I’m either more plugged into the new comic book landscape through my reviews over on Capeless Crusader, or 2014 is absurdly impressive in terms of new comic book output. Seems like every week there are a handful of “must-grab” number one issues. This is exciting (tons of good comics!), but also a bit intimidating. Let’s say you’re new to comic book pulllists, or simply on a budget. Where do you start?
Much of this is Image Comics’ fault, as they’re releasing fantastic books week in and week out. It really makes a fan’’s life a challenge. I had to change jobs just to keep up.
Below you’ll find my top 10 favorite ongoing comics that you should start reading right now. As I’ve said with previous editions, this is not a strict best-of list. The list is focused on comic books you can start reading from scratch most easily. As a result, a great ongoing series like Chew (now over 40 issues into its run on Image) misses the cut. I still highly recommend it, but a new reader would need 6 trades (or an Omnivore Edition) to catch up.
You’ll also notice I like my lists like I like my women; separated according to publisher. The “Indie” books (Image, Dark Horse, Boom, etc) get their own list, Marvel Comics get their own special little place (to come), and DC is still a publisher too I guess.
The Top 10 Ongoing Comic Books to Start Reading (July 2014)
As I said in my generally non-plussed review of Trees #2, when Warren Ellis writes a new ongoing comic book series, you buy the thing. That’s just science. I haven’t been overjoyed with Trees to date, but there’s little use denying it’s an immensely intriguing concept from two star creators (Ellis and artist Jason Howard). Alien lifeforms known as “Trees” land on Earth, only they fail to communicate, move, or in almost any way acknowledge they have inhabited a planet full of sentient lifeforms. A decade later Earth has learned to live with the Trees, although they still dominate much of public life, both politically and scientifically. And the ultimate question lingers: What if they wake up?
With only two issues out, it’s a great time to jump in on Trees, particularly if you’re a fan of Warren Ellis. There are few active comic book writers in the same tier as Ellis, save Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Neil Gaimain (“active”). If you’re not sure about Trees at least do yourself the favor of checking out his work on Transmetropolitan, Planetary, and Marvel’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
This book makes the cut almost entirely for ease of access and consumption. Star Wars: Rebel Heist is a four issue miniseries from Matt Kindt and ARTIST NAME that tells a classic Star Wars story involving Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and a Luke to be named later. It’s not necessarily Kindt’s best comic book work (that would be Mind MGMT, or even his Valiant Comics work) but it’s a fun romp through the Star Wars universe that will be an easy read for new fans.
8) The Superannuated Man – Image, first issue came out in June
I’m fairly confident The Superannuated Man is not for everyone. It’s also very likely my favorite first issue of a book I’ve read all year, and also the only book I’ve scored a 10/10 in my reviews on Capeless Crusader.
This is a challenging book to explain, but essentialy The Superannuated Man is the creative vision of writer and artist Ted McKeever, using black and white to craft a future Earth where man is an endangered species and mutant-hybrid fish and animals walk around and talk slang. The first issue of the series is tremondously captivating, focusing less on linear story and more on building an entirely unique, literary world. The Superannuated Man is a six issue miniseries, so jumping in now also offers a clear end date.
7) Life After / Auteur – Oni Press – First issue out 7.9, and 4 issues out respectively
I’ve read two Oni Press books this year and both have been so startingly fresh I feel compelled to include them both here. Oni Press runs the slogan “Revolutionize Comics” in their books, but you’d never think a publisher capable of actually going out and doing that until you read a book like Auteur. I’ve described it as Family Guy meets Dexter in Hollywood (in a good way!) but honestly a television analogy doesn’t do the series justice. Auteur is twisting the comic book medium in a way you could ONLY do in comics, and the end result has been a perversely good time. It’s either so appalling the book should be banned from the planet, or it’s genius. And that’s a great place for any comic book to be.
In the other corner, Life After just kicked off with its first issue from Josh Fialkov and Gabo and it’s one of my absolute favorite first issues of the year. You can check out my full review over on Capeless, but for now, do yourself a favor and give Oni Press a shot. I haven’t been real aware of their stuff in the past but I’ve been impressed.
Speaking of Matt Kindt comics, his update of Rai for Valiant Comics has been an action-packed future murder mystery. I highly enjoyed Kindt’s first volume of Unity (Valiant’s twist on an Avengers type supergroup) but now that that series is up to nearly ten issues and tied into the X-O Manowar “Armor Wars’ event, I’d suggest new readers start with Rai. Issue #3 was just released last week meaning you have plenty of time to get caught up on a series still early in its run.
For those slightly less familiar, Rai is the appointed guardian of Japan in the year 4004 A.D. He lives in a giant space satellite and wields a giant sword while investigating and unraveling the Big Brother type governmental rule of Japan. Not sold yet? Here’s some art from Clayton Crain. I’ll see you in the Valiant section of the comic chop then.
Simply put, Sex Criminals is both one of the best and most important comics of the decade. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky write and joke about sex in a way that no other story in any medium even comes close to touching (and since I have consumed every story in every medium, I feel supremely qualified to make this assessment). Sex Criminals is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, on the level of Catch-22 for laugh-out-louds per page. Amazingly, it’s not all genital jokes, and Sex Criminals has a real sweet center (ew) and a complex, realistic relationship between our couple. With mainstream press extending as far as Time magazine, Sex Criminals is also one of the unexpected faces of comic books in 2014.
Volume 1 is available, making Sex Criminals a one volume catch-up before you’re ready to jump into Act 2 of the story which begins with issue #6. The team of Fraction and Zdarsky is one of the leading tag-teams in comics (Zdarsky might actually be the funniest human in comics), and if you have the appetitie for a bizzaro romantic comic comedy that treats sex without the kid gloves, you HAVE to check out Sex Criminals. Seriously, it’s an all-timer in the making.
4) The Private Eye
As long as I’m making these lists, I have to think the Private Eye will perpetually here because of the ease of access and the sheer enjoyable story from Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin. Although there are definitely some gaps between publication, each issue of the Private Eye is available digitally under a “pay-what-you-want” agreement. Which is to say, you can obtain and read every issue in the series (currently up to nine) for as much (or as little) money as you’d like.
The Private Eye is a not too distant future where privacy is the most desired currency in the world. Given the state of social media and Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, this theme cuts particulary deep and is heavily tied to the cultural state of the world. Factor in the extreme talent of Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Saga) and Marcos Martin (Daredevil, some awesome 1-page Spider-Man comic spreads with Stan Lee) and you have an unequivical digital comics success.
3) Wicked + Divine – Image, first issue just out 6.18.14
What if our rock stars were gods? Literal incarnations of gods? And what if they walked among us?
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are back in action after their stellar 15 issue run on Marvel’s Young Avengers, and have an aspiring classic in the works with the Wicked + the Divine. Fans of Phonogram know that Gillen and McKelvie’s creator-owned work is stunning, and through one released issue the Wicked + the Divine seems to measure up. A David Bowie lookalike posturing as Satan incarnate? Where do I sign?
2) The Empty Man – Boom, Issue #2 released week of 7.9.14
I’m not necessarily a big horror fan, but the start of Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Ray’s The Empty Man has been one of my favorite stories this year. Mysterious diseases spreading like wildfire is all the rage since The Walking Dead (or maybe that’s since the Andromeda Strain) but so far Bunn and Del Ray know how to structure the mystery so it feels fresh, unique and most importantly, worth following. A virus has infected the world and it causes the afflicated to literally turn themselves inside out. Meanwhile, a religious cult worships the disease, and a wizened police duo investiage the madness.
1) Southern Bastards – Image, first three issues have been released
Nothing on the stands seems surer of instant classic status than Southern Bastards. Jason Aaron proved with Scalped that he was capalbe of all-time great stories, and with Jason Latour giving Southern Bastards a feel and world all of its own, there’s little doubt Southern Bastards may even exceed those heights.
I’ve reviewed and enjoyed every issue over on Capeless Crusader, but the long and short of it is that Earl Tubb has returned to his hometown of Craw County to clear out his deceased father’s house. It doesn’t take long for Tubb to get caught up in the cruel corruption of Coach Boss, high school football coach and domineering Big Bad of the entire County. Hints of Justified ensue, along with a beating stick signed by Bear Bryant. You’ll want to say you were along for the Southern Bastards ride, and at only three issues in, it’s a great place to start.
The Still Awesome After All These Years All-Stars
These are the books that have been on every list I’ve put together since mid-2013. Even though they’re clearly deeper into their runs, these series are SO awesome, that I’d be remiss to leave them off my suggestions. Again, this guide is largely for starting series that won’t take a ton of catching up. These are the fantastic exceptions. I’d recommend getting your hands on these trades as soon as possible.
Saga #20 – Image
Mind MGMT #23 – Dark Horse
Lazarus #8 – Image
The “I Still Have to Recommend This, But Not Really” King
Sandman: Overture – Vertigo
During my start of 2014 list, a new Sandman series from creator Neil Gaimain seemed like an absolute no-brainer. Here we are nearly seven months later and only two issues have been released among extreme delays from Vertigo and the creators.
I take the time to mention it here because eventually you’re going to want to read these issues. You’re probably better off waiting for the trade. In the meantime, you can use the gaps between issues to read one of the greatest comic book series of all time. May well be the G.O.A.T.
My Favorite Ongoing Marvel Books That I’d Recommend to New Readers
Silver Surfer – 3 issues in as of June
Moon Knight – 4 issues in as of June, although the Ellis / Shalvey run ends after issue #6
Elektra – 3 issues in as of June
Original Sin – 5 issues in as of 7.2.14, I’m really enjoying this “event” largely because it reads like a mini-series mystery with possibly the coolest collection of Marvel characters ever assembled. Only questionable add is Ant-Man Scott Lang, and he was awesome in Fraction and Allred’s FF. You can check out my Original Sin reading order for the full effect.
New Avengers – Avengers is good, but I love New Avengers so much. Hickman’s best traits running wild.
Literally the Only DC Books I Read Now That Animal Man Wrapped Up
Batman – 31 issues in and mired in Zero Year continuity. Snyder and Capullo have written a great run on the Bat, but obviously not a great starting place for new readers.
Batman Eternal – 14 issues into this weekly 52 issue series. Has taken a turn for the interesting this week – relatively quick reads if you’re looking to dive in.
Injustice: Year Two – Super easy, quick .99 cent comics to read, but in year two were up over 40 total issues. I’d recommend it because the story is so bonkers and exciting (see also: bonkers), but a fair amount of reading to catch up.
Wonder Woman – I’m sticking with Azerello and Chang until they run out of Greek gods to channel, but at 31 issues in, this is another poor starting place for newer readers.
And there you have it. The 2014 mid-year guide to collecting new comics. What would you add to the list? Any glaring omissions? Do what feels right to you in the comments.