In such a collaborative medium as comics, it can be difficult to say where a writer’s influence on the story ends, but there’s no question on where it begins: words on the page. Whether they thrill, elate, chill, or deflate, the best writers create characters, settings, and situations we want to return to, again and again. These are our top 14 writers of 2014.
14. Dan Slott
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dan Slott, with his steady hand ever on the wheel of the Spider-Man franchise, was only a big ideas kind of guy. Between the whole Superior brand — which wrapped up in April — and Spider-Verse, Slott’s work has functioned has a cornerstone for dozen of additional Marvel series this year. And unlike other event comics, these Spider-centric stories are rooted in real character moments and a boundless appetite for fun. While he’s been expertly playing the long-game with Spider-Man, Slott’s highly episodic Silver Surfer pops with such immediate sincerity, making it one of the easiest, most heartfelt books on the stands.
13. Mark Waid
What would you say defines your favorite superhero? Their origin and desire to do good, sure, but what about their outlook on life or their hometown? Mark Waid’s upbeat take on Daredevil threw a lot of what we thought we new out the window, refocusing us on Matt Murdock, rather than the tragedies that beset him. Waid upped the ante on that tight focus in his newest volume, jettisoning the baggage of Hell’s Kitchen (and the occasional cameo) to give Matt’s psyche a closer look. Of course, that meant doubling back to some of the character-defining tragedies that Matt was so quick to gloss over in the previous volume. The result was a powerful reminder of the depth and darkness of Matt’s soul, which Waid somehow managed to deliver without turning the series into a dirge.
12. Charles Soule
If you read any comics this year, you were probably reading something by Charles Soule. Under his guidance, both Red Lanterns and Swamp Thing have had their respective mythologies thoughtfully explored, turned inside-out and gracefully expressed in exciting, infinitely renewable ways. He grants that same level of attention and care to the Marvel universe through the Death of Wolverine and Inhuman, positioning himself as a modern master of superhero mythos. Where Soule really shines, however, is wherever he has the opportunity to inject his own intelligence and experience into his characters, and nowhere was that more evident than in his revelatory She-Hulk (may it rest in peace).
11. Ed Brubaker
What if a budding starlet was found dead in ’40s Los Angeles, but our hero knows it isn’t the suicide the studio claims it is? What if Miss Moneypenny was every bit as capable as James Bond? Ed Brubaker’s series have killer hooks, riffing on some of the best genre fiction out there, but their biggest strength continues to be Brubaker’s eye for detail. From meticulously researched locations to insightful character beats, Brubaker always finds exactly the right angle to hold your attention. The inter-office politics of a spy agency or the eccentricities of an old studio executive don’t sound like barn-burning threads, but under Brubaker’s pen, those are the touches of color that bring these stories to life.
10. Greg Rucka
Greg Rucka has such a gift for making small ideas seem enormous and large ideas seem manageable. His Cyclops series should have been an ungainly mess — a time-displaced Scott Summers tags along with his not-dead father, a space pirate captain. Against this surreal setting, Rucka explores a simple father-son relationship, and never once allows the strangeness of their situation to trump the emotions at play. Meanwhile, Lazarus has developed a surprisingly deep world around inter- and intra-family drama. Last, but certainly not least, Veil made us confront a lot of our conceptions about gender and vulnerability.
The scope of any Johnathan Hickman story is enough to make a reader’s head spin. The man wields dozens of characters at a time, like pieces on some giant game board. What’s truly remarkable is just how well articulated those characters are when he takes the time to pause and zoom in on one subject. This year saw the stomach-churning bromance between Groves and Westmooreland (Manhattan Projects), it saw the deepening of Steve Roger’s obsession with heroism (Avengers), it saw Namor finally snap (New Avengers). Plus, Hickman basically executed his own mini-Multiversity like it weren’t no thang.
New superheroes are never popular. We likes our Mans Spidered and our Womans Wondered, and none of your fancy-pants new characters are going to change that! Unless that new character is Marvel uber-fan Kamala Kahn, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. Rather than casting Ms. Marvel as broadly as possible, G. Willow Wilson crafted a nuanced, idiosyncratic, specific character — a nerdy teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City. Wilson gives the character more than enough personality for the entire series to hang on, but it’s also steeped in lore about the Inhumans, making it a literal can’t-miss for Marvel fans.
7. Ales Kot
In many ways, Kot is an uncompromising visionary. All of his series remain staunchly insular, as though existing apart from their respective continuity. That’s only because he’s so well in-tune with the psychology of his characters — whatever nonsense is happening to them elsewhere is inconsequential. Further, Kot seems to develop a different vocabulary and sensibility for each of his series: Secret Avengers is detached, but persistently humorous; Bucky Barnes is a pyschodelic cerebral drama; and Zero is a patient, violent meditation on life, war and death.
As a kitchy piece of ’90s nostalgia, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are pop art at their finest. The characters and stories are infinitely reiterateable, seemingly each coat of fresh paint qualifying as a blockbuster success. It’s an unnecessary miracle, then, that IDW’s TMNT series is as good as it is. The trio with the writing credits are of remarkably high pedigree: Eastman is the co-creator of the characters and writer/artist on the original series, and both Curnow and Waltz are editors for IDW. The resulting storytelling is simultaneously chaotic and measured, as though Curnow and Waltz are singularly focused on streamlining Eastman’s mania. The payoff is rich, subtle and often anarchic.
“This is the story of how my parents split up.” Pound for pound, no other copy in a comic book elicited as strong an emotional reaction from our writers this year than Hazel’s 10-word misdirect in issue 19 of Saga. With that simple head-fake, Brian K. Vaughan sowed enough doubt to make anything seem possible. It’s a natural extension of Vaughan’s “no one is safe” approach — if the characters can die at any point, why can’t their relationships — reminding us that our assumptions about the series may ultimately betray us. Meanwhile, Vaughan’s self-published The Private Eye found another gear this year, with each issue adding momentum as the series accelerates into its finale, due out early 2015.
4. Scott Snyder
This was a big year for Scott Snyder — not in terms of notoriety (it would be hard for Snyder to get much bigger in that regard), but in terms of story. This year saw the epic conclusions of his two maxi-series, Superman Unchained and The Wake, and the start of two equally huge stories, American Vampire: Second Cycle and the unexpected blockbuster Wytches. Straddling both categories is Batman, which blew up its scale to Gotham-sized proportions as the “Zero Year” arc drew to an end before going even bigger with “Endgame”. Biggest of all, though, must be Batman Eternal, which maintains a near-constant fever pitch with the help of Snyder’s whiz-bang plotting.
3. Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis returned to capes in 2014 with a virtually perfect six-issue run on Moon Knight. “Fixing” a long-suffering character by embracing what’s broken about him is not a trick many writer’s can pull off, but Ellis found an angle that perfectly suited the character and writer. Ellis also managed all of this character-defining work in the midst of six breathless one-offs, leaving little room for the longer emotional arcs so many writers rely on. That’s not to say Ellis can’t handle longer arcs — indeed, his Trees has been so deliberate in its slow burn, we’re still not sure what the series is even about — but continuity is certainly something he uses with intention, rather than as a given.
For all of his understated dryness, Brian Azzarello’s stories tend to act as grand statements — statements about the characters, themes, and ideas that his series trade in. Of course, while all of those elements are laid out at the very beginning of any Azzarello story, exactly what he’s saying about them isn’t clear until the very end. 2014 happened to find Azzarello at the end of two stories — Brother Lono as well as his epic three-year run on Wonder Woman — which made this year a special time to reflect on exactly what it was those series were saying. That those series were ultimately about such different things — faith and morality for Lono, feminism and femininity (at least as they relate to Diana) for Wonder Woman — speaks to Azzarello’s versatility.
It always feels like a backhanded compliment when we act so surprised at the intelligence of Fraction’s writing, but that’s really a testament to jus how unpretentious it is. His facts are as thoroughly researched, his characters as emotionally honest, his plotlines as carefully crafted as any writer on this list, but Fraction has the uncanny ability to make that all look effortless. Whether it’s the ever-expanding world of Sex Criminals, or the tight, clockwork one of Hawkeye, his writing is meticulously technical, but retains an off-the-cuff charm that keeps it from feeling staid or stuffy. Or maybe we just like all the dick jokes. Perhaps the true brilliance of Fraction is that the answer is both.