New Comics Week 12/14/16: In Which I Objectively and Decisively Identify the Year’s Best Comics

I’m not gonna beat around the bush- DC comics made me a believer this year. I’ve always been more of a Marvel guy, but Rebirth and the ethos behind it has me reading books from the publisher than I ever have in my life. Leading the charge (and rightfully so) for this initiative has been the flagship Superman title from Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason as the pre-52 Superman (with wife Lois, son Jon, and Krypto in tow) returned to comics as the Nu52 version died. Superman (or Superdad, if you will) has been an optimistic, joyful, exciting, and all around fun comic that captures everything that’s fundamental to the character. At a retailer presentation, Dan Didio said that when Superman’s not working, the line as a whole isn’t working. Well, they fixed that and lo and behold they also fixed the rest of the line. Batman was already in good hands before Rebirth but the family of titles is at a whole other level now. The flagship title from Tom King brings the feels and the action, James Tynion IV’s Detective Comics is the best team book on the stands anywhere, and Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman is an off the rails, gonzo delight. Rounding out the trinity is Greg Rucka, Niccola Scott, and Liam Sharp’s Wonder Woman which uses the biweekly shipping schedule to tell interlocking stories set at different times ine Diana’s existence with Scott’s Year One story giving us a wonderful new origin for the character and Sharp’s ‘Lies’ story getting pretty dark pretty fast as the Amazon’s history is called into question. Beyond the trinity, the quality doesn’t dip. Green Arrow from Ben Percy (along with possibly the best roster of artists at the publisher- Juan Ferreyra, Otto Schmidt, and Stephen Byrne) has breathed new life into the character, melding what’s great about the comics with a cast and setting that’s somewhat recognizable to fans of the Arrow tv show. Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke is lowkey one of the weirdest books that DC is putting out and also one of the best with plotting so twisty and tight you’ll get whiplash. DC’s Young Animal line curated and produced by Gerard Way wears its 90’s Vertigo influence on its sleeve while still being fresh and exciting. Despite ALL of the greatness coming out of DC this year, the best book they produced has been Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s Flintstones which came out of nowhere in an explosion of razor-sharp social satire, emotional beats that hit like a punch to the face, and hilarious moments from the animal-appliances. It’s often sad and a little nihilistic but always comes back around to optimism in the end, making it a truly necessary book for our times.

Well, the ah…’House of Ideas’ has had an interesting year and while it’s tempting to rip on things like “Civil War II: Why Are They Acting Like That?”, it’s probably more productive to highlight what IS working. For all their sins (making Carol Danvers more unlikable than Purple Man, the Inhumans push, Gwenpool…okay I’ll stop) Marvel did put out the best book of the year with Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Jordie Bellaire’s Vision. The go-to hyperbole when talking about good comics is a comparison to Watchmen and that came pretty quickly after Vision’s first issue dropped. In practice, a more apt comparison for the Vision would probably be Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which you may recognize from high school english or from the dogeared copy on your shelf leftover from your goth phase. Either way, the book overflows with existential angst and questions about life (as well as a surprising amount of respect for continuity) that stay with you long after you’ve put the comic back in its bag & board. Walta and Bellaire’s art elevates the look to that of a David Fincher flick with perfectly framed shots of the mildy unsettling suburban neighborhood and the shocking moments of brutality that punctuate the story.

With lots of shakeups to many marquee characters, the 616 is kind of in a weird place. I never thought I’d see the day where I had mostly fallen off of X-books while anxiously anticipating each new issue of a Black Panther series. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s revival of one Marvel’s most interesting characters has been a huge creative success and I’m hoping for a looooong run from the two of them. Speaking of successful revivals- David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist is funny, action-packed, eye-poppingly gorgeous, and makes fantastic use of characters once lost to the disco-age. The plotting is tight, the art is kinetic and adventurous, and it’s often laugh out loud funny. Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez’s Spider-Woman kicked off the year with one of, if not the, best J-Drew stories of all time as she essentially plays the lead in Die Hard in a space hospital while pregnant. It’s got some Rodriguez’s best art so far (and that’s saying something) and a lot of honest emotion from then-new parent Hopeless.

Beyond the Big Two, the indies and small publishers continue to be at the creative forefront of the medium with plenty of diverse offerings. Image remains the big dog with continuing hits like Saga, Birthright, and Southern Bastards while also launching some soon to be classics. The Fix from Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber is a master class in action comedy that focuses on Roy Garney, a bad cop in a worse town as he tries to navigate both sides of the law and ruins the life of everyone he comes into contact with. Bryan Edward Hill and Nelson Blake II’s Romulus is an exciting conspiracy thriller full of great fight scenes and a mythology that’s just begging to be explored over a long run. Speaking of Hill, he’s continuing to tell one of the most unique stories on the racks with Postal which is BEGGING for a solid TV adaptation (seriously, someone please option this and get the creators paid so that this book can go on forever). Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Kill or Be Killed takes the tropes of the vigilante exploitation genre and puts a supernatural twist on them for yet another dark tale of violence from the masters.

Dark Horse is doing right by its Aliens license, both with the Fire and Stone saga and with Aliens: Defiance which captures the spirit of the first two movies in a way not many comics can. Not to be left out of the crowd of original offerings, Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer is the superhero deconstruction that you need in your life and the recently launched Ether from Matt Kindt and David Rubin is a gorgeous fantasy adventure series with enough twists on the genre to keep things interesting.
IDW’s Trek books have kicked a lot of butt this year with the launches Star Trek: Waypoint and Star Trek: Boldly Go. Waypoint is an anthology series (hooray for anthologies!) that features characters both familiar and obscure and does with anthologies do best- exploring moments and concepts and emotions that larger stories don’t. Boldly Go is in continuity with the new series of films and follows up the excellent Star Trek: Beyond with Kirk and company meeting the Borg in a way that should appease continuity nerds.

Matt Rosenberg and Tyler Boss’ 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is a genuine revelation. It’s Wes Anderson meets Tarantino by way of Edgar Wright as 11-year old Paige and her group of nerdy friends deal with a shady group of criminals that may or may not be connected to her dad. Rosenberg’s script is tight and hilarious, but Boss’ art and layouts are off the chart amazing. There’s a new issue this week after a bit of a hiatus and it’s a perfect time to catch up on one of the year’s best.

Animosity from Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre was a surprise of a book that instantly became one of my favorite reads. After an event that gives all of the world’s animals human-level sentience and communication abilities, a girl and her dog navigate the new world order. It’s a perfect mixture of adorable animals and beastial brutality that makes for a wonderful read.

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