• Longform 

    Multiversity 101: The Best and Worst of 2014 in Comics

    By | December 29th, 2014
    Posted in Longform | 37 Comments

    Every year since Multiversity has started, I’ve put together my singular perspective on what the best and worst in comics was, and this year things won’t be any different…except I’m going to take it to the next level. More categories, more analysis, more everything! All for you! It’s befitting that 2013 gets this, as this in many ways was a giant-sized year in its own regard, filled with controversy, carnage and, most importantly, good comics.

    So let’s get to it. What were the best and worst of everything comics this year? Find out below, and remember, these are my opinion and not necessarily reflective of Multiversity as a whole.

    Best Moment: The Day Batgirl’s New Direction Was Announced

    Why It’s the Best: Normally, this is a place that I would share my favorite moment in a comic itself in 2014. But this year, I’m highlighting a moment from the year in the industry itself, as the announcement of the new Batgirl design and the creative team behind it – Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr – was the rarest of achievements in comics. It managed to convince the majority of the comics internet to agree that something was absolutely awesome for an entire day, as readers, creators, journalists and more celebrated the new creative team and direction for the character. Sure, there were plenty of great comics based moments, but in an increasingly negative industry, it’s a moment worth celebrating when the consensus turns positive for any length of time. After all, comics being good is far more common in 2014 than readers actually being happy with them.

    Worst Moment: KLUH is born from “Avengers & X-Men: Axis” #4

    Why It’s the Worst: It’s hard to decide which part of this vaunted “first appearance” I disliked the most. The above line. The fact that it takes the Hulk getting sad to turn into KLUH. The name KLUH itself. The idea that somehow in the 50 years of the character this side of the character has never come up. I don’t really know, but this moment was the one where I realized, “okay, I’m out on Axis”. Completely stupid, and everyone involved is better than that.

    Best Cover: Savage Wolverine #23 by Declan Shalvey

    Why It’s the Best: I talked about this already when I wrote about Shalvey for our Best Cover Artist write-ups, and really, I don’t feel I need to say that much. Look at that beauty above. That picture is worth so much more than a thousand words, from Jordie Bellaire’s sumptuous colors to Shalvey’s unbelievable storytelling and sadness he delivers in this singular image. Bravura work from one of the best cover artists in the game.

    Runners Up: Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #1
    The cover concept for “The Wicked + The Divine”

    Best Graphic Novel: Shoplifter

    Why It’s the Best: I wrote about this book already at great length, but in a year that easily could be labeled as the best year ever for graphic novels, Michael Cho’s debut GN stood out the most for a very simple reason: I connected with it emotionally far more than any other book I read. Sure, this book is slight, but in Corinna’s tale, I found nothing but truth and a rare emotional understanding of humanity in 2014. It’s a beautiful story that I connected with deeply, and it goes without saying that Cho’s art is off the charts amazing. If you missed this book, I highly recommend it.

    Runners Up: The Wrenchies
    Through the Woods
    Hip Hop Family Tree Volume Two
    This One Summer

    Best Goodbye: Superior Foes of Spider-Man

    Why It’s the Best: How do you end a story? It’s a question many serialized stories have struggled with, but Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber did extremely well with their finale to my beloved SUPFOES. So how did they do it? Well, SUPFOES ended like it lived: very atypically, and completely unexpectedly. It didn’t have a grandiose finish. It didn’t get sentimental. It just went out in a blaze of B-List glory, with a Sopranos-esque finish that capitalized on the jerkface charm of Boomerang. It may not have went out on top, but by god, it sure as hell thought it did. And sometimes, especially in this case, perception is reality.

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    Best Horror Comic: Through the Woods

    Why It Was the Best: When I was a kid, a lot of things scared me. Those things that go bump in the night, was one. Darkness? Absolutely another. There were many more specific things, but there are always those very basic things we naturally fear both in our youth and as we age. Great horror taps into the very primitive things that we can’t help but fear, and trust me when I say that Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods is great horror. It’s the type of book you pick up with trepidation if night has fallen, fearful that it will lead to nightmares that feel all too real if you do read it. The book is a collection of short vignettes that tap into the fear hidden within all of us, and Carroll delivers them with rich, vibrant colors, gorgeous, beguiling art, and a penchant for the dramatic that reminds me of perversions of some of our favorite fairy tales. This comic is a must read, but be careful, as it may make your next trip into the woods one to fear.

    Best Hope for the Future: Kamala Khan

    Why It’s the Best: Matt Meylikhov, our EIC, touched on this at great length before, but in many ways, Kamala Khan – aka Ms. Marvel – represents the hopes and dreams of Marvel’s future. She’s the hope of a more diverse, more inclusive tomorrow at the Hosue of Ideas, and so far, the character and the work by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt and more has delivered and then some. The comic “Ms. Marvel”, perhaps more than any other release, has reminded me of why I love Marvel Comics at their best, as its fun, exciting, relatable and very of the time. More than anything, Kamala feels like a character we can’t help but love, building up her well before the idea of an alter ego ever exists. She isn’t defined by her superheroics, but by the relationships she forges and the actions she takes. Kamala Khan is, at least for me, the heroic ideal for Marvel’s future, delivering a character who we root for because we care for her, not because an arbitrary event tells us we should. If Marvel embraces the direction of that character and book, we’ll all be better off in the future as Marvel readers.

    Happiest Resurgence: The Walking Dead

    Why It’s the Best: I know you’re probably not going to believe this, but Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s “The Walking Dead”? It is really good again. I mean really good. Like, after the “All Out War” arc, it somehow became one of the first books I read every time it’s released, and it never disappoints. The new world order they delivered – a calmer (for now) future where life is in peace and Rick is a true leader – is more enticing than the book has been in forever, and the new villains that were delivered are genuinely scary. Everything feels fresh again in all the best ways. If you left the book before, I’d recommend jumping back in. It’s certainly worth it.

    Saddest Demise: Marvel’s Flagship Books

    Why It’s the Best: I’ve long been a Marvel guy, as far as the Big Two go. Marvel’s comics got me into reading comics in a big way, after all, and the X-Men were basically my fictional family that I loved visiting growing up. Even today, I co-host our regular MC2 column in which we discuss the current tidings of the Marvel universe, so clearly I still have an affinity for the universe and what happens within it. All of which is what makes this little anecdote all the stranger: never in my life, save for a time where I just didn’t read comics at all, had I not read a single core thread Marvel title (Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four).

    Until 2014.

    Right now, I’m not picking up any X-Men or Avengers title at all. In fact, my Marvel pull list has quickly diminished to the perceived also-rans of the line, to the She-Hulk’s and the Ms. Marvel’s and the Thor’s (which could be considered an Avengers book but if you read it you’d know better). Not only that, but I straight up dropped an event midway through for the first time ever, abandoning “Axis” harder than KLUH rutted and rolled over Manhattan. Marvel’s approach to their core books has completely removed any appeal they have for me, as even when in peaceful times things are perpetually at war. Either the X-Men are still Schisming without a sub-title to denote it or the Avengers are off on mythic and incomprehensible adventures into Infinity, but I can’t stand it. We talked about it in our holiday wishlists, but Marvel needs to dial things back for these books to give us a reason to care. What do I care if a character dies if I have no idea who they are anymore?

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    Characters in Marvel comics are simply not important anymore. They’re chess pieces meant to act out the horrific ideas that are unleashed on them from some posh writer’s retreat. Until they’re something else, I can’t see myself caring to buy their books again, which is a very, very weird thing to say.

    Best Series Revamp: Batgirl

    Why It’s the Best: Batgirl as a character is a weird one, as like with the Flash, it’s a character I’ve only cared about when it wasn’t the original iteration in the cape and cowl. For me, Batgirl is either Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown. Those two characters were by far the most interesting versions of the character, and Barbara Gordon? Well, she was always more interesting as Oracle to me.

    Well, until now.

    Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, with their repositioning and reinvention of the character of the world, all based in her existing reality and continuity, turned Babs into someone I cared about and wanted to learn about. They made her relevant and interesting, and someone who brought fun to my comic reading experience. And they’re just getting started. With just three issues under their belt, they’ve turned me into a fan, and I really genuinely think the best is yet to come. That’s something I never expected from the book, but I’m glad to have discovered it to be true.

    Best Issue: Gotham Academy #1

    Why It’s the Best: Thematically, you might have discovered something from the rest of my writing in this piece that is a major truth about me when it comes to reading comics. What I look for from comics is a read that I feel good about. Something that brings a smile to my face. Something that entertains me, or thrills me. Something that pairs great writing with great art to create a story that I am overjoyed to have experienced. Comics are a very subjective medium, and for me, I’m looking for something in that specific sweet spot of enjoyable more than anything.

    When I look at 2014, I didn’t enjoy anything more than “Gotham Academy” #1, and that’s why it’s number one for me. The work of Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl and everyone else was the most surprisingly fulfilling reading experience of my comic book year, and I’m tremendously grateful that it exists in today’s murky environment for Big Two comics.

    Runners Up: American Vampire: Second Cycle #5
    Lazarus #9
    Shutter #3

    Best Event: Armor Hunters

    Why It’s the Best: In what was either a crummy year for event comics (Marvel) or an absentee one (DC), a surprise contender entered the fray and delivered what was by far the best event comic of the year. Valiant Comics brought “Armor Hunters” to the fray, and it delivered whole heartedly. The best thing about it is the fact this four-issue mini-series easily can be read as a standalone book and still be enjoyed, or you can pair it with tie-in books like “X-O Manowar” and “Unity” and get an even richer experience. But it truly works either way. Robert Venditti and Doug Braithwaite delivered a story that is a throwback to when events weren’t just factory made money grabs, and it both was very enjoyable and genuinely changed the future of the Valiant universe. That’s right, it was an event that actually “changed things forever!”

    As a single event, it validated everything Valiant has been doing, and showed them off as a potential rival to both Marvel and DC as the best connected universe in comics.

    Worst Event: “Avengers vs. X-Men: Axis”

    Why It’s the Best: When “Original Sin” was announced, our writer James Johnston stood up and said he wanted to review/recap that book, and we were all about it. James is a great writer, and he was capable of delivering both critical analysis and amusing observations about the insanity of a Marvel event. While “Original Sin” was by no means perfect, you could tell that James had an affinity for it, as it was batshit crazy, but it embraced it in a way that made you had fun with it.

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    When details about “Axis” started coming out, James was quick to jump on it as it had even more potential than “Original Sin” to be a bonkers read, if only because of four simple letters: K – L – U – H.

    Over the three months the book ran, you could see the five stages of loss and grief in each and every one of James’s Axistential Crisis columns. Denial that a comic could be so bad when so many good people worked on it. Anger that so many terrible decisions were made. James was bargaining up a storm, saying things like, “if only the Summers brothers weren’t such insufferable fuckwads” or “if only every character ever in a Remender book didn’t have daddy issues.” There was the unforgettable depression that permeated through each and every review, as it became progressively worse, culminating in issue #8 where he effectively gave up and gave it a garbage review because it was a garbage comic. And then, acceptance, as Spider-Man made a rhinestone statue for Carnage and he changed his mind and gave the book a higher than perfect rating.

    This was a comic that was so bad that a bevy of Multiversity’s writers dropped the comic yet kept reading it through James’s columns because his Rifftrax esque take down of each issue was way better than the act of reading the comic itself. Marvel’s had a lot of bad events in its history, but Axis? Well…that just ain’t country, and Marvel and everyone else should be better than it.

    Best Story Arc: Lazarus’ “Lift”

    Why It’s the Best: I wrote extensively about “Lazarus” and its phenomenal second year before, but the second arc of the book – “Lift” – found Greg Rucka and Michael Lark taking a comic that was already good and turning it into something great, filled with real emotional truth and wondrous insights into a broken world. This tale, which balanced a look at Forever as she dealt with the ramifications of the first arc and an upcoming Lift (where a lower caste person in the Carlyle domain can possibly be moved up a rung if they possess valuable enough skills) for the family and a look at the Barret family and their attempt to change their fate, was an incredible arc. It built the world we knew while also giving all of its characters much more depth. It did everything a good arc should do, with all of the trademark craft that Rucka and Lark bring to a book, and if you read the first arc but not the second, I recommend you getting on that right now.

    Runners Up: Southern Bastards’s “Here Was a Man”
    The Wicked + The Divine’s “The Faust Act”

    Most Disappointing Story Arc: Fables’ “Happily Ever After”

    Why It’s the Worst: Just last year, I wrote about how thrilled I was that “Fables” had returned to it previous form right before its end. Again, Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham were delivering an engaging, beautiful read that captured my imagination as much as any other comic. As we neared its conclusion, I had hopes that the book would end on a tremendously high note, but sadly, that has not come to be.

    What we’ve been given has been a final arc filled with quick, ineffective major story beats that minimize their impact, cluttered stories that mask what should be impactful, and a comic sinking to disappointing levels. While Buckingham’s art is as impressive and note perfect as ever, the story just isn’t resonating – at least for me, others may be enjoying it – in a time where it should more than ever. In the process of delivering a finale to a story filled with characters we’ve long come to love, we’ve been given many reasons to forget why we ever admired them to begin with. With three issues to go, I hope they give us a reason to care again about Snow, Rose, Bigby and the rest, but if this arc is any indication, it’s not likely to happen. But I guess that’s just a reminder as to how few stories really end with happily ever.

    Continued below

    Best Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn

    Why He’s the Best: While he may not have done as much work this year as some of his fellow greats in the colorist game, Nathan Fairbairn has managed to deliver three of the absolutely most stunning examples of how powerfully a colorist can impact a story in “Seconds”, “The Multiversity: Pax Americana” and “The Multiversity: Thunderworld.” In each, he helps the book reach the heights they do by subtly changing how we take in the story, whether its the changing hues of Katie’s world in “Seconds”, the mad genius depths he went to in perfecting “Pax Americana”, or the warm, almost nostalgic colors he delivers in “Thunderworld”. With almost imperceptible choices, he changes the tenor and power of each story’s visuals, and for that bravura work, he’s my pick for the best colorist of the year.

    Runners Up: Jordie Bellaire
    Matthew Wilson

    Best Artist: Wes Craig

    Why He’s the Best: In baseball, there’s a stat that was developed called “WAR”. That means “Wins Above Replacement”, and what it does is create a value for each player based off of how much more valuable they are than the most average baseball player. So someone like Josh Donaldson – formerly of the Oakland A’s, now on the Toronto Blue Jays – has an enormous WAR despite the fact that his numbers appear to be very good, not great, and it’s because of his ability to impact the game of baseball in harder to quantify ways like defense and base running. As a stat, it can show you in a more effective manner who the best players really were, even if their impact isn’t necessarily shown in a simple box score.

    If comics brought a similar statistic to evaluating creators, no one had a higher WAR this year than Wes Craig. They say that if you gave the same script to ten different artists, you’d get ten completely different pages back, and that is absolutely true. But with the “Deadly Class” script, I genuinely think you’d get back the best possible version of the story. If you replaced him with any artist – any artist – I don’t think the comic would or could be better. The way he lays the story out, the clever usage of panels, the character acting, the expressive faces and mannerisms…everything he does helps take this comic from a good one to a great one. Sure, you might be able to find someone who would technically be better, but not someone who would make the story work like he does.

    Runners Up: Goran Parlov
    Leila del Duca
    Fiona Staples

    Best Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

    Why He’s the Best: Ho hum. Another year, another anointing of BKV. The fact of the matter is this when it comes to him though: every writer works on a lot of books, and most of them write some good ones and some not so good ones. BKV? Not a single dud. When I pick up a BKV comic, either digitally (“The Private Eye”) or in a shop (“Saga”), I know exactly what I’m going to get: a great read. It’s like seeing Vaughan on the cover is a guarantee that says “this will be one of the best comics you read this week.”

    So sure, some other writers may have reached higher heights. But no one more consistently delivered greatness like BKV did, and that for me is something worth celebrating.

    Runners Up: Jason Aaron
    John Arcudi

    Best Series: Alex + Ada

    Why It’s the Best: I’ve written a lot about this book already, but to paraphrase everything I’ve already said, it’s this: I feel this book in a way that I do very few others. Whether its an unexpected heel turn or a character turning another one away, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn make you feel everything that happens. You’re rooted in these characters and what happens to them, and you want only the best for the good ones and only the worst for the bad ones (speaking of which, burn in hell Jacob). “Alex + Ada” is the rare book that is all about the characters and the discovery of who they really are, and in that search for truth, Luna and Vaughn have managed to deliver a story that’s as resonant as anything I’ve read in recent memory. It’s a small story, but one with a big impact and heart, and it’s my favorite comic of the year.

    Continued below

    Runners Up: Deadly Class
    Lazarus


    //TAGS | Multiversity 101

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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