The Empty Man #1-6
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Vanessa R. Del Rey
Colorist: Michael Garland
Cullen Bunn is unique. If nothing else can be said about him, he is certainly unique. The Empty Man shows the full extent of Bunn’s ability. The series focuses on two detectives as they struggle to sort out the mystery surrounding a series of suspicious deaths and murders. The deaths are connected by the strange hallucinations experienced by the perpetrators, as well as their last words “The Empty Man made me do it”. The Empty Man is unpredictable because it follows so very few tropes. Nothing like this series has been seen before, and readers will be asking themselves the same question over and over: Who is the Empty Man? (Or “What the F*ck?”).
Bunn’s series is still in its infancy, so can be said without spoiling the twisting, turning plot. There is terror, there is some sort of giant terrifying creature. Children are missing and everybody is screwed. EVERYBODY. I have no idea where it’s going to end up, but I can already tell the ride is going to be terrifying, confusing, and awesome. The Empty Man is thrilling and original beyond compare and definitely deserves its place on the comics of the year list.
Ms. Marvel #1-10
Writer: G. Willow Wilson (1-10)
Artist: Adrian Alphona (1-5, 8-10), Jake Wyatt (6-7)
Colorist: Ian Herring (1-10)
Ms. Marvel pushes on through as one the best titles of the year and the only Marvel representative on the list. G. Willow Wilson takes on the responsibility of crafting a whole new hero and mythos from Kamala Khan, an innocent and well-meaning teenage resident of Jersey City. While plenty of characters before have been born from the “Ascended Fanboy” trope, especially by pairing super powers with puberty, Wilson manages to carve a unique identity for the latest entry in the Ms. Marvel legacy. The series shares the same creative DNA of the John Rogers’ much underrated Blue Beetle run as Kamala works to define and discover her own superhero identity on her own.
The series does a great job at showing Kamala’s everyday struggles and speaks with a voice not often found in comics. Far too many series try to represent teenagers and go far too into social media and internet lingo, but Ms. Marvel comes out on top, speaking to young people instead of talking down to them.
Enough cannot be said about Adrian Alphona’s art work. He manages to pinpoint a balance between whimsical and gritty. There’s more than enough escapist fantasy going on as well as down to earth realness of situations. It’s simultaneously structured and loose and matches perfectly as it captures the bizarre morphing powers of Ms. Marvel.
The series is backed by a strong and cast of Kamala’s friends, family, and fellow residents of Jersey City. It’s been a slow ride to integrate other parts of the greater Marvel universe such as Inhumans, Avengers, and mutants as Kamala slowly makes her way into superherodom. Wilson has a great grasp on the character and what directions she’ll take as Ms. Marvel starts teaming up with Spider-Man and other books make this series something to follow into 2015. If this is the opening act, what comes next is a must read.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
In its third year as Image’s commercial and critical crown jewel, Saga doesn’t rest on its laurels, but goes in some challenging directions with tension between the main characters, the death of some fan favorites among other things. After concluding the third arc of the series in an explosive and emotional way, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples take Alana, Marko, and Hazel to the planet Gardenia where they introduce new characters, races, and concepts. Vaughan adds another metafictional layer to the story as Alana joins an underground soap opera style show where she must wear a mask at all times.
Even though it’s filled with spaceship/bounty hunter chases and creatures both adorable and grotesque, Vaughan and Staples continue to make Saga the most human of space operas. They show the squabbles, both little and big, between parents as children grow older and also how difficult it can be to have friends of the opposite sex when they’re married. Hazel also starts to play a more active role in events other than future, omniscient narrator, and Vaughan fleshes out the previously cold, ruthless Prince Robot IV as a character when he learns how it feels to lose someone he loves.
Starting with her unique character designs, continuing to her close-up shots of these characters that readers have grown to love, and finishing with her gorgeous watercolor backgrounds and hand lettering, Fiona Staples shows that she is one of the best artists in comics through her work in Saga. Her lines and panel layouts are clear and allow for quick, yet reflective reading. These seemingly predictable layouts make the reveals and colorful bursts of violence even more stunning. Vaughan and Staples have created one of the most entertaining, beautiful, and relatable comics this year in Saga. Each character they create is imbued with personality and heart. They even made a monosyllabic feline character was responsible for one of the most poignant moments in comics this year. If you like romance, science fiction, or comics and great stories in general, you will love and should read Saga.
2. The Fade Out (Image)
The Fade Out #1-3
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Modern noir masterminds Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips begin their five-year deal with Image with the release of the first issue of The Fade Out, a sprawling saga of corruption and redemption set against a gritty West Coast backdrop. Using the murder of a Hollywood starlet as a catalyst to expose the web of dark secrets that runs through the City of Angels, the award-winning team have put together the most intriguing comic of 2014. As the premiere storytellers of crime/noir comics, The Fade Out actually marks their first trip into Hollywoodland, the never-innocent city of illusions. The Fade Out sees them return to the familiar conventions of ‘classic’ crime noir, and weaves a tangled web through the underbelly of a 1940′s film industry. In addition to unsettling narrative themes of ambiguity and violent death, certain stylistic characteristics immediately spring out: stark, angular shadows; the isolated feel of modern cities; conflicted anti-heroes and boiled down dialogue. The multi-layered plot grabs you immediately — and Brubaker’s achievement as a writer cannot be overrated. Along with noir’s distinctive characters, shadowy visuals, labyrinthine plots, and cynical, hopeless tone, it is the dialogue that makes it so fascinating. Brubaker pulls from the decades-old lineage of hardboiled tough guys channelling the likes of Sam Spade, Walter Neff and Joe Gillis. Notes of racism, sexism, and anti-semitism are also peripherally present, but this allows for Brubaker and Phillips to naturally explore a time and place where these behaviours were socially acceptable. The level of detail and the attention to every line of dialogue speaks to the effort to capture 1940s Hollywood as accurately as possible – so much so – they hired Amy Condit (a Hollywood expert who manages the L.A. Police museum), as a research assistant.
The artwork for The Fade Out is exquisite. Each panel is framed, and lit much like a movie from the late 40s, and as you are reading, you can’t help but visualize it on the big screen. Sean Phillips is indisputably one of the most talented artists in the business, and when it comes to depicting gritty, realistic settings, he’s the best. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Breitweiser must also be given credit for her fabulous work as the colourist. The common thread of film noir lighting is low key lighting – a style called Chiaroscuro in the art world. Breitweiser and Philips seem to capture this look seamlessly on every page, emphasizing shadows and harsh lighting to create a sense of depth and volume in the drawings that makie this a worthwhile piece of eye candy.
The Fade Out isn’t quite up there with classic Hollywood noirs, but it’s the closest thing since Chinatown. Ed Brubaker’s darker than dark drama about the inner workings of Hollywood at a crucial phase of the industry’s change is essential reading and further proof that Brubaker and Sean Phillips are two of the industry’s best, performing at the top of their game. And while it may be premature to say, admiration will most likely extend for years to come.
– Ricky D
The Wicked + the Divine #1-6
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Matthew Wilson (1-6), Nathan Fairbarn (4)
The Wicked + the Divine has a much repeated, elevator pitch to die for: every 90 years, gods are reincarnated as young people, and they live for two years before their demise. In 2014, they’re pop stars. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie combine and expand upon concepts from their earlier works Phonogram and Young Avengers to craft their magnum opus, which could go down as Generation Y’s Sandman. Gillen and McKelvie use the rich characters of world mythology to explore the nature of fandom, inspiration, and creation while telling an old-fashioned tragedy with hilarious puns, obscure musical references, and gorgeous
Jamie McKelvie is a master of design and gives each god a striking look based on various pop stars ranging from David Bowie to Rihanna, their original mythology, and the character’s personality. Colorist Matthew Wilson adds a shiny (and sometimes somber) surface to the various miracles and divine interventions in WicDiv. Much of the story is quiet as the protagonist Laura (who happens to be the ultimate fan) and her skeptical frenemy Cassandra try to find out which god killed a judge, who was trying Lucifer for killing would-be assassins with her powers. But when the miracles happen, McKelvie and Wilson create some real pyrotechnics from the shimmer of Amaterasu’s sold-out concert to Baal’s scorching, white lightning and the Morrigan’s murder of crows at her underground show.
Filled with ideas, complex characters, and ripe for theorizing and overanalysis (I wrote my senior thesis about this comic.), WicDiv is undoubtedly the best comic of 2014. Through his writing, Gillen captures the inspirational power of music and art, and McKelvie reflects this music through his rhythmic panel structure. WicDiv is incredibly self aware about things like cosplay, backlash against millenials, cultural appropriation, and obsessive fandom and shows this as Laura grows as a character leading into the second story arc. If you have ever fallen love with a particular film, comic, or pop song or have had a problematic hero or role model, WicDiv is the perfect comic for you.