Thursday, January 01, 2015

Caleb's Practically Mandatory Best Comics of 2014 List

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Today is January 1, New Year's Day, when we here in America at least take the day off work so we can recover from over-indulging in alcoholic spirits on New Year's Eve and/or spend time with our families and loved ones. Naturally, I spent the day alone in my cold, dark apartment, with only my laptop and comics collection for company.

The fact that today is January 1 also means that yesterday was December 31, and thus the year has changed, which means two things. First, I pretty much have to post some sort of best-of-the-year list on my blog or have my Comics Blogger license revoked. Second, I get to post an image of Calendar Man, one of my favorite Batman villains (Man, did he have a rough year in 2014!).

I've decided to stick with the format I used last year, so if you'd like to read a few hundred words about my reservations about doing these lists, and my criteria for what gets picked and what doesn't, feel free to re-read the opening section of that post. In short, this is merely a list of comics that were published between January 1 and December 31 of 2013 that I happened to read during that time, and believe to be better than all the other comics that were published between January 1 and December 31 (If your favorite comic isn't on the list, it is likely because I haven't read it, or that your favorite comic is actually terrible, and you have terrible tastes in comics...despite your obvious great taste in comics blogs). I don't therefore know how much value there actually is in the exercises, aside from maybe reminding you of some comics that you might have missed, despite my having already told you about them at least once.

As with last year, I've also included a few other features that basically just assess where I and comics are at this particular point in time in relation to one another, if that is at all something that might be of interest to you.

THE BEST COMICS OF 2014 THAT WEREN'T FANTAGRPHICS REPRINTS OF CARL BARKS DUCK COMICS, ACCORDING TO ME (here listed in rough best to least-best order): 1.) Ant Colony by Michael DeForge (I originally reviewed this here, and interviewed DeForge about it here), 2.) Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlman and Kerascoet (I don't think I know anyone that read this that didn't feel powerfully affected by it, whether they liked it or not; I originally reviewed it here, but I'd recommend Joe McCulloch's shorter, better-written review of it here), 3.) White Cube by Brecht Vandenbroucke (second one down here), 4.) The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (Hey, Yang was on this list last year too! My original review of Shadow Hero can be found here), 5.) Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Original review here; I gut the sense this book will be better-appreciated in like 50 years time, if there's still an Earth with people on it and those people are still writing about comics, as it will be easier in the future to decouple it from Scott Pilgrim; in 2014, it was really hard to read, think about or write about the book as anything other than Scott Pilgrim Creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's First Post-Scott Pilgrim Comic), 6.) Andre The Giant by Box Brown (reviewed here), 7.) Megahex by Simon Hanselmann (here), 8.) Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel and Niko Henrichon (I don't think I wrote a formal review of this, Niko Henrichon's adaptation of an earlier, wilder, weirder draft of Aronofsky and Handel's screenplay for this year's epically bonkers Old Testament film, but I did compare the film and comic in this blog post; the comic was a great one, and I think it may have been overlooked, in large part because of its Hollywood connections, which would turn off a certain segment of creators, and its Hollywood connections to such a strange, almost-fringe style of blockbuster, which would turn off the critics who aren't normally turned off off by Hollywood connections), 9.) Benson's Cuckoos by Anouk Ricard (reviewed here), 10.) Bumperhead by Gilbert Hernandez (Like Yang, another creator returning from last year's list; I didn't review Bumperhead, but I did interview Hernandez here, 11.) Through The Woods by Emily Carroll (reviewed here), 12.) Beauty by Hubert and Kerascoet (Team Kerascoet again! How did they manage two great graphic novels in one year? It helps when they're reprints of older material for the European market, being released for the first time in the U.S., I guess; the second review down on this page covers it), 13.) Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #0-4 by Tom Scioli and John Barber (Don't act so surprised; this book is really, really good).

That's three books over the limit of your typical top ten. My bad.

Looking over the list as compiled, I see Drawn and Quarterly "wins" with five entries; they either had a very, very good year, producing a ton of great comics, or they're PR people do a great job of putting books in front of me, where I am least likely not miss them, or some combination of the two.  First Second comes in second with two books, and all of the publishers whose works appear on the list—Ballantine Books, Fantagraphics, Image Comics, Margaret K. McElderry Books, NBM, IDW—have one book a piece. Two of the publishers—those responsible for Seconds and Through The Woods—aren't traditional comics publishers, but book-book publishers, which I find interesting.

SERIALLY-PUBLISHED COMIC BOOK-COMICS THAT I'M STILL BUYING AND READING AS THEY'RE PUBLISHED AS OF RIGHT THIS MOMENT (listed here in alphabetical order): 1.) Afterlife With Archie (The shock of this series' very existence still hasn't worn off, in large part because writer Rorto Aguirre-Sacas keeps finding new, previously thought forbidden territory and then going there), 2.) Batgirl (The first and only comic I've read so far that has convinced me that The New 52 reboot wasn't the Absolute Worst Idea Ever, this book has amazing art, sharp writing and thus far every issue has been a very fulfilling, very strong standalone one-issue story; unlike the other decent-to-good New 52 books, this is the only one that really relies on re-jiggering continuity—in order to make 30-something paralyzed Barbara "Oracle" Gordon 20-something un-paralyzed Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon—to make its premise workable...although I suppose they could have just done this as an out-of-continuity series, or made it set in the past, too), 3.) Batman Eternal (The art on this weekly series can be pretty rough, and the writing's not always top-notch either, but Scott Snyder's involvement means it reads very much like a companion to his Batman, and it offers excellent, one-stop shopping for a Batman fan's reading needs; sometimes the art is excellent—Dustin Nguyen, Ian Bertham, Guillem March—and the format suits the sprawling cast of the franchise quite well), 4.) Batman '66 (Still fun, still funny, still featuring great art), 5.) Gotham Academy (A nice companion book to Batgirl, this book similar features great art, interesting characters one enjoys spending time with and an easily-accessible, increasingly engrossing narrative), 6.) Lumberjanes (One of just two $3.99 books I'm buying, it's been that good that I've paid 33% more than I think I should have to pay for a comic book on it...although, if I'm being honest, my aversion to publisher Boom's trades for certain series, which are over-stuffed with too many variants in the back, is a factor in why I'm not just trade-waiting this one), 7.) The Multiversity (Grant Morrison and an all-star line-up of artists tackle Morrison's grand vision of what the DC Multivere's cosmology should be, this is a series that DC probably shoulda waited to publish before engaging in their New 52 line, and their own, apparently unrelated Multiversal shenanigans—for example, Futures End and Multiversity: Pax Americana both offered different, contradictory versions of the old, pre-Crisis Earth-4—every issues has been fairly fascinating to read, and some of them have been excellent as well. At Comics Alliance, I gave The Archie Andrews Memorial Award for Actual Best Issue of Multiversity to Thunderworld Adventures, while Steve Morris gave The Wolverine Memorial Award for Actual Best Issue of Multiversity to The Society of Super-Heroes—Conquerors of the Counter-World; I disagree with him, obviously, but Multiversity:SoS—CotCW certainly contained the best single panel in all of the comics published in 2014, the above one featuring Doc Fate's triumph over Felix Faust in a magician's battle), 8.) The New 52: Futures End (This weekly comic generally borders between awful and not-too-bad, but I can't seem to quit reading it; weekly comics are very hard to drop once you get started, and DC made it very easy to get started by giving away the first issue for free; theoretically it would offer a regular, single-book stop for your fix of DC Universe goings-on, but oddly the publisher set the story 5 years in the future, guaranteeing that nothing in it was really at all important, and so I find myself checking in with future versions of already unrecognizable New 52 versions of characters I might have used to like but, like certain reality programming or TV shows people hate-watch, I've becoming addicted to it), 9.) Saga (The writing and the art are still top-notch, and the storyline only gets more and more dramatic as the series goes on; this year's issues featured plenty of new characters, each as wonderfully, imaginative designed as the initial crop of characters, and powerful new conflicts), 10.) Scooby-Doo Team-Up (The paper version of sharper, fleeter episodes of the old New Scooby-Doo Movies, each issue of this series teams Scooby and the gang with different comics or cartoon characters, generally in a self-aware, funny fashion that parodies both properties while simultaneously functioning as showcasing of what's so likable about them. I've yet to be disappointed by a single issue, and, more often than not, find myself remarkably surprised by how good they are), 11.) Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (The best Wonder Woman comic on the stands, featuring the best Wonder Woman comics I've read all year—not counting those reprinted in IDW/Library of American Comics' Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip; not all of these stories have been great, and some of them have actually been pretty awful, but the good ones are so good they more than make up for the occasional bum story), 12.) She-Hulk (the best Marvel this side of Superior Foes of Spider-Man, this is this year's reminder that the way to make good superhero comics is to put good writer sand good artists on them, and then permit them to write and draw well. This has been by far the best She-Hulk comic to date—surpassing Dan Slott's earlier, longer-lived volume on account of it's stronger, more consistent art, and, as was pointed out in Comics Alliance's best-ofs, it was the best Charles Soule-written comic of the year—which is really saying something, considering how many goddam Charles Soule-written comics there are), 13.) SpongeBob Comics (Still the best old-school gag strip comic on the market, still featuring a murderer's row of indie cartoonists you would think would have better things to do than devote themselves to drawing short comics featuring an dumb sponge and a dumber starfish, but are glad to see them all in one place. This year the series featured a multi-part super-hero epic drawn by Jerry Ordway that also helped teach Esperanto, and one of the best goddam comics covers in recent memory on issue #39), 14.) Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe (Maybe the best serially-published comic at the moment, certainly the best featuring licensed, corporate-owned characters, and definitely my favorite of any of these mentioned here. This is the other $3.99 comic I've broken my vow to read serially, and it's totally worthwhile; each issue reads much longer than it actually is, and the pages of the creators interviewing each other at the end of each issue makes it read longer still).

That's 14 comics, which is three more than I had on last year's list. Now, one of these books has already been cancelled (She-Hulk), three more are limited series (Batman Eternal, New 52: Futures End, Multiversity), one is likely also limited but I don't recall an endpoint ever being given (Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe) and another isn't likely to last indefinitely (Adventures of Superman and Legends of The Dark Knight, the digital-first anthologies that Sensation is based on, only lasted so long, and, if the pattern holds, the cancellation of Sensation will be announced around the time a Green Lantern, Flash or, hell, maybe a Harley Quinn digital-first anthology is announced).

That means four-to-six of these titles won't be here next year, but then, eight of last year's 11 titles aren't on this list, so I imagine anything that goes away is likely to be replaced by something.


Paul Gulacy-penciled page from Crimson Empire Saga
MY STRONGEST MEMORIES OF READING COMICS IN 2014: Based on the fact that there are fewer bad memories in this section than in last year's, I guess I have to conclude that 2014 was a better year for me personally than 2013 was.

This is the year that I read (almost) every single Godzilla comic ever created and made available in the U.S., largely inspired by my interest in Godzilla being reignited by the film that opened back in May, and by my desire to sell this article to Comics Alliance. I was actually dreading the process to a certain degree, but I ended up having a blast reading and/or re-reading all those comics. The Dark Horse collections, which I was able to find through libraries, and which I imagine are no longer in print, were probably the high point, as they were brand new to me and introduced new, original monsters (In the Marvel Comics, Godzilla fought Marvel characters and the occasional weird-ass new creation; in the IDW comics, the publisher had access to all of Toho's monsters, and made great use of them).

I spent a great deal of time this fall and winter reading a ton of Star Wars comics—literally hundreds, probably even thousands of pages of Dark Horse' Star Wars comics. This was inspired by my re-watching of the first six films with a friend of mine, and, of course, news that Marvel would be inheriting the license from Dark Horse, leaving the future of those Dark Horse comics all uncertain (I've since learned it looks like Marvel will be reprinting them, but Marvel's track record with producing excellent collections that stay in-print is frankly pretty terrible).

I've always been very intimidated by Dark Horse's Star Wars comics, as there are just so goddam many of them, and I thought I was only really interested in the characters from the first three films. So, hesitantly at first, I picked up all of the ones with the name "Darth Vader" in the title. Then I read a pair of omnibi collecting Dark Times, a series in which Darth Vader played a fairly small recurring role. Then I was pretty much off-to-the races. I found and read big, fat collections and/or omnibi of The Crimson Empire Saga, Early Victories, Quinlan Vos: Jedi in Darkness, Shadows of the Empire and The Thrawn Trilogy. I was donwright shocked to discover that not only did I like Star Wars: Legacy, but that I quickly became enthralled with it, and have powered through 10 of the 11 trades collecting the entire run in the last few weeks (I blame John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, a hell of a creative team; they also produced the majority of the comics in the Quinlan Vos omnibus) and I've even read two volume of Star Wars: Vector, a weird kinda sorta crossover between four of the Star Wars titles Dark Horse was publishing at the time (the storyline follows an ancient, cursed artifact through the centuries, allowing for a single story thread to bind four series separated by hundreds of years of time in the fictional Star Wars universe).

I've spent just as much, if not more time, catching up on all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics I've missed—at least, all the Mirage ones. Dissatisfied with the way in which IDW has been collecting and (poorly) re-coloring the older Mirage material from the first volume of TMNT and sincerely regretting never buying the rest of the Mirage produced trade collections back when they were still in print, I stumbled upon The Mirage Group website, which was and still is selling what TMNT comics they have left in stock. In a series of fairly massive purchases, I bought almost all of the original Mirage collections, filled the few remaining holes in my collection of TMNT Vols. 1 and 2,  and I bought most of the single issues of TMNT Vol. 4 and Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 2, the latter of which I've been slowly reviewing my way through (I still have about 60 to go, so I hope you're not sick of reading about the Turtles yet!).

There are still a whole mess of comics I'm missing from those last two runs, and I have hardly any comics from either Archie Comics' old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures title (which IDW has been selling very-expensive trade collections of, when that material really demands a Showcase Presents/Essential like format) or Image Comics' TMNT Vol. 3 (which IDW does not seem to be reprinting). For the first time in...I don't know, a decade? Longer?...I find myself with some interest in collecting—as in hunting down and procuring—comic book format comics in an effort to make sure I have all of certain runs of certain comics.

This year I also availed myself of a sale that AdHouse was having, and thus received a very big, very welcome package containing Lamar Abrams' Remake Special and Remake 3xtra, Jay Stephens' Welcome To Oddville, Gregory Benton's B+F and a handful of other comics I still haven't gotten to, on account of my To Read pile being fucking gigantic and ever growing, the books I'm getting paid to review continually pushing the ones I'm not to the bottom. The first three of these I read over the course of a weekend during which I was cat-sitting for my upstairs neighbor, so I remember quite distinctly laying on the floor, with the big, colorful volume of Stephens' book out in front of me, while the cat rubbed it's face on my feet.

Oh, and I also published my own self-published comic book this year, the best by far of the three I've done so far. I sold...let me count...exactly one copy of it. Maybe I should try attending a small press convention next year; I can't imagine selling less books there than I have over the Internet.

Well, still—pretty good year. Not as pretty or good as Tori Amos, but still—pretty good year.


SallyP said...

It's so easy to fall into despair at all the horrendous comics out there, that we occasionally fail to consider all the really GOOD, not to mention Great comics that also came out.

I agree that She-Hulk has been fabulous, and I'm so depressed that it is ending. Batgirl has been a hoot as well, and I've actually turned into something of a Batfan, solely because of Scott Snyder, although Greg Capullo had a lot to do with it as well.

I missed that scene with Doctor Fate, but I agree with is sublime.

Anonymous said...

Makes you feel any better, Caleb, my NY was spent similarly.

Hey kids: swearing off cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, weed, red meat & mindless physical gratification works! If your idea of living is staying in on NY and reading all of Multiversity and Copra and Beto's Loverboys.

Hot damn it was good to see Kent Nelson again. Not as good as a guinness would have been, but still.

Caleb said...

Ah, that scene with Doc Fate and Faust is even better in context, as there's a panel of Faust speechifying about their upcoming battle, "It's your magic against mine, Fate!" and a panel of him saying a magic word while Fate just walks right up to him and "Hey, presto!"

Jesus said...

You've convinced me to get Shadow Hero -- I almost bought it after your review of it came out, but your Best of reminded me of it. :)