Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 10 favourite comics of 2014

As the year is coming to a close I figured the most appropriate thing to start a blog like this with is the ten comics that I've read this year that I enjoyed the most.

The rules are the same as for which comics I'll review on this blog. Just stories that I've read for the first time this year, unless it's a collected edition of a series I've read in single issues before. With that said, let's get to it.

10. Ravine volume 2

Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Publishers: Image comics and Top Cow Productions
Summary: Continuing mere moments from the end of the previous volume. this grand fantasy story centers around the journey of the sorcerer Stein Phais and the dragon rider Lynn de Luctes, and her dragon Hurricos, as they go on a great treasure hunt. Meanwhile the world is in a state of unrest as not only the political landscape is slowly being rewritten but a great evil is gathering strength as the ancient hero Nebezial Asheri prepares to conquer the world.

My thoughts: The Ravine series continues to be a high quality fantasy adventure of the kind you just won’t find anywhere else in comics. Every scene furthers the story along at a good pace. The characters are varied and interesting. The sheer scope and ambition of the project matches great fantasy classics like Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. But the two things that really stand out here is the art and the world building. Artist Stjepan Sejic draws a gorgeous world that manages to combine realistic and dreamlike designs that look unlike anything else on the market. And this is clearly a labour of love for Ron Marz, shown by the amount of details he’s put into the world and its history. It’s a bit demanding on the reader as it requires multiple careful read throughs to remember everything. But it is well worth the investment. Ravine is an amazing series for everyone who enjoys big fantasy epics.

9. Godzilla: The Half-Century War

Writer & artist: James Stokoe
Publisher: IDW
Summary: When Godzilla first rampaged through Japan in 1954, lieutenant Ota Murakami was at the scene to help save lives from the giant monster. With that Ota becomes obsessed with Godzilla and is determined to bring down the king of the monsters. The story spans almost 50 years as more and more classic monsters from the Godzilla films appear to plummet the world into chaos.

My thoughts: I almost didn’t put this on the list because it’s a very simple story. It has all the classic tropes associated with Godzilla and human character to center the story around so it becomes a bit more relatable for the reader. It’s simple and nothing new is really done. But the thing is, this is my list and I’ve enjoyed this romp of a Godzilla story more that most other comics I’ve read this year. It gives the reader pretty much everything that a six issue limited Godzilla story should give. A quick introduction to Godzilla, his most common adversaries and Ota’s story fits the general tone of a Godzilla movie. It’s not the story of one man saving the world from the big scary monster, it’s a more oppressive and darker story than that. With giant monster battles added for the fun of it. Stokoe’s art is also a treat. It’s a stylized and expressive art that fits the giant monsters and it’s detailed, making it lots of fun to watch buildings being destroyed. If you’re into giant monster stories then you should definitely check this one out. It’s just a lot of fun.

8. Thunderbolts Ultimate Collection 

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Summary: After the great superhero civil war the American government has given the super hero team the Thunderbolts a makeover. What was once a simple operation to give super villains a chance to redeem themselves is now the outward face used to make the public trust the new 52 state Initiative plan. But everybody isn’t to keen on the Initiative and they’re ready to bring down the Thunderbolts to make their point. With the team now consisting of murderers, mad men and good people trying to make it in a crazy world and the leadership in the hands of Norman Osborn, the dude that likes to dress up in green and purple while throwing around exploding pumpkins, will the Thunderbolts be able to survive the threats to come or will they just implode under their own insanity.

My thoughts: I bought every issue of this series when it first came out in 2007 and I loved every moment of it. So an ultimate collection that gathers every issue into one nice trade was a no brainer for me. The story is still fantastic, both a sharp satirical look at media and commercialism and a twisted tale about some of most noteworthy villains in the Marvel universe ending up in unique positions with opportunities they never imagined. Ellis makes sure that while you won’t sympathize with most of the cast you will find them fascinating and you’ll look forward each new line of dialogue, Norman’s naked monologue about why he deserves all the power in the world is a master piece of writing. Deodato draws some of the most brutal and gut wrenching super powered brawls I’ve ever seen, making it a book that’s not for the faint of heart. But those who can stomach that kind of thing will have a field day while reading. Every fan of superhero comics should read this. It’s a modern classic with unapologetic super hero action and social satire that still applies to this day.

7. Avatar: The Last Air-Bender - The Search

Writers: Gene Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko
Artists: Gurihiru
Publisher: Dark Horse
Summary: Over a year has passed since Fire Lord Zuko helped avatar Aang end the 100 year war. Now it is time for the young ruler to uncover just what happened to his missing mother, Ursa. To do this he’ll need help not only from the avatar and their friends but also from his paranoid and delusional sister Azula.

My thoughts: I know what happened to Zuko’s mother! That was basically the first gleeful thought went through my head after I finished reading the library edition of this story, I then posted it on facebook. The world of Avatar, not the movie with the blue space cats, is always fun to get into because of how much work and effort the creators put into it, and this is no exception. That it gives the answer to the biggest unanswered mystery of the original cartoon is one thing. That said answer is satisfying and presented in the form of a story that feels complete all on its own is a mighty impressive feat. We get into the nitty gritty about Ursa and what’s she’s like at various points of her life while also getting an explanation for why Ozai was a horrible father to Zuko, beyond just being a horrible person that is. That’s not even all that this book offers. The spiritual world is expanded upon (an aspect of the franchise that I’ve always enjoyed), Zuko takes another firm step in his character development and Azula gets some much needed resolution to her paranoia plot, I always felt that her breakdown in the cartoon wasn’t good enough of an ending, so that she can maybe finally find some peace. Fans of Avatar: The Last Air-bender have to check this story out, even if they don’t like it they’ll at least get the answer to just what happened to Zuko’s mother, and that’s all they really want.

6. Larfleeze vol. 1: Revolt of the Orange Lanterns

Writers: Keith Giffen & J. M. DeMatteis
Artist: Scott Kollins
Publisher: DC Comics
Summary: Larfleeze, the sole wielder of the orange light of avarice has been robbed of his worldly possessions, he had a planet full of them, and after a fruitless hunt he, and his poor bastard of a butler Stargrave, are dragged into a the cosmic equivalent of a family squabble between entities from the other end of the edge of the universe. With everybody understandably trying to kill him and his own mind playing tricks on him, will Larfleeze be able to reclaim what belongs to him? Side note, he’s basically stolen everything he’s ever owned.

Summary: There are two things that I love about this comic. First of all is all the new high concept characters that are introduced in it. One character has ADHD on a cosmic scale, another is so depressed that her despair radiates outward and pushes the entire robotic population of a planet towards suicidal depression and the main antagonists can’t agree on anything but the sheer power of their disagreement threatens the fabric of the cosmos. Those are wild, silly, surprisingly simple and utterly weird ideas for new characters and I love them all. Half the series is basically just going from one place to another and introducing everybody. The other thing I love about the series is how much fun it is. Cosmic stories in Marvel and DC are usually presented with a serious and our ponderous tone along with a sense of awe at the grandeur of the universe. Here the tone is much more humerous, as reflected in weird new characters, in a way that embraces how extra weird the cosmic scene can be. Which isn’t to say that the story is all shits and giggles. There are dark elements in the story regarding Larfleeze himself and how he’s confronted by the past. Sadly the series didn’t last beyond 12 issues so it seems like it’s not for everyone. But I had a blast with it and recommend it to everybody who likes cosmic stories.

5. Loki: Agent of Asgard

Writer: Al Ewing
Artists: Lee Garbett & Jorge Coelho
Publisher: Marvel comics
Summary: After pulling off a scheme that’s gotten him reborn into a more Tom Hiddleston-esque body and making everybody think that he’s still the innocent reincarnation of himself that tumblr fell in love with, Loki’s ready to play a new part in the Marvel universe. As an agent for the All-Mothers Loki gets to on fun adventures while making sure that no trace of his former self remains. But the very nature of the universe and Loki himself makes it difficult to for his new found persona to remain constant.

My thoughts: The character that has benefitted the most from Marvel’s recent dominance on the big movie screen is undoubtedly Loki. The new found interest in the god of mischief gave us the brilliant Journey into Mystery by Kieron Gillen and Loki: Agent of Asgard is a most worthy successor to that series. It continues the same meta narrative of contemplating how a character can truly change in an ongoing universe like the one published by Marvel while throwing the story into new directions thanks to an early plot twist that shan’t be revealed here. There’s also a lot of super spy elements, like Loki using magical tools in the same way James Bond uses Q’s inventions, and even a grand Ocean’s 11-esque heist issue. The writing is in general really clever and Ewing is having lots of fun with the concept, it’s good all the flair and drama of a classic super hero story but it’s different enough that you don’t know where it’s going. This is for all the people who love Loki in movies and just want more of that. Even if it is just to stare at the pretty bishi-Loki.

4. Empowered volume 8

Writer: Adam Warren
Artists: Adam Warren, Svetlana Chmakova, Louise LaChance & Steve Mannion
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Summary: The often imperiled super heroine Empowered joins Sistah Spooky to save Spooky’s dead, and secret, girlfriend from the depths of hell, not the religious one but it’s similar enough. There is actually a rather multi-faceted discussion about hell before that. Otherwise the story really is that simple.

My thoughts: For such a simple story it sure manages the pack a massive punch. The scope is absolutely epic in every way, shape and form which is fitting since a story about going hell to rescue someone deserves it. But since the cast of the main rescue story is so small, four characters, a lot of it is also devoted to the introspection, development and interaction of these characters and Adam Warren always shines with those aspects of storytelling. Warren makes you feel every last bit of anguish, despair, exhaustion, triumph and relief that the characters feel, to the point where reading this thing can be emotionally exhausting. The mesh of the epic spectacle that a journey through hell gives and the insight into each character that gives the story its emotional anchor makes this an absolutely great story. It is however quite dependent on backstory from the previous volumes so I don’t know if I can recommend it if you haven’t read those before. And just recommending that you read those is a bit iffy since it is a weird series. But they do lead up to a great story that’s both epic and personal.

3. The Seven Deadly Sins

Writer & artist: Nakaba Suzuki
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Summary: The king of Britannia has been overthrown by his own army, the powerful holy knights, in preparation for a holy war. The only force that could possibly stand up to the holy knights is a group of knights that were banished for treason ten years ago, known only as the Seven Deadly Sins. The king’s daughter, Elizabeth, has ventured out into the world to find the Sins in the hopes that they will save her kingdom.

My thoughts: Holy heck, this is an awesome manga series. The story is simple but utterly enjoyable and never really strays from it, keeping everything focused. The characters are actually complex individuals with interesting back stories that make them all the more enjoyable to read about. The action scenes are balls to the walls awesome and have so far never failed to entertain me. And unlike a lot of other action manga it doesn’t shy away from romantic storylines as a number of couples are basically already set up. This is the kind of series that makes me laugh, cheer, cry and smile while I’m reading it. It’s still a relatively new series so it’s fairly easy to get into, and well worth it, for ANYONE who likes big action adventure stories, especially shounen manga series like Dragonball, One Piece and Fairy Tail.

2. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic volume 5: Reflections

Writer: Katie Cook
Artist: Andy Price
Publisher: IDW
Summary: One night princess Celestia disappears into a mirror which acts as a portal to a parallel world. What connection does she have to this world and what secrets is she hiding? It is up to Twilight Sparkle and her friends to follow in the footsteps of Celestia and the late, great unicorn Starswirl the bearded to save not only Celestia but both world’s from being destroyed by a great cataclysm.

My thoughts: Yes, this is a My Little Pony comic and yes, it is immensely epic. I have been a fan of the most recent incarnation of the world famous franchise for some time now for its clever writing and enjoyable cast of characters. That is all brought over to this comic which adds an adventure setting that’s bigger than anything the cartoon has done so far. That alone is pretty awesome. But this comic does something more still. It gives a lot of insight to two characters that the cartoon so far hasn’t spent that much time on. Seeing Celestia’s past made me giddy like a kid as I’ve always found her to be an interesting character, and I love it when we see more of the benevolent ruler without them being revealed as a secret evil overlord. And it was nice to actually get to see Starswirl, who’s only been mentioned in the cartoon, at all, and he was a joy. Hopefully this characterization will be kept should he ever appear in the cartoon. Another aspect I enjoyed was how the story skipped a lot of clich├ęs that are often applied to alternate world stories. It kept the narrative tight and focused. There’s action, drama, romance, humor, character development and it is all handled with great style. Yes, it’s a My Little Pony comic. You should still read it. It’s awesome and well deserving of the number 2 spot on my list.

1. Thor: God of Thunder volume 1: The God Butcher & volume 2: The God-Bomb

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Essad Ribic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Summary: While partying with vikings a young Thor discovers the decapitated head of another god, horror shining in its dead eyes. In present times, Thor of the Avengers discovers clues that indicate a foe he thought long since vanquished is still cutting a murderous path through the universe. In the far flung future king Thor battles an army of darkness that won’t let him die in the ruins of Asgard. Gorr the God Butcher’s ultimate plan for all the gods of creation is coming to fruition and the only ones that can stop him are the Thors of the past, present and future.

My thoughts: The main reason why this storyline is number one is similar to that of Godzilla: The Half-Century War. It has basically everything that a good Thor story should have, but it goes beyond that. The scope of the story is grand, spanning three different eras and affecting every god in the entire Marvel universe, the action benefits from this as well as we are treated to some massive godly brawls. Thor as a character is written perfectly, that goes for all three versions of him, from the surly and impetuous young Thor, to the classic modern super hero we’re more familiar with to the bitter yet wiser king Thor. They’re the same but different due to their age and maturity and it’s great when they all finally get to play off of one another. And that’s just one of the things that pushes this comic to the top. It has the things you need for a great Thor story, but it adds in a lot of new ideas, the three Thors is just one of them. The main villain is another great addition. Just his name is awesome, Gorr the God Butcher, say it out loud. He’s a fully realized villain with a haunting design, impressive abilities and a sympathetic back story. There are questions raised in this story that in one way only really work for Thor and the world he occupies but in another way can be applied to the real world as well. Do we need god(s) and would we be better off without believing that there’s a divine something or other that we can pray to? And of course, if you found out that god was real and you could kill god, would you? The creative team does everything right and have created an action-packed, evocative and basically perfect story for the god of thunder that manages to bring a lot of fresh new ideas to the table. It is without a doubt my favourite comic of the year and you should all read it.

There we go. My ten favourite comics of the year. It should give you an idea of what kind of taste I have in regards to these things.

All that's left now is to wish you all a happy new year.

Have a nice day.

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