The last twelve months offered comic book readers a wide variety of work ranging from the most crowd-pleasing superhero epics to the most idiosyncratic of indies, and the return of old favorites to the emergence of exciting new talent. It was a busy and productive year for the industry, and one we’re pleased to celebrate with what we’re certain will be an uncontroversial, unenumerated list of awards that will prompt only resounding agreement and unbroken fellowship amongst our readers in the comments below. Welcome to the final installment of ComicsAlliance’s Best Comic Books of 2014.

Click here for PART ONE.

Click here for PART TWO.

Click here for PART THREE.

Click here for PART FOUR.

About the Jean Grey Resurrection Awards

It's a shame that there's already a character called Captain Boomerang, because Jean Grey needs a code name and that one is a great fit; no matter what happens, she always comes back. That's a truth well known to readers of the X-Men comics; thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past, it's now a truth that applies to the movies, with Jean -- as played by Famke Janssen -- returning from the dead as a result of the movie's weird time-rewriting shenanigans. Sure, she came back in a bizarre and ultimately inconsequential coda, and sure, she wasn't the only one to come back -- Cyclops followed her through the revolving doors of Marvel heaven -- but the important point is that she did that thing she always does. Jean pulled a Jean.

The next X-Men movie is set earlier in the X-Men timeline, so she may be "back" there as well, but younger (and played by a different actor). But as we've seen in the comics, replacing Jean with a younger Jean is just one of the many moves in her resurrection toolbox. She's the comeback queen. Welcome back, Jean. We can't memorialize you; you just keep showing up at your own funerals.




    Artwork by Goran Parlov and Ive Svorcina
    Written by Mark Millar
    Lettering by Marko Sunjic
    Edited by Nicole Boose
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Mark Millar is one of those creators that I'm never able to get a handle on. He's written a lot of amazing comics over the years, but a lot of his work tends toward an in-your-face, bitterly "edgy" style that just kinda bums me out. He's an undeniably talented storyteller who can take stock-standard concepts and rethink them in truly innovative and entertaining ways, but he seems to have a default tone of cynicism that he applies when his attention starts to wander, and often places a bit too much narrative weight on shock value. I haven't been thrilled by most of his recent output, but I feel compelled to keep an eye on him.

    So, when Starlight #1 hit the stands, I picked it up in the shop, flipped through it, decided I'd take it home, and then read it three times in a row that evening. The story is a variation on the "aging hero coming out of retirement for one last fight" premise that's been used in countless westerns and action movies, but here it's dressed up in old-timey sci-fi trappings, with the lead as an over-the-hill hybrid of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and a universe filled with rocket ships and strange creatures.

    Goran Parlov's art is all clean, energetic lines, defining alien cityscapes and high-stakes action with skill and panache. For his part, Millar goes straight for the heart, mixing well-honed genre tropes and universal emotions into six issues of space opera adventure, using familiar elements to construct one of his finest, and most straightforward, stories to date.



    Artwork by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
    Written by Ryan North
    Lettering by Steve Wands
    Edited by Shannon Watters and Whitney Leopard
    Published by kaboom!
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The formula shouldn't work: a licensed, all-ages comic based on a TV cartoon should, by all rights, be terrible. If you've read comics for any length of time, you know this to be true. And yet, thanks to the strength of the creative team of Ryan NorthShelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb -- and, presumably, the shrewdly permissive oversight of creator Pendleton Ward and Frederator Studios -- the Adventure Time series has been consistently one of the best American comics -- not only for all ages, but of all comics published -- for the entirety of the team's tenure.

    North's writing is sharp and incisive, not only filling the pages with stylized dialogue redolent of the show's best moments, which means that nearly every panel has something funny in it, but also focusing on themes of friendship, love, and teamwork in such an effortless and meaningful way that a line like, “This way if we turn into skeletons at the bottom of some dungeon somewhere, people will still know we're pals!”, real emotional resonance. Furthermore, the art by Paroline and Lamb is expressive and fluid, staying on model for the show but imbuing the comic with its own life, and filling the background with so many little hidden gags that you can get something new out of every issue each time you read it.

    While much of the writing done on the Adventure Time comic focuses on the formalistic experiments done in the book, such as the inclusion of hidden text, and special format issues like the choose-your-own-adventure story and this year's zine-inspired jam issue, the fact is, all of that stylistic stuff would fall apart without strong storytelling fundamentals and real heart to hold it all together, and this series has that, from the goof-writ-large story of Finn and Jake becoming ghosts because they're tired of pooping (drawn by guest artist Jim Rugg) to the epic, decade spanning adventure of Finn in search of lost time at the hand of the Mnemonoid. The incoming creative team of Christopher Hastings and Zachary Sterling have some big shoes to fill.



    Artwork by Fiona Staples
    Written by Brian K. Vaughan
    Lettering and design by Fonografiks
    Coordinated by Eric Stephenson
    Published by Image Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Yes, of course Saga is on this list. It's exactly as good as everyone tells you it is, for all the reasons you've already heard. Even more reasons came to light this year, though -- principally, the fascinating supporting cast. Vaughan isn't afraid to devote dozens of pages to characters like Sophie or Klara, giving Saga a wonderful heft and density. There isn't a single character I don't care about in this book -- and thanks to Staples, not a single character who doesn't look incredible.

    Staples' character designs are the most inventive I've seen in a while, especially evident in Yuma, the Brand, and every member of the Circuit. Imagination and emotion enliven every page of Saga, not to mention a wicked sense of humor. As it heads into its third year, I think we'd all better get used to seeing Saga on best-of lists. It shows no signs of slowing down.



    Artwork by Tradd Moore, Damian Scot and Val Staples
    Written by Felipe Smith
    Lettering by Joe Caramagna
    Edited by Mark Paniccia, Emily Shaw and Axel Alonso
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Robbie Reyes is many things: a fiercely devoted brother, an unapologetic street-racer, a tough but flawed teenager, and possessed by The Spirit of Vengeance. But more than that, he’s also a dead ringer for Bradford’s finest, because he looks just like Zayn Malik from One Direction. Which -- as Zayn is the best member of One Direction, and I’ll see you in the comments for a lengthy battle you'll inevitably lose, Niall fans -- can only be a benefit.

    Felipe SmithTradd Moore and Val Staples created a character who’ll hopefully endure at Marvel, with Robbie proving to be as three-dimensional and surprising a person as you can find in superhero comics. He’s got an ego, but he’s also self-effacing and willing to drop everything in order to keep his little brother safe. He’s got an anger in him, but he’s also smart enough to know when a fight is already lost. Most of all, he’s a sharp kid who just doesn’t have the opportunities to break out. He’s empathetic, but distanced. He’s funny, but defensive. He’s brilliant.

    And All-New Ghost Rider is one of Marvel’s most accomplished titles. Many creators have done interesting things with established characters, but here the creative team managed to create a wholly new, never-before-seen brand of hero, and they’ve made him every inch as compelling as any of Marvel’s A-List characters. The book feels genuine and tough, while maintaining a sense of heart and depth without ever becoming too sentimental. Smith has been a revelation at Marvel this year, while Moore and Staples’ artwork pulses a flaming path through the dark streets of Los Angeles. It’s genuinely thrilling stuff, and the recent arrival of Damion Scott has only strengthened the series. If you haven’t tried it – it’s well worth a look.



    Artwork by I.N.J. Cullbard
    Written by Ian Edginton
    Lettering by Ellie De Ville
    Edited by Keith Richardson and Matt Smith
    Published by Rebellion
    Available: Amazon / 2000 AD / Comics Stores

    "The Wheel of Worlds," the first collection of the 2000 AD strip Brass Sun, from writer Ian Edginton and artist  I.N.J. Culbard, is a lovely fantasy story, full of daring fights, great characters, lush visuals and dazzling worlds.

    So here’s the set-up: the titular Brass Sun, a mechanical sun that lights a group of constructed clockwork planets like a literal Orrery on a massive scale, is dying. Our hero, the plucky Wren, has been sent by her grandfather to save it, though doing so is considered heresy by the presiding religious group on her world. Aided by the young priest Conductor Seventeen, Wren encounters murderous zealots, clockwork robots, bloodthirsty aristocrats, airship pirates, and, well, God, who appears first as Mark Twain, then Robert Oppenheimer and, finally, as Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a fast-moving story that moves from world to world, building up the universe as it goes, through a combination of judicious plotting, great characters and magnificent settings.

    Edginton, whose work on Vertigo’s New Deadwardians garnered some mild attention, teams up again with Culbard, who’s gone on from Deadwardians to do some great work recently with Dan Abnett on Dark Horse’s Dark Ages (that’s fun to say, huh?) as well as BOOM! Studios’ in-progress Wilds End miniseries. The writing and art are both top notch, but Culbard’s designs are especially impressive, building not just a world, but worlds, as Wren and Seventeen go along their travels. It’s a fantastic start to what I hope is a long-running series.



    Artwork by Mike Cavallaro, Powree, Tyson Hesse, Jamal Peppers, Ryan Jampole, Gary Martin, Bob Smith, and Matt Herms
    Written by Ian Flynn
    Lettered by John Workman
    Edited by Paul Kaminski and Vincent Lovallo
    Published by Archie Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The plot of the Mega Man games, the source material for the Archie comic that's closing in on four years as one of the best books going, is simple to the point of being ridiculous. A bad old man has made bad robots, so you must run to the right and destroy the bad robots until you get to the biggest bad robot, and then you destroy him. Repeat this eight times and you get to go to a giant skull castle and humiliate the old man by breaking all of his stuff. Oh, also, you're a robot, and you get the bad guys' weapons, and one of them is super-effective against one of the other bad robots. That's pretty much it, and while that is a plot that's worked for like 30 really fun video games over the past 25 years, it's not the kind of thing that would translate well to an ongoing adventure comic -- especially one that's taken forty issues just to get to the start of Mega Man 3.

    And yet, it's provided the basis for one of the smartest and most engaging comics on the stands, one that takes that simple plot from the video games and hammered it into shape as a story with compelling characters having conversations about morality and forgiveness that aren't happening anywhere else in comics. That's always been a part of the book -- the first story arc featured Mega Man having a nervous breakdown over the stress of having to destroy his fellow robots -- but this year, the creators have taken it to the next level. See, the plot of Mega Man 3 (such as it was) involved Dr. Wily's seeming reformation, so to make the storyline match up, the comics have weaved together a story of Wily, after two attempts at conquering the world, being offered a chance for redemption through unconditional forgiveness.

    As you might expect, there are characters who question this tactic (and they're going to turn out to be right, of course), but when he's questioned about it, Dr. Light presents forgiveness and compassion as the only option. Anything else is inhuman -- and in a book about robots that are as close to humanity as they can be, that's a theme that resonates.

    In a time when mainstream superheroics can often seem to be embarrassed by their own unrealistic ideas about morality, Mega Man feels refreshing in the way that it presents itself to its all-ages readers. There's not a whole lot of subtlety, but it works -- and it makes the structure of a book that's primarily about robots blowing each other up feel like it's built on something a whole lot bigger.



    By Box Brown
    Published by First Second Books
    Available: Amazon / Comics Stores

    Whether you're a wrestling fan or not, there's a strong chance you love Andre the Giant. From his often impossible-to-dislike public persona (in the old pro-wrestling days, videos of him relaxing on his North Carolina farm made him seem like a big teddy bear) to his star-marking turn as Fezzik in The Princess Bride, Andre was rightly beloved, and that love has only increased in the years since his death in 1993.

    That's part of what makes Box Brown's comic book biography of the man so brave in so many ways. It truly paints a "warts and all" picture of Andre's life, including his troubled relationship with his daughter (he was absent for most of her life) and an incident involving an overheard racial slur uttered on a bus in Japan. The latter story serves as a centerpiece for the book, and it risks invoking a backlash for demonizing an often-lionized figure. But Brown isn't doing a hatchet job here; he's simply reporting information he gathered through meticulous research (an index in the back lists dozens of sources), and in doing so, through snippets and snapshots, he tells the story of the complex life of a huge man. Brown offers a portrait of a thoroughly human wonder of the world. It's a massive accomplishment.



    By Olivier Schrauwen
    Published by Fantagraphics Books
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Fantagraphics / Comics Shops

    It's not often a comic begins with a panel of the artist saying hello, but there's very few artists in comics like Berlin's Olivier Schrauwen, trained animator and determined formalist, who's recently begun spinning tales from his family history into weird, beguiling comics filled with outrageous lies and brazen slapstick. Arsène Schrauwen is his grandest expression of such, a serial he's been printing himself in a two-color process since 2012, now presented as a deluxe Fantagraphics hardcover that approaches the material like vintage funnies from a forgotten past, preserving every quirk of text and register -- even directing the reader to put the book away for a week or two at each issue break, as if the sensation of waiting for a new chapter is integral to the whole.

    Schrauwen first came to global attention in 2009 with My Boy, a funny/eerie evocation of American master Winsor McCay that didn't hesitate to confront the racist character of some of his work. Five years later, Schrauwen's visual approach has moved beyond specifics into something that feels impossibly like a pastiche of comics that never even existed, with a rich sense of anti-sophistication: rarely does a panel not repeat what is narrated via caption, even in the case of such ripe similes as comparing a man's penis to a bird. Schrauwen draws that bird, that penis, after which his characters indulge in refreshing Trappist beer, which represents “freedom.” We know this, because Schrauwen also explicitly defines many of the symbols he uses, right on the front cover of the book.

    The purpose of this is threefold. First, it is funny. Second, it is critical, in that it presents the adventure of Arsène, a gormless post-WWII twentysomething heading into the Belgian Congo, as a passage into a constructed world filled with self-evidently ridiculous perils like genital-mutating elephant worms and saucy humanoid cats, as well as a native population that the book's white heroes purposefully never actually see -- in fact, Arsène rarely sees anyone as anything other than a featureless blank orb sitting atop human shoulders, a mass of humanity worth defining only through their immediate relevance to him. The colonists have built a ridiculous community of imported mores, and so Schrauwen constructs a comic book artifice for them to inhabit.

    And yet -- in a gesture that will prove infuriating to some -- Schrauwen's third purpose is self-critical. As the book continues, and Arsène finds himself tasked with leading an expedition deep into the jungle, the book bearing his name becomes less an ironic comedy than a reflection on the distance of forebears from their descendants, and the absurdity of expecting one's legacy to not become absurd, especially when your story winds up being told by some noodly cartoonist. Sympathy for the devil? A final dodge into white romanticism? The duty of art to seek nuance? Alas, this excellent, declarative book cannot define everything for us.

  • MOST 2014 COMIC BOOK OF 2014


    Artwork by Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart and Maris Wicks
    Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
    Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
    Edited by Chris Conroy, Dave Wielgus and Mark Doyle
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores / Amazon Pre-Order

    Go back and read the Marvel comics of the 1960s and you'll feel an immediate sense of time and place. Sure, there's an enduring appeal to those books, but they're undeniably a product of their decade. It's what made those comics so vibrant and necessary to the readers that ate them up. For all the complaints that Batgirl of Burnside -- the version that debuted in October's issue #35 of Batgirl -- was instantly dated with its plot-necessary social media and villains that talk in hashtags, the book captures that same energy of Marvel in the '60s. Young characters in comics often feel like old-fashioned projections of youth, or they exist in some abstract vacuum. Barbara Gordon and the supporting cast created by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr feel real and current in a way that's true of very few early-20s characters in comics, from the Brooklyn-ness of the Burnside neighborhood of Gotham to the way the characters dress.

    Sadly the book's creators finished off the year with a misstep, and had to apologize for their depiction of a male villain who dresses as Batgirl to get attention and fame, which was criticized for being transphobic. It was a negative invocation of identities that rarely earn the spotlight in comics, and to the creators' credit, they acknowledged the problem, admitted their mistake, and promised to do better.

    In a sense, that makes Batgirl even more of a snapshot of its time. Where creators of the past (and many in the present, let's be honest) might have replied to similar criticism by snidely dismissing it, or telling people they were reading too much into it, or making excuses, Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr owned up and said they'd be more sensitive. It was a progressive response, and a good sign that Batgirl could be the most contemporary book of the year to come.



    Artwork by Robbi Rodriguez,  Alberto Ponticelli and Rico Renzi with Nathan Fox
    Written by Simon Oliver
    Lettering by Steve Wands
    Edited by Gregory Lockard, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Vertigo's flagship sci-fi series has been taking readers on a wild ride since its inception, and now, a year and a half in, FBP continues to expand in unexpected directions with each new issue. Writer Simon Oliver and artists Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi work in perfect sync, packing each page full of brain-twisting intrigue, head-scratching concepts, and eye-popping visuals – the story manages to be both accessible and ambitious, following a team of government agents tasked with cleaning up the messes left when scientific principles go awry, and running into plenty of unanticipated trouble along the way.

    I've found it a little frustrating that, despite its evident awesomeness, FBP has managed to fly under the radar for most readers, lagging around the bottom reaches of Diamond's top 300 sales chart, but it seems like that's about to change – between the title being optioned for a big screen adaptation by Warner Bros, Vertigo doing their usual bang-up job of reaching a wider audience with collected editions, and the Rodriguez/Renzi art team gaining widespread acclaim for their work on Spider-Gwen, this title might just end up becoming the next big thing in 2015, when the talented Alberto Ponticelli has settled in as the new series artist (with Renzi and cover artist Nathan Fox sticking around to strengthen the visual continuity).



    By Lucky Knisley
    Published by Fantagraphics Books
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Fantagraphics / Comics Stores

    Lucy Knisley's An Age of License is as tender, funny, and keenly observed as French Milk and Relish, but with a new sort of wistfulness and range that I loved. A collection of illustrations, comics, and sketches created as she traveled through Europe, License ponders the freedom and anxiety of youth from the perspective of one experiencing it. How best to handle her early success? How best to handle love? Can one born lucky ever be wise? Knisley's work is always fun, but License has a softness, a new shade of emotion that bodes well for the rest of her career. It’s as evident in her musings on maturity as in her sketches of wine vats. Thank goodness she’s already slated for another work of autobiography this year -- Displacement, scheduled for a February release, cannot come soon enough.



    Artwork by JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
    Written by Neil Gaiman
    Lettering by Todd Kelin
    Edited by Shelly Bond and Sara Miller
    Published by Vertigo
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    It was certain from the get-go that each and every issue of a Sandman: Overture would be an occasion for celebration. Neil Gaiman returning to the title that made him famous, joined by one of the best artists in the business in J.H. Williams III, telling the story of the Lord of Dreams' quest to the other side of creation, where he must collaborate with other versions of himself to save the universe from destruction. It's a can't-miss proposition!

    Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to make each ensuing chapter of this book even more of an event. Originally announced as appearing on a bi-monthly basis, the schedule began to slip almost immediately: the first issue shipped in October 2013, the second finally surfaced in March 2014, and issue #4 (originally scheduled to hit stands in May) arrived in comic shops just a few weeks ago. It's been a distribution nightmare (if you'll forgive the pun), and it would be entirely frustrating if the end result wasn't so damn good.

    Any dissatisfaction I've had dissipates within a couple pages of each new issue, my concerns about real-world timetables evaporating as I get drawn into the words, the pictures, and the reality that the series brings to life. As ever, Gaiman has proven himself to have impeccable taste in choosing collaborators: at least half the joy of this series is seeing how Williams interprets the script, pushing the text through the cracks in his images, fitting pictures around prose, making Gaiman's world of words into a universe of dreams that inspires and amazes.

    Sandman: Overture has proven itself that rare beast that lives up to the hype, and no matter how long it takes to conclude, I'm confident it will be well worth the wait.



    Artwork by Andy Suriano
    Written by Matt Chapman and Andy Suriano
    Available: Webcomic / Print collection

    The only thing I needed to know to be 1,000% into Cosmic Scoundrels was that it was a new ongoing webcomic by Homestar Runner co-creator Matt Chapman and Samurai Jack character designer Andy Suriano. Those two have a pretty amazing track record, but while their names alone were enough to get me in the door, everything they put into the comic just made me love it more.

    For starters, there's the fact that our main characters are named Roshambo and Love Savage, and they fly around the galaxy in a ship called the SS Fistpuncher that looks like a giant hand bashing the depths of space upside its starry, galactic head. Throw in an opening where they attack a cargo ship called the Midnight Fernando and accidentally steal a baby that they are apparently going to raise on their own as a junior partner in the booming business of cosmic scoundrelry, all drawn in Suriano's amazingly energetic, sketchy style, and you have one of the most exciting new comics of the year -- especially if you're reading it in the printed format, a massive 11 x 17 book that was initially available only at conventions, but can now be found online and in some comics stores.

    Cosmic Scoundrels isn't just a new project from two dudes whose work you were (I was) obsessed with in college, it's a the thrilling, genuinely hilarious sci-fi buddy comedy that we didn't know comics needed until we had it.



    Artwork by Trevor McCarthy and Guy Major
    Written by Ann Nocenti
    Lettered by Pat Brosseau
    Edited by Harvey Richards
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    Klarion has always seemed like more of a cool concept than an actual character, even on those rare occasions that he's taken top billing, but Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy have done something amazing in this series, refashioning him into a misfit for the ages, a creative, destructive force of nature who demands the spotlight. In just three issues, they've effectively built Jack Kirby's witchboy into the Loki of the new DC Universe, a trickster who doesn't just act as a catalyst for events, but through charisma, force of will, and pure mischief, propels his own story into directions that are thrillingly impossible to predict. McCarthy is working at the top of his game, generating imaginative designs and intricate layouts that compliment and enhance Nocenti's multi-faceted script, imagery shooting off the edges of the panels and pages, expanding through the margins and out toward parts unknown.

    But sadly, though it's only had a handful of issues to find its feet and build an audience, it seems the series has already run its course. DC's solicitations for March denote issue #6 as the "FINAL ISSUE" – a number of DC series are being swept away as the company pares down their line in the lead-up to 2015's big Convergence mega-event, and this title looks to be collateral damage. If there aren't plans to resume the title after the dust settles, then that's unfortunate, but oddly fitting: like many youthful figures throughout time, Nocenti and McCarthy's Klarion will be laid low by a world that failed to acknowledge his potential – he's one more star that has burned too bright, disappearing in a flash before having a chance to reach the peak of his powers.



    Artwork by Evan "Doc" Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
    Written by Jeff Parker
    Lettered by Simon Bowland
    Edited by Nate Cosby
    Published by Dynamite Entertainment
    Available: ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I imagine that it's difficult to make Flash Gordon seem fresh and contemporary. He has, after all, been around eighty years, and that's four years longer than Superman and the superhero comic as we know it. Even the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, a high point of the character's popularity, is studiously retro in its old-fashioned serial structure, right down to getting Batman 66's Lorenzo Semple to write the screenplay.

    With this year's comics, though, Jeff ParkerDoc Shaner and Jordie Bellaire made the character feel new again. Spinning out of Dynamite's Kings Watch event, Flash Gordon dove right into high adventure that felt classic and contemporary at the same time, and made it seem effortless -- tweaking the characters just enough to make them compelling in a whole new way. I mean, really: Flash is thrown into a gladiatorial pit to battle it out with an army of beast-men and ends up cutting a promo about how hard he's going to beat them with their own fangs and horns. That kind of swagger goes a long way, and when you throw in the new take on Dale Arden that made her a better Lois Lane than 2014's actual Lois Lane, it's easy to see why it's so great.

    Shaner's art has always been fantastic, but reading these issues, you can see exactly how much he's grown as a sequential artist, especially with the fantastic over-the-top action that he's brought to the table. It's classic but fresh, compelling and adventurous, exactly like the book itself.



    By Masahiko Matsumoto
    Translated by Ryan Holmberg
    Published by Breakdown Press
    Available: Breakdown Press / Comics shops

    Countless sources attest to the difference between North American comic books and Japanese manga, but the '50s were a crucial decade in the maturation of both, seeing new and sensational works appear in the crime and mystery genre.

    Yet while the Comics Code suppressed the development of stateside sequential art, manga continued to race toward new horizons. Shadow was an influential anthology launched in 1956 for the rental book market, its contributors brimming with hungry young talents like Takao Saitō, who would later create the famous assassin Golgo 13, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who would eventually coin the term “gekiga” -- dramatic pictures, contrasting with the 'whimsical drawings' of “manga.”

    Masahiko Matsumoto had his own term for this advancing art: “komaga,” or 'panel pictures,' which reflected his fascination with page layouts and panel progression as the heart of comics. By carefully juxtaposing images, he felt he could absorb the reader, placing them in temporal parity with the characters – modulating time itself. The Man Next Door collects four such efforts from Shadow; experimental works in the form of wry detective comics. “The Man Next Door” itself appeared in the very first edition, hitting Tatsumi like a blow to the head, as translator Ryan Holmberg recounts in a typically fine supplemental essay.

    It's as much a gleeful lampoon of genre expectations as a visual exercise, however, in which an awkward young comics artist imagines the motivations of his neighbors in a crime he only thinks has been committed. “Thick Fog” likewise chases a paranoid boy around misty factory grounds until he becomes certain he's accidentally killed a man; high-angle perspectives and ticking watches speak to the influence of cinema on this young artist.

    Still, it's not until “Incident at Shiranui Village” that Matsumoto comes into his own and The Man Next Door jumps from valuable to essential. It's a straightforward whodunit given over to numerous pages of everyday observation: drums beating and lanterns swaying over a festival in which a murder finally occurs, the denouement of which is less a heated confrontation than a quiet allocation of blame. More cerebral and deliberate than the ripping contemporaneous yarns of Tatsumi, whose Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010) careened through its formulaic plot with an energy its pages could barely contain, Matsumoto's stories here are fascinated with the lulls in working life, and the mores of working men -- “The Cat and the Locomotive” is the last and best story, a psychodrama concerning the angst of an aging railroad engineer with a failing body, and a bright young apprentice threatening to replace him both professionally and personally as driver of the train and husband to the older man's daughter. Coal is shoveled, steam belches, rain pours! Long, phallic machines plunge into oblivion, grinding suspicious men and hapless women into pulp. So it goes for the denizens of industry, Matsumoto suggests; he's just keeping time.



    Artwork by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia
    Written by Scott Snyder
    Lettered by Dezi Sienty
    Edited by Mark Doyle and Matt Humphreys
    Published by DC Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    I like street-level, detective stories about Batman as much as the next person -- or, if we're going to be totally honest with each other, way, way more than the next person -- but there's nothing I love more than seeing the Dark Knight take on a massive, over-the-top superhero adventure. He is, after all, a billionaire who dresses like Dracula and fights a murder clown and a man with an ice gun all the time, so as fun as it might be see him in a more subtle adventure, it's not exactly his specialty.

    That, at least, is the premise that Snyder and Capullo have been working with, resulting in a year of stories that have started at 11 and just kept getting bigger. Zero Year brought us an updated origin for Batman that saw hot pink super-hurricanes, bone monsters, and a post-apocalyptic Gotham where Batman rode his steam-powered dirt bike to a parking lot/arena where he had a fistfight with two lions, and that wasn't even the most over-the-top challenge in that book. That came later, when a battle against the Justice League turned out to be a fakeout for an encounter with the Joker, with the entirety of Gotham City turned into Jokerized zombies. Oh, and maybe the Joker is actually the devil. One never knows.

    The ultimate sin that a superhero comic can commit is being boring, and while Batman has never been in danger of that, it's slammed into a whole other realm where exciting is normal, and wondering just what the heck is going to happen next is every bit as fun as seeing Batman punch a lion.

    And that, my friends, is pretty fun.



    Artwork by Michael Allred and Laura Allred
    Written by Dan Slott
    Lettered by Joe Sabino
    Edited by Jake Thomas and Tom Brevoort
    Published by Marvel Comics
    Available: Amazon / ComiXology / Comics Stores

    The all-new Silver Surfer series has been praised by other writers as a refreshingly new vision of the traditionally tortured former herald of Galactus, the celestial force of nature who devours planets and lays waste to entire races of life. I mean, from the sound of that, it's probably true. I really wouldn't know; I'd never read any Silver Surfer comics before. The reason this book is one of my favorites of the year has nothing to do with what it isn't and everything to do with what it is: the most uplifting, fun, and indeed romantic adventure series I've discovered in ages. This book simply makes the reader feel good.

    Longtime Allred followers will remember the cartoonist's flirtations with the cosmic in his long-running Madman series, and, of course, in his rock n' roll alien messiah opus Red Rocket 7, but even those highly imaginative books remain largely earthbound. Silver Surfer sees Allred commit fully to the infinite realms beyond our world, and it's a decision that's yielded magnificent results. Already famous for his crackling, high energy pop art approach to comic book storytelling, the crazy aliens, cosmic deities, exotic locales and space opera action of Silver Surfer has the artist and colorist Laura Allred operating on a whole new level of visceral excitement and technical excellence. Every panel of this book expresses sincerity and love, and that is absolutely what is needed to tell Dan Slott's story about this man who fell to Earth and, slowly but surely, falls in love with one of the most adorable humans we've got.

    Dawn Greenwood is a delight. Decked out in polka dots and Chuck Taylors, she symbolizes the youthful irreverence and idealistic wonderment of a certain kind of contemporary comic book fan who would love nothing more than to explore the universe with the stuffy Surfer -- who in this series is something of a sullen Commander Data or Mr. Spock who rediscovers his humanity (or whatever the politically correct term for humanity is when applied to alien races) as he sees not just the universe through Dawn's eyes, but also himself reflected in them.

    For all its sweeping adventure and humor, this is the story of two people bringing the best out in each other, just as telling the story of their romance has brought the best out in their creators.


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