"U.S.Avengers": A Guide to Marvel's New Patriotic Superhero Team
CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT?!?!?!?!?!?
Yes, it’s January, and while others have already posted lists of their best comics of 2015, I haven’t yet, because I had a busy Christmas/New Year season, so I just didn’t get going with it. But it’s a brand new year, so let’s say goodbye to the year with the best comics I read in 2015!
As always, some caveats. This is, of course, a list of only comics I’ve actually read this year, so if something is missing, it either means I didn’t like it as much as these or I simply didn’t read it. I read a LOT of comics, but I can’t read everything! I also don’t have any manga on this list, much to my chagrin. I am behind on my manga reading – one thing I need to catch up on this year – and even if I weren’t, I never know quite how to classify manga. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m so far behind! And also, as usual (I don’t do this every year, but I want to!), I divide the comics up into categories, because it’s too hard for me to compare ongoing titles and, say, graphic novels. They’re just too different! I also have a category for collected stuff, but I’ll get to more explanation about that when I get there.
I wanted to say a few things about Comic Book Resources’ Best Comics of the Year list, because it was always fascinating. The list is in five parts, with commentary by some of the people who voted for those particular books. Here’s #100-76, here’s #75-51, here’s 50-26, here’s #25-11, and here’s the top ten. Six of the comics I voted for made it onto the Top 100, at #77, #63, #57, #56, #30, and #21, which is pretty good, I think. As usual, the list gets less interesting as it gets closer to the top, with the top ten being particularly puzzling this year. The Fade Out (#10) is pretty good; Bitch Planet (#9) is very trendy but just looks terrible; The Omega Men (#8) stunned me, as the first issue was just blah; Step Aside, Pops (#7) wasn’t as good as Kate Beaton’s first collection, but it was still decent enough; I haven’t read Paper Girls (#6), but it’s Brian K. Vaughan, which makes me suspicious; Unbeatable Squirrel Girl at #5 is also fairly stunning, as it’s good but fairly forgettable; I can’t really think of why something like Star Wars would be at #4 … there’s something that might put it there, but I’m just – I just can’t think of it!; I assume March: Book Two (#3) is good, but I haven’t read it yet; Ms. Marvel (#2) is another stunning entry, as it’s also good but not something timeless (it was #1 last year, which made my jaw drop, as well); and of course Saga is #1. My point is not that the list is bad – it’s everyone’s opinions, after all, but it is fascinating. One thing that bothered me, as well as John Layman (who had a fun rant on Facebook about it), is the lack of some longer-running titles. He was surprised that Chew dropped off the list entirely after consistently being in the top 20 and last year at #29, while East of West also didn’t make the list this year. Layman wasn’t mad – he stressed that repeatedly – and he wasn’t even that surprised, because people like shiny new stuff (I’m not totally immune to this, of course, as I have a few new series on my list). He has told me before that he thinks he should have relaunched Chew with new #1 issues occasionally because people buy #1s. It’s sad but true. On Facebook, he recommended no one do a series of longer than 25 issues, because people will forget about you. Now, Saga is up to the #30s and of course The Walking Dead is way up there, but that’s always helped by the television show and Vaughan’s name was out there for other reasons, like the print edition of Private Eye and his two new series this year. It’s just really fascinating seeing things that don’t drop off in quality (and Chew, for instance, has always been as good as it has always been, after the first arc, which took a bit to establish everything) but fall off people’s radar. Layman said the sales on the single issues are down slightly, but the trade sales are doing fine, and he wonders if everyone is just waiting for the end to comment. If that’s so, Chew should make the list next year!
But let’s move on and get to my best comics, because that’s all that really matters, right? RIGHT?!?!?!? And, of course, if you’re interested in reading the old lists, here they are: 2014 comics, 2013 comics, 2012 comics, 2011 comics, 2010 comics, 2009 comics, 2008 comics, and 2007 comics. Man, I’ve been doing this a long time!
BEST ONGOING SERIES THAT I BUY IN SINGLE ISSUES.
This might get tricky in the next year or two, as I slowly wean myself from single issues. I still buy plenty of them, but I’m really trying to skip jumping into new series with single issue purchases, which might make me a bad consumer but for which the comics companies have only themselves to blame. So we’ll see what’s what next year and the year after, but for now, here’s the list.
I’m sorry my love for Chew is boring, but it seriously never dips in quality even though you might think it would. Layman and Guillory reached the 50-issue milestone this year, as Tony hunted down the Collector and threw down with him, in a weirdly anticlimactic but also weirdly justified fight – Tony was fighting for something, and so he was far more motivated than his opponent, and the fight felt that way. Layman is wrapping things up for the finale (which, let’s hope, arrives this year – not that I want the series to end, but I also don’t want it to be too drawn out), so he’s concentrating on the alien writing and what it all means now that we’ve moved past issue #50, but the book remains as exciting and hilarious as ever. Layman is terrific at turning these people with wild powers into characters with all-too-recognizable emotions and prejudices, so their choices feel more real and therefore more tragic. Guillory (with assistance from Wells) is absolutely crushing it on the art, with the violence always turned up to 11, and the big fights leading up to issue #50 are highlights of brutality and choreography. Guillory’s comedic touch remains strong, too, matching Layman’s scripts with so many delightful Easter eggs sprinkled throughout each issue, and he gets to draw rampaging dinosaurs, a man with a lobster claw arm, and all the other crazy stuff he and Layman come up with. Chew manages never to rest on its laurels, as each issue is frenetically paced, but it remains a book about these people and the way they relate to each other. It’s not surprising that the tragic moments resonate so well, even though it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. I look forward to the ending and will miss it when it’s gone!
Another boring choice, I know, but when you’re excellent, you’re excellent! Kindt finished up his wonderful spy series this year with a somewhat typical final confrontation between good and evil (duh-duh-dummmmm!!!), but when it’s Kindt, nothing is typical. He brought in all the elements that he had introduced over the course of the series, but he continued to surprise us as the end approached. It’s not terribly surprising when characters die in a creator-owned series, but the way Kindt did it and used those deaths to propel the narrative was very clever, and the way Meru finally figured out how to become the agent she needed to be was wonderful, as well. Kindt, of course, is a superb artist, too, and he got more inventive as the series went on, using excellent full-page and double-page splashes judiciously to show big events occurring, giving marvelous details of the world that Meru and the rest inhabited, and using different techniques for, for instance, charcoal drawings within the text. Of course, the writing outside the margins of the pages were amazing, too – the book really was an entire package, stuffed with cool information that expanded the Mind Management universe and made the climax all the more fulfilling. Kindt has a new comic, Dept. H, launching in April, and I’m looking forward to it, as if it’s even half as good as Mind Mgmt, it will be a great comic.
I’m not terribly surprised by this book’s cancellation – it was always a risky bet, and DC’s idiotic decision to stop publishing for two months probably killed any momentum it might have had – but it’s still depressing, as this was a terrific horror comic set in Batman’s universe, and those kinds of things are always, strangely enough, pretty cool. Fawkes’s long story (it’s really a 12-issue story, which is why it would behoove DC to do a nice single giant collection) is about the rebirth of the Spectre, who and what the Spectre is, and how the sins of Gotham come back to haunt its current inhabitants. He delves into other topics as well, rather deftly, but that’s the overall arc. It’s not the most original idea, but Fawkes does wonders with it, giving some new insights into Jim Corrigan and the Spectre as well as wrapping things up far more hopefully than you might expect from the Gotham of the current DC. Templesmith and Ferreyra were great artists for the series – both of them excel at creepy horror in completely different ways, so while Templesmith’s arc was more of a live-wire electrical shock, Ferreyra’s issues (he drew #6-12 after “Convergence” finished) get under your skin more subtly. While I doubt if this series will have any impact going forward, it did get Ferreyra onto a Big 2 book, and considering that he’s one of my favorite current artists, that’s pretty cool (if, of course, it means he makes more coin). Of course, it also means that I might not buy his work very much anymore, because I’m just not that interested in Suicide Squad, for instance, which is where he’s heading next!
4. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses (Image) by David Lapham. Issues #1-10.
Lapham’s masterpiece continued strongly this year, as he started a new arc that seemingly is going to continue forever (at least 13 issues, if the latest Previews is to be believed), but as long as it remains so very, very good, I don’t care how long it lasts! The tale of Beth and Orson plotting to rob Harry and skip town is wildly intricate, and despite the fact that we know in general how it ends, Lapham still manages to build unbelievable tension in each issue. The obvious stupidity of Beth and Orson doesn’t overshadow their … love (?) for each other (I never got the sense that they love each other, but they do have something between them) and their plan is sweet and idiotic all at the same time. Kretchmeyer, the break-out character of this arc, at least, is great – menacing in a different way than Spanish Scott and the Monster, but still scary and far smarter than Beth and Orson, even though they have a way of coming out ahead. Lapham’s sense of humor is as razor-edged as usual, as the book veers wildly between deadly serious scenes and almost surreal, humorous stuff, and the naturalistic art style and simple layout belies Lapham’s wonderful command of the page and the characters, as he’s as manipulative (in a good way) as anyone in comics. Stray Bullets has been a great comic for years (even though I only just read it last year, when Lapham relaunched it with Image), and it hasn’t missed a beat this year.
This was the best pure superhero comic of 2015, and probably for a few years before that, and it really sucks that it never found an audience and lasted only seven issues. Faerber – the best superhero writer of this millennium – and Joines gave us as close to a classic Claremont X-Men comic (without all the purple prose) as we’ve seen in a long time, with subplots all over the place, all done really well and all compelling. Their main plot was the fact that one member of the superhero group The Front Line is planning to destroy them from within, but they introduced a ton of other “real-world” problems for their heroes to deal with, as well. Of course they got truncated when the series didn’t sell, but they still manage to wrap things up in a fairly satisfactory manner, which was nice. Kyriazis’s amazing art (along with the coloring – Kirchoff did the first issue-and-a-half before Riley took over for the balance of the run) makes the book shine, too, as the work is wonderfully detailed and beautifully fluid – as superhero art, you can’t find much better in recent years. He designed the characters to be very distinctive so that, even in a large cast, it was easy to see what was going on, and he used some inventive page layouts to give the art a more kinetic feeling to it. Kyriazis is another artist who should get picked up by DC or Marvel soon, because he would energize any superhero book he works on. It’s a shame that Secret Identities didn’t last, but the seven issues are pretty killer.
6. Jem and the Holograms (IDW) by Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, Emma Vieceli, Corin Howell, Amy Mebberson, Arielle Jovellanos, Rebekah Isaacs, Jen Bartel, Agnes Garbowska, M. Victoria Robado, Josh Burcham, Joana Lafuente, Lauren Perry, Robbie Robbins, Shawn Lee, and Tom B. Long. Issues #1-10 plus the Annual and the Holiday Special.
As I noted when I started reading this series, I never watched the cartoon in the 1980s – I knew about it and saw commercials for it, but it just wasn’t my bag – but I was certainly going to get it because Kelly was writing it and Campbell was drawing it. I knew it would look terrific, because Campbell is amazing, but I wasn’t prepared for how wonderful her art was on the first arc, which set the tone for the other artists to follow. Campbell’s redesign of the characters is superb, as she brings her smart sensibility to every person, revealing their personalities through their dress and adornment. Her body language is excellent, and the way she draws Kimber and Stormer together is one of the highlights of the book. Vieceli and the other artists have followed suit, although I’m selfishly looking forward to Campbell’s return to the book. Meanwhile, I knew Kelly was a good writer from her novels, and it’s nice that it’s transitioned to comics, where she has proven to be quite good. Jem is a rich book full of fascinating characters, and Kelly has done a wonderful job making them fully realized even from the first few issues. The conflicts are real and feel important, and while the book can be very dramatic, Kelly never lets the sense of joy that the characters get from playing music disappear. Campbell and Robado actually make the music look impressive, which is hard to do in a comic. The guys at my comic shoppe still give me (good-natured) grief about buying Jem, and I always laugh at them and tell them they really should try it. Maybe I can convince some of them!
Hester gives us a world where magic actually makes things run, but everyone remains largely ignorant of this, and there’s a special group devoted to keeping things running. It’s not the most original premise, but that’s okay, especially because Hester and McCrea are so good on the book. Hester delves into any myth he can find with dizzying speed, keeping the pace frantic as the members of the group (who are quite odd themselves) fight against all kinds of menaces, and of course there’s something else going on behind it all, but we don’t know much about that yet. Hester has become a pretty good writer, as he knows how to balance the ferocity of the bad things with a lot of humor and solid dialogue, and because he comes from an artistic background, he knows when to get out of McCrea’s way, and McCrea is killing it on this book. He gives us all kinds of weird beasties, all wild and scary, but with that oddball sense of humor that his art style has had for years. The series has only just started (issue #6 came out the first week of January), but it started really strong, and I hope it continues that way!
Only one arc of this comic came out in 2015, which was unfortunate, because it’s so very good and I hope its staggering schedule doesn’t keep people from reading it. The arc we did get, though, was amazingly intense, as Dingess decided to write an allegory about the white Americans’ treatment of Natives in our country by using the “monsters” Lewis and Clark discover during their expedition. They meet large blue bird-like things, the Fezron, one of whom attacks them but then realizes they can help him and his tribe with a monster problem. This goes well until the final issue, when things take a horrible and depressing turn and shows that Lewis and Clark might be nicer than a lot of their crew, but they remain bound by their culture. It’s a gripping arc, much like the two before it, as Dingess also keeps up with the tensions onboard the ship and Sacajawea’s pregnancy and the problems that causes, all while giving us a very funny Fezron and some difficult moral choices for our protagonists. Roberts’s art remains amazing, from the crazy creatures he comes up with, the horrific violence in the book, and the beautiful nature that surrounds the human and non-human characters, which Gieni colors with a vibrant, lush palette. It’s a very cool comic, and I hope it can continue as long as Dingess and Roberts want to do it, because they have a very neat story to tell.
This series has been one of my favorites since it began, and some years are a bit better than others, but it’s always good. This year wasn’t necessarily worse than others, it’s just that some other series were a bit better. Still, this year Starkings wrapped up the Sahara pregnancy plot (well, sort of – as much as things get wrapped up neatly in this book, which is not very) and began what feels like the apocalyptic end of the series (again, I have no idea how long Starkings plans to write this, but it feels like things are coming to an end) with some terrific action issues toward the end of the year. Meanwhile, we got a nice quiet issue in the middle of it all examining Hip and Miki’s relationship, which again showed how well Starkings can write these days (he’s not just a letterer!!!!). Medellin, of course, continues to do wondrous work on the art – his precise line work on the hybrids brings home the fact that they’re, well, animals, while his women continue to be stunning. He has gotten great at action, too, which is good for these issues, as they feature a lot of it. His colors are phenomenal, too. I don’t know if Starkings will wrap up the book this year, next year, or even farther down the line, but I always enjoy it when an issue shows up!
10. Dark Corridor (Image) by Rich Tommaso. Issues #1-5.
Tommaso’s twisty crime epic didn’t get to the end of its first arc in 2015 (issue #6 came out on the first Wednesday in January), but that doesn’t matter, because so far, we’ve gotten some terrific stuff. The series takes place in Red Circle, a poor name for a city in the real world but one that feels right for this fictional tale, as we get a bunch of different shady characters doing horrible things to each other and trying to survive. We get a cadre of women throwing spanners in the works of the city’s established crime families, other gangsters trying to figure out what’s going on, and through it all, Tommaso’s crisp dialogue and mod art keep everything heightened, often very funny, and almost surreal. His city is bright and arid, with palm trees and the ocean giving the veneer of serenity until all hell breaks loose. If someone were to compare this comic to Tarantino, I wouldn’t say they’re crazy, and that isn’t a criticism, as I really dig Tarantino.
As usual, there were plenty of other comics I really liked this year – I almost put The Wicked + The Divine in the tenth spot, Lumberjanes is always good, East of West continued to be strong, Batman ’66 gave us a very nice send-off – but those were the top ten. Let’s move on!
As is often the case, this list only includes mini-series that finished in 2015. I point this out because Phonogram would be #1, but the final issue hasn’t come out yet and I suppose it’s conceivable that Gillen and McKelvie might drop the ball and invalidate the rest of it. I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s possible!
1. Westward (self-published) by Ken Krekeler.
I’ve been banging the drum for Krekeler since his first comic back in 2009, and while Dry Spell might have gotten an actual publisher when it got picked up by Action Lab and he might be doing a sequel to it (plus it’s, you know, really good), Westward is one of the best comics of this decade, and this year Krekeler brought it all to an end in a spectacular final issue. Victor West comes full circle, confronts his past, his current enemies, and his family, and Krekeler does it all with a bunch of great fight scenes. His art is as stunning as ever, and he continues to get at the core of his characters brilliantly. It’s a shame that Krekeler isn’t more well known, but I live in hope that more people will get to know his work!
I don’t know if I should count Casanova, since it’s a series of mini-series, but whatever – it always restores my faith in Fraction (which has flagged in recent years), as he’s so much better on this book than anything else, and the artwork – whether it’s Moon or Bá, both of whom work on the comic this time around – is always staggering. In this series, we get Casanova trying to remember who he is, while Fraction also delves into the origins of E.M.P.I.R.E., and both stories give him an opportunity to go a bit nuts but also tug at heartstrings, like he does so effortlessly in this series. Chabon’s back-up story is fairly clever, which is nice. I really hope Fraction can finish the series in the next few years – he’s over halfway there!
3. All Star Section Eight (DC) by Garth Ennis, John McCrea, John Kalisz, and Pat Brousseau.
You don’t have to be familiar with Ennis and McCrea’s Hitman to read this series (it does help, but not as much as you might think), but he does use some of the characters from that book to tell this gripping story of heroism, addiction, delusion, and pain … which makes it sound less than hilarious, but it’s very, very funny to boot. Six-Pack returns, recruits a new Section Eight with some familiar characters and some brand new ones, and tries to get a big-time DC hero to join because he’s convinced there’s a huge threat coming to destroy the Earth. Most of the humor comes from his attempts to get the various guest stars to join while the rest of the his team comments on it, and Ennis’s excellent dialogue does a lot for that, but McCrea’s brilliant physical comedy in the art helps quite a bit, too. The rapping Phantom Stranger and Etrigan is a comedic highlight, but there are plenty of others, too. Throughout, however, Ennis laces the book with disturbing and tragic parts, which all come to a head in the gut-wrenching final issue (really, the final 2+ issues, although issue #6 is the really tragic one) where Six-Pack has to make a devastating choice. Ennis has always been great at commenting on the silliness of superheroes even as he writes them really well, and he does that a lot in this series. It’s really excellent.
This hilarious series put Robinson and Hinkle inside the comic and then into Airboy’s World War Two world, as Robinson deconstructs himself and discovers that he doesn’t like what he sees (and, to be honest, he’s a total scumbag). The comic is almost unbelievable raunchy, and Airboy himself is noble but completely naïve and even a product of his time, which Robinson shows (in the controversial second issue) might make him less likeable in this era. Robinson and Hinkle’s adventure to the past allows them to regain some of their dignity, but Robinson does a really nice job explaining how he can redeem himself in the “real world,” not the fantasy world of Nazi-punching. Hinkle’s terrific cartoonish art makes the explicit panels a bit more surreal, and his coloring – Airboy and his world are primary-color bright, while Robinson and Hinkle are monochromatic (with nice shades so it’s not boring) – is superb. It’s a great mini-series that pulls absolutely no punches whatsoever.
5. The God of All Comics spot: Nameless (Image) by Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn, and Simon Bowland; Annihilator (Legendary) by Frazer Irving and Jared K. Fletcher; Multiversity (DC) by Marcus To, Paulo Siqueria, Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke, Ivan Reis, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Jaime Mendoza, Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira, Dave McCaig, Hi-Fi, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox, Gabe Eltaeb, David Baron, Dan Brown, Jason Wright, Blond, Todd Klein, Rob Leigh, and Steve Wands.
Obviously, I’m cheating a little, but I just couldn’t figure out which Morrison mini-series I liked the most last year. G-Mozz was on fire in 2015 (and in 2014 after a mediocre 2013), so I’m going to cheat, damn it! Nameless was superb, as Morrison wrote absolutely creepy horror stuff that really got under the skin and never let go, while Burnham drew it all with tremendous details (to bring the horror home even more) and vertiginous layouts to keep the reader even more twisted. It ended ambiguously, but it doesn’t appear there are any plans to revisit it, so we’ll just have to deal with it. Annihilator is a keen sci-fi story (with some creepy elements) that doubled as yet another metafictional commentary by the God of All Comics, but he’s so damned good at them I’ll forgive it. Irving’s wonderfully modernistic art gave it an almost surreal vibe, layering yet more commentary onto Morrison’s script. And despite Jim Lee’s Multiversity issue being not good at all, Morrison’s final comment on a universe he helped build and then which was cast aside (more or less) is the kind of event comic we expect from G-Mozz, as he and the wonderful artists (To on the “Guidebook,” Mahnke on “Ultra Comics,” and Reis on the finale) go absolutely nuts on the DCU, with hundreds of characters and Morrison’s typically epic yet wry tone. It’s a lot of fun.
As I wrote a few times when I reviewed these single issues, the biggest problem I had with the series was that Colinet occasionally hopped up a soapbox and spouted stuff that ground the story to a halt, and even if it was stuff I agree with (basically, how we shouldn’t restrict who we love), it still didn’t fit into the narrative very well. However, the rest of the story – which is about a woman who fixes time continuity problems and falls in love with an “anomaly” that she’s supposed to destroy – is nifty, as Teddy and “Ano” (the anomaly is a woman, but she doesn’t have a name) zip around getting chased by the authorities and trying to find a place where they can love each other without interference. Meanwhile, Charretier’s art is amazing, as she gives us tremendous layouts that zoom us across the page and twist time back on itself, all while making the characters interact wonderfully with each other. It’s a beautiful book, and it might have been higher on the list if Colinet didn’t proselytize a bit too much!
Allor’s tale of love during the Vietnam War is fascinating, not only because he adds a murder mystery to it that ties into his main theme – that of almost impossible love – but because he manages to make it a gripping war story as well. He takes us to the mid-1980s, showing the effects the war has on both the Americans and Vietnamese years after the fact, and he gives us emotionally devastating relationships that don’t go smoothly but go as they have to. He also shows how war can affect so many even if they remain alive, which we all know but which Allor shows beautifully. Tucker’s gritty artwork makes the characters look lived in and beaten down by the war, but he also gives a few scenes of remarkable beauty and strength. This is a terrific mini-series, and it would be neat if these two guys worked together again.
The premise of Lady Killer is a bit ridiculous (early Sixties housewife is also a highly-trained assassin), but Jones sells it really well (Rich told me that Jones did most of the writing on the book, so I’m giving her credit!), as Josie Schuller is devoted to her husband and children and just happens to kill people on the side. Of course, she tries to get out of the business, which doesn’t go well, and that’s where the conflict of the book comes from (well, that and trying to deceive her mother-in-law, who’s suspicious of her). It’s not the most revolutionary comic in the world, but Jones (and Rich) never let it drag, even in the domestic scenes, and the action scenes are excellent. Jones’s art is wonderful, as she does great (and really violent) work on the action but also nails the early Sixties aesthetic. I always look forward to her art, and now I’ll look forward to her writing, as well.
Gunn’s environmental catastrophe story is smart, exciting, tragic, creepy, hopeful, and polemical, but Gunn never lets his message get in the way of the story, in which most of humanity walked into the ocean some years ago and now, two people have returned to a small Channel island, bringing with them news of the coming apocalypse. Gunn manages to write about the damage we’re doing to the world without being too strident, as he gives us a terrific “monster” story to wrap around it and shows how small things can affect an entire community, using the island as a metaphor for the entire planet. His beautiful, bright art has a great impact, too, as the island can look like a paradise, but Gunn’s precise line work brings the monsters to vibrant, terrifying life. It’s an exciting book that makes you think, which is always neat.
When Archie and the gang head south of the border (it’s never identified, but they speak Spanish there and there’s a jungle) for a vacation, they inadvertently stumble across a Predator, which follows them back to Riverdale and wreaks havoc in de Campi’s absolutely bonkers tale. De Campi wreaks her own havoc on the Riverdale gang, killing them by the score as the Predator (which is a teenager itself, a nice touch) hunts them down until we get the last stand that has to be in every Predator story, where de Campi really goes nuts. It’s just wildly entertaining (and ridiculously bloody), and Ruiz is a wonderful artist for it, as he draws it in “Archie style” so the gore is even more surreal. When I mentioned that I don’t love Afterlife with Archie because, as much as I love Francavilla’s art, it doesn’t feel like an Archie comic, just a zombie story, I didn’t know this comic was in the pipeline, but this is what I’m talking about. The juxtaposition of “Archie style” art and the horror of a Predator killing everyone makes this even more entertaining and weird. Plus, there’s a lot of Veronica and Betty cheesecake, if that’s your thing, you perverts!
Let’s keep going – we still have stuff to check out!
BEST ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL.
I’ve already reviewed these, which is why I link to the reviews, but I’ll just write a short blurb about each of them to remind you what’s what! Shocking as I might find it, some of you actually might have missed when I reviewed these more fully!
1. Heart in a Box (Dark Horse) by Kelly Thompson and Meredith McClaren.
You might recall how much I gushed over this book when I first reviewed it, and I didn’t read anything the rest of the year that pushed it aside. This is by far the best comic I read this year (across all formats!), and while I’m certainly glad that Kelly is getting props for Jem, Heart in a Box is a brilliant comic, an exploration of love, loss, regret, hope, and acceptance, all drawn amazingly by McClaren. I wrote for CBR that this was not only the best comic of the year, it almost lapped the field, and I’m not backing down from that!
2. Two Brothers (Dark Horse) by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (adapted from Milton Hatoum’s novel).
Bá and Moon do stunning work on the art in this epic about a Brazilian family in Manaus during the middle years of the twentieth century, and that’s not surprising, nor is it surprising that they do such a good job on the adaptation, which is about the two brothers of the title and how their different paths in life affect everyone around them. This is a gripping story that doesn’t do anything flashy, just digs deep into the psyches of its characters – not only the protagonists, but the rest of their family – and gives us a harrowing portrait of a fractured family. You can read my review, where Rene and Simon have a nifty conversation in the comments!
Padua’s alternate history story of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace is full of thrilling adventures, yes, but it’s also very funny, richly informative, and even heart-touching in a few crucial places. Padua decides to give her protagonists happy endings (Lovelace died young and Babbage never built his computer) by creating a wonderful Victorian world where their computer is the talk of the town and they meet with several great historical figures. It’s packed with stuff about the time period and the people involved (even if it is fiction), and it’s wildly fun to read. I got my dad a Lovelace T-shirt for Christmas (he was a computer programmer), and he and I were the only ones who got it. Occasionally my dad can be cool! Read my original review here!
4. The New Deal (Dark Horse) by Jonathan Case.
Case’s almost-screwball comedy about a bellhop and maid at the Waldorf-Astoria in the 1930s is a clever examination of race and class, wrapped in a heist comic, which helps the medicine go down, right? Case, of course, draws the entire thing beautifully, giving us a great sense of both the lower classes of Depression-era New York and the stunning riches that were still available to the upper crust. Here’s my longer review.
5. Nanjing: The Burning City (Dark Horse) by Ethan Young.
Young concentrates on a few characters to tell the horrible tale of Nanjing, which was destroyed by the Japanese during their 1937 invasion, and the book is better for it. He tells the story of two Chinese soldiers trying to get out of the city and the awful choices they’re forced to make as they come across some of the city’s inhabitants, who are themselves scrambling to survive. It’s a gripping story, with complex characters that reveal themselves through their actions, as Young lets them act instead of delving into their inner thoughts. His rough art is a great match to the tone of the story, too. And hey, I reviewed it more depth here!
Lavie’s book about a war in a Southeast Asia country delves into religion and faith, imperialism, and fatherhood, all while telling an intense tale with, you know, dragons. Lavie is interested in the phenomenon of child soldiers, so he makes them central characters in the book, and he does a nice job making sure there aren’t really any good guys or bad guys, just people in an impossible situation. The Hanukas’ absolutely gorgeous art and colors help make this a dazzling experience. As the commenters in my review pointed out, the pacing is a bit weird, but it has a great pay-off!
If you’ve never read Hopeless Savages, don’t worry about it – van Meter gets us caught up quickly, and then launches into her story about the road trip from Hell, as the youngest Hopeless-Savage, Zero, goes on tour with her band during Spring Break, and things go badly. Van Meter throws all sorts of monkey wrenches into not only Zero’s life, but those of her entire clan, so that everyone is trying to contact everyone else and no one can. It’s a funny book, but it’s also a wonderful statement about family ties and never giving up, which are always nice themes. McClaren is terrific on art, as she gives us frenetic line work whenever Zero and her band are on stage and in every other situation. Plus, it should get you interested in the other Hopeless Savages stories, which you really should read. Of course I have a link to my original review!
I had some issues with the Immonens’ latest (mostly with the text piece in the back, but with some other stuff too), but there’s no denying it’s a stunning work, as two lovers get separated early on and spend the book trying to get back together without falling apart (which one does better than the other). Both Red and Olive have to overcome obstacles, and K. Immonen really gets at the isolation they have to deal with as the book unfolds. S. Immonen’s artwork is absolutely amazing, of course, but that’s to be expected. Here’s my review, and FotB Seth Hahne has a great (if spoiler-filled!) take on the book, as well.
9. Ares & Aphrodite (Oni Press) by Jamie S. Rich, Megan Levens, and Crank!
Rich is one of the best romance writers in comics, so it’s not surprising he does a nice job with this one, about am idealistic divorce lawyer and a cynical wedding planner who make a bet that a wedding she’s planning will go off, with the lawyer getting a date if it does. It’s fluffy, sure, but not completely, as Rich turns these characters into real people with real personalities, and it gets into why a divorce lawyer might still believe in romance while a wedding planner might not. We expect them to get together, but Rich is smart enough to make the road nice and twisty, so we’re never quite sure where he’s going. Levens does very nice work on the faces and the body language, which in a book without a ton of action is crucial. Rich is working as a Vertigo editor these days, so who knows when he’s going to have time to write in the near future, but I always look forward to his stuff, because he’s quite good at it. Here’s my longer review!
Sebela’s high-concept story – a sort-of spy thriller set on Mount Everest – mainly works, although if you read my review of it, you can see the big problem I had with it. His main character, a wreck of a human being named Zan (short for Suzanne; she was an Olympic snowboarder who quit under a cloud), finds something that could be damaging to the U.S. government, so of course they send killers after her. It’s a tense cat-and-mouse game (ah, but on the mountain, who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?), and Sebela does nice work with Zan and her mentor, who tries to keep her safe but doesn’t do a great job of it. Moustafa does a good job with the ugliness of the violence and the destruction of Everest by climbers (there’s some nice subtext in the book) while also doing well with the expansiveness of nature. It’s bleak, but still a good read.
BEST SINGLE ISSUE/SHORT STORY.
This is always a tough category, because so many comics don’t tell single-issue stories anymore, and I really try to skip over comics I’ve already featured in other places. I might not be able to do that all the time, but let’s see what’s what here!
Hey, look at that, the first spot and I’m already cheating! Phonogram, of course, is a mini-series, so any issue you pick up is going to be connected to the rest of it, but issue #4 takes a break from the main story and checks in with some of the cast members from “The Singles Club,” mainly Laura and Lloyd, and it’s devastating. It’s mainly in black and white, which makes Wilson’s use of colors even more staggering, and McKelvie’s beautiful pencil work is, as usual, in evidence. Gillen, of course, is wry and humorous even as he’s delving into what makes these people tick, and he uses music as well as he ever has. Meanwhile, I probably would put The Wicked + The Divine at #11 on my best ongoings of the year – it just missed the top ten, to be honest – and issue #14, which I thought was a bit weird when I first read it, has grown on me. It’s the “remix” issue, as Gillen dumps a bunch of background information on us that illuminates what’s been going on in the series so far, and the artwork is simply taken from earlier issues and placed into sequences. It seems like really hard work, but McKelvie and Wilson make it work, and it’s just a really cool idea for an issue that probably wouldn’t work too often, but does here. Anyway, you should already be buying anything this creative team puts out, so I just thought I’d remind you!
I don’t know if this is cheating either, but I don’t care. Wasteland wrapped up this year with this epilogue, and while it certainly helps to have read the entire series, Johnston does a nice job with the “future history” of the world between the final arc (which took place before the world went to shit) and the beginning of the series proper, as he fills in some blanks and gets us back to where we started. It’s not a terribly happy story, obviously, but it’s a nice way to bring things full circle. Mitten, naturally, is excellent, and it was very neat to see him back on the book for the final arc and this issue. You should really read Wasteland, is what I’m saying.
Part of this, of course, is the packaging – Image released this as a “normal” comic but also as a giant-sized “Marvel magazine” homage, complete with folds in the cover and a kung-fu advertisement on the back – but it really is a terrific story, as Teeg Lawless has to deal with shit in prison (and takes care of himself quite well) and we get a story of Zangar the Savage, who navigates through treacherous waters of his own. Brubaker is firing on all cylinders here, and Phillips is amazing whether he’s drawing sword-and-sorcery stuff or the more brutal existence of Teeg’s life in prison. Criminal has always been a very good comic, and if Brubillips is going to keep doing special editions like this one (they have another one planned for this spring), I imagine they will keep being excellent!
Duggan and Posehn would drop in these single-issue stories every once in a while, and they were always really good (Marvel just released a trade of them this week, in case you’re interested). The last one in this series is “The Magic of Gracking,” in which they take easy yet hilarious shots at fracking just for the hell of it. Deadpool is working as a spokesman for Roxxon, but as he learns more about “gracking,” he begins to think it’s really not that great. The jokes fly fast and furious, Koblish has a blast on the art, Staples colors the book so that it looks like he used crayons, and there are three celebrity cameos that are quite awesome (and one celebrity gets brutally killed, so there’s that). Marvel drove me away from single issues because they’re charging $3.99, but issues like these make me wish I could still justify spending that much for them!
Lumberjanes continued to be a fun, delightful comic this year (it didn’t crack my top ten, but that doesn’t mean I don’t dig it!), and issue #13, which is the “secret origin” issue of the group, is really wonderful. We didn’t really need to see the first day of camp and how they all met each other (except for April and Jo, who already knew each other), but it’s still a great issue, as we get glimpses into their home lives, Mal and Molly’s meeting, and their first bonding adventure. It’s an excellent issue, but when the series is so good already, that’s probably not surprising!
As much as I dislike Bizarro stories, I don’t mind short ones that are well written, and this one is certainly that. It’s Superman’s “first” meeting with Bizarro (ugh, I hate the DCnU so much!), and he has to fight Metallo, who wants to bring order to the chaos of Bizarro World, and then a Doomsday-infected Bizarro, who should want to kill everything, but things have a way of getting weird on Bizarro World. Pak does a good job bringing some new twists to the Bizarro story, but the issue wouldn’t work as well without Kuder’s unbelievably awesome artwork. He and Quintana pack each page with delightfully twisted stuff, from Bizarro Aquaman bashing trash cans with a narwhal (still one of my favorite panels of the year) to Bizarro Batman getting terrified by bunnies. It’s weird and loopy, like a good Bizarro story should be, and it’s absolutely stunning. DC insisted on charging $3.99 for 22 pages of story, so I didn’t get the Pak/Kuder run when it came out (I keep forgetting to get the trades, but I will eventually), but this is an excellent introduction to it.
Obviously, a lot of Batman ’66 comics were great this year (it was just a good comic!), but “Diamond Disaster” is the best. You have:
A. Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, using hypnotism to convince rich people to give her their riches;
B. Robin and Commissioner Gordon falling under her spell and spending much of the issue with hearts where their eyes should be;
C. Batman and Robin taking the bus and Batman telling the bus driver to make sure that he maintains a safe driving speed;
D. Batman defeating Marsha in the most “Batman ’66” way possible;
D. Jon Bogdanove drawing the shit out of the issue, with Batman using weird psychedelics to break Robin out of his trance, Marsha being all va-va-va-voom!, and the Batmobile narrowing avoiding an ice cream truck.
Man, this is a fun issue.
Drawn Onward is a decent enough story, but it’s also a wonderfully neat experiment, as Madden tells a palindromic story, with two people kissing in the middle and the story leading away from that moment – in both directions – telling a completely different story whether you read it from the beginning or from the end. It’s very clever, but that’s not the only reason it’s a good comic – Madden is able to show the way we become interested in someone else and the way attraction can suddenly curdle really well. It’s not really a love story – more like a “attraction” story – but that doesn’t mean the emotions the two characters feel aren’t raw and tender. Yes, it works as an experiment, but if it didn’t contain a strong story, it wouldn’t mean as much.
Bastian’s unbelievably detailed line work means that we rarely get Cursed Pirate Girl comics, but we got one this year, and Bastian’s art is as stunning as ever. He uses the entire page to swirl us around on a crazy and beautiful journey through the seas, with oddball characters, anthropomorphic animals, talking suits of armor, and gorgeous ships. He hand letters the book, and his word balloons take on their own distinctive shapes, wending their way through the drawings and becoming art by themselves. The story – such as it is – moves like molasses, as Cursed Pirate Girl continues to look for her father, but you don’t get this for the story, you get it to fall into each page and try to find your way out again. It’s quite the experience.
10. “Skinny” by Matthew Southworth in Creepy #20 (Dark Horse).
This story of a boy and the small monster he finds is absolutely tragic – all Martin wanted was a friend, and Skinny was the only one he had, but befriending a monster never really goes the way it should, does it? Martin’s narration as he tries to avoid being bullied and when he finds Skinny is terrific, as it works on more than one layer and sets up the tragedy to come, and Southworth’s terrific use of grayscales makes the story feel nostalgic, as it seems like Martin’s youth is slipping or has already slipped away. It’s a gut-wrenching story, and Southworth manages to do it in just ten pages.
BEST REPRINT THAT WAS COLLECTED IN ENGLISH FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR.
As I move toward more trades, I have a more difficult time figuring out how to classify my trades. For instance, Birthright and Daredevil are both terrific series, but I’m not current with them, so should they count on my favorite ongoing series list? When some trades take a while to come out, it’s hard to keep up. Yes, I do think about these things. And then, as we are living in the Golden Age of Reprints, we’re getting more and more stuff that has been translated into English, but I’m never sure if it’s the first time. A lot of Humanoids stuff is excellent, but has it been offered in English before? So this might be a bit of a mess. Oh well. That’s why I’m trying to be specific with the category title – it encompasses trade paperbacks from the most current stuff out there, but it can also include something from 50 years ago, if that comic has never been available before. Let’s get to it!
1. The Eternaut (Fantagraphics) by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López.
I’m surprised The Eternaut didn’t get more press this year – it’s from Fantagraphics, perhaps the snootiest publisher in comics, it’s never been available before, and it’s written by a guy who literally died for his art, as Oesterheld was killed during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s for criticizing the military dictatorship ruling the country (to be fair, he also joined a leftist guerrilla group, which may have had something to do with his death, but he definitely criticized the junta in his comics). Twenty years earlier, he and López wrote this terrific newspaper strip (it ran from 1957-1959) about an alien invasion of Buenos Aires (well, the whole world, but the book is set in Argentina). It’s a great story about humanity’s survival instinct and what people will do to live, as a small cadre of friends fight back against the aliens even though they keep facing worse and worse odds. It doesn’t get as trippy as the preview copy made it sound – it gets a bit weird, but only at the end – but that’s not a bad thing, as Oesterheld can focus on how the main characters keep fighting even when things look hopeless. López’s art is stunning – his brushwork is stellar, as he does amazingly detailed work to give everything a haunting beauty – a great deal of the book takes place during and right after a snowfall, and López makes it eerie, which it should be (as it doesn’t, you know, typically snow in Buenos Aires). His action scenes are great, too – the violence is immediate and real, but the aliens and the weapons they use are terrifying in their unfamiliarity, and it makes the fight even more gripping. This is a superb comic, and it’s almost as cool because of its historical value as it is for its excellent story and art.
2. Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle volume 1 (DC) by Norm Breyfogle, Mike W. Barr, Max Allan Collins, Jo Duffy, Robert Greenberger, Alan Grant, Pablo Marcos, Kim DeMulder, Steve Mitchell, Julianna Ferriter, Adrienne Roy, Anthony Tollin, John Costanza, Albert de Guzman, and Todd Klein.
I’m so glad that DC finally got around to collecting Norm Breyfogle’s Batman work, and these comics are, of course, excellent. I wrote a bit about the collection here, but if you want to get in-depth coverage, check out this Comics You Should Own post. I really, really hope we get at least another one (which might collect the rest of his Batman work, but if not, then two more!).
San Hannibal is a strange detective story, full of weird characters, a bizarre mystery, and fascinating characters. Both Faith (who drew the first issue) and Schkade (who drew the rest) make the city and its environs real, interesting places, and Schkade’s pulpy writing helps heighten the strangeness of the book. Snavlin’s amazing colors are part of the coolness of the book, too. Here’s my longer review, in case you’re interested.
Here’s one of the ones I don’t know should count, because some of this has been collected before – I know because I read some of these stories when I was but a lad! However, I don’t know if the art of Davis, Elder, and Wood has ever been collected together, as these three books do – every story the three did from Mad‘s first 23 issues – so I’m counting it. These three books are excellent, in case you didn’t know. The stories are okay – even as a boy, I was never too in love with the writing – but the art is stunning. Davis’s more cartoonish work makes his more “realistic” parodies hit even harder (I remember reading “Book!/Movie!” when I was a kid, and it’s even funnier today), and his interpretation of “Alice in Wonderland” is superb. Elder’s art is a bit harder-edged, and he shifts from sophisticated to silly really well, making his parodies of the Shadow and Archie sharper (his Archie satire, “Starchie,” is even more unbelievably dark than most of the stories here, as Kurtzman and Elder really do a number on Riverdale’s favorite teen). I remember reading his Shermlock Shomes stories when I was a kid and not finding them particularly funny, but the art is superb. Elder also drew “Mickey Rodent,” which is, frankly, a terrifying story (but one that looks great, thanks to the artwork). Wood, of course, did “Superduperman!”, which was apparently responsible for making the magazine as popular as it was, and his cartooning is, perhaps not surprisingly, just a bit sexier than the other two. “G.I. Shmoe!”, which I also read when I was a youth, remains one of my favorite of his stories, but they’re all gorgeous. All three artists draw gorgeous women, of course, and the stories are full of sexual innuendo and pretty horrific violence. I’m not terribly surprised that parents in the 1950s were upset about this, and it’s very smart that Kurtzman and Gaines made it a magazine so it didn’t have to conform to the Comics Code, because it would not have passed even a little bit. My father told me he used to read Mad in its early existence (he was born in 1943, so he would have been the perfect audience for it in 1952-1955, which is when the first 23 issues came out), and his parents weren’t too happy about it. Reading them today, some of Kurtzman’s stories might be a bit weak (he tends to go after easy targets), but dang, the art is absolutely spectacular. If you haven’t seen this, definitely check it out – DC has published them separately, but they also offer them in one handy package if you can’t choose which artist to get!
I wrote about Super! here, so I won’t write too much about it, except to say that it definitely grew on me, and by the time the entire thing had been collected, I loved it. It’s a joke-a-minute superhero book, packed with so much plot and so many characters it’s almost dizzying. It looks great (especially for a self-published comic), and it’s just so much fun to read. I hope the creators can continue it!
This samurai epic is bloody, bizarre, and astonishingly beautiful, thanks to Tenuta’s delicate artwork. It’s set in a slightly off-kilter world, and it’s a bit of a typical samurai story, but Tenuta tells it with such aplomb and introduces so many interesting elements that it becomes something more. You can read more about it here.
I only reviewed one volume of Birthright (it’s in this post), but both volumes that came out this year are quite good, as Williamson takes a somewhat familiar story – boy wanders into another dimension full of sword-and-sorcery weirdness – and puts some nice twists on it, beginning with the fact that he returns to his family after decades have passed for him but only a year (a year, right?) has passed for them. From then on, it’s a chase comic (the cops don’t think he’s who he says he is), a mystery (what’s going on with him?), and a fantasy epic, and Williamson does a good job mixing them all up, while Bressan’s gorgeous artwork helps make the fantasy elements go down easier while still keeping the focus on the characters. Williamson is writing two good comics this year (Nailbiter is also worth your time), and I enjoy seeing where he goes with both of them.
8. Beyond Mars: The Complete Series 1952-1955 (IDW/The Library of American Comics) by Jack Williamson, Lee Elias, and Lorraine Turner.
Williamson basically writes a Western set in space (beyond Mars, you might say), and it’s all drawn absolutely wonderfully by Elias, who knew what he was doing. This newspaper strip only appeared in one newspaper, so it’s nice that it finally got collected! Go here for more information about the strip, in case you’re interested.
9. The Demon volume 1: Hell’s Hitman (DC) by Garth Ennis, John McCrea, Denis Rodier, Nigel Dobbyn, Luke McDonnell, Matt Brooker, Wayne Faucher, David Lloyd, Gene D’Angelo, Stuart Chaifetz, Todd Klein, and Steve Haynie.
I’ve wanted Ennis and McCrea’s Demon run to be collected for some time, because it’s remarkably hard to find, so DC finally got their heads out of their asses and gave us a nice, thick trade of the first part of it (let’s hope volume 2 is in the works!). This is an insane comic, as Etrigan becomes kind of a bounty hunter for Duma and Remiel, the angels ruling Hell (remember when Duma and Remiel ruled Hell? good times!) and he ends up saving Gotham City from the demon that lurks below it (poor Gotham – a lot of demons hang out there). Then he fights reanimated Nazis with the Haunted Tank, because why not? Oh, and Tommy Monagham gets introduced in this volume, along with a bunch of other characters who will show up in Hitman. Ennis, as usual, works really well inside the confines of DC continuity (as much as he hates it), and McCrea’s art is, not surprisingly, insane and excellent. Good job collecting this, DC … there’s still plenty of other cool stuff you could collect, you know!
This comic is about a relics merchant at the end of the first millennium who also happens to be a proto-detective. IT’S LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR ME!!!!! Plus, there are aliens. And lots of sex and violence, because it’s, you know, European. And the art is stunning. It’s pretty danged cool. I wrote far more about it here!
As always, picking ten covers is really hard – there are a lot of great covers out there. But I did it! Some of these are variants, but not, perhaps, the kind of variants you’re thinking of. I don’t get “theme” variants that DC and Marvel do, as those are more exclusive and my comics shoppe immediately slaps a $7-price tag on them, which doesn’t hurt their sales at all. I barely buy any DC and Marvel books anyway (see below), and when I do, I’m not going to get the pricey variants. No, the “variants” I get are when a book ships with a few different covers, and they’re pretty evenly distributed – half-and-half, for instance. Then I can just choose which cover to get. So if some of these don’t match the ones you got for the issue, it doesn’t mean I ponied up more ducats for it, it’s just that I happened to like it more than the other, regularly-priced one. So let’s get to it!
1. Tet #4 (IDW) by Paul Tucker.
The motif of the four covers is the same (see above), but the last one is the best, as Tucker uses power lines to create a lined, wrinkled, hardened face while also making a statement about interconnectedness, which is a theme of the comic. The silhouette in the center bottom forms the figure’s tie, of course, but is also tied into what happens in the issue and the greater themes in the series.
Parker’s covers for this series have been tremendous, but the fourth issue’s maze is the tops. It works perfectly as a logo, while also providing a good visual metaphor for what’s happening to the band members in the book. He tucks the Satanic logo onto one of the walls and draws a desperate hand reaching for freedom, which makes the maze even more terrifying. Kinzierski’s complementary color scheme helps the lines pop really well, too.
3. Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #5 (Image) by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson.
Emily is trapped in a dimension of music videos, so it’s not surprising she gets stuck in “Money for Nothing,” and McKelvie pays tribute to that beautifully. He apes the blocky computer effects of the video really well.
4. Beauty #4 (Image) by Riley Rossmo.
This is one of the “variants” I got – each issue of Beauty has at least 2 covers, sometimes 3, and this was the nicest one for issue #4. Rossmo knows how to draw a good cover, and this one, with its abundance of red, its negative space electricity and blood, and the harsh cracks in the woman’s body, is haunting and beautiful all at once.
5. The Wicked + The Divine #14 (Image) by Grimes.
Here’s another “variant,” this one by Claire Boucher, who is impressively multi-talented (she’s a singer, a director, and a record producer). I love the weirdness of this cover, from the bow in the hair of the pretty monster on the lower right to the blood flowing from the eyes of all three figures. I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but it’s pretty keen!
6. Colder: Toss the Bones #1 (Dark Horse) by Juan Ferreyra.
This cover is a spiritual successor to the cover of the first issue of Colder, which also showed someone distorting their face horrifically, and Ferreyra can still bring the creepy even when he’s working on a theme. I think the slug tongue is my favorite thing about this cover.
7. Airboy #1 (Image) by Greg Hinkle.
Hinkle sums up the dichotomy between the “real” world of “James Robinson” and “Greg Hinkle” with the “fake” world of Airboy really well on this cover, with the hero in primary colors looming over the two creators, who have slacked off in epic fashion, if the table in front of them is anything to go by. The details are terrific, and the image really sets up the series perfectly.
I just love the fact that this cover is upside-down, with the scattered fragments and diamonds hovering in the air, giving us a sense of frantic movement even though it’s a static image. It’s a great drawing and a striking cover.
Plunder was a decent enough comic, but this cover is really good. The point of view – looking down at the two trapped people from the perspective of the monster chasing them – is great, as it highlights how powerless they are against the things coming toward them, and McKinley does a superb job leading us to the water coming in from the left, which adds an extra layer of danger to the entire thing. It’s drawn well and composed beautifully.
10. Drones #1 (IDW/Comics Experience) by Ramon Villalobos.
Drones is a decent series about the intersection of sex, violence, and entertainment, and Villalobos’s cheeky cover captures that really well. The hot girl with the pursed lips, the come-hither eyes, and the wild hair, wearing a sexy tank top, posing seductively, while missiles approach from behind her – it’s a very nice cover, both sexy, funny, and uncomfortable. The title design is very cool, too, so there’s that.
I hate writing about disappointing stuff in the Best Comics of the Year post, but sometimes, it just has to be done. I don’t always have a “Biggest Disappointment” category, but this year, I had to write just a bit about DC and Marvel. Both have had less than stellar years, not necessarily because their comics are bad (as you can see, I have some of them on my lists!), but because they seem to be actively trying to drive people away from their books. First, Marvel raised the prices on their single issues to $3.99, so I stopped buying them (Ms. Marvel was the last holdout, but that’s gone up in price, and I have dropped it). I don’t know anything about the economy of comics, but I find it very difficult to believe that Marvel can’t keep their prices down, at least to $3.50 or $3.25. There’s no rule that you have to raise prices by a dollar, after all. DC seems to be slowly following suit, but we’ll see. The reduction of page lengths is ridiculous, too – all of Marvel’s books come in at 20 pages, and most of DC’s – that Action Comics issue I cite above was $3.99, but it was 22 pages, which alleviates it just a little bit. This leads to books that you can read in an instant, especially as artists use fewer and fewer panels and writers use fewer and fewer words. This also makes trades – especially Marvel’s, which come in now at 5 or 4 issues, not 6 – even skimpier, which makes me not even want to get their trades, much less their single issues!
Meanwhile, stopping their schedules for, in DC’s case, 2 months and, in Marvel’s case, an insane 6 months meant that any series I was reading went away, and some weren’t the same when they came back. In DC’s case, Gotham Academy just wasn’t as good, nor was Batgirl (although it’s still pretty good, so I’m still buying it, unlike Gotham Academy). Gotham by Midnight came back stronger (which didn’t mean much, of course), but it’s still tough to fathom what DC was thinking. At least they had an excuse, though – it’s even harder to conceive of why Marvel thought Secret War and yet another reboot was necessary, and apparently a lot of people took the opportunity to jump ship. It just seems like now, more than ever, Marvel and DC consider comics beneath them, as they concentrate more on their sprawling cinematic empires. I’m still mildly interested in some of their comics, but it keeps waning, and I can certainly conceive a day when I’m not buying anything from them except for old reprints. They could continue to make great comics with the talent they can attract, but they certainly don’t seem to want my business. It’s kind of depressing. But this is a Best Comics of the Year post, so I’ll stop venting!
THE SHARK-MAN AWARD FOR MOST AWESOME COMIC IN THE HISTORY OF THIS YEAR AND POSSIBLY FOREVER.
Punks (Image) by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain. It’s not the best comic, but it’s the most surreal – it has Abraham Lincoln, a dog-headed person, a fist-headed person, and a skull-headed person, all living together and having bizarre adventures. It’s like if The Young Ones were even more bizarre, if you can deal with that. I doubt if Fialkov and Chamberlain are going to do much more (three issues managed to come out this year), but they’re always a blast to read.
I THINK I’M RETIRING THE FELL AWARD AWARD.
I used to keep better track of when comics came out, both in a notebook I had and because I managed to review things every month, but this year I didn’t keep track of everything in a notebook and my weekly reviews were spotty at best, so I wasn’t paying too much attention to the gap between comics shipping. However, unless Warren Ellis manages to resurrect Fell itself, I think I can retire the Fell Award, which I gave to the comic that had the biggest gap between issues. Usually the book had to ship an issue in that calendar year and then nothing else, so some long-time missing comics (including Fell, the all-time champion) were left out, even if the creators continued to insist they weren’t dead. The reason I’m retiring it (unless, again, Fell manages to come back) is because Where Is Jake Ellis? managed to ship this year, after a gap of 2 years, 9 months, and 18 days. I mean, that’s pretty impressive. Such devotion to tardiness is breathtaking, and it makes me want to repost this .gif of Debra Paget dancing:
So congratulations, Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic. You’ve won the final Fell Award. Good job!
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? As always, thanks for reading my long, rambling posts throughout the year (including this one), and I always hope you find interesting comics to dip into in this list. Or maybe you’ll just reject them all because you’re meanies. But that would make me sad.
Have a nice weekend, everyone!
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