Best of 2014: Best Issue

Best of 2014: Best IssueEpisodic storytelling is the name of the game in monthly comics. Month- or even multi-year-long arcs are fine, but a series lives and dies by its individual chapters. From self-contained one-offs to issues that recontextualize their respective series, this year had a ton of great issues. Whittling down those issues to a list was no easy task (and we look forward to hearing how your lists differ in the comments), but we would gladly recommend any (and all) of these issues without hesitation. These are our top 14 issues of 2014.

14. Sex Criminals 4Sex Criminals 4

(Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky)

Sex Criminals exploded onto the scene in 2013 with a charming earnestness behind its giggle-inducing premise, but issue 4 revealed that this series could do “mature” as well as it did “immature.” Rape is a treacherous subject for any series — especially one as irreverent as this one — but Fraction and Zdarsky had the courage to approach the subject with the utmost respect. That more serious — but still charmingly earnest — tone set the pace for the series subsequent issues, which tackled depression, birth control, and the porn industry. Anyone familiar with the series knows just how smart it is, but this was the first hint of that depth.

Daredevil 113. Daredevil 1

(Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Javier Rodriguez)

When Chris Samnee and Mark Waid closed their award-winning volume of Daredevil, they set themselves the herculean task of uncovering new ground for a new volume, living up to fan expectations, and ingratiating themselves to the newcomers that every #1 brings. More than up to the task, Waid and Samnee delivered a first issue that managed to tell us everything a new reader would need to know about the character within the context of a thrilling adventure. It’s a tight little one-off that introduces the character, all while doubling as a showcase of the innovative art and snappy writing that makes this creative team so good.

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 40Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 40

(Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, Mateus Santolouco, and Ronda Pattison)

We spend a lot of time on this site discussing the finer points of character and narrative and themes, but that’s so little of what’s unique about comics as a medium. Comics uniquely express space as time and shape as weight — these are concepts we often overlook because they’re not executed in any meaningful ways. Leave it to Mateus Santolouco to turn our own expectations on their heads and make that translation from stillness to motion the whole meaning of the issue. It’s a battle royale with over a dozen active combatants, and — magically — every punch, every kick, every street-clearing uppercut matters. It’s an action masterpiece, and some of the best graphic storytelling we’ve read all year.

Zero 1311. Zero 13

(Ales Kot, Alberto Ponticelli, and Jordie Bellaire)

In a world that increasingly builds cults around creative teams, Zero has been an invaluable slave, reminding us that the best artist for a given story might not necessarily be the same artist. That spirit has emphasized the episodic nature of the series above all else — that is, until issue 13 revealed a longer game that we didn’t see coming. That twist ending would be enough for this issue to stick in our memories, but it just so happens that Alberto Ponticelli and Jordie Bellaire turn in some of their best work to date, giving the issue’s central fight scene all of the weight the script calls for. Both shockingly violent and hauntingly beautiful, this issue sticks with you long after you put it down.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30 Cover

(Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, Ross Campbell, and Ronda Pattison)

In contrast to the bombastic issue 40, this installment finds the turtles taking the time to recoup in Northampton. Licking their wounds doesn’t make for a lot of action, but it does give us a revealing glimpse at how the all of the characters process stress. Everyone gets a memorable moment here, from Raph’s distrust to Mikey’s optimism — all rendered in loving detail by Ross Campbell, whose softer, younger character designs helped define this year for the turtles. It’s a quiet issue, but it uses that time to remind us how much we love these characters, and of the beating heart that makes this series so fantastic.

The Multiversity: Pax Americana 19. The Multiversity: Pax Americana

(Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Nathan Fairbairn)

The concept alone is enough to make one’s head spin: Grant Morrison explores Watchmen via the Charlton Comics characters that inspired them. The result ends up being the most Morrison-y comic imaginable: a non-chronological presentation of recursive themes and plot points ripped from histories both real and alternate. It’s heady, heady stuff, and even without its connection to Watchmen, readers can divine uncountably diverse meanings from its twisting narrative. The action is also beautifully rendered by Frank Quitely, who keeps pace with Morrison, repurposing and re-digesting some of Watchmen‘s most iconic motifs without ever feeling derivative.

8. Moon Knight 2Moon Knight 2

(Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire)

In our discussion of Moon Knight 1, we were struck by the creative team’s bold use of white space. Issue 2 upped the ante considerably, opening with a sequence that incrementally added white space to the page. That may sound less exciting than the fact that that sequence happens to follow eight separate characters in and around a single building as a sniper picks each one off — and we won’t deny that it’s an amazing sequence — but it’s this series’ evolving relationship to the gutter that made this issue so memorable for us. No other series used white space in the same way, leaving Moon Knight — and especially this issue — in a league of its own.

Moon Knight 67. Moon Knight 6

(Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire)

That uniqueness made each issue of Moon Knight a decidedly singular experience, so it’s no surprise that so many many of them ended up on this list. Issue 6 offered a dark reflection of Moon Knight, highlighting what makes the character both so fantastic and so horrifying. It also reached back to the first issue — and touched on several others — making for an intriguing retrospective that crystalized this too-short run as something totally singular and self-contained. That it serves as such an assured farewell feels unlikely for a series only six issues old, which only codifies just how rarified this series truly is.

6. Zero 8Zero 8

(Ales Kot, Jorge Coelho, and Jordie Bellaire)

With a new writer every month, it’s clear that Ales Kot is the continuity of Zero, which makes his often spare use of words shocking, trusting in his collaborators to tell his story with minimal mediation from dialogue or narration. In that way, issue 8 is almost the platonic ideal of this series, chiseling away its copy to just a few meaningful flourishes, otherwise embracing the narrative potential of images. We throw around the phrase “a celebration of the medium” fairly often, but few take as much care to acknowledge the simple magic of putting one image after the other.

Saga 215. Saga 21

(Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples)

Hazel’s reveal in Saga 19 that “this is the story of how my parents split up” set the bar for ripping our hearts out pretty high, but it turns out nothing is quite as sad as seeing the inevitable approach in slow motion. The wedges driving Marko and Alana apart were already apparent, but this issue finds those problems getting the better of them as they seek solace in each other for totally different (and secret) reasons. Meanwhile, Prince Robot IV is shocked out of his own escape from his problems, as he first hears of his family’s fate. It’s a key turning point for this arc, putting all of the characters on the trajectory that leads almost directly to where they land by the end of issue 23.

4. Moon Knight 4Moon Knight 4

(Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire)

The episodic nature of this series put Moon Knight in some decidedly unusual situations, but none were stranger than the “sporulated brain” of issue 4. A murder mystery we don’t know is a murder mystery, this issue crops the story as tightly as possible, opening with Moon Knight being approached to investigate some bizarre dreams, and closing with his accusation of the murderer. The centerpiece of this issue, though, is Moon Knight’s dream sequence, a hallucinatory candy-color masterpiece that was shockingly different from the rest of the issue — or heck, the rest of the series. Shalvey and Bellaire play that contrast for all its worth, reminding us of their range beyond the beautifully stylized aesthetic of this series.

Trillium 83. Trillium 8

(Jeff Lemire and Jose Villarrubia)

Trillium‘s tagline, “the last love story” set the stakes for this final issue impossibly high — how could it possibly be the last love story — but Jeff Lemire somehow managed to stick the landing, delivering a hauntingly beautiful essay on the power of love. Actually, the issue starts as a taught sci-fi thriller, but it’s when William and Nika opt to sacrifice themselves in order to save humanity that the bottom drops out on this series, revealing a scope that is so much bigger than saving mankind, yet somehow focused solely on our dual protagonists. Combining black holes, love, and time-travel long before it was cool, this issue stands up as one of the most satisfying conclusions of 2014.

2. Hawkeye 19Hawkeye 19

(Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth)

Fraction and Aja rightly received a lot of praise for their respectful representation of disability in this, the famous “deaf” issue, but what’s truly impressive is how none of those stylistic changes distract from the intensely personal drama playing out between the brothers Barton. It would be far too much to ask of most artists to carry that kind of interpersonal conflict with minimal dialogue, but Aja has never shied from a problem, pulling in sign language schematics to help convey some of the motion essential to understanding those gestures. It’s a beautiful issue about family, overcoming obstacles, and learning when to lean on your friends that just happens to double as a glimpse of what it feels like to live with a disability.

Wonder Woman 331. Wonder Woman 33

(Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson)

Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman epic drew to a beautiful close in issue 35, but this issue is their “Ozymandias”, the turning point that puts the hero on their heels before the inevitable rally in the final chapter. By issue end, First Born’s forces have begun their assault on Themyscira, and Wonder Woman has been stabbed and left for dead. More importantly, this issue clearly articulated the ideological differences between Diana and the First Born, with her appealing to his basic humanity, and him denying hers. It’s a thrilling issue, upping the tension at virtually every turn, setting the pace — and tone — for the story’s final chapters.

Want more Best of 2014 lists? Check out our Best Covers and Best Colorist list!

15 comments on “Best of 2014: Best Issue

  1. Moon Knight! Moon Knight! Moon Knight!

    I had issue 5 on my short-short list as well – that video gamey trek through a several-story building to rescue a little girl is just so beautiful and kinetic and amazing.

      • Drew made the joke on Twitter that we should have just done a Top Issues of Moon Knight list. For me, I’d rank them like this (from best to least-best):

        1.) Issue 5 (see my comment)
        2.) Issue 2 (see our list)
        3.) Issue 4 (see our list)
        4.) Issue 6 (see our list)
        5.) Issue 1 (an awesome introduction)
        6.) Issue 3 (punk rock ghosts!)

        • I think I favored issue 6 over the rest, but I’m not sure I can come up with a meaningful ranking for all of them. This feels like ranking your own children.

  2. My highlights of the year were probably Multiversity 1 (House Of Heroes), Batgirl: Futures End 1, Batman 37, Wonder Woman 35, Justice League 30, Superman 37, Forever Evil 7, War Stories 2, Multiversity 5 (Thunderworld)

    • Those are some great ones. I was torn about which Wonder Woman to nominate (so ended up nominating a few), but I’m really glad issue 33 got the votes it did — for my money, it’s a better issue that 35, even if 35 has the more satisfying ending. I really think that Breaking Bad analogy is apt (credit to Greg Smith for that) — the last episode may be better in the context of the whole series, but I’ll be damned if “Ozymandias” isn’t more gripping as an hour of television.

      • I had my ups and downs with Breaking Bad, but “Ozymandias” is quite possibly the best hour of television I’ve ever seen. I’ll always second the love for it haha

      • Sure, 33 is probably a more well constructed issue, with more drama and excitement, but I elevate 35 based entirely on that emotional punch that get when you’re saying a permanent goodbye to a loved one. That’s really what it felt like to me. I immediately wished that they were just ending one massive 3-year uber-arc in order to immediately start another one with the same characters.

  3. Trillium 8 was probably my issue of the year, and Hawkeye 19 was probably my third, so I’m really happy both of them made it to the top of the list. I really pushed Daredevil 1 as well — glad to see it made it.

    There were a lot of issues I loved this year that were on my ballot but didn’t make it t the final list — Batman 34, Deadpool 27 and 28, Grayson: Futures End, Ms. Marvel 1, Nightwing 29 — but my only real disappointment was not being able to get Swamp Thing Annual 3 on the list. It was definitely a very close second place after Trillium — I think Trillium was the only one that actually made me cry, but darn it if STA3 didn’t come pretty dang close.

  4. Well, it seems unanimous. The first six issues of Moon Knight were brilliant.
    My list, in no particular order, because remembering individual issues is hard for me.

    Moon Knight #5: But I could have just as easily said 1,2,3,4,or 6. I’ll gush if I say more.

    Saga #24: The promise of things to come.

    Magneto #8: While I liked AXIS for the most part, Magneto had built up a great head of steam through 8 issues, and while Magneto was instrumental in the AXIS story, we were forced to take a step back and wait for the nonsense to end so Magneto could get back to business.

    Tooth and Claw #1: World building at its best.

    I’m not going to dig through the rest of my comics – I’m certain Manifest Destiny was on the list somewhere, as was Ms. Marvel. I’m certain one of the Robot takes over the world in Invincible was on the list. I really think Batman had a couple comics that I just drooled over. So did Punisher.

    But I’ll wait for the best comic series of the year to go in to those. Individual comics are too hard for me these days, especially with the trend towards 4, 5 and even 6+ comic arcs.

    But holy shit, Moon Knight.

  5. No love for Ms Marvel or She Hulk? I also really enjoyed Manhattan Projects and Sex and All New Ghost Rider this year as well.

    • There was at least one issue of Ms. Marvel nominated for this list that didn’t make the final cut — that said, look for at least one or two of these series to make it onto our “Best Series” list, which should be up either Monday or Tuesday.

  6. East Of West has been amazing too. Autumn Lands Tooth And Claw has only released a couple issues but i think its building to something special

    • Oh, there are for sure a lot of great issues that didn’t get any love here — a list of 14 issues is never going to be comprehensive. We call these our favorites, but the way we do voting on these mostly means that they’re just the ones that we most agree were great — lots of other issues got nominations and votes, but couldn’t gain a critical mass to make the list.

      I like to think of these lists as being inclusive; “a list of great issues should include these 14” and NOT “a list of great issues should ONLY include these 14.” Everyone who voted liked at least one issue more than what’s on this list (some of us many different issues), so even from our perspective, these lists are leaving things out.

      That said, a lot of the fun of this is hearing what other people would put on their lists. If you had to pick an issue of She Hulk or Ms. Marvel or Sex or All-New Ghost Rider, what would you pick?

      • A very hard question. I would say my favorite issue of She Hulk would be the one with Shulkie and Murdock facing off in court. Charles Soule really made all that legalese riveting, plus he really has a handle on what makes Cap tick.
        Ms Marvel? The issue where she goes to the Mosque and is pleasantly suprised by the advice the… i really cant remember the correct name for a islamic priest, gives her on doing the right thing. I live in Sydney Australia where there is a large islamic community and a lot of anti islamic sentiment after the tragic seige last month so i after rereading that issue over xmas it really stuck with me.
        As for Sex and All New Ghost Rider, I cant really pick an individual issue as hard as i try. Sex is like a really good novel, a sum of its parts and Ghost Rider just makes me smile. The art is so different to what’s out there and Gabe just makes me smile.
        When i think of individual issues of a series that stand out on a individual basis i keep coming back to the issues of Batman And Robin directly after Robin died. Tomasi really knocked it out of the park with those showing Bruces grief. Lol I’m not even sure they came in 2014.

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