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Every year, we talk about what we loved about the past 12 months of geeky entertainment. It's usually under the guise of discussing what to honor with our Escapist Awards, but we always seem to gravitate toward that list of five unique things that especially moved us this year. It could be cute, it could be have emotional impact, it could be just downright silly, but each of the things on these lists means something to us.
Here's what some of The Escapist's most passionate comic book readers picked for their five favorite things from 2014.
#5 The Humans #1
Full Disclosure: Artist Tom Neely is a personal friend of mine.
If you like talking apes, the romance of the highway and the slow, seething decay of the American dream, then drop everything and check out this new Image Comics series from writer Keenan Marshall Keller, artist Tom Neely and colorist Kristina Collantes. A riff on post-Vietnam angst and the schlock/exploitation films of the 1970s, The Humans follows the adventures of a biker gang comprised of various kinds of great apes, misfits all, who form a strange, violent, drug-soaked family in a world that reviles and fears them.
Keller's writing expertly nails the stream of consciousness feel of a lengthy booze bender, and it's complimented perfectly by Neely's trippy, angry art style. And it's filled with fights, criminality, drugs, sex, and a version of cockfighting that uses humans. Read the shit out of this series, or you've wasted 2014.
#4 Forming Vol. 2
I like this one so much I recommended it for the Escapist Holiday Gift Guide. Imagine a comparative religion class filtered through a combination of Zardoz, Office Space and The Venture Bros. and you're somewhere close to where this delightful graphic novel trilogy-in-progress by writer/artist Jesse Moynihan goes.
Set in the distant past, Forming involves what amounts to a battle over the future of humanity by ancient gods from multiple pantheons, aliens, corporate drones, and rebellious humans (and half-humans) themselves. Mithras, sent by his father (and Corporate boss) to exploit the mineral resources of Earth, decides to quit the family business and set himself up as a god to the puny humans used as slave labor. Meanwhile, the company has established a separate colony elsewhere on Earth with plans to take Mithras down. What follows is a massive amount of family drama, labor unrest, and cosmic-level violence as the origins of the universe, not to mention most modern religions, are revealed.
Forming is hilarious, and the second volume, which came out in May of this year, is glorious. Get it now.
#3 The Secret History Of Wonder Woman
My favorite comic-related thing in 2014 wasn't a comic, but a book about comics that explores the subversive roots of one of the most famous superhero characters of all time. Obviously, you know who and what Wonder Woman is. You might not know, however, that she was created as an expressly feminist archetype influenced by the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragist movement. That her creator inserted subtle and not-so-subtle bondage themes into lots of the Wonder Woman stories he wrote. That he lived in a light-years-ahead-of-it's-time, convention-defying polyamorous relationship with two women until his death. That and so, so, so much more is discussed at length in Jill Lepore absolutely essential book.
Honestly, I'd almost rather Warner Bros. make this into a movie instead of the Wonder Woman film they're currently working on. (Though obviously, I can't wait for that).
#2 Ms. Marvel #1
There's always a danger that when a mainstream publication decides to reinvent a classic character with a deliberate eye toward the increasingly diverse society we're becoming, the result will be bad. Often, it either ends up feeling like tokenism that will get barely any official support, or it'll be a hilarious misunderstanding of the concepts and cultural ideas the reinvention tries to explore.
Fortunately, this is NOT the case with Marvel's reinvention of Ms. Marvel, which has turned out to be one of the year's best mainstream comic series. Centered around teenage Kamala Khan, a young Muslim of Pakistani descent, the new series strikes a great balance between telling a coming of age story, capturing the immigrant experience in America authentically, and delivering thrilling superheroic adventure. Better, for people who love lore porn, the series very quickly ties Kamala to Marvel's Inhumans. Three pages in an you'll understand precisely why Kamala Khan has become exceptionally popular with cosplayers.
Featuring great writing by G. Willow Wilson and beautiful art by Adrian Alphona, it's worth every penny. Start with issue one, get addicted, and keep reading.
#1 The Sandman: Overture (Issues 2 and 3)
One of the biggest questions left unanswered when Neil Gaiman's The Sandman ended its run in 1994 was "just what the hell was Morpheus doing that weakened him badly enough to get captured in the first issue of the series?". Almost 20 years after that series concluded, Gaiman finally decided to answer this question with The Sandman: Overture, a six-part series set immediately before the original comic's in-universe 1916 start date.
As expected, Overture is a joy. Boasting incredible art and some of Gaiman's strongest comic scripting, it's a slow burn story that also lives up to the reputation of the original series. Unfortunately, the slow-burn is also literal. The mini-series debuted one year ago, and as I write this blurb, we're still a week away from the 4th issue. Even so, the first three issues are wonderful.
Gaiman has always been a better comic writer than a novelist (sorry, but it's true), and thus every time he returns to the medium that made him famous is a reason to celebrate. But Overture isn't just a nostalgic read, it offers genuine new pleasures for longtime fans of the series who still consider it among the pinnacles of recent comics history. It might not be as interesting for new readers, but if this is an excuse to finally dig into the series, then all the better.