It’s that time of year again, dear readers: time to ring in the new year by taking stock of the old. With this in mind, those of us here at OG have been busy looking back at all that 2014 had to offer and separating the good from the best. And since comics are kind of our bread and butter, we’ve got quite few opinions on those. This is true for me as well, so it’s time for me to put in my two cents by ranking the best of the best from our favorite medium. So without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks for the Top 5 comics of 2014!
Honorable Mention: Black Widow
Coming in as an Honorable Mention, we have Black Widow, a riveting spy-thriller from Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto. Following the exploits of super-spook Natasha Romonoff, this book takes us into the shadowy side of the Marvel Universe as the Black Widow takes on the problems the Avengers aren’t cut out for. Edmondson, who has real talent for writing espionage stories, seems to be right at home here, crafting engaging stories about a woman who’s trying to be a good person in spite of a very troubled past. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a wunderkind like Phil Noto handling the artwork; his pencil-work impresses month after month, not only because of its objective quality, but because of how refreshing it is to see this character drawn like a real person instead of a sex object. All told, a pretty fantastic read.
5) Jason Aaron’s Thor Books
Coming in at the 5 Spot, we have the continuing adventures of the Mighty Thor as told by writer extraordinaire Jason Aaron in both the pages of the recently concluded Thor: God of Thunder and it’s successor title, Thor. Some of you may recall that last year, I actually picked GoT as my top comic of 2013. Fastforward one year, and the comic hasn’t quite soared to the same heights as it did during the phenomenal God Butcher and God Bomb story arches, but it still remains a strong and engaging title. With the help of a number of talented artists (most notably the phenomenal Esad Ribic), Aaron continues to ratchet up the insanity for the Odinson’s out-of-this-world adventures. This is a book where you never know what might be around the corner, with escapades ranging from Old King Thor fighting Galactus on a dying earth, to Young Prince Thor throwing the mother of all keggers with his draconic drinking buddy.
Perhaps the craziest thing of all, though, was the change to the status quo, which has Thor losing his worthiness while a new heroine steps up to take on the mantle of the Thunder God. I give Aaron and company a lot of respect for stepping out of their comfort zone, and while the new Thor book is still early in its run, it’s already off to a fine start.
Up next at #4, we have one of the many outstanding monthly comics coming out of Image Comics these days: Lazarus. Brought to us by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, the world of Lazarus is one where governments and nations have fallen and all power is held by a small number of Families who control everything that’s left. Tasked with guarding the interests of one such family is Forever Carlyle, a special type of soldier called a Lazarus that is genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, and more resilient than your run-of-the-mill fighter. Her story is one of conflict, not just with enemy combatants, but with herself as she tries to reconcile her desire to be accepted by her family with her desire to do the right thing as she struggles to follow her conscience in her morally compromising role.
Lazarus is a book that delivers on a lot of levels, giving readers an engaging (though distressingly believable) world, intriguing interpersonal drama, and adrenaline-pumping action in one tidy package. Greg Rucka is one of the best creators in the industry, especially when it comes to writing great stories with strong female protagonists, and this talent is on full display here. Add that to strong artwork from Michael Lark, and you’ve got a winner on your hands.
Those of you who haven’t spent the last couple of years in a coma have no doubt already heard about how great Saga is, but just in case you are in fact just rejoining the waking world, you’ll want to run out a give it a read the first chance you get. Brought to us by superstar writer Brian K. Vaughan and emergent talent Fiona Staples, Saga uses the epic tale of star-crossed lovers to take readers on a wild ride across one of the strangest galaxies one could imagine.
It’s no secret among comic readers that Brian K. Vaughan is one of the best character writers in the industry, with an uncanny talent for crafting fun, flawed, and believable characters. Saga has this in spades, with a cast that you just can’t help but fall in love with, even the ones cast in the villain’s role. The drawback of this, though, is that Vaughan is also famed for writing stories where anything can happen and no one is safe; you never know when something tragic might befall one of these characters you’ve learned to adore.
Really though, this unpredictability is truly the best part of the book; you never can predict where they’ll end up next. Is the Will going to get out of that coma? Is Alana seriously going to become an actress on a soap opera? Who knows?
On the artistic side of things, Fiona Staples revels in the insanity, drawing the most outrageous and chaotic scenes with skill and precision. Of all the many wonderful things Saga has done, perhaps the best of these is introducing Fiona Staples’ artwork to a wider audience. This is a career that will only continue to rise from here, so if you’re looking for the chance to get an early introduction to it, and enjoy an outstanding book at the same time, do what so many of us are already doing and read Saga.
2) The Wicked + The Divine
Another year, another spectacular collaboration between Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Sometimes, a writer and an artist have such chemistry and play to each other’s strengths so well, it’s as though they are each other’s artistic soul mates. After giving us such wonderful contributions as Phonogram and Young Avengers, they’ve delivered another hit this year with The Wicked + The Divine.
Our story takes place in a world much like our own, except that gods roam the earth roughly once every century for a few brief years. With their modern reincarnation underway, the gods fulfill their role of inspiring the world…by becoming pop stars. With this as our premise, Gillen and McKelvie do what they do best: create endearing, fully-realized young characters. Lucifer is far and away my favorite, but other standouts include the narcissistic Baal and our protagonist Laura.
These creators have shown time after time that they know how to knock it out of the park when telling stories about teenagers and have done so again here, while also adding in nuanced mythology (both the previously established kind and its own) and a compelling whodunit to tie it all together. With the first act wrapped up and the promise of more to come on the horizon, get in while the getting’s good.
1) Ms. Marvel
At long last, we come to the end: the top comic of 2014. Taking the crown this year is a candidate that you might not expect, a title that follows a brand new character without a lot of rich history and tradition to fall back on. But while she hasn’t been around for long, you’ll definitely be hoping that Kamala Khan will be here to stay.
Coming in at #1, we have Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson. Following the story of a teenage girl of Pakistani decent, this title made a lot of waves when it was first announced for featuring a Muslim protagonist, and thus featuring a demographic not well represented in the world of super heroes. Those who went in to see what the buzz was about, though, found that they had something special on their hands.
When I use the word “special,” I do so because this is a book that we don’t see enough in the world of comics. It’s special because it gives us a protagonist we can all relate to, a nerdy, kind-of-awkward kid who wants to fit in without losing who she is, but doesn’t know how. It’s special because it explores the thrill and wonder of super heroes through the eyes of an earnest young girl who’s just as much a fan as we are ourselves. It’s special because it breathes life and joy into all of its characters. But more than anything, this comic is special because it has heart and sincerity that’s so hard to find and yet so easy to overlook.
Reading Ms. Marvel is like a breath of fresh air, giving readers a book that is both moving and fun. G. Willow Wilson, with support from quality artists like Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, has given us the best new character I’ve read in years, and indeed the best comic book in 2014.
So that’s my list! Naturally, there are a number of great books out there that I didn’t include, and my opinion is probably going to differ from yours. What would you have put on yours? Please let me know in the comments, thank you for reading, and have a very happy holiday!