UPDATE 1/2/2015 2:45 PM PT: An additional entry, "Amazon Acquires comiXology," has been added to this article.
2014 was another weird year for comic books, where a new superhero series was announced on "The View," and nearly every mainstream news outlet ran an article about Spider-Woman's butt. Of course, there were more typical signs of comics having a mainstream impact -- like two of the top-grossing films of the year being based on comics (both from Marvel Studios -- "Guardians of the Galaxy" at No. 1, and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" in third place). It was a year where comics continued to drive pop culture as a whole, and continued to evolve within itself -- and it was rarely boring.
In the first half of CBR's look back at 2014 in comic book news, we examined topics including the continued rise of comics-based TV shows, the lofty development slates from Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment, and the push from big publishers for accessible and inclusive series -- one of many signs in the past year that comics are becoming a more welcoming place for a diverse readership, especially women, though it hasn't always been easy to get to that place. Which is something we'll talk about in this second installment -- along with some major changes to recognizable superheroes, a resolution to a long-fought legal dispute, the rise of alternate distribution models and, yes, Spider-Woman's butt.
Marvel Introduces Female Thor, Black Captain America
Generally speaking, this doesn't seem like the ideal time for Marvel to start reinterpreting Thor, Captain America and Iron Man -- the main players in the multi-billion dollar Marvel Studios film franchise. But that's what they did this past year -- taking the Thor everyone knows and establishing him as now "unworthy," with a mysterious female character taking his place as the God of Thunder; stripping Steve Rogers of the Super-Soldier Serum -- leaving him powerless and elderly -- and replacing him with Sam Wilson, better known as the Falcon; and letting Tony Stark truly embrace his cutthroat capitalist side as the "Superior Iron Man."
Was it a publicity stunt? Well, if it was, it worked, because they got a lot of publicity. The female Thor -- the star of a new series simply titled "Thor" -- was first unveiled on long-running daytime talk show "The View," about as atypical of a place for comic book chatter as any. (Though it wasn't the first time it happened -- the show, which airs on Disney-owned ABC, also announced Disney-owned Marvel's same-sex wedding between Northstar and his boyfriend in 2012.) Likely because the female Thor (whose alter-ego remains unrevealed) is indeed a dramatic visual departure from Chris Hemsworth, famous to millions worldwide for inhabiting the role on screen since 2011, the series -- driven by the creative team of Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman -- was the recipient of major mainstream media attention both when first announced and several months later when the initial issue was actually on sale.
Concurrently to introducing a female Thor, Marvel also placed Sam Wilson -- the long-running superhero known as Falcon -- in the role of Captain America in Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen's "All-New Captain America." The impact was again immediate: Comics' first African-American superhero was now the medium's most patriotic superhero. This series also benefitted from mainstream media exposure, with Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada announcing the change on Comedy Central's since-wrapped "The Colbert Report." "Superior Iron Man" hasn't received much in the way of mainstream attention -- likely because it's still the same character inside the armor, but with an inverted moral core -- though that book has already started to have repercussions in the Marvel Universe. Of course, all of this happened in the same year Marvel killed off Wolverine.
"The idea -- and it really shouldn't be such a controversy-stirring idea in the year 2014, but I guess with some people it still is -- that there could be an African-American Captain America who can live up those ideals, and can fight as well, and champion the fundamental principles that the nation is supposed to represent and uphold; that's a compelling thing to an entire segment of the audience, some of whom have never necessarily seen themselves reflected that directly in the character," Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort told CBR News in November. "It's a little different because it's Captain America, as opposed to when Jim Rhodes was Iron Man or when John Stewart was Green Lantern, because Captain America comes with the added weight that he is wearing the colors of the nation. It is more akin to Barack Obama becoming the President, and what that means to people, than merely putting on the superhero costume that another guy used to wear."
No one expects these shifts to last forever, but folks who expect them to be reverted by the time "Avengers: Age of Ultron" debuts on theaters in May 1 may be disappointed. Solicitations through March have already been released, with no clear sign of these stories coming to an end any time soon. (Albert Ching)
Marvel and Jack Kirby's Estate Reach Legal Settlement
This fall, one of the most contentious debates in comics found a surprisingly quick and quiet end, and it did so with just 31 words:
"Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby's significant role in Marvel's history."
That joint statement from the heirs to the King of Comics' estate and the company he helped build put an end to a years-long legal battle, and in some ways ended a dramatic fight over credit that stretches at least as far back as the 1980s push to get Kirby back his original Marvel art. And while countless comic fans are happy that Kirby will be officially receiving more credit in the years to come and his heirs sharing in the wealth his characters generate, many would have liked to see the case continue. After all, the Kirby settlement came weeks before the lawsuit over his rights as a creator was set to be looked at by the United States Supreme Court, and many legal experts still believe a day of reckoning is coming between corporate interests and creator's rights with regards to the current copyright laws. So while the Kirby/Marvel battle may have seen its last chapter arrive, the larger debate is very much a story to watch in 2015 and beyond. (Kiel Phegley)
"Harley Quinn" A Surprise Hit At DC
In the most unexpected sales twist of the year, DC Comics latest "Harley Quinn" ongoing series has proved a rock solid hit, consistently delivering more readers month-after-month than any other non-Batman solo title at the publisher.
The success of the title is surprising perhaps because nothing in advance of "Harley Quinn's" release indicated that readers would flock to the book in such high numbers. Two previous series that featured Harley as a lead were mid-level performers at DC. The veteran writing team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, while certainly carrying acclaim and substantial fan bases of their own, haven't had many Top 25 hits -- let alone Top 10 ones. And "Harley Quinn" didn't launch on the heels of a major event or a heightened mass media presence for the character.
In the end, the best part of "Harley Quinn's" popularity is that it comes from a genuine enthusiasm for the material from its readers. The more comedic take on the DCU has swung from black humor slapstick to comics industry satire and back again, with the now roller derby-esque antihero leading the charge to the floor of Comic-Con and back again. That madcap sensibility is a refreshing change of pace for DC's line, and the readers are rewarding the creative risk. (Kiel Phegley)
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Introduces Inhumans, Reveals Skye's Identity
Marvel Television's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." did a lot of heavy lifting in the first half of its sophomore season by introducing a concept that promises to have large ramifications on screens both big and small. With just a bit of mysterious writing to go on, CBR's Meagan Damore spotted the show's possible connection to the Inhumans back at the beginning of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" second season. The Inhuman clues continued to be doled out in the next few episodes, leading Damore to wonder if the mysterious Diviner object was, in actuality, one of the super-powered race's gene-awakening Terrigen bombs.
Following the initial clues and speculation, Marvel made a couple of big announcements that seemingly validated fan theories. They announced the release of an "Inhumans" feature film in 2018 and confirmed that the alien corpse from "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" first season was, in fact, a member of the Kree -- the race that created the Inhumans through genetic altering.
Side-by-side with the Inhuman mystery was that of Skye's true parentage, a storyline that had been simmering since early "S.H.I.E.L.D." episodes revealed the hacker's name to be an alias. CBR's Kiel Phegley spotted a hint that Skye may actually be Daisy Johnson, a superpowered Marvel Comics hero also called Quake. Both of these mysteries culminated in the show's midseason finale, which revealed that the Diviner was a Terrigen bomb, Skye is an Inhuman and her birth name is Daisy. (Brett White)
Marvel Comics Get Cinematic Makeover
With the increasing -- and seemingly unstoppable -- success of their feature film division, Marvel Comics took more slow and subtle strides towards reconfiguring their long-running universe to match Marvel Studios' vision. This trend began in late 2011 with the introduction of Marcus Johnson, a character with a more-than-passing resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson that was revealed as Nick Fury's son. 2014 saw the original Nick Fury take center stage in Marvel's "Original Sin" event, which robbed the character of his life-extending Infinity Formula and transformed him into a Watcher-like being called the Unseen, potentially writing the classic version of the character out of the Marvel Universe -- at least as readers have known him, and at least for now.
The event also killed off Dum Dum Dugan, a character that has not been established as alive in the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the World War II era, by outing him as a Life Model Decoy that replaced the original S.H.I.E.L.D. agent decades ago. The removal of two of Marvel's classic S.H.I.E.L.D. agents came after the announcement of a new "S.H.I.E.L.D." ongoing. The series by Mark Waid and Carlos Pacheco will star Phil Coulson -- first seen in live action -- and introduce a trio of characters originally featured on ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" in comics for the first time: Agent Melinda May, Agent Jemma Simmons and Agent Leo Fitz.
A seismic continuity shift took place in the last weeks of 2014 when "Avengers and X-Men: AXIS" #7 revealed that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are evidently not Magneto's children, despite that being the status quo for decades. Many believe that the change was done due to ready the duo for the impending spike in visibility they will enjoy because of their inclusion in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." As Fox owns the film rights to Magneto and the term "mutant," it's likely that the film versions of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver will be neither of those things -- and it looks like the same may now be true for their comic book counterparts. (Brett White)
Janelle Asselin's 'Teen Titans' Criticism Brings Larger Issues to the Forefront
While the comics community had some impressive wins in 2014 with a swell of feminist comics, female creators and industry support, there were some low moments to contend with. CBR examined our own responsibility for setting the right tone in our community after a piece by writer Janelle Asselin resulted in a social media explosion of harassing attacks and threats against her, simply for speaking her mind about a "Teen Titans" cover.Â
While this is just one example of the many ways women are treated as 'the other' in the comics industry, it wasn't something we could dismiss so easily. Shortly after the shameful responses to the article, we rebooted our forums, instituting a zero tolerance policy against threatening behavior of any kind. By taking a decisive step to create a welcoming space for all fans, we aim to continue to promote a mantra that was often repeated throughout the year: Comics are for Everyone. (Casey Gilly)
Image Comics Continues Creator-Owned Dominance
2014 kicked off with a robust Image Expo in San Francisco, CA, where the publisher shared their plans for the coming year. With creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Snyder, Rick Remender and Ed Brubaker all launching new series, the excitement from the announcements generated buzz from fans that lasted until the second Image Expo that July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Although smaller in size, the follow-up expo packed a huge punch with the publisher proudly announcing projects from Warren Ellis, Becky Cloonan, Kurt Busiek, Sean Murphy and others. The talented creators at Image continued a strong showing at the Eisners with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples winning three awards for the magnificent "Saga," Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky taking Best New Series for "Sex Criminals" and Jordie Bellaire named Best Colorist for "Pretty Deadly" and "Nowhere Men." Image's sales have remained strong, with frequent double-digit numbers in both unit and dollar market share on Diamond's monthly charts, establishing the publisher as the consistent No. 3 after Marvel and DC Comics.
Image Comics steadily continues to publish some of the most engaging, unique comics out there, and with Image Expo 2015 happening on Jan. 8, it won't be long until readers will get a look at what they've got in store for the next 12 months.Â (Casey Gilly)
Loot Crate, Humble Bundle Make an Impact on Comic Book Sales
It seems crazy to think about, but at this time in 2011, neither Marvel or DC Comics had same-day digital releases for their print comics other than a few exceptions. Now it's a given, and much has been made of the significance of digital comics as the "new newsstand."
In 2014, publishers further explored different means of getting their releases to new audiences. Several utilized Humble Bundle, a company that started in 2010 by selling "bundles" of digital games for a limited time at a "pay what you want" model, with part of the money going to charity. Basically, people can pay a little to get a lot, and help some other people in the process. In the past year, a number of publishers have partnered with the service, including BOOM! Studios, Valiant Entertainment, Dynamite Entertainment and Oni Press. And it's paid off -- $563,351.99 worth of people bought a "Doctor Who" comics bundle of titles from IDW Publishing last spring. Given the nature of the deals and the ability to reach an audience outside of existing weekly comic book readers, a lot of publishers are getting a lot of comics in front of people who may not usually encounter one otherwise.
Over on the print side of things, Loot Crate surfaced in 2014 as a major player in the subscription box arena, specifically in regard to "geek" and genre/gaming entertainment. While the first few bundles were more focused on gaming merch, the July shipment included a Loot Crate-specific variant cover for Marvel's "Rocket Raccoon" #1 -- which helped bump up its orders by more than 100,000 and helped secure the book's spot at the top of that month's Diamond charts. Since then, Loot Crate's subscriber has only grown, and Image Comics and DC Comics have gotten in on the fun -- with a huge boost to the spotlighted title's numbers every time Loot Crate gets involved, showing that a very non-traditional retail player can nonetheless have a major impact on the traditional system, and likely will continue to do just that. (Albert Ching)
"Star Wars" #1 Reported to Sell More than One Million Copies
On some months, 100,000 comics sold -- according to Diamond estimates, of course -- sounds like a good number. According to Marvel, the publisher's new "Star Wars" #1 has sold more than 10 times that number to retailers.
It was announced in December that the January-debuting issue -- the first Marvel-published Star Wars material in decades, and the first Star Wars comics released since Dark Horse Comics lost the license and it returned to Star Wars' corporate sibling Marvel -- had sold more than a million copies in initial retailer orders. To put that in perspective, November 2014's top comic was "Amazing Spider-Man" #9, which sports estimated sales of 135,280. It's the highest-selling single issue North American comic since 1993's "Batman" #500.
Now, it should be noted that among those million copies includes a slew of variant covers (including store-specific ones), and Marvel has already acknowledged that they are working with a number of outlets to help ensure new readers find their way to the comic (including, possibly, Loot Crate). Yet no matter how that figure was reached, it's a very impressive number, and shows the enthusiasm fans have for Star Wars -- after all, it hasn't been that long since Dark Horse ended its run on the property -- and specifically for what Marvel, and the creative team of Jason Aaron and John Cassaday, have in store for the beloved franchise, as "The Force Awakens" draws closer. (Albert Ching)
Milo Manara's "Spider-Woman" Cover Causes A Stir
The reveal of noted Italian erotica artist Milo Manara's variant cover for "Spider-Woman" #1 grabbed nationwide attention due to wide spread criticism for its anatomical proportions and sexualized interpretation of the character. The discussion began on comic industry sites like Bleeding Cool and The Mary Sue, which posted an article titled "Marvel, This Is When You Send An Artist Back To The Drawing Board." The site panned Manara's cover, writing that it "does not instill confidence, nor does it tell women this is a comic they should consider spending money on."
The larger-than-life depiction of Spider-Woman's rear end continued to generate headlines and criticism on sites like The Guardian ("New Spider-Woman comic cover condemned for 'blatant sexualization'"), io9 ("perhaps asking an erotic artist to draw one of your most popular superheroines for a mass-market cover wasn't quite a good idea"), blastr ("Spider-Woman variant cover makes us ask WTF, Marvel?"), Vox ("this is not what readers were expecting from a company that has made the effort to show that it's being thoughtful about its female readership and female characters"), Slate ("it looks more like a colonoscopy than a costume"), Entertainment Weekly ("Her costume appears to be painted or possibly even just tattooed on"), Elle ("imagine Spider-Man in that position instead, and the concept would have never gotten this far"), The Hollywood Reporter ("What is Marvel's problem with women?"), The Huffington Post ("Spider-Woman's new cover sums up the problematic way female superheroes are treated") and Bustle ("it's just plain lewd and irresponsible on the part of the minds at Marvel").
Manara responded to the criticism, saying, "superheroes are like that: they are naked, some sort of painted. Superman is naked painted in blue, Spider-Man is naked in red and blue, and Spider-Woman is painted red. But these are sort of elements part of the 'trick,' so to speak, that publishers use to create these nude figures -- on which I don't find anything wrong. But there is no real nudity. If we look at them later in the inside stories, going beyond the cover, these are characters whose bodies are 'in view.'" Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso also responded, telling CBR, "the message this cover sent was not the one we meant to send." Stating that the Manara variants will continue -- Alonso defended the artist's reputation as "a world-renowned artist with a huge fan base" -- the editor-in-chief added, "We are aware of the growing sensitivity to covers like this, and we will be extra-vigilant in policing their content and how we use them in our marketing."
When two of Manara's subsequent variant covers were pulled from the schedule a month later, many outlets assumed it was a move made in response to the "Spider-Woman" controversy. Alonso however clarified to CBR that the move was purely schedule-based. "Clearly, unequivocally, I want to state that this is only a scheduling problem," Alonso told CBR. "The Manara covers were recast due to his schedule. He will be doing more covers for us, in fact, he's working on one right now that will be announced sometime soon. This is purely an issue of his schedule not permitting him to do the two covers, 'AXIS' #1 and 'Thor' #2. We overbooked him, and the timing didn't work out." (Brett White)
Amazon Acquires comiXology
In April of 2014, Amazon, the biggest name in online retail, announced plans to acquire comiXology, the most prominent digital comics distributor. The broader message was clear -- a strong show of confidence in the very much still-growing field of digital comics. What was less clear was how exactly this would impact consumers.
The early word was that customers wouldn't notice much change: "The comiXology user experience is so good we want to make sure that we're benefiting from their experience," Amazon Vice President of Content Acquisition and Independent Publishing David Naggar told CBR in April. A change did occur late that month, though, with comiXology introducing changes to the iOS apps that removed the online storefront -- thus, purchases could still be made on comiXology's website and synced to iOS apps, but in-app purchases were no longer an option.
Plenty of fans were ruffled at the time, with speculation that it stemmed from Apple and Amazon's position as rivals in the tablet market. In July during Comic-Con International in San Diego, another major change was announced, with multiple publishers offering DRM-free back-up digital copies for the first time. (Albert Ching)