features David's attempt to escape from the top-secret facility where he's lived and worked for most of his life, and the escalating problems he creates for other people in his attempts to break free. The most fascinating part of the story is that all of the gear David uses is based on real world tech, or something being developed or sought by RD firms working for the government. Author Matt Hawkins blends science and politics into a gripping tale of adolescent naivete running into the cold hard truths of adulthood, and artist Rahsan Ekedal brings a fluid cartoonishness that complements the protagonist's irreverent humor without compromising the series bleak tone.
#8. Nemo: Heart of Ice
A spin off from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this story focuses not on the original Captain Nemo of previous installments, but instead on his daughter Janni who is struggling with living under the shadow of her adventurous father.
Continuing to borrow from other fictional universes, Moore incorporates elements of Lovecraft into this tale. When Janni decides to prove herself every bit the adventurer her father was, she takes the crew of the Nautilus to Antarctica hoping to finish an expedition that he abandoned - which unsurprisingly turns out to have been abandoned for a very good reason.
Heart of Ice takes a familiar story trope of a woman trying to prove herself and offers the fresh angle of that woman starting to wonder if maybe the life of action and adventure isn't for her after all. When the Lovecraftian stuff kicks into higher gear and Janni's group arrives at the Mountains of Madness, Janni realizes a bit too late that she's in over her head.
#7. Crossed: Volume 4 - Badlands
Survival horror stories can often feel very "dime a dozen" in our current pop cultural landscape which is currently overrun with zombies (pun intended). One of the few refreshing takes to be found is Crossed, which started off as a mini-series by Garth Ennis that wasn't originally intended to continue beyond its initial 9 issue run. While most zombie or zombie-like stories focus on George Romero-style shambling corpses, Crossed borrows more from modern offering such as 28 Days Later. Characters lives are upended when a mysterious virus suddenly hits all across the world, turning people into psychotic maniacs with cross-shaped scabs on their faces and a driving need to rape, kill and eat their fellow humans (though not always in the same order).
When Avatar Press convinced Ennis to let other creators run with the idea it resulted in some great mini-series from creators like David Lapham before rolling over into an ongoing series titled Badlands. The first volume of Badlands (which is the fourth volume to be collected overall) starts off with a 3 part tale by original creators Ennis and artist Jacen Burrows that takes place northern Europe, where a group of survivors are hoping to avoid the crossed by going out into the coldest terrain they can find. The volume is rounded out by a 5-part tale from Jamie Delano and Leandro Rizzo set in the Florida Everglades, where a small group comes together only to fall apart because of their own internal flaw.
The thing that sets Crossed apart from a lot of its kindred stories of survival is that it presents the survival itself not as some noble all important goal, but rather as a futile attempt to avoid the inevitable. While other stories have characters reminding each other of the importance of retaining their humanity in the face of brutality, Badlands poses the question of whether it might be better to simply give up and accept the brutal truth of the world as it now is. The final moment with one character considering whether or not to willingly be infected rather than struggling against the odds makes for some of the most gripping horror to come along in years.
#6. The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something to Fear
Speaking of stories that champion the drive for survival and maintaining human dignity, The Walking Dead continues to be a thrilling read. Last year's volume 16 laid the foreshadowing for a bigger threat than Rick Grimes and his group of weary survivors had ever faced before, and the follow-up delivered in spades. A warlord by the name of Negan is introduced, along with his army of "Saviors" who extort food and supplies from communities like the one that Rick's group has joined.
When Negan's troops attempt to shake down Rick and his community, the initial response is a resounding "no," backed up with force when they're attacked. The small victory soon turns sour when Rick's group are ambushed along the road to Hilltop. Negan himself arrives to lay down a new law and demonstrates that he's not fucking around by taking out one of the group in a brutal and merciless fashion, brought to ugly life by the expert hands of artist Charles Adlard. With the stakes raised much higher than ever before, Kirkman leaves off with some final pages that make the following volume 18 an absolute must read.