Best Comics of 2015 (Part One)

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Two words could be used to describe comics in 2015: scandal and rebirth. The scandals happened off the pages at both companies large and small, and the rebirth happened in the comics themselves.

Graphic Policy reported that former Dark Horse Comics editor-in-chief Scott Allie bit writer Joe Harris (X-Files Season Ten) at the BOOM! Studios party at San Diego Comic Con, and he was demoted to “executive editor” even though an assault of this kind would be grounds for dismissal at almost any other company. There was also another ethical breach at Dark Horse when The Rainbow Hub journalist Emma Houxbois reported that former Bleeding Cool editor Hanna Means-Shannon broke a Dark Horse-related story while it was under embargo and didn’t disclose the fact that she was taking a job with the company.

Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso’s dismissal of African-American comics fans and creators  when asked why Marvel had covers homaging hip hop covers, but only a few black creators working on them and Marvel titles also raised ire in many comics circle. Marvel has started to right the ship after this controversy with the announcement of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther and David Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist. Alonso also offended LGBTQ comics fans by stating outright that the character Hercules, who had been established both in mythology and by previous writer Greg Pak as bisexual, was straight and retweeted an image mocking them. To date, Marvel only has one LGBTQ led title, Angela, Queen of Hel.

The final big comics scandal of 2015 happened at Image Comics, which is usually a bastion of progressivism. Writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle, included multiple transmisogynist slurs in their autobiographical-meets-superhero comic Airboy #2 and treated trans women as sex objects. This comic came out during a week when Image was using the LGBTQ rainbow as their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter. After a huge outcry of fan criticism leading to pressure from GLAAD, Robinson apologized for the slurs.

But, in spite of all the scandals, some excellent comics were published in 2015. In the summer, DC Comics unveiled their #DCYou initiative and introduced a variety of new titles in different genres and art styles featuring LGBTQ, black, and female leads, including the horror urban fantasy Hellblazer, post apocalyptic sci-fi meets superhero comic Cyborg, the monthly action ride with a badass gay lead that is Midnighter, and three monthly Harley Quinn titles. And long running titles, like Batgirl and Batman, continue to flourish with Jim Gordon taking up the mantle of Batman, and Barbara Gordon’s friend Alysia Yeoh marrying her girlfriend in the first same gender wedding in DC Comics history. And DC really caught fire towards the end of the year with the critical and commercial success of Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert’s The Dark Knight III: The Master Race as well as the release of some new promising Vertigo titles, like Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke’s Twilight Children, the already optioned as a TV show Unfollow, and Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt’s psychological horror Twilight Children.

Most of Marvel’s output was connected to the still running event Secret Wars, which was meant to lead to an “All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe” and led to some clever “What If?”-style miniseries like Chris Burnham and Ramon Villalobos’ E is for Extinction and the gorgeously drawn Old Man Logan from Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino. However, they also released some fun Star Wars titles in advance of the new film, including Charles Soule and Alex Maleev’s Lando miniseries, which is a picaresque adventure romp and the first solo comic starring Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca. And even with multiple #1 issues, the vast expanse of the Marvel Universe has room for quirky, fun, and sometimes freaky titles, like  Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Doctor Strange, Vision, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

Image Comics is the headquarters for the best creators and the wildest concepts as mainstays The Wicked + the Divine, Saga, Autumnlands, Southern Bastards, The Fade Out, and Bitch Planet continued to push genre boundaries, comment on contemporary social issues, and give free reign to some of the most talented artists in comics, including Jamie McKelvie, Sean Phillips, Fiona Staples, and Tula Lotay. And the company isn’t content to rest on its laurels with new titles like Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s Old Testament retelling The Goddamned, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s steampunk alternate history of East Asia Monstress, Mark Millar and Rafael Albuqurque’s heartwarming superhero tale Huck, and many others showing that Image will continue to be a creative juggernaut into 2016 and beyond.

Dark Horse continues to be a home for unique projects, like Chuck Pahlaniuk and Cameron Stewart’s Fight Club 2, a monthly comic sequel to the seminal Generation X novel, Ethan Young’s starkly tragic Nanjing: The Burning City about the Japanese occupation of China in World War II, and Negative Space, an emotional look at the nature of depression. And there are always those wonderful Mignolaverse and Buffyverse titles. IDW reigns as the queen of licensed comics with the fabulous Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell reboot of Jem and the Holograms, and entertaining crossovers, like Star Trek/Planet of the Apes and Transformers/G.I. Joe. BOOM! Studios flat out publishes some of the most fun and adorable all ages books, like Lumberjanes, Giant Days, the unfortunately cancelled Bravest Warriors as well as one of the strangest comics of 2015, Grant Morrison’s Santa Claus origin story Klaus. Dynamite dug into its deep pulp library with the help of writer extraordinaire Gail Simone to craft the fun, adventurous, and female-fronted summer crossover Swords of Sorrow starring characters, like Red Sonja, Vampirella, and Dejah Thoris. And don’t forget Archie, who completely revamped their publishing line with the beautifully Fiona Staples drawn Archie as well as the riotous Jughead from Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson along with some solid horror (Afterlife with Archie, Sabrina) and dark superhero titles (Black Hood).

And there are even more excellent comic book companies that unfortunately fly under some readers’ radar. Action Lab/Danger Zone is a place where genres mix and meld and featured some of the best female-led titles of the year, like Raven Pirate Princess, the high school baking themed crime saga Nutmeg, and the magical girl vigilante comic Tomboy. Black Mask brings a punk ethic, social conscience, and immersive worldbuilding to their visually appealing titles, like the teen road trip (with superpowers) story We Can Never Go Home, the political conspiracy comic Young Terrorists, and the trippy action thriller X’ed. And Z2 published their first ongoing comics towards the end of this year, but Ian McGinty’s all ages spooky fantasy tale Welcome to Showside and the post-fantasy parody Allen, Son of Hellcock are two fun comics definitely worth picking up.

And without further ado, here are Pop Optiq’s comics writers’ picks for the best comics of 2015.

-Logan Dalton

1-fight-club-2-Issue-2-cover10. Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse)

Fight Club #1-7
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Art by Cameron Stewart
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Nate Piekos

Fight Club 2 isn’t so much a sequel as it is a transfiguration. It certainly isn’t a new phenomenon for novelists to revisit, adapt, or continue older works in comic form, but they tend to eke out a hermetic existence heedless of the ebb and flow of their contemporaries, more often than not going their entire run blithely ignorant of the unique storytelling potential of the comics page. It wasn’t hard to imagine that pairing Chuck Palahniuk with Cameron and Dave Stewart would raise the bar, but it’s evident that they never even considered works with a similar provenance when putting it together. Instead they delivered the boldest and most aggressive use of the comics page in recent memory, resulting in the most immersive reading experience since The Invisibles. There’s ample evidence in the seven issues so far that it’s high time to recognize that Cameron Stewart is the greatest visual storyteller of his generation, which speaks volumes about Palahniuk’s desire to enter the medium and engage with it on its own terms.

When Matt Fraction was recently asked on Tumblr what the most important thing that has the present between artist and writer in comics is, he replied that what he works on in his writing is honing his ability to write for the artist he’s with, to provide them the platform to deliver the most authentic vision of their work possible. For Palahniuk, a novelist who is both incredibly idiosyncratic in his voice and one of the defining literary figures of his generation, to grasp and execute that concept as fully as he has within the first year of writing comics is nothing short of breathtaking. Craft wise, there’s no room for any other comic in the conversation for the best of 2015.

-Emma Houxbois

9. Jem and the Holograms (IDW)Jem7

Jem and the Holograms #1-9
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Sophie Campbell (1-6), Emma Vieceli (7-9)
Colors by M. Victoria Robado
Letters by Robbie Robbins (1), Shawn Lee (2-6, 8-9), Tom B. Long (7)

Kelly Thompson wins at nostalgia. Who would have thought a comic book reboot of the 80’s animated cult classic could absolutely explode with contemporary vibrancy and vitality, speaking directly to today’s youth while also maintaining the heart of the cheesy, over-the-top original with frequent winks at other 80’s faves for the original fans. Two masters: served. On top of that, the multiple female body types, all drawn and responded to by other characters as beautiful, the casual acceptance of same gender relationships, and the authenticity of female friendships, all make this a progressive, poignant series. The rush to read the new issue isn’t because of an engineered cliff-hanger like it is in most series. Au contraire, it’s because it might be the most fun you have all week. That fun is partly character and plot-based, but the art–especially by Sophie Campbell in the first arc–is exuberant. The facial expressions charm, amuse, and affect, and the flair of fashion, make-up, and hairstyles captivates even the unfashionable (like me).

-Erin Perry

Darth Vader #13 - Cover8. Darth Vader (Marvel)

Darth Vader #1-13
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca
Colors by Edgar Delgado
Letters by Joe Caramagna

Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca don’t make Darth Vader a hero in his new self-titled series, but they do reestablish Vader as the heart of the Star Wars story. Taking place after the original 1977 Star Wars movie, Gillen and Larocca’s Vader does not struggle with the light side or the dark side of the Force. He’s thoroughly a Sith Lord and embodies all the evil that comes with that title. His troubles are much worse as he has to deal with an Emperor that continually prods, tests, and manipulates his apprentice harder than ever after the epic failure of the Empire’s Death Star. Make no mistake about it; Vader is evil, but he’s just not the evilest thing in a galaxy far, far away. Even the supporting cast, bolstered by a pair of humorously homicidal astromech and protocol droids, may be far worse than Vader ever was.

Gillen brings together all of the best characteristics of Vader, writing a character who has the insecurities of Anakin Skywalker as much as the has the power of a Sith Lord. Gillen’s character is as ruthless and powerful as the Vader of Lucas’s first films but as uncertain and alone in the galaxy as the young Anakin Skywalker of the prequel movies. Larocca and colorist Edgar Delgado capture the widescreen scope as well as the cinematic intimacy of the movies. While at times stiff and lifeless, Larocca’s does well with the unenviable job of having to draw an emotional character who wears an armor that doesn’t not show emotion. His Vader mostly portrays the stoic visage of his ebony shell, but Larocca is still able to subtly maneuver that iconic helmet to show the turbulent emotions that still exist within the man in the armor.

-Scott Cederlund

7. Batman (DC)BM_Cv46

Batman #38-47
Written by Scott Snyder, Brian Azzarello (44)
Pencils by Greg Capullo (38-43, 45-47), Jock (44)
Inks by Danny Miki (38-43, 45-47), Jock (44)
Colors by FCO Plascencia (38-43, 45-47), Lee Loughridge (44)
Letters by Steve Wands (38-43, 45-47), Deron Bennett (44)

2015 was a time of change for the Batman family. Titles like Gotham By Midnight, Gotham Academy, and Grayson ushered in a new status quo for Gotham City, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman continued to be the headliner of this excellent group of books.

Over the course of the year, Bruce was taken to edge of what it means to be Batman during the “Endgame” arc that had him fight everyone from the Justice League, the citizens of Gotham, and finally the proverbial devil himself in the form of The Joker. Almost mirroring themes from the earlier arc “Death of the Family”, Snyder resurrects Batman’s eternal rival to wage all out war one last time. The ramifications of “Endgame” are still being felt and changed the Bat-office titles for the better in the long run. While titles like Gotham By Midnight and Robin: Son of Batman remained on the fringe of the more “in-house” Batman titles, Grayson, Gotham Academy, and We Are Robin have felt the effects of the main title rather quickly. Because of Snyder and Capullo’s work on Batman, readers were opened to different corners and more diversity after the Endgame. Original characters and creations like Duke Thomas, Harper Row, and the Court of Owls continue to have a profound way of being incorporated as mainstays of the Batman mythos now and well into 2016.

With Batman #41, a longtime ally of both Bruce and Batman took up the mantle of the Bat to varying degrees in the latest arc titled “Superheavy”. James Gordon becomes the hero of the story story and gave readers a fresh and innovative look on how one can police crime in Gotham with the help of a corporation’s strength and resources. Through “Bat-Gordon” and his adventures, we’re getting a more grounded take on the idea of what Batman can be and how someone could deal with crime albeit  in a flashier, more grandiose manner.

This year, through insane plot twists and facing villains old and new, readers got a story that combined super heroics and real life issues in the form of Batman #44. In a flashback tale for the ages drawn by Jock, Bruce combats urban crime, police brutality, and the struggles of helping low-income neighborhoods on a personal level. Stories like these are always appreciated and do well to remind us that while comic books are based in fiction, the events surrounding them are sometimes not. 2015 was quite the ride for all of the characters and creative teams that fight and write the good fight in the name of the Bat, and 2016 should be no different.

-Terrence Sage

MsMarvelChiang6. Ms. Marvel (Marvel)

Ms. Marvel #11-19, Ms. Marvel #1-2
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona (11, 16-19, 1-2), Elmo Bondoc (12), Takeshi Miyazawa (13-15, 1-2)
Colors by Ian Herring, Irma Knivila (13)
Letters by Joe Caramagna

In its second year, Ms. Marvel has soared strong with the conclusion of the  Inventor arc where the Kamala Khan and her “lazy millennial” don’t become human batteries for him and the construction of a love triangle between the charming, yet actually evil Inhuman Kamren, Kamala, and her long suffering friend Bruno. In this storyline, Kamala doesn’t betray her family, friends, and faith for a shot at more power and also feels heart break when Kamren isn’t the nice, Bollywood film loving guy that she initially thought he was. But Ms. Marvel really hit its peak in the last few issues of the volume that showed Kamala’s simple heroism in the face of the end of the Marvel Universe and also included a squee worthy team-up with her idol Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, who gave Kamala her blessing as a superhero in a truly touching moment.

Writer G. Willow Wilson captures all the peaks and valleys of being a teenager in Ms. Marvel through the metaphors of shapeshifting powers, Inhumans, and even apocalypses. She gives Kamala Khan a close connection to her community, and this comes in handy when she helps organize the relief efforts in Jersey City while the Avengers are too busy trying to stave off the last Incursion a few hours away in New York City. Series artists Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa have complementing styles that deftly balance creative superhero action with romance and emotions to go along with Ian Herring’s bright color palette that gets a little dourer in the “Last Days” arc.

As part of All-New, All-Different Marvel, Ms. Marvel did get a new #1 issue, but the comic has lost no momentum as Kamala must balance her new status as an Avenger with going to school, patrolling Jersey City, and dealing with her image being used by a company that is tearing down her friends’ businesses and houses to gentrify with luxury condos and apartments. This new story shows G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa’s continued goal of telling fun superhero stories with real life relevance to teenagers and people everywhere. In a day and age when certain powerful people are calling for the barring of Muslims from the United States, it is empowering to see a Muslim, Pakistani-American female superhero face down corporations, Inhumans, supervillains, and even the end of the world with a smile and an “embiggened” punch.

-Logan Dalton

Part Two





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