In December, the comics staff at Place to Be Nation selected the best of the industry’s work from 2013. With 2014 more than halfway finished, it’s time to take a look at the first six-plus months and see what worked (and what didn’t) in the world of comics. It’s been a year of celebrated runs coming to an end and exciting creative directions just beginning. Numerous new, original titles have hit shelves, while many other sputtered out of the gate. Thus, we present to you The Halfies, an awards column like
a lot of others no other.
Unlike our year-end awards, each member of the PTBN comics staff was asked to choose only one winner in each category. The winning books and creators must be selected solely for their output in 2014 to this point. Whether you agree with the selections or not, let us know at the PTBN Facebook page.
Best Ongoing Series
Todd Weber (Weber Has Issues): BATMAN
With the apparently imminent end of Thor: God of Thunder coming around the bend, I consider Scott Snyder’s Batman to be the best ongoing comic-book series. The “Zero Year” story has been fun to follow (even though the purple gloves are stupid), and seeds have been sown that will inform storylines for years to come.
Russell Sellers (Sellers Points, New Hotness): GREEN ARROW
When the New 52 began, Green Arrow was one of the early favorites to be canceled in less than a year. It changed creative teams nearly as often as the main Superman title. Then Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino took over and gave us the single biggest turnaround in comics with Green Arrow #17. Since then it has been an incredibly entertaining and thrilling ride that only gets better with each issue. Oliver Queen gets put through the emotional wringer along with facing down the single greatest threat of his young hero career in Komodo and The Outsiders. Add to this the addition of Diggle, the popular character from the TV show “Arrow,” and revelations about Ollie’s past, including that his father is still alive, and you’ve got a recipe for great monthly comics. Oh, and that Sorrentino art! After making I, Vampire one of the best looking books in all of the New 52, Sorrentino really gets a chance to shine with his unique layouts and used of dramatic color shifts to draw your attention to the action points in panels within panels. Calling it dynamic is a massive understatement. The pair’s run is set to end in September, but it’s going to go down in history as one of, if not THE, best runs in the character’s history. And with the writing team from “Arrow” coming in to take over, it might just hold that quality.
I am reasonably certain that, for as long as Mark Waid is writing it, Daredevil will never not be my favorite ongoing series in a given year. Following on a trail of misery that has often read like a retread of the character’s greatest hits — build him up to break him back down, rinse, repeat — Waid’s arrival was a breath of fresh air. This continues with his relocation of Daredevil to San Francisco. As a rare throwback to the book’s whimsical Bronze Age setting, this really shouldn’t work. But it’s a perfect fit for Waid’s retro sensibilities, and any effort to distance Daredevil from the usual grim/dark noir Frank Miller mimicry is greatly appreciated. There was some grousing over Marvel’s cancellation of Waid’s first series only to immediately relaunch with a new volume, but to that all I can really say is 1) welcome to comics; and 2) if that’s what it takes to keep Mark Waid on the title and producing such a consistently strong output, they can label every issue #1 for all I care.
Nick Duke (Hard-Traveling Fanboys): THOR: GOD OF THUNDER
It’s no secret at this point that I’m a huge, huge fan of the work that Jason Aaron has been doing with the soon-to-be deposed God of Thunder. His first 12 issues set a standard for the character that any writer, including Aaron himself, would struggle to match. And while arcs like “The Accursed” and “Last Days of Midgard” don’t quite hit the heights of “The God Butcher” or “Godbomb,” they come damn close, close enough to retain the title of best book in comics for another half year. “The Accursed” wrapped in January, setting the stage for “Last Days of Midgard,” which proved to be one of the best Roxxon-related stories in recent memory and actually used Asgardia’s position over Broxton, Oklahoma, to raise the emotional stakes for the Odinson. The flashforward story may have outshined the main tale, however, as it featured Old King Thor doing battle with a cantankerous, wrinkled Galactus. And any book that can pull off the line “And lo, Galactus vomits,” deserves a million, billion stars. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t pause to heap praise upon Esad Ribic. His art fits Thor to a tee, as it almost has the feeling of classic medieval paintings. With the series ending this fall, it’s Ribic that I will miss the most.
Greg Phillips (Hard-Traveling Fanboys): SUPERMAN UNCHAINED
I’ve come to the conclusion in recent years that I’m pretty difficult to please as a Superman fan. Even critically acclaimed runs in recent years by Grant Morrison and Greg Pak have done little to satisfy my personal vision for the Man of Steel. It was the all-star pairing of hotshot writer Scott Snyder and my all-time favorite superhero artist, Jim Lee, that finally did the trick. Despite numerous (and massive) delays, there’s no book I more look forward to reading every month. Snyder and Lee have crafted a compelling new character in Wraith, given some much-needed page time to Lois Lane and, most importantly, forged a Superman story that can be enjoyed by fans of any era.
Best Single Issue
Todd Weber: SUPERMAN #32
Superman #32. Just like that, I give a crap about Superman again (not reading Superman: Unchained until Jim Lee finishes up). Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. provided a dynamic take on the Man of Steel.
Russell Sellers: ACTION COMICS #27
Action Comics #26 was in my Top 5 for 2013, but the very next issue came out swinging and might actually be better. Greg Pak establishes who Clark is (and he definitely loves Clark more than Kal-El) very early by showing us the moment his parents gave him the blanket they found him wrapped in. And seeing his bedroom at the Fortress of Solitude made up to look like his old room in Smallville was just pitch-perfect. But it’s the level of empathy and compassion he has for everything that makes him standout as a true hero. Aaron Kuder’s pencils get stronger with each issue and those big action moments are just breath-taking. This is, hands-down, my favorite of the Superman books right now.
Tim Capel: GENESIS
As difficult as it is for me to isolate story arcs exclusive to the first half of 2014, I completely throw my hands up when it comes to recalling specific single issues. When you’re primarily a trade-waiter, it’s basically impossible for any regular issue to stand out as head-and-shoulders above the rest. So, this is where I cast my gaze to the (very limited) selection of OGNs I’ve read over the course of the year. And really, Genesis is a book worth your time and deserving of wider recognition. Given the story’s broad remit and premise of an ordinary man suddenly able to manifest his every whim, it’s remarkable how singularly focused and grounded it feels as a reading experience. Allison Sampson’s expansive, lush visuals parallel the gamut of human emotions conveyed by Nathan Edmondson’s script. Hallucinatory and thoughtful, it is at the same time breezy and easy to digest. Experimental, abstract works like this are by definition a mixed bag, but I can see myself revisiting Genesis a lot in the years to come — and certainly getting something new out of it every time. (Shameless cross-promotion: don’t forget to check out Russell’s EXCLUSIVE interview with Allison Sampson, RIGHT HERE on Place To Be Nation. Ain’t synergy grand?)
Nick Duke: THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #24
Thor: God of Thunder dropped another all-time great single issue with issue 24, the epilogue for “Last Days of Midgard.” And while it is technically tied to that larger story, the book is more than capable of standing alone. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it really does a great job of paying homage to the character’s past and foreshadowing the character’s future, all the while tying a neat bow on not only the book’s most recent story arc, but really several of Jason Aaron’s plot threads and a major plot thread from the last eight years of Thor continuity. Much like issue 12, which was my top single issue of 2013, issue 24 brings the emotion. It practically drips off every panel, and when Thor leaves a small child with a parting gift from Asgard, it’s hard not to be overcome.
Greg Phillips: GREEN ARROW #31
The trickiest part of any long-form story is sticking the landing. As a journalist, I’m all too familiar with this problem. That’s why Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow #31 was so special. It had the weight of lofty expectations going in, as it was wrapping up “The Outsiders War,” one of the best Green Arrow story arcs in years. Well, Lemire and Sorrentino stuck a landing even an Olympic gymnast would be proud of. The emotional beats between parents and children, friends and foes, and the violent fallout of those interactions ended the story with a clear message about the identity of its lead character. This is an Oliver Queen story, and it’s one of the great ones.
Best Story Arc
Todd Weber: THE NEW 52: FUTURES END
I’m super-behind on Thor, so I’m going to give this one to New 52: Futures End. I’m a BIG mark for Firestorm, and this is a great book that tells a compelling “Days of Future Past”-type story (gone wrong, of course) featuring both match-head and Batman Beyond. Futures (not “Future’s”) End is the better of DC’s two weekly books right now, but Batman Eternal is also worth checking out.
Russell Sellers: BATMAN: ZERO YEAR
Retelling an origin story is often unnecessary and usually pales in comparison to what’s come before, except in this case. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are giving us what might be the most entertaining version of The Dark Knight’s beginnings, ever. And Snyder’s version of The Riddler is certainly the best ever committed to the page. I’ve waited years to see a version of this character that compared to the one from the Batman: The Animated Series episode “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich,” and now I’ve got it! It’s as magnificent as I’d hoped and then some. This team might be the best thing to happen to Batman since Denny O’Neil…scratch that, it’s better.
Tim Capel: BATMAN: ZERO YEAR
I know I’m cheating a bit giving the nod to this year-long story which started in June of 2013 but if you want to get all technical and include only the issues actually published in 2014, fine. It still qualifies. At first, I wasn’t sold on a retelling of Batman’s origin, new continuity or no. But then, it isn’t exactly well-worn territory — Scott Snyder’s is the first major revision since Frank Miller’s efforts back in the ’80s. And the supremely underrated Riddler, placed front and center as chosen Big Bad? Sign me up. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a great Batman yarn, and Snyder has been knocking it out of the park since the day he started writing the character. Snyder gets an assist from Greg Capullo, who I’ve always admired as just a damn fine superhero artist. Year Zero was so satisfying that it made me wish DC’s New 52 actually started from this point and progressed from there, a la John Byrne’s Man of Steel. After all, what better place to start than the beginning?
Nick Duke: GREEN ARROW: THE OUTSIDERS WAR
There were numerous contenders here, whether it was “Forever Evil,” “Zero Year” or the aforementioned “Last Days of Midgard,” but in the end I had to go with Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s “Outsiders War.” The story technically comprises issues 25 through 31 of Green Arrow, but really serves as the conclusion to a story that Lemire and Sorrentino have been building since they took over Ollie Queen back in issue 17. The story is new, fresh and exciting and the art is among the best in all of comics (More on that in a bit). The team has defined Ollie for a new generation and brought some much-needed stability to a title that was largely floundering at the start of the New 52. Not only do we finally see what separates this Ollie from his Old 52 counterpart, but we also get new versions of Shado, Count Vertigo and Robert Queen, helping to give Green Arrow’s side characters a new coat of paint. Sadly, Lemire and Sorrentino won’t get much of an opportunity to try and top this story, as they are departing the book this fall. I’m hoping the new team can carry the momentum forward, but they’ve got one hell of an act to follow.
Greg Phillips: BATMAN: ZERO YEAR
There was a lot of eye-rolling going on in comics circles last year when DC Comics announced that writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo would be providing their “own unique take” on the Dark Knight’s origins. Well straighten that eyesight, ladies and gentlemen, because “Zero Year” has been nothing short of phenomenal from the start. Unlike most promises of unique takes on old characters, Snyder and Capullo have actually delivered a distinctly memorable tale that has cemented their names in Batman’s history book.
Todd Weber: JASON AARON (Thor: God of Thunder, Amazing X-Men, Original Sin, Southern Bastards)
I mean, Thor: God of Thunder, Amazing X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men AND “Original Sin” all this year? Check out Image’s Southern Bastards too.
Russell Sellers: SCOTT SNYDER (Batman, Superman Unchained, Batman Eternal)
No surprise here, he’s just that damn good! From Batman to Superman Unchained to his upcoming horror indie title Wytches (with ‘dat Jock art!), this guy is just untouchable. He knows how to focus on character development without ever losing sight of making sure his stories move forward and are still loads of fun to read. If he’s writing it, I’ll buy it!
Tim Capel: CHARLES SOULE (Red Lanterns, She-Hulk, Superman/Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Inhuman, Letter 44)
Selected in an effort to not redundantly list anyone more than once. There has been no single work from Charles Soule that would bump him up to the best at midyear, but he earns it by virtue of the fact that he is decidedly comics’ most prolific writer. Now, volume alone does not assure victory. Otherwise, podcast favorite Fabian Nicieza would be recognized as the best scribe every year circa 1991-1995. But in Soule’s case, quantity seems to equal quality. I’m not convinced that Soule isn’t actually a pseudonym employed by any number of writers. To put this in perspective, as of January 2014 the man was the regular credited writer on no fewer than six ongoing monthly series on a work-for-hire basis, in addition to his creator-owned Letter 44. He workload has shifted since then, but not declined. This is unheard of for… anyone, basically, but considering that Soule also has a “minor” day job running his own law firm, one can see the basis for my suspicion. None of his comics are less than fair at worst, and usually quite excellent indeed. The fact of the matter is, no other writer working in comics today has produced more consistently good issues than Soule over the course of six months. As a go-to guy, I don’t think there’s been any better talent than Charles Soule. I’d best award him now before his whole enterprise goes balls up, because I don’t see how any human being can sustain this kind of sprint.
Nick Duke: SCOTT SNYDER (Batman, Superman Unchained, Batman Eternal)
I love Jason Aaron’s God of Thunder. I love Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow. I ESPECIALLY love Geoff Johns on Justice League and Forever Evil. But, there’s no hotter writer going today than Scott Snyder. He’s already crafted one of the best Batman runs of all time and has shown no signs of slowing down. “Zero Year” has silenced most of its initial critics and earned its place alongside “Year One.” And that would have been enough to earn him some consideration for this award. Then, he went and plotted out “Batman Eternal,” which has proven to be just another outstanding addition to Snyder’s long list of contributions to the Batman mythos (More on that in a bit.) This all adds up to one hell of a sundae. But the cherry on top has been “Superman Unchained,” a story that has kept even the most cynical and Superman-weary reader such as myself on the edge of my seat. Well done, Scott, well done.
Greg Phillips: SCOTT SNYDER (Batman, Superman Unchained, Batman Eternal)
Of all the writers currently working in mainstream comics, Scott Snyder might have the highest batting average when it comes to quality titles. This year in particular, Snyder has unleashed some of the best Batman comics of the era and has crafted my favorite Superman tale of the last decade. He has a knack for making his characters somehow more relevant and modern than they were before he took over. He’s also quite adept at building suspense, as he genuinely makes me fear for the safety of two of comics’ most iconic characters on a monthly basis.
Todd Weber: HOWARD CHAYKIN (Satellite Sam, The Shadow)
I love his work on “Satellite Sam” so much (to my wife’s chagrin).
Russell Sellers: ESAD RIBIC (Thor: God of Thunder)
This guy’s work on Thor: God of Thunder is some of the most gorgeous work anyone’s ever done, period. Not just his line work, but his backgrounds. His style isn’t just about making characters come alive, it’s about making whole worlds feel real. Every issue he draws has at least four moments that make me feel like I’m looking at some of the most beautiful paintings ever made. Jason Aaron might be crafting the best Thor story of all-time, but without this guy’s art, it wouldn’t be half of what it is. A true master of his craft!
Tim Capel: FIONA STAPLES (Saga)
While it certainly helps that Staples is supplied with no shortage of breathtaking imagery by Saga creator Brian K. Vaughn, she has nonetheless developed into an artist whose work I will follow no matter what. Her figures and landscapes are outrageously gorgeous and always achieving new heights. I can’t manage to do much more than gush. Staples could illustrate the phone book and it would find its way on to my bookshelf. The industry has never been so inviting for such innovation and diversity of styles than it is today; still, I cannot imagine anyone dethroning Staples by year-end.
Nick Duke: ANDREA SORRENTINO (Green Arrow)
Again, lots of contenders here – Esad Ribic being chief among them with Greg Capullo a distant third – but I had to go with Andrea Sorrentino thanks to the truly inventive work he did with Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow. The art in that book has at times gone from surrealistic and imaginative (while at the same time evoking the classic work of Mike Grell) to violent, gritty and hard-hitting all in the course of a single issue. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow defined the look and feel of Ollie Queen for the previous generation, and Andrea Sorrentino has done the same for our generation. His panel layouts, in particular, are some of the most creative we’ve seen in comics in recent years. He and Lemire are leaving the character and the title soon, and I for one wish there was something we could do to keep them around. Here’s hoping Sorrentino finds his way into the Batverse in the coming months.
Greg Phillips: ANDREA SORRENTINO (Green Arrow)
Andrea Sorrentino is one of those artists that leave indelible marks on their characters and settings. I don’t think I can ever view this particular version of Oliver Queen the same way after he worked his magic on GA and his world. Opening every issue is like unwrapping a present, because after more than a year on the book, Sorrentino’s revolutionary work never ceases to surprise and astonish.
Best New Book
Todd Weber: SOUTHERN BASTARDS
The aforementioned “Southern Bastards” is the best new series so far this year. It’s the cross between “Scalped” and “Preacher” that you didn’t know you wanted.
Russell Sellers: SOUTHERN BASTARDS
Speaking of Jason Aaron, this guy is killing it on this new title. It’s like Walking Tall if it were directed by the Coen Brothers. Hard-hitting, gritty, raw and incredibly funny! Being from Alabama (like Aaron and the setting of the book) I get so many of the little in-jokes and subtle nuances. I cringe as often as I laugh, and that’s the point. It makes me uneasy but in all the right ways. The dialog is spot-on and the “good-old boy culture” is on full display. If you’re looking for a great, unapologetic look at the good and the terrible of the Deep South, this is it.
Tim Capel: MOON KNIGHT
Moon Knight has seen a lot of false starts since he was put back on the map circa 2005. None of these previous volumes have been bad, per se, but neither were they especially groundbreaking nor long for this world. As a result, writer Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s recent revival might also double as Marvel’s most pleasant surprise. Their approach is to use each issue as a vehicle to explore a single, easily-understood facet of the human experience, but to do it very well. It’s the rare, perfect blend of words and pictures, as Shalvey’s fluid pencils seem to effortlessly morph to match the book’s frequent mood shifts. Perhaps encouraged by Shalvey’s playful dynamism and energetic redesign of the character and his world, this is easily Warren Ellis’ best mainstream writing since the “Initiative”-era Thunderbolts. Imaginative and engrossing, their stripped-down approach is proof that episodic comics storytelling can be welcome and effective in the right hands. Credit to colorist Jordie Bellaire as well, whose palette completely sells the book’s otherworldly quality. The job of the colorist goes so overlooked in the medium and it must be acknowledged that Bellaire’s work is the single most visually-arresting feature of the book and the main reason why Moon Knight looks like nothing else in comics today.
Nick Duke: BATMAN ETERNAL
I’ll admit I questioned the need for a weekly Batman book that was going to ship a 52-issue story. And I’ll admit I was dead wrong to ever do so. So far, we’ve gotten 15 excellent issues that haven’t felt stretched out or slow even once. The shift in art can be jarring at times thanks to the rotation of creators being used, but credit the writing team and the guiding hand of Scott Snyder for being able to minimize that impact. If the next 37 issues are as good as the first 15, we’ll have one of the best Batman stories of all time on our hands, and hopefully a beautiful omnibus for our shelves.
Greg Phillips: BATMAN ETERNAL
It’s not perfect — the art shifts have been jarring and some of the subplots are less interesting than others — but Batman Eternal has sold me on the idea of a weekly Batman book. The key is that its focus doesn’t solely lie on the Dark Knight. This is really a Bat Family book, and that’s something DC should never have stopped publishing with the end of Gotham Knights years ago. It’s also great to see familiar faces like Stephanie Brown and Tim Drake once again making their presence felt in Gotham.
Todd Weber: ALL-NEW INVADERS
All-New Invaders was the very definition of phoning it in. I will always love James Robinson for Starman and The Golden Age, but this was really, really disappointing. I’d love for a grittier take (and one that didn’t try to make the original Torch so hip), but the concept of the Invaders in space is just silly (ha…”Space Invaders”).
Russell Sellers: AMAZING X-MEN #7
Amazing X-Men #7 by Kathryn Immonen, Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco – This isn’t just the worst comic of the year so far, it’s one of the worst I’ve read in my whole life. You’d think getting Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends together for a nice wink-and-nod issue would be fun. And if it were written and drawn by anybody else, it might have been. But this temporary fill-in team should never be allowed to write any of these characters ever again. Trite, idiotic dialog, clunky confusing art and a story that is the very definition of ho-hum made it so bad I couldn’t even finish it. And on top of that, it meant nothing! Fill-in issues are great opportunities to tell fun one-off stories and this one drops the ball completely. Kathryn Immonen is usually a good writer, but this was totally phoning it in. It would have at least been fun if it were so-bad-it’s-good, but this trails off into completely boring and I couldn’t even finish it. Only three pages from the end and I…just…didn’t…care.
Tim Capel: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30
It pains me to admit it, considering that Dan Slott’s Superior saga was shaping up to be one for the ages. But it landed with a thud, primarily as a result of an extraordinarily flawed takeaway. Having fought his way back from death’s door at the hands (or rather, intellect) of Otto Octavius, only to be beaten down yet again, Peter Parker finally managed to overcome the odds… because his enemy decided to bow out. That’s right, Peter swings again as the Amazing Spider-Man, but merely because Dr. Octopus allowed it. Rather than being the story of our hero’s ultimate triumph, his utter lack of agency serves only to punctuate his original defeat. It turns out that, thematically, Amazing Spider-Man #700 might as well stand as the death of Spider-Man after all. The villain won; that he changed his mind after the fact doesn’t make for a compelling character journey by Peter Parker — who’s only, you know, the protagonist of the series. If Spider-Man was actually intended to be the story of a pudgy, long-suffering mad scientist finally achieving victory, but eventually realizing it wasn’t what he wanted after all, then Superior is a masterpiece. I don’t think that’s what Slott was going for, and if it was, it’s extremely wrongheaded. All signs point to Slott having written himself into a corner by stacking the odds too high, then resolving the conflict by moving the goalposts. It wasn’t so much a bad comic as a deeply frustrating and disappointing one, and that’s especially unfortunate given the meticulous, disciplined plotting Slott had demonstrated up to that point.
Nick Duke: GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS
Let me preface everything I’m about to say with this: I’ve had to cut down on my single issue habit pretty heavily the last six months, so I don’t suffer bad books for long. If I’m not enjoying something, it’s gone. In my mind, that’s three or four bucks I could spend trying something else. So, for me to give a book chance after chance to win me over is pretty rare. For that book to fail me time after time is equally rare, yet that’s what we have in the case of New Guardians. I liked the book well enough over the first 20 issues, but since the giant shakeup of the Lantern line in the wake of “Wrath of the First Lantern” and the departure of Geoff Johns, it became increasingly apparent that this book just wasn’t for me. Kyle Rayner as the White Lantern? More interesting as an occasional thing rather than a full-time direction. Rayner going behind the Source Wall? OK, interesting. He’s going to have to hide from everyone to really sell his death. Oh, Carol Ferris finds out he’s not dead in the very next issue, thus robbing that reunion of any emotional weight it might have eventually had for other readers? Seems like a waste to me. But, above all else, I can’t express how much I truly, madly, deeply loathe the Kyle Rayner/Carol Ferris romance. Despise it with every ounce of my being. Especially since the rationale given for abandoning the Hal and Carol romance was that Hal was off in space too often and now Carol is in space almost exclusively. This may be for other people and I hope there’s someone out there who enjoys it, but I’m done giving this book my money. As Greg Phillips will touch on, the annual was one of the worst single issues I’ve ever read.
Greg Phillips: GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS ANNUAL #2
Holy cow, I’m not sure where to begin on this one. It has little relation to the previous story arc, as Kyle Rayner finds himself (seemingly) back on Earth and figuring out (in the most expositional manner imaginable) exactly what his trip behind the Source Wall last year meant. We now see that Kyle has the ability to change reality to his whim. For some reason that isn’t adequately explained, this power manifests itself in an evil dark version of Kyle (because of course), who Kyle spends the issue battling in what I can only describe as a retread of Goku-Frieza from Dragon Ball Z — complete with side characters watching the fight from afar with jaws agape. In addition to bad dialogue, characterization and plot, the book suffers from some truly horrible artwork.It’s the worst kind of bad comic art — aesthetically barren and also impossibly confusing from a storytelling perspective.
Best Comic Book Film
Todd Weber: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the cream-of-the-crop of this half-year’s comic genre films. I enjoyed “Days of Future Past” quite a bit, but the plot holes within were too large to ignore. “The Winter Soldier” may end up being the most important MCU phase 2 movie when it’s all said and done.
Russell Sellers: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Talk about stepping your game up! The previous movie wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t incredible, either. Sure, by comparison to the 1990 version it was, but c’mon, compared to “The Avengers” or even the first Thor movie…nope. This, on the other hand, was exactly how a Captain America film should be! Espionage/political thriller, big-budget action/superhero film and buddy comedy all rolled into one? YES PLEASE! Chris Evans really came into his own with this one. He IS Steve Rogers! The twists and turns made this not just the best comic book movie this year, but possibly the best Marvel Studios has produced yet. We need more like this and hopefully “Guardians of the Galaxy” can deliver something different, but similar in the amount of fun had while watching it. We’ve still got a little while to “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but thanks to “Winter Soldier,” I’m calling it my most-anticipated movie of 2015.
Tim Capel: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
In many ways, this film was a casualty to my own inflated expectations. Having held the first entry in the series to such lofty standards — and seeing them far exceeded — this sequel had so very much to live up to. Still, it was easily my most anticipated film of 2014 and I had little doubt it would deliver in all regards. The unanimous praise from both the fan and critical communities served only to bolster this confidence. And yet… when all was said and done, something about it didn’t fully connect. There were minor details, like the superfluous role of the titular character, Falcon’s all-too convenient backstory, and a climax whose conflict didn’t quite match the tone and rising action of the preceding 90 minutes. Still, these quibbles were minor and I felt like they should not have detracted from my enjoyment as much as they did.
I think the problem is I took it as a foregone conclusion that Cap 2 would be the best solo superhero outing… ever. This, it was not, and I realize it isn’t fair to hold what the film wasn’t against the film that was. And that film was easily the best effort any comic-inspired flick 2014 has offered thus far, by a comfortable margin. It doesn’t have a lot of challengers, with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” putting in a commendable showing. However, I will never not have (grave) misgivings about Fox’s handling of the X-Men property, so it never really stood a chance. Then we have “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which doesn’t deserve to be part of the conversation. With Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe firing on all cylinders, the only meaningful competition the studio seems to face is against itself. Looking ahead, it’s unlikely that anything will dethrone “The Winter Soldier” as 2014’s best. We’ll find out in two short weeks as the next most-likely contender, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” perhaps forces me to eat those words.
Nick Duke: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
This was a tough call between “Winter Soldier” and the return of the X-Men, but in the end, I had to give the nod to the film that firmly put the X-Men franchise back on track. Like most, I enjoyed “First Class” and enjoyed “The Wolverine” even more, but “Days of Future Past” is the first film in the franchise to approach the dizzying heights of “X2.” I never knew how much I had missed Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Xavier and Magneto until I saw them back in action, and yet they were likely overshadowed by their younger counterparts. I’ve often said that “First Class” felt more like a Magneto movie than anything else, and as such Michael Fassbender absolutely stole that movie in every scene he was in. To me, Days of Future Past was James McAvoy’s answer to that, creating the best big screen portrayal of Charles Xavier we’ve seen yet. It also served to finally wash away the ill effects of “The Last Stand” and as an added bonus, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” appears to no longer be canon. And no discussion of the movie is complete without a nod to that post-credits sequence, which has me as excited as I’ve ever been for an X-Men movie
Greg Phillips: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
I’m an unapologetic fan of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” franchise, and I especially loved last year’s “The Wolverine.” However, I had severe concerns about trying to fit this many characters into a single film, all while trying to adapt one of the most popular X-Men stories of all time. Singer not only alleviated those concerns, he far exceeded my greatest expectations with one of the best comic book films put to screen. It may not be as timeless as “X2: X-Men United,” but it’s close. The performances are off the charts, from Hugh Jackman’s now-iconic take on Wolverine to Jennifer Lawrence’s strong take on Mystique. While “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a strong contender, it didn’t connect with me on quite the same level as “Days.” I felt Singer’s film moved at a better pace and did a better job making me care about the characters.
Well there you have it, folks. We hope you enjoyed the Halfies, and we certainly hope you join us at the end of the year for our more in-depth examination of the best in 2014 comics. We welcome any and all feedback via Facebook, email or Twitter.