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Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 TOP TEEN WEEK - Day 5: Comics

Top 10 week comes to a close!  I probably don’t spend enough time on this blog talking about what I’m reading comics-wise.  I tend to read most of my comics in spurts now that I am no longer writing weekly reviews (for those of you that don’t know, I spent several years writing the Comic Book Review Power Rankings for Weekly Crisis as “Ryan the Iowan”) and am currently buying my books just once a month rather than ever week.  I’ll drop some tweets here and there about comics that I’m reading, but for the most part I have been quiet this year about what comics I’m picking up.  As part of my 2014 recap, I wanted to talk briefly about 10 comics that I really dug this year.

There are a handful of comics that I read in trade, so if you don’t see some of your favorites on this list (like Morning Glories, Chew, Walking Dead, etc), that is probably why.

Honorable Mentions
Batman – Samurai Jack – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Amazing Spider-Man – Hawkeye 
Captain Marvel – Rat Queens – Adventure Time – Velvet – Rocket Girl - Elephantmen

10. RED SONJA (Dynamite Comics)
As a longtime fan of both the titular character and writer Gail Simone, I had high hopes for this series when it was announced, but I have to say that Simone’s take on the “She-Devil with a Sword” has really exceeded all of my expectation.  With a great mix of wit and violence, this series is a total riot to read.  Simone’s take on the character is more thoughtful than most and really holds nothing back.  She has done a great job of getting into the head of Sonja without sacrificing the savagery and action that made the character famous.  My favorite storyline involved Sonja gathering artisans to placate a cruel ruler in order to free slaves—it might be the most character driven Red Sonja story that I’ve ever read and stands out to me as one of my favorite arcs I’ve read all year.

I know we are only a few issues into Gotham Academy, but the charm of this lighthearted-without-being-campy series is so refreshing and so gleefully presented even when dealing with serious issues that after just a handful of issues, I had to put this series on the list.  There is a spirit of adventure and wonder in the series, which focuses on teenagers at a private school in Gotham City, that you won’t find any other comic in the DC Catalogue.  Writers Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan absolutely nailed their world building here, which really captivated me as it was brought to life by the talented artist Karl Kerschl.  This series proves that you can breathe new life into the world of superheroes and should not be missed, even if its just as a counterpoint to the very dark world that is being built in the other Batman titles.

08. DEADLY CLASS (Image Comics)
While I’m not much of a fan of Rick Remender’s superhero comics, his creator-owned work is always spectacular and I think that Deadly Class might just be his best work yet.  Sent in the underbelly of the 1980s, this series follows a group of teenagers being trained to be master assassins at clandestine school.  The series is as dark and violent as you might expect from the premise, but what really makes it work is deeper under the surface.  The series isn’t just about murder or the mysteries behind each character, it is also a surprisingly honest and heartfelt look at the horrors of being a teenager.  Sex, drugs, peer pressure, and relationships are explored through the shocking lens of a clan of assassins in a way that is 100% genuine.  Plus Wes Craig’s often manic artwork perfectly fits the shifting tones and wild nature of the series. I really cannot praise this book enough.  If you never read any work by Remender outside of Marvel, go buy this book right the eff now.

07. MS. MARVEL (Marvel Comics)
While technically this is the most traditional superhero comic on my list, Ms. Marvel really is anything but.  The always spectacular G. Willow Wilson writes this series which follows a young Pakistani-American girl who has super powers thrust upon her as she navigates both her personal life and her newfound life a superhero.  We’ve seen teenage heroes before, but nothing quite like this.  Kamala must deal with the pressures of growing up a teenager in New Jersey while living up to the standards of her strict Muslim family and on top of that is adventuring about with the likes of Wolverine and Lockjaw.  The series tackles very complex issues without coming across like an after school special and, perhaps more importantly, without using Kamala’s ethnic and religious background as a gimmick.  Plus the art by Adrian Alphona is totally gorgeous.  Kamala is the most interesting new superhero on the stands this year and her exploits should not be missed.

06. SHE-HULK (Marvel Comics)
Speaking of totally unconventional superhero comics, my favorite Marvel book of the year was Charles Soule’s She-Hulk.  While the titular character isn’t one that I’m normally jumping at the chance to read, I took a chance during a light week to pick up the first issue and never looked back.  This series barely focused on She-Hulk as a superhero, instead spending the majority of its pages focusing on her work as a lawyer.  Sadly, this didn’t catch on with a larger audience, but for those of us that gave the book a chance, it was an overwhelming success thanks to Soule’s great take on the character and fantastic timing as a writer.  If you can get past the lack of smashing, She-Hulk was a highly entertaining and highly unique comic that is the complete opposite of what you might expect from Marvel comics (though kudos to them for being bold enough to try).  Sadly the series was recently cancelled, but if you can track down this brief series, you are in for a treat.

05. REVIVAL (Image Comics)
I was lucky enough to have a table next to artist Mike Norton at a convention this summer and it took all of my willpower not to geek-out for the entire weekend about how much I love Revival.  If you’ve never read the series, here is the overview—people are no longer dying in a small town in Wisconsin.  Everything springboards from there as the community is forced into isolation and perhaps the largest cast of characters in any comic deals with this supernatural phenomenon and its effects on their personal lives.  Teaming up with Norton on the comic is writer Tim Seeley who beautiful crafts these characters with tight dialogue that is overflowing with personality.  Each issue has been better than the one before and I don’t suspect that will change any time soon.  

04. STARLIGHT (Image Comics)
Mark Millar has put out a lot of great work over the years (and helped launch my career), but I sincerely believe that his miniseries Starlight from Image Comics might just be his best work yet.  The series is like a mashup between Flash Gordon and the Pixar film Up, following the adventures of a former space-faring adventure hero that returned to Earth only to have his stories mocked and ridiculed by even those close to him.  Going on one last adventure, he returns to the distant planet he once saved to defeat a vicious would-be conqueror.  On the surface, it is a wild-romp action story that fans of pulp sci-fi will go crazy for.  Below the surface, however, it is a beautiful story about dealing with regrets and the horrors of being misunderstood.  Gorgeous illustrated by Gordon Parlov, this might just be the quintessential Millar work.

03. SAGA (Image Comics)
The critical darling Saga continued its winning ways this year, remaining one of the most finely crafted comics on the stands.  Writer Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have such an undeniable chemistry in this sci-fi epic.  As a writer, I hope to one day find an artist who gels with me the same way that BKV and Fiona have on this book.  Things got rocky this year for Marko and Alana as they seek to establish a life for their forbidden-daughter Hazel and while their relationship is hitting some frighteningly rough pages, it is to the benefit of the reader as the story has not been more enthralling than it has this past year.  For those of you that are confused by what I’m talking about, shame on you.  You should have been reading Saga from day one and I don’t think that we can be friends until you go back to the beginning to catch up.  Saga is a wildly imaginative story where the most bizarre things can happen, but at the center is a very real and very relatable story about relationships.  I cannot imagine anyone, whether or not they are a sci-fi fan, not loving this series.

02. HARLEY QUINN (DC Comics)
I cannot say that I have been the happiest with the New52 era of DC Comics, but if there is any good thing that has come from the relaunch, it is most certainly Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn.  The writing (and life) team have taken Harley outside of the mainstream DCU for the most part, telling madcap stories without the hindrance of current Batman continuity.  While there have been some great guest appearances, the story mostly focuses on Harley and her bizarre cast of supporting characters (including a geriatric mad scientist, a dead beaver that may be a hallucination, and a character that is for all sense and purposes Glenn Danzig) in adventures completely isolated from the rest of the DCU.  The book is incredibly fun and whimsical in a disturbing sense, making it completely unlike any other book currently being published by the DC.  This wholly unique series has been a bit of a runaway hit for DC and spawned some really wild concepts (including a scratch-and-sniff one-shot) that may have paved the way for some of DC’s other unconventional (and highly entertaining) books like Gotham Academy and the “soft reboot” of Batgirl.

01. SOUTHERN BASTARDS (Image Comics)
While deciding on the other nine books on this list was rather difficult, there was not a doubt in my mind that Southern Bastards would take the top spot.  There was no book that was more compelling nor inspiring to me than Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Image series that follows Earl Tubb, a grizzled man’s man who returns to his crime-ridden football-obsessed hometown after years away, only to find that he is no longer willing to be complacent to the horrors that take place there.  The Jasons work incredibly well together in bringing this very shocking and yet highly realistic town to life.  Latour’s art is absolutely perfect as he is able to capture the over the top personalities of the characters without resorting to exaggerated caricature, instead finding the right balance between highly expressive linework and a strong sense of realism—much the same way that Aaron does with the writing.  There is a gritty, almost grindhouse feel to the story, but it never goes so far that you don’t really believe that towns like this exist (and, scarily enough, they do).  Fans of Aaron’s breakthrough series Scalped will feel perfectly at home with this series, while newcomers to his creator-owned work will be completely blown away.  There were a lot of amazing books on the stands this year, but none could touch Southern Bastards.

What are your favorites?

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