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2014 in comics

SabrinaThere have been a lot of good things about 2014 in comics; mainstream US (superhero) comics became more deliberately diverse than ever before, though mostly at one publisher and still not to anything like a great enough degree; Image comics announced their most ambitious line-up ever at the Image Expo in January many of which turned out to be worthy hits; Archie’s unexpected excursion into adult stories and horror paid off for them in the form of more visibility than the brand has had in years; DC finally began to break the artistic mould (or as some would see it straitjacket) that had defined their line since the launch of the New 52 and publish series that at least tried to be different. It was also of course yet another year where comic-based material dominated other media; most notably film and TV.

On the other side of the scales: there’s the wealth of the other stuff DC continues to pull, including their inexplicable decision to dumb down and sexism-up Wonder Woman, the erosion of everything that used to make Batwoman strong and interesting to the point where she’s recently become a vampire's mind-controlled girlfriend just ahead of the cancellation of her title; and the licensing of those kids’ clothes (oh, and these); though Marvel also did some stupid stuff, like the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover and the ongoing ‘thing’ about minimising the Fantastic Four to deprive Fox’s upcoming film of Marvel-generated visibility. And was it this year that Dynamite published the graphic ‘comedy rape’ panel in Game of Thrones? Yes, I think it was.

There’s no point even attempting a ‘best of the year’ list, because I obviously didn’t read everything. So these are just some highlights and lowlights - it's all quite mainstream, but that's how I'm feeling at the moment.

Biggest disappointment

BatgirlHonourable mentions: Hawkeye’s gradual slide into delay-punctured obscurity, the cancellation of She-Hulk, that Ellis and Shalvey’s Moon Knight run was only six issues, most of DC's output (still).

The (runaway) winner: The Batgirl relaunch. If only the series lived up to the magnificence of that costume redesign. Instead it’s a weird mix of hipster heroics and infantilised characters. Barbara Gordon, once the DCU’s smartest and most interesting character bar none in her Oracle guise is now apparently so clueless she’s incapable of backing up her vital data (seriously - it’s a world where the coffee shop-dwelling generation has apparently never heard of the cloud). That three issues into this purportedly groundbreaking run they threw in a bit of casual transphobia? I’d just sigh at the inevitability of this shit and move on but that sounds like capitulation. Yes, the creative team apologised for their ‘unintentional’ error, but ahead of publication Cameron Stewart tweeted that they were nervous about the issue, so how actually unintentional was it?

Most pleasant surprise

Spider-GwenHonourable mentions: Gotham Academy, Superior Spider-Man being wrapped up so satisfactorily, Saga somehow managing to keep being that good, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The winner: I’m going to go for more Spider stuff.  It’s only a few chapters in, but the Spider-Verse crossover is looking like a real winner. The high concept (Every Spider ever!) sounds head-scratchingly small scale until you realise exactly how many variations on Spider-Man Marvel has actually developed over the years, never mind all the cannon fodder Dan Slott’s dreaming up just for this event. Clones, other-dimensional versions, future versions, children, Noir version, the new Spider-character Silk and most spectacularly the breakout hit that is Spider-Gwen all come together into a surprisingly accessible apocalyptic story about a threat to them all. That Olivier Coipiel is doing the main art definitely doesn’t hurt either.

Favourite collected edition

The WakeHonourable mentions: The Wicked + The Divine volume 1, Sex Criminals volume 1, Deadly Class volume 1, the various collections of Mark Waid’s Daredevil that have come out this year. (Also, I wanted to include The Adventures of Superhero Girl which I only read this year but which was actually published in 2013 but have it as a glowing recommendation anyway.)

The winner: If you saw my Eisners round up this won’t come as a surprise; the hardcover collection of The Wake from DC/Vertigo. A brilliant series that plays with horror, sci-fi, fantasy and thriller themes in roughly equal measure, presents fascinating, real-seeming characters, and a plot that turns sharply yet convincingly every five minutes. This is the kind of series that makes you wish Vertigo was still as good as it used to be and realise that with more like this it could be again.

Least worthy of the hype

Futures EndHonourable mentions: DC’s return to lenticular covers, AXIS from Marvel, the death of Wolverine, the end of Forever Evil from DC (see where most of the hype comes from…) which was late, had its price hiked between solicitation and publication, and which had its ending spoiled in other titles before it finally saw the light of day.

The Winner: DC's Future's End - a one-month 'five years later' look into the future of the DCU, this ended up being a lot of one-offs that told even less interesting or compelling stories than the regular series they supplanted for the month. Like the previous 'Villains Month', this was purported to shake up the status quo and this time give a glimpse of the dark road that lies ahead for DC's heroes. Those titles which weren't out and out terrible were mostly just forgettable, and the collective interest the event generated amounts to a widespread 'meh'. That the original solicitations for the month's comics didn't include a single creative team and that even a couple of months from publication DC admitted many still weren't set tells you a lot about how creatively irrelevant to the regular creators' ongoing visions for their series the event was.

Most worthy of the hype (or deserving of even more)

Ms._Marvel_Vol_3_2_Molina_Variant_TextlessHonourable mentions:  Sex Criminals (it gets quite a lot of hype anyway, but there's never enough when you're this good), The Motherless Oven (reviewed by me here), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (again), IDW's outstanding Artists Edition series - this year's Steranko Nick Fury in particular looks stunning, Ellis and Howard’s Trees

The winner: At least one of my fellow Pornokitchers is going to disagree with me on this (Hi Mahvesh!), but for me the new Ms Marvel series gets the prize. Not just because of all the obvious mould-breaking, but because it actually feels fun and fresh and accessible in a way that mainstream comics just don't manage that often any more. This feels like what the new Batgirl was trying for but missed. Kamala is a genuinely likeable character, and I haven't seen a "suddenly having to deal with superpowers" story done this well in years. There's a lot of comment been made about Kamala being a latter day Peter Parker, and that's not a bad comparison. Wilson and Alphona are a great team on this, and I hope that its success gives Marvel confidence to try the unexpected a bit more.

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