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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Our Top Ongoing Comics for 2015

It's that time of year again, where the GeekRex comics crew sits down and hashes out what our favorite comics are for the 12 months that have just passed us by. From the end of Matt Fraction's Hawkeye to DC You to the launch of All New, All Different Marvel, it's been quite the 365 days in sequential art, and today we'll each be listing out our top 3 ongoing and/or serialized comics series for the year that was.


3. Hellboy in Hell

Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart

Only two issues of Mignola's new Hellboy series saw release this year, but those two issues were must-reads, even if you aren't one of the faithful of this long running saga. Mignola remains one of the industry's essential creators and with this series he's doing some of his best work yet. From the heavy swath of black that envelops the book, to his near abstract character models, this is one of the beautiful comics on the stands. While the Hellboy line itself (including books like BPRD and various spin-offs) are a whole segment of Dark Horse's output, Hellboy in Hell itself plays like a creator owned title, self-published title, with little concern for "the big story" and is maybe the most idiosyncratic, line-leading title on the stands.  

2. Frontier

Jillian Tamaki, Anna DeFlorian, Becca Tobin, Michael DeForge 

Anyone who knows me understands how much I miss the days of DC's long cancelled series Solo, their wonderful single creator anthology. In 2013, Youth in Decline's Ryan Sands took some influence from that long gone title as well as South Korea's SSE project to create Frontier, a solo cartoonist spotlight that has featured creators like Sam Alden, Emily Carroll and Ping Zhu, among others. This year marked a banner year for Sands' brainchild, as Jillian Tamaki gave way to perhaps her best work this year in Issue #7's "Sex Coven", a story focused on a mysterious piece of music that is distributed through early file sharing networks, and sparks a worldwide phenomenon. It was bookended by Michael DeForge's effort in Issue #10, "Sensitive Property", which details the story of a real estate agent whose past a radical is used by the company to infiltrate protest groups that are at odds with their agenda. In between came two wonderfully off-beat tales from Anna Deflorian and Becca Tobin, both worthy of your time and attention. Frontier is the kind of creator-focused effort that I've been searching for for over a decade.


Michel Fiffe

Sure, you've heard all about how its a love letter to Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and how I outright stated in my two part interview with Michel Fiffe how COPRA is "one of the few superhero comics that really matter".  What else can I really say add to that? Fiffe's ongoing one man show is a self-publishing wonder and is basically akin to DC Comics asking prime Frank Miller (spliced with Steve Ditko, Klaus Janson, Walt Simonson and Jim Aparo) to reinvent Amanda Waller's bunch of drafted convicts instead of Batman, at least in its outset. Deep into its fourth arc, the series has adopted the same sort of introspective and genre-spinning eye that Dave Sim provided to the peak days of Cerebus. While last year's offering of the series gave readers a number of one shots that allowed Fiffe to profile a number of his team members in varying narrative directions, the 2015 set of issues returned to the major arc, with the team reunited and taking on its toughest mission yet, while in its backpages unfurling a secondary, more abstract tale occurring in another dimension altogether. And if that wasn't enough, each back cover featured a one pager from Dieter VDO. COPRA just celebrated its 25th issue this month (featuring art by a number of talented cartoonists including Tim Hamilton), and it's a fabulous jumping on point that leads right into the currently available collected editions.


3. Astro City

Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson w/ Jess Marino, Joseph M. Infurnari & Wade von Grawbadger

The late 80s brought a dose of psychological realism to superhero comics (well, a few creators did; most just wallowed in mindless grit), asking, "What if superheroes existed in the real world?" Shortly thereafter, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson launched Astro City, and in it, they asked a very different question: "What if real people existed in a superhero world?" That focus, on the emotional nuance of humanity in a larger-than-life superhero setting, has inspired decades of excellent storytelling, and 2015 does the long-running series proud. Opening on a story about the effects of aging on street-level superheroes, the series has similarly tackled the compromises we must make to find happiness as an adult, the emotional toll of a life lived in service, and much more. Astro City started in 1995; 20 years later, it's still waiting for the industry to catch up. 

2. The Wicked + The Divine

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson w/ Stephanie Hans, Leila del Duca, Tula Lotay, Kate Brown, and Brandon Graham

The sensibilities of series creators Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson have defined every high-stakes, adrenaline-filled issue of The Wicked + The Divine, all the way up to The Wicked + The Divine #11, the shocking, heartbreaking conclusion to their second arc. But the back-half of 2015 only saw the creators step up their ambition with "Commercial Suicide," their third arc. In "Commercial Suicide," they brought in a rotating group of some of the best artists working today for a series of thoughtful, experimental, emotional one-shots unlike anything else you'll find in your comic shop. Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson are three of the industry's best talents working right now. Teaming them up with the likes of Tula Lotay and Kate Brown makes them damn near unbeatable.

1. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi

This is the most fun you can have reading a comic month in and month out, period. Unfortunately, my editor won't let me actually stop writing there. I guess I'm supposed to talk about Erica Henderson's playful art, which gives Squirrel Girl a bubbly, irrepressible personality and crafts laugh-out-loud visual gags on every page. I should probably mention Rico Renzi's vivid colors, the vibrant life he brings to Henderson's work. Or I could talk about Ryan North's sharp, off-beat wit, his clear love and understanding of the Marvel Universe coming through with every ridiculous jab he takes. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the coolest kid at the party, a big, warm, welcoming prankster of a book that you can't wait to catch up with at every available opportunity. Period. For real this time.


3. Silver Surfer

Dan Slott, Mike Allred, Laura Allred

This run has been a blast and a beacon of fun in a sea of boring superhero comics over the last year and a half. Starting with the basic concept of having an Earth girl travel with Norrin Radd as they have cosmic adventures instantly lent it a unique Doctor Who vibe, and of course one of the main draws is having the great Mike and Laura Allred on art duties, giving the whole thing a wacky, pop art feel. This is a series that should have been wrecked by interference from Secret Wars, but instead turned it around to make it feel like Secret Wars was a spinoff from it, reminiscent of how great classics like Swamp Thing handled Crisis on Infinite Earths. If you’re looking for a fun and exceptionally clever 15 issue run of space-faring escapades, look no further.

2. They're Not Like Us

Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, Jordie Bellaire

If there was an award for the most criminally under the radar comic of 2015, They’re Not Like Us would win by a landslide. The story of a ragtag group of superpowered twenty-somethings who live in a house together could have just been another failed X-Men analogue, but the key here is the intense attitude and personal drama that bubbles just underneath the surface. The real star here is the incredible art by Simon Gane, who is somewhat new to the scene, having mostly done scattered Vertigo issues here and there. The art is colorful and stylish, with sharp angles and a hard line that isn’t quite like anything else on the shelves.

1. Tokyo Ghost

Rick Remender, Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth

I know there've only been four issues so far, but as a huge Rick Remender fan, I can’t help but point out what I feel is shaping up to be one of his strongest works to date. While the first issue was scattered and felt too cluttered with big ideas, the issues since have distilled the series down to a really compelling story. Tokyo Ghost follows Deborah and Led, lovers and sort of detectives in a disturbing dystopia of a world overrun with technology. My favorite thing about Remender’s writing is his ability to tell a story with an extremely raw emotional core, and this one is just heartbreaking as it explores this complex world. It doesn’t hurt that it’s got maybe the best Sean Murphy art of his already impressive career, with an insane amount of loving detail poured into the dirty tech world and the beautiful natural locales of Japan.


3. Fables

Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham/Steve Leiloha/Craig Hamilton

Fables, one of Vertigo's longest running comics, saw its inevitable conclusion this year with a 160 page issue that also doubled as the 22nd trade paperback.  After 13 years of publication, a lot of pressure from fans was building on writer Bill Willingham and longtime artist Mark Buckingham to deliver a conclusion fitting of the huge story they were telling.  While the actual conclusion of the series's final story leaves a little to be desired, Fables #150 contains numerous back-up stories, each detailing the fates of the various fairy tale characters in the comic, that helped to give the book the satisfying ending it deserved..  I will miss you, Fables.

2. Zero

Ales Kot/Various Artists

Zero was a series I discovered and loved in 2015.  While I only bought the comic in trade, I still find it worthy of my top 3 ongoing comics for the year as, for me, I found myself awaiting new volumes with just as much anticipation as a single issue.  Ales Kot's creator-owned series tells the story of super spy Edward Zero.  While this comic began with the types of stories you may expect, as things spread out across the short-lived 18 issues, things just became more strange, more violent, and more impossible to resist.  With a regular rotating cast of artists, Zero never got comfortable with itself, always challenging itself to become different and better...and I couldn't help but continue reading.

1. Southern Bastards

Jason Aaron/Jason Latour

When you read as many comics as we do here at GeekRex, it is pretty common to be asked to recommend something new and different for people to read.  For me, the one comic I find myself telling people they must pick up right now is Southern Bastards.  Jasons Aaron and Latour's southern noir comic plucks my Alabama heartstrings like a harp, telling a thrilling story with surprisingly complex characters that always captures my full attention.  The most recent arc, Homecoming, has only made the series's strengths even more clear as each issue has focused on a different character in Craw County, Alabama as the big high school homecoming football game approaches.  Jump on board to perhaps my favorite comic right now.
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