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.
Want more Best of 2014 lists? Check out our Best Covers, Best Colorist, Best Issue, Best Artist and Best Writer list!
Poor Hawkeye would probably be higher if it actually put out more than six issues in the space of a year, but man, every issue was pretty much a masterpiece (except possibly Kate’s LA finale, and even that had a lot of parts that really worked for me even if it never quite gelled into something as exciting as the rest of the arc).
I just reread the second arc of Lazarus last night (picked up the trade this week since there were so few new comics) and I still cannot get over what a great series it is. I especially love how you highlighted Lark’s skills in letting an ambiguous moment hang — I’ve never seen a series get so much mileage out of unreadable emotions.
I really need to catch up on Fables — I was borrowing the volumes from my library a few years ago and then they were missing a volume, and I ended up falling off and never getting back on. Even if I have to skip that one volume, I should catch up on it ASAP before it ends.
I should probably sit down and read East of West soon too but I need to finish catching up on TMNT first (I’m like 18 issues in? And through the first Microseries.)
The other morning in the shower, I did some quick math just to determine how much Turtle content there is from the IDW team. It’s A LOT:
Main series (41)
Secret History of the Foot Clan (4)
Villian Micro-Series (7)
Utrom Empire (3)
Turtles in Time (4)
that X-Files Crossover (1)
Back in the mid-’80s I briefly played in a TMNT rpg. That was the only time I did anything with the turtles. I missed the comic entirely, and then the movies and cartoons were for kids younger than I was, so I have always never, ever got any of it.
Same with Transformers and GI Joe. I just was never the right age to have any of that stuff. Although I’ve heard from multiples sources that Transformers vs. GI Joe was one of the best comics of 2014.
Fables has been a delight for me. It’s amazing to me how inviting it is even for someone who started reading in the middle of an arc (especially as it approaches its end). The thing is: the ending of Fables will keep for a good long time. The series is so not of-the-moment, whenever you get around to it, it will be awesome.
Batman and Daredevil are on my top ten. The others, not so much. I bought Trillium #1, did not find it nearly as charming as you guys did, and dropped it. I bought the first trade of Lazarus (issues 1-4) for $4 from my LCS because he couldn’t get rid of it. I’ve heard nothing but good things but the first few pages didn’t strike me and I’ll get to it eventually. A while ago I read the first Fables trade and didn’t much care for that either and have never gotten back into it. I really tried to like East of West but I got Hickmanned out about a year ago and stopped Hickmanning myself and only read Manhattan Projects by him. And I know you guys liked Hawkeye this year, but with the delays and my lack of interest in She-Hawk, I only pick it up to finish the run. I didn’t like it at all and might be the only person on the planet that hated the deaf issue.
My almost top-ten (these were on my final list but didn’t make the cut).
Southern Bastards: I really didn’t like the football in it (I found it artistically lacking and ruined my belief in the story), yet I like that it surprised the hell out of me and made me re-read the whole story to see if I should have seen it coming.
Thor: I dropped it after the awful Malekith story that I pretty much hated until the ending, which I super-hated. I have heard that it got great after that and then I picked up the new Thor and thought all three issues have been fantastic.
Tooth and Claw: Only two issues in isn’t enough for series of the year. The first issue would have been an entire year of comics if Bendis were the writer. I recommend hopping on board and picking up the first two issues if you haven’t. Great looking and and Busiek at his best.
Spider-Verse and AXIS: I really enjoyed parts of AXIS and am really enjoying most of Spider-Verse. AXIS was a bit too sprawling and a bit uneven in places and at times felt like an Uncanny Remender readers guide was needed, and the mini-series that spawned out of it weren’t great, but it was quite fun. The Nova, Magneto, Deadpool, and Loki tie-in issues were also very well executed. Spider-Verse – well, I just want to keep reading it. I didn’t like some of the backup Spider-Verse stories at the start, and I’m not keen on the Silk and Spider-Gwen stories that others seem to be liking, but it’s been fun.
Rat Queens: Went from must read, to interesting, to “awesome, these first 5 issues could turn in to walking dead type value with the tv show!”, to holy cow where’s the next issue what do you mean six weeks between issues now and even then it’s still late, to holy cow he did what?, to is this thing even still on?… Quite a year for a dirty comic about 4 cartoon women who fight, fuck, and swear.
I’ll try to put my top ten on your top seven tomorrow.