The ten best comics of 2016. As per the usual, some old favories, some new additions and everything in between.
Honorable Mentions: Southern Bastards, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, The Sheriff of Babylon, Copra, Paper Girls, Descender, Black Science, Monstress, Green Arrow, The Fix, Powerman & Iron-First, Lazarus, Shutter, Island, Omega Men, BPRD, Rick & Morty
East of West is always one of the most consistent comics, right up there with Saga and Southern Bastards. However, in 2016 one of the most consistent comics actually raised its game. I believe this was the best year for Nick Dragotta on the title, which is why he landed in our ten best artists of 2016. But Dragotta raising his quality of work was not the only thing that propelled East of West to the top ten list, it was also the incredible story architecture of Jonathan Hickman. I think by now it is safe to say that Hickman is a genius. The ideas floating in his mind would drive a lesser man to insanity. Hickman has created such a rich unique dystopian world that all the character work and world building in the early issues is paying off in a big way now that we are passing the 20+ issue and heading full stride into the 30’s. This year Hickman and Dragotta gave us many satisfying moments with characters we are very familiar with as well as introducing us to some interesting new ones. There are three highlights from this year of East of West that raise this book to personal favorite of 2016. First, the introduction of Billy Blackgun who is a classically hilarious Hickman villain, “Billy Blackgun aint nobody’s second option”. Second, the issue where Ezra brings all the leaders of the world together for a diplomatic meeting and it ends in a gigantic gun fight. Lastly, the beauty and perfection of issue #29. It was a perfectly structured issues highlighted many strengths of Babylon and the Balloon, finally concluding with a reuniting of Death and his son. It really has been a fantastic year for East of West. A book that has always been sitting in my personal top ten made great strides this year to arrive at the top-Dean
When comics writer Warren Ellis announced he was re-teaming with Moon Knight artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire for the Image Comics series Injection, the specifics of the comic were shrouded in mystery and intrigue. After its fist issue it remained that way, as it did after its first arc and it prevails as so today. While the central conceit of Injection is much clearer now, we know a sentient AI is causing global chaos in secret, what that means is still very much in play in the series and the joy of the book comes in watching that unfold. Partially this is because of Warren Ellis’s extraordinary gift for comics writing, his ability to parse out big ideas into spiraling works of intrigue is especially prevalent in Injection with its amplified measure of reality and pacing. It’s also partially from the art of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, a creative partnership that has represented some of the most consistently astounding visual storytelling in the medium for years now. It’s the books talent mixed with its anything goes etho’s that consistently made Injection one of the most arresting series in comics. Dark and thoughtful with expert pacing, Injection up ends and exceeds expectations at every turn-Pat
Someone asked me last week what superhero comic I’d recommend for someone that didn’t want excessive tie-ins and convoluted continuity and I thought of this series. It feels familiar and fresh, which in a crowded and competitive year like 2016, is quite a feat. The action is balanced by strong character drama and mystery, which always comes out in tantalizingly small details and revelations. I think out of any new superhero comic to debut this year, Black Hammer comes out the strongest. Others will disagree, but regardless its on track to become another Jeff Lemire classic-Josh
Kamala Khan is one of the best characters to arrive in years. She represents a new generation’s point of view and experiences, as well as provides a positive and well rounded representation of multiple demographics that comics had long omitted. Under the deft hand of G. Willow Wilson, Kamala’s story has only gotten more engaging and compelling in its third year. Wilson and her team of artists–Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Mirka Andolfo and Ian Herring–have created a comic that month in and month out manages to balance humor, action, consequence and morality with aplomb. Kamala has the heart of a hero and always does her absolute best to live up to her own expectations, as well as those of her superhero idols. She’s intelligent, tenacious and courageous in the face of danger; a character that children and adults alike can root for, admire, and be inspired by.
This year Kamala’s status and responsibilities as a superhero grew exponentially, and with that her loyalties and place in the superhero community were put to the test. Carol Danvers and Tony Stark, both of whom she idolizes, pulled her in different directions and this predicament was met with admirable maturity by Kamala. In her struggles we see our own, though with much less literally at stake–our choices don’t have the world hanging in the balance, thank goodness–the parallels are apparent.
The last part of why I felt Ms. Marvel earned her place on our “Best of” list is her supporting cast. Every great superhero needs others around to keep them grounded. Bruno and Vic, Zoe and Nakia, Michaela, and of course her immediate family all help–and sometimes hinder–Kamala in different ways. It’s her love of all of these people that keeps her motivated in times of stress, and those relationships are depicted with hearfelt realism. Ms. Marvel is one of those rare comics that you can feel confident recommending to nearly everyone. A truly all-ages comic that surprises, entertains and enlightens; Ms. Marvel is one of my personal favorite series of the year, and I look forward to reading more about the adventures of the superbly charming Kamala Khan-Tyler
This could have so easily misfired. It could have been dry, preachy, weighed down with technical terminology and excessive myth-building. However, as with his triumph of Secret Wars last year, Jonathan Hickman proved once again why he is one of the most inventive comic writers working today. Mixing black magic with Wall Street skull-drudgery, he constructed an alternative history which was clear and, even more impressive, an elaborate conspiracy that didn’t tax believability. Most important though is that Hickman did not lose sight of human emotions. His scenes of horror were full of a real, palpable dread. Issue #4 blended together all of Hickman’s strengths, uniting betrayal, dread, family dynamics, religion, revenge and (possibly) love together in an issue which proved that beneath all the balance sheets the series had a very real heart. All of this is illustrated in Tomm Coker’s able style. His sketchy aesthetic is a great fit for the book, aptly conveying the sense of unease which runs throughout the narrative. Hickman has a fair amount of moving parts spinning at at once, yet, based on his past work, there is good reason for being optimistic that Black Monday Murders will only grow in scope and feeling when it returns in 2017-Creighton
Change during adolescence can come suddenly and feel quite jarring. Yet after the dust settles, everything often seems the same as before. Such was the experience of reading Deadly Class is 2016. Writer Rick Remander continued notching up the tension as Freshman finals descended into a bloodbath between various factions of the school. The victors were not necessarily who readers may have guessed, while the victims, well . . . Remender clearly established that no one is safe. killing off not only popular supporting players but lead protagonist Marcus as well. It was a gut-wrench finale for the arc, in which artist Wesley Craig captured not only the terror of death but also the peace which might come after. Regardless of the fate of Marcus’ soul, the living keep on living, while the world goes on spinning. A new school year commenced full of all the same boastful posing and petty scheming as the last. Saya now occupies Marcus’ old role as class brooder. The perspective of Deadly Class has shifted, while the ambiance remains the same. This is reflected in Criag’s art, his expressive style being the perfect match for teen angst. His fluid lines convey dynamic action and everyday banality with equal flair. Together he and Remender continue to craft one of the most exciting books on the stands-Creighton
What King, Hernandez-Walta and Bellaire accomplished with their Vision comic was spectacular. The tone was reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, punctuated with moments of American Beauty and Frankenstein. Narration filled in contextual gaps and emphasized the weight of events as they were occurring, while hinting at the dire ramifications of what has yet to come. This uncomfortable sense of doom that loomed over every action of all the characters was contrasted by notes of brevity and insight. For a comic about a family of synthezoids, it sure had a lot to say about humanity, the moral dilemmas associated with superheroism, and the fragility of a manufactured happiness. Vision himself was only looking to create what he saw as a better life, but what he learned was that life and happiness are not a finite science, rather a sequence of circumstantial events that can only be reacted to in our best judgment. Control is mostly a fleeting sense we presume to have, we can do everything right, yet have it all blow up in our face in the end.
For me, a few series this year were as great, but nothing surpassed The Vision. It is a comic that I was curious to read at first, but towards the end of the first issue was mesmerized by. There are few opportunities these days to create a truly original comic within the confines of the big two, so we should count ourselves grateful that something like this was gifted to us by these creators. Without creating a new world or context, they took an underused character and created seminal entry into the history of Vision. I believe this series set a new bar for Marvel. It had a very specific tone, rhythm, and execution that was carried out through all twelve issues. It was a thought provoking, affecting and riveting story that will be held in high regard for a very long time-Tyler
In 2016, The Wicked+The Divine continued to build on top of its mythology and expand outward while exploring all manner of celebrity, religion and everything in between in addition to remaining one of the most purely joyful comics experiences. Spectacularly ambitious and fearless, The Wicked+The Divine progressed its long running narrative about its pantheon of pop star gods and goddesses while still willfully going in any number of strange directions and collaborations that suited them, like the 1831 one shot that focused on Romance period of English literature with stunning art from Stephanie Hans or #23 which was done entirely in a fictional magazine format while using actual real life music writers for the fake articles on the series fictional characters, all again utilizing brilliant guest art from Kevin Wada. But The Wicked+The Divine’s excursions beyond convention remain central to its core, a comic series about the highs and lows of pop music superstardom through the prism of religious deities. Series creators Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson and Clayton Cowles each continued to imprint their own stylistic flourishes on the comic for an aesthetic that is purely an expression singular to the power of those four talents working together. The Wicked+ The Divine kept getting better in 2016 and shows little to no signs of slowing down anytime soon-Pat
Few series have debuted from an established creative team and had the impact that Kill or Be Killed did. That’s because the comic featured everything that readers had come to expect from the trio of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, but this time around, it was even better. Some slight experimentation with the panel construction, a little more vibrancy in its colors and a story that was slightly left of the groups center, and all the sudden we had another Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser epic that was unlike any they’d done together prior. Kill or Be Killed is haunting and engrossing with incredible artwork. It takes much of what the creative team had done on past series and improves upon it ever so slightly to make a reading experience that was purely captivating. Equal parts crime noir, supernatural horror and psychological thriller; Kill or Be Killed relentlessly traversed the reader into its dark world and never let up. It’s consistently harrowing and riveting for how it explores the dark nature of humanity and blurs the line between fiction and reality within its narration. It further establishes the trio as one of comics best and most reliable creative teams while displaying one of their most pronounced evolutions so far-Pat
Brian K Vaughan made his return to comics in 2012. His series, called Saga was supposed to be purely a comic experience, something that could never be properly adapted by any other medium. The artist for the book was Fiona Staples, who at the time was not well known. Saga took off with bang and has never looked back. Year after year you will find Saga near, if not on the top of, many best comic and even best book lists. Fiona Staples is now arguably the best working comics artist and Brian K Vaughan is doing some of his best work, solidifying his name as one of comics greatest writers. Saga travelled through issues #33-#40 this year and did what Saga does best; grouped together some unexpected characters and thrived in their interactions. One of the most exciting things for me this year was seeing The Will, one of my favourite characters, reacting to the death of his sister. The Will, already a pitied character shows up thirsty for blood and hungry for doughnuts. It appears his sisters death has driven him to food. Don’t worry though, he is still the same old Will, hallucinations and all. But, unfortunately for The Will, he runs into Ghus in a brief altercation that will make you love that fur ball even more than you already did. Saga also provided one of the most emotional comic panels of the year with the reuniting of Hazel and her parents. The following arc is filled with one exciting turn after another. We get more time spent with Gwendolyn and Sophie, while Izabel runs into some serious problems of her own. Oh, almost forgot to mention that Alana is pregnant…again. This year of Saga has been a roller coaster ride. This wild space opera reminds us that love and family can make it through any situation. It is hard to find another book out there with as many interesting and compelling characters. Somehow, Vaughan and Staples are able to mess around with this loveable cast and we never seem to hate them for it. Saga tops this list once again and honestly, I would be surprised if it doesn’t happen again-Dean