Every Comic Book Movie (Ever): Doctor Strange (feat. Some Thought on the State of the Comic Book Film)

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There is another Marvel movie out, in case you had not heard, and while Andrew and I will discuss Doctor Strange in depth on the next episode of the podcast, I wanted to use this space to write about the film as it relates to the larger world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This will be a sort of diagnosis (ahem), if you will.

In case you are sensitive to this sort of thing, there will most assuredly be spoilers.

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Where are we now?

It has been eight years since Iron Man stormed movie screens and kicked off what was then the risky, uncertain endeavor of a universe of connected, but parallel films. The gamble has more than paid off for both Marvel Studios, and their parent company, Disney. One can argue over many things concerning these films, but it is impossible to deny that they have been hugely successful and that there has never been anything quite like this. The idea of launching groups of “solo” films which would then connect in The Avengers remains ambitious, and despite the many copycats, and my own relative ambivalence toward the Marvel films, no one has pulled the idea off more successfully.

In fact, no one else who has tried has really pulled it off yet. Sony had an ambitious interconnected universe planned around the success of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, but the disappointing box office of the latter has led to a partnership between Sony and Disney to bring a new Spiderman into the MCU fold. The X-Men films have never quite branched out in the same way the MCU has. Despite a convoluted time-travel plot to try and simultaneously launch sequels to the X-Men films of the 2000s while rebooting them, the franchise has yielded only a few Wolverine-centric entries and Deadpool, whose success may push the franchise into MCU territory, or may prove a blip on the radar. Then there is the Fantastic Four universe which exploded on the runway. And to keep with the metaphor, we have DC, who, after backing the successful and often audacious Batman films of Christopher Nolan, has had to hit the reset button and build the plane while it’s in the air with Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and the upcoming Wonderwoman and Justice League – which may be the DCU’s last real hope to compete at Marvel’s level.

I am not even saying most of these Marvel films have been particularly good (they haven’t, in my opinion), but the fact that the whole enterprise, eight years on, continues to grow and expand and remains successful financially is impressive, and a testament to the model that Marvel has built. This model is a kind of hybrid of the way Marvel’s comics wing operates, and the Golden Age of Hollywood studio filmmaking. I will be the first to admit that responding to my broadest criticism of these films – that they lack a distinct aesthetic vision from film to film and bring nothing new to the art of cinema – would likely make them a less successful corporate endeavor. But with Doctor Strange, it appears that Marvel may, at least, be searching for a middle ground – a way forward.

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The Doctor is in: Doctor Strange as remedy

The thing about perpetuating a franchise for nearly a decade is that ten years is a very long time – actors age or drop out, technology changes, sequels start to yield diminishing returns. One of the benefits of the Marvel system is that, while they have produced 14 films up to this point, they are not all direct sequels. Marvel can tell new-ish stories that sort-of stand alone while still tying them into the brand. For a while, these stories were all Avengers-centric, but in an effort to expand, and potentially modulate its universe, Marvel, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy, started expanding its (already large) cast and plot strands. Next came Ant-Man. And now we have Doctor Strange. And while each of these films orbit the Avengers, they also try to inject some new blood into the years long saga of the Avengers Initiative.

On one level, Doctor Strange accomplishes this task – it introduces a new hero who, thinking purely in terms of plot, is the type that could lead an Avengers film at some point (Robert Downey Jr. isn’t going to stick around forever). But much like Guardians of the Galaxy introduced more hard sci-fi elements to the MCU, Doctor Strange introduces a new dimension of sorcery and magic which has been essentially untouched in the MCU.

And the film really rips the viewer right into this world. The first fight scene has the dual qualities of being both interesting to look at, and not overstaying its welcome. There is no expositional dialogue explaining exactly what is happening. Just a theft and a chase. Here is a villain. Here is a hero. Here are some buildings getting folded.

As interesting and effective as this sequence is, it is completely dwarfed by the first interaction between Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One and Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular Doctor in which she removes Strange’s soul from his body and sends him flying through multidimensional space and the astral plane. The film is a surrealist, mind-melting trip. Director Scott Derrickson flexes his horror chops here, bringing genuinely memorable, and grotesque, images to the MCU. There is nothing in any of these films like Cumberbatch’s damaged fingers growing more fingers which continue to grow more fingers. It is a fascinating and show-stopping sequence in a world of films that could use much more of that. And while I have seen much stranger things on film before (pick any David Lynch film you like), it struck me while watching in the theater that most people who watch these films have not. For that alone, I am grateful for this film.

While Doctor Strange stretches some of the visual boundaries of the MCU, it also seems to make some oblique nods to the problems and critiques levied at past films. The climactic sequence contains the two most notable. First, instead of a city-destroying ending (of which we have, by now, seen more than enough to make them boring), Strange reverses the damage wrought on Hong Kong. In backwards-motion, the city is slowly put back together, until it is stopped mid-stream, allowing for some interesting shots of civilians frozen in time before the moment of terror. The sequence is a welcome reprieve from the expected endings of comic-book cinema fare.

Second, and this may be entirely unintentional, though no less notable for it, Strange uses a bizarre, Sisyphean method of saving the day. He traps himself and Dormammu, the film’s barely-defined villain, in a time loop in which they must relive the same ten seconds or so of Dormammu destroying Strange. The time loop is meant to eventually wear down the villain and force him to bargain as, in the loop, he cannot commence with world conquering, and must be content to merely crush Strange over and over, hoping for a different result. One could cynically read this as the way in which Marvel slowly grinds down audiences, delivering essentially the same scenario film after film until we wear down and give into the whole enterprise. Less cynically, one could read it as the director’s hopeful vision of breaking away from the relentless Marvel style of filmmaking and trying to craft something more personal and cinematic.

Doctor Strange cannot help but get tripped up in the Marvel net, however.

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The Doctor is out: Doctor Strange as symptom

The first sign of trouble was when Edgar Wright left Ant-Man so late in the game over “creative differences.” Ideally, these are the kinds of difference you resolve (or don’t) before shooting begins, when a director and studio are forming a joint vision for what the film should be. Marvel choosing an offbeat and well-respected director like Wright was a good sign that they would be expanding the ways in which these stories could be told, parting ways with him was a sign that Marvel/Disney, as a corporate entity, still could not resist calling some major shots even on a smaller off-beat entry like Ant-Man. Ant-Man ended up being fine, I guess – at least, it performed to expectations at the box office, which left Doctor Strange on the horizon as the film that could potentially shake things up.

But the film is tasked with doing so much that we have seen before. It’s an origin story after all.

So we have Strange as narcissistic but genius surgeon, brought down by his own hubris, unable to save himself. Here is the motive. He gets in a car wreck. Here is the inciting event. He has a vague love interest in Rachel McAdams’ character who is so poorly drawn that she is almost invisible in the film. Popping up now and again as a plot convenience to motivate or challenge the hero. Like Tony Stark (or, at times, Bruce Wayne), Strange is not particularly likable. I am still not convinced that Strange, with his High Laurie-in-House accent ever quite crosses the threshold into endearing self-absorption, like Stark – and I certainly never once found myself hoping he would find a way to fix his hands.

There is so little time for him to have a satisfying arc in this new and magical world which, despite the amount of time spent explaining the way the magic works, remains vague and borderline nonsensical. There seems to be no particular reason why these people can bend the world into Escher-like contortions (or Inception squared, if you prefer) other than that it looks cool – and the boring orange sparks the conjure out of thin air which form their portals and weapons do not even have that luxury – which would be perfectly acceptable if 90% of the characters’ dialogue in the middle act of the film was more than just droning on about how all this stuff is supposed to work and what it is supposed to mean.

There is also a persistent visual problem which the MCU (and really, most comic book films) has yet to solve. The long history of most of these characters gives a wide range of visual representations to choose from, but they are all, of course, two-dimensional. The trick is in translating these (often iconic) flat, static images into cinematic and dynamic ones. Marvel’s default response has been to simply render these classic images in 3D, mostly avoiding any radical redesign. For some characters, this approach works well (Iron Man) for others, the silliness which is less apparent in a drawing on a page becomes absurd when exaggerated into reality and placed on the body of a living, moving, breathing person (Loki’s helmet). This tactic is popular outside of Marvel as well and usually results in all kinds of useless fabric geometry from which few heroes have been spared – Captain America, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and Black Panther have all fallen victim. Then there is the issue of masks. Cowls in particular. These look fine in comics – movies are another story. It took Nolan three films to get a cowl that didn’t make Christian Bale look like he was in a neck brace; Captain America is more persuasive as a hero when the mask is off; and I cannot even make it through commercials of CW’s The Flash without laughing at that supremely dumb mask he is wearing.

Doctor Strange opts for kaleidoscopic, Dali-esque surrealism in the early sequence I have already lauded in the space of this piece, but when it comes to staging the final confrontation with the film’s big bad, Dormammu, in the Dark Dimension, the film loses its nerve. The design of the Dark Dimension draws inspiration from nebulas and visual representations of neurons, but fails to convert these interesting touchstones into compelling cinema. The result is a sea of muddy blacks and blues with occasional neon bursts. There is also a geographic problem in that the characters never have any tangible relation to the ill-defined world around them. There is never a moment where Cumberbatch does not look like he is on a big soundstage surrounded by green screen. The close ups draw a stark line between the real fabric of his clothes and the computer simulated fantasia around him. The long shots turn him into a CGI blob amidst a sea of other, larger CGI blobs.

Consider these four shots from inside the Dark Dimension:

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Now consider this single panel from the comic:

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Whereas the film opts for nebulous blobs, the comic goes for more geometric psychedelics. And the colors in the comic may be more subdued, but they are better defined and, in fact, help to define the impossible space of the dark dimension, making them more effective visually. In the illustration, we can place Strange firmly within the space, even if the limits of the space itself fade into impossible orange. We can trace a path along distant strands of green and pink over a cut and paste background of stars and tracings of orbits which render our three dimensional galaxy as two dimensional wallpaper in the theoretically four dimensional space of the Dark Dimension. Despite being a static image on a page, the illustration is more interesting because it gives the eye so many possible paths to take while it simultaneously establishes the heroes place in all of it. It is a tough thing to do, but frustratingly, the film mostly does it in the first sequence between the Ancient One and Strange, and descends into visual blandness at its dramatic climax.

There have been creative and beautiful solutions to the problems of translating comics to cinema. Whether it is Guillermo del Toro’s intricate, handmade Hellboy films, Christopher Nolan’s nü-noir Batman, or the brilliant choice of putting Hugh Jackman in a white tank top instead of bright yellow spandex. One of the most interesting things Marvel has done of late is give the new Spiderman a classic, flat look to his costume that looks straight out of the comic. While it is incongruous with the copiously over-textured Power Rangers look of the Avengers, it is preferable and memorable. It draws directly from the iconography of the character. It is a literal translation, but one that works as cinema.

And that is what I want more than anything out of these films: good cinema. Comic book adaptions aren’t going away anytime soon. If they are going to stick around, they should push at the boundaries they have erected for themselves. There are some signs of that.

It’s odd, I went into the theater the other night hoping that Doctor Strange would provide the sign. It ultimately did not. But I did get my sign. And it came crashing in wearing a white tank top with Johnny Cash playing in the background:

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Our 50th post: A nostalgia filled trip down memory lane

Hello Revuers, I’m proud to announce that this is our 50th post on Deja.Revue! When I started this site with my roommate back in November of 2014 I couldn’t have anticipated the great response and support from viewers like you. Thanks to die hard comics fan like us, we have grown exponentially over the course of ten months. I could ramble on and on with statistics and numbers and blah blah blah…….but I’d rather just bring you the high quality original content you’ve come to expect from us. Since I’m feeling reminiscent I’ve asked our writers and our guest reviewers to write about their most nostalgic issue or series from their childhood. I’m happy to report that this article turned out to be one of my favorite and I hope its yours too. As usual all names are clickable and you should check out our guest bloggers sites. They are all wonderful. Now, without further delay lets begin our nostalgia filled joyride through our childhoods.

Jerry Caskey

Associate Writer of Deja.Revue


Cloak and Dagger (1­-4)1983
Cloak and Dagger are the most basic opposites, light and dark. This is a common trope, and a simple but solid premise that allows the reader to accept these new characters without bogging down the story with exposition. As the story advances, the characters become more nuanced and interesting. Cloak is darkness. He must feed on the light of humanity to satisfy his cravings or suffer the maddening effects of hunger. If he does not feed, he will begin to consume his own humanity. Where Cloak is darkness and retribution, Dagger is light and forgiveness. She produces pure humanity in the form of daggers. These light daggers act as a jump start to give a person a chance to redeem themselves before Cloak enacts his more permanent form of justice. However, Dagger’s light is limited and thus can not redeem those too far gone nor can it totally satisfy Cloak’s hunger. In addition to seeking out the wicked, Cloak and Dagger must confront their own personal demons. In issue two, Dagger confronts a man whom she slaps across the room and states “My light knives are too good to waste on the likes of you!”. In retrospect she realizes that she acted without compassion. She must learn to control her emotions to give every person equal opportunity for redemption. Cloak begins to perceive himself as a burden on Dagger, causing him to spiral into a state of self­loathing and harm. Eventually banishing himself to the sewers in an attempt to not affect anyone instead of realizing the potential for good that he possesses. So enough about the series, why do I love it so much? Well let me tell you… Cloak is a badass. He is troubled and dark, and essentially everything he says is the basis of a death metal song. For example: “You have chosen your fate, scum of the street. Darkness seeks darkness. Let you soul now scream – as is greets a darkness greater than its own.” “I am shadow. I darkness deeper than any dungeon. I am called Cloak… and I hunger.” “There is only one law, detective, as this murderer of women and children shall soon discover… the law of retribution.” “I am not a man, detective. I am merely a being who exists from one day to the next – locked in a struggle between hunger and appeasing that hunger. But I have learned that if I am ever to again be a man – that hunger must be denied!” But his darkness dissipates in the presence of Dagger’s light. Both Cloak and Dagger deal with issues that I see in myself. The whole series provokes the idea that neither light, nor dark is the answer the the issues of humanity. Rather, it is a balance of good and evil.

Jaythreadbear

Hasty scribbler on comics and culture


Batman: The Long Halloween #1

When I was a much younger geek I followed my older brother into reading comics; my pull list consisting mostly of random Superman stories and Chris Claremont’s sub-X-Men for DC Sovereign Seven. At some point my brother quit comics in spectacular fashion selling off most of his collection and giving away the rest. One book that I was able to salvage from the flames was Batman: The Long Halloween #1. For some reason unknown to me even now it would be another few years until I actually read the thing, but boy when I did was my mind blown. Here was a comic that showed me what comics could really do; that amongst the kapow-action there could be smart plots and shocking surprises, and it could all be delivered with the perfect grace of Tim Sale’s elegant art.

In retrospect it is probably that gorgeous Sale artwork that does a lot of the heavy lifting on an issue by issue basis, keeping things flowing and providing a sublime canvas on which the story is drawn, but I wouldn’t want to do writer Jeph Loeb out of some well-deserved credit either. Sure, when reading the book again the strange choices and dubious pacing are a little more obvious (mostly due to the villain-an-issue structure), but there is still an intrinsic magic to the concept and plot. This is a vision of Batman’s early career that picks up on the oft-quoted but very rarely shown fact that Batman is allegedly the world’s greatest detective and runs with it all the way to the goal line. There are clues and red herrings and mis-directions and it all comes together with a perfectly satisfying conclusion by the time the story is done.

Seeing the last three ‘good’ men in Gotham (Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Batman) come together to instill law, justice, and order makes for a wonderful story and it’s perhaps not surprising that the best Batman movie is built on the same foundation. Speaking of films it is probably fair to say that this is the greatest Godfather comic book out there too, as it draws heavily on the Coppola film visually and the Puzo novel narratively. Again the concept shines through with a unique take on the superhero genre as Loeb takes the decision to examine the fall of traditional crime in Chicago-inspired Gotham as clown princes and other such masked super villains take over the city.

After reading that first issue I was hooked and many anxious shopping trips at local comics fairs and back issue parlours followed. It took me a while to pick up every part of The Long Halloween, but it was well worth all of the searching. Tim Sale has continued to deliver amazing work since then, but the Loeb/Sale partnership never yielded anything quite so perfectly formed (even the sequel Dark Victory lacks a certain something) and I think this would probably be my choice for best Batman story too. For me it remains the quintessential tale of the dark knight; it demonstrates his detective skills as well as his physical prowess, it features his greatest allies and most dangerous villains, it paints a vivid picture of Gotham as a living place and more than just the backdrop to random adventures, and overall it makes for a compelling and beautiful read. Even after all these years and all the comics since this is still how I see the Batman, and for that I am very grateful to Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb.

The burning blogger of Bedlam


Fatal Attractions

When Andrew invited me to do this piece, my first thought was ‘oh,
this is going to be hard to pick’. But then my second thought was ‘oh
wait, no it isn’t!’

Because probably the comic book ‘event’ that has the most sentimental
attachment for me and that also ensured my lifelong status as a
comic-book reader was an event called ‘Fatal Attractions’ in 1993,
which briefly crossed over all the X-Men titles of the time. I had
been reading comics a couple of years by then, and in fact the first
comic-book event that really had been a big deal to me was the
legendary Claremont/Lee ‘X-Men: Mutant Genesis’ storyline from two
years earlier – which would be regarded as the prequel to ‘Fatal
Attractions’. Released in 1991, that had been the event that had
relaunched the entire X-Men mythology and ensured that the X-Men would
become a multi-media sensation and cultural phenomenon in the 1990s
and beyond. That story, which was at the time the farewell masterpiece
of Chris Claremont (who had been so important to the X-Men for so many
years) not only breathed new life into the X-Men but also established
Magneto as the most complex, fascinating ‘villain’ in Marvel Comics.

These first three issues of the then new ‘X-Men’ title told the story
of a reclusive and somewhat retired Magneto being reluctantly drawn
back into the mutant crisis on Earth and once again coming into
conflict with Charles Xavier and the X-Men (after years of having been
‘on the good side’). The story remains probably the greatest ever
exploration of that crucial Magneto/Xavier dynamic that for so long
epitmosed the X-Men mythology, and it all builds to its epic climaxe
in X-Men #3 where Magneto is betrayed and killed by one of his own and
Professor X can only look on helplessly as his friend dies. Both as
the beginning of a new X-Men era and as the sign-off for Chris
Claremont, this was the absolutely perfect story and event. But then
two years later, Magneto ‘returned’ from death (note: he wasn’t
technically dead, it turned out) and we got an even more epic story
and Shakespearean tragedy with ‘Fatal Attractions’.

Even though I’d read some ‘crossover’ events already by then
(Operation Galactic Storm, the Infinity War, etc), there was nothing
that blew away my 13-year-old self more than this X-Men event did.
Crossing Excalibur #71, X-Factor #92, X-Force #25, Uncanny X-Men #304,
X-Men #25 and Wolveirne #75, this storyline set the bar up to a whole
new level. Dealing centrally with the return of Magneto, these comics
were an obsession to me for years. The writing, the character work,
the dynamics, it was all epic.

There were so many unforgettable moments; the funeral of Illyana
Rasputin, the emergence of the character ‘Exodus’, the epic
confrontatino between Magneto and Cable, the defection of Colossus to
Magneto’s side, and of course everything culminating in that
unforgettable showdown between Charles and Magneto in X-Men #25, with
Wolverine getting the adamantium brutally ripped from his body and
Charles breaking all of his ethical codes by psychically assaulting
Magneto and leaving him a braindead vegetable. It was – and still is –
utterly gripping stuff, full of poetry and resonance, as if some great
literary figure was suddenly writing X-Men comics. And godammit, those
bad-ass holograms on each of the covers still hypnotise me every time
I look at them, even twenty years later! The Havok hologram for
X-Factor #92 has to be seen to be believed!

I was about 13 when these comics came out, but I still go weak at the
knees every time I come across them in my old collection. I must’ve
read these issues over the years about as many times as I’ve watched
Empire Stikes Back or Return of the Jedi. They’re that good.

Meta Desi

https://www.facebook.com/meta.desi.comics

https://www.facebook.com/scribblinakshay


G.I. Joe A Real American Hero #21 (“Silent Interlude”)

I2621479-gi_joe__1982_marvel__21 used to own a copy of this comic and to this day one of my biggest regrets is that I loaned it to a kid I knew and never saw it again.
Written by the legendary Larry Hama who crafted pretty much the entire series of over a hundred and fifty of these books for Marvel and ended up creating some of the most intriguing and definitely ahead of their time (and comic-medium) stories for what was meant to be just an add-on to a toy-line, this book is a prime example of what Hama and Marvel accomplished.
Simply put, this is a comic that has no dialogue.
None. Nada. Zip. Zero.
It starts off with Snake-Eyes (arguably either the coolest or most over-rated Joe ever) silently infiltrating a Cobra fortress in an attempt to rescue his comrade and beloved Scarlett. Meanwhile, in keeping with the less sexist tone of much of the series, Scarlett herself is busy extricating herself from the inside out quite capable – something that seems like nothing special until one considers how such things influence our minds as children and eventually as adults.

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Each page was filled with tension and I would be on the edge of my seat each time I read this comic, devouring the artwork on each page as he made his way through, silently taking out guards and even facing down and defeating Storm-Shadow and his ninja’s before making an explosive exit with his target acquired.
I had read none of the other comics and came to possess this in the late 80’s as a little tyke, purely by chance and knew the Joe’s only through the less intense/hard-edged cartoon series. Within these pages though I found a level of intelligent, well thought out and engaging story-telling that would never have been expected and the lack of dialogue and using visuals is a concept that has burned itself into my mind to this day with thus far two of my own published comics being in a similar vein (sans dialogue) and must I admit that until making this list I never truly realised where that interest in purely visual story-telling had been born.

End of the year top 10 list from the writers here at deja.revue + friends!

Hello friends! We here at deja.revue have complied our end of the year list for best comic series’ of 2014. In addition to us we have a a couple of  guest contributors. The first is  from The Burning Blogger of Bedlam blog. He is a friend who runs an excellent blog at: https://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com be sure to check it out! The second is a friend of Mine named Jerry, who is basically my twin (in likes and hobbies, not resemblance)  who I hope will write some more contributions to this blog.

Without further delay. here we go!

Top 10 series of 2014 from Andrew Horton

10. Bee and Puppycat (Writer: various Art: various)

This series is a fun, magic filled rump through several mini series an issue. A light hearted enjoyable adventure

9. Elektra (Company: Marvel, Writer: Blackman, Art: Del Mundo)

The strength of this series is in the incredible art work by del mundo. I recommend it for the art alone. There were a few issues without the original creative team that are skippable.

8. Silver Surfer (Company: Marvel, Writer: Slott, Art: Redman)

Slott gives us a fresh take on the Silver Surfer. His story telling is whimsical and adventurous. This is complimented by Redmans cartoonish and old school looking art.

7. Cyclops (Company: Marvel, Writer: Rucka, Layman Art: Daughterman, Garron)

The creative team for this series changed 6 issues in. I preferred the original team of Rucka and Daughterman. The story was more about complicated emotions and suffering loss.

6. Thor (Company: Marvel, Writer: Aaron, Art: Daughterman)

Great fresh start on the God of Thunder. I personally have really enjoyed Lady Thor. We aren’t enough issues in for it to be warranted a higher placing on this list. My only real complaint about this series is that daughtermans art can get a bit busy at times.

5. Amazing Spider-Man (Company: Marvel, Writer: Slott, Art: Coipel)

Peter Parker is back! And in a big way. Most of the past 6 months has been dedicated to setting up for Spider-Verse, which I must confess has been a pleasant surprise. Slott has been consistent and entertaining on this run.

4. Gotham Academy (Company: DC, Writer: Cloonan, Art: Fletcher)

This series has surprised me. It really wasn’t on my radar and I just picked it up on a whim, but it has been great! I love the art style, and the good old “who-donnit” writing style. It is also one of the few DC titles I have read that doesn’t suffer from the crushing weight that is the New 52.

3. The Wicked + The Divine (Company: Image, Writer: Gillen, Art: McKelvie)

When I first started this series I didn’t know what to expect, and after the first two issues I still didn’t know what to expect. Then the crap hit the proverbial fan and now I count down the days until the next issue. I love this series. The art is a perfect compliment to the story telling, and the portrait covers are unique enough to be interesting even to those who don’t read the comic. The series has gotten stronger with each comic and I can’t wait to see where this one ends.

2. Southern Bastards (Company: Image, Writer: Aaron, Art: Latour)

Writer Aaron crafts a interesting and compelling tale of loss, justice, and football (not necessarily in that order). My family is from the south and we used to go down to visit my grandparents every year and I can confess to having seen at least one person that fit every character in the series. Aaron and Latour got it right. To be honest I wasn’t even going to read this series but my roommate (and co-founder of this blog) convinced me to and I am glad he did. I developed a strong emotional attachment to the characters and wanted nothing more than for the ending of the first arch to be different (even though the ending was perfect).

1. Moon Knight (Company: Marvel, Writer: Ellis, Art: Shavley)

Moon Knight earned it’s place here from the first arc by Ellis and Shavley alone. In what truly was a fresh start for a old character, Moon Knight stood head and shoulders above the competition. The story telling was often interconnected one-and-done stories crafted deftly by the capable Eliis. With jaw dropping complimenting art by Shavley. Overall I loved this series. It blended several genres together, constantly reinventing, and shape shifting its self. The new arc with the new creative team is also good, but wouldn’t make it on this top 10 list. Out of all the other series’ I read I truly enjoyed this one the most.

BONUS: Favorite new character:

Spider-Gwen (created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez)

Spider-gwen lept out of Spider-verse and into out hearts, and in doing so is getting her own series. She is the best thing to come out of spider-verse and I cannot wait to read her series! Great work guys.

Top 10 series of 2014 from John Small

10.Elektra (Marvel)

9. The Life After (Oni Press)

8. A Waste of Time (Northwest Press

7. The Woods (BOOM!)

6. Low (Image)

5. Lumberjanes (BOOM!/Boombox)

4. Rocket Raccoon (Marvel

3. Chew (Image)

2. The Bunker (ONI Press)

1. Southern Bastards (Image)

Top 10 issues of 2014 according to The Burning Blogger of Bedlam

Next we have a contribution from a friend over at http://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com/. I had asked several people and he was the only one to not flake out on us. If you have the time you should really check the blog out. There’s all kinds of fascinating reviews and current issues related articles. Everything on the blog is well written and well layed out. I highly reccommend you check it out. So Now For The Burning Blogger of Bedlams top 10 list:

When Andrew invited me to contribute a post of my top 10 favorite comic series’ of 2014 to this site, I was of course more than happy to be involved; though also a little embarassed that I would only be able to pick Marvel titles. Yes, my comic-reading has been mostly limited to Marvel in 2014, due both to time-constraints and also the fact that I’ve only relatively recently come back to proper, dedicated comic-book reading after a long spell away. I’ll do better next year (if you ask me again).

As Marvel goes, it has however been a very interesting year, with numerous new series’ launched or existing titles rebooted, several of which are highlighted in this post. I am, I have to admit, a sucker for #1’s, so it was an opportune time for me to be coming back into the fold, able to peruse #1’s from Daredevil and Magneto to Inhuman and (the new) X-Force. Andrew initially suggested I pick my top 10 series; I chose instead to pick my ten favorite individual issues (though I’ve cheated in one or two entries), this being because I’ve mostly been dipping in and out of various titles like a whore recently and the only series’ I’ve followed fully and properly have been Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nightcrawler and Daredevil. Here then are my 10 top picks from 2014.

Captain Marvel #1
The entire current run of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel series has been a joy to me personally and probably my favorite series of 2014. There’s a simple charm to the book in its straightforward, uncomplicated approach, sense of humour and sense of adventure. Kelly Sue DeConnick has such an addictive handle on Carol Danvers that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever writing her again, while the David Lopez/Lee Loughbridge art and colour combination is effortlessly attractive, easy on the eye, and allows the stories to flow fluidly from panel to panel and issue to issue. Part of the joy of the series is how easily it flows, how uncomplicated it is, how unladen with continuity overload it is and how unaffected by other titles or events.

The story occupying most of the series in 2014 has been interconnected/ongoing, the various issues somewhat blurring together and with the quality being pretty much at the same high level throughout, making it difficult to pick out a single individual issue for praise: I’ve chosen therefore to pick #1, which is where things of course begin.

The opening sequence in the alien marketplace on Planet Ursa 4 with all its Mos Espa-esque Star Wars evocations is immediately comfortable and familiar. The Star Wars reference is something that occurs to you frequently over the course of the series, the worlds and backdrops Carol finds herself in often having that iconic Star Wars feel to them. This actually becomes an active homage at times, from Carol’s cat being named ‘Chewie’ to other scattered Star Wars references; but that opening sequence in #1 felt wholly inviting and comfortable for someone like me, being a long-time fan of science-fiction in general and Star Wars in particular. That opening sequence also showed us four visually engaging characters we weren’t familiar with yet (but would come to know over the next few months) in a terrific Resevoir Dogs type image with Carol at its centre.

Those first few pages of Captain Marvel #1 were instantly engaging, endearing and perfectly set the stage for the tone and quality of the series to follow; clearly telling us that we were in for an exotic, swashbuckling cosmic adventure with Marvel’s premier and most endearing super-heroine at its core. Sending Carol into space as a long-term ‘cosmic avenger’ was, as a concept, always a winning idea and a fantastic basis for a monthly series. There were a lot of #1’s on the shelves this year, some of them better than others, but Captain Marvel #1 really demonstrates how to do a #1 most effectively; I was in no doubt that I’d be reading every issue after that. Needless to say then, Captain Marvel #1 acts as a suitably entertaining entry-point into the Carol Danvers mythology for newcomers while also catering just as much to longer-standing fans.

Having the narrative begin with a sequence chronologically set six months further ahead in the series and then snapping back to the ‘present’ was also an effective way to begin things, giving us a glimpse of things to come and making us wonder how we’ll get there. Meanwhile the Carol Danvers we’re reintroduced to in Captain Marvel #1 is immediately fun, endearing and engaging. I could take or leave the James Rhodes angle, but the sequence of Carol and Iron Man casually dealing with two street thugs while Stark pitches her bold new outer space mission to her is fun, offering one last Earth-bound bit of Avengers-ing for Carol before her epic sojourn into the stars. And long may that sojourn continue. Captain Marvel, aka the one-time Ms Marvel, has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time and it is notable how long the character was in the wildnerness of the Marvel Comics world following controversies in the eighties (which I covered in this post link: http://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/five-controversial-moments-in-marvel-comic-history/); and yet having been brought back to the fore in more recent times she now finds herself one of the company’s primary faces, most popular icons and soon-to-be cinematic hero too. It’s been a hell of a comeback, and this current Captain Marvel series demonstrates what a continuing loss to Marvel she would’ve been had she been kept in limbo.

Uncanny Avengers #25 (March to Axis)
With all the big-scale confrontations and concepts, overpopulated sequences and character-laden scenes that define this year’s major Marvel event, it is notable that the absolute high point of the entire Avengers/X-Men: Axis saga didn’t occur in the main Axis series, but in Uncanny Avengers #25 and specifically the confrontation between the Red Skull and Magneto. Away from all the overblown superhero versus supervillain or tag-team silliness that populates most of the rest of Axis, Uncanny Avengers #25 centers on a confrontation brimming with atmosphere, idealogy, history and gets to the very core of both the Red Skull and Magneto as characters.

For starters, this issue’s depiction of the Skull’s Mutant concentration camps really visually and tonally brings home what the nature of the Red Skull’s evil is. And what Schmidt is doing plays right into the very core of who Magneto is and always has been as a character and right to the heart of Magneto’s worst longstanding fears: that humans would eventually do to Mutants what the Nazis did to Jews in the nineteen-thirties, which was something Magneto had to experience first-hand and is now having to experience again. The fact that all of this unfolds in the rain also helps to impart it a bleak atmosphere throughout, the grim surroundings almost certainly bringing to the fore old memories of the Holocaust for both characters – one as a perpetrator and the other a victim. But the real fascination is in the Red Skull deliberately and callously taunting Magneto, knowing full well what drives the Master of Magnetism and everything that forged him in his tragic past as a victim-child of Nazi Germany. Schmidt revels in this, utterly remorseless. As he taunts Magnus more and more with each measured word and callous look, we can see Magneto’s blank, almost numb-looking face and we know the rage – a rage coloured by so much traumatic life experience – is building within him.

When Schmidt demands Magneto kneels – bows – to him and when Magneto complies, we know this is the lowest the once proud Erik Lensherr could possibly get: literally bowing to a monster of the Third Reich who is now intent on visiting a Holocaust upon Mutantkind. As a longstanding X-Men and Magneto enthusiast and natural sympathiser to the Mutant cause, something in my gut reacted, having to watch Magneto doing that. But of course moments later Magneto, with his powers newly restored to him, assaults the Red Skull mercilessly. The big “I am MAGNETO!” declaration on page 12 might look silly out of context, but in the context of the story works as a fairly meaningful moment. Magneto then proceeding to coldly and calmly murder the Red Skull is probably the highlight of this entire Axis business. The fact that he consciously chooses to do so without using his ‘filthy’ mutant powers, but by simply pounding Schmidt’s face repeatedly with his fist, is also a meaningful thematic touch.

Whatever the prevailing view is of the Axis event as a (vastly over-extended) whole, it has given us one of the classic Magneto moments in the character’s history (in my opinion), which isn’t something I’ve been expecting lately. That sight of the apparently dead Red Skull laying there in the rain with Magneto, Havok and Wanda standing over him is an effective image, while Rogue’s disapproving assessment that he (Magneto) is no different to Schmidt sets the guilt-ridden, self-doubting course of the rest of Magneto’s key part in the Axis saga. Magnus’s slaughter of Schmidt may be, on a visceral level, up there with him ripping the adamantium from Wolverine‘s body in 1993’s classic X-Men #25; that’s not to compare the Fatal Attractions storyline with today’s Axis event, of course (Fatal Attractions was something substantially better and altogether different), but is just a comment on that kind of violent, evocative, defining moment that an important character maybe has only two or three times in their comic-book history. I haven’t been an avid follower of the Uncanny Avengers series, nor particularly a fan of Rick Remender’s work, but this particular lead-in issue to the main Axis event was as good as the entire business got.
Daredevil #1
One of the eternal cornerstones of Marvel Comics, Daredevil, relaunched early in the year too, picking up where the last run ended. I didn’t read any of that previous arc, but yet was able to get straight into the flow with the opening issues of the new Daredevil series. That’s in part a testament to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee making it very easy to do that, Daredevil #1 being a very accessible jumping-on point and yet without being patronisingly simplistic. It offered a winning mix of dynamic artwork, lively, well-paced storytelling, an uncomplicated refresher course of Matt Murdock’s life story, and one simple and engaging action sequence that reminds us of Daredevil’s heroics and capabilities without trying to be too overblown or attention-seeking.

Part of the charm of this book, both in #1 and beyond, is it’s simplicity and lack of pretension; there’s a feeling when you read this series that you’re reading writers who feel they don’t have anything to prove with Daredevil and don’t need to compete with anything else going on in the Marvel roster, but can just simply tell a story. Daredevil as a title feels refreshingly lightweight and unencumbered, particularly at a time when many other titles are drowning in ‘events’, crossovers and tie-ins or otherwise just vastly complicated chronologies and inter-connectedness.

Daredevil #1 really captures the sense of Murdock’s heightened senses and the city (San Fransisco) through his unique perspective; Samnee gives us a vividly visualised depiction of superhero life for a protaganist unable to use sight. The multiple panels of images accompanying Murdock’s monologue on pages 6 and 7, for example, are richly dynamic; in theory it’s a complicated visual, but in effect it’s both easy on the eye and information-dense at the same time. It’s a highly visual book, but more cartoon-like than realist in effect; for some books that would be a criticism, but for this incarnation of Daredevil it seems to work. Than in itself is somewhat surprising, as I would’ve thought Daredevil would be better served by a darker, more noir-ish dynamic, as he has been in some of his best past stories. But what’s being done with the Daredevil mythology now is working well; though it doesn’t yet have that same classic feel of some of the past eras, it has its own integrity and appeal and its own singular style, at times even feeling like part Golden Age homage.

In fact there’s a friend of mine who has never read comics but has often had the desire to; frequently intimidated by how complicated Marvel comics are and how much reading material seems necessary in order to merely get started, he asked me earlier in the year what comic or series he should start with. I told him to start with the new Daredevil #1: simple, largely self-contained, reader-friendly, but thoroughly enjoyable, it’s the same answer I would give any other Marvel Comics virgin looking for their first read.
Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude #1
“My name is Nebula and I am falling…” Those are the enticing words we begin with. What follows is an engaging and enjoyable backstory for the newly reimagined Nebula; a character that has been around for a long time, but has had some major makeover work and is now more of a Darth Maul type figure than she ever was in the old days. The re-styled Nebula in truth is probably a more interesting character, certainly a more visually arresting one, so I guess sometimes change is good.

Disconnected from the main Guardians of the Galaxy series (which aside from Captain Marvel has probably been my favorite ongoing monthly), this was the first of two comics released as direct lead-ins to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. As a matter somewhat of principle I generally don’t read film tie-ins when it comes to comics, but I made the exception this time on account of being really excited about that movie. The second offering, centering on Groot and Rocket Raccoon, was nowhere near as engaging or interesting, but this fairly simple Nebula tale by Andy Lanning and Dan Ablett works surprisingly nicely even as just a standalone comic. It explores the backstory of the grim Nebula/Gamora relationship and rivalry as they both spur each other on and at the same time compete with another for the approval of their bleak task-master Thanos. The book is visually engaging, with exotic, mythic-feeling backdrops and evocative images. Wellington Alves’s art is lucid and striking, making immediate impressions, while Manny Clark’s colours give a pleasant, lustrous veneer to the compelling character study.

Not especially important reading, but a compelling diversion for those interested enough, particularly if you’re a Nebula fan.

Magneto #10

Clive Bunn’s Magneto monthly series has been decidedly bleak in both tone and content from the very beginning, but the ‘March to Axis’ and Magneto #10 was a particularly grim affair. Any interaction between Magneto and the Red Skull is automatically fascinating to me, due to the inherent, deep-seated dynamics of Schmidt, the real-life German Nazi supervillain taunting and provoking Magneto, the forever embittered Holocaust survivor and one-time ‘Saviour of Mutantkind’. This dynamic reached its height in Uncanny Avengers #25, but it was building from earlier ‘March to Axis’ releases, particularly Magneto #10.

There’s an early page in #10 featuring Quicksilver, Crystal and Luna Maximoff along with Wanda and Vision in Magneto’s memories played to the nostalgist in me (as does the prominence of Rogue in the story), sending me back to my formative era of reading X-Men and Avengers comics (Blood Ties in particular). That whole issue, with its subjective nightmare torture for Magneto, proves to be a timely and fascinating exploration of Magneto’s long-damaged psyche, reminding us of how complex and engaging a character he once was and can still be, with his own rich mythology. For a long-time Magneto fan who’s been struggling to enjoy the character in recent years, #10 was something of a refreshing experience. This entire issue, all taking place inside Magneto’s tortured mind and memories is genuinely nightmarish and unsettling, from reliving the death of his daughter Anya to being chased by Nazi dinosaurs – I know that sounds ridiculous, but in the context of the nightmare it genuinely is unsettling. Literally monstrous Nazi soldiers and palpable anguish throughout on Magnus’s part make this a darkly compelling read and a timely insight into one of Marvel’s tortured, complex characters.

Again it also plays to the nostalgist in me, as we also get to see the old Magneto in his classic purple/red colours (I wish they’d bring that classic look back) and the inner Magnus we explore in #10 feels much closer to the classic Magneto of old than anything else to be found in what the Magneto title has otherwise offered so far. Havok, Rogue and Wanda come to rescue Magnus from his torture at the end, leading us directly into the climatic events of Uncanny Avengers #25. I haven’t been particularly enamoured with the Magneto title in general, but here it hit its peak.
Nightcrawler #7
Coming into 2014 one of the most exciting prospects for me personally was the promise of not only Nightcrawler’s return to the land of the living but the promise of a solo title to be written by none other than the great Chris Claremont, the godfather of the X-Men’s greatest era and moulder of such X-Men luminaries as Nightcrawler and Wolverine. Unlike the first few issues of the Magneto solo series (which I was also excited about), Nightcrawler wasn’t disappointing. It hasn’t been a spectacular series by any means, but has trickled along in an understated, non-attention-seeking manner, giving a regular showcase for one of my all-time favorite comic-book characters.

Nightcrawler #1 provided a tasteful, endearing start-point for Kurt Wagner’s new life. Most of the issues that followed were a mixed bag, but with enough enjoyable elements to keep some momentum going. Of the lot, Nightcrawler #7 stands out for me when I glance back over the sequence, this being centered on Wagner’s reaction to the Death of Wolverine event that dominated September and October. Of all the many tie-ins and off-shoots to the Death of Wolverine busniness, including the main four-part event itself, it was Nightcrawler #7 in all its simplicity that actually made for the best read.

The simple, poignant cover of Kurt lighting a candle beneath an old photo of him and Logan was in itself more resonant than the pages and pages of coverage the Death of Wolverine got elsewhere, and Nightcrawler #7 as an issue continued that theme. It helps that Kurt and Logan have a particularly strong, historic friendship, that they both came into the X-Men mythology together at the same time all those decades ago and that Chris Claremont more than anyone has a handle on that history and is able to tap into that rich well and bring past and present together in a meaningful way. The way Kurt Wagner’s inner monologue frames the narrative all the way through the Nightcrawler series was an effective tool from #1 ownards, but in Nightcrawler #7 it is especially effective, able to really get to the heart of Wagner’s response to his friend’s death. There is something particularly poignant in the reference to how mankind builds not just tombs but monuments to the dead, with visual references to the Holocaust Museum and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier among others.

There is moving nostalgia value in Kurt’s private trip down memory lane, with strong visual recollections of his colorful past, from the events of 1975’s Giant-Sized X-Men #1 in which Nightcrawler and Wolverine both debuted, through those early adventures that followed, the Dark Phoenix Saga and beyond, to the Excalibur days, right through to Wagner’s heroic death protecting Hope Summers in the truly superb X-Men: Second Coming storyline. It’s a massively abbreviated history, of course, but it does the job of being suitably nostalgic and framing the passing of Wolverine in a much broader, generation-spanning narrative. Meanwhile a simulated farewell party for Logan seems to feature half the Marvel Universe in attendance; but as it happens Kurt has been the only real, non-simulated character in the narrative all along. The only other character to really appear is Rachel Summers once Kurt gets fed up of the overly idealised illusion he’s creating and angrily does away with it all. The issue’s brief Kurt/Rachel encounter and embrace is an endearing, poignant end to the matter and demonstrates how smaller, focused character moments are almost always more effective than over-populated cameo-fests.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #6 and #7
OK, I’m cheating here, but they’re bascially the same story so I’m counting them as one entry in this top ten. Loki: Agent of Asgard, yet another newly launched title this year, was something I had only vaguely paid attention to for the most part. I read the first issue, quite enjoyed it, but then drifted off to other things. It was the presence of one of my favorite characters, the one and only Victor Von Doom, that drew me in for Loki: Agent of Asgard #6 and 7, part of the ‘March to Axis’ lead-in. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Doom just might be the coolest villain there is in the Marvel Universe and everything that makes him so compelling was displayed across these two issues. Loki writer Al Ewing seems to have a really good handle on Doctor Doom and might even be a natural candidate for chief steersman of any prospective Doom solo title (which I seriously hope is something being discussed). I was also easily won over by the Jorge Coelho/Lee Loughbridge art style for the books and am tempted to commit to this title beyond Axis, despite never having been particularly interested in Loki as a character. The ‘magical duel’ between Doom and Loki in #6 is entertaining, though understated; it isn’t about spectacle, but more about dialgoue and theme. Doom’s talk of ‘magical thinking’ and magic being ‘the imposition of a narrative upon reality’ is genuinely fascinating. It ends with Doom rather deliciously trapping Loki, keeping him prisoner.

Everything about Loki: Agent of Asgard #6 and #7 is superb, from the art and the tone of everything to the themes, the dialogue, the humour and the character dynamics. Most of all, it proves to be a fascinating character study of Doom himself, showing him in all his complex, poetic glory. In #6 this is primarily in terms of his way of thinking, his belief in magical thinking and his own narrative, his own story – the “story of Doom”. Then in #7 this expands into an exploration of his role as Latveria’s dictator and figurehead. The influence of the Red Skull’s hate-wave on Latveria’s citizens in #7 causes mass riots and violence as the people begin to turn against their master. The Coelho/Loughbridge art for these scenes is mesmerising, really capturing the sense of chaos and breakdown in order, as well as Doom’s own outrage. Reading this, I became utterly convinced that this particular depiction of Doom and his Latverian kingdom was a deliberatele analogy for the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011; I won’t go into all of that here, but I covered it at length in this post (link: http://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/colonel-gadaffi-comparisons-agents-of-asgard-and-why-doctor-doom-should-have-his-own-series/ ).

If I wanted to petition Marvel to commission a Doctor Doom solo title, I would use these two comics as the bait. They exhibit everything that makes Doom so fascinating. And it isn’t just the brooding, introspective monologues or poetic flourishes; the Latverian setting and Doom’s lair itself (particularly the way Coelho draws those Gothic interiors) are a rich backdrop to the drama and suggest that if a Doom movie was ever made it should be by Tim Burton. The odd relationship between Doom and little Valeria Richards also provides both a fascinating and likeable dynamic with rich potential, allowing for Victor’s ‘softer side’ to occasionally peek out from the grim demeanour. And believe it or not, there is also terrific, scattered humour, with Doom having become the new king of deadpan; his response to little Valeria Richards’ “can we have ice-cream?” is priceless – “Doom will consider your request”. Gotta love this guy.
Silver Surfer #2 and #3
I was excited about the news of a new Silver Surfer monthly title when it was first announced, being a long-time enthusiast of Norrin Radd, the Power Cosmic and the whole, rich Silver Surfer mythology. The Surfer was one of the primary heroes of my formative comic-book reading years back in the early nineties and a Marvel Universe without a regular Silver Surfer book in it had seemed like an emptier place.

The Silver Surfer is essentially a more difficult character to sell in the contemporary Marvel set-up than he was in the past; he can easily come off feeling quaint by today’s expectations, which was no doubt part of the reason why he was in the wilderness for a number of years. There are still traces of that diffculty in these first few issues of the 2014 resurrection, but the presence of key new character, the young Ms Dawn Greenwood, counteracts that problem significantly, providing a fresher, more down-to-earth ingredient to what might otherwise be an aloof-feeling, otherwordly affair. The humour and sarcasm scattered across the dialogue, primarily through Dawn, is generally not something we’d usually associate with Silver Surfer comics, but serves to bring the Surfer’s tale more into keeping with current comic-book trends and characteristics, such as typifies the Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy titles for example.

The cover to #1, with the earth-dwelling Ms Greenwood reaching out and grasping the hand of the space-faring Silver Surfer, felt iconic as soon as I saw it. #2’s cover, with the Surfer facing a page-filling Never Queen has the aura of the iconic to it too, seeming and feeling like one of the classic Silver Surfer covers of old. The story told in these first few issues isn’t quite as memorable as those covers suggested, but were nevertheless entertaining and felt like something fairly fresh and new. The first three issues of the new series saw the Surfer encountering the previously unheard-of Impericon; an extraordinary, “impossible palace” spanning the size of whole worlds and acting as a major attraction for visitors from all over the galaxy. Called upon to defend the the attraction from the ‘Never Queen’, the Surfer soon discovers in classic Silver Surfer fashion that this immensely powerful and metaphysical Never Queen isn’t the big bad monster after all but the wronged party in need of saving. The Never Queen herself is an evocative and visually engaging presence with a distinct aesthetic in the way many of the classic cosmic figures in the Marvel Universe always were. The way she is rendered in #2 and #3 are one of the most compelling elements.

More importantly the relationship established in these opening issues between the Surfer and “earth-girl” Dawn Greenwood has immediate likeability factor, beginning a new take on an old legend. Dawn, who is a touch reminiscent of old-school Jubilee from the X-Men world, is an instantly adorable character able to add something fresh to the Silver Surfer mythology, giving things a more ‘street’ feel than Silver Surfer fans are used to. Yet there’s also the more familiar, classic elements of the mythology present in the mix, particularly with the familiar and highly visual presence of Eternity. Dawn Greenwood’s look is immediately both sweet and striking. It’s always good for our first glimpse of a character to be one that asserts itself on the senses, and the sight of Greenwood in her polka-dot dress and sneakers, with her cropped blue hair makes a substantial impression. That she also proves to be a highly readable character makes it a winning marriage of image and substance.

On the other hand, the Silver Surfer’s look is a little flat in these issues, coming off as more cartoonish than imposing. To be fair, the look and feel of the comic overall seems decidedly cartoon-like in style, from Laura and Mike Allred’s illustrations to Clayton Cowles’ lettering, and that style seems to work in its own right, particularly when it’s centered on the Dawn Greenwood character. In my opinion it doesn’t translate so well for the Surfer himself, who loses some of his visual potency as it was in the old days; but it understandably puts Allred in a difficult bind, as you can’t really illustrate the Surfer in one style and the rest of the comic in another. The art style is something you have to simply get used to; it certainly isn’t without its charms.

In general, these opening issues of the series were very enjoyable reads, managing to be both very new and yet also somewhat in keeping with the mythology of old at the same time. #2 and #3 were the highlights for me, particularly seeing Dawn and the Surfer come together for what we can assume is the beginning of a very important relationship.

Ms Marvel #2
The launch of the new Ms Marvel title early in the year caused some degree of controversy due to its heroine being a Muslim teenager; this being of course in an era where Muslims are still stigmatised and villified in the media and moveover in much of the popular mindset. The debuting of the series in March garnered coverage in media all over the world, from American press to newspapers and websites in the Middle East and Asia.

What’s most commendable to me about the Ms Marvel series is how non-cynical and non-tokenistic it felt right from the start. In Kamala Khan, writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat created a character that was both likeable and relatable. She isn’t larger-than-life, isn’t any spectacular hero, but an understated, unassuming character who often comes across like she could easily be one of the X-Men younglings or some unassuming sidekick for Spiderman. Fittingly, Kamala is as uncomfortable with her situation and transformation as some readers or comic-book enthusiasts may or may not have been about the idea of the character in the first instance. The Pakistani/Muslim cultrual issues are a permanent presence and reality but are never over or under emphasised, never shoved down anyone’s throat; Kamala’s family and cultural background are there as simple, unobtrusive matter-of-fact. The pressures faced by young people from highly conservative family backgrounds searching for personal identity in broader American (or Western) society is a modern condition familiar to many (including many who read comics); G. Willow Wilson’s Kamala Khan embodies that struggle in a manner that is both engaging and very timely.

I covered this subject at length in this post (link: http://theburningbloggerofbedlam.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/the-new-muslim-ms-marvel-and-the-cultural-controversies-in-comics/ ) and in it made this point: People who object to such things may have no notion of how many people, especially young people, from minority communities and not just in America but all over the world, are loyal, dedicated comic-book readers. So much so, in fact, that I’d argue that such readers shouldn’t even be considered a ‘minority’ to be pandered to, but actually the majority audience of numerous comic-book franchises. Just as many would’ve been unaware not too long ago of how many young gay readers or young people struggling with issues of sexuality were a significant part of comic-book fandom and in many cases were taking solace from certain comic characters or stories, particularly in X-Men books. You can find numerous moving testimonies too to how the presence of black characters like the Black Panther in mainstream comic books in the late sixties and early seventies really meant something to young black teenagers and readers at the time, who may have had other characters they liked, but none they could relate to at that level.

No doubt there are Muslim readers of comic books – I know a few myself – including girls, who might take something very personal, very encouraging in the presence of a Kamala Khan type character having her own solo series and in whatever stories and ideas that series might go on to explore. Relatability is a big deal; in comics, just as in novels or films. And for a community – and Muslim females are a subset even within that broader minority – that is currently so controversially regarded and so unfavorably portrayed in mainstream media and largely ostracized from mainstream popular culture not just in the US, but elsewhere too, something like this can be a fairly big deal.

The first several issues, without being at all spectacular, were fairly enjoyable to read, offering a cogent introduction to the character, her psychology, her cultural background and her personal struggles. Adrian Alphona’s highly stylised art is a touch difficult on the eye as far as my personal taste goes, but at the same time it seems to work for this series, seems to fit the slightly off-kilter vibe. In essence, I love that this character exists and is fronting a monthly title at Marvel and enjoying a loyal audience too; and the Jamie McKelvie/Matt Wilson cover of Ms Marvel #2 captures that vibe most potently, feeling like a highly welcome new presence in the Marvel family has arrived and is here for good.
Avengers/X-Men: Axis 3

Most big Marvel events have swathes of critics even within Marvel fandom; 2014’s Avengers/X-Men: Axis was no exception. While most of the best parts of the overall story occur in tie-ins and lead-ins, Axis #3 is as good as the central 9-part series seems to have gotten before taking a massive nose-dive in Axis #4.

If I had any major gripe with Axis #3, it would be that Mystique should’ve had far more coverage (how you can have Mystique in the mix and not give her more to do is beyond me); but that aside, having Magneto play team captain in taking the initiative to bring this pantheon of villains to the rescue of the heroes has its obvious charm. Magneto, Doom, Loki, Deadpool and Enchantress all get their page-time and their uneasy alliances make for fun reading (the Doom/Loki thing established in Agent of Asgard #6 could have a lot of long-term potential). It generally is the villains and not the ‘heroes’ who get the best lines and best interactions; any Doom/Loki dialogue is almost guaranteed to be more interesting than anything Sam Wilson, Wanda or Havok is saying at any given time. While we’re on that point, I don’t get the appeal of Sam Wilson at all, even as Falcon letalone as Captain America – he is one of the dullest characters in MU history.

At any rate, the eventual defeat of Red Onslaught is suitably dramatic and having Doom play a central role is almost as satisfying as seeing Magneto slay Red Skull in Uncanny Avengers #25. From this point in the saga, however, enjoyability starts to wane. The shift from The Red Supremacy half of the series (#1 – 3) to the Inversion part seems to have included a major quality shift too and goes on to be full of silly ideas, terrible characterisation and general childishness. From the very point in #3 where the Red Onslaught is defeated, the story starts to go awry, as if the Red Skull/Magneto dynamic was the principal nexus holding all the rest of it together. The fall out between Avengers and X-Men is pretty dull, a tired idea by now.

But again there’s more than enough to enjoy in Axis #3 to balance the equation at least as far as this individual comic is concerned; Deadpool gets his time, with suitable comedy asides. Evan Sabah Nur (Genesis) and Quentin Quire have a meaningful moment. Doom predictably gets the best dialogue; “Once again it falls to Doom to save the world”, while Evan/Genesis emerging as the full-blown Apocalypse makes for a quick thrill (even if it doesn’t go anywhere great in subsequent installments). There aren’t many great things to be said about Axis overall, but I stand by Axis #3 as a fun ride.

The top 5 series of 2014 from Jerry Caskey

Last but not least is a top 5 list from My friend Jerry!

1. Moon Knight

Where to start. Moon Knight is a strange character. A mercenary brought back to life by an Egyptian god? It already sounds cheesy. But cheesy was the Moon Knight from the good old days, now there is Warren Ellis. Featuring questionable mental states, three-piece suits, and a driverless limo, Moon Knight has gotten some upgrades. Perhaps the least tangible of these is the un-amused swagger with which he moves through adversity. In issue #5 Mr. Knight traverses through four floors of foes before one even deflects a blow. The entirety of Issue #6 is spent on another man, building himself up to exact revenge on Moon Knight, only to be taken down in a few panels. So the question is: what does it take to make Moon Knight flinch?

The most apparent change is visual. Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire work together to create some of the best art to be released last year. Moon Knight is stark white against the gritty drab world he has been sent back into. From apartment buildings, to sewers, to all-on dreamscapes, each issue is vibrant and original. Coupled with Warren Ellis’ unparalleled story telling abilities, Moon Knight towered over his counterparts last year.

2. Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan, dealing with issues of social, domestic, and ethnic solidarity, turns to The Avengers with one request, to be like them. When her request is granted, she discovers the truth. Being someone else isn’t liberating, it’s exhausting.

Willow Wilson paves the way with soul-searching dialog and characters diverse beyond any expectation. The commentary meanders through topics, pausing to address the horrors of ‘traditional’ heroine garb among sixteen year old self-discovery. The art (Adrian Alphona) maintains a delicate balance between necessarily realistic, and fantastically cartoon-ish. Illustrating both the underlying messages of Kamala Khan finding herself, and the literal overlay of Ms Marvel.

Bonus: If you pay particular attention to the scenery, you will be rewarded with some general silliness.

3. Saga

Image comics. Do not misunderstand me, Marvel can get dark. DC plays with heavy topics. Dark Horse flexes their violent muscles. But Image turns raw viscera into aesthetically pleasing, structured, palatable comics. Saga is no different. Touted as a ‘space opera’, Saga is the weaving together of many story lines into one spiraling adventure. Brian K. Vaughan keeps each thread alive, all working toward some unforeseeable resolve. 2014 was particularly intriguing as old characters were brought back, and the seemingly dispirit began to team up and fight.

Challenged with the task of visualizing this epic universe is Fiona Staples. Staples keeps the focus sharply on the characters. The surroundings stay soft and out of the way as the characters command attention with an expressive liveliness not present in many comics. With a project as huge as Saga it is a wonder that every issue feels original. Just when the art could become dry, or reused, Fiona moves up a notch to keep the universe pulsing on.

4. Death of Wolverine

I must admit. I like ’em dark. Something about the brooding vulnerability of hopelessness that humanizes even the toughest among us. And who is the toughest among us if not Wolverine. What is Wolverine faced with in this series? Two words: THE END.

Charles Soule keeps the conversations minimal, and the artists (Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor) pick up the slack. The fundamental change to this comic is simple, Wolverine has no healing power. To ensure we remember this, small red boxes season the dismal landscape containing one piece of critical information: the cost of Wolverine’s previous attack. This keeps Wolverine’s mortality, rather than his general bad-assery, as our primary focus (The fact that he continues to lay waste in his mortal state does add credit to his already sterling reputation as a badass, however).

Logan is vagrant, degrading, falling apart. Damage is permanent and the word is out. Knowing that hiding will only result in innocent lives being lost, Logan chooses to literally provide a map to his exact location. Blood, grit, and headbutts. Death of Wolverine has managed to make me worry about a hero I never felt any concern over.

5. Batman: Zero Year

What is there to be said that has not been said already about Bats? What I can say is that Scott Snyder is doing some wonderful writing for the Zero Year story arc. He gives us a unique look into a time when Bruce was learning from mistakes, and how those mistakes led to his life as Batman. With the elusive Ed Nygma pulling strings, and the Red Hood as muscle, Bruce fights for his life as he struggles with internal crisis. There are three internal arcs: “Secret City” which deals with Bruce’s beginnings; “Dark City” which follows Batman’s first months; and “Savage City” in which Batman must wrest control of Arkham from Riddler.

Greg Capullo keeps the artwork just traditional enough without feeling worn-out or pandering. Throughout the series Batman maintains a more cartoonish effect than the troubled, anxious souls he is protecting. This allows the general outlook to be hopeless, without detracting from the underlying knowledge that Batman is going to prevail.