The days are getting shorter and the night comes sooner than ever. Snow begins to fall. The rivers ice over. Roads are closed and the pub fires are lit. The all important question is asked: what were the ten best comic book series of 2014?
Ms Marvel – A coming of age drama filtered through a superhero lens, Ms Marvel should be to teenagers of today, what Spider-Man was to kids in the 60’s. The opening arc, in which title character Kamala Khan gets superpowers, and tries to balance them with her life in a Muslim household is a perfect blend of character comedy and drama. Subsequent arcs haven’t quite hit the dizzying heights of those first five issues, but when you open with the best origin story in decades, it must be tough to keep that level of quality going. Mainstream comics were good this year, but none of them were this good.
Daredevil – The other great Marvel series continued to deliver in terms of quality. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (co-credited as ‘storytellers’) absolutely nailed their stories this year which explored post-natal depression amongst other things. The highlight of the year has to be their double issue Purple Children arc, with one of the most terrifying openings in comics. Waid as always feels like a pair of safe hands on a title like this, and Samnee elevates everything to another level.
Southern Bastards – Was there a more shocking issue this year than the fifth issue of Southern Bastards? It’s unlikely. The opening arc of the new series from Jason’s Latour and Aaron (on art and writing respectively) was a masterclass in tension and character building, and the subsequent rug pulling of the fifth issue only showed just how big a tapestry the two were working with on this comic. No longer is this just a comic about Earl Tubb; this is about the South.
East of West – Jonathan Hickman has been exploring alternate histories throughout most of his career, from the time travelling Catholics of Pax Romana, to his bonkers Manhattan Projects. But nothing he has written has been quite as good as East of West. A post-apocalyptic Western, set in a world in which the American Civil War went on for a lot longer, and ended very differently. The hero of the story, if a story like this has heroes, is Death. It’s a sombre, weird and compelling comic, made all the more better with Nick Dragotta on art. His Manga style influences go a long way to making this title an Akira for a new generation.
The Multiversity – I covered both the first issue of Grant Morrison’s magnum opus, and the stunning Watchmen homage Pax Americana in the monthly column. Multiversity is an epic, with each issue acting as a one shot set in a different parallel world. There are homages not only to the aforementioned Alan Moore classic, but to the Avengers. There are essays being written around the intricacies of the issues. Everything is a symbol, everything is part of Morrison’s statement on not only comics, but perhaps the world as well. This is philosophical, mindbending superhero comics as only an insane Scotsman can do.
D4VE – A digital only comic set in a world where the robot uprising has taken place, and our titular robot hero D4VE is a working stiff in an office. He’s got a teenage son who hates him, a wife who hates him, and a boss who hates him. Ryan Ferrier absolutely nails the tone of this comic, with mundane observations about life post-uprising and a brilliantly thought out lexicon (“For Job’s sake D4VE, pull yer dongle outta yer port” is a particular highlight). It does lose its way a little towards the end of the four issues, but when it hits it stands out as one of the funniest comics out there.
Sex Criminals – Sex Criminals sounded like a joke. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky writing and drawing a comic about two people who can stop time when they have sex, and decide to rob banks to save a library. Yeah, sounds fun. Maybe good for one joke, right? Nope. Sex Criminals turned out to be one of the most nuanced and beautiful books being released this year. Taking the premise and running with it is one thing, but taking two broken characters and exploring the post honeymoon period of a relationship elevated the title enormously. Fraction has been very frank in discussion his bouts of depression, and the issues of the comic which address the condition are masterclasses in subtle, intelligent writing.
Deadly Class – Subtle is not a word that Deadly Class has ever heard of, and if it had heard of it, it would have beaten it to a pulp, and written swear words in blood on the wall behind its eviscerated corpse. With a tone reminiscent of The Invisibles, or perhaps even Preacher, Deadly Class focusses on students at a high school for assassins in the 1980’s. Writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig deliver a series that harks back to classic Vertigo titles, with a huge dose of black comedy and a generous helping of gore. The clear highlight of the series so far has to be the bizarre drug fuelled Vegas set issue. Remender can be hit and miss (take a look at his Avengers stuff over at Marvel), but this is a clear winner.
Wonder Woman – Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang redefined the titular Amazon over the course of three excellent years, telling a story involving Gods of all forms (even Jack Kirby’s New Gods got a look in). Not everyone was happy with the big changes to the character, but the series felt, unlike the rest of DC’s output, revitalised, fun and inventive. Wonder Woman rarely resorted to traditional comic book battles, eschewing them in favour of emotional conclusions. Whilst the final issue of the run left things on a bit too much of a false note, the preceding three years worth of material was of such good quality that this is likely to be remembered as one of the defining runs of the character.
Saga – Otherwise known as the comic on everyone’s end of year lists. Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples have crafted a masterful comic in Saga. It’s funny, unique, smart and colourful. Vaughan knows how to craft a decent enough comic, but it’s Fiona Staple’s beautiful art which elevates this comic. Now, 24 issues in, it’s clear that these two known exactly what their doing, and picking up an issue of this each month is like entrusting your time to a pair of very safe hands. A genuine joy of a comic, and one which is likely to bring many new readers to the medium.