The Other Side of the Page: Books and Comics
The Best Comics of 2016
As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite comics I read this year. While there should be some titles on here like Moon Knight, Punisher, Doom Patrol, and Black Hammer, all of which have rave reviews, they weren’t on my pull lists or I’m waiting for the trade paperbacks. Some like Punisher really isn’t my cup of tea. You’ll find many of those on other people’s best of lists.
But this is my list and my favorite titles. I also want to include at the end some titles that recently began. They had such strong openings that I hope they’ll be on my best of list in 2017.
Some of these are new titles. Some of these are ongoing from previous years. There are some guilty pleasures in here as well.
Here are my favorite comics of 2016 in no particular order…
…because I love them for different reasons.
With a title like Snotgirl, I can see why a lot of my customers in my comic store thought I was crazy when I said it was fantastic. This is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s (Scott Pilgrim) first monthly comic. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t realize how great it would be. It has an interesting take on how social media can destroy the life of someone wrapped up in it. It follows fashion blogger and Instagram star Lottie Person. She suffers from allergies and has a crippling fear that someone will see her as ugly. When a new blogger comes along and calls her “Snotgirl,” Lottie’s violent response spins her into a world of paranoia.
Leslie Hung’s art is beautifully simple, expressive, and detailed when it comes to the fashion. She balances “less is more” with intense vivid colors when needed.
Funny, thoughtful, and fresh, Snotgirl is a total win for Image Comics.
Justice League Rebirth
I wasn’t a big fan of the New 52 from DC Comics. To me, those weren’t the heroes I grew up with, and I’m also not the biggest fan of dark and gritty comics. That wasn’t my Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and especially not my Green Arrow. Batman and Harley Quinn were the only two characters that thrived in that time period.
As Rebirth rolled out, I gave Justice League a try. I always liked team up books, and it had the new Superman in it. Boy, I was surprised! The first story arc was the group trying to mesh and figure out how to be a team. With new members, not everyone fell in line right away. You get to see who the potential leaders will be along with how the young guns will fare. There also seems to be a tie in with the Watchmen reveal from DC Universe Rebirth. While not the biggest fan of the second story arc, I got hooked on this title.
DC Universe Rebirth
Between DC Comics and Marvel rebooting what seems like every six months, I really didn’t care much when Rebirth rolled out of DC. I was pleasantly surprised when I gave the launch title a try.
These were the heroes I missed. As Wally West cried out that the heroes lives weren’t right, I cheered as Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance finally noticed each other and began to fall in love. Superman was a boy scout again. Flash had his humor. Batman uncovered a new mystery. Wonder Woman sought out her true origin. These were the heroes I grew up with.
Rebirth took DC Comics back to basics and still manages to give us new stories. The only real gripe I have is we haven’t explored the Watchmen element to it.
Like I said, I love a good team up.
The New 52 Superman died, but a new one came over during the Convergence story last year. Batman doesn’t trust him yet. This wasn’t the friend he used to know. So, Wonder Woman proposes they have dinner with Superman, Lois Lane, and their son. What could go wrong?
A lot especially if Poison Ivy gets involved.
This book is great, because the trio fights to find a new normal. Like Justice League, they aren’t quite sure how to proceed with their lives. Bruce and Diana grieved their old Superman, but here’s a new guy replacing him. Clark only wants a normal life for him and his family, but sometimes he’s the only one that can save the world.
This only has three issues, but it looks like a new heavy hitter for DC Comics. It’s too good to miss.
This book was hands down the best thing Marvel put out this year. This is where Tom King kicked in the door, put out great work, and received rave reviews for it. Man, he totally deserved it too!
What’s great about The Vision is that it’s a borderline horror book. It’s creepy. Pretty much Vision starts over on his life and makes a family like himself. Just because Vision is a hero doesn’t mean his wife and kids have to be. The inciting incident is when the wife Virginia murders a villain who attacks their daughter. Caught in the act, their lives spiral out of control. What should be the most perfect family is destroyed as tragedy upon tragedy hits them. Being synthezoids, the Visions struggle with understanding normal life like school, human interactions, and how pain actually works for humans.
I wish this was longer than twelve issues. This is one of the few comics that I sobbed through the finale. It was a perfect and tragic ending to this tale.
I’m really surprised at how much I love this book. I’m not a big Gwen Stacy or Deadpool fan. I considered Gwenpool a joke in the beginning. I was only going to read the first issue so I knew what I was selling. I got hooked right away.
See, they give a huge twist to this character. From the events of 2015’s Secret Wars, Gwenpool was brought into the main Marvel Universe. Unlike Deadpool who can regenerate his cells, this Gwen has no superpowers. None. Nothing. She cannot take deadly hits like Deadpool can, because it will kill her. Her ability is that she’s from our world. She knows she’s in a comic book. She calls Thor by Jane Foster, because she read her comics. She looked at a bad guy and said she knew for a fact that he had no memories before the age of twelve. That’s because nothing had ever been written for him before then. Her “superpower” is that she’s a nerd. Gwen’s super relatable too as she tries to find her way in this new world. For me, this title was one of the biggest surprises of the year.
Oh, my guilty pleasure. Gosh, I love this book.
The title says it all. It’s a comic about the official Disney Princesses (Frozen has its own separate title since Anna and Elsa aren’t official princesses yet). Amy Mebberson’s art is special bringing so much expression to each character. She gives life to one of the most important aspects of this comic:
All the princesses are presented as actual people.
They’re dorks. They struggle at times. Sometimes their hair slaps them in the face, and they fall over. Some like Cinderella and Aurora try to find their place in high society. Tiana works through troubles in her restaurant. Rapunzel’s stories either deal with seclusion in her tower or learning to lead a kingdom with Eugene. The moment she’s married to Eric, Ariel bombards him with questions like, “How do people swim without fins!? What’s a fire, and how does it burn!?” There’s a lot of story given to the earlier princesses too like Snow White.
This is a perfect comic for both children and adult Disneyphiles. Joe Books has a winner on their hands here.
Power Man and Iron Fist
Big Luke Cage in a tiny smart car.
Power Man and Iron First is hilarious. Danny wants to get the old team up back together, but Luke Cage has enough on his plate with wife, Jessica Jones, and their daughter Danielle. When an old friend comes back in town, the boys are thrown into screw up after screw up when they try to return an item to her. There are plenty of visual jokes (see above Luke Cage in a smart car) as well as great one liners. For example, Luke isn’t allowed to swear since his kid’s learning how to talk. He’ll kick in a bad guy’s door yelling, “What the fiddle-faddle’s going on here!?” There are great minor characters too with two lackeys working for a bad guy assigned to watch Luke and Danny (they start saying “fiddle-faddle” after a few issues too).
This is a fun romp as Luke and Danny come together. I also love the heartfelt family moments between Luke and Jessica.
Where do I even begin?
This book is often described as “the new Saga” (which is later on this list). Monstress was a breakout hit with three printings for issue one. Marjorie Liu’s writing is deep, in your face, and unforgiving. Sana Takeda’s art is detailed, flawless, expressive, and simply gorgeous. You can see a definite anime influence, but there’s plenty of western references to where you don’t label it as “manga.” Together, these ladies created an incredible world and one of the best stories of the year.
As a ceasefire between humans and half human-half animals called Arcana slowly breaks apart, Maika Halfwolf infiltrates a coven of witches. She seeks her mother’s murderer who was part of the war. Maika carries a dark secret with her in the form of a deadly and ruthless demon thirsty for blood. Is it an ancient force that might have triggered the war? As Maika searches for answers, the real truth about her mother starts to unravel.
My only gripe on this book is the first two issues are heavy with exposition. It’s a bit tough to get through it as it sets up the world. Once that’s out of the way, the book builds well on itself.
I have grown to love this title more and more with each issue. I’m glad it was extended, because it was originally a six issue miniseries. Giant Days is a slice of life comic that really focuses on the crazy side of life.
It follows three British university students as they grow into adults. Esther is the goth girl who loves cute things and a good time. Daisy grew up sheltered and now experiencing new things in life. Susan is a jaded young woman looking for a good conspiracy theory. These three ladies become best friends and support each other as they fight through boyfriends, sexuality, school, and one of the biggest struggles in life:
Building a shelf from Ikea.
Old friends come and go in the series but add so much in their single issues. The supporting cast is fun, and I particularly love Graham McGraw. He’s Susan’s on and off again boyfriend who cherishes the simple things like wood working. He’s a lovely calming force when the ladies are wound up and crazy.
If you want a good slice of life comic that’s a little bit out there, then I definitely suggest Giant Days.
Here’s the other comic this year where I sobbed through the ending!
This is year one Viking Santa Claus. Klaus used to be the captain of the guard in a small Nordic town, but a false accusation got him kicked out. He lost the woman he loved. He lives alone with wolves. All he can do is watch as a deadly new leader destroys his home. This leader works the townsmen literally to death as he tries to summon an otherworldly foe. One night, Klaus is visited by the spirits of the forest which charge him to save the town and bring Yuletide back.
The book starts off grim as it builds the setting. But as Klaus accepts his new role as Santa, the story takes a fun and whimsical turn for several issues. Then as the otherworldly creature comes through, the battle of good versus evil sets off a climatic ending. The final pages are warm but tragic, as there’s a price to pay when you’re Santa Claus.
Grant Morrison shines in a book that’s nothing like his previous works. Dan Mora’s art is beautiful especially his backgrounds. He took time to draw every brick, wood wall, snowflake, and most importantly, beautiful characters.
Pick up the hardcover! It’s perfect for the holiday season!
The Mighty Thor
I’ll admit with the crazy holiday season, I’m a couple issues behind on Thor. That being said, it’s been a powerhouse for Marvel this year!
This realm hopping adventure filled the pages with frost giants, Loki, dark and light elves, twists, turns, and moments that make you literally gasp out loud. Where it really shines is when Thor puts down her hammer and Jane Foster comes out. If you don’t know that premise, Jane took up the mantle of Thor after the events of Original Sin made Thor Odinson unworthy of the hammer. The twist is she has cancer. Every time she becomes Thor, it negates her chemotherapy. She has all this power, but it’s killing her faster. I love that Jane never stops being a hero. Her life be damned, because she’s going to keep going out there and saving lives. She’s such an admirable character. She’s a true inspiration to everyone, male and female, young and old. Jason Aaron truly shines writing this masterpiece. He absolutely deserved his Eisner Award win this year.
The only real gripe I have about this series comes from another title. Al Ewing’s run of Loki: Agent of Asgard introduced a character named Verity Willis who is now linked to Loki. In The Mighty Thor #4, my letter was published asking about Verity. They answered they had plans for Verity, but it’s yet to happen. Still, check out some of the trades for Aaron’s run of Thor.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
This series needs more love. I’ve been selling it like crazy to young girls in my store! Little girls want more series like this. Please take note of that Marvel, DC Comics, and other comic publishers.
Lunella Lafayette is the smartest kid around. We find out in a later arc that she could be the smartest person on the planet. Kids at school bully her, and her teachers chastise her for zoning out. Truth is that they all bore her, because she’s so incredibly brilliant. She’s an Inhuman waiting for her powers to develop. What’s great is she uses math and science to invent her future superhero gear. She doesn’t have powers yet, but she still gives Tony Stark a run for his money. Her world is disrupted when Devil Dinosaur comes through a portal and barges into her life. Together, they’re a fun crime fighting team as they take back their city.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a fantastic coming of age story. Lunella searches for a place to fit in at school and with her family. She finds comfort in Devil Dinosaur who helps her discover her true potential.
With the hype of the movie that came out this year, I’ve seen a rise of customers looking for comics about the good Doctor.
Jason Aaron does it again bringing new life to a long time Marvel character. It’s been years since Doctor Strange had a main title. While it started in 2015, the series continues to deliver. Chris Bachalo’s art balances the everyday world with the wild and crazy spirit world that Strange moves between. One of my favorite parts of the art is the black and white world that surrounds the title character when he triggers his powers. The best storyline so far is when a scientific based enemy arrives to challenge the supernatural magic of Earth. The climax was riveting and tore your heart out as characters had to pay the price of magic.
This is a good intro book if you’re new to Doctor Strange. It quickly defines everything about Strange as a character before it challenges every ounce of his being.
This is easily one of the best comics on the market. In the three years I’ve worked in a comic book store, I’ve yet to hear a single customer say a bad thing about Saga.
As the intergalactic war continues to wage (with parallels that more often than not mimic our actual world), this year’s story focused on Alana and Marko searching for their missing daughter. Prince Robot struggles to recover from his personal tragedies. New bounty hunters appear bringing severe threats. Our old bounty groups find a new normal. Afterward, the fight for control of a comet wages around our heroes. Both sides of the conflict meet and not everyone makes it out in the end.
Brian K. Vaughan’s writing will make you laugh one moment and sob on the next page. Fiona Staples’ art is expressive, funny, heart wrenching, and beautiful. Together, they are the perfect team to create the phenomenal world of Saga.
Oh Joy Sex Toy
While Oh Joy Sex Toy has run as a webcomic for years, this is the first year it’s been published. It’s one of my personal favorite comics.
This is a great book for single people or couples. Erika and Matthew are a husband-wife team that creates the comic. Together they review sex toys, talk about how to approach new situations like fetishes, going to swingers parties, how to communicate with your partner, and even have sections discussing subjects like birth control, how to make long distance relationships work, what to ask your gynecologist at exams, and reviewing feminine products like Mooncups. It’s a fantastic book for both men and women. Erika reviews the products for women, Matthew will cover the ones for men, and they’ll both be in the comic for how products works for couples. If there are any topics they don’t know about, they’ll bring in guest artists to cover it. The theme for all of the comics is they want people to have fun and to be safe. Consent is EVERYTHING.
What really made me love Oh Joy Sex Toy was the representation in this book. All bodies types, genders, races are shown that sex is fun. Sex is for everyone. There’s even one comic where an amputee is testing a toy and enjoying it. That, to me, is incredibly important.
Also, there are so many nerdy references from Star Trek to Pokemon in there. My favorite nerd shout out was Spider-Man.
And here’s my third Jason Aaron title on this list. He’s doing stellar work, and I honestly don’t know when this man sleeps.
Aaron gives a completely new look at a Biblical time period that isn’t always covered. The Goddamned takes place after Cain and Able but before Noah’s flood. Humanity is literally a shit hole of murderers, thieves, rapists, and destruction. It follows the story of Cain, who can’t die, helping a woman find her son. The stakes rise when Noah arrives to say the flood is coming. What does a man who can’t die do when there’s a humanity killing flood on the way?
What I love about this is that Noah is an antagonist, because he’s working against Cain. Noah’s not a nice guy. Since all of humanity is going to die in a flood, he doesn’t see a problem in using them as slave labor. Cain argues they are still people and God’s children. The first story arc ended in a climatic fight.
My only gripe, which I pointed out in an earlier review, is the dialogue to too modern. They don’t have to speak like Shakespeare, but the very current dialogue always rips me out of the narrative. Still, this is one of my favorite titles. I can’t wait for arc two to start.
I’m rounding out my list with some titles that just started the last couple months. They’ve had strong opening issues, so I hope they continue that trend into 2017.
Move over, Young Avengers! The Champions are here!
I was on the fence about starting this book. I love Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, and Viv from The Vision, but I’m not a fan of Cyclops. I loath the new Hulk. So, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start this title or not. I’m so glad I did.
With all the crappy events Marvel runs about every six months, the adult superheroes are always getting into some kind of trouble. After Civil War II threw the newest suck wrench into the Marvel Universe, Ms. Marvel walked away from the Avengers team. She wanted to get back to basics about what superheroes should be about. Gathering up a team of teenagers who haven’t become jaded to the world, she leads them to become the new Champions.
I liked the first two issues, but it was number three that sold me. Tying into to very current events as well as pulling in Ms. Marvel’s Islamic culture, that was easily the best issue so far.
This is what superhero comics should strive to be at all times. Marvel, let your characters write their own stories. You don’t need a possible world ending event twice a year to do it.
I should admit my bias right up front. Hawkeye is my favorite Avenger. I’ll read anything with Clint Barton in it. He’s had some tough luck since Matt Fraction and David Aja left their award winning run. Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez picked it up next, and it was pretty good. Then, Civil War II nearly destroyed Clint Barton and almost took him as a player out of the Marvel Universe for a bit. With his future uncertain, Clint chose to walk away from all the crazy main Marvel plots.
Like Champions, Occupy Avengers is Clint getting back to basics. He’s trying to get his life on track. He wants to help the everyday people, the ones who might not always have a voice. Teaming up with Red Wolf (whose also had some rough story runs lately), they look to find out what’s poisoning a river on a Native American reserve. Like Champions, the story so far feels very current.
Occupy Avengers has only one issue (issue #2 is out this Wednesday at the time this article is published). I enjoyed it so much and hopeful that the rest of the run will be successful.
I’m going to tell you my only problem with Slam! right away. I felt the plot moved too fast splitting up the main characters in the first issue. That’s because I fell in love with these ladies, and I wanted more time to see their friendship develop. If my only gripe is that I want more, then you’re doing something right.
Slam! is a great new title from Boom! Studios. It’s about novice roller derby players using the sport to get their lives back together. These women support and encourage each other through the first issue. They cheer each other on. The might beat up women on the other team, but both sides have mutual respect for the other. It’s a fantastic girl power book.
Pamela Ribon (Rick and Morty) creates real women with problems we can all relate to through the script. I’ve been a fan of Veronica Fish’s art for some time now. She shines showing various body types among the women. Together, this was a beautiful first issue.
Invincible Iron Man (Riri Williams)
I’ll admit, I didn’t read Riri’s first appearance in Tony Stark’s run of Invincible Iron Man. While I love Stark in the Marvel movies, I’ve never been a fan of comic book Tony. I knew Riri’s backstory and why she was in the comics, so I wanted to give her first issue a try.
I think part of what made me love Riri as much as I did was that she reminded me of Lunella from Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. They’re very similar characters, except Riri is a teenager. That being said, this is a nice coming of age story as Riri tries to fill the long shadow Tony Stark left. She’s not sure of her place as Ironheart (her version of Iron Man), or if she even wants to be in this role. I think we’re seeing the beginning of a fantastic new character. I don’t think she’ll be the cultural phenomenon that Ms. Marvel was when she entered the Marvel Universe, but I have been wrong before.
My only issue with this is I don’t think every character needs a major death of a love one to launch them into being a superhero. Riri isn’t freaking Batman here. It’s such an overused trope in media. Death isn’t the only event to make someone reach their next level of potential.
Do you agree with my list? What were some of your favorite comics of 2016?
Let us know in the comments section!