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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Shane's Top 10 Comics 2016

The end of 2016 is finally here.  It has been a long, hard year for most of us in a variety of ways.  Fortunately, every week brought at least one bright spot each Wednesday as we got to enjoy new comics.  2016 was a pretty tumultuous year for comics as well: Marvel jumped into Civil War II, DC relaunched all of its titles just 5 years after the New 52, and comic sales in general saw a slump after a few years of being on the rise.  There's a lot to be negative about when it comes to the state of comics, but what stood out among the crowd in 2016?  Here are my 10 favorites and a few honorable mentions.

10. Everafter: From the Pages of Fables
Written by David Justus, Matthew Sturges
Art by Travis Moore
Publisher: Vertigo

If you've been following this site for long enough, you may remember that I was definitely a huge, unapologetic fan of Fables when it was still running.  One of my favorite comics of all time, Bill Willingham's world of fairy tale characters in modern day returns in Everafter.  The third Fables spin-off takes place a number of years after the comic's end and details the adventures of a spy agency in charge of making sure magic doesn't overtake the Mundy (Mundane) world.  Though only a few issues in, Everafter has quickly become one of my favorites to pick up each month.  Not only do I get to check in on a world I thought was finished, the series goes in such a different direction than Fables or any of its spin-offs that it makes for some really exciting reading.  I'm also glad this world is being handled by the likes of Matthew Sturges, who co-wrote Jack of Fables.  

9. James Bond: Vargr
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Masters
Publisher: Dynamite

Everyone's favorite British spy James Bond made his triumphant return to comics last year, but his adventures continued into 2016 and have expanded significantly at Dynamite since then.  In Vargr, 007 is sent to finish the mission of a deceased 00 agent, which has him travelling around Russia and various parts of the former Soviet Union.  Warren Ellis is already one of my favorite comic writers out there, but the man captures not only the character of James Bond very well, but, perhaps most importantly, the style of Ian Fleming.  Having just finished a read through of Fleming's novels, I can attest to how well Ellis embraces his style and adapts it to the comics medium.  Filled with tons of action, violence, and the charm one would expect from Bond, Vargr is a thrilling comic that ushers in an exciting new era for 007.

8. Patience
Written and Drawn by Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Sadly, the work of Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes is a blind spot in my love of comics.  That all changed this year with the debut of his latest graphic novel: Patience.  Telling the story of a man desperate to be reunited with his deceased wife, Patience takes a time-traveling, space-time continuum-bending journey into our past, grappling with questions we all deal with including what we would do to change the most pivotal events of our own lives.  It's hard to tell you too much about this graphic novel without spoiling the experience.  In fact, I've probably already said too much.  Just know that Patience is more than worth your time with a heart warming story and art that is just fantastic, even reminiscent of the great Jack Kirby at times.

7. Champions
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Humberto Ramos
Publisher: Marvel

2016 has not been a great year for Marvel and I.  I haven't loved as much as their output as I have in year's past, as evidenced by the lack of Marvel in most of this list.  That being said, one book that I came away really loving this year was Champions.  In the wake of Civil War II, the All-New, All-Different Avengers have split up, with the younger members of the team forming their own superhero group, dedicated to doing what superheroes are supposed to do: help people.  Ms. Marvel, Spider-man (Miles Morales), the Hulk (Amadeus Cho), Nova, Viv Vision, and Cyclops form the new team in Mark Waid's latest turn in his run on Avengers.  For a while, I've always felt that Humberto Ramos had a bit of an old-school, classic Marvel vibe to his artwork, making him the perfect choice for a back to basics, fun book like this.  It's always great when superhero books can be light and not weighed down by all the constant darkness, politics, and drama.  Waid and Ramos are crafting something good here, and I can't wait to see more of Champions in 2017.

6. Southern Bastards
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour 
Publisher: Image

Another perennial favorite of mine, Southern Bastards will probably go down as my favorite comic book of all time.  There's just something about the down-home, Southern charm of this football/crime comic that you just can't help but love if you're from Alabama.  This year was rough for Bastards fans.  Not only did we find out that we're "about halfway" through what Jasons Aaron and Letour have in mind for the series, but we only got about 4 issues of the series this year.  If we had had more, there is no doubt in my mind that Southern Bastards would have cracked my Top 5.  That being said, the fact that it got so close on just those four issues says a lot about the quality of this series.  If delays are good for anything, it's for catching up on what you've been missing.  Three volumes and two issues will catch you up on undoubtedly one of the best comics you will ever read.  Not a Southerner?  Be prepared to feel like one as you dive into Latour and Aaron's masterpiece.

5. Wonder Woman
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Nicola Scott, Liam Sharp
Publisher: DC

DC Rebirth was probably the biggest event of the comics world this year (which really is saying a lot).  The relaunch brought us a lot of great titles, but few reach the twice-monthly quality of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman.  Using the twice-monthly shipping method in the most unique way, Rucka has been simultaneously been telling two stories: a retelling of Wonder Woman's origins (just in time for that 75th Anniversary) and a present-day story where Diana finds that the truth of her origins may be more of a mystery than she thought. After an excellent run by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang in the New 52, Rucka, along with Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp, have continued to bring some of the best superhero comics you're probably not reading in the pages of Wonder Woman.  Plenty of people know and love Diana, but I don't know many who actually read her book each month.  Use 2017 to remedy that situation stat.  You'll thank me later.

4. Saga
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image

Let's just face it.  As long as it is still being published, Saga will probably always be somewhere on my Best Comics list each year.  Some may have a problem with that, but those people clearly aren't still reading Vaughan and Staples's epic sci-fi comic.  The bulk of this year's Saga output has seen the story of two armies fighting for dominance over a comet, while the creatures that live there find their lives in shatters from constant warfare.  While that alone is interesting enough, it has never been the overall story that has made Saga so charming all these years.  At its heart, Saga is about familly, and the family of some of the strangest characters you will ever meet that occupies this comic.  Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples create characters you genuinely care for, characters that it will probably emotionally scar you to see them go (I have at least one).  That is what has given Saga its staying power.  The character work on this comic is some of the best you're likely to find in an on-going series in this day and age.

3. Doom Patrol
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Nick Derington
Publisher: DC/Young Animal

The World's Strangest Heroes make their triumphant return in this, the flagship title of DC's Young Animal, the latest imprint being headed up by My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way.  Taking more than a few pages from Grant Morrison's own run on the title, Way's vision of Doom Patrol has so far been weird, funny, and one of the best comics you could possibly have picked up this year.  Focusing on EMT Casey Brinke, Doom Patrol unites characters new and old in ways that are totally unexpected and in the strangest ways possible, which is only further befitting of the title.  While comparisons to Morrison are bound to be made, we could honestly use a few more superhero comics these days like what Grant used to bring.  I'm confident Gerard Way is just getting started with us.  Prepare to have your expectations shattered.

2. Shade the Changing Girl
Written by Cecil Castellucci
Art by Marley Zarcone
Publisher: DC/Young Animal

How to describe a comic like Shade the Changing Girl?  Not the easiest task.  A comic like Shade is one best experienced without too much prior knowledge.  Just know that the comic involves an alien named Loma, a teenage girl named Megan, and a madness coat owned by an alien poet named Rac Shade.  In all honesty, this comic may be experienced best in trade as issue 1 could easily be confusing for some readers.  That being said, if you are willing to just let go of any pre-conceived notions about what a comic can be, you can truly experience how great Shade the Changing Girl truly is.  Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone are creating something really special here, something which may turn out to be one of those comics you're told years later you HAVE to have on your shelf.  Marley Zarcone's psychedelic art is quite possibly the best comics art of 2016, a perfect match for Castellucci's oddball story.

1. Superman
Written by Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray
Publisher: DC

During the New 52, I was a pretty big fan of Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi's run on Batman & Robin.  With the announcement of Rebirth, I decided to follow them to Superman, despite what seemed like a pretty big tonal shift.  Little did I know that I was signing myself up for easily my favorite comic book of 2016.  Gleason and Tomasi just get Superman.  Not only the character himself, but just how the world around him should be, and just what makes a great Superman story great.  Superman #7 (pictured right) is easily the best single issue of the year and a great example of why Gleason and Tomasi are the perfect team for the Man of Steel.  Focusing on a Superman married to Lois Lane with a son named Jon, this comic is just perfect in every way.  With carnivals, robots, dinosaurs, homages to Darwyn Cooke, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, and tons of love and hope, Superman is my favorite comic of 2016 and you better be reading it.  Save a space next to Morrison and Waid on your Superman shelf.  This is going to be a run for the ages.

Honorable Mentions: All-New All-Different Avengers, The Mighty Thor, Batman, Future Quest, The Flash, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

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