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 2 our top 14 series of 2014 (click here for part 1).
7. Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel has already appeared on just about every critic’s end-of-year lists — it’s one of the few superhero comics about which we all seem to agree: G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have hit on a formula so of-the-moment, it seems to have spilled directly out of the zeitgeist. Kamala Kahn is character with so many specific traits and quirks as to render her almost totally real. She represents all the sweetest and most admirable qualities of fandom, including a desire to make the world a better place. That she has the power to make the world a better place — and the ability to do so alongside some of her favorite heroes — vaunts the series past wish fulfillment and straight into the realm of inspiring.
A relaunch of a much-beloved-but-dubiously-over-merchandised franchise sounds like a recipe for disaster (see: Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [which is to say, DON’T SEE IT]), but the creative minds at IDW have continued to churn out a comic that doesn’t just pay loving tribute to all of its history, but somehow manages to stand up as a legitimately great series in its own right. Its writers (Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz) understand these characters intimately, delivering some of the most believable family dramas on the stands, and its rotating crew of artists (Sophie Campbell, Mateus Santolouco, Cory Smith, and colorist Ronda Pattison) find respect for the “teenage”, the “mutant”, the “ninja” and the “turtle” aspects of the series. This year found the Turtles torn about their next steps, but this series is decidedly more confident as it moves to the three-way war it has been building to since the series began.
5. Moon Knight
The issue that follows in lurid detail as a sniper picks off six victims, seemingly at random. The issue where a gang of ghost punks is terrorizing the city. The issue where Moon Knight investigates a mysterious shared nightmare in a sleep lab. The issue where Moon Knight fights through the floors of a building like it’s an arcade game. Warren Ellis and Declan Shavley defined their run on Moon Knight with high-concept one-offs, perfectly self-contained nuggets that are as unlike each other as they are unlike anything else on the shelves. The most impressive feat, though, might be their loosely connected first and last issue, which defy such simple summary — a kind of character-defining thesis and conclusion. It’s a near perfect run — our only complaint is that there isn’t more.
There was a moment from the middle of this year where Ales Kot presented the titular Zero with the idea that “all the word is a stage.” That’s a simple idea bordering on trite, but within the context of this series, which is so keenly aware of the limits and possibilities of the comics medium, it gradually becomes profound. Kot takes such reserved approach to writing this series, often leaving several pages without copy and letting his murderers’ row of artistic collaborators tell his story visually. And there’s seemingly no thematic ground Kot and Co. won’t tread — the cost of endless warfare, the illusion of domesticity, victimization of women. Every issue is a series of surprises — the only constant is the quality.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s strange, funny, beautiful Sex Criminals was always about more than it let on. Early issues emphasized the cute, embarrassing confessions of its characters’ earliest sexual experiences, all the while quietly building a strong critique of the way we treat sex in modern society. As the cast expanded this year, so did the scope of the series, reemphasizing the themes secrecy, shame, and confusion from those first issues. Perhaps more importantly, the series never lost its sense of humor — even as the themes and characters deepen, Fraction and Zdarsky always find room for one more joke about dildoes. The result is a surprisingly complex exploration of sex and — ultimately — what it means to our characters.
2. Wonder Woman
The New 52 brought a lot of updates to sagging character mythologies, but none were more overdue than Wonder Woman. Virtually every other character, from Batman to Superman to Green Lantern to Flash, had had some kind of overhaul to their mythology over the last thirty years, leaving Wonder Woman increasingly irrelevant. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s changes to Diana’s origin story made waves back in 2011, but the most important changes happened this year, as they aimed to reconcile the character’s second-wave feminist roots with her modern context. They also put modern spins on some of Wonder Woman’s less flattering history — particularly creator William Moulton Marston’s emphasis on submissiveness as a trait of a “good, beautiful woman” — making Diana’s willingness to compromise a true strength that distinguishes her from the hyper-masculine ranks of DC’s biggest heroes. It’s exactly who Wonder Woman has always been, she just now has a modern origin to contend with the likes of Superman: Birthright and Batman: Year One.
That Saga will surprise us is a given — it is a Brian K. Vaughan joint, after all — but we were decidedly unprepared for the bomb that drops at the end of issue 19. It turns out, Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples may not have given us the whole truth when they suggested that Marko and Alana “split up”, but that misdirect put the series’ central relationship in jeopardy in a way nobody would have considered without it. Freed from our assumptions about what was and wasn’t possible, Vaughan and Staples turned in issue after brilliant issue, touching on everything from grief to temptation to boredom. It was a decidedly less action-packed year for the series, but that allowed for a much more nuanced exploration of these characters and their relationships, which — crazy character designs be damned — is the real heart of this series.