1. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (No. 25, May 2009, Dark Horse) – Doug Petrie, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens & Michelle Madsen
Nothing quite like an all-female slayer army to capture the fangirl imagination. The flood of new female-led titles this year got me thinking about some of the more well written women-centeric series in recent memory. Near the top of that list is Joss Whedon’s Season 8. Directly in continuity with the end of the television series’ season 7, the comic book version of Buffy is what got many fangirls, who would otherwise dismiss the medium, to finally give comics a chance. Though you do have to have a working knowledge of the Buffy-verse to really enjoy season 8, what makes the books worthwhile – for even the casual reader – is the way that Whedon builds emotionally satisfying character arcs while maintaining his tongue-and-cheek brand of humor. There’s so much payoff by the end of season 8. Particularly satisfying is the development of the relationship between Buffy and her sister Dawn. Here is but a sample of the sisterly dialogue from the last panels of the last issue:
BUFFY: I know what you’re going to say. I’m not there for you. Not enough. That I’m so preoccupied with leading my army I’ve forgotten my family. And you’re right. Say it anyway, if it makes you feel better.
DAWN: Would you stop telling me what I’m gonna say, and let me say it? You can’t keep me safe. And you don’t have to.
BUFFY: Well that’s just — What’s the word? Stupid. I’m your sister.
DAWN: You’re the slayer.
BUFFY: Lot of those, these days.
DAWN: No. Just one. [ . . . ] I knew Kenny was a thricewise. Dated him anyway. Pissed him off. Pause for requisite told you so . . .
BUFFY: Told you so.
DAWN: . . . And did it anyway. Maybe I wanted you to save me. A few years ago, you were the only slayer, I was your only sister. Now I’m surrounded by, like, a thousand sorta-little-sisters I can’t possibly compete with. They fight in your army, they all come equipped with fancy new superpowers and would literally die to get your attention. It sucks.
2. Ms. Marvel (No. 4, July 2014, Marvel) – G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
Can’t say enough about this series. The perfect gateway drug for the anti-comic fangirl in your life. If you were to tell me 20 years ago that Marvel would rival DC in the writing department, I would’ve laughed – and rightly so. As it is right now, Marvel is rivaling even the independent publishers in the way they are prioritizing the writing in their female-led titles. If you’re going to support one Marvel title this year, add Ms. Marvel to your pull list.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man (No. 121, June ’73, Marvel) – Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro
Though Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past have quickly made it on to fanboys’ lists of the all-time best comic book movies, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was and remains my personal favorite comic book movie of 2014. What becomes startlingly clear after reading the original death of Gwen Stacy arc of the early 1970s is that Marc Webb has vastly improved on the original source material. To be frank, the earliest versions of Gwen Stacy are boring, 2-dimensional, and let’s face it – she’s not that bright. Marc Webb’s cinematic version of Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, has actually drawn in fangirls by making her not only emotionally complex, but also the intellectual rival of Peter Parker. So much so that you don’t want to watch Peter Parker hook up with the inferior MJ in Spider-Man 3.
4. Superman/Wonder Woman (No. 8, July 2014, DC) – Charles Soule, Tony S. Daniel, Matt Banning & Sandu Florea
The most romantic story arc in the current DC-verse. If you don’t know writer Charles Soule’s backstory, he’s the farthest thing from your typical sweaty comic book nerd. A graduate of Columbia Law School, Soule earned his undergraduate degree in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a concentration in Chinese language. A real scholar at heart, what is amazing to me is that the same guy who is currently practicing professional law in New York, in Chinese no doubt, is also the guy who is writing a Superman-Wonder Woman relationship arc that even the snarkiest fangirls are finding emotionally satisfying. Much like Whedon, Soule knows how to sow seeds and build arcs that pay off in the end. And like Marc Webb’s reworking of the outdated Spidey mythos, reading Soule’s revamped take on the aging Superman franchise may just shake you – in a good way. Like realizing that the Lois Lane/Clark Kent relationship is utterly implausible. Wouldn’t an immortal god undoubtedly seek an immortal goddess? Someone who could actually empathize with his intellectual and spiritual yearnings?
5. She-Hulk (No. 5, August 2014, Marvel) – Charles Soule, Ron Wimberly & Rico Renzi
More goodness from Charles Soule. Another reminder that fangirls are steadily taking over comicdom. If you want strong, independent, female badasses – look no further.