Writer/Artist:Daniel Warren Johnson
Daniel Warren Johnson has made quite the book with Extremity. He has been able to create this vast creative world full of its own distinctive history. That world building has not taken away from any of the entertainment as the battles he constructs are brutally compelling, and through the use of effective character work, those battles actually mean something. Daniel Warren Johnson has also given this series its own unique style. His pencils look somewhat old school, like an updated version of Heavy Metal animated film. He can also depict both force and speed very well. You can feel the bones breaking as bodies get distorted and feel a slight breeze as these characters move at inhuman like speeds. Mike Spencer’s coloring is also quite strong. His color palette makes all that action pop and at times is key to telling many of these characters apart.
Writer/Artist: Kristen Gudsnuk
Publisher: Dark Horse
Henchgirl shows you do not have to sacrifice storytelling for comedy. When making a comic that actively spoofs much of the superhero and action genre Kristen Gudsnuk took time to make compelling characters on all sides. On its face, Henchgirl is a comedic deconstruction of the superhero and action film genre that is full of laughable characters with weird powers that work much better at getting a big laugh than they do at fighting crime. Outside of all the comedy is a well-crafted story dealing with relationships, overcoming impossible expectations set upon you by family, and lastly a kickass tale about a hench girl trying to do right. The dramatic bits often sneak up on you especially as the story nears its conclusion, which separates it from titles from a similar ilk that don’t bring much more to the table than a heavy dose a wackiness and snarky comments.
Artist: Jonas Goonface
Publisher: Boom! Studios
I do not think I can properly explain Godshaper in a way that does justice to its imaginative concept and world. It is a title where the art and story compliment each other so well I was shocked to find out it wasn’t written and drawn by the same person. The look is so specific I could not see this comic working with any other artist outside of Jonas Goonface, which is another name to add to the list of breakout artists of this year. There is no worry about the medium of comics becoming stale of we continue to get inspired titles like Godshaper. A true revelation of storytelling and art.
37. The Defenders
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
For anyone who thinks Brian Michael Bendis has lost a step you must pick up The Defenders to see Bendis doing what Bendis does best. Taking characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and showing how he can still make them as interesting as ever. I know many were let down by the show on Netflix, and if you were this goes a very different direction that is much more fun to experience. Also David Marquez needs to be listed in the top echelon of artists today. All you need to do is see the Electra vs Iron Fist fight to see how incredible he has become as an artist. Easily my favorite fight sequence in any comic this year.
36. Black Science
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Matteo Scalera
Publisher: Image Comics
There are a lot of movies that can evolve over time. None can basically change genre with each new arc like Black Science. This past year alone it was a fantasy story taking place during the days of knights and witches, a superhero story with heroes reminiscent of the Golden Age of comics, and most recently an ultimate disaster movie where the world is facing its inevitable destruction. Having the premise of a reality-hopping pillar makes the possibilities endless. Right when you think things will level out in some sense of normalcy Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera will then bring on the crazy.
35. Batman: White Knight
Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: DC Comics
The world of comics have long been filled with different versions of Batman. He is basically the Madonna of comics reinventing himself for each new generation from Adam West’s campy portrayal to Frank Millers’ Dark Knight to Christopher Nolan’s Batman in the real world. Comics have also been filled with infamous Elseworld versions of the character like Gotham by Gaslight and more recently DC’s mega-event Dark Night’s Metal. As both writer and artist, Sean Murphy has complete control over this book. We are seeing one man construct his vision piece by piece. Murphy’s art is as good as advertised. Full of emotion, depth, and the gothic feel that is synonymous with classic Batman stories. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are a big reason for that as well. His use of muted tones set the atmosphere that he then punctuates at the right moments with sharp reds to heighten the violence and energy. Whether it is used in contrasting backgrounds or bloody faces when it appears it is effective at upping the tension.
34. Batman / Elmer Fudd Special
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Lee Weeks
Publisher: DC Comics
I was not sure if I would include one-shots on this list as it is challenging to compare a twenty-page story to other ongoing titles. At the end of the day they did meet the cut and that was mostly due to how great the Batman / Elmer Fudd Special was. This year there were a number of Looney Tunes -DC crossovers and most ranged from okay to awful. Then the day came when this comic was released and took the premise of Looney Tunes characters in the DC universe and made it work like no one else did. There is no doubt Tom King is a great writer but the person who is most responsible for making this crazy idea as successful as it was is Lee Weeks. All you need to do is see the way he drew the human version of Porky Pig to realize how brilliant of a job he did for such a silly idea. I am happy that Weeks got to do more work at Batman on this year’s annual and I hope he makes a return once again. He was born to draw Batman.
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
When reading Descender I find myself just sitting back and absorbing Dustin Nyguyen’s beautiful watercolor artwork. There is really no other book that looks quite like it out today. When you match that with Jeff Lemire storytelling talents you get one solid science fiction story. Imagine if A.I. Artificial Intelligence followed through with its promise and you have this book.This year the stakes got raised with the “Rise of the Robots” storyline. Moments that have been building since the beginning finally began to come together. My only concern is what is next for this series as it will be nearly impossible to keep that momentum going. But for Lemire and Nguyen doing the impossible is the norm.
32. California Dreamin’
Writer/Artist: Pénélope Bagieu
Going into this I knew nothing about Cass Elliot outside of the urban legend of how she died, nor had I listened to her music outside of hearing it playing while shopping at my local department store. Yet I was enthralled by the way Pénélope Bagieu told her story. It is a basic concept that works. Telling a unofficial biography of a person not by their own accounts, but rather through the lens of the people who knew her best. I am unsure how close these stories stick to reality and ultimately that is not what is important. What is important is they all have an authenticity to them and make Cass into a complex and intriguing figure that inspires you to find out the true story. How this woman with the incredible voice and outgoing personality claimed she was going to conquer the world and basically achieved that goal. You sympathize with her, you are frustrated by her, and by the end you end up knowing her maybe better than she knew herself. It makes her death all that more tragic as she is this figure that as wondered into obscurity over the recent decades. Hopefully, a book like this can educate more people like myself over the icon that was Cass Elliot.
31. The Death of Stalin
Writer: Fabien Nury
Artist: Thierry Robin
Publisher Titan Comics
What happens when one of the most powerful men in history passes away? Who is left to pick up the pieces? Does society fall into chaos or erupt into celebration over the news that one of history’s most vicious tyrants has succumb to this own mortality? Well we can get answers to all those questions by looking at actual history, and the graphic novel The Death of Stalin does exactly that by covering the events that occurred in the Soviet Union directly after Joseph Stalin died.Overall The Death of Stalin‘s subject matter and subtle execution may not appeal to wide audience. That’s not due to the quality of the book, as this is a well told story that properly conveys its importance. Ultimately, for those patient readers willing to invest in this story, they will find themselves heavily rewarded. This is set to be a movie next year and I wonder how well it will capture the adjusting tones of this series. Comics can get away with a level of black humor most movies can’t. Considering it is coming from the same people that gave us Veep and In the Loop I have faith they will do the original property justice.
30. Eleanor and the Egret
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Sam Kieth
Eleanor and the Egret is that story we have seen time and time again about a magical talking Egret that needs to eat expensive art in order to survive. You know that classic tale. In all seriousness, John Layman and Sam Kieth have woven an elegant story of museum heists and fantastical fun. It is also a treat to see Sam Kieth making great comics once again. He is putting out work that is imaginative as ever that shows he still has elite level talent. This is a series that went under the radar for many, and it could be because the subject matter does not necessarily jump off the page. It was that fact that made it such a surprise to me. I became engulfed in the story and especially found the end touching on an unexpected level.
29. The Dregs
Writer: Lonnie Nadler
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
The Dregs bills itself as “the first homeless meta noir ever made”, and I am inclined to believe that statement. Lonnie Nadler and Eric Zawadzki have come together to write a comic that demonstrates how ugly the world can get and how the answer to that ugliness may come from the most unlikely sources. The inventive framework lets them weave in many meta textual elements that could be massive story beats or the misgivings of a madmen. The ‘is this real or not game’ can get annoying at times if it’s not done right. Why it works here is there is an underlying foundation give you something to hold onto and invest in.
28. Time & Vine
Writer/Artist: Thom Zahler
Time & Vine has one of those simple yet brilliant concepts that should have been done thousands of times by now but never has before. That idea being you can take a bottle of wine and time travel to the year the bottle was made. Yes, some people have ‘time traveled’ drinking wine before. This is literal time travel though. It’s like if Back to the Future was made by a Vermont Winery. It is quaint, with low stakes, and in no rush to raise tension unnecessarily. Thom Zahler’s art has a more cartoonish style so going into this I thought it would be heavy on the comedic side. In reality, it’s a light drama that works as delightful comfort food.
27. Rebels: These Free and Independent States
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Andrea Mutti, Wilfredo Torres, Joan Urgell
Publisher: Dark Horse
I have to thank Dark Horse for being willing to put out a monthly comic that covered historical events during the Revolutionary War…for a second time. Rebels: These Free and Independent States follows up Brian Wood’s Rebels series from a few years prior. This version tells a number of stories that take place during early United States history such as the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. This series is such an anomaly it deserves credit for simply existing. Brian Wood is also a fantastic writer that can tell a complete story in one issue or a few. He stays true to the time period researching small details to make these past worlds feel authentic.
26. Moon Knight
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Greg Smallwood
Moon Knight is one of those lower tier characters that for some reason keeps leading to really great comics no matter who is writing him. It helps when great writers like Warren Ellis and Jeff Lemire are the ones penning the script. Still, Moon Knight is a character that has so many different avenues for interpretation writers and artists can give him their own distinct voice. With this most recent run Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, as well as other artists dealt with his ever changing personality disorder head on. On a sheer art level this series was impressive with how many styles seamlessly fit into one issue. It is unlike anything I have seen before and probably will ever see again.
By: Guy Delisle, Brigitte Findakly
Publisher: Drawn + Quarterly
What makes Hostage such a captivating book is what it doesn’t do. This story of a man kidnapped in the middle of the night and confined to stay in one room for months does not try to spice things up by adding gimmicks or unnecessary drama. It stays true to the true life events it was based on. You see the small things a person must do to cling to sanity, like simply trying to remember what day it is and the fear that occurs when the one anchor to reality begins to slip away. We stay in that room, living the mystery like he did. Not knowing much of the what and the why that led to this moment. The limited perspective kept the pacing moving while making you feel the length of the entire ordeal.
24. Secret Weapons
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Artist:: Raul Allen
Publisher: Valiant Comics
When notable authors and creators from other mediums dabble in the world of comics there is automatic intrigue. For one it shows how far reaching the medium of comics is and it hopefully will lead to some quality work. Eric Heisserer may not have the name recognition of someone like Kevin Smith but he is hot on the heels of getting nominated for an Academy Award due to writing one of the best movies of 2016 in Arrival. From a pure optics standpoint, it is great for Valiant to show they are just as capable of landing talented writers as the big two of the comic industry. The point of Secret Weapons is that there was this secret team of psiots that were hidden away because their powers were pretty much useless. While other psiosts had the power to level cities they could do things like make a stick glow. For those that enjoyed Grant Morrison’s run on the New X-Men, there are certainly similarities with how he approached the vast levels of the mutant genome. Heisserer’s characters though are not as downright crazy as some of what Morrison put together.
23. My Brother’s Husband
By: Gengoroh Tagame, Anne Ishii (Translator)
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Manga is not a medium I am well versed in by any means, but in my attempt to learn more about comics wanted to read some of the more notable titles from this year. I was somewhat concerned this would turn into some form of after-school special that hit all the typical prejudicial issues we often see. In reality, it’s more of a realistic take on how a person works through trying to understand why someone he should be close to could live a life so much different than him. Also works as a window into different ways cultures view homosexuality. It would also be a disservice to make it seem like that is the only major point of this story because at its heart its a human tale filled with touching dialog and endless levels of sweetness.
22. Royal City
Writer/Artist: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Royal City
What Jeff Lemire has done with Royal City is craft a story that works on a human drama level first and foremost. The supernatural element that permeates in the background adds a lot of intrigue to sweeten the story. Jeff Lemire has made Royal City into this quiet book that is provocative in its approach to death and how it affects us all in different ways. Part of me feels like this may be Lemire’s most personal story especially when it comes to the character of Pat. Pat is finding himself lost in this world. An aspect Lemire demonstrates in a simple yet poignant page about the two-sided person he has become. How it is true what they say about trying to go home again and how you end up being this split personality. Partially the person people once knew you as and partially as who you have now become. It is that element that gives Royal City much of its intimate feel.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin, Joelle Jones, Clay Mann, Mitch Gerads
It may be early in his career but Tom King is writing one of my favorite runs of Batman ever. What is fascinating about his take on this title is that Batman is actually the main character of the story he is telling. That may seem like a given, but often when it comes to Batman stories the focal point of the story is the villain or whatever disaster Batman has to stop. What King is doing is diving deep into who Batman is and what would drive a man not only to become a creature of the night but to stay that way. Major changes began during ‘The Button’ story line when Batman came face to face with the Batman of Flashpoint universe and was told something he was not expecting to hear. That was then followed up with one of the best single issues of the year in the ‘The Brave and the Mold’ where the impact of fatherhood played a key role. All this has led to Batman trying to force himself to live a more normal life, the issue being he has removed himself so far from the normal he does not know what that means.