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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Three!

I love reading comic books, and it has been fun writing about My Favorite Comic Book Series of 2014Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.  Let’s bring this home, shall we?

5. Avengers/New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales, Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca & others — For three years now, Jonathan Hickman has been crafting his enormous Avengers epic, and it has been building and building and building.  Now everything is coming together and, for the second half of 2014, it has been one awesome payoff after another, as years of stories and subplots have all reached a climax.  This is an Avengers story but it’s much larger than that, with characters from across the Marvel Universe playing critical roles in this saga.  As an example: the Fantastic Four comic book might have been cancelled, but Reed and Sue are hugely important in this story.  I can’t believe the things that have happened in this saga so far.  (I hope to heck this isn’t going to end in a huge magic re-set button.)  The Marvel universe has been split in two with the discovery that a group of heroes (including Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, the Beast, the Black Panther, and Namor the Sub-Mariner) have, in secret, made a terrible moral choice in their efforts to save the world.  Captain America, horrified by what they have done, leads a group of heroes — including Reed’s wife Sue — to hunt them down.  Meanwhile, the Avengers have shattered, pulled apart by crises across the cosmos.  A.I.M. continues to plot, and a villainous cabal led by an unleashed Thanos is gleefully destroying entire worlds.  Oh, and did I mention that the Black Panther recently murdered Namor?  This is super-hero comic book story-telling at its best.  Mr. Hickman has spun a wonderfully complex yarn, ably assisted by a talented array of artists.  Mr. Hickman’s lengthy story looks to be coming to an end in the next few months.  If he can stick the landing, this will be one for the ages.  (Mr. Hickman’s run began with a bang in New Avengers vol. 1: Everything Dies.)

4. Velvet by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting — Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting previously collaborated on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the defining Captain America story of the past two decades and the inspiration for Marvel’s recent film.  (I wrote about their Winter Soldier story-line here, and click here for my review of the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  So I was excited to read their new creator-owned series, but even so I was unprepared for the greatness of Velvet.  The series’ premise is golden: what if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal?  The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies.  When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted.  Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller in the tradition of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it’s also a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures, with gadgets and fisticuffs and chases.  Mr. Brubaker melds those two genres perfectly, creating a series that is deadly serious and suspenseful, while also being a ripping adventure yarn.  Mr. Epting’s art, meanwhile, has never been better.  This man can draw absolutely anything, and page after page I am astounded at what he is able to create.  Every frame, every image, is absolutely perfect.  I am in awe.  I love this book and desperately need it to come out more frequently.  (Get yourself hooked with Velvet vol. 1: Before the Living End Even that title is awesome!!)

3. Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark — In a dystopian future, the world is ruled by a handful of powerful families.  These business-people and their conglomerates have taken over the world, replacing the nation-state governments we know today.  A young woman named Forever is the “Lazarus” of the Carlye family.  She is the daughter of the family head (or at least she believes herself to be, whether she is or is not has yet to be confirmed) and has been genetically engineered and trained-since-birth to be a fearsome warrior, capable of healing from most any injury.  She is also noble and courageous, and as she finds herself swept deeper into the seedy, dangerous world in which she lives, she begins to question her previously unswerving loyalty to her family.  Forever is a wonderful character, an instantly iconic sci-fi heroine who is a rich, original creation.  I adore the attention to detail in the elaborate world-building that Mr. Rucka has done (the book’s terrific letters pages always features lots of extra back-story and detail on the characters and settings), but what makes Lazarus so good is Mr. Rucka’s incredible ability to create compelling characters, and his unrelenting willingness to twist the knife into those characters.  I read each issue of Lazarus with my heart clenched, hoping for the best for the characters I have grown to love but fearing the worst. Mr. Rucka and Mr. Lark previously collaborated on the amazing series for DC Comics, Gotham Central, and they remain a perfect match.  I love Mr. Lark’s style, incredibly stark and also richly detailed.  I adore this book.  And it’s only number three on my list!!  (Step into this world and begin the story with Lazarus volume one.)

2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples — Mr. Vaughan & Ms. Staples have collaborated to create one of the most joyfully bizarre and wonderful comic books I have ever had the pleasure of discovering.  This is a sci-fi story in that it features spaceships and alien worlds and all manner of bizarre creatures, but I have never read a sci-fi story that was anything like this before, and neither have you.  The world of Saga is gloriously alive and wonderful and mysterious and funny and heartbreaking.  The series focuses on the family unit of Marko & Alana, whose planets have been at war for centuries but who nevertheless fell in love and are now the parents of a toddler named Hazel.  Their respective governments want them dead, and so Marko & Alana have spent all of their life together, to this point, on the run.  Mr. Vaughan & Ms. Staples have created a rich and vibrant universe that is staggeringly original and inventive.   The characters are all vibrantly alive, and there’s a wonderful frisson that occurs through the combination of these very modern sounding and acting characters and the lunatic fantasy world in which they live, one populated by aristocratic robots with televisions for heads; cyclopean giants with, um, gross nether-regions; freelance assassins; magic-wielding in-laws; spaceships made of wood; and all sorts of other fun and zany stuff that I wouldn’t dare spoil for you.  I love, underline LOVE the characters in this book — that is Mr. Vaughan & Ms. Staples’ greatest skill as a team.  Fiona Staples’ art is astoundingly beautiful; her pages are truly unique, each a gorgeous work of art all its own.  Even the letter column is awesome — frequently my very favorite part of the book.  Saga is a treasure.  (Start with Saga volume one and thank me later.)

1. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe: Hellboy in Hell, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Abe Sapien, Hellboy & the B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, etc. — Mike Mignola’s ever-expanding Hellboy saga once again tops my list.  This fall I re-read the entire Hellboy saga from the beginning (starting all the way back with Seed of Destruction from twenty years ago), and doing so has only increased by enormous love and admiration for what Mr. Mignola and his ever-growing team of collaborators has created.  (Click here for the beginning of my Hellboy re-reading project.)  What began as a series of mini-series about a big red paranormal investigator who liked to punch things has expanded into a huge saga encompassing an array of wonderful characters.  While B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth moves the main time-line of the series forward (with our heroes scattered and seemingly unable to stop the chaos and devastation spreading across the globe), side-series Hellboy in Hell and Abe Sapien tell parallel stories of the two characters who used to be Mr. Mignola’s main characters.  Except now Hellboy is dead and trapped in Hell, and Abe has transformed into something new and is on the run from his former friends and allies.  At the same time as those three series move the Hellboy universe’s timeline forward, various other mini-series further flesh out the expanding story, exploring nooks and crannies of the Hellboy universe to tell tales of the past — stories that, invariably, prove critical to the main story.  The most recent example of this is the launch of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., which for now is set in 1952 and is telling the story of Hellboy’s first mission as an official B.P.R.D. field agent.  The incredible inter-connectedness of these stories, the way Mr. Mignola and his collaborators will often wait years before making a connection or expanding on a detail or a small piece of back-story, is extraordinary.  Each of these mini-series or story-lines stand alone, but together they fit into a hugely entertaining tapestry.  It is incredible.  This is the best comic book universe out there today, and whenever a new Hellboy universe comic comes out (usually multiple times a month, thanks to all the various series!) it goes right to the top of my to-read list.  (The Hellboy saga began two decades ago with Seed of Destruction.  The coolest story-line this year was The Reign of the Black Flame, in which a lot of crazy shit went down in the ruins of New York City.)

I’ve got one more Best of 2014 list coming on Friday, my list of My Favorite DVDs and Blu-rays of 2014.  See you then!

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