Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Comic of the Week Round-Up: Top 20 Comics of the Year

So a little over a year I decided to celebrate the launch of Sex Criminals that I'd start recommending a few comic books every week that I was enjoying. What started off as about three books a week has slowly expanded to a fluctuating number between three and ten, because sometimes that's many to recommend, and now I've been doing it for a year. To celebrate this, I've decided to collate all of the books that I've recommended and make a list of the twenty that were recommended most often.

Some caveats; I am most definitely not reading every book that is coming out every week, there are some definite blind spots in my reading. So don't go expecting any Dark Horse on this list, because whilst I know Mind MGMT and B.P.R.D. are really good, I'm not reading them (currently). Same goes for all of Valiant's output, although I am slowly making my way through that. Then there are some books which I know get a lot of love but I don't feel exactly the same, for example, I enjoy Rat Queens but I don't love it. Or there are books I'm just late to like Stray Bullets which I'm currently reading from the very beginning.

So here we go with the list:

Honourable Mentions:
American Vampire, Black Science, Deadly Class, Fatale, Hawkeye, Morning Glories, The Private Eye, Prophet, Rachel Rising, Trillium, Velvet, The Wake, Young Avengers

20. Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
Issues #1-current
Southern Bastards is Jason Aaron's follow-up creator owned work to Scalped, which is a series that I sadly cannot say that I have read. However based on the strength of the opening arc to this series, I am incredibly excited to read any creator owned work that Aaron has/will produce. Latour's artwork brings a level of grit and brutality to this that serves the book so well and it becomes clear that this is the work of two creators at the top of their game. The only reason this series isn't higher is because the first arc feels very much like a prologue to the main series, but damn if I am not excited to see where the events of issue #4 lead to in the coming months.

19. The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III
Issues #1-current
What happens when one of the best writers of the last fifty years decides to return to what is possibly his seminal piece of work (prose or otherwise), bringing along one of the best artists in the medium of comics? You get a profoundly gorgeous book that manages to honour the original Sandman series whilst not treading on it's toes and expanding on the world that was built over the course of those original seventy-five issues. Everyone knows what Neil Gaiman can bring to the world of  The Sandman but it's really J.H. Williams III's work on this book that makes it special. Every single page is a visual wonder and should make most other comics feel shame. But sadly the quality of the artwork means that only three issues have come out in a year, leaving this lower down the list than it probably could have been.

18. Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
Issues 4-current
Of all the Image series that have been launched in the last few years, Lazarus has probably built up the most impressive world, in the shortest amount of time. From the timelines that proliferate the back matter of each issue, to the increasingly complex relationships between the characters and the warring factions, this series is the very definition of effective world building. But first and foremost Lazarus is a story about family, family in a dystopia wherein each ruling family requires a genetically engineered super-human to fight for them, but family none the less. Rucka has always written female characters well, and Forever Carlyle is no different. It also doesn't hurt that you have Michael Lark illustrating every issue, an artist who has already proven he can do great work with Rucka from their time on Gotham Central together.

17. Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory
Issues 37-current
Chew might just be Image's most underrated book. It obviously gets a whole heap of praise and it's not like the press ignores it, but compared to a lot of other Image series it doesn't get the same level of attention.  But at the end of the day, it's important to recognise what Chew really is, probably the true start of the Image Revolution that is still going on today. It may have taken until 2012 for Image to truly become the company that it is today, but Chew is a true progenitor to that state. Also Chew is frequently hilarious, appropriately gross and has one of the best side characters in all of comics (POYO!). Guillory is a master at the background joke and Layman has created one of the best casts in all of comics, and now that book is entering it's final third, I'm all the more terrified to see who actually survives the inevitable coming bloodbath.

16. Secret Avengers by Ales Kot & Michael Walsh
Issues #1-current
Secret Avengers has always been an odd book, started by Ed Brubaker as an espionage thriller, before passing on to Nick Spencer, to Warren Ellis (for a terrific six issue run), Rick Remender and then finally back to Nick Spencer. It's easily had one of the most convoluted publishing lives of any Marvel title in the last few years. Now Ales Kot has taken the reigns for the third volume of the series in four years and decided to go for a different approach. This book is weird, but weird in a very, very fun way. Kot has a distinct sense of humour that pervades this series, be that referencing past Marvel gags (naked Hawkeye) to an entire sequence of Deadpool trying to romance (?) Hawkeye, complete with recommended playlist. Secret Avengers is a weird gem, that proves that Marvel is willing to try something different and give creators free reign over their content.

15. Fables by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingam
Issues #134-current
It should come as no surprise that I am still in love with Fables. This series was my first proper introduction to ongoing comics, and I have read literally every issue, spin-off series, graphic novel, prose novel and free Comic-Con giveaway that I possibly could for this series. It is a huge deal to me that it is ending with issue #150. To be perfectly honest, I haven't loved everything the series has done since the fall of the Adversary all those years ago, but the knowledge that this is the last arc has given an overwhelming sense of poignancy to events. From the 'return' of Boy Blue in #134 and the major character death that have been happening recently, I now know there'll be a huge Fables sized hole in my life when the series ends in a few months, and I can only thank Bill and Bucky for the journey they have taken me on over the last few years.

14. Green Arrow by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
Issues #24-34
Green Arrow was one of those DC characters that I had literally no interest in whatsoever until recently. He's Batman if he was an archer, had a liberal agenda and a beard. I am also the only one of my friends with a vague interest in comics that does not watch Arrow. So when Jeff Lemire, who's series Sweet Tooth I'd just finished reading, and Andrea Sorrentino, who'd just finished up on IVampire were announced to be taking over as the new creative team of Green Arrow, I can say I was cautiously intrigued. What followed was one of the best runs of all the New 52. Obviously Jeff Lemire is a good writer but it's Andrea Sorrentino's work that made this a must read. Some of the spreads and panelling work he did over the course of the series were absolutely jaw dropping. Just read any issue with Count Vertigo and you'll see why. It's a shame that they left the book so the series could veer more closely to Arrow, but at least there's twenty issues of this series that can be read and reread for years to come.

13. Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick  Spencer & Steve Lieber
Issues #2-9, #12-current
If you'd told me when Dr. Octopus mind wiped Peter Parker, that the best thing to come out of Superior Spider-Man would be a series about an ineffectual incarnation of the Sinister Six, I probably would have laughed at you. But here we are, a world in which a book that focuses on The Shocker and Boomerang is one of the best things that Marvel is publishing currently and I am genuinely sad that it is coming to an end in a few issues time. You'll probably notice a trend with the Marvel books higher up this list, but I tend to gravitate towards their more light-hearted output, and this might be the most light-hearted of them all. Nick Spencer writes what is easily the funniest book that Marvel has done since Nextwave and Steve Lieber can hit a punchline like nobodies business. Aside from the two issue fill-ins by other creators, Superior Foes has been a consistently funny read and has actually succeeded at telling a compelling narrative at the same time. So yeah, I'm going to miss this book a lot.

12. Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang
Issues #24-current
There was a phrase that went around about a year into the New 52, that if people were reading DC, they were "only reading Batman and Wonder Woman". Whilst there are other DC books worth checking out (Green Arrow and Swamp Thing to name two), there is a reason why most of the praise aimed at DC these last few years has fallen squarely on these two titles; because they are both really, really good. Wonder Woman is the true epic of the New 52, it doesn't conform to natural story-arcs, instead telling one massive story encompassing the thirty-five issue run (which has yet to wrap up). Azzarello has been doing something wonderful with Wonder Woman, by combing her origin with Greek mythology and Jack Kirby's New Gods, he's given the series a truly epic feel and also managed to wrestle her away from the rest of the New 52. With the series barrelling towards the inevitable final battle between Diana and the First Born, this is one of the DC comics that I cannot help but recommend to everyone.

11. Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Issues #24-current
For the last year, this book has been entirely immersed in Zero Year, the year long origin story to the New 52 version of Batman. It could be argued that maybe that story wasn't needed because Batman: Year One does still exist, but when you have creators as good as Snyder and Capullo wanting to tell this story, you let them. It also did another important thing of taking the book out of the events of Forever Evil and the Death of Damian, and letting other books deal with that fallout. Instead we got the story of Bruce's first year wearing the cape and cowl, a potential origin for the Joker and one of the best Riddler stories ever told, in real time. Snyder and Capullo have obviously been one of the most successful creative pairings to come out of the New 52, Having worked together for over thirty issues, they're current run on Batman easily stacks up as one of the best ever, and it seems that they haven't even reached their creative nadir yet, with Endgame looking to be their biggest arc yet; we'll see how that plays out on next years list.

10. She-Hulk by Charles Soule & Javier Pulido
Issues #1-current
Of all the books that have come out in the wake of Daredevil and Hawkeye at Marvel, She-Hulk is far and away my favourite. I'm aware that Javier Pulido isn't everyone's favourite artist, but he was the perfect choice for this book. He excels at character work, and like most of Marvel's best series at the moment this comic is full of character. Each time I talk about this book, I keep coming back to the scene in the first issue where She-Hulk has to speak to Tony Stark's legal department and the page layout perfectly illustrates how tedious it is, before being presented with a block of Charles Soule's legalese. Actually having a lawyer write She-Hulk, has been a stroke of genius for Marvel, as it lends an air of credibility to all the legal proceedings found within. When it comes to superhero books, a sense of fun is what I'm looking for most of the time, and She-Hulk delivers that in spades every issue.

09. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Issues #1-current
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie might just be the most in-sync creators in all of comics. After spending all of 2013 working on Young Avengers together, the two of them returned to independent comics in 2014 and have delivered one of the strongest new series in Image's line-up, even with only four issues under the series' belt. The Wicked + The Divine is a story in which gods are reincarnated every ninety years or so as as pop stars (or that eras equivalent), which allows the pair to discuss one of their favourite topics, the idea of music as magic. Gillen has quickly become one of my favourite writers these last few years, and this series is perfectly suited to his strengths, as well as McKelvie's, whose work on this series, paired with colourist Matthew Wilson, is nothing short of magical (sorry). But at the end of the day, the most positive thing I can say about The Wicked + The Divine is that it makes me almost not care that it isn't Phongram 3....almost

08. Zero by Ales Kot & various artists
Issues #2-current
Zero might just be the hardest book to explain out of all the series on this list. It's the story of a spy named Edward Zero, who's life story is told in a non-linear fashion with a new artist illustrating each issue of the series. But that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what makes Zero so great. Each issue works as a one-shot, but also has a cumulative effect that fit neatly into the overarching narrative that Ales Kot is creating. Kot has attracted some of the industries best artists to work on this series, with names like Tradd Moore, Morgan Jeske, Jorge Coelho, Tonci Zonjic and Michael Gaydos just being the tip of the iceberg, all being brought together by colourist Jordie Bellaire. But to properly experience Zero is to read it and to delve into the world which is being built and destroyed simultaneously. This is a series that deserves to be devoured, ripped apart and immersed in. It requires concentration and participation on the part of the reader, but like all the best things, isn't that how we want it?

07. East of West by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
Issues #6-current
After Jonathan Hickman wrapped up his run on Fantastic Four, it was clear that he and Nick Dragotta had founded a great creative partnership, so it was little surprise to see that they wanted to work together again. What was even less of a surprise was that the series that spawned from this partnership has become one of Image's flagship titles over the of the last year. East of West is a series about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but told in a way that could have only been though of by Hickman. This book is dense, and isn't particularly forthcoming with answers about things, but there's a slow build to it all that makes it endlessly compelling. Watching an entire world being built from the ground up is fascinating, and when that world is designed by Nick Dragotta, you know you're onto a winner. Of all the design work in this series, my personal favourite has to be Babylon's; effortlessly creepy in that way that only children can be. Now that the Message appears to be being fulfilled, I can't wait to see where the series goes from here.

06. The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross
Issues vol. 1 #53-54, vol. 2 #1-current
The Unwritten is a book that the English Literature graduate in me really loves. Whilst it started off as a kind of Harry Potter meets Winnie the Pooh type tale, the series has slowly expanded to taking on the entire world of literature. The Unwritten has spawned at least two of my favourite single issues of comics ever and I couldn't be more excited to see how everything gets wrapped up in a few monts. Much like the other Vertigo series on this list, everything that has made this series great has been pushed to the forefront for the final stretch of issues, as the world is literally headed towards the Apocalypse. All that Carey and Gross have been hinting at and seeding since issue one, is coming to fruition; and there is nothing more exciting than watching two artists at the top of their game pull off a plan that they have been working on for literally years.

05. Moon Knight by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
Issues #1-6
This might just have been my biggest surprise of the year. Not that I wasn't expecting to enjoy a new series written by Warren Ellis, but I didn't expect to enjoy it this much. When I first started reading Moon Knight, Declan Shalvey was a new name to me (a mistake I have since rectified) and he completely blew me away with he owned this series. Warren Ellis is, of course, a fantastic writer, but it's Shalvey that made this series the phenomenon that it was. These six issues were filled with so many jaw-dropping art moments, from the eight panel grids that opened issue #2, the fungus nightmare scape of #4 or the beautifully kinetic ascent through an apartment building in #5, Shalvey challenged every other artists working on superhero books to be as good as he was. I'd be remiss to not mention Jordie Bellaire's colours, particularly the stark white of Moon Knight's costume, which added yet another layer to proceedings. It's a shame Ellis and Shalvey were only around for six issues, but sometimes the best things in life leave you wanting more.

04. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Issues #1-current
Without Sex Criminals I probably wouldn't be writing this right now. Twelve months ago, I decided to start doing 'Comic of the Week' out a mixture of boredom and wanting to praise the first issue of this series. And now here we are, twelve months later, and Sex Criminals has easily found it's way into my top five. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky might be creating the most effortless enjoyable comic on the market right now. Yes, it's a book filled with boner and brimping jokes, but it's also got an awful lot of heart and is willing to delve into the psyche of it's main characters in interesting ways, even if it isn't always pleasant. Over the course of the last year, Suzie has catapulted herself to the top of my favourite characters in all of comics; and is one of the most interesting and likeable in the entire medium. That in itself is a sterling testament to just how good the work of Fraction and Zdarsky has been. There's a reason why Time magazine named it their favourite comic/graphic novel of 2013; because Sex Criminals is a funny, heart-warming and surprisingly deep read. Also there's sex, lots and lots of sex.

03. Daredevil by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Issues vol. 3 #32-36, vol. 4 #1-current
Year after year, I find myself repeating myself, but Mark Waid's Daredevil is the best superhero series currently being made, and has been since 2011. Over the course of three years, this series has had a murderers row of artists from Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Mike Allred, before finally settling on Chris Samnee as the regular penciller. There's a reason why Waid and Samnee are credited as 'Storytellers' at the start of every issue; because this series just how much of a collaborative medium comics really are. 2014 has been a big year for the series, with Waid's initial volume ending early on in the year, before restarting and relocating the entire cast to San Francisco, continuing their adventures. Without Waid's work on Daredevil, Marvel wouldn't currently be publishing series like Hawkeye, She-Hulk and Ms.Marvel and for that reason alone, it might just be the Marvel's most important title this decade.

02. The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra
Issues #15-current
I might be one of the only people in the comic reading world that still ranks The Manhattan Projects above East of West, at this point; but what can I can say, this is a series that just speaks to me. It's just gleefully insane and off the walls, incredibly dark but without ever losing sight of it's sense of humour. It's an alt-history book but not really, because it's also a science fiction story that throws all pre-text of 'history' out of the window. Nick Pitarra is hands down one of the best artists in comics right now, and whilst some people have argued that the series has been meandering as of late, it's abundantly clear that their is an aim to it all, and like Hickman's best work, all will be revealed in due time. I still love all the different avenues that are being explored as  we descend deeper into the insane world of the Manhattan Project. Finally, a shout-out to Ryan Browne's art on the Oppenheimer issues, because damn, those were amazing.

01. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Issues #14-current
What can I even say about Saga at this point that hasn't already been said? I'm well aware that this is probably the easy choice. Hell, for months, The Manhattan Projects was sat at the top here but when I actually sat down to write it up, I realised Saga was the only series that really made sense for #1. Saga is the series that I will always recommend first to anyone at all interested in trying out comics. I've watched people be completely converted after only reading a single issue. Every month a new issue comes out, it's the first thing I read, which I immediately regret because I know I'll have to wait another month until I get another one. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are doing something truly special on with this series. I doubt that we're even a quarter done with this tale, but at this point I cannot envision a world in which Saga isn't held aloft as one of the greatest achievements that the medium of comics ever produces. Seriously, it is that good.

No comments: