It’s the first day of a new year and so that means we’re doing our “best of” listing of the top comic books for 2014. Generally these are comic books that came out in 2014, though some are from earlier times and I got around to reading them, or limited series that continued. Keep in mind, this is what I have read (and does not reflect what other contributors to this site might think). If it’s not on here, I just might not have read it.
This was a particularly tough year of choices with some categories easily having their own top ten or twenty-five. Check out below what made the cut!
Best Super Hero Comic – Ms. Marvel
2014 is defined by the diversification of comics. Publishers recognized comic book readers come in all shapes and sizes, and expanded their lines to bring more choices to fans. Marvel led the pack in this, launching an unprecedented number of comics with female leads.
This expansion of comics was summed up best with Ms. Marvel, Marvel‘s daring series that featured a brand new character, a Muslim teenage girl from Jersey named Kamala Khan.
The series written by G. Willow Wilson feels so real, and down to Earth, with dialogue, issues, actions, and reactions we’d actually expect from a teenager, and especially one trying to fit in, in more ways that one.
This is a series that delivers with every issue, and also is one of the most important to launch in recent times. If there was a signal of the “age of diversity,” this is it.
- Archer & Armstrong – We seriously don’t give enough love to Valiant comics here on the site (and that’ll change in 2015, you can see below why). This series which saw a break late in the year, and then a mini-series team-up with Quantum & Woody, was consistently funny, entertaining, and could make you think at the same time. This was social satire in ass-kicking form.
- Avengers/New Avengers – Two series that were a bit difficult to split apart. Writer Jonathan Hickman has been guiding the two with a long-game story that sees the Marvel world actually shaken, heroes rise and fall, and actually something new, tough choices with consequences. All of this will continue into 2015 as “Time Runs Out,” and Marvel heads into its second Secret Wars. Hopefully Hickman sticks the landing when his run is up.
- She-Hulk – When you need to, sue, when that doesn’t work, punch things. Another example of Marvel trying something new, they reached out to actual lawyer (and prolific comic writer) Charles Soule to give us a different and fun take on She-Hulk. The art was hit and miss, but the writing was always spot-on, like a well prepared case.
- The Superior Foes of Spider-Man – The release of this series was a bit spotty, but each issue had you linger on pages to pick up on every small joke. I really hope we see more of this in 2015, but sadly it looks like the series, and hope for a new version aren’t in the works.
Best Non-Super Hero Comic – Southern Bastards
Welcome to Craw County, Alabama, home of Boss BBQ, the state champion Runnin’ Rebs football team…and more bastards than you’ve ever seen. When you’re an angry old man like Earl Tubb, the only way to survive a place like this…is to carry a really big stick
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have created a Southern gothic noir series that once you think you’ve got it down, pulls the rug right out from under you. A bit of a riff on Walking Tall, the series is a must read, especially when you get to the end of that first arc.
It’s a brilliant exploration of the Southern community, especially its focus on sports and football. The second arc has begin with a greater exploration of its main villain, and with that has created a even more layered and fascinating read.
- The Bunker – A time travel tale from Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari that’s trippy and keeps you on your toes. The future is a mess due to one group, and the hope to prevent it from happening is traveling back and telling younger versions of themselves what to do to stop it. But, are all motives altruistic? This is an amazing dissection of fate, time travel, and relationships.
- East of West- A sci-fi western where the Four Horsemen on the apocalypse literally roam the Earth. Writer Jonathan Hickman again is the one responsible for this awesomeness, and he’s helped with amazing art from Nick Dragotta. In the latest issue, war has broken out, showing this past year has been all build up.
- Lazarus- In a dystopian near-future government is a quaint concept, resources are coveted, and posession is 100% of the law. A handful of Families rule in writer Greg Rucka‘s all-too real world. The level of detail and thought that’s gone in to how this world works is amazing. This is social commentary in a sci-fi/action package. It helps the art by Michael Lark is beautiful to look at, and the series features a kick-ass heroine in the form of Forever Carlyle.
- Letter 44 – Remember Charles Soule from above? Yeah, he also writes this too. This series sees a new President have to deal with a war in the Middle East, and also aliens setting up camp in deep space. This is a fantastic look at the choices our leaders make, and political maneuvering. If the last two issues’ revelations don’t have you excited… well, there’s no hope for you then.
Best Limited Series or One Shot – The Delinquents
Remember when Run-DMC and Aerosmith hooked up? How off the hook that was? Yeah, this is sort of like that, but involves an ass-map.
2014 saw Valiant bring together Archer & Armstrong and Quantum & Woody, two of their most entertaining series, and characters into this one insane comic. Seriously, what drugs were folks on when they were coming up with this!?
Revolving around a mythic mountain for hobos, a map on an ass, genetically modified beings, and an evil corporation, the comic is constantly hilarious, beautifully drawn, and beyond entertaining.
We took a break from the two teams’ own series for this, but you know, that’s ok, because this was beyond awesome.
No other comic had as many laughs per page, and we also got to learn about the hobo code too!
- Genius – Delayed many years, this mini-series was beyond timely. A tactical genius has brought together the various gangs of LA and decides to secede some blocks of the neighborhood. What’s also great, that tactical genius is a woman. Released weekly around when Ferguson was occurring, the series reflected the troubled society we live in.
- The Midas Flesh – Don’t know this one? How about an edge-of-your-seat, save the universe adventure with two butt-kickin’ ladies and a dinosaur in a spacesuit. It might look a “kids” comic, but the debate about the use of weapons of mass destruction, and mass genocide is impressive, especially since the comic was so much fun.
- Starlight– Mark Millar does his best homage to Flash Gordon (which had its own fantastic series from Dynamite) in this series with art from Goran Parlov. The series clicked for me, in a pseudo-retro pulp adventure that was full of heart. From a writer that usually goes for over the top shock, this was a much welcome change.
- The Wake – Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy‘s series wrapped up, and all I wanted was more. It’s a series that looks at the bigger picture of humanity and our relationship with the world, in two very different parts.
Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – On the Books: A Graphic Tale of Working Woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore (World Around Us)
Greg Farrel and published by Microcosm Publishing, the graphic novel is the first-hand account of the 2012 labor struggle at New York City’s legendary Strand bookstore.
I know this’ll come as a shock, but I’m a political nut, so getting to see a graphic novel about this labor struggle was like finding gold.
What’s fantastic about this graphic novel is that it really presents an honest opinion. It covers the store and its troubles. It examines the difficult decisions and no win scenario of the employees. It also criticizes the union these employees belong to. It allows us the reader to explore all sides and come to our own opinion. For Farrell, it wouldn’t be unexpected that the story presented, and his experience depicted, to be very one sided. Instead though, he looks at all sides, especially his fellow employees, and does so with the views and opinions of his coworkers.
This wasn’t just a graphic novel, but a prime example of graphic journalism.
- An Iranian Metamorphosis – By Mana Neyestani and published by Uncivilized Books. The graphic novel was at the top of my list of books to get at this year’s Small Press Expo. One of Neyestani’s cartoons sparked riots in Iran, which landed him and his editor in solitary confinement. The graphic novel explores the complex interplay between art, law, politics, ethnic sensitivities, and authoritarian elements inside Iran’s Islamic Republic as well as refugee’s attempts to find safety and freedom.
- Andre the Giant: Life and Legend – Andre the Giant was a 7’4″, 500 lb wrestling legend, but his nickname of “giant” also applied to his life in general, not just his size. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, especially watching wrestling, it was hard to miss this legend of a man. In this graphic novel out from publisher First Second, creator Box Brown pulls back the curtain a bit on the larger than life sensation.
- Ricky Rouse Has a Gun – Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is part action story, part parody, part commentary on intellectual property, and totally entertaining. It actually might be “too smart” in its layered commentary and the fact itself is an homage, talking about homages. But beyond that depth, the characters are entertaining, moments are hillarious, and action worthy of the big screen. Ricky Rouse to me is an ode to action movies, and the sequels they spawn, with enough to get you to think about our remix/re-use culture.
- The Rise of Aurora West – A follow up to last year’s Battling Boy, this graphic novel focuses on Aurora West and her origin in a way. A fantastic, entertaining read that is a sequel/prequel/stand alone story that’s perfect for adults and teens. More please!
Best New Series – Gotham Academy
While Ms. Marvel above easily represents a new focus and the greater diversity of the comic industry, Gotham Academy from DC Comics shows off that publisher’s shaking up their own line of comics.
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl, Gotham Academy has a focus, bring young adult female focused lit to comics. It beyond succeeds with an energy, voice, and look that’s been painfully missing from comics for too long.
It might take place in Gotham, and Bruce Wayne might make appearances, but this isn’t just another Batman book, it shows you can build off of something familiar in a new way, and do that successfully.
The comic is as much teenage drama as it is mystery, and for that it is amazing. Hopefully DC decides its future looks more like this, and we get more fresh tales, with new characters, in familiar settings.
- Copperhead – A sci-fi western that has a new sheriff, with a mysterious past, coming to town. It helps she’s a single mother too. Each issue just nails it as far as pacing and story with art that feels like a western throwback, just with aliens.
- Evil Empire – Was there a series that kept you on your toes more than this one? Each issue feels like a shock as it focuses on how that evil government that seems to exist in so many stories actually got in control. It’s also a nice finger at politics, political parties, voters, and corporations. Each issue will leave you debating political philosophy with yourself.
- The Fuse – Another sci-fi cop series (there seems to be a lot of those this year), this one takes place on a space station and plays out like the best police dramas. Each issue presents small pieces of the crime, and just enough clues to leave you guessing. Add in an interesting setting, and a global cast, you have one hell of a series.
- Rasputin – I had no idea what to expect with the first issue, and even after reading that first issue, I had no idea what to expect. Three issues in, I’m still not quite sure. The series focuses on the very real Rasputin, giving us glimpses at the historical mystery. Each issue is amazing to look at, and after finishing them, I want more. In a year of genre busting series, this is one of the most unique.
Best Single Issue – Bitch Planet #1
Have you had something that’s been built up, and then you get to it you’re disappointed yourself? Yeah, this isn’t an example of that. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro teamed up for the very third time to bring us the premiere issue that actually lives up to the hype.
Their highly-anticipated women in-prison sci-fi exploitation riff is amazing on so many levels, making us examine our own views on society and feminism.
The issue plays out in a way that it’s a very enjoyable women in-prison exploitation story, a straight homage to the classics, but it’s that ending where the rug is pulled out from under you, making you go back and re-read the issue immediately.
The fact it came out in December, after numerous “best of” lists had already been released caused it to be overlooked by many, and it’s an example why you should wait until all comics are released. If it’s this quality with each issue, it won’t be overlooked when 2015’s best are announced.
Social commentary and comics at its best.
Worst Single Issue of the Year – The Multiversity
Ok, this is more than one issue, so sort of cheating. Writer Grant Morrison and various artists take us around the DC Multiverse for an adventure to save all of reality. The series is comprised of six complete adventures set in different parallel worlds with a two-part framing story and a guidebook.
First if you need a “guidebook” to help tell your story, you’ve got issues to begin with.
In general Grant Morrison is hit and miss for me, and clearly this series, which has seen five issues released so far, has been a miss.
While a appreciate what Morrison does in deconstructing comics, and comic history, I feel at times he becomes too referential in that if you don’t know the history of DC Comics in and out, you’ll miss much of the point.
His comics aren’t entertaining to me, I feel dumb, and left out, like I’m not one of the “cool kids,” a “fake geek guy.” Many have gushed at some of the issues, like Pax Americana, which riffs on Watchmen, and in that particular case some claimed better than the original. But too me, much of it comes off as pale imitations.
This is for the hardcore only, and as someone who is generally more a Marvel person than DC, I’m not the audience here.
Best Event of the Year – Aliens/Predator/Prometheus: Fire & Stone
I’m fairly new to Dark Horse‘s offerings of comics based on the world of Aliens and Predator, but 2014 saw the company relaunch that universe in comics with a four series event called Fire & Stone. Each series Aliens: Fire & Stone, Predator: Fire & Stone, Aliens vs. Predator: Fire & Stone, and Prometheus: Fire & Stone, all tied into each other, but also stood on their own.
Each series organically played off each other, as if evolving from each, in much the same sort of growth and evolution we’ve seen within the universe itself.
The series also did an impressive thing, it made me enjoy the movie Prometheus more, the much maligned prequel of sorts to the Aliens and Predator universe.
What’s truly great is that you could read each series, and really enjoy them on their own. At the same time, if you read them all, you saw how one played into the other to form a greater narrative.
Hopefully this is just the beginning and we get more in 2015!
- Armor Hunters – Valiant reigned destruction on their world in Armor Hunters, as aliens descended upon Earth to destroy X-O Manowar. Pulling in numerous series, the event was epic, and world changing.
- Forever Evil – DC has been hit and miss, but this event has been pretty solid. Especially when you look at it as commentary between the dark and gritty villains of modern times versus the cleaner villains of yesteryear
- Avengers/New Avengers: Time Runs Out– Jonathan Hickman has been weaving a hell of a tale catapulting us into the future of the Marvel universe, giving us alternate Earth’s almost destroying the 616, and choices with actual consequences.
- Transformers: Dawn of the Autobots – IDW’s numerous Transformers series have been awesome and this is the culmination of what has been going on. Megatron is an Autobot and religious zealot. The Decepticons are scattered and in disarray. IDW has breathed even more life into the Transformers which celebrated 30 years in 2014.
Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics/Small Publishers
Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2014 was a year we saw major creators continue to shrug off the big two, instead launching creator owned series at other publishers, digitally or through Kickstarter. We saw more comics, in more varieties, on more subjects and more ways to consume them, than any time before. It really wasn’t the year of the Big Two, this was a year that we as consumers could continue to find something that would fit our varied tastes.
With more channels for distribution and more ways to produce comics, we’re in a golden age where the old ways of publishing no longer hold back the creativity that abounds.
We named Indie Comics “it” in 2013, and nothing changed in 2014.
- Zombies – Zombies have become a cultural phenomenon, lead
marching shuffling along by The Walking Dead. Revival changed the genre a bit, with so many releases giving us so many other spins and perspectives. Afterlife With Archie continues to shake up what we think of Archie Comics. iZombie comes to the CW in 2015. The genre continues to cross over in to movies, television, books, toys and more. I thought the phenomenon would end in 2014, I was wrong.
- Digital Comics – Digital first. Digital exclusive. Web comics. This was the year digital comics continued to break through with numerous platforms launching, many with different business models than the “buy each issue” one we’re used to. The sector is big enough to be noticed by tech giants, which lead comiXology to be gobbled up by Amazon. Expect even more of a digital land rush in 2015.
Best Surprise of the Year – Diversity
2014 saw diversity, and can be called the “Year of the Woman” when it comes to comics, in both good and bad ways.
As you can see above, Marvel focused on diversifying its comics with more series featuring women in the spotlight. Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, and Storm were just some of what came out.
DC Comics expanded the women on the page, and the women creating comics with Gotham Academy, a revamped Batgirl, and the hiring of talented women to create that and more.
Characters had their race or gender switched such as Captain America, Thor, Solar: Man of the Atom, and Archie’s The Shield.
Comics began to reflect, and look like its readers, a diverse group of individuals who come from all backgrounds, and are in all shapes and sizes.
Women especially were the focus, with more women led comics than ever before, and much of the year fueled by discussion about the women fanbase, harassment at conventions and online, and how to get more women interested and creating.
It’s hard to tell if this was just a fad or here to stay, but 2015 will be a key year if we want to make this positive change permanent.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Kickstarter
Last year’s disappointment continued to be so, as projects were delayed, vapor ware, or not as advertised. Also add in issues on the creator end of folks pledging high amounts and then disputing the charges, at times getting the goods. Add in the platform’s unwillingness to step in to deal with either situation and you get a tech company showing off it’s greed. What was once the toast of the town has shown its cracks which will only get worse.
The crowdfunding platform became a way for creators to raise funds for projects, only to get picked up by publishers, at times delaying projects and leaving bad tastes in the mouths of fans. If all creators were held to the standards of some of the best users of the system, there’d be no issue, but over 90% of the projects I’ve pledged to have been delayed or non-existence only creating angry backers and fans.
These issues have lead this site to rethink what we promote and how we do so, no longer choosing comics to promote, as we feel some responsibility for things gone wrong and your dollars being held hostage.
Kickstarter continues to be tone-deaf, and it’s only a matter of time before someone stands up and challenges the platform with a system that’s fair to creators, and protects those who pledge.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Publisher of the Year – Valiant Entertainment
There is no other comic other that that’s done these specific three things this year.
- Every comic is entertaining – There hasn’t been an issue produced by Valiant that hasn’t been beautiful to look at, and a fun read. There just hasn’t been a bad comic at all. That type of record is impressive, and helps the company is focused on hiring top talent, and making sure their line is tight as far as what’s produced.
- They’ve created a universe that works – Read one series, or read them all, Valiant has created a line of comics where this is possible. If you read them all, you’re treated to a grand story as pieces of the greater puzzle is peppered throughout. If you read an individual series, they’re still great reads, and stand on their own. Add in the fact they’ve had some world changing events, and it gets even more impressive. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but Valiant pulls it off every month. This is the best “super-hero” universe out there right now.
- They’re willing to try new things – Keeping their line small. Trying different promotions like with a local coffee chain, being out there first when it comes to something new digitally, this is a company that’s trying to get a greater percentage of the market by growing its audience and finding new readers. That’s something a lot of publishers aren’t willing to do, or even try.
2015 sees the launch of their new initiative Valiant Next that’s bringing us new series that have organically grown out of what’s come before, and will guide us into the future of the Valiant Universe.
- BOOM! Studios – Last year’s best publisher is still fantastic and has put out some amazing comics over the past year. They diversified their line with BOOM! Box, some more licensed comics, and impressive deals with movie and television studios. But, more isn’t necessarily better, and while there’s been fantastic series, there’s been some misses too. The company has signed some impressive deals and is starting to bring in top names and creators for deals and releases you might expect elsewhere. Still, out of all of the smaller publishers, BOOM! remains the most poised to take the reigns from Image as number three out there, and challenge the big two.
- First Second – Consistently putting out the best graphic novels on the market, First Second’s releases cover numerous genres, types, looks, and characters. They’re synonymous with quality, there wasn’t a graphic novel they released I didn’t enjoy on some level.
- IDW Publishing – IDW is a publisher that thinks outside of the box when it comes to building it’s readership and that’s why they’re on this list. Not only did they continue to make a fantastic move tying in their comics with toys, they’ve also expanded into television and games. They’ve put out some fantastic new series like Winterworld. The company needs a few more creator owned original series, and they’ll be a big challenger for the top spot in 2015.
- Image Comics – Image puts out some amazing comics, there’s no doubt about that. For all the hits though, there’s a lot of misses. It’s also a publisher that’s driven by the creator’s success, instead of building successes themselves. You also have to wonder, if some of the series everyone’s buzzed about would have the audiences they would if it weren’t for those creators. In other words, is Image the success, or the creators themselves?