We all love a good one-off or anthology, but it’s the thrill of a series that keeps us coming back to our comic shop week-in, week-out. Whether it’s a decades-spanning ongoing or a short-run miniseries, serialized storytelling allows for bigger casts, bigger worlds, and bigger adventures. Indeed, we’re so enamored of serialization that we decided to split our favorite series list into two installments. Here’s part 1 our top 14 series of 2014 (check back here for part 2 tomorrow).
Only someone like Jeff Lemire could take the term “star-crossed lovers” and find a way to explore both the lovers and the stars at once. Trillium has a boldly surreal relationship with infinity, and embraces the hardest abstractions of the human heart in love. The first several issues traded on formal gimmicks — upside-down pages, backwards page-orders, and the like — but by the mature conclusion, all of those fireworks had collapsed into the simple truth that our two protagonists are incomplete without the other. Heartfelt, and no less spectacular than those early issues, the final three — which came out in 2014 — were a vision uniquely Lemire-ian.
For all of its dystopian foreboding, Lazarus is ultimately about Forever’s relationship to her family — and the world at large. This year found writer Greg Rucka reminding Forever (and us) that she is truly peerless, testing her sympathies and allegiances to her father, her fellow lazari, even the rebels stealing from her family. It’s a delicate dance, rendered with great subtlety by artist Michael Lark, whose skills in letting an ambiguous moment hang are unparallelled. The result is a rich, metered family drama, shot through with the political undercurrents that make its world so intriguing.
After comfortably establishing their combined authoritative take on Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo turned their focus to more abstract expressions of the character, even while exploring his origins. “Zero Year” was rich with dissociative symbolism, and non-literal storytelling, which made the fiercely logical Riddler that much more disarming. The same disparity carries over into “Endgame”, expertly putting Batman back on his heels in a way that few creative teams are able to do convincingly.
We here at Retcon Punch were late to the Fables-is-amazing game, so we spent many an Alternating Current feeling like the teen who just discovered Led Zeppelin. As Bill Willingham’s 10-year epic circles a Happily Ever After, every issue features mediations on endings and closure with the knowing wink fans of the series have been enjoying for the last decade. But it’s not like it’s all hifalutin meta-mumbo-jumbo: the return of a monstrified Bigby is both heartbreakingly sad and an engine for white-knuckle excitement. Plus, the steady pencils of Mark Buckingham continue to give the series a clear, graphic presentation for some of the smartest and most complicated ideas in comics.
10. East of West
In its first year, East of West had a massive amount of mythology to unpack. Jonathan Hickman’s writing featured enough oddball hooks and Nick Dragotta’s art featured enough design-y specificity to keep us coming back, but 2014 is when the series really started to open up. Having established the emotional stakes for the major players, Hickman began moving the pieces around the board in earnest, allowing for a much fuller appreciation of exactly why all of that complexity is necessary. More importantly, it allowed Hickman and Dragotta to take the story right to the cliff’s edge, with the series poised to tumble over in 2015.
Reinvention was the name of the game when Mark Waid kicked off a new volume of Daredevil in 2011. This year saw the breathless end of that volume, with Waid and artist Chris Samnee finding ever-new ways to test Matt’s fearlessness. As an encore, Waid and Samnee set to reinventing Matt Murdock yet again, uprooting him from Hell’s Kitchen and giving him a few new secrets to keep under wraps. In a brilliant twist on all of that new ground, they’ve kept the spectre of Matt’s past a bit more present here, suggesting that it might not be so easy to escape his troubles after all. The result is every bit as daring as their first volume, but manages to reconcile that boldness with the character’s history, enhancing the resonance of both.
Hawkeye might be two different series. Er, wait, three? Does “Winter Friends” count as its own thing? Writer Matt Fraction lead and army of amazing artists, including David Aja, Annie Wu and Chris Eliopoulos, through an array of distractions. Somehow these digressions end up being just as meaningful as Clint’s growing isolation, and the audience is able to feel just how lonely his self-destructive patterns have made him. By contrast, Kate Bishop can’t help but make new friends (and enemies) in her new Clint-less life in Los Angeles. It’s a much less literal approach to tackling an issue from all sides than we saw last year during the devastating Death of Grills arc, but it’s no less impactful.