2014 was a good year for pop culture entertainment. It was so good, in fact, that this is the first time I have ever made one of these ‘best of the year’ lists… and I like to make lists. I’m like Buzzfeed if it was one person who was averse to over-using gifs.
So here’s what I’ve got. Please feel free to agree, disagree, or hopefully just find something new that you hadn’t discovered yet.
Best Comic of 2014: ‘The Rattler’
I reviewed this little gem when it came out in June. Countless great (and no so great) comics later, it’s still by far my favorite.
Even if you take away the credit Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle deserve for creating the book independently (via Kickstarter), the exceptionally haunting story and gorgeous artwork are unequivocally top notch.
The Rattler is a beautiful, tragic, and terrifying narrative experience that punches you in the gut and demands to be read and enjoyed again and again.
Best Novel of 2014: ‘The Cormorant’ by Chuck Wendig
I reviewed this one way back in January. At the time, I figured that the only qualm I would have about naming this novel as my favorite of 2014 was that it technically came out in 2013 on December 31. The book was so damn good that I left a New Year’s Eve party early so that I could continue reading it (please try not to be jealous of how cool I am).
All of Wendig’s books featuring Miriam Black are great, but this one operated on a whole different level. From its deftly handled non-linear story structure (which never got muddy or confusing) to scares that were so visceral they actually made me gasp (which never happens to me while reading a book), I couldn’t possibly imagine another novel coming out this year that I would enjoy more…
…until I read Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. The book was recommended by Mr. Wendig himself and it gave The Cormorant a real run for its money. But in the end, Miriam Black’s freaky Florida Keys adventure barely edged out Beukes Detroit-based Lovecraftian horror.
Admittedly, there may have been an unfair advantage here since part of my love for The Cormorant was built off the two previous books in the series. I’ve gone back and forth on this decision about twenty times, though, so if anything, I’m just thankful that two incredible books like these came out in the same year. Read both— I promise you won’t be disappointed.
(And since the Miriam Black books are being turned into a television series, you can read them now and act like a total hipster about it when she becomes a pop culture icon.)
Best New Comic Series of 2014: ‘Copperhead’ by Jay Faeber and Scott Godlewski
HA! Bet you thought this was going to be Wytches, didn’t you?!
But it was Jay Faeber and Scott Godlewski’s beautifully drawn and constructed space western that really did it for me. The series’ main characters, Sheriff Bronson and Boo, are fascinating both in their own right and in how they interact with each other.
Add in the absolute masterclass on world building that Faeber is doing each month, and you’ve got a book that has me counting the days until it’s released each month.
Best Short Story of 2014: ‘Punchy the Clown Came to Visit’ by Allie Marini Batts
(Click here to read it for free!)
One of my resolutions this year was to start reading more short stories (which made sense if I was going to be writing them). Now before I jump into the review, I should mention a couple of things in the interest of full disclosure:
1. The picture of above is of Punchy the Clown from Killjoy’s Clown Crew… which is a great picture, but has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
2. The person who wrote this story, Allie Marini Batts, is an editor with whom I’ve worked before. She has both accepted and rejected my stories for publication.
But even with my writerly love and appreciation for the work Allie has helped me to produce, this story still had a major strike against it— it was ‘literary’ fiction. Call me a simpleton, but I like my stories to have some type of speculative/fantastic element to them. The only exception to this is usually straight up horror, where the monsters can be wrapped in believable skin.
Batts’ story, on the other hand, is about how one man deals with his heart and world breaking at the time same. Not to get too melodramatic, but that’s the exact type of stuff I try to escape from when I read… or at least look at through a very different lens.
But with a great title like ‘Punchy the Clown Came to Visit’, I decided to give the story a shot. I began reading it in a coffee shop where I was waiting to meet my wife. Once she got there, I stood up to walk out of the shop and kept on reading, running into things like an idiot as I held my iPad in front of me.
After I got in my car, I told Karen I would be right behind her. I then proceeded to sit in the car with the air conditioning on full blast and continued reading, unable stop until I reached the simultaneously tragic and heart-warming ending.
The tale Batts weaves is devastating. The character takes some pretty extreme actions, none of which most readers would ever try, but could still understand at grief’s most visceral levels. The main character will have you creeped out and rooting for him at the same time. The plot escalates to a very bizarre point, but also does it completely organically, leaving us with a complex scenario that boils down to one person trying to reclaim a small part of their life from the abyss of depression and lost dreams.
It’s a truly wonderful story that touched me without the aid of any lasers or tentacles… wait, that totally came out wrong… anyway, you know what I mean: It’s not sci/fi, fantasy, or horror and I still loved it.
Best Comic Miniseries of 2014: ‘Serenity: Leaves on the Wind’ by Zack Whedon and Georges Jeanty
Like many people in their mid-30’s, I’ve never gotten over Firefly being canceled by Fox. I loved the Serenity movie, but I also still wanted more… and not just explorations of the surrounding Firefly universe. I wanted to know the story after Mal sent out the signal across the verse.
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind doesn’t just pick up that plot thread; it whips around your heart and brain and pulls you into a tale that somehow blew past even my unfairly high expectations.
For the longtime Firefly fan, there are nods and easter eggs galore. Old plot threads and characters are revisited, causing me to squeal with delight and embarrass myself in public on more than one occasion while reading.
But even if you haven’t ever watched Firefly (which you really should), Leaves on the Wind is still a wonderfully constructed, emotionally charged, and action packed space western. Zack Whedon shows that his brother isn’t the only great writer in the family, giving us some pitch perfect character interactions, breath taking set pieces, and a multi-layered narrative that sizzles forward towards a balls to the wall, crazy conclusion.
All of this story-goodness is enhanced by Georges Jeanty’s superb pencils, making Leaves of the Wind a true ‘event’ series that every Firefly fan (or any fan of good science fiction in general) should pick up.
Best Webisode/Short Film of 2014: ‘Too Many Cooks’
(Click here to watch.)
Was there any question on this one? Even though there’s no shortage of good short film and webisode work being done right now (check out the weekly Saturday Shorts articles over at Ain’t It Cool News for some of the best).
But for anyone who grew up watching television in the 80’s and 90’s, Too Many Cooks’ demented spiral into death and madness is inexplicably pitch perfect.
If you stop watching it after less than a minute, then we probably can’t be friends. If you’ve watched it multiple times, however, then I’ll see you at our next group meeting and/or when we run into each other at the pharmacy.
Also, I keep hoping that Katie Adkins makes it out alive, but that never happens now matter how many times I replay it. 🙁
Best Television Show of 2014: True Detective
I didn’t see nearly enough movies this year to give a fair judgment in that category, but television was a completely different matter. Not only was there a lot to choose from, but a lot of it was actually good!
Of course there was my steady love affair with The Walking Dead, which just hit the halfway point of a very strong season. But we also had Season 2 of Netflix series House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, both of which were superb.
Of course you can’t forget about Game of Thrones, The Americans, and a host of others. But in the end for me, True Detectives’ Lovecraftian-tinged, time jumping narrative was the best the small screen had to offer.
The acting was superb (particularly by Matthew McConaughey), the story was complex and intriguing, and the ending was surprising in a good way. Also, I don’t care what Nick Pizzolatto says; Rust saw something cosmic (while not on drugs) when he entered Carcosa and made a freaking blood sacrifice right there — after which his demeanor completely changed.
So yeah, I say there was a supernatural element to the show. But even if there wasn’t, it was still a pretty great show.