Monday, December 28, 2015

Top Ten Comics of 2015

The end of the year looms...

And that means it's that time again, boys and girls, time for the Internet's interminable march of the End of the Year lists, and never let it be said that I don't enjoy a good parade. In the coming days and weeks, Dear Readers, not only will I be posting a few more short films for your viewing pleasure, but I also have a Top Ten Films of 2015 list, AND--for the first time in a few years now--I also have a Top Ten Worst Films of 2015 list as well, as sure a sign as any of how great and terrible this year has been for cinema.

Things to look forward to...

For today however, I have my Favorite Comics of 2015. 

What follows are the ten titles that I believe are not only smart, funny, creative and cool, well written and better drawn, but are also important to comics in one way or another. These are books that are helping to finally bring about some desperately needed change to an industry long swamped in tired out tropes, stagnant story repetitions, and the kind of plain old douchebaggery that is more often than not firmly rooted in racism and sexism, all while being really good stories. These are the books I like and admire, ones I would recommend you check out.

Simply put... they're good, in my opinion. 

I've done this type of list before; they're a bit of a yearly tradition for me. It's no big secret that I like both comics and lists, so here we are. Click here, here, here, and here, if you're interested in some context, or perhaps if you'd like to track the ever-shifting tides of my Comic Book Reading Taste, whatever's your pleasure, friendo.

Let's get to it, then...

Top Ten Comics of 2015

10. Sex Criminals

Suzie, a librarian, and Jon, an actor, meet at a party and, after sleeping together, they discover that they share the ability to freeze time when they orgasm. As their relationship develops and their sexual histories are explored, they decide to rob the bank where Jon works in order to save Suzie's endangered library.

I know, I know... Sounds stupid, doesn't it? And more than a little gross most likely, right? Hey, it's comics, I get the hesitation, it's not an unreasonable assumption. However, like the old saying goes: Judging a synopsis is not advised. I mean, is the book maybe a little too... hmmm... AA-ish, a little too "writing-as-therapy" sometimes? Is it maybe a little too autobiographical at times, if not literally, than in spirit? Sure, I think that's fair. However, more than that, Sex Criminals is about two lonely people looking for a connection, people with shitty pasts and average lives who have something secret and extraordinary inside them, something that blossoms when they find each other. It's about friends and lovers and being in love. It's about relationships, sex, and sexual relationships. It's an intelligent and touching, funny, crazy and imaginative sci-fi sex farce and romantic comedy, and this may shock you, but that kind of thing doesn't come along often in comics. It's unique and definitely worth checking out. And okay, sure... it's also a little gross, and has a whole bunch to do with dildos and sex games and semen... lots and lots of semen... and occasionally the hero poops in his boss' office plant. It's much more than you'd expect.

9. Thor

The God of Thunder has been found to be unworthy, and the hammer Mjolnir lies abandoned on the moon, no longer able to be lifted by his hand. Jane Foster is dying of cancer, but it is to her that falls the mantle of the mighty Thor! Now, her identity a secret to even Odin, she finds herself to be Earth's, and the whole of the Nine Realms, only hope against the combined evil of the Roxxon Corporation, Malekith the Accursed, and the icy threat of the Frost Giants.

Thor has been a hell of a book for awhile now. The God Killer/God Bomb story line is the type of tale that will define a character for years, but where do you go after such a high point? Simple, change everything. A slowly dying woman is now Thor, hammer and thunder and all, and the former Thor--still known as Thor, but more often as Odinson--has lost an arm and carries a magical axe. The two characters are on separate paths, and yet they are still closely tied together. Both are lost, and trying to discover their new destinies, both are feeling diminished, and have lost an important piece of themselves, and yet must carry on, all while the shadow of an unholy alliance threatens to consume the whole of reality in the never-ending fires of cosmic war. Now, I've never really been a fan of Thor, but I have to say, I love what's going on in this book. It's not the first time Thor has been a woman, nor is it the first time his story has centered on war threatening the Nine Realms, but there's a strangely fresh sense of swashbuckling fun here, of a super technological and deeply magical adventure story just now starting to unfold. This book walks a great balance between space epic and epic fantasy quest, and it feels at home in both genres. It's a good read, with a looming sense of danger running through it, both real and fictional, as cancer devours Jane's mortal form and vicious monsters and mythical enemies drawn near. Thor has always seemed a little removed from the Marvel Universe when he was on his own, so if the everyday superhero story doesn't really sound like your kind of thing, but you want a good female hero, then this might be the title for you.

8. Bitch Planet

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman's failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

A riff on women-in-prison exploitation films mashed together with the allegory heavy sci-fi movies of the '70s, Bitch Planet has a lot to say, and it does it so, so well. People expecting a preachy screed on the issues facing women in both fiction and the real world, will find a brutal tale of futuristic oppression and prison life, and those wanting a line of naked women, caged and beaten, wrestling, and wet from the shower will find a story with plenty of boobs and blood, but also one that never allows you to linger and objectify the characters. The book walks that line, and it makes it look so easy. It's Chained Heat meets Escape from New York with more than a little of The Longest Yard thrown in for good measure. I love that. For me, that would be basically be all anyone would have to say in order for me to check out this book. Add to that, Kamau Kogo is an instant iconic character with a great look. She is tough and fierce and standing tall, a hero despite herself, who takes you through a tale of survival in a harsh world of shifting loyalties and sudden violence, It's a super fun book, and it's catching on. You've probably seen the NC (Non Compliant) tattoos popping up here and there. There's no reason you shouldn't enjoy this story, it's tense and cool and imaginative and it looks awesome. And as an added bonus, if you buy the single issues, the back of each one contains a well-written and insightful essay on women and race and fiction and other related topics. It's a good book, and perhaps the best example going of a smart and fun comic.

7. Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City until a strange fog gives her both amazing abilities, and a new responsibility. But who is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she also unlocks a dangerous secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle?

Often times, when the dumbasses out there are getting all upset because Spider-man is now black, or Captain America is now black, or Thor is now a woman, or (most likely) when Captain Marvel became a black women, their fallback poopy pants big baby whine will be "Why change an existing character? Why not make a brand new character?" The answer, of course, is: "Shut up, asshole." This is because, these numbnuts, just like anybody who knows anything about comics, knows full well that 99.99% of new characters disappear into the Limbo of the Never Used Again usually within their first year. In fact, after the sudden explosion of new characters created in the early sixties, the next time a brand new character really caught on was Wolverine in November of 1974 (the same month and year I was born, by the way... coincidence? Probably not.). Since then...? Maybe Deadpool or Gambit in the early 90s? Maybe? Eh... Maybe not... Anyway, my point is, a new character usually soars, sputters, and then falls, disappearing into obscurity, pretty much forever, every single time... except this time. This time the dummies were actually right. Women, Muslims, and people of color wanted a hero they could easily see themselves in, so a new one was made. Kamala Khan is the Peter Parker of the 21st Century. She's a good person given a huge responsibility, and she doesn't shrink from it, she embraces it. It's not easy, so she's a hero trying to figure things out, a kid dealing with a new reality she may not be able to handle. She's basically the dream creation, she is classic character, and yet completely new at the same time. She is fantastic and yet, relatable. She is all of this, but also a part of cultures and POVs that a lot of America has absolutely no idea about. Hands down, this is a fun book, an important book, a good book. Kamala, and her supporting cast, is a blast, and her burgeoning adventures are a joy to read. More than any other title out there right now, Kamala Khan represents the future of superheroes in comics. This is the one you should start your kid out on.

6. Nimona

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, they are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the good guys everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes Nimona's powers are as mysterious as her past, and her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

At first, Nimona seems like nothing more than fluff, fun and funny, it's a lot of gags about heroes and villains and sidekicks and a whole bag of fantasy tropes. It's smart, and well written, but it's light, y'know? You recognize what it's doing. The settings and designs are different, but you've seen this kind of thing before. But as the story continues, you start to notice the darker threads weaving their way through the gags and bits of deadpan humor, and soon enough Nimona is about so much more than you thought it was. Noelle Stevenson has been making a lot of noise in comics recently, and upon reading her stuff, it's easy to see why. Her writing is sharp, her characters are well-drawn, and her art is deceptively simple and yet wholly emotive at the same time. Her other series, Lumberjanes, the story of a group of girls at a summer camp beset by monsters and mysteries, won an Eisner (like an Oscar, but for comics) for Best New Series and Best Series for Teens, and Nimona was nominated for one too, deservedly. The book is easily available, having started out as a webcomic, but has been collected into one graphic novel, all in one place, so there's nothing you have to know before diving in. Nimona is a fun, surprisingly touching read, and really... it's super funny. I highly recommend it.

5. Descender

Massive robots called the Harvesters decimated the planets of the United Galactic Council, and then they vanished. In the wake of the attack, gripped by fear, the tattered remnants of the UGC outlawed all synthetic beings, destroying all of their robotic workers, aids, and companions. Ten years later, a small robotic boy named Tim-21 awakens, lost and confused on a distant, and strangely abandoned, mining colony. But when Tim-21 makes contact with the UGC, he inadvertently sets off a potentially deadly chain of events as the UGC navy, various factions of bounty hunters, and the Robot underground all race to get to him first, all of them wondering: What connection does this small robotic boy have to the Harvesters, and after ten long years, are the Harvesters finally returning?

Before this book came out, a lot of people were talking about it, I don't know why, because nothing about the ads was really catching my attention, but whatever... this is why I checked it out, and man, am I glad I did. Simply put, Descender is a great story. It builds slow and purposefully, and often in unexpected ways, introducing new characters, expanding the world, and taking sudden turns. It's a beautifully told story as well, its fantastic designs depicted in a pale watercolor style. Descender is a space opera in the vein of Star Wars, taking place in a universe that looks like it was built by real people, with machinery that looks like it was built by real people. It is a place with sharp edges, and real danger, populated with characters that, in the space of only eight issues, you quickly grow to care about. That's not a lot of pages to do that in, but Descender pulls it off, demanding human attachment from you for a cast of mostly non-human characters. It can do this because it's well-written, obviously, but more so, it's just fun, fun and exciting, and it looks good while doing it too, If you're looking for a comic, and you like genre stuff, but you don't like superheroes, then check this out. Bonus, it's still early enough in the series that if you hop on now, you won't be all that far behind.

4. Black Science

Grant McKay, leader of The Anarchistic Order of Scientists, has finally done the impossible: He has built The Pillar, a machine able to decipher the key to the multiverse and punch through the barriers of reality. But something goes wrong, the Pillar is damaged, and now Grant, his children, and his research team are lost among an endless array of alternate dimensions, living ghosts shipwrecked on an infinite ocean of alien worlds, barreling through dark, twisted, and unimaginable realms. Will they ever find their way home? And, who among them is responsible for sabotaging the Pillar?

I've talked about this book before now, and not just in some of my past Best of Comics Lists either, but over at the Scribblerati blog too. I've said it before, and I don't want to make it seem like it's more of a thing than it is, but I'm not a big fan of Rick Remender's stuff over at Marvel comics. His writing style over there just isn't for me, but as soon as I heard about this book, I was instantly interested. What can I say? I'm a sucker for alternate dimension stories. I still have a deep, deep love in my heart for the TV show Voyagers, and that show has been off the air for 30-some years. And while this book started out as something I was drawn to simply because of the subject matter, in the time since the story has become so worthy of that interest. Black Science is wildly imaginative. It's modern and fantastic, but there's a pulp sci-fi 50s feel to the book as well. But that's not to imply that it's nothing but worlds where the Nazi's won, or where the Wild West never ended, no, here there are cults of giant insects people dedicated to the idea of the multiverse. There are gorilla men possessed with evil ghosts, dangerous and silent invaders from different dimensions. There are vicious and high-tech Roman Legionaries with jet-packs patrolling a city ruined by a plague that was brought about by alternate versions of the book's heroes. It goes on and on and on. There's danger and twists at every turn. The characters are well drawn and believably flawed, and as they stumble through the dimensions, they sometimes actually die, And sure, sometimes alternate versions of the characters show up, but sometimes they die too. Bad things happen to all of them. This is a dark and fun adventure made better by its unpredictability and imagination. I'm super excited to read each new issue. The art... well, it grew on me... Seriously though, this book is worth checking out.

3. Multiversity

Prepare to meet the Vampire League of Earth-43, the Justice Riders of Earth-18, Superdemon, Doc Fate, the super-sons of Superman and Batman, the rampaging Retaliators of Earth-8, the Atomic Knights of Justice, Dino-Cop, Sister Miracle, Lady Quark, and the latest, greatest Super Hero of Earth-Prime: YOU! THE MULTIVERSITY is more than a multipart comic book series. It's a cosmos spanning, soul-shaking experience that puts YOU on the frontline in the battle for all creation against the demonic destroyers known as the Gentry!

I mean... not really, but close enough.

Grant Morrison often seems to have a few extra ideas on what his comics are about that I don't ever quite disagree with, but I don't really ever see either, y'know? I mean, I read the books, and I loved them, but I'm pretty sure I never fought the Gentry... or did I? Anyway, I've spoken about this book before too, in fact last year it was my number one favorite book. Why did it drop two spots this year? Well, like I said, Grant Morrison is a mad comic book genius, but he often seems to have different ideas of what his comics are about, then what seems to me to actually be on the page, and that usually means his endings get a little... hmmm... nebulous...? However, this shouldn't deter you from checking out this series. It's only six or seven issues long, and who cares if the ending is a little bit thin? Each issue is meant to be a sort of "Universe Starter", a kind of Story Cornerstone Book. Each one tells a somewhat connected piece of the larger continuing story, but each one is also a stand-alone first issue, and to a one, they are all brilliant, and an all too brief glimpse into a fantastic new world. From the pure iconography of the world of the wizard Shazam and the hero Captain Marvel, to the dark, war-torn 1940s pulp of Doc Fate, to the bored glitter of the media-obsessed world of the Super Sons, to the world where Superman was raised as a Nazi, and the one where the Charlton heroes make their final stand, I would have happily continued to read a series spun off of each one. Which brings us back to the initial question: Why is it Number Three this year? Well, like I said, the larger story doesn't quite work, but it was still really awesome getting there.

2. Saga

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

Saga's story is simple and familiar, and yet, unlike anything else out there. It's a fantasy-tinged Space Opera where people fly wooden spaceships and have cats that can detect lies. It's a story where a planet of people born with horns are busy warring against a planet of people born with wings, and then two stupid teenage nobodies screw it all up by falling in love and having a baby who is born with both wings and horns. Now both sides want to kill them, and both sides want their daughter, so they're on the run, trying to raise their kid, live a semi-normal life, buy groceries, and keep their family together, all while dodging angry parents, arachnid bounty hunters, curious reporters, and vengeful Robots with TVs for heads and cannons for hands. And it's all narrated by the baby. Like the last couple of entries, I've written about Saga before now. It often makes my best of comics list, and one year I even filled out their Reader Survey, but I didn't send it in. Saga is a continually well done book, and its big secret is that it is able to be very alien and yet very human at the same time. It's funny and sad and dark, occasionally raunchy, and always cool. Sometimes it's bloody and mean. The characters are flawed and familiar, but definitely from a place far, far away. This is the book I would recommend to geeks that maybe aren't comic geeks, but still like adventure stories. It's a story that I don't think could ever be done outside of comics. It's something special, check it out. I choose some pictures below that I think represent the tone and story pretty well.

1. Secret Wars

If you know me, then it's probably no surprise to see that this book takes up the number one spot this year. It is the fourth and final book that I have written about before it appeared on this list. I've mentioned it in previous Best of Comics posts--even though it wasn't technically called Secret Wars at the time, not yet--and I even dedicated a blog post to it right here. In fact, if you're not familiar with the title, then I'd recommend clicking through and reading that link, as a lot of the heavy lifting as far as the book's context and summary are concerned was detailed over there, and I won't be attempting to replicate that stuff over here.

So anyway, Secret Wars is Marvel's huge line-wide crossover for 2015, every title they had was stopped, jumbled up, and used in a big story that was designed to basically end an era of Marvel comics, and usher in a new one. And for my money, it was about as good as you can get. Yes, it can be a little broad at times, but that's what the side books are for, and honestly, it's a tight enough story that you don't have to read those side books at all to get what's going on (although you should read some of those side books, because at least half of them were really great).

In a nutshell, after a long, hard fight, the Multiverse was destroyed. At the end, Dr. Doom, Stephen Strange, and the Molecule Man were able to wrest the power of reality away from The Beyonders, and patch together the fraying remnants of the various broken universes, forming what would be known as Battleworld (it's tradition), a place of strife and warring factions and multiple versions of the same people born under different circumstances, a world where a massive wall held back the armies of the Dead, the endless drones of Ultron, and the insectile hordes of the Annihilation Wave, the width and breadth of it all policed by the heavy hammer of the Thors of the Multiverse. Doom was God here, reigning over all, and holding this last bit of mish-mashed slammed together reality in one piece through sheer force of will. But before the last two Realities were destroyed, two life-rafts escaped. Both vessels were created by a version of Reed Richards, one carrying heroes, one carrying villains. After eight years adrift in nothing, their sudden arrivals triggered the end of Battleworld as heroes gathered, and armies moved one last time against each other, and their God and Emporer, Doom. 

Now, like always, late and missed shipping dates plagued this series, and as of this writing there is still one issue left because of those delays, which means the "All New, All Different" Marvel has already launched most of their new books, which end up as a spoiler of sorts, signaling not only the new reality moving forward out of this massive story (which is basically: some characters from the Ultimate Universe are now in the regular Marvel Universe), but that--surprise, surprise--everything turns out all right. C'est la vie, I guess. That's comics for you. It's the only industry where regular lateness and/or complete failure to deliver doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to find work.

But like I said, that's comics. What're you gonna do, not read them? 

I loved this series. To me, this was the comic lover's mini-series. It's a "What if..." meets an "Elseworlds", it's a smart and wildly imaginative alternate universe tale where all bets are off and everything under the Marvel Logo sun is used. Huge fights. Iconic moments. Great characters. I'm a big fan. To me, lateness aside, the series really delivered. I included some images below as proof, and  also to show off the phenomenal art.

How awesome is that? I love that art. There will be a trade sooner or later, so you should definitely check out this series. It's both beautiful and fun, what other reason would you need?

So there you have it, the best of the year in comics according to me. But because it's been awhile, and I had an addendum or two in mind as I worked on this post, here's some extra titles of note that didn't quite make the list, but might still be something you could be interested in...

A Title I'm totally going to catch up on eventually...

Mind Mgmt

Reporting on a commercial flight where everyone aboard lost their memories, a young journalist stumbles onto a much bigger story, the top secret Mind Management program. Her ensuing journey involves weaponized psychics, hypnotic advertising, talking dolphins, and seemingly immortal pursuers, as she attempts to find the flight's missing passenger, the man who was MIND MGMT's greatest success--and its most devastating failure. But in a world where people can rewrite reality itself, can she trust anything she sees?

I read the first Volume of this series and it's really good. Really good. I highly recommend it. The art may seem too simplistic, but it's not. It's incredibly intricate and involved. You really have to pause on every page and examine it. It's a fantastic piece of work for a really cool story about conspiracies and hidden super powers. Like I said, I highly recommend it. And because I liked it, I bought the second Volume not that long ago. The problem is, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I swear, I mean too, I just haven't yet. But I will, I promise.

A title I will read because I've heard nothing but good things...


Spinning out of GRAYSON comes a solo series starring the man who can predict your every move... but no one will be able to predict what he'll do next! A theft at the God Garden has unleashed a wave of dangerous biotech weapons on the world, and Midnighter intends to put that genie back in the bottle by any means necessary. But something else was stolen from the Garden as well...the secret history of Lucas Trent, the man Midnighter once was!

So, in a nutshell, Dick Grayson was the first Robin, but a thing happened over in DC comics and his secret identity was revealed to the world, so now he's a secret agent. The Midnighter is a fairly "comic book famous" character from the mid-90s, famous for being the poster child of a particularly brutal era of comics, and famous for being part of very well-liked pair of characters (a kind of Superman and Batman riff at a different publishing company) that were revealed to actually be in a loving homosexual relationship. So for awhile, he was a very popular gay Batman with a computer in his head that let him predict how any fight would unfold. He was kind of a big deal. But then companies were sold, titles were canceled, universes were merged, and the Midnighter struggled to find a place in a universe that already had several Batman knock-offs, not to mention Batman himself. His new title was canceled, and he kind of faded into the background until he eventually became a second-stringer in the new Dick Grayson Secret Agent book.

And apparently, the fans loved him again, so he got his own title... again.

Midnighter is an odd character, as he kind of represents the best and worst of a certain era of comics. On one hand, he was--and continues to be--probably the most well-known and normally portrayed (for comics) gay characters out there. He's  also a complete badass. But on the other hand, that same badassery is what also makes him one of those "extreme" characters, the ones where writers and fans end up more interested in seeing the gimmick and gore and juvenile humor than to read an actual character. As a result, he's not a character I usually read because he's rarely portrayed with any nuance or skill.

But here's the thing...

Over the past few months, everywhere I look, people are talking about his new book, and when I say "people", I'm not talking about the type of fan that wears giant bowling shirts screen-printed with the Joker, or the type that wears fedoras and sandals with socks, or the ones who think "chimichanga" is the funniest god damn thing they've ever heard. I'm talking about real people, discerning people, and they keep saying the new Midnighter title is funny and smart and cool, and that Midnighter is suddenly an awesome character. I mean, I'm not taking it as gospel or anything, I'm just saying: The trade comes out soon, and I'm gonna check it out.

Maybe you should too.

And finally...

Some titles to watch next year

These six titles are all already under way, each one of them having started at some point in the last month or two, and I have enjoyed all of them. I look forward to reading more, but I didn't think they had been around long enough to be able to make this year's list.

Maybe next year...

They are: Paper Girls, the story of a quartet of paper delivery girls in the 1980s versus an alien invasion. Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme as envisioned by Jason Aaron, the current writer of Thor, and so far it seems like it will be just as good. The Vision, the android Avenger and his new family. This book is so weird and creepy and awesome, I think it's my favorite new title of the year. The Ultimates, a new team under an old name dealing with big problems, problems like the World-eater Galactus. Also, four out of five of the characters are POC, that's awesome, and worthy of support. Plutona is about a group of suburban kids who find a dead superhero in the woods. It's like River's Edge for the superhero set. And finally, Karnak, the classic Inhuman character with the ability to see the flaw in anything, reimagined by Warren Ellis? Yes,  I'm gonna read that.

Keep reading comics,

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