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Welcome to the 34th edition of I&N’s Top Ten Comics of the Year! Why, it seems like just yesterday we were bestowing our top honor to a little known comic from across the pond titled Warrior #1 (1982), solely for its inclusion of the work of a budding, young upstart named Alan Moore (who subsequently sent us a scroll with a nigh-illegible incantation, which was either a note of thanks or a curse from the Necronomicon; we could never tell which). While we dug his nascent V for Vendetta, it was his writing on Marvelman that enthralled. Happily, after a long absence, the original stories are finally being reprinted by Marvel Comics of all places (now re-titled Miracleman, due to the book’s long and tortured publishing history in which Marvel itself played an ignominious part). Viewed through the lens of history, this groundbreaking work has often been seen as Moore’s warm-up to his seminal, ubiquitous Watchmen. Visiting these stories afresh, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Moore’s initial go at “realistic” superheroes is as poetic, disquieting and masterful as his better-known oeuvre. Indeed, it’s a good thing we already recognized Marvelman’s greatness. Otherwise, despite Marvel’s awkward presentation (half of each issue is filler? and polybagged for no discernible reason?) these brilliant, essential tales would likely top our list again.

Speaking of which!

10. The Twilight Zone (Dynamite):

This is the dimension of J. Michael Straczynski’s imagination.  It is an area which we call the #10 book of 2014.  Returning to a creative comfort zone, J.M.S. has penned a series of meticulously plotted arcs that could easily stand as episodes of the iconic television show, each issue filled with tight twists, palpable fear, and ethical dilemmas that try and crush the souls of men and women alike.  Complementing Straczynski’s script is the gorgeous work of artist Guiu Vilanova, who draws out the fateful schemes in a realistic manner, making the unreal scenarios that much more believable–that much more frightening.  So while Straczynski might be going through the motions with some of his other titles, here he’s most assuredly in the zone.  We, unlike his protagonists, are the luckier for it; and Rod Serling’s somewhere out there in the timeless fifth dimension smiling, smoking–and waiting for the next issue of The Twilight Zone to hit the shelves.  Sadly, Straczynski and Vilanova’s terrific turn on this moralistic monster of a comic has but one issue left!  Ah, yet another cruel twist…(SC)

The Twilight Zone #4

The Twilight Zone #4

9. Wild’s End (BOOM!):

At this point, the mash-up is a long accepted (if not well-worn) artistic trope throughout all types of media. Indeed the initial collaboration between creators Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard yielded The New Deadwardians, a ripping Victorian detective story simply teeming with zombies and vampires wot, wot! Wild’s End’s mix of The Wind in the Willows and The War of the Worlds may seem an unlikely entry into the burgeoning genre at first (and ill-advised besides, given Alan Moore’s own memorable War of the Worlds mash-up in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). But in the end, what matters, as it always has, is the telling. Abnett fully realizes the quaint comforts of his cozy anthropomorphized village, before threatening to tear it to shreds. Culbard’s rendering is uncluttered and timeless, effortlessly evoking both 19th century fairy tales and 1950’s sci-fi cinema. Most mash-ups hold their disparate elements in stark relief. The magic of this one is that it seems utterly seamless, as though these genres had been married from the start. The result is deceptively simple and completely enchanting. (DM)

Wild's End #3

Wild’s End #3

8. Moon Knight (Marvel):

It’s an I&N first!  That’s right: we’re celebrating a book that has had two different creative teams–over the course of the title’s first ten issues, no less!  Yeah, that’s usually a bad sign.  Not here, though: the launch team of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey rocketed this latest incarnation of the second-string, schizophrenic servant of Khonshu into lunar orbit.  In a series of connected one-offs, Ellis finds his–and Marc Spector’s–voice while favoring frugality: displaying his mastery of the craft–and enough confidence to cast a long shadow over some of his long-winded contemporaries–he wisely withdraws his words from the massive moments, not because they are unnecessary, but to allow Shalvey to shine like the fullest of moons–and shine he does, showcasing loudly his silent storytelling through striking sequences issue after issue.  Now, the news that this team was only on board for a sixer didn’t come as a surprise, but it was disappointing, especially considering what the pair had accomplished in so short a time.  The disappointment wouldn’t last long, however: the new team–Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood–came in with a clear plan and executed it with a vengeance.  They were clearly not intimidated by the work before them, and their fearlessness helped them to hit the Marc–changing the titular character to suit this new phase–one that so far reads not unlike an episode–or an arc–of The Twilight Zone.  Man, I only wish they’d gibbous more than one more issue!  (See: sticking to the motif: it’s on to a newer phase–and on to creative team number three–with #13.)  What they–both teams–have given us, however, has been superior–and vital–superhero fare; what they’ve given us is a white knight to lead us out of the dark. (SC)

Moon Knight #1

Moon Knight #1

7. Zero (Image):

Certainly the most frustrating title on our list, Ales Kot’s nihilistic super-spy thriller could range from the poetically sublime one issue to incoherent violence the next. At different points this year we named it both Book of the Month and Biggest Dis(appointment) – one thing you could never call this book was ‘predictable’. But at its best, this title (drawn by an impressive roster of rotating artists) was at once lyrically beautiful and viscerally harrowing, loosely tethered, as it was, to real life arenas of violence. This was never more true than in issue #9, a tale (an origin story it turns out) set in the Bosnian War that encompassed deceit and innocence, hope and despair, and a tragic ultimatum that yielded new life in the face of brutal murder. Told in a spare 22 pages, it was possibly the best single comic we read all year. Holding up a mirror to the darkness of recent history, and shining a light upon it, however frail, not only to remember, but also to try to render something beautiful out of it, may well be a fruitless exercise. It may also be art. (DM)

Zero #10

Zero #10

6. Afterlife with Archie (Archie):

A no-brainer, really–well, only because said brains have been exuberantly consumed by the Jughead-led undead of Riverdale.  Maestro Roberto Aguirre Sacasa and the perfectly frightening Franceso Francavilla have continued their brazen exploration into the heart of nostalgia by wearing the mask of familiarity while delivering something wholly unexpected–something undeniably challenging and zombeautiful.  And, of course, there’s issue #4–our #2 book of March and one of the best single issues of the year–which, doggone it, made me cry.  Real tears.  See: as it turns, what happens to Vegas stays with you for a long, long time–like that heartbreaking song that’s so perfectly composed that you get lost in the shadow of every sorrowful note–and hope to never be found again.  Sure, this isn’t the afterlife that they pitched in Sunday school, but if I’m being honest–and maybe a little bit blasphemous–I like this one a hell of a lot more.  (SC)

Afterlife With Archie #4

Afterlife With Archie #4

5. The Massive (Dark Horse):

Environmental degradation and societal collapse have always been the subtext in Brian Wood’s magisterial, globe-trotting mystery. Well, in its unsparing final act, (with appropriately stark visuals by Garry Brown and Jordie Bellaire) subtext became text as the Ahab-like search for a missing vessel, which previously drove the narrative, was transformed into Judgement Day, with all the biblical proportion that implies. One always suspected that Wood would get around to driving his point home; that he did so with such force contrasted sharply with earlier issues, which were told with a subtlety that sometimes veered toward the opaque. The apocalyptic ending, with its uneasy mix of hope and misanthropy, served as a case study for a failed species: humanity. The series, in the end, is an impassioned, ecological cri de guerre, but one that is packed in a masterpiece of storytelling. (DM)

The Massive #24

The Massive #24

4. Silver Surfer (Marvel):

Of the so-called “Big Two” in 2014, Marvel seemed to have the more cohesive game plan. Certainly, they thrived on the expected, event-driven, media-tie-in franchise titles. But they balanced the relentless grinding of the hype machine with some surprisingly refreshing takes on some of their lesser known characters; those B and C – listers who exist at a remove from the shenanigans of the their bread-and-butter superstars. That remove and relative obscurity allowed for a certain amount of freedom. Marvel, to their credit, brought in some top-tier talent and gave them a free hand with these characters (see Moon Knight, above). Call them the Outliers, for their success seems to be in inverse proportion to their proximity to the main goings on of the Marvel U. (Even everyone’s darling, Ms. Marvel, began to flag once she was saddled with Wolverine guest-appearances and increasing ties to Marvel’s ongoing Inhumanity storyline). What better place then for Silver Surfer to be, than on the fringes of the known universe? Dan Slott’s inspired choice of setting not only wisely removed him from the chess board, so to speak, it gives wunderkind artist Mike Allred the largest possible canvas in which to unleash imagination. Aliens, other dimensions, planet casinos; Allred brings the F-U-N to any project he’s involved in. As I’ve said before, he seems to inspire his collaborators to elevate their game, and Slott has proven up to the challenge. Together they’ve concocted the kind of absurdly sublime cosmic romp one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere this side of Terry Pratchett. And in Dawn Greenwood, small-town girl from Anchor Bay, Mass., they created the most winning new Marvel character of the year (the aforementioned Ms. Marvel notwithstanding). Finally, in pairing the Man from Beyond the Stars with the Girl Next Door, they also have the makings of the most adorable budding romance in comics. Truly they’ve producing the best monthly super-hero book on the stands. Let’s hope it survives Marvel’s Next Big Thing. (DM)

Silver Surfer #7

Silver Surfer #7

3. Dry Spell (Action Labs/Danger Zone):

Ken Krekeler’s Dry Spell is a book that kicks off with a bold promise–one in the form an artfully chosen quotation from the incomparable Alan Moore.  In fact, I bought the book because I figured anyone ballsy enough to borrow so brazenly from the best must have something to say.  Turns out that Krekeler didn’t have something to say after all–he had something to shout!  Hey, Ken: I hear you.  Loud and clear.  OK, so, it took re-releasing your book (originally published through Krekeler’s own Kinetic Press in 2011) through a more established outfit like Action Labs to finally reach me; but thank goodness for that–for the person who knew this book needed to reach me and that it could only reach me this way; otherwise, I would’ve been deprived of this superb take on the superhero genre–a canvas filled with small voices and big moments, crazy twists and smart page-turns–in total, a “Howl” for the villain in us all.  Krekeler–a previously unknown quantity–delivers on his book’s bold promise by taking advantage of the medium, particularly with his inventive dialogue and his sympathetic color palette; and he serves up a finale–the definitive finale–a perfect final issue that hits massive notes–the biggest struck by the tsunami of splash pages, the last–reminiscent of Rocky and Apollo (coincidence?) throwing punches that never quite connect at the end of Rocky III–declaring the Black Baron’s personal dry spell officially over.  Good to know that this superior series–and best mini of 2014–isn’t over: the inside back cover of #4 makes another bold promise–one that Krekeler better keep, if he knows what’s good for him–and for us: Dry Spell 2 is coming soon.  Yeah, not soon enough. (SC)

Dry Spell #4

Dry Spell #4

2. Lazarus (Image):

What would you get if 1984 was directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a screenplay written by Noam Chomsky? The answer might look a lot like Lazarus. Alternating between a macro view of a near-future worldwide economic catastrophe and a microcosm of the inner-workings of one of the powerful Families who rose to power because of it, Lazarus, like most great socially-minded science fiction, feels at once expansive and suffocating. Creators Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have hit that sweet spot of dystopian dread, where the reader is exhilarated by the sheer breadth of this brave new world, even as its does its best to debase, dehumanize and stamp out any sign of resistance from its inhabitants. No mere escapism this; its true power comes from the realization that the seeds of the future nightmare it describes are currently being planted all around us, if only we would notice. Lazarus is a visionary sci-fi masterpiece for the early 21st century. (DM)

Lazarus #9

Lazarus #9

1. Mind MGMT (Dark Horse):

There was no denying Matt Kindt’s kinetic masterpiece this time around.  Its ascension to the top spot of our annual Top Ten was as inevitable as truth and death: #3 (2012), #2 (2013), and now #1, the spot it so richly deserves for its clever cover homages (re: Rousseau [#18] and Magritte [#22]) and its ebullient barrages of images and words, which create a reading-cum-sensory experience even more unique than unique to the comic book genre.  The year flew by in a fury of frantic page turns: from Meru’s failed recruitment of Ella the Animal Kid, an inventive and intense story inspired by Kindt’s own daughter and one of our favorite single issues of the year; to the illusory introduction of the Magician; to the frustratingly thoughtful silent issue, which actually earned the ignominious title of Biggest Dis(appointment) for the month of April; to Kindt’s pushing the petal-to-the-metal to reach the speed of heartbreak, the result of the death of a major character; to the father of clichéd revelations that manages to be fresh and affecting; and ultimately, to a showdown that’s all show up, leaving us to wait a little while longer for the final throw down between Meru and the Eraser.  Kindt drives the narrative as only he can with his unexpected layouts and whitewater watercolors.  His Field Guide/Voice of God–voice of Meru!–marginalia continue to draw more into the story, allowing us to draw more out–more out of the relative reality of the universe he’s created; more out of the fiction that empowers Meru in climactic moments; more out of the memories that are either reality or fiction–or both.  There’s unquestionably more here in Mind MGMT than in any book on the shelf, which makes this our easy pick for the #1 book of 2014. (SC)

Mind MGMT #24

Mind MGMT #24

Derek’s Honorable Mentions: 20. Multiversity (DC) 19. Archer and Armstrong (Valiant) 18. Cap’n Dinosaur (Image) 17. Satellite Sam (Image) 16. The Fade Out (Image) 15. Punks: The Comic (Image) 14. Copperhead (Image) 13. Ordinary (Titan) 12. Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland (IDW) 11. Adventure Time (kaboom! – so long Ryan North & co.!)

Scott’s Honorable Mentions: 20. BPRD (Dark Horse) 19. Saga (Image) 18. Evil Empire (BOOM!) 17. Satellite Sam (Image) 16. Iron Fist: The Living Weapon (Marvel) 15. Stray Bullets: Killers (Image) 14. Southern Bastards (Image) 13. Brass Sun (2000 AD) 12. East of West (Image) 11. The Wicked & The Divine (Image)

Publisher of the Year:
This was the year that Image Comics doubled-down on its core strategy: attracting top-tier talent from throughout the industry and parlaying their success to create a space where lesser-known creators can play as well. The result was an avalanche of diversity that exemplified the boundless range of the medium (just check out how many Image titles made our Honorable Mentions, not to mention the two on our Top Ten). Were they all winners? Of course not. But each title was allowed to be its own idiosyncratic, little thing. To wit: Madame Frankenstein. Perhaps not one of the year’s best, Jamie S. Rich’s odd melange of Shelly’s classic horror story, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s milieu, Pygmalion‘s mores (stretched to their logical conclusion) and even Kafka-esque fatalism at the end, was unlike anything else on the stands, possibly ever. Furthermore, Megan Levens tackled such complex, macabre subject matter with an art style that was a cartoony blend of Jeff Smith and Ted Naifeh; in other words something one is more accustomed to seeing in a YA book. As a visual approach, it stretched the overall reading experience almost to the point of incongruity. Was Madame Frankenstein a complete success? I’m still not sure. But it sure was fascinating watching the creators try. And for giving such singular titles like this one a place to exist, I’m grateful to Image Comics. (DM)

Turning pages,

Derek & Scott

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