What a year, right?
If nothing else, 2014 was certainly newsworthy. Between civil unrest at home and international turmoil abroad, there’s been a lot to keep up with — and a lot to be disillusioned by. Even in our comparatively light world of comic books and the broader media territory that entails, there have been quite a few troubling headlines in the past 12 months. Yet there’s also been plenty worth celebrating — check out our ongoing Top 100 Comics of 2014 for proof — but above all, it’s just been busy.
So while in the past, CBR has compiled a year-end reflection on the 10 biggest news stories of the year, this time around we’re expanding that to around 20, for a two-part look back at 2014. These stories are not presented in a ranked order, bat are instead a round-up of the trends and topics we felt had a major impact — some with significant societal implications, some just cool things for fans to get excited about.
2014 was a year where comic books not only continued their dominance over movies but also infiltrated TV, where superhero publishers took steps towards greater diversity and accessibility and ongoing issues of harassment grew to a point where they could no longer be ignored. So before the New Year’s Eve revelry starts, let’s start the recap — and check back with CBR on Friday for the second half of our year in review.
Inclusive, Accessible Comics Spark Young Adult Readers’ Interest and Cultivating a Diverse Fandom
Readers have long felt the need to prove to the outside world that comics are not just for kids, and that even mainstream superhero books are capable of telling complex stories and addressing serious themes. Within the comic book market, the number of titles that are accessible to young readers has significantly shrunk over the last decade or so, leading to the converse fear that the comics world was shutting out younger fans.
But then came 2014. And things got awesome.
Let’s start with First Second, who brought us the captivating “This One Summer,” “In Real Life,” “Aurora West” and “Shadow Hero,” all of which successfully drew readers of all ages. In August, Scholastic launched Raina Telgemeier’s “Sisters” into orbit, where it struck the No. 1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. And though BOOM! Studios kicked off its BOOM! Box imprint in 2013, this year they gave readers “Lumberjanes.”
Not to be outdone, Marvel continued to wow readers with “Ms. Marvel” and Spider-Gwen, who debuted in “Edge of Spider-Verse” and gets her own series in 2015. DC brought us Babs Tarr’s plucky YA-take on “Batgirl,” whose yellow Doc Martins and sleek urban costume was a hit with practical cosplayers. “Gotham Academy” struck a chord with its teenage characters in the Batman universe, combining mystery and drama in the halls of high school.
Just as young adult novel adaptations have dominated the box office for the past several years, comics have slowly begun luring teenage audiences back into their fold with relevant, fun books that capture the essence of youth without sacrificing quality storytelling. (Casey Gilly)
DC Comics Announces Ambitious Film Slate Through 2020
What will you be doing in 2020? (If you really want to get depressed — how old will you turn that year?) While most people don’t make plans six years in advance, DC Entertainment and parent company Warner Bros. sure have. With only one film released in its new, DC Comics-based shared universe — 2013’s “Man of Steel” — and one other officially in production (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” out in spring 2016) Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced nine more at an investors meeting this past October, stretching all the way to 2020.
Along with “Batman v Superman,” 2016 brings “Suicide Squad,” which has subsequently been revealed to sport an all-star cast including Jared Leto as the Joker, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot. “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League Part One” are slated for 2017, with “The Flash” and “Aquaman” in development for 2018. “Shazam and “Justice League Part Two” are on tap for 2019, with “Cyborg” and another cinematic go-around for “Green Lantern” on the 2020 schedule. And that’s not to mention the prospect of future Batman and Superman solo movies somewhere in that mix, something WB has acknowledged as a distinct possibility.
It certainly wasn’t surprising to find out that this was WB’s plan — a robust offering of interconnected films have worked out rather well for Marvel Studios, after all — but it was surprising to find out all at once. It was also a bit surprising to learn that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” actor Ezra Miller would be playing The Flash in the 2018 film, seeing as how that was announced the same month that Grant Gustin debuted in the role in The CW’s “The Flash” TV series — and attracted the highest ratings in that network’s history. “Arrow” star Stephen Amell reacted to the timing of the announcement, saying, “I think that [Gustin] should have been given a wider berth than two episodes before another actor was announced to play his character…. I thought that it was shitty that all of this stuff got announced the morning that the ratings — the spectacular ratings — of the second episode of The Flash came in.”
Also notable in the announcement: With a long-awaited “Wonder Woman” movie — the first time the superhero icon will appear on the big screen in live-action in the character’s 75 years — now official, DC beat Marvel Studios to the punch in announcing a female-led superhero film. With “Cyborg,” starring Ray Fisher, DC also beat Marvel Studios in announcing a superhero film with a minority lead role.
So, yes: We live in a world where “Aquaman” and “Cyborg” movies aren’t just things that are actually happening, they’re important enough to be announced by a high-powered executive at an investors meeting for one of the biggest media companies in the world. It remains to be seen if DC Entertainment can achieve similar long-term box office success as Marvel Studios, but they’re certainly going to try — giving fans of comic book-based movies something to watch over the next six or so years. (Albert Ching)
Marvel Studios Announces its Own Ambitious Film Schedule
Given its unmatched reputation at the box office, it’s not often you see Marvel Studios reacting to another studio. While it hasn’t been specifically confirmed that Marvel’s announcement of its film schedule through 2019 was in response to WB’s DC-based announcements, the timing — it happened less than two weeks later — is worth noting.
In the past, fans knew about maybe two or three Marvel Studios movies in development at a time. That changed in a big way in late October, when Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced a long-term release schedule much like DC’s, confirming titles and release dates for nine films, and spanning all the way to 2019. And unlike WB’s announcement, Marvel Studios’ unveiling was open to (select) fans and press, a much more theatrical affair not unlike Apple’s big announcement events — complete with celebrity guests (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and new on-screen Black Panther Chadwick Boseman) and a “one more thing” twist (originally announced as “Captain America: Serpent Society, Feige revealed at the end of the presentation that the actual subtitle for the third Cap film is “Civil War,” sharing a name and basic concept with one of the most popular Marvel stories of the past decade).
“Phase Three” starts with “Captain America: Civil War,” out May 6, 2016; then “Doctor Strange,” on Nov. 4, 2016. Three films are on the docket for 2017: “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” (May 5), “Thor: Ragnarok” (July 28) and “Black Panther” (Nov. 3). “Avengers: Infinity War Part 1” hits on May 4, 2018; followed that year by “Captain Marvel” (July 6) and “Inhumans” (Nov. 2). Rounding out the announcements is “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2,” scheduled for May 3, 2019.
With that, Marvel Studios now has its own future film with a female lead (“Captain Marvel,” confirmed to star the current, Carol Danvers version of the character), and one with a non-white lead (“Black Panther”). The superhero movie future is now a lot clearer (don’t forget all of Fox and Sony’s licensed Marvel movie plans), but there are still considerable questions — like, will DC’s ambition pay off in the form of a credible challenge to Marvel Studios, and will there ever be such a thing as too many comic book-based movies? (Albert Ching)
Conventions Respond to Harassment
One of the most Tweeted and Instagrammed photos from Emerald City Comicon 2014 was a poster proclaiming “Costumes Are not Consent.” Not only did this image make clear the con’s stance on the mistreatment of cosplayers, but it sparked a larger conversation around establishing what comics conventions would and wouldn’t tolerate in terms of acceptable behavior.Â
While many other conventions quickly began instilling and updating harassment policies — with New York Comic Con consulting feminist pop culture site The Mary Sue on theirs — Comic-Con International in San Diego declined to examine their existing policy in spite of a petition urging them to do so.
As the year went on, more and more panel time at various conventions was devoted to examining issues of gender equality, personal conduct and harassment. Talk of safe space, consent and responsibility continued to drive expectations for convention organizers to handle inappropriate behavior — a trend that will hopefully continue in 2015. (Casey Gilly)
Comic Book TV Controls The Dial
Television series based on comic books have been on a roll for the past several years, and for the most part, series like “The Walking Dead,” “Arrow” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” have provided solid anchors for their respective networks. But 2014 was where the comics-to-TV model truly blew up to dominate the airwaves the same way adaptations have come to conquer the movie houses.
Of the new dramas that aired this fall, “The Flash” and “Gotham” have both delivered spectacular ratings for their broadcast homes while fans of the relatively weaker performing “Constantine” are still holding out hope for a second season. The wave of new shows also include 2015 debuts “Agent Carter” and “iZombie,” whose lag between development and release reads more like a dedicated mid-season strategy than traditional spring placeholder fare.
One reason for the wide proliferation of comic dramas is actually much simpler than zeitgeist. The high number of shows starring DC Comics characters comes thanks to sister company Warner Bros. Television being the dominant force in TV production today. With the WB raking in lucrative licensing revenue from each DC drama and a wide range of networks getting a ratings shot in the arm thanks to dedicated fans, it’s no surprise the company has plans for more DC TV next year including “Supergirl,” “Titans” and “Krypton.” With Marvel’s slate of Netflix dramas keeping it very much in the game and a wealth of creator-owned comics in TV development like the incoming “Walking Dead” spinoff, Robert Kirkman’s “Outcast” at Cinemax or the long in development “Thief of Thieves” at AMC and Image Comics’ “Five Ghosts,” don’t expect comic TV to shrink any time in the near future. (Kiel Phegley)
“Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Box Office Dominance
When it comes to Hollywood powerhouse Marvel Studios, 2014 will go down as the year when “if” became “since.”
That is to say, when the year started many were saying that Marvel’s creative future hinged on “if they can sell ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to people” while all future talk revolves around “since Marvel made ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ a hit.” The tongue-in-cheek space opera was doubtlessly a big budget gamble, what with its semi-silly name and cast featuring a one-sentence tree creature and a gun-toting raccoon. But a slow box office summer full of sequels and reboots combined with a whip smart marketing campaign that exuded confidence in the property took “Guardians” to #1 at the box office this summer and kept it there through the end of the year.
And the success of “Guardians” didn’t only lead to a slew of new catchphrases in fandom or a chart-topping mix tape of 30-year-old songs. it’s also emboldened Marvel to continue forward with non-marquee characters in their film slate including “The Inhumans” and “Captain Marvel.” Before this movie, the interconnected film universe was already a proven concept to movie goers, but thanks to Peter Quill and company, the mega-franchise got a lot weirder in the best way. (Kiel Phegley)
Marvel Cancels “Fantastic Four”
Just as characters with prominent roles in current or upcoming Marvel Studios films (Winter Soldier, Falcon, Black Widow, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, the Inhumans) enjoyed a higher profile in the comics, many longtime Marvel fans spent 2014 worried that comic book characters whose movie rights belong elsewhere — specifically with Fox — have been downplayed so as to not promote movies produced by competing studios. Rumblings of this strategy first appeared back in May when unverified rumors started to spread that Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter wished to end the long-running “Fantastic Four” series so as to not promote Fox’s upcoming live-action feature film.
Fans were immediately paranoid about the fate of Fantastic Four and the X-Men, Fox’s two Marvel franchises. More worry was placed on the FF, though, as the X-Men books are still solid sellers. The move to cancel “Fantastic Four” would come as a tremendous shakeup to the Marvel Universe, as many cite 1961’s “Fantastic Four” #1″ as the starting point of the company’s modern mythology. When confronted with the rumors of their impending demise, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso called the Four “a vital part of the Marvel Universe” and said that Marvel was “continually devising plans to use them in new and surprising ways in the vast landscape of the Marvel Universe, like we do with any Marvel character.”
Paranoia about the FF’s fate peaked again in October when solicitation text for Marvel’s bookstore distributor revealed the name of an upcoming storyline: “The End is Fourever.” The collection was listed as including “Fantastic Four” #642-644 and “the triple sized final issue 645.” Marvel confirmed the existence of “The End is Fourever” a few days later at October’s New York Comic-Con, where they also confirmed that the series would conclude at the end of the arc.
James Robinson, the writer tasked with bringing the series that started the modern Marvel Universe to its conclusion, shared his thoughts with CBR during NYCC.
“At the end of the day, nobody that likes the Fantastic Four will have a bad taste in their mouth,” said Robinson. “That’s all I can say. I’m not going to let anybody down, I’m not going to leave this book on a bad note. I love these characters. That’s the thing — everyone’s upset now because the book is going away. Are they buying the book? I don’t know if they are. A lot of it is just people like to get online and moan and complain.”
Fox’s new “Fantastic Four” film hits theaters on Aug. 7, 2015 — and it doesn’t look like there will be a Marvel Comic bearing its name around when it arrives. (Brett White)
The Death of Archie
Every year, at least one recognizable comic character heads off to that big back issue bin in the sky, and rarely do those deaths last longer than a year. And while 2014’s death of Archie Andrews in no way signified an end for the four-color adventures of the redheaded Riverdale teen, the story that capped “Life With Archie” was iconic and emblematic in a way few comic deaths are.
For one, the heroic end of the adult Archie in Paul Kupperberg, Pat & Tim Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz’s series was told with a deft hand and followed up with a graceful finale. Alternate timeline though it may have been, the last issues of “Life With Archie” provided a true ending — something rarely seen in mainstream comics — and sent Andrews off with heart.
Perhaps more importantly, the major media attention “The Death of Archie” earned provided the capper in a years-long reinvention of Archie the publisher. Its headline-grabbing event status joined equally intriguing news like the successful start of Archie’s horror line, the elevation of Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa to Chief Creative Officer, the signing of big name talent like “Girls” creator Lena Dunham and the announcement of a 2015 relaunch for the main “Archie” series to turn the last heads not already watching the company. From this point on, the feature articles explaining the dynamic changes at Archie will be old hat. The new Archie comics is firmly here, and everyone is paying attention. (Kiel Phegley)
“The Walking Dead” Dominates Ratings
While AMC’s “Walking Dead” has never been a slouch in the ratings, the zombie drama truly came alive in 2014 and shows no sign of decaying in the coming year. The show’s season four finale, which aired in March, gave the series what was at the time its second-highest number of viewers ever. An audience of 15.7 million viewers — 10.2 million in the key 18-49 demo — tuned in to watch the episode. Season four, the back half of which aired in early 2014, saw the series average 13.3 million live/same day viewers
When “Dead” returned for its fifth season in October, it proved to be unstoppable. The season premiere reached 17.3 million viewers, a number that increased to 22.37 million with the addition of the Live + 3 numbers. When it came to the 18-49 demographic, the episode beat everything else on television that night — including the previously invulnerable Sunday Night Football. The show continued to square off against — and usually beat — Sunday Night Football all season long. The midseason finale episode, which aired in late November, was watched by 14.8 million viewers — a 23 percent increase over the series’ previous midseason finale. With more people watching the AMC series than ever before, we can only expect that “The Walking Dead” will shatter more records when it returns in February. (Brett White)
Check back with CBR on Friday for the second half of the Biggest News Stories of 2014!
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