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. 2017 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 continuing to enjoy 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 – Batman
A comic series which easily has the top four issues of the year as well as sending Batman in new directions. For a a creative team to show growth in a character that’s over 75 years old is impressive.
Writer Tom King delivers so many of the best comics of the year, it’s rather embarrassing of how much of what he’s delivered this year that’s so good.
From “The Ballad of Kite Man” to the recent two part story of Batman and Superman dealing with Batman’s engagement, King and the various artists continually entertain and surprise.
- 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 an 2016 and it applies here.
- Mister Miracle – Tom King again delivers with Mitch Gerads on art. I can’t tell you exactly that’s going on but holy shit is the confusion good.
- Super Sons – Fun is the name of the game with this series that teams up Superboy and Robin and each issue is just entertaining and puts a smile on my face.
- Tomboy – This series published by Action Lab: Danger Zone and by M. Goodwin is a comic that’s not on enough people’s radar and wrapped up in 2017. 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 – Motor Girl
I’ve dreaded reading the final issue of this series which feels like it was cut off WAY too quickly. Terry Moore, as usual, delivers a story full of characters that are larger than life and is full of heart.
The story is about a Veteran with PTSD who watches over a junk yard, her imaginary gorilla friend, aliens, and a mysterious group. It’s crazy, fun, and I found myself choking up so many times reading the series.
It took me forever to read the final issue because I didn’t want it to end. We got two volumes and for that I’m thankful.
- Centipede – Who’d think a comic based on a video game would be so good? Basically, it’s a “last man on Earth” type story and just nails the concept of the video game but also games us an “Omega Man” type spin on it all.
- 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 covered everything from religion to consumerism to the 2017 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. It wrapped up in 2017 and looks like Russell might already have the best of 2018 with another cartoon, Snagglepuss.
- Mech Cadet Yu – Greg Pak‘s Pacific Rim with kids is amazing. Takeshi Miyazawa‘s art is always beautiful, the story is fun, full of action, and there’s depth there that few comics have.
- The Wendy Project – Depressing yet so good. A new spin on the Peter Pan story. It’s Wendy dealing with the death of her little brother and it’ll leave you pondering what’s real and what’s not.
Best Limited Series or One Shot – Batman/Elmer Fudd Special
DC did some impressive mash-ups this year mixing their classic superheroes and Looney Tunes characters.
The strangest and best of the DC Comics/Looney Tunes begins with a Will Eisner-esque title page, and writer Tom King, artist Lee Weeks, and colorist Lovern Kindzierski unveil a world more akin to the actually good comics by Frank Miller and not anything on a Saturday Morning cartoon. Batman/Elmer Fudd is a noir tale starring human versions of Looney Tunes and a billionaire who dresses up like a bat.
Again, Tom King magic.
- 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank – The often delayed series wrapped up in 2017 and delivered a final issue that was utterly fantastic. I expected more debate as to what it all meant but the ability to interpret it as you want makes it all the more charming.
- Barrier – Two humans are kidnapped by aliens. One speaks English, the other Spanish. This digital series is all about their attempt to communicate as they try to escape. For readers who may only speak one of the two languages, it’s an amazing series.
- Spencer & Locke – What is Calvin and Hobbes were detectives in Sin City? A twisted take on classic characters I loved the first volume and can’t wait for the next. A detective gritty noir tale that has fun with your childhood characters.
- Heathen – Lesbian vikings kicking ass. The series was an unexpected one for me but the story is fantastic with its focus on love with a style that screams metal.
Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – Bolivar
Sybil knows that there is something off about her next-door neighbor, but she can’t seem to get anyone to believe her. Everyone is so busy going about their days in the busy streets of New York City that they don’t notice Bolivar. They don’t notice his odd height, his tiny arms, or his long tail. No one but Sybil sees that Bolivar is a dinosaur!
I won’t shut up about this graphic novel which is hands down the best art of anything released this year and a story that’s beyond adorable, cute, and entertaining.
This is an instant classic that absolutely is a must have. Sean Rubin nailed it and then some.
- A Small Revolution – A country gripped in the middle of a revolution seen through the eyes of a small child. I dare you to read this and not choke up at the end.
- Hostage – In the middle of the night in 1997, Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André was kidnapped by armed men and taken away to an unknown destination in the Caucasus region. For three months, André was kept handcuffed in solitary confinement, with little to survive on and almost no contact with the outside world.Artist and writer Guy Delisle recounts André’s experience in Hostage the new graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly that’s one of the most fascinating graphic novels I’ve read this year.
- Roughneck – Jeff Lemire writes and provides art in this new graphic novel which defies expectations and presents a story about family and an abusive past. The story isn’t flashy, it’s about family drama and an individual’s choice as to how they deal with what’s in front of them.At its heart, Roughneck is a story about abuse, and by setting it in Canada, Lemire layers the story on top of the history of abuse faced by people of the First Nations in Canada. Lemire tackled the topic twice this year and cemented himself as one of the best writers currently in comics.
Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics/Small Publishers
Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2017 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, 2016, and nothing changed in 2017. There’s a massive opening for someone to step in and be a mainstream breakout, maybe 2018 will be the year we see it.
Best Surprise of the Year – DC Comics
2016 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.
2017 showed the publisher could maintain the quality as well as blend the old with the new not just in their ongoing line but also with event comics like Dark Nights: Metal and Doomsday Clock. Hope, grimm, gritty, the publisher was able to pull it all off and more.
The company continued to expand upon its digital first program, and has continued 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.
Finally, the company finally did the right thing firing an employee with history of abuse after serious public pressure. It took a long time, but in some ways it feels like a new era for the publisher (who is still bruised a bit from the situation).
The dots are all there, now we’ll see if the company has the vision to connect them all in 2018 and beyond.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Kickstarter
Last 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.
We’ve loosened are unwillingness to promote projects but we still feel responsibility for the delays and utter lies.
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 – …..
This one I’ve thought about the most out of all of the categories on the list. Again I keep going back and forth between all of the publishers trying to figure out who stands out. 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 good everywhere. But, the comic industry has really grown in 2017 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.
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.
So, we’ll be doing something different…. rewarding Gold, Silver, and Bronze ratings. There’s a lot of publishers not on here and it’s not a slam, it’s just I don’t have a hole lot to say about them.
DC Comics 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 continue to be the most improved and stable.
Valiant has one of the best comic lines on the market and there isn’t one series that isn’t a good read. They’ve also mixed things up with superhero genres and have done interesting digital releases and are making moves for live action. Still, the publisher doesn’t have anything beyond superhero and there’s some diversity issues when it comes to writers. It’s quality comics but it’d be nice to see some POC and women tackling some of these characters. One thing to work on for 2018.
Lion Forge Comics‘ Catalyst Prime line has been a pleasant surprise in 2017 and while most of the comics are good there’s few that are amazing for me. Still, out of all of the publishers, this one is backing up it’s words with action, something to be applauded. Beyond Catalyst Prime there’s some fantastic series that aren’t given enough of a spotlight or credit.
First Second – A graphic novel publisher that has something for kids to adults and everyone in between. Tons of different topics, styles, and length, this is the best graphic novel publisher out there with a well rounded line.
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. There’s also some real stinkers in their releases plus massive gaps and delays that really hurt momentum. The publisher also had issues with some releases and their response (Divided State of Hysteria being an example) attempting to claim “diverse with inclusive” but also “edgy” at the same time. It was a clunker of a reaction.
BOOM! Studios has had a great mix of comics, but they’re missing that ongoing series that goes on for 30 to 50 issues. But, out of every publisher, this one has really embraced the concept of a diverse line and creators and is the publisher everyone else goes to try and steal talent.
AfterShock has had amazing releases but is just missing a big hit. They should have a bigger market than they do and it’s a headscratcher as to why more hasn’t caught on.
Dark Horse is just a consistently good comic publisher with lots of quality but again nothing that’s a massive hit. Hellboy continues to be one of the best comic universes out there and Black Hammer is amazing but neither are burning up the charts.
Action Lab has had entertaining releases but feels like it’s missing a massive hit and has had issues distinguishing between it’s all-ages and adult line.
IDW Publishing has had a weird year with an over reliance on comics from Hasbro and no real breakouts. They’ve stumbled too with their handling of some talent and have gone all in with their Black Crown line that feels like it’s Vertigo-redux when the comic industry has moved on from that.
Of the big two Marvel has stumbled… a lot and continues to stumble. Entire articles can be written in that department, but the company is not the juggernaut its been in quite some time and I correctly predicted some big shake-ups in 2017. But, what’s it say about the rest of the industry that no one has really stood up to challenge them?
Black Mask Studios, I know everyone shits on Marvel, but to me, Black Mask is the biggest disappointment when it comes to a publisher. Comes that are delayed for crazy amounts of time, books that are hyped and wind up being better concepts than execution, the publisher feels like there’s little to no discipline and unreliable. This is how you take quality and flush it down the toilet. For a publisher that said it was going to disrupt comics, it has wound up being the worst of Image, the quality without the consistency.