2014 was an incredibly rewarding year to be a comics reader. Veteran creators, like Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek, and Matt Wagner continued to churn out some of the best work of their career while new creators, like Noelle Stevenson, Babs Tarr, and Tula Lotay had very strong starts. Marvel and DC published their fair share of events, including Original Sin, Multiversity, Spider-Verse, and seemingly a half-dozen Green Lantern crossovers, but they also took risks with new characters like Ms. Marvel, a mysterious female Thor, and the cast of Gotham Academy. Marvel and DC artists went far away from any semblance of a house style from the tapestry-like spreads of Elektra‘s Michael del Mundo, the Silver Age revivals of Silver Surfer‘s Mike Allred and She-Hulk‘s Javier Pulido, and the stylish character designs and Instagram-style layouts of Babs Tarr’s Batgirl among many others.
But Image Comics was the real winner of 2014. (This will be evident by comics on the Top Ten list.) They combined creators, concepts, and critical and commercial success to become the most innovative comics publisher this year. There were murder mysteries set in 1940s Hollywood, a mind-bending reboot of a Rob Liefeld character, god-like pop stars, an epic fantasy starring anthropomorphic animals, and too many to mention. They also featured new releases from creators, like Scott Snyder, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Warren Ellis, Jock, and a rejuvenated Mark Millar. The $9.99 price point on the first volume of trade paperbacks also continues to attract
And there are other companies too. BOOM! Studios continued to be the gold standard for all ages comics with their creator owned books like The Woods and Lumberjanes, which featured diverse casts of different genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations while still telling fun adventure stories. Dark Horse said goodbye to their Star Wars books in style while showing the worlds of the Whedonverse and Mignolaverse have fresh storytelling opportunities. IDW was the king of the crossover with its 90s Cartoon Network nostalgia trip Super Secret Crisis Wars as well as the 80s kid inspired Transformers/G.I. Joe and TMNT/Ghostbusters. Dynamite got modern creators, like Greg Pak, Matt Wagner, and Gail Simone to revive old characters ranging from Flash Gordon and old Gold Key heroes to pulp heroes like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Zorro, who teamed with Django in Quentin Tarantino’s first real comics credit. Finally, Archie became quite the horror powerhouse with Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina. Basically, there’s a comic for everyone out there.
Without further ado, here are the top ten comics of 2014 as chosen by Sound on Sight’s comics writers.
10. Earth 2 (DC)
Earth 2 #19-#29
Writers: Tom Taylor (19-28), Marguerite Bennett (27-29), Mike Johnson (29)
Pencillers/Artists: Robson Rocha (19- 20), Nicola Scott (19,21-23, 25-26), Barry Kitson (20), Eddy Barrows (24), Andy Smith (27-29), Marcus To (27), Alisson Borges (28), Javi Fernandez (28), Diogenes Neves (28)
Inker: Oclair Albert (19-20), Trevor Scott (19,21-23,25-29), Eber Ferreira (24), Scott Hanna (27), Marc Deering (28)
Colorist: Pete Pantazis (19-29)
While reduced to little more than a tie-in book for Earth 2: World’s End, Tom Taylor’s run on Earth 2 stands out as one of this year’s greatest titles. Taylor continues the mythic reimagining of many DC’s Golden Age heroes and builds it up to even greater heights. It hits the same vibe as Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim in its unrelenting optimism and faith in humanity even while at the brink of Armageddon. It’s a comic that screams, “Our world may seem dark but we’ll be damned if we let it crush us.” Trevor and Nicola Scott’s excellent pencils, inks, and character designs make Earth 2 into a Saturday morning cartoon show blown up into an epic blockbuster.
However, the real heart and soul of this series is Val Zod, a Kryptonian kept in an underground bunker raised to be kind, sincere, and loving. He’s the ultimate counteragent to the series’ main villain, a monstrous version of Superman who commits mass murder on continental levels all while sporting the Man of Steel logo. Val Zod’s mere existence is like a slap in the face to every awful misconception of Superman being a brutish, mopey alien disconnected from humanity. There are points where it doesn’t even read like something DC Comics would have had the nerve to publish, like someone hijacked the book to write their own much better series. The ending of the Zod vs. Evil Superman arc ends with Lois Lane practically laying down everything wrong with Man of Steel and every similar interpretation of Superman’s character.
This series will go down as one of the best Superman stories ever written, well deserving a place among the likes of “What’s so Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?’” and All-Star Superman. Bold, daring, and one of the most inspired “go big or go home” books of 2014, Earth 2 is worthy of its top ten spot.
Writers: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Colorist: Maarta Laiho
Lumberjanes is a creator-owned series from BOOM! Studios about April, Jo, Mal, Ripley, and Molly, who are five campers at the Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. They have the typical summer camp shenanigans, including hikes, capture the flag, and all-night sleepovers, but they also battle supernatural forces and continue to uncover this mystery in the thrilling first story arc. It is a comic created by women and starring women. (No male characters show up until issue 4, and it’s delightful.)
Writers Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis give each character a unique personality and sense of humor which are also conveyed by artist Brooke Allen’s wildly expressive faces and loose, cartoonish figures. She and colorist Maarta Laiho capture the otherworldly and wilderness setting of Lumberjanes with their expansive, almost water color shots of the countryside and the various nooks and crannies the Lumberjanes find themselves in.
On a pure entertainment level, Lumberjanes is the best all ages comic of 2014. The action is suitably over the top, the setting is appealing, and each character has a unique voice and look. The characters use a nice blend of smarts, strength, and general determination to overcome a variety of obstacles from were-bears to zombie Boy Scouts and maybe something a little more mythic. Its main theme of female friendship is woefully underused in comics and is explored in a wonderful way throughout the series. It is hard to write about or read this comic without cracking a smile.
Writer: Scott Snyder (27-37), James Tynion IV (28), Gerry Duggan (34)
Pencillers/Artists: Greg Capullo (27, 29-33, 35-37), Dustin Nguyen (28), Matteo Scalera (34)
Inker:Danny Miki (27, 29-33), Derek Fridolfs (28)
Colorist: FCO Plascencia (27, 29-33, 35-37), John Kalisz (28), Lee Loughridge (34)
I am so grateful to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo for giving us this Batman. Throughout their run they have taken the 75 year old character and given readers something fresh. This year saw the conclusion of “Zero Year”, their re-tooling of Bruce Wayne’s origins, and done the unthinkable; made the Riddler cool. What’s more is the way Snyder manages to surpass the reader’s expectations of what to expect from a story, (see: “Endgame”). Raise your hand if you even knew you wanted a Joker ghost story until Batman #37.
Not only is Snyder’s writing impeccable, but the creative team he finds himself blessed with continue to elevate the medium to new heights. Each panel is penciled with painstaking detail by Capullo. The way he manipulates the pages and their environments makes every stroke a living, breathing entity. It’s no wonder that DC was quick to create a series of action figures based on his designs alone. There’s also an unprecedented amount of respect toward what others have done before. “Zero Year” is rife with throwbacks to the yesteryear of the character from Batman’s purple gloves to the homage from The Animated Series and that oh-so-classic silhouette.
The duo is joined by amazing colourists as well. FCO Plascencia’s throwback to the Killing Joke gave the first half of “Zero Year” a blistering 80’s palette that would make Miami Vice jealous. Inker Danny Miki is certainly no slouch either and his work in Endgame is already turning some heads in the industry. Have the Joker’s eyes ever been so hauntingly beautiful? There is a reason why these two have been on the book since day one.
75 years is a long time, and the character of Batman has seen a lot of ups and downs. This time spent with this team is certainly one of the ‘ups’. Each issue is an honour to read. There is no doubt in my mind that 20 years from now we will look back on this run, much like how we turn to the works of Miller and Moore now, and think ‘that Batman will always be THE Batman’.
Southern Bastards #1-6
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason LaTour
There are a lot of positive things about the South. Our music and cuisine. The great football talent that can only be found in high schools south of the Mason Dixon Line and ends up winning seven of the last eight national championships. (And Florida State’s the closest the ACC will ever get to an SEC school.) And I don’t think a Yankee could write Absalom, Absalom, “What Rises Must Converge”, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or even No Country For Old Men. But there are also negative things about the South. Racism, homophobia, crime, poverty. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with my Southern roots. Visiting my Grandma in Knoxville, Tennessee or my Nana in Finger, Tennessee (aka the middle of nowhere) definitely feels like coming home. But I also feel like an outsider. The comic Southern Bastardswritten by Alabama native Jason Aaron and drawn and colored by Jason Latour captures these feelings while telling a compelling crime story, visually depicting the Alabama backcountry (It could be Tennessee or Mississippi too.), and dealing with themes like family legacy and seeing a society collapse.
Jason Latour’s art and colors really shine in the red tinged flashback scenes of Sheriff Tubbs and young Earl that he juxtaposes with scenes in the present. For example, there is a twelve panel page of Tubbs’ stick, Bible, and him doling out justice to criminals while Earl cowers behind the couch intercut with Coach Boss’ football helmet wearing enforcers beating up the hapless Dusty, who stole money from him as well Earl cutting down the tree that is growing from his father’s grave. There is no dialogue just an old man struggling with his relationship to his father and his legacy as well as the South. This red coloring also reoccurs every time Earl starts to act like his father. Latour’s gritty lines and grasp on color gradients and panel structure are one of the best things about Southern Bastards, but Aaron also crafts complex characters that connect to his major theme of the positive and negative sides of the South. He also has a firm command of dialect in his dialogue. (I can hear my grandparents or mother in some of the characters. Also, a random waitress at Corky’s, and some foulmouthed Kentucky fans at a Tennessee football game I went a long time ago.)
Southern Bastards is a true example of how a comic book story can explore human nature and problems, like the good, bad, and in-between of the American South. Aaron and Latour takes themes explored by great writers, like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, and adds elements of the crime thriller and things which continue to be a big part of the South, like church, food, and football to make their story truly authentic. It also deals with things that aren’t unique to the American South, like strained relationships between father and sons and bringing law and order to place that has little or no hope. But I think Southern Bastards had more of a personal impact on me because of my own struggle with being a “Southerner” and what that means to me as a twenty something living in 2014.
Sex Criminals #4-9
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
In year two of Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky introduce both internal and external struggles for the time-stopping, orgasming, brimping pair of Jon and Suzie. The hilarious background gags, puns, and dirty jokes are still there. (Zdarsky is a master of background and slapstick humor.) However, all is not right in the Quiet and Cumworld. Fraction delves deep into Jon and Suzie’s backstories to explore their personal problems and neuroses while showing what happens in relationships after the initial passion wears off. He also explores the moral implications of doing illegal things for a good cause, namely robbing a bank, to make sure a library isn’t closed.
Zdarsky’s art style in Sex Criminals is a mix of surreal trippiness and Daniel Clowes’ cartoonish realism. He makes the Quiet a wonderful place of cascading colors and white-suited Sex Police (whose backgrounds and roles get fleshed out in the second arc) while the real world is a place of angst, mental health issues, and simple ennui. However, Zdarsky’s figures are much more attractive than Clowes because he and Fraction genuinely care about these characters. Sex Criminals continues to be a funny, brutally honest at human sexuality and relationships with a dash of worldbuilding and science fiction.