Greetings, 'Rama readers! With Christmas officially in our rear view mirrors, 'tis the season for the greatest stocking stuffer of all - the Best of Best Shots 2015! It's been a big year for comic books, with Marvel and DC being dominated by their Secret Wars and Convergence crossovers, which mined their rich continuity for spinoffs and new storylines. Additionally, Marvel set the pace for this year's sales, with Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen spearheading their mega-successful Star Wars books, while DC struck back with the return of the legendary Frank Miller with Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
Image, meanwhile, continued to increase their market share with new titles from Brian K. Vaughan (Paper Girls, We Stand on Guard), Jeff Lemire (Descender), Majorie Liu (Monstress) and more, while imprint Top Cow Productions released its final issue of flagship series Witchblade. Archie, meanwhile, continued to reinvent itself with its hip reimagining of its flagship Archie and Jughead titles, featuring work by Mark Waid, Chip Zdarsky, Fiona Staples and more. Dark Horse made history with its release of Chuck Palahniak's sequel to Fight Club, Dynamite scored a major coup with the release of their new James Bond books with Warren Ellis and Jason Masters, while IDW Publishing killed an icon with the death of Snake Eyes over in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Valiant made some innovative moves not just with their Book of Death miniseries, which explored the final fates of characters such as Ninjak and the Eternal Warrior, but also with their "retailer-incentive" tie-in series Legends of the Geomancer.
Comic book also experienced plenty of growing pains this year, with DC's "DC You" and Marvel's "All-New, All-Different" relaunches resulting in faltering sales, while Dark Horse was the latest center of controversy following claims of editor Scott Allie's alleged history of harassment and assault. DC drew controversy with its Joker variant cover for its typically progressive series Batgirl, which featured the Joker holding a tearful Barbara Gordon hostage in homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke, while Marvel generated outrage with its rollout of its new Hercules series, which many critics claimed erased the character's historically queer background.
Yet there are great things coming in 2016 for the comic book industry, including feature films such as Captain America: Civil War, Batman v. Superman, X-Men: Apocalypse, Dr. Strange, and Deadpool, as well as the debut of the DC Comics television series DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Lucifer. DC Comics has confirmed they will begin shipping some series on a biweekly basis, while Marvel will roll out new series such as Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Black Widow and Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's International Iron Man. Image will celebrate the 150th issue of The Walking Dead as well as a new series by Mark Millar and Greg Capullo, IDW will launch a series of What If?-style one-shots featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, G.I. Joe and more with its "Deviations" event, and BOOM! Studios will tap into readers' nostalgia with its upcoming Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers series.
With all this going on, there's a lot to digest, and your favorite team of crackshot comic books critics have taken on the challenge! So without further adieu, let's kick off this year's Best of Best Shots 2015 with Observant Oscar Maltby!
Bronze - Ninjak (Valiant Entertainment): Valiant's high-kicking, gadget-slinging and tea-swilling martial artist with the funds of Batman and the raw charisma of James Bond made his memorable return in 2015, thanks to writer Matt Kindt, artist Butch Guice and a revolving door of top-notch pencillers. Clay Mann's lantern-jawed He-Men brought the superheroic ideal to life for Ninjak's debut arc, whilst Butch Guice stressed the cloak and dagger world of modern espionage with brooding figures and shadowy backdrops for the title's ever-present back-up strip. Matt Kindt's modern take on Colin King: Ninjak made for a ridiculously compelling comic book that reminded this reviewer of sleepy Sundays spent poring over dog-eared UK reprints of Marvel's G.I. Joe and Transformers titles. In a packed 2015, Ninjak stood out on the shelves as a unique dose of high-octane action.
Silver - Giant Days (BOOM! Box): John Allison's BOOM! Box debut brings the delightful and absorbing world of Tackleford and Beyond to the traditional comic book market. Giant Days is Allison at hisbest; mixing his trademark combination of honest pathos and genuine hilarity with endearing results. Although Giant Days will not reach the climax of its 12-issue run until next year, the nine issues that have been released so far are comic books of the highest quality. From Lissa Treiman's rubbery and kinetic artwork to Allison's joke-saturated script, Giant Days takes us away from the world of capes and meaningless plot to bring us a living and breathing University populated with realistic and relatable characters that still occasionally find themselves facing off against a insane threats (one issue pits Susan against a violent family of fake psychics, for instance!). Threatened to be forgotten amongst the tidal wave of weekly books from the Big Two, Giant Days must triumph. A no-brainer for Ms. Marvel, Batgirl and Gotham Academy fans.
Gold - Star Wars (Marvel Comics): Marvel's Star Wars made its triumphant return in January 2015 with a bestselling #1 that seemed to breathe life into the stagnating direct market. Jason Aaron's centerpiece ongoing series was both creatively and financially successful, perfectly capturing the tone of the movies with a satisfying slice of space opera that drove over a million readers into comic book shops across the globe. After a rock-solid start, Marvel continued to publish a carefully curated selection of ongoings and miniseries' that each shed new light on another sector of Disney's fresh Expanded Universe. Mark Waid's five-issue exploration of Princess Leia and Kieron Gillen's Indiana Jones-esque Darth Vader adventure were two early highlights, but the hits didn't stop there. From Chewbacca to Lando, a slew of creative heavy-hitters took on one of the world's largest intellectual properties and absolutely knocked it out of the park. Amongst other top-notch pencillers, Salvador Larroca, John Cassaday and Terry Dodson carefully transported the evocatively junk-filled and alien-saturated Star Wars universe to the comic book page with issues full of stunning artwork. It's a testament to Marvel's cultivation of fresh and established talent that the Bullpen managed to do justice to the holy grail of pop culture. Truly, a feat worthy of 2015's Gold award.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Wonder Woman (DC Comics): The DC Cinematic Universe is set to ignite with the release of March's Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, bringing with it the long awaited silver screen debut of Wonder Woman. With Gal Gadot's portrayal already tipped to be the highlight of a packed movie, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice will surely forge an entire new legion of fans for Princess Diana of Themyscira. Away from the big screen, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette are set to release the long-awaited Wonder Woman: Earth One in April 2016. This one's been in the pipeline for a long while now, with ardent readers the world hoping for Morrison to make as much of an impact on Wonder Woman as he has already with Batman, Superman and the X-Men (to mention only three!) For the heroes-in-training amongst us, the DC Superhero Girls line of merchandise and cartoons features an armored Diana at the forefront of what promises to be a multimedia onslaught of Monster High-style fashion dolls and associated gear. From the silver screen to the toy store to the bookshelf, Wonder Woman is set to define our superheroic 2016.
Bronze - Silk (Marvel Comics): Written by Robbie Thompson with art from Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, Silk emerged from the Spider-Verse and her underground bunker with an excellent new costume and enough quips to make Peter Parker hang his head in shame. Funny, and deceptively touching, Silk took on the bad guys while simultaneously holding down a job, trying to figure out how exactly one goes about being a superhero, and researching the location of her, worrying absent, family. As one of the few books featuring an Asian American lead, Silk had a lot of hopes riding on it but with a mix of breath taking visuals and authentic dialogue, it has more than lived up to expectations.
Silver - Fresh Romance (Rosy Press): The result of an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign by publisher Janelle Asselin, Fresh Romance from Rosy Press is an anthology style, romance comic that features a wide selection of well-known talent such as Kate Leth and Marguerite Bennett. With stories that deviate from the heteronormative standard, Fresh Romance takes a progressive stance on romance and highlights diversity in terms of creators, genres, and character design. Heartwarming, giggle-inducing, and cute as hell, Fresh Romance is truly joyous to behold.
Gold - Gotham Academy (DC Comics): Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl have not only created a whole world within an already established universe between the pages of Gotham Academy, they have filled it with an incredibly nuanced, diverse cast of characters. Of these characters it is Maps Mizoguchi who really stands out, whether she is sneaking through the walls of the building or throwing heart eyes at Damian Wayne, she is passionate and resourceful in a way that kid sisters are never allowed to be and really brings the heart to the book. With Scooby Doo style shenanigans meets Harry Potter by way of Gotham City, sharp dialogue, and beautiful artwork, Gotham Academy is amongst the best all-ages comics currently on the shelves.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Jonesy (Boom! Studios): Scheduled for release in February 2016, Jonesy will feature a sarcastic teenage girl with the power to make people fall in love. Written by Sam Humphries with art from Caitlin Rose Bryce, Jonesy looks to be cartoonish in all the best ways. Purported to only wear black and neon, listen to Bikini Kill and One Direction, and make 'zines in her spare time, Jonesy is already reflective of half of the adult and most of the teenage girls I know, and I can’t wait to find out more.
Bronze - DC Digital First Comics (DC Comics): From the new Bombshells to the longer-running Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman and Injustice: Gods Among Us, the DC Digital First Comics have been at the top of their game this year. With the vision from the line’s editor Kristy Quinn and the sheer amount of talent from the writers and artists involved, all the titles have exhibited a strong level of quality. Injustice continued to defy expectations by furthering the story of an average game and succeeding in making readers care about the in-between of that twisted universe, while titles like Bombshells and Sensation Comics pushed the boundaries of what comics could be about while still telling extremely engaging stories.
Silver - Star Wars (Marvel Comics): When Marvel announced its plans to launch new Star Wars series in 2015, no one was surprised. Who wouldn’t want to cash in on that obvious gold mine? However, Jason Aaron and John Cassady turned the Star Wars comic into more than just a money-making opportunity by making a comic that thoroughly exceeded expectations. Star Wars simultaneously managed to echo the Original Trilogy while still spinning an original tale that got fans both old and new excited. Even with new characters integrated into the story, the narrative momentum never wavered: we accepted the new additions because Aaron and Cassaday remained true to the essence of what we all love about Star Wars. The Star Wars comic continued to grow and solidify itself as one of Marvel’s leading titles, securing it’s spot on the list.
Gold - Lumberjanes (BOOM! Studios): You’d be hard pressed to find a book on the market that’s more fun than Lumberjanes. Besides the fact that it’s one of the most progressive titles out there, Lumberjanes has an engaging and original story that appeals to a wide variety of fans. Last year, when it was announced that Lumberjanes would move to an ongoing series, everyone wondered whether it would maintain its quality from month-to-month. This year, Lumberjanes took it to the next level and proved itself a sustainable title after Noelle Stevenson’s departure by making it one of the most diverse titles on the market. The all-female creative team most notably revealed Jo, one of the main characters, as transgender and proved that comics can be both be awesome stories with awesome and important messages.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Diversity and Representation in Comics: This year, we’ve seen a lot of great strides in diversity and representation in the comic book world. Some of the strides made this year were incredible; others could have been handled with a little more finesse but still served by continuing the important conversation about making the comic book community as inclusive as possible. This year, we saw creators like Dan Slott try and diversify the X-Men by revealing young Bobby Drake’s sexuality and getting some pushback from the LGBTQIA community; we saw an old Marvel title relaunch with a new young woman of color as one of its main characters with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur; we saw the oldest patriotic hero relaunch as a woman in Archie Comics’ The Shield; and had a large hero be the woman of her own story in Valiant’s Faith. With the independent comics and smaller presses at the helm, 2016 will be the time to see just how diverse and inclusive the comic book community can become.
Bronze - Apocalyptigirl (Dark Horse Comics): The age-old story of a girl and her cat is thrusted into an apocalyptical landscape with Andrew MacLean's Apocalyptigirl. MacLean uses tropes we've seen before with the in the post-apocalyptic genre, but uses them merely as backdrop for the true story here: heroine Aria the relationship with her cat, Jellybean, and their survival in a harsh wasteland. MacLean's animated style is almost reminiscient of Samurai Jack's Genndy Tartakovsky, with clean, simple movements that are easy on the eye, even with things become bloody (as they tend to do with MacLean). There's intensity sprinkled in this of course, but the heartbeat of the story remains with Aria and Jellybean as they cling to eachother for love in an unforgiving world.
Silver - Batman (DC Comics): There's been a few big passing the torch moments from 2015 already. Letterman to Colbert, Stewart to Noah, Wayne to Gordon. Yes, the latter will be a temporary one, but in a world where Dick Grayson is presumed dead (and already in his own solo title), who better to take the Bat-mantle than Jim Gordon? Scott Snyder takes Gordon and puts him in a proto-Batman Beyond scenario, granting Gordon a robotic mech Bat-suit and a team of highly skilled professionals to aid him to keep fighting the good fight. Artists Greg Capullo and Danny Miki haven't looked this sharp since Zero Year, and Mr. Bloom's design might seem goofy, the character is quite haunting. Batman might be overpraised at time, but it deserved a slot on this list for the sheer level of reinvention.
Gold - Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel Comics): Simply put: Marvel's funniest funny book, and the best read of the year. With most of Marvel's books tied to the seemingly neverending Secret Wars, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl takes Doreen Green and puts all the fun elements of what made the original Spider-Man concept work so well. The thing that makes this book work isn't the level of drama, it's the level of humor that writer Ryan North and the rockin' art team of Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi put into it. From the fine-printed jokes at the bottom of each page, to Doreen's expressions to how they can even make a guy like Kraven a threat, but a walking punchline at the same time. Marvel's been recently given their B, C, and D-Listers a solid shot at solo series, and it shows that with the right creative minds behind it, they can make those potential A-Listers.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (BOOM! Studios): I couldn't have been the only one to lose their mind at the announcement of this, right? With the creative team of Kyle Higgins and newcomer artist Hendry Prasetya, BOOM! is looking to ride the recent wave of nostalgia all the way to the bank and back. With BOOM! offering various incentive variant covers, these are already looking to be hot items for MMPR die hards, and with the series taking place within the first year of Tommy Oliver's stint as the Green Ranger, there's plenty to explore and expand upon that wasn't made for 22-minute episodes. It's the reimagining that hardcore Power Ranger fans have been waiting for.
Bronze - Where Monsters Dwell (Marvel Comics): One of the hidden gems in Marvel’s Secret Wars event was this miniseries by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun. A dark comedy that subverted the tropes of pulp fiction, Where Monsters Dwell emerged as one of the best miniseries of 2015. Garth Ennis injected the series with his trademark humor, simultaneously engaging in and dismantling the common imagery and gender politics that the adventure fiction from the thirties and forties. Artist Russ Braun brought an appealing design to the story, often keeping the action small in scale even as the larger than life creatures lumbered around the protagonists. But perhaps one of the strongest aspects of Where Monsters Dwell was that it felt completely isolated from the rest of Secret Wars, giving it the freedom to tell its own story without needing to serve another tale.
Silver - Lee Loughridge (DC Comics/Image Comics/Marvel Comics): Too often in the industry, artists get neglected for their part in the creative process and colorists even more so. It would be a shame not to recognize one of the best colorists in the business in Lee Loughridge. Between his work such as Black Canary, Southern Cross, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, and Wolf, Loughridge uses a varied palette to create a variety of tones. His use of ambers and golds creates dreamlike sunsets, and his nocturnal blues and grays can illicit either feelings of romance or dread. The fact is, each book Loughridge has worked on can attribute its atmosphere to his storytelling ability through the use of color.
Gold - Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians (Dark Horse Comics): A Mesozoic western, Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians is the newest entry in Ricardo Delgado’s prehistoric saga. Focusing on a lone Spinosaurus, Delgado and colorist Ryan Hill tell a story completely without text. Delgado’s imagery simultaneously tells a story while keeping a pace that allows an atmosphere to build. Filled with detail, there are dozens of little tales being told by the background creatures that make each issue a delight to revisit. In a medium that can often suffer from the brevity of its format, Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians shows just how much story can be packed into an issue, and the silence allows the reader to create their own sounds in their head as they fall into this prehistoric masterpiece.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Al Ewing (Marvel Comics): After concluding his runs on Loki: Agent of Asgard and Captain America and the Mighty Avengers earlier this year, Al Ewing has debuted three new series at Marvel in Contest of Champions, New Avengers, and The Ultimates. Each of these series feels markedly different in tone, but what they each share is Ewing’s talent for injecting pieces of continuity into his stories. Whether he’s building on recent developments, such as Sunspot rising to leader in New Avengers or revitalizing old concepts like Black Panther’s Kimoyo card (in its debut, an accurate prediction of smartphones by writer Christopher Priest, now a supercomputer), Ewing finds ways to honor both the characterizations and feats of his characters in a genre that lives on its history. But even more deserving of everyone’s attention is the way Ewing effortlessly creates diverse and developed casts, refusing to let the characters he writes become stereotypes or token pieces of representations. His new series may have debuted this year, but readers should watch how Al Ewing shapes his stories over 2016.
Bronze - Stephanie Hans (Marvel Comics): Stephanie Hans has received acclaim in previous years as a cover artist. This year, Hans' interior art took center stage in Angela: Asgard's Assassin, 1602: Witch Hunter Angela, and Angela: Queen of Hel. Her painting-like style is perfect for fantastical stories, with richly saturated colors and creative panel layouts that angle across pages in unpredictable ways. Hans is the antithesis of limited palette: a single issue utilizes electric purple, blazing orange candlelight, and sinister green to great effect without ever feeling overdone or jarring. While many comics are rooted in contemporary environments we can recognize, Hans is the banner carrier for creating settings that are otherworldly, magical, and marked by thick brush strokes of vivid color.
Silver - Silk (Marvel Comics): Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee launched their series in February and immediately put Cindy Moon's personality and her sense of purpose in the limelight. Cindy is a survivor of a kind of trauma that receives less attention than overt abuse: forced isolation and deprivation. Lee captures emotional moments unrelated to being a superhero, like Cindy's relief at having a sympathetic boss, or the way she relaxes upon finding an apartment. Unlike other current Marvel solo series where the protagonist is well-integrated with a supporting cast, Silk's Cindy truly feels like she's on her own. With Lee's poignant facial expressions and Thompson's vulnerable exposition, Silk impresses upon readers the heartbreaks and victories of being an emerging adult.
Gold - G. Willow Wilson (Marvel Comics): Reading this past year's Ms. Marvel and A-Force is a crash course in important issues like prejudice, manipulation, and betrayal. In Ms. Marvel #13-15, Wilson walked Kamala Khan through the terrifying experience of trusting a seemingly safe person who turned out to deceive and threaten her. Wilson and Marguerite Bennett showed how parents can claim to act in their children's interests but really be selfish and dangerous in A-Force. Wilson found fresh ways to educate readers of all ages about everything from xenophobic attitudes to displaced neighborhoods to (in her X-Men run) environmental responsibility. Wilson focuses less on broad good-versus-evil stories and more on specific real-life issues that affect readers, and we all benefit from her powerful storytelling.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Archie (Archie Comics): Mark Waid has the daunting task of reinventing Riverdale, a high school world that has revolved around the familiar characters of Archie, Betty, and Veronica. The first five issues of Archie featured artists of staggering talent: Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, and Veronica Fish. As pretty as these pages were, readers are curious what direction Waid's stories will take, and whether an artist will remain on this series for more issues. We also want to see rich development of Riverdale's many delightful characters, including Sheila Wu, Maria Rodriguez, Raj Patel, and Kevin Keller. Archie has much less of a fleshed-out plot premise than most novels or TV shows. We'll be watching how this creative team shapes Riverdale.
Bronze - Ghost Racers (Marvel Comics): While we may not have seen the end of Secret Wars, countless event spin-offs have come and gone, with none of them more exciting than Felipe Smith’s Ghost Racers. Smith’s Death Race-inspired four issue arc is easily one of the most thrilling off-shoots of Secret Wars, brought to life with stunning art and colors from Juan Gedeon and Tamra Bonvillain. While it would be easy for any emotional beats to get drown out in a world filled with fantastical mechanical marvels (motorcycle shark, y’all), Felipe Smith’s strengths lie in his ability to develop protagonists whose journeys are as emotionally grounded as they are unbelievable. Smith’s energetic and emotional tale was a perfect send-off for young Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes - though it will make you keenly aware of Ghost Rider’s absence from Marvel’s post-Secret Wars stable of characters.
Silver - Jem and the Holograms (IDW Publishing): Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s modern take on this cult classic cartoon hit the ground running in March of this year with a stellar story and gorgeous designs, and Jem continues to impress, with recent guest artist Emma Vieceli doing gorgeous work on the series’ second arc. Jem is the standard for nostalgia reboots done right, lovingly embracing the core themes of its source material with a critical eye for what wouldn’t work in a new medium. Thompson’s writing blends sci-fi, romance, and campy comedy into an all-ages comic that old fans will adore and curious newcomers can dive right into with ease. Now is a great time to catch up: Sophie Campbell is returning in January for an edgier Dark Jem storyline you won’t want to miss.
Gold - Midnighter (DC Comics): Midnighter is one of DC’s best comics going right now. Spinning off his recent appearance in Grayson and doing away with one of the most iconic gay couples in comics history, Midnighter (like any reboot) could have swiftly gone awry. Was Midnighter truly a strong enough character for a solo series? What would the series be like without his Authority husband, Apollo? Where would he fit into the current DC universe? But from #1, writer Steve Orlando has easily created a layered and impressive new iteration of Midnighter who feels like a natural fit in the superspy universe Grayson now occupies. It’s a visually stunning and fast-paced book that manages to pack as many emotional punches to readers as Midnighter doles out to villains. In the hands of a weaker creative team, Midnighter could have quickly fallen apart as a comic that traded story for panels of a hyperviolent Batman pastiche, but Orlando - with the help of artist ACO’s distinct visual style, which is perfectly suited to Midnighter’s skills and attitude - has given Midnighter a narrative heft that makes the titular hero a fully-realized, relatable character.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Cry Havoc (Image Comics): I’m not sure how you could hear “lesbian werewolf who goes to war” and not be immediately hooked. The Spire’s Simon (Si) Spurrier and artist Ryan Kelly have teamed up for an intriguing blend of mythology and militarism in January’s upcoming Cry Havoc from Image. Early previews promise an eerie technicolor take on things that go bump in the night, but Spurrier’s writing is sure to have us questioning whether the things going bump are us or the wolves. With talent like Matt Wilson, Lee Loughridge, and Nick Filardi all contributing as colorists, Cry Havoc is shaping up to be a stunningly illustrated book with a curious twist on fairytale creatures in the modern world. The first issue hits shelves in January.
Bronze - The CW-Verse (DC Comics): 2015 was an embarrassment of riches in terms of comic book TV. However nothing moved us with sincerity, broke hearts, or delivered emotionally charged action quite like the CW DCU shows. While Arrow fourth season expanded its cast and fully embraced the Green Arrow persona, as well as his myriad of sidekicks, The Flash’s second season went full Crisis, introducing Earth-2 and its many allies and villains. Not to be outdone, iZombie based on Chris Roberson, Michael Allred, and Laura Allred’s Vertigo Comics series made its debut, starting as a clever, Veronica Mars-like procedural and ending its first year as a complex, hilarious, and surprisingly shocking drama. They say that it is the golden age of television, but the CW Network proved all throughout 2015 that they are measuring stick by which comic book television should be judged.
Silver: Archie Comics: If you would have told me last year that my favorite line of books in 2015 would be Archie Comics, I would have told you that you were a terrible time traveler. Yet, here we are, one year wiser and I cannot stop thinking about how great Archie Comics are. While camp crossover series like Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, and Jason Millet’s Archie vs. Predator delivered a clever and gory send up of the Riverdale Gang and the Archie Horror line presented a warped, EC Comics like version of the books, it was Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz, and Jen Vaughn’s reboot of Archie that truly stole the show. Shortly after we were treated to the hilarious Jughead by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson, an artist having herself a hell of year with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Archie Comics showed in 2015 how to do a reboot right with consistently great and diverse books from some of comic’s best creators.
Gold - Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics): When I sat down to write these Best of Best Shots and as I contemplated this year’s insane amount of great releases, one title always ended up rising just a bit higher than the rest; Ms. Marvel. Completing its first volume this year, and debuting with a new #1 in the wake of Secret Wars, the tales of a scrappy Inhuman girl from Jersey captured the imagination of a whole new generation of comic fans in a way that we haven’t seen since Miles Morales. Everywhere you looked in 2015 people were talking about Kamala Khan and that attention was justified as G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and Takeshi Miyazawa turned in comics that charmed, thrilled, and made us care about Kamala and her world. It also doesn’t hurt that this title absolutely cleaned up at this year’s Hugo, Eisner, and Harvey Awards. You don’t need me to tell you just how good Ms. Marvel was this year; you could just look at the mess of hardware it won this year or look at the booming response to the title on the Internet. However, I don’t mind stating it once again, Ms. Marvel is truly deserving of the top spot.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Milkfed Criminal Masterminds (Image Comics): While 2015 was a big year for Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction on the publishing front with their multiple Image Comics seeing releases all throughout the year, 2016 looks to be an even bigger year for the two titans. In February of this year, they announced that their production company, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds, had signed a two-year deal with Universal TV and they planned to not only bring their own work to the small screen, but the work of other Image Comics stalwarts Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, specifically their godly series The Wicked + The Divine. Though the television shows haven’t received hard release dates just yet, the couple’s comic output will remain stronger than ever in 2016. Along with their current ongoing series, 2016 will see a new volume of Pretty Deadly as well as new series from DeConnick called Parisian White with the legendary Bill Sienkiwicz AND a new series from Fraction and Terry Dodson called Adventureman. Even to a layman, this is huge news and even bigger news for DeConnick and Fraction’s legion of fans. While the couple treated us to dozens of badass, complex, and feminist comics in 2015, 2016 looks to be the year that the Milkfed Criminal Masterminds finally complete their global dominance over the airwaves and our hearts.
Bronze - Black Canary (DC Comics): Black Canary has long deserved her own title because she has a plethora of potential story to explore. This year that call was answered, and Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu created one of the most stylish character reboots to date. I think much of that credit is owed to Wu's tenacious, kinetic design that is an inspired fit with Canary's hand-to-hand combat and sonic scream. With the success of Fletcher and Babs Tarr's Batgirl, it was wise of DC to build on that youthful edge. Black Canary is a fun, contemporary take on the character and I look forward to a good, long, revolutionary run.
Silver - Bitch Planet (Image Comics): This was my item to watch last year, and I was right. The superbly cultivated, multi-layered, megaton density narrative is as thought-provoking as it is engaging. Seeing the character Penny Rolle own a body that society doesn't approve of with unapologetic agency and confidence is not only inspiring, but incredibly subversive. Bitch Planet shows you the power in the underdog, and the culture that wants to rob them of it. The injustice is infuriating in the most captivating way, and the plight of the characters will find a home in your heart and not let go. In addition to being a powerhouse of a story, Bitch Planet has created a community and a movement. I would know - I have the Non-Compliant tattoo to prove it.
Gold - Brian K. Vaughan (Image Comics/Panel Syndicate): Saga, Private Eye, the recently released Paper Girls and Barrier - not to mention the pay-what-you-want digital distribution model at Panel Syndicate - leads to some of the most innovative, fine-tuned things happening in comics right now. Vaughan's writing is so perfectly paced and emotionally engaging that he can write about teenagers in the '80s or disemboweled babysitter ghosts and it rings authentic. Vaughan also has impeccable taste in the artists that he works with. And to directly offer some of his work - DRM-free, no less - for whatever price readers think is fair is not only awesome, but empowers artists and the fans of their works to create and support comics in an even more authentic way. BKV is a leader in this industry. Period.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Wonder Woman: Earth One (DC Comics): When you're Grant Morrison, the fans will wait with bells on for your next big thing. And when you're Grant Morrison writing Wonder Woman, some fans will speculate and salivate with great fervor for a version of their blessed Diana that would shatter every glass ceiling in the multiverse (and stand apart from the many iterations that have come before). We've seen some of Yanick Paquette's glorious pencils, and we've read the interviews where Morrison promises an evolved society of women minus the phalluses, plus one invisible jet shaped like a vagina. Both have added to the impatient buzz. Finally, the wait is almost over. Wonder Woman: Earth One will be released in April, and everyone wants to know if Morrison's Wonder Woman is THE Wonder Woman.
Bronze – DC You (DC Comics): DC has drawn its critics over the last few years with its direction, but the post-Convergence releases have made a legitimate attempt at being something more experimental. Black Canary saw Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu drop a punk-rock revision of a 68-year-old character that flipped the genre. Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell’s Prez had every bit of the political commentary of Transmetropolitan, and the art that looks like social media made into sequential art. Garth Ennis and Joel McCrea proved with All-Star Section 8 that it was possible to dissect and parody the superhero genre in a way that also dripped with genuine pathos. There were a few misses in there as well, but DC You demonstrated the renewed confidence of a publisher willing to play around the edges and finally have some fun with their huge stable of characters.
Silver – Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse Comics): The sequel to Chuck Palahniuk’s cult book and film adaptation had no reason to be as good as it was, but with a dream team that included the original author, and an art team of Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart, it was little surprise that it was. A book that not only flips the themes of the original inside out, with "Sebastian" now the one trapped by Tyler’s scheming, it has also been a meta-musing on how Palahniuk feels about his own monolithic creation as well. Few comics have artwork that so deliberately obscures its own detail as Fight Club does, evoking a visceral reaction and drawing the audience in for a complex dialogue between the reader and the text in a way that the author ultimately promises will make Roland Barthes proud.
Gold – Star Wars (Marvel Comics): Even if the monolithic Disney film wasn’t out in cinemas this month, what Marvel has achieved since January with a handful of titles is incredible. Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars perfectly set the tone, authentically recreating voices and sets true to their film counterparts, expanding their mythologies without contradicting them. The symbiotic relationship it developed from the beginning with Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca’s Darth Vader has yielded a deliciously dark mirror to the universe, confidently expanding into mini-series for Leia, Chewbacca and Lando. Although the latter titles don’t always make the jump to lightspeed, there’s a definite uniformity that ties all of these stories together. This is weighty and epic storytelling worthy of the franchise it bears the name of.
Item to Watch in 2016 – The Graphic Novel: It’s been a good couple of years for the return of the original graphic novel, especially with the likes of The Sculptor and Killing and Dying this year. 2016 promises to take it up a notch with Angel Catbird, the first of three original graphic novels from Margaret Atwood and Dark Horse. There’s also the highly anticipated Wonder Woman: Earth One from Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette from DC Comics, along with the epic Thanos: The Infinity Finale from Jim Starlin and Ron Lim and the return of Rob Liefeld to Marvel for Deadpool: Bad Blood, scripted by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims with plot, pencils, and inks by Liefeld. It’s a wonderful sign that the major publishers in the U.S. market are embracing what Europe has been doing for decades. Speaking of which, there’s the promise of two volumes of the superb Blacksad in French next year, marking it as the year to fill your shelves with original graphic novels.
David Pepose, Team Captain:
Bronze - James Tynion IV (DC Comics/BOOM! Studios): As a protege of Batman writer Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV has been around for awhile, but he has truly leveled up as a creator in 2015. Riding the wave of his success at BOOM! Studios with a TV deal for The Woods, Tynion has also solidified his base at DC Comics, with some superb titles under his wing. Batman and Robin Eternal has been pure heaven for fans of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, while Tynion's work with Ming Doyle and Riley Rossmo on Constantine have not only grounded DC's seediest paranormal practitioner in the wilds of New York City, but has also given readers a new LGBTQ character to enjoy. Tynion's latest high-profile work, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has been a fantastic love letter to two franchises, with Tynion truly nailing the voices of both the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Halfshell.
Silver - Midnighter (DC Comics): Who would have thought that of all the myriad characters in the DC Universe, it would be Midnighter that would yield some of the best books the company published this year? Read it and weep, because the butt-kicking, trash-talking, fight-computing Authority alum was absolutely taking no prisoners with his new series, thanks to writer Steve Orlando and artist Aco. Aco proved to be a real revelation this year, with chaotic and kinetic page layouts that felt like David Aja on speed. Orlando, meanwhile, juggled high-concept ideas with surprisingly tender moments of domesticity - all before punching readers in the teeth with over-the-top action and a huge twist. While the issues Aco sat out did feel markedly less potent, having this dynamic duo together made Midnighter one of the best fight comics in recent memory.
Gold - Star Wars (Marvel Comics): With the record-breaking The Force Awakens arriving in theaters, Marvel Comics had some big shoes to fill with their relaunch of Star Wars comics - and they absolutely stuck the landing. Editors Jordan D. White and Heather Antos, working in tandem with the Lucasfilm Story Group, oversaw some fantastic Star Wars books, particularly the debut arc by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday, which recaptured all the excitement and wonder from the original trilogy. This success was followed up by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca's masterful Darth Vader series, which added some black-comedy fun in the form of 000 and BT-1, a homicidal twist on R2-D2 and C-3PO. Aaron and Gillen's first year of storylines not only filled in some narrative blanks between Episodes IV and V - particularly how Vader learned he had a son - but have crescendoed into a battle royale between the Dark Lord of the Sith and the entire Rebel Alliance over in Vader Down. If you haven't been reading these books, get on it, because it's certified Gold.
Item to Watch in 2016 - Tom King (DC Comics/Marvel Comics/Vertigo): Ever since his big debut in 2014 with Grayson, Tom King has quickly earned a name for himself with his thoughtful, character-driven stories. Perhaps most impressive is King's sense of range - not only is he writing a charming and sexy super-spy over in Grayson, but he's also written compelling space opera in Omega Men, grappled with religion and divinity in a spectacular Green Lantern one-shot, and blown us all away with a portrait of synthezoids in suburbia with The Vision, which might have been the most spectacular #1 issue of 2015. Now that King is spearheading DC's Robin War crossover, as well as Sheriff of Babylon, which draws from King's own time as a CIA operations officer in Iraq, and 2016 might be an even bigger year for this up-and-coming star.