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6 Flawed Video Games for a Flawed 2016

It’s been a year.

I’m struggling to find a way to even begin to pithily encapsulate 2016 in a sentence or two, and I’m not alone. America elected a president who campaigned on a platform of white supremacy, set against a backdrop of a world that’s increasingly turning to strongmen and parties embracing authoritarianism, hatred, and the far-right wing. We witnessed horrors across the globe and lost too many voices who’ve been pillars of our community. We’ve almost unanimously declared 2016 a terrible year, and are definitely ready to move on.

But before we do, I want to pause and reflect on 2016 for a second, specifically from the perspective of video games. This isn’t a top ten list (a la most outlets), or an opinions battle royale (a la Giant Bomb), or a video-game-high-school-superlative-and-fanfiction-yearbook (a la Waypoint), although maybe I can convince Graphic Policy to do something like the latter next year.

No, this is a list of games I played this past year. All of them are flawed (some of them deeply), like the year itself. They range in scale from the biggest-budget mainstream titles to small, quiet independent games. And hell, many of them didn’t even come out in 2016.

But all of them made me think about myself and this world in different ways. And for that I’m grateful. So here’s a set of games that had an impact on me this year.

The “Insidious Structural Oppression” Award: Dragon Age: Inquisition

dragon-age-inquisitionOh Dragon Age. You’re such a weird franchise. You splattered blood all over my face constantly in Dragon Age: Origins, gave me plenty of choices that all seemed wrong in Dragon Age II and suggested plenty of romantic options in both games that didn’t quite feel right.

And then along came Dragon Age: Inquisition.

There’s an entire article I’ll write at some point about this game, but let me for now just say that Dragon Age: Inquisition tells a captivating narrative that’s full of hard choices and political intrigue. Tensions between liberalism and authoritarianism, faith and freedom are commonplace; these conflicts aren’t new to the Dragon Age series. What is new is that the world feels more real and, well, heavier than ever before. The game is full of covert and overt prejudice (e.g. characters called my elven character “knife-ears” throughout the entire story), and forces the player to choose how they’re going to deal with it (or to simply ignore it). I certainly tend to see things through a lens of power and privilege, but I’m far from alone in seeing how unique Inquisition is in confronting these ugly realities compared to the first two games in the series. Inquisition made me interrogate my own beliefs and perspective in a way that games almost never do, especially games as popular and mainstream as the Dragon Age series.

Also, there’s a mission called “Oh, Shit,” so this game should be on everyone’s award list.

The “2016-est Game of 2016” Award: XCOM 2

xcom-2The first XCOM was a gritty, difficult tactical game where you built a multinational military squad to fight off an alien invasion. You, as their trusted Commander, built up a base of operations, directed research and construction, and commanded your squad in the field. As you grew with your team, they became like family–they developed skills, they got nicknames, they suffered horrifying wounds and maybe, slowly got better. And every time a soldier fell in battle, it was jarring and upsetting, as one of XCOM’s defining features was permadeath: no coming back for any fallen member of the team. If one of your favorite squaddies perished, that was that.

The second XCOM utilizes a very similar set of gameplay mechanics, and it ups the oppressive feeling by starting from a surprising story premise: humanity lost. The alien invasion was successful, and we now live under the dominion of a seemingly invincible alien legion. From the very beginning to the very end, this is a game about a desperate, nearly hopeless resistance. Not only does each decision and sacrifice feel difficult, but the backdrop isn’t “be careful, there’s aliens out there!”, it’s “each time you mess up, we’re inching closer and closer to the end of humanity as we know it.” These kinds of absurd stakes are commonplace in video games, but the notion somehow feels real and earned in XCOM 2. In a country and world that feels increasingly on the brink, XCOM 2 feels downright portentous in its mood, if not the actual events of the story.

Yes, it has crushing technical problems and load times that are beyond absurd (for the record, repeatedly pressing CAPS LOCK may speed up your load time; it may also extremely crash your computer, so, great), but it also has a soulful darkness that makes it even more compelling than the first game.

The “Fond Memories of AIM” Award: Cibele

cibeleCibele is a game that resists easy description and categorization. Cibele is Nina Freeman’s introspective, raw memory of growing up in the early days of the internet. Even articulating the gameplay gives away the discovery of the experience, so I’ll only draw a slight note: despite a few not-amazing control and interactive design choices, Cibele is an enrapturing game about emotion, sex, communication, and technology, and it achieves this goal even though you’re not really playing that much.

And kudos to Nina Freeman for not only showing the vulnerability to conceive of and develop this game but the courage to also star in the cinematic sequences that occur throughout the story.

The “If It Ain’t Broke, Change it Completely” Award: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

civilization_vi_cover_artI never liked the music of Civilization V.

I know that’s weird to fixate on–the storied empire-building franchise that began 25 (!) years ago is about so much more than its soundtrack–but the music plays a big role in drawing me into the world and gameplay of Civilization. For me, the changes in Civilization V were sweeping and wonderful, but the music felt distant and aloof; it was like a constant feeling that someone I didn’t like very much was selecting the playlist and smirking at me all the while. That feeling, unfortunately, translated to how I felt as I played the game.

So when I launched Civilization VI for the first time and wanted to start humming along to the epic main menu music, I crossed my fingers. Maybe this was my year.

It was my year.

The new and different features are myriad: the introduction of the district system (in an almost Endless-Legend-like way), a totally revamped culture system, a substantially different art style, gameplay achievement-like boosts, and customized music for nearly every civilization–this is a game that takes bold risks, and nearly all of them succeed.

It has some kinks to iron out–the religious system and religious victory are annoying and extraneous, the barbarians are hilariously powerful (as they should be?), and the game mechanics lend themselves to overwhelming micromanagement on anything but the smallest maps–but make no mistake, Civilization VI is a triumph.

And yes, I have the soundtrack.

The “I Never Play Online Multiplayer Games, But I Played This Online Multiplayer Game” Award: Overwatch

Cheers, love! The cavalry’s here!

The “Evie is a Really Cool Name” Award: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

assassins-creed-syndicateI’m almost an Assassin’s Creed apologist.

I know, I know. They’ve made 400 games in the space of a few years, the stories are often cookie-cutter and their self-seriousness is whimsical considering the absurdity of the overarching universe. I get it. But at their best, they tackle real issues about power, choice, the role of government, the responsibility we have to each other, and so much more.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is a fun romp through a London going through the Industrial Revolution, following Evie and Jacob Frye, an Assassin sister-brother duo aiming to topple the choking vice-grip that Templars have on their city. You’ll free child laborers, apprehend criminals, and of course, assassinate all the time. Along the way, you befriend Dickens and Darwin, and an optional DLC takes you up against Jack the Ripper himself.

Ubisoft has made small changes that really improve the gameplay flow of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and the ability to play as Evie or Jacob at almost any point is fun and varied (although they play nearly identically). The game wants to focus on class and even lightly touches on issues like British colonialism, which is great to see in a game that could’ve just been enjoyable accents and carriages.

As with all games, there are problems here and there; one small annoyance is that the game’s internal logic feels twisted in more than a few occasions. Your adversaries (conveniently dressed in red), for example, fight you at every turn, are connected to the Templars, and you battle and kill them often. But as soon as you take over a territory, you watch a canned cutscene where Evie and Jacob look out amongst a crowd of red-dressed hooligans and say “You work for us now!” and then after the cheers subside…they work for you now. Seriously? It doesn’t break the game, but this to-and-fro of somewhat-adroit awareness and feckless dimwittedness is unfortunately, a regular occurrence throughout the main campaign.

But set aside the ramblings of a man that’s obsessed with internal logic, and grab your stovepipe hat and wrist blade and have a blast in not-quite-steampunk London.

The “Low Chaos, Low Fun” Award: Dishonored 2

dishonored_2_cover_artDishonored 2 wasn’t fun.

My hours and hours sneaking through the game as a supposed stealth and combat master were mostly spent dying in spectacularly embarrassing ways. Teleport next to this guard…oops, she saw me. Reload my quicksave. Okay, go around the other side, hit the button–wait, why isn’t the button wor… Reload my quicksave.

Dishonored 2 gives you a few more options to deal with your adversaries in nonlethal ways, but this is still a game that focuses on giving you creative ways to murder people. So when I tried to (both from a roleplaying and from a moral perspective) go about the game trying to kill absolutely no one, I didn’t get much help from the game’s user interface, controls, or (ugh) load times. There’s a lot more that the game could do to make this more accessible–provide more nonlethal open combat options, make more of the weapons stun instead of kill, provide an on-screen notification of when you’ve gone from sneaky protagonist to killer–but on the other hand, it’s probably not supposed to be easy. The “good” path in real life (to the extent such a thing even exists) isn’t easy either. So maybe being “good” should correlate to the difficult path, as you see (to a degree) in games like the Fable series.

But there’s the problem–Dishonored 2, like the first game, doesn’t have a morality system a la Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. The notion of morality in the Dishonored universe is referred to as Chaos, and Chaos is measured only by the number of human lives you take. While I like the idea of challenging silly binaries of morality (remember a decade or so ago, when “choice in games” meant selecting either “save the orphanage” or “burn down the orphanage”), the idea that the body count is the only important metric is a bizarre decision at best.

One example of this questionable approach to good and evil is with the main objective in each mission: your “assassination target.” In Dishonored 2 (and the first game), for every target, there’s a nonlethal option. But sometimes, the nonlethal option feels even more ruthless than killing the target outright–outcomes range from a lifetime working in the mines with one’s tongue cut out to forcing a target to live out the rest of her days with her stalker/attacker. These are horrifying fates to subject someone to, but the game is smart enough only for the equation that nonlethal equals good.

So when I’m praised at the end for the judicious and good-hearted way that I completed the story’s objectives (floweringly called the “Low Chaos” end), it doesn’t just feel weird, it feels wrong.

But the world of Dishonored 2 is a fascinating one, worthy of exploration, and although its morality may not line up with your own, it’s worth your time to dive in and take the game’s odd choices as a discussion starter, and not a final conclusion.


John Brougher is an actor and filmmaker out of the Los Angeles area, as well as the Chief Operating Officer of the progressive consulting firm ShareProgress. He likes narrative-driven games, dance movies, and people who self-identify as Hufflepuffs.

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Madison’s Favorite Comics of 2016

Last year I prioritized cutting back on cape books and diversifying the publishers and stories that I read. Though many of the comics I read weren’t published in 2016 (especially ones I read during Women’s History Month) I still found it hard to narrow down the list of ongoing series I particularly loved throughout the year.

Here are ten comics I couldn’t put down in 2016:

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10. Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams

This is a series I would have loved as a child. Goldie is the perfect mix of Nancy Drew and Eloise (of Plaza fame). Goldie Vance is great for a younger audience but doesn’t shy away from emotionally complex stories. Goldie and her friends are well-rounded characters with a wide range of interests who readers–young and not-young alike–will be able to relate to.

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9. Elasticator by Alan C. Medina and Kevin Shah

Elasticator is the kind of smart, political superhero comic I wish was more prevalent. The writing is fresh and interesting and Shah’s art is lively and animated with great colors from Ross A. Campbell.

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8. Snotgirl by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung

Lottie Person is just about as far away from Scott Pilgrim as you could get, though they do, at times, share a similar self-absorption. Snotgirl quickly became one of my favorite series of the year, because while not many people can say they’re successful fashion bloggers, they can likely relate to Lottie’s personal problems. Leslie Hung and Mickey Quinn provide gorgeous, vibrant visuals and the best wardrobe in comics, to boot.

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7. We(l)come Back by Christopher Sebela and Claire Roe

Reincarnation? Check. Assassins? Check. Shadowy organizations? Check. A+ fashion choices? Check. Reincarnated assassins in love running from other assassins who are trying to assassinate them? …Also check. What more can you want from a story?

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6. Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca

Shutter is one of Image’s most underrated titles. The story follows Kate Kristopher, the daughter of legendary explorer Chris Kristopher, and her discovery of some little-known family history. The comic is consistently interesting not only because of its plot, but because del Duca and colorist Owen Gieni are constantly experimenting with narrative structure and using different techniques to influence how the story is read.

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5. Clean Room by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt

Clean Room is a creepy psychological horror comic about journalist Chloe Pierce’s investigation of self-help master Astrid Mueller, who Pierce suspects is more cult leader than anything else. Or is she? Mueller is a fascinating character, and the unknowable question of which side she’s actually on only adds to the story’s suspense.

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4. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

What if you could be a god, but you’d die within two years? Consistently equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking with consistently incredible art and color from Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson. You’ve probably heard of this one.

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3. Mockingbird by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Sean Parsons, and Ibrahim Moustafa

One of the few superhero comics I read this year, Mockingbird was one of my absolute favorites. Cain writes Bobbi Morse as confident and smart, and the result was a fun mystery thriller with gorgeous art. The series also featured some of my favorite colors and covers this year, by Rachelle Rosenberg and Joelle Jones.

By the time I write my 2017 list, I might be over Mockingbird’s cancellation.

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2. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Val DeLandro

2016 was light on Bitch Planet–only four issues were released throughout the year–but continued to provide insightful and relevant commentary in what turned out to be a period of rapid change in the real-life political landscape.

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1. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress started strong in 2015 and only got better. The main character, Maika, is a teenage girl living with a monster inside, something she learns to live with and use to her advantage as the plot develops. Monstress is full of unrepentant female characters set in a stunningly rendered fantasy world.

Best Comics of 2016 – Alex’s List

Now that 2016 is in the history books (thank the fucking gods), it’s time to have a look back at some of the comics and events that really stood out for me, personally. These comics were all released this year, and in the case of a limited series if had at least two issues released this year (if a mini-series began late this year, then expect to find it on next year’s list – if it’s any good). Remember that this is all based on what I’ve read, and if your favourite comic isn’t here, it may be because I may not have read it, not because I didn’t like it.

First up there’ll be your standard Best Of categories of Ongoing Series, Mini/One Shot, Single Issue, Writer, Artist, and Colourist, then we’ll move on to a few other things I wanted to talk about.

Best Ongoing Comic

Last year I had a hell of a time with this one, so thankfully this year was much easier. Although I could have made a case for almost any of the comics listed below  (and, like last year I’m still wishing I had decided on a “top five” for this category without an overall winner), at the end of the day there really was only one comic that would end up here.

WRATH_003_COVER-A_LAFUENTEWrath Of The Eternal Warrior (Valiant) – The final issue came out in December, so technically this isn’t an ongoing anymore, and while I’ll miss the shit out of it in 2017, it sits in the top spot for 2016 (because it was an ongoing in 2016).  This was THE book of the year for me without question; although the first issue felt a lot slower than I expected, this quickly morphed into the one series I couldn’t wait to read. Robert Venditti has crafted fourteen of the most exciting, and compelling, issues about Valiant‘s immortal soldier I have ever read as he finds a way to have Gilad deal with death – and failure – in a way I haven’t seen anywhere before.

Venditti also built this series in layers as he dropped lines of dialogue and exposition in one comic that you’d be forgiven for missing, but once the inevitable pay off happened it was something special. For an action comic, Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior made you think quite a bit, and I loved every fucking moment (even the first issue after a reread six months later).

Honourable Mentions:

  • Faith (Ongoing) (Valiant) Narrowly missing the top spot, Faith has had a fantastic cast of artists joining Jody Houser all year, with each one bringing something wonderful to the table. This is a series that every comic fan should check out.
  • All-Star Batman (DC) Scott Snyder proves once more why he’s my favourite living Batman writer, and I actually enjoyed John Romita Jr’s art for the first time in a while.
  • X-O Manowar (Valiant) Another Venditti penned series, this had arguably the best concluding arc of any long running series I’ve read in a long time.

Best Limited Series or One Shot 

Voracious_02-1Voracious (Action Lab) I could tell you so many reasons why you should read this emotional tale about a time traveling chef who hunts dinosaurs, whether it’s Markisan Naso’s fantastic dialogue (and his recipes) or the wonderful artwork by Jason Muhr and colourist Andrei Tabacaru. I could tell you that comics like this are the reason you should pay attention to indie comics publishers, because if you don’t you’ll be missing out on some of the best stories  the year. But I won’t; instead I’ll tell you tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t  read this:

Honourable Mentions:

  • Klaus (BOOM!But not The Witch Of Winter. That was fucking awful, and it’s better if you pretend it didn’t exist.
  • Divinity II (Valiant) 
  • Faith: Hollywood and Vine (Valiant) 
  • Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DC/IDW) All my childhood dreams came true with this six issue miniseries that I  was expecting to suck. It didn’t! It was actually really good.

Best Single Issue

FAITH_003_COVER-A_DJURDJEVICThere’s no honourable mentions because there was nothing remotely close to Faith #3:  (Valiant) for me this year. That’s #3 from the Hollywood And Vine  miniseries, not the currently ongoing series

There was never a question of this comic not being the best single issue of 2016, and its almost entirely down to the scene where Faith literally bursts from a closet. Everything about that sequence, from her internal monologue to the character’s reactions were just perfect. I still think about that moment nearly a year later, and it still sends chills down my spine.

Best Writer

Robert Venditti (Flash, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior, X-O Manowar)

I didn’t read a bad comic written by this man all year. Obviously, some were better than others, and I didn’t read everything that Venditti put out, but what I did read was always fantastic – and you’ve probably already noticed my love for Venditti earlier on this list.

Best Artist

faith_005_cover-b_hetrickMeghan Hetrick (Red Thorn, Faith)

In a year with some truly amazing artists putting out some beautiful work, from Juan Jose Ryp, Doug Braithwaite and Robert Gill for Valiant, to David Finch, Rafa Sandoval and Patrick Gleason for DC, it was relative newcomer Meghan Hetrick who made my jaw drop with every issue and cover that she drew. Her work on Faith is what sealed her in as my top artist of the year, although her cover to the 4001 A.D. Shadowman tie in is also superb, not to mention Red Thorn. There are few artists whose work I’ll buy regardless of the writer, but Meghan Hetrick is one.

Best Colourist

Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Much Everything)

If you read more than one comic a month this year then you have probably read a comic with Jordie Bellaire’s work. She is one of the most prolific colourists around, and yet her versatility shines with each and every comic. When Jordie Bellaire’s name is on a comic, then you know it’s going to look awesome – regardless of who drew it.

Most Depressingly Canceled Comic

Red Thorn (Vertigo)

Every year comics are canceled prematurely, but Red Thorn The series was great, but sadly the sales figures just weren’t there. Treat yourself when you have a chance and go check this out. You’ll find a wonderfully illustrated tale steeped in Scottish mythology quite unlike almost anything you’ll read this year.

The Comic I Wanted To Read But Never Did

The Vision (Marvel)
I have heard nothing but great things about the twelve or so issues of Vision, and yet for some reason, I haven’t picked it up even though I’ve heard it said that this is Tom King’s finest work from 2016. but it was never on my radar because of the characters and setting involved. Maybe I’ll check out the trades at some point.

Biggest Surprises

I) Ben Affleck Was A Fantastic Batman

I hoped going into the movie that Affleck would be decent, and I suspected he would be, but I never expected him to turn in a performance that went right into my top three Batman performances – that took me completely by surprise. The theatrical cut of Batman v Superman wasn’t quite as good as Affleck’s Batman, but because of his acting (and Gal Gadot) I left the theater feeling I’d got my money’s worth.

bruce waye affleck

II) Marvel Actually Finished Civil War II

After the amount of delays this series suffered, I wouldn’t have been surprised had Marvel just quietly shuffled the final issue or two off their publishing schedule. When the next event (and it’s prequel) Inhumans Vs X-Men unintentionally start before your Big Summer Event is over, you have to ask yourself whether anybody still cares about said summer even .

III) DC Rebirth Wasn’t A Stonking Pile Of Manure

I honestly had no faith the DC’s latest reboot would be anything other than a quick cash grab with at best mediocre titles. Thankfully, i was very wrong. While there were some average titles, good comics that weren’t for me and the occasional miss, for the most part I’ve enjoyed every comic under the “Rebirth” banner (and I’ve read them all for Graphic Policy’s Rebirth Review feature). In fact, the standouts for me came from characters I previously had no time for; Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman  and the Green Lantern Corp

The Moments That Had Me Grinning Ear To Ear

I) Bill Finger’s Byline

This was the single greatest thing to happen in the comics industry this year in my eyes; Bill Finger was finally acknowledged officially as having something to do with Batman’s creation, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Marc Tyler Nobleman.

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Regardless of my thoughts on the movie, seeing Bill Finger’s name here was fantastic.

II) Interviewing Marc Tyler Nobleman

I don’t know what I expected when I reached out to the man who inspired me to write about comics, but talking to him about Bill Finger was an absolute joy.

III) Having My Reviews Quoted On Comics

This year was the first time I saw one of my reviews quoted on the cover of a comic, and it was a moment that I won’t forget anytime soon (the comic was Red Thorn #3 if you wondered). Since then I’ve seen my reviews quoted on several Valiant comics, as well. It makes me grin every time.

 



 

Well there we have it; a look back at some of the best comics that I read over the year. Agree, or disagree? Let me know!

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2016

Some amazing comics came out in 2016 from both the Big Two and the indie ranks. This was the year that I had a lot of fun reading the books that came out in the “margins” of Marvel and DC that didn’t feature their top characters, but had idiosyncratic, top notch visuals, or just a good sense of humor. Black Mask continues to be my go-to for hard hitting indie work, and the whole BOOM! Box imprint continues to be as fun as ever.

Without further ado, these are my personal favorite comics of 2016, the ones that stimulated and entertained me the most in this difficult year.

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10. Kim and Kim #1-4 (Black Mask)
Writer: Mags Visaggio Artist: Eva Cabrera Colorist: Claudia Aguirre

Kim and Kim was a super fun sci-fi miniseries with some wild and wacky worldbuilding, rollicking action scenes, and lots of hilarious interactions between the two leads, Kim Q and Kim D. Writer Mags Visaggio put their friendship front and center giving the comic a strong emotional through-line between bounty hunter shenanigans. Also, Eva Cabrera excels at drawing attractive humans as well as strange aliens, and I enjoyed Claudia Aguirre’s pastel-filled color palette. It was also nice to have a story starring two queer women not end in senseless death.

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9. Jonesy #1-8 (BOOM! Studios)
Writer: Sam Humphries Artist: Caitlin Rose Boyle Colorists: Mickey Quinn, Brittany Peer

Every year, the BOOM! Box imprint seems to churn out a new title that captures my heart. Jonesy is a fire cracker of a comic starring a teenage girl, who can make anyone fall in love with anything. Unfortunately, that power doesn’t work on her personally, and it gets her into a lot of trouble. Sam Humphries’ writing has as little chill as his protagonist, and Caitlin Rose-Boyle’s art evokes the zines that Jonesy loves to make about her favorite pop star, Stuff. The hyper-stylized plots and faces that Jonesy pulls kept me laughing while Jonesy’s struggles with finding someone to love her and her strained relationship with her mom in the second arc gave me the feels. Her and her friends’ unabashed passion for life is kind of inspiring too.

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8. Ultimates #3-12, Ultimates 2 #1-2 (Marvel)
Writer: Al Ewing Artists: Kenneth Rocafort, Christian Ward, Djibril Morrisette-Phan, Travel Foreman Colorist: Dan Brown

Ultimates and Ultimates 2 were the gold standard for team superhero book at both Marvel and DC, and not even Civil War II could stop this title’s momentum. The Al Ewing-penned comic was more of a science fiction saga that happened to star a diverse cast of superheroes than a straight up team book as they tried to find productive solutions to problems like Galactus and the Anti-Man instead of just punching things. And like all good team books, there’s some great interpersonal tension like when Black Panther puts Wakanda before the team, Ms. America defies Captain Marvel, and Spectrum and Blue Marvel start smooching. Ultimates also has some wonderful tapestry-style double page spreads from artists Kenneth Rocafort, Christian Ward, and Travel Foreman that match its multiversal scope. It’s an entertaining and esoteric comic.

 

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7. Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1-2 (DC)
Writer: Sarah Vaughn Artist: Lan Medina Colorist: Jose Villarrubia

In 2016, DC really stretched its wings genre-wise with the Young Animal imprint and comics, like a satirical take on the Flintstones. But, the best of this quirky bunch was a Gothic romance take on Deadman from Fresh Romance‘s Sarah Vaughn, Fables‘ Lan Medina, and atmospheric colorist Jose Villarrubia. The main character, Berenice, can see ghosts, including Deadman, who are trapped in a haunted British mansion. There are secret passageways, mysterious backstories, and an epic, bisexual love triangle, but mostly, Deadman is a meditation on mortality and relationships, both platonic and romantic with some jaw-dropping scenery from Medina and Villarrubia.

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6. Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat #2-13 (Marvel)
Writer: Kate Leth Artists: Brittney Williams, Natasha Allegri Colorists: Megan Wilson, Rachelle Rosenberg

Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat is a comic that acknowledges how annoying getting your life together can be for twenty-somethings, who live in the city. Kate Leth, Brittney Williams, Megan Wilson, and Rachelle Rosenberg also throw injourneys to Hell, guest appearances from Jessica Jones and Jubilee, telekinetic bisexuals quoting Hamilton, and nods to the old Patsy Walker romance comics to a quite relatable comic. Brittney Williams’ Magical Girl and Chibi-inspired art is great for comedy purposes, but she and Leth also had some emotional payoffs throughout Hellcat thanks to the relationships developed between Patsy, Ian Soo, and She-Hulk, especially when she reacts to She-Hulk’s injury in Civil War II. Hellcat is fierce, high energy comic that is the best of both romance and superhero comics with the occasional trippy scene shift from Williams, Wilson, and Rosenberg.

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5. Mockingbird  #1-8 (Marvel)
Writer: Chelsea Cain Artist: Kate Niemczyk, Sean Parsons, Ibrahim Moustafa Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Mockingbird was experimental, unabashedly feminist, pretty sexy, and just happened to star a former West Coast Avenger and be published by Marvel Comics. Thriller novelist Chelsea Cain plotted a pair of mysteries, involving cosplay cruises, doctor waiting rooms, corgis, and Marvel Universe deep cuts that were engaging thanks to detail filled art from Kate Niemczyk and inker Sean Parsons. Loaded with background gags and subtle foreshadowing for future issues, Mockingbird certainly has “replay” value as a comic and is triumphant, messy, and funny just like its lead character, Bobbi Morse and was a coming out party for Marvel’s next great colorist, Rachelle Rosenberg.

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4. Love is Love (IDW)
Writers: Various Artists: Various

I just reviewed this comics anthology a few days ago, but Love is Love is the 2016 comic that affected me personally the most as it showed the effects of The Pulse shooting on the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways. I latched onto stories about the vibrancy of the queer community in Orlando, the sanctuary effect of gay clubs that provided some of the anthology’s best visuals from Jesus Merino, Alejandra Gutierrez, and Michael Oeming, and the use of superheroes like Batman, Midnighter, and Supergirl as simple analogues of hope in the middle of heartbreak. Love is Love saddened me, but it also inspired me to continue to uplift my LGBTQ siblings as the racist, sexist, homophobes Trump and Pence take the office of president and vice president. It was also cool to see so many talented creators using their gifts to help raise money for Equality Florida.

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3. The Wicked + the Divine #18-24, #1831 (Image)
Writer: Kieron Gillen Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Stephanie Hans, Kevin Wada Colorist: Matthew Wilson

In WicDiv‘s third year, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson went a little blockbuster with big battles, splash pages, and an unexpected character death. But, the comic is still about the journey of Laura (Now Persephone.) from fan to artist, and how it has changed her life and relationships. And, in time honored tradition, WicDiv wasn’t afraid to get experimental with an issue featuring a Pantheon of Romantic poets and writers, like Mary Shelley and Lord Byron with lavish guest art from Journey into Mystery‘s Stephanie Hans, or the magazine issue with professional journalists interviewing Kieron Gillen roleplaying as Fantheon members with beautiful spot illustrations from Kevin Wada. As WicDiv enters its “Imperial Phase”, McKelvie and Wilson’s art is both opulent and disarming while Kieron Gillen has started to expose the personalities behind the explosions and drama of “Rising Action”.

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2. Giant Days #10-21, Holiday Special #1 (BOOM!)
Writer: John Allison Artists: Max Sarin, Liz Fleming Colorist: Whitney Cogar

Giant Days is funny, true, shows the value of a good inker in Liz Fleming to nail a face or gesture, and reminds me of a weekend I spent in its setting of Sheffield over two years ago. John Allison and Max Sarin have developed the personalities and mannerisms of the three leads: Susan, Esther, and Daisy that any situation that they’re plugged into from music festivals to housing selections and even cheating rings is pure entertainment. Allison, Sarin, and the bright colors of Whitney Cogar nail the ups and downs of college life with a touch of the surreal, and the series continues to be more compelling as we get to know Susan, Esther, and Daisy better as people.

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1. Midnighter #8-12, Midnighter and Apollo #1-3 (DC)
Writer: Steve Orlando Artists: David Messina, Gaetano Carlucci, ACO, Hugo Petrus, Fernando Blanco Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Steve Orlando’s run on Midnighter and Midnighter and Apollo has the most bone breaking action, the coolest panel layouts from David Messina, ACO, and Fernando Blanco and yes, the hottest kisses and other sexy stuff as Midnighter and Apollo are back in a relationship. Orlando shows his passion for the DC and Wildstorm universes by bringing in obscure or neglected characters, like Extrano, and making them instantly compelling or frightening in the case of Henry Bendix. Watching Midnighter skillfully take down opponents from the Suicide Squad to subway pirates or demons is an adrenaline rush, and Orlando tempers these action scenes with plenty of romance and personal moments. Midnighter and Midnighter and Apollo aren’t just the best superhero comics of 2016, but the best ones period. Come for the one-liners and shattered limbs and stay for the self-sacrificing love.

The Best Comics Of 2016 – Joe’s List

2016 was a good year for comics. Sure, there was some bad, but overall, it was a good year for the industry. A lot can happen in 365 days, so there is bound to be ups and downs, and this year was no different. As with every year, we saw good series end too soon, bad series go on too long, and new series, whether good or bad, enter the ring.

There were new series like Black Hammer, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, and Animosity. Even existing characters were given new and fresh takes like The Vision by Tom King. Doom Patrol returned in a very fun and weird way. Both Detective and Action Comics continued their fantastic legacy. Superman, Wonder Woman and more DC books returned to great storytelling and adventures. We got two new characters taking the mantle of Iron Man in Dr. Doom and Riri Williams, and watched as a few more Marvel legends lost their lives.

Like every year, there were also big events. There were the good like fantastic events like DC Rebirth and disappointing ones in Civil War II. Inhumans fought with X-Men. Spider-Man started having a clone conspiracy. There were major controversies that crossed into mainstream media with Hydra-Cap. Sad moments like Chelsea Cain with Mockingbird.  And to close out the year, the release of the beautiful and emotional Love is Love.

We saw more diversity in comics, both in characters and creative teams. Moon Girl, Riri Williams, and Amadeus Cho all shot up the ranks of Marvel’s brightest heroes. New titles like Alters, and Black were released. Gay superheroes Midnighter and Apollo have a six issue run that is still going. Ta-Nahesi Coates joined Marvel to write Black Panther, as did Roxanne Gay on World of Wakanda. It is apparent the industry is changing, and there’s still a lot that needs to be done, but this year was an improvement, and a step forward.

We also lost famed Preacher and The Punisher artist Steve Dillon. 2016 was a year, like any year that saw comics released in it, so let’s give you another unnecessary ranking list based off of my opinions!

Best Superhero Comic – The Vision

 vision__12This could be in best surprises too. Tom King really took the comic world by storm this year, and this was one of the reasons why. He had other fantastic titles released as well, and they will be mentioned in this article, but The Vision was something so refreshing and so different for Marvel. A perfect run that didn’t feel too short, or too long, is something I don’t always say for Marvel books. The Vision truly felt perfect in almost every way.

It wasn’t just King that made this title so great, as Gabriel Hernandez Walta provided some wonderful art that captured some horrific and heartbreaking moments. It is amazing to realize that a book about synths had some of the most human moments of the year. That’s the power of an amazing creative team, and I bow to the both of them, and to Marvel for taking a chance on such an odd and awesome book.

Runners Up:

  • Detective Comics – As good as The Vision is, and as many lists it will sit at the top of, I was almost the guy to pick another title for my top superhero book. That book is Detective Comics. James Tynion IV has created a fantastic and classic run on the long running title. The way he captures the bat family is perfect. There was so many moments. Tim Drake. Batwoman and her father. Clayface being just awesome. Spoiler and her recent moment. Batman and his role as a leader and mentor. We also got some great art from Alvaro Martinez and others. What a fantastic book, and it just keeps getting better.
  • Wonder Woman – This is one of DC’s most consistent comics, and it does so by juggling two alternating storylines in different time periods. Greg Rucka writes a fantastic Diana. I have enjoyed going through the range of emotions she has been put through as we watch her learn of man and our world in one time period, and the lies she is being faced with and the struggle to keep her sanity in the other. Also her relationships with both Steve and Barbara are some of the best I have seen yet in her comic. The art by Nicola Scott, Liam Sharp and others was consistently awesome.
  • Superman – This is one of the other most consistent comics from DC. In my top 5 superhero books, I have three from DC, and there is a good reason. Honestly, Action Comics almost made it’s way into the list as well. Like the other books, this is another return to greatness after Rebirth for DC. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have proven before they know Supes, Jon, and others as they write them so well. There has been so much great art by talents like Doug Mahnke, and so many good moments throughout the series.  Yes, to one of my good friends, even Krypto being pulled from the chest of The Eradicator counts as one of those moments, that was awesome too.
  • Power Man and Iron Fist – I can say without hesitation that David Walker has done an amazing job on this series. Even when he had to do a Civil War II tie in, he made it work. What amazes me most is that the series just keeps getting better. Sanford Greene has such an incredible and original art style that you instantly recognize, and together these two creative powerhouses have easily made this one of my favorite comics of 2016. The return of that certain Runaways character as the big bad makes it even better!

Best Non-Superhero Comic – Saga

 saga_33-1While I struggled with picking my top comics since I love all of these, Saga takes the cake due to consistency, most memorable moments, and my deep investment Saga takes the cake due to consistency, most memorable moments, and my deep investment to this incredible series. This comic is the one I constantly cannot wait to read, and that is due to the amazing work by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. We all know how good they both are, but they just kept the ball rolling in my opinion this year. Sure we had some slower arcs, but the overall big picture to this book just keeps getting bigger, and crazier.

There were so many moments that made me smile, tear up, and cliffhangers that left me with my mouth hanging open. Not a lot of comics do that to me, and Saga did it countless times. There is a reason this series is so popular, and is still going. It is just fantastic storytelling, with awesome world building. You don’t just care about the mother, father, and daughter, but the prince, his child, the lying cat, and so many others. You truly feel invested in these people, their actions, and their lives. I cannot wait to see where it goes next.

Runners Up:

  • Animosity – This is such a brilliant comic. The premise seems simple. Have animals take over the world and dominate humanity. But it’s the execution and creativeness behind this title by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre that blows me away. The art is great, and the storytelling is brilliant. Sandor and Jesse have a fantastic and loving relationship, and each issue packs a ton of suspense. A great title from Aftershock Comics.
  • The Wicked + The Divine – What an original book, with fantastic art. I am a sucker for Jamie McKelvie on art and Kieron Gillen is no slouch on writing either. Together they have crafted a beautifully looking yet chaotic tale of vanity, arroagance, obsession, love, power, and so much more. When you have a book filled with pop star icon gods and godesses, I guess anything is possible.
  • Black Science – It is no secret that I am a big Rick Remender fan. He has done so much great work, and is only getting better in my opinion. This year alone he had so many good books going on at the same time, and delivered on every one. Black Science was the most consistent, and best work in my opinion. This is a crazy book that moves at a fast pace, and you truly never know what happens next. Now that is something you can say for any Remender book, but with the element of time and dimension hopping, he really goes there in this book. Fantastic series.
  • The Sheriff of Babylon – What a refreshing comic, and a reminder to people that no, comics aren’t just superheroes. Tom King had an amazing year this year, and is one of the best writers in general, and like The Vision, this is one of the reasons why. This is a gritty, violent, hard to look at book with some great art by Mitch Gerads. These two creators tell a tale of corruption, war, politics, and much more in a book that feels so deep and something that you’d see on tv or in the movies. This is a definite recommendation of mine.

Best Limited Series or One Shot – 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank

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You know you’ve got something good on your hands when you’ve released three issues in 2016 and you’re making this much of a splash. Matt Rosenberg and Tyler Boss gave us those three issues and they were packed with awesome adventures and incredible nostalgia to my childhood era. This book is already a classic to me, and there’s a few issues still to come.

I have reviewed the comic, and gave it a ten across the board, and I am sure the final issues will earn those scores as well. Hats off to Black Mask Studios, to Matt Rosenberg, and to Tyler Boss for making something so special, so raw, and so damn good. Remember, this is just about 4 kids who catch one of their fathers doing sketchy stuff with sketchy people. This isn’t some deep time travel plot, or fantasy adventure. It is a simple premise executed with brilliant creative fashion. It is in the writing, the panels, and the lettering. I cannot wait for the last few issues!

Runners Up:

  • Civil War II: Kingpin – Yes, another Matt Rosenberg book, and for good reason. He has three Marvel series coming, with one, Rocket Raccoon, already beginning. This book was violent, raw, gritty, over the top, and featured Frank Castle. Every issue was fantastic, and I felt like he really gets Fisk’s character so well. The art by Ricardo Lopez Ortiz was loosely sketched and fit the series violent and chaotic tones so well. I cannot wait to read the ongoing beginning in February written by the man who wrote this miniseries so well.
  • AD: After Death – Two books into this fantastic series, and I am already crowning it one of the best of 2016. There is one book left, but remember, when I say book, I mean just that. The second book comes close to one hundred pages, and they are beautifully written by Scott Snyder and beautifully painted by Jeff Lemire. I still do not know all of the answers to the cure of death, and the world below, but I know enough to say this is one fantastic series, and something truly special for the medium.
  • Minighter and Apollo – Another series that only is halfway done, but that halfway point has been fantastic. Not only is it fantastic that we are getting a different kind of superhero book where the two male protagonists are lovers, but they aren’t cliche, or stereotypical, or offensive. They are three dimensional, like real gay people actually are, except one has a computer in his head and can take on an army, and the other is a god. Steve Orlando has done a fantastic job on this, and so has Fernando Blanco on art. I hope we get an ongoing after this!
  • Superman: American Alien – This was a really fun book. We get different chapters of Superman’s life, from his childhood where he is trying to understand who he is and what these powers are, to him meeting Lois and being a reporter. We get some fantastic moments with him hanging out with his friends, getting drunk, and learning how to live as a god among men. I love the parts with his parents, and seeing not just their stress, but their overwhelming love. Max Landis and a who’s who of amazing artists like Jock, Joelle Jones, Francis Manipul, and more make this one of the best books of the year.

Best Writer – Rick Remender

img_0408I could have gone with Tom King, or the other three excellent writers on my list, and none of them would have been wrong. Even someone like Rosenberg who made two of my favorite limited series could have been here. None of these lists are easy, as you see I keep saying, but if I had to pick just one writer this year, it would be Rick Remender. It isn’t just the quality of the content he made, which is very high, but the volume of it as well.

This year, we saw Black Science, Deadly Class, Low, Seven to Eternity, and Tokyo Ghost. The crazy part, is all of those comics were fantastic. You constantly hear that so many writers are taking on too many titles, and that their writing takes a major hit. I do not think that was the case this year for Remender, and actually, I think it was one his best years, which is saying a lot. The beautiful thing is that all of these series will still be going into 2017, as even Tokyo Ghost which will be returning.

Runners Up:

  • Tom King – What a phenomenal year Tom King had. The Sherrif of Babylon, The Vision, and Batman. Most writers would be proud writing one of those titles, and while his run on Batman isn’t everyone’s favorite, I am enjoying it quite a bit. I enjoy a different take on a character, and he is playing with the caped crusaders weaknesses, and making him human. As mentioned previously, both Sheriff and Vision are absolutely incredible, and I cannot wait to see what we get from him next.
  • Jason Aaron – I feel like Jason Aaron needs more love when it comes to the best writers of 2016. He was a beast this year. Southern Bastards, The Mighty Thor, The Unworthy Thor, Doctor Strange, Star Wars, and The Goddamned. I wish we got more Southern Bastards, but again as this list shows, you can see the guy is busy. He had a fantastic year, and because of that as a reader, so did I.
  • Brian K. Vaughn – There should be no shock that this name is on anyone’s list. He will probably be on most lists until the day he decides to stop writing. Both Saga and Paper Girls continue to be fantastic. I expect big things as these titles move forward, and hopefully we get another book. The more Vaughn, the better.
  • Jeff Lemire – Here is another writer that was a beast in 2016. Moon Knight, Old Man Logan, Descender, Bloodshot Reborn, Bloodshot U.S.A., Black Hammer, AD: After Death, and more. I am amazed at not only Lemire as a writer, but his work as an artist as well. I don’t know how he had time to do anything else this year but write and make art. A truly fantastic year for one of my favorite creators.

Best Artist –  Russel Dauterman

img_0409For the longest time, the background of my phone was The Mighty Thor #1. Now that I am typing this, I will be putting it back to that amazing artwork, because it is that good. Russel Dauterman is one of those artists in comics that you can just stare at his panels and pages for so long and see tiny details that just blow your mind. You will see me say things in reviews like, you are getting some real art here, as in pieces you could hang on your wall, and that is true of Dauterman’s work. The work is that good. Every panel could probably be framed and catch someone’s eye every time.

The way he draws his characters with such emotion is fantastic. Not to mention the way he draws frost giants, or the more modern version of Loki, or Jane, or Odinson, or Odin, or everyone in this comic! His work is fantastic, and he deserves to have it recognized. This is one of those artists, that when they take an issue or two off, you get sad. It’s that good.

Runners Up:

  • Andrew Maclean – Head Lopper was one of my favorite comics this year, and while the fun story was a lot of it, the art by Maclean was what caught my eye. It’s simultaneously violent and graphic, yet beautiful. The colors pop as our hero cuts the heads off of giant beasts.
  • FIona Staples – As I said early, Fiona captures her characters so well. Their emotions pour from the pages in her artwork, and I cannot imagine Saga without her. From Marko to Prince Robot to Hazel, she conveys who they are as people so well, as she always has with this excellent series. Also, her style is so original, that is is recognizable right away.
  • Jamie McKelvie – One of my favorite artists in general, and I would be happy if he drew ten more titles. The way he draws the Pantheon is so damn good. There is so much attitude and personality in The Wicked + The Divine, and McKelvie is a big reason why. Every character is drawn with such detail and life that they feel real, even if they are shallow pop star deities.
  • Andreas Sorrentino – Perhaps more than any artist this year, Sorrentino on Old Man Logan made my jaw hang open at the way he used splash pages. He is one of the most creative artists in the medium, and his work is dark and unique. There were so many breathtaking panels that he used this year on Logan, and it is one of the reasons that comic is as good as it is. Like Dauterman, I get sad when he isn’t on an issue or two.

Best New Series – Animosity

 bookanimosityMarguerite Bennett wrote one hell of a story this year in Animosity. This awesome title from Aftershock had one of the best first issues of the year, and the issues that followed kept that momentum up every time. Sandor is a hound protecting his owner, Jesse, a little girl who is scared when all of the other pets and animals in the world begin killing and targeting humans. We are only four issues in, and I feel like so much has happened. There is no doubt that this is one of the best new series of the year, and in my opinion, the best.

The art by Rafael de Latorre is fantastic, and the scenes in the book are filled with action, and keep you on the edge of your seat. The first issue alone had me yelling expletives in excitement, and the art as well as the storytelling is a big reason why. When a much scarier animal is trying to hurt Jesse, I love how protective Sandor is. He pulls no punches to protector his girl, and has the personality of an old and wise man mentor type. I think this is one everyone should check out, even if you have to wait for the trade, as it is hard to come by in many local comic shops.

Runners Up:

  • Seven to Eternity – What an awesome fantasy story from Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña. Already we’ve seen some fantastic characters, an awesome big bad, an interesting protagonist with a deep legacy to his family name, and a plot that promises some crazy things will happen. Oh, and it’s only getting started.
  • Briggs Land – The comic that AMC wanted optioned as a show before most people had even heard about it. Brian Wood and Mack Chatter have given us a very raw and real look at a family that ran 100 acres of land the way they wanted to for years. Well now that the father is in prison, the mother, Grace, is taking things over, but has to deal with a few of her sons. It has been a realty good slow burn so far, with some intense scenes, and I bet it only gets better from here.
  • Dept. H – Matt Kindt is a very unique storyteller, and artist. His work is some of the most original in the business, and I always get excited when he works on a new title, especially when he does the art as well. This time he brings Sharlene Kindt in on watercolors and the final product is fantastic. They both do an excellent job bring this fantastic underwater claustrophobic adventure to life. This is an awesome whodunit comic and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
  • Kill Or Be Killed – This is a comic that is always at the top of my read list when it comes out. It shouldn’t be a shock that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips made an amazing pulp crime comic, but it is amazing that they make such a different one each time. This one follows a guy who is cursed with having to kill people, or lose his life in a deal he made with a demon who spared his life after an attempted suicide. I love this comic, and cannot wait to see where these creators take us.

Best Graphic Novel or Trade Paperback  – Love is Love

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Moments like these are why I love this medium. Comic books are just a platform. Just like television, books, movies, etc. You can make whatever you’d like, and this is a fantastic example of that. After the horrible Orlando Pulse shootings, getting a book like this where the proceeds are donated to the families of those lost that day won’t fix the horrors, but maybe it can help us grieve and understand a little better. It can put a face not to the evil person who did this to these people just living their lives, but it can be a voice for the people who died that day.

In this anthology book we get so many amazing creators, not just in the comic industry, but from other mediums as well. This book choked me up more than once while reading these beautiful stories, or the powerful images in them. I don’t want to single any of them out, as there are too many to mention that are fabulous, and Logan from our site already did a fantastic job of that in his review, but as a whole, this book is so important, and so incredible, and while it makes me sad it has to exist, it is necessary that it does.

Runners Up:

  • Dark Night: A Batman Story – What a painful yet beautiful telling of such a horrific true event in Paul Dini’s life. We get to see Dini working on Batman: The Animated Series, and help narrate the tale himself with the help from Batman, Harley, Two Face, Joker, and more as we get a very personal look at his life. This was a very sad, very brave, and very good book.
  • The Prince of Cats – Romeo and Juliet in a 1980s block party. That is basically what this book is, and it is a lot of fun. It is filled with hip hop, bright clothing, sword fights, love, and more. It captures the spirit of the Shakespeare classic, as Ronald Wimberly puts his own creative spin on it. This was a very cool retelling of a story most people already know, but told in a new way.
  • Muhammad Ali – This was an enjoyable way to look at the life of an American icon, and sports legend. Sybil Le Titeux and Amazing Ameziane give us Ali as a child, his work with Islam, his fighting techniques, and so much more throughout his life. The art varies as it uses the pages and panels wisely, and we get some fantastic cameos from important people throughout the champs life.
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon – We saw a lot of Wonder Woman stories this year, and that is never a bad thing. Jill Thompson does such a beautiful job on art in this book. Everything looks hand painted and we get another origin story, but an enjoyable one. This is a good book to recommend to any fan of Diana, as it does it justice.

Best Genre – Fallen societies

briggs-land-1Now while this may not be defined as a genre, I read many fantastic comics this year that dealt with societies that had fallen to different degrees. There are groups of people that live on their self governed 100 acres in Briggs Land from Dark Horse by Brian Wood and Mack Chatter. The animals took over the world from the humans in Animosity from Aftershock by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre.  And there was the land of Zhal that was taken over and run by the God of Whispers in Seven to Eternity from Image Comics by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña. We also saw titles like Shipwreck from Aftershock by Warren Ellis and Phil Hester, and Warlords of Appalachia from BOOM! Studios by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Jonas Scharf.

Maybe I am cynical, but I really enjoyed spending times in worlds that fell in some form. Some of these stories had the people choose to live off the land and govern themselves, saw their animals take their society from them, or saw them rise up against their government as their own militia. Either way, they provided some of my favorite moments in comics this year, and these were just a few of them.

Runners Up:

  • Fantasy – What a great year for fantasy titles. We saw Saga, Seven to Eternity, Lake of Fire, Green Valley, Reborn, The Mighty Thor, Klaus, Head Lopper, Monstress, and so many more. Most important, many of these were fantasy, but not in the traditional sense. We saw the fantasy genre mix with others, and it was a lot of fun. Keep them coming!
  • Crime drama – Another strong genre this year with Kill or Be Killed, Violent Love, Triggerman, and more. I love reading pulp crime stories, and this year brought some very solid entries.
  • MagicSure we got Doctor Strange which has been fantastic, but we also saw Ether, The Wicked + The Divine, Seven to Eternity, and more. Magic is always a fun story element, and we saw some good use of it this year.
  • The 1980s – Everything that was always comes back, and that is true of the 1980s. Whether it was popular properties like He-Man vs Thundercats, IDW’s Revolution event featuring Transformers, GI Joe and more, Escape From NY/Big Trouble in Little China, or The Lost Boys, we saw quite a bit of that generation this year. Even one of my favorite titles, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank felt so reminiscent of The Goonies or Stand by Me, while still feeling original. 2016 was a great representation of the 1980s.

Biggest Disappointment – Civil War II

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I tried to defend the event after the first few issues, and the art by David Marquez is fantastic, but I can no longer defend this series. I like Brian Michael Bendis, even if I don’t like every series he has written lately. I think that Infamous Iron Man is very promising, and it was odd to me that one of my least favorite comics that released the week of Civil War #8 was written by the same person that wrote one of my favorites in Infamous Iron Man #3. So I don’t want to just make this about Bendis as a writer, because I know he is a good one.

But for whatever reason, be it delays, lack of editorial work or poor planning, this event did not do it for me. The way it ended felt wrong on so many notes, and leaves so much not settled. I also scratch my head at Captain Marvel being loved for what she did, and how they depicted her. I like her as a character, but I felt that this book really messed with who she was, and made her look horrible. While I enjoyed many things Marvel did this year, like Moon Knight, Power Man and Iron Fist, and Old Man Logan, this would be one of my least favorite.

Runners Up:

  • Death of X – If not for the awesome art by Aaron Kuder, this event is mostly forgettable. I didn’t hate the ending, I actually quite liked it, but the event as a whole felt so unnecessary, and a lesser version of the actual event that has had a really good first issue, Inhumans vs. X-Men. This could have been a one shot, but was hyped as something major for a long time.
  • Nighthawk/Mockingbird cancelled – Great books from great creators saw their run end way too soon. At least David Walker got Occupy Avengers and will be bringing Nighthawk into that book. Nighthawk was a gritty and fantastic book with a really interesting character. I look forward to seeing how he is used going forward. For Chelsea Cain, she got to issue 8 with a fun and original take on Bobbi Morse, but then chose to leave Twitter due to everyone getting upset over a comic book cover. Both of these things disappointed me quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this is a business, I just wish there was a better way to support books like these aside from pre-orders at local comic shops.
  • Fanboyism – I know this is an every year thing, but as time goes on, I truly scratch my head over the constant fight between fans of the big two. We got some great comics from both publishers, and many others this year as well. It’s silly, and the growth of social media, clickbait journalism, and memes have only made it worse. It was one thing when it was kids busting each other’s chops as friends, but now it has taken on a whole new level of ridiculousness. Stahp!
  • Marvel legacy characters – While I am happy that Marvel has done a great job on adding diverse characters, I am not sure what they are doing with so many of their legacy characters. We saw three of them fall in eight issues of a comic alone. Another is now a super evil double agent. And more are dead or in some sort of coma. I am all for these new heroes, I just prefer the way DC is doing it with Rebirth. Bring the new characters in under the old ones and have them mentor them. Or at least give some balance. I am hopefully this improves in the new year, or at least soon.

Best Publisher – DC 

 DC_Logo_RGB_031816It is hard to give this award to one publisher, as multiple publishers had so many great books this year. Though I will pick one, and that is DC. From the fantastic launch of DC Rebirth as a title, and then the great books that came out of it, to Young Animal, and Vertigo, their imprints and the books that came out of those, they have had one hell of a year. Detective Comics, Action Comics, Superman, Wonder Woman, Doom Patrol, The Sheriff of Babylon, and so on were all such fantastic and consistent titles for them, and while they have always been producing get content, it is great to see them get back to such focus.

They signed some amazing talent with writers Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV, and artists like Liam Sharp, and Mitch Gerads to exclusive contracts. Not that they are the only talented people working on their books, because there are definitely more. Mikel Janin and Riley Rossmo both blew me away with their art this year. I was pleasantly surprised by DC this year, and I hope that trend to continue. I hope Marvel is paying attention to them, and while I do not want them to copy them, I would like to see somewhat of a Rebirth type event that can tie their legacy characters to their newer characters a little better, and give fans the best of both worlds.

Runners Up:

  • Dark Horse – They nearly took my top spot with such fantastic books as Black Hammer, Briggs Land, Dept. H, Ether, Hellboy, Harrow County, Lady Killer, Aliens and so much more. Very impressive year.
  • Image – So many titles, and they just keep adding more. Even Skybound has expanded with a few new titles. Image just keeps getting better with age.
  • Aftershock – With Animosity, Shipwreck, American Monster and more, Aftershock has proven it can hang with the best of them. Even with the start of 2017 we are seeing more promising titles like Blood Blister and The Lifespanners coming from some top talent.
  • BOOM! Studios – This year we saw BOOM! really expand its horizons with titles like Klaus, Warlords of Appalachia, Slam, and more while continuing to release their all ages comics that so many love like Goldie Vance, Adventure Time, and more. I expect we will see more serious titles like the Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins project, Grass Kings coming in 2017, and I am excited.

The Best Comics of 2016 – Brett’s List

It’s the first day of a new year and so that means I’m posting my “best of” listing of the top comic books for 2016. Generally these are comic books that came out in 2016, though some are from earlier times and I got around to reading them, or limited series that continued. Keep in mind, this is what I have read (and does not reflect what other contributors to this site might think, they’ll hopefully have their own lists). If it’s not on here, I just might not have read it.

This was a particularly tough year of choices with some categories easily having their own top ten or twenty-five and some I struggled to even come up with one. 2016 was a year that ongoing, maxi-series, and limited floppies seemed to blend more and more and for me as a reader I found myself shifting away from one publisher to another and as a whole enjoying graphic novels and indie comics a hell of a lot more than I have in the past.

What stood out to me? Check out below what made the cut!

Best Super Hero Comic – The Paybacks

the-paybacks-3A new publisher, but still absolutely amazing. The Paybacks by Donny Cates, Eliot Rahal, Geoff Shaw moved from Dark Horse to Heavy Metal for its second volume, but it didn’t lose any steam in doing so continuing to deliver hilarity and upping the action.

The concept of the comic is that there’s a repo crew who have to deal with all the superheroes who can’t pay back the loans they take for all of their fancy gadgets. To pay off their debts those heroes then join the ragtag team.

A send-up of so many familiar characters and lets face it creators too, the comic has more jokes in each panel than some series have their entire run. It’s funny, action packed, and in this volume actually is somewhat timely with news with a focus on a data breach.

My biggest wish in comics for 2017 is someone is smart enough to invest in this series because I know it’ll pay off in the log run. Everyone who I’ve turned on to it falls in love and whole there were some issues with the second volume, it still is the one “superhero” comic I devoured as soon as possible.

Runners Up:

  • COPRA – There’s some arguments to be made that Michel Fiffe‘s indie series about a group of raftag characters should be the top pick, and there was long thought about if it should, it’s that good. Out of all of the series I read this year, this is one that delivered with every single issue. This is a comic that shows that superheroes aren’t the domain of just two companies anymore, especially due to how many issues have been released. I said this exact same thing in 2015 and it applies here.
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman – An absolutely brilliant max-series that went from digital to print. Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon delivered a Wonder Woman story that stands out in a year of solid Wonder Woman output. Fun to read. Beautiful to look at. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll just get this one volume.
  • The Omega Men – Writer Tom King took this ragtag group of characters and has given us a maxiseries that explores revolution/terrorism in so many ways. This is one to read once collected and the ruminate on. It began in 2015 but wrapped up in 2016.
  • Tomboy – This series published by Action Lab: Danger Zone and by M. Goodwin is a comic that’s not on enough people’s radar. A mix of manga, Japanese horror, western vigilante stories, it’s a strange, creepy, haunting series featuring a teenage girl out for revenge against the people who killed her friend.

 

Best Non-Super Hero Comic – The Sheriff of Babylon

the-sheriff-of-babylon-12-coverI said above that 2016 was the year of Tom King, and guess who wrote this one! Tom King! The Sheriff of Babylon is another max-series that wrapped up, but we’ll get a second volume some time in 2017.

The comic is based on King’s experiences working for the CIA in Iraq taking place in the Green Zone after the recent Iraq war. The comic is brutally honest showing a world where there’s so little right and so much wrong and it all comes together in a muddied brown and gray.

That dirtiness of it all is helped by Mitch Gerads‘ art and the smart use of colors. The detail, every body movement, the framing of the panels, Gerads’ art adds so much to every issue. That’s saying something considering how amazing King’s scripts are!

This is a comic series that shows comics are political and can question the world we currently live.

Runners Ups:

  • Descender- Jeff Lemire has had a hell of year in general in comics and is one of my favorite writers of the year. This series features the stunning art of Dustin Nguyen. The sci-fi series is so hard to describe revolving around an android that looks like a little boy. Every issue is a treat to read, and Nguyen’s art helps with beautiful visuals. Seriously the art alone is a reason to pick up the series. We didn’t get an issue every month, but what we did get was fantastic.
  • The Fix – Two fuck up cops who are corrupt and get mixed up in a drug smuggling scam. The comic is absolutely hilarious. Written by Nick Spencer with art by Steve Lieber the comic is one of the funniest books on the market.
  • The Flintstones – Written by Mark Russell this series is some of the smartest and subtle political and social commentary in any writing going on today. The comic covers everything from religion to consumerism to the 2016 election. And like his writing in Prez no one is safe, the right and the left are equal fodder. Entertaining, smart, and elevating the classic characters to a whole new level.
  • Invisible Republic – A reporter investigates the truth of an uprising on a planet discovering fact from fiction in a series that bounces back and forth between the past and present. Each issue reminds us about the power of journalism and the need for good reporting. Myth can easily be twisted into fact and lies can replace reality. The comic series seems prescient in so many ways.

 

Best Limited Series or One Shot – 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank

4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK #1 CoverWe got three issues of this series in 2016 and holy crap do I wish we got more. In those three issues we did get some of the best storytelling in any comics. I’m assuming this is a limited series since it is a “crime caper in five parts” but hopefully we get more after this volume wraps up.

The series involves a bunch of kids that find out one of their dads is possibly a criminal and has some buddies who plan to rob a bank. Their idea is to rob the bank before them.

But, it’s not the heist that’s the drawn it’s the kids themselves. Each one feels so real with so many quirks their personalities jump off the page. Everyone is relatable and each feels like real people we knew growing up. It’s absolutely amazing.

The art by Tyler Boss is top notch and the writing is why Matthew Rosenberg is one of the hottest writers in comics right now.

More please!

Runners Up:

  • Black – This series was a Kickstarter phenomenon and the concept is what if only Black people had superpowers? Political. Daring. In your face. The comic is layered and will leave you debating what it’s trying to say.
  • Love is Love – A charity comic to benefit the victims of the Pulse nightclub attack, this comic is a prime example of what the comic industry can do when profits aren’t at the forefront. Bringing together publishers and hundreds of creators it’s a touching tribute.
  • Refugees Book One – A hell of a find at Small Press Expo, the comic is haunting taking us into the world of refugees as they attempt to find a better life. There’s definite issues with the comic as far as some of the writing, but the message is clear and brutally honest.
  • Superman: American Alien – Featuring a bunch of different artists, this maxi-series by writer Max Landis explored a different time in Superman’s life with a different take on the character. It’s a fun and fantastic read and somehow actually gives us something that feels fresh for a character that’s been around for over 75 years.

 

Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – March Book Three

MarchBookThree-CoverThe best thing to be released in 2016 for comics. This is an absolutely amazing finish to the award winning trilogy. The winner of the National Book Award among other things the graphic novel focuses on Congressman John Lewis’ experiences during the Civil Rights movement.

Written by Lewis, Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell this is the crown jewel of comics showing that they’re more than tights and has been adopted by schools to teach about this time in American history.

As I read the graphic novel from cover to cover, I found myself filled with emotions, as Lewis’ life was there in print for those to see and read. The story is a complicated one, but it’s presented in a way that feels honest and open, both good and bad. This is an inside look at one of the most important, and turbulent times in American history from not just someone that was there, but a leader of the movement. And that’s a fascinating part of this third book, is its focus on Lewis’ role as a leader.

This third volume somehow leapfrogs the other two. Whether it’s due to learning or the material within, something about it created an emotional reaction I haven’t felt by any media in quite some time. And most importantly it got me to think about where we as a people and nation have been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Runners Up:

  • The Attack – A man’s wife winds up being a suicide bomber. This story is about his attempt to find out why and discovering he knew so little about the woman he called his wife. A spiral into despair and madness the end will leave you speechless and heartbroken.
  • Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches From Turkey, Syria, and Iraq – By Sarah Glidden this graphic novel is her experiences as she researches potential stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East, especially refugees. Beautiful to look at, the graphic novel is the second best thing I’ve read this year (behind March).
  • Soviet Daughter – Adapting her great grandmother’s journal Julia Alekseyeva provides an interesting look at someone who lived in Russia from 1910 to emigrating to the US in the 90s. The Revolution, WWII, the Holocaust, it’s all presented as Alekseyeva illustrates what is a diary. Between each chapter, Julia reflects on her own life and her closeness with her great grandmother. It’s an amazing piece examining women finding their place in the world. It’s also a reason you wait until the first of the year for your list, as this came out the last week of the year.
  • Tetris: The Games People PlayBox Brown takes what should be a boring story about the history of the video game Tetris and makes it really interesting! A fun graphic novel published by First Second that makes corporate maneuvering a bad business deals engaging.

 

Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics/Small Publishers

Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2016 was a year we saw major creators continue to shrug off the big two, instead launching creator-owned series at other publishers, digitally or through Kickstarter. We saw more comics, in more varieties, on more subjects and more ways to consume them, than any time before. It really wasn’t the year of the Big Two, this was a year that we as consumers could continue to find something that would fit our varied tastes.

With more channels for distribution and more ways to produce comics, we’re in a golden age where the old ways of publishing no longer hold back the creativity that abounds.

I named Indie Comics “it” in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and nothing changed in 2016. There’s a massive opening for someone to step in and be a mainstream breakout, maybe 2017 will be the year we see it.

 

Best Surprise of the Year – DC Comics

DC_Logo_RGB_0318162016 was a year that had everyone shaking their head when they heard DC was shaking things up again and “rebooting.” Except, their reboot was anything but.

In “Rebirth” the publisher blended the old with the new bringing back legacy characters and also pushing forward some of the newer ones too. They even moved away from grimm and gritty and gave us a bit of hope and fun in it all!

While Batman has always been strong for the company, Superman, Wonder Woman, and more all all returned to greatness with a new positive energy about them that could be felt.

But even better, sales increased and while they’ve leveled off and dropped quite a bit from the initial launch, the publisher is stronger and in a better position than it has been in a long time.

The company continued to expand upon its digital first program, and has begun to look towards expanding its market with its DC Super Hero Girls line.

They also did this as their movie output was mixed and television output strong. Now to get everything to line-up and the DC brand as a whole could be unstoppable.

The dots are all there, now we’ll see if the company has the vision to connect them all.

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Kickstarter

KickstarterLast year’s disappointment continued to be so, as projects were delayed, vapor ware, or not as advertised. Also add in issues on the creator end of folks pledging high amounts and then disputing the charges, at times getting the goods. Add in the platform’s unwillingness to step in to deal with either situation and you get a tech company showing off it’s greed. What was once the toast of the town has shown its cracks which will only get worse.

The crowdfunding platform became a way for creators to raise funds for projects, only to get picked up by publishers, at times delaying projects and leaving bad tastes in the mouths of fans. If all creators were held to the standards of some of the best users of the system, there’d be no issue, but over 90% of the projects I’ve pledged to have been delayed or non-existent only creating angry backers and fans.

These issues have lead this site to rethink what we promote and how we do so, no longer choosing comics to promote, as we feel some responsibility for things gone wrong and your dollars being held hostage.

Kickstarter continues to be tone-deaf, and it’s only a matter of time before someone stands up and challenges the platform with a system that’s fair to creators, and protects those who pledge.

Oh how the mighty continue to fall.

 

Publisher of the Year – None of the Above

This one I’ve thought about the most out of all of the categories on the list. I keep going back and forth between Image, BOOM! Studios, Valiant, Action Lab, IDW, First Second, and so many more. For each strength one brings to the table, they also have major weaknesses. Whether it’s a focus on a genre, pigeonholing themselves with adults, failure in digital, a mix of quality of comics, none of them are at least good everywhere. But, the comic industry has really grown in 2016 with no one breaking out as THE publisher to rival the big two. Partially that’s because so many have stood out with some of what they’ve done, but none have stood out for their whole.

Of the big two Marvel has stumbled… a lot. Entire articles can be written in that department, but the company is not the juggernaut its been in quite some time and I’d expect their to be some big shake-ups in 2017.

DC on the other hand came really close to being named for this. They’ve done some amazing stuff in the year with Rebirth being a smash hit. There’s still something slightly off, but out of every publisher, they’ve gotten most improved.

Image has become of the home of amazing indie comics by big name creators, but they generally lack a kids line that gets the next generation of readers and the sales just aren’t their in floppies. BOOM! has had a great mix of comics, but they’re missing that ongoing series that goes on for 30 to 50 issues. Valiant is quality all around and have tried some interesting market tactics, but you have to like superhero comics, Action Lab is a solid up and comer with good consistent releases. IDW has shown its possible to do great licensed comics, while First Second has fantastic graphic novels of all sorts. Aftershock has quality and so has Black Mak Studios.

Out of all of that, where’s the standout above everyone else? They’re all good in their own ways, but each have some flaws, with some of those flaws being pretty big. After a lot of deliberation, I couldn’t decide on one, so I chose none.

Each publisher is close to going huge, it’s just taking someone to connect those dots. Or maybe no one will, and it’ll be up to the individual creators to fill up the gap.

Kicking Off The “Best of 2016” Coverage

awardEach year we gather the various “Best Of” lists focused on comic books and graphic novels. We’ll have ours on January 1, so as to give everything released in 2016 a chance to make our list and out of respect to creators who still have days to release things.

But, that doesn’t mean others aren’t releasing their “best of” lists. In addition to creating a master list of all of the lists, we also aggregate all of their picks for one master list.

Check back often as both of these will be updated regularly!

The List of Best of 2016 Lists

Each year we gather the various “Best Of” lists focused on comic books and graphic novels. We’ll have ours on January 1, so as to give everything released in 2015 a chance to make our list. Below is the list of sites (and lists) we have found creating their own.

This list will be constantly updated as new ones are released.

If there’s a list we missed, either comment below, or send us a message in our contact form. Here’s this year’s edition:

Listen to Graphic Policy Radio Talk the Best Comics of 2015 on Demand

On demand: iTunes ¦ Sound Cloud ¦ Stitcher

It’s a new year and that means “best of” lists are flooding the internet as folks say what they think topped 2015. The Graphic Policy Radio team of Brett and Elana discuss what they think are the best comics and graphic novels of 2015!

Didn’t get to read a lot of comics? Wondering what you might have missed? Thinking about where to start in 2016? This is the show for you to get ideas as to some of the comics that topped last year.

You can also read Elana’s choices here.

Graphic Policy Radio Talks the Best Comics of 2015 this Monday LIVE!

GP Radio pic MondayIt’s a new year and that means “best of” lists are flooding the internet as folks say what they think topped 2015. The Graphic Policy Radio team of Brett and Elana this Monday discuss what they think are the best comics and graphic novels of 2015!

The show airs this Monday LIVE at 10pm ET!

Didn’t get to read a lot of comics? Wondering what you might have missed? Thinking about where to start in 2016? This is the show for you to get ideas as to some of the comics that topped last year.

We of course want to hear from you too! Tweet us your thoughts @graphicpolicy

Listen to the show live this Monday at 10pm ET.

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