2014 was a stunning year for comics. Between the debut and rapid success of many creator-owned series to superhero comics finally growing in big ways, comics are only getting even better. 2015 seems to be just as exciting. Here are my 10 new and returning series to keep an eye on.
10. Marvel’s new Star Wars comics
OK, it looks like cheating to lump all these new books together. But I’ve got good reasons. First, all four of Marvel’s new Star Wars comics—Star Wars, launching this month, Darth Vader in February, a 5-issue Princess Leia miniseries in March, and Star Wars: Kanan in April—are all meant to firmly establish a new, unified comic book line. The way all four series are rolling out month after month enforces this. Rather than launch all of them at once and risk dilution, Marvel is carefully timing these so as to help build fan reaction and anticipation.
Second, Disney obviously wants these books to tie in to the upcoming The Force Awakens and be a good road map for what’s to come. To that end, notice that 3 out of these 4 series are set shortly after A New Hope and star all the icons from that film (Kanan, featuring a character from the hit Star Wars Rebels cartoon, takes place at the very beginning of the gap between the Prequel and Original Trilogies).
It’s easy to look at these books as a brand management exercise; to a degree, they most certainly are. But these are also primed to be some really good comics by virtue of their creative teams. On Star Wars, you have Jason Aaron (fresh off the success of Image’s Southern Bastards and a three-year Wolverine and the X-Men run), who has never not had an interesting idea, and John Cassaday (legendary Planetary artist finally back to doing regular pencils after several years of merely covers), whose work is always gorgeous and worth looking at.
With Darth Vader, you have Kieron Gillen—who has proven that he can write both mainstream and creator-owned work with the same energy, passion and wit—with Salvador Larroca, whose dynamic work on Invincible Iron Man is still being talked about over 5 years later. Princess Leia has Mark Waid, who’s closing in on John Byrne’s record for “guy who has written good stories for just about every property there is” and has proven he can write wonderful female characters, and Terry Dodson, who’s entered a new artistic phase as seen in his pencils on the recent Teen Titans: Earth One OGN. Kanan, which has to balance both general Star Wars fans and new fans from Rebels, has the benefit of (for its first story arc anyway) being written by one of that series’ developers and (former) writer and executive producer and story editor, Greg Weisman. Artist Pepe Laraz is not a name I’ve read anything before, but he’s got an impressive track record.
While it’s safe to say these books won’t be as bonkers as Marvel’s famed ‘80s Star Wars comic (which is also being rereleased in two huge omnibuses), with the top-tier talent involved, these will definitely be interesting books to read.
9. Secret Wars
Unlike the famous/infamous ‘80s miniseries/toy commercial from which this new Marvel event takes its name, the Secret part of the name is the emphasis. Nobody outside of Marvel, not even those who have been reading the Avengers comics by event writer Jonathan Hickman, has any real clue what’s going to happen in this event launching in May. All we’ve seen are a variety of crazy teaser images promising everything from the cast of the ‘90s X-Men cartoon to the return of May Parker, Spider-Girl and the vague reveal that this is some sort of worlds colliding story.
Whatever Hickman—no stranger to ambitious storytelling, as East of West and his Fantastic Four run both demonstrate—has planned, it’s going to be big (with some speculation that this could lead to a complete Marvel Universe reboot). With longtime, prolific Marvel artist Esad Ribić backing him up, this will definitely be an event to watch, even if you’re like me and prefer to trade-wait on events.
8. Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel wasn’t writer G. Willow Wilson or artist Adrian Alphona’s first foray into ongoing comics. Wilson—a 2013 World Fantasy Award for her novel Alif The Unseen—had done fill-ins and one-shots for the Big Two as well as the Vertigo series Air; Alphona was famous for co-creating the Runaways for Marvel with Brian K. Vaughn. But the two of them working together with editor Sana Amanat to give the world Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager-turned-superhero, resulted in something truly special.
Aside from all the critical acclaim it’s received (Wilson and Amanat were included on a Buzzfeed list, truly the most auspicious honor of our times), the series is a huge sales success. It’s Marvel’s no. 1 digital title, and the first issue alone has been reprinted seven times. More to the point, it’s still attracted and held on to new readers while occasionally dipping into the wider Marvel waters (Kamala has learned she’s an Inhuman, teamed up with Wolverine, and even guest-starred in the ongoing Spider-Verse event, all within the last year). The series has been an absolute blast with each issue and, even as Wilson prepares for a four-issue run on X-Men and an exclusive deal with Marvel, it only looks to stay that way. (Also, Alphona’s lovable rendering of Lockjaw, maybe the best dog in comics, is insanely cute and needs to be a statue ASAP.)
7. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye
James Roberts & Alex Milne have been making perhaps the most underrated SF tale in comics for almost three years now and have gotten very little critical appreciation for it (aside from several Eagle/True Believer Award nominations last year and lauds from both Hannibal Tabu and here at Sequart). As More Than Meets The Eye’s “Season 2” rolls on, that might change given how head-turning the premise of the book has become.
When the series and its companion title, Robots In Disguise (now called The Transformers to avoid confusion with the cartoon of the same name premiering this year), began in 2012, the premise was an inversion of the core concept of Transformers fiction: the Great War between the Autobots and Decepticons was over. Now, after the events of the “Dark Cybertron” crossover, Megatron has repented and now leads the crew of the Lost Light in MTMTE on their quest to find the Knights of Cybertron and get the mythical warriors to lead them into a new Golden Age. That began in issue #28 and things have only gotten crazier from there.
Roberts’ writing has never been more compelling and intelligent; Milne’s art has never been more exciting and unique. These guys are building something special and it is well worth checking out.
6. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Who knows what makes a cultural phenomenon? For example, who’d guess that Britain’s most famous comics character is an American lawman in a dystopian future? Who would’ve guessed that one of the highest-grossing films of this century would concern a traumatized billionare dressing up like Dracula and fighting a murder clown?
In a similar way, it’s kind of surprising that one of Japan’s most iconic manga series is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a huge epic chronicling the adventures of the Joestar family (whose names all contain “Jo” and can be shortened to JoJo, hence the title) as they fight the forces of Dio Brando, an immortal douchebag vampire with god-awful fashion sense. On top of that, many of the characters have names derived from Western music. A key early supporting character is named Sir Robert Edward O. Speedwagon, for instance.
For whatever reason, the series and its creator, Hirohiko Araki, have become fixtures of Japanese pop culture. Viz Media, the North American arm of Japanese publishing conglomerates Shueisha and Shogakukan and the undisputed leader of the North American manga market, has released the series’ famous third arc, Stardust Crusaders, previously in print and digitally. But now they’re starting from the beginning.
Inspired by the vast streaming success of the current JoJo’s anime adaptation, Viz will be releasing print volumes of the series’ first arc, Phantom Blood, starting in February ( a digital release has been unrolling since September), with the second arc, Battle Tendency, to follow suit. If the anime was any adaptation, manga fans are in for a wild ride with Phantom Blood.
Concerning the sadistic Dio Brando’s adoption into the wealthy Joestar family and his eventual falling out with his foster brother Jonathan, as well as an ancient stone mask that turns Dio into a vampire, Phantom Blood goes all-in on gory, elaborate artwork and a, well, bizarre story. People looking for a crazy ride as well as older fans longing for a proper, legitimate translation of this famed series would do well to check this out.
5. Gotham Academy
It’s sort of astounding that no one before Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl had thought of a book like Gotham Academy before. It’s a boarding school adventure series set in the heart of Gotham City; in a post-Harry Potter world, this series should’ve been made years ago (It’s particularly embarrassing when you consider that DC’s parent company Warner Bros made the Potter films).
Regardless, Academy was worth the wait. The titular boarding school, as explored by sophomore Olive Silverlock and her friend/freshman/ex-boyfriend’s sister Maps Mizoguchi, is a fascinating, creepy place, right up there with Hogwarts and the Xavier School. Like Ms. Marvel, this book feels like a great YA novel told in comics form.
Co-writers Cloonan and Fletcher have created a nice duo with the secretive, resolute Olive as well as the goofy, inquisitive Maps, and an interesting world for them to explore. Said world is wonderfully rendered by the great Kerschl, who takes his style and blends it perfectly to a modern, not-quite-anime look that never fails to impress. The whole book has a unique blend of Lemony Snicket and classic Batman. There are only 3 issues out as of this writing and at $2.99, this is very easy to catch up on.
Unlike Secret Wars, we know a lot about DC’s upcoming spring event. Namely, that the Multiverse (thought stripped down to 2 worlds after the New 52) is coming back in full force. To underscore that, after Convergence #0’s publication in April, which explains how Brainiac has captured worlds from several different universes and is letting them all out of their cages to see what happens when everything comes together, DC will suspend its regular titles for 2 months while several two-issue miniseries exploring those worlds play out.
Of them, I’m probably most excited for the Superman mini from Dan Jurgens (I got into the Big Blue Boy Scout through his and others’ work in the “Triangle Title” era of the ‘90s) and the Shazam mini from Jeff Parker,Doc Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire (because unironic, classic Captain Marvel is a joy). But the full list looks pretty interesting and I’ll definitely be checking out the main series to see how DC handles the 30th anniversary of the original Crisis On Infinite Earths.
If 2014 was the year the Second Image Revolution went into full swing and Saga and The Walking Dead are leading the charge, Wayward is the stealth squadron. This tale of mixed Irish-Japanese teenager Rori Lane getting drawn into the seedy, supernatural undercurrent of modern Tokyo hasn’t gotten as much press as its peers (although it has gotten multiple printings). Which is a shame because every issue is a delight.
Jim Zub has always crafted compelling stories regardless of material (this is the guy who helped turn a forgotten ‘80s Japanese arcade game into an exceptional webcomic), and here is no exception. He’s helped by series co-creator Steve Cummings’ amazing artwork. There’s a blend of shonen manga and Western comics at work here and Cummings (who actually lives in Yokohama) pulls it off to a hilt. On top of that, the exceptional coloring by John Rauch and now Tamra Bonvillain and the informative essays explaining Japanese culture and yokai (monsters) by manga translator and Japanese scholar and folklorist Zack Davisson enhance and enrich the reading experience. The first trade paperback, String Theory, comes out in March, at which point the series will return. Well worth checking out.
2. The Wicked + The Divine
Remember how I said Kieron Gillen always has energetic qualities to his writing? Nowhere is that more true than when he works with long-time collaborator Jamie McKelvie. Despite their mutual Twitter bickering, these two work wonderfully together and everything they do is a rush to the head and a kick to the stomach.
Take The Wicked + The Divine. It’s a story about mythological gods—who are no strangers to comics; remember what Shazam stands for—but it’s unlike any I’ve ever read. Every 90 years, we’re told, 12 gods from various traditions (Baal, Lucifer, etc.) are reincarnated as teenagers. They become massively loved and adored. In 2 years, they die. So what do you do when you have omnipotence and have 2 years to live?
In 2014, the answer is apparently “Become massive pop stars.” The series follows Laura, a diehard fangirl, as she gets drawn into the world of The Pantheon (as they’re known) and the insanity that follows. For fans of Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram, which covered similar territory, this series is a remarkable return to form. For people who grew to love them for their Marvel work (the pair worked on Young Avengers; Gillen also wrote lengthy X-Men, Thor and Iron Man runs while McKelvie designed Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel costume), this is like finding a great solo work from a member of your favorite band. Having just started its second arc, the series shows no signs of slowing down. Thanks to Gillen’s utterly of-the-moment writing and McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson’s gorgeous, propulsive artwork, it hopefully never will.
Lumberjanes is another comic that no one could’ve anticipated. Originally meant as an eight-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios’ creator-owned imprint BOOM! Box, the series sold so well so fast and was so praised (it even became a Buzzfeed quiz), it was upgraded to an ongoing. Good thing too because this series is terrific.
The story is basically Gravity Falls with Girl Scouts: five members of the Lumberjanes—collected leader Jo, overdramatic April, imposing-looking-yet-cautious Mal, ace archer Molly and the younger, impulsive Ripley—are just trying to enjoy summer camp, but keep facing off against supernatural creatures of all kinds, much to their troop leader Jen’s chagrin. In addition to an all-female cast, this comic is (to my knowledge) the only (and possibly first) one from a mainstream publisher to have an all-female creative team.
Co-writers Noelle Stevenson (best known for her now-ended fantasy webcomic Nimona) and Grace Ellis (who created the series with editor Sharon Watters and writes for the lesbian news site Autostraddle) are telling all-ages stories that rank with not only Gravity Falls, but also Adventure Time, Over The Garden Wall and any number of things that appeal to all kids and all adults equally. Plus, the running gag of using female pioneers as expletives never gets old (“What the Joan Jett?”; “Oh My Bessie Coleman!” etc.).
Brooke Allen’s artwork is the cherry of awesomeness on top. Allen has an incredible range, making both the cartoony and serious utterly gripping and charming. She’s just plain wonderful. So is Lumberjanes. Possibly due to its upgraded status, the first trade paperback isn’t due until April, but the series is about to start a new story arc with issue #10 (with guest artist Carolyn Nowak) and it’s easy enough to backtrack from there. Pick this up and pass it around. You’ll love it.