Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Pull List: Best of 2014

Now, I told myself that I wasn't going to do one of these because I was moving and wouldn't have the time, but dammit, I wanted to give one last shout-out to a wonderfully dynamic year in comics. I feel like I grew tremendously as a creator because of my exposure to a smorgasbord of talented writers and artists, and I witnessed firsthand a medium that is just a microcosm of the changing tide in our culture: the inclusion of a diverse set of voices, the power of creatives to discuss social issues and bring about an alteration to the ways we see things, etc. It wasn't without its various missteps and downright flops, but, as a whole, I feel like the world of comic book nerddom is coming into its adulthood.

Here we go: in no particular order, these are my Best of 2014:

Via Image Comics
VELVET (Image)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Brubaker and Epting are what I call a power team. Their work together on Captain America and Fatale is probably some of the best in the business, and collaborating on Velvet is undoubtedly the sharpest, most interesting stuff to date. Brubaker just understands the noir genre, and Epting's stunning artwork just catapults the series into near-legendary status. Velvet can be both strikingly beautiful or fade into the environment like a chameleon, an invaluable skill for her line of work. I've said in my little mini-reviews throughout the past several months that one of the things I appreciate about this series is that Velvet's gender only plays a part in the story if she's using it to her advantage, and most of the time, the men that are chasing her are underestimating her skills. However, that could just be because she has been a secretary for twenty years (and even she admits that she's gotten a little rusty). Her bosses, and people that knew her well before she "retired," are fully aware that she's a deadly enemy and try to prepare accordingly, especially since she's apparently gone rogue. I didn't get into the series until a coworker of mine basically shoved the first trade into my hands, and I read the whole book in about twenty minutes. I just couldn't put it down: I was hooked on the idea of a woman who, through her wits and intuition (as well as a familiarity with the world in which she's immersed) manages to kick everyone's asses and stay one step ahead of everyone. I'm looking forward to the finale of this arc (coming in February) and seeing exactly how Velvet is going to come out of this: completely vindicated or sentenced to a life on the run.
Via Comixology
GENIUS (Top Cow/Image)
Writers: Marc Bernardin/Adam Freeman
Artist: Afua Richardson
I fully maintain that Genius is one of the most important comics to come out in 2014. In the month that the series was released on a weekly basis - after nearly years in development - Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson, who was later not indicted by a grand jury for the young man's death. Nobody needs to be reminded of the police brutality in the riots and protests that erupted after the shooting and acquittal (because let's be honest, it was an acquittal, even if there was no trial); after all, we are still feeling those effects months later. Genius illustrated what an oppressed society can do if faced with overwhelming force: they adapt, plan, plot, and ultimately are willing to sacrifice, as Destiny Ajaye does, for their people as a whole. Since I am not an African-American woman, I do not feel equipped to comment on Destiny's plight, but I can read the five-issue series, which I hope is released in a trade paperback at some point, and feel a sort of empathic connection. And, as I said above, comics have a way of discussing social issues and presenting them in a way that's understandable, that promotes discussion and constructive discourse, and that humanizes parts of society to which you do not belong. Genius did just that, and if you haven't managed to find back issues, they are for sale on Comixology for $1.99 each. Read them. They will make you feel uncomfortable, wryly amused, sad, impassioned, angry, but you will not regret it. I promise you that.
Wonder Woman
Via DC Wiki
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang
I will admit that, back when I started The Pull List, I was incredibly bored by Azzarello and Chiang's take on Wonder Woman, but I blame that on my coming into the middle of the story. I ended up going back and reading the trades about a month ago, and I began to sing its praises. Azzarello had a certain grasp of the character that nobody else really has, even the original creator, William Marston. When she defeats Hades with the power of love - I know it sounds silly, but it's a beautiful moment in the book - I took it over to my coworker and said, "Azz gets it, dude. He just gets Wonder Woman." And Cliff Chiang's graphic art, which was surprisingly gory - not Crossed levels, but more bloody than I expected in a DC title - really displayed Diana's beauty and physical strength, or basically a more stylized version of what Terry Dodson did with the character. This just makes it all the more upsetting with the current turn the Wonder Woman series is taking with the new creative team, but maybe DC will figure out what they're doing and replace them, like Marvel is doing with Spider-Woman in March. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, because I don't know how much longer I can stand Pouty-Face McGee and Her Teddy Bear.
Via Image Comics
SAGA (Image)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
(OMG LOOK AT THAT COVER.) There's not much that I can say about Saga that hasn't been said before: it's groundbreaking, heart-wrenching, hilarious, beautiful, poignant, topical, surprising, and that's nearly every single adjective I can come up with (feel free to add your own). Creators Vaughan and Staples could have easily taken the easy road and just told us the story that we wanted, but nope, they constantly put pressure on their characters, like real life has a tendency to do, and they make both tragically realistic and gloriously courageous choices. The thing that what sold me on the comic was the first scene where Alana is giving birth to who would become Hazel, and her quips with Marko perfectly resembled conversations I could see me and Three having. I felt like I was reading real people, even if those people had horns, wings, or giant TV heads. I simply cannot wait for what 2015 will bring to this ever-growing cast of amazing characters.
The Multiversity
Via Inside Pulse
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Joe Prado, Ivan Reis, Karl Story, Chris Sprouse, Ben Oliver, Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart
I haven't said much about The Multiversity since it began because, quite plainly, I'm still rereading the ones that have been published and trying to wrap my head around them. By far, my favorite is Pax Americana, which clearly was heavily influenced by The Watchmen, but this month's Thunderworld is battling it out as being the best of the two. The examination of the anatomy of superheroes, as well as people's relationship (both readers and the characters within the story) to them, is the focus here, which I find amusing - because this is DC we're talking about - and encouraging - because, again, this is DC, who just recently hired a writer and artist who have no idea how to write an iconic character like Wonder Woman - as a connoisseur of the comic genre. I like depth in the stories I read (yes, even My Little Pony), and Grant Morrison has done an admirable job showing the publishers that even supposed "regular" comic book readers can appreciate and, dare I say, enjoy a story that isn't just punching and flying and tight costumes and boobs everywhere. We have a few more months left of series, wrapping up with The Multiversity #2 being released on April 1, 2015, and I expect that things are only going to get better from here.
Via Image Comics
LOW (Image)
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Greg Tocchini
This is one comic that I've raved about ever since the first issue, even if I didn't really understand what was going on. Greg Tocchini's art is mesmerizing, and it's almost as if the words by Rick Remender weren't even completely necessary. I mean, they help, obviously, but, since I'm being totally honest, what really makes me return each month are the sweeping visuals. Stel is also my favorite main character to be introduced this year: she's an unabashed optimist who irritates everyone, including her own family, with her seemingly naive attitude toward the future of humanity (a trait that I share with her, actually). She faces all of the obstacles - the death of her husband, the kidnap of her two youngest children, the slow, inevitable destruction that awaits those who live in the depths of the Earth, etc. - with an otherworldly calm, like she just knows something that no one else manages to see, either because they would rather focus on the small pleasures they can experience now instead of fighting for an unsure future or because they simply cannot see past what they see is doom. I wasn't expecting such a deep story to come from this, seeing as I usually like my "light and fluffy," but Low really convinced me that comics could eclipse other forms of written entertainment - don't get in a tizzy, I still love reading books, novellas, and short stories. The combination of art and story is not a new idea, obviously, but comics seem to be breaking the mold for what "low art" can accomplish. And Low is just one example of that.
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Witches
Via Nerdist
Writers: S.M. Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Anthony Mighella
Artists: S.M. Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely
I used to love watching Jim Henson's The Storyteller as a kid, and really, anything that was connected to Jim Henson was My Thing: The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, etc. And Archaia's Witches short series did nothing to convince me that I shouldn't continue to fangirl over everything Jim Henson. The art in every issue was striking and the stories within were such wonderful adaptations of their respective fairy tales. None of them could really be considered witches - except maybe #4's Baba Yaga? - but misunderstood women with a great deal of power behind their eyes. You know, I'm starting to see a theme in the comics that I end up reading with a rabid voraciousness. Oh, well!
Rachel Rising
Via Terry Moore Art
RACHEL RISING (Abstract Studio)
Writer/Artist: Terry Moore
Terry Moore is probably one of my favorite writers, up there with Kelly Sue DeConnick and G. Willow Wilson, and has been since I read Strangers in Paradise (which Moore cleverly inserted into Rachel Rising, making it very clear that both of these series exist in the same universe). His thoughtful treatment of the fluidity of sexuality, female power, and friendship paired with art that is not exploitative or vulgar makes some of the best comics I've ever read. Rachel Rising just continues that trend with him. It actually saddens me that he nearly stopped printing the series due to the cost*, but thankfully, fans convinced him otherwise. Horror comics aren't normally my thing, but Moore seems to more focus on the psychology of horror instead of the gore (although there are quite a few scary images at which I cringed), which I found more unsettling than showing somebody's head being ripped off (I'm looking at you, Crossed). This is one of the only comics that I plan on collecting in physical form, partly because it's self-published, but also because it's one of the most beautifully illustrated books out there, rivaling even it's full-color contemporaries. Basically, long story short: buy this book. It's well worth the cost.
Ms. Marvel
Via Marvel Comics
MS. MARVEL (Marvel)
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt
A coworker of mine told me a few weeks ago that he felt Kamala Khan was a very weak character, only useful when she teams up with other more long-existing heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine. My counterpoint was that, well, she's a teenager who just recently discovered her powers (hi, puberty!) and she's finding her own strength. It's a story of growing up, more or less. And even if she can't function on her own without help from other people, that is not a fault; too often superheroes who have relied on their own abilities end up failing, and if they'd only extended a request of help, they might have succeeded. No one is an island, and I think that's really what Kamala is learning in her solo adventures. But the success of Ms. Marvel isn't just from the cast of guest characters, like Inhuman's Medusa or the above-mentioned Wolverine; it's centered around a realistic portrayal of a young woman who isn't living in a "traditional" white Anglo-Saxon Protestant environment. Instead, she's a Pakistani-American Muslim girl and is treated no differently than any other teenager. She has what she considers overbearing parents, social stigmas from her religion and race, and a desire to fit in and be like her idol, the superhero Carol Danvers. G. Willow Wilson, a converted Muslim herself, wanted to show the rest of the United States (and maybe even the world) that, if you were to look at every person as an individual instead of a stereotype, you may find that, yes, you do in fact have many things in common with members of different "tribes." If Marvel - and hell, the other comic publishers - can keep promoting series like this, we may see a very different world in a few decades.
Sex Criminals
Via Image Comics
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
When a comic can bring me to tears in one panel and then less than a page later have me rolling on the floor laughing, that is a rare thing, indeed. Somehow, Fraction and Zdarsky have accomplished just that with Sex Criminals, a book that I picked up just because the title intrigued me. I hadn't planned on becoming so dedicated to the salvation of a local library (cries) or so immersed in the world to the point where I talk about the characters as if they are real people walking around somewhere on our planet. My only problem with the series is how big the breaks are between issues. I wanna know what's going on with the Sex Police, Fraction and Zdarsky! Hurry that shit up!
The Wicked + The Divine
Via Image comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
I never felt as lost as I did in the first issue of The Wicked + The Divine. Who are these people? How do they know each other? Wait, how do they blow people's heads up?? It went at a break-neck pace, for which I was grateful, and Gillen kept me guessing as to what was going to happen up until the final issue of the first arc. Like the previously mentioned Terry Moore, Gillen and McKelvie play with gender fluidity so well, as evidenced by their work in Young Avengers, and I felt they nailed the idea of Lucifer: feminine but masculine, tricky but straightforward. Seeing the whole drama play out through a non-god was, while not revolutionary, exceptionally effective; plus, she had such a fascination with the pantheon that it was natural she got involved with their affairs. I collected the first story in single issues, but my plan is to buy the trades from now on. This is just one of those books that needs to be binge-read, even if it means I have to wait so long before I can get my hands on a trade.
Via Marvel Comics
SHE-HULK (Marvel)
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Javier Pulido
A woefully underrated series, She-Hulk is ending in 2015 after her 12th issue, and this saddens me more than I'd like to admit. It took me a while to get into it, mainly because I just couldn't get past Javier Pulido's art, although as I got into the story, I couldn't see it being illustrated in any other way. It just ... fit. And then, it got canceled, because isn't that how it always happens? It probably has something to do with Soule being on so many books - and rightfully so - but it doesn't make the loss of this series any easier. I liken it somewhat to Matt Fraction's and David Aja's Hawkeye (which, coincidentally also features Pulido's work); it's not all about the super part of the superhero lifestyle. Jen is a lawyer, and a good one at that, and her involvement with the rest of the superhero community seems to be balanced quite well with her profession. It's a nice departure from all of the crazy action that happens in most of the other Marvel titles, like peeping through the window into the less exciting adventures that we can actually relate to. But, and I know I've said this before, maybe they'll heavily feature Jen in another series, or perhaps it will be rebooted like Hawkeye. Until then, I have the back issues and (crossing my fingers) maybe a hard cover collection of this incarnation of She-Hulk.
G.I. Joe (2014)
Via The Outhousers
Writer: Karen Traviss
Artist: Steve Kurth
So the whole G.I. Joe franchise is not that interesting to me as a whole. It seems a little foolhardy to deify people whose entire job is to kill people dispassionately, but hey, if you like them, go ahead. But Karen Traviss' run with it so far shows her delicate hand at work. Being a former member of the British military, she has a grasp of what it means to serve that not a lot of writers have, and how she portrays all of the characters - from the Joes to Cobra to the wild card freedom fighters alike - is pleasantly complex and runs much deeper than I expected. Cobra is obviously still the bad guy here, but there's nuance to what they're doing. It's like the bravado and blind patriotism that earlier Joe incarnations have has been stripped away for a more real-world feel, one that I appreciate. It's also nice that Scarlett is the main character, and she's not out in the field (although she'd like to be) with the rest of her compatriots. Instead, everything is focused on the background machinations, but I do expect that things are going to get a little crazier once 2015 hits, particularly if the final panel in the most recent issue is any indication.
Via Image Comics
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist: Scott Godlewski 
Like Low above (ha, see what I did there?), Copperhead is one series that I recommended to everyone that came into my store and asked if there were any good comics out now. It has the sci-fi-western meld that I love so much, and the main character is a complex, dedicated woman who takes shit from no one, not even her ornery deputy. There's plenty of mystery - Who attacked the Sewells? What is this war that everyone keeps talking about? Why was Clara sent to Copperhead? - to keep you reading, of course, but the real charm of the series is the newly-forming relationships between all of the characters, even the enigmatic Ishmael. It only hit issue four in December, so I almost didn't include it for 2014, but what came out was so awesome that it seemed prudent to place it among the best.
Via Amazon
HAWKEYE (Marvel)
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Javier Pulido
And yet another canceled series that I love. I have no doubt that Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez will do an admirable job with the relaunch in March 2015, but I am going to miss Fraction and Aja's take on the underestimated Hawkguy/Clint Barton and Hawkeye/Kate Bishop. The issue told from the perspective of Clint's dog was brilliantly executed (and probably up there in my favorite single issues from this past year), and Kate's battles with Madame Masque were hilarious. I don't want to rehash what I said up in She-Hulk's blurb, but it was nice to see that Clint's biggest enemy was his dickish landlord, something that I can identify with (bitch, you stole my car). While I don't want a bunch of copycats, it would be nice to see more comics like this from both Marvel and DC. I think they'd be surprised at the kind of support they'd get.
Southern Bastards
Via Image Comics
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
Oh, my God, this series. Southern culture is such an interesting bird: full of unspoken etiquette, superstition, metaphoric and almost lyrical speech, and a dedication to family (even when you hate them). I've lived in the South nearly my entire life, save for a few years when my father was still in the U.S. Air Force, and although I spent most of my time in more urban areas, I can see common threads that tie the whole region together. Reading Southern Bastards was almost like going for a visit to my father's side of the family, without the murder, of course. There's just this feeling of, "Well, this is the way it is, so I don't see any reason to rock the boat." Three actually felt more of a kinship with the series, since it reflected quite a bit of his upbringing in Florida. It's a deeply sad book, though, especially now that we've been given more insight into Boss' history, but like a train wreck, it's hard to look away. I sure as hell won't be next year.

Additionally, here are some titles that I felt started too late for me to place them on this list but look forward to reading in 2015:

  • Angela: Asgard's Assassin (Marvel)
  • Birthright (Image)
  • Bitch Planet (Image)
  • All-New Captain America (Marvel)
  • Catwoman (DC) (changed its creative team, for the better, in my opinion)
  • Drifter (Image)
  • ODY-C (Image)
  • Secret Six (DC)
  • Spider-Woman (Marvel) (when the new artist takes over)
  • Teen Titans (DC) (Power Girl just got introduced this month)
  • They're Not Like Us (Image)
  • Thor (Marvel)
  • Wytches (Image)

Well, that wraps up my Best of 2014! If you'd like, let me know what your favorite comics were for this year, or hell, feel free to disagree with me. I can take the heat.

See you guys next year! Er, tomorrow!

* If you can, I suggest you order directly from Moore's Rachel Rising website, since he probably makes more money that way.
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