2014 was a banner year for comics. The industry is growing rapidly, fueled as much by popular adaptations as by a rising overall trend in quality. Not every book was great, of course, but there’s a consistent trend of better and better books on the stands, and we’re rolling out our view of this year’s best new books.
Just a note: We’re going to go with books that debuted in 2014 here, so, sadly, books like Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Afterlife With Archie, and Astro City are disqualified. Not that you shouldn’t read them, just we need to make room for other great books.
A bizarre murder mystery where the same body turns up in the exact place during four different time periods opens the door to exploring everything from being gay in Victorian London to a vision of the far, far future… depicted by four different artists, to boot. Bodies is sometimes strange, sometimes touching, but always something different.
Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey deliver six perfect one-and-done issues, each touching on a different aspect of Moon Knight. The stories range from urban SF to creepy ghost stories to just Moon Knight beating people up, but each is a great read in its own right.
Colder: The Bad Seed
Dark Horse puts out a lot of horror books these days, and many of them are good. But none of them are quite as unnerving or effective as the sequel to last year’s Colder, promoted to ongoing. Part of it is Ferreyra’s art, which can skeeve you out without being excessively gory, and part of it is Tobin’s ability to create an askew, unnerving world out of words. I still think of panels in this book and I shudder, and that’s the highest praise one can give any work of horror.
Grant Morrison’s “miniseries” is little more than an excuse for Morrison to roll out a string of one-shots, ranging from a two-fisted pulp story to the Watchmen tribute/oneupmanship attempt Pax Americana, probably the best single issue any company put out this year. The real achievement? Every single issue is worth reading.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have the unenviable task of rebooting what’s arguably Marvel’s flagship “art” comic. They’re more than up to the task; whether they’re riffing hilariously on pulp tropes or, in the most recent arc, delivering a gut-punch of a thriller, it’s a gem of a book.
Jason Aaron and Jason LaTour deliver a noir set in the South but stripped of any pretension of “Southern Gothic;” LaTour’s art feels like sweat should be dripping from the pages. Reminiscent of Aaron’s Scalped, but completely different in tone and setting, it’s a gripping, complex noir and one of Image’s best this year.
G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Aphona deliver everything a teen-focused comic book should be: Smart, engaging, and lighthearted without being silly. Kamala Khan is probably one of the most relatable superheroes in comics, and her book is one of the best reads on the stands.
Yes, we know, we know, it’s a book written by a musician, an annoying fad in 2014 that led to a lot of bad books. But Translucid is an interesting meditation on Batman and the Joker, and it’s anchored by Daniel Bayliss’s superb artwork, which mixes an enormous number of themes and often brings clarity to what can be a rather abstract script.
Each of these five issues is arguably a perfect summation of the Belcher clan. Each family member gets their own feature, and the show’s writers are surprisingly capable of exploiting the medium to get the most humor out of it. In short, if you love the show, you’ll love the book, and that’s no mean feat.
It’s a strong, strong year for horror books, but Scott Snyder and Jock manage to stand out not least due to their grasp of what makes a book scary. The best parts of this comic are rarely the distorted tree-people or the title monsters, and more often the story of a family that’s fallen apart thanks to a shocking act of violence, and is trying to put itself back together. That both magnifies the horror and makes you invested in seeing how, or if, they get out of this.
If you read a plot summary, you’d be forgiven for thinking this book is “James Bond, but instead he’s a chick.” In reality, Ed Brubaker subverts a lot of superspy tropes while glorying in the silly things they’re allowed to do, and Steve Epting’s rich, moody art creates a perfect atmosphere of paranoia and melancholy.
Paul Tobin and Joe Querio take what’s honestly a rather standard fantasy game series and turns it into a vital, offbeat story that’s less about hacking off monster heads and more about how we trap ourselves in hells of our own creation. Thoughtful, dreamlike, and beautiful even as it’s disturbing, if you wrote it off as just another licensed book, don’t.
Big Trouble In Little China
It’s not until you crack this book that you realize just how much you missed ol’ Jack Burton. Capturing the tone and style of a movie, especially a movie as… distinct as this one, is incredibly hard, as some of the poorer licensed books this year showed us. But Eric Powell and Brian Churilla pull it off with aplomb.
Kano’s crisp, bright style is a perfect complement to James Asmus’ story of Archer, Armstrong, Woody, Quantum, hobo buttskin maps, and GMO superconglomerates and their cow-men underlings. It’s manic, over the top, and completely insane… and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Through The Woods
I tend to focus on published books in the review column, and honestly, we don’t often tackle graphic novels simply because there’s not enough time to read them all. That said, however, Emily Carroll making the jump from web to page is worth noting. Carroll is probably best known for her web art; they’re not comics in the strictest sense, although Carroll uses the form to superb effect, but rather interactive artworks that often linger on gothic horror and similar themes.