Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 10 Comic Series of 2014

Heroes, spies, detectives, samurai and ninja, vampire slayers, talking animals, and galactic adventurers. Looking back at the year in comics, these are the ongoing comic book series which continued to entertain, delight, surprise, and fascinate me over the year. It was a good year for women (and crazy gun-wielding raccoons) in comics with four of my top ten comics all helmed by lead female characters and a number of other female characters dominating issues of nearly every title on this list. Here are the top ten ongoing comic series of the year...

10. Star Wars [Dark Horse]

Dark Horse's classic Star Wars adventures from writer Brian Wood narrowly beats out both Fables and Fairest for the final spot on the list. Set after the events of the original Star Wars, the ongoing series (which ended all too soon in August) showcased classic characters Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader while introducing memorable original characters such as Luke's romantic interest Prithi and Imperial Ensign Nanda whose two-part adventure with the Dark Lord of the Sith was one of the best story arcs of any comic this year. Marvel has a high bar to meet when they begin releasing their first Star Wars comics in decades next year.

9. Samurai Jack [IDW]

IDW's decision in late 2013 to bring a time-displaced adventurer with a magic sword continues to pay-off thanks in large part to writer Jim Zub and artist Andy Suriano (and other artists). Based on the cartoon of the same name, Samurai Jack has continued to entertain on the comic page featuring our hero's battle against the nightmarish future ruled by the evil that is Aku. Following the Threads of Time storyline, Samurai Jack had a reunion with an old friend, fought Aku's attempt to destroy his past, and faced his harshest setback to date with the destruction of his prized possession.

8. Rocket Raccoon [Marvel]

Thanks to the early fan response to Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon earned his first solo series in an awfully long time. He even decided to bring Groot along for the ride. Written and drawn by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon is a raucous affair pitting the pint-sized hero against a legion of his ex-girlfriends, old friends and enemies, and another raccoon framing him for murder! All that and we get an entire adventure narrated completely by Groot!

7. The Powerpuff Girls [IDW]

What started as a six-issue mini-series in late 2013 became a 10 issue series from Troy Little which continued to entertain through the first-half of 2014. Over the final issues of the series Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup would take on HIM who played with the emotions of the town's villains just to drive the Powerpuff Girls crazy, fight off a monster horde invading Townsville on Monster Day, deal with Mojo Jojo reverting to form, teach Fuzzy Lumpkins a lesson about friendship, and deal with the return of the Rowdyruff Boys and the Boogie Man in the comic's final two-issue adventure.

6. Fatale [Image]

Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips' noirish tale of a never-aging femme fatale on the run from a mysterious cult led by a power-hungry mad-man came to a bloody end this year, but not before completing a mesmerizing 24 issue-run mixing noir, horror, crime drama, and occult mysticism in one of the most unique comics of the last few years. Josephine's absence is still felt in Image's stable, and I'm hopeful we'll see her return in some form in the future, but thankfully for us Brubaker has crafted an even stronger female lead who you will see a little later on the list.

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures [IDW]

IDW continues to churn out not one but two must-read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles every month. The main comic from Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz has dealt with the group licking their wounds after their defeat to Shredder, Leonardo's brainwashing, and their exile to Northampton, along with the return to New York, the discovery of Old Hob's mutant agenda, the tease of Raphael and Alopex getting together, and a big throwdown with Rocksteady and Bebop. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures has continued to bring in new stories inspired by the current cartoon including movie night for the Turtles, Raphael fighting a dragon, Spider Bytez kidnapping New Yorkers, Mikey getting his own sidekick, and the crazy adventures of Ice Cream Kitty.

4. Scooby-Doo Team-Up [DC]

Had DC Comics' lone entry on the list not lost its way a bit with the last issue it could easily have ranked even higher on the list. Scooby-Doo Team-Up from writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela is everything you want an all-ages super-hero comic to be. Featuring Scooby and Mystery, Inc. teaming up with different heroes every month the comic gave us classic Batman and Robin (and Ace the Bat-Hound!), Bat-Mite, the Teen Titans, and Wonder Woman the bi-monthly series continued to deliver amazing tales up until the point where it decided to throw the characters into other worlds (like Bedrock). Easily my favorite Batman book (Bats and/or Robin appear in more than half of the issues) Scooby-Doo Team-Up is a joy I hope will revert back to form for many more terrifically entertaining adventures.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Ten [Dark Horse]

Buffy Summers just keeps delivering the awesome. Now in her third season post-cancellation the character seems to have hit her stride. This year's comics brought back Dracula, rewrote the laws of magic, reunited Buffy with her resurrected teenage mentor, forced Xander to deal with his crumbling relationship with Dawn and move in with Spike, teased the resurrection of a beloved character, and brought BtVS star Nicholas Brendon back to co-write several issues. I can't wait to see what the Buffyverse has in store for next year!

2. Astro City [Vertigo]

The choice between #1 and #2 on the list was the hardest of this list as either of these two comics are deserving of the top spot. In the end the runner-up turned out to be the latest run of Astro City by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Brent Anderson who continued to tell beautifully woven tales of regular folks living in a world filled with super-heroes. This year's stories included Winged Victory fighting an enemy's effort to destroy her legacy, a day in the life of a sorcerer's assistant, the highs and lows of the Gentleman Bandit, a junkyard museum for super-villain machines, an ambitious tale of adolescent angst, and one of the best damn stories of the year involving heroic sacrifice. You definitely need to be reading this comic.

1. Velvet [Image]

As I've said, Astro City could easily have won the top spot on this list but instead I've chosen Images' lesser-known property of Velvet for my #1 this year. In a year where strong female characters dominated this list the coolest of them all earns her spot atop it. Set during the Cold War, Velvet follows the adventures of former spy turned executive secretary Velvet Templeton framed for murder and on the run from her own agency. Its release may not be as regular as I'd like, but it's always worth the wait. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting deliver on the intrigue, mystery, action, and suspense of the 1970s (and 50s flashbacks) spy agency and their top agent whose quest for truth leads her to discover buried secrets which shake her faith in everything she's given her life to. This year's issues include a Carnival of Fools, the shocking truth about her dead husband, Velvet returning home to go on the offensive and break into the top-secret spy organization she served loyally for decades. We also get a single issue from the perspective of the agent leading the hunt to bring Velvet to justice who learns rather quickly that there is far more to this secretary than meets the eye. Consistently one of the best comics every month it makes it to the newsstand, Velvet earns her spot on top of the list.

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