Greetings, ‘Rama readers - and welcome to the final Best Shots column of 2016! As the year finally draws to a close, your favorite team of rambunctious reviewers has taken stock over the last 12 months of comics to present to you the Best of Best Shots 2016!
2016 proved to be a watershed year for comics publishers, with DC Comics leading the charge with their relaunched and revamped lineup with DC's "Rebirth," as well as the debut of the Gerard Way-curated imprint Young Animal. Marvel, meanwhile, came off of a big event with Secret Wars with another big event in the form of Civil War II, featuring big twists like two new Iron Men and Steve Rogers as a sleeper Hydra agent.
On the creator-owned side, Image Comics announced that it would be moving to Portland in 2017, following the release of titles such as A.D.: After Death, The Fix, and Black Monday Murders, as well as the conclusion of long-running series Chew. BOOM! Studios, meanwhile, continued with creator-owned debuts such as Backstagers, Goldie Vance and SLAM! as well as some top-tier licenses with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and WWE.
IDW launched new #1s for Rom, Micronauts, M.A.S.K., and Action Man, tying into a linewide crossover with Revolution, which established them in the same comic book universe as G.I. Joe and Transformers; Dynamite Entertainment capped off its 2016 with the announcement of John Wick tie-in comic books; and Valiant debuted its 4001 A.D. crossover, flinging characters like Rai, Eternal Warrior, and X-O Manowar into a dystopian future, while its current Divinity III: Stalinverse storyline has twisted the Valiant Universe’s history further.
Yet outside of comic books releases, 2016 had its share of sadness, with the passing of legendary creators such as Darwyn Cooke, Steve Dillon, Paul Ryan, Alvin Buenaventura and more, as well as excitement, such as films like Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, and the Golden Globe-nominated Deadpool, the four-way crossover on the CW Arrowverse, and a slew of video game titles, including Batman: The Telltale Series and the announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
With all that going on, 2016 was a big year - and 2017 will only get bigger. From all of us at Best Shots, we thank you for continuing to read, comment and share our column, and to continuing the comics conversation. And now, without further adieu, let us kick off the Best of Best Shots 2016!
Bronze – Aquaman (DC Comics): Aquaman is a character that, for better or worse, has gone through many significant changes throughout his tenure as a DC Universe mainstay. We all remember the campy, Super Friends-esque Silver Age version of the King of Atlantis. Likewise, overcompensation for memories of this has also resulted in a version of Arthur Curry that’s excessively dark, brooding and violent. However, since the post-"Rebirth" relaunch of the series, writer Dan Abnett has turned Aquaman into one of DC’s most intriguing titles on the shelves. The series thus far has played out like a political thriller, with the King of Atlantis struggling to establish peaceful relations between his kingdom and the United States. For a superhero story, Abnett has crafted a tale that’s surprisingly grounded, mirroring the current geopolitical climate in America without feeling like a heavy-handed attempt to impose an agenda on the reader. For these reasons, Aquaman has secured a spot on this list and is highly worth picking up if it’s not already on your pull list.
Silver – Deadpool (Marvel/20th Century Fox): For many, the possibility of a comic book-accurate version of the Merc with a Mouth on the big screen was merely a fantasy. At least fans could rest easy knowing they got to see Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, right? Wrong! After spending years (12, to be specific) in development hell, fans finally got what they’d been chomping at the bit for this year, as Deadpool hit theaters and the titular character was brought to life by Ryan Reynolds. Overall, the film was crude, crass, and cringe-worthy at times, but it was everything that a Deadpool movie needed to be. From the obscenities to the violence to the metatextual humor, Deadpool was nothing short of a perfect big screen adaptation of the character, and it’s only fitting that the film finds a place on this list.
Gold – Detective Comics (DC Comics): During the era of the "New 52," you’d be hard-pressed to find readers who said Detective Comics was the number one Batman book on store shelves. Fast forward to June 8, 2016, when the series reverted back to its original numbering with issue #934, and you’re left with a title that’s once again worthy of sharing its publisher’s namesake. Detective Comics is not only the greatest Batman book in DC’s current line-up; it’s also one of the greatest overall team books in mainstream comic books today. What writer James Tynion IV has managed to do with his ensemble cast of Bat-family favorites, as well as a surprising standout in the form of Clayface, is incredible. In fact, there’s no sign of things slowing down, with Batwoman now getting her own solo series thanks to her resurgence in popularity since Tynion took over. Due to the rotating art team of Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez, Detective Comics is also one the best-looking books on the stands today.
Item to Watch in 2017 – Tom King (DC Comics): Back in September, a writer by the name of Tom King was the recipient of the Harvey Award for Most Promising New Talent. Perhaps you’ve read some of his work in the pages of The Sherriff of Babylon. Maybe The Vision? Oh, and there’s also that book about the guy with the pointy-eared cowl, what’s that one called? Oh yeah, Batman! That’s right - in 2016, King was given the reins to arguably DC’s most prolific character, who he continues to transcend and evolve as his run progresses. Furthermore, King took The Vision to unheard of heights, with a chilling, 12-issue run that proved to be one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of 2016. Although King has been writing for several years now, 2016 saw his prominence in the comic book industry undergo a meteoric rise, and there’s enough momentum behind it to keep him in the forefront, both in 2017 and beyond.
Bronze - Lone Ranger/Green Hornet (Dynamite Entertainment): Who could have guessed that two icons of classic masked heroism would deliver one of 2016‘s most emotionally resonant and thrilling event books? Noted Batman producer and pulp comic enthusiast Michael Uslan scripted a consistently entertaining throwback adventure starring a wizened Lone Ranger and Tonto guiding a young Britt Ried and Kato into the life of masked heroism. But while the hook is deeply rooted in pulp, Uslan also makes this a series about legacy, history, and family with stirring scenes of pathos intertwined between the hard knuckled action. Penciler Giovanni Timpano and colorist Pete Pantazis also impress throughout, offering up airbrush-inspired set pieces, rustic looking flashbacks, and character designs that allow for complex emotions and well constructed hero shots. Though not as flashy as some of this year’s events, Lone Ranger/Green Hornet was a welcome return to classic heroism for today’s modern audience.
Silver - Supremacy of the Cybermen (Titan Comics): Structured and presented like a big budget prestige miniseries, Titan Comics’ Supremacy of the Cybermen takes the multi-Doctor format of last year’s Four Doctors and expands on it to great effect to present an appropriately huge event for the property. Series writers George Mann and Cavan Scott, steady hands at all manner of the Doctor’s regenerations, have a novel take on the multi-Doctor narrative in which all the Doctors and their companions are starring in their own separate Cyber-infused narratives that coalesce into an epic full story spanning across five huge issues. Artists Tazio Bettin, Ivan Rodriguez, and Alessandro Vitti along with colorists Enrica Eren Angiolini and Nicola Righi add to that compelling disconnect with varying pencil styles and color choices for each Doctor’s story; the only thing they all have in common is their consistently large scales. With a big cast and a big story to tell, Supremacy of the Cybermen took bar set by Titan’s last Doctor Who event and threw it into the cosmos with a confidently entertaining event series.
Gold - Detective Comics (DC Comics): "Rebirth" has been a much-needed shot in the arm for multiple DC heroes, but no team has benefited more from the re-branding than the Bat-family in Detective Comics. Hard hitting and sometimes heartbreaking, James Tynion IV took the fan-favorite Batwoman and gathered a team of the best and brightest Gotham had to offer, plus one reformed villain, and then messed around and delivered one of the best takes on the iconic title since the heady days of Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla’s “Black Mirror.” Beyond the tightly-plotted stories and diverse cast, Tynion’s tenure has been throughly engaging and focused on the people behind the mask, making it the most human of the Bat titles and the most compelling of the "Rebirth" era. Rendered by the flowing detail-oriented pencils of Eddy Barrow, Alvaro Martinez, Al Barrionuevo and Carmen Carnero and inked and colored by a wealth of artistic talent, the artwork for this run of Detective has matched Tynion’s emotional scripts at every turn giving it a look worthy of its slick tone. Batwoman and her team have had successful turns in other books, both solo and on teams, but this new Detective Comics run has been the spotlight they all sorely needed in 2016.
Item to Watch in 2017 - DC’s Young Animal: Gerard Way’s grand bizarre comic experiment hasn’t had time to fully blossom just yet, but already it’s making waves throughout the industry. Led by talents like Jody Houser, Way himself, Marley Zarcone, Cecil Castellucci, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Michael Avon Oeming each title has established the fledgling imprint as the heir apparent to Vertigo Comics, all punk rock energy and big ideas as they fling new and returning characters back into the fray. All four titles have committed themselves to trippy storytelling and quirky yet relatable characters that play with the constructs of conventional comic book storytelling while keeping the core of established characters like Shade and the Doom Patrol intact. Though Young Animal made its debut this year and planted its flag as the new weird neighbor to Rebirth’s Earth-1, I have a good feeling that 2017 is going to be the place to be for us weirdoes who like our comics dangerous.
Bronze - The Backstagers (BOOM! Studios): 2016 has been an exhausting year, and sometimes the best comic bookss are the ones that just make you smile. The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh, Walter Baiamonte, and Jim Campbell is an charming eight-issue miniseries that has only grown stronger since its debut in August. Sygh’s animated style and Baiamonte’s gorgeous colors elevate Tynion’s writing into a book as magical as the world the boys of St. Genesius Preparatory High School inhabit. Jory, Beckett, Sasha, and the other backstage boys are endearing and relatable, and Tynion and Sygh have done an impressive job slowly building up the darker, eerier mystery that haunts the St. Genesius theater in a way that will keep readers hooked. The Backstagers has been a delight, and will be sorely missed when it wraps up in 2017.
Silver - Kim & Kim (Black Mask Studios): Everything about the delivery of Magdalene Visaggio’s Black Mask debut title Kim & Kim made this four-issue miniseries a standout in a crowded field of impressive 2016 debuts. Eva Cabrera’s playful art and Claudia Aguirre’s psychedelic Lisa Frank colors made every issue a delight to look at, and even smaller touches like panel composition and Zakk Saam’s delightful lettering go a long way towards giving Kim & Kim a distinctive and fully-developed voice. Four issues wasn’t enough for Kim D. and Kim Q.’s adventures to reach a satisfying conclusion, but thankfully Black Mask and Visaggio have announced the Fighting Kims are returning for a second volume, tentatively slated for the summer of 2017. (Visaggio’s second Black Mask title, Quantum Teens are Go, also looks like it’s worth checking out.)
Gold - Space Battle Lunchtime (Oni Press): 2016 was a strong year for miniseries. Rounding out my personal best-ofs is Space Battle Lunchtime from Oni Press, a beautiful and delightfully funny miniseries written and illustrated by Natalie Riess. Riess’ tale is Cutthroat Kitchen meets the Mos Eisley Cantina, and follows the adventures of Earth baker Peony as she gets swept off to fill in on the series’ eponymous smash hit cooking show. Riess’ work bends genres in the best ways, deftly threading mystery and light-hearted romance elements through with surprising glimpes of dark humor. Her style and colorwork are inviting; some of the culinary treats her cast offers are downright mouthwatering. With its clever story and playful artwork, Space Battle Lunchtime is an incredible book on all levels, and absolutely make Riess an artist to watch.
Item to Watch in 2017 - Justice League/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (DC Comics/BOOM! Studios): Exactly what it says on the tin. Justice League meets Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. This is the comic book crossover that childhood dreams are made of, and it’s reassuring to see it in the hands of BOOM! after the solid year they’ve had with licensed properties (including Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya’s own Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on-going). This is the second collaborative effort from Boom and DC, and if Justice League/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers can be half as fun as the Gotham Academy/Lumberjanes crossover, writer Tom Taylor and artist Stephen Byrne are sure to deliver us a morphinomenal treat.
Bronze – Women of Marvel: Marvel’s been making strides with both their female characters and creative teams over the past few years, and while it’s still not perfect, the House of Ideas has undeniably been getting better. For starters, we’ve had Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which have continued the tone that Matt Fraction and David Aja established on the former back in 2012. Meanwhile, Black Panther has elevated characters like Ayo and Aneka, to the point where Roxane Gay is writing their own book in Black Panther: World of Wakanda with Alitha E. Martinez on art. Laura Kinney has given the Wolverine name a renewed energy in All-New Wolverine, while Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel feature prominently in team books in addition to their solo series. Finally, I’ll mention Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for being hilarious on every page, in part thanks to Erica Henderson and Brittany Williams nailing the perfect comedic tone with their artwork. If anything, this goes to show how far Marvel has come since 2012 when Captain Marvel was their only solo female title.
Silver – The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics): Let’s be real - the fourth arc of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson and Clayton Cowles’s exploration of pop culture was the best comic book event of the year. It was bombastic and explosive every step of the way and the conclusion to the arc goes to show it’s impossible to predict exactly where the book will go moving into the second half of the series. But that’s not all this series did this year. It would be remiss of me to not mention The Wicked + The Divine: 1831, which jumped back two cycles of gods to give us a glimpse into the 19th century and brought along Stephanie Hans to masterfully illustrate the period, or to exclude The Wicked + The Divinev #23, which featured interiors from Kevin Wada, adopting a magazine style to explore the current status quo for the gods, making for one of the few times prose in comics has worked exactly as intended.
Gold – Tom King (DC Comics/Marvel Comics/Vertigo): Has anyone seriously had a better year than Tom King? No, I’m serious. How many writers have previously stuck the landing to three tremendous series - Sheriff of Babylon, The Omega Men and The Vision - capped off a stylish and sexy run on Grayson with Tim Seeley (including a mini-event in Robin War), and then been given the keys to Gotham, writing DC’s flagship Batman title? Oh, and he’s also got a page in this week’s Love is Love anthology to cap it off. A writer that’s always swinging for the fences, his career has been fascinating to watch develop month to month. He’s proven himself capable of tackling U.S. interventionism, subverting stereotypical spy tropes, asking what it means to be human and outright action. Simply put, Tom King is one of the most multifaceted writers in the industry today and I have no idea what he’s going to tackle next. And that’s the most exciting thing about him.
Item to Watch in 2017 – Legion (Marvel Comics/FX): Despite the wealth of comic book TV and movies that we’ve been privy to over the past decade or so, outside of Christopher Nolan, it hasn’t really been a field filled with auteurs. That’s going to change come in February when Noah Hawley and FX premiere Legion. In short, David Haller is a schizophrenic mutant who has been kept in psychiatric hospitals for most of his life and his life dramatically changes when he comes into contact with another patient, suggesting there may be more to his mental illness than what he, and everyone else, initially perceived. From the glimpses we’ve been given thus far and Hawley’s desire to make it like a Terrence Stamp movie from 1964, Legion has a visual style like nothing we’ve seen before. This, in conjunction with Fargo season two being the finest season of television of at least the past 10 years, indicates that Legion will not only be a series to watch, but one that you should be counting down the time until you can.
Bronze - Unbelievable Gwenpool (Marvel Comics): Unbelievable Gwenpool had no business being as charming and enjoyable as it has been. Or maybe it did. From a premise that causes half of potential readers to smash their "Angry" Facebook reactions before turning a single page, writer Christopher Hastings delivered some of the best comic book comedy in years amidst genuine character moments. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, Hastings work on the Adventure Time comic books since the beginning of 2015 showed just how good he is at balancing comedy, heart, and overall plots. With Unbelievable Gwenpool, though, he was really firing on all cylinders. Barring a two-issue Miles Morales crossover hiccup, the series was extremely consistent and enjoyable on multiple readthroughs. The art team of Gurihiru delivers their strongest and most inspired work book after book and helped give this series the unique tone that it has.
Silver - Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York (BOOM! Studios): Greg Pak's Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York crossover could have been a phoned-in nostalgia trip and it would still garner a lot of fans. Despite this iconic source material, Pak has crafted a crossover that has surpassed major publisher's comic book events this year to a laughable degree. While his take on Jack Burton and Snake Plissken stay true to John Carpenter's original films, he has added nuance that has made Jack Burton, in particular, the most fun character to read this year. Regular BOOM! Studios artist Daniel Bayliss' art is impressive and gives just as much individuality to the characters as Pak's dialogue. Beyond nostalgia and pure fun, the comic has been gradually ramping up its stakes and characterization and is definitely shaping up to be one of the highlights of early 2017 as it wraps up.
Gold - The Vision (Marvel Comics): The greatest strength that The Vision has is the way that it transcends the medium while also being emblematic of so much that comic books are capable of. Beyond realizing that it is a great comic book when finishing an issue, it's hard to walk away not feeling that you have just read something special. Despite its focus on a character with decade-spanning lore, The Vision stands strong enough and gives enough context to its cast that it stands as one of the few books from the Big Two that you can unquestionably recommend to non-comic book fans. Through an often-intimate examination of a character defined by his non-humanness, writer Tom King delivers a story with such humanity that it's hard not to ache as you turn the pages. As the Vision spirals through a nervous breakdown, King's writing elicits empathy of the highest order. Reading The Vision is one of the most anxiety-ridden experiences with fiction I have ever had. Honestly, this would be an easy end-of-decade inclusion at this point. This is more than a great comic. This is art.
Item to Watch - Seven to Eternity (Image Comics): Four issues in and Rick Remender's decidedly weird tale is easily the best blending of science-fiction and fantasy since Saga. What it nails better than even that series is atmosphere. Every aspect of Remender's writing and Opena's art contribute to one of the most internally consistent fictional universes in recent memory. It's a world where everything feels meticulously planned and deliberate, and a plot that continually delivers the unexpected. The influence of Alejandro Jadorowsky is clear, as every panel of eldritch psychedelics is even better than the last. This title is only four issues along, but has the potential to be the next runaway success of Image Comics.
Bronze – Moon Knight (Marvel Comics): Fans may have groaned when they read that the new Moon Knight series was going to explore Marc Spector’s struggle with his fractured personalities… again. But Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire have found new life in that well-walked territory by exploring it in very real - and very fantastical - terms. Through a constant shift between the real world and an epic New Egypt, Lemire is able to lose the readers in Spector’s mind, an experience that is rewarding in its ability to bewilder. Greg Smallwood’s artwork beautifully melds the world of a ghoulish psychiatric hospital with an equally nightmarish apocalypse where New York has fallen prey to the Egyptian gods. Bellaire’s colors capture the dust and grime of this world and Spector’s perception of it. But Moon Knight truly shined in its most recent arc, a tour-de-force of coordination and timing in bringing in four additional artists - James Stokoe, Francesco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, and Michael Garland - into the fold to tackle the stories of Spector’s other personalities. The contrasting art styles were weaved together beautifully, at times transitioning from panel to panel. That the story being told was emotional and heartfelt was simply the best icing on a delicious cake.
Silver – David F. Walker (Marvel Comics/DC Comics/Dynamite Entertainment): Whether it’s been in the violent pages of Nighthawk, the spectacularly fun Power Man and Iron Fist, or the cool pages of Shaft: Imitation of Life, writer David Walker has been bringing a variety of nuanced characters to life and putting them through the ringer throughout 2016. It’s hard to understate the assortment of characters Walker has given readers or the breadth of the tones he has traversed in his books. On the very surface, Power Man and Iron Fist and Shaft: Imitation of Life are throwbacks to the Blaxploitation era and 1970s New York. But the two books could not be more different in their approach, whereas the adventures of Luke Cage and Danny Rand were humorous and light-hearted, Shaft’s journey through New York’s underworld was grimy and tough. Neither book could be confused for the other. And while Shaft was violent, he never once touched the cruel brutality of Kyle Richmond in Nighthawk. Each of these characters, along with those on the pages of Cyborg and the new series Occupy Avengers has been given a depth and dimensionality by Walker that is sorely lacking in many comic books, and Walker’s ability to see their weaknesses and strengths and give them stories that attack both has been incredible.
Gold – The Flintstones (DC Comics): Licensed comic books have often been hit-or-miss throughout the ages, but The Flintstones has been stellar from its very first issue. Writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh give each page nuance, from exploring the lives of the animal appliances to the family dynamics that made the Hanna-Barbera cartoon so long-lived. Pugh’s lineart perfectly captures the world of the old cartoon, but not so slavishly that he isn’t able to add his own stylistic touches. Fred is now a gorilla of a man, and that works to capture the proportions of his Hanna-Barbera counterpart while also highlighting the “primitive” nature of the world. Chris Chuckry’s colors here are stunning, simultaneously capturing the “slate” nature of the city of Bedrock while maintaining a vibrancy and wonder. And thanks to Russell’s care in his scripting, the book is able to explore topics like war, marriage troubles, and religion without being preachy or heavy-handed. With The Flintstones, Russell, Pugh, and Chuckry have made one of the true surprises of 2016, and prove each issue that a more “mature” reinvention of a property doesn’t necessitate it being “dark” or “gritty.”
Item to Watch in 2017 – Black Panther (Marvel Comics): 2016 was a big year for T’Challa, between a standout appearance in the film Captain America: Civil War, a high-selling, critically acclaimed title by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin, and Chris Sprouse as well as a spin-off title, Black Panther: World of Wakanda. The spotlight has never been brighter for the character. But 2017 looks to be an even more important year. To start things off, his own solo film is slated to go into production in January. Helmed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), the film boasts an impressive cast featuring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett among others, the film will have a lot riding on it, being the lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War. Additionally, on the comic books side, Coates’ initial story is set to end and the solicits for the conclusion have suggested that Wakanda may be changing to a republic government as opposed to a monarchy - a shift that has more than a few long-time Panther fans wary of what the future holds. But in many ways, it is that great unknown that will make this property the one to watch. The franchise found a new spotlight this year, but in 2017, it will need to show it was worth it.
Bronze - The Flintstones (DC Comics): Color me quite surprised when of all of the Hanna-Barbera books to come out that The Flintstones would be the keeper. Filled with biting social satire and fleshed-out characters mined from these decades-old cartoons, The Flintstones gives its readers something completely new for the world of Bedrock and leaves you wanting more. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh have forged this great blend of humor and drama but still crafted this prehistoric mirror to our own time. Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, and even Pebbles and Bam-Bam explore life in a more simple time, but as the book goes on, themes like the purpose of one's own existence, gay marriage, and even religious hysteria are all touched on. If you've skipped The Flintstones because you had this predetermined notion that solid storytelling couldn't be done, you might want to go back and check out what Russell and Pugh have done to this modern stone age family.
Silver - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (BOOM! Studios): There's something to be said about the power of nostalgia, and how it can create these memories that imbue great power to childhood characters and events. Such is the case with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. BOOM! Studios' handling of the 20-year franchise gave new life to the original six Rangers (Jason, Zack, Billy, Trini, Kimberly, and Tommy), but what Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya have done here is not just a rehash of same old stories, but reinvented this world from the first floor. Starting after Tommy had joined the team, Higgins and Prasetya took the Rangers out of Angel Grove and put them on globetrotting adventures against the evil Rita Repulsa and her general Goldar. This year, they've also given us a completely new Ranger to the Mighty Morphin line whose identity has yet to be revealed, but it's something so different, it all feels new again. It's honestly no wonder this is one of BOOM!’s highest selling titles, and if you've been sleeping on this, you need to get back to action and pick this up.
Gold - Tom King (DC Comics/Marvel Comics/Vertigo): Trying to come up with a creator that had the most profound trajectory of 2016, and you're easily going to find Tom King at the top. His "King In Black Trilogy" with Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon, and The Vision cemented his rockstar status in comic books and gave both Marvel and DC some of their best books of the year. A former CIA operative, King's profound point of view with Sheriff took us back to the beginnings of the Iraq War; with Vision he took us to the concept of creation; and with Omega Men, gave us the Star Wars saga of DC Comics. King is still feeling his way around the Bat-verse and might have been a tough act to follow after Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s acclaimed run, but King has set his own path this year that can never be replicated.
Item To Watch in 2017 - Joelle Jones (DC Comics): Already possessing an impressive resume in the indies and some major Big Two work in the last couple of years, Joelle Jones is primed to capture everybody's attention with the release of Supergirl: Being Super. Since signing a DC exclusive contract, her stock has risen exponentially, but those who have followed her career since the likes of Spellcheckers knew there was something awesome about her. Wrapping up Lady Killer 2 for Dark Horse as writer and artist, Jones’ next step is surely one of DC's best and brightest with a much larger audience checking out what she does next.
Bronze: JMC Aggregate: Already a force in New York’s DIY art landscape, Jordan Michael Ianucci started publishing comics in 2015 and took those efforts even further in 2016. Ianucci is not only an expert curator, but someone who really thinks outside the box in terms of distribution. Early offerings such as Blake Sims’ Retro Slam Jam and Hazel Newlevant’s No Ivy League were more traditional in terms of their size and presentation, but Ianucci pushed the envelope with vom night. One part mini comic, one part music, vom night is team-up between musician gobbin jr. and artist Sophia Foster-Dimino and the presentation is brilliant. With vinyl pressing times at an all-time high and expensive to boot, Ianucci packages the collaboration as a comic that can fit in a 7” record sleeve and comes with a digital download of the music itself. The result is reminder that good art stands on its own, but sometimes it stands a little taller when someone cares enough to pay attention to how it can be enjoyed.
Silver: Nick Spencer (Marvel Comics/Image Comics): Nick Spencer has been kicking around comic books for awhile now, but 2016 was truly a banner year for him. While his Marvel career might have started slow, 2016 saw Spencer helping define Ant-Man and two Captain America titles in the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe. In addition to his solid work at Marvel, 2016 saw the release of The Fix for Image Comics, another collaboration with artist Steve Lieber and a reminder that Spencer has a knack for selling just about any concept with strong characterization and witty dialogue. As Spencer’s star continues to rise, it’s easy to see why the writer has been given a shot with flagship characters at the Big Two. With the television adaptation of Thief of Thieves on the way and undoubtedly more of Spencer’s creator-owned work coming down the pike, 2017 looks to be even bigger.
Gold: DC’s Trinity: DC reinvigorated their line with their second reset in the last five years, and it seems like they learned from past mistakes. While the "New 52" had some memorable runs and creatives teams, it failed to establish DC’s Trinity as the backbone of their universe. But with "Rebirth," they’ve not only made headlines with their creative pairings, they’ve gotten back to something that was sorely missed before: telling good, cohesive stories that celebrate their characters rather than admonish them. By embracing Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman’s own unique concepts, they’ve allowed the titles to form a foundation for the rest of the DCU to be built on, and as a result, when the characters are brought together, there’s more nuance in their interactions. With the DC cinematic universe rapidly expanding in the next few years, it’s important to give fans new and old the best version of these timeless characters. After a few missteps over the last few years, it seems DC’s gotten there in 2016.
Item to Watch in 2017: The Return of Wildstorm (DC Comics): Warren Ellis is back at DC for the first time since 2010, and he’s been tasked with launching the Wildstorm universe. While some characters have seen success in the larger DCU (namely Apollo and Midnighter), not all of them have been so lucky. By taking a similar approach to Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint, Ellis looks to curate a smaller line of titles that are centered around his book The Wild Storm, and Jon Davis-Hunt’s redesigns of characters like Grifter and the Engineer look incredible. It’s too soon to tell how long Ellis will stay with the project, but when a creator with his track record gets involved with something of this magnitude, it’s hard not to be excited.
David Pepose, Best Shots Captain:
Bronze - Animosity (Aftershock Comics): Equal parts Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Homeward Bound, Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de la Torre have delivered a surprisingly heartfelt post-apocalyptic story in Animosity. Over the course of four issues, Bennett and de la Torre established a world where all the animals suddenly gained intelligence and speech, waking up with a collective “oh holy f-ck.” Focusing on a loyal bloodhound named Sandor as he protects a young girl named Jesse, Bennett’s story smoothly threads the needle between deadly peril and unexpected humor, from birds throwing children off rooftops to pistol-packing koalas to panda bear suicide pacts. De la Torre, meanwhile, deserves plenty of praise for making all the various members of the animal kingdom expressive and endearing - if you haven’t fallen in love with Animosity yet, get on it now.
Silver - Detective Comics (DC Comics): Taking the greater Batman family and remixing them in the same spirit of Chris Claremont’s soap operatic Uncanny X-Men, James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and Alvaro Martinez set the bar for DC’s Rebirth high with Detective Comics. The creative team’s first arc, featuring a newly assembled Batman training squad against the Dark Knight-inspired black ops squad known as the Colony, might just stack up as one of the strongest Batman storylines in years, as Tynion brought a deft hand for characterization with standbys like Batwoman, Red Robin, and Spoiler and new additions like Orphan and Clayface. This series also proved to be an artistic high point for Eddy Barrows, who earned every bit of A-list status with scenes ranging from Batman tackling an entire platoon of Colony soldiers, while Alvaro Martinez seemingly came out of nowhere to show off some seriously polished art chops. Hitting a serious high point with a heroic sacrifice by Tim Drake, 2016 has been a stellar year for Detective Comics.
Gold - Marvel’s Teenage Heroes: While Marvel has struggled a bit between Secret Wars and Civil War II, those wanting to regain their faith in the House of Ideas need look no further than the next generation of Marvel heroes, spearheaded by Mark Waid, G. Willow Wilson, and Dennis Hopeless. While Wilson continued Kamala Khan’s hot streak as Marvel’s most likable and endearing character over in Ms. Marvel, Hopeless might have made the greatest jump in Q-rating with his beautiful and humane run with Mark Bagley on All-New X-Men, as he’s navigated Beast’s depression, Iceman’s sexuality and Cyclops’ search for purpose with a compassion and sureness that is rare in superhero comics. (And that’s not even counting Hopeless’s superlative work with Javier Fernandez on Spider-Woman. Seriously, pick it up.) But few titles have me as excited as Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos’s Champions, which brings together idealism and compelling team dynamics with an unpredictability that evokes Allan Heinberg and Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers runs. The Marvel Universe might be hobbling after back-to-back wars, but with Ms. Marvel, Champions and All-New X-Men, the kids are still all right.
Item to Watch in 2017 - Matthew Rosenberg (Marvel Comics/Black Mask Studios): After rising in prominence alongside Black Mask Studios over the past two years, 2017 looks like a new high water mark for Matthew Rosenberg. As his creator-owned series, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, continues to win over fans thanks to his witty, Goonies-esque characterization, Rosenberg also welcomes the first issue of Rocket Raccoon in stores this week (and spoiler alert: it’s really good). Yet outside of his signature brand of humor, Rosenberg will also have a variety of other works out in 2017, including The Archies one-shot with Alex Segura and Joe Eisma, the gritty crime saga for Kingpin over at Marvel, or my most anticipated series of the year, Secret Warriors, featuring a superteam including Daisy Johnson, Ms. Marvel, Karnak, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. With a catalog like that, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a creator you’d want to keep an eye on in 2017 more than Matthew Rosenberg.