It’s been a helluva year for comics. From the the incredible adventures of the delightful Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel to the tour de force that was Southern Bastards’ opening arc, to the giant dildo fight in Sex Criminals, this year was teeming with fun and engaging comics. So many creators are working at the top of their game in numerous genres, making this list the most difficult one to put together since our first list back in 2010. 2014 was a great year to be a comic book reader. I haven’t been this excited about comics since the first time I read X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga.
– Ian Gonzales
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but comics are in a golden age. That’s been the case for a few years now and every year I wait for my gigantic pull list to hit the glass ceiling, but I never get showered in broken glass. Year by year, comics get better and better. If you aren’t reading, you’re missing out on an explosion of brilliance delivered weekly to your local comic shop.
That makes a list like this impossible. There are so many titles worthy of consideration – and attention! We may have put together a list of the Very Best, but make no mistake, the list of Regular Old Best, the Super Good and the Pretty Great is as long as my arm.
Seriously. Hit us up on Twitter. We can give you plenty of recommendations.
– Stu Horvath
The Humans – Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely
I picked the first issue up on a whim, something I don’t often do as I try to increasingly behave like the financially responsible 30-something I should be. I’m really glad I took the chance on The Humans. It’s a wild ’70s bike-sploitation adventure, on a completely different planet of the apes than I’ve ever seen. The creative team (writer Keenan Marshall Keller, artist Tom Neely, colorist Kristina Collantes) works as a strong unit, evoking the tone and timber of the time. The adventures go beyond the biker tropes of drinking, fighting and fucking, with real character emotion and development. Our main character is a returning Vietnam War vet thought dead, learning to deal with his place in the straight world. In addition to the comic itself, each issue has free songs to download. The creators want readers to build a soundtrack and spread the word about their favorite punk/metal/outsider bands. Don’t just peek into the world of The Humans, go all in.
– Sal Lucci
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend – Box Brown
I remember my dad randomly taking me to my first pro wrestling match in 1989. The WWE was known as the WWF then and the Izod Center, where the event was taking place, was known as the Brendan Byrne Arena. I was familiar with wrestling from the Hulk Hogan Rock n’ Wrestling cartoon, and the ubiquity of star wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. I got to see Andre wrestle in a tag team match that day in 1989 and it made a huge impression on me to see this giant in person and not just on TV. Reading this excellent graphic novel by Box Brown, I learned that his health was already failing at that time, even though he was still putting on great matches day in and day out. I also learned so much more about this giant of a man and the form of entertainment known as professional wrestling.
As time goes on and more of the survivors from professional wrestling recount their stories, it’s obvious that the sport is brutal to its participants, but also that these men and women have fascinating stories. Andre the Giant was the stuff of legends who even played a fairy tale giant on the big screen. Box Brown sets up this graphic novel in that way, with various friends, peers, wrestlers and wrestling participants stories framing the narrative that is Andre’s life like it was a fable. Fighting, epic drinking, womanizing, wacky shenanigans and legendary wrestling matches were par for the course for a man who knew he only had a limited time on this earth. Even if you’re not a fan of pro wrestling you’ll appreciate the stories found in this graphic novel. From Andre’s random encounter with Samuel Beckett as a young man to his running up a $40,000.00 bar tab while shooting The Princess Bride, his story is the stuff of legend, and it can all be found in this book.
– Michael Edwards
Novelty Song – Bee Tee Dee
2014 saw the debut of this fun ongoing series by an artist familiar to longtime Unwinnable visitors: Unwinnable’s own Bee Tee Dee! Novelty Song is a comic series that takes place in a alternate reality New Jersey, where there’s a restaurant called Nuggets that serves nuggets and plays only music from the classic series of garage rock box sets. There’s also a magic tree that has the ability to alter music history if you just insert a CD into the knothole.
Novelty Song is a comic book for music lovers and casual listeners alike that rewards you with each reading and rereading. Easter eggs galore can be found in the background of every panel, or even on the pins being worn by the characters. For me it’s simply a treat to see ideas from the mega creative mind of Bee Tee Dee in long form, and I can’t wait for the next issue!
If you haven’t started reading this series you can pick up the first issue in digital format over at Comixology, I highly recommend that you do!
– Michael Edwards
Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Every week when I show up at my girlfriend’s place with my haul of comics, she asks if a new issue of Sex Criminals is out. It is the only book she reads regularly (sort of – she reads Ms. Marvel, but more out of Jersey City pride than any particular love of that superhero yarn). Most weeks, she is disappointed, but when I do have an issue, boy, that light in her eyes.
I can’t believe Sex Criminals, really. I can’t believe Fraction and Zdarsky nailed it from the start (honestly, two dudes writing a book about a girl’s sex life sounds like a recipe for disaster). I can’t believe they pivoted from Suzie to Jon’s struggle with his mental health so effortlessly. I can’t believe its mix of frankness, silliness and deep empathy. Oh so deep (sorry). I can’t believe the sheer quantity and variety of dildos Zdarsky has drawn.
Mostly, I can’t believe comics have come this far. Sex Criminals is at the forefront of a new frontier for the medium – unexpected, dynamic and inclusive. If this is what the future looks like, sign me up.
– Stu Horvath
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt
Easily the best new superhero in the last several years, Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms. Marvel, debuted in her own monthly series in February of 2014, and her book has consistently been one of Marvel Comics’ top sellers since. A Pakistani-American Muslim from New Jersey, an enthusiastic Internet denizen and fan fiction writer, and a teenager to boot, Kamala feels pressure to be a lot of things to a lot of different people. Her shape-shifting superpowers are a direct allegory of this struggle, whether she’s transforming herself to look like willowy blond-haired Carol Danvers, “embiggening” her fists to take on bad guys, or shrinking herself to sneak back into her bedroom before her parents catch her.
These themes continue to weave into Kamala’s battles, whether she’s teaming up with her hero Wolverine or taking down a villain who thinks teenagers are good for nothing except powering his superweapons. But throughout all the craziness, Kamala anchors the series with her earnestness and geeky sense of humor. Here’s hoping we continue to see Ms. Marvel in more comics, and maybe even some TV shows or movies in the years to come. Because no matter what form she takes, I’ll always be a fan of Kamala Khan.
– Jill Scharr
Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
Lazarus, by writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark, has only been running for two years, but it’s made Unwinnable’s top comics list both times. The story is set in a near future of capitalism gone awry, where the world is divided among a few powerful corporations run by ruthless families. The people who aren’t lucky enough to work for a family are known as “waste” and are still totally subjugated to their whims. But life isn’t all hot tubs and handshakes for those in power: Each of these families also has a Lazarus, a member who has been genetically or biologically enhanced and trained for combat since birth. The Lazarus of the Carlyle family is Forever, a young woman fiercely loyal to her father but who is beginning to have doubts about the world and the role into which she was born. Surrounding Forever are a strong and complex supporting cast including her conniving siblings, fellow Lazari Joacquim and Sonja, and a poor “waste” family through whose eyes we see a side of the Carlyles that Forever has yet to discover. Rucka’s tightly controlled writing dovetails beautifully with Lark’s sharp and multilayered art in this tense science fiction drama.
– Jill Scharr
The Multiversity by Grant Morrison and Friends.
Who, what, where, when, why and how is the “multiverse?” I don’t know where to start, or if I’ve finished already. Did it end well? What about the “bleed?”
Author Grant Morrison certainly has his yea- and nay-sayers. I count myself in the former column. He’s done amazing, canon-shifting work for DC (Batman) and Marvel (New X-Men) and he even makes me want to read Superman books. Each month, The Multiversity takes us – all too briefly – into a different world that could easily host its own series. Each issue can stand multiple readings and still not have all its secrets revealed. My brain hurts after every reading, but I like it and keep going back.
The obvious time constraints of a limited series may mean that we never know how everything ties together or what might happen tomorrow, but maybe we’re not supposed to know. If we know how something ends, then we can change the journey. If we change the journey, will the ending be any better?
– Sal Lucci
Southern Bastards – Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Fuck this book.
I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Brutal and nasty to a degree I’ve rarely seen in comics, the Jasons start by giving you what you want, essentially a retelling of Walking Tall, a straight story about doing the right thing when no one else will. Then, at the end of Issue Three (THREE!) everything goes sideways. Then the Jason’s give you the last thing you ever want – a story arc that force feeds you empathy for the one character they’ve spent so much time making you hate. Worse, it’s actually effective.
My friend Shawn almost quit the book there. “Life sucks enough, I don’t need to read about it in comic books,” he said. I sympathize, I really do, but I am sticking with Southern Bastards.
And so is Shawn.
– Stu Horvath
Saga – Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
If this were a Hollywood pitch-meeting, I’d sum up Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga as, “Watching Star Wars meets Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” while munching on hash brownies. (How else to explain that giant cat that can tell when someone is, “Lying?” Or the hot sex between robots with TVs for faces? Or the spider-like bounty hunter known as Stalk, who has no arms, but plenty of legs? Or the resident ghost turned baby sitter, who floats above the ground trailing phantom entrails?) All a potential reader needs to know about the Eisner-darling series, however, is it’s a rare comic title that is truly unique on store shelves ruled by muscle-bound supermen and wonder women. The scope of the universe that protagonists Marko and Alana — refugees from opposing sides of a bitter intergalactic war that deserted their respective armies to raise their baby together – flee through to escape their legion of pursuers makes Lord of the Rings look like a skip through a mini-golf course.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is … LYING!
– Ethan Sacks
Moon Knight #1-6 – Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Over the years, I tended to like the idea of Moon Knight almost always more than I liked the execution of Moon Knight. I loved the original Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz run. It was different from so many other superhero comics at the time. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s take on the character was an interesting departure from Moon Knight’s status quo as Marvel’s resident loose cannon.
Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire take Moon Knight back to his central concept –a mercenary turned vigilante with multiple personality disorder. They don’t discount what has come before, but they are not terribly concerned with, say, the SPlatt era of the character either. The credo of the book is “this is what happens next” and Ellis & company keep to that for six incredibly well crafted issues. Each issue is a stand-alone story that builds on the previous story. The creators spend the first three issues introducing three distinct personalities for Moon Knight and they spend the following three issues showing how those personalities interact and work off each other. In a year filled with inventive superhero comics, Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire left us with a fascinatingly complex character. Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood took over as writer and artist on Moon Knight # 7 and they’re picking up Ellis and Shalvey’s threads and adding their own stamp on this version of the character. It’s an execution we here at Unwinnable HQ have been talking about a lot this year.
– Ian Gonzales