Every year a few of my friends and I get together and talk about comics in review. Usually I completely fuck it up because my memory has all the horsepower of a block of wood when it comes to actual releases and dates, thinking some comics came out this year and others came out years ago when none of that is true. So this year I sorta tried to keep a list of comics I enjoyed so I didn't talk about comics I read merely weeks before, but it only sort of worked. So I'm just going to talk about series' in general unless something just really comes up that makes a single comic special. This list is going to be pretty rough and piss me off in thirty minutes when I remember some indie series I wish I put in here and probably should have made a Superhero/Non-Superhero list, but all comics will be represented here.
Oh well. Here we go. Remembering there's still one more release this year and there's a promise of great comics in them, but FUCK IT. My apologies for the jumbled half put together nonsense of what I'm about to put down. Bear with me. Alright. FUCK IT.
/\ Best Comic Runs of the Year /\Every year (barring a few years) have a wide array of just wonderful comics. Sometimes I try to keep a list of which individual comics really nail it home for me, but I never keep up with it and so I just want to talk about the series' in general I've found myself looking forward to whenever their releases come out. I'm talking the stuff I intentionally leave for the end because I know I'm just going to get a lot out of it. So here are ten in no particular order!
- Descender -Descender is a series about a robot boy who wakes up on an abandoned mining outpost, finds his robot dog, befriends a drilling robot, and goes on to find his "brother," a human who evacuated the facility and pursued his own life which was not so great. But this is a heartwarming series which speaks to the condition of humanity and how we view each other and how easily we put blame to entire groups as well as help mold the groups into our own hateful view despite how anybody behaves. In this case it is the robots. At some point in history (roughly ten or so years before the present day), gigantic robots appeared out of nowhere and laid a near extinction of many races. As a result, robots are outlawed by the primary cosmic government and how many worlds employ bounty hunters or use robots destructively for their own enjoyment. Caught in the middle of it all is a scientist who helped develop androids but may have more secrets regarding their origin than people know, a blue skinned government agent who was tasked with locating this android boy because of his potential relation to the mysterious space robots. But it's a comic all about characters, and boy howdy does this deliver. I always have a hard time deciding whether this or Saga is my favorite space odyssey. A series that always makes a week jump up three points on a 1-10 scale alone with it's individual release.
- Saga -So goes one, must go the other. Saga is the story of a family trying to survive and find one another in a universe that wants them to be anything but fine and happy. Or alive. Two idealist parents have a child while on the run, get a ghost baby sitter, the father's mother and father come crashing in, and they're being hunted by a robot with a television for a head. That's just the start of it. But there's so much more which can't be easily described. The universe is so well built and interesting with such great characters that this is always such a damn pleasure to read. A mature comic that doesn't rely on everybody just being a sad sack of shit and more of the personal struggles of those in a hard situation, this comic is one I just cannot recommend enough. There's no describing it. And as I write this out it comes out as my favorite space odyssey again. For now.
- Black Panther -Oh wow. Great series. This is one of those ones that really peel back a bit of the superhero world and shows a bit more of the personal pieces of the heroes lives, and none have one of the more interesting environments than the King of Wakanda, T'Challa the Black Panther. We're introduced into a country in the midst of civil war who isn't happy with the king's perceived inability to properly lead and cause destruction and desires to be with the Avengers and not them. It doesn't help he wants to make friends with Namor, also known as the Atlantean king who tried to kill all of Wakanda with a tidal wave. Loyal subjects break ranks to help bring their own form a justice as they question their true purpose in life and the more spiritual roots of the Black Panther come to the forefront to blend perfectly with the cold technology which Wakanda was relying more on. With a sister who is missing under mysterious circumstances (and the Panther is trying to resurrect), and a country who is under siege from within by conspirators and without by parties only interested in the resources of the country, a hero must show why people continue to call him King T'Challa in person and not just the Black Panther. And I cannot get enough of it.
Here we go. Hoo boy. Fantastic series post Rebirth. In fact, much of DC post Rebirth is just splendid. Everybody who complains about Superman completely fails to realize why they dislike Superman and focuses entirely on he is a boring super strong character, but failing to see the best Superman stories are stories which deal with his character. And this series post-Rebirth? Has been entirely about character and his effects on others. To this, I have combined the Superman series and Action Comics as one for one tiny but growing reason: Jon Kent, the brand new Superboy. Superman's son and his interactions with his father and mother just make this series superb. From Supes trying to be a father to his son to Lois trying to be a supporting and individual character is just so damn fulfilling. Superman trying to step into the shoes of the New 52 Superman have just been interesting and we get so much good character structure from the more hurting Superman to the more emotionally sure Superman who makes time to go to a state fair with his family while still stopping some vandals. And you wanna know my favorite arc in this respective combination (despite it not being a crossover)? Hands down? Absolutely sure? Superboy and Robin being forced to interact, work with one another, and become friends in the buildup to their own solo series. The part where Superman cannot get his son a gift for Christmas because all of his wackier villains decide to attack no matter how many times he tries, and just when Clark has a chance to finally get the gift? It's picked up right before he could reach it by none other than Damian Wayne who gifts it to Jon and the two bond over playing with the video game system while the two dads watch on and smile. Always an uplifting read these two. Oh, and with making Darywn Cooke's Dinosaur Island from The New Frontier now being canon? When I saw the evidence which got my hopes up and finally seeing the scribe of the Losers on that rock wall? It made me feel 8 years old all over again.
- Superman/Action Comics -
- Ms. Marvel -Not the one you're thinking of, she's Captain Marvel now. This series is about one Kamala Khan, a young Inhuman who patterned her heroic career from Captain Marvel and took her name as an homage and as an icon to give her courage and a purpose. A young muslim girl who has to deal with the struggles of family, personal life, and superheroics has been nothing short of reminding me of Spider-Man's first years of being a superhero and bringing a refreshment and new way to how comics wrote characters. While I don't think Kamala can quite revolutionize the industry, she definitely feels like a brand new generation of superheroes in a way Superboy brought and Gravity failed to do. She definitely helped usher in a new era better than the Young Avengers, Damian Wayne, and many others have tried. And speaking of Kamala...
- Champions -Suffering Sappho! Talk about a series with just a very small amount of issues wormed its way into my heart. This series literally got its start in two different other comic lines, but I don't care because this is so much good stuff. The idea is simple: Back to basics. This is just like the Young Avengers, or how the ANAD Avengers, or really any team has been reattempting int he past few years. A superhero team who works on superhero stuff without too much underlying politics trying to drive them to want and fight one another. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy those dynamics like I did in Uncanny Avengers and UltronPym, but just to have a superhero team who sees the destruction they do and feel like they can do more and not feel the need to be anchored down? Fucking wonderful. I have no real love for Amadeus Hulk, but putting Nova, Spider-Man!Miles, young Cyclops, and fucking Viv Vision? You sold me so damn hard they could almost have sold an issue with the only goings on being the Champions trying on new costumes and I would buy it. 2017 is going to be their year. I hope. Marvel has a tendency to cancel good books.
- The Vision -Hee hee hee. Character story about an emotionless robot who is trying to fit in and so he creates a family of other synthezoids like himself and it goes horribly horribly wrong? Just take my damn money. This was a great piece about consequences and how what we want and how much we try to apply reason it won't always work. Enter the Vision, a hero of the Avengers and his newly created wife, Virginia, and his twin son and daughter Vin and Vivian Vision. It is a brilliant series which focuses on how Vision's detachment and pressures he puts on his family really only works against his overall plan as their minds aren't as well developed as his own and... well... there's another reason, but I can't spoil it. It's a mini series, which makes me sad and happy since it won't try to drag it out. But dear God is it so much great reading and Viv is going to continue existing in the Champions.
- Mighty Thor -Let me get some flak for this one. I've actually really enjoyed this series in how superhero-y it is. Shedding off some of the drama of Thor, but keeping in some of the politics of Asgardia while expanding on the roles of everybody else. It's so devilishly good with watching someone who is so intimately knowledgeable of Thor and his working doing her best to fill a role she knows the weight of while also dying from cancer and giving brand new life to characters in the Norse mythology we have been denied for a long time. Malekith wearing Thor Odinson's arm, Loki resuming his role as a third party, the light elves just having the best names, Freya and so many others. Mjolnir even got a whole big backstory reveal and in that same week Toriko had a big issue everybody was talking about for its scale. The Mjolnir story made it look like Toriko's characters were all squabbling over a gas station disposable lighter. It was extreme. And so many villains got great revamps, and Obliette is always so cool.
- The Wicked + The Divine -A comic about mortals being reawakened as gods in an endless cycle meant to hold off the cataclysm, but something more sinister may be hiding behind the scenes. This is actually a pretty clever look at what regular people would do if they were given two years of doing whatever they want as extremely famous and empowered beings. Especially as some of them are just straight up basically real life people. Lucifer (Lucy) is female David Bowie, Sakhmet is Rihanna, and I swear Baal is Kanye West. Either way, there's a lot going on with this series and it's best experienced without too much being told. This is the opposite of what I was praising with the Champions, where the internal conflict threatening to tear the Pantheon apart is just so wonderfully done.
- Alien: Defiance -I struggled like hell about this one. I badly wanted to put another comic in this spot, but I've had too much fun with this one to not put it in here. This is a comic series about a female marine who has defected from the marines alongside an android who has gained higher sentience and individuality on a mission to destroy all stations dealing with xenomorphs before the marines can capitalize on the research and samples and turn the xenomorphs into a weapon. This series ultimately doesn't have a ton of meat on it, but it's still young and everytime it releases I am just so damn excited. The marine in question is handicapped from an injury and is fighting her crippling while the android is becoming more damaged, and when they find a doctor it turns out this doctor has an alien implanted in her. There are definitely comics out there people love a lot more than this one, but for me I just really love this comic. Probably because it's a character comic and it's clear I love character comics.
\/ Honorable Mentions \/
So many great comics come out over a line, but for one reason or another didn't make this list. Here is but a sampling: Captain America: Sam Wilson (almost made the ten), Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Deathstroke, Titans, All New All Different Avengers/Avengers, Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns, Earth 2: Society, Aquaman, Lake of Fire, Daredevil, Bombshells, Judge Dredd vs Predator vs Aliens, Judge Dredd, and so many more.
/\ The Single Best Series of the Year /\Only one series can reign supreme and I cheated by elevating it above the top ten and other honorable mentions. This series had everthing, so don't let me wait any longer
- Flash -
There was no series I loved more than Flash post Rebirth. This series had absolutely everything: Character, drama, tension, high runs, action, levity, humor, EVERYTHING. Sweet Zombie Jesus did this book push me to the wall every single damn time. With its shout outs to how it handled the mentor/protege mechanic and hints of what makes the Flash so great were on display in supersize format. And the best part is there were just so many good individual books in this series: When (original) Wally runs into town (no pun intended) and arrives just when there is some tension between the new Kid Flash and Barry (who's identity is unknown to Kid Flash and Iris), and Kid Flash is clearly struggling as a hero. Wally runs with him a bit and shares his experiences as the Kid Flash while they're going around and fighting some crime and it's just so damn wonderful and perfect. It even ends with all of them getting together and Barry talking about how he saw something he wasn't supposed to but hinted toward it being something just fantastic. What was it? The helmet of Jay Garrick. Jesus Christ my heart was pounding in excitement. And another couple issues? The SHADE was in town, talking about how going straight and worrying about not indulging himself was going to hurt his love and so his powers grew out of control and the Kid Flash being rebellious and not learning the lessons Barry was teaching him (Wally!New was benched because he was ditching school and so he was doing heroics on his own and ran into Shade), but upon accepting the trust Barry has in Wally and the strength of Iris (just read it) they were able to overcome everything and everybody walked away on friendly terms. But damn this series. It is so beautifully done and every Flash character this year has just been so damn awesome. It extends past the Flash comic with Wally in Titans and how he just basically was tricked by Kadabra into running so fast it would force him into the speed force but with his last breath he went to visit a Linda Park who no longer even knew who he was and thereby denying Wally an anchor to his world. So great. And the Shade pushing Barry into being more than a hero and accept his feelings for Iris and the bravery to pursue it? The whole fractured speedsters and Godspeed and affirming the difference between a hero and just some guy with powers? ARGH! It was such a wonderful run so far that no matter what in a given week this is my last read because all comics after it feel like let downs. Without any doubt in my mind, without any hesitation in my heart, did this comic achieve the outstanding best series of the year because no matter what, no series reached the same highs and so damn consistently to boot. I implore anybody and everybody to rush out and read this series post Rebirth.
/\ Worst Series of the Year /\ I couldn't find a poop enough brown, but whatever.
Honestly I kind of suck at this since I wasn't keeping tabs like I should. But I felt like this had to be in here since a best of list has nothing without the contrast of a worst of component.
Now normally I can come up with an entire list of bad lines or individual comics I just hated, but this year was particularly hard. It's not because comics were only good this year. No, I only WISH that were the problem.
No. That's a fevered dream.
It's because one series was so bad, so unbelievably awful, so apocalyptically overshadowing that all other releases this year looked like each one were co-written by William Shakespeare and Jules Verne while high on drugs which draw out their most beautiful abilities and creativity.
I speak of only one series.
- Civil War II - Let's be perfectly honest: I enjoy the vast majority of comics. In fact I always have the hardest damn time coming up with lists about comics I dislike. I can dislike comics for many reasons such as political, writer association, or whatever. But there was definitely one entire series this year that I hated thoroughly. So much that it always sicks out in my mind whenever this subject comes up. Marvel's follow up to it's mid 2000's Civil War in name only, since it has jack all to do with that conflict and even spits in its face. There was nothing as infuriating as Marvel running it's annual big event and then completely fucking it up in classic Marvel style. Everything from poor characterization, to bad writers, to poor balancing, to an inability to keep a straight narrative is on display here. At no point did Marvel pull back and plan this thing out properly at first and went full force in trying to capitalize on its popular movie. Featured is a Captain Marvel who has arguably gone through character development to become a near intolerable person who seems to barely have a handle on her situation of trying to utilize an Inhuman which can tell the future, but it's handled with all the subtlety of the Scarlet Witch from Avengers Disassembled, and if that sounds just a little too specific then let me tell it's because Bendis is at the helm of this and when he tries to write a female character who's meant to be strong but flawed it comes across as someone white knuckling a situation and has all the emotional stability of an earthquake. Always unsure of herself in one issue, perfectly sure of her mission in another, saddened by her situation in another issue, feverishly angry at people not seeing her way in another. The only comparison would be Iron Man in the original Civil War having a really bad characterization problem.
And it doesn't stop there. Carol is portrayed as an overly aggressive and unbalanced figure throughout the entire primary series. This is complemented by how we don't get a great idea of just what the fuck is going on in the main series. We know the heroes keep meeting up and fighting over this Inhuman, Ulysses, but the question is asked then immediately dropped until the end just how he divines the future and how accurate these visions are. The underlying theme is Iron Man vs Captain Marvel, similar to the first Civil War and the idea of freedom vs predictive justice. Arguably we can say Iron Man almost follows characterization in fighting the man despite ten years ago he would have been more than happy to be in Carol's position (and is smartly brought up in a side series), but what doesn't save it is the uncharacteristic Iron Man coming off as similarly unbalanced as Carol. While I've heard the excuse that they're both heavily hurt by the death of Rhodes (Carol's boyfriend and Stark's longtime best friend if we ignore a lot of history) and that's the entire point. With Rhodes dying, the two characters are meant to be brought down to an even investment level and how people react to such a loss, but the problem is both of these characters have lost on levels like this before. This isn't their first rodeo, and for their behavior to be as such ignores history as it stands. Granted this is Bendis, so that's par for the course. I can go on and on and on. Oh yeah, there was an entire issue inserted while the series was already in release because the writing staff felt it was needed to help add to the tone. I read it. COMPLETE FUCKING WASTE. In a now eight issue series, it was pure fucking filler. It added zero shit to the story which would have been, and god damn me for advocating this, better told in a side comic like Spider-Man. And the worst part is that the whole whammy between Spider-Man and Captain America WAS COVERED IN THEIR RESPECTIVE SERIES ANYWAY. The extra issue was a shitty rehash. And because of the extra edition and Marvel's typical "release when we damn well feel like it" totally destroyed the impact of Tony Stark's death. Was that a spoiler? Well it was REVEALED OVER A MONTH AGO in multiple comics. Geez, I wonder what that broken helmet on issue 8 means? You mean this was revealed in Avengers, Infamous Iron Man, and Invincible Iron Man? Well fuck me across the transverse colon. In a year where some guy in the Justice League had a hand written code which could crack the codes and take over Cyborg and a Green Lantern ring, a writer basically wrote a watered down Squirrel Girl with Patsy Walker aka Hellcat, and pretty much anything DC released in the first four months of the year could a series be so bad those are downright enjoyable? It makes my eyes hurt from the rise of blood pressure. If you told me at the beginning of 2016 Civil War II was going to be so bad it would throw off my sense of what makes a good or bad comic across the rest of the industry, I would have scoffed claiming I knew it wasn't going to be that good, but ultimately I wouldn't believe it would be that bad. But here we are at the end of 2016 with one of the absolutely down worst runs of a series I've read in a long time. Is it Act of God bad? No. But the fact I had to make sure to rate it against Act of God tells you exactly where this pile of shit Thor's goat dumped out rates as a comic series.
/\ Best Step Forward /\I commonly get told that I focus a lot on the negatives in comics, and that's because I see so many places comics can improve and usually most people just ask me about the worst things in comics. "What did you think was the worst/dumbest/silliest/scandalous part about comics/industry/imprint/trades/etc.?" And I love comics so much that when I see something bad it is magnified by a hundred fold as something which hurts. So let me talk about a highlight this year and how it helped positively impact the comic industry in general.
I think everybody saw this one coming with how much I was talking about it earlier, but it really deserves this spot. DC for a little over half a decade was fighting an uphill climb with critical reviews about how their New 52 was a lake of fetid corpses and how it's entire grimdark was just so bad that Marvel and Image were outperforming it hand over fist because people were just so tired of that crap. Now let me give DC credit in trying to stay the course and push and hope that people would accept the new reality, but eventually they realized it wasn't working out too well and they decided to reinstall the legacy they purposely removed. Not all the way, mind you, but in a way which really helped restore a lot of the lightness and heroism the New 52 was filled to the brim with. Wonder Woman smiled again, Superman became a positive icon in his universe again, the heroes weren't always mad as hell and incapable of little else. It was just damn wonderful than DC could find a common ground which still pushed forward the narrative it wanted but able to reapply what people did love about DC comics. Well, most people at least. Some people will be GeeWunners forever, but they're also the same people who believe comics are a safe space for guys only and that women readers ruin comics. So they can suck the newly heroic(?) Victor Von Doom's dick while taking it up the rearside by Doomsday.
- DC Rebirth -
Overall, it's been a pretty rough year for us as a people and as comic lovers. But overall, I would say it's been a pretty positive one if not for Civil War II.