I’m sure we’re all glad to see 2014 go. I know I am. But you know, comics are always here for you, and so is the Gutter. I thought I’d do something a little different with the list this year. Last year, I was invited to do a “Best Comics of 2013” list at Popshifter and tried to do something new for the fine people there. This year, I am implementing some of those changes here, while keeping it to ten comics and adding a little extra.
Behold, it lives, my new hybrid Frankensteinian list with science fiction, piracy, adventure, steampunk and Rock’n’Roll!
Best Comic About Love, Relationships and Being Different Set In A Near Future World Coming to terms with Sentient Robots: Alex + Ada (Image, ongoing) Sarah Vaughn, writing; Jonathan Luna (story, art)
In Ada + Alex, Alex receives a non-sentient, “fully-functional” android from his aunt. The disparity between Ada’s seeming humanity and her complete lack of agency disturbs Alex. He discovers an underground network of humans and sentient robots and brings Ada to them to have her unlocked, allowing her to be fully sentient. I like the clever subversion of the conventional fembot. Luna’s calm artwork is perfect for an android coming into her own. And I like how Vaughn deals with the complexity of relationships and just being human. Alex + Ada is incredibly resonant, without being pedantic. It addresses–with robots–normativity, passing, being in the closet, and the history of race and dehumanizing people into property. (The robots part is crucial). Alex + Ada approaches questions about creating sentient beings: What do we do when our consumer electronics turn out to be people? And I ask, again, why don’t people like Victor Frankenstein really think about that beforehand?
Intriguing Comic Most Likely To Older Fans Of The Return Of The Dapper Men: Brass Sun (2000 AD, 2014) Ian Edginton, writing; I.N.J. Culbard, art.
I was really taken by the cover of Brass Sun #1. There’s a girl in a pith helmet riding a reindeer or elk. It’s curving and illustrative with subtle colors. But the girl’s world is dying, in fact her whole solar system is dying. Hunted by the fundamentalist Orthodoxy, who worship the Cog, she flees into another world, once that connects all of them. Fine, genre-bending science fiction and fantasy rendered with almost picture book graceful lines and color. Brass Sun was originally published in the 2000 AD comics anthology. Now it’s available both in monthly issues and a trade paperback.
Best Piracy Comic: Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Vol. 1 (Self-published, 2014) Greg Rucka, writing; Rick Burchett, art’; Eric Newsom, editor.
The dashing Lady Seneca Sabre plies the aether in her proud airship frigate, Pegasus. Is she a pirate or a privateer? And why does she want the map that foretells the future? Well, I suppose the answer to that on an existential level is, “Because!” I got my copy as part of Greg Rucka’s kickstarter and it came with some neat extras like paperdolls and a little book about the history of the Sphere. If you like pirates, gunfighters, duels, derring-do, swashbuckling and adventure, you really can’t go wrong with Lady Sabre.
Super-Fun Comic about Sorta Girl Scouts, Secrets With Extra Mythology and Yetis: Lumberjanes (Boom! Studios, now ongoing) Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson, writing; Brooke Allen, art.
The Lumberjanes are just like Girl Scouts, except they encounter dinosaurs, monsters and maybe even some Greek gods around Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. And instead of earning merit badges for knot-tying and citizenship, they earn them for those and Yeti Negotiating, Werewolf Tracking, and Solving Ancient Puzzles. Well, actually that sounds exactly like Girl Scouts. Each issue ends with a rad music mix and cover made by the ladies of Lumberjanes. I expect their cookies are amazing. (And if you like Lumberjanes, but wish it were a little more crass, you should definitely pick-up Rat Queens (Image). I’d like them both as animated shows, but where Lumberjanes is Cartoon Network, Rat Queens is definitely Adult Swim).
Most Beloved Comic Capturing All That Is Best About Superhero comics: Ms. Marvel (Marvel, ongoing) G. Willow Wilson, writing; Adrian Alphona, art.
Teenager Kamala Khan sneaks out of her parents’ house to go to a party, where she encounters some pretty horrible high school classmates, gets caught in a mysterious cloud of gas and comes out with body morphing superpowers. It’s a comic that uses the Marvel formula—flawed heroes and teenagers with everyday problems—and applies them to a young Pakistani-American woman growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey. In an inspired bit, Wilson and Alphona show Kamala struggling with internalized racism, as she uses her powers to look like Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers in Danvers’ old, not very modest costume. Kamala finds herself, comes up with her own look and defends her neighborhood while claiming the name, Ms. Marvel. It’s the most Marvel book on the stands right now.
Story That I’m Sad To See End And, Holy Cats, Do I Want More!*: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (First Second, 2014) Ben Hatke
I wrote about Zita in “Summer Fun Time Reading ’14,” but it is such a good book. Read all three. Zita travels into an another universe to rescue her best friend–after kind of causing him to be abducted by aliens. She meets up with robots, space pirates, aliens and saves lives, planets and, spoiler alert, her friend. And she has a very sweet outfit and a sentient ship. In the third and final book, she’s imprisoned on Dungeon World and all her good deeds in the previous books are presented to her as crimes by a warden with nefarious plans. Charming and fun. And did I mention I want more? I want more.
Towering Achievement In Comics: Showa: A History Of Japan (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014) by Shigeru Mizuki; Zack Davisson, translator.
Recounting the history of Japan during Emperor Hirohito’s reign from 1926 to 1989 at both a global and a personal level, Showa is insanely ambitious and a stunning achievement. The first volume covers 1926 to 1939–the years of a fragile democracy devolving into fascism, Imperialism, the Second Sino-Japanese War and Japan’s entry into World War II. The two volumes released in 2014 cover World War II and the American occupation of Japan. As in Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011), Showa features almost photo-realistic depictions of historical events as well as more cartoonish ones of his own life. Mizuki’s draftsmanship is extraordinary and I really admire his ability to present so much material so smoothly. Mizuki uses popular characters Rat Man / Nezumi Otoko, Mizuki’s grandmother from the collection Nonnonba and a variety of yokai in the books to help tell the story. And the mix of intimately private and political, international and local, supernatural and mundane creates a complex and textured depiction of the era. With Japan’s current censorship laws and Prime Minister Abe’s nostalgia for Japan’s Imperial days, I can’t help worrying about Mizuki’s work. But there couldn’t be a better time to learn more about the Showa era.
Comic That Most Appeals To My Pagan Heart: The Wicked & The Divine (Image) Kieron Gillen, writing; Jamie McKelvie, art.
When Gillen and McKelvie get back together to mix music and supernatural shenanigans including the Morrigan and a female Lucifer somewhere between Bowie, a Nagel painting (in the best sense) and Sandman‘s Desire, well, I’m there. My pagan heart can’t resist. The Wicked & The Divine runs sort of parallel to Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram. There’s music. There’s magic. There’s the magic of music. But The Wicked And Divine is a lot darker. In The Wicked & The Divine, the gods are real, but they live for a few years, die and then return again ninety years later. But this time, Lucifer has killed a human and that causes trouble with humankind and trouble among the gods themselves.
Best Ed Brubaker Comic With A Cool-Ass Spy: Velvet (Image, ongoing) Ed Brubaker, writing; Steve Epting, drawing; Elizabeth Breitweiser, colors
Velvet is almost the secret life of Miss Moneypenny that I always suspected she had. Velvet Templeton has been the secretary to the director of ARC-7, a secret intelligence organization, since things went bad for her in the 1950s. But despite years of taking notes and flirting with agents waiting to see the director, she’s still a deadly agent, and when she’s framed for murder of ARC-7’s best agent, she uses all her skills to find out who framed her and why. And her pursuers try to discover who exactly Velvet is. For me, it’s as gratifying as seeing Miss Moneypenny get to give 007 what-for. As with Brubaker’s Criminal, Incognito and Fatale, there’s an essay at the end of every issue and it’s always worth reading.
Best Wonder Woman Around: Sensation Comics (DC, ongoing) Various creators. DC continues to publish their most interesting work in the Digital First format. (Formerly, digital only, until DC realized that Batman ’66 was so good or that it might be a good way to re-release Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga). Do you miss Wonder Woman fighting robot apes? Do you want to see Wonder Woman team up with Big Barda? How do you feel about Gilbert Hernandez writing some Wonder Woman? See? Sensations Comics is the best current running Wonder Woman around. And I’m looking forward to the Digital First release of Wonder Woman ’77.
My Favorite Individual Webcomic This Year: Wondermark, “The Terrible Sea Lion”: I just love this. I’ll let the sea lion speak for itself.
Publisher I’m Most Surprised To Be reading: Dynamite.
Gail Simone and Walter Geovani’s Red Sonja is one of my current favorite comics. I was surprised by that. But then Nancy A. Collins started writing Vampirella. Collins had a sweet and underappareciated run on Swamp Thing in the 1990s. And as soon as I saw she was writing Vampirella, I wanted to read it. Then, Simone and Collins started Legends of Red Sonja and Vampirella Faery Tales respectively, collecting stories about Red Sonja and Vampirella by writers including Devon Grayson, Steve Niles, Carla Speed MacNeil and Joe R. Lansdale. I love me some Joe R. Landale. With its history and very specific target audience looking for adult comics and boobular ladies, Dynamite was the least likely publisher, I thought, to take advantage of creator disenchantment with DC and Marvel, let alone get more female creators working on Dynamite books, but here we are.
Like DC and Marvel, Archie Comics wrestles with the weight of their history, continuity and reader expectations, but they have intriguing ways of dealing with their history. They’ve made fun and interesting comics for a variety of readers, including: Archie: The Married Life; Afterlife With Archie; and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I like the creators they’re bringing in, from Rich Koslowski (The King) to Francesco Francavilla and Fiona Staples. And Archie Comics uses smart marketing that plays with Archie’s own history and the anxious expectations of readers—Archie’s marriage(s) and death; Keven Keller’s marriage; zombies in Riverdale; and a character redesign by Staples and Mark Waid. They’ve got fans’ number.
People Who Made Art I Loved So Very Much: Jenny Frisson and Francesco Francavilla. Frisson did the Red Sonja cover above, and Francavilla did the Afterlife With Archie panel.
Favorite Twist On A Beloved Character: Spider-Gwen. Marvel has been playing around with Spider-Man for a while now with swell takes with Miles Morales’ Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus’ Superior Spider-Man. Now they have a whole pack of alternate spider-folk in Edge Of The Spider-Verse, and my current favorite is Spider-Gwen, hero of Earth-65 and drummer for the Mary Janes.
*I assume there will be more. There better be more, but I want more now.
Face it, Tiger, you’ve hit the jack-pot with Comics Editor Carol.