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5 Must-Read Comics of 2014

2014 has been a top year for comics. The medium’s profile only grew higher, while publishers big and small debuted exciting new books and made big changes to existing ones. It’s been a great year; here are my 5 takeaways from it.

5.  Batgirl

Source: DC Comics

Source: DC Comics

When I say Batgirl, I don’t mean the three-year run from industry writing legend Gail Simone and a host of artists that ended in September, I mean the new status quo that began in October’s Batgirl #35 from co-writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, artist Babs Tarr (with layouts/breakdowns provided by Stewart) and colorist Maris Wicks.

Despite the egregious misstep that occurred with this month’s issue, this new team has largely given the world the kind of book DC’s New 52 should’ve been about from the beginning. A book with a truly modern version of a classic character, redesigned to bring in non-traditional comic fans (read: everybody who’s not a nerdy white dude). With Tarr’s truly excellent artwork and Fletcher & Stewart’s unified writing voice, here’s a Barbara Gordon we can all get behind.

4.  The Wicked + The Divine

Courtesy: Image Comics

Courtesy: Image Comics

Alex Abed-Santos at Vox declared Image’s The Wicked + The Divine the best comic of 2014. It’s definitely one of the best titles in a decade that’s belonged to Image as they’ve exploded the notion of what comics can become and remain popular.

The premise? Every 90 years, 12 ancient gods–from a variety of faiths and backgrounds–are reincarnated as teenagers. In 2 years, they die.  Before that, though, they go all out and the Pantheon, as they’re known, become icons. In 2014 South London, we learn, through the eyes of Pantheon super fan Laura, that the gods are all world-famous rock stars, with Baal (here, a gay black Kanye West analogue), Lucifer (an androgynous woman taking after David Bowie who goes by Luci), Amaterasu (a Japanese sun goddess reincarnated as a white girl) and the others all getting equal attention and adoration.

After being taken backstage by Luci at an Amaterasu gig, Laura gets drawn into the inner machinations of the Pantheon. What follows as Luci is arrested for murder, as laid out by the team of writer Kieron Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matthew Wilson, is an utter thrill ride. It’s the charge of great British rock and good pop music all fused together, as only the team behind Phonogram and Young Avengers could deliver. The sixth issue just dropped December 17th and the first arc, The Faust Act (heheh), is only $9.99. Get in on this.

3. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

Source: MoviePilot.com

Source: MoviePilot.com

When it debuted in 2012, More Than Meets The Eye and its sister title, Robots In Disguise (now simply called The Transformers to avoid confusion), were the next step in IDW Publishing’s ongoing Transformers continuity that flipped the core concept of the franchise on its head: the war between Autobots and Decepticons was over. Optimus Prime had turned in his Matrix and lit out. Now here’s what comes next. That could’ve been enough, but it wasn’t.

While RiD grounded itself on Cybertron to basically become Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, MTMTE saw a crew of outcast Autobots, led by Rodimus, Ultra Magnus and featuring the likes of motormouth bartender Swerve, the mad scientist’s mad scientist Brainstorm, and the franchise’s first cannon gay couple of archivist Rewind and memory manipulator Chromedome, among others, take to the stars in the ship Lost Light to find the fabled Knights of Cybertron in hopes of getting the ancient warriors to come back and usher Cybertron into a new golden age.

In two years and 27 issues, plus the Dark Cybertron crossover, a whole bunch of crazy stuff has gone down except for finding the Knights. In issue #28, “World Shut Your Mouth, Part 1: Towards Peace,” beginning “Season Two,” things got shaken up one step further. After getting tortured into being a Stargate in Dark Cybertron, Megatron decided to change his ways, join the Autobots and take command of the Lost Light. Things have only gotten crazier from there.

Month in and month out, writer James Roberts (probably one of the smartest “fans-turned-pro” ever), artist Alex Milne (who draws robots like nobody else) and colorist Joana Lafuente (replacing original colorist Josh Burcham with a unique palette all her own) are delivering perhaps the most complex, unique and gripping sci-fi comic out there…that just happens to promote toys. Start with either the first collection or issue #28 and then ask yourself what myself and other TFans always ask: “Why isn’t everyone talking about this?”

2. Ms. Marvel

Marvel Comics/Wikipedia

Source: Marvel Comics/Wikipedia

For over 40 years, Ms. Marvel was Air Force pilot Carol Danvers whose Kree-derived superpowers made her an Avengers mainstay and staunch X-Men ally (having her powers and memories stolen by Rogue is what enabled the latter to fly and have super strength). But when Danvers was promoted to Captain Marvel in 2012, Marvel Comics needed to keep the Ms. Marvel name alive and, more importantly, trademarked.

Enter Kamala Khan: a nerdy, awkward 16-year old from Jersey City, New Jersey who idolizes Captain Marvel and writes Avengers fanfic. Defying her strict Pakistani parents, Kamala sneaks out and heads to a huge party at the same time a wave of Terrigen mist rolls over the city (we’ll come back to that). Enveloped in the mist, Kamala sees a vision of Captain Marvel and Urdu-chanting Iron Man and Captain America and pleads to her favorite hero about how she wants to be just like her. Her wish is granted and she breaks out of a cocoon to discover that her short, brown self has become leggy, blonde and white. Yeah.

Kamala eventually realizes that she’s a shapeshifter and, with the help of her very own Peter Parker, Bruno, and utilizing a Burkini and other items, she fashions a costume and starts defending Jersey City as the all-new Ms. Marvel. In the span of only 10 issues, she’s fought her own archnemesis, the Inventor (genius supervillain with the head of a cockatoo), teamed up with Wolverine (before he died) and learned she’s a member of the Inhumans, aka the race of marginalized super-powered beings Marvel is pimping the hell out of now because they don’t have the film rights to the X-Men.

Series writer G. Willow Wilson (who co-created the character with editor Sana Amanat and regular series artist Adrian Alphona) explained in the back of her World Fantasy Award-winning debut novel Alif the Unseen that she wrote that book because she wanted to write something that spoke to her three main audiences of (and here I paraphrase) “NPR types, comic book nerds and Muslims.” With Ms. Marvel, she’s done that again, and in the process created a stellar YA heroine for today’s YA-loving readership. My one friend who introduced Ms. Wilson when she came to speak at my college’s writing festival disclosed that she has an alarm set in her phone to remind her to buy new issues as they come out.

Wilson’s honest, emotionally resonant storytelling combines with Runaways co-creator Alphona’s beautiful, exciting artwork to create a comic that isn’t just a great superhero comic; it’s a great young adult story. And like the best YA, it can be enjoyed by everyone. Pick up the first collection, read it, love it, then pass it on to your daughter, niece or some other girl you know. They’ll love it and so will you.

1. Bravest Warriors

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios

BOOM! Studios is on top of the world. Between neat original books like Memetic and Lumberjanes as well as wonderful licensed books like Adventure Time and Peanuts, the publisher is sitting pretty. Those two tie-in books are the work of KABOOM! Studios, the all-ages imprint which, headed by editor Shannon Watters (who also co-created the trailblazing, kick-ass Lumberjanes), has singlehandedly proven that all-ages comics based on kids’ shows can not only be good, they can be amazing.

Bravest Warriors is a fine example of this. The tie-in comic to the great YouTube series (which starts its 3rd season next spring!) has been around since 2012 but received a shakeup this year with issue #21 introducing the new creative team of writer Kate Leth and artist Ian McGinty. Leth, the writer of the Adventure Time: Seeing Red original graphic novel, the Fraggle Rock: Journey to the Everspring miniseries and IDW’s Edward Scissorhands comic, has a smart, cultivated blend of sweetness and snark. She’s a natural for the Adventure Time-meets-Aqua Teen Hunger Force vibe of the series, and has not only expanded on the work previous comic writers like former series show runner Breehn Burns and A Softer World‘s Joey Comeau have done, but brought the same heart and  to the title she has with her webcomic Kate Or Die!

Elevating Leth’s quality work into the greatness that this title has is McGinty’s awesome artwork. In just 7 issues (with 2 more solicited as of this writing), he’s gotten to draw everything from kaiju/mecha battles to series lead Chris Kirkman in a Slave Leia outfit. Again, it’s not only a perfect match for the series, but is jaw-dropping in its own right. As Leth put it in the captions of a recent issue (oh yeah, every page of every issue has additional jokes on the bottom of the page as well as stuff written in code ala Gravity Falls), “Buy this guy a golden limo.” It’s awesome and it only gets better with each and every issue.

Unfortunately, there’s no current pre-orders up for a trade paperback of this run but every issue is readily available online and in print. While the show is more geared towards teens, Leth has explicitly stated that their stories are all-ages. If you are, know or have ever been someone who enjoys Adventure Time and space, check this book out. We need more like it in the comics industry so please, please support it. (For additional fun, check out the debut episode of Leth’s podcast Less Than Live with McGinty as a guest.) You don’t want to miss out on Catbug, do you?

Final Thoughts

2014 was a pretty great year for comics all around. 2015 looks to be even better. As comic cons blow up and expand, so does the medium itself. Happy New Year and go read some funny books!

Cover image courtesy of BOOM! Studios

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Categories: Comics, Lists and Editorials

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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2 Comments on “5 Must-Read Comics of 2014”

  1. Big C
    01/07/2015 at 3:11 PM #

    As a Transformers fan and a More Than Meets The Eye comic fan I’m thrilled to see this comic getting some much deserved praise. But I’m bewildered by the fact that you used a poster done several years before the comic started when the license was not even held by IDW by an artist (Don Figeroa, whose work I also like very much) who has never worked on the book itself, and didn’t use an image from the actual comic by the series regular artist, Alex Milne. Both the writing and artwork of MTMTE deserve high praise (thankfully mentioned in the writeup itself) so why not give a sample of the actual artwork from the book like you did for the other four comics? There are plenty of examples on the TFwiki, which you’ve already linked to several times.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Music of the Panels: Great Playlists in Comics | 6News - 06/18/2015

    […] But for my money, the best comics-affiliated playlist is the soundtrack to IDW’s Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. It adds an extra dimension to what’s already the best sci-fi comic you’re not reading (as decreed by Lindsay Ellis, Hannibal Tabu, Rachel Stevens of Women Write About Comics and, um, me). […]

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