22 dic. 2016

Best Comics of 2016 (that I've read)

It's again that time of the year when everyone seems to know everything you should have watched and read but you missed. Hell, thanks to those lists I've been able to catch up with some of the best comics of the last few years. And since this time it is me who has been more or less up to date with many prominent (American) comics, I thought I could give one of those lists a try. Since my list would be obviously biased by my personal preference (aren't them all?) take it as such. I've split it by publisher so it's easier to compare. Here they go, in no particular order.

Image Comics

Mi favorite publisher keeps delivering on its ongoing series and trying new and bold proposals. Rick Remender added a fifth title to his already impressive roster, Brubaker & Phillips delivered their strongest book so far and fan favorites teams Vaughan / Staples and Gillen / McKelvie kept their titles on top.

My apologies yet another year for missing what are arguably some of the most interesting books in the Image catalogue, namely Southern Bastards, East of West or Black Science, while I've been lucky to discover (and enjoy) Invisible Republic, Injection and I Hate Fairyland.


8. Lazarus by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark

You can never get tired of the exploration of a dystopian future when your guide is as good as Michael Lark. This year I started to catch up on Gotham Central where this dream team first joined forces, and they remain the best of their kind at this Sci-fi / action epic with a real world warning undertone.


7. Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wes Craig

For my taste, still the best of the Remender works at Image, reached a climax early in the year, but kept going strong after that.
Tokyo Ghost and Seven to Eternity deserve a special mention for their outstanding art, but I'm still not fully on board with the story, where Remender tends to be more preachy than necessary.


6. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro

Keeping a series as engaging as this one with just three issues a year is a testament to the quality of the book. Mixing sci-fi, adventure and political commentary with a not at all subtle feminist message into one of the most powerful pamphlets currently being published.


5. Wayward by Jim Zub, Steve Cummings

This series is one of my personal guilty pleasures. None of the elements of the mix would've been of my taste (young heroes, Japanese myths, light urban fantasy) but somehow they work for me. Artist Cummings and colorist Tamra Bonvillain make it all worth it but the story keeps moving forward and surprising at every turn.


4. The fade out by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips

I've been a fan of the Brubaker / Phillips team since Sleeper and you should be too. The Fade Out is probably the most complex of this team's works and a delightful read for anyone who loves noir and classic Hollywood stories.
Their next project Kill or Be Killed is also great but goes back to a different kind of crime fiction that still needs to find its own place (but still a must for fans).


3. Outcast by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta

I managed one more year to stay clear of the Walking Dead (maybe when the TV series ends) but from Robert Kirkman I got to test Invincible (a superhero comic definitely different) but absolutely loved this horror story, much smaller in scope than his zombie epic, but for me one of the best horror stories of the year - along with Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina. There, I said it.


2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Try reading one after the other: Runaways, Y the Last Man and Ex Machina, and try to believe Brian K. Vaughan still had his best ideas to come. Saga is destined to belong in the lists of the best comics of the decade and we're so lucky to be able to watch it unfold as it's released. Probably the comic with the most elaborate plot, relatable characters and universal themes being published. And some disturbing images too, what else is new.
For Vaughan fans: Paper Girls is another great, and personal, take on the weird worlds of the author. Not as universally likable as Saga probably, but nevertheless extraordinary.


1. The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen, Steve McKelvie

I finally got around to read what has become one of my favorites of these years, the kind of comic so complex and yet so flawlessly executed I was waiting since the Invisibles or Preacher in the 90s. A must read for anyone into popular culture in any medium. Anyone into the work of Gillen and McKelvie should also definitely check their other Image project Phonogram, of which books 2 (Singles Club) and 3 (Immaterial Girl) are absolute narrative masterworks.

Marvel

I'll admit it wasn't a great year overall for Marvel, especially compared to what DC was able to accomplish when we least expected it. Their list of titles seems small despite publishing around 80 titles a month (7 Spider-Man related titles, 6 Guardians of the Galaxy, 4 Deadpool and so on). Mutant titles had a really weak year, and most classic characters suffered from the publisher effort for diversity and inclusion. On top of that, Civil War II was the most tiresome crossover event I can remember. I keep hearing terrible things about DC's Convergence, but boy this one was pointless - and is still going!

Fortunately, with 80 books in the market it was a matter of patience some were actually good. I must admit I couldn't follow some series that deserve some attention: Thor, Ms Marvel, Doctor Strange, Daredevil or Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, but they're on my list for next year, along with the Star Wars series I keep hearing great things about. Some series worth mentioning briefly were Old Man Logan (despite some Jeff Lemire fatigue, the guy has delivered at least three good books during the year) and Punisher (which unfortunately has become Steve Dillon's posthumous work, but an amazing one at that).


5. International Iron Man by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

Bendis is, along with Lemire, Aaron and Soule, one of the pillars or the publisher, but of all five titles he's been penning for Marvel (plus the atrocious Civil War II) this unexpected take on Tony Stark past was the one I really loved. With a bit of old spy story mixed with the gorgeous art of Alex Maleev, the worst of it was its early cancellation and kind of rushed finale, but otherwise a really good book.


4. Moon Knight by Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood

Coming right after the successful reboot by Warren Ellis, I didn't know what to expect of the omnipresent Lemire taking over yet another follow-up (successfully in Old Man Logan, disastrously in Hawkeye). And yet, this series was able to find its own voice, using the character's mental issues as the excuse for some of the most surprising and playful narratives of the year.


3. Black Widow by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee

Waid and Samnee run in Daredevil is still in my to-read list, but even more so after reading the kind of exciting tale of spies these two have been telling this year. Samnee is competing for one of the best storytellers in the business and the overworked Mark Waid (also in Avengers and Archie) delivers here his strongest script this year.


2. Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Time to be serious, this one here is another of this year's comics that will be remembered as a classic. Writer Tom King, also working on Omega Men and Sheriff of Babylon, was capable of the impossible, to make a story of a family of robots into an engaging, disturbing and yet profoundly moving tale.
And yet, why wasn't it my favorite Marvel comic of the year?


1. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson

Because you can't beat Squirrel Girl (pun intended). Let me be clear, I keep talking about this book not because it's so fun (it is) or absurdly clever (it definitely is) but because it's a source of inexhaustible genius. It's also one of the most self conscious comics I read, and writer Ryan North makes no effort to hide the absurdity of it all. Of all the effort put by Marvel at all-ages, humorous books (Howard the Duck, Mockingbird, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat) this must be the most perfect of all, suited for young and experienced readers alike.

DC

If you had told me a year ago my most anticipated comics of the week would be from DC, I wouldn't have believed you. And not just some obscure, minor titles, but stellar Superman and Batman comics themselves. This definitely has been the year when DC had to reinvent itself or become irrelevant, and their attempts at a movie universe have been so far not that great (but they kind of have been on TV). And Rebirth took the publisher back on top, not just commercially, but most importantly in the hearts of the readers. I was a DC fan since I was a kid and yet I felt little to no interest for most of their titles in the last 15 years. Now I follow around half of them with enthusiasm. Obviously not everything is awesome - the needed rotation of artists to keep the biweekly schedule makes art uneven, continuity with the New 52 remains a bit of a burden, and there's definitely some work to be done on the books aimed at teenage readers. But the overall feeling is that DC is again what DC used to be, and they have been able to gather an impressive roster of creators.

Honorary mentions go to Green Arrow, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, Aquaman and Nightwing. I honestly had no interest in these characters prior to what Rebirth has done for them, and now they're among my favorites. Their stories capture yet again the epic and wonder these characters used to convey, and Green Arrow in particular seems to be back with the most unexpected style. I would've liked The Flash and Green Lanterns to be on this category but they miss some better character work for my taste.

Also, worth mentioning the pleasant surprise of the entire Young Animal lineup in the last few months, when I never expected to see again what Animal Man, Doom Patrol or Shade did for comics in the 90s. But here they are, and all four titles (Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Girl, Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, Mother Panic) are already on my most anticipated every month and surely will make next year's list.


6. Omega Men by Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda

Second appearance of Tom King on this list, a space epic that caught us all by surprise. Less than minor characters that I hadn't heard of for more than 20 years were suddenly at the center of a political intrigue with no-so-subtle nods at real world conflicts. I'm thinking King pitched a kind of Guardians of the Galaxy but delivered a dark sci-fi tale. Some compared it to Watchmen. It's probably too much, but it's still that level of good.


5. Prez by Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell

After an obscure miniseries in the 70s and a homage in the pages of Sandman, this tale of a teenage girl who accidentally becomes president of the US is a satyrical take on real world politics, economics and media... and mostly everything else. More necessary than ever after the troubling results of last November election, it's an apparently small book that deserved some more attention - and definitely more than 6 issues! Please bring it back!


4. Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp

When I heard Rucka and Nicola Scott were teaming up for Wonder Woman, I was sad because their Black Magick was one of my favorite Image books. So I decided not to read it until Black Magick is back, but instead I read the other half of the deal, the gorgeously illustrated The Lies. Not only this one of the best looking comics on the shelves, it also manages to survive the burden of the New 52 Wonder Woman, which I'm not really familiar with. And the mysteries have only begun to unfold.


3. Superman by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mannie, Jorge Jiménez

Apparently I was the only fan of Patrick Gleason's short run on Robin Son of Batman, which is why I wasn't so surprised of the joyful tone of this fully reinvented Superman. The family dynamics of the Kents with Clark as a mentor to his superpowered son is as delightful to read as it is charming. Compared to the much grittier Action Comics, this is the series that could define what Rebirth has done for DC's heroes: light hearted, character-driven stories with an eye on fun an adventure, and another in character development.

  

2. Batman by Tom King, David Finch, Mikel Janin / Detective Comics by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows / All-Star Batman by Scott Snyder, John Romita Jr.

When it comes to Batman, DC seems to bring out the big guns. In my opinion, the best creative teams in Rebirth are handling the three Batman titles, with artists David Finch, Mikel Janin, John Romita Jr. and (my personal favorite) Eddy Barrows worth the price of admission all by themselves. After the questionable end of the New 52 Batman era, this was a much needed, and deserved, return to greatness. And releasing 5 Batman books every months, it's remarkable they are all so good.


1. Deathstroke by Christopher Priest, Larry Hama, Carlo Pagulayan

Christopher Priest writing comics is always good news. Slade Wilson going back to his origins (in the mythical 80s Teen Titans series) even more so. Put them together and you get my favorite Rebirth series, a tale so multifaceted and fragmented as you've come to expect from Priest. Probably the most difficult DC character to handle, this book takes the-character-Deadpool-was-based-on and redefines it in all its moral complexity to become once again its own thing. Art is good but uneven, but it never harms the overall quality.

Misc

So what's been great in the big wide world outside the Big Three? Let's give a shout out to these other deserving series.


Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King, Mitch Gerads
It may be a bit biased on my part that all four titles written by Tom King this year made this list. But I didn't want to finish without a reminder that a small but well curated list of creator-owned titles have been published by DC comics imprint Vertigo since late last year. Maybe they haven't been exactly smash hits but have been slowly building up a new and exciting image for the once fan-favourite brand. Titles like Clean Room by Gail Simone, Art Ops by Shaun Simon (illustrated by Mike Allred!), Unfollow by Matt Taylor or the venerable Astro City by Kurt Busiek deserve some praise in their own little corner, but the only one I've been able to follow to the end has been Tom King's unsettling tale of occupied Baghdad. All of King's traits are recognizable in this 12-issue epic that tests reader's interest for more grounded stories. I hope to catch up with the rest of the Vertigo offer in the next few months, in case this series is any indication of the kind of quality I can expect.


Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston

Overworked Jeff Lemire (who has worked on at least seven series that I've been able to count for Marvel, Image and Valiant) gives probably his best on this charming tale of former heroes trapped in a rural environment. Strong at character relationships and full of nostalgia, it's a moving story of times gone by and old style powers making a comeback. Diehard fans of Watchmen and Astro City should seriously check it.





Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla / Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack

My favorite horror comics of the year come from the most unexpected of places. Not only Archie has successfully relaunched their flagship titles (they didn't make this list but heck, it's Archie, check them out!) but Creative Director Aguirre-Sacasa gives a creepy turn to the Archie and Sabrina franchises, one with the best zombie outbreak of the year (sorry, Robert Kirkman) the other with a disturbing witch story. The extraordinary art by Francavilla and Robert Hack respectively doesn't hurt either. And Aguirre-Sacasa is showrunning Riverdale on TV next year, I can't wait for it.


Of all titles I'm not mentioning here, mostly because I haven't put in the time to read them (yet), I'd like to mention highly praised young readers books such as Lumberjanes, creator-owned books such as Harrow County, and the entire catalogue of Valiant, a shared universe I know basically nothing about, other than the headlines for this year's series Faith (by artist Pere Pérez, who happens to be my comics teacher this year) that weren't really about the comic itself, so I really should check some of those out.

And one of my New year's resolutions will be to read some of the Graphic Novels published this year, that have made many lists of the best comics of the year, and I didn't even know about. Titles such as Patience, March, Ghosts, Panther and many others, that I totally neglected due to my preference for comic books over longer formats and more real life themes.

I'm sure you'll be able to forgive those omissions, since I've been kind of busy making comics and studying how to make comics and also making a living, but hopefully you'll share some of my favorites, or some of my choices will pick your interest (as they should).

And finally let's not forget this was also the year we lost some talented creators that left behind a most endurable legacy of wonderful comics. Here's to Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon.

  

And here's to a Merry Christmas and a happy new year full of wonderful stories and even better people. In a world where Donald Trump will be president, we will need those more than ever.

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