My 12 favorite comics for 2016
by rick olivares
This 2016 was the year where comic book collecting really hurt my wallet. After shunning DC Comics for years (only getting stuff from Vertigo), I picked up a bunch of titles from Rebirth. I went back to reading Uncanny X-Men after also staying away for years. Safe to say that I was reading at least 10 books a week. Ugh Go do the math. And the debit.
All that means there was a lot of really good stuff and there are. The comic book industry is healthy despite the downloads and here are my favorites for the entire year.
Moon Knight (Marvel)
I never really read Moon Knight. I picked up the title only because it was sizzling hot under artist Stephen Platt (but the art wasn’t that great to begin with). The only time I read it was when Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey took over in 2014. I included it in my pull list because of Ellis who has this knack for writing good stories and turning books around (hey, remember Stormwatch and before that, Excalibur) and no regrets. It was a sleeper hit. However, I dropped it like a hot potato after five issues when Ellis and Shalvey left. I only picked up the new series because of writer/artist Jeff Lemire. And eight issues in, I’m still digging it even if I still feel lost.
Lost because the basic plot is – is Moon Knight for real? Is the masked vigilante a figment of Marc Spector’s fevered imagination? And thus we find Spector in an asylum. Lemire and artist Greg Smallwood force you to really wonder if all of Moon Knight’s heroics were played out in his head given all the personas he has adopted through the years.
Talk about a psychological thriller. It isn’t whodunit but whatisgoingon? And that’s the fun part.
Harrow County (Dark Horse)
I loved writer Cullen Bunn’s western-horror opus, “The Sixth Gun”. When that 50-issue series came to an end, Bunn, one of the busiest writers in the business today, returned with “Harrow County” that is about the reincarnation of an evil witch who hopes to do good this time around but has to confront the evil legacy of the land. I just had to pick it up. The American south (including “The Sixth Gun” and Jason Aaron’s magnificent “Southern Bastards”) sure can be creepy. And that last time I thought it was creepy was the film “Southern Comfort” about these murdering hillbillies.
Bunn’s writing aside, what makes this comic book a must read is the water color art by Tyler Crook. It makes for a hauntingly beautiful tale and behind the idyllic is something rotten and evil. And you feel it. After reading Harrow County, you’ll never look at a forest or even under your bed in the same way again!
An Asian steam punk fantasy epic that is a feast for your eyes! Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Japanese artist Sana Takeda, “Monstress” tells the story of Maika who shares a psychic link with a monster of tremendous power and that makes them a target of those who fear them and want the power for themselves.
You just feel how each and every issue is lovingly put together.
The Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo)
Tom King in such a short time has established himself as one of the best writers in the business. His stories stick to you – Omega Men, The Vision – and this war-time crime thriller set in Baghdad after the American invasion.
King draws from his experience as a former CIA operative in weaving this tale of murder and intrigue. And he reveals immediately who committed what murder and atrocity but goes about in weaving a tale where you feel for all parties.
And the art by Mitch Gerads brings out the grittiness of the tale.
Tom Clancy would be proud.
Darth Vader (Marvel)
Now this book – all 25 issues of the first volume – is a great read month after month. After the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the first Death Star, Vader has fallen out of favor. How does he resurrect himself and curry the Emperor’s favor? This entire series fills in the gaps between the films “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” More to the absolute villainy of the Sith Lord, we are introduced to even more compelling characters such as Doctor Aphra, an Indiana Jones gone wrong, and her bloodthirsty droids, BT-1 and Triple O, and the savage wookie, Black Krrsantan.
The “Vader Down” arc shows Vader at his most ruthless. Brilliant work by Kierron Gillen and the always pleasing Salvador Larroca.
Here’s that other Tom King book in this list and it rightfully belongs. No book is more compelling and frightening than all 12 issues of “The Vision”. The android Avenger has put together his own synthezoid family – his wife Vivian and children Viv and Vin -- hoping they will live a normal suburban life just like any other American family. But it doesn’t happen that way. There’s murder, duplicity, and a chilling thought that the Vision may be headed down the road of Ultron.
Great stuff by King and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta. The sleeper hit of all sleeper hits!
Silver Surfer (Marvel)
I love it when a mainstream comic has this indie sensibility – not so heroic and oddball plots with zany art. And Dan Slott and Michael Allred – the latter who made a name drawing the indie comic book “Madman” – have come up with their version of the Silver Surfer. He’s a two-person (including love interest Dawn Greenwood) US Enterprise where they go where no one else has gone and have all sorts of adventures. Their Surfer is the spiritual heir to Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus.
Black Widow (Marvel)
In case you noticed, all the Marvel books I mentioned so far are the second-tier books. That’s how good they are when they aren’t busy with all these stupid crossovers and events.
The run of writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee produced some of the best Daredevil stories. Now the duo is taking their magic to the Black Widow and it’s turning out to be a delightful read. I’ve always like the Black Widow, first when I read the character over at the old Daredevil series. However, I never picked up any of her series save for Devin Grayson and JG Jones’ three-issue limited series in 2002. That was Natasha Romanoff at her deadly and sexy best.
In the light of the recent success of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s “Velvet” about a former secret operative whose life is turned upside down when she is framed for a murder she didn’t commit comes Marvel’s new Black Widow series. It almost has the same plot as Waid and Samnee have Romanoff on the run after secrets are spilled. The difference is, the series explores her assassin’s past and that makes for a compelling series.
Future Quest (DC)
This is perhaps the most run read of the list. It has me grinning from ear-to-ear and is usually my first read book when it comes out. Am not happy with the reboots of the Flintstones, Wacky Raceland, and Scooby Doo (although I do get it why the modern slant is that way) but Future Quest brings me to a happy place in my childhood. It’s that moment when Anton Ego is brought back to his mother’s kitchen as a child when he tastes the ratatouille in the film by the same name.
Basically, many of the heroes of the Hanna Barbera cartoon-verse from Jonny Quest, Mi-Tor, Birdman, Space Ghost, and the Herculoids all band together to face off against this intergalactic threat. Writer Jeff Parker who knows a thing or two about staying faithful to original characters (you have to read his Flash Gordon from Dynamite Comics) successfully brings everyone together, updates them, but somehow retains the charm of the original stories. Joining him is his Flash Gordon partner in artist Evan Shaner with extra stories done by the legend, Steve Rude, who many years ago produced a great Space Ghost one-shot for the defunct Comico and who pays homage to Hanna Barbera and Saturday morning cartoons in his sci-fi hero classic, Nexus.
Paper Girls (Image)
Can’t get enough of the 1980s after Rick Remender’s “Deadly Class” comics and the web show hit, “Stranger Things”? Then “Paper Girls” from the prolific Brian K. Vaughn with great art by Cliff Chiang is it.
Think Stand By Me (well, you should also read Lemire’s “Plutona” for another take of that classic Rob Reiner film) meets Stranger Things. This one also tugs at the heartstrings and makes you think… John Carpenter. Now you know you have a winner.
What Alan Moore book does not make any list? This is his love letter to HP Lovecraft. Set in 1919, the story follows this homosexual writer searches for occult outsiders while writing his novel. And that is when the horror starts. Drawn by artist Jacen Burrows, who has a style that is reminiscent of Moore’s Watchmen collaborator, Steve Gibbons, “Providence” is as powerful a work as any that Moore has penned.
Doom Patrol (DC)
A way to end the year with an oddball story is Gerard Way and Nick Derrington’s “Doom Patrol” that continues the surrealism that Grant Morrison and Richard Case explored during their dynamite run back in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
Shockingly, the real Doom Patrol – the Chief, Robot Man, Elasti Girl, Negative Man, and Element Man – have taken a backseat to EMT’s Casey Brinke and Sam Reynolds who anchor the series.
This year’s list started out with the whatisgoingon Moon Knight and it ends with the whatisgoingon Doom Patrol. Several issues in, I have no idea what is going on. The story drifts in and out with strange new turns at every corner. But you’re invested in the story because of the cool characters especially the new ones. All I know it is already intoxicating. I’m here for the ride.
You can all find these titles at your favorite comic book specialty shop or in trade form at major book stores.