It’s that time of year that everyone is talking about their favorite (blank) of the year, and we have a wide range of media we cover here at ComicBuzz. However, Sean and Tony take the opportunity to talk about comics again, and cover the books they loved. So what made our lists? And what’s on yours?
This year saw a shift in the comic industry. While the “Big Guys” sync their characters up with their cinematic counterparts, many readers looked to smaller publishers for more heartfelt stories. We actually struggled, not in preparing this list, but in explaining the somewhat intangible reasons we loved these books so much. It isn’t some bombastic event, cliffhanger or character choice, but instead, comic creators just unleashing their skill and obvious love of this medium. The theme running through these titles we’ll discuss is that each looks at aspects of our humanity against the backdrop of the fantastic only comic books can provide.
Batman by Tom King, David Finch, Mikel Janin, Clay Mann, Joelle Jones and co.
Tom King’s run on Batman started with a bit of a stumble in my opinion, with the opening arc, I am Gotham. However, by issue #6, it took a leap, and hasn’t touched the ground since. In 2017 though, King and his regular rotation of artists stepped it up, starting with the Batman/Catwoman 2-parter Rooftops, segueing into I Am Bane, the Flash crossover The Button, THEN following that with two massively powerful one-offs, and then the absolutely fantastic War of Jokes and Riddles. That doesn’t even get us to the end of the year, and yet it’s an AMAZING body of work.
The series’ strength has been in its portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman as a very human being. I am Bane was all about Batman nearly getting himself killed just to save one vastly important life. The Brave and the Mold was about grief and coping with loss. The War of Jokes and Riddles drove Batman to the brink, and one of his worst enemies prevented him from going over the edge.
Couple all of that with the convincing revival of the love story between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Batman spent the year transitioning from must-read to top-of-the-pile, all while maintaining an unbelievable standard of quality. There’s no doubt that this is the best ongoing comic being produced by the Big Two.
Mister Miracle by King and Mitch Gerads
And while we’re on the topic of Tom King and Mitch Gerads, the two frequent collaborators joined in DC’s year-long celebration of Jack Kirby’s birthday with this twelve part series focusing on the most heroic of the King’s DC creations. The duo, using the infamous nine-panel grid that King wrote to great effect in Omega Men, weave a tale about Scott Free attempting to escape for the last time from everything that has made his life a living hell.
The series opens with a suicide attempt. It continues with the assassination of Scott’s father, a brutal war between New Genesis and Apokalips, Orion’s brutal rule as the new Highfather, and a trial set in an Earth-bound living room, all with two words hanging in the air over each moment. Through it all, King writes a brilliant character piece with Scott’s depression at the center, but also the loving and very realistic relationship with Barda.
This wouldn’t be the book it is without Mitch Gerads’ art though. His facial expressions are top notch. His action is exceptional. And his capability to build dread throughout has sold that feeling each and every issue, whether it’s static turning a talk-show host into a Lovecraftian horror, a train devastating the crate Scott just disappeared into, or the entire trial…
It’s an exceptional book that will be talked about for years, if not decades, to come.
Captain America by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
It seems cheap to include a series that’s only released two issues this year, but what issues are they. After the tough year Captain America had, what with becoming a NAZI and all, there were rumblings that Steve Rogers might be a toxic character for a little while. Then Marvel announced that their best creative duo- Waid and Samnee- were taking the title, and fandom breathed a sigh of relief.
The anticipation and relief was quickly justified. Waid and Samnee immediately took Steve Rogers back to basics, with him doubting his place in the world, but not his role. This is captured quickly as Steve proves himself as a hero for the common man, and states that it’s important for those with power to protect the weak and not take advantage. Also, importantly, he almost immediately begins punching Nazis.
As I said, it’s only been a couple issues, and the lingering effects of Marvel’s Secret Empire will hang over the title for months if not years, but as long as this duo are the ones trying to get rid them, we’ll continue to love it.
The Defenders by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez
Let’s be frank- the worst thing about this series is that it took Marvel SO DAMN LONG to realize it should happen.
With the launch of the Netflix project of the same name, Marvel united the four series leads- Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist- with the scribe responsible (wholly or in part) for each of their modern prominence- Brian Michael Bendis- and his longtime artistic collaborator David Marquez. What emerged was creative dynamite, with the quartet trying to stop a gang war before it spilled into the streets of New York. It’s been tense, action packed, and thrilling. The fight between Iron Fist and Elektra from issue #7 is probably the best fight sequence of the year, and the series has been full of amazing moments like that.
Bendis’ story is wrapping up early next year, in anticipation of his move to DC. That means the fate of the series is a bit up in the air, but hopefully that just means that a new creative team is in the wings to continue the team’s adventures. Even if not though, at least we’ll have ten nearly perfect issues to treasure for years to come.
Bloodshot Salvation by Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan, Lewis Larosa
Anyone who told me a few years ago that Valiant’s best series would star their Wolverine/ Punisher pastiche would have elicited a laugh. I mean, Bloodshot was a character so entrenched in the decade of grim and gritty that elevating the concept seemed damn near impossible. In this follow up to Lemire’s Bloodshot Reborn, we find Bloodshot trying to reclaim some semblance of normalcy as Ray Garrison with his new wife and daughter. As things often do in comics, things start to go wrong, and it all centers on the past- one part Magic’s past, one part Ray’s. It comes to an explosive and bloody collision at the end of #3, with Bloodshot’s nanites deactivated mid-fight.
Meanwhile, a mysterious second storyline set in the future has revealed Ray has died in the meantime… or has he? While Ray’s family and friends try to discover where he is, they’re hunted by the mysterious Rampage, who’s essentially a reverse Bloodshot.
It’s incredibly tense and well written spy adventures, and it all looks amazing. Suayan and Larosa are complementary in style, but different enough to make the two time periods very distinct.
It’s a great looking book, and proof that fantastic superhero books don’t just come from Marvel and DC.
Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
Sorry Robert Kirkman, but the best ongoing horror comic book is hands down this Southern Gothic series by Bunn and Crook. The duo continued to build their horrifying world by putting their protagonist Emmy in a new headspace and bringing back her wicked sister Kammi. The story also brought back Bernice and made the young woman infinitely more interesting with her new witch hunter role.
Crook’s art is perhaps the most under-appreciated in comics. The linework is expressive and cartoony. It conveys the horror of the situation wonderfully. Then you add Crook’s painted colors, which elevates the series to completely new level, with pages that feel more like fine art.
It’s the whole package and a wonderful series for anyone.
God Country by Donny Cates & Geoff Shaw
A small Texas town is rocked by a strange storm that drops a giant, magical sword on the home of the Quinlans, a family already being torn apart by their father’s Alzheimer’s. Wielding the sword restores Emmett’s memory, but the family’s reunion is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a race of Kirby-esque space gods who mean to return the sword to their king.
God Country has amazing action and visuals, but is a story about letting go at its heart. All the characters are unwilling to give up the life they’ve known, even when the universe is literally pulling them from it. Shaw’s art is sharp and gritty, but still manages to capture the heartfelt moments amazingly well. Only six short issues, this is tightly written series that reads fast, leaving the reader wanting more in the best way.
Joyride by Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly & Marcus To
Joyride, from Boom Studios, started as a four issue miniseries that was later expanded into a 12 issue limited series. Centering around a cobbled-together group of misfits that were all looking for a different path in life, and in the universe, than what was forced upon them. This journey takes them into deep space, away from an Earth that has succumb to such ravenous xenophobia they’ve constructed an impenetrable shield around the planet, and cut themselves off from the galactic community.
What I enjoyed about this book was how it skillfully handled family dynamics, personal identity and love. These elements took this high concept space opera and kept it remarkably grounded. There really is a little something in here for everyone. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Marcus To’s beautiful artwork. Whether by design or not, I see a touch of Akira-creator Otomo’s style in his work, and the vivid colors make this book jump off the shelf.
Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston
Mysteriously exiled after a cataclysmic battle with the Anti-God, the champions of Spiral City must figure out life in a small town which has become their prison.
Jeff Lemire has created his own superhero universe in the Black Hammer. Though the characters are mostly proxies for established characters, here Lemire is untethered by editorial and canonical mandates. While each character is seen as a hero in the public eye, they’re all dealing with some dark secret or insecurity that makes their stories so much more interesting. We don’t know much about the titular Black Hammer, but with the introduction of his daughter, who finds a way to the pocket dimension while searching for him, we learn more about the deceased hero, and what might have brought our heroes to this town.
Not so dissimilar to Lemire’s own artstyle, Ormston is a great fit on this book. A little bit of weird and awkward caters to the overall feel of the story, and Dave Stewart’s muted palette has the look of a watercolored storybook.
Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson
Extremity takes place in the future after an unknown event destroyed the Earth, sending pieces of the land floating skyward, and what’s left of humanity has broken into warring clans. Our protagonists, a pair of siblings from the Roto clan, are the children of their leader who seeks to destroy the Paznina clan. Within the family, each has a drastically different point-of-view when it comes to the life of constant war. This internal struggle takes them to the far reaches of the floating plains, and eventually down to the destroyed planet seeking an end to the war.
Johnson has made a truly unique and cohesive book with Extremity. He blends fantasy and sci-fi wonderfully, giving everything from dragon-mounted warriors to indestructible androids, all brought to life in his wispy art style.
Honorable Mentions (Sean)
I tried to highlight some of the lesser-known titles of 2017, but I’m still enjoying some of the, longer, ongoing series like Deadly Class, Saga, East of West, Descender, Southern Bastards and Black Science. There’s also been a few new series like Punisher: The Platoon, Slots and Godshaper that are incredible books, but are still in their infancy, so we’ll just have to wait and see how they turn out. There’s already been some interesting books announced for 2018, so watch the shelves and try new books, you might find your next must-read when you least expect it.
Honorable Mentions (Tony)
Kyle Higgins and company’s work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers deserves a mention simply for elevating the concept into a great superhero action movie. Mech Cadet Yu from Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa was one of the funnest sci-fi launches of the year. Dan Slott and Mike Allred wrapped their fabulous Silver Surfer run, with a series that I hope is regarded as the character’s best for generations as it deserves. Donny Cates and Gabriel Walta’s Doctor Strange is just getting started but I have a feeling it’s another that will be talked about for years. Charles Soule has had a stellar year with three wonderful buzzworthy books- Astonishing X-Men with rotating artists, Darth Vader with Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Curse Words with Ryan Browne. Gail Simone and Cat Staggs launched one of the best crime books in years with Crosswind and I can’t wait for more of that. And in a year that was defined by event fatigue at the Big Two, I definitely think Dark Nights: Metal was a great rush, and a better event than anything we’ve gotten from the Big Two in a long time.
Sean M. Morse contributed in creating this list.