Greetings, 'Rama readers! It's that time of the year again - that's right, when Best Shots selects the best of the year! It's been a big year for comics readers, with big moves like Guardians of the Galaxy, the relaunch of the Batman titles, new Image titles like The Wicked + The Divine, the release of Grant Morrison's Multiversity and the rise of Kamala Khan as the all-new Ms. Marvel. Best Shots has been hard at work, making some agonizing choices over what made the cut - and without further adieu, here comes Laudable Lilith Wood, as she kicks off Best of Best Shots 2014!
Bronze - Tula Lotay (Image Comics/Vertigo): In Supreme Blue Rose and in Bodies, Tula Lotay’s art in 2014 has explored consciousness, memory, and the human struggle to connect and understand. In both books the fluid chalk and grease pencil look of Lotay’s art feels fresh and new. In Supreme Blue Rose she creates multi-layered, patterned scenes to get lost in. We may never find our way out of that story’s maze, but Lotay’s pictures make that book something to treasure. In Bodies her style is cleaner and simpler, with fewer elements to disorient us as she draws a character with an emptier mind. Her work gives the impression that she has an intuitive grasp of how to translate the writers’ intentions, especially in the face of heavy poetic license.
Silver - She-Hulk (Marvel Comics): Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente packed this series with fun, color, and style, making She-Hulk a joy to read. Soule’s excellent dialogue, Pulido’s deceptively simple shapes and dead-on facial expressions, and Vicente’s flat, bright colors all made this team’s interpretation of She-Hulk more fun and funnier than most comics on the shelves. They gave Jen a lot of heart but kept the mood light. This book never took itself too seriously, but always had a core earnestness. Add in an electrifying guest-artist turn by Ron Wimberly, and this series is a phenomenon to get in on if it escaped your attention this year.
Gold - Southern Bastards (Image Comics): Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have hammered something together that isn’t pretty but has more structural, aesthetic, and thematic integrity than anything else I read this year. Southern Bastards is intensely personal to both creators without being self-indulgent. It’s allegorical without being simplistic. It conveys a strong sense of place but feels universal. Southern Bastard unfolds itself to reveal the small town bruises and scars left by football, abuse, war, vendettas, and simmering hatred. So far it has homed in on two older men left with a legacy of violence handed down from their fathers. Without gentleness, with brutal honesty, this book packs the punch of what violence does to people. And still it manages to be weirdly, darkly fun.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Gotham Academy (DC Comics): Three issues in, Gotham Academy has been flying under the radar compared to some of its cousin publications at DC. It’s had less buzz, less controversy and less praise than a lot of new books but I think it might be a sleeper. The creepy boarding school setting does have the dour, gritty vibe that the new Batgirl team has moved away from. But at the heart of the story, the troubles of Olive Silverlock are deftly handled by writers Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher. Artist Karl Kerschl gives us some of the best facial expressions of believable kids. Maps, Olive and Pommeline are developing into nuanced characters. Something good is blooming there in gloomy Gotham.
Bronze - Black Widow (Marvel Comics): Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto's title kicked off in January as a prominent title of Marvel's "All-New Marvel NOW!" initiative. Carrying a similar off-duty superhero feel to Hawkeye, Edmondson presented Natasha as a person who is far more than her job (S.H.I.E.L.D.) or peer group (the Avengers). Nat is often the strong but silent team member, whether as a tactician, reticent field leader, or invisible assassin. Edmondson, through well-paced narration boxes, gives Nat room to emote and process far more than we see in Avengers titles. Noto's watercolor-like illustrations turn frenetic fight scenes into impressive visual experiments. Edmondson and Noto clinched one of the better characterizations among solo leads this past year.
Silver - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): Months before G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona's title launched, its anticipation had reached mainstream media outlets. Marvel's first Muslim, female, Pakistani American superhero in a starring role was introduced as a Peter Parker for today's generation: a smart teen who simultaneously envies and disdains those at the top of her school's social ladder, wrestles with cultural and parental issues, and is figuring out her abilities. Kamala is supported, but never outshined, by fun characters like Bruno and Nakia. Alphona uses the same wispy, razor-thin penciling style that made Runaways such a unique artistic treat. Ms. Marvel embodies the insecurities, ingenuity, and idealism of the teen years. Wilson is writing a character whom readers want to grow up with.
Gold - Batgirl (DC Comics): The new project of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Maris Wicks made quite a splash even before its debut; some spurned it with a vehemence usually reserved for Taylor Swift songs. Batgirl #35 hit with a resounding, unapologetic presence: Barbara Gordon is in a different context, with new acquaintances, a new educational environment, and fresh challenges dividing her time and attention. Before making serious mistakes with their third issue, the creative team established a realistic world for Barbara, including roommate Frankie and colleagues Nadimah and Qadir. Deservedly, Barbara is being introduced to a whole new generation of comics readers: one comic shop tweeted that their Batgirl sales are nearly five times higher than before the new creative team.
Item to Watch in 2015 - X-Men (Marvel Comics): Unlike its more high-profile cousins All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, adjectiveless X-Men has flown under the radar with mixed success. It will start 2015 with a much-needed boost in a new writer: G. Willow Wilson. Wilson's four issues starting with #23 will explore four X-Men in turn - Storm, Psylocke, Monet and Rachel Grey. Psylocke has been overlooked in recent years from receiving deeper character development - no, playing second fiddle to Cable or Fantomex's plotlines doesn't count - so an issue giving her focus is long overdue. Monet needs characterization as more than team bruiser. Readers of Ms. Marvel already know Wilson excels at crafting a story that lets one character test her limits. The most mature X-Men title is ripe for some compelling direction, and we're excited for Wilson to deliver it.
Justin Partridge, III:
Bronze - Charles Soule (Marvel Comics/DC Comics/Oni Press): After establishing himself with consistently solid work for DC in 2013 with titles like Red Lanterns and his continued work on Swamp Thing, 2014 found Charles Soule becoming one of Marvel's most critically acclaimed new additions. With smaller character driven titles like She-Hulk and big, weird epics like Inhuman, Soule showed that he was a writer capable of handling all manners of graphic storytelling. She-Hulk is most likely going to be a title you will popping up a few times on this year's list, and we have Charles Soule to thank for that. Soule also spun straw into oddly engaging gold with this year's Death of Wolverine, which sent everyone's favorite Canuck out with an emotional bang. Anyone that can make Marvel's most overused mutant feel fresh and new deserves at least some recognition.
Silver: Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): It is almost impossible to talk about Ms. Marvel without devolving into high pitched squeals. G. Willow Wilson's Kamala Kahn has done more than capture the hearts of readers and critics alike. They have both given a whole new generation of comic fans their very own Peter Parker-like character to rally behind. If you want proof, just search the "Kamala Korps" tag on Tumblr to see the tons of fan art and picture sets dedicated to the newest Marvel heroine. 2013 was Carol's year, deservedly so, but this year has been all about Kamala and the world of comicdom is all the better for it.
Gold - Velvet (Image Comics): Image Comics was an embarrassment of riches this year. Taking on this list this year was a bit daunting just because of Image Comics' 2014 output. I mean, in a year that gave us Southern Bastards, Lazarus, and dozens of others, how do you pick just one? Well after reading all the issues available of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Velvet, the choice starts to make itself a bit more obvious. 2014 was a year all about female protagonists along with a huge groundswell of female readership. Velvet is the perfect book to crystallize that movement. Not only was the book a masterclass in tense storytelling, but it is also about a woman systematically dismantling the idea of who she is suppose to be in the super spy world around her. Velvet is a book that presents us a Moneypenny like character and reveals that she is one thousand percent more capable than a dozen James Bonds. I couldn't think of a better book for 2014.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Telltale Games: I wept at the end of Telltale's The Walking Dead Season One. I have no problem admitting that to you guys mainly because it was a near perfect adaptation of Robert Kirkman's zombie epic. I would even be so bold to put it above the middling television adaptation because The Walking Dead carries no erroneous narrative distractions. It is the very definition of all killer, no filler. Telltale Games continued the streak with another blockbuster season of The Walking Dead and a heart wrenching adaptation of Bill Willingham's Fables, entitled The Wolf Among Us. While their output lately has skewed more toward the video game and television worlds, with the first episodes of Tales from the Borderlands and Games of Thrones hitting digital stores, I wouldn't be surprised if 2015 found Telltale Games offering more engaging and emotional comic adaptations to an eager fan base.
Bronze - Stjepan Sejic (Image Comics/Top Cow Productions): Known for his work with Image’s Top Cow imprint, Stjepan Sejic stood out this year with Death Vigil debuting in July, the second volume of his fantasy series Ravine out in October, and his webcomic Sunstone released as a graphic novel in December—all of which showcased his ability to create expressive features, breathtaking fantasy settings, and diverse characterizations. With his announcement as Rat Queens' new artist next year, Sejic’s repertoire of work (and his Rat Queens fan art) proves that he’s the ideal to take on Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty in lieu of Roc Upchurch’s departure, and 2015 will see his work starting with Rat Queens #9 in February. With Sejic joining Kurtis Wiebe, the future of Rat Queens is in deft hands.?
Silver - Rasputin (Image Comics): If you read my reviews of the first two issues, you might’ve gotten the hint that I’m already obsessed. Seriously, Rasputin is a beautiful book. Only three issues in, Alex Grecian’s new series has already proven that it is methodically and masterfully structured as each issue gracefully crescendos through each moment of the historic Rasputin’s assassination while juxtaposed with his fictional past. Grecian continues to reveal just how much innovation he has put into building his own take on the legend, combining history with mythology to recreate a familiar story in a way we’ve never seen. Combined with Rossmo’s pencils and FCO Plascencia’s colors, Rasputin is a truly collaborative and cohesive work of art. Each issue is intentional and meticulous in the grand scheme, and the trade will undoubtedly deliver the full impact of this team’s vision.
Gold - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): With its first issue at its seventh printing, its trade topping sales charts, and the rising Kamala Korps, Ms. Marvel was a huge success for "All-New Marvel Now." G. Willow Wilson introduced us to an endearing and courageous new hero with Kamala Khan, who broke barriers as Marvel’s first Muslim hero to lead her own series. Equally embracing all facets of Kamala’s relatable identity, Ms. Marvel had Kamala simultaneously tackle teenage struggles and superheroics, so that as we learned who she was as a person, Kamala learned who she was as a hero. In less than a year Kamala established a strong presence in the Marvel universe, showing that she always seeks to do the greatest good she can. That, with her supreme charm, makes her the best person to have taken the Ms. Marvel mantle.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Bitch Planet (Image Comics): Bitch Planet #1 was a stellar debut for Kelly Sue DeConnick and Image Comics. Along with Bitch Planet’s announcement came the intention to approach exploitation tropes without being exploitative, to deliver a strong message without being academic, and to embrace the women-in-prison genre to create a kick-ass comic—all amounting to a daunting task in which DeConnick delivered in spades while clearly and unapologetically driving home her theme. With Valentine De Landro and Chris Peter’s popping pages, Danielle Henderson’s essay, and Laurenn McCubbin’s backmatter design, Bitch Planet #1 was stunning and powerful from cover to cover and one of the strongest series debuts this year.
Forrest C. Helvie:
Bronze - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): Hats off to editor Sana Amanat for bringing G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona together, as the adventures of Kamala Khan have proven to be one of the most exciting and inspirational new superhero comics to come out in years. This comic represents everything the genre needs in terms of telling familiar and well-loved hero-stories while placing new voices behind the narrative. Moreover, the visuals of this comic demonstrate superhero storytelling no longer needs to rely on stereotypical depictions to inspire its readers. In many regards, this comic has a very similar feel to another unlikely superhero who emerged from the efforts of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, and like Spider-Man, the new Ms. Marvel is providing to be a truly Marvel-ous addition to the House of Ideas.
Silver - Mark Doyle (DC Comics): Editor Mark Doyle has gone on record saying that there is a Bat-book for everyone, and given the wide array of comics he’s helped introduce to the world of Gotham, he may just be onto something as audiences other than the conventional adult male comic book reader finally begin to see stories that suit their interests. Although sales have been modest for some series and a few missteps occurred, one cannot help but notice the immediate and overall positive impact Doyle has had as the new Bat-group editor at DC. Perhaps this is something the publishers should take note of for their other lines as well.
Gold - Image Comics: With the number of critically-acclaimed hits coming out of Image Comics this year, it was hard to narrow the field to just one title - and that’s not to mention the quantity of regular ongoing series that seem to get better and better. Favorites of 2014 have included newcomers such as Southern Bastards, Rat Queens, Sex Criminals, Wytches, as well as a wide range of veteran series such as Saga, Lazarus, Mice Templar, Fatale and Five Ghosts. I think it’s safe to say we’ve now entered the age of “The Big Three,” and given the diversity in Image’s catalog, it’s a welcome change. For 2014, Make Mine Image.
Item to Watch in 2015 - 01: First Second: 2014 proved to be a phenomenal year for independent publisher, 01: First Second. Although many mainstream comics reader may be less familiar with their line of works, this MacMillan imprint has accrued an impressive array of critically-acclaimed publications with National Book Award Finalist Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints diptych (not to mention his stellar superhero graphic novel, The Shadow Hero) as well as the young adult summer novel This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. Moreover, 01: First Second will be kicking 2015 with a splash thanks to the long-awaited graphic novel The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. For readers who want to know what the comics medium can do would do well to pick up something from this ever-exciting publisher.
Bronze - James Tynion IV (DC Comics/BOOM! Studios/Marvel Comics): James Tynion may have picked up his momentum with Batman: Eternal, but it’s what he’s done with it that really counts. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I’m always excited for seeing myself and community represented in mainstream comics. Between Cullen in Batman: Eternal, the fantastic characters in The Woods, the main character of Memetic Aaron, or even in his recent Amazing X-Men one-off, featuring Anole and his struggles with his looks. He tackles real issues facing this community in character-driven stories that help everyone understand. With his track record, it’s clear he’s as devoted to diversity in comics and it’s inspiring to have seen him do more and more as the year went on.
Silver - Injustice: Gods Among Us (DC Comics): Three words: suspension of disbelief. As someone who will defend Superman’s no killing rule to the death, I will equally defend Injustice. Back in 2013, Tom Taylor made it believable that Superman would do this; in 2014, with Years Two and Three, Taylor continued to amaze at the twists and turns this story would take and how organic and believable it all is. He’s crafted a character-driven story, which makes it easy for us to understand each characters’ motivations for their actions and makes it that much more exciting. Each time it looks like Superman’s won, Taylor pulls another corner of the DC Universe into the fray, whether that be the Lantern Corps or magic with the likes of John Constantine, Etrigan, and the Spectre to make it that much more exciting.
Gold - Lumberjanes (BOOM! Studios): There is no better example in all of comics this year - probably longer - of what happens when people who aren’t straight, white, cisgender men create comics: a fantastic, near flawless series that features one of the most diverse casts of characters right now. Shannon Watters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and the entire creative team consistently go above and beyond expectations with each issue. For BOOM!, the largest independent comic book company, to take risks like having a webcomic creator take the reins and changing from a limited series to an ongoing is indicative of the shift mainstream comics is experiencing. It means that the traditional audience of mainstream comics is evolving and Lumberjanes showcases the very best this industry has to offer.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Archie Comics: This year was big for Archie as they celebrated the continued success of Afterlife with Archie, the introduction of Harper, a woman of color with a disability, in the main Archie book, and the rebranding of Red Circle Comics to Dark Circle Comics. If that’s any indication, 2015 promises to be even bigger and better as they set themselves up to be a powerhouse in the industry with endless possibilities. To have the first patriotic superhero reimagined as a female Shield and Fiona Staples working on the main Archie series, along with everything else the company has done and is doing, is indicative of how universal Archie is to each generation. There’s a reason why the Archie gang is so iconic, and it’s nothing short of inspiring to see all the changes they have in store for us in 2015.
Bronze - She-Hulk (Marvel Comics): At first glance, the latest She-Hulk series may seem out of place with its soft pallet covers, sharp angels and half the time she is in a business suit - this is a super hero book right? Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s take on the green giantess is demonstrative of the fresh direction Marvel is taking with some of their mid-tier characters like Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight and Hawkeye. The title has felt like something from the indie rack with Pulido’s minimal brush strokes, wide faces and one-tone coloring. The series focuses on Jennifer Walters' struggling law career and mix’s in the campier elements of her past to create a really unique readering experience that doesn’t bog the reader down with world-ending-dread. To put it plainly: it's fun. This take of Shulkie, out of step with the mainstream books, is the kind of thing that builds a strong fan following and demonstrates the best of what comics can be when thinking outside the box.
Silver - Batgirl (DC Comics): There have been very few titles this year that managed to be both a refreshing retooling of an iconic character and socially polarizing at the same time. Since the announcement, the character’s costume redesign is affecting super hero comics across the board and garnering praise from an audience that wants something more realistic and fashion forward than the typical spandex-fare. The new, hipper, Barbara was an instant fan favorite for the young’ns and off-putting to the older guard of fandom. The creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Flectcher and Babs Tarr has been coming together perfectly on the page. Love or hate her, Batgirl made a comeback in 2014.
Gold - DC Entertainment Television - (DC Comics): This was the year that DC Comic properties went into overdrive! It all kicked off this year at Comic-Con International: San Diego and the announcements kept coming. Sure, Arrow has been on before this year, but with the showdown with Deathstroke and the start of season 3, even the fan-favorite archer took it up a notch in 2014. CW’s Flash was a success out of the gate boosting the top spots in desired demographics. Constantine has garnered positive reviews and Gotham is a polarizing hit in its own right. These shows have opened up the door for several other DC properties to make the leap to the silver screen like Teen Titans and Supergirl. For years, Marvel has dominated at the movie theaters and everyone asked when it would be DC’s turn. Well, here it is - and the revolution was televised.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Multiversity (DC Comics): Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is the title to watch in 2015, not so much that it will be the next big thing, but more because you have to keep your eye on it. There is no telling what direction this series and it’s off shoots are going to take! We have already gotten issues featuring a Captain Marvel Family resembling the Fawcett Comics origins, a pulp story with a gun toting Doctor Fate and something along the lines of a super hero gossip mag. With the brewing period on this piece being years, it could wind up being Morrison’s grand opus for the DC Universe (or super hero books in general). The series has been so varied and unique, they are worth checking out every month and continues to be the incalculable factor in mainstream comics.
Bronze - All-New Ghost Rider (Marvel Comics): I may or may not have shed a tear when I heard this title was ending with its twelfth issue. Its original creative team of Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore created what are, in my humble opinion, some of the most interesting and visually stunning panels of the year, showcasing striking line and color work plus character development. The story still impresses after Damion Scott took over for art, with aspects that appeal to both young adult and mature readers. I’m keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that Robbie and his crew don’t disappear into the Abyss of Forgotten Marvel Characters in 2015, since the new Ghost Rider still has a lot of work to do.
Silver - Guardians of the Galaxy (and Friends) (Marvel Comics): Absolutely no one is surprised to see this group make the list given its incredible surge in popularity, courtesy of its summer blockbuster. Old and new fans alike are glad to see that the team now makes appearances in a number of Marvel books (e.g., All-New X-Men) outside of its own ongoing title. Better yet, the Guardians hype generated a spinoff that happens to be one of my favorite reads of 2014: Rocket Raccoon. Skottie Young’s work has proven consistently solid over the course of six issues and continues to serve as a perfect entry point for new comic book readers jumping on the bandwagon after watching the movie.
Gold - The Women of Marvel Comics: We saw nine ladies lead their own books in 2014, including the entirely new (and rightfully praised) Kamala Khan. A woman now holds the mantle of the mighty Thor, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s revamped Captain Marvel series is faring well, Storm is kicking international butt and all is right with the world. On top these female-centric titles, we’ve also been treated to a growing number of women creators, with writers like G. Willow Wilson and artists like Noelle Stevenson joining the Marvel fold. Shoot, we can even enjoy a dedicated Women of Marvel podcast now, a series that debuted this past July. Marvel is definitely making strides to expand its readership, and those efforts are much appreciated.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Crowdfunding Platforms: No one has forgotten about the John Campbell Kickstarter fiasco, in which the fruits of his labor literally went up in flames. Backing a project is always a gamble, but in the world of comics it can also be a rare opportunity to get some great new reading material while supporting creators whose works may have otherwise never seen the light of day. Success stories like Hamish Steele’s Pantheon graphic novel in February are encouraging in an industry that has proven so notoriously difficult to break into. I’m especially excited about the potential of The Bureau of Infernal Affairs, the brainchild of industry vets Brian Clevinger and Lee Black, with art by soon-to-be Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson.
Bronze - Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (First Second): Biography comics are usually cheap one-and-dones that give the reader a small account of somebody's life and more than often not, poor research was involved. Here, though, Box Brown gives us a notable bio-comic that allows the reader a better look at one of the most recognizable figures of the twentieth century: Andre Roussimoff, a.k.a. Andre the Giant. Brown incorporates anecdotes from the likes of Hulk Hogan and Andre's The Princess Bride co-stars, as well as personal records into an incredible OGN that wrestling fans, as well as pop culture fanatics, should not go without. It's insightful, entertaining, and a solid read.
Silver - Southern Bastards (Image Comics): In this Southern-fried noir story, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour craft one of the most unforgettable series of the year, and a shoo-in for "Best New Series" when awards season comes around. Earl Tubb is a no-nonsense man with a troubled past that comes back home to his rural Alabama town where the religion is BBQ and high school football in search of closure, but finding nothing of the sort. It's a crime series with southern roots that aren't explored often in comics, and gives us some of the most dramatic and memorable imagery of the year. Harder boiled than deviled eggs and grittier than steel-cut grits, Southern Bastards adds just the right bit of heat and leaves you wanting more.
Gold - She-Hulk (Marvel Comics): Shulkie hasn't had the best of luck with ongoing series since her sensational debut decades ago (and of course with the current one ending soon as well, just adds to it). I could not think of a more Marvel Marvel book than She-Hulk this year. From fighting giant-sized Doombots in Latveria to using offbrand Pym particles to solve a case, She-Hulk gave fans something to really hold on to as a book that can be entertaining without A) being involved in mega-crossovers, B) having an atypical series of artists on superhero books and C) just be plain fun all-around. Charles Soule and his team of artists Javier Pulido, Ron Wimberly, and fantastic covers by the ever glamorous Kevin Wada, made the book for Marvel to beat by giving Jennifer Walters a platform to do her thing, and boy was it just the best.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Spider-Gwen: It was the costume that launched a hundred cosplays in under a week. You know the best part of Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman, aka Spider-Gwen is? We know so little about her, that this series could go almost anywhere. From her debut back in the Edge of Spider-Verse #2, we've only seen a glimpse of Gwen's life here: a member of a rock band, the Peter Parker of her world died at the hand of a villain, and that J. Jonah Jameson is still out to get her - some things don't change. But at the heart of Spider-Gwen's appeal is not just his fashion-forward design, but her lack of prior continuity to hold her back. Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi are the Fabulous Freebirds of comics and ready to take on the challenge of essentially world-building... but using bits and pieces of the Marvel Universe mythos. Rodriguez already stated that they're treating the book like a creator-owned, so hopefully the hype behind this book can deliver.
Bronze - DC Digital (DC Comics): It might be a bit of a cop-out to include an entire lines of books on a Best Of list. However, that doesn't change the fact that DC Digital is where most of DC's superhero fun is happening. Through all of 2014, DC Digital was the place where old-school fans could find their beloved continuity still intact. At least when it came to stories like Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond. For those that felt like the New 52 left their heroes behind, titles like Legends of the Dark Knight and Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman feel like a breath of fresh air. But going beyond the pull of nostalgia, DC Digital reads as close to creator-owned titles as corporate owned heroes can get. Through all of 2014, DC Digital has been the imprint where writers, artists, inkers and colorists tap into the very joy that once inspired them to tell stories in four-color fashion.
Silver - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): When Marvel first announced the new Ms. Marvel book with young Kamala Khan under the mask, the comics public did what it does best; It argued. Some felt this was nothing but a PR stunt, while others proclaimed this was finally a true step toward representation in comics. And both were right, but better still, for readers and Marvel was this was a book with real heart, action, and repercussions. G. Willow Wilson wrote a Kamala that immediately bonded with readers from all walks of life. Her desire to do good with the powers fate dropped on her, while attempting to find a balance with society and tradition reflected our own cultural sensibilities. Thankfully, Ms. Marvel rose above it's own buzz and pundits' talking points. In a few short months, Ms. Marvel became one of the few superhero books that both entertained and inspired; something most capes and cowls seemed to forget in 2014.
Gold - Southern Bastards (Image Comics): While I was a latecomer to this comic, it is, without a doubt, the number one with a bullet. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's tale of a haunted man coming back to his home county is both heartfelt and horrifying. At it's core, Southern Bastards is a glorious callback to gritty country crime stories of the 1970s. It's a stunning testament to Aaron's characterization and Latour's harsh lines that this comic connects with the reader almost immediately. Indeed, there are many times where you almost forget that a large bulk of the series involves the main character talking, essentially, to himself while leaving voice mails or simply stuck within his mind. There is a sense of the familiar in Southern Bastards, a familiarity that strikes at the heart of anyone that has ever looked back at their past with disdain, only to feel the tug of guilt and love. It's not an easy read, but one that deserves all its hard-won praise.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Action Lab: Still a relatively small publisher in an already packed environment, Action Lab spent most of 2014 building a solid foundation. As 2015 starts, Action Lab has a list of titles that look poised to impress readers of all tastes. Those craving classic Steve Ditko-style heroics with modern pacing, Midnight Tiger is there. If you're trying to find an all-ages title that both inspires and entertains, Molly Danger and Princeless will be back. Running the gamut from tongue-in-cheek horror, to age appropriate slice of high school life, Action Lab has the titles that fans claim they're looking for. It's been a long time since a publisher has had the potential to make a strong impact with such a wide variety of titles. If the last quarter of 2014 is any indicator, 2015 will be the year when Action Lab truly steps up and plays for the big leagues.
Bronze - Edge of the Spider-Verse: Spider-Gwen (Marvel Comics): It is few and far between when a new comic character inspires cosplay across the con-circuit before her premier issue even hits comic shop shelves. But as soon as images of Robbi Rodriguez's Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman were released, comic fandom latched on and celebrated the delightfully functional and irresistibly distinctive new design. Then, once Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 was released, Jason Latour sealed the deal by giving the character an unmistakably distinct voice and tenacious authenticity. Also, she's the drummer in an all-girl band which is just really cool. Marvel answered the call of all those enamored with this alternate Spider timeline, and Spider-Gwen will star in her own series starting in February of 2015.
Silver - The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics): Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are masters at capturing the many shades of youth. Phonogram and Young Avengers are testaments to that, and The Wicked + The Divine is the supremely-refined culmination of those previous creative endeavors. The Wicked + The Divine sings that signature youthful spirit at the top of its lungs as an indulgent homage to pop music and the cult of celebrity. McKelvie’s crisp, stylish character designs and clean panel flow, colored by Matt Wilson make every single issue visually electric. Gillen’s mysterious tale of reincarnated gods is as captivating as it is entertaining. The Wicked + The Divine are worthy of your worship, especially Lucifer.
Gold - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): How can you not be charmed by a newbie superhero taking a selfie with Wolverine? To all of a sudden get super powers and still be so perfectly down to Earth is what makes Kamala Khan irresistibly endearing. That and G. Willow Wilson does an exceptional job of balancing the dynamic with her friends and family, and her burgeoning world of heroes and villains making this character entirely relatable. It’s been a pleasure to watch Kamala evolve. Ms. Marvel is a story of self-discovery full of heart, humor and Inhumanity which is sure to raise the stakes in future issues. Ms. Marvel stands as one of the most delightful additions to Marvel’s superhero line-up.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Bitch Planet (Image Comics): December saw the release of Bitch Planet #1, and it came out of the gate swinging. This book was “Born Big,” starting a movement celebrating feminism and non-conformity. The mantra (and hash tag) of non-compliance gives a strident middle finger to the status quo, not just in comics, but in general. Bitch Planet is the answer to the comic blogosphere’s progressive call-to-action. They wanted something diverse. They wanted something counter-culture. They wanted to see themselves reflected in the panels of the comics they love. Bitch Planet does that, cleverly, organically and unabashed through its well-paced plot, impressive characters and irreverent spirit. Kelly Sue DeConnick has thrown the gauntlet down with Bitch Planet, and I smell Eisner all over this.
Bronze - Representation in Comics: To steal a feeling from Legend of Korra creator Bryan Konietzko, was 2014 a slam dunk year for minority representation in comics? No, but it is hopefully a significant inching forward. While we definitely saw some characters and creators take a step backwards (here’s looking at you, Batwoman), we also saw strong debuts from Ms. Marvel, Black Widow and She-Hulk. We’ve seen a rise in prominent female creators including Kate Leth, G. Willow Wilson, Annie Wu and Babs Tarr. We’ve seen more queer and racial minority representation in the form of Mighty Avengers, All-New Captain America and the end of Young Avengers. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a sea change in the comics industry that can only lead to better and more varied stories.
Silver - Supergirl: Red Daughter of Krypton (DC Comics): I’m just as surprised to be writing this as you are to be reading it. Supergirl had remained a fairly enjoyable sleeper read up until this arc, but this crossover with Red Lanterns pushed it over the edge. Similarly, Charles Soule had saved that title from the brink of extinction with his exceptional understanding of Guy Gardner but introducing a character that forced Guy to mature even further help flesh out the emotional arc of that title. The “Red Daughter of Krypton” arc allowed two characters that don’t interact often to really learn from each other and it made readers realize that you could crossover two seemingly very different books with great success. The crossover gave both books a great foundation for more stories moving forward that can further explore how Guy and Kara find their place in a world that makes them feel somewhat redundant. That’s the mark of good storytelling and this crossover proved to be one of the most satisfying arcs of 2014.
Gold - The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics): Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s deification of pop music takes an interesting turn with the aptly titled The Wicked + The Divine and it’s made for one of the best titles of the year. High concept with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Gillen and McKelvie explore youth, death and the inevitability of everything in an incredibly well put together book that’s rife with symbolism and pop culture references. While other books are chided for trying to appeal to a younger audience, The Wicked + The Divine is never pandering because it has a distinct understanding of its readership and it’s that connection that makes it so much more fun. The Wicked + The Divine is more than just a comic book. It’s a Spotify playlist. A Tumblr. That feeling you get when the song you need comes on random while you’re walking home alone while simultaneously being the song you scream along to in basements drunk with your best friends. It’s contagious and far reaching. It’s the the moment you think, to quote a resurgent Pennsylvania songsmith, “I hope when I die, I feel this alive.”
Item to Watch in 2015 - Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Image Comics): I always seem to be looking forward to books that are delayed forever. I’m truly hoping that 2015 is the year that we see more of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s “music as magic” comic book masterpiece. Obviously, the duo is hard at work on The Wicked + The Divine but if there’s ever a layoff, maybe we’ll get to see volume three of Phonogram. Gillen has said that they felt like there was some unfinished business with that cast of characters so here’s hoping that 2015 is the year that we get back into their world. One more time.
Bronze - Sex Criminals (Image Comics): 2014 was a banner year at Image. With a murderer's row of talent boarding their ship, and a slate of titles stronger than any other individual publisher, it's hard to pick just one that stands out. But Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals, with its subversive, sex-positive attitude, light sci-fi bent, and downright filthy sense of humor hit all the right notes to stand out as one of the year's biggest surprises and most consistent pleasures. Fraction's tale of John and Suzy has explored themes of sex, depression, and adolescence better than most stories in any media, and brought Zdarsky into the spotlight as one of the most disarmingly charming weirdos in comics. Sex Criminals may have been the defining comic of 2014.
Silver - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): Ms. Marvel deserves a place of honor if for no reason than its function as a proof of concept that millennial theories of entertainment can add up to great success. But beyond that, it's also just a great, fun, easily digested superhero comic. After generating controversy surrounding its new heroine, a Pakistani-American Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel had a lot to prove. But by firmly establishing Kamala as a true nerd's nerd - fan fiction and Avengers action figures intact - G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona gave us a better Peter Parker than Peter Parker has been in years. It’s no surprise Ms. Marvel has become the go-to comic of the Tumblr set, with Marvel’s biggest digital sales numbers to back it up.
Gold - Women In Comics: There's a certain minority of internet denizens who will groan at even having to read this, but 2014 was, unquestionably, the year of women in comics. This year saw the conversation about comics and female readers and creators jump off in a major way - and it's mostly positive. With more female-led comics from the Big Two than at any point in history, and a slate of independent titles making huge waves, it's easy to feel that the net gain for women in the industry vastly outweighed things like the "fake geek girl" strawman, itself an important conversation about inclusivity for all fans. There’s a long road before we don’t have to talk about this, but 2014 got us moving in a huge way.
What to Watch in 2015 - Star Wars (Marvel Comics): With Marvel reclaiming the Star Wars comic license and pushing a slate of new titles by major creators just in time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's hard to imagine a better time to be a Star Wars fan - or at least a Star Wars fan who is open to new material. Though the Episode VII teaser was trivially divisive, with that weird lightsaber drawing most of the ire, the return to practical effects, and the open canvas of the post-Rebellion era are huge milestones for the franchise. And with Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, and Mark Waid helming new titles with art from John Cassaday, Salvador Larrocca, and Terry Dodson, it's an exciting time for fans of the comics as well. Don't call it a comeback...
David Pepose, Best Shots Captain:
Bronze - Nailbiter (Image Comics): Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson have created a creepy, fast-paced horror story that has cemented them as the next big thing of 2014. Featuring the serial killer mecca of Buckaroo, Oregon, Williamson and Henderson have created not just one new Hannibal Lecter, but a whole breeding ground of them. But perhaps most surprising about Nailbiter isn't just its creepiness or the sheer skill of the creators involved, but its longevity - this series could have been done in a single arc, but Williamson has found more ways to prolong the horror, taking detours to follow supporting characters (as well as a darkly comic tale featuring Portland resident Brian Michael Bendis). Definitely one of the best new books of 2014.
Silver - Moon Knight (Marvel Comics): Who would have thought that 2014 was the year of Moon Knight? Warren Ellis's hyper-condensed, done-in-one high-concept thrillers were unlike any other book on the stands, and to make things even better, Moon Knight was the showcase for Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire to come into their own as one of the most visceral art teams in comics. With Marc Spector subtly changing costumes to reflect his multiple roles as the Avatar of Khonshu, Ellis pitted him against ghost punks, telepathic spore chambers, disgruntled snipers and juiced-up cyborgs. Perhaps the best issue of the run? Declan Shalvey's brutal fight choreography, as Marc takes apart an entire building's worth of thugs, floor by floor. Six issues just wasn't enough time for this off-kilter and hard-hitting relaunch.
Gold - Multiversity (DC Comics): The king of capes has returned - all hail Grant Morrison. After years developing this epic, Morrison finally revealed Multiversity to the world, teaming up with a murderer's row of artistic talent to show the myriad parallel universes in the DC Comics pantheon. Kicking off with a rollicking pulp-influenced adventure with Chris Sprouse on Society of Super-Heroes, Morrison showed off a true return to form with the old-school superheroics of Thunderworld with Cameron Stewart and the mind-blowing, Watchmen-influenced Pax Americana, a dense, heady read with Frank Quitely that was a clear shoo-in for best single issue of the year. Like Morrison's earlier Seven Soldiers but even more compressed, Multiversity showed off the power behind DC Comics' most overlooked characters.
Item to Watch in 2015 - Marvel Studios: Marvel Studios broke the Internet in 2014, not only taking the world by storm with Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, but by announcing a flood of star-studded new movies and television series all set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2014, we learned Civil War and Infinity War will be live-action realities, and big names like Chadwick Boseman and Benedict Cumberbatch were enlisted to play key characters Black Panther and Doctor Strange. Marvel Studios' influence on the small screen has also been felt, with Marvel Television's partnership with Netflix unfolding in 2015, featuring Charlie Cox as Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage. With Avengers: Age of Ultron looking to one-up its billion-dollar predecessor, as well as Ant-Man potentially filling in more backstory in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, keep your eye out on Marvel Studios - if nothing else, to see how they can possibly top this stellar 2014.