This was a spectacular year for comic books, with strong original series being launched all over the map. If you like comic book characters on TV and at the movies, you really need to get your ass down to a comic book store (in person or digitally) and go to the source. Comics are, and always will be, bigger and bolder than the stuff derived from them.
Here’s a celebration of some of the best stuff that came out in 2014: the dreamiest art, the greenest lawyers, the goriest horror, the weirdest multiverse and the biggest hobo treasure.
Best New Superhero: Spider-Gwen
Launched in “Edge of Spider-Verse” #2 as part of a massive crossover involving every Spider-person from every reality, Spider-Gwen is a version of long-dead Spider-Man girlfriend Gwen Stacy in a world where Peter died and she became Spider-Woman. Oozing cool, Spider-Gwen immediately captured the hearts, minds and wallets of fans, and she’ll soon be featured in her own series. A dead girlfriend becoming an awesome hero is one of many signs that Marvel, and comic companies in general, finally give a crap about female readers. Comic books are less of a bro-verse than ever before, with strong sales for excellent female-driven series like “Ms. Marvel,” “Harley Quinn” and “Saga.”
Best Mythological Comic: “Ragnorak”
Walt Simonson—who wrote and illustrated the greatest run on “Thor” ever—returned to Norse mythology this year in the form of the creator-owned “Ragnorak” for IDW. It’s one of the finest comics of his long career, offering a new, post-apocalyptic spin on the myths Simonson loves and has already redefined. Easily one of the ten best comic artists ever, Simonson ain’t done yet, folks.
Best Story About Lawyers by a Lawyer: “She-Hulk” 8-10
Charles Soule, a real-life lawyer, created a superhero story for the ages with “She-Hulk” 8-10, which featured She-Hulk and Daredevil—Marvel’s two lawyer superheroes—meeting in the courtroom for the first time. The case: Captain America is accused in a wrongful death lawsuit. Along the way, we get a look at pre-Cap Steve Rogers that will thrill all fans of the character: it captures his essence perfectly. The crisp, energetic art by Javier Pulido makes the story a poppy pleasure, and Soule takes full advantage of his law background, while not letting legalese dominate the story. This was a goddamn gem.
Most Meta Comic: “The Multiversity”
"The Multiversity" might be the most sprawling, enormous, ridiculous, bananas comic I’ve ever read. Each issue takes place in a different DC universe, as Grant Morrison tells a tale of a multiversal crisis. Heroes pick up clues to the crisis from comic books, which are actual records of other universes. In the spirit of parallel worlds, each issue is #1 and features a different artist. Like most Morrison comics, this is dense and highly readable. In particular, the Frank Quitely-illustrated fourth issue, “Pax Americana,” is remarkable. This Earth is home to the Charlton characters Alan Moore mutated in “Watchmen,” and Morrison and Quitely comment on that story, DC in general and Presidential assassinations in one of the most cinematic comics of the year.
Best Writer: Jason Aaron
One sign of a great writer is the ability to write engrossing work in totally different genres. Jason Aaron passes that test by writing two series that could not be more different, except for their high quality: “Thor” and “Southern Bastards.” His “Thor” run hasn’t missed a beat with the addition of female Thor, and in fact this new Thor fits right into a series that was always about using multiple Thors (young, current and old) to get to the essence of the character. But Aaron’s best accomplishment of 2014 is probably “Southern Bastards,” an Image series set in rural Alabama that has the simplicity of a great tragedy. The southern doom is heightened by Jason Latour’s art, which is ugly in the right way: it captures the pained, worn-out, beaten-down characters and their hopeless situations. “Southern Bastards” was probably the best new series of the year, though a strong late contender to that title is ultra-feminist, mega-entertaining “Bitch Planet.”
Coolest New Comics Medium: Beer bottles
Jason Aaron broke more new ground when he collaborated with artist Tony Moore to create a comic appearing only on the labels of Arcade Brewery’s Festus Rotgut Ale. Beer geekery married to comics geekery? These are glorious times.
Best Artist: Tula Lotay
“Supreme Blue Rose” is dreamy in both senses of the word: it’s surreal and David Lynchian as well as gorgeous and breathtaking. The intriguing story by Warren Ellis involves journalist Diane Dane discovering a strange shift in the fabric of reality. But the highlight of this series is Tula Lotay’s art, which is layered, evocative, and prettier than anything else I’ve seen this year in comics. Lotay’s art uses color and texture to simulate the reality-twisting experience of the characters, as stray marks on the page help convey a warped timeline. Did I mention the gorgeousness of the results? I can’t stop looking at this comic.
Best Team-up Comic: “The Delinquents”
Valiant has a variety of strong superhero and sci-fi titles, but they have been particularly killing it when it comes to humor comics—in particular, the buddy titles “Quantum and Woody” and “Archer and Armstrong.” Both bring together mismatched pairs for oddball adventures. The mayhem is multiplied when all four characters get together in “The Delinquents,” a four-issue mini-series that was one of the year’s funniest comics and probably the all-time best tale of a quest for hobo treasure. Written by James Asmus and Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Kano, “The Delinquents” has more verbal and visual jokes per page than anything else in comics, except maybe “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man.” If only Marvel and DC’s endless, silly, meaningless “event” comics had a fraction of the humor and entertainment value of this story, which is ridiculous in the best sense.
Best Reprint Collection: “The Worst of Eerie Publications”
IDW has been putting out some gorgeous collections of classic comics, but the most stunning is this anthology of horror comics from Eerie Publications, whose lowbrow, knockoff horror comics attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Creepy and Eerie magazines. Though these comics often involved rehashed story lines, slapdash art and no motivation other than making a buck, they are some of the most energetic and unique comics ever. These revolting, bizarre, puerile, dismemberment-happy tales should appeal to anyone with a dark sense of humor and/or taste for gore. “Evil Dead 2” fans need to pick this up. To quote one story, “This will curdle the very bloody core of your nerve centers and leave you limp with wild excitement and ghoulish expectation…” Who wouldn’t want that?
Best Ongoing Comic: “Saga”
I’ve ranted about the greatness of “Saga” enough this year, so let me point out another ongoing comic that is consistently fun, emotional and fresh: “Daredevil.” Mark Waid and Chris Samnee continue one of the best runs in the history of a character that has probably had more great runs than any other superhero. Waid manages to craft classic superhero stories that cut far deeper than usual, like a recent arc in which Daredevil faced the mind-controlling Purple Man—but the real nemesis was depression. Speaking of depression, Chris Samnee’s inventive, expressive art can cure it. No superhero comic this year was better.
Weirdest Comic: “Punks: The Comic”
“Punks: The Comic” is by far the most visually distinctive comic on this list. Kody Chamberlain’s photo collage artwork brings four housemates to life: Dog, Fist, Skull, and Abe Lincoln. Their adventures involve gnome-smashing, crotch-punching, and some very inept womanizing. Joshua Hale Fialkov’s writing makes this one of the funniest comics going, which is actually saying something, thanks to a renaissance in comic book humor. But the art is the real eye-opener and inspiration: it makes me wonder why more comic artists don’t use photo collage methods. If you like weird comics, you’ll also love “God Hates Astronauts.” Ryan Browne’s sci-fi humor comic continues to keep the galaxy safe from boredom, thanks to rogue astronaut farmers and aliens like Admiral Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger.
Best Reinvigoration of a Minor Character and the Single Issue as Art Form: “Moon Knight”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Warren Ellis writes a great series, but he deserves special praise for his run on “Moon Knight”—a series that was both a throwback and huge step forward. These days, there is so much emphasis on cross-overs and trade paperback collections that the idea that a single issue can stand alone is almost lost. Well, Ellis found the art of the single issue, with six issues that are distinctly episodic. The highlight of the series was issue 5, in which artist Declan Shalvey proved he can choreograph violence better than almost everyone in Hollywood. Moon Knight’s rescue mission to the top of a building was reminiscent of the slow, violent journey portrayed in “The Raid: Redemption.” It’s my favorite kind of comic: the kind you want to look at over and over again.