7 Dec 2013

The Paradoscars 2013

The votes have been counted, the winners announced at a glittering award ceremony (well, okay, at a local curry house with a tipsy PCG!) and that’s the Paradoscars done for another year. In some categories the voting was very close indeed, in others the arguments were friendly but passionate, but we think all the nominees deserved their place in each category – they’re there because the PCG think they’re the best of the best (with the exception of Nazis, possibly).

Thanks to everyone who voted, especially considering some of our nominees weren’t the most obvious in each category, and we hope you all come back for more in 2014.

And so here they are, the winners of the Paradoscars 2013:

Best Ongoing Title: Hawkeye

Also nominated: Daredevil, Lazarus, Saga

Rob N: It's a sign of my current disillusionment with Marvel's neverending cycle of big events, multiple titles for popular characters and editorial led interference in ongoing storylines (though not nearly as bad as what's been going on at DC lately) that, despite the fact that I have 30 plus titles on my pull-list, only one of them is a regular Marvel Universe title, and that one is of course Hawkeye. To my mind it is pretty much near perfect, a stunning example of what can be achieved with the old school approach of a single writer being left alone to write a single character without having to accommodate shared universe events every six months. Emphasising characterisation, warm humour, an inspiring use of time signatures in his storylines, and a reverential irreverence to certain superhero tropes, Matt Fraction is producing what I think we'll look back upon as a career highlight far into his future. Every issue has been a gem, to the point where the series so far reads as a 'greatest hits' package of brilliant Hawkeye stories. I really can't rate it highly enough.

Best Miniseries: Godzilla: Half Century War

Also nominated: Helheim, Mara, Thanos Rising

Stewart R: One of the most familiar faces from science-fiction spinning out of 20th Century Japan, Godzilla is by no means a character for which crafting engaging, emotional stories are an easy feat. Writer and artist James Stokoe cuts straight to the core of what the lizard-like kaiju is first and foremost: a powerful, primal and quite possibly, benevolent force of nature, and then builds his story around the awe-spanning size and length of his legacy. Taking in five different consecutive decades of the century, Stokoe’s Godzilla: Half Century War masterfully wraps a very human story of growth, weariness and gradual understanding around the behemoth’s activities as soldier Ota spends a lifetime in the shadow of the beast and his various nemeses. As if the story wasn’t engrossing enough, Stokoe’s visual flair is THE perfect match for such an illustrated Godzilla story as his ability to depict both the macro and micro on the same page, even within the same panel, in such high detail, is arguably industry-leading.

Best New Title: Lazarus

Also nominated: Aphrodite IX, East Of West, The Private Eye

Rob N: Any new Greg Rucka title is worth checking out in my opinion, because his name on the cover is a guarantee of quality writing. Like Ed Brubaker, he is at his best when he is effectively writing thrillers in the guise of various other genres (be they street level superheroics, espionage, or in this case, SF). Lazarus takes the familiar SF concept of the dystopian near future and spins out a believable society where a handful of families control all the wealth and power and, where its convenient for them, responsibilities for the huddled masses who live in their shadow. Suggesting a return to feudal values, with a heady mix of the power structures in, say, Renaissance Italy, Lazarus dazzles with the trademark Rucka gift for characterisation and dialogue that sets it head and shoulders above most modern dystopian fiction. It's my firmly held belief that if you nail down great characterisation and great dialogue, the plot can look after itself. Luckily however, Rucka is also the master of great plots too.

Best Single Issue: Infinity #3

Also nominated: Batman And Robin #18, Hawkeye #11, Sweet Tooth #40

Kenny J: It is fair to say Jonathan Hickman does not believe in decompressed storytelling and the midway point of Marvel's six-issue event is no exception. In fact, it may be the tightest piece of writing I have read not only all year, but ever. Planets fall, truces are brokered, allegiances falter and there is still time to unleash an event that will change the Marvel Universe for quite some time. There is not an ounce of fat on this steam train of an issue but not once was I lost as the suitably stellar art is rendered in turn by Jerome Opeña and then Dustin Weaver. One panel towards the end of the book, where one of our heroes makes a seemingly desperate last stand, is such a perfect amalgam of art, colour and typography that it made me audibly gasp. This may have been with excitement or it could be that Infinity #3 is such a thrillride that I'd completely forgotten to breath.

Best Cover: X-Men #1

Also nominated: FF #6, Hawkeye #8, Hawkeye #9

Stewart R: There was plenty of buzz to be found amongst the various media hives of the internet when it was announced that an all-female cast of mutant favourites would be populating the pages of Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel’s X-Men series. While the details of plot remained a little hazy early on - so as to not spoil a fine opening three-issue arc - the previewed cover from the hand of Coipel himself immediately stated the obvious: that these superhero ladies were seasoned, hardened and capable people, all with very individual personalities. The layout of the cast on that single page speaks volumes about each character and the makeup of the team dynamic. From Storm’s graceful, central pose of the leader to Psylocke’s provocative, composed and slightly isolated seated stance, Rachel’s obscured, fringe position to Jubilee’s youthful, playfully elevated crouch, Rogue’s happy-go-lucky smirk to Kitty’s confident, no-nonsense posture, everything here promised much about the psychology and interaction to come. Add the utterly demolished remains of a Sentinel as the casual backdrop for the team picture and you have an award-worthy cover!

Best Original Graphic Novel: The Reason For Dragons

Also nominated: Avengers: Endless Wartime, Battling Boy, Red Handed

Matt C: An affecting coming of age tale filled with madness, sadness and belief in the resilience of the human spirit, this was an easy frontrunner for graphic novel of the year as soon as it made its appearance midway through 2013. Wonderfully illustrated by Jeff Stokely, who gave joyous life to the action, drama and pure emotion of Chris Northrop's script, it may not be the most surprising of stories but it's beautifully told and quietly powerful, reminding the reader that our ability to dream and imagine a better place even in the darkest of moments is what makes us human, what makes us unique. A highly worthwhile addition to any collection.

Best Digital/Web Comic: The Private Eye

Also nominated: Batman '66, Crossed: Wish You Were Here, Masks & Mobsters

Tom P: From the outset I've loved The Private Eye. It prompted a rare review here from me when it was released and despite the fact it's never been sold in the world of traditional printed comics it's one of the best things released this year. A purely digital release with true indie spirit, it bypassed any existing publishing company using instead a website set up by its creators. You could argue you can take a risk like that if your names happen to be Marcos Martin or Brian K. Vaughan but you can't fault the results. A truly modern experience set in a very analogue future. You can even read it for free if you wish but trust me when I say it's worth far more than what you pay for some books on the stands most weeks.

Best Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Also nominated: Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Brian Wood

James R: Remember when Marvel branded their core group of writers 'The Architects'? Fortunately, they soon ditched that semi-pretentious title, but in 2013 it became clear that rather than a group of writers, they just needed the one: Jonathan Hickman. Since breaking through with his inventive and distinctive miniseries The Nightly News and Pax Romana, Hickman has been on a stellar trajectory. This has culminated in a gargantuan output in 2013 - as well as masterminding both Avengers and New Avengers, he was the sole creative voice behind Marvel's epic Infinity. As an encore, he's continued to make remarkable books over at Image, including the deranged Manhattan Projects and the magnificent East Of West. Even though Hickman has had support from Nick Spencer in the main Avengers title, the vision is clearly his, and the output is prodigious in both volume and quality. Hickman's trademark is big ideas mixed with widescreen moments - the reveal of the new Starbrand and Thor's explosive face-off with the Builders spring readily to mind from this year alone. It's great to see that he shows no sign of dampening his ambition - the release of Avengers World and the continuation of East Of West mean that we've got some great books to look forward to in 2014. Personally, I'd love to see him finish off his SHIELD series - in many ways it's been his best work for Marvel and a perfect showcase for his talents, but it remains tantalisingly incomplete. As a fanboy, I can't wait to see what he's got lined up, and if the teases in both Avengers #1 and New Avengers come to fruition, the future looks brilliant for our writer of 2013.

Best Artist: Fiona Staples

Also nominated: David Aja, Marcos Martin, Esad Ribic

Tom P: Over the past year Fiona Staples has constantly wowed the readers of Saga, from intimate character moments, vast alien worlds, and a robot reading a trash romance novel on the toilet. Saga remains one of the best books being published today and one of the main reasons is because Staples continues to push expectations and dazzle her readers, even stirring up a little storm of controversy here and there. Who can guess what amazing work she still has to show us?

Best Cover Artist: David Aja

Also nominated: Mike Del Mundo, Francesco Francavilla, Fiona Staples

Rob N: Hawkeye seems to have swept the board with wins this year, but I'm particularly pleased to see David Aja procuring one of those wins. His art doesn't have the 'big budget' gloss of the Bryan Hitch style of artists, but I couldn't imagine anyone else working so well on this street level and 'realistic' series. He captures the mood perfectly, particularly with the use of irregular postage stamp size panels in issues like #6. There's a cartoon like innocence to his art which compliments perfectly the subtle mix of realism in Hawkeye's day to day life with the flashes of somewhat ridiculous Marvel world suprehero/supervillain activity. And I'd be remiss indeed if I didn't also mention his superb covers (for which he has after all procured this win!) that are works of pop art design in themselves, especially the covers to issues #8, #9 and #11. Under his artistic direction Hawkeye looks like no superhero comic that I've ever seen before, and how often can you say that in the mainstream spandex market?

Best Inker: Tim Townswend

Also nominated: Rick Magyar, Mark Morales, Mike Norton

Kenny J: Initially, I was not going to be picking up Avengers Arena but when I saw Humberto Lopez’s half-reptilian features peering out from the front of issue #2 I was sold. The cover was beautifully drawn by Kev Walker but it was the expert inks of Tim Townsend that really made it pop. 2013 hasn't been a case of quantity for Townsend's comic output, with a smattering of Marvel covers and interiors, but the quality is indisputable, especially on Uncanny X-men with long term collaborator Chris Bachalo. Bachalo’s pencils rarely look better than when inked by Townsend, the latter's work only serving to enhance the experimentation with negative space and layout of the former. You don't even need to open the book to see this skill on display as Townsend's attention to light and dark provides the tone for some of the best looking covers this year.

Best Colourist: Jordie Bellaire

Also nominated: Matt Hollingsworth, Javier Rodriguez, Dave Stewart

Matt C: I have to be honest, at this time last year I was perhaps only dimly aware of the work of Jordie Bellaire; I'd undoubtedly seen her work but the name hadn't really nestled inside my noggin. 12 months later and it's beginning to feel like she's colouring every other book I pick up! Calling her ubiquitous would perhaps be overstating the case, but I believe the increase in demand for her skills is an excellent indicator for the scale of her talent. Recognising the name but not quite sure where to place it? Here's a list of books she's worked on in the last 12 months that should help to enlighten you: Zero, Deadpool, The Massive, Three, Captain Marvel, Quantum & Woody, Mara, Tom Strong And The Planet Of Peril, Winter Soldier... well, you get the picture. A great colourist's work should never distract from the illustrations but accentuate them, and the effect should be almost subliminal, emphasising the changing tone, atmosphere and emotions of the script. Jordie Bellaire is unquestionably a great colourist, and while she's really made a mark on 2013 you get the feeling 2014 will be an even better year for her.

Most Promising Talent: Jeff Stokely

Also nominated: Ed Brisson, Joëlle Jones, Justin Jordan

Stewart R: 2013 has been quite the breakout year for Jeff Stokely in the comics book industry. Archaia Studios’ The Reason For Dragons demonstrated his ability to capture real world settings and situations alongside events of a more medieval and fantasy tone, while his work on BOOM! Studios Six-Gun Gorilla has called for a bewildering blend of Western frontier-town wilderness with futuristic science-fiction surrounds. Through both books he’s demonstrated a fine hand with emotive expression work and his action pieces are filled with a dynamic intensity. We at the PCG are looking forward to more from him in 2014. The future’s bright, the future’s Stokely!

Best Publisher: Image

Also nominated: BOOM! Studios, Dark Horse, Marvel

James R: Back in the last months of 2009, here's what Image Comics were releasing: Michael Avon Oeming's God Complex, Image United (Spawn, Savage Dragon et al), Haunt and The Walking Dead. Jump forward four years and the change is staggering: *deep breath* Black Science, Velvet, East Of West, Sex, Bounce, Fatale, Zero, Ghosted, Jupiter's Legacy, Think Tank, Chew, Saga... and the list goes on. Simply put, Image currently stands head and shoulders above the Big Two. But how and why has this happened? I could write for an age on the topic, but for the sake of brevity, it's both freedom and ambition. Freedom in that comic creators are given an entirely free reign to tell the stories they want to tell, for as long as the story takes. This also brings with it a an amazing sense of unpredictability. As enjoyable as Marvel's Infinity was, the conclusion to the series was never in doubt. With a whole slew of Image titles, that's simply not the case. It's also amazing to watch really talented people working on books that they've poured their heart and souls into. It is often said that comics are an endangered medium with an ageing readership. This is undoubtedly true, but Image currently offer a brilliant alternative - rather than the 'ongoing soap operas' model of Marvel and DC, they're more like HBO - some high-quality ongoing series which still have a finite life, and a slew of quality miniseries. When it comes to ambition, it's clear that the publisher's ethos as a whole is geared towards creating smart and distinctive titles, giving them a really distinct brand identity. In an interview with CBR earlier in the year, Image publisher Eric Stephenson said: "I think the typical Image reader is intelligent and discerning, more interested in seeking out entertainment that genuinely appeals to him or her as opposed to just filling in holes in a years-old collection. That's partly because of the books we publish, but also, I think the overall readership is changing. I think more and more readers are just looking for comics that appeal to their sensibilities, without any kind of allegiance to this publisher or that publisher." Given the membership and readership of the PCG, I'd say that pretty much hits the nail on the head. If you'd told me in 2009 that in four years all my favourite books would be published by Image, I wouldn't have believed it - now in 2013, I can't see that fact changing any time soon.

Best Main Character: Hawkeye

Also nominated: Captain America, Daredevil, Thor

James R: There is an old adage in comics that says 'There are no bad characters, only bad writers'. It's a phrase that I keep thinking of when I consider Matt Fraction's work. He's produced alchemy twice at Marvel - first, with Ed Brubaker (and David Aja - more on him in a minute) on Immortal Iron Fist, and now with Hawkeye. I was initially reluctant to take a chance on this series, seeing that I've always found Marvel's bowman to be a distinctly dull character (even his death from the pen of Bendis and inevitable resurrection didn't pique my interest). But when I did take the plunge, like so many people, I was won over. The book is nominally a Marvel title - yep, there have been a couple of brilliant cameos, but essentially it's about a normal (yet highly skilled) guy trying to make a better world, not only as an Avenger, but for the people in his neighbourhood. All the while, he's also trying to avoid the wreckage of some explosive personal relationships. He's also been brilliantly drawn - David Aja captures both Clint's world-weary countenance and his moments of triumph in a way that feels brilliantly real. I would love to mention how he's appearing in a book which features some real invention (the Pizza Dog issue) and a brilliant supporting character in Kate Bishop, but this award is just for Clint Barton in 2013, a man who just wants a beer and a working high-def TV... but will have to deal with the Russian Mafia first! Kudos to Matt Fraction and David Aja for turning this two dimensional Marvel B-lister into the undoubted star of the year.

Best Supporting Character: Kate Bishop

Also nominated: Alfred Pennyworth, Foggy Nelson, Pizza Dog

Rob N: Characters only shine when they have another well matched character to bounce off in terms of dialogue, characterisation and emotional drama. The funny character needs a straight man and vice versa. Part of the charm of the Hawkeye series is the endearing and complex relationship between Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, transcending just the basic mentor/pupil roles to deliver a fully believable series of character exchanges that are further complimented by the other relationships in Barton's life (in particular his romantic entanglements both past and present). Kate's bemusement, sarcastic comments and eventual acceptance of Clint's essentially ludicrous trick arrows in issue #3 is an example of how well the relationship works to develop a story from very basic components and of course, how brilliant a dialogue/characterisation writer Matt Fraction is.

Best Villain: Thanos

Also nominated: Nazis, Prince Robot IV, Red Skull

Kenny J: Call him the Mad Titan or the Avatar of Death, there is only one thing that Thanos has desired since his introduction to the Marvel Universe: complete and total annihilation! Usually that would be enough to procure anyone the title of ‘Villain of the Year’ but not so in the world of comics. With appearances across several titles, most notably as one of many enemies in Infinity, its Thanos’ new found appetite for infanticide that has put him ahead of the competition and cemented him as Villain of 2013 for me. A cold and logical extension to his disregard for life, how could someone so enamoured with the void play any part in the inception of something so symbolic of creation? This is a fresh introspection that can also be found in Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi’s well-handled 2013 miniseries, Thanos Rising. Then there is the unspoken villainous elephant in Marvel’s cinematic room that has hung there since the Purple One’s Avengers post-credit unveiling. We won’t be seeing his first proper appearance until the summer’s Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, but no doubt Thanos will be making another claim for comics’ nastiest this time next year.

Best Adaptation Into Another Medium: Iron Man 3

Also nominated: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Man Of Steel, Thor: The Dark World

Stewart R: In a post-Avengers world it was going to be a tough time for any cinematic Marvel effort to be the next in the firing line. Incoming director Shane Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce took the very best of what Jon Favreau had brought to the series already, once again harnessed Robert Downey Jr’s unique grasp of Tony Stark and threw him into a tweaked adaptation of Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s much heralded 'Extremis' storyline. The Mandarin was very much the focus of the film - and ire of many fans due to his treatment - but the main battle is between genetics and technology; the machine inside the man vs the man inside the machine, and Black and co. deliver a fine blend of comic book action and comedy with a knowing nod at the way our world is evolving in the 21st Century and how adaptations of source material and characters can evolve as well.

Best Comics Website: Comic Book Resources

Also nominated: Bleeding Cool, Comic Vine, Thirteen Minutes

Kenny J: If you are reading this then you probably have more than a passing interest in comics and definitely have access to an internet connection. That also means you’ve almost certainly heard of Comic Book Resources, the giant of online news and reviews from across the industry. From Big Two franchises to obscure indie fare, CBR covers the spectrum of our hobby. Over the last year the site has really come into its own in the commentary stakes, pushing columns written by creators and super-fans alike, personal favourites being Daniel Way’s distracted musings and Brett White’s X-centric 'In You Face Jam'. A visit has become part of my day-to-day routine allowing me to keep up-to-date with events and announcements without gossip or sensationalism. With CBR it has to be a daily call thanks to the amount of articles being published but when the comics journalism is this good that is not a complaint.

Disappointment Of The Year: DC Comics

Also nominated: Age Of Ultron, Battle Of The Atom, Death of Damian Wayne

James R: A quick glance at the sales charts may lead you to think that this was a harsh award, and certainly flicking through their Vertigo line and some of their top ten books could reinforce that view still further. But given the votes in the awards (a whopping 86% of voters chose DC in this category) and by digging a little deeper, it's clear that all is not well at the publisher. First and foremost, the New 52 has slowly but surely squandered it's original promise. As an example, take Flash - on it's re-release, I loved this title, and Francis Manipul was turning in the best work of his career on the book. But after 18 issues it lost momentum (excuse the pun) and the sales figures for October now show it in 38th place. Across the board, DC showed a slash-and-burn policy on books which weren't making big sales. This is fine of course - they're a multi-million dollar company and can do what they want, and can point at some pretty tidy profits. But they also established a dangerous precedent in how much editorial control was placed on their titles. Creators found that they were working to rule, and then being shipped off if their books weren't selling big. Rob Liefield, Paul Jenkins, George Perez, Joshua Hale Fialkov and J. H. Williams all found that they couldn't work under such a regime, and Batgirl scribe Gail Simone was only spared the bullet due to fan outcry. Beyond this, their big events haven't lived up to the hype - Trinity War was distinctly underwhelming, and 'Villains Month' (and then 'Villains United') left both readers (and our beloved Andy H) faced with ordering 52 totally different comics, utterly bewildered. Another quick glance at the sales chart for October of this year show that of the top 50 comics, just 15 of them are DC properties (and that includes Vertigo's Sandman). Given the wealth of characters at their disposal, and with comics culture more in the mainstream than ever, DC has the potential to be huge. I certainly don't want DC to become like Image, but I do want to see some of the best creators in the world on these books given the freedom to tell interesting stories. So objectively, it's not a disaster for DC, but it's ended up nowhere close to the resounding win a company-wide relaunch could have been. Add to that the editorial unease, and - ugh! - expensive gatefold covers, there is the real sense that DC is now lacking purpose and direction. Here's hoping that 2014 sees a sea change for the company, and it can regain some of the magic that saw so many of us fall in love with comics to begin with.

Most Looking Forward To In 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Also nominated: Guardians Of The Galaxy, London Super Comic Con, Melksham Comic Con

Tom P: It's fair to say that for many Guardians Of The Galaxy remains an unknown quantity, and while it's certainly a brave move from Marvel Studios I have yet to meet a single person who isn't more excited to see what happens to the Sentinel of Liberty next year. Based on Ed Brubaker's seminal run on Captain America (the writer whose work on character placed Steve Rogers firmly as my number one superhero - he even beats Batman!) this movie promises to take us deep into the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' drawing on Cold War paranoia and good old blockbuster superheroics. The film also has an added bonus, to spend some more time with Black Widow, who, as we know from the pages of Brubaker's run, knows a thing or two about the mysterious Winter Soldier! Of all the pre-Avengers 'Phase One' movies Captain America: The First Avenger remains my favourite and here's hoping they can exceed it in 2014 with this sequel.

PCG Honorary Award 2013: Mark Waid

Matt C: If you look through the history of the American comic book it becomes clear that by and large when most creators hit their creative peak it's not really a position they can sustain for any great length of time; generally they have their moment in the sun but eventually have to make way for a younger, hungrier generation. There's a select few that, when they hit that peak, they don't budge; they stay at the top, watching others come and go, while remaining consistently capable of keeping their finger on the pulse and their muse in check. Mark Waid is one of those select few. He entered the industry in the mid-1980s and spent his early years working on a variety of DC titles, Flash being an acclaimed high point, then writing various Marvel books during the mid-'90s, his run on Captain America being another high point. It was Kingdom Come, his jump forward into the future of the DC Universe, that really cemented his name as on of the greats of the era, and it's a tale that regularly appears in many a 'Best Of' list, and deservedly so. For some guys, that would be the creative zenith, the place they could never reach again, but Waid kept on going. He spearheaded one of the great runs on Fantastic Four, a revamped origin for the Man of Steel in Superman: Birthright, and was one of the writers involved in the ambitious 52 series. Then there was his stint as Editor in Chief of BOOM! Studios, where he also wrote several well-received series, including Irredeemable and The Unknown. Proving that he was smart enough to see how the medium was adapting while others sat on on their laurels waiting to react only when they had to, he launched Thrillbent, a webiste devoted to offering digital comics for free. Concurrently to this digital venture, he still remained actively involved in his first love, superhero comics, most notably his work on Daredevil, which is widely regarded as one of the best books currently gracing the stands. That's why there was very little argument when selecting the second winner of the 2nd PCG Honorary Award. Waid's one of the smartest, most consistently entertaining writers we have at the moment, and the fact that he's been in that position for the last couple of decades makes him one of the all-time greats.

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