The Pull List: Top 20 Comics of 2014
20. This One Summer
A coming of age story about a young girl on the cusp of puberty and sexual awakening, still struggling with what those things means. On the surface level, it might seem like a young adult novel, but it is a surprisingly mature and very clever look at first crushes and teen politics (for lack of a better word) and the struggles of piecing together life when your adult role models are still figuring it out for themselves. This helps sap all the nostalgia from childhood summer memories resulting in something much more sincere and relatable.
19. New Avengers
Last year, I had Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers on the list. I really liked the epic scope and growing roster, including repurposing some of the New Universe characters. This time around, his New Avengers is the one that really captured my imagination. It really pulls the curtain back on the Marvel Universe, exploring the inner struggles and the sliding moral scales of Marvel’s smartest leaders. Faced with an insurmountable problem (alternate Earths keep trying to take up the same space as Marvel’s Earth, which would lead to the destruction of both, if one is not destroyed), heroes must justify their means for essentially destroying other planets.
18. The Wicked + The Divine
This is a newer book that I am just getting into. The backstory is every 90 years, a mix’n match pantheon of gods are reincarnated for 2 years before their bodies give out. These bodies are usually volunteer young people looking to burn out rather than to fade away, getting the opportunity to act out, have some super-powers, and earn the fame and fortune they have always wanted. Taking place in the present, these gods become pop stars and might just be looking for a way to keep the party going for a helluva lot longer then 2 years.
17. All New X-Factor
When I heard Peter David was putting the previous version of X-Factor to bed, I was a little sad. It was petering out near the end but was still one of the coolest books thanks to a pretty amazing roster of characters. Thankfully, he was developing it as one of Marvel’s “All-New” titles. Polaris, having bought the X-Factor trademark from previous leader, Jamie Madrox, started a new security team working for a shady company called Serval Industries. Teaming up with her half-brother Quicksilver and lovable rogue Gambit, the 3 start building something and doing a lot of good. That’s something these characters, as well as their other teammates, really needed. In the recent years leading up to this team-up, they had really lost themselves and needed a lot of rebuilding. Essentially, it is the opposite character development of New Avengers.
This year has been defined by 2 big Scott Snyder story arcs. One was Snyder’s re-telling of Batman’s first year back in Gotham facing off against the Riddler and the Red Hood Gang in a pseudo-post-apocalypse Gotham landscape during “Year Zero.” It was a bit more fantastical than you would expect from a Batman origin, but it illustrated a more desperate scenario for their to be such a well-equipped costumed crime-fighter than simply bad street crime. And how that crime-fighter can earn the trust of a city. This is followed up by the return of the Joker, a story that is still only scratching the surface but is shaping up as as final a Joker story as there could be.
15. Criminal Macabre: The Third Child
As a big fan of Cal MacDonald, who sadly only gets covered in sporadic miniseries, I sometimes miss his adventures all together. Not this year. I was on top of it, and Cal, driven to his darkest corner now a monster infected with deep cynicism, reinvigorates himself by stopping yet another end of the world scenario, the closest call yet.
14. Beautiful Darkness
Resembling a children’s fable, a race of teeny tiny people living in the body of a girl are forced out of their home when said girl dies. Now, these characters must brave elements they are ill prepared for. With juvenile art style (not a criticism) and cartoonish delivery (also not a criticism), Beautiful Creatures hits us readers out of no where with the despicable and selfish acts these cute characters sink to in order to survive. It is framed with an uneasiness that rests in the pit of your stomach and can stand on its own next to the equally uneasy pre-Disney fairy tales.
13. Manifest Destiny
This revisionist history take on the expanding United States follows the adventure of Lewis and Clark as they lead a group of soldiers, explorers, and riff-raff through the Louisiana Purchase aided by Native American guide, Sacajawea. The revisionist part is the Purchase is a supernatural haven filled with zombifying moss parasites, giant man-eating frogs, and creepy rune structures that can’t bode well.
The title refers to a serial killer with a penchant for chewing on the fingertips of his victims. That killer is now back in his hometown of Buckaroo, Oregon, working as a cook, and getting strange glances from the townspeople including his ex-girlfriend who is now the town sheriff. Except, he isn’t the main character. The main character is an FBI agent. He comes to town looking for his best friend and fellow agent who was obsessed with the town since it has produced more serial killers than any other. The investigation into why, the roll call of slasher film rejects, and the effects on the normal townsfolk all amount to a darkly comedic horror-thriller.
11. Superior Foes of Spider-Man
It is sad to see this series go. It was such a small corner of the Marvel universe focusing on some D-list rogues from Spider-Man’s gallery trying to make it as the new Sinister Six and not really getting anyone’s attention. Following in the footsteps of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, Superior Foes was much more interested in keeping its feet on the ground dealing with day-to-day antics the supervillains could get into when no one was watching.
10. Wonder Woman
The only word I can think of to describe Brian Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman, which came to a close last December, is “re-origin.” It didn’t erase anything that happened before it (well, its the new 52, so it sort of did, but it didn’t inherently do it). Instead, it uprooted everything Diana thought to be true and sent her on a much over-due journey of self-discovery. As a pillar of the DC universe, she seemed to have no more character left to develop, and in spite of some fan rage against the changes, Wonder Woman comes out the other end better than ever. It should be remembered as one of DC’s finest hours.
Grant Morrison doesn’t just create a plotline, he has to fashion it into a pretzel. And then a moebius strip. And then into a rubix cube. It’s a reason why so many people hate him, but also the reason a lot of people like him. With Annihilator, he introduces us to the improbably names Max Nomax, a quintessential anti-hero archetype playing space outlaw on a cursed ship waxing philosophically. We also meet Ray Spass (pronounced Space),a Hollywood screenwriter crafting Nomax’s story and going through his own existential crisis due to an inoperable brain tumor that will be the death of him. Except its not a brain tumor, its a data tool. And Spass isn’t crafting Nomax’s story, it is being downloaded to him. And an amnesiac Nomax visits Spass to inspire Spass to keep writing or else Nomax will never know what to do next. What?
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim art-style and sense of humor returns and is refined in this tale about second chances. Katie is a young chef who started her own restaurant. With a second one in the works and being a hassle, Katie’s regrets start piling up on her psyche until she discovers some magic mushrooms that allow her to relive and change those events she regretted. With an economic use of mysticism, O’Malley uses the butterfly effect to his full advantage to study a character who never knows what she really wants until its gone.
7. Alex + Ada
Speaking of economic uses of genre trappings, Alex + Ada may very well be the least exciting (in the traditional sense) comic on the market. No superpowers. No action sequences. No graphic depictions of violence or sex. Instead, it is a deliberately paced slice-of-life tale set in a future where robots are commonplace. It veers ever so slightly into the criminal when Alex, sick of having a robot he never wanted that is meant to be treated like a pet who can do chores, unlocks Ada’s illegal artificial intelligence buried in her programming. This is used as a jumping off point to explore themes of sentience, morality, and love.
6. Green Arrow
Sadly, Jeff Lemire ended his very awesome run on Green Arrow last year. It was one of DC’s strongest book and one I had the most fun reading. Lemire started off the year sending Ollie up against The Outsiders after teasing their existence on the fringes. He followed that up with returning Ollie to Seattle where an evil Richard Dragon amassed a group of rogues to take the fight straight to archer leaving him with nothing. Now, writers from the TV show, “Arrow,” have taken over writing duties, which sounds like it should be a good thing. So far, though, it has been kind of a dud.
5. Moon Knight
From the looks of forums, you would think Moon Knight was a very popular character, but he hasn’t exactly sustained a series in a long time. I actually enjoyed those previous series. Whether or not this third time is a charm (third time since 2006 I think), I think they finally cracked what makes him great: constant reinvention. This time around Moon Knight is depicted as a dapper gangster-esque vigilante with a fortified limo taking orders from his demonic/Egyptian looking subconscious. In between nightly bouts of heroism, he spills his guts to a therapist trying to cure that multiple personality disorder, which will probably be the key to justifying his constant reinvention.
4. Through the Woods
Through the Woods is a horror anthology full of period piece tales to make your skin crawl. Although, its art style and period setting might conjure the old Brothers Grimm fables, their lack of metaphor and abrupt endings are more reminiscent of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (remember that creepy book) and other classic campfire tales. There is a certain childlike feeling you get while reading it about how simple it used to be to get scared, like what might be under the bed or in the closet, a fear fondly recounted in the book’s prologue.
Oh look, Grant Morrison is on the list again. I’m sure someone will be pissed about that. This time he brings his inherent weirdness to the actual fabric of DC’s universe. It seems every event in DC comics sets out to re-establish or destroy all over again the idea that DC has multiple Earths. Morrison is solidifying that by sending a wave of demonic entities to tear them apart and recruiting heroes from different Earths to stand against them. Taking place over graphic novel sized one-shots spotlighting an Earth or two from the whole sha-bang , seemingly mundane and/or isolated incidents have far-reaching consequences. It’s a story of truly epic proportions, a mosaic of past incarnations and weird alternate realities, where all your favorite forgotten stories are still applicable, that seems to be just getting started
2. East of West
Jonathan Hickman’s East of West is as dense as either Marvel or DC’s shared universe. If he needed to or wanted to, he could make 52 series just to fill out this crazy universe. It is a world where the Civil War carried on for years splintering the United States into many nations, and in a strange way, it is both pre- and post-apocalyptic. The Four Horsemen have risen before, but Death never went back to “sleep.” He stayed awake to play cowboy, and when the prophecy starts to take shape again, there is no Death to accompany War, Conquest, and Famine across the globe once again.
While the first half of Saga was about our intrepid family coming together, the new direction is about them coming apart at the seams. A convenient time jump allows us to skip much of the honeymoon phase and jump right to the end of their marriage, a moment that has yet to happen but plainly stated by narrator Hazel. The casualness of the dialog and narration continues to be its most memorable element letting stand out among all the other space opera epics.