Zeb Larson’s Top Ten Comics of 2014 (and a couple of honorable mentions)…
Every top ten list is colored by the reviewer’s preferences, and my list is no exception. I’m most interested in comics that try and deal with some part of the human experience, whether it’s war, crime, violence, home, race, or sex. Most of the comics on my list fit that description in some way. Here’s my top ten of the year, in no particular order:
Southern Bastards (Image Comics)
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s comic is a gritty examination of southern life, crime, violence, and our own ambiguous relationships with our homes, all with a healthy dose of football and ribs. The first story arc, “Here Was a Man,” was a riff on the Walking Tall movies, subverting the moral of those films. People are astonishingly willing to live with violence and ugliness as long as it doesn’t intrude too much on their sanitized conception of their own lives. A gripping read that is just getting started.
Roche Limit (Image Comics)
Michael Moreci and Vic Malhotra echo Blade Runner and other classic science-fiction films in their story of a failed utopia. By looking at a space station gone horribly awry, the two are trying to shed some light on the human condition and how we figure into an uncaring, indifferent universe. It’s a bleak story, but one that affirms the human capacity to dream and strive as perhaps our only chance as a species.
Translucid (Boom! Studios)
One of the best takes on the superhero genre in recent years, and a particularly biting critique of the Batman mythos. The book tells the story of a hero, the Navigator, and his nemesis, the Horse. Yet everything is not that it seems, as Horse tries to redeem the Navigator after his heroic nemesis commits a terrible mistake. Chondra Echert and Claudio Sanchez examine how the device of superheroic guilt could produce a hero adrift, irresponsible and dangerous to himself and others. The fact that the art was so brilliant and psychedelic only sweetened the book’s appeal.
Memetic (Boom! Studios)
This series only wrapped up a couple of weeks ago and ran for three issues, but it raised a lot of interesting questions in its short run. In short, a meme spread across social media starts a global apocalypse. James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan aren’t critiquing the internet and media so much as the need to be part of a mass culture, uncritically consuming without holding part of one’s self back. Ideas are powerful, and it behooves us to treat them with a certain degree of caution.
The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics)
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s comic about fame and divinity has met with a lot of praise this year. Some might be surprised to see this on my list, as I have critiqued and disagreed with a lot of the points raised in the book. Yet for somebody like myself who hates the idea of fame and celebrity, this book raises a lot of points about how we see culture and those who create it.
Black Science (Image Comics)
A brilliant science fiction comic and one hell of a good story. Grant McKay, formerly of the Anarchist League of Scientists, is sent bouncing around the Multiverse with his team, unable to control their next destination. A familiar premise that makes for a gripping read, especially with the multiplicity of perspectives and the astonishing diversity of worlds and places to visit. If Sliders had an unlimited budget and tighter writing, it might have looked like this.
The Last Fall (IDW)
A brilliant war comic set in a far-away galaxy. Sergeant Fall is a soldier who doesn’t know what he’s fighting for any more, and after a betrayal, he questions why he’s fighting in the first place. The book touches on military sacrifice, militarized societies, family, and the persistence of war and violence when it harms soldiers more than anyone else. Painfully relevant.
C.O.W.L. (Image Comics)
What if superheroes had unions? That is the premise of C.O.W.L., set in Chicago in 1962. Rod Reis, Alex Higgins, and Kyle Siegel examine the sexism, racism, and politics of the era by making superheroes part of an institution. In doing so, we can also see the warping effect that a bureaucracy would have on heroes, and the way in which ego-driven “great men” can do horrific things.
Nailbiter (Image Comics)
A dark serial killer comic, leavened with moments of occasional absurdity. Buckaroo, Oregon has been home to sixteen shockingly weird serial killers, and a disgraced army investigator is trying to figure out why. Joshua Williamson has a game sense of humor and a keen imagination for horrifyingly weird killers, all shaped by peculiar obsessions.
The Fade-Out (Image Comics)
A great noir crime tale, and a sort of history of Hollywood at a moment of intense change. Set in the early ‘50s, Ed Brubaker tells the story of a murdered actress and a screenwriter’s attempts to discover the truth behind what happened. It’s got the atmosphere of a James Ellroy novel and a certain sense of nostalgia for a Hollywood that is, one might say, gone with the wind.
Bitch Planet (Image Comics)
I couldn’t quite justify labeling this book as a comic of the year, given that only one issue has been released so far. However, Bitch Planet also had the best opening issue of 2014. Set in a future where women can be exiled to a prison planet for crimes or just failing to be sufficiently attractive and compliant, Bitch Planet is a searing indictment of misogyny and patriarchy. Even as it tackles a major social issue, it is also uproariously funny, dealing with its subject matter as though it were a ‘70s “women-in-prison” film. A must-buy for 2015.
The Walking Dead (Image Comics)
Just when the formula risked becoming stale, The Walking Dead reinvented itself. Rick has finally carved out a safe home for his fellow survivors, but stability comes with its own prices. The jump in time has done a lot of favors for the book, allowing us to see characters change and develop. More interestingly, we can see the long-term consequences and development of people in a world so dramatically different from our own. After years of death, now people have to remember how to live.
What are you favorite comic books of the year? Let us know your thoughts…