Those of us who love comic books were given quite a plateful in 2014. From series to innovations to characters to creators, and everything in-between. It has been a fantastic year for comics across the board, from independent to mainstream to online and beyond. Not to say the Big Two didn’t produce some great comics books over the past year, because they did. However, so did a lot of other people too.
People don't enjoy art/entertainment for it's contribution to society or it's 'worthiness' - First you have to enjoy it on an instinctual and decidedly nonintellectual level. With a wonderfully delicate, almost whimsical fairy tale quality to the illustrations, and an approachable and conversational tone to the writing this is one of the strongest introductions to a new character in years. The trick? Kamala is utterly relatable. Like the early years of classic Spiderman she is warm and fun. She is ultimately enjoying the challenge of becoming a hero, not brooding in a dark tower. She lives with a loving and relatable family that both infuriate and care for her. She has friends, goes to school and lives in a normal city - at night she teams up with Wolverine to geek out and fight giant beasties. She could be any of us and that's why we relate - the real 'importance' of this book is that it makes any fan of mainstream comic publishers want a similar level of quality and diversity of work in all their comics.
The Private Eye
Vaughan and Martin’s experiment with digital only comics continued to be a massive success in 2014. The Private Eye represents Martin at his absolute best, composing dynamic pages and realizing massively detailed worlds. It is a gorgeous story that has only become more compelling and relevant as it delves further into issues of privacy and technology. The recent leak of information at Sony is only one of many examples that make Vaughan and Martin's work seem ever more prescient. With only one issue left to go, The Private Eye is bound to go down as one of the highlights of the digital comics revolution.
Seconds is like Bryan Lee O'Malley wanted to do a "be careful what you wish for/don’t change the past" story but he brings such a unique perspective and interesting setting that you completely forget the kinda cliche set up. The art is great, maybe better than any of his previous works. I don't even care how many years of silence fall between his books. They're always so worth the wait.
Sex Criminals is that it's basically a power fantasy for Matt Fraction - he looks exactly like the main character, and the female lead looks a lot like his wife. Real talk: Nearly every superhero comic is a power fantasy. Sometimes for the writer, usually for the reader, quite often for both. It is a very 'mature' book - and by mature I mean it is an honest, heartfelt, funny, touching romantic drama. The art is clean and expressive, the writing is witty and believable. It comfortably plays with format too, sometimes becoming a story within a story, sometimes breaking the fourth wall entirely. Ignore the title, in fact ignore any prejudices you might have against trying it and give it a go.
It is the best 'traditional' superhero comic on the shelves today. It's both wonderfully odd and wildly experimental. Brilliant written and beautifully illustrated, both creative teams so far have shown an expert level of collaboration - letting either the words or images take the lead when the story demands it. The pacing is extraordinary with almost every issue being both a self contained singular 'gem' and yet still part of an ongoing arc. This book has shown me two things - 1# there are no bad characters only bad teams behind them. 2# that mainstream superhero books can still aim to be sequential 'art'. It's that rare book that makes me excited for the day when I know it's arriving at my local comic book shop.
The Wake may be the best ‘80s creature feature that never was. Much like he did in American Vampire and Severed, writer Scott Snyder dives deep into the nostalgia well (and Arctic Ocean) to drum up a yarn brimming with escapism and otherworldly threats. Instead of revisiting the Roaring Twenties or Great Depression dioramas that tend to occupy his narratives — including his exceptional 2006 short story collection, Voodoo Heart — The Wake feels ripped straight from the Reagan Era, if only by osmosis. Mysterious Cold War bureaucracies, grotesque sci-fi fiends, and a strong female protagonist all allude to some vintage cinema homage to works like The Abyss and The Thing. The Wake reassembles a slew of genre fragments into a work that surpasses many of its inspirations with panache.
Honorable Mention(s): Saga & Mind MGMT
2014 has been an outstanding year for literary fiction. In fact, the books that hit shelves throughout the year were intelligent and compulsively page-turning. It may not have a cover anymore. It may be pixels on a screen. But a book is still a book. Big, rich, deep – and, when it’s good, transporting. Transforming. There are thousands of books published for every personality, micromood, and attention span‚ and in multiple formats. It never ceases to amaze me to see the refreshingly original ideas created from letters and words.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Mitchell, the author 'The Cloud Atlas,' has written a beautiful tale that is not easy to describe, though perhaps that is the definition of a David Mitchell book. The book begins in the early 1980s and continues into the near future. While the character of Holly Sykes is touched upon throughout, the novel isn’t really about her or about the battle between good and evil that is just touching upon our reality. Or perhaps it is, but it’s a whole lot more as well.
Ruin And Rising (The Grisha, #3) by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo manages to create a complex fantasy world based partly on Russian folklore. In her world, The Darkling, the most powerful wielder of Grisha magic, may have met his match in the commoner orphan Alina Starkov. Alina’s magic, that of a sun summoner, may equal and surpass that of the Darkling’s magic of darkness, but only if she finds three amplifiers to strengthen her power. One of the best aspects of Bardugo’s writing is that her characters are, for the most part, intelligent and sure of themselves and their mission. Their war is often a battle of strategy, cunning, and skill. 'Ruin and Rising' is a satisfying end to the Grisha Trilogy, and leaves the world open to new tales featuring other characters.
Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle
Those familiar with John Darnielle's work as a songwriter, as frontman for The Mountain Goats, already know that he has a way with words. His songs themselves are like microscopic novels, featuring broken characters, precarious situations, and, in some cases, autobiographical vignettes of his troubled teen years. So it's not surprising to see Darnielle translate his storytelling talents into an actual novel that combines all those elements. What makes 'Wolf In White Van' such an engrossing and stellar novel is Darnielle's visceral way with language, putting us inside the head of his protagonist, Sean Phillips, who connects with people through a mail-in role-playing game. Darnielle favors character development over plot, creating a narrative that's part stream-of-consciousness to allow the mystery of what happened to Sean unfold as we understand him better.
Honorable Mention(s): Hollow City (Miss Peregrines Peculiar Children #2) by Ransom Riggs, The Unbound (An Archived Novel) by Victoria Schwab, Cress (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer & The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey.
What are your favorites that didn't make my list? Let me know.
Get at me on twitter: @markdago
Like me on THE Facebook: facebook.com/markdagoraps
Download my latest EP for free: markdago.bandcamp.com
Listen to MY podcast http: http://poppundits.libsyn.com