2014 was another great year for comics. Marvel NOW is proving to be the best relaunching scheme, Image released another wave of brilliant new titles, and DC’s weekly titles are starting to pick up. But yes, it’s the end of the year, and as a geek with too much time on his hands, I’ve decided to devote a couple of hours talking about what I think were the greatest comics to have been published this year.
Runners-up: The Multiversity(DC), She-Hulk(Marvel), Deadly Class(Image), East of West(Image), Red Sonja(Dynamite), Shutter(Image), Samurai Jack(IDW), Edge of Spider-Verse(Marvel), Swamp Thing(DC)
10.) The Wicked + The Dvine
Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie know how to make comics likeable to young people. The team behind Phonogram and Young Avengers presents The Wicked+ The Divine, where every ninety years, a stable of twelve mythological gods known as ‘The Pantheon’ are reincarnated as youths who transform into idols and figures of some sort in the era they are born into.
Set in the 2010s, The Wicked +The Divine follows a teenager named Laura, who becomes enamored with the spectacle of the colorful lives lived by these young gods turned pop and subculture idols. After striking up a friendship with a very, very impeccably dressed Lucifer, Laura finds herself caught up in the tumult of The Pantheon’s inner workings and power struggles, turning from starstruck groupie and into a literal messenger of the gods. As part of her new life, she travels to a draconian punk scene gathering in some abandoned subway(a literal sub-culture lol) and later to the mansion/palace/temple of a Babylonian god who reminds me a little too much of Kanye West.
Gillen’s juxtaposition of ancient mythology with reinterpretations of the faces we see on TV and internet is a delightful exploration of what makes an icon and icon and what makes draws so many of us to these people and the kind of lives they live. He takes a familiar trope—young person finally meets her idols, ends up getting entrenched in the chaos of their lives, discovers the turmoil that hides behind the spectacle—and from there creates a compelling story that should hit close to home to those of us who have come close to worshipping someone we see on the TV, hear on the radio, and read about on the web.
Seconds is Brian Lee O’ Malley’s first graphic novel since Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour from way back in 2010, the final chapter of O’ Malley’s universally beloved Scott Pilgrim series. In Seconds, we meet Katie, a chef and entrepreneur in her late twenties who plans to open a second restaurant after finding herself unsatisfied with her life as the head chef of a restaurant she helped found, the titular Seconds. Things aren’t going smoothly, however, and Katie finds herself in what may be the most stressful chapter of her young life.
Then one day, she meets Liz, a spirit hiding in the corner of her rented room, who gives her special access to a bunch of strange mushrooms that give her the ability to re-write the past. Things go splendidly well at first. Things fall into place, and Katie is suddenly having the greatest time of her life. Until one day, she wakes up to find some loose threads in the world she created, and meets a dark presence lingering just around the fringes of her new life.
There’s a Gaiman-esque feel to Seconds. The fantastical stays at the borders, but as the consequences of the main character’s actions see her caught up in a world whose inner workings will forever be unknown to her.
And despite the elements of dark fantasy employed in the story, O’Malley, no rookie at the dealing with the joys and turmoils of twenty-something life easily tackles the repercussions Katie’s actions have on her relationships and ambitions. In the process, Seconds becomes a heartfelt study of the relationships one builds in the time of his/her life one devotes to career. It’s not a particularly new theme in the world of sequential art, but here O’Malley weaves together a story that forces the reader to examine his or her own life choices, and more importantly brings up those dreaded what-could-have-been pangs.
8.) Batman and Wonder Woman
As with Saga, this entry doesn’t need a lot of dwelling on. Both series’ authors stuck to their guns for these two, and the payout has been lovely.
In Batman, we finally see the conclusion of the Zero Year arc, the young New52 Bruce Wayne’s first trip to Calvary. And as with his run’s first few arcs, Court of Owls, Night of Owls, and the Death of the Family, Snyder’s specialization in dissecting the Bat and digging into his deepest fears and shedding light on the madness and depravity driving his greatest villains. As of this writing, we’re back in real time and the maddest of them all is back.
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman on the other hand came to a close this year. And as expected, what makes me sad to see this brilliant story come to an end is having to say goodbye to this book’s lovely supporting cast. Through thirty-five issues, we met the spunky young mother Zola, former Goddes/Queen-Bitch Hera, the baffling goddess of strife uh, Strife, an Orion who sounds a lot like Hal Jordan. But all good thing must come to an end, and this year saw the final chapter in Diana’s crusade against the more malevolent members of her rather dysfunctional family tree.
Azzarello’s Wonder Woman ends the way all good comic book stories should end. come full circle, all loose ends are tied, everyone lives a happy life. And without spoiling anything, I’m going to go and say that this chapter in Diana, Princess of Themyscira ends on this note. No sudden twists(though Azzarello do have one more big revelation in store), no residual drama, no wait-what-about-this-or-that-guy double takes. As soon as the battlefield clears, the finality dawns on you.
But yes, as I said it’s Brian Azzarello’s Wonderwoman that we’re celebrating here. Because come, issue 36, things, uh, get messy again.
7.) Silver Surfer
The success of The Guardians of the Galaxy movie released earlier this year paved the way for renewed interest in Marvel Cosmic. One of the most anticipated books to launch this year was Silver Surfer, whose titular character, is someone we haven’t heard of in a while.
What’s been most interesting about Silver Surfer is that it doesn’t feel like your average Cosmic title-no epic skirmishes between fleets of spaceships, no gargantuan galactical entities waging war on one another. Norrin Radd, former herald of Galactus, is partnered with Dawn Greenwood, mortal human girl, who suddenly finds herself suddenly caught up within one of the Silver Surfer’s misadventures.
The meeting of two worlds is fascinating; seeing Norrin Radd sit down for a thanksgiving meal and Dawn Greenwood of Anchor Bay, Massachusetsts order galactic ice cream from some moon in a galaxy a couple of million light years away have to be made for some of the most memorable guy-with-superpowers-takes-girl-to-some-strange-corner-of-the-universe moments to have been written by unabashed Doctor Who fan Dan Slott, for years known as the man behind the Spider-man books. The banter between the two leads is hilarious, and how their relationship develops issue after issue keeps you waiting for their next misadventure. And then, there’s Michael Allred’s art.
The psychedelic and vibrant yet minimalistic portrayal of the galaxy as seen from the eyes of Norrin Radd and his newfound BFF have produced some of the most beautiful pages published in the world of comics this year. Silver Surfer is a beautifully illustrated book, bolstered by the charming dynamic between their two leads, and I’m curious to see what next year has in store for Norrin Radd.
6.) Moon Knight
A few things I’ve read about Moon Knight prior to the year 2014:
“Moon Knight is a Batman rip-off.”
“Do we actually need Moon Knight when we already have Daredevil?”
“Ang loser ni Moon Knight sa Shadowland. Lol ginulpi tapos nawala bigla.”
Then came the fateful day Marvel announced that Warren Ellis, the genius behind Planetary, Transmetropolitan, and a couple of comicbooks where the heroes swear a lot, was writing a brand new Moon Knight title.
In this new Moon Knight book, Marc Spector isn’t another begrudged fellow with superpowers of some sort touring the grimy streets of New York at night, fighting criminals, that superstitious cowardly lot. Ellis returns to Moon Knight’s roots, as avatar of the Egyptian God Khonshu and from there build a narrative that is shared by Spector’s two new personas-Moon Knight, the grim caped crimefighter prowling crime-infested streets at night(not that one) and the masked Littlefinger-Sherlock Holmes hybrid Mr. Knight, who works from behind the scenes, pulling one string and another to catch his prey. In short, this is Moon Knight like we’ve never seen him before.
But what stands out the most about this book is the art. The panel scheme employed by Declan Shelvey creates a fragmented narrative that captures the inner workings of identity crisis-wracked Marc Spector. And there’s colorist Jordie Bellaire’s lush noir paintjob of the world of Moon Knight. It’s the visuals in this book that put everything together, and it’s easy to notice that Warren Ellis doesn’t bother with dialogue much in this one. Each issue’s plot is easily fleshed out by the visual narrative put together by Shelvey’s clever use of space and haunting, tension-filled panels and Bellaire’s rich, grim coloring. In short: this book is damn bloody beautiful.
5.) Sex Criminals
Time to get a little R-18.
Sex Criminals is one weird book. For crying out loud, the main characters are a very, um, loving and intimate couple who have the power to tap into a mysterious dimension called Cumworld(can we say that here?)when, um, reaching the peak of sexual ecstasy.
Sex Criminals first came out in 2013, but it’s sustained intensity heading into its second year. Yes, it’s a baffling series, but it’s loads of fun, and it’s a testament to the imagination of Matt Fraction. Chip Zdarksy’s cartoonish graphics meanwhile fit the title’s fun and oddly lighthearted tone. Reading Sex Criminals is like reading some tie-in comic to a Cartoon Network show, but with characters who have lots of sex.
True enough, the sex in this series is hardly pornographic. It isn’t pedaled as something to attract readers. It’s treated purely as subject matter(and the primary motif), and Chip Zdarky’s cartoonish depictions of lovemaking may have a thing to do with that.
This book is proof that it’s possible to build up your brand new fantasy universe from ANYTHING. And trust Matt Fraction to keep you entertained with his charming dialogue and rich character monologues.
So yes, if you’re curious to see what a comic book ABOUT sex should be like, go grab the next trade paperback of Sex Criminals you see, sit back, and enjoy the ride(no pun intended).
4.) Southern Bastards
In the tradition of the much beloved Vertigo classic Scalped is Southern Bastards. The first few issues follow the story of Earl Tubbs, a grizzled, aging veteran who returns to his hometown of Craw Country and finds out the that there’s someone new running the show. And then something happens-no spoilers-and we find out that Southern Bastards isn’t the story of Earl Tubbs, but the story of a crime-ridden cesspool in the middle of nowhere where the darker things that go on in the world force boys to become men and enter a life where man eats man.
Jason Aaron, the man behind other comics-for-tough-guys like Scalped, Wolverine, and Thor God of Thunder, fleshes a compelling narrative that examines the trials of manhood and guides us through everyday life at the crime-ridden town of Craw Country. Aaron Latour’s dour and grimy designs meanwhile capture the rural and rustic Southern small town country atmosphere. The sights and sounds at Aaron’s Craw Country come to life with every flip of a page, and hauntingly so.
3.) Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan has been this year’s darling. The charming story of how a young Muslim woman’s life changes in an instant after suddenly acquiring powers is a charming loveletter to the most familiar of comic book narratives: young person acquires superpowers, decides to put on the cape and fight crime, but later has trouble finding out the right way to make his/her new life work. This story works with a narrative that’s all-too familiar, but keeps the reader engrossed by guiding us through Kamala’s topsy-turvy world. For the past couple of years, Marvel’s seen a divided Mutant nation, Avengers duking it out with X-Men, Nick Fury turning out to be one sneaky fellow, Avengers destroying universes(see number one). Ms. Marvel is a throwback to the time superhero comics was about kids suddenly waking up and discovering they could fly or lift heavy a hundred tons of steel, and trying to find their place on the earth by beating up some bad guys.
When will Saga ever be not good? This doesn’t require much explanation. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples stuck to their guns, and everyone is still hooked on Image’s game-changing Space Opera epic two years after it first hit the stands. The universe of Saga is still expanding, and the most recent revelations in the crazy lifestory of little Hazel and her kind-of-dysfunctional but oddly charming family(to put it in a way) still has readers hungry for more.
1.) New Avengers
Jonathan Hickman’s run on the New Avengers started back in 2013, but what a mark it’s made this year.
This year, Hickman took us to the heart of the battle the Illuminati have been entrenched in for more than twenty issues. Tony Stark, Reed Richards, T’Challa—by day hailed as the greatest of men in their world–are forced to commit the unspeakable in a last ditch effort to save their universe. The repercussions of their actions ring through eternities.
But it’s the hubris that befalls the relationships of the men hailed as pillars of the super-hero world that sucks the reader in. It’s darkly entertaining to see the people who are supposed to be the world’s greatest heroes turn on each other out of guilt and frustration when forced to do the unthinkable and unspeakable for the sake of accomplishing what they set out to do-save lives.
Just look at lovebirds T’Challa and Prince Namor here:
New Avengers posits the question of what it means to save a billion of lives when at stake are a trillion more. The re-examination of the superhero has been one of comics’ most recurring theme for the past decades. But in Hickman’s epic journey into the center of infinity and into the chain of events that’s billed to be the catalyst for the next couple of Marvel company-wide events, Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Namor, Black Panther, et al. heroes everyone knows, are sent through a gauntlet that tests whatever sense of morality they still actually hold.
So if you’re tired of me talking about a bunch of Avengers doing some “unspeakable, unthinkable, dark evil thing”, go to your nearest LCS or bookstore and grab a copy of the latest collected edition of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers and prepare to have your mind blown.
Also, this happens: