Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Favorite Comics 2016


Like I said in My Favorite Movies of 2016 post, the past year has been pretty crappy, with a lot more bad than good. A lot more. But this doesn't mean that there was no good. There was definitely some bright spots here and there.

For instance, 2016 was a good year for comics... at least, from a pop culture standpoint.

I've done these lists before (here, here, here, here, and also kind of here), and you can peruse those at your leisure, if you wish. Perhaps you're interested in a general overview of my tastes through the years, or maybe you're curious to see if any titles have shown up more than once? Maybe you're just really bored? Whatever your reason, I'm happy to be here for you.

You're welcome.

Either way, what follows--like in the previous years--are the ten titles that I believe to be smart, funny, creative, cool, well written and better drawn, but more importantly, these are some of the ones out there that are currently making a difference. These are some of the 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, and all while being really good stories, too. These are the books I like and admire, these are the ones I would recommend checking out.

Simply put... they're good.


Let's do this...

10. Black Hammer

Once they were heroes, but that age has long since passed. Banished from existence by a multiversal crisis, the old champions of Spiral City—Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and the Barbalien—now lead simple lives in a timeless farming town. But even as they try to find their way home, trouble has a unique way of finding the heroes wherever they are!

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dean Ormston

Lately I've been getting into... alternate dimension stories? Portal fiction? I'm not sure what you'd call it, but basically anything that could maybe be considered to be in the Narnia or Alice in Wonderland vein. I'm talking about the type of stuff where the characters tumble down a hole and get stuck some where alien and have to survive, or when the characters had been stuck somewhere alien for awhile, but now they're back home and have to deal with now being a stranger in a strange land in their own home. Stuff like that. That's what has been drawing my attention lately. 

That's Black Hammer. Five Golden Age heroes that got thrown into a strange pocket dimension, and are trying to make the best of being trapped there.

And they're not doing a very good job at it.

Y'see, they've been there awhile, stuck in this weird small town that is strangely unaware of the bubble they all live within, and the heroes are starting to fray. One of them is dead, or maybe they escaped. One of them is insane. The normal ones have to pretend to be a regular family, and the weird ones are forced to hide whenever someone wanders out to their farm. That's what their days are like, and after many attempts to escape, and just as many failures, it's apparent there's no end in sight.

Meanwhile, someone back in the real world has started looking for them...

The best part about this book is how unexpected it is. There's a great tension throughout, and a sense of hopelessness to it. These were not just heroes, they're dissatisfied heroes at the end of a long career, back home, the Golden Age of heroes was beginning to come to an end, and their melancholy is reflected in the farm's fallow fields. Abraham Slam is a street vigilante-like character, but he got too old. Golden Gail is a Captain Marvel type hero, and her magic word transforms her into a super-powered little girl, but now she's an old woman trapped in a 12 year old's body. Colonel Weird is insane, phasing in and out of reality. Madame Dragonfly refuses to leave her creepy little cabin, and her dark magics, and she might be dangerous. The Barbalien is a Martian Warlord, giant and red and completely alien, so he is completely alone. The only one still trying to get them home is Colonel Weird's robot companion, Walky Talky. He's been sending probes out into the nothing that lies beyond the bubble they're trapped in. Most have failed, maybe not the last one though, but no one listens to the clanking old machine, and he's super bitter about it. Finally, there's the Black Hammer, the strongest and the greatest of them all. He might have escaped, or maybe he's dead, either way, all that's left is his trademark hammer.

It's a relatively new series, but right now, it's all about this bunch of kind of dangerous weirdos bouncing off each other on this little farm in this little town, and they're just simmering and seething, and soon enough, they're going to come to a boil.

There's only six issues out, so now's a good time to jump on.

9. Descender

One young robot’s struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. A rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey that pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling space opera.

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen

Two books in a row by Jeff Lemire. I guess I like his stuff. In fact, looking at the rest of the list, it looks like there are three other writers that show up twice this year, as well. I guess I'm a big fan of certain voices this year. 

Anyway... this book is Lemire's space opera. It's set in a distant future where humanity inhabits many planets with many different alien species, in a time where, ten years prior, giant robots--known as The Harvesters--showed up and wrecked everything. Now, the once strong Federation is broken and scattered, and the planets are lawless and isolated, constantly on the verge of war. The one thing that still unites them all, is a fear of robots. Because of the Harvesters, because of fear and paranoia, robots are outlawed, most have been destroyed, and the rest are being hunted by ruthless bounty hunters. During all of this, a Robot Boy named Tim-21 wakes up, lost and alone and confused, and soon becomes the target of multiple interested parties, all of them relentlessly pursuing him and his companions, once it becomes known that he shares programming with the dreaded Harvesters, and might herald their return.

It's a straight forward adventure story in space, full of great characters, thrilling chases, daring escapes, wild action, all that type of thing. It's well-written, with strong characters, and unique ideas. There's killer robots, alien bounty hunters, android cults, cyborg gangs, and bad ass Space Marines. It's fun and imaginative and a good time. It's a strong book, strong enough that it was optioned by Sony before the first issue even came out.

Best of all, because it's a well written story, it's populated with actual characters, with their various strengths and failings woven into the story. There's real emotion here, especially to Tim-21's story. He was built to be a young boy's companion, a robotic brother, and he was loved and accepted by his family, but on the night of the Harvesters, Tim was in re-charging mode, and he didn't wake up for ten years. When he did, his family was dead or gone and he was alone, and while he may have been a robot, he was still a little boy. It was sad and touching, and scary. By the time he and his companions have all gathered, and are on their adventure, you're really rooting for them, because you know them. That's something of a rarity in these types of stories, especially in comics. 

That's why it's good.

Plus, Dustin Nguyen's art is fantastic.

8. Dr. Strange

Who do you call when things are coming out of your dreams and trying to kill you? Or when your daughter is cursing in Latin and walking like a spider? Or when your dog keeps screaming at you to strangle your neighbors? Doctor Strange, of course. He's the only person standing between us and the forces of darkness, but now, the Empirikul have arrived, crossing dimensions, purging them of the taint of sorcery, one by one. With his magic destroyed, and his world on the brink of disaster, are there any more tricks left up the Sorcerer Supreme’s sleeves?

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Chris Bachalo

Doctor Strange was always a character I was vaguely interested in, but never really connected to. He is a pretty classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko character, built from the pretty classic tropes of the heroes of the pulp era. In a nutshell, Steven Strange is a white man who loses everything, grows an unkempt beard, journeys to the mystic Far East, and ends up learning some seriously mystic secrets. In this case, those secrets are magic, instead of clouding men's minds, or turning your fist to iron, or how to beat up the mentally ill while wearing black latex.

Yes, as far as tropes are concerned, it's a bit tired.

However, Doctor Strange is a much more interesting character than his overly-familiar origin might suggest, and Jason Aaron has done an excellent job of turning the character inside-out and showing what he's got. Aaron did the same thing recently with another character I hadn't ever really connected with, Thor (which also appears on this list), so when he signed on with Strange, so did I. 

Aaron's approach to Strange was similar to what he did with Thor, at least process-wise, if not actual story beats and plot points. First, we dive into who Strange is, and his responsibilities as Sorcerer Supreme, and then we get into the incredible cost of the magic he wields. It's a great way of summarizing the origin, without having to spend valuable time rehashing a story that, even if you don't know the particulars, you certainly do know the broad strokes. Aaron builds Strange up, shows you how dangerous his world is, how powerful he is, how strong and dedicated he really is, and then sets about tearing Strange down.

The Empirikul, an anti-magic, fanatical science cult from another dimension, are an excellent tool to do that, as they relentlessly and viciously destroy any magic they find (Poor Harry...), and push Strange and a few friends to their frayed limits. The Empirikul are good villains, and the heroes have few resources, so it's a fun story. It's got a good pace, and has well-defined rules, so once everything is finally all done and finished, and Strange is left standing in the ruins of magic, and then a well-known nemesis shows up in the Epilogue... you're honestly worried, and that's a great feeling when you're reading one of these never-ending-serial characters.

Plus, I love the crazy, broken down, and barely operational magical items they use in the story, magic bi-planes, magic skulls, magic shotguns, magic helmets. So fun. I'm a sucker for stuff like that.

7. Black Panther

The indomitable will of Wakanda--the famed African nation known for its vast wealth, advanced technology and warrior traditions--has long been reflected in the will of its monarchs, the Black Panthers. But now the current Black Panther, T'Challa, finds that will tested by a superhuman terrorist group called The People, one that has sparked a violent uprising among the citizens of Wakanda. T'Challa knows the country must change to survive--the question is, will the Black Panther?

Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Brian Stelfreeze

This book was a big deal. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a well-respected author with a well-deserved reputation. He writes about real stuff. Important stuff. He has things to say that people should listen to. Honestly, if you haven't read Between the World and Me, you should. So, yeah, I was shocked to hear that he was going to write the Black Panther. I mean, it's true The Black Panther is probably one of the few titles that overlaps with his usual interests, but I didn't expect him to be interested in comics in general.

Apparently, Coates is a huge geek. 

Which is awesome.

Black Panther is a pretty damn good book. Wakanda has always felt like a very fictional place, even in the Marvel Universe, and mostly held at arm's length. It was a city of super science and extreme wealth, due to its invaluable Vibranium mines, so if the Avengers ever went there, you would usually just see these weirdly futuristic buildings in the background, often surrounded by jungles, and usually inhabited by people in the most cliched tribal wear. It almost always seemed as if the "regular" (white) characters had just landed on a strange and distant planet.

As a result, it's refreshing the way this comic is now set in, and mostly concerned with, the city and country of Wakanda, treating it as a real place, and another character in the story. T'Challa is the King of Wakanda, and the current wearer of the hereditary mantle of the Black Panther, and I like seeing him dealing with the responsibility of those roles. There's a lot of politics and beat-downs. Y'see, there's a revolution brewing, old hatreds and opportunistic corporate interests teaming up and turning his own people turning against him, making them afraid of him, and so the question of what it means to be Wakanda's Ruler, and a global superhero, whether or not he should be either one, and whether or not Wakanda should even have either one these anymore in this modern world, is very interesting. It reads smart, and feels current. Plus, as a bonus, there's several strong female characters in the story too, most of them more than bit players, and all of them unexpected by me, and some--like the Midnight Angels Ayo and Aneka--who are just as compelling as T'Chala. 

It's a really good book.

In the end, the part I admire the most is that this is a book about an African character, written by African-American man, and it is not ashamed of that. It places the culture and politics front and center, and it doesn't shy away from that, it never softens that point of view for fear of "alienating audiences" (white people) either. With fandom (and the country) often times more than willing to be openly racist and terrible these days, this is a ballsy move. I love it.

Plus, Brian Stelfreeze's art is really great.

Unapologetically black, unapologetically political, and all while delivering on the wild and weird super-science sci-fi superheroing you want, Coates' Black Panther is an important book, a smart book, a good book, and best of all, it's a fun book.

6. The Mighty Thor

When Dr. Jane Foster lifts the mystic hammer Mjolnir, she is transformed into the Goddess of Thunder, the Mighty Thor! Her enemies are many, as Asgard descends further into chaos and war threatens to spread throughout the Ten Realms. Yet her greatest battle will be against a far more personal foe: the cancer that is killing her mortal form.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Russell Dauterman

Like with Doctor Strange, I was never a Thor fan until Jason Aaron started writing it. 

Thor, of course, is the Norse God of Thunder, son of Odin, the All-Father, and half-brother to the Trickster God, Loki. He was a well known figure even before the movies, his famous hammer, Mjolnir, beating the thunder from the clouds. He's one of the original Marvel comics characters, but for me, he was a big blank slate that talked funny and hit stuff with his hammer. He had no hook I was interested in, and even when he was tied to our realm by bonding with the crippled Dr. Don Blake, he always lacked the "feet of clay" aspect that Marvel is so well known for, and so I was never interested. He was like badly written Superman, he was almost unkillable, basically unstoppable and could pretty much do anything, so who cares...

Not me.

But then Jason Aaron joined the title and told a year-long story about an ancient being named Gorr, known as the God Butcher, and the murderous havoc and bloody death he wrecked on Pantheons across the Cosmos. It was a story of a young Thor, before he was worthy enough to lift his hammer, the modern Thor, and old King Thor, one-armed, one-eyed, one of the last Gods standing against the might of the God Butcher. It was a story that spanned time and space, an epic tale that explored who Thor was, who he hoped to be, and why he was worthy to wield the mighty hammer, Mjolnir. It was a hero's story, and the climax was well-earned, and simply put... awesome. It's one of my favorites. It's just a good time. And then, after all of that, Aaron breaks the Thunder God down, and send him on a whole new path. There was a secret whispered in Thor's ear, and suddenly he could no longer lift his hammer. He was no longer worthy.

But someone else was.

And a new Thor was born. For a long time, Jane Foster was Thor's girlfriend. Then she was given cancer, and kind of forgotten about, unless they needed a "sad" moment. Well, now Jane is Thor. She's almost unkillable, basically unstoppable, and she can pretty much do anything. Except cure her cancer. Every time she becomes Thor, she washes the chemo and drugs from her system. Every time she becomes Thor, she's slowly killing herself. She doesn't get much choice though, because a lot of people are trying to kill her: Evil Corporations. Minotaur CEOs. Other Gods. SHIELD. Even Thor himself (the old Thor, that is), looking to regain his hammer and his name. Through all of that, a secret cabal is planning a war to take over all of the Nine Realms, and when it finally launches, Thor finds herself ill-prepared for the full force of it.

This book has been good for a couple of years now, and it's just chugging steadily along. There's a cast of recurring villains that really keep the pressure on. The twists and reveals and climaxes are exciting and well-earned. The action is big and intense. Really, if there's one thing Aaron excels at when it comes to his stories, it's the long game. You are rewarded for sticking with the title, as things come back around, and old stories affect the current ones. 

It's just a fun, well-written, big-ass superhero adventure.

With the bonus being that Thor is now a woman, and she's just as strong, just as skilled, just as awesome. Her outfit isn't even weirdly sexual either. She's actually wearing more than the old Thor has been lately. Her whole initial arc was all about everyone trying to kill her, trying to reclaim the mantle of Thor, trying to prove she wasn't worthy; it was all about proving to the terrible fanboys out there, that in fact she was. It was fantastic.

Thor is probably the most straight-up classic superhero title I'm reading right now, so if that's what you're looking, for, then this is the title I'm recommending to you. It's a blast.

5. Jupiter's Legacy

The spoiled and indolent children of the world’s greatest superheroes were never able to fill their parents’ shoes. Hutch and Chloe, and their young son Jason, have gone into hiding, on the run from her traitorous uncle Walter, and the new regime run by her out-of-control brother Brandon. Together with Hutch’s estranged father, the ex-hero turned supervillain, Skyfox, they must assemble a team of super-crooks from around the globe, and start a revolution. 

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Frank Quitely

Mark Millar is a controversial figure in comics. Deservedly so, too. 

He's primarily known for a couple of things. He has a reputation for being an idea man, and nothing more. George Lucas-syndrome, as it were. He's well known for coming up with great hooks. "What if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia as a baby?" or "What if Batman was a super-villain?" or "What if the Marvel comic book characters crossed over into our world?" or "What if the villains won?" On and on. He's done it for years too, with no signs of stopping. They're interesting ideas. They're inspiring ideas, but often times, that's all they are... ideas. He is living proof of the old adage: "Ideas are easy, it's the execution that's the hard part." Because that's the second thing he's known for. He has a reputation for not finishing books, or maybe being more into the start of the book, and less into the end. He has trouble with his endings. And then there's the third thing he's known for. He's a sensationalist. He likes to be outrageous. He likes to break stuff on purpose. He likes to shit on stuff. He uses rape as a plot point way, way too often (which, honestly, is defined as: Once, maybe, but definitely more than once), as in, all the time. He's totally responsible for these reputations. His work shows that he's guilty as charged.

Or at least, he was...

There was a time a few years ago that this was all absolutely true. In fact, it was so true that I stopped buying his stuff, because who would be interested in that shit? Not me. But a few years ago, something changed. I don't know what happened (although I heard he hated the movie Man of Steel so much, especially how his name would get brought up as responsible for that style of story, but I can't verify this), but whatever the reason, his stories changed. He was always talented, like I said, he always had good ideas, but now those ideas became more focused. The characters were more consistent, and rarely (if ever) since then, has he been outrageous for the simple sake of being outrageous. He's telling full stories. Best of all, there has been zero instances of rape being used as a plot point. Like I said, I don't know what caused the change, but I like it.

And I especially like Jupiter's Legacy. 

In 1932, a team of explorers found an uncharted island with an inter-dimensional portal, and met an alien who bestowed incredible super powers on them. They became the greatest heroes on the planet, calling themselves The Union. Led by The Utopian and Lady Liberty, they used their powers for the betterment of humanity. They protected America. They defeated all the supervillains. They saved the world. They settled in and started families.

And their kids suck.

The first volume of Jupiter's Legacy is all about their children, lazy and debaucherous, living as modern day super celebrities, and how their parents' considerable shadows stunt and intimidate them in a world that's safe enough to never really need them anymore. It's also about the jealousy some members of the Union feel for the practically worshiped Utopian (Sheldon Sampson), most notably the Utopian's brother Walter, known as Mindwave, who feels like his brother has held him back. These angry children and jealous colleagues unite and rebel, and by the end, the Utopian is dead, his murderer and son, Brandon has taken over the world, and Brandon's sister Chloe is on the run. The second volume is all about Chloe fighting back against her brother's super-powered fascism.

I love it.

I love the design aesthetic. I love the world building. I love the huge superpower scene that's kind of in the background of everything, and how all of these people have an implied history, but also how it doesn't get in the way of the story. The world feels whole, and all without worrying about it too much. And the best part is that it doesn't lean on the well-worn and recognizable tropes of the DC/Marvel universes to do this. There's no one-to-one copies, even if the story does use a lot of familiar pieces. It's familiar without being overbearing. It's unique, but not alien.

My favorite part is the character Skyfox. He's the reputed "greatest supervillain ever", the one who was once a member of the Union. At first, he's your usual roguish martini-swilling cad off the set of Mad Men, but mixed with a super-powered Batman type character. However, over the course of the story (detailed in Volume 1 and 2 of Jupiter's Circle), he ends up quitting the Union and turning to a life of crime for two reasons. One, due to the deceitfulness of Walter aka Mindwave, and two, when he realizes that the Union is doing nothing but upholding a status quo built on oppression. Basically, he's a villain to the establishment, and a hero to marginalized communities. 

I really enjoy that take.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't make special mention of the art. Frank Quitely is my favorite comic artist. His stuff is so amazing. It's huge and powerful and vibrant, but filled with the tiny details, the little looks and the small movements, that really bring everything alive. He understands scale, and he is a master of getting the story across exactly right. It's fantastic stuff. Most times, I buy books based on who the writers are, but if Quitely is the artist, that's enough to sell me.

4. Saga

SAGA is the story of Hazel, a child born to star-crossed parents from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Now, Hazel's fugitive family must risk everything to find a peaceful future in a harsh universe that values destruction over creation.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples

I've talked about Saga before.

Since it started, the book has appeared on pretty much every Top Ten Comics list I've made. It's always been good, it's stayed good, and it's still good now. It's just good. It's a space opera with magic and weird creatures. It's bawdy and violent and touching and weird. It's smart and well-written, not afraid of terror and tragedy, and the art is great.

Like I said, it's just good.

There's not much else to say about the book that I haven't said already.

You should definitely read it.

3. Vision

The Vision is the world famous Android Avenger. He has saved the world 37 times. But all he really wants is to be human, and what's more human than family? So, he builds one. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his powers. They share his greatest desire, or perhaps obsession: the unrelenting need to be ordinary. Behold… the Visions! They're the family next door, and they have the power to kill us all. What could possibly go wrong?

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta

This year, there was nothing else quite like this book.

Some of my earliest memories of reading comics, is the era of the Avengers when the Vision and the Scarlet Witch were in love, and were going to get married, and people were protesting Avenger's Mansion, and it was all crazy. 

But as crazy as that was, I've never really liked the character.

The Vision was created by the evil robot Ultron, meant to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers, but for some reasons that are too weirdly convoluted to go into--basically the power of love--Vision rebelled against Ultron and joined the Avengers. At some point, he was imprinted with the "brainwave patterns" of Wonder Man, an at the time deceased villain turned hero, who, when he was no longer dead, decided to consider Vision as his brother, because of their shared brainwaves, and this is basically how the Vision gained his personality. He then fell in love with Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, and they got married and had babies, even though he was an android, but that's okay, because the babies might have been made out of Wanda's magic. Or maybe not. It's been awhile, so fair warning, some part of all that might not be totally correct, or maybe out of order. Whatever. The point is... that's some crazy nonsense. 

Then you get to The Vision's powers. "Because he's an android"... he's super strong and can fly, of course. He has a laser he can shoot from his forehead, and he can control his density, able to make himself everything from super-heavy, to lighter than air and basically intangible. For the majority of his existence, he has had red skin, and prefers to wear a unitard and cape combination in a mix of yellow and green. All of that fits naturally together, right? There's an obvious flow.

Super obvious.

So, anyway, when a new Vision series was announced, I wasn't interested at all, but then I started to see some of the upcoming covers.

I was intrigued...

The implied idyllic setting, paired with such obvious menace... I like it.

This story turned out to be one all about doomed inevitability, and a relentless grind of tension. The Vision wants the impossible, something he can't ever have. He wants to be human, so he builds a family and moves to the suburbs. He tries to force normality, and for awhile it holds, but eventually, it starts to crack, and break, and fall apart. His dream goes up in flames, and people die. It's a tragedy, but even though you know it's coming, it is no less terrible. The best part is, when you hear it's a story about robots in the suburb where everything goes wrong, you probably have an idea how things are going to go, don't you? You'd be wrong. This isn't West World.

It's actually good.

The book is all about suburban malaise. It's about being an outsider trying to fit in with a world you don't understand. It's about what it means to be human, to have a soul, and the way the story examines that question is what makes the book so creepy and breathless and tense. The Vision and his family are so well-written, their wants and desires and ultimate failings laid out so clearly, means you're really rooting for them, but you also understand why there's nothing but disaster ahead.

This is a slowly boiling thriller. It's all about ratcheting up the tension, compounding mistakes, and knowing the perfect moment to punch your audience in the guts. And it does it so well.

I love that so much.

2. Omega Men

The Omega Men killed Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, on live TV. The ruling class of the Vega System calls the Omega Men terrorists, but they might be the only hope for freedom this godforsaken sector of the universe has. Because the White Lantern lives…as the Omega Men’s prisoner. They plan to recruit him for their relentless war against the all-powerful Citadel and its tyrannical Viceroy. And as Kyle gets to know this motley crew of outlaws, he will begin to question everything he knows about being a hero. In this strange system where the Green Lanterns are forbidden, will he break his oath and join their revolution? Or will he discover that the Omega Men really are the monsters everyone says they are?

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda

This is the second Tom King book on my list, and it was a complete surprise.

I know almost nothing about the Omega Men. They're a d-list group of space heroes from DC comics that were last active twenty, maybe thirty years ago. If I had to guess, I'd bet they were originally created in direct response to the popularity of the Star Wars movies, which Marvel comics had the rights to. A couple of them look kind of familiar to me, but that could be due to the deliberately familiar character design/breakdowns of the team, which is also why I suspect they were created sort of as DC's answer to Star Wars, but who knows. I don't think I've ever read a single issue before now.

From someone like me, that's saying something.

By the time I'd heard about this new series, it was well underway, so I had to wait for the trade paperback, but I had searched it out, because of Tom King's work on The Vision. He's a strong writer, with a good ear for dialogue, and a head for interesting ideas and twists. At least, in comics. I was disappointed in his novel. But whatever, it was the Vision that drove me to check Tom King out. Which is how I found out he's apparently a former counter-terrorism operations officer for the CIA. That's an interesting wrinkle... and it also partly explains why Omega Men works like it does.

The idea behind this series is that the Vega System is a quadrant of the galaxy ruled by a tyrant. There are occupying forces. There is unrest. There is terrorism and there are acts of patriotism. It's a murky place, a place of continually simmering conflict that often blossoms into explosive war. It has been like this for a long time, and there looks to be no end.

Enter Kyle Rayner.

Kyle is a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an ancient organization of space cops that use their energy lanterns to power special rings that then allow them to create anything they can imagine... like giant green boxing gloves. He's a former member of the Justice League, a colleague of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, all those guys. And due to a whole "Color War of the Rings" thing that I'm not going to bother going into, he achieved the rank of the White Lantern, which as I understand it, is even more powerful than a regular Green or Yellow or Purple Lantern.

For real, yes, there are Purple Lanterns...

Anyway, the basic idea is, here comes this bright-eyed idealist do-gooder who thinks he can end a bitter local conflict that has consumed generations, simply by getting both sides to talk, and he very quickly finds out how naive that idea is. He is taken captive by the Omega Men. First, he is their hostage, then he is their ally, but in the end, he is only used as a pawn by both sides. Kyle had stumbled into a conflict where everyone is more than willing to get bloody, more than willing to lie, more than willing to sacrifice lives, and he doesn't understand the rules at all. It's a great read, one where the allegory is pretty easy to spot.

That's why it's good.

1. Paper Girls

In the early morning hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls—Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany—are working their routes. Suddenly, their suburban neighborhood is filled with strange monsters, and stranger people. It’s a temporal war, one the girls barely understand, and before they can get any answers, the girls are flung into the strange and terrifying future… the year 2016.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang

The big winner was an easy choice this year.

Simply put, there isn't a book out there as bold and interesting and surprising this year as Paper Girls. This is a comic I knew nothing about, but its bright yellow cover ended up catching my eye, and I'm glad it did. I've heard the comic described as "Stand by Me" meets "War of the Worlds" and that's pretty apt. It's funny, and smart, and scary. It's a hard mix of suburban 80's normality, and wildly imaginative sci-fi. It's the type of thing the movie "Super 8" was shooting for, and failed to hit.

It won the Eisner for Best New Series this year.

The book feels like a movie, like "Goonies", or "The Monster Squad". The four girls--Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany--ride the quiet, suburban streets on their bikes early one morning, a little gang of paper delivery girls, all with the usual list of kid and family problems, and end up stumbling into an unbelievable adventure. They're friends, although at the start of the book, you get the feeling like that's more due to the job and to them being the only girls doing it, and that's how they were originally shoved together. They're 12, so they're all children obviously, but they're tough. They might smoke. They might curse. They use walkie-talkies to keep in contact, and they carry a hockey stick for protection. Which makes sense, because it's 1988, and the 80's were the Wild West for American children. Kids were being kidnapped while out delivering papers in the early morning darkness, snatched right off the street. It was a scary time, there could be something dark and terrible around every corner, so it only makes sense that you'd carry a big stick with you on your route, just like it kind of makes sense that you might run into an actual monster, or perhaps weirdly mutated rebel teenagers from the future, or maybe knights on flying dinosaurs.

It's not a book that's afraid to get crazy.

That's one of the best parts of this book. There is a constant escalation of the situation, but it does so in really surprising ways. The girls tumble through time. Giant Waterbears attack the city. Futuristic blimps fill the sky. But it's not sensationalism, it's an unfolding story. There's a larger picture here, one that seems to revolve around a Temporal War, but once again, the girls are just kids, so despite possibly being central to the whole thing, they're mostly just trying to survive. 

It's a blast. There's danger to it, sure, but it's four friends on an exciting adventure. It's thrilling. Another great part, all the monsters and time travel and clones and craziness aside, the story is really just about that magic time when you're 12 years old, and all that really matters is your friends, your bikes, and whatever was out there waiting. The things the girls say, their home-lives, their baggage, the way they look and act, that all feels very real. The comic is well-written, it's good looking, and it's lots of fun, but all the wild imagination on display aside, the thing that strikes me the most is that it's an honest comic.

That's why it's a great.

The Honorable Mentions:

Sadly, not every comic can be in the Top Ten, but that doesn't mean that the titles that didn't make it aren't any good. Not at all. In fact, here's some additional titles that I liked and I'll be reading more of.

Kaijumax is about a prison for giant monsters. It's like Oz meets Godzilla. Jessica Jones is more of everyone's favorite down-on-her-luck, ex-superhero fuck up Private Eye. The Champions is the latest incarnation of the super-team, but this time it's all the new young heroes, the future of the Marvel Universe. Old Man Logan is about a Wolverine from a different timeline, one where all the heroes were dead, but now he's in the regular universe, trying to find his place, and escape his memories of a time that now no longer exists. Birthright is the story of a young boy who is snatched from our world, and taken to another, where he became a hero of legend. But now he's back, with a deadly mission, and a deadlier secret. The Unworthy Thor is the companion book to the Mighty Thor. It's new, and it follows the adventures of the male Thor, and his quest to become worthy again. Southern Bastards is a crime book about a small town where Coach, football, and God rules, in that order. Seven To Eternity is an epic weird fantasy about seven warriors on a quest to destroy the evil God of Whispers, the Mud King. And finally, Reborn is the story of what happens when you die, and the endless war that waits for you in the after-life.

Check them out, they're good...

The Possibly Goods:

And finally, here's a half dozen titles that I've been hearing a lot of good things about, but haven't had a chance to pick up and read. Not yet.

But I will...

And there you have it, my favorite comics of 2016. Hopefully 2017 will be even better.

Read some comics,