Friday, December 26, 2014

Top 10 Comics of 2014

Hello comics, my old friends...

If pressed, I'm sure both of my long-time readers out there will no doubt attest to the fact that I have a slight affinity towards comic books. In fact, you shouldn't be surprised if you hear it said that I am somewhat partial to the things. I'm so partial, in fact, that for the past few years or so, I've made a couple of ordered lists detailing exactly which ones I liked the most. Don't believe me? Click here. Click here. And click here too. See? Like I said... nothing but total love. Another thing I love is arbitrarily adhering to random traditions.

So with that in mind, prepare yourself for...

My Top Ten Favorite Comics of 2014

10. Afterlife with Archie

I know. This is crazy, right? An Archie book on my list? An Archie book? And it's an Archie book with zombies even? Come on, Jon! That's probably what you're saying. Well, believe me, I know. I know. How much more gimmicky and lame could a comic be, right? I mean, "Archie, but with zombies"...? Talk about cashing on a zeitgeist that's well past its time. Or at least, that's what I was thinking. Which is why I avoided this book. But... then you start to hear things. You hear that it's an actual horror comic, and that main characters die quickly and often really ugly. You hear that Riverdale burns, and that Sabrina the Teenage Witch is forced to marry Cthulu... crazy stuff. It piqued my interest. So I picked up the recent trade, and you know what? It's great. Seriously. It's actually pretty great. A small accident leads to a bad decision and some dark magic, which leads to... of course... zombie outbreak. Shit gets real, folks. Atmospheric. Bloody. Character driven. And yet, it still retains that innocent Archie feeling. Even more interesting, that classic Archie stuff, those out-dated 50s era tropes that define each and every character down to a single dimension? It all ends up enhancing the horror. Seriously, people, it works. It's good. Get the trade. It's worth it.

9. Black Science

I'm not a big fan of Rick Remender's Marvel stuff. I don't know, it often feels like there's too many "epic" moments and not enough "character" moments, y'know? Whatever. The point is, it's not my thing. However, I'm totally digging his Image stuff, and this comic in particular. This is the story of a scientist, his family, and his research team, lost in the multiverse, as they struggle to get home again (You'll notice a lot of Multiverse story lines in this year's list. What can I say? I've always been a sucker for Alternate Universes). I've talked about this comic before actually, right here, in fact. Well, the same shit I said there still applies here. And since then, the comic has just gotten better, widening its scope out through the weird and varied dimensions, adding alternative versions of characters, some dead, some alive, and showcasing a lot of strange creatures and even stranger vistas, as the characters try, not just to make it home, but to survive. Some do. Some don't. You've got to love a book where characters can and will die. Adding real danger is always a plus. Also, the art and color palette are really incredible. This book is a modern version of the pulpiest of classic pulp sci-fi, and I love it. If that sounds good to you, then you should definitely pick this up.

8. Ms. Marvel

There are many, many reasons people cheer on this book. The main character is female. The main character is Pakistani-American. The main character is Muslim. On and on and on. And it definitely deserves these accolades, I mean, it's a progressive book, something the industry sorely needs. But you know what? Without a good story, all that shit is just window dressing. Luckily, writer and co-creator G. Willow Wilson is more than capable of delivering the goods. Main character Kamala Khan is likable, relatable, funny, and awkward. She seems real. A big-time geek, her sudden polymorphic abilities are all she's ever wished for, but her new double life keeps causing unexpected problems between her and her family and friends, and of course, since she has to keep her powers a secret, she ends up having to lie to her loved one, which just leads to more problems. She's basically the new Peter Parker for the 21st Century, and it's great. This comic is still really new, still establishing itself when it comes to Kamala, her cast, her villains, and all that, but so far, so good. It's a fun book, and if she's given half a chance, I think she could go the distance.


This is a really great comic. Really great. It starts with a true crime writer named Meru, who is obsessed with a mysterious airline flight where, upon landing, it was discovered that everyone on board had amnesia. Everyone, that is, except for one passenger named Henry Lyme, who had completely vanished. This mystery sends Meru down a rabbit hole of mind control, strange conspiracies, super secret agencies, psychic spies, and immortal assassins. There's twists and turns and sudden violence. It's a great story told in an interesting way. It'll be a hell of a good movie, if it ever happens. It's so good, I can ignore the art... which I hate. It's not terrible, I'm just not a fan. I also hate the water color way of coloring the book. It often seems like it's muddying up the art. I hate that. I mean, I'm not looking for Jim Lee type of art or anything, but I think this art detracts from the book and sometimes obfuscates what's going on in the story. That's a big minus for me, and this is why it's only at number 7 on the list. But, like I said: It's still a damn good story.

6. The Wicked and The Divine

This is still a fairly young book. It's good, but I think it's fair to say that right now, it's more interesting than engrossing, you know? The basic premise of this book is every 90 years a Pantheon of Gods are reincarnated into the world. Well, not really reincarnated so much as possess willing sacrifices--at least, I think they're willing. Either way, willingly or maybe fated to, the deal seems to be that a group of people give up their lives and identities in order to become these Gods, or whatever the entities are. They have names like: Baal, Lucifer (that's her above, looking like Bowie), Amaterasu (the red head), Minerva, Woden, and The Morrigan, twelve of them or so. These new Gods will only live for two years, then they'll die, but during that time, they will be glorious, they will be worshiped and adored by the great unwashed masses. The last time they appeared was in the 1920s, and now their time has come around again. This time around, most of them seem to be spending their two years as celebutantes and pop-stars, and that's cool, at least until Lucifer kills a Judge by snapping her fingers and blowing up his head. This seems to starts to turn the world against them, despite the fact that Lucifer claims she's being framed. And that's basically how the thing starts off. It's a cool idea, a weird story with a good mystery, with some nice cultural commentary and some fantastic art. It's worth checking out.

5. Rat Queens

Ah, the Rat Queens. I love the Rat Queens. It's funny, drunken Dungeons and Dragons girl power ass-kickery. It's awesome. It's also another book on this list that I have already blathered on about at great length, and I do mean great length... It's right here, if you're interested. I'll let that post do the heavy-lifting for me this time out. That's the good news. The bad news, is the regular artist recently had some pretty serious personal issues and now he's off the book. So, starting in an issue or two, there will be a new artist. That kind of sucks, but it's unavoidable. I mean, it looks like it's going to be a good replacement, but it will still probably be a little awkward at first, because the original artist definitely set a distinctive tone. Fingers crossed. I'd hate to see this book lose momentum.

4. East of West

Have I talked about this book before now? I'm not sure. I should have, because it's pretty great. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a big Jonathan Hickman fan either. East of West is the strangely cryptic story of a highly technologically advanced Wild West America where the country has been fractured into several warring nation states, while the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse roam the wasteland, looking to trigger an ancient prophecy that will bring about the End of Times. It's a crazy and meandering story that will suddenly snap hard into focus for some seriously epic moments. It is highly imaginative and visually exciting. The art is amazing. I love this crazy book, but admittedly, it might not be every one's cup of tea. In movie terms, this comic is like an Art House Summer Blockbuster, know what I mean? It's got some super cool shit going on, but there's also an awful lot of long drawn out silences that you kind of have to read into, and several other parts that just might not make any sense at all, sort of. It's a weird, but beautiful book. Basically, if anything I just wrote in this last paragraph interests you at all, then I highly recommend it.

3. Seconds

Seconds isn't actually the second graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, but it is his first book back after the phenomenal success of Scott Pilgrim... so it kind of fits with the overall theme of the book: Second chances. Y'see, Katie is the owner of the restaurant Seconds. She is trying to get another restaurant up and running, but the process is fraying her nerves and damaging her relationships. She still loves Max, but they broke up awhile ago. Hazel is her weird friend who works in her restaurant. Then Katie meets a strange young woman, possibly a crazy person, who might be a magical house sprite named Lis. Lis gives Katie a magic mushroom. The deal is, if Katie writes down a problem, eats the mushroom, and then goes to sleep, when she wakes up her problem will be fixed. Katie almost immediately sets about abusing these mushrooms, turning back time and selfishly re-doing events at even the slightest provocation, all despite Lis' repeated warnings. Soon, her carelessness is threatening to pull asunder the whole of reality and Katie has to make some hard choices. What will she be willing to sacrifice in order to save the multiverse? In a nutshell, if you liked Scott Pilgrim, you'll like Seconds. O'Malley doesn't trot out the same tricks or genre tropes or anything, this is all new stuff, but that playful feeling and the wit are the same. It's a really great book.

2. New Avengers/Avengers


This book doesn't occupy my number one comic of the year spot, but still it kind does anyway. I love this book (books). For those of you out there who know comics, I love what's going on at Marvel right now and these two books by Jonathan Hickman are ground zero for all the craziness. It's currently deeply embroiled in a long and involved story line that twists and turns, rushing headlong straight into an uncharted future, while still pulling liberally from the fertile fields of Marvel's past. To me, this is a comic head's comic. Continuity heavy, deeply nuanced, and easter-egg laden with long, far-reaching plot lines. And fair warning, kids, if you didn't start out with this book a few years ago (and also haven't read Bendis' Illuminati or Hickman's Fantastic Four run), then you may have missed this particular boat. My condolences. I mean, I'm gonna try to sum it all up for you here in a sec, but... well, you'll see.

Ahem... okay, I guess it all started with what became known as the Illuminati. Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, Reed Richards, Prince Namor, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange. They were leaders from every corner of the Marvel Universe, meeting in secret, and trying to direct events from behind the scenes. They're intentions were good, but things went bad, mistakes were made, everything came out, people were pissed, friendships fractured, the world almost ended, and as a result, the group decided they should stop meeting. But then Reed Richards called them back together, in secret once again, to tell them that the entire universe was doomed.

Doomed how? Take a look at these pics.


Basically, the multiverse is collapsing and we're all fucked.

The Illuminati tried to deal, facing other worlds, strange warriors and impossible choices, but the moral implications, the stress of being forced to destroy worlds, even doomed worlds, ended up breaking the group up. Eventually, betrayals and bad blood forced splits all throughout the Marvel Universe, and now a new Illuminati is still working tirelessly to save the universe, but they have been forced underground, chased by their former friends, a team of Avengers working for SHIELD who believe the Illuminati to be genocidal murderers (I think... or they're possessed, it's not quite clear yet). Namor, meanwhile, has recruited a cabal of villains, monsters like Thanos the Mad Titan, in order to stop the continuing threat of the Incursions. But he's losing control of the Cabal, and watching those villains revel as they slaughter whole worlds is effecting his very soul. Meanwhile, a splinter group of the Avengers has been hurled across the multiverse and into the unknown, on a suicide mission to try to find a way to stop the collapse, while a fourth team is trying to avert world-wide destruction, hoping to stop the coming war that looms between the Illuminati and the SHIELD Avengers. It's involved, man. Everyone is turning on each other as a certain doom continues to hang over everything like a waiting guillotine. And that's not even taking into consideration the fact that there are other opposing agendas as well, outside forces, strange otherworldly aliens from different dimensions, beings just as determined to save their own universe as the Avengers are their own.

This is complex story flowing through two titles separately, but simultaneously. It is filled with doom and drama and massive set pieces. I look forward to reading it each month, because I honestly can't see the ending (Except: Reboot... shhhhh...). Like I said, it's a brilliant, massive adventure, but it's definitely not for everyone, or even all that welcoming to new readers. However, if you have the time and the patience, I highly recommend hunting down the beginnings of the story and catching up.

1. The Multiversity

I think Grant Morrison is perfect for the DC Universe. You see, while Marvel has always been about the person behind the mask, DC has always been about the mask. They specialize in myth and legends and gods that walk among us. And that fits Morrison's style. He's big and clever and broad. And while he's certainly capable, the guy is just too weird to write about Peter Parker worrying about his rent. He needs to write about an alternate version of Superman punching his way through the dimensional walls that separate our universes in order to save the whole of time and space. 

Which is why The Multiversity is so amazing. 

You see, DC is big on multiverses. It's their bread and butter. Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, Earth Prime, they've been doing that kind of shit since the beginning. It clashed and didn't quite make sense, certain things counted, others did not, and eventually DC was like: "Nope, that shit is silly!" So they tried to stuff all these worlds and discordant characters and conflicting stories down into one coherent time line. One world for everything. And it held, for quite awhile... until Mark Waid came along on his endless crusade to have everything serve his Silver Age Obsession and introduced Hypertime, a giant web of anything goes, which basically re-instated the multiverse and made everything a big mess again. Then Grant Morrison swooped in and broke Waid's mess, re-ordering it all into 52 universes. The DC canceled every title--books that were decades old, 50 plus years--and re-booted the whole line, all under the new umbrella banner: The New 52. None of the old continuity mattered anymore, it's new worlds and histories only from here on out... for the most part. Man, let tell you, several hundred fanboys died of anger aneurysms. I was kind of excited at the possibilities, but in the end, the New 52 is kind of crappy and an even bigger mess than before, but... whatta ya' want, it's kind of a DC tradition.

So anyway...

Now DC has 52 separate universes, but usually most of the action just takes place in the main one that you all already know. The crazy shit gets dumped into the other 51. The Multiversity is about the various heroes of all those various universes--heroes like the Superman of Earth 23 (who's basically Barack Obama), Captain Carrot (who's basically Bugs Bunny), the Charlton Heroes (the characters the Watchmen comic was based off of), a 1920's era adventurer called Doc Fate (a mash-up of Doctor Fate and Doc Savage), The Thunderer (The Aboriginal Thundergod of Earth 7), a good Vandal Savage vs. an Evil Vandal Savage (both of whom are immortal cavemen), the new Batman Damian Wayne and his girlfriend Alexis, the daughter of Lex Luthor, and Captain Marvel (not the female one from Marvel comics), among others--all trying (sometimes unknowingly) to stop an otherworldly presence known as The Gentry from destroying the entire multiverse.


Each issue is a stand-alone one-shot, sort of. There's actually a lot of bleed-over, kind of. Grant Morrison's work is sometimes convoluted and confusing, but it is always imaginative and clever, it's always trying to be something new and different. The Multiversity excels at all of this. Yes, some of it is confusing, I mean, you'll definitely have questions, like: Who/what the fuck are the Gentry? What the hell is going on with the whole sentient comic book thing? And: What the fuck's going on? You're just gonna have to roll with it, folks, because each issue is also too fantastic not to love. This is some of Morrison's best work, and this is the guy who wrote We3 and The Invisibles. It's definitely his best superhero stuff, and that includes his JLA run. Each issue takes place in a different reality/universe, and each one is drawn by a different artist. Years in the making, I seriously love this book. It's fun. It's weird. It's laden with some real deep-end-of-the-pool type of comic book references. And it's all tangled up into a cool and crazy little ball.

Okay, fine. I'll admit it, The Multiversity definitely isn't a beginners' book. Sorry. But what it is, is the most imaginative and fun, and it's a book that will keep you guessing, and that's on top of being really well written while featuring great art. So, if you ask me, you should read the comic anyway. You're smart; you'll figure it out.

I mean... it's awesome.

Honorable Mentions
Give them a chance, they're pretty good too.





Despite including a picture in the montage of images above, I completely forgot about including Moon Knight. I don't know how it happened, but it did. So, in a nutshell, Moon Knight is kind of Marvel's main stab at making a Batman-like character. There's a lot of differences, of course, but those nuances--like his multiple personality disorder, the fact he died in combat and was revived by the ancient Egyptian Moon God Khonshu, and that he wears white so that the bad guys will see him coming for them--only really matter to weirdos like me, so... yeah, he's basically Marvel's Batman. He's been around for years and, while he's had several resurgences, he's never really caught on.


Enter writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shalvey, who are both amazing, and they did a 6 issue mini-series that was just incredible. It is 100% totally worth picking up. It's all good, top to bottom. I think the trade is out now too. The fact that the book is terrible again now that they have left it, is a testament to both the long-standing difficulties of the character, and Ellis and Shalvey's talent. Hard hitting and noir as fuck, each issue is pretty self-contained, and they're all a real good time as Moon Knight haunts the city, protecting those who travel at night.


Buy this book. Highly recommended.

And there you have it, kids. When they come for you in the dark of night, in their ski masks and black clothing, when they shake you awake, blinding you with their flashlights, their tasers crackling, to roughly ask: "What comics did Jon like this year?" Now you'll be ready.

You're welcome,