Best of 2014: Best Series Part 2

Best of 2014: Best TitleWe 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. MarvelMs. Marvel 1

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.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 336. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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 KnightMoon Knight 2

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.

Zero 134. Zero

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.

3. Sex CriminalsSex Criminals 6

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.

Wonder Woman 35 Cover2. 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.

1. SagaSaga 20

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.

Want more Best of 2014 lists? Check out our Best CoversBest ColoristBest Issue, Best Artist and Best Writer list!

5 comments on “Best of 2014: Best Series Part 2

  1. I had a lot of favorite series I really loved this year that I voted for but didn’t make it to the final list — The Woods, Grayson, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, The Multiversity, C.O.W.L. — but the only one I really thought could make it onto the list (and thus the only one I’m legitimately disappointed about not making it) was The Wicked + The Divine. I’m really bummed we didn’t get it included on here.

    Still, as always, it’s a rock solid list, and every book on here deserves it. I’m glad Ms. Marvel made it onto the higher half of the list at least.

    • I sometimes find myself quibbling with the ordering of the lists, but of all of our lists this year, this is the one that I’m happiest with. Sure, there are series that I voted for that didn’t make it (and others that made it that I didn’t vote for), but this list is made up of only undeniably great series. I even think I agree with the ordering for at leat the top 5 (or I at least agree that these should be the top five).

  2. TMNT – Didn’t read it. Zero – Read the first trade, thought it was very good, going to read the second. Sex Criminals – You ever hang out with someone that EVERYONE else thinks is funny and you don’t, you just find them irritating and wish they wouldn’t be so embarrassing in public? That’s Sex Criminals to me. Wonder Woman – I’ll eventually get the collection from the library. I liked the first 3 arcs well enough, but golly it was just too slow paced for me. Saga, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel – See below.

    My Top 12. It was a top 10 and then I realized that I didn’t have Superior Foes and Moon Knight on the list due to I had moved them to a new box that I didn’t go look through while compiling.

    12 and 11: Invincible and Batman: I was going to do a top 10, but when I added two new ones to the list, I couldn’t come up with a way to actually drop these. Batman should be higher. If this were a story about a superhero I’d never heard of, it probably would be top 5. It’s innovative artistically and tells a story that I wanted to read. Every week I looked forward to seeing what was going to happen. However, I have Bat-Baggage. I know the stories. I’m not a Bat-Fan. I actually don’t actively collect anything else by DC at this point. That makes it hard to dive in as a fan, knowing I am concentrating on this story but ignoring the other current stories going on. On the other hand, Invincible should be top 3, except they didn’t put the damn thing out often enough. You can’t have your main character survive rape, has his fiance be dismembered. . . and not put out a comic for 10 weeks. I will keep buying this as it’s my favorite non-Spidey story going, but dang the delays ruined much of 2014.

    10: Superior Foes of Spider-Man: Spencer and Lieber told a Spider-Man story without Spider-Man – and it was the Spider-title of the year. Relentlessly clever from start to finish. I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t see the ending coming, but it closed the book perfectly.

    9: Punisher: Mitch Gerads’ colors (and the rest of his art) give this the feeling of a midnight show in Times Square in about 1977. For symbolism’s sake I should probably have put this at 11 so it would have paired with Batman. They’re quite similar, both being fueled by the death of their loved ones and putting on a scary outfit because to hunt the bad guys because they now have to. His supporting cast is well utilized here and keeps Castle human to the reader, which previous Punisher stories have struggled with, keeping Frank a robotic killing machine, more Terminator than man.

    8: Daredevil: I’m converted. I’m a fan. I never could get into Daredevil as a kid; To me he was always a depressed and less-cool Spider-Man. Now I can go back as far as Bendis’ run through Brubaker’s and this is a very, very solid 15 years. Brilliant in concept. Moving to San Francisco has opened up story telling opportunities for Waid that just couldn’t happen in New York. This has been a top 10 comic for three years now and is poised to be on the list next year, too.

    7: Uber: Most of Kieron Gillen’s work rubs me the wrong way. I like the concepts, but his characters are too clever, speaking in a rehearsed way that reminds me of actor studio also-rans trying a bit too hard to pull off a West Wing scene. None of that comes through in Uber, a comic that horrifies and enthralls on every other page. I’m not certain I’ve ever read a superhero comic that showed the despair and urgency of Uber. This isn’t Aunt May being threatened by Doc Ock, this is Churchill decapitated and his head on a stake outside London while the Nazi army dares the rest of the world to stop them. Just getting this far in the comic has felt like a war and it seems it’s going to go on and on and on. Which is terrible for the Allies, great for the readers.

    (more in the next post)

  3. My top 6. . . (I bet you can’t wait)

    6: She-Hulk: I don’t know what to say. I’ve been entertained by every page. I don’t know what else Javier Pulido has drawn, but I think I could spot a comic drawn by him now. Simple bold lines, close ups, and interesting angles suit this comic, and his style matches the story by Soule perfectly. I want to read more and I resent that I’m not going to get to, unless this is some half-assed reboot by Marvel. I think I need to find more of Soule’s work and read it. That’ll show Marvel. That’ll show them. Yep.

    5: Saga: Saga’s worst year. I thought the story really dragged after the time jump and got a bit Bendisy in pacing. That said, slow and plodding Saga is better than 98% of the other stuff out there, as Vaughan has created a galaxy filled with characters that all could support their own series (mini or full) and Staples work inspires imagination instead of replacing it. A fantastic comic with one of the best last page spreads of the year that promise a very, very good 2015.

    4: Ms. Marvel: Spider-Man keeps throwing new superheroes at us (Silk, Alpha, even Spider-Gwen) yet none of them hold a candle to Ms. Marvel. I’m actually at a loss on how to explain how good this is. G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have created something that might actually be long lasting. This has more in common with ’60s Marvel than any new comic that I’ve read in years. This is a comic that everyone should read. Everyone.

    3: Magneto: Remeber the Mel Gibson movie from about 15 years ago, Payback? This is Payback except with Magneto. And it’s really damn good. It wasn’t even derailed too badly by AXIS, except for the fact I’ve now been waiting for four months to see what’s going to happen after the big final reveal in issue 8. Let’s get to it Cullen Bunn, Javier Fernandez and Gabriel Hernandez. I have honestly loved every issue of this series. I’m not a huge X-Fan, I don’t know Magneto’s entire history, but the basics (revenge on those who harm or threaten mutants) is sufficient to really enjoy this. Maybe the surprise of the year to me. This is really good stuff, and I’m a bit surprised I don’t see it on any other list anywhere else.

    2: Manifest Destiny: Beautifully drawn, gorgeously colored, and a story that balances historical fiction, high adventure, and grisly horror perfectly. Fantastically imaginative, this is what a great Dungeons and Dragons game should feel like. Manifest Destiny was another surprise to me as I had to go back and buy second prints of issues one and two once I figured out how good it was. This would have been the comic of the year for me if it weren’t for. . .

    1: Moon Knight: And I’m really only talking about the six first issues. Each of the six issues that Ellis and Shalvey teamed up on were candidates for best issue of the year (among all comics). Outrageous, different, brilliant to look at, this is what comics should be. I originally feared that I was grading this on a curve (after all, it’s frickin’ Moon Knight, who expected much?), but rereading these is as much of a treat as the first trip through. Great color, wonderful structure on each page with a fantastic use of white space, of borders and edges, of color balance (and absence of color), and it all blended perfect with stories that were complete in 20 pages. Somehow Ellis managed to bookend this run with a clear start and finish. Best comic of the year. I’m not sure it was even close.

  4. As always, I’m mostly just interested in classically styled superhero comics, so here is my inherently narrow round-up of books that were published at least partially in 2014:

    1. The Multiversity
    2. Wonder Woman (Azzarello/Chiang)
    3. Forever Evil
    4. Superman (Johns/Romita Jr)
    5. Batman
    6. Green Arrow (Sorrentino/Lemire)
    7. War Stories
    8. Justice League
    9. Justice League United
    10. The Movement

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