I’ve been curating Unwinnable’s Best Comics of the Year list since we first started publishing them. This is the first year where there was very little overlap in our personal Best Of lists. Sure, Stu and I went for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and BPRD universe and a lot of us here really like Saga, but I was excited to see everyone’s number 1 and 2 choices were different and 3-8 were vastly different. It’s a good sign. I am stunned by the fact that, despite itself, there are a lot of great comics on the “mainstream” comic book market. Here are some of our favorites.
– Ian Gonzales
The Brimping Ain’t Easy Award – Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky didn’t produce as many issues of Sex Criminals as I would have liked this year, but the pair of lovable scamps are still making one of the most filthy and clever comics on the stands. Sex Criminals #12 was the standout issue this year. The dichotomy of Suzie and Jon trying to escape a “weird cum angel” juxtapozed against Ana Kincaid’s sexual norms and abnormalities class hit the book’s two greatest strengths – its juvenile humor and its honesty.
Fraction’s elevator pitch for Sex Criminals was that it’s the sex comedy that only comics could do. He, Zdarsky and the team kept the book’s quality up this year while working on other projects like ODY-C, Hawkeye, Jughead and Howard the Duck. It hasn’t lost a bit of creative steam and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2016.
– Ian Gonzales
The Tentacle Tickled Brain Award – Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
I really wanted to hate Neonomicon. Like many of Alan Moore’s recent projects, I find his use of sex, which in the case of Neonomicon involves repeated sexual assaults, distasteful. And yet…
I wasn’t going to pick up Providence, because I think Neonomicon is repellent and brilliant and I didn’t want to add more of that to my life, despite its genius. But genius won out. As maybe it is supposed to.
Alan Moore’s exploration of Lovecraft’s horror mythology (consisting thus far of The Courtyard, Neonomicon and Providence) is essential reading for anyone with any interest in Lovecraft’s writing or horror or even the mechanism by which our perception of art and artists change over time. Like many of Lovecraft’s narrators, I find that words fail me as I try to explain Providence‘s import.
Moore is deconstructing not only Lovecraft’s fiction, but the man himself and his place in the literary cosmos. Lovecraft’s own racism, sexism and homophobia form the ugliness at the root of Providence. Moore is channeling those malignant things and weaving them into something as terrifying as any tentacled monster. Does that make for unpleasant reading? Absolutely – but that doesn’t make it any less amazing.
– Stu Horvath
The Duh, Bro Award – Hawkeye #21-22 by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Futzing Clint Barton. Kate Bishop. Pizza Dog.
– Ian Gonzales
The Chimpsploitation Award – The Humans by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely
I stumbled across The Humans by accident. I saw it on the shelf of my local store and thought it was another Planet of the Apes book. Imagine my delight, then horror, then even more delight while thumbing through it to discover this was a whole different planet of apes, circa 1970. Fair warning: The Humans features battling motorcycle gangs, lots of blue language and plenty of nudity.
Underneath the surface is some fantastically original writing, super art and coloring (even the page margins have a yellow hue, to make it feel like you stumbled across an old and rotting comic, possibly hidden by your older brother/sister so your parents couldn’t find it) and action out the wazoo. On the planet of The Humans, the Vietnam War still happened and still did a number on survivors’ psyches. Honor among friends means everything and nothing. And in order to survive, you have to have your buddies’ backs and you know they have yours.
Sealing the deal for The Humans as being the best book out there every month, the creators give out plenty of extras: song downloads to set the atmosphere, bonus art work and hearty and heart-felt thanks to the fans who keep coming back. So raise your favorite beverage in toast of The Humans coming back in 2016. How does ape-bike-prison-sploitation sound to you?
– Sal Lucci
Best Reason for Even Cowgirls to Get the Blues – Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
Pretty Deadly isn’t exactly an easy book. Both Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script and Emma Ríos’ art can be almost frustratingly hard to parse, but sticking with the book through its first arc last year resulted in the kind of epically affecting story that, much like Gaiman’s Sandman, could only be properly digested once entirely consumed, even if Ríos especially has a particular knack for pulling our focus to the tiniest details in a panel. That’s the wonderful thing about this book – it’s big and small at the same time.
On the surface, this book is a proper Western, but just as you can see the Kurosawa in the Leone, you can feel the world-explaining mythical reach in this tale of a particular set of people in a particular time and place. Such is to be expected, I suppose, from a story that includes a cognizant rabbit skeleton, a transmogrified raven, and the daughter of Death, among others. The book’s second arc, which debuted this fall, expands the narrative to include both the hot pinks and oranges of the American West and the chilly blues and grays of muddy trenches in WWI France (major kudos to Jordan Bellaire’s color work, here).
We’re only two issues in to the new arc, but already I’m haunted by a drawing of a whistled tune traveling through time and space (this book lets you see SOUND, y’all), the relationship between an old man and his dying lover, a young girl pulling a star from the sky and opening it like a window, and five panels depicting two soldiers dissolving into a fit of laughter at the darkest hour of a long night. The writing is poetry, the art and colors are inky sketches on fire, and the story they combine to make is the story of these specific characters and all of us at once.
– Sara Clemens
The And You Thought They Couldn’t Keep This Going Award – Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
The first selling feature for Saga was the breast-feeding woman on the cover. Hearing later the oft-touted “It’s like Star Wars meets Game of Thrones” came later, but before that, Saga ended up on my list because of the cover.
It’s no secret that comic covers that feature women often do so in states of undress and duress. Clothes are often torn, breasts pushed out, spines bent at impossible angles. Saga’s first cover features a woman with wings and a man with horns but what was immediately eye catching was that she was breastfeeding her child.
The comic inside, and indeed all of the ones afterwards, have been an engaging story of humor and loss. They build around them a world that is impossible to ignore or forget, engaging characters for whom you feel and grieve and celebrate. As the series grows and matures, we become more attached to this diverse cast, to their adventures and to the stories that they inhabit. But it all started with a cover way back in 2012.
– Amanda Hudgins
The Big Red Cheese Award – Convergence: SHAZAM! by Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner
Convergence: SHAZAM! was my favorite superhero comic book of the year. While the two issue mini series was part of the less than spectacular Convergence event, Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner and colorist Jordie Bellaire took the magic they worked on Dynamite’s Flash Gordon and delivered a Captain Marvel Family story worthy of C.C. Beck himself.
The first issue focused on Billy Batson, Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman as they lived inside Braniac’s dome. They don’t have their powers, but they notice that Fawcett City’s mayor and their Uncle Dudley are acting suspicious, so they investigate. They stumble upon a plot by Dr. Sivana and his attempt to rule the domed city with the Monster Society of Evil as his enforcers. This all goes to heck when the Marvel Family get their powers back and discover that Fawcett City is being attacked by dirigibles!
The second issue pits the classic “Earth S” Captain Marvel Family against the residents of the Elseworlds classic, Gotham By Gaslight. Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire merge their bright, C.C. Beck inspired SHAZAM! style with Mike Mignola’s established aesthetic for Gotham By Gaslight. Shaner even designed a bunch of Victorian era Batman villains that could easily fit into Mignola’s original graphic novel. Toss in Mr. Mind and you have a comic that’s way more exciting than a dour Superman movie or an overstuffed Avengers flick. Convergence: SHAZAM! is pure superhero comics!
– Ian Gonzales
The Best Reason to Get a “Non-Compliant” Tattoo Award – Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s future-dystopian smash-up of sci-fi and 70’s-style prison exploitation genres comes on like Orange is the New Black meets Thunderdome meets Outland (only with lead character and inmate Kamau Kogo in the Sean Connery part). Bitch Planet is the slang term for the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, a maximum-security prison planet where women deemed “non-compliant” by the Council of Fathers (woof) are jailed. Between the main cast – a cornucopia of women of all ages, races, creeds, and body-types – the subversion of the male gaze whenever a character is stripped down (which is often and nearly always cruelly done), the searingly ironic old-school comic ads at the end (which you can really tear out and send in for BP merch), and the essays on modern femininity by prominent women writers in the back matter, the book makes no bones about being the double-bird-flipping feminist comic of our age.
And that’s maybe the scariest thing: this hyper-stylized “can-you-even-imagine” world is almost always perfectly imaginable – the previously mentioned essays make that abundantly clear in every issue. Thankfully we’ve got the likes of “born big” Penny Rolle staunchly refusing to hate herself or her body, even upon pain of torture, and Kamau Kogo protecting the weak because she knows “survival of the fittest” doesn’t track in a truly civilized society, and breaking the spirits of the sensitive isn’t a way to weed out the worthless. If their attitudes make them, and by extension, us, non-compliant? Brand me with that “NC,” baby.
– Sara Clemens
The Steadfast Hero Award – Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai
For over thirty years, through countless book collections and numerous single issues, Stan Sakai has presented us with the adventures of his rabbit ronin, Usagi. He has stuck by his vision for decades and while the formula has changed little over the years he still manages to do so much with it. See the recent miniseries Senso, a take on War of the Worlds with Samurai vs. Martians in Feudal Japan! Or the more recent Dark Horse anniversary issue #150, where he tells a simple tale of vengeance in the face of of greed and evil. The book is steadfast and timeless.
Even in the face of recent personal tragedy Sakai continues with his entertaining, magical and even educational series that never lacks in a consistency of quality, and much like its hero possesses so much heart.
– Michael Edwards
The Blood Stays on the Blade Award – The Mignolaverse by Mike Mignola and Friends
2015 marked the start of Hellboy’s third decade with us. I don’t want to get into the greatness of the story – I think we’ve covered that plenty over the last five years. Instead, let’s talk about the wonders of evolution.
I don’t know if Mignola claims to have had the ending of Hellboy’s saga in mind from the very start. Now that the end is approaching, though, however slowly, I doubt that even Mignola could have predicted how strange and surprising his corner of comic books would get. We’ve got cybernetic apes and psychic mummies and fish men and frog men and a man possessed by a sword from earth’s prehistory and transformed into a modern day Conan. We’ve got a zombie sailor in a preservation suit running a Russian secret service and an ectoplasmic man in a suit of magical armor powered by vril energy punching evil gods.
And our hero is in Hell, where he still finds plenty of occasion to punch monsters.
The Hellboy comics started out bonkers (Devil child raised by humans fights Rasputin with a fish man and a pyrotechnic lady) and has only gotten weird from there. It has also been funny, sad, frightening and more. But mostly weird, more weird, by miles, than I ever expected. And it is something that could only happen in comics.
– Stu Horvath