Wednesday, December 30, 2015
THE BEST OF 2015 - The Best COMICS Of The Year
THE BEST COMICS OF 2015:
- 2015 felt like the year that Image Comics and other like-minded publishers began to seriously dominate the comics industry. This was a year in which Marvel and DC had a lot to live up to. Not only were they competing with each other, but they were competing with the more-popular-than-ever movie and TV versions of their characters and stories. In years' past, the comics always had the better stories. But this year, The Flash TV series seemed to better capture the essence of what DC Comics is all about than maybe any comic that DC themselves put out. On the Marvel side, there were some huge comic book bright spots (Ms. Marvel continues to be something special), but little in the comics seemed to match the fever-pitch excitement that the Marvel movies have been able to generate. I'm not sure what's going on with the Big Two, or why their books have felt so relatively lackluster of late. But what I do know is that Image happily stepped up to fill the void. The publisher has been on a roll for a while now, but in 2015 the amount of great books they were putting out seemed to reach critical mass.
The Image revolution has led to more great comics than I can keep track of. Seemingly every other week, a new #1 comes out that comes highly recommended. New books from old favorites, and new books from fresh new voices. In 2015, we got not one, not two, but three ongoing comics from one of comics' premiere writers, Brian K. Vaughan. Given that he had completely disappeared from the industry for an extended period, following the conclusion of Y: The Last Man, this felt like a minor miracle. And his latest series, Paper Girls, is on its way to becoming a new classic. Other favorite writers - from Greg Rucka to Jeff Lemire - came out with great new comics. Rucka's Black Magick was an out-of-the-gate dose of awesomeness. Lemire's latest, Descender, is one of the coolest sci-fi comics in years. If there was one newer writer who seemed to own 2015 though, it was Jason Aaron. Aaron has been around for a little while, but in 2015 he kind of became "the man." He wrote maybe the best ongoing comic out there, Southern Bastards. He launched a new, edgy book that is shaping up to be something great in The Goddamned. He wrote a few superhero books, including the newly-launched Dr. Strange. And as if that wasn't enough, he anchored the launch of Marvel's new Star Wars line of comics, writing the flagship Star Wars book and making it way better than it had any right to be.
Speaking of Star Wars ... there were a metric ton of Star Wars comics this year (big surprise, right?) now that Marvel gained publishing rights by way of the almighty Disney empire. What was actually a surprise though was how good the books all were. It helped that Marvel got top-notch writers - like Aaron, Rucka, Kieron Gillen, Mark Waid, and more to pen the books, and amazing artists to seal the deal. I am sort of shocked at how much Star Wars stuff I read in 2015. I didn't intend to, but every time a new book launched, I saw one of my favorite writer's names on the cover.
It's going to be an interesting 2016 - not just in terms of comics, but in terms of movie and TV show adaptations. Garth Ennis is one of the best-ever comic book writers - up there in stature, in my opinion, with the greats of the medium. And yet, his comics have never really been adapted for any other medium. That's going to change big-time with the launch of the Preacher TV series in 2016. Will the show maintain the comics' extreme nature and no-holds-barred social commentary? And what will happen when Ennis' even more extreme series, The Boys, becomes a TV show? As a big Ennis fan, I'm excited to see his works go mainstream in the coming year. And yeah, there will be a bunch of Marvel and DC movies and TV series, but hey, you don't need *me* to tell you about 'em.
Back to comics though - the best books that are out there at the moment are all great examples of what the medium has to offer. Diverse characters, diverse genres, diverse creators - something for everyone. Sure, comics still have a long way to go in this respect. But the strides made in 2015 are also nothing to sneeze at. In any case, I've talked at length before about the ease with which one can now buy, read, and even binge-read great comics series. So if you've got an iPad or Kindle then hurry up and get to readin'. I mean, you could simply consume the same entertainment as everyone else, and just get the stuff that's been focus-tested, massaged by executives, and primed for four-quadrant success before it ever hits a screen. Or, you could read comics and get the good stuff when it's hot and fresh and unfiltered.
So here are my picks for the best books of the year. All come highly recommended, and all are a few mere clicks away from your reading enjoyment.
DANNY'S BEST COMICS OF 2015:
1.) Southern Bastards
- I jumped on the Southern Bastards bandwagon earlier this year, and never looked back. With this ongoing comic, writer Jason Aaron has created a world that calls to mind the violent, hard-boiled Western-noir of TV series like Justified - albeit with a hyper-pulpy, over-the-top twist. It's Friday Night Lights on acid - a dark tale of Southern justice in a small Texas town where football is life and where the local high school coach is also the de facto crime boss who rules over the citizenry with an iron fist. The first story-arc of the book centered on Earl Tubbs, who returns to town to try to rid it of the man known as Coach Boss. The second arc centered on Boss and his backstory. But in 2015, the series took some surprising left turns - branching out to tell one-off stories about the book's various supporting characters. In doing so, each new issue of Southern Bastards helped to fill in the book's tapestry of colorful characters and dark secrets. In any case, this feels like the new comic to beat. Aaron has raised his game and is crafting what is, to me, *the* must-read book of the moment.
2.) Paper Girls
- It still feels like writer Brian K. Vaughan is just getting ramped up with his epic space adventure Saga. But in the midst of churning out new issues of that book, Vaughan late this year launched Paper Girls - and the first issue was one of the best #1's I've read in years. The story - about a group of teenage newspaper delivery girls in 1980's suburbia, who find themselves caught up in a crazy time-travel adventure - is a rip-roaring nostalgia trip that feels like a lost Spielberg movie from back in the day. Vaughan has perfectly captured the sense of wonder mixed with slice-of-suburbia Americana that those classic Amblin movies embody, but he's also given the book an additional post-modern twist. By giving his papergirls a glimpse of our future, Vaughan puts this more innocent era into new perspective. Really though, Paper Girls is just a fun, smart, incredibly creative sci-fi adventure. It's Vaughan at the top of his game.
- Multiversity kicked off in 2014 and wrapped up this year with its final four issues, plus a sprawling Guide to the Multiverse special. In a year that was, overall, a bit lackluster for DC, Multiversity stands as the publisher's crowning achievement. It's Grant Morrison's love-letter to DC's weird and wild history - a tour through multiple worlds, each with its own unique attributes, each with its own looping commentary on comic book history. Morrison has long been obsessed with metafiction and fourth-wall-breaking experimentation with narrative. And those obsessions are fully realized here, with comics that speak directly to the reader, making the very act of reading the comic integral to the fates of the characters inside. It's a head-trip, but head-trips are what Morrison does best - and Multiversity is among his trippiest - and best - works yet.
4.) The Fade Out
- Ed Brubaker's maxi-series is a moody look at Hollywood's golden age - a film-noir murder mystery that positively immerses the reader in a world of glitz, glamour, lies, and scandal. The story centers around an it-girl starlet whose murder prompts her writer friend to uncover the conspiracy behind her death. And the book is another example of why Brubaker is one of the best writers working in comics today. Following up on his fantastic series Fatale, The Fade Out re-teams the writer with artist Sean Philips. Philips is a master at doing atmospheric noir art, and he's also at his best with this one. If you're a fan of Brubaker and Philips' previous collaborations, then The Fade Out is a no-brainer. If not, it's high time to get onboard with these guys and their comics - they're one of the best teams in the biz.
5.) Ms. Marvel
- In a relatively short time, writer G. Willow Wilson has made Kamala Kahn - aka Ms. Marvel - into one of the best, most endearing, most vital characters in the entire Marvel stable. Ms. Marvel quite simply overflows with humanity and heart. It's funny, witty, action-packed, and relatable. It's classic superheroics in the grand Marvel tradition, but it's also something entirely new and fresh and so very needed. In a world that tells us that we should hate Muslims, Kamala is a Muslim hero and a legit inspiration in the way that the best superheroes always are. She's a hero who shows us that there *is* a better way, that we *can* find common ground, and that we're *all* in this fight together. I'll go so far as to say that Kamala is giving inspiration to girls, to Muslims, and to a generation of superhero fans (me included!) in the same way that Superman and Captain America once did. She's awesome. But I'm not just a fan of what Ms. Marvel represents - all that aside, this is consistently the best superhero book out there.
- Saga has been *the* comic for the last few years, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. This is the comic you give to your non-comic-reading friends to show them what comics can be. This is the comic that gets people talking. This is the real-deal big-deal of the comics world. Part of the secret to its success is that, as he did with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, writer Brian K. Vaughan is crafting a sci-fi epic that's *really* about the everyday issues that we here on planet earth are facing right now. The characters in Saga may have wings and/or horns, but they are more real-seeming than just about any other fictional characters I know. The other big reason for the book's success is the consistently stunning art from Fiona Staples. Oh man, is this book amazing to look at. And it's the same thing - a mix of characters that feel real with stuff that's totally unreal - from aliens who have TV's for heads to giant tree-spaceships. Finally, Saga isn't afraid to change things up. Recent issues have seen a multi-year time-jump that poses a lot of questions about what's happened and where this is all going. I can't wait to find out.
7.) Black Magick
- Okay, I'm sort of ranking this one highly based on speculation that it's going to be really good for a long while. But two issues in, and I'm totally sold on the idea that Black Magick could be the next big thing. Writer Greg Rucka is always reliable as a source of great comics (his other book, Lazarus, has been a favorite for the last few years) - and this story, about a police detective who's also a witch, is a great blend of vintage Rucka (gritty police drama!) with new territory for the writer (magic!). Also - holy lord - the artwork! Artist Nicola Scott is *killing* it so far. I've been a fan of hers for a while from her DC work. But with Black Magick, she's taking it to a whole new level, with an eye-popping black and white style that mixes in selective splashes of color. This one is one to watch - but it's already on a course to be something very special.
8.) The Walking Dead
- I've been pretty frustrated with The Walking Dead TV series of late, but man, the comic that started it all is still going strong. In fact, I've been really digging recent plotlines involving a group of zombie-emulating antagonists known as The Whisperers, and a brewing war between them and Rick's crew. Robert Kirkman remains a writer who knows how to craft a story that has you desperately turning pages in order to find out what happens next. I don't know how he does it. I say this often, but it bears repeating - if you are disillusioned with the TV show, you owe it to yourself to check out Kirkman's comics. There's a reason why it's one of the top-selling comics year in and year out - it's quite simply the best book out there at keeping you on the edge of your seat and wondering what the hell is going to happen next.
- There's been a resurgence of real sci-fi in comics of late, and Descender is leading the charge. Writer Jeff Lemire is another perennial favorite, but this is definitely something different from him. In the past, with books like Sweet Tooth and Trillium, the world-building was always secondary to the character stuff. But here, Lemire is really going for broke - crafting a future-verse full of rich mythology. The story centers around a lifelike android who finds himself on the run - chased across the universe by forces who believe he holds the key to explaining a great disaster that befell humanity decades earlier. There's some sprawling, Mass Effect-scale world-building going on here, but Lemire is also layering in great characters and emotional stakes. Plus, the art from Dustin Nguyen is the artist's best-ever - fluid, expressive line-work that really brings Lemire's story to life.
- Invincible has been one of my favorites for years now, but I'm still a constant advocate for it because it still sometimes seems to be a bit under-the-radar. Robert Kirkman's other big epic (begging to be a TV show for whoever is willing to spend the money) is so consistently good because it's a superhero comic with no corporate obligations. Whereas Superman or Spider-Man will always, inevitably, return to the status quo, Invincible is constantly evolving. This year, Kirkman cleverly played with this idea in his "Reboot?" story-arc, in which a back-to-basics continuity-wipe was teased out as a sort of jab at how frequently the reset button is pushed over at Marvel and DC. It's a perfect example of how Invincible can be wonderfully tongue-in-cheek. At the same time, the book can be legitimately dramatic when it wants to be. But month in, month out, it's a great read. I hope that Robert Kirkman keeps telling Invincible stories for a long time to come.
THE NEXT BEST:
11.) Alex + Ada
-My pick for the best book of 2014, Alex+ Ada - the incredible story of a man who falls in love with an illegally-modified android - wrapped up this year with its final chapters. I'll admit, the book lost a little momentum as it came to its conclusion. But it was still, overall, an amazing read. Can't want to see what's next for this creative team.
12.) Sex Criminals
- Sex Criminals would definitely be ranked higher on my list, if only it came out more frequently. But when new issues have graced us with their presence, it's always a reminder that Sex Crims is fantastically good reading. It's funny, it's bold, it's got some of the best writing - courtesy of Matt Fraction - in all of comics (or anywhere, for that matter). If you're not familiar with the book - well, just read it. Don't be intimidated by the title. Just trust in Fraction. Here's hoping for much more of this one in 2016.
- Lazarus is another favorite that still kicked a lot of ass in 2015 - it just seemed to lose some of its narrative momentum by coming out less frequently. But hey, I still love it. It's Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games - if Katniss was a genetically-altered warrior who wielded a razor-sharp sword. In any case, I'm excited to see where the story goes in 2016 following the war-between-families that raged for much of this past year. And also, Lazarus is going to be a TV show!
14.) Jupiter's Circle
- This is sort of an interesting one. A while back, prolific writer Mark Millar did a comic called Jupiter's Legacy - all about the rebellious sons and daughters of a Justice League-esque group of superhero legends. But Legacy was cut short after only several issues, set to return at some unspecified point in time. But in the meantime, we've gotten a whole series called Jupiter's Circle, which gives us the backstory of those superheroic parents. Really though, this is an excuse for Millar to do a story about supers in 50's America who pretended to be clean-cut role models but were actually involved in all sorts of scandal. It's classic, Watchmen-esque superhero deconstruction, but done really well.
15.) Star Wars
- Marvel's Star Wars comics have been really good. And Jason Aaron's title - simply titled "Star Wars," has been the best of the bunch. Taking place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars comic, at its best, has felt like a missing movie in the Star Wars saga - a brisk, cinematic adventure involving all the main Star Wars players. It cleverly fills in story gaps from the original movies, and, in 2015, was just what the doctor ordered to get the hype machine rolling prior to The Force Awakens.
16.) Escape From NY
- Here's one that I had zero expectations for, but that became one of my favorite monthly reads. Spinning off from the cult-classic John Carpenter movie, the Escape From NY comic takes place in the aftermath of the original film - detailing the further adventures of the legendary Snake Plissken. The comic is a ton of fun, and totally captures Carpenter's subversive spirit. There's even a story-arc that serves as a direct sequel to the movie - in which Snake returns to the prison-state of New York - that feels every bit like a lost Carpenter movie we never got.
17.) Silver Surfer
- A consistent favorite since the team of Dan Slott and Mike Allred took over, The Silver Surfer continued to delight in 2015. Sure, there was some sort-of forced tie-in to Marvel's overarching Secret Wars event, but Slott used the story as an opportunity to have the Surfer face an end-of-universe cataclysm. Mostly though, the pairing of a humanized Surfer with his human companion Dawn Greenwood gives the book a whimsical, space-adventure feel. Mike Allred's one-of-a-kind art (seriously, the guy is simply the best) only adds to the cosmic grooviness of it all.
- Under the watchful eye of writer Scott Snyder, the monthly Batman book has been DC's most consistent source of quality storytelling for the last five years, since the dawn of the "New 52." This year, Snyder aimed high and took risks. After an apocalyptic final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, both go missing. To fill the vacuum, Commissioner Gordon assumes the roll of Batman - donning a mechanized Bat-Suit to help him fight Gotham's criminal element. The result is a new kind of Batman - part policeman, part hero. And it's been a wild ride so far - following Gordon's struggles as The Bat, following the mystery of what happened to Bruce Wayne, and following Snyder and artist Greg Capullo as they continue to redefine and re-shape Batman.
19.) The X-Files: Season 11
- Yeah, I'm incredibly psyched that The X-Files will be back on TV in January. It's been a long time coming. But luckily, the excellent comics series has done a good job of keeping the fire burning and the quest for the Truth going in the show's absence. In particular, "Season 11" has been a step up from previous X-Files books, delivering sequels to fan-favorite episodes like "Home," as well as a very compelling myth-arc about a returned, grown-up Gibson Praise who's gone over to the dark side even as he's become more powerful than ever. The series does a great job of capturing the voices of the characters, and has set the stage nicely for things to come - both on and off the air.
20.) Bitch Planet
- Kelly Sue DeConnick's grindhouse feminist sci-fi women-in-prison story is, you guessed it, one of a kind. Insane in the best way possible, the series is wildly and blatantly about female empowerment, even as it plays with the cliches and extremes of vintage exploitation flicks and grindhouse tropes. The book is powered by a righteous sense of anger and purpose, even as the storytelling is unabashedly fun and over-the-top. I'm digging it, and it no-doubt affirms DeConnick - who created a legion of fans via her work on Captain Marvel and its Carol Corps - as one of the brashest, brassiest voices in comics.
Howard the Duck
We Stand Our Guard
Planet Hulk: War Zone
East of West
New Comics: THE GODDAMNED and JACKED
- There were some GREAT brand-new comics that launched at the very end of 2015 that I think deserve mention, if only because they got off to such great starts and will very likely be on the 2016 list. One is the latest from Jason Aaron, THE GODDAMNED - a violent, brutal, uncompromising look at life in the ancient biblical world, pre-Flood, when it was kill or be killed. There's never really been a story like this (save maybe for parts of Darren Aronofsky's movie Noah), and it's clear that this is going to be a hell of a ride. Meanwhile, writer Eric Kripke has made JACKED one to watch in 2016. The story of a middle-aged schlub who gets superpowers, this is a great twist on the classic superhero origin story, written with a distinct comedic voice. I can't wait to see where it goes.
Finales: FABLES and HAWKEYE
- Two all-time classics came to an end in 2015 with one-shot final-issue specials. After a long delay, the final issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja's acclaimed run on Marvel's Hawkeye finally came out, and man, it was a bittersweet moment. The team's run on Hawkeye is one of the best runs of a superhero book - hell, of any comic book - I've ever read. Funny, poignant, poetic, visually-incredible - it's an indisputable modern classic. The finale wrapped up Fraction's take on Clint Barton and Kate Bishop with style and pathos - a fitting exclamation point for an amazing run.
Similarly, the long-delayed Fables finale came out in 2015, ultimately released as an entire volume of the series - in the form of a giant-sized final-issue that featured an epic ending to the long-running series. Saying goodbye to Fables was, for me, a big deal. I'd been reading it since the beginning, having picked up the first trade paperback while in college in Boston. I read Fables every month since, enjoying the main series as well as the spin-offs like Jack of Fables and Fairest. The series had its ups and downs over the years, but I will say that it went out on a high note, with a compelling final storyline that pitted sister against sister, culminating in a final showdown between Snow White and Rose Red. At its peak, Fables was truly something special - a subversive take on classic fairy tale characters, now living in secret in New York City after having been exiled from their homeland. Its versions of classic characters became classic in their own right - with Fables' Snow White, Rose Red, Bigby Wolf, Flycatcher, Boy Blue, Cinderella, Jack of Tales, and countless others becoming all-time favorites of mine as the years went on. And man, talk about all-time great comic book runs. Not only did writer Bill Willingham write hundreds of issues and dozens of story-arcs, but artist Mark Buckingham - his work on Fables - penciling nearly every issue of the series - is one of the greatest ever artistic achievements in comics. Buckingham's incredible, evocative art - with its themed page designs and iconic character looks - was perhaps my favorite thing about this series. In any case, the book is now closed on Fables - happily ever after, etc. No question, one of the great comics of all time.
WRITERS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Jason Aaron (Southern Bastards, Star Wars, The Goddamned)
2.) Brian K. Vaughan (Paper Girls, Saga, We Stand Our Guard)
3.) Ed Brubaker (The Fade Out, Velvet)
4.) Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Black Magik)
5.) Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible)
6.) G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel)
7.) Jeff Lemire (Descender, Plutona)
8.) Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye)
9.) Mark Millar (Jupiter's Circle, Chrononauts)
10.) Grant Morrison (Multiversity, The Nameless)
ARTISTS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Nicola Scott (Black Magik)
2.) Fiona Staples (Saga)
3.) Sean Phillips (The Fade Out)
4.) Cliff Chiang (Paper Girls)
5.) Mike Allred (Silver Surfer)
6.) Babs Tarr (Batgirl)
7.) Dustin Nguyen (Descender)
8.) Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals)
9.) Ryan Ottley (Invincible)
10.) Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)