The Must-See Fandom Events Set To Rock 2014

While fans are already looking to the far future of 2015 as what could very well be the greatest year in fandom history -- with the debut of a new "Star Wars" trilogy, "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" transitioning the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Phase Three, Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" sequel that introduces Batman and Wonder Woman to the character and AMC's expansion of "The Walking Dead" franchise into a second series -- the coming year of 2014 shouldn't be dismissed just yet. Although 2015's fandom slate is already well stocked up, 2014 is poised to be pretty damn big in its own right, as evidenced by countless comics, movies, television shows, toys, video games and events slated to appease the appetites of those who continue to hunger for more.

Whether it's the plethora of comic book movies from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to "X-Men: Days of Future Past;" new television series like the CW's "The Flash;" returning favorites like "The Walking Dead;" new and anticipated comic book releases; or the yearly celebration of all things pop culture -- Comic Con International in San Diego -- 2014 has a lot going for it. Here are just a few events to look forward to in the coming year.

17. The Truth About Phil Coulson (TBA)

Though the first half of the debut season polarized fandom, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has been a winner for ABC in the show's target demographics. One thing -- the main thing -- that has kept fans coming back to the show week after week is the secret of Phil Coulson's mysterious resurrection. Coulson's secret could provide the Marvel faithful with a clue to the future of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," more potential television shows or even a hint at what's to come in future Marvel film story points. Is Coulson designed to usher in "Age of Ultron," is he an LMD or was his return from the dead the result of some kind of Asgardian magic? Or, if Tahiti truly is a magical place, can Coulson's return be a signal to the introduction of magic into the Marvel Universe, and could this thread lead fans to the Cinematic Universe's introduction of Dr. Strange? Whatever the case, the imminent revelation of Coulson's secret is bound to stir up a hornets' nest of discourse in 2014.

"Agents of SHIELD" Showrunners Whedon & Tancharoen Answer the Fans

16. "The Strain" (Summer)

Sick of sparkly vampires? Well, "The Strain" should be the show for you. From the mind of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan comes a blood chilling postmodern vampire thriller that could do for vampires what "The Walking Dead" did for zombies. Fans can rest assured that the beloved novel series is in good hands on FX, the network that has the stones to air "American Horror Story." As much as we will miss "True Blood," "The Strain" could finally put a stake in the heart of the safe and sexy vampire craze.

FX Orders Del Toro's "The Strain" To Series

15. "Star Wars: Rebels" (Fall 2014) and the "Episode VII" Trailer (TBA)

First, Disney will debut "Star Wars: Rebels" in 2014, an animated follow up to the ultra-popular "The Clone Wars." "Rebels" will center on the time period between "Episode 3" and "Episode 4," a time in "Star Wars" history fans have been clamoring to see more of for decades. Fans have been teased with a new villain, The Inquisitor, and lots of new and familiar Imperial hardware to take on a new band of heroes in a galaxy far, far away. Most importantly, "Rebels" is the first "Star Wars" project the Mouse is overseeing, and will give "Star Wars" loyalists an idea of where the franchise is headed stylistically. 2014 will also likely give us the first images from -- and perhaps even a trailer for -- the J.J. Abrams-directed "Episode VII," an event that will send shockwaves through fandom as every image, pixel and detail of the footage will be dissected and debated.

"Star Wars: Rebels" Unleashes the Empire's Inquisitor

14. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (May)

When the first "Amazing Spider-Man" hit theaters, it was clear that Marc Webb understood the character. Though loyal comic book enthusiasts' reviews were mixed (as they always will be), the film was a box office hit and garnered the support of mainstream fans. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone heated up the screen with an onscreen dynamic bursting with romantic energy while the CGI combined with practical special effects and stunt work to give audiences a Spider-Man experience that stood apart from its predecessors. To be fair, the film did suffer from originitis, a condition of fan ennui which occurs when Hollywood regurgitates a first act superhero origin for the umpteenth time.

In May, "Amazing Spider-Man 2" will allow Marc Webb to break the confines of the origin and make his own mark on the "Spider-Man" film mythos. The director is bringing Electro and Rhino to the big screen for the first time while offering a fresh take on the now-familiar Parker/Osborn dynamic. There are also rumors that Webb plans to introduce Felicia Hardy in the movie, a character fans have been anticipating since the first Sam Raimi film. All of this adds up to one eagerly anticipated sequel set to further pave the way as Sony attempts to establish its "Spiderverse" with spinoffs starring Spidey's biggest allies and enemies.

Spidey Takes On Electro In New "Amazing Spider-Man 2" Poster Tryptich

13. The Image Renaissance Continues (All Year Long)

Any year where fans will get to follow the continuation of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' "Fatale" and "Velvet," Jonathan Hickman's "East of West" (with Nick Dragotta) and "Manhattan Projects" (with Nick Pitarra), Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' "Saga," Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera's "Black Science," Nick Spencer's "Bedlam" (with Riley Rossmo) and "Morning Glories" (with Joe Eisma), Matt Fraction's "Satellite Sam" (with Howard Chaykin) and "Sex Criminals" (with Chip Zdarsky) and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios' "Pretty Deadly" -- among other titles -- is one for the books. Add to these sale smashes and critical darlings the debut of Mark Millar and Goran Parlov's "Starlight," Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's "Southern Bastards," Remender and Wes Craig's "Deadly Class" and the launches and continuations of seemingly countless books from the mind of J. Michael Straczynski's Joe's Comics imprint, and you have a comic company who, by publisher Eric Stephenson's own admission, is not be content with being number three for much longer. DC and Marvel better look out: Image Comics is rising, and rising. And all of that is before you even get to a little book called "The Walking Dead," not to mention Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint titles "Invincible" by Kirkman and Ryan Ottley and "Thief of Thieves" by Andy Diggle and Shawn Martinbrough (which is optioned for a new television show, by the by), plus the upcoming "Outcast," a new book co-written by Kirkman and Nathan Edmondson that deals with exorcism (which also has been optioned by Cinemax -- man, that Kirkman gets around). The next Image Expo hits later this week, and is poised to give fans an even clearer idea of new books and properties on the way from the most innovative publisher on the stands. Could 2014 be the year fans will have to change their definition of the Big Two?

Skybound Teases "Invincible" Changes At Image Expo 2014

12. The Year of Original Sci-fi ("Transcendence," April; "Jupiter Ascending," July; "Interstellar," November)

The past few years have been defined by genre remakes and adaptations, and as mindblowingly awesome as many of these have been, there has been something of a dearth of new genre material to come out of Hollywood, notable exceptions like "Pacific Rim" or "Oblivion" aside. In 2014, we get three films from some of the most exciting filmmakers working today. Fans have already sampled a taste via trailers for the Wachowski Brothers' "Jupiter Ascending" and "Transcendence," the directorial debut of visionary cinematographer Wally Pfister who worked on "The Dark Knight Trilogy," "The Prestige," "Inception" and "Moneyball." Add Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," and you have what is shaping up to be one great year for original and innovative sci-fi. Adaptations, remakes and sequels are great, but genre originality in Hollywood should take another step forward in 2014, with these three films paving the way.

11. "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" (December)

Tolkien fans have been waiting to see "The Battle of the Five Armies" seemingly forever. The third installment of Peter Jackson's "Hobbit trilogy" will see the curtain fall on Middle Earth, but not before what might well be the biggest, most sweeping battle ever seen on the silver screen. All the myriad plot threads from the previous two "Hobbit" films will wrap up in one climactic clash between dwarves, elves, the men of Laketown, orcs, Wizards, a dragon and one lone hobbit. The tone of the last two films has been relatively light and fun, though things did darken a bit with "The Desolation of Smaug," but many filmgoers will be somewhat shocked by the darker turn the third act of Tolkien's classic will take, with character deaths and harrowing moments that tonally set up the much darker "Lord of the Rings." Most of all, the final "Hobbit" will be fans' last chance to see Middle Earth realized on film, a chance to look back on the last decade and take account of the brilliance of the world realized by Peter Jackson. Unless Jackson has some plans for the "Silmarillion." Hey, y'know what -- ?

Armitage & Cumberbatch Get Into Character for "Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug"

10. "Godzilla" (May)

Fans have been waiting a long time for Godzilla -- the real Godzilla -- to once again rule cinemas across the globe. We're talking the King of Monsters, not that tuna eating lizard that got its ass kicked by Ferris Bueller. The new "Godzilla" film has an amazing cast, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and "Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, and is directed by one of the most exciting new talents in Hollywood, "Monsters'" Gareth Edwards. There are rumblings that more monsters than just (just?) Godzilla will be appearing in this film, and tonally, this is apparently no mere popcorn flick. Rather, "Godzilla" promises to give fans an intense drama that harkens back to the original Toho "Godzilla," something fans have been waiting a long, long time to see.

First "Godzilla" Trailer Stomps Online

9. All-New Marvel NOW! (First Half 2014)

Fans can get a good idea of what's coming on television and in film by looking at Marvel's publishing schedule. The film stars of tomorrow are the heroes that Marvel chooses to give their own books, and this time around, diversity is the order of the day as characters not usually found in the spotlight are finding their names on the marquee in the publisher's latest marketing push. Y'know what, forget TV and movies: These are just some exciting comics! "Daredevil" will get a relaunch courtesy of the current series' creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, With the "All-New Marvel NOW!" initiative, fans will see the return of "Moon Knight" by Warren Ellis and a new team of "New Warriors" by Chris Yost and Marcus To. Dan Slott and Mile Allred are set to revitalize "Silver Surfer" while Ales Kot breathes new life into "Iron Patriot." Nick Spencer, Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli are populating "Avengers World," and we're seeing new titles for "Black Widow" (finally), "Elektra," an "All-New Ghost Rider" and "The Punisher," Marvel is focusing on every corner of the Marvel Universe, offering something to interest every fan, no matter their tastes.

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8. DC Comics' Weekly Series (Spring)

But, not so fast Marvel Zombies -- DC Comics is not going to rest and cede the shelves to All-New Marvel NOW!. In 2014, the west coast-bound publisher is launching its latest weekly comic "Batman: Eternal," which will be brought to fans every Wednesday by Scott Snyder, who will act as kind of a showrunner for the book, along with writers James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes and Tim Seeley. Jason Fabok heads up the art for the title, as the creative team guides readers through 52 weeks of Batman goodness and become a focal point for the DCU. Teaser images promise the return of the Spoiler as well as exciting new directions and stories for all of Batman's heroes and villains.

And then there's the mysterious "The New 52: Futures End," a second weekly series set five years into the future of the current DCU. Written by Jeff Lemire, Keith Giffen, Brian Azzarello and Dan Jurgens and featuring art by Ethan Van Sciver, Aaron Lopresti and more, the title promises the New 52 debut of Batman Beyond, cybernetic versions of DC's pantheon of heroes and more.

DC has done weekly comics before, but never a regular series with a character specific focus, nor one with a scope as large as "Futures End" promises. Together, these series could change the way comics are consumed by eager readers, especially when you consider the digital distribution system the industry has been nurturing for the past several years.

DC Comics Jumps Forward 5 Years With Weekly "The New 52: Futures End"

7. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (April)

Some call it "Avengers 1.5," many industry pros say it's the best script so far filmed by Marvel Studios. The trailers certainly look great, and it could be one of the best superhero movies to date. When it hits theaters in April, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" will give fans perhaps the best clue to date of the path future Marvel movies will follow. The events of the film will affect S.H.I.E.L.D. (which will, of course, impact Marvel Television, too), the Black Widow and the Avengers while introducing the Falcon and serving as the introduction to Ed Brubaker's "Winter Soldier" comics storyline, arguably the greatest story in Cap's rich history. All this, plus Robert Redford! The next stop in "Marvel Phase 3" is the last major step before the next Avengers movie, but despite all that, Cap should stand on his own and deliver a kick ass action film in the vein of "Mission Impossible." Before going cosmic, Marvel Studios plans to deliver an earthbound "Captain America" story.

RELATED: "Captain America" Sequel Moves Away From "Boy Scout" Territory

6. Comic-Con International in San Diego (July)

Always the biggest event of the year, this year's Comic Con International has an extra element of excitement. Those lucky enough to brave Hall H could very well witness the first glimpse at the new "Star Wars" film and maybe hear news about future "Star Wars" spin offs and spotlight projects. Fans will probably see their first glimpse of "Avengers: Age of Ultron," as well as Edgar Wright's "Ant-Man" in addition to finally hearing the first bit of news about Marvel's plans for 2016 and beyond. Attendees may get a first glimpse of Fox's "Fantastic Four" and the future of the "X-Men" films. In 2013, Warner Bros. dropped the (still untitled) "Batman/Superman" bomb on fans, and the studio will no doubt want to top itself by giving fans a hint at what can be coming after "Batman/Superman" with perhaps a look at Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as their respective DC Universe icons. There should be announcements regarding AMC's "The Walking Dead" spin off, the Marvel Netflix shows and first looks at the new "Bond," "Terminator" and "Independence Day."

Lest you think we're forgetting the reason thousands of fans have been making the annual pilgrimage to Southern California for decades, we're also looking forward to the comics publishers to reveal their big summer news at the show. As each company tries to grab the attention of a continually growing and fracturing readership, SDCC becomes more of a spectacle and event. The comics, shows and films we will be discussing over the next few years will be ignited at SDCC 2014.

5. "The Flash" TV (TBA)

Fans of "Arrow" have been given a minor taste of Barry Allen, but excitement for the upcoming series is already at a fever pitch. "Arrow" is currently the best superhero show on TV, but it is more urban vigilante drama than straight-up superhero action. With "The Flash," Warner Bros. has promised an in-your-face superhero show complete with costumes and overt usage of powers. None of this Clark moping in a hay loft wearing red flannel "Smallville" storytelling, but rather, a love letter to the DC Universe in all its incarnations. At this point, fans can only dream of what characters may be joining Barry and what else DC has up their sleeves, but one thing we know is that "The Flash" promises to be a superhero show that is proud to be a superhero show, one hopefully complete with Rogues, super-powered gorillas and heroic guest stars.

Is Vibe Set to Make Waves on The CW's "Flash" TV Series?

4. AMC's "The Walking Dead" (February and October)

Fans are still recovering from the midseason finale of AMC's "The Walking Dead." As The Governor laid bleeding on the grass, fans cheered the demise of the man who took Hershel, the survivors' moral center, away from them. To say the finale was hairy would be an understatement, as the survivors were forced to split up, each mourning those that were lost. Fans are counting the days until the most popular show on cable resumes in February to see how each pocket of fan favorites will attempt to survive outside the confines of the prison. Where is Carol? Is Lil' Ass Kicker really dead? And who will fill the evil void left by The Governor? Comics fans have a good idea, but will the show continue to mine its comic roots? With the showrunners upping the ante every season, it is going to be one hell of a ride in Fall 2014's Season 5, and if that isn't enough, we should also learn what the promised "Walking Dead" spinoff is going to be all about.

Has "The Walking Dead" Seen the Last of David Morrissey's Governor?

3. "Game of Thrones" (March)

In 2013, "The Red Wedding" broke fandom. It was a moment readers of the novels were waiting for with dread, and one newer fans will never forget: The moment the world realized that author George R.R. Martin is a cruel, cruel man. The post-"Red Wedding" world of "Game of Thrones" is vastly different from the days before Robb, Catelyn and Talisa Stark were so cruelly taken by Bolton and Frey treachery. Fans of the books will tell you that this situation is far from over. That, without getting spoilery, justice, like winter, is coming, and it will be terrible. Readers have been waiting to see many of the events that will take place in Season 4 for over a decade, and newer fans will continue to be reminded to expect the unexpected as the events of season 4 will have more twists that the road to King's Landing.

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2. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (May)

It's Marvel's world, we just live in it. After the critical success of "X-Men: First Class" and "The Wolverine," it's time to get back to the core X-Men team. Fans who have been lamenting "X-Men: The Last Stand" (and really, who hasn't?) will have a chance to revisit the modern X-verse and hopefully see some "wrongs" put right, via "X-Men: Days of Future Past." This film might feature the greatest ensemble cast in the history of modern genre film, with the popular young cast of "X-Men: First Class" smashing up against the classic cast of the original trilogy. The film will see the film debut of fan favorites Bishop and Blink as well as the return of Storm, Kitty Pryde and Iceman, characters fans haven't seen in a very long time. The film features the long-anticipated debut of the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and features Peter Dinklage and his mustache as new X-villain Bolliver Trask. As exciting as all this is, the film will also give fans an idea where Fox will be headed with their superhero universe; perhaps the film will give the first sniff of the "Fantastic Four" or shed some light on the coming of "Apocalypse."

Paquin's Rogue Cut From "X-Men: Days of Future Past"

1. "Guardians of the Galaxy" (August)

Never let it be said that the folks at Marvel Studios are resting on their laurels. With four viable film franchises currently under its belt, Marvel seeks to conquer the word of sci-fi in 2014. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the studio's first attempt to step outside of the mainstream Silver Age house that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby built and try something new and very different. "Iron Man," "Thor" and "Captain America" all had major history and fan cache behind them before their film debuts, but the "Guardians" are relative newcomers to the Marvel Universe. Yes, the name "Guardians of the Galaxy" existed since the '60s, but in a vastly different form, and yes, many of the individual members of the team have been around for ages (heck, Groot even predates the "Fantastic Four"), but the idea of these relative unknowns becoming a sort of space Avengers is less than ten years old. That said, it's an idea that fairly reeks of marketability. Rocket Raccoon and Groot should take the world by storm, and when you add the likability factor of Chris Pratt as Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, you have quite an attention grabber.

As previously stated, this is Marvel's first attempt to actively promote properties other than their core superheroes, and if "Guardians" is a hit, it could open the door to Hollywood for any number of left of center characters. The film should also give fans a major clue into the next step for Thanos and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. "Guardians" has bigger ramifications beyond comic films, as it could be the sci-fi franchise Disney has been searching for years, a companion franchise to the recently acquired "Star Wars."

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