Dec 22, 2014

The Coolest Thing in Comics in 2014

Duy here. I don't like "best of" lists at the end of the year. That would imply I've read everything and judged everything to make such a judgment. So you won't see something like Saga on this column, or anything else you might find in the top 10 lists that are so common at this point in the year. Instead we'll be talking about...

The Coolest Thing in Comics in 2014

By this, I just mean the one thing that happened in comics this year that made us say, more than anything else, that we were happy to be fans of comics.

I'll start.

Duy: It's early June. I'd just moved into a new home, amid one life change after another, seemingly more than I could count. I don't have internet in the house yet, and because I'm a neanderthal who doesn't own a smartphone, I have no way to access the internet.My nephew comes to visit and says, "Did you hear about Bill Watterson drawing Pearls Before Swine?"

Naturally, I get confused, and say "Huh? Watterson hasn't drawn in 20 years." And he says, "Oh, right. You don't have internet."

And then it all fell into place. Stephan Pastis on his Facebook page had announced a big surprise to start out the week, introducing a little girl named Libby. Not just a surprise, a mind-blowing surprise.

As the week went on, "Libby" had started drawing the strip, and we got these three segments out of it.

And then the weekend hit, I forgot about the big surprise, and boom. Turns out "Libby" was Bill Watterson.

My favorite comic strip creator had just done a guest shot on my second-favorite comic strip ever, and I didn't see it coming.

In a world where promises of a mind-blowing surprise rarely ever actually deliver for me, to be legitimately taken by surprise by something so cool (and good — the originals raised $62,000 for Parkinson's research) was beyond awesome.

And that's why, even amid a steady stream of awesome comics this year (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Don Rosa and Carl Barks reprints, Walter Simonson's Ragnarok, Warren Ellis' and Tula Lotay's Supreme: Blue Rose, Fallen Ash, Grant Morrison's Multiversity, featuring the orignial Marvel Family), even among what may have been the best year for comic-based movies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6), the coolest thing for me in 2014 was the creator of Calvin and Hobbes drawing Pearls Before Swine, something I never saw coming.

What I look forward to in 2015: I love alternate takes and multiverses, and it feels as if 2014 to 2015 is gonna be a great two-year stretch for me in terms of events. Provided it doesn't end on a down note, Spider-Verse is already my favorite Spider-Man epic, to the point where I'm getting all the tie-ins, something I didn't do for Spider-Island. Spider-Gwen, in an exciting new universe. Marvel's new Secret Wars feels like Crisis on Infinite Marvel Earths, and I cannot wait. Grant Morrison and Cam Stewart already introduced a Golden Age–type Captain Marvel, which I have waited for for a long time, and Evan "Doc" Shaner is going to do another take during DC's Convergence, doing a two-issue Shazam series.

And then there's more Carl Barks and Don Rosa Donald Duck/Scrooge McDuck reprints, the finale of Supreme: Blue Rose, continuations of Ragnarok, and of course, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. There's more Avatar: The Last Airbender comics and hopefully new Legend of Korra comics as well (I'm still high from the series finale). Between new stuff, old stuff, borrowed stuff, and multimedia stuff all being readily available, there's something for everyone. This is the true Golden Age of comics.
Matt: I have two for the year. I have largely stayed out of reading series this year, but mean to check in on Saga at some point in 2015.

The first big thing for me in 2014 was rediscovering joy at the cinema. I used to be a movie buff in college, I would borrow movies frequently from the library and amassed quite a collection (just ask Duy, it was...intimidating and alphabetized). My favorites were always the adventure movies, whether they were sci-fi or just straight up action. If done well, they had comedy, pathos and a satisfying setup. They didn't have to make perfect sense, but fun was always top on my list. A personal favorite was always The Fifth Element, which takes inspiration from comics and adds some delightful mayhem (and Gary Oldman). I have sat through a diverse mix of comics movies in recent memory. Some were just bad and not worth mentioning I spent time or money on them. However, the ones I saw in 2014 were definitely a class above.

I've seen 3-4 movies this year, 2 of them were comics movies: Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew what was going to happen in Cap 2, but for Guardians, I had no idea. It was fun, there were jokes, the story made sense (as far as these things go) and there were actual character moments. Some people were grim, but Thanos is obsessed with Death, so he was rather light for Thanos. I have come to the realization that Marvel knows what it's doing when it comes to its movie business. They took a property that few were intimately familiar with, and encompassed a galactic story, and transformed it into one of the highest grossing and most enjoyable films I've seen in recent memory.

Cap 2 did the  thing all great sequels do: make me want more. It is certainly darker than Guardians, but it's an earned darkness. Cap has been around for a while now, his character is developed and between this film, The Avengers and the first Cap, Steve knows the world he wants isn't the world he lives in. The film was smart to show you that through the use of Bucky and Falcon rather than just having Robert Redford (spoiler!) reveal he's secretly a Hydra higher up. If you're going, "Wait, you said you love these things about movies, but Cap 2 doesn't have them," false. One, it has pathos, I just talked about that. Two, the fight scene in the elevator is a great example of using humor and action together to achieve something better than just a fight in a tight space.

The second thing that shocked, shocked me in comics in 2014 was agreeing with Ben on a woman being drawn as Thor. Ben and I don't agree on a lot (except mocking Duy), but when we do, it's a powerful force for snark and potentially potent arguments. Thor being a woman doesn't change anything about the ability to wield a hammer, summon lightning and beat up frost giants. I didn't pipe up on the Captain (Falcon) America kerfluffle, but I too am weary of people who don't have legitimate, good storytelling-related complaints about comics piping in when things change. Comics are a fun, entertaining and imaginative medium, being a cranky person about change is pretty much the antithesis of comics. It almost makes me want to put the onion back on my belt.

Things I am not looking forward to in 2015: Finishing Amalgam, as I promised Duy I would.
Tanya:  Here are the things that delighted me in 2014.

1. While many of us were sad to hear of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, Studio Ghibli managed to release another enchanting anime The Tale of Princess Kaguya. For those that missed it in theaters, it will be released on DVD/Blu-Ray in February 2015.

2. Release of Time Killers by Blue Exorcist mangaka, Kazue Kato. This is a compilation of Kato’s previous works as she was just starting her career. There is one short that you can see the genesis of what is to become Blue Exorcist. Kato gives insight into each short and her process as an artist.

3. Seconds by Bryan O’Malley, a charming graphic novel about Katie, who dreams of opening her own restaurant. She has one crappy day by running into ex-boyfriend, and a co-worker getting seriously injured on the job. She discovers a way to do her day over, which only leads to further complications.

4. Finally, after a graphic novel adaptation, a movie called Edge of Tomorrow, All You Need is Kill has been made into a manga. Story follows a soldier named Keiji, who after contact with the aliens known as the mimics is doomed to repeat the day over and over again. He then meets the mysterious hero Rita Vrataski a.k.a Full Metal Bitch, who has experienced the same thing. Together they try to unravel the mystery and stop the invasion.

Travis: I can’t say what the most surprising thing of 2014 was, because I don’t accurately remember what was contained to the year 2014. I’d want to say, Alisa Kwitney + superheroes, but that’s 2013 in prose, and a 2015 miniseries. Or, how, with the amazing talent they had on it, Astonishing X-Men was canceled, but I don’t remember if that was this year or last year, either. I still feel like Mark Waid’s only been writing Daredevil for about ten months despite knowing I've read twice that many of his issues, because I’m too busy reading Patsy Walker issues or Peter B Gillis’ fantastic Dr Strange half of Strange Tales vol 2, to keep track.

So, my end of the year wish, because that I can be accurate with: I wish speedy recovery to Norm Breyfogle, an easy time for Frank Miller, great success to everyone from Marie Javins to Chuck Dixon to Chris Burnham, and Marvel kindly reprint Conspiracy, Gargoyle, and the two Heroes & Legends jam comics, and Larry Hama’s Ben Grimm and Logan.

Also, judging from everything I just said and the fact I’m watching Thor: The Dark World right now, means this, for me, was clearly a Marvel year.

Ben: Like Duy, I’m not going to claim to be an arbiter of what were the best comics in 2014. For example, I’ve never been a fan of Saga or Walking Dead. I always have been, and always will be, Marvel inclined. DC has continued to disappoint me with their lack of imagination and tonal variety. I don't think every creator-owned comic is automatically better or more mature because it's not Marvel or DC. This is sounding really negative, let's just move on.

Unlike Duy, I hate puns, so while I like Pearls Before Swine, Bill Watterson’s big surprise guest-stint was a pretty cool story (in the comic and the story about the comic) and that’s about it. Instead, here are the coolest things that happened in comics this year, that made me happy to be a fan of comics.

Honorable Mentions: Walt Simonson returning to Norse mythology with Ragnarok. Brubaker and Phillips giving us more noir crime with The Fade Out. Howard Chaykin doing Chaykin things with Satellite Sam. Chaykin’s writing partner Matt Fraction, and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals (with the best letters page in comics). The return of fun Batgirl. The insanity of Multiversity. Waid and Samnee continuing the greatest Daredevil run ever. The continued excellence of Hawkeye. Greg Rucka managing to get me to read a Cyclops comics, with Corsair even. The multi-faceted, and nuanced approach to religion in Ms Marvel, which also doubles as a pretty great coming-of-age story. The expansion of the Asgard universe with the excellent Loki: Agent of Asgard, the female Thor, and incorporating Angela into the family. The thrilling conclusion to Superior Spider-Man. The consistent hilarity of Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Marvel's continued overall experimentation with new ideas, and new creators.

The Top Five:

5. Moon Knight by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. One of the first books to really make me appreciate color (it’s not something I would usually notice) and a magnificent take by Ellis, as usual for him.

4. Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francisco Francavilla. Only the truly simple-minded would still read regular Archie comics, but if you kill off adult Archie, or make Jughead patient zero for a zombie apocalypse, then it’s definitely something worth checking out. It took my until this year to recognize the brilliance of Francavilla (I know, I’m slow on that front) but he’s one of the few artists I’ll always give a second look, no matter what he’s working on.

3. Spider-Verse/Spider-Gwen by Dan Slott, Olivier Coipiel, and others. With Spider-Man 2099 already having traveled to the present, and launching his own book, we saw the return of Ben Reilly, Spider-Girl, and Spider-Ham, and the debut of an all-new alternate universe where Gwen Stacy gained the spider powers. Latour and Rodriguez made Spider-Gwen an instant sensation in just one comic, and Slott has dreamed up one of the all-time can’t-miss stories in Spider-Man history. With all the great versions of Spider-Man running around, the story only has to be adequate to live up to the hype, but thankfully it’s been great so far.

2. Fallen Ash by Kimberly Smith, Benjamin Bartolome, and Sam Gungon. It’s been a true pleasure seeing this idea finally realized, with great artwork and in full splendid color.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy. This year we got two of the three greatest superhero movies of all time, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and (of course) The Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn crafted pretty much the perfect synthesis of the Marvel Studios dynamic, with great action, drama, a big heart, and lots (and lots) of laughs (it goes without saying it’s my favorite Marvel movie yet, and my favorite movie period).

Thanks to the movie, and the continued full-push of the entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy comic series, the obscure heroes became household names this year. Not only is there the main series, but solo series launched for The Legendary Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon, and they’ve been immensely fun. The original team got in on the action with Guardians 3000, by Andy Lanning (one of the key creators of the current version of the team). With a Gamora solo book and a team-up book on the way, the Guardians has never been more prevalent than they are now. This is unfathomable to imagine when only five years ago, one Guardians book wasn’t successful enough to sustain itself in the market. Equally unbelievable is the fact that my children, and my parents, know who Rocket Raccoon and Groot are. I don’t think you can properly understand how crazy that is unless you’ve been a fan of comics as long as I have. Next up, animated domination with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon.

The Least Coolest Thing in Comics in 2014: Continued fan entitlement, and now cranky old creator entitlement. Comics are not made specifically for you, they don’t owe you anything. Comics should reflect the world outside our windows, and if an African-American Captain America, a female Thor, and diverse casting in movies are the way to do it, I’m all for it. Cosplaying has been around as long as comic conventions have, so the only difference I can see in it suddenly being a problem now, is that it’s mainly new female fans interested in the medium, that don’t come with their “I was bullied as kid” badge that some cranky old fans seem to think you need to become a comics fan. I don’t see anything wrong with new fans, of any type, especially when they are expressing genuine interest in learning more. Get over yourselves, be inclusive, and have fun. It’s comics.

Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2015: The aforementioned female Thor. After his excellent She-Hulk, I’m excited to see more from (newly Marvel exclusive) Charles Soule. Squirrel Girl and Howard the Duck comics! Sam Humphries. Valerio Schiti. More from Andrea Sorrentino, who was mind-blowing on the Uncanny X-Men annual. The return of Star Wars comics to Marvel. More Jim Starlin Thanos comics. The previously mentioned Gamora, and Guardians of the Galaxy Team-Up. DC finally having some fun with their history and multiverse for once. Avengers: Age of Ultron, of course. Agent Carter and Daredevil television series. After what was probably the all-time worst year for comic book event crossovers, I don’t think I could be more into the upcoming Secret Wars. Spider-Gwen! Spider-Gwen! Spider-Gwen!

It’s been another fantastic year in comics this past year. It’s going to be another fantastic year in comics in the upcoming year. Let’s get excited!

That's it for the Cube this year, folks! We'll be back on January 5th for a week-long retrospective on The Amalgam Age of Comics. In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

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