Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Top Ten Comics from 2014

   As 2014 evaporates, it’s time for your official Chuck’s Comic of the Day Top Ten Comics for 2014 list.

   First, the usual caveats: 
  1. Let the buyer beware. 
  2. Chuck doesn’t read every comic printed, so this is a list of - in his opinion, not yours - the best comics printed this year (that were read by Chuck). Your mileage may vary. 
  3. Feel free to share your list. You can post it in the comments below or email to us at and we’ll post it here. (We have an excellent one we’ll be posting tomorrow.)  
   Before we get to the list, let’s take care of the other rating first - the worst comic of the year. Often a difficult choice, we had a runaway winner this year: Avengers vs. X-Men: Axis #1. (I asked a guy at my comics shop who was buying a later issue if the series got any better after that first issue, and judging by the look I got, the answer is “no.”)

   Now, the runner-ups. These could have easily been one of the top ten, but were edged out by a nose. They include:
  • All-New X-Men
  • All-New Invaders
  • Batman
  • Little Nemo in Slumberland
  • Miracleman
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Real Heroes
  • She-Hulk
  • Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever
  • Superman / Wonder Woman
  • Winterworld
   Here are our winners, in reverse order:

10. Superman #32

  Surely Superman is the most famous super-hero in existence (closely trailed by Batman and Spider-Man, I assume).

   As such, it's surprising that his comic books tend to lag in both sales and (to be brutally honest) quality. It seems a long-term trend for DC to allow the Man of Steel to limp along for years (or decades), relying on his famous name to provide sufficient sales to keep the franchise moving.

   But occasionally the powers that be seem to realize that attention is needed, and they make the effort to bring on some top creators.

   That's what we have with this issue, as writer Geoff Johns takes control and immediately starts correcting some of the most grievous mistakes made to date.  So we see Clark Kent back in the offices of the Daily Planet, interacting with his classic supporting cast (or at least most of them).

   We also see a lot more of Superman in action, facing surprising opposition and possible competition. (My only complaint is that the story unfolding bears a strong resemblance to the one in the recent-and-still-unfinished Superman Unbound.)

   But the real treat with this issue is the art by long-time Marvel superstar John Romita, Jr., with Klaus Janson inking.

   Romita's one of the best in the business, with a powerful, unique style that manages to combine the raw energy of Jack Kirby, the fluid craftsmanship of John Buscema, and the composition and beauty of his father's work.

   The final result is a terrific comic, and the perfect jumping-on point for new readers.

   Highly recommended!


9. Astro City #14

   I really like this series.

   That's because Astro Citycombines great artwork with thoughtful, personal stories.

   And this issue features something else I'm crazy about: robots!

   It takes us on a visit to the robot museum, which is run by a kindly little old lady named Ellie.

   Over her many years, she has rescued robots that were damaged in superhero fights - so we get to see snippets from fights aver the decades, including some new and unique heroes.

   But there's a mystery at work here, and we're just beginning to get a picture of the real story behind Ellie and her mechanical friends.

   As always, the focus is on interesting characters and clever stories, and writer Kurt Busiek is at the top of his game.

   The art is also terrific, from the amazing Alex Ross cover to the fantastic interior work by Brent Eric Anderson.

   That's what's difficult about reviewing Astro City - you quickly run out of superlatives!

    So I'll just say that it's a terrific comic - one of my all-time favorites!


8. Hawkeye #19

  Thanks to Matt Fraction's writing and David Aja's excellent art, Hawkeyehas been an exceptional comic.

   The series has featured some smart, creative approaches to graphic storytelling - and this issue is no exception.

   After being in a brutal fight, Clint (Hawkeye) Barton is left without his hearing (again), while his brother Barney (also Hawkeye) Barton is confined to a wheelchair.

   We see their struggles through the experience of Clint, as he struggles to "hear" what's going on around him. I can't remember another story that so effectively captured what it's like to deal with that kind of impediment.

   It's a struggle, and Clint must decide how to deal with the war that's coming. Can he protect the residents in his apartment building - or is there another answer?

   This has been a terrific series, and I'm sorry to hear that it's drawing to a close soon. We need more comics that push the envelope like this - not fewer.


7. Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #5

  After an absence to work on the series 47 Ronin, writer, artist and creator Stan Sakai has returned to the adventures of Usagi Yojimbo just in time to celebrate the character's 30th anniversary.

   They're celebrating in style with this Color Special(the fifth in the series), and it should come as no surprise that it's a real treat.

   It features four stories: a brief confrontation between two samurai; a student learns an important lesson; a meeting with some restless ghosts; and an encounter with a man whose life is dedicated to his art.

   The art is, of course, wonderful and expressive - made all the more delightful by Tom Luth's colors.

   The stories are delightful in their economy - not a line or moment is wasted - and the stories are both entertaining and moving.

   Sakai has built an amazing body of work here, and there's plenty of time to get on board - each storyline stands on its own - as his iconic tales of a samurai searching for his place in the world continues.

   Highly recommended!


6. Sandman: Overture #3

   I admit I was a bit lost at the beginning of this issue - it has been a while since the last issue (just over four months, to be exact).

   But as it's written by the exceptional Neil Gaiman, it doesn't take long to get back up to speed with Sandman: Overtures.

   It follows the title character (we call him Dream) as he embarks on a mysterious journey to the City of the Stars to solve the secret behind his "death."

   Along the way he meets some familiar (terrible) faces, makes a new friend, and is accompanied by an alternate version of Dream - this one in the shape of a giant cat.

   There are adventures and encounters aplenty along the way, and a special bedtime story. It's all clever and wonderful and pure magic.

   The art by J.H. Williams III is a pure delight, evoking alien, stunning landscapes, odd creatures, storybook settings and framing it all with unique, intelligent page designs and layouts like no others. Wonderful stuff!

   Look, I'm a mark for this kind of stuff - part fairy, tale part horror story, imagining a reality like no other (watch for the Easter Eggs, true believers)!

   I suspect most casual readers will find it easier to digest once it's all done and collected - but each issue is a gem, and longtime fans (like me) will be fine with waiting when the quality is so high.

   Highly recommended!


5. Saga #19

 As the first page in this issue clearly indicates, Saga is not a comic for children.

   But it is a wonderful, intelligent science fiction story that manages to be fresh and inventive issue after issue.

   I think the creative team has perhaps become too fascinated with creating shocking images (a few issues back it was full frontal nudity by a giant male - this issue it's... well, that splash page).

   That's their prerogative, of course - it's their comic - but it's so good it doesn't really need to lean on such things.

   The real secret of its success is the heart at the center of the story - more specifically, the love the mismatched couple - Marko and Alana - have for each other and their child, Hazel.

   The series is actually Hazel's story - she narrates it - and by this point she's a toddler, though her parents are still on the run - and it's a story filled with love, sacrifice and occasional heartbreak,

   From year to year, there's usually one comic that stands out as the one that would interest any reader - it's the comic you recommend to your friends who don't read comics. In the past, that has included Sandman and Swamp Thing, for example - and now you can add Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga to the list.


4. Daredevil #1

 I admit I had a pang of regret when I heard that the Daredevil run by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee was coming to an end.

    But it was a short-lived pang, as news quickly spread that the same team would be handling the "new" Daredevil (well, it's a new issue #1, at least).

   Matt Murdockhas once again relocated to San Francisco (he and the Black Widow moved there for a while in the early '70s, I believe), where he's establishing himself as an attorney - and a super-hero (with little concern about the secret identity thing, apparently).

   His first case is a tough one - a little girl has been captured, and even if he manages to rescue her from the kidnappers, she still might lose her life.

   The art is a pure delight. Samnee creates several full-page splashes that would be amazing works of art as stand-alone posters - that, and the high-speed, high-energy story elevates this comic to new heights.

   Waid's story is the perfect complement to the art, loading in emotional impact, action, adventure, humor and a smart script. (I love it when heroes have to use their brains to solve a problem - we just don't see enough of that these days.)

   It's no wonder this comic is one of Marvel's best - it's a great example of a comic living up to its full potential.

   This year marks the 50th Anniversary for ol' Hornhead - glad to see Marvel's doing him up right.


3. King Conan #1

  I've been looking forward to the return of the King Conanseries, as it reunites the team that is - in my opinion - the best writer / artist combination since the days when Roy Thomas and Barry Smith tackled the adventures of our favorite barbarian. 
   The latest team supreme includes writer Timothy Truman, who has really tapped into the essence of what makes Robert E. Howard's stories so compelling and entertaining - it's a great mix of action, adventure and intrigue. 

   The art is by Tomas Giorello (with color art by Jose Villarrubia), and his work is exceptional, breathing life into the Hyborean Age, creating architecture and vessels, bandits and monsters with equal skill. Each character radiates intense emotion, the action sequences are stunning and the costuming is spot on.    

   The story they're adapting is the second half of Howard's only novel-length adventure, Conan the Conqueror. The first half of the story (which wrapped s few months ago) told the story of how King Conan lost his crown, nearly lost his life, met his future wife, discovered the means to fight back against the powerful sorcerer who stands against him, and set out on a quest to recover the powerful artifact that can save his kingdom.

   The issue starts the second half of the story, wherein Conan continues his quest despite the powerful forces working against him.

   It's a terrific, red-blooded, no-holds-barred saga, brought to life by one of the best creative teams in the business. You really should be buying this comic!


2. The Avengers / New Avengers

   (A bit of a cheat to combine both series, but they're really connected and telling the same story.)

  Have you ever watched a master craftsman at work?

   Workers have been putting a new brick face on the building where I work, and it's amazing to see these guys at work, especially if you've ever tried it yourself.

   To apply mortar to a brick, place it exactly in line with others, or to cut a brick to fit a space - it's really tough to do if you're just a regular joe like me.

   But the craftsmen outside my window make it look easy - they pluck up a brick, apply mortar with a few quick movements of their trowel, and put it in place effortlessly.

   Which brings me to the latest issue of The Avengers, where we see Jonathan Hickman doing the same thing - building an impressive structure with what seems like no effort at all.

   But it's deceptive, of course. This issue brings together a number of threads that have been touched on over the last couple of years, as Tony Stark is forced to answer some direct questions posed by a very intelligent opponent.

   The events also dovetail into the struggles in New Avengers as we see the origin of a major-league menace. It's impressive to watch Hickman assembling this story, bit by bit, moment by moment, and create a riveting science fiction tale on a massive scale.

   Combined with the amazing art by Salvador Larroca, it's an impressive work of art and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. It's an involved story, and it's not always easy to follow as we wait for some aspects to be explained - but it's very, very good.


1. Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures 

   (It's tough to choose a single issue of this series to highlight - Pax Americana was an amazing issue, focusing on a mashup of the Charlton heroes and Watchmen - but I love the upbeat feel to this issue, Thunderworld.)  

  In The Multiversity, writer Grant Morrison has been exploring the potential in DC's 52 (count 'em, 52) alternate universes, and the adventures so far have been mostly serious, deep and dark affairs.

   But with Thunderworld Adventures, he rips off the pretension of modern comics and offers up an adventure that is imaginative, exciting and just plain fun.

   Here we find the classic Captain Marvel (that's right, he goes by his proper name, not "Shazam"). It's the hero as he should be - updated into a modern superhero, tackling an overpowering menace with intelligence and humor.

   The issue begins with the wizard Shazam under attack by the evil scientist Sivana, who has joined forces with an army of familiar-looking villains. Toss in a super-powered Sivana family, the Marvel family, lots of villains and a threat to reality (plus some fun with time travel) and you get a fresh, fantastic story.

   Add in the powerful and fresh art by Cameron Stewart, and you have a captivating, not-to-be-missed comic.

   Stacked on the shelf alongside the usual tomes of grim and gruesome antics, it's like a blast of fresh air - a fun, hope-filled adventure starring honest-to-goodness heroes.

   Why can't this be a monthly title? The comics industry - and each fan - needs this in the worst way.



El Vox said...

Great list Chuck. I still find your site and reviews entertaining and fun.

Chuck said...

Thanks - much appreciated!