2014 in Review: Best Ongoing Series

By | December 19th, 2014
Posted in Columns | 25 Comments

Here it is folks. It’s the big enchilada, as Multiversity’s staff breaks down our ten favorite ongoing series of 2014. It was a tough category to break down, but when we were done, our staff was…unexpectedly satisfied, as there truly was something for everyone within these ranks. But what finished number one? Something that never has before, which is very exciting indeed.

Take a look below, and please, share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading our 2014 in Review segment, and if you can, take a minute to vote in our poll for our readers pick for the best ongoing of 2014. We’d greatly appreciate it.

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. Also, for this list, we labeled ongoing as anything that is designated to last 12 issues or longer to fit in our new world order of 13 issue “ongoing” runs.

Looking for the rest of our 2014 in Review entries? Find them all here.

9 (tie). Wonder Woman

Why it made the list (Matthew Garcia): This year saw the culmination of all the story and characterization that Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang had been working toward with Wonder Woman, and oh my God, it could not have been more satisfying. This has been a run that has defined the character. We know more about her now, more of her motivations and insecurities, more of the reasoning behind why she presses on and fights, trying to see the best in humanity she possibly can. It’s been a character-defining story that finally gives Diana a book among the great Batman and Superman stories.

Azzarello and Chiang made us question exactly what it is we look for in Wonder Woman. Some elements that might seem like integral part of the character have been completely 86ed. Diana isn’t made of clay any longer. The Amazons aren’t peace-loving separatists who have no clue what’s going on throughout the rest of the world. Ares isn’t some massive asshole who’s only purpose seems to be to give Diana conflict. Instead, Azzarello and Chiang put more emphasis on how Diana reacts to all the new information she discovers about her life and how her choices to deal influence the rest of the world. Though they remove some superficial character beats, they stay true to her desire for compassion, truth, and justice. She moves on from one family, finds another family, and then manages to bring those two families together. She’s able to take this isolated world and shove it forcefully into the future. Here is this egalitarian book, this feminist book, this progressive book that realized we needed to acknowledge and accept our own shortcomings and insecurities, to recognize that though we’re all different, we can still must find some common ground in order to be able to go forward. And it delivered all this with humor, grace, excitement, and passion. It’s obvious that everyone involved, from Azzarello to Chiang, to associate artists Goran Sudzuka and Tony Akins, and colorist Matt Wilson, had enormous care for this project and gave it their all.

Too bad DC totally screwed it all up at issue 36. In one creative team shift, they went from one of the best books they’ve ever published to putting out one of the worst, most offensive things they could think of. Which is unfortunate, because after all the character work Azzarello and Chiang managed to accomplish, the Finches reverted her to being a character who exists to just stab things and kiss Superman.

Oh well. At least here we finally have the classic Wonder Woman deserves.

9 (tie). B.P.R.D.

Why it made the list (Brian Salvatore): Every month, I struggle for new words to say about “B.P.R.D.” – it is the most consistently excellent comic on the stands today, and as part of the Mignolaversity team, I have heaped tons of praise on it as it is. But each month, the book continues to impress and surprise, without straying even a bit from its point of view or mission statement. John Arcudi has such a beat on these characters, and places so much trust in the amazing artists that join him, that the results always seem to exceed expectations, and the expectations are already through the roof.

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This year, the landscape of the book has gotten bleaker and bleaker, and we’ve seen some of the more harrowing sequences in all of comics come to life; moments that break your heart, moments that cause you to scream “oh shit!” when reading, moments that allow the absolute best parts of sequential art to come to life. This is a comic for people who love comics as an art form, by people who love comics as an art form. It pairs incredibly talented creators together and, free from the constraints of most books that have lasted over 100 issues, tells stories that matter and have real impact, both on the page and on the reader.

8. East of West

Why it made the list (Vince Ostrowski): “East of West” is the quintessential Jonathan Hickman comic. While he’s one of comics’ most cerebral and prolific (it feels like he must be writing a dozen comics at once) writers, “East of West” is the purest example of everything he can accomplish as a writer. Hickman seems to be a man obsessed with alternate realities and apocalyptic overtones – after all, by the end of his time at Marvel he will have built a half a dozen series around those ideas, including Marvel’s most massive event in years (“Secret Wars”). He also explores the secret, alternate history of the world’s most elite scientific minds in “Manhattan Projects”, but that series is sometimes too much concentrated insanity for one reader to bear.

“East of West” operates on a grander scale, but with more universal and all-encompassing themes. Life. Death. Love. War. I mean, the four horsemen (and women) of the apocalypse are central characters in this thing – that’s how grand and operatic it is. “East of West” takes an America that is wholly fictional and decidedly impossible, and makes it relatable through the sort of back-stabbing and political chicanery that we’ve been witness to for decades. We’re just lucky it’s never resulted in the kind of war on the grand scale that “East of West” offers. This was a bigger year for the series than the last, mostly because the tension between the fictional seven nations of the “East of West” United States finally came to a head. What led up to that was some of the most gripping interpersonal tete-a-tete you could find in comics. Literally, I was gripping the arm rests of my sofa so hard during some of this.

Just as the book took steps forward and revealed its grander plans, so did Nick Dragotta’s otherworldly artwork. Dragotta utilized his influences better than ever to put himself among the elites in 2014. His design work, from the massive ships that soar in the sky as harbingers of war, to a simple futuristic tchotchke in the office of a politician, Dragotta draws everything with the intent to be interesting. There’s no wasted space. Everything is worth looking at. He took steps forward in his visual storytelling too – showing a more inventive side with his use of perspective and his ability to methodically ramp up the tension of a scene. Emotions are often at high-octane levels in “East of West”, but Dragotta’s strongest work comes when things get intensely quiet and serious. His work strikes the most glancing blow in these moments.

If ever I’m asked what one comic I would recommend to unwitting readers, “East of West” is always my answer. It’s a timeless fable with themes that could be explored for as long as the creators want to, and an accessible veneer of action western cool that coats the book superficially. Within its pages, it contains everything that’s good about the art form.

7. Deadly Class

Why it made the list (David Harper): Out of all of my 2014 in Review write-ups so far, this one has been the most difficult for me. This book is just so uniquely excellent that I’m unsure as to whether or not I can really do it justice, but here goes.

“Deadly Class” could end up being the greatest thing Rick Remender’s ever written. Even though it’s about a school of assassins, you can feel the personal connection to the material permeating through its pages (and sneaking into the letters column in the back from time to time as well). The era was clearly one of importance to him, and Marcus’s anger and passion feel like an extension of the way he once felt during that time. It’s a book that encapsulates how it feels to be young, how it feels to be truly punk, how it feels to be scared, how it feels to be unsure. Remender entertains and he thrills and he scares and he saddens us throughout the book, sometimes in the same issue. One doesn’t necessarily read Remender’s work on this book. One feels it.

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And that’s not even talking about the better half, as Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge have been the single greatest art team in comics in 2014. Craig’s delivery of the story is telling a tale at the apex of the art form. He uses panels and page layouts to give each page motion and a constant feel of progression. The way he expresses time both subtly and overtly in each and every issue adds weight and power to each moment. His character work and acting accentuates the characters in the perfect way, making each of the story beats hit even harder. His visual storytelling is incredible, and when paired with Loughridge’s colors that always impact us in all the right ways, this book is a visual tour de force.

The incredible thing is “Deadly Class” is greater than the sum of its parts. In a technical sense, I think it’s the best ongoing series around, and it’s hard not to get sucked into the world they’ve created. It’s one of the most brilliant comics of the year, and the first thing I read each week an issue comes out.

4 (tie). Shutter

Why it made the list (Alice W. Castle): So, “Shutter” is my favourite comic of the year. This came after much deliberation and humming and hawing, but when it comes down to it, no other comic gave me that sense of joyous excitement in the pit of my stomach when I sat down to read it each issue. And “Shutter” managed to do that in six issues. That’s partly because of Joe Keatinge’s wonderful, imaginative writing and partly because of Leila del Duca’s gorgeous and deeply rich artwork, but mostly because of the sense of wonder that comes from the out of this world, fantastical world building for the book. Looking at cover for the first issue for the first time, I’d have never have guessed that this book would have given me the gift of lion gangsters in pinstripe suits or a walking, talking alarm clock cat with a cookie stash or a skeleton butler with a past so emotional I almost teared up. But then again, looking back at the cover of the first issue, that’s exactly the book I should have expected.

It’s wild, it’s manic, it’s adventurous, it’s one of the few books with a female lead character that actually manages to flesh her out into a living, breathing human being and not a token of “Hey, look, we’re cool, please like us!” It even manages to win my heart by fleshing out and examining the gender identities of some of its characters without grinding the story to a halt to beat you over the head with it for brownie points. I haven’t waited so feversihly for a book to come back from a hiatus between issues since the first trade paperback of “Saga” came out and I don’t know of I could give “Shutter” a higher compliment. Everyone should be reading this fantastic, manic, imaginative and, most importantly, fun book.

4 (tie). Alex + Ada

Why it made the list (David Harper): I love this book.

That’s a good reason for ranking it as high as I did, but I had to lead with that. “Alex + Ada” is the book I look forward to each month more than anything. Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn have crafted a world and a set of characters that I’m deeply connected to emotionally, and the success and safety of both Alex and Ada (and their budding romance) is something that I’m invested in. That’s a rare thing in comics. It’s one thing for a comic to be technically sound, or basically enjoyable, but it’s another one to create real emotional resonance in its readership.

This book is also a marvel in how its form follows its function. The type of story it is plays perfectly into the skill set of its creators, as the future reality they’ve crafted perfectly fits the clean, spartan art Luna brings to the table. It’s wonderfully effective, and it helps that Luna’s gifted at character acting, as so much of the book is built upon the subtleties of character.

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In a year of big, splashy releases from Image, “Alex + Ada” is both the most underrated release they have and their best. I love this book, and if you’re a fan of character-driven sci-fi that’s inventive and beautiful (and I hope you are), then you just might as well.

4 (tie). Southern Bastards

Why it made the list (Matt Dodge): Southern Bastards is one of the best ongoing series of the year because it breaks the format of an ongoing comic book. It sets up the hero and the villains, prepares the reader for an epic confrontation and then rips your heart straight out. This isn’t how ongoing series are supposed to play out, especially when the next three issues have already been solicited.

William Faulkner made a career of telling various stories about the Compson and Snopes families in Yoknapatawpha County, a place that become dirties and less appealing the longer you stayed there. Following in Faulkner’s footsteps, the Jasons Aaron and Latour have created Craw County, and a new blood feud between the Boss and Tubb clans, and like Faulkner, it’s clear that there is not only one story to tell about these people in this place, in fact there are many violent tales to come, ones that span generations. Southern Bastards doesn’t feel like any other ongoing series, and for that reason alone it should be on everyone’s pull list month after month.

3. Saga

Why it made the list (Jess Camacho): By this point you’ve heard all the praise for “Saga”. I’m not sure what else I can say but I’m going to say something. “Saga” never has a bad issue. After a couple of years of high praise and success it could be assumed that people are officially overhyping the series or that Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples have plateaued. You’d be wrong on both counts. Month in and month out “Saga” is an emotional tidal wave. The romance between Alana and Marko has never been anymore compelling because as individuals they have gone through a natural evolution thanks to the circumstances in their lives. Brian K. Vaughn is great and always has been but he’s doing things in “Saga” that he’s never done before. Unlike much of his previous work, the emphasis is on family. Even with his antagonists, their concerns are still those of their families. Alana, Marko and Prince Robot are not Mitchell Hundred or Yorick Brown. They’re all just as complicated but Vaughn is not repeating himself in any way. Fiona Staples (who we will talk about in much more detail on another list) is doing things artistically that no one else can. She’s just as responsible for the storytelling as Vaughn’s scripting is. There’s never an ugly panel and the fact that she does this all digitally is amazing when you look at some of the less than great digital art that exists. “Saga” is, on my own list, the best series of the year because it fails to disappoint on any level.

2. Batman

Why it made the list (Brandon Burpee): Batman finished the journey of Zero Year that helped to define the character for the modern era within the New 52 in 2014. It also gave us Batman fighting lions! I honestly could end this right there and feel content that I’ve conveyed just how awesome Batman was this year. I mean soak it in, Batman fighting lions in a dystopian Gotham. So badass.

The title continues to have success while being guided by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, two creators who can be seen as nothing short of synonymous with Batman. Under their guidance, new readers have their definition of what and who Batman is and what his relationship is with Gotham and how that impacts the citizens of Gotham. While they haven’t necessarily reinvented the wheel or anything, they have truly found a way to distill the character down to his essence and give us Batman in one of his purest forms. It’s a Batman who is familiar but also different enough that you could unequivocally know it’s the Snyder and Capullo Batman. For two creators to be able to have that sort of relationship with a character celebrating his 75th Anniversary is nothing short of brilliant.

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Why it made the list (Drew Bradley): “MIND MGMT” has been around for three years. “MIND MGMT” has been on the best ongoing list for three years. “MIND MGMT” is ending in 2015, and there’s a better-than-good chance it’ll be on the best of 2015 lists too.

There are a host of reasons for this, and Matt Kindt’s pure skill at comics is a major one. Comics with one creator usually have more nuance to them because there’s no disconnect between what’s in the writer’s head and the artist’s page, but Kindt manages to pack in more subtlety than most. His water colors are deceptively simple, giving scenes an abstract quality that traditional comic art lacks. The plot is easy to follow on a single read, but the story is deep enough and intricate enough to reward multiple reads and investigation. There are fantastic elements to “MIND MGMT,” like fortune tellers and immortals, but the characters are so human it’s easy to forget they’re extraordinary.

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//TAGS | 2014 in Review

Multiversity Staff

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