So I’ve already gone through what I thought were the best returning comics of 2016. Now it’s time for the best comics that started in 2016. Yes, this does mean that some of these comics only have two or three issues out, but if so, it just means those two or three issues are really goddamn good.
As always, these are in no particular order.
Doom Patrol (Young Animal)
Written by Gerard Way, with art by Nick Derington.
So let’s begin with one of the biggest surprises of 2016: the return of the weird. More specifically, the return of the Doom Patrol as part of DC’s new imprint Young Animal. And who better to write it than former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, who had already written the similarly strange Umbrella Academy?
Nobody, that’s the answer, since Way’s first issue was basically throwing the reader into the deep end of the pool and seeing if they drown in the weirdness that ensued. And by god it was weird, but a good weird. It felt exactly like how Doom Patrol should feel — with a strange heart and soul. Helping the matter was Nick Derington’s perfectly clean artwork that both grounded the weirdness and made everything so much more weird and the fact that the book starts off with a brand new protagonist, Casey Brinke, before delving into the old characters of Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Let’s hope that Way and Derington go on for at least as long a run as Morrison did — I can’t wait to explore more of the world they are building.
Written by Jody Hauser, with art by Pere Perez and Marguerite Sauvage.
I don’t read many Valiant Comics. I basically stuck to Archer & Armstrong and Ivar, Timewalker, but when I saw Faith, I knew I had to buy it. Not just because the main character was a non-stereotypical nerd or a heavyset female superhero whom you rarely (if ever) see in comics, but because she was both and still headlining her own series. Characters like Faith didn’t become headliners, they were side characters.
But Faith (or “Zephyr,” her superhero name) made it work. Or, more specifically, Jody Hauser made it work for Faith, giving her a new job and new secret identity and, hell, even a new boyfriend (hi Archer!) and giving her loads of fun and exciting adventures (hey Comic Con! hey cameos of all the writers and artists I love!). The gimmick of showing Faith’s fantasy life using the soft palette of Marguerite Sauvage and the reality using Pere Perez is neat, but the book doesn’t even need a gimmick to be great. It just is.
Black Panther (Marvel)
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, with art by Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse.
Black Panther is one of those characters that, as a main character, is rarely done well. To be fair, it’s hard for a lot of people to put themselves in the position of “king of an advanced isolationist African nation.” Christopher Priest did it by making Black Panther into, basically, Batman, someone who has a plan for everything and is one step ahead of everyone.
Ta-Nehisi Coates dials that aspect back, but pushes forward the aspect of the king versus the man, a dichotomy that had T’Challa had been struggling with during Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers run. Coates takes it much further, though, showing a Wakanda in flames, under rebellion, fighting against its king...and perhaps even right to do so? Coates’ Black Panther is one who is filled with self doubt, but can never show it. He also makes the great decision of showing us an even deeper spiritual journey of T’Challa’s sister Shuri — many writers would have merely left her fridged, but Coates knows that her character is so much better than that. Coates managed to do the impossible: make a Black Panther book that was just as good, if not better, than Priest’s run.
Written by Christopher Priest, with art by Carlo Pagulayan, Larry Hama, and Joe Bennett.
Speaking of Christopher Priest: Deathstroke seems, at first, to be an odd fit for him. Until you see that Priest’s comics were often filled with people attempting convoluted schemes and having plans within plans — and Deathstroke certainly fills that role.
Where Priest’s real skill comes in, however, is not just in writing an entertaining, funny, and non-linear comic; it’s the fact that he pulls the center of the character forward, showing the readers exactly who this character is and what he does without flinching. He is a killer. He is a villain. He is a father. He is an assassin. He is all these things and we see him as all these things and more. Priest fills the story like a Shakespearean tragedy and yet still manages to keep things light. It’s feels good to read another Priest comic — let’s hope there are many more to come.
Moon Knight (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Greg Smallwood, Franco Francavilla, and James Stokoe.
After Warren Ellis’s run on Moon Knight, the writers that came after never really seemed to capture that lightning that Ellis did again. Until, that is, Jeff Lemire came along and said, “Well, he’s crazy, right? So let’s put him in an asylum.”
It’s not a real asylum, however, and Moon Knight isn’t exactly crazy. He’s not well, though, and he knows it, especially after he escapes the asylum and starts flashing through his various personalities — Greg Smallwood illustrating Stephan Grant’s adventures in Hollywood, Franco Francavilla showing the seedy underbelly of the city with cabby Jake Lockley, and James Stokoe doing the weirdest one of all, with pilot Marc Spector fighting werewolves on the moon.
And yet it all fits together and looks beautiful doing so. I also have to applaud Lemire on what he is doing with Spector’s multiple personalities — where Warren Ellis brushed them aside, saying specifically that you can’t “catch” Dissociated Identity Disorder from pretending to be other people, Lemire brought them back, but as something that Spector has always had since childhood. It’s a retcon, yes, but one that makes sense and helps make the story more interesting.
DC Universe: Rebirth (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan Van Scrier, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jimenez.
Well. We gotta talk about this one, right? It literally changed everything at DC. After five years of the New 52 being maligned and hated, DC Rebirth made DC great again (sorry). And I have never read a comic so unapologetically, well, apologetic. Geoff Johns was basically writing an apology letter to everyone who hated or was disappointed in the New 52. “I’m sorry we lost so many legacy characters. I’m sorry we lost all those married characters, too. I’m sorry we lost the JSA. We’re bringing them all back, I swear.”
And yet it worked. Perhaps it was because the entire thing was narrated by the original Wally West, a fan favorite character who hadn’t really been seen in the New 52 (aside from a race-lifted alternate version). Perhaps it was because the whole book felt genuine — Johns has a well known love for legacy characters, the Flash in particular, so losing them must have been a blow to him as well. Even if he did end up blaming a singular boogeyman (Dr. Manhattan, serving as a metaphor for “everyone who tried to make comics dark like Watchmen but didn’t understand how it worked”), the book still worked because it’s based on love. The love that binds Wally to the universe, the love that Clark and Lois still have for each other, and the love that readers have for characters they have been reading for decades.
Detective Comics (DC)
Written by James Tynion IV, with art by Eddy Barrows, Álvaro Martínez, Al Barrionuevo, and Carmen Carnero.
DC Rebirth would have not worked at all had the books that came out after it not themselves been good. So, luckily for everyone, they are really good. Especially Detective Comics, which reverted back to its original numbering (probably so they could reach the magic 1,000 number).
Batman always attracted a number of sidekicks and side characters, from Robin to Batgirl to even an entire team, the Outsiders. The brilliance of the new Detective Comics was that it took all of these pre-established characters — Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface — and said, “Well, they aren’t really a team. So let’s make them one and see what happens.” Using fan-favorite characters that had been shorted by the New 52, like Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, instantly made this book feel like it was part of the pre-Flashpoint era. It was dark, but still fun. It has angst, but it doesn’t wallow in it. It is simply a good book.
Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Dean Ormston.
This is going to be hard to explain, but bear with me: there were seven Golden Age heroes of Spiral City — Golden Gail, Abraham Slam, Barbalien, Colonel Weird and his robot sidekick, Madame Dragonfly, and the Black Hammer himself — who were all involved in a giant battle against something called the Anti-God. They defeated him, but at the cost of Black Hammer’s life...and it resulted in all the heroes disappearing from Spiral City and finding themselves trapped in a small farming town.
If that sounds weird and complicated, it is. But it is also incredible — each issue delves into each of the characters’ histories, each one a pastiche of an actual Golden Age hero, complicated through the lens of reality and surreality that surrounds them. It’s a complicated book, but one that rewards rereading, which I love.
Kim & Kim (Black Mask)
Written by Magdalene Visaggio, with art by Eva Cabrera.
Kim & Kim is the story of two bounty hunters: Kimiko “Kim” Quatro (trans woman and former member of the bounty hunter group the Catalans) and Kimber “Kim” Dantzler (former necromancer who is terrible at magic) who try their best to hunt down bounties and make their rent on time, but who usually end up spending their remaining cash on alcohol and repairing their beat up van/spaceship.
Yes, it’s a bit like Cowboy Bebop except add in some Broad City and then pour some Jem and the Holograms over it and then stir in some Tank Girl and you probably have something that tastes awful, but looks wonderfully awesome.
Kim & Kim is a book that was pretty desperately needed in this day and age, a fun, colorful (if violent) comic that includes some awesome LGBTQ representation. Thankfully, it provides all of that in spades, giving us a couple of awesome bounty hunters, their beat-up van, guitar, and pink Kalashnikov. Long live the Fighting Kims.
Midnighter & Apollo (DC)
Written by Steve Orlando, with art by Fernando Blanco.
Speaking of awesome LGBTQ duos: Midnighter and Apollo. Need I say more?
Okay, fine. After Steve Orlando’s excellent Midnighter series ended, DC thankfully let him continue his adventure in the six-issue mini-series Midnighter and Apollo. It’s a book that is still hyper violent, but also has its roots in the love between these two characters.
SPOILERS IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T BEEN READING IT AND WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN READING IT? GO OUT AND BUY IT ALREADY, IT’S AWESOME OKAY TIME FOR SPOILERS.
It also takes a look at the “Bury Your Gays” trope and says, “Fuck that shit so hard.” When Apollo dies in the second issue (I told you there would be spoilers) and Midnighter is told that his soul went to Hell, he takes a second and then says, “Well, I guess a lot of people are getting their wish. Because I’m going to Hell.” You know what that sound is? That’s the sound of being FUCKING AWESOME.
Goldie Vance (Boom!)
Written by Hope Larson, with art by Brittney Williams.
So say you want to get your kid a comic with LGBTQ representation, but Midnighter and Apollo is a little too, uh, hyper violent and Kim & Kim looks a bit too sci-fi weird for them. Instead, go with Goldie Vance, a teen detective mystery that is, quite frankly, more awesome than it it has any right to be.
Marigold “Goldie” Vance is a 16-year-old who works as a valet for a fancy hotel in the Florida Keys that her father manages. She also is an amateur detective who hangs around with the hotel detective and helps him solve crimes (or, rather, solves crimes herself and gives him the solution). Basically, if Encyclopedia Brown was female, biracial, and gay, she would be Goldie Vance. (Yes, I loved the Encyclopedia Brown stories. Shut up.) The book is immensely helped by the astoundingly cute illustrations by Brittney Williams (who also does Hellcat!). The distinctive style makes the world around Goldie seem at once more cartoonish and yet still real.
Shade, the Changing Girl (Young Animal)
Written by Cecil Castelluci, with art by Marley Zarcone.
Any imprint is only as good as the books it publishes. Young Animal is the same — the fact that it is trying to be a successor to ‘90s Vertigo just makes it all the more difficult. Thankfully, it appears that the books are up to the task.
Loma Shade (who named herself after her favorite poet, Rac Shade) wants to escape the planet Meta, so she steals the M-Vest and slips into the body of a comatose Earth girl by the name of Megan Boyer. The only problem is that Megan was an unrepentant bully at school, so people are not happy when she returns, especially as she trails madness in her wake.
While Peter Milligan’s Shade, the Changing Man was a weird, complex, and complicated look at life in America, Cecil Castelluci’s Shade, the Changing Girl is more of a look at life in an American high school and how everyone child feels like an alien...especially if you are one.
Wonder Woman (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, with art by Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott.
Even though the Wonder Woman movie comes out in 2017, it feels like 2016 was the Year of Wonder Woman. We had four Wonder Woman books out (The Legend of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman: Earth One, Wonder Woman: The Last Amazon, and the main Wonder Woman title). Of all of them, however, this one is still my favorite.
Greg Rucka returns to the character he wrote a decade ago in order to tear her history apart and rebuild it: alternate issues tell “The Lies,” about how Diana can’t find her way back to Themyscira, and “Year One,” the origin of Wonder Woman and how she first started as a superhero. There are, of course, twists and turns — and characters that I thought would survive much longer end up dying (DAMN YOU, RUCKA) — but it’s the way that Rucka shows Diana’s compassion and friendship, as well as the absolutely beautiful artwork from Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott, that makes this book one of the best.
The Flintstones (DC)
Written by Mark Russell, with art by Steve Pugh.
When DC announced that they would be publishing something called “Hanna-Barbera Beyond,” they were routinely mocked by the Internet for attempting to make nostalgic cartoons into something darker and edgier. However, as the books came out, people soon realized that they were, well, good.
The most unexpected was The Flintstones. How do you do something different with The Flintstones? Well, you take the premise (“a modern Stone Age family”) and you play it completely straight. This is full blown dark satire. There are no “my husband is a lazy slob” or “my wife is a constant nag” jokes. Instead, the book takes a look at the world around us and recasts as the town of Bedrock. I mean, the hunter’s lodge from the show is turned into a Veterans of Paleolithic Wars lodge!
Damn. That is some good satire right there.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love (DC)
Written by Sarah Vaughn, with art by Lan Medina and Phil Hester.
When DC Rebirth was first announced, it seemed like all the initial books were pretty, well, vanilla. They were all “safe” books, nothing outside of the ordinary. But the more time went on, the more DC was willing to poke their heads out of “safe” and into “weird.”
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is not a book you would think would work. It’s a Gothic romance, which isn’t really a genre that modern day audiences are eager to read. Deadman himself is a third-tier character whose last book came out in 2007 (and that series didn’t exactly like the world on fire). And yet this book works in ways it really shouldn’t. It uses all the tropes of Gothic fiction and Gothic romances and uses them in clever ways. The beautiful artwork is complimented by the lush colors and the mystery is interesting without being drawn out (it’s only three issues, so it can’t be). Of all the books I’ve read from DC, this was the last one I expected to be really, really good. And yet it really, really is.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, with art by Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, and Doug Mahnke.
One of the best decisions that DC did with DC Rebirth was to make the older, married Clark into the main Superman and give him a book all about his family. The book may be called Superman, but it’s more about Clark, Lois, and Jonathan together. It takes the time to show their home life, the love between Lois and Clark and Jon, the way they interact with each other and with the neighbors in Hamilton County. This is first and foremost a family book. And nothing said that better than Lois donning the goddamn Hellbat Armor in order to save her son from the Eradicator. Because Lois is a badass.
That’s the other part of this book that I love: it’s not afraid to be very Silver Age. There was a two part story called “Return to Dinosaur Island.” There was a two-part story where the Son of Superman met the Son of Batman...and they were instant enemies. Gleason, Jimenez, and Mahnke also make everything look gorgeous and epic, with vast landscapes and Superman looking exactly how he should be. Even if I do miss the red underwear.
Written by Tom King, with art by David Finch, Ivan Reis, and Mikel Janin.
Over the years, Batman has always attracted the best writers, from Denny O’Neil to Greg Rucka to Grant Morrison to Scott Snyder. And now Tom King, who dazzled everyone with The Vision and Omega Men.
King has a number of tricks that you begin to notice the more books you read of his: he heavily relies on narration boxes, although he often incorporates a twist on who is speaking/writing that narration. And yet this device never really gets tired. In his first storyline, “I Am Gotham,” King felt like he is stretching his legs, seeing which character goes where, before the story ended and he has to move on. The second storyline, “I Am Suicide,” however, feels leaps and bounds better, exploring not just the inner psyche of Batman, but also Catwoman and how she feels, how they feel together, what drives Batman to the lengths he goes, the lengths of, basically, a madman. Or, perhaps, someone who has already died and been reborn.
O’Neil’s Batman felt like a detective. Morrison’s Batman felt like he knew everything. Snyder’s Batman felt like he had the world on his shoulders. King’s Batman feels like he died in that alleyway and the thing who came out wasn’t alive or dead, but a ghost made flesh, driven by the need to make sure that everyone is safe. King’s Batman is one of the most interesting versions of Batman I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to read more.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story (Vertigo)
Written by Paul Dini, with art by Eduardo Risso.
Despite what it appears, the main character of this book is not, in fact, Batman. The main character is not a character at all, he is a real person: Paul Dini, writer for Batman: The Animated Series and many, many other cartoons and comic books. This is the story of one night when he was walking home and mugged and beaten.
This is not a fun story. This is a story about one man’s struggle with depression. A depression not caused by the beating, I might add, but only exacerbated by it. This book is one of the few honest looks at depression (the only other I can recall is Mark Waid’s Daredevil) and Paul Dini’s depression takes the form of all of Batman’s rogues taunting him, telling him to give up. Thankfully, in his mind there is also Batman, someone who will never give up, no matter what, and it’s this internal struggle that gives the book its heart and soul.
Written by Marguerite Bennett, with art by Rafael de Latorre.
One day, the animals all Woke up. Suddenly, every single animal could not only think, but also talk. And, well, they were quite pissed with humanity. They rose up. They took their revenge, red in tooth and claw.
And now, one girl and her loyal dog are trying to find their way to San Francisco. All that’s between them, though, are the animals.
John Hodgman once had an idea called “ALL HUMANS VS ALL ANIMALS.” A silly concept that could be taken as something not so silly. The book/TV show Zoo has tried something like it, but it’s been disappointing in its quality.
Not so with Animosity. From the very first page, it comes away with more energy, more heart, more everything than Zoo did. It makes the world bleak, yet somehow hopeful. It’s everything I want in a story about All Humans vs All Animals.
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank (Black Mask)
Written by Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Tyler Boss.
Remember how I said that Paper Girls was Stranger Things before Stranger Things existed? Well, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is Stranger Things if, instead of being inspired by ET and The Goonies, the Duffer Brothers were inspired by Quentin Tarantino films.
Four kids (Berger, Stretch, Walter, and Paige) are playing Dungeons and Dragons when there’s a knock on the door. Outside are a bunch of mean looking men with scars and swastikas looking for Paige’s dad. It turns out that these men are all ex-cons whom Paige’s dad used to know and now they want him to help them rob a bank.
Paige knows that these men are stupid, however, and will only get caught, especially if they bring her dad with them. But what other options do they have? Well, they can rob the bank themselves so her dad doesn’t have to.
This book only has two issues out (both of which I read on Comixology, since I can’t find physical copies at all), but it became one of my favorite books of the year from the very first page.
This book manages to effortlessly merge a heist film with a kids movie and make it work. Each page looks great, with Tyler Boss’s flat, cartoonish style contrasting with the dark color palette and realism in the setting and characters. It’s a book about four kids trying to help, but not knowing how. It’s a book about a bank heist and those who have to do it for their family. It’s about the choices we make when we think we don’t have any choice at all.
And that’s it for 2016. Here’s a lot hoping more for 2017.