In a serialized medium, sometimes it can be hard to judge a book on a single issue. After all, we’re just looking at one issue of a much greater story. But that’s part of what makes a single comic such a great thing. To deliver a truly powerful story in just 20 or more pages is a true gift, and it’s something we love to see around our offices.
As per usual, this category was one of the most contentious of them all, but when it was all said and done, we had a rarity at the top: a true consensus #1. We doubt you’ll be surprised when you see it, but if not it, we’re curious: what was your favorite if not that? Share your thoughts in the comments and start the discussion.
Note: All of Multiversity’s 2014 in Review awards are based off of all of the contributing writing team voting to decide each rank. Every list is combined with equal points for every voter, and the results are what you find below.
Looking for the rest of our 2014 in Review entries? Find them all here.
10 (tie). Moon Knight #4
Why it made the list (Alice W. Castle): “Moon Knight” by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire sounds like the perfect combination for a comic book. And, as it turns out, it was… but for different reasons than what I expected. Instead of a character redefining run that would, in one fell swoop, change how we perceive the character in pop culture forever (I’m thinking “Iron Man: Extremis” here), it was a lot more experimental than that. Using Marc Spector to link together six thematically similar tales to create a launching pad to bring Moon Knight back to the Marvel Universe allowed Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire to delve into the stuff that really interested them. In issue 4, they delved into the world of dreams in what is, for my money, easily the best issue of their run, With the issue split into two halves, one in the real world and one in the world of dreams, allowed Shalvey and Bellaire to juxtapose their art styles from the rigid, cinematic panelling and earthy colours of the real world to the full page splashes and unconventional panelling and bright, vibrant colours of the dream world. Simply put, this issue is beautiful and Shalvey and Bellaire were entirely in sync with their artwork in this issue. On top of that, Warren Ellis was really on his game here, front-loading the issue with a sense of simple unease as he sets up the premise of the issue and then pulls back to let the art team do their thing in the dream world before bringing it back for the emotional gut punch in the final few pages. In terms of single issue structure, this could not be more well paced or structured and in terms of sheer artistry, this could not be more beautiful. Everyone should read this issue.
10 (tie). Batgirl #35
Why it made the list (Vince Ostrowski): From the moment the announcement and preview art for the new direction “Batgirl” hit, the weight of the expectations must have felt crushing. Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr got caught on a hype train barreling straight toward a brick wall of a DC Comics status quo that has been described as overly grim and relatively humorless. In the months before its release, it was like “Batgirl” was already being asked to shoulder an entire revolution for DC Comics. Could one book that carried that much hope with it actually end up delivering?
“Batgirl” #35 was not without its (very vocal) critics, but where some saw a de-aged Barbara Gordon acting out of character, others saw a revitalized and flawed character that didn’t have to be dour anymore. At least not for a while. Where some saw an over-reliance on Millenialspeak, others saw an opportunity for “Batgirl” to make an impression, be different, and poke our overly connected smartphone society a little bit. The villain was supposed to be the grating antithesis of everything that’s good about Social Media, and it delivered even if it was in-your-face. Yes, “Batgirl” is a heightened example of youth culture in full bore, but superheroes are a heightened version of humanity to begin with.Continued below
Brenden Fletcher is proving to be an amazing new talent to look out for, having a hand in not one but two of the most successful Bat-centric revival books of the year. What more needs to be said about Cameron Stewart? The man is an Eisner-winning wonder with one of comics’ greatest eyes for telling a story purely visually. Applying Babs Tarr to that world is the key bit of genius that ultimately makes the whole thing irresistible. Tarr’s art is youth inherent, with accurate and subtle portrayals of the coffee shop mainstays that inhabit a borough like Burnside. They breathe life into “Batgirl” just by existing in and around her jurisdiction. But fans who felt like they were going to miss a Batgirl that could brawl needed only to see Stewart’s enthusiastic and frequent blogging about his action set-pieces to know that they were going to nail that side of the character too. And they did. #SweetFancyMoses, they did.
8 (tie). Edge of Spider-Verse #2
Why it made the list (Jess Camacho): Gwen Stacy is one of the very few deaths that had any lasting impact on comics. It helped shape who Peter Parker became and gave us some of the most heart wrenching stories ever told that dealt with his grief such as “Spider-Man: Blue”. Gwen Stacy has come back into the forefront of people’s minds thanks to Emma Stone being a pretty likable and modern version of her. The “Spider-Verse” event within the Spidey books has given creators a lot of freedom to create some cool alternate versions of Spider-Man but none had an impact the way Spider-Gwen did. In an alternate world, Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and given the same powers that Peter Parker got. Jason Latour and Robbie Rodriguez created a superhero for today’s women. She’s hip, has her heart in the right place and more importantly she doesn’t really have it all together. That’s what makes her so compelling. This single issue took the comic book world by storm. Almost immediately you had fan art hit the internet of her awesome costume and cosplayers are already rocking it at conventions as Spider-Gwen. There may have been better stories told this year but no reinvention of a character was more important than this. “Edge of Spider-Verse” #2 took Gwen Stacy from plot point to fully realized superhero for a new wave of comic readers.
8 (tie). Gotham Academy #1
Why it made the list (David Harper): This was my top pick for the best comic of the year, and the reason why is simple: it most reminded me of the excitement and wonder I always had as a kid reading comics. That’s a feeling I’m always chasing when I’m reading comics, that feeling of wide eyed glee and youthful enthusiasm that we lose as adults, but with “Gotham Academy” – not just the first issue, but the two that have followed as well – I found a book that transports me to a time and place that I simply just enjoyed the hell out of my read and wanted to share it with someone else as soon as I put it down.
A huge part of that is Karl Kerschl’s unfathomably amazing art (and Geyser’s colors over it, as well as the other colorists that are onboard), who makes this feel like a cross between a Disney film and the old Dreamcast game “Jet Grind Radio” but with pitch perfect storytelling. Kerschl’s one of my favorite artists around, and this might just be his magnum opus. But Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher gave this issue a real sense of mystery and vivaciousness that was unexpected and wholly welcome, and by the time I was done with this issue, I was completely and utterly hooked, left with a smile across my face. This is a joyous comic, and one worth celebrating.
6 (tie). The Wicked + The Divine #5
Why it made the list (James Johnston): Though “The Wicked + The Divine” grabbed our attention with the first four issues, issue #5 showed what type of series this title could be. Through the tragic death of a major character, an almost superhero-like battle amongst the gods, and a massive change for our friend/POV Laura, “The Wicked + The Divine” #5 took the gentle status quo it had previously established and blew it up in our faces. Though WicDiv had already gained our love with the first four issues, the conclusion to ‘The Faust Act’ showed just how unpredictable this series could be.Continued below
Honestly, there’s nothing too revolutionary about “The Wicked + The Divine” #5. But because it amplified everything that made the series great and tore apart its own status quo (only five issues in), this issue showed that “The Wicked + The Divine” is not to be underestimated.
6 (tie). Lazarus #9
Why it made the list (David Harper): Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian Image Comics series had a banner second year, and a huge part of that was how much its second arc – “Lift” – elevated the book as a whole. This issue was its grand finale, finding all of the threads coming together, and it was a beautifully symphony conducted by Rucka and fully realized by Lark, Brian Level and colorist Santi Arcas. This book didn’t just meet its potential here, it surpassed it entirely, and it only continues to build ever since.
But no matter where it ends up going, the story of the Barret family and how they became forever intertwined with the Carlyle family will be an impactful story in all of the best ways, and this closing chapter will live on as its finest moment.
4 (tie). The Fade Out #1
Why it made the list (Matt Dodge): Bad news folks, it turns out the movies are fake, and Hollywood is the fake capital of the world. The old Hollywood of the 1950’s somehow seems more glamorous, more enticing, more real, but that Technicolor veneer could also cover up long shadows. This is the world that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips enter into with “The Fade Out” #1, and they immediately set out to tear down any illusions the reader might have. The world they create is one where writers are drunks, anyone can be blacklisted for being a communist, and when a young starlet is brutally murdered the execs are more concerned about finishing the film on time.
The research that the creative team undertook to build this world becomes clear by the rich detail that inhabits every panel, and the ample historic references and allusions that anchor the story in time. What makes this issue special is the introduction of a whole cast of complex characters.They each have their own wants and desires, and wavering barometers of morality that varying as they try to separate the truth from Hollywood BS. While the initial story appears to be a traditional whodunit, it’s clear that this vast world can contain many more stories, and the creative team knows exactly how to let this plot lines unfurl. Brubaker and Philips have created something special, a frequent result of their partnership, and “The Fade Out” #1 is the tantalizing first glimpse of a world made up of Technicolor fantasies and the secrets they hide.
4 (tie). Sabrina #1
Why it made the list (Vince Ostrowski): In the comics blogosphere, “grim and gritty” has become a dirty phrase for comics that have become overly serious and adult-oriented. While “grim and gritty” is a trend that certainly exists, and has resulted in tons of drab and depressing comics over the last couple of decades, it’s not automatically a death knell for entertainment. Despite my own personal desire to see more optimistic “blue-sky” comics from the major publishers, it would be just as bad were those the only comics that were ever published. Sometimes you need one type of book, sometimes you need the other. Sometimes you can have both in one book. “Sabrina” walks that wire so well, it’s like magic.
“Sabrina” comes from Archie Comics, so yes, you might have guessed it’s that Sabrina. The teenage witch one. But you might not have guessed that “Sabrina” #1 would contain child-abduction, animal mutilation, and some of the most horrifying skull-related imagery in comics this year. Archie wasn’t kidding around with “Afterlife with Archie” and they’re not kidding around now.
But that subversion is part of the fun, and there’s some other lighthearted stuff in there to balance it out too. One of “Sabrina’s” best aspects is its willingness to stick itself in the same square, sock-hop era that Archie is most known for. The throwback cheesiness plays well against the more timeless horror imagery. Imagery that is so carefully drawn and colored by Robert Hack, that it doesn’t matter if there are delays or how long they are – every issue should look like this. The autumnal colors really seal the deal – browns and oranges dominate, bringing an eeriness to Riverdale the likes of which we haven’t seen before. In a comics world that could benefit from lightening up a bit, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack took “Sabrina” the other way, and the payoff was immense.Continued below
3. The Multiversity #1
Why it made the list (Matthew Meylikhov): Have you ever wanted something to be so good that your expectations for it reach higher than the stars? Something that you anticipate like none other, that you practically build a shrine for, and something that you hype up for yourself so much that it’s almost guaranteed to be somewhat of a letdown when you eventually read it? That was/is “The Multiversity” for me — and when the first issue finally debuted and was otherwise incredible, my cheers of “Yeah! YEAH! THREE TIMES YEAH!” could probably be heard around the world.
Look: I know I’m a biased party when it comes to this book. I try and put my personal expectations and hype aside when writing about the book critically, but this inherently isn’t one of those occasions; the book already won multiple places on our Best Of lists. But there’s a reason for that, a good one, and it’s all contained in the first issue of the series: this is just a wonderful comic book that is an excellent reminder of why we’re all here at this site or on the internet talking about comics with others in the first place. The opening salvo of “The Multiversity” mini-series was so fun, so unapologetically energetic and in love with itself and the medium that it was impossible not to read while grinning ear to ear, in love with everything the book promised, and in the end “The Multiversity” became its own hype machine with how it reveled in its ardent celebration of comic books.
“The Multiversity” #1 was a big comic that made a lot of promises, and I have no doubt it will eventually deliver. But before the series ends, we at least have this great kick-off to revisit and enjoy. It’s a dense comic, one packed with meta-commentary and ideas and even Morrison just reiterating ideas and themes he has had in his older work (the overall series is described by Morrison as a culmination of his superhero comics work), but most importantly “The Multiversity” #1 is perhaps one of the most fun and passionate love letters to the medium of comics and all its weird intricacies that we’ve gotten all year — and praise be to its honest enthusiasm for it.
2. Southern Bastards #4
Why it made the list (Matt Dodge): Southern Bastards is a series that breaks the format of an ongoing comic, and this is the issue that does the breaking. The first three installment set up all of the pieces, good guys, bad guys, stakes. Despite the excellent character development and world building, it hits notes that are familiar to comic fans. It’s the same basic steps that occur when Batman and Joker are gearing up for another fight. Additionally, the fact that the next three issues had already been solicited gave readers a fairly reasonable expectation of the outcome. And less than 30 pages later, all those expectation are left in tatters.
As Multiversity’s own Sam LaBas notes in her excellent review (http://multiversitycomics.com/reviews/a-kicking-and-a-gouging-in-the-mud-and-the-blood-and-the-beer-southern-bastards-4-review/), “Southern Bastards” #4 is the issue that scrapes away the final layer of politeness that hung over Craw County. Residents had been turning a blind eye to what the Boss gang was doing all around them, and Earl Tubb had to come along and throw it in their faces. The fight between Tubb and Boss becomes more than just two stubborn old guys duking it out, but a battle for the soul of the town. Jason Aaron scripts it brilliantly, and the visceral art from Jason Latour makes you feel every hit. “Southern Bastards” #4 defied every reader’s expectation of what an ongoing series could be, and for that it’s one of the best issues of the year.
1. The Multiversity: Pax Americana
Why it made the list (Brandon Burpee): Pax Americana was by far my favorite read of the year. It had great panel usage, an engaging story and was the most demanding of rereads this year. It’s a book that rewards you taking another exploration through it. The kind of book where you still have three other new books you haven’t read but you’ve read this multiple times. It is absolutely that good. But I know I’m just preaching to the choir here. We all know that book was really fucking good.Continued below
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely provided what has to be one of the best from the combo in their storied history together. It was easily my favorite since All-Star Superman. The way they played with panels and time to tell the story was really a lot of fun. It was one of those books that shows this creative team’s knowledge and manipulation of the medium is nothing short of legendary. Nathan Fairbairn shouldn’t be left out of the conversation either as the whole thing really lifted off the page thanks to his work. I mean, look at how awesome the page of the President getting tagged looks.
Here’s hoping for another one some day from the trio. I’d shell out some serious cash for a reunion tour of these three on this book. I’d love to get one more trip to the best issue in 2014. Until then, I guess I’ll just read this one a couple more times.