Last time you saw choices #20-11 of the Top 20 Best Comics of 2014.
Now we’re down to the Top Ten. Let’s do this.
Just a quick disclaimer reminder: This is all personal opinion and what I think is good is probably different than what you think is good. So if some of your favorites aren’t on the list (Saga, Manhattan Projects, and Deadly Class for instance), no reason to get upset. Just enjoy the list and see if any of these books I mention sound appealing to you.
Black Widow (Marvel Comics): While I’m not nearly as big a fan of it as when it first started, Black Widow still remains one of Marvel’s best hero titles in general. It has a strong and fascinating main character with a lot of depth, great espionage action within the superhero universe, strong writing, and gorgeous looking artwork (it’s amazing that Phil Noto has been able to keep up this level of quality month after month). It may not break new ground, but if you want a comic with a strong spy-oriented hook, Black Widow comes highly recommended.
Five Weapons (Image Comics): Here’s a book that was sadly cancelled before its time. It was a book for teenagers from Image that had a nice manga-style vibe with flashy and enjoyable characters, fun action, intelligent writing, and a dense narrative. It was one of those comics I looked forward to very much from the company and I’ll miss it.
And with that, let’s get back to the countdown…
10. Revival (Image Comics)
Okay, maybe there is a bit of bias at play here considering where this comic takes place (it’s not often that you have a comic set in your home county), but Revival is a really damn good book and more than worthy to break the Top Ten on my long list.
Despite seeming like a simple story on the surface, Revival is a fantastic horror story with many interesting stories and subplots led by fully fleshed out and developed characters from different walks of life. You never know where exactly a storyline will take you, who or what it’ll connect to, and how it’ll all resolved. It makes for such an interesting ride from beginning to end.
The only downside with all of this is the fact that the book is very slow moving at points. Storylines and characters will dip in and out, so it can often feel like something is feeling neglected or that there is very little story progression happening. It often makes just waiting for the next trade almost the best option, since you at least get a big chunk of the story at once. Still, Revival is a great comic and one that should be given a look if you like a big story and great characters.
9. Manifest Destiny (Image Comics)
The placement of this book may seem odd. Manifest Destiny isn’t quite as strong character-wise as, say, Southern Bastards, nor does it have as tight a plot as Sheltered. So why is it ranked so high? It’s one of the few books that I am always excited to read whenever the next issue comes out. While I certainly enjoy or enjoyed all of the others mentioned before, most of them weren’t always on the top of the read pile for the week — Manifest Destiny always was and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This comic is about the Lewis and Clark expedition and their “real” encounters with monstrous beasts, plant zombies, killer frogs, gigantic mosquitoes, and so much more. All of this overlayed on the historical theme had me always coming back for more: What kind of strange creatures or threats would we see next? Would they be familiar or foreign looking? Who would live or die? How would the characters overcome their next challenge?
Of course, all of this was backed up with some terrific writing by Chris Dingess and hauntingly creepy artwork by Matthew Roberts. Manifest Destiny is one of best comics I’ve read from Image and during the year as well.
8. Batman Eternal (DC Comics)
By the time July rolled around, I knew Batman Eternal was going to be in my list of favorite comics of the year; the sheer amount of quality going on in the story, the characters, the writing, and the artwork were more than enough to convince me it deserved a spot on my future list. All that plus the fact that the comic had nearly forty issues released in the year with the majority of them being good helped with my decision as well.
There are a lot of storylines and subplots in Batman Eternal, like a nanovirus infecting Gotham’s kids or Jim Gordon getting setup and sent to Blackgate, and each issue tends to focus on just one storyline develop it. While some subplots get tossed to the wayside for a while because of this approach, the comic always feels eventful and like something is happening in it. So it never really suffers from the issue that Futures End has had at several different points.
The comic always has a lot of good writing, strong characterization, and excellent artwork from a strong writing team and string of good artists. The only problems that tended to arise was the lack of focus on certain storylines like stated before and also that some subplots were more interesting than others and some artists weren’t as good as others. However, at the time of this article, the series is in a bit of a rut. It’s not bad, but it really isn’t spending enough time developing and focusing on some great subplots like with Spoiler and stretching out ones longer than they should, like who the ultimate mastermind behind everything is. Hopefully this comic gets back on track soon, especially with its end coming in 3 months, and gets back to being great.
7. Lazarus (Image Comics)
One of the only two books from last year’s list to be still within the top 10, Lazarus is still an amazing and truly gripping book. Most of the praise that I gave it last year still apply: Forever Caryle is a truly engaging and wonderfully written character with a strong personality, sense of morality, and interesting part. The struggles she encounters during the series and the decisions she makes never fail to fascinate.
Of course, the story is no slouch either. Lazarus delivers in some really great story arcs such as “The Lift” and “The Conclave,” which added more backstory and world building to the universe from differing viewpoints. There were many great twists and turns throughout these storylines, some triumph and of course, some heartbreak.
Lazarus was easily the best comic that came from Image this year. Go buy the first trade — you won’t regret it.
6. Umineko: When They Cry (Yen Press)
I’ve been reading this series since 2012 when the first volume came out and I plan on continuing with it to the very end. Umineko is written by Ryukishi07, who is also the writer of Higurashi: When They Cry (which this manga is sort of a spiritual successor or sequel to), and drawn by several different artists. From the outside looking in, Umineko looks like your typical Japanese manga with a bit of an edge to it given some of its violence. However, there’s much more to this series than one might think.
Taking place in 1986 on a privately owned island in the midst of the ocean, the Ushiromiya Family is coming together for a sort of family reunion. The patriarch of the family is slowly dying, with a few months left to live, and the older members of the family are wondering what will become of their family’s riches and company, while the younger ones are just enjoying themselves. However, when a storm hits their island and some mysterious occurrences take place, that’s when the trouble begins. A message is given to the family that all of their fortunes will be surrendered to a mysterious woman known as Beatrice, the Golden Witch, unless they solve a riddle. Then people start dying and the events start to loop…
I won’t dare spoil what happens next, because Umineko is a fantastic and truly riveting tale. Part mystery, part supernatural, part horror, and part meta-fiction; this series is one that really makes you think and start to wonder what is going on and how things are happening. For us the audience, we know there is something supernatural afoot, but how exactly is it all happening in “reality”? The story is truly engaging, the characters are surprisingly well-written and have a lot more to them than meets the eye, the horror and imagery can be quite striking, and the mystery and concepts are compelling. Sure, the comic does end up diving into a lot of exposition drop, some ill-paced humor, and it really drags at points; but it makes one hell of an impression when it takes off.
This year saw the entire story arc of the Banquet of the Golden Witch in its entirety while most of the Alliance of the Golden Witch was released as well. These storylines are where the series kicked into the high gear more than ever, throwing out some of the most surprising twists and change ups with the series and really delivering on some great and vile villains. But what all of these twists and surprises are, I’ll leave that up to you to discover. Umineko is easily one of the best continuing mangas to be released this year and is worth your time if you love a good mystery.
5. Harley Quinn (DC Comics)
Is this book deep? Does it relate fascinating morals or messages? Not really. What it does have is plenty of humor and personality and by God is it glorious.
Harley Quinn is a slice-of-life style tale, relating the bizarre and wacky days that Harley goes through in her new home of Brooklyn. She’s taken over as a landlord that houses a lot of odd and silly individuals, has assassins constantly trying to kill her, made friends with a former cyborg spy, teamed up with Power Girl and Poison Ivy, and much more. Harley Quinn is a constantly random, over the top, goofy/dark, seemingly chaotic, doesn’t seem to operate in continuity with the New 52, logic-defying title. But you know what? Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti pull it off with aplomb.
Harley is just a fun, interesting character. There’s a lot of complaints about DC being too dark and serious of a place nowadays but with a book like this (and the up and coming Batgirl), things are really starting to brighten up. You honestly don’t want to miss out on all of the fun and joy this comic has to offer.
4. Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics)
Just like last year, there’s only one Marvel book on the Best of the Year list — but it definitely deserves it. In comparison to almost every other single book that Marvel trots out, Ms. Marvel is easy the best. It has the most heart, soul, personality, emotion, and character. Plus, it never makes a stupid, mindboggling dumb decision that makes you wonder what the hell the people in charge were thinking (there will be a lot of that when we get to the Worst of the Year List).
Our story is about Kamala Khan, a young Muslim girl from New Jersey who suddenly develops superpowers after the events of Infinity. She has the power to change her appearance, stretch and enlarge her body, and even comes with healing abilities. It’s quite a change in her life and with the sudden appearance of a villain and a new sense of responsibility, Kamala steps up and becomes Ms. Marvel.
While the origin story arc takes a bit, the characterization and development of Kamala is incredibly strong. She feels like a genuine teenager with real issues, real emotions, and real behavior instead of what some other writers and authors think teenagers are like. Because of Kamala’s high level of believability, genuineness, and a big heart — she’s easily someone you just want to root for. Her personality and passion are what really make this series so strong and gives the comic with so much emotion.
The writing by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona is well done and the artwork from the latter and Jacob Wyatt brings plenty of personality and charm. While the story can be slow at times, Kamala’s coming of age/superhero adjustment period is still an interesting journey to watch unfold and has a lot of fun surprises to it (like the reveal of the villain or some of the meetings with other heroes). They do a fantastic job with depicting the characters, the emotion, the fun action, and personality this series has. All of these aspects and the main character make for one truly amazing title from Marvel, even if it doesn’t seem like something that is breaking new ground. Ms. Marvel is the best comic that Marvel had this year and I can’t wait to see where it takes us all next year.
3. Green Arrow (DC Comics)
This was a bit of a sad year for me with Jeff Lemire. The finale for Trillium was disappointing… and then his tenure on Animal Man and Green Arrow ended. I won’t lie — I was feeling down in the dumps. The aforementioned three titles were in the Top Three best books in the year and I saw them all come to an end (Green Arrow is still going on… but we don’t talk about that). Regardless, this is a time for remembering the good times and celebrate all the fun we had and Lemire’s Green Arrow provided a lot of fun for me.
The story was great; we saw the Outsiders War unfold and all of the great moments and twists that came with it, like Katana Vs. Onyx and Oliver discovering out the truth about his father. Then came the final arc and it was just as good, if a bit rushed, with Green Arrow taking on a bunch of rogues and Richard Dragon. It was glorious stuff, especially with the epilogue in the Futures End special, and made for such a fantastic story to read. It was also all backed up with some great character work and characterization, like developing and building up Emiko and Diggle. Of course, I would be stupid if I didn’t mention the utterly jaw-dropping artwork done by Andrea Sorrentino, who still amazes me for being able to draw so many issues without a single break.
There’s simply nothing more to say. Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow run was the best comic of 2013 and is one of the best of 2014. I’ll miss it greatly, especially considering what the current team is doing with the book. I wish Lemire luck with Hawkeye and I’m left kind of wondering where the heck Sorrentino has gone too besides drawing two X-Men annuals. Oh well, all I know is that if these two ever team up again, I’ll be there to check it out.
2. Gangsta. (Viz Media)
Gangsta. is a manga that caught me completely by surprise. I didn’t really know anything about the series going into it and I didn’t even hear about it until I saw it on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble. However, despite the fact that I’m rarely led astray by whatever new manga is under the Viz Signature imprint, I had to check it out and I’m glad I did.
Taking place in the fictional and crime controlled city of Ergastulum, our series focuses on the characters of Nic and Worick, who are known as the “Handymen”. They do all sorts of odd jobs for regular citizens, police, and even crime families that range from finding a cat to wiping out local gangs. However, things are getting far more bloody and dangerous on the streets as an increase in violence against people known as Twilights, individuals who almost seem superhuman, direct attacks against the various Mafia Families. It’s an intense, brutal, thrilling, and downright emotional ride.
This is a manga that does just about everything right. It has great lead characters with lots of depth and complexity to them, great supporting characters, truly vicious and memorable villains, strong storytelling and writing, excellent twists and story developments, great dialogue and characterization, and beautiful, action-packed artwork. While occasionally there is a slight problem with a bit of the writing, none of it truly detracts from how simply incredible this series can be. It’s probably even more stunning considering this is the writer’s first outing with making a series, which has me eager to see whatever new project she has after this series.
Viz Media picked up a real winner here and even if you are not a fan of most manga or anime, this is one story that is worth every single penny. I am completely serious when I say that Gangsta. is the best new manga series and also best Manga Series of 2014 in general. However, in the end, it is still not the best comic that I read all year long. There was still one that was better…
1. Grayson (DC Comics)
For a comic I wasn’t expecting too much from going into, Grayson threw me for one hell of a loop and I couldn’t be happier for it. Focusing on Dick Grayson’s new life after “death,” our former Boy Wonder is acting as a secret agent for Batman as he infiltrates the enigmatic and dangerous group known as Spyral. It’s a weird setup and more than a few people were shaking their heads when they first heard that premise/character direction but much of that doubt went away when people actually got to read the comic. This is, for me, the Best Comic Book of 2014 bar none, since it does just about every single thing right a comic can do.
This is a comic that just honestly has it all and is always a delight to read. First and foremost, it’s one of the best portrayals of Dick Grayson in any role in years (certainly in the New 52): He’s charming, funny, interesting, smart, and an incredibly determined individual. It doesn’t matter what challenge he faces, from simply messing with some younger members of Spyral for fun or talking down an assassin, it’s always great to see the guy in action. It also helps he is backed up by plenty of great and memorable supporting characters, from Helena Bertinelli to Mr. Minos, who all are equally enjoyable to read about. It’s some of the best character work in any comic, even more established ones.
The stories are almost always done-in-one tales, but no less fascinating to read because of the fact; each one serves to establish and build the heroes, villains, storylines, morals and themes and they’re all executed damn near perfectly. The narrative can switch from being completely dead serious to upbeat and hilarious (see the drastic change between the Gun issue and the “Manty” Raid issue for ample evidence of this).
Another impressive aspect of Grayson is the way it builds on old ideas throughout Batman lore as well as recent stuff from Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated run and uses them with great respect and purpose. Along with some terrific and amazing artwork from Mikel Janin that accentuates all that emotion, humor, and drama to a tee — the comic is truly a big leap above many others you have seen this year.
Grayson has so much greatness in it with its terrific lead, cast of characters, stories, writing, and artwork that it was very obvious it’d make my top 3 very even as I read the first and second issues alone. If you haven’t checked out the series yet, you owe it to yourself to do so and see what all the hype is about.
And that’s that folks, my picks for my favorite comics of 2014. Not a lot of my choices last year ended up on this year’s list for various reasons, so let’s hope to see a lot of these comics back here again next year.