There has never been a better time to be a comic book nerd.
With the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer breaking viewing records, a DC-Marvel movie arms race for the next six years, and hits like The Flash, Arrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on television, it isn't wrong to say that comic books make pop culture spin.
But not everybody is a comics nerd. And for all your friends who don't know comics all that well, it's good to remember that there's more to comics than the heavyweight books at Marvel and DC and men in tights fighting evil. This year brought us comic books that tapped into sex and space operas, feminism and incarceration. One in particular is a reflective — even brackish — look at the culture of fame.
Here are five comic books to give to someone in your life who would be a comics fan if they just got their hands on the right title:
The Wicked + The Divine
What it is: The best comic book of 2014.
The Wicked + The Divine tells the story of a world where gods live on earth for two years, die, then return 90 years later. And some mean old woman with a penchant for veils is in charge of the whole thing.
That premise sounds a bit cumbersome, but writer Kieron Gillen explores it in ways that are nimble, never leaving you hung up on the mythology of it all. With a limited time on earth, these gods — like Minerva, a 12-year-old in a fashion band jacket — are concerned with celebrity (instead of, say, pursuing an art degree), which is, if you think about it, a form of worship. It's a shrewd dissection of fame, image, pop culture, art, and our obsession with celebrities.
The dialogue is biting, shocking, and devilishly fun. And the art, by Jamie McKelvie, is equal parts beautiful and mordant.
Perfect for: You.
What it is: A kick in the pants of the patriarchy.
Kelly Sue DeConnick is a force of nature and one of the most talented writers in the business. At Marvel, she's turned Carol Danvers into Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel into one of the most consistently hilarious, touching, and thoughtful comics out there.
In Bitch Planet, she's allowed to shuck off the properness of the superhero world and have a little fun turning the exploitation film genre on its head. She plunges us into a futuristic women's penal facility in outer space — a world where patriarchy has steered women into roles of compliance. Naturally, there's a jailbreak. Bitch Planet is violent, aggressive, salty, and unapologetic in its action.
Perfect for: Someone who actually believes #gamergate is about the ethics of journalism, and everyone else who doesn't.
What it is: The best space opera you aren't reading.
Guardians of the Galaxy was the surprise hit of 2014, tapping an interest in jaunty, funny, space operas like The Fifth Element and Star Trek. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens looms on the horizon. But there's a splendid story that hits all of these notes just as well — if not better. And it's been churning away for two years now.
A glorious mix of Romeo and Juliet, Scandal, and Game of Thrones, set in a fantastic universe that George Lucas wishes he dreamed of, Saga is the creative masterpiece of Brian K. Vaughn. Its tragic love story is told through the eyes of a child born to parents who belong to warring clans, and the action zips through different planets, peppered with characters like a hairless cat that functions like a polygraph. It also possesses a facility with intimacy that would make even fans of Shonda Rhimes shows blush slightly.
Perfect for: Your friend who is very upset with the cruciform lightsaber design in the new Star Wars trailer.
What it is: This is a book that makes comic readers believe that comic books matter.
For comic book fans, there's an endless and constant battle to prove that comic books aren't just for children. DC's Multiversity is the answer to that. Written by the mad scientist Grant Morrison, Multiversity is about a universe where comic books are a bridge to parallel worlds and have the ability to change reality.
There are layers, upon layers, upon meta-readings of the comic book, which took Morrison a reported eight years to write. A series of six one-shots with two bookends, Multiversity is equal parts philosophy and acid trip. It is so aggressively brave in its storytelling that it wouldn't be surprising to find it taught in schools one day.
Perfect for: A loved one who loved True Detective, but was let down by its final few episodes.
Axis: Avengers & X-Men
What it is: The comic book that should be an action movie.
Because of movie rights, audiences will never get the Avengers/X-Men/Spider-Man team up we deserve. But in comic books, it happens on a regular basis. And some stories are better than others.
Over the past few years we've seen some of Marvel's crossovers start out strong and then drag. Other were underwhelming, and still others felt a bit too crowded.
But here's a crossover event that shows why publishers keep trying them. Rick Remender's run on Marvel's Axis event brings together the Avengers, X-Men, Inhumans, and several villains to team up against the Red Skull, leading to a gigantic fight that lives up to the nerdiest fanboy dreams. But Remender's work in the later issues is what gives this series its heft. He explores what happens when good guys go evil, offering the promise of at least one more gigantic fight scene.
Perfect for: Your friend who can't wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron.