Top 25 Comic Books and Graphic Novels of 2014

Jan 15, 2015
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Comic books are increasingly becoming a widely accepted, mainstream art form. The days when comics were for niche consumers-guilty pleasure reads for all but the most hardcore fanboys and girls-are rapidly receding into the past. And as the medium gains momentum, the output gets better and better. Publishers still print superhero titles on a weekly basis, many of which go on to become summer blockbusters or to inspire television shows. Increasingly, though, comics and graphic novels diverge from the traditional cape and tight stories the medium is primarily associated with, and the results are often some of the most impressive, exciting, and moving stories told all year.

No Best of 2014 recap would be complete without a look at the year's comic book standouts. Under the Radar's picks for Top 25 Comic Books of 2014 Is below, as selected by the comic book staff. Though recognizable DC and Marvel characters are indeed represented on the list, a significant number of the titles were released by smaller publishers and have nothing to do with superheroes. Read below to find out why certain titles made our Top 10, and continue scrolling to see the 15 other titles we think deserve recognition. By Zach Hollwedel

1

Saga

Image

If there's a better comic book on shelves right now than Brian K. Vaughan's Saga, we haven't found it. The expansive, blockbuster-size story of Marko and Alana, AWOL soldiers from opposing sides in the war between planet Landfall and its own moon, Wreath, Saga is nothing short of mesmerizing. Every page-heck, every single panel-is completely engrossing, due to Vaughan's brilliant writing and Fiona Staples' gorgeous art. Vaughan's ability to create some of the most unique side characters in recent comics is a huge part of the series' enjoyment; Saga's supporting cast includes a lion-sized cat that detects lies, a brokenhearted mercenary, and a teenage ghost with dangling entrails who lost her lower half to the mine that killed her. Though the fourth volume of the series was published out in 2014, Image also released a deluxe edition that collects the first three trades last year, as well. Comic book fans unfamiliar with the series would do well to pick both collections up, plant down on a couch, and read from start to finish without stopping. By Zach Hollwedel

2

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Top Shelf

At a time when pop-culture is oversaturated with vampires-from movies to television to books to comics, virtually every medium is oozing with the mythical monsters, to the point they've become a stale topic-it might seem surprising to see a vampire story featured so high on this list. Yet, Dusty Higgins' and Van Jensen's reinterpretation of Pinocchio, as a wooden puppet who uses his lie-inspired noses as stakes with which to kill vampires, is an unexpected page-turner. The recognizable Pinocchio foundation is all there: he's a rambunctious troublemaker, a little on the selfish side, with dreams of becoming a real boy. The only difference is, he employs all those traits in his quest to slay the undead. Higgins' art wonderfully captures the mythical, folkloric nature of Jensen's rather epic story (we're talking over 500 pages), and the end result is a true and unexpected delight-even for readers exhausted by the unending plethora of vampire fables. By Zach Hollwedel

3

Locke & Key Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega

IDW

OK: Yes, technically, the final issue of Joe Hill's and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key was released in 2013. But the final collected edition came out in 2014, so it makes this list. It's also on this list for another reason: It's the conclusion to one of the best, most fully realized comic book stories ever. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, it centers around three siblings who return to their father's childhood home after his murder, only to discover a number of magical keys that do incredible things and free a force of ancient evil they then have to stop. It's also a powerful story about family, about growing up, about good versus evil, about love and hope and bravery and sacrifice. The illustration, at once terrifying and cartoonish, brings Hill's terrific script to life. It's one of the towering achievements in comics of the last few years, and shouldn't be missed. By Ryan E.C. Hamm

4

This One Summer

First Second

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's gorgeous graphic novel is technically a young adult, coming of age story, more geared toward female readers than males. However, none of those designations should stop anyone interested in the comic book medium from reading it. The book tells the story of adolescent Rose and her family's annual summer stay at Awago Beach, a small vacation spot frequented by the same families year after year. Rose is at that precarious tipping point between childhood and youthful rebelliousness, which she grapples with, while her parents struggle in their marriage. As high caliber as the writing is, the book's true strength lies in its art. From the first page to the last, This One Summer is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. Drawn entirely in a limited blue palette, every single one of Jillian Tamaki's illustrations is masterful and expressive-rife with emotion, honesty, and detail. Even if the story seems inapplicable to certain demographics, This One Summer deserves a read. By Zach Hollwedel

5

How the World Was

First Second

Emmanuel Guibert is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to biographical graphic novels. (He has written a number of titles for young children, but his memoirs are especially powerful.) In How the World Was, Guibert once again turns his focus upon his dear friend, World War Two veteran Alan Cope. Guibert first began chronicling Cope's life in Alan's War, which told of the G.I.'s experiences in France during the early 1940s. In How the World Was, Guibert goes back even further, documenting Cope's childhood in California during the Great Depression. How the World Was doesn't exclusively capture "major" events in Cope's life. Sure, things happen-some extremely defining-but the memoir doesn't focus on purely earth-shattering occurrences. Rather, the book is a wonderful exploration of the quiet moments and daily happenings that come to define a person. Told as a series of memories and reflections, it is a gorgeous, moving, and intimate collection of recollections. Guibert's affection for Cope is readily apparent on every beautiful page, and the honesty and endearment with which he tells of Cope's early life makes How the World Was one of the best-if not also under-appreciated-graphic novels of 2014. By Zach Hollwedel

6

Strong Female Protagonist

Top Shelf

The first superhero title on our Best of 2014 list, Strong Female Protagonist is not your typical capes and tights book. Rather, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's story introduces readers to Alison Green, who despite near invulnerability and superhuman strength, quit crime fighting to go to college. Yes, the titular, emotionally and physically strong female protagonist is but 20 years old and already retired from crime fighting. The rationale behind her decision is what makes the book so unique and interesting-despite the incredible powers Alison has, she finds herself unable to enact real change in the world. As she often and publicly states (her identity as a former masked heroine is not a secret), people expected her to have all the answers for how to better the world, even though she was just a teenager who could punch things hard. Mulligan and Ostertag manage a successful reinterpretation of the superhero genre with their on-going series, and the result is not only one of the best superhero books of the year, but one of the best series of 2014 in general. By Zach Hollwedel

7

Trillium

Vertigo/DC

It's encouraging when a totally bonkers idea can still get made at a big publisher like DC/Vertigo. Sure, they've made some amazing stuff over the years, but "It's a love story but also a time-shifting, alternate universe story with a soldier with PTSD and an astronaut at the end of human history" is a pretty tall order. Fortunately, it also came with Jeff Lemire as creator. Lemire has long specialized in creating wonderfully human moments amidst weird circumstances (see: Sweet Tooth), and here his scope is wider but his aim is the same. The world Lemire creates is (disturbingly) believable, and his main characters are fractured-how they try to find healing is the beating heart of the story. By Ryan E.C. Hamm

8

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bloomsbury

Cartoonist Roz Chast's memoir deals with a subject all too many of us face on a daily basis, one that is neither fun nor particularly easy to talk about, but which is an undeniable fact of life-aging parents. Both of Chast's parents (George and Elizabeth) lived well into their '90s, and though they were completely codependent on one another, at a certain point, Chast had to assume the role of caring for them. Her unflinching book details her experiences coming to terms with her parents' ill health (her father's deterioration was primarily mental, while her mother was largely plagued by physical infirmities until the end). Though the subject matter is somber, Chast manages to bring a surprising amount of levity to it. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is an alternatingly sad and light-hearted, moving, and ultimately impressively honest and intimate book about an all-too-universal subject. By Zach Hollwedel

9

Beautiful Darkness

Drawn and Quarterly

Probably the most bizarre, potentially most disturbing title on this list, Beautiful Darkness is unlike any other comic to come out in 2014. With Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët present an exploration into the sinister sides of humanity. When a group of fairy-like creatures (depicted as miniscule, wide-eyed children) are displaced from their home, they're forced to fend for survival in the woods. Their naivety concerning their surroundings and initial attempts to work together soon give way to greed, selfishness, and self-absorption, even while their youthful and innocent appearance remains. Princess Aurora tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy and cooperation, even while her group's numbers are severely depleted. Beautiful Darkness is as beautiful as it is macabre and unsettling, and is a wholly unique story. By Zach Hollwedel

10

Ms. Marvel

Marvel

If Ms. Marvel was just the "Muslim superhero," it wouldn't be as special-it would just be a token (if welcome) stab at diversity in the Marvel stable. But, the Ms. Marvel mantle now belongs to Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen. The character, created by Marvel editor Sana Amanat, series writer G. Willow Wilson, and artist Adrian Alphona, is the farthest thing away from the two-dimensional character she could have been-Khan is a believable teenager and her faith and ethnicity are less a badge she wears and more a component of her identity. In short: she reads like a real person, made up of the various influences and contexts that have helped to shape her. Plus, it doesn't hurt that she's got some really cool powers. By Ryan E. C. Hamm

11

Megahex

Fantagraphics

12

The Shadow Hero

First Second

13

Daredevil

Marvel

14

East of West

Image

15

Batman: Eternal Vol. 1

DC

16

Sex Criminals

Image

17

Andre the Giant

First Second

18

Arsène Schrauwen

Fantagraphics

19

She-Hulk

Marvel

20

Through the Woods

Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster

21

Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel

22

Above the Dreamless Dead

First Second

23

Moon Knight

Marvel

24

The Wake

Vertigo/DC

25

Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year: Secret City

DC

Honorable Mentions

Animal Man (DC), Ant Colony (Drawn and Quarterly), Batgirl (DC), Batman '66 (DC), The Complete Zap Comix (Fantagraphics), Fables (Vertigo/DC), Harlem Hellfighters (Broadway Books), Hawkeye (Marvel), Judge Dredd: City Limits (IDW), Justice League Dark (DC), Multiversity (DC), Sandman Overture (Vertigo/DC), Swamp Thing (DC), X-Men Legacy (Marvel), and Wonder Woman (DC).

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Kim
January 19th 2015
5:05pm

I’m surprised not to see The Wicked and the Divine. Looking forward to checking out some of the others I haven’t read yet.

cerraduras para rejas
May 29th 2015
12:19pm

i really have to read pinocchio the vampire slayer! amazing title