In today’s Leaving Proof: We get ready to close out the year by listing our favorite 2014 comics debuts. Are there any big surprises? Click through to find out!
Year-end lists—everybody’s got them around this time, so what the heck, I’ll play along. Below, I’ve enumerated my favorite comics series (both ongoing and limited series) of the ones that debuted during the 2014 calendar year. This isn’t a critic’s “best of” list but rather, it’s a subjective list informed by my own personal preferences in terms of genre, style, technique, and subject matter. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the PR and marketing personnel from Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, the BOOM! Studios family of imprints, Oni Press, Zenescope Entertainment, IDW Publishing, and the individual creators and retailers who so generously provide us with review samples of their comics. Let’s keep working together next year!
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the Leaving Proof List of Favorite New Comics of 2014:
The Midas Flesh eight-issue miniseries (BOOM! Box) by Ryan North (writer), Shelli Paroline (interior artist/character designer), Braden Lamb (interior artist/character designer), John Keogh (cover artist/character designer), and others
The launch title for BOOM! Studios’ new BOOM! Box imprint for offbeat original comics is also its best. Created by the Eisner Award-winning Adventure Time creative team of Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb, The Midas Flesh fuses fantasy and science-fiction with its story of an outlaw team of spacefarers (one of whom is a talking dinosaur) looking to weaponize the cursed remains of the mythological King Midas in a war against a galaxy-spanning totalitarian empire.
The Midas Flesh has an imaginative “mad ideas” set-up, but the comic has more than just novelty going for it. So, so much more. The dialogue is hilarious, the character designs are charming, and it is a very, very smart work. Not just “smart as in clever,” but also “smart as in intelligent.” The book’s protagonists—space ship captain Joey, ace pilot Fatima, and Cooper the engineer dinosaur—are excellent problem-solvers, using empirical evidence and well-reasoned inference to work towards their goals. The book’s grounding in a knowledge of the physical sciences and its mythological aspect never come off as contradictory, a delicate balance that is rarely, if ever, seen in popular entertainment. And tying it all together is a pulse-pounding and frequently affecting action-adventure narrative with an ethical center. Speaking as someone with an educational background in STEM who also happens to be a huge fan of fantastical folklore and is a huge proponent of comics as educational tools, The Midas Flesh has just about everything I want to see in an all-ages appropriate comic. The Midas Flesh isn’t just one of my favorite comic debuts of 2014, it’s one of the best comics titles published all year.
Click here for more information on The Midas Flesh, Vol. 1, which collects the first four issues of the eight-part limited series.
Juice Squeezers four-issue miniseries (Dark Horse Comics) by David Lapham (writer/illustrator), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and others
2014 was a big year, professionally-speaking, for comics creator David Lapham. It saw the two-time Eisner Award-winner bring his El Capitán self-publishing concern under the umbrella of Image Comics, exposing critically-acclaimed crime-themed comics works such as Stray Bullets and Murder Me Dead to new and larger audiences. At the publisher, Lapham ended the original Stray Bullets series with the March 2014 release of Stray Bullets #41 while simultaneously launching a new Stray Bullets spin-off series in Stray Bullets: Killers. Lapham also stayed on as the writer on the Strain comics published by Dark Horse, in a year that had the Guillermo del Toro-helmed property finally debut on the small screen as FX’s answer to AMC’s The Walking Dead. And between all that, Lapham still managed to squeeze in three issues of Avatar Press’ controversial Crossed: Badlands horror comics series.
It was Lapham’s work on Dark Horse Comics’ Juice Squeezers, though, that really stood out to me this year. With a conceit that can be described as “Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers-meets-Steven Spielberg’s The Goonies,” Juice Squeezers is an “all-ages” comic in the truest sense: Like The Midas Flesh, it abstracts the moral and existential issues of warfare into a stylized form appropriate for primary and middle school-aged readers without being excessively reductionist, all while still cultivating meaningful themes and offering sufficient depth of characterization and genuine sentiment to keep adult readers entertained and engaged.
Click here for more information on Juice Squeezers, Vol. 1: The Great Bug Elevator, which collects the three-part Juice Squeezers serial from the Dark Horse Presents comics anthology and the four-issue Juice Squeezers miniseries.
Southern Bastards ongoing series (Image Comics) by Jason Aaron (writer), Jason Latour (illustrator), Rico Renzi (colorist), and others
A double-barrelled shotgun blast of raw emotion, Southern Bastards has writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour working out their complicated, conflicting feelings about the Southern US of their youth through the story of the fictional Craw County and its residents. The first story arc comprising the series’ first four issues features a powerful, cathartic showcase of unmitigated violence and rage as Craw County émigré Earl Tubb returns to his childhood home to sever his remaining ties to the area, only to be drawn into a lethal showdown with a self-styled small-town despot and his army of cronies. Let’s just say that it doesn’t end the way one might expect.
A powerful work that will leave the reader disturbed—angry, even—and asking why, for all the progress of the last few decades, some places in the United States continue to be strongholds of ignorance and strong-arm politics.
Click here to read a review of Southern Bastards #1.
Ms. Marvel ongoing series (Marvel Comics) by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (illustrator), Ian Herring (colorist), Sana Amanat (editor), and others
Call it the result of a combination of superhero fatigue, hype overdose, and distrust of the “top-down” creative process that is seemingly favored at the House of Ideas these days, but I found myself increasingly disinterested in the goings-on at Marvel in recent months. It wasn’t a question of declining craft—if there’s one thing a reader can count on when it comes to the superhero comics produced by either of the “Big Two,” it’s that they almost always meet a sufficiently professional baseline level of quality. Rather, it was a matter of even the most promising “All-New Marvel NOW!” titles exuding a miasma of cynicism as the year wore on, a feeling reinforced by the perception (fair or not) that certain shared story events were motivated more by marketing concerns and film/TV media tie-ins than by the creative teams’ genuine storytelling desires.
The consistent bright spot at Marvel for me was G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel, a refreshingly updated take on the Spider-Man formula featuring an American-born female teen of Pakistani descent as something of a 21st century Peter Parker—a smart but socially awkward student who has to juggle the demands of school, family, friends, and superheroing in the midst of figuring out who she is and what she wants in life.
Ms. Marvel is really just a very solidly executed superhero comic at its core, but what the creative team has done with the well-worn premise of the struggling teen superhero (especially within the context of Marvel’s increasingly convoluted and arbitrary shared continuity) reminds those of us frustrated by the current state of superhero comics that under the right circumstances and given the proper remit, Marvel’s work-for-hire squads can offer so much more than just “the illusion of change.”
Click here to read more about Ms. Marvel.
Wayward ongoing series (Image Comics) by Jim Zubkavich (writer/colorist), Steve Cummings (illustrator), John Rauch (colorist), and others
Even with Jim “Jimzub” Zubkavich at the helm, I had my initial reservations about Wayward upon reading the advance solicitations for the title. Zubkavich has extensive experience in both adapting Japanese properties for North American audiences and in creating animated content for the Japanese and international markets, but I was worried that Wayward—a comic about a hafu teen’s adventures in Tokyo battling Japan’s supernatural fauna—could potentially suffer the same affliction as that seen in some “OEL manga” where the appropriation of the stylistic hallmarks of Japanese comics comes at the cost of the creators’ own voice.
Those concerns were laid to rest with the comic in hand, however. While Wayward is clearly influenced and inspired in part by shōnen manga (particularly in one of its central themes of asserting one’s individuality in a society that prizes conformity), the way that quality is reflected in the work is subtle, fortifying the work instead of detracting or distracting from it. Zubkavich and Cummings don’t force the manga connection—it’s there for anyone who wants to read it into the comic, but Wayward‘s real lesson is that good sequential art is good sequential art, whether one wants to call it manga or comics.
Click here to read a review of Wayward #1.
And because it’s ridiculously difficult for me to limit myself to a list of just five debuted-in-2014 comics recommendations, here’s a second list of ten “honorable mentions”:
- Genius (Image Comics) by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, Afua Richardson, and others: An explosive gang war thriller that tackles the topic of the racial politics of urban policing head on. (It should be noted here that Genius began development in 2008 and the first issue hit stores days before the flash point event in Ferguson, Missouri.) Uncompromising and sometimes uncomfortable to read, but one of the most important comics of the year. Click here to learn more about the comic and artist Afua Richardson.
- Princess Ugg (Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich: A female heir to a barbarian kingdom finds herself out of her element when she has to attend a medieval boarding school for princesses. Funny, insightful, and beautifully illustrated. Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- Ragnarök (IDW) by Walt Simonson, Laura Martin, and others: Fan-favorite 1980s Thor writer-artist Walt Simonson returns to the world of Norse mythology in this post-apocalyptic saga set in the nine realms, centuries after the Twilight of the Gods. Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- The White Suits (Dark Horse Comics) by Frank Barbiere, Toby Cypress, and others: A solid, no-nonsense crime thriller featuring striking visuals by Toby Cypress (Blue Estate, Killing Girl). Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- Stumptown, Vol. 3 (Oni Press) by Greg Rucka, Justin Smallwood, Ryan Hill, and others: Portland-based P.I. Dex Parios returns in a new Stumptown series illustrated by Justin Smallwood (Wasteland, The Fuse). Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- Hacktivist (BOOM!/Archaia) by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Alyssa Milano, Marcus To, Ian Herring, and others: A bold, fictionalized account of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution co-created by Alyssa Milano. Yes, that Alyssa Milano. Click here to read a review of the miniseries’ hardcover collection.
- Stray Bullets: Killers (Image Comics) by David Lapham with Maria Lapham: Stray Bullets is dead, long live Stray Bullets! The award-winning, achronological Stray Bullets saga continues in this new spin-off series. Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- Howtoons: [Re]Ignition (Image Comics) by Fred Van Lente, Tom Fowler, Jordie Bellaire, and others: A fun all-ages comic that takes full advantage of the sequential art aspect of the medium to teach readers how to craft interesting projects and learn basic scientific and engineering principles in the process. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also an overarching story involving the challenges posed by pollution and climate change. A great read for children and their parents. Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- The Fade Out (Image Comics) by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and others: A noir tale set in post-World War II Hollywood by one of contemporary comics’ best crime fiction creative teams. Meticulously researched, tightly scripted, and beautifully rendered. Click here to read a review of the first issue.
- Birthright (Image Comics) by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, Adriano Lucas, and others: From the ultra-prolific Joshua Williamson (Ghosted, RoboCop, Captain Midnight, Nailbiter, Predator: Fire and Stone) comes what might be his most personal and best work yet: A modern-day fantasy with a double agent conspiracy twist. The ongoing series is just three issues into its run but it looks to be very, very promising. Click here to read a review of the first issue.