The Best Comics of 2016

There were a lot of amazing comics out this year. While I was tallying up our lists, I was amazed at how diverse our Best Of lists were. There were a few book that stood out here and there – The Wicked + The Divine, Saga and Bitch Planet to name a few. There are a lot of comics I have to catch up on in 2017, but in the meantime, here’s the best comics of 2016!

– Ian Gonzales

The Maybe This Doesn’t Really Have to Be the End Award – The Wicked + The Divine
The Wicked + The Divine never made any bones about its premise – it’s a story about twelve gods who inhabit the earth for a set amount of time, only to die and return in cycles. It reminds the reader of this inevitable finality at the beginning of each issue. It’s a story of fans and celebrities, birth and rebirth, life and art.

The current iterations of these gods are unreservedly “ours,” with more than a few resembling icons we worship now – it’s easy to see shades of Kanye, Bieber, Rhianna, Gaga and others represented by WicDiv‘s roster – which is why it can be especially hard to see them expire within its pages. There’s a constant rumination on immortality at play, complicated by conspiracy, murder, friendship, love, sex and rivalry. You know, stuff that makes the world go ’round.

The series also gave us two of the best single issues in the 2016 comic landscape: issue #23, an in-universe magazine made up of interviews with and articles on the gods that was a triumph of both form and content; and the one-shot The Wicked + The Divine: 1831, which recasts four famous Romantics as the gods of their time.

The Wicked + The Divine has been an intelligent and stylish title since its inception, but it’s the one-shot that really cemented it as the best of 2016 for me. At the end of a long year pockmarked with the losses of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and – almost as I write this – George Michael, a book that posits the immortality gained in the metaphorical can be as lasting as the literal couldn’t have been more timely, or more necessary.

– Sara Clemens

The Kid Adventure Nostalgia Award: Paper Girls
I liked Stranger Things all right, but the real 80s kid adventure nostalgia sensation for me this year was Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls. The titular four girls, on their pre-dawn paper route, get embroiled in…well…time travelers, knights on dinosaurback and Godzilla-sized tardigrades. None of these bizarre elements plays out the way you expect. More surprisingly, they all work, seemingly effortlessly, together.

Like a lot of books I’ve enjoyed lately, the weird shit is mostly beside the point. I don’t particularly care about the central mystery of Paper Girls (namely: what the hell is going on?). I like the characters and seeing them interact. I enjoy that they have to adjust to outlandish situations. Much like the best D&D games (see what I did there, Stranger Things fans?), great character interaction always trump lore and Byzantine plots. Vaughan and Chiang seem to be in no rush to mythologize the book’s bizarre qualities.

Fine by me. The less exposition I get, the more I can take in the banter and enjoy the ride.

– Stu Horvath

The Caged Heat of Metaphor Award – Bitch Planet
The 2016 has been an incredible year for comic books but very few leave an impression like Bitch Planet. From it’s nuanced depiction of women of all shapes and colors to the no-holds-barred barrage on tropes, the science fiction comic flourishes in its non-compliance. It’s a feminist comic through and through and, if that statement alone made you feel a type of way, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s work will punch you right in the throat repeatedly.

Bitch Planet’s message is potent and if that weren’t entertainment enough, it brings us into a sci-fi gladiatorial space prison. The story follows Kamau Kogo, Penny Rolle, and other women that are imprisoned, the events that brought them there, and the politics surrounding the facility and its exploitation of the prisoners. Matter of fact, the book has the feel and imagery of an exploitation flick in general but no element is used lightly. Even nudity is specifically harnessed in a strategic way that isn’t provocative so much as it is uncomfortable, vulnerable, and realistic. It’s obviously a work of fiction and, though some of its points will scream off the page as heavy-handed exaggeration, it’s frightening when you really step back and realize how closely the fiction mirrors the sexist reality.

– Charles Singletary

The You’ve Got Red on You Award – Hellboy In Hell
We had to say goodbye to an old friend this year. Hellboy In Hell #10 is the last Mike Mignola drawn Hellboy comic we’re going to get for a long time. Mignola made sure that the book was full of all the reasons we love reading his Hellboy comics – bombastic action and an atmosphere that oozes off the page.  He’s mastered his art. Mignola tells more with fewer lines than he ever has before. Every image in Hellboy In Hell # 10 is striking, and when taken together, they tell a tale full of blustery pulp action and weird, high concept horror. This is the issue where Hellboy fulfills his destiny and conquers Hell. Of course we here at Team Unwinnable are going to love it!

Hellboy In Hell may be over, but Mignola, Chris Roberson and some top-notch artists are filling in the blanks on Hellboy’s long career as a paranormal investigator in Hellboy and the BPRD. The book is a lot of fun and eases the pain of loss just enough.

– Ian Gonzales

The Plushie Cthulhu Award: Providence
Providence is Alan Moore’s third foray into comics inspired by the work of Lovecraft, following The Courtyard (2003) and Neonomicon (2010). Buckle up, we’re about to get confusing.

Set in the 1920s – specifically the slightly different 1920s of Robert W. Chambers’ story “The Repairer of Reputations,” with its suicide chambers and secret societies – a journalist named Robert Black is travelling around New England researching an occult group. The people Black meets are obvious reimaginings of Lovecraft’s most famous characters and Moore puts them forth as the “real” inspiration behind the stories. The aim is nothing less than a complete recontextualization of Lovecraft’s body of work, complete with an unflinching look the accompanying homophobia, sexism and racism.

Providence is not a pleasant book, especially with its unpleasant sexual situations (though nothing as repellent as what happens in Neonomicon), but it feels like an essential one considering Lovecraft’s place in American literature. It’s so jam packed with understanding of Lovecraft that, you probably have to read it to understand why.

My favorite bit: in and off-handed way in Issue 11, Moore suggests the growing popularity and cute-ification of Cthulhu is part of a global push to prepare for the minds of the masses for the deity’s imminent rise (the same way some conspiracy theorists think The X-Files was  made to prepare audiences for an announcement of First Contact). You’ll be hard pressed to think of your enjoyment of Lovecraft’s fiction – or a plushie Cthulhu – the same way again.

– Stu Horvath

The Maybe Marvel Doesn’t Hate the X-Men Award – X-Men ’92
Born out of yet another company-wide Marvel crossover series involving alternate realities and a whole bunch of other things that can be dismissed as “change not permanent”, this has become a fun series on its own that I highly recommend. I find that the main X-books have been uninteresting and messy for a while, with bright spots here and there. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the books in the late 90’s, when too many cooks of writers, editors and writer/artists not only ruined the stew, but threw up in it for good measure. It’s weird to think how fondly many fans remember that period before the drop off in quality. It turns out I’m among them.

X-Men ’92 is a love letter to a period of time when change was in the air. Marvel was taking all sorts of risks on their books, some good and many bad. It was all good/bad and entertaining though. Combine that with the cultural trappings of the early 90’s like rollerblades, neon colors and the Toadies and you have something that’s just as significant a time capsule in its own special way as the Claremont/Byrne era of the X-Men in the early 80’s.

X-Men ’92 is an example of Marvel actually taking some pride in something it did in a more recent era than the Silver Age. It’s also an example of Marvel taking pride in the X-Men, something we don’t see as much anymore in the current titles, thanks to the war of the Disney and the Fox in our reality. While I don’t agree with the current marginalized status quo of the X-Men, I can get on board with a title that celebrates new ideas and moving forward, and coming up with new ideas on its own. As I said in a review of an issue in Last Week’s Comics this past year, most importantly it should be entertaining.

– Michael Edwards

The Just Read It Award – Black Widow
Do you like spies? Do you like action movies? Do you like Black Widow? Well then read the new Black Widow comic, ya dummy! Chris Samnee, Mark Waid and Matt Wilson are making the best Black Widow comic since Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna’s criminally underrated The Name of the Rose. Samnee, Waid and Wilson delve into Black Widow’s history and make the best action/spy superhero comic ever. Hey Marvel Studios, you’re sitting on at least 2 kick-ass Black Widow movies in this comic alone!

– Ian Gonzales

 

 

The You’re Still Not Reading This?!?! Award – Saga
If you still haven’t picked up an issue of Saga, you’re doing comics wrong. From the minds of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, this romantic epic weaves equal parts Star Wars and Game of Thrones with tons of NSFW full-page spreads and memorable, snappy dialogue. The thing Saga makes readers feel invested in every single character, even when they’re at odds with each other. This lauded series continued to deliver in 2016, with its most expansive story arc yet, The War for Phang, brought some of the most graphic, tense moments in any volume yet. Catching up on Saga is relatively easy, with only 40 issues to revisit, and the cinematic action held within blasts by in an enthralling fashion.

– AJ Moser

Best Anti Villain – Star Wars: Darth Vader
Among the many things that the Star Wars: Darth Vader series does well, it should not be under-emphasized that Vader himself is extraordinarily hard to draw. The mouthpiece itself is a simple triangle, but his cheeks are upside-down triangles viewed straight on that are connected to the muzzle by a curve when viewed in profile. Most Star Wars comics mangle Vader pretty effectively at one point or another, but Salvador Larroca’s pencil is unerring.

The depiction is completed by Kieron Gillen’s portrayal of Vader as a scheming, unflappable dark force of nature, tainted by failure at Yavin 4. In the Shu-Torun War, Vader coerces and guides an inexperienced queen in putting down a rebellion on a planet with mineral resources critical for the Empire’s war machine. There are echoes of both Leia and Amidala in Queen Trios’s inner steel, but Gillen excels in showing the way this steel is both bent and tempered by the compromises necessary for survival under the Empire.

And then we readers are graced with the luxury of an ending, after a two-year run in which Gillen, Larroca, and colorist Edgar Delgado have just enough time to tie up all the threads they have pulled loose. It would not even be correct to say the series closes with Vader restored. Vader in these pages is more himself than he has almost ever been given the chance to be. He is great and terrible, cold curves and sharp edges of rage, dangerous even to his allies, and utterly compelling.

– Gavin Craig

Most Likely to Win a High School Superlative, By Killing The Competition – Deadly Class
2016 was the year where Deadly Class laid its cards on the table. Rick Remender, Wes Craig, and Jordan Boyd’s series about a high school for aspiring assassins took its multi-year process of setting the table and in one fell swoop pulled off the table cloth, scattering everything in the process. It wasn’t a haphazard attempt to reinvigorate the series though, but a natural conclusion to the series’ first act and the Deadly Class that remained was a bold series that reminded readers what book they had been reading all along.

Remender’s talents for world building through nuanced character work shined, and Craig’s exemplary storytelling and layouts, buoyed by Boyd’s varied and bold color work, sold every heart wrenching character turn and demise. Deadly Class is a series that thrives on the anguish of youth and the storytellers always found ways to broadcast these raw emotions loud and clear. It’s a series that’s at once fantastically unbelievable and relatable to anyone who ever felt socially isolated and unsure of their place in the world. In a strong year for Rick Remender, with fantastic work in books like Black Science and Tokyo Ghost, Deadly Class was his finest achievement.

– Logan Ludwig

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