This was a special year in comic books. One where the quality was often unceasing, emptying our wallets and bloating our pull lists. The idea of being a comic book nerd has never been so popular or so sexy. Our golden age may have begun.
2014 was a year where Marvel sought to be All New, changing identities, heroes and rosters. Slowly phasing out the Marvel we grew up with only to tease us with the ghosts of events from our pasts, bannered with the qualifier of “Coming Summer 2015.”
DC continued to show us the brave leap they took with the New 52 was a brilliant one, as their creative teams continued to get more fearless with the freedom that move provided. Snyder, Soule and Azzarello continued and, in the case of the two latter, concluded masterpiece runs making us pine for the past while we held our breathe for the future.
Image comic made me poor, producing excellent new series at a pace that I could not financially keep up with. My feelings for books like Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, and Rat Queen surpassed admiration and fell into love affairs; reminding me why comics are so important to me and demonstrating what the medium is capable of.
So let’s take a look back at this year in comic books in the first of two parts honoring the year that was. Here it is. The best 2014 had to offer in comic books.
Best Marvel Comic Book Series
Iron Fist: Living Weapon
Winner: New Avengers
Jonathan Hickman’s Incursion Saga has many appropriate adjectives. It is often unwieldy, convoluted and calorie intensive to follow. It requires a heavy financial investment, asking readers to follow multiple on goings to get the full picture. It is meandering, overly vast and just plan too long.
It is also, smart, demanding, insightful, heavy and poetic. Its grand moments almost never miss their emotional beats. Its cast is endearing and bravely chosen, its tendrils of different side stories are deliberate and paid off in satisfying fashion. But above all things it is ambitious as hell and without fear.
The strongest chapters of this saga have taken place in the pages of New Avengers. The story of the Illuminati’s attempts to stop the potentially universe ending Incursions have offered the highest stakes and delivered the most interesting messages.
The characters in this book are supposed to be heroes, yet the meaning that accompanies that word is tested with every new plot point. A hero can sacrifice their life without burden. It is part of what defines them. The sacrifices made by Iron Man, Beast, Black Bolt, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Namor, The Hulk and Reed Richards go beyond their lives. They are asked to sacrifice their morals to save the world. They are asked to be heroes by betraying what their masks and capes stand for.
Hickman does more than change the status quo of the Marvel Universe. He changes the status quo of what being a superhero is. The ambition and balls present in New Avengers this year was more than enough to place it above the rest.
Best DC Comic Book Series
The accusation that my entire comic book journalism career has been nothing more than a well distributed fan blog for Scott Snyder’s Batman run is not a claim that lacks evidence.
I love this series and I have not cyphered that sentiment. Snyder and Capullo have perfectly captured everything there is to love about Batman. The cinematic brooding, the dark urban horror, the spinning and twisting detective tales, the huge cartoonish villains. Everything is there and it all clicks together with the momentum of a bear trap.
None of these well explored atmospheric tools feel played out. There is a feeling of unexpected freshness to this Batman tale. It plays on the past stories of Batman without ever feeling chained to them. A 75 year old character feels new and brave. The story has no fear as it plays with every taboo in the Dark Knight’s universe, from the scared Year One origin tale, to what the relationship between Batman and Bruce Wayne truly is.
The epic of Zero Year came to a close in 2014 with one of the most complete and thoughtful conclusions to a story arch ever seen, and we weren’t even given an issue to catch our breath before the high stakes of the arch, Endgame began.
There is no break from the quality and gripping pleasure that is found in this run. This is the new standard for Batman in comic books. Morrison and Millar, give the kid the crown.
Best Image Comic Book
East of West
Winner: Sex Criminals
I love Sex Criminals. A statement that is an ill-advised way to start a conversation, outside of the Image Comics subreddit.
A book that is a well assembled work of humor and inward looking reflection, Sex Criminals cultivates the cluster of doubt, excitement, fear and euphoria that is falling in love, and mixes it with high science fiction ideas.
It explores the origins of a how a person builds their sexuality and shows how different people use sex to achieve different ends. It tackles topics that are incredibly heavy but it covers everything with a glaze of humor, helping us swallow ideas we don’t naturally want to entertain.
The delivery is so smart on so many different levels and writer Matt Fraction masterfully sneaks ideas into our head like the world’s funniest ninja, giving us a clear vision of what love and sex have the potential to mean.
No book has ever been so romantic while being so aware of its own silliness. It is a completely unique flavor of storytelling that can be found nowhere else.
Best Comic Book Movie
Captain America: The Winter Solider
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-men Days of Future Past
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The Amazing Spiderman 2
Winner: Captain American: The Winter Solider
To be transparent Spidy and Sin City were only included to get the list of Nominations up to five and satisfy the uniformity demanding OCD monster in my brain. The only real contest was between Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier . The fact that GotG came up a little short is not a defamation of its quality. Its greatness has very few detractors and its creative impact on this upcoming generation will likely be similar to the impact Star Wars had on the last three generations.
Captain America: The Winter Solider separated itself by having something to say. It was able to mirror the political climate of our world and deliver a point of view that was metered and rational without being trendy or reactionary. It managed to do this without becoming tone deaf or preachy. It never sacrificed action or the comic book movie feel and it showed us that the already stratosphere reaching quality of Marvel films could be pushed farther and that comic book films in general can be held to a higher standard.
American Vampire Second Cycle #3
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1
Bitch Planet #1
Winner: Bitch Planet #1
Done up with pulpy grindhouse makeup and sprinkled with attitude the cover to Bitch Planet #1 immediately communicates everything this book is about.
The frosty pink hue against the built and curvy silhouette of a strong female figure flipping the universe the bird lets the reader know this is a book of strong female characters raging against the machine.
The world draped in that pink hue is full of mystery. Shrouded characters take power poses. Villainous postured women are on the left or sinister side of the page and nobly posed characters are on the right. Two masked women prepare to fight in the middle of the collage framed by the aforementioned and middle finger bearing arms of the silhouetted women.
It is clear, layered and comes delivering a message. It’s not just pretty, its representative. It lets the book sell itself by fitting its entire message in a shot glass and letting us sample it.
Its use covers how they should be used, and other books should take notes.
Come back on New Year ’s Day for part two of these awards, including writer and artist of the year, best series, biggest moment and biggest news story.