The last twelve months offered comic book readers a wide variety of work ranging from the most crowd-pleasing superhero epics to the most idiosyncratic of indies, and the return of old favorites to the emergence of exciting new talent. It was a busy and productive year for the industry, and one we’re pleased to celebrate with what we’re certain will be an uncontroversial, unenumerated list of awards that will prompt only resounding agreement and unbroken fellowship amongst our readers in the comments below.

This list was originally published in five installments, each honoring a fallen hero who was sacrificed at some point in 2014. They were Wolverine, Archie Andrews, Movie Gwen Stacy, Uatu the Watcher, and Jean Grey (special resurrection edition for X-Men: Days of Future Past). Those posts contain original obituaries that are worth your time, but if you want to dive right into the list, it has been recompiled here for your convenience. You're welcome.



    Artwork by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
    Written by Scott Snyder
    Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
    Edited by Mark Doyle and Sara Miller
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    If there's one thing that can absolutely be said about Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's Vertigo mini-series The Wake, it's that it was never predictable. From seeming genre shifts between issues to a massive time jump halfway through, the series never settled into any sort of pattern. That was true right up until the final issue, which hit in July. The series finale answered some questions (What happened to Lee? Will the Governess get hers?) but it also raised a whole bunch (Are the sea creatures benevolent, malevolent, or both? What's their evolutionary connection to humanity?). That's the essence of good fiction, especially anything as philosophical as The Wake ended up being. This is a 10-issue comic that starts with some scientists trapped in a underwater fortress and ends with a full-on creation myth. It's beyond ambitious. But Snyder and Murphy pull it off with some abstract storytelling, some stunningly beautiful art, and with characters who really matter to the reader by the end. The Wake is a story that ends in something of an ink blot test, daring the reader to see what he or she wants to see in the eyes of a monster (or a savior) as Leeward stares toward him in the water. Then it tells the reader: It's all an adventure. Make your own way. Explore. It's a challenge in the most literal sense of the word, and I for one, don't mind being pushed a little.



    Artwork and lettering by Tom Scioli
    Written by Tom Scioli and John Barber
    Edited by Carlos Guzman
    Published by IDW
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The modern iteration of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line has been around since 1982, while their Transformers line has been around since 1984. In the last 30+ years, the armies of characters from each line have starred in dozens of cartoon shows, hundreds of comic books and even a few live-action movies. At this point, it might seem something of a challenge to find new takes on characters that have been rebooted and tinkered with so much over the decades.  Even mashing the two franchises into one another is played out at this point. Marvel Comics first tried that in 1986, and every publisher to hold the licenses since has done the same. Repeatedly.

    Is there really anything left to say about warring races of giant alien robots that can disguise themselves as vehicles and cartoonishly colorful soldiers battling a fictional terrorist group composed of supervillains?

    I’d like to answer that question in the form of a comic book: Tom Scioli and John Barber’s exceptional Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe series.

    Scioli, an artist best known for his Kirby-influenced works like Gødland and American Barbarian, hardly seems the ideal artist for a licensed comic, but his rough-hewn, volcanically-energetic style brings an auteur version of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. He and Barber plunge into the toybox and cartoons and comics with enthusiasm, unearthing obscure characters, places and devices with which to fill every square millimeter of every page, while simultaneously reinventing the characters as they do so.  They also reverse the most standard plot devices of past encounters of these characters, in a way that almost seems contrarian.

    Where the book transcends its licensed comics origins is in its construction. The creators don’t simply reinvent and redesign the characters, and flip various concepts, but they lay-out the comic so that every scene reads like a story of its own, often complete with a title, a unique style and mini-climax of its own.

    Only five issues of the series have been published so far (starting with a #0 issue), but already it reads like one of the biggestTransformers and/or G.I. Joe stories ever told in any medium, with so many big, new, crazy ideas per issue it’s easy to imagine Grant Morrison or Jonathan Hickman reading the book at home, shaking their heads and muttering “Why didn’t I think of that?”

    The latest issue alone, for example, featured a Duke vs. Snake-Eyes battle for the ages, a Tales From The Crypt homage involving “The Decepticonecronomicon” and Transformer necromancy, a team consisting of all the G.I. Joe pets outfitted with high-tech harnesses bristling with weaponry flying in a rocket shaped like Snoopy’s head, a reimagining of the Oktober Guard as an army of horror movie antagonists, a G.I. Joe/Transformers dance party, the history of Cybertron told as Kamandi-inpsired cave painting and dim-witted Joe Bazooka eating a techno-organic plant and tripping balls.

    Scioli and Barber aren’t just offering up a relentlessly entertaining, astoundingly imaginative take on these two done-to-death franchises, they’re, well, transforming them into something bigger and better.



    Artwork by Marcos Martin and Munsta Vicente
    Written by Brian K. Vaughan
    Published by The Panel Syndicate
    Available: The Panel Syndicate

    With one issue remaining in Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's neo-noir tour de force, it's safe to start printing up the t-shirts: De Guerre Was Right. With a little picture of De Guerre murdering somebody and apologizing. As the villain of The Private Eye, De Guerre has threatened, tortured, and killed to resurrect the Internet, and he is undeniably a murderous sociopath.

    But when a guy's got a point, a guy's got a point. Vaughan really at excels at molding complete characters who repeatedly defy your expectations, and in Private Eye he makes you sympathize with a slick, ego-maniacal television executive who kills his friends. Because it turns out that a future without an internet actually sucks.

    Sure, it looks amazing, with everybody strolling around in bright, funky costumes designed by Marcos Martin and colored by Muntsa Vicente, but if you think the current generation is a waste of protein, wait until you try to have a conversation with one these future f*cks wearing a f*cking amoeba suit. It's a world full of super-hipsters. Does that sound fun to you?

    Vaughan has often said that he doesn't put messages in his books, but that doesn't mean you can't reach in and grab them anyway. And when you really think about the America that The Private Eye portrays, it's an unnerving one. It's insular, literally walled-off from the rest of the world, and paranoia is endemic to everyday life. Despite the current lack of privacy that comes with the internet, it exposes us to the world at large and empowers us to affect real and immediate change. It connects us, and a world without connection is a sad one.

    At least I think that's the message. There's still an issue left of the most thrilling, stylish, and thought-provoking sci-fi detective story since Heavy Liquid, so the conclusion might reveal that De Guerre Was Wrong and I'm a fraud. In which'll be able to freely ridicule me...through the internet. 

    Chills, right? Me too.



    By Emily Carroll
    Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    Emily Carroll has been terrifying readers for years with her fairy tale-inspired brand of horror on her website and elsewhere, but with her first print collection, Through the Woods, we can now invite the evils that lurk in the black forest (and inside the brain of Ms. Carroll) into our homes in a more tangible fashion. This collection features perhaps Carroll's best known story (“His Face All Red”) as well as four wholly new tales, a prologue, and an epilogue. Carroll's storytelling takes its cues from folklorists such as Grimm and Perrault—one story is a direct reinterpretation of the story of Bluebeard, another echoes (intentionally or not) thestory of the Slavic varcolac--filling each page with signs and symbols that may be a mystery to our heads, but which we understand on a primal level in our guts and in our bones. While the print medium may not allow for the storytelling tricks Carroll pulls off on the web, such as mouseover panels and branched narrative, this collection doesn't suffer for it: each page is a wonder of composition, draftsmanship, color, design and lettering. Just, maybe, enjoy those pages in the daylight.



    Art by Marie Pommepuy & Sébastien Cosset (as: “Kerascoët”)
    Story by Marie Pommepuy & Fabien Vehlmann
    Translated by Helge Dascher
    Published by Drawn & Quarterly
    Available: Drawn & Quarterly / Amazon / Comics Shops

    It's been a splendid year for horror comics, but two works towered above the rest in terms of high-profile discussion: Emily Carroll's Through the Woods and this English translation of a 2009 album from cartoonist/animators Kerascoët and veteran scenarist Fabien Vehlmann, who's carved himself a comfortable niche in the French-language industry scripting one of the venerable children's bande dessinée series, Spirou et Fantasio. There's quite a few youth comics licks in Beautiful Darkness too – characters are drawn so as to caricature their personalities, archetypes run rampant, and the story proceeds with a sense of inevitability, as if the reader is meant less to be absorbed than to jump on the couch and shout along with the action.

    But the inevitability here is not that of commercial devices clicking into place, or even a folkloric moral calculus; instead, the book's unforgettable six opening pages flatly state that all social comforts and humane graces will be undermined in favor of decay. Fleeing their home inside the liquefying corpse of a young girl left dead and forgotten in the forest, a community of tiny people struggle to maintain decorum and pursue their desires out in the wild – each of them seems to represent an aspect of the dead girl's personality or subconscious, or maybe the stories she has heard and taken to heart. Perhaps they are her soul, fragmented at the moment of death like a cut diamond and made horribly autonomous. These little elves do not get along, and poor Aurora -- a quintessential Disney princess, preoccupied with prettiness and romance and the ineffable promise of a prince becoming her forever love -- suffers a rash of Sadian affronts at the hands of her more controlling (or easily led) peers, the woods standing high above as a biological machine for the stripping of naiveté.

    All is rendered by Kerascoët as ravishing cartoon illustration, like production art from a Studio Ghibli movie playing exclusively in Hell. It's all quite arch, even reductive, yet totally compelling - especially once the reader understands that removing the blind trust from an idealist like Aurora doesn't destroy the idealism, it makes it dangerous. There WILL be a happy ending... at least for her!



    Edited by Andrew Carl, Josh O'Neil and Chris Stevens
    Published by Locust Moon Press
    Available: Amazon /  Locust Moon Press / Comics Stores

    This year's "impractically immense" award goes to this volume from Locust Moon Press, which brings together over 100 of today's top creators' takes on Winsor McCay's best-known creation, in dimensions that approximate the full-page broadsheet format of the original Little Nemo strips. It's a simple concept brought to life by an all-star cast, carefully curated, and assembled with ridiculously high production values – and though the contents vary wildly in style and tone, each and every page functions as a breathtaking and vital work of art unto itself. From Ronald Wimberly's zig-zagging meditation on art and identity to Bill Sienkiewicz's atmospheric surrealism to Roger Langridge's laugh-out-loud silliness, it's that rarest of rare beasts: a tribute collection that manages to not just celebrate, but actually transcend and expand upon the source material.



    Artwork by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
    Written by G. Willow Wilson
    Lettering by Joe Caramagna
    Edited by Sana Amanat and Devin Lewis
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Kamala Khan is the future, and you can rock out to her or hide behind a copy of The Pedantic Monthly. Whatever—she’s happening regardless. Kamala is charming, but never twee; heroic, but never foolish; complicated, but never morose. She made her costume out of a Burkini and puffy paint. She declares herself and Wolverine healing factor twinsies as they race after sewer monsters. Her Avengers/My Little Pony crossover fanfic got 1,000 upvotes on Together, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have created a comic that is truly all-ages, truly entertaining, and truly heartfelt. The question isn’t whether or not Kamala can keep up with the rest of the superhero genre—it’s whether or not the genre can keep pace with her.



    Artwork by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong and Dave McCaig
    Written by Grant Morrison
    Lettering by Charlie Mangual
    Edited by Rickey Purdin
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Frank Quitely may be great at drawing people walking around backwards (or whatever was going on in Pax Americana) but The Society of Super-Heroes was the actual best issue of Multiversity this year.

    With t’SOSHGrant Morrison indulged his love of classical heroism, and it led to some of his most engaging characters in years. For one thing this story made Doctor Fate readable, which has never been done before to my knowledge. Somehow Morrison managed to grab a collection of off-hand DC reference points and half-used characters - and clip them all together in effortless, incredibly entertaining style.

    When this was first announced, could anyone have expected a comic where Lady Shiva surfs on the wing of a Blackhawks plane before Vandal Savage starts threatening the Immortal Man with a rock? That this random mix of characters and genre actually became tense and engaging is all down to the impressive partnership between Morrison, Chris Sprouse - and colorist Dave McCaig, who give the whole issue an uneasy glimmer of post-apocalyptic gloom.

    With Chris Sprouse on art, the book proved to be a surprisingly heady mix of pulp action and zombie apocalypse. His sturdy character designs felt immediately engaging and likeable, and matched Morrison’s madcap script panel-for-panel. Who needs passive-aggressive subtextual attacks on Alan Moore when you can have straight-up textual Doc Fate kicking Felix Faust in the balls?



    Artwork by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
    Written by Kieron Gillen
    Lettering by Clayton Cowles
    Edited by Chrissy Williams
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Shops

    Whenever Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie work together, they seem to be able to capture something mercurial about youth; the energy and magnitude and doom of it. That's not to say that the pair are constantly covering the same thematic territory: Phonogram is about music and passion and being honest with yourself; Young Avengers is about how nobody gets along with their parents, and what it's like to be accountable. The Wicked + The Divine is teenage pop opera about art, celebrity, and death, and it is a goddamn masterpiece.

    Every ninety years, a pantheon of gods are incarnated in twelve ordinary young people. They become pop stars and artists, this generation's Pantheon represented by analogues of Rihanna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Prince, and others. All with the powers of gods, they are iconoclasts and pariahs, worshiped and vilified, and in two years, they drop dead. It's a perfect pop metaphor for the suddenness of death and the yearning to feel significant before it comes, and it is clever, jarring, and unique.

    Gillen and McKelvie have a unique chemistry when they collaborate -- they're much more experimental together than they are apart -- and colorist Matthew Wilson has added even more to their collaboration. The Wicked + The Divine is stylish and vivacious and formally curious, a glamorous collision of layout and line and explosive color, and it's one of the most striking books being published today.

    The Wicked + The Divine is about things we can all understand. No matter how old you are, you know what it's like to be young; you know what it's like to have idols and want to be special; and if you don't already know that death is coming for you and everyone you love, you'll learn soon enough. Gutsy, urgent, and gorgeous, The Wicked + The Divine is purely magnificent.



    By Jiro Kuwata
    Lettering by Wes Abbott
    Edited by Jim Chadwick and Aniz Ansari
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    This was the year that brought us the story of Dirtibike Batman saving Gotham City with his riddle powers, and nonetheless nothing Batman-related came even close to Jiro Kuwata's Batmanga in terms of craziness. Batmanga is flat-out bananas. This is a comic where Batman gets the idea of how to defeat the villain Lord Death Man by watching a magic show in his back yard. The mayor turns into a mutant that looks like a Dragonball Z villain and kidnaps his own daughter. Batman tries to shoot him with a mutant gun. A man bounces around like a giant bouncy ball. A gorilla wears a cape. It's unabashedly bonkers and unbelievably fun. It was a must-read, if for no reason other than to see what madness Kuwata would invent next. DC brought these lost comics to the digital realm this year (and later in a print collection), and I couldn't be happier they did.


    In what has to be classed as inevitable, the winner of this year’s Jordie Bellaire Award for Coloring is Jordie Bellaire. Having cut down her workload this year from “all of comics” to simply “the majority of comics”, Bellaire’s spent the year playing around with genres and really working on her explosions. From the stark, gloomy streets of Moon Knight through to the bright anthropomorphic warfare of Tooth & Claw, she’s been hugely important in so many of the best comics put out this year.

    It’s impossible to overstate just how diverse her comics have been this year. Whether putting a sense of screwball Hollywood into Quantum & Woody or swirling Emma Rios’ free-flowing battle sequences into a grand western classic tradition, she’s demonstrated a range that complements and boosts every page she works on. Her workload is impressive – but more impressive still is just how consistently strong her work remains, despite the sheer number of pages she works on every year.

    This year, as well, she’s been an advocate for comics coloring. Along with the Comics Are For Everybody outreach she helped found at the start of the year, she’s also been hugely important in pushing the work of fellow colorists like Ruth Redmond. In interviews and online, she’s repeatedly talked about the feeling that colorists get easily overlooked, and has pushed for fans and critics to focus in more on the importance of colors to a comic.

    She’s also written a few comics this year, too, putting the fear of God into freelance writers for what may be to come in 2015.



    Artwork by Steve Lieber, Rich Ellis and Rachelle Rosenberg
    Written by Nick Spencer
    Lettered by Joe Caramagna and Clayton Cowles
    Edited by Lauren Sankovitch, Jon Moisan and Tom Brennan
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I knew it in my heart of hearts, but I didn't know for absolutely sure that comics needed a series about often-bumbling, always-scheming, often ineffectual scoundrels trying to outwit each other while they pretend to cooperate on a loose "team" until Superior Foes of Spider-Man debuted last summer. And now it's over. As Cinderella so aptly sang, you don't know what you got 'til it's gone. Luckily, it closed strong. In fact, the finale of Superior Foes may just have been the best series-end of the year. That's in part because creators Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber likely knew that the series wasn't going to last forever (nothing does at Marvel anymore, and this was a series about a group of B-to-C-list supervillains). Because of that, the team structured the story like an onion; one layer peeled back to reveal a new layer of duplicity and avarice on the part of the characters. When those layers were all on the table, they fried up the components and served a complete package, a story where every piece going back to issue one mattered and paid off. That blooming onion analogy may have gotten away from me, but you get it. It was a good comic. That's my key point here.



    By John Hankiewicz
    Available: eventually

    Awkward confession: you can't read this comic. Or, at least not immediately, since it does take a while to hand-assemble a 132-page graphic novel -- complete with rough-cut lithograph covers and sewn bindings -- and the 50 copies that were initially prepared sold out in a little over a month. Nonetheless, I am told that more are on the way, and hopefully a slightly raised profile will benefit John Hankiewicz, a veteran of self-publishing since the 1990s and just the sort of artist's artist to distinguish a circumscript extravagance like this.

    Make no mistake, Education is heavy, experimental work, the sort of loosely narrative comic in which characters appear to be the same from page to page, but may in fact be entirely different people on different pages, or perhaps completely imaginary at certain points. The story roughly concerns a writing teacher (as Hankiewicz once was) who is going on a trip to visit a train depot with his father, but the presentation quickly begins distending words from pictures. Almost every page is designed around a four- or six-panel grid, and approximately half the panels in the book are bottomed with narrative captions, but the narration has a way of drifting off into memories or becoming sidetracked by tangential information while the pictures continue to depict characters going about their business, word balloons never once emanating from a character standing inside the frame – these are isolated minds, only truly communicating in terms of physical contact.

    In open defiance of so much ingrained comics wisdom, Hankiewicz rejects the influence of cinema in favor of something approaching stage-bound activity, with simply-drawn bodies traversing limited environments drafted with extremely heavy hatches and cross-hatches. Seated in a classroom, hearing our nominal protagonist's lecture, two characters (one of which may be his father, the other possibly his mother, or maybe a Canadian woman with whom he'd been corresponding, both idealizing and hating) stand up and perform an elaborate, opaque dance for twelve pages, the background never changing save for the natural shift of an artist drawing exactly the same detailed floor over and over and over and over.

    Captions begin to nervously repeat information. Sixteen panels provide sixteen views on the exterior of a highway church. Left-facing pages continue some scenes while right-facing pages depict others. The heart of the work is a long soliloquy on the practice of critiquing student papers, the teacher's memory fragmenting across revisions and re-revisions; he suffers visions of rotting fruit, of escaping decay, and gold stars. We see a gigantic winged seed blow through his apartment; a woman laying on a bed; fences; railings. Someone is reading from an erotic and threatening letter. A dog boards a train. Is this insanity, or just how we exist both inside and outside of our heads, should both the conscious and the subconscious be made to sit together? You can do that better here, I think, than most places.



    Artwork by Karl Kerschl and Geyser with Dave McCaig
    Written by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher
    Lettered by Steve Wands
    Edited by Mark Doyle and Matt Humphreys
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    With Gotham AcademyBecky CloonanBrenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl have created something that feels like the DC Universe's version of Hogwarts. A boarding school in the heart of the world capital of super-crime, staffed by obscure throwback characters like Bookworm, Professor Milo and Aunt Harriet would be enough to get me interested, but when it's combined with a cast of characters that are immediately likable and intriguingly secretive, the result is an ongoing drama that's compelling and exciting -- especially when it takes a sharp turn into the supernatural. Oh, and also Batman's in it, but he's mainly just hanging out making sure that none of these teenagers get killed by the ghost of the Penguin's great-great-grandmother or whatever. The guy's busy, you know?

    In a comic that was even slightly less great than Gotham Academy, naming the main character "Olive Silverlock" and giving her silver hair would be so eye-rollingly on the nose that everything that came after would seem trite just by proximity. Fortunately, Gotham Academy is so good that it can get away with it, and the fact that it's not at all subtle just underscores the teen drama at the heart of the book. After all, nothing's ever subtle when you're a teenager, is it?

    Gotham Academy isn't just good, it's exactly the kind of comic DC's lineup has needed for years: A compelling teen drama meant for an underserved readership that doesn't try to separate itself from the core of the DC Universe. Instead, it embraces it in a way that makes it my favorite new series of the year.



    Artwork by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
    Written by Ed Brubaker
    Lettering by Sean Phillips
    Edited by David Brothers
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    It's about time Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips got around to doing The Fade Out. Not like they announced it ten years ago and we've been waiting for it ever since; it's just that something like The Fade Out seemed to be whispering through most of their work together throughout the years. After touching on the debauchery of Hollywood and exhibiting their apparent love for classic American Film Noir, it seemed inevitable that the pair would eventually head right into the heart of the beast.

    In The Fade Out, that's exactly what they do. Hollywoodland, 1948, bloody with the birth pangs of the modern American dream. A young actress turns up strangled to death, and the studio machine grinds away: the homicide is turned into a suicide, a replacement is cast, scenes are re-shot, and it's business as usual. Just another nightmare in a country still recovering from them.

    When reviewing the first issue, I wrote that The Fade Out looked like their most ambitious collaboration yet. Three issues in, I feel like we can officially confirm that. Everything else they've done has been very genre-oriented, and Fade Out is different. Although it takes place in the Golden Age of American Noir, I don't think it can necessarily be classified a Noir. Like James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, there are mysteries to be solved, but the story definitely isn't a mystery itself: it's capturing an era, a time and a place in American history when simmering nightmares were barely concealed with silver, sparkling dreams.

    The Fade Out isn't just the best book Brubaker and Phillips did this year; right now, it's looking like it could be the best thing they've ever done. After fifteen years of working together, the duo are still evolving their art, and as good as everything is that's come before, The Fade Out is evidence that what's coming down the road is even better.



    Artwork by Brooke Allen and Maarta Laiho
    Written by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson with Shannon Watters
    Lettered by Aubrey Aiese
    Edited by Dafna Pleban and Whitney Leopard
    Published by BOOM! Box
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Have you ever had a slumber party where you stayed up until you hit "the stupid hour", when suddenly everything seems funny and you can't stop yourself from laughing and you haven't ever had so much fun? Lumberjanes is that feeling, captured on paper.

    Grace EllisNoelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen's hit BOOM! Box series about five best friends at summer camp has been a ComicsAlliance staff favorite from the moment it launched, and there are a number of reasons we love it so much: It's a series created by women, featuring a quintet of girls, in an industry that often minimizes and marginalizes female contributions. The content is appropriate for all ages, yet the characterizations and stories are smart enough to satisfy the most experienced sequential art aficionados. It's clever, it's silly, it's exciting, and most importantly, it's relatable – if you've ever gone camping, argued, laughed, told ghost stories around a fire, fought giant monsters, or had best friends, you'll find something in Lumberjanes to connect with. It's not just a comic "by girls, about girls, for girls", it's a comic by girls, about girls, for everyone.



    Artwork by James Harren, Laurence Campbell, Tyler Crook, Joe Querio,  and Dave Stewart
    Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
    Lettered by Clem Robbins
    Edited by Scott Allie and Shantel LaRocque
    Published by Dark Horse Comics
    Available: Amazon / Dark Horse Digital / Comics Stores

    Mike Mignola's Hellboy spin-off, BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), has been one of the most consistently excellent titles published since its debut as an ongoing concern in 2004, thanks to the contributions of invariably excellent collaborators like John ArcudiGuy DavisDave StewartClem Robins, and, in more recent years, James HarrenTyler Crook, and Laurence Campbell. But really, I could say that about any of the books in Mignola's stable. This write-up could just as easily be about Baltimore, or Witchfinder, or Lobster Johnson. But part of what makes BPRD so consistently excellent is, perhaps ironically, its willingness to shake things up and start from scratch on a regular basis. With many of the Bureau's most famous agents dead or AWOL and starring in their own spin-off title (Abe Sapien), the book has recently focused on more newly introduced, more human-like (relatively) agents like unflappable badass working mom Carla Giarocco and the Bureau's new secret weapon, Agent Howards, an ordinary man possessed of (or maybe by?) an invincible ancient blade.

    They creative team is also not afraid to shift tones, kicking off the year with the bombastic “Reign of the Black Flame,” which saw Liz Sherman soaring through the air and nuking New York with eldritch energy (beautifully rendered by Harren), and then shifting into a relatively sedate haunting story in which Kate Corrigan stumbles upon a set of possessed dogtags (“The Devil's Wings,” drawn by Laurence Campbell). With the just-begun new series Hellboy and the BPRD (art by Alex Maleev), showing Hellboy's earliest adventures with the Bureau, and the soon-to-launch Frankenstein Underground (art by Ben Stenbeck), I have a sneaking suspicion we'll see some Mignola comics on next year's best-of list as well.



    Artwork and lettering by Chip Zdarsky
    Written by Matt Fraction
    Edited by Thomas K.
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Four years of liberal arts school leaves one with a lingering fatigue of sex. I can't be shocked into giggles by a penis-based pun any longer. Allusions to dildos leave me cold. I am a sexual Grinch, embittered by too many freshman pranks and ill-conceived women's center workshops. So I wasn't convinced by Sex Criminals' premise. Wow, I thought to myself, sexual time manipulation. How wacky.

    But Sex Criminals doesn't trade on its boundary pushing—it's about honesty. And it is Sex Criminals' honesty that's made it one of the best comics of 2014. Jon and Suzie plunge, separately and together, into the depths of mental illness, birth control side effects, and that first bout of couple's discord in some of the most emotionally resonant pages of the year--and, yeah, it's hilarious. I'm totally laughing at dildo and penis puns again. Cracking up at “ass illuminati” in a BJ's (tee hee) food court was one of the comic-related highlights of my year. Sex Criminals is heady, poignant, hilarious work that's never afraid to get weird, whether that means The Wicked + The Divine porn parodies or the terrifying and bizarre extremes of anxiety disorders. Here's to another year in The Quiet.



    By Jaime Hernandez
    Edited by Eric Reynolds and Kim Thompson
    Published by Fantagraphics Books
    Available: Amazon / Fantagraphics / Comics Stores

    "Do you think Maggie is eventually going to end up with Hopey or with Ray?" a friend of mine asked me a while ago. She'd recently discovered Jaime Hernandez's glorious "Locas" stories from Love & Rockets, and had been blazing through all of them, watching Hernandez's mechanics and punks and artists age in real time through close to thirty years' worth of comics. The only thing I could say was " haven't read The Love Bunglers yet, have you?"

    If you're coming to Hernandez's work for the first time with The Love Bunglers, his mastery will be evident right away: it's a story about a small cluster of middle-aged women and men in Southern California whose best intentions have led them into emotional disaster, and Hernandez's command of dialogue and body language is so absolute that everyone's personalities and relationships are instantly clear. If you've been reading the "Locas" comics for years, though, it's devastating, especially when Hernandez signals that the grand story he's been telling for decades is gliding to an end. One theme of The Love Bunglers is what people don't talk about, to protect themselves or their loved ones, and the great unspoken things from the series, both secret and open, finally rise to the surface here, until--in an extraordinary silent sequence--we see the whole historical shape of an emotional truth that Hernandez's characters have never fully acknowledged before.



    Artwork by Ulises Farinas and Ryan Hill
    Written by Douglas Wolk
    Lettering by Tom B. Long
    Edited by Denton J. Tipton
    Published by IDW
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    ComicsAlliance has been bereft of pugs since Senior Editor Caleb Goellner left the site earlier this year, and it’s about time we brought their superior doggy faces back to the site. So thanks go to Douglas WolkUlises Farinas and Ryan Hill, whose Judge Dredd: Mega City Two over at IDW Publishing brought in, right at the last minute, a new lawgiver we can all support.

    Pug Dredd.

    The book as a whole was a completely manic collection of every idea Wolk’s been holding in his head for seemingly a decade, with concept after concept stacked on top of one another whilst Dredd attempted to climb atop them. As made clear by Farinas’ statement-of-intent opening splash page which built an entire city and showed readers every single inch of it – perhaps the most jaw-dropping artistic piece of the year -  this was a book designed to be read and re-read repeatedly. There was a sense of delight in the way the creative team tackled the book, where coherency wasn’t as important as giving readers a damned good laugh.

    It takes a little work to read through the book in one go, but each page crackles with joy. Wolk is clearly having the time of his life in the writing of the series, whilst Farinas flickers between massive overstatement and brilliant understatement in his storytelling. Which, of course, brings us back to the very last issue of the book, which gave us our squishy-faced new icon. Pug Dredd shows up at the last minute as a throwaway joke, but proves so irresistible that Dredd carries him around for the entirety of the book’s conclusion.

    It’s Pug Dredd who steals the show, from a book which has a whole host of scene-stealing characters. Surely 2015 can’t go without us seeing his glorious return?



    Artwork and lettering by Art Baltazar
    Written by Franco
    Edited by Alex Antone
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Art Baltazar and Franco are probably the most popular all-ages comic creators working today, and their return this year to the elementary-school crew of sidekicks and supporting characters that comprise the Tiny Titanverse, was a pure joy to behold. Like the original run, there were running gags and in-jokes galore, but Baltazar and Franco also preserved the less-obvious (but no less vital) elements that made the series an all-ages favorite: The story proceeds at a leisurely, unhurried pace; the layouts and transitions are easy to decipher; and the nods to superhero continuity are represented in a way that doesn't confuse or discourage new readers, but hint at a larger world of stories yet to be discovered. It's a comic where girls and boys share the spotlight and the action, with no gender stereotyping or bias along the way. It's filled with all the silliness, adventure, colorful personalities, and otherworldly elements that make comics so appealing to children, but it never talks down or patronizes. And it's a book that isn't just for children, it's about children, in a way that not many franchises are. It pokes fun at the DC Universe in ways that grown-ups can appreciate, but at its core, it's a book about kids, that speaks to kids on their own terms, and has a lot of fun along the way.



    Artwork by Cameron Stewart and Nathan Fairbairn
    Written by Grant Morrison
    Lettered by Steve Wands
    Edited by Rickey Purdin
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    With only five issues of the Grant Morrison-written series The Multiversity published so far, this might seem like an awfully small category, but it is nevertheless a fiercely competitive one, as all five of those issues have been varying degrees of great. Morrison has worked with a real all-star line-up of artists so far—Ivan Reis and Joe PradoChris SprouseKarl Story and Walden Wong, Ben Oliver and Frank Quitely—and each issue has used a story as a way to visit a different world (or, in the case of the first issue, worlds), each of those worlds based on Morrison and company’s reimagining of a pre-existing setting mined from DC’s 75 years worth of stories, and populated with remixed versions of many of the thousands of characters introduced during those many decades.

    In the better of these, Morrison’s managed to tell a done-in-one story with its very own beginning, middle and end, a story that reads perfectly well on its own, even if it’s the only chapter of the series one reads. And none of them stand better on their own then Thunderworld, which is set on what used to be called Earth-S, the alternate Earth DC decided that Fawcett’s Captain Marvel would be set on after they started publishing comics featuring the character in 1972, but before 1986’s Crisis On Infinite Earths condensed the various parallel worlds into a single DC Universe.

    What is most amazing about this issue isn’t just that Morrison and Cameron Stewart manage to tell a complete Captain Marvel story, and cover so many characters and so much ground in so short a period of time, although they do. Boy reporter Billy Batson, Dr. Sivana and his villainous children, the Wizard Shazam, Sterling Morton, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, Uncle Marvel, the Lieutenant Marvels, Mr. Tawky Tawny and the Monster Society are all in here, as are, at least in cameo, allusion or Easter Egg form, Billy’s pal Whitey Murphy, Black Adam, the Seven Deadly Sins, Mr. Mind, an alligator man and Mister Atom.

    While Morrison gets at the essences of the main characters and their conflicts—the power of words and semantics, the conflict between science and magic, the wisdom of being able to see beyond conflict—the comic is thrown in even sharper relief by how little Morrison and Stewart actually had to alter the original Captain Marvel characters and format to come up with something that actually works.

    DC has been trying and mostly failing to make Captain Marvel work in the DC Universe ever since they acquired the character, and they’ve had plenty of their more trusted creators (Jerry OrdwayJudd WinickGeoff JohnsJim LeeGary Frank) and even some of the very best working cartoonists (Jeff Smith) take a crack at it, and in every case, they try to reinvent the wheel to some degree, changing the character’s name, his costume, his powers, his “rules” and often radically altering supporting characters and villains.

    As Morrison and Stewart prove here though, Captain Marvel was never really broken, and never in need of fixing; he simply needed a tune-up and a new coat of paint, not a complete overhaul.



    By Sam Bosma
    Available: Sam Bosma

    Another year, another SPX-premiering comic from Sam Bosma that I wish were longer. Last year was Fantasy Basketball (which is getting a wider release as Fantasy Sports by Nobrow next summer), and this year, it’s The Hanging Tower, a 28-page black and white adventure comic that does more in its relatively few pages than most comics do in entire arcs.

    The story follows an old adventurer named Moll in her quest to bring in the infamous sorceress Eudora, who now inhabits the titular tower. Bosma, whose art and character acting is fantastic, shows off his writing chops as he drops us into a fully-formed world that doesn’t feel either over-explained or half-baked. “Judicious” is probably a good word to use to describe Bosma’s world-building in this comic. Things are hinted at and talked around, giving the reader a sense of a larger world they’re just seeing the corners of.

    Bosma’s been working as a background designer on Cartoon Network’s great Steven Universe cartoon, and both have the feeling of a fantasy world that’s sort of past its prime, as Moll and Eudora’s confrontation hints at faded glories that nonetheless still hold power. There’s something really appealing about that, and that Bosma manages to make us nostalgic for a past that’s just hinted at is a testament to his prowess. It’s a really sweet little story that sticks with you long after you’ve read through it. If you can get your hands on it, it’s definitely worth the trouble.



    Artwork by Jason Latour
    Written by Jason Aaron
    Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
    Edited by Sebastian Girner
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I've already written about how well Jason Aaron and Jason Latour absolutely nail the modern South in the details of their Image series about football, barbecue, and intense, brutal violence. With those two talented creators, it was something readers could expect. What they couldn't have expected is how much of a gut-punch the end of the first, four-issue would be. Without giving it away, I'll just say that Aaron and Latour seemingly knock down the house of cards they've been building meticulously for four issues. What's even more of a shock is that the next two issues take the merciless, mean, heartless villain of that first arc and make him into a sympathetic character who hired his magical, old, blind football sensei to his coaching staff and was one of the only non-racist members of the Runnin' Rebs football team in his youth. Give Aaron and Latour an expectation, and they'll sidestep it, turn it on its side, or completely upend it. I have no idea what's coming in this series. It's exactly what I want.



    By Farel Dalrymple
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    Okay, so let me try and make this make sense: The Wrenchies are a group of teenagers in a dystopian future where adults are literal soul-sucking vampire nightmares called Shadowsmen who will infect you with their touch. The Wrenchies are also a comic book team created by Sherwood Breadcoat as a reaction to a damaging event in his younger years involving a man in a cave. The Wrenchies is also a story about a sweet, innocent, probably-too-religious kid named Hollis who is transported from “the real world” to the Wrenchies world, a violent world of magic and terror and cool headquarters, complete with cut-aways lovingly rendered and expanded upon by Farel Dalrymple in lush watercolors.

    Thematically, it’s similar to the ground Dalrymple’s covered in his previous books, Pop Gun War and his Study Group-hosted webcomic, It Will All Hurt, though both of those feel a lot more like dreams than The Wrenchies does. Which is not to say The Wrenchies is an easy read, but, like Dalrymple’s other work, it deals with growing up, confronting adulthood, and turning art into a way to cope with trauma and change. Think Catcher In the Rye for kids who grew up way too into The Phantom TollboothFrank Frazetta, Mad Max and X-Men comics.

    The Wrenchies, while pitched as a young adult graphic novel, isn’t going to hold your hand. Like any good piece of art, it invites you in, but it doesn’t let you get too comfortable. It’s full of growing pains and uncomfortable feelings and friendship and changes and things coming together and things falling apart. So… just like growing up. The Wrenchies is beautiful. The Wrenchies is sad. The Wrenchies is frustrating. The Wrenchies is glorious.

    Dylan Todd



    Artwork by Brent Anderson and Alex Sinclair with Alex Ross
    Written by Kurt Busiek
    Lettered and designed by JG Roshell and Comicraft
    Edited by Kristy Quinn and Jessica Chen
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson'Astro City will quietly enter its 20th year of publication next year. In that time, it has bounced between publishers and changed up its tone here and there (the story that goes a little grim is called "The Dark Age" in case you were curious), but in spite of those changes, or perhaps in part because of them, the series has maintained a level of consistency that is beyond compare. The creative team did take a break for a few years before the series relaunched in 2013 under the Vertigo banner, but the book didn't have any of the rustiness one might expect; the creators jumped right back into examining the lives of regular people for whom superheroes are a regular part of life. Busiek and Anderson have taken that concept and mined it extensively for new concepts and ideas to explore. And they're still tapping the vein for gold. The nine issues that came out this year explored some fascinating avenues, from superhero personal assistants to what happens to evil robots after they're destroyed to superheroes having to cope with the notion that they may just have aged out of the job. The concepts in Astro City make single issues out of ideas that otherwise sustain entire series, and its creators do so with an enduring grace and poetry that makes every issue a thing of beauty.



    Artwork by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Fischer and Nathan Fairbairn
    Written by Bryan Lee O'Malley
    Lettered by Dustin Harbin
    Published by Ballantine Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    Success can be a dangerous thing, both in the ways it flatters our vanity and make us blind to the failings that drove us, and in the way that it raises expectations and sets us up for whole new levels of failure. The follow-up to your first big success is almost inevitably doomed to disappoint. After all, you can't break out twice.

    You can probably see where I'm going with this. The challenge of the second success is the motivation behind Katie's every action -- and re-action -- in Seconds as she prepares to move on from the restaurant that built her reputation as a chef to open a restaurant of her own. It's also the challenge that author Bryan Lee O'Malley faced in following up his smash hit series Scott Pilgrim, which is one of the defining comic works of the last ten years. Seconds is not in fact O'Malley's second work  but it fulfills that role in his career; it's the book that grew in the shadow of his breakout success. Like a fungus!

    But unlike the dangerous mushrooms that allow Katiie to rewrite her own history and replace old mistakes with exciting and devastating new ones, Seconds is actually as good as it looks. Allowing for the fact that it could never be the breakthrough jolt of fresh energy that Scott Pilgrim was, it manages to offer a mature follow-up, as much in sync with the preoccupations of adults in their thirties as Pilgrim was with the lives of twentysomethings -- and with some of the same video game realism that Pilgrim offered, even without the video game motifs. O'Malley has mastered his difficult 'second' novel. Now on to the impossible third one!



    Artwork by Francesco Francavilla
    Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
    Lettered by Jack Morelli
    Edited by Paul Kaminski
    Published by Archie Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    It's rare that there's a comic that's both completely surprising and completely inevitable, and yet, here we are in a world where Archie and his gang are contending with a full-on zombie apocalypse after Jughead became a victim of necromancy, and where Cheryl Blossom murdered her brother with a machete to avoid his incestuous advances. And it's great.

    It's the ultimate example of a great idea that started as a joke -- Francesco Francavilla drew a zombie-themed variant cover for Life With Archie, a book that's completely free of the undead, and almost immediately it became a thing that had to happen. And the amazing thing is, despite Archie's 70-year reign as the safe, friendly face of small-town America, it works. Part of it is because the Riverdale gang is made up of archetypes that fit neatly into the horror movie structure and part of it's because those 70 years have provided an awful lot of subtext to expand on in a book geared towards horror, but it all works.

    And it works beautifully. Francavilla's moody artwork still has a touch of the dark comedy that makes the premise so fun, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's self-aware scripts have that same mix of presenting this ridiculous mashup with as much sincerity as it can, and even when the creators and readers are fully aware of just how ridiculous it is, that sincerity bridges the gap to make it something that works on every level, from the ironic to the sincere and all the way back again.

    A decade ago, I would've thought you were out of your mind if you told me that Archie would be publishing a comic where Jughead was bitten by a shambling Hot Dog that Sabrina the Teenage Witch brought back to life and then led a horde of zombies to destroy all civilization, let alone that it was the best horror comic of 2014. And yet, here we are, with the best possible version of a book that almost had to happen.



    Drawings and color by François Schuiten
    Photography by Marie-Françoise Plissart
    Live-action performance by Martin Vaughn-James
    Written by Benoît Peeters
    Translated by Stephen D. Smith
    Published by Alaxis Press
    Available: Alaxis Press / Comics Shops

    François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters have been collaborating on expansive, fanciful comics since the early '80s, many of them under the banner of “The Obscure Cities” - a shared universe of impossible and metaphorical urban environments existing in a world parallel to our own. One story might concern an expanding cube's threat to the political and intellectual order. Another might lampoon real-world redevelopment efforts in Brussels. Yet another may position the secrets of a nation's true borders as a birthmark upon a woman's backside,which suggests a more traditional element at play: the frequent pairing of weird, worried, lumpen male protagonists with gorgeous, feisty, not-always-entirely-clothed supporting women.

    As a result, it is especially interesting to read this Kickstarted translation of The Leaning Girl, a 1996 installment premised on a female protagonist's troubled coming of age. Ever since the great eclipse of Year 749, young Mary von Rathen has leaned to one side – it's the only way she can keep herself balanced. Out of concern for her health (and to get her out of her mother's hair), Mary is sent away to a boarding school from which she promptly escapes, leading to a journey across the land that eventually dovetails with two additional, interspersed plots: (1) the travails of bickering scientists studying a foreign celestial body; and (2) the extravagant angst of a painter who's abandoned his loved ones to work in self-pitying isolation. In fact, the painter is isolated not just physically, but formally – his story takes place at the dawn of the 20th century, in a world much like ours, depicted not through Schuiten's drawings but high-contrast black and white photography by Marie-Françoise Plissart, shooting the pioneering comics artist Martin Vaughn-James (as: The Painter) in a variety of airy, barren scenes, eerily suggestive of minimally-inked Bristol board.

    That the art of Schuiten & Plissart should seem so cohesive will come as no surprise to Obscure City explorers, as these comics are renowned for the technical mastery of their visuals. The 'dawn of the 20th century' motif is especially potent for Schuiten, segueing from a woozy color dream sequence prelude into images reminiscent of Georges Méliès and Winsor McCay - overwhelmingly rich, almost woodcut-styled pages that never sacrifice clarity despite the enormity of their visible labor. There is no more handsome a comic out there right now, yet writer Peeters undercuts the awesomeness of these feats of draftsmanship by presenting his story's creative characters -- artists, inventors -- as controlling egos, eager to explain to Mary the path of her life while pawing at her alarmingly young body. There is absolutely a strong element of sexual and paternalistic fantasy here, of an especially banal sort, but auto-critical in a way that casts these dreamers and painters as men of limited utility; relegated, in spite of their self-importance, to signposts on a girl's growth to adulthood – two male creators not so much inhabiting a female character's headspace as begging the forgiveness of their own creation. A whimsical fancy about how you should grow the hell up.



    Artwork by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
    Written by Warren Ellis
    Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
    Edited by Ellie Pyle and Stephen Wacker
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The last time Warren Ellis dropped into mainstream Marvel for the first six issues of a new superhero series, it was with Adi Granov on Iron Man, and within a couple years, Tony Stark became the most popular and significant character in the Marvel Universe. That's probably not going to happen with Moon Knight, a clinically insane ex-mercenary who avenges night travelers while wearing the aspect of an Egyptian moon god he also talks to sometimes. That stuff don't play in the flyover states.

    While it's doubtful Moon Knight will be the next Marvel film franchise, Ellis and Declan Shalvey have certainly redefined the character for this millennium, and any creator who comes near Marc Spector for the next decade will have this watershed series to aspire to. In six issues, each a self-contained story, Ellis, Shalvey, and the remarkable Jordie Bellaire embraced the insanity and honed Moon Knight into a perfect new articulation of his character that is vicious, haunting, and sly.

    Moon Knight: From The Dead is lean and clever and constantly surprising, with Moon Knight facing the strangest threats of an already abnormal career: a super-soldier rebuilding his body with others' parts; an ectoplasmic gang of ghost punks; the dream-fungus of a dead man. Every story is a race through violence and oddity, with Shalvey's nefarious lines and Bellaire's heroin-green motifs combining into vortex reeling you in to this uncomfortable world of casual lunacy.

    And just like that, it was over. Though others have picked up the truncheon admirably, it's going to be a long time before anybody tops this brief, brilliant, unusual run. Moon Knight is dead; long live Moon Knight.



    Artwork by Leila del Duca and Owen Gieni
    Written by Joe Keatinge
    Lettered by Ed Brisson
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca's Shutter is a nonstop whirlwind of action and insanity, following photographer/adventurer Kate Kristopher as she attempts to unravel some long-buried family secrets, fighting her way through a near-future funhouse universe filled with ghosts, robots, animal people, flying cars, ninjas, and danger lurking around every corner. Keatinge seems to be packing an entire lifetime of inspirations into the writing of these pages, and del Duca's art not only matches pace with her collaborator, but adds a grace and zest to the proceedings that takes the story from merely inventive to positively explosive. Together, they've made Shutter into my new favorite series, a book that explores the medium's potential while reveling in the inherent absurdities of the form, a poptastic tidal wave of unchecked, unhinged imagination.



    Artwork by Aaron Kuder and Wil Quintana
    Written by Greg Pak
    Lettering by DC Lettering
    Edited by Eddie Berganza, Anthony Marques and Jeremy Bent
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Let's be honest: they ought to call it Satisfaction Comics. Ever since Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder took over as the regular creative team on this title with issue #25, each new story has been a delight to read. Perhaps the most prominent change brought about by this title has been the reinvention of Lana Lang as a fearless electrical engineer and Clark's tightest ladybro from childhood times, but between his work on this title and that in Batman/Superman, Pak has been developing and contributing to the inner lives of the Superman family at large, including not only Lana, but also John Henry Irons, Lois Lane, and Krypto (okay, maybe not a lot on the inner life of Krypto, but you know what I mean).

    Additionally, the artwork by regular team of Kuder and Wil Quintana is bold and dynamic enough to live up to the name of Action as Superman fights giant monsters, liberates a city at the center of the earth, or turns into a monster himself. This title is so good it couldn't even be derailed by a multiple month crossover title in which Superman turns into Doomsday and the Red Lanterns have to punch him to Earth from space, resulting in an actually pretty cool story (with help from other collaborators such as Charles Soule and Tony Daniel, et al.). While "Doomed" turned out way better than the premise deserved, hopefully Pak and Kuder will get to tell the kind of energetic but still personal stories they told the rest of the year for some time to come.



    Artwork by Mike Deodato, Szymon Kudranski, Kev Walker, Valerio Schiti, Salvador Larroca, Rags Morales, Simone Bianchi, Frank Martin, Jr. and others
    Written by Jonathan Hickman
    Lettered by Joe Caramagna
    Edited by Tom Brevoort, Lauren Sankovitch, Jake Thomas and Wil Moss
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Here we are, in an overall period of reconstruction, and Jonathan Hickman is dissecting your heroes like the petty little dead men they really are. New Avengers has been building up in pressure since it began, and in 2014 it finally exploded, blowing a hole in the center of the Marvel Universe. And even though you knew it was coming, it did nothing to lessen the shock or the impact. The roiling tensions are overflowing, the monstrous secrets are out, and now we get to see what heroes are really made of.

    Hickman is justifiably praised for his meticulous world-building, but world-building doesn't make great stories; characters do, and Hickman has burrowed into the very core of each icon he tortures. In a fictional universe where the protagonists are constantly tested to their limits by crises of ever-increasing severity, the multiversal threat that Hickman has created tops them all, and the sheer immensity of it is revealing more about these heroes than you might have even wanted to know.

    There have been plenty of stories that pitted hero against hero and deconstructed them over the last few years, but none in a manner this thorough and authentic. Each character has a very strong point-of-view, and no choice they make is done for the sake of the big shock, e.g. half of the beats in Avengers Vs. X-MenCivil War, and Five Or Six More Marvel Events. Every momentous decision made by Iron Man or Black Panther or Namor -- no matter how dubious or self-serving or appalling -- makes sense given what we already know of them, like truths you didn't want to acknowledge. Despite the inconsistent art this year, the strength of the character work and the constantly-elevating stakes made New Avengers a must-read every month.

    We all know where it's headed again. "In 5 Months...Time Runs Out!" and somehow that leads to Secret Wars and... every other Marvel event ever. With his in-depth understanding of these characters, though, I'm sure Hickman will be able to pull off something unique and unexpected. What these characters will do on the way there, and who they'll be after it's all said and done? No idea. Isn't it great?



    Artwork by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
    Written by Jason Latour
    Lettering by Clayton Cowles
    Edited by Nick Lowe and Ellie Pyle
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    By all indications, the alternate-universe Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Womanl (she got bitten instead of Peter Parker) that debuted in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, a tie-in issue building up to the Spider-Verse event, wasn't supposed to be much more than a small element of a much larger story. She debuted in (and so far, has only appeared in) the second issue of an offshoot miniseries, for example. That one issue by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez proved so vibrant, exciting and, perhaps above all else, current, that fans began demanding that the "Spider-Gwen" get her own series, and Marvel had to oblige.

    It's rare that one-off, alternate universe characters get such a swell of support from fans, but Latour and Rodriguez did such a great job of building a world for the character (the "previously in..." page is a delight) and making her compelling that, in hindsight, it seems almost inevitable. Still, who could have guessed that this comic about a girl in a band who wears a hoodie at night to go fight crime would outshine the massive event comic it was supposed to be a prologue for? It's a great example of the little guy (uh, girl) winning one this year.



    Artwork by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
    Written by Skottie Young
    Lettered by  Jeff Eckleberry
    Edited by Sana Amanat, Devin Lewis and Nick Lowe
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    It may seem like calling Skottie Young's Rocket Raccoon series, which debuted after the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, a TV cartoon in comic book form is some sort of backhanded insult, but trust me, it isn't. This book is kinetic. It moves. The pages crackle with energy and background detail and above all else, a cracking sense of humor, in a way that reminds me of few comics but of many, many cartoons I have loved throughout my life, from the work of Chuck Jones to stuff like Regular Show. The character designs and expressions are bold and bigger than reality. And hey, look: There are plenty of actual cartoons that have been adapted into comics over the past few years, many of them really good (Adventure Time, for example). And yet Rocket Raccoon stood above during the last six months of 2014. What's really surprising about it is that Marvel could have put out just about anything in the weeks after Guardians became the smash hit movie of the year and expected it to do pretty well, but they handed the reins to an artist brimming with creativity in Young, and let him cut loose. It was an excellent, excellent decision.



    Artwork and lettering by Jillian Tamaki
    Written by Mariko Tamaki
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    It was so wonderful to see Mariko and Jillian Tamakis’ chronicle of adolescence go beyond critical acclaim into straight up hype this year. It's a breathtaking comic. The panels of swimming alone are among the most nakedly emotional work I’ve ever encountered. But it’s the small observations that really get me: the stick Rose picks up while cycling to Windy's house, the bucket of shampoo and conditioner floating beside Windy's inner tube, the Dud's knobbly jawline. I have little in common with Rose, but her story almost felt like remembering something I’d forgotten.

    When I interviewed Jillian Tamaki at SPX this year, she mentioned that her teen years were when emotions first started to feel real and important. This One Summer is an incredible portrayal of female adolescence because that understanding and experience bleeds through every panel. It is sweet and sad and perfect and it deserves every inch of praise it gets.



    Artwork by Javier Pulido, Ronald Wimberly and Munsta Vicente with Kevin Wada
    Written by Charles Soule
    Lettering by Clayton Cowles
    Edited by Jeanine Schaefer, Tom Brennan and Frankie Johnson
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Also a contributor to Superman/Wonder Woman, Letter 44, Superman, Thunderbolts, Inhuman, Original Sins, Godhead, Swamp Thing, Death of Wolverine, Red Lanterns, Legends of the Dark Knight, The Logan Legacy, and Wonder Woman, Charles Soule spent the year writing twenty eight percent of all comics, alongside his continuing work as a practicing lawyer. I believe he also still works his childhood newspaper route, hosts a babysitting club every week, and his first record “Soule Music” will be released on vinyl in the New Year. A slightly busy year for him.

    She-Hulk, the best of his comics in 2014, stuck out because of the clear way he identified with the life of Jennifer Walters, herself a practicing lawyer and overworked hero. This was the year Marvel attempted to give a social life to all their 'solo' heroes, but She-Hulk’s authenticity shone through and gave the book a real feel of something ‘different’. For one thing, the legal jargon all sounded pretty accurate and the social aspects of legal life felt genuine and whole. Having created a layer of authenticity, he then went off and threw complete nonsense at the character for an extended period of time.

    That contrast between the fairly honest legalese and robot punching made She-Hulk the proper successor to the ‘Hawkeye style' of comics, which Marvel have been chasing all year. When she’s ‘not’ in the Avengers, what does She-Hulk do? Stuff which is far more entertaining than the stuff she does in the Avengers! She has a unique voice amongst superheroes at Marvel, in that she tends to thoroughly love what she does whilst retaining a quiet sense of authority, and Soule took one of Marvel’s most underappreciated characters and gave her the showcase she’s been missing for years.



    Artwork by Yusuke Murata
    Written by ONE
    Published by VIZ Media
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Shops

    There were some good superhero comics this year, but for my money, the best was ONE and Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man. It’s funny, it’s violent, it’s frequently stupid and it has more heart packed into it than almost anything else on the stands. Also, it features characters named Grad School Graduate, Spring Mustache, Jet Nice Guy, Tank Top Tiger and roughly one million more, all of them just as golden.

    One-Punch Man is the serialized adventures of a guy named Saitama who decides one day to be “a hero for fun,” and embarks on a strenuous training regimen that alows him to defeat any enemy with one punch.

    My favorite moment, and the one that solidified itself on my list for 2014, comes in volume 3 (Viz released five digital collections this year) and involves a nebbish mid-level hero in a suit who fights with a group named the Blizzard Bunch. His group encounters an enemy named Demon Fan, but our guy freaks out, and somebody else on his team ends up beating the evil robot fan monster. Our guy has a bit of a career crisis, saying that he can’t be a hero because he doesn’t have a superpower, that these gifted people are born different than people like you or me, and that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll never be good enough to be a hero. Enter Saitama–a guy who got his super-strength through exercising so hard he went bald–who shows up just as Demon Fan is reforming and, true to his name, defeats him with one punch. Afterward, Saitama suggests to the guy that, instead of giving up, maybe he just needs to try harder. The chapter ends with the guy quitting the Blizzard Bunch and taking the advice to heart. We see him out jogging, inspired to train as hard as he can to be a true hero.

    It’s a heartening idea, that anybody can be a hero if they try hard enough. Saitama’s not perfect; he often comes across as an oblivious dick, but he’s very sincere in his desire to be a hero and to help people. Especially if “helping people,” means punching monsters to literal pieces. That’s kind of exactly what I’m looking for in a superhero comic.



    Artwork by Mikel Janin and Jeremy Cox
    Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
    Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual
    Edited by Kate Kubert, Mark Doyle and Matt Humphreys
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics StoresAmazon Pre-Order

    I'm going to be real with you for a second here: When Dick Grayson was unmasked in the pages of Forever Evil, I was 100% sure that nothing good was going to come of it. I've never really bought the idea that DC editorial is hellbent on killing off the original Robin (because they've talked about it so much that there's really no way for it to be a surprise anymore), but still. If nothing else, it stretches even my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point to imagine a world where nobody would think that Bruce Wayne's kid being revealed as one of Batman's sidekicks would completely shatter that whole secret identity thing he's been keeping up for the past 75 years. In any case, I definitely wasn't expecting it to lead to one of the best new directions for a character I've ever read.

    I have to imagine that it's difficult to do something new with a character who's been around since 1940, but freeing him of his superhero identity has allowed SeeleyKing and Janin to do something amazing, throwing Dick Grayson into a world of superhero espionage, full of men with unseeable faces and guns for eyes, where he's a triple-agent among double-agents.

    When the first issue came out, I said that my favorite thing about it was that it was one of the first books of the "New 52" era to feel like it was part of a larger cohesive DC Universe, and as the series continued -- including the single best Future's End tie-in and a pretty fantastic Annual -- that's been the case. This is the book that's picking up on all the stuff that Grant Morrison's long run on Batman left in the universe to play with, the book that brought Helena Bertinelli back, and that made a better case than anything for the Wildstorm heroes to be a presence in the DC Universe.

    Plus, this thing's like 90% shirtless hunk superheroics, and that's a level ComicsAlliance can get behind.



    Artwork by Jen Wang
    Written by Cory Doctorow
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores
    In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, was the sort of well-timed release that nobody could plan for. Though based on a ten-year-old short story by Doctorow, the themes explored in this adaptation are perhaps more resonant today than ever before.

    The book tells the story of Anda, a young woman who discovers her own strength of character and learns about the complexities of the wider world through an immersive online roleplaying game. It arrived on bookshelves on the tail of this year's exhausting '#GamerGate' campaign to hound women out of video games (under the thin diguise of a supposed campaign for journalistic ethics).

    Gorgeously brought to the page by Wang, In Real Life is a glimpse of the new now, of how video games have become part of our everyday lives and a vital tool of self-expression for marginalized people -- represented here both by Anda, a young women, and Raymond, an over-worked Chinese worker who she befriends. Comics offer the same power, the same methods of escape and expression, and In Real Life has the power to inspire new fans in both media. Jen Wang is a tremendous storyteller at the vanguard of a new generation of female creators emerging from the world of illustration, while Anda is a far better fictional avatar of young women in video games than GamerGate's straw woman 'Vivian James'.

    GamerGate is a doomed movement, a cry of entitled outrage from people who won't acknowledge that the world has already changed. It's also a depressing reminder that a lot of people see their online lives as an excuse to embrace lesser selves behind veils of anonymity or distance. Our online lives aren't separate from ourselves. Whether it's through our games, our art, our online communities, or just how we talk to each other on Twitter, these are our real lives -- and In Real Life marks this moment in our evolving understanding of that fact.



    Artwork by Meghan Hetrick, Tula Lotay, Dean Ormston Phil Winslade and Lee Loughridge
    Written by Si Spencer
    Lettering by Taylor Esposito and Dezi Sienty
    Edited by Shelly Bond and Sara Miller
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Vertigo has really latched itself onto the stories-that-jump-around-in-time motif over the past few years. The Wake had a time jump, Trillium was about a love that spanned centuries, and now, the eight-part miniseries Bodies written by Si Spencer takes the motif to a whole other level: London detectives in four different time periods (1890, 1940, 2014 and 2050) find the same dead body and investigate it in their own way. That concept alone is pretty fascinating, but add to the mix four different artists who cover each time period (Dean OrmstonPhil WinsladeMeghan Hetrick and Tula Lotay, respectively), and you get something really special. Each artist, working with colorist Lee Loughridge, does an amazing job of capturing his or her time period, from the modern curves of Hetrick's 2014 to the limited color palate and charcoal look of Ormston's 1890 to the pulpy look and blue hues of Winslade's 1940 to the neon madness of Lotay's 2050. Details such as different fonts for the narration boxes make each period all the more distinct.

    Add to that the story details -- 1940's detective Whiteman is a dirty cop who fled the Nazis in Poland; 2014's DS Khan is a Muslim woman dealing with modern prejudice -- and you get great period snapshots. The mystery is the hook, but it actually ends up taking a back seat to the characters' own stories.



    Artwork by Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot
    Written by Mary M. Talbot
    Typesetting by Katy Rodda
    Published by Dark Horse (NA) & Jonathan Cape (UK)
    Edited by Everett Patterson and Chris Warner
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores / Dark Horse /Jonathan Cape

    There has been remarkably little discussion of this book in the comics press, perhaps owing to its none-too-contemporary subject: the struggle for women's voting rights in the United Kingdom in the years immediately preceding the Great War. Also, it is a terrifically dense work, crammed with nine-panel grids and imposing political detail, to say nothing of myriad historical personages with extremely similar haircuts. There are 18 pages of text annotations, which you will probably need to consult, and a 41-item sources list available for further elucidation.

    Bryan Talbot, who provides page breakdowns and lettering, is certainly known to connoisseurs as an important figure in UK comics, and both writer Mary M. Talbot and artist Kate Charlesworth have participated in prestigious recent projects -- respectively, the Costa prize-winning Dotter of her Father's Eyes, which Talbot wrote, and Nelson, an expansive UK comics art showcase to which Charlesworth contributed -- but none of them are stop-the-internet prominent, and lacking a sexy hook it's probably inevitable their new graphic novel would arrive with little fanfare from busy specialist outlets.

    Here's the thing, though: Sally Heathcote is also REALLY INTENSE. Not four pages have passed before a suffragette has thrown a hatchet at the Prime Minister, and the ongoing education of the fictional Ms. Heathcote, housemaid-turned-activist, encompasses all manner of militant protest: public disruption; smashing windows; planting bombs in empty homes. They know that police beatings may follow, and that their prison hunger strikes may be legally broken by forced feeding, and what emerges, then, from this mayhem, is an old but provocative question: why does a society value the preservation of property over the bodies of people, so that people who do violence to property 'deserve' violence done onto them? In this way, all the book's slow-reading detail and convoluted interpersonal dynamics serve an added purpose: to confirm that these things indisputable happened, regarding an issue that nobody reading this comic isn't going to consider among the most settled controversies imaginable.

    From there, the reader might apply its themes to contemporary agitations against what seems to be common sense today, and might be appalling illogic tomorrow, though the authors are not quite composing a paean – instead, we observe too how extremists devour each other, until the waves of history roll in to wipe it all smooth.



    Edited by Kristy Quinn and Jessica Chen
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Thank Hera then for Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, a digital-first anthology comic in the style and format of Adventures of Superman and Legends of the Dark Knight before it. Five paper issues have been published so far, containing nine different stories. Not all of them have been winners, and the book has sometimes been organized haphazardly, usually featuring fairly terrible covers that hide the high quality comics inside, but it has given us some of the best Wonder Woman comics of the year.

    Some of these have been rather straightforward stories set in pre-New 52 continuities, like Rob Williams and Tom Lyle’s “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman,” a Satellite Era Justice League team-up story; or Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s “Dig For Fire,” a Wonder Woman vs. Apokolips story that filled all 30-pages of issue #5.

    Others have been more imaginative, even wild takes, either because of their art, or their story, or some combination of the two, like Sean E. Williams and Marguerite Sauvage’s “Bullets and Bracelets,” which reimagines Wonder Woman as a literal rock star; Ollie Masters and Amy Mebberson’s Catwoman vs. Wonder Woman conflict “Morning Coffee,” in which the characters are given a bobble-headed makeover appropriate for the comedic adventure; and Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel’s “Ghosts and Gods,” which puts the Amazing Amazon in a sort of old-school Brave and The Bold/DC ComicsPresents style team-up, here allying her and sidekick Etta Candy with Deadman.

    Most notable of all the stories so far, however, is Gilbert Hernandez’s “No Chains Can Hold Her,” in which Hernandez’s very Gilbert Hernandez-esque version of Wonder Woman is captured by Kanjar Ro and ends up doing battle with Supergirl.  And by “with Supergirl” I mean she both fights against her and, in perhaps the best superhero battle of 2014, she fights using her as a weapon, as Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel toss Supergirl at one another like a projectile.



    By David Lapham
    Edited by Maria Lapham and Karen Hoyt
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores
    After debuting the long-awaited final issue of the original series, Lapham re-introduced his crime masterpiece Stray Bullets to the world after nearly a decade away. The first issue of Killers is a perfect summation of the themes that quickly defined the classic in its first story story arc, "Innocence Of Nihilism": the corruption of youth and the early linkage of violence and sex, parents f*cking up their kids, the every-day sociopathy of suburban life, and the awesomeness of eight-panel grids. But Killers doesn't just represent a return to prior form; by the end of the series, it's apparent that Lapham and Stray Bullets have continued to evolve in their mutual absence. Killers is frightening and desperate and bittersweet like nothing else Lapham has done, and it's just the first of an ongoing series of story arcs Image will be publishing for years to come.

    There really is nothing like Stray Bullets. There are plenty of good crime comics being made these days, but nothing as vibrant, visceral, and honest as what Lapham does. Stray Bullets is funny, awful, and familiar; a brutally honest examination of the mayhem that people can wreak on one another; thrilling and tragic and unrelentingly human.



    Artwork by Andy Price, Heather Breckel and Katie Cook
    Written by Katie Cook
    Lettering by Neil Uyetake
    Edited by Bobby Curnow
    Published by IDW
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    A too-big chunk of my year was spent riding the MBTA commuter rail back and forth between Boston and Salem. Reading Katie Cook and Andy Price’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on my phone quickly became my absolute favorite way to pass the time -- but not, as I'd initially expected, because it’s whimsical and easy to digest at 7:30 AM. No, that became pretty obviously not the case as I spent ten minutes per panel, ogling the luxurious detail Price's work is so marked by.

    Mostly, though...I was feeling things. Feeling things over pastel princess ponies TORN FROM THEIR LOVERS BY THE CAPRICE OF SPACE AND TIME! Feeling things over pastel princess ponies HAUNTED BY PAST MISDEEDS! I’d read eagerly, hoping no one could see my screen. Princess Luna gets cool battle armor! Twilight meets her favorite author! Will, the narration somberly intoned, Big Mac ever manage to fix his gazebo?

    I was very literally on the edge of my seat—even wishing, at times, the ride took just a little bit longer. My Little Pony is the best kind of all-ages work: emotional, accessible, and inventive. I say this with all the pride in my 24-year-old heart: I can’t wait to join Princess Twilight and her friends on more adventures in 2015.



    Artwork by Sonny Liew
    Written by Gene Luen Yang
    Lettering by Janice Chiang
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon  / Comics Stores 

    In 1944, back in the wild, "We’ll Try Anything" days of superhero comics, a particularly mysterious new crime fighter emerged in the pages of publisher Rural Home’s Blazing Comics. He wore a cape, cowl, boots, gloves, trunks and nothing else, and in a handful of adventures he and his sidekick Burma Boy battled against the Axis-allied Japanese. The creation of Asian-American artist Chu F. Hing, the Green Turtle’s face rarely appeared on-panel, as the hero generally faced away from the reader or somehow had his profile obscured by an object, and his bared skin sometimes seemed incredibly pink. Strangest of all, the hero cast a big, black, anthropomorphic turtle shadow, which had its own set of eyes and a mouth with which to look at the reader and smile.

    Speculation is that the Green Turtle was intended to be the first Asian superhero, but that his publisher was pretty adamant the character not be Asian, which explains the odd coloring choices and carefully cropping out of the character’s face -- the cartoonist and publisher simultaneously pursued their own, conflicting versions of the character.

    The story of the Green Turtle fascinated cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, whose works like American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints wrestled with elements of Asian identity issues. Together with cartoonist Sonny Liew,Yang ultimately reinvented the Green Turtle for the 2014 graphic novel The Shadow Hero.

    Starting with just a handful of story clues offered by the few Golden Age stories—the turtle shadow, the costume, the skin coloration—Yang and Liew extrapolate a compelling story of a young first-generation Chinese-American, the son of immigrants trying to make their way in America despite difficult odds. Ultimately he becomes that most American of all institutions: An honest-to-God superhero.

    Their action-packed dramedy works as a straightforward, new-reader friendly, often quite funny superhero adventure, while it simultaneously addresses the issues of cultural and racial identity. It can be read as maybe one of the most meta superhero comics ever written, but only if you want to read it that way—it’s also one of the most entertaining and engaging super-comics of the year.



    Serialized in Original Sins #1-5 

    Artwork by Ramon Villalobos and Jordan Gibson
    Written by Ryan North
    Lettering by Clayton Cowles
    Edited by Jake Thomas, Wil Moss and Tom Brevoort
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The first of Marvel’s big crossover/event series of the year was Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato’s Original Sin. That was the eight-part series that began as a murder mystery, asking who killed the man on the moon and stole his eyeballs, which were full of secrets, but ended up positing an EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WAS WRONG! retcon by which a long-time pillar of the Marvel Universe was actually a deranged lone gunman, assassinating alien threats to earth by shooting them in the head with super-guns.

    It had its moments, sure, but, on average, it wasn’t very good.

    But “Hidden In Plain Sight,” a five-part Young Avengers story that ran in each issue of Original Sin’s not-at-all-confusingly-named sister title Original Sins -- That was very good. It’s a rather minor side-story that uses a single scene in an earlier issue of Original Sin, in which one of the bad guys uses a Watcher eyeball as a “truth bomb” to distract New York’s superhero community by revealing retconned secrets of their own pasts.

    A trio of the latest incarnation of the Young Avengers, Hulkling, Prodigy and Marvel Boy, investigate the scene, and find the villain The Hood using his evil magic hood powers to hide a building full of civilians whose heads are filled-to-the-brim with knowledge from the Watcher eye and…Okay, it sounds needlessly complicated in summary.

    The point is, it’s about half the Young Avengers vs. the Hood in a high-stakes conflict with no easy answers. It’s written by Ryan North, best known for either Dinosaur Comics or the Adventure Time comic, depending on your reading preferences, and it is at times as funny as either of those… North even has little comments running along the bottom of some pages the way he did in his Adventure Time comics, the paper comic equivalent of his alt text gags from Dinosaur Comics.

    It’s drawn by Ramon Villalobos in a rough but detailed style that looks close enough to that of Jamie McKelvie that it seems of a piece with the goings on of the Young Avengers title, but distinct enough from McKelvie’s style and that of Original Sin artist Deodato that it’s clear that no matter who makes up the cast or what it’s tying in to, this is really it’s own thing.

    Like a lot of readers, I was pretty bummed out when McKelvie and writer Kieron Gillen’s volume of Young Avengers ended after only 15 issues. After reading “Hidden In Plain Sight,” I’m even more bummed out, as now Marvel’s let us know they had a pretty perfect Young Avengers creative team waiting in the wings, a team that would have been able to produce a pretty great All-New Young Avengers.



    Artwork by Goran Parlov and Ive Svorcina
    Written by Mark Millar
    Lettering by Marko Sunjic
    Edited by Nicole Boose
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Mark Millar is one of those creators that I'm never able to get a handle on. He's written a lot of amazing comics over the years, but a lot of his work tends toward an in-your-face, bitterly "edgy" style that just kinda bums me out. He's an undeniably talented storyteller who can take stock-standard concepts and rethink them in truly innovative and entertaining ways, but he seems to have a default tone of cynicism that he applies when his attention starts to wander, and often places a bit too much narrative weight on shock value. I haven't been thrilled by most of his recent output, but I feel compelled to keep an eye on him.

    So, when Starlight #1 hit the stands, I picked it up in the shop, flipped through it, decided I'd take it home, and then read it three times in a row that evening. The story is a variation on the "aging hero coming out of retirement for one last fight" premise that's been used in countless westerns and action movies, but here it's dressed up in old-timey sci-fi trappings, with the lead as an over-the-hill hybrid of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and a universe filled with rocket ships and strange creatures.

    Goran Parlov's art is all clean, energetic lines, defining alien cityscapes and high-stakes action with skill and panache. For his part, Millar goes straight for the heart, mixing well-honed genre tropes and universal emotions into six issues of space opera adventure, using familiar elements to construct one of his finest, and most straightforward, stories to date.



    Artwork by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
    Written by Ryan North
    Lettering by Steve Wands
    Edited by Shannon Watters and Whitney Leopard
    Published by kaboom!
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The formula shouldn't work: a licensed, all-ages comic based on a TV cartoon should, by all rights, be terrible. If you've read comics for any length of time, you know this to be true. And yet, thanks to the strength of the creative team of Ryan NorthShelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb -- and, presumably, the shrewdly permissive oversight of creator Pendleton Ward and Frederator Studios -- the Adventure Time series has been consistently one of the best American comics -- not only for all ages, but of all comics published -- for the entirety of the team's tenure.

    North's writing is sharp and incisive, not only filling the pages with stylized dialogue redolent of the show's best moments, which means that nearly every panel has something funny in it, but also focusing on themes of friendship, love, and teamwork in such an effortless and meaningful way that a line like, “This way if we turn into skeletons at the bottom of some dungeon somewhere, people will still know we're pals!”, real emotional resonance. Furthermore, the art by Paroline and Lamb is expressive and fluid, staying on model for the show but imbuing the comic with its own life, and filling the background with so many little hidden gags that you can get something new out of every issue each time you read it.

    While much of the writing done on the Adventure Time comic focuses on the formalistic experiments done in the book, such as the inclusion of hidden text, and special format issues like the choose-your-own-adventure story and this year's zine-inspired jam issue, the fact is, all of that stylistic stuff would fall apart without strong storytelling fundamentals and real heart to hold it all together, and this series has that, from the goof-writ-large story of Finn and Jake becoming ghosts because they're tired of pooping (drawn by guest artist Jim Rugg) to the epic, decade spanning adventure of Finn in search of lost time at the hand of the Mnemonoid. The incoming creative team of Christopher Hastings and Zachary Sterling have some big shoes to fill.



    Artwork by Fiona Staples
    Written by Brian K. Vaughan
    Lettering and design by Fonografiks
    Coordinated by Eric Stephenson
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Yes, of course Saga is on this list. It's exactly as good as everyone tells you it is, for all the reasons you've already heard. Even more reasons came to light this year, though -- principally, the fascinating supporting cast. Vaughan isn't afraid to devote dozens of pages to characters like Sophie or Klara, giving Saga a wonderful heft and density. There isn't a single character I don't care about in this book -- and thanks to Staples, not a single character who doesn't look incredible.

    Staples' character designs are the most inventive I've seen in a while, especially evident in Yuma, the Brand, and every member of the Circuit. Imagination and emotion enliven every page of Saga, not to mention a wicked sense of humor. As it heads into its third year, I think we'd all better get used to seeing Saga on best-of lists. It shows no signs of slowing down.



    Artwork by Tradd Moore, Damian Scot and Val Staples
    Written by Felipe Smith
    Lettering by Joe Caramagna
    Edited by Mark Paniccia, Emily Shaw and Axel Alonso
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Robbie Reyes is many things: a fiercely devoted brother, an unapologetic street-racer, a tough but flawed teenager, and possessed by The Spirit of Vengeance. But more than that, he’s also a dead ringer for Bradford’s finest, because he looks just like Zayn Malik from One Direction. Which -- as Zayn is the best member of One Direction, and I’ll see you in the comments for a lengthy battle you'll inevitably lose, Niall fans -- can only be a benefit.

    Felipe SmithTradd Moore and Val Staples created a character who’ll hopefully endure at Marvel, with Robbie proving to be as three-dimensional and surprising a person as you can find in superhero comics. He’s got an ego, but he’s also self-effacing and willing to drop everything in order to keep his little brother safe. He’s got an anger in him, but he’s also smart enough to know when a fight is already lost. Most of all, he’s a sharp kid who just doesn’t have the opportunities to break out. He’s empathetic, but distanced. He’s funny, but defensive. He’s brilliant.

    And All-New Ghost Rider is one of Marvel’s most accomplished titles. Many creators have done interesting things with established characters, but here the creative team managed to create a wholly new, never-before-seen brand of hero, and they’ve made him every inch as compelling as any of Marvel’s A-List characters. The book feels genuine and tough, while maintaining a sense of heart and depth without ever becoming too sentimental. Smith has been a revelation at Marvel this year, while Moore and Staples’ artwork pulses a flaming path through the dark streets of Los Angeles. It’s genuinely thrilling stuff, and the recent arrival of Damion Scott has only strengthened the series. If you haven’t tried it – it’s well worth a look.



    Artwork by I.N.J. Cullbard
    Written by Ian Edginton
    Lettering by Ellie De Ville
    Edited by Keith Richardson and Matt Smith
    Published by Rebellion
    Available: Amazon / 2000 AD / Comics Stores

    "The Wheel of Worlds," the first collection of the 2000 AD strip Brass Sun, from writer Ian Edginton and artist  I.N.J. Culbard, is a lovely fantasy story, full of daring fights, great characters, lush visuals and dazzling worlds.

    So here’s the set-up: the titular Brass Sun, a mechanical sun that lights a group of constructed clockwork planets like a literal Orrery on a massive scale, is dying. Our hero, the plucky Wren, has been sent by her grandfather to save it, though doing so is considered heresy by the presiding religious group on her world. Aided by the young priest Conductor Seventeen, Wren encounters murderous zealots, clockwork robots, bloodthirsty aristocrats, airship pirates, and, well, God, who appears first as Mark Twain, then Robert Oppenheimer and, finally, as Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a fast-moving story that moves from world to world, building up the universe as it goes, through a combination of judicious plotting, great characters and magnificent settings.

    Edginton, whose work on Vertigo’s New Deadwardians garnered some mild attention, teams up again with Culbard, who’s gone on from Deadwardians to do some great work recently with Dan Abnett on Dark Horse’s Dark Ages (that’s fun to say, huh?) as well as BOOM! Studios’ in-progress Wilds End miniseries. The writing and art are both top notch, but Culbard’s designs are especially impressive, building not just a world, but worlds, as Wren and Seventeen go along their travels. It’s a fantastic start to what I hope is a long-running series.



    Artwork by Mike Cavallaro, Powree, Tyson Hesse, Jamal Peppers, Ryan Jampole, Gary Martin, Bob Smith, and Matt Herms
    Written by Ian Flynn
    Lettered by John Workman
    Edited by Paul Kaminski and Vincent Lovallo
    Published by Archie Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The plot of the Mega Man games, the source material for the Archie comic that's closing in on four years as one of the best books going, is simple to the point of being ridiculous. A bad old man has made bad robots, so you must run to the right and destroy the bad robots until you get to the biggest bad robot, and then you destroy him. Repeat this eight times and you get to go to a giant skull castle and humiliate the old man by breaking all of his stuff. Oh, also, you're a robot, and you get the bad guys' weapons, and one of them is super-effective against one of the other bad robots. That's pretty much it, and while that is a plot that's worked for like 30 really fun video games over the past 25 years, it's not the kind of thing that would translate well to an ongoing adventure comic -- especially one that's taken forty issues just to get to the start of Mega Man 3.

    And yet, it's provided the basis for one of the smartest and most engaging comics on the stands, one that takes that simple plot from the video games and hammered it into shape as a story with compelling characters having conversations about morality and forgiveness that aren't happening anywhere else in comics. That's always been a part of the book -- the first story arc featured Mega Man having a nervous breakdown over the stress of having to destroy his fellow robots -- but this year, the creators have taken it to the next level. See, the plot of Mega Man 3 (such as it was) involved Dr. Wily's seeming reformation, so to make the storyline match up, the comics have weaved together a story of Wily, after two attempts at conquering the world, being offered a chance for redemption through unconditional forgiveness.

    As you might expect, there are characters who question this tactic (and they're going to turn out to be right, of course), but when he's questioned about it, Dr. Light presents forgiveness and compassion as the only option. Anything else is inhuman -- and in a book about robots that are as close to humanity as they can be, that's a theme that resonates.

    In a time when mainstream superheroics can often seem to be embarrassed by their own unrealistic ideas about morality, Mega Man feels refreshing in the way that it presents itself to its all-ages readers. There's not a whole lot of subtlety, but it works -- and it makes the structure of a book that's primarily about robots blowing each other up feel like it's built on something a whole lot bigger.



    By Box Brown
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    Whether you're a wrestling fan or not, there's a strong chance you love Andre the Giant. From his often impossible-to-dislike public persona (in the old pro-wrestling days, videos of him relaxing on his North Carolina farm made him seem like a big teddy bear) to his star-marking turn as Fezzik in The Princess Bride, Andre was rightly beloved, and that love has only increased in the years since his death in 1993.

    That's part of what makes Box Brown's comic book biography of the man so brave in so many ways. It truly paints a "warts and all" picture of Andre's life, including his troubled relationship with his daughter (he was absent for most of her life) and an incident involving an overheard racial slur uttered on a bus in Japan. The latter story serves as a centerpiece for the book, and it risks invoking a backlash for demonizing an often-lionized figure. But Brown isn't doing a hatchet job here; he's simply reporting information he gathered through meticulous research (an index in the back lists dozens of sources), and in doing so, through snippets and snapshots, he tells the story of the complex life of a huge man. Brown offers a portrait of a thoroughly human wonder of the world. It's a massive accomplishment.



    By Olivier Schrauwen
    Published by Fantagraphics Books
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Fantagraphics / Comics Shops

    It's not often a comic begins with a panel of the artist saying hello, but there's very few artists in comics like Berlin's Olivier Schrauwen, trained animator and determined formalist, who's recently begun spinning tales from his family history into weird, beguiling comics filled with outrageous lies and brazen slapstick. Arsène Schrauwen is his grandest expression of such, a serial he's been printing himself in a two-color process since 2012, now presented as a deluxe Fantagraphics hardcover that approaches the material like vintage funnies from a forgotten past, preserving every quirk of text and register -- even directing the reader to put the book away for a week or two at each issue break, as if the sensation of waiting for a new chapter is integral to the whole.

    Schrauwen first came to global attention in 2009 with My Boy, a funny/eerie evocation of American master Winsor McCay that didn't hesitate to confront the racist character of some of his work. Five years later, Schrauwen's visual approach has moved beyond specifics into something that feels impossibly like a pastiche of comics that never even existed, with a rich sense of anti-sophistication: rarely does a panel not repeat what is narrated via caption, even in the case of such ripe similes as comparing a man's penis to a bird. Schrauwen draws that bird, that penis, after which his characters indulge in refreshing Trappist beer, which represents “freedom.” We know this, because Schrauwen also explicitly defines many of the symbols he uses, right on the front cover of the book.

    The purpose of this is threefold. First, it is funny. Second, it is critical, in that it presents the adventure of Arsène, a gormless post-WWII twentysomething heading into the Belgian Congo, as a passage into a constructed world filled with self-evidently ridiculous perils like genital-mutating elephant worms and saucy humanoid cats, as well as a native population that the book's white heroes purposefully never actually see -- in fact, Arsène rarely sees anyone as anything other than a featureless blank orb sitting atop human shoulders, a mass of humanity worth defining only through their immediate relevance to him. The colonists have built a ridiculous community of imported mores, and so Schrauwen constructs a comic book artifice for them to inhabit.

    And yet -- in a gesture that will prove infuriating to some -- Schrauwen's third purpose is self-critical. As the book continues, and Arsène finds himself tasked with leading an expedition deep into the jungle, the book bearing his name becomes less an ironic comedy than a reflection on the distance of forebears from their descendants, and the absurdity of expecting one's legacy to not become absurd, especially when your story winds up being told by some noodly cartoonist. Sympathy for the devil? A final dodge into white romanticism? The duty of art to seek nuance? Alas, this excellent, declarative book cannot define everything for us.

  • MOST 2014 COMIC BOOK OF 2014


    Artwork by Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart and Maris Wicks
    Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
    Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
    Edited by Chris Conroy, Dave Wielgus and Mark Doyle
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Go back and read the Marvel comics of the 1960s and you'll feel an immediate sense of time and place. Sure, there's an enduring appeal to those books, but they're undeniably a product of their decade. It's what made those comics so vibrant and necessary to the readers that ate them up. For all the complaints that Batgirl of Burnside -- the version that debuted in October's issue #35 of Batgirl -- was instantly dated with its plot-necessary social media and villains that talk in hashtags, the book captures that same energy of Marvel in the '60s. Young characters in comics often feel like old-fashioned projections of youth, or they exist in some abstract vacuum. Barbara Gordon and the supporting cast created by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr feel real and current in a way that's true of very few early-20s characters in comics, from the Brooklyn-ness of the Burnside neighborhood of Gotham to the way the characters dress.

    Sadly the book's creators finished off the year with a misstep, and had to apologize for their depiction of a male villain who dresses as Batgirl to get attention and fame, which was criticized for being transphobic. It was a negative invocation of identities that rarely earn the spotlight in comics, and to the creators' credit, they acknowledged the problem, admitted their mistake, and promised to do better.

    In a sense, that makes Batgirl even more of a snapshot of its time. Where creators of the past (and many in the present, let's be honest) might have replied to similar criticism by snidely dismissing it, or telling people they were reading too much into it, or making excuses, Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr owned up and said they'd be more sensitive. It was a progressive response, and a good sign that Batgirl could be the most contemporary book of the year to come.



    Artwork by Robbi Rodriguez,  Alberto Ponticelli and Rico Renzi with Nathan Fox
    Written by Simon Oliver
    Lettering by Steve Wands
    Edited by Gregory Lockard, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Vertigo's flagship sci-fi series has been taking readers on a wild ride since its inception, and now, a year and a half in, FBP continues to expand in unexpected directions with each new issue. Writer Simon Oliver and artists Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi work in perfect sync, packing each page full of brain-twisting intrigue, head-scratching concepts, and eye-popping visuals – the story manages to be both accessible and ambitious, following a team of government agents tasked with cleaning up the messes left when scientific principles go awry, and running into plenty of unanticipated trouble along the way.

    I've found it a little frustrating that, despite its evident awesomeness, FBP has managed to fly under the radar for most readers, lagging around the bottom reaches of Diamond's top 300 sales chart, but it seems like that's about to change – between the title being optioned for a big screen adaptation by Warner Bros, Vertigo doing their usual bang-up job of reaching a wider audience with collected editions, and the Rodriguez/Renzi art team gaining widespread acclaim for their work on Spider-Gwen, this title might just end up becoming the next big thing in 2015, when the talented Alberto Ponticelli has settled in as the new series artist (with Renzi and cover artist Nathan Fox sticking around to strengthen the visual continuity).



    By Lucky Knisley
    Published by Fantagraphics Books
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Fantagraphics / Comics Stores

    Lucy Knisley's An Age of License is as tender, funny, and keenly observed as French Milk and Relish, but with a new sort of wistfulness and range that I loved. A collection of illustrations, comics, and sketches created as she traveled through Europe, License ponders the freedom and anxiety of youth from the perspective of one experiencing it. How best to handle her early success? How best to handle love? Can one born lucky ever be wise? Knisley's work is always fun, but License has a softness, a new shade of emotion that bodes well for the rest of her career. It’s as evident in her musings on maturity as in her sketches of wine vats. Thank goodness she’s already slated for another work of autobiography this year -- Displacement, scheduled for a February release, cannot come soon enough.



    Artwork by JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
    Written by Neil Gaiman
    Lettering by Todd Kelin
    Edited by Shelly Bond and Sara Miller
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    It was certain from the get-go that each and every issue of a Sandman: Overture would be an occasion for celebration. Neil Gaiman returning to the title that made him famous, joined by one of the best artists in the business in J.H. Williams III, telling the story of the Lord of Dreams' quest to the other side of creation, where he must collaborate with other versions of himself to save the universe from destruction. It's a can't-miss proposition!

    Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to make each ensuing chapter of this book even more of an event. Originally announced as appearing on a bi-monthly basis, the schedule began to slip almost immediately: the first issue shipped in October 2013, the second finally surfaced in March 2014, and issue #4 (originally scheduled to hit stands in May) arrived in comic shops just a few weeks ago. It's been a distribution nightmare (if you'll forgive the pun), and it would be entirely frustrating if the end result wasn't so damn good.

    Any dissatisfaction I've had dissipates within a couple pages of each new issue, my concerns about real-world timetables evaporating as I get drawn into the words, the pictures, and the reality that the series brings to life. As ever, Gaiman has proven himself to have impeccable taste in choosing collaborators: at least half the joy of this series is seeing how Williams interprets the script, pushing the text through the cracks in his images, fitting pictures around prose, making Gaiman's world of words into a universe of dreams that inspires and amazes.

    Sandman: Overture has proven itself that rare beast that lives up to the hype, and no matter how long it takes to conclude, I'm confident it will be well worth the wait.



    Artwork by Andy Suriano
    Written by Matt Chapman and Andy Suriano
    Available: Webcomic / Print collection

    The only thing I needed to know to be 1,000% into Cosmic Scoundrels was that it was a new ongoing webcomic by Homestar Runner co-creator Matt Chapman and Samurai Jack character designer Andy Suriano. Those two have a pretty amazing track record, but while their names alone were enough to get me in the door, everything they put into the comic just made me love it more.

    For starters, there's the fact that our main characters are named Roshambo and Love Savage, and they fly around the galaxy in a ship called the SS Fistpuncher that looks like a giant hand bashing the depths of space upside its starry, galactic head. Throw in an opening where they attack a cargo ship called the Midnight Fernando and accidentally steal a baby that they are apparently going to raise on their own as a junior partner in the booming business of cosmic scoundrelry, all drawn in Suriano's amazingly energetic, sketchy style, and you have one of the most exciting new comics of the year -- especially if you're reading it in the printed format, a massive 11 x 17 book that was initially available only at conventions, but can now be found online and in some comics stores.

    Cosmic Scoundrels isn't just a new project from two dudes whose work you were (I was) obsessed with in college, it's a the thrilling, genuinely hilarious sci-fi buddy comedy that we didn't know comics needed until we had it.



    Artwork by Trevor McCarthy and Guy Major
    Written by Ann Nocenti
    Lettered by Pat Brosseau
    Edited by Harvey Richards
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Klarion has always seemed like more of a cool concept than an actual character, even on those rare occasions that he's taken top billing, but Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy have done something amazing in this series, refashioning him into a misfit for the ages, a creative, destructive force of nature who demands the spotlight. In just three issues, they've effectively built Jack Kirby's witchboy into the Loki of the new DC Universe, a trickster who doesn't just act as a catalyst for events, but through charisma, force of will, and pure mischief, propels his own story into directions that are thrillingly impossible to predict. McCarthy is working at the top of his game, generating imaginative designs and intricate layouts that compliment and enhance Nocenti's multi-faceted script, imagery shooting off the edges of the panels and pages, expanding through the margins and out toward parts unknown.

    But sadly, though it's only had a handful of issues to find its feet and build an audience, it seems the series has already run its course. DC's solicitations for March denote issue #6 as the "FINAL ISSUE" – a number of DC series are being swept away as the company pares down their line in the lead-up to 2015's big Convergence mega-event, and this title looks to be collateral damage. If there aren't plans to resume the title after the dust settles, then that's unfortunate, but oddly fitting: like many youthful figures throughout time, Nocenti and McCarthy's Klarion will be laid low by a world that failed to acknowledge his potential – he's one more star that has burned too bright, disappearing in a flash before having a chance to reach the peak of his powers.



    Artwork by Evan "Doc" Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
    Written by Jeff Parker
    Lettered by Simon Bowland
    Edited by Nate Cosby
    Published by Dynamite Entertainment
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I imagine that it's difficult to make Flash Gordon seem fresh and contemporary. He has, after all, been around eighty years, and that's four years longer than Superman and the superhero comic as we know it. Even the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, a high point of the character's popularity, is studiously retro in its old-fashioned serial structure, right down to getting Batman 66's Lorenzo Semple to write the screenplay.

    With this year's comics, though, Jeff ParkerDoc Shaner and Jordie Bellaire made the character feel new again. Spinning out of Dynamite's Kings Watch event, Flash Gordon dove right into high adventure that felt classic and contemporary at the same time, and made it seem effortless -- tweaking the characters just enough to make them compelling in a whole new way. I mean, really: Flash is thrown into a gladiatorial pit to battle it out with an army of beast-men and ends up cutting a promo about how hard he's going to beat them with their own fangs and horns. That kind of swagger goes a long way, and when you throw in the new take on Dale Arden that made her a better Lois Lane than 2014's actual Lois Lane, it's easy to see why it's so great.

    Shaner's art has always been fantastic, but reading these issues, you can see exactly how much he's grown as a sequential artist, especially with the fantastic over-the-top action that he's brought to the table. It's classic but fresh, compelling and adventurous, exactly like the book itself.



    By Masahiko Matsumoto
    Translated by Ryan Holmberg
    Published by Breakdown Press
    Available: Breakdown Press / Comics shops

    Countless sources attest to the difference between North American comic books and Japanese manga, but the '50s were a crucial decade in the maturation of both, seeing new and sensational works appear in the crime and mystery genre.

    Yet while the Comics Code suppressed the development of stateside sequential art, manga continued to race toward new horizons. Shadow was an influential anthology launched in 1956 for the rental book market, its contributors brimming with hungry young talents like Takao Saitō, who would later create the famous assassin Golgo 13, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who would eventually coin the term “gekiga” -- dramatic pictures, contrasting with the 'whimsical drawings' of “manga.”

    Masahiko Matsumoto had his own term for this advancing art: “komaga,” or 'panel pictures,' which reflected his fascination with page layouts and panel progression as the heart of comics. By carefully juxtaposing images, he felt he could absorb the reader, placing them in temporal parity with the characters – modulating time itself. The Man Next Door collects four such efforts from Shadow; experimental works in the form of wry detective comics. “The Man Next Door” itself appeared in the very first edition, hitting Tatsumi like a blow to the head, as translator Ryan Holmberg recounts in a typically fine supplemental essay.

    It's as much a gleeful lampoon of genre expectations as a visual exercise, however, in which an awkward young comics artist imagines the motivations of his neighbors in a crime he only thinks has been committed. “Thick Fog” likewise chases a paranoid boy around misty factory grounds until he becomes certain he's accidentally killed a man; high-angle perspectives and ticking watches speak to the influence of cinema on this young artist.

    Still, it's not until “Incident at Shiranui Village” that Matsumoto comes into his own and The Man Next Door jumps from valuable to essential. It's a straightforward whodunit given over to numerous pages of everyday observation: drums beating and lanterns swaying over a festival in which a murder finally occurs, the denouement of which is less a heated confrontation than a quiet allocation of blame. More cerebral and deliberate than the ripping contemporaneous yarns of Tatsumi, whose Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010) careened through its formulaic plot with an energy its pages could barely contain, Matsumoto's stories here are fascinated with the lulls in working life, and the mores of working men -- “The Cat and the Locomotive” is the last and best story, a psychodrama concerning the angst of an aging railroad engineer with a failing body, and a bright young apprentice threatening to replace him both professionally and personally as driver of the train and husband to the older man's daughter. Coal is shoveled, steam belches, rain pours! Long, phallic machines plunge into oblivion, grinding suspicious men and hapless women into pulp. So it goes for the denizens of industry, Matsumoto suggests; he's just keeping time.



    Artwork by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia
    Written by Scott Snyder
    Lettered by Dezi Sienty
    Edited by Mark Doyle and Matt Humphreys
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I like street-level, detective stories about Batman as much as the next person -- or, if we're going to be totally honest with each other, way, way more than the next person -- but there's nothing I love more than seeing the Dark Knight take on a massive, over-the-top superhero adventure. He is, after all, a billionaire who dresses like Dracula and fights a murder clown and a man with an ice gun all the time, so as fun as it might be see him in a more subtle adventure, it's not exactly his specialty.

    That, at least, is the premise that Snyder and Capullo have been working with, resulting in a year of stories that have started at 11 and just kept getting bigger. Zero Year brought us an updated origin for Batman that saw hot pink super-hurricanes, bone monsters, and a post-apocalyptic Gotham where Batman rode his steam-powered dirt bike to a parking lot/arena where he had a fistfight with two lions, and that wasn't even the most over-the-top challenge in that book. That came later, when a battle against the Justice League turned out to be a fakeout for an encounter with the Joker, with the entirety of Gotham City turned into Jokerized zombies. Oh, and maybe the Joker is actually the devil. One never knows.

    The ultimate sin that a superhero comic can commit is being boring, and while Batman has never been in danger of that, it's slammed into a whole other realm where exciting is normal, and wondering just what the heck is going to happen next is every bit as fun as seeing Batman punch a lion.

    And that, my friends, is pretty fun.



    Artwork by Michael Allred and Laura Allred
    Written by Dan Slott
    Lettered by Joe Sabino
    Edited by Jake Thomas and Tom Brevoort
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The all-new Silver Surfer series has been praised by other writers as a refreshingly new vision of the traditionally tortured former herald of Galactus, the celestial force of nature who devours planets and lays waste to entire races of life. I mean, from the sound of that, it's probably true. I really wouldn't know; I'd never read any Silver Surfer comics before. The reason this book is one of my favorites of the year has nothing to do with what it isn't and everything to do with what it is: the most uplifting, fun, and indeed romantic adventure series I've discovered in ages. This book simply makes the reader feel good.

    Longtime Allred followers will remember the cartoonist's flirtations with the cosmic in his long-running Madman series, and, of course, in his rock n' roll alien messiah opus Red Rocket 7, but even those highly imaginative books remain largely earthbound. Silver Surfer sees Allred commit fully to the infinite realms beyond our world, and it's a decision that's yielded magnificent results. Already famous for his crackling, high energy pop art approach to comic book storytelling, the crazy aliens, cosmic deities, exotic locales and space opera action of Silver Surfer has the artist and colorist Laura Allred operating on a whole new level of visceral excitement and technical excellence. Every panel of this book expresses sincerity and love, and that is absolutely what is needed to tell Dan Slott's story about this man who fell to Earth and, slowly but surely, falls in love with one of the most adorable humans we've got.

    Dawn Greenwood is a delight. Decked out in polka dots and Chuck Taylors, she symbolizes the youthful irreverence and idealistic wonderment of a certain kind of contemporary comic book fan who would love nothing more than to explore the universe with the stuffy Surfer -- who in this series is something of a sullen Commander Data or Mr. Spock who rediscovers his humanity (or whatever the politically correct term for humanity is when applied to alien races) as he sees not just the universe through Dawn's eyes, but also himself reflected in them.

    For all its sweeping adventure and humor, this is the story of two people bringing the best out in each other, just as telling the story of their romance has brought the best out in their creators.


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