Wednesday, December 28, 2016

THE BEST OF 2016 - The Best COMICS Of The Year


- 2016 was another fantastic year for comics as a medium. DC got a huge shot in the arm with their Rebirth relaunch, giving new life to flailing franchises like Superman, Green Lantern, and The Flash. Marvel continued to put out some of the industry's most vital books - most notably the must-read Ms. Marvel. And Image continued to be a veritable factory for great comics, producing so many great new books that it could be hard to keep track. Meanwhile, other publishers like Dark Horse, Valiant, Boom, and Aftershock stepped up with great titles as well. I often found myself overwhelmed with how much good stuff there was to read in any given week. Plus, in the digital age, it's possible to binge-read newly-discovered comics with the touch of a button. This year, I continued to make my way through Garth Ennis' The Boys, among others. 

But let's get to it. The great fun of being a comics fan is being part of such a smart and passionate community of readers. I love hearing what others are reading, and by the same token, it's always fun to tell non-fans about great comics I've read in an effort to get them hooked - whether they're interested in superhero books, or all the other kinds of storytelling that comics do so well. Liked Stranger Things? Then check out Paper Girls asap. A fan of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? Then you had better give SP creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's new book Snot Girl a look. Dig superheroes but want a new spin on old favorites? Then hurry up and read Black Hammer - an awesomely unique deconstruction of classic hero archetypes. There's something for everyone below - so get to reading.


1.) Paper Girls

- No surprise here - Paper Girls was nearly my top comics pick in 2015, and that was after only a handful of issues had been released. Now with over a year's worth of stories under its belt, Paper Girls is officially the best comic book going - a twisty, heartfelt, nostalgic sci-fi adventure from one of the best writers alive, Brian K. Vaughan. So what is Paper Girls? To say too much would be to spoil things, so I'll just say that it's an 80's-set series about a group of plucky paper delivery-girls who see their ordinary suburban lives interrupted by some seriously insane sci-fi weirdness. Time travel may or may not be involved. Basically, Paper Girls does Stranger Things one better, because it tells a story through a lense of 80's nostalgia, but what's more, the entire theme of the book is contrasting the relative innocence of being a kid in the 80's to the world-weary existential dread of being an adult in 2016. Brian K Vaughan is tackling some big themes here, but he's also just telling an awesome sci-fi story, with plenty of jaw-dropping cliffhangers, lots of humor, and numerous holy-$%^& moments. The writer of Y: The Last Man and Saga does it again (and, also, the phenomenal art by the great Cliff Chiang doesn't hurt). You must read this one. 

2.) Black Hammer

- Jeff Lemire has been one of my favorite writers for several years now. I became a fan via his seminal series Sweet Tooth, and have followed him through other great books like Trillium, Animal Man, and the still-ongoing (and still great) Descender. Black Hammer is yet another new classic from Lemire. It's his take on superhero deconstruction - think Watchmen - but Lemire gives us a fresh spin on a subgenre that's been done to death, producing a series that's gotten better with each issue. Essentially, this is a series about several classic superhero archetypes who get banished from their superhero universe and are mysteriously stranded on a farm in a much more ordinary, mundane universe. They try to live normal lives, while also trying to figure out what happened to them. But the real brilliance comes as Lemire slowly reveals the backstories of each character, giving each seemingly stock character unexpected layers. Again, I don't want to reveal too much. But this one has been one of 2016's must-read books, and it's just ramping up. Jump onboard now.

3.) Ms. Marvel

- How powerful is Ms. Marvel? So powerful that, I'll admit, this book and this character have changed the way I think about Muslims. Superheroes are a powerful archetype, and reading the monthly adventures of a smart, funny, geeky, progressive Muslim superhero has made me more aware of bigotry towards American Muslims and more aware of a need to recognize our commonalities and embrace our differences. Writer G. Willow Wilson doesn't pretend that Islam is infallible. Kamala Khan stuggles with aspects of her religion just as I do with mine. But that is what's so brilliant about this book - it reinforces the idea that we're all in this together. We all have to reconcile problematic aspects of our inherited culture. But we are all, ultimately, stronger together. Ms. Marvel is a fun, smart, action-packed comic book. But more so than that, it's downright inspiring. And isn't that what superheroes should be?

4.) Kill or Be Killed

- On the other end of the spectrum is the latest grim n' gritty piece of pulp-noir from one of my favorite writers, Ed Brubaker. Earlier this year, Brubaker wrapped up both his old-Hollywood mystery The Fade Out and his spy thriller Velvet. But his newest project is one of his most exciting in a while - a pitch-black supernatural crime series about a guy who makes a Faustian pact with an evil spirit: kill or be killed. Of course, this bargain opens up a Pandora's Box of moral and practical questions - the book is still in relative infancy, so who knows how things will play out. But I can't wait to find out.

5.) Snot Girl

- The first-ever ongoing comic series from the creator of Scott Pilgrim initially seemed like a real head-scratcher. A comic about a self-absorbed fashion blogger? What? And what was with the title? Snot Girl - really?! Well, I am here to say that I have fallen for Snot Girl. You've just got to go with it, and trust in Bryan Lee O'Malley to steer you right. There's a lot more to Snot Girl than meets-the-eye. It's a pulp mystery, a sly social satire, and a relationship drama all rolled into one. 

6.) Superman

- Many of you guys probably know that I'm a pretty hardcore Superman fan. I've been reading Superman comics since I was a kid, so one of the great joys of DC's Rebirth reboot has been the revitalization of the Superman family of books. Post-Rebirth, Superman is now a bit older and more experienced - once again married to Lois Lane, and the father of a young super-powered son named John. A welcome change of pace from the more recent version who was younger and dating Wonder Woman, this feels like the more classic version of Supes that I grew up with, with the added twist of him now being a father to a superhero-in-training. Of course, all that would mean nothing without great creative teams, and the great thing is that all the Superman book are now in good hands. The standout book though has undoubtedly been Superman, penned by the ever-reliable, often great Peter Tomasi. Tomasi has really done great things with the new father-son dynamic - for example, sending Superman and son on a time-travel adventure to a lost island, in a story that paid moving tribute to the late great Darwyn Cooke and his signature story, New Frontier. Tomasi also penned the first-ever meeting between John and Damian Wayne, the son of Batman - and it was an instant-classic origin story for the new generation of Super Sons. If you're at all a Superman fan, check out the current Tomasi run.

7.) Descender

-Like sprawling sci-fi space epics? Then pick up Descender. Another book by Jeff Lemire, the second year of Descender brilliantly fleshed out the book's mythology, giving us new and compelling backstory on several key characters. The book details a far-future in which humans and other alien species travel the universe looking to hunt and destroy any and all remaining robots - who are now thought to be a danger to all life. One kid-like robot, Tim-21, now finds himself on the run from all manner of dangers. Lemire is spinning a truly epic yarn here, and the incredibly evocative art from Dustin Nguyen adds to the book's sci-fi atmosphere.

8.) The Walking Dead

- It's now time for my annual reminder that, while The Walking Dead TV series may be seriously slumping, Robert Kirkman's comic book remains a can't-miss page turner that delivers great serialized storytelling month-in, month out. In fact, one of the main reasons why I can't bring myself to drop the show is because I remain perpetually curious how the show will adapt some of the comics' epic storylines. This year, for example, Rick Grimes and co. found themselves wrapped up in a war with one of The Walking Dead's most intriguing groups of adversaries yet - the Whisperers - a zombie-worshipping cult who take on the appearance of Walkers. Kirkman remains one of the best storytellers in the biz, doling out crazy cliffhangers and twists like nobody's business. It still baffles me why the show struggles so much when the comic often feels so effortlessly readable. In any case, The Walking Dead remains a must-read. 

9.) Southern Bastards

-My pick for the Best Comic of 2015 drops several notches this year, mainly because it's come out so infrequently. Writer Jason Aaron is everywhere these days, penning Dr. Strange and Star Wars for Marvel, plus other perpetually-delayed books like The Goddamned for Image. Here's hoping that Aaron can focus on Southern Bastards in 2017, because it really is his magnum opus - a pulpy, generation-spanning epic about southern justice. When issues did come out this year, there was a compelling shift in focus to Roberta Tubb, daughter of the series' original protagonist - now returned home to avenger her dad. There's been some amazing build-up to Roberta's inevitable confrontation with the series' big bad, Coach Boss. So please, give us a lot more Southern Bastards in 2017.

10.) The Flash

- The Flash, for decades, was consistently among the best books DC Comics put out. Writers like Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and Geoff Johns all contributed to that long run of quality - so it was shame when the book became nearly unreadable in the New 52 era. But, good news: The Flash is back! The rebooted Rebirth version of Flash quickly righted past wrongs, with new writer Joshua Williamson doing great work - making Barry Allen, finally, as compelling in the comics as he is on TV. Williamson has introduced new villains, brought back some classics, and put character first. He's incorporated some elements of the TV show without being slavishly devoted to it. (It's no surprise that Williamson is becoming a go-to writer for DC, now penning their first big post-Rebirth event, JLA vs. Suicide Squad, which is off to a killer start). Also, the art on The Flash by Carmine Di Giandomenico has been awesome - as kinetic and energetic as you could hope for in a Flash comic.


11.) Saga

- Saga has become ever-so-slightly stagnant of late, but never count Brian K. Vaughan out. There is a clear long-game at work here, and Saga still managed to deliver its share of huge moments in 2016. This is, still, one of *the* must-read ongoing series of the last few years.

12.) Batman

- Batman was one of the few DC franchises that was doing just fine pre-Rebirth, and in fact, one of the few downsides of the reboot was the end of Scott Snyder's modern-classic run on the title. But luckily, Batman came back strong with writer Tom King at the helm. In several short months, King has done great stuff with the Dark Knight - introducing a new pair of super-powered vigilantes to Gotham, and telling the best Bane story in years. 

13.) Green Arrow

- Green Arrow kept the same writer post-Rebirth as pre-Rebirth, but it still feels like a whole new book. Writer Ben Percy has brought the character back to his most beloved incarnation - the bearded, liberal-minded, hard-luck vigilante who fights for the little guy and romances Black Canary. Classic Green Arrow is back.

14.) Silver Surfer

- One of my favorite books of the last few years, Dan Slott's whimsical take on the Surfer is elevated to pure cosmic awesomeness by the unmatched art of Mike Allred. Anyone who likes quirky, big-hearted sci-fi like Dr. Who needs to read this book. 

15.) Captain America: Steve Rogers

- No comic book moment made mainstream waves in 2016 more so than Captain America's shocking proclamation of "Hail Hydra" in the first issue of Nick Spencer's new take on Cap. But the moment was more than just a gimmick - Spencer has been telling a super-fun, super-compelling long-form Cap epic - and I still can't even begin to predict where it's going.

16.) Doom Patrol

-One of the most compelling stories in comics in 2016 was the start of a new DC Comics imprint - Young Animal - spearheaded by My Chemical Romance frontman (and comic book writer) Gerard Way. Way sought to put a mind-bending, mature-readers spin on some of DC's weirder properties, and he's off to a strong start. The line's flagship book, Doom Patrol, has so far been a highlight - a delightfully trippy return for DC's strangest superhero team.

17.) Faith 

- In 2016, I got aboard the Faith hype train. If you haven't heard, Faith is one of the breakout comics characters of the last year - a plus-sized, geeky superhero who is as much a fan-girl as she is a defender of justice. Written with heart, humor, and humanity by Jody Houser, Faith is a refreshingly unique take on superheroes - and a book that is emblematic of the genre's ever-expanding, increasingly-diverse audience. 

18.) Lazarus

- Another longtime favorite that got moved down a few notches due to infrequent issues in 2016, Lazarus remains one of the best ongoing books there is. A futuristic Game of Thrones that feels increasingly relevant as we enter the Trump age (cough, vomit, gag), Lazarus is still one to watch in 2017 as it turns a major narrative corner, and the longtime build towards protagonist Forever Carlyle realizing her true nature picks up steam. Writer Greg Rucka is one of the best in the biz, so I'm still psyched for this one going into the new year. 

19.) Invincible 

- Robert Kirkman announced this year that his long-running superhero saga will come to an end in 2017. This makes me sad, as Invincible has been a favorite for years now. It's a superhero story not beholden to corporate mandates to keep the status quo in place, which has always allowed Kirkman to go nuts with both plot and tone.

20.) New Super-Man

- One of the surprise standouts of Rebirth, New Super-Man is a humor and heart-filled telling of China's not-quite-Superman - the cocky, too-cool-for-school teen, Kenan Kong. Even better: the bumbling Bat-Man of China. 

21.) Tales From the Darkside

- The story goes that writer Joe Hill (of Locke & Key fame) had developed a new TV version of 80's horror anthology Tales From the Darkside. That reboot eventually got scrapped, but Hill's scripts found a second life in comic book form. So yeah - we comic readers got a new horror anthology from the Locke & Key team. Predictably, it was great.

22.) Wonder Woman

- Greg Rucka has a long history of writing great stories about kickass women, and so it was no surprise that his return to Wonder Woman meant that the character, post-Rebirth, is now enjoying a creative high-point. If Rucka's writing it, I'm there - and in advance of the upcoming movie, Rucka has given the big-screen version a very, very tough act to follow. And, sidenote: the art from both Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott - amazing.

23.) Green Lanterns

- Yet another DC franchise with new life post-Rebirth. Green Lanterns has been a highlight - a return to the epic stories and core mythology of the Geoff Johns era, but with new protagonists Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz - an odd-couple pairing that, under the stewardship of writer Sam Humphries, has produced two of DC's most likable new characters.

24.) Cave Carson Has a Magnetic Eye

- Another success story from Gerard Way's Young Animal imprint at DC, this one hit my geeky buttons, as I'm a total sucker for weird stories about obscure DC characters. This book puts a postmodern spin on DC D-lister Cave Carson, re-imagining him as a down-on-his-luck, past-his-prime family man whose superheroic spelunking cost him his family and his sanity.

25.) Darth Vader 

- I sort of hit peak Star Wars this year. Marvel began putting out so many Star Wars books that it became a bit too much, and the stories began to get stale and repetitive. But the one book that never lost steam was Darth Vader - in part because writer Kieron Gillen didn't just rely on established stories and characters - he created new ones. Notably, Gillen gave us Dr. Aphra - a breakout new character now so popular with fans that she's got her own spin-off book. A morally bankrupt con-artist with evil-droid versions of C3PO and R2D2? Hells yeah. 


DC Rebirth #1

- I've mentioned Rebirth a lot, so it's only fair that I give a shout-out to the one-shot special that kicked off the whole shebang. Geoff Johns was largely absent from comic books this year, his attention largely devoted to movies and TV. But Johns did give us DC's single most important issue of the year Rebirth #1 - and it was one hell of a comic book. Rebirth was an expertly-constructed love letter to DC - an acknowledgement that things had strayed off-course, and that crucial elements of the DCU (legacy, for one) were conspicuously absent in the previous era of the New 52. With one fell swoop, Johns planted the seeds for DC's return to greatness - the long-hoped-for return of legacy characters like Wally West, the re-setting of characters like Green Arrow back to their most iconic incarnations, and the restoration of a sense of history to DC Comics. Rebirth was the kind of comic that comic fans love - a lovingly-crafted bridge between present, past, and future.

Locke & Key: Small World

- I've also got to give a quick shout-out to one of 2016's late-arriving treats - a new installment of Locke & Key. Small world was only a quick, one-off return to Joe Hill's series - one of the best of the last decade. But it served as both a reminder of that series' greatness and as a prelude to more Locke & Key stories still to come. 

Dark Knight: A True Batman Story

- Paul Dini has arguably done more to shape Batman in the last thirty year than anyone else. As co-creator of Batman: The Animated Series, he was responsible for perhaps the definitive take on the Dark Knight. But here, in this one-off, autobiographical graphic novel, Dini turns his focus inward and tells us a tale of his own darkest night - when, while working on the show, he was mugged and beaten in a cowardly act of criminality. Dini movingly tells of how he drew on his fantastical stories - on the legend of the Batman - to get him through this tough time. And the result is one of the most powerful works of graphic fiction I've read in a long while.  


1.) Brian K. Vaughan (Paper Girls, Saga)
2.) Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer, Descender)
3.) Greg Rucka (Wonder Woman, Lazarus)
4.) G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel)
5.) Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible)
6.) Peter Tomasi (Superman)
7.) Joshua Williamson (The Flash, JLA vs. Suicide Squad)
8.) Sam Humphries (Green Lanterns)
9.) Bryan Lee O'Malley (Snot Girl)
10.) Tom King (Batman)


1.) Cliff Chiang (Paper Girls) 
2.) Jason Fabok (Justice League, JLA vs. Suicide Squad)
3.) Mark Brooks (Han Solo)
4.) Phil Jiminez (DC Rebirth, Superwoman)
5.) Carmine Di Giandomenico (The Flash)
6.) Liam Sharp (Wonder Woman)
7.) Dustin Nguyen (Descender)
8.) Mike Allred (Silver Surfer)
9.) Nick Derington (Doom Patrol) 
10.) Leslie Hung (Snot Girl)

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