Tuesday, December 20, 2016

15 Best Comic Books of 2016

By Kenny Howell

There are so many comic books out there, it is hard to get to everything. So to pretend that I read everything in 2016 is a bit ridiculous. I tried this year to read as much as I could, searching for stuff that was getting good buzz on various sites, but there are only so many hours in the day. While I didn't understand the praise for some, there was plenty of great stuff recommended. Here are my top 15 for the year.

15. Lady Killer (Dark Horse) - Writing and Art by Joelle Jones.

Joelle Jones was once again a dual threat, writing and drawing this great book about a housewife that is a hitman. The story is fun, and Jones' mid-century, sleek art is extremely eye-catching.

14. Spider-Man (Marvel) - Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sara Pichelli, Nico Leon.

Marvel has really excelled the last two years in its younger heroes. Spider-Man being taken over by Miles Morales has reinvigorated the character. Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man wasn't nearly as fun as this book (he's basically Tony Stark now) of the high school Spider-Man traversing his new powers. Old approach, but fresh and a kick.

13. Batman (DC) - Written by Tom King; Art by David Finch, Ivan Reis, Riley Rossmo, Mikel Janin.

Batman's rebirth started a bit clunky for DC with the story of new heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl, but where Tom King took it by the end of the first arc rescued it very quickly. Many people preferred Scott Snyder's All-Star Batman, but I felt that a bit clunky.

12. Champions (Marvel) - Written by Mark Waid; Art by Humberto Ramos.

One of the new players on the scene, just three issues in, Champions is becoming one of my favorite series. This brings all those young characters that Marvel has been doing so well together, as Ms. Marvel recruits Spider-Man, Vision's daughter Viv, Hulk, Nova and a time traveling Cyclops together as her new team. Still early in its run, but a blast so far.

11. Black Widow (Marvel) - Written by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee; Art by Samnee.

It is amazing what Marvel has done with the Black Widow character the last few years. She has become one of the strongest, most consistent reads. Dark, brooding and action packed, this version of Black Widow is good every issue.

10. Detective Comics (DC) - Written by James Tynion IV; Art by Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Andy MacDonald, Al Barrionuevo.

The rebirth of the long running series has been a bit inconsistent over it's first 13 issues, with a clunker here and there, but it started so strong and has hit so many high moments that it cracks my top 10. It was taken out of Batman's hands partially and focused on his assembled team led by Batwoman. One of the better first arcs of the year.

9. Ms. Marvel (Marvel) - Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyagawa, Nico Leon, Adrian Alphona, Mirka Andolfo.

Ms. Marvel has become my favorite Marvel characters because G. Willow Wilson has turned Kamala Khan into the most infectious personality in the Marvel Universe. It is funny, touching at times, and way above the gimmick it could have been. It has been consistently good since Wilson took it over in 2014.

8. Kill or Be Killed (Image) - Written by Ed Brubaker; Art by Sean Phillips.

It's tough to follow up the excellent The Fade Out, but Brubaker and Phillips did it with this story of a down and out guy who is tasked by a demon to kill bad people on command, or he will be the one that loses his life. Phillips is still at the top of the game as this one looks exquisite as always, and Brubaker's dialogue sings on the page.

7. Superman (DC) - Written by Peter J. Tomasi; Art by Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Mick Gray. 

It's hard to make a good Superman book these days. The character, iconic as it may be, is drastically out of date. It's apparent in the string of films that have been out lately, because they don't seem to know what to do with him either. Dark and brooding just doesn't work for the man of steel.

But Writer Peter J. Tomasi (and two issues by Gleason) did what needed to be done. He made him more human by turning to his relationship with Lois and his son, who is struggling with his new powers. It's fun and occasionally a sweet family story. The Dinosaur Island detour wasn't great, but still worth the time.

6. Black Hammer (Dark Horse) - Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Dean Ormstein.

Heroes from the golden age are banished to a small farming town, stuck there and they don't know why. They once protected by Spiral City, but now they are living out boring lives in seclusion. They are Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly and Barbalien. Jeff Lemire brings a witty story about superheroes past their prime and depressed, but the kicker is the art by Dean Ormstein. When going to flashbacks of their golden years, Ormstein draws it in that style, looking like the great comics of the 1950s and 1960s.

5. The Fix (Image) - Written by Nick Spencer; Art by Steve Lieber. 

Way over thet top, corrupt detectives do anything to get ahead, including befriending a drug sniffing beagle named Pretzels. Spencer takes it to places that only work in comic books, kind of like Sex Criminals did last year, and turns out one of the funniest books of the year.

4. Moon Knight (Marvel) - Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Greg Smallwood, James Stokoe, Wilfredo Torres. 

Lemire had a great year, as this along with Black Hammer a few spots above, were some of the better works of the year. But as twisty and mind-bending as it is, the best part of this book is the art of Greg Smallwood, the best I saw all year. It seems like every panel is a painting, and he uses negative space better than anyone I have seen. Stunning to just kick back and flip through the pages.

3. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank (Black Mask) - Written by Matthew Rosenberg; Art by Tyler Boss. 

This could have been higher on my list if we got more than two issues this year. This title debuted in April, we got the second issue in June and the third isn't coming until tomorrow (Dec. 21).

The wait has been incredibly hard because this is the funniest book of the year. It follows four nerdy kids led by Paige, a foul-mouthed 11-year-old and maybe my favorite character of the year. Her dad was formerly in with some bad people, and when they return and demand he joins them on a heist, Paige decides the only way to keep him out of trouble is for her and her friends to take on the heist themselves. The first two books are hilarious, and I cannot wait for the third to come.

2. Paper Girls (Image) - Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Art by Cliff Chiang. 

Before the kids from Stranger Things hit Netflix, there were the Paper Girls. Just by a few months a least.

I am constantly in awe of Brian K. Vaughan. Whether it be some of my favorite books like Y, the Last Man or The Runaways, or even one that I am not as crazy about but admire like Saga, he is always at the top of his game. The dude can straight up tell a story. He knows how to unfold everything perfectly, he's witty, and he consistently writes compelling characters.

Paper Girls is more of the same. It sees paper delivery girls in the 1980s that are confronted by some kind of weird goings on that may be aliens, may be from the future, they just don't know. Vaughan takes you to places you don't expect, and it turns about being the best adventure of the year.

1. Vision (Marvel) - Written by Tom King; Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh. 

Nothing made me feel the feels this year more than Tom King's masterpiece, Vision. It is heartbreaking, challenging and took the Marvel universe to a different place, one that was deeply, devastatingly emotional.

The gist of it is that Vision desperately wants to be human. To achieve that, he creates a family for himself and moves to the D.C. suburbs. He creates a wife named Virginia, then twin children Viv and Vin. What starts as a Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy scenario evolves into something much more. Since his family has the same powers as him, they have the same difficulty fitting into society. That struggle starts to show cracks and over 12 issues, King takes Vision's family into terribly sad places as they fall apart, unable to live in the real world. It makes it sink all the more for Vision that he isn't human, and he acts out.

Marvel has gotten good at taking lesser followed characters, putting them in an environment where they are more or less off the clock, and weaving great stories out of it. Hawkeye did it so well, one of my favorites from two years ago, but Vision is on another level. King has created something special, and it is the best comic of 2016.

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