Every year, we talk about what we loved about the past 12 months of geeky entertainment. It’s usually under the guise of discussing what to honor with our Escapist Awards, but we always seem to gravitate toward that list of five unique things that especially moved us this year. It could be cute, it could be have emotional impact, it could be just downright silly, but each of the things on these lists means something to us.
Here’s what some of The Escapist‘s most passionate comic book readers picked for their five favorite things from 2014.
#5 The Humans #1
Full Disclosure: Artist Tom Neely is a personal friend of mine.
If you like talking apes, the romance of the highway and the slow, seething decay of the American dream, then drop everything and check out this new Image Comics series from writer Keenan Marshall Keller, artist Tom Neely and colorist Kristina Collantes. A riff on post-Vietnam angst and the schlock/exploitation films of the 1970s, The Humans follows the adventures of a biker gang comprised of various kinds of great apes, misfits all, who form a strange, violent, drug-soaked family in a world that reviles and fears them.
Keller’s writing expertly nails the stream of consciousness feel of a lengthy booze bender, and it’s complimented perfectly by Neely’s trippy, angry art style. And it’s filled with fights, criminality, drugs, sex, and a version of cockfighting that uses humans. Read the shit out of this series, or you’ve wasted 2014.
#4 Forming Vol. 2
I like this one so much I recommended it for the Escapist Holiday Gift Guide. Imagine a comparative religion class filtered through a combination of Zardoz, Office Space and The Venture Bros. and you’re somewhere close to where this delightful graphic novel trilogy-in-progress by writer/artist Jesse Moynihan goes.
Set in the distant past, Forming involves what amounts to a battle over the future of humanity by ancient gods from multiple pantheons, aliens, corporate drones, and rebellious humans (and half-humans) themselves. Mithras, sent by his father (and Corporate boss) to exploit the mineral resources of Earth, decides to quit the family business and set himself up as a god to the puny humans used as slave labor. Meanwhile, the company has established a separate colony elsewhere on Earth with plans to take Mithras down. What follows is a massive amount of family drama, labor unrest, and cosmic-level violence as the origins of the universe, not to mention most modern religions, are revealed.
Forming is hilarious, and the second volume, which came out in May of this year, is glorious. Get it now.
#3 The Secret History Of Wonder Woman
My favorite comic-related thing in 2014 wasn’t a comic, but a book about comics that explores the subversive roots of one of the most famous superhero characters of all time. Obviously, you know who and what Wonder Woman is. You might not know, however, that she was created as an expressly feminist archetype influenced by the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragist movement. That her creator inserted subtle and not-so-subtle bondage themes into lots of the Wonder Woman stories he wrote. That he lived in a light-years-ahead-of-it’s-time, convention-defying polyamorous relationship with two women until his death. That and so, so, so much more is discussed at length in Jill Lepore absolutely essential book.
Honestly, I’d almost rather Warner Bros. make this into a movie instead of the Wonder Woman film they’re currently working on. (Though obviously, I can’t wait for that).
#2 Ms. Marvel #1
There’s always a danger that when a mainstream publication decides to reinvent a classic character with a deliberate eye toward the increasingly diverse society we’re becoming, the result will be bad. Often, it either ends up feeling like tokenism that will get barely any official support, or it’ll be a hilarious misunderstanding of the concepts and cultural ideas the reinvention tries to explore.
Fortunately, this is NOT the case with Marvel’s reinvention of Ms. Marvel, which has turned out to be one of the year’s best mainstream comic series. Centered around teenage Kamala Khan, a young Muslim of Pakistani descent, the new series strikes a great balance between telling a coming of age story, capturing the immigrant experience in America authentically, and delivering thrilling superheroic adventure. Better, for people who love lore porn, the series very quickly ties Kamala to Marvel’s Inhumans. Three pages in an you’ll understand precisely why Kamala Khan has become exceptionally popular with cosplayers.
Featuring great writing by G. Willow Wilson and beautiful art by Adrian Alphona, it’s worth every penny. Start with issue one, get addicted, and keep reading.
#1 The Sandman: Overture (Issues 2 and 3)
One of the biggest questions left unanswered when Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman ended its run in 1994 was “just what the hell was Morpheus doing that weakened him badly enough to get captured in the first issue of the series?”. Almost 20 years after that series concluded, Gaiman finally decided to answer this question with The Sandman: Overture, a six-part series set immediately before the original comic’s in-universe 1916 start date.
As expected, Overture is a joy. Boasting incredible art and some of Gaiman’s strongest comic scripting, it’s a slow burn story that also lives up to the reputation of the original series. Unfortunately, the slow-burn is also literal. The mini-series debuted one year ago, and as I write this blurb, we’re still a week away from the 4th issue. Even so, the first three issues are wonderful.
Gaiman has always been a better comic writer than a novelist (sorry, but it’s true), and thus every time he returns to the medium that made him famous is a reason to celebrate. But Overture isn’t just a nostalgic read, it offers genuine new pleasures for longtime fans of the series who still consider it among the pinnacles of recent comics history. It might not be as interesting for new readers, but if this is an excuse to finally dig into the series, then all the better.
I’ve read comic books for about as long as I could read, and let me assure you: Picking the best books is hard. There are hundreds of comic books, mainstream, independent, and web-based, published every single month, and it’s almost impossible to read them all while maintaining your livelihood.
But on the plus side, I can also assure you that there are lots of fantastic comics out there. Whether you’re interested in the superheroes of the Big Two, licensed properties like Doctor Who, or simply diving into creator-owned books, there’s a treasure trove of choices to pick from. And while I don’t pretend I can represent them all, here are the comics of 2014 that had the biggest impact on me:
#5: Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two
Superman is my favorite superhero, the all-powerful yet selfless do-gooder who wants the world to be a better place. I grew up with stories where his moral compass was made an essential part of his character. I was disappointed when Man of Steel failed to take full advantage of his heroic persona.
So keep that in mind when I say this: You should read Injustice: Gods Among Us because Superman is a fantastic villain.
Injustice gets that evil Superman isn’t scary because he’s some ultra-powerful bad guy. Evil Superman is terrifying because he’s a corruption of the ideals he once believed in. If the “perfect” Superman represents humanity at its best, Injustice‘s Superman shows how those ideals go horribly wrong, making the DC Universe worse every time he “saves” it. For perhaps the first time, Superman has become a tragic hero who we sympathize with despite knowing that he needs to be stopped. That’s pretty deep for what amounts to a long-form video game tie-in.
Combine that with his impact on the larger DC Universe, a war with the Green Lantern Corps, and the birth of Injustice‘s resistance movement, and Year Two proves itself to be a highly compelling read. But it’s not the only solid DC Comics parallel dimension out there:
#4: The Multiversity
DC Comics once had an “Elseworlds” brand line dedicated entirely to rewriting iconic superheroes in parallel universes. Superman could be a Soviet hero or samurai warrior. Batman could hunt Jack the Ripper or be transformed into a vampire. Literally anything could happen, and it made for incredibly compelling stories until the imprint was retired once parallel universes became canonical again.
The beauty of Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity is that it brings the joy of those stories back, all within the context of a shared multiverse. Where else could President Superman and Captain Carrot try to save a Marvel-ish dimension from invasion? Or where the children of superheroes become celebrities in the safe world their parents made? Or where we see what a modern-day Watchmen might have looked like with the original Charlton characters?
Morrison has crafted all of these into standalone stories, each packed to the brim with references to DC lore, making for an immensely satisfying read. And to top it all off, it’s all canonical within the New 52’s multiverse, without the need for a Convergence event legitimizing everything for fans. Its one flaw is that almost every issue ends on a cliffhanger, but if The Multiversity #2 can successfully tie each universe together? It will be a excellent addition to any DC Comics’ multiversal library.
Grayson is one of those books that, at first glance, makes you wonder why it wasn’t developed as an original concept. Why yank Nightwing out of his superhero role and stick him in a top-secret spy agency when you could just create a new character? While I certainly understand that feeling, in Greyson‘s case I’m glad it did. Not only does it offer a great perspective for how spy agencies would operate in an established superhero universe, Dick Grayson’s moral compass creates a great deal of dramatic tension that just wouldn’t be the same with some generic “good guy”.
Outside of the novelty of seeing how an acrobatic ninja would get along with trigger-happy spies and assassins, Grayson‘s aesthetic tone is worth mentioning. It’s like crossing Batman with the 1960s British Avengers show, while slipping in the occasional reference to DC Universe lore. That’s an incredibly unique perspective compared to anything else the New 52 is offering, made all the better with sold writing and engaging artwork. Combined, that easily makes Grayson my favorite New 52 book currently on the shelves, and well worth getting into its opening issues.
#2: Southern Bastards
Reading Southern Bastards is like being punched in the stomach over-and-over by an uncomfortably enthusiastic football player, but once you get started it’s almost impossible to turn away. The latest creator-owned comic from Scalped‘s Jason Aaron and Jason Latour,
Bastards tells the story of the people of Craw County, Alabama, where football is everything and will be kept that way, no matter the cost. Its first storyline introduced the conflict between Craw County’s corrupt leader, Coach Boss, and the one man who chose to stand up to him, Earl Tubb. If this were say, a Western, it would be about how Tubbs’ struggles were vindicated by the good citizens of Craw County, but this is the American South. And by the time you end the first storyline, you’ll be painfully reminded of why life isn’t like the movies.
But if Southern Bastards had ended in a neat and tidy way, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting; now it can expand its scope to include Craw County’s murky history, competing crime bosses, and foreshadow the arrival of Tubb’s family members. And the whole time, the reader is riveted in suspense, wondering what sickly twisted thing might happen next. By the time Southern Bastards is finished, it will likely be one of the best books of both Aaraon and Latour’s careers, so you’re well worth getting into it from the ground floor.
#1: Nemo: Roses of Berlin
One of my favorite comic books is Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which suggests that every fictional character lives within the same shared universe. It’s a beautifully-realized concept that Moore and O’Neill took in fascinating directions since its launch, including the Nemo series of spin-off graphic novels.
The latest, Nemo: Roses of Berlin, follows the continuing adventures of Janni Nemo, daughter of the infamous captain from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. But unlike Century, which wasn’t especially kind in its portrayal of twentieth century fiction, Nemo returns to the exciting pulp spirit of the original League volumes. Set in a version of World War II Berlin inspired by Metropolis and The Great Dictator, Nemo and her lover Broad Arrow Jack must fight German-Tomanian soldiers and robots to rescue their daughter from an immortal adversary. Moore and O’Neill have crafted and impressive standalone story taking up a mere 56 pages, making for a fantastic read until their next League volume arrives. Don’t miss it.
The past few years are the first ones where I’ve really committed myself to the hobby of reading comics. 2014, in turn, probably saw me reading more comics than the rest of my life combined. They’re like potato chips these books. Once the hook you you’ll be doomed to keep buying and collecting them until your basement office is nothing but a long series of interconnected comic book stacks.
I can’t gripe too much though. The only reason I read so many comics is because the year produced so man good ones. Space opera, superheroes, Hollywood sleaze and high fantasy; 2014 was a year in which good examples of all these were easily found. In fact, looking back on the year, it’s hard for me to pick just five favorites. But here we are and it’s time to give it a go.
#5: The Adventures of Superman
The Adventures of Superman is one of those books that kind of sneaks up on you. You don’t think about it most of the time and it’s often overshadowed by a lot of the other books in DC’s library. Then the new issue turns up in your subscription box, you read it and when the back cover closes you’re left amazed by how good it is.
It’s hard for me to really pinpoint what’s so great about it. In fact, when you get down to it a lot of the stories the series tells are pretty typical fare for books about the Man of Steel. Something happens and Supes shows up to punch things until the status quo is restored. As standard (and downright simple honestly) as its individual plots can be though, they’re frequently imbued with this wonderful mix of tones that pulls off this wonderful aura of mythos and melancholy. Adventures, more than any other book on the market, seems to understand how utterly sad it can be to be a walking force of nature living in a world of mortals who can never fully comprehend how you.
It also manages to be wonderfully warm at times. Far from the angsty, unsure hero portrayed in films like Man of Steel, Superman in Adventures is a genuinely good person who fights because he cares about people. The book manages to portray this in a way that avoids feeling cheesy while also adding weight to his inevitable failures.
Recommended Issues: 10, 15, 16
#4: Ms. Marvel
Hoping to add a few more female superheroes to my subscription box, I intentionally started reading two books this year that I otherwise might have skipped: Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk. I was overjoyed to discover that both books were delightful read and immediately burned through their backlogs like a Hollywood producer through a box full of good scripts. I knew, in turn, that I wanted give one of a spot on my end of the year ‘best of” list. The big question, of course, was which one?
In the end Ms. Marvel just edged out She-Hulk. As much as I love the writing, characters and art in the latter, Ms. Marvel has just consistently struck me as a fresher and more overall impressive series. Kamala Khan is an infectious lead who, thanks to G. Willow Wilson’s fantastic writing, is constantly coming out with thoughts and dialogue are both funny and real feeling. Add in the mutli-cultural elements of the book and uniqueness of that bring to the table and you simply have a must read that Marvel Comics should be proud to be publishing. Would I still recommend you read She-Hulk Absolutely. Charles Soule’s run on it has been incredible. If you can only pick one though, I’d veer in the direction of Ms. Marvel.
Recommended Issues: 1, 5, 7
#3: Silver Surfer
Prior to the launch of Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer, my interest in the character was null. It’s amazing how one good series can reverse that because, as of today, Silver Surfer is probably one of the books I look forward to most each month. Opening with a chance encounter that leads to the abduction of ordinary Earthling Dawn Greenwood, the book follows the two as they embark on a series of space adventures that run the gamut from action-packed to downright odd.
The real highlight of the book is the relationship between the Dawn and the Surfer. The two start off as complete strangers, but Slott imbues them with this natural chemistry that just makes you wish the entire comic was nothing but the two of them endlessly bantering back and forth with each other. On paper they come across as completely incompatible. In practice though, they just click and do it in a way that feels more genuine and heartwarming than I ever would have expected from a superhero I’d always imagined to be aloof and uninteresting. Plainly put, if you like weird sci-fi adventures ride with comedy and lovable character interactions, Silver Surfer is one of the best books on the market.
Recommended Issues: 1, 4, 7
Starlight, most basically, is a book about an old man trying to mourn the death of wife by reclaiming his glory days. It’s also an epic space opera involving an enslaved planet, starships, a pink haired space kid, sword fights, laser cannons and a rebellion fighting hopelessly against an alien tyranny.
It’s pretty much one of the best comics I’ve ever read and if it hadn’t ultimately disappointed me, it would probably be my favorite ongoing series. And don’t get me wrong, it didn’t disappoint me because it ended badly, it disappointed me because it ended at all. In a mere six issues, writer Mark Millar managed to create a universe and characters that were intensely interesting and I wasn’t ready to be done with them when the final issue came to its, admittedly, perfect close.
If you’ve ever liked Star Wars, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, the adventures of Duke McQueen are a must read. They’re the best thing that Mark Millar has ever done and easily one of the best comics of 2014.
Recommended Issues: All of them.
#1: Thor: God of Thunder
Thor: God of Thunder ended 2013 on something of an average note. While The Accursed storyline was fine, it wasn’t fantastic, especially in comparison to the stellar Godkiller and Godbomb arcs that came before it. Luckily, Jason Aaron turned this back around completely in 2014 starting with a great single issue and then following it up with The Last Days of Midgard, a story that was, hands down, the best thing I read in 2014.
And while I could easily point to the story’s intensely epic nature as the thing that made it so memorable, the real draw of the story is just how well Aaron balances the spectacle of a geriatric Thor battling Galactus with the more quiet tale of present day Thor’s failure to save a small town from the machinations of an evil corporation. At the end of the day, it’s Jason Aaron bringing his A game to a character he just seems to perfectly understand. It made him a writer I follow and I can’t think of another book more deserving of my top spot for 2014.
Recommended Issues: 19-25