December 21, 2017

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James' 2017 Favorites, in 17 Ridiculous Categories

2017 was a ridiculous year, filled with fake news and all other sorts of absurdities. In looking back at the comics I loved in 2017, I've decided to divide up my favorites into 17 completely serious, not at all ridiculous and fake categories. 

As always, these aren't the BEST comics, just my personal favorites.  Where I've previously reviewed the book for Panel Patter (within the past few years), I've provided a link to my earlier review in case you want to learn more. 


1. Great Series Where I Have No Idea What's Happening



Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics.
I knew that Mitch Gerads was super-talented at bringing highly detailed, realistic worlds to life, from his work on Punisher and The Sheriff of Babylon.  But I had no idea he could turn those talents into something so unsettlingly weird and existential unease-inducing. But that's Mister Miracle, a fantastic book from Gerads and talented writer Tom King (not the last time you'll see him on this list). King and Gerads are telling a story about the New Gods, but what it feels to me like they're really doing is taking a deep dive into both depression and delusions, and the way that mental illness can alter your very sense of reality, and make you your own unreliable narrator.





Retcon by Matt Nixon, Toby Cypress and Matt Kroetzer, published by Image Comics.
This is a fantastical, absurd comic about magic and demons and good and evil and numerous attempts to write reality over and over in order to achieve the best outcome. It's a compelling story, and it's brought to life by the absurdly great work of artist Toby Cypress. At some point a character just gets these gigantic demon arms on a regular human body as a reader you're like "ok, this is a world where weird stuff like that will happen".  I don't entirely get what's going on in the story, but that's a feature not a bug, as that sense of confusion and absurdity is the point of the story about people working to keep horrible forces of evil under containment. It's a terrific read.

2. Great Writer-Artists on fantastic, emotional and violent new series


Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer, published by Image Comics.
Extremity is hard and brutal and highly compelling. Johnson is an incredible artist, descended from the Geof Darrow/Frank Quitely/Chris Burnham school (fantastic company to be in), and in Extremity he's telling (through words and art) a highly compelling dystopian series, sort of like Mad Max but if everything was floating. These are hard people, who make hard decisions in order to ensure survival, and Extremity asks the question of whether anything good and pure can survive in such a harsh environment.  It's a great read.


Rock Candy Mountain by Kyle Starks, published by Image Comics.
I was familiar with Kyle Starks' work before this year, from the hilarious and fun comics Sexcastle and Kill Them All. Those books combine incredible and absurd action with terrific humor that pays homage to earlier eras. But neither of those things would have prepared me for how moved I've been by the story in Rock Candy Mountain.  This is the story of a hobo named Jackson who made a deal with the devil and has suffered greatly, in search of a mythical place. There are plenty of times this story goes into the ridiculous, except it's not ridiculous. Jackson's pain is portrayed with real respect, and while the situations are off-the-wall, the characters and their emotions feel real.

3. Great All-Ages Book that reminds me of Robotech and makes me realize I need to read more Manga


Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak, Takeshi Miyazawa and Triona Farrell, published by Boom! Studios.
This book has been such a terrific delight. It's fun and heartfelt and action-packed and entirely kid-friendly. Pak is telling a classic story of an outsider kid thrust into a situation where he faces external threats (like monsters) and internal ones as well (like cruel fellow students) - sort of like Harry Potter, but with giant robots. You'll root for the characters here, and you'll absolutely adore the art from Takeshi Miyazawa, who gives the book a classic anime feel (hence my reference to Robotech) and conveys a ton of great emotion (in addition to drawing fantastic mech vs. monster action). This is a terrific read.

4. Favorite Crossover Event Tie-In that feels like it has no right to be this good



Dark Nights Batman stories by various writers and artists, published by DC Comics.
Dark Nights: Metal has been a very fun, kinda bonkers miniseries thus far, where the DC universe is invaded by evil versions of Batman from different dark universes, and there's a whole weird complex mythology (it feels like Scott Snyder telling a Grant Morrison-style story). The main series has been a lot of fun, but as good or maybe even better have been the series of one-shots that tell the story of the different dark Batmen (and women) who end up invading the DC universe. Their back stories are all tragic and the issues depict universes gone wrong, and these potentially silly villains are given a whole new level of depth that they might otherwise not have. I definitely recommend picking up a collected edition of these.

5. Second-Favorite book about an Inhuman even though I don't care about Inhumans, why is that a thing



Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward, published by Marvel Comics.
So, Marvel has been on this whole Inhumans push the past 3-4 years, and I have to be honest, I still don't very much care about them or their politics or their drama. That being said, I've always enjoyed the character of Black Bolt but since Jonathan Hickman stopped writing Marvel comics, I haven't been overly impressed with the depictions of him. However, the Black Bolt solo series has been a real revelation and is worth a read regardless of whether you care about the character. Black Bolt is a king but he spends the whole first arc as a prisoner in a strange prison. Normally he can't speak (as his voice is deadly) but here his powers have been removed, and we get a better sense of what's going on in his head. Writer Saladin Ahmed does a wonderful job creating funny, interesting, memorable characters in a short amount of time. And for the strange, disorienting space-prison, Ahmed couldn't have found a better partner than the uber-talented Christian Ward. Ward brings to life the alien nature of the prison, and his psychedelic, somewhat exaggerated style and weird colors are a joy to see on every page.  I still don't care about the Inhumans though.

6. Favorite book about an Inhuman even though I don't care about Inhumans, why is that a thing

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Diego Olortegui, Marco Failla and others, published by Marvel Comics.
No doubt, I probably don't need to tell you what a great book Ms. Marvel is.  It's consistently been one of Marvel's best and most important books for the past 4 or so years. Kamala Khan is an amazingly well-rounded and fully realized character, brought to life by writer G. Willow Wilson and a series of talented artists (and those working on the book this year are no exception). Ms. Marvel is Exhibit A for why I will always ultimately prefer Marvel over DC.  The characters live in a real place (Jersey City), Kamala's family are practicing Muslims (depicted with knowledge and compassion) who originally hail from another real place (Pakistan), and the comic takes on incredibly real problems (authoritarianism, racism, gentrification, anti-immigrant bias). And while the book sometimes has to tie into the superhero crosser event of the week, Willow and her artistic collaborators have been able to do so in a way that preserves the terrific, moving and great stories they've been telling.  I still don't care about the Inhumans though.

7. Favorite single issues of the year; or, that Tom King/Lee Weeks combo is undefeated


Batman/Elmer Fudd by Tom King, Lee Weeks, Byron Vaughns and Lovern Kindzierski, published by DC Comics.
I feel like Tom King does best when he's working on something with a high degree of difficulty. Like, "let's give the Vision a family and make it a meditation on humanity and existential dread and ennui".  Here the challenge he's taken on is to tell a Batman/Elmer Fudd story and make it completely serious. And it works, on every level it's a storytelling success. Thankfully for King he's got an incredible storytelling partner in Lee Weeks, whose neo-classic lines work perfectly in this story that's a combination of absurd and heartbreaking. This is an astonishing comic because once you get past the initial conceit (that there are serious human versions of all of the Looney Tunes characters in this story, and they all live in a detective noir universe). Elmer Fudd comes across as a hard and broken man and is portrayed in a sympathetic way, and his particular way of speaking is conveyed in a way that comes across as genuinely menacing rather than silly. I can't recommend this issue highly enough. 


Batman Annual #2 by Tom King, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Elizabeth Breitweiser and June Chung, published by DC Comics.
This was an incredibly sweet and romantic comic and even if you’re not reading Batman I’d recommend it. It’s an issue that’s playful and sexy and compelling and shows the (quite literal) cat-and-mouse nature of their relationship. Most of the issue is illustrated by the wonderful Lee Weeks, who brings his modern but classic style to this story, with wonderful use of light and shadow. The issue has a moving coda that is separately illustrated by Michael Lark, showing the two characters in old age. It’s poignant and gorgeous and adds a sad but beautiful ending to the issue.

8. Great Continuing Series about College-Age Women in England that makes me laugh and cry every issue






Giant Days by John Allison, Lissa Tremain, Jenn St. Onge and others, published by Boom! Studios.
This is the book that consistently brings me most joy months after month. This is a hilarious, heartfelt, absurd and very insightful book. It’s a story of three women who become friends at university in England, but that really doesn’t do it justice. Over the past few years I’ve come to love Esther, Daisy and Susan, along with their friends McGraw and Ed and others. Each has distinct personalities and great stories, and I promise you’ll come to love them as well.

9. Two Great Series from Dark Horse about People Trapped Someplace written by guys whose art people sometimes lump together


Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, David Rubin and Dave Stewart, published by Dark Horse Comics.
Black Hammer is a fantastic combination of things that writer Jeff Lemire knows well. It’s a love letter to classic superhero archetypes that also takes an incredibly deep and poignant dive into sadness, loneliness and regret. The story concerns these superhero characters who years before were trapped in a strange town and can’t return home and have been there for 10 years. We really see their lives and heartbreaking stories come to life in this comic. The art from Dean Ormston and David Rubin is consistently fantastic.


Dept. H by Matt and Sharlene Kindt, published by Dark Horse Comics.
Dept H continues to be a fascinating murder-mystery, a harrowing undersea rescue adventure story, and a deep psychological exploration of many flawed characters that have come together in being trapped at the bottom of the ocean. It's doing a lot, and doing it well.  It's a consistently gorgeous book, with spectacular watercolor art from Matt and Sharlene Kindt.


10. Two Great Image Series That I Really Don't Need To Tell You Are Great, But Seriously, Don't Take For Granted How Great They Are


Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wed Craig and Jordan Boyd, published by Image Comics
Deadly Class continues to be a fantastic exploration of teen angst and other emotions, along with being a fantastic crime drama, all set in a crazy high school for assassins.  Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig have continues to expand this world and to bring in new, interesting characters.  All of this is brought to gorgeous life by Craig and colorist Jordan Boyd. This is still one of the consistently best-looking books on the stands, Craig has incredibly dynamic art and innovative layouts, and Boyd has bold, expressive colors and fantastic use of light and shadow. This continues to be a wonderful read.


East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, published by Image Comics.
East of West continues to be a terrific read (this is the alternate history futuristic western apocalyptic drama you need in your life). It's at turns dramatic, funny, intense, action packed, and always vast in scope. This is a huge world of many competing interests that Jonathan Hickman has crafted, and now we're really starting to see the proverbial $%^t hit the fan as everything comes to a head, war is declared, and alliances are made or broken. The art in this book continues to be among the very best in the medium, as Nick Dragotta is an absolute master of kinetic action and drama, but also the quieter moments. He's a master at controlling the pace of a book. And colors in this book continue to be really special and engaging thanks to the work of Frank Martin.

11. The Brian K. Vaughan award for fantastic books written by Brian K. Vaughan


Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher, published by Image Comics.
Paper Girls has turned out to be so much more than I had originally anticipated. I knew from the get-go that the combination of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang would make for something great, but it's really become a special book. It's full of surprising twists, and the scope of the book has turned out to be much more vast than I was expecting. There's a lot of time travel, and tons of weirdness that keeps you guessing. Vaughan's strength also lies in crafting terrific dialogue and creating characters the reader very much cares about, and all of strengths are present here. The book is amazing to look at, thanks to the fun, expressive art from Cliff Chiang and the colors from Matt Wilson that form an integral part of the storytelling.



Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, published by Image Comics.
You don't hear as much about Saga these days but it continues to be an engaging read, pushing the story forward in interesting, dramatic, hilarious and gut-wrenching directions. I've come to really care about the characters in this story, and reading this book is like returning to an old friend. An old friend that still continues to be one of the most gorgeously illustrated books on the stands, courtesy of the always-great Fiona Staples.

12. My second favorite Jonathan Hickman book that hardly ever comes out



The Dying & the Dead by Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim and Michael Garland, published by Image Comics.
The Dying & The Dead is a story of big adventure and epic sweep, that stretches from thousands of years ago to the 1960's, covering a group of heroes who sign up for "one last mission" to take on evil (oh and also the spear of destiny and an ancient superhuman civilization is in there too). It's a fun, engaging series, and the art from Ryan Bodenheim and atmospheric colors from Michael Garland are all terrific. The catch is, it hardly ever comes out. But I loved those few issues we got this year.


13. My favorite Jonathan Hickman book that hardly ever comes out





The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker and Michael Garland, published by Image Comics.
I've reread the first trade of The Black Monday Murders a number of times, and each time I do so I feel like I get something new out of it. That's the mark of a great series. We didn't get very many issues this year, but each one was jam-packed not just with traditional story told through comic art, but with supplemental matter that is an essential part of the story. This is a story of the true dark magic that powers high finance - wealth exists in the form of precious materials that come from the ground, and there is a price (to be paid in blood) for taking that wealth. With that wealth comes power, including "magical" powers. But Harry Potter this is not.  It's a  murder mystery and a story about a secret elite, and many other things. Mostly it's a fantastic read.

14. Miniseries I loved that came and went (Image division)



The Few by Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman, published by Image Comics.
The Few is a story that takes place in a pretty bleak setting, but I don't see it as a bleak book. Ultimately it's a story about making the best of any situation. It's a story set in what was once America, after our nation has collapsed and broken out into what's left of America and what exists outside. It's a story about a soldier who changes dramatically throughout the course of a story, as she sees that what she was taught and the realities of life are very different. Great story from Sean Lewis, and wonderful, striking, spare art from Hayden Sherman, reminiscent of early Frank Miller but still very much its own thing. It's a great read.


God Country by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie and John J. Hill
God Country is a story that's at once big and cosmic and also intensely personal. There are Kirby-esque cosmic gods, and a super-powered sword. And there's also a man struggling with the fact that his father has dementia and is lashing out and can't be in his family home anymore. There's a lot going on in this story, and it's beautifully told by writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw. This is a really fantastic read, one that will stay with you for a while.


The Old Guard by Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernandez and Daniela Miwa, published by Image Comics.
Greg Rucka knows how to tell a story of combat and action and espionage. He excels at it. In The Old Guard he tells a terrific, action-packed story, that also happens to be a story about people that are functionally immortal, along with their loves and losses and regrets. It's such a compelling book, with a great lead character. This is a gorgeous book, with art from Leandro Fernandez and colors from Daniela Miwa - Fernandez has a great line, a little reminiscent of Eduardo Risso, and Moon & Ba, but a distinctive, kinetic style of his own. Miwa does amazing, stylish work with colors here, and fantastic use of light and darkness. This is a fantastic, action packed story where you'll also come to really care about these characters.

15. Miniseries I loved that came and went (non-Image division)


4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss and Thomas Mauer, published by Black Mask Studios.
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is one of the coolest, most stylish, clever books I've read in a while. Think Stand by Me meets Goodfellas with a healthy dose of Wes Anderson thrown in.  It's a story of 4 kids who decide that the only way to prevent one of their dads from robbing a bank is to...rob a bank. Needless to say, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss do a phenomenal job of telling a story of some messed up kids trying to prevent some messed-up grown-ups from doing a terrible thing. It's funny and poignant and memorable.


The Flintstones by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry, published by DC Comics.
The Flintstones is an absolutely phenomenal, fiercely intelligent, and sometimes brutally satirical comic. But it's also a comic about the value of friendships and community. It's not what you'd expect a Flintstones comic to be. It's very funny and engaging, but each issue also tackles some complex social issue. Writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh do fantastic work here, and you'll want to reread each issue a bunch to make sure you catch all of the detailed visual humor in each panel.

16. Marvel books about badass women that we as a society clearly do not deserve


Black Widow by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson, published by Marvel Comics.
When Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson get together on a book, you need to pay attention. This was true for Daredevil, it's true for their current Captain America book, and it was certainly true for their 12-issue run on Black Widow. The story starts off with a bang, as the first issue is almost entirely wordless. Natasha is on the run from SHIELD, and the issue is an absolute clinic in visual storytelling. Samnee does incredible work here, and is complemented greatly by Wilson's colors, which give the book a slightly aged, timeless quality. And Mark Waid certainly knows how to tell a tight, engaging espionage adventure story and to stay out of his artists' way. This is a fantastic read.

Spider-Woman by Dennis Hopeless, Veronica Fish and Rachelle Rosenberg, published by Marvel Comics.
Spider-Woman was a story about Jessica Drew making it on her own as a private investigator instead of as a superhero...and then it turned into a story about her doing all of that while also being a single mother and sometimes being a superhero and also maybe having a love life.  This book is consistently funny and entertaining, with a ton of heart. It' had several different artists (including the wonderful Javier Rodriguez and Veronica Fish), but it's been a consistently high quality book. If you're looking for something a little different in the category of superhero comics, I absolutely recommend this.

17. Marvel books about trippy cosmic stuff that were too good for this iteration of the multiverse


Silver Surfer by Dan Slott, Michael Allred and Laura Allred, published by Marvel Comics.
The Slott/Allred run on Silver Surfer ended not long ago, but it has already made its way into my list of all-time favorite comics. It's a story where every page is filled with so much fun and wonder and emotion, I read and I remember why I love comics. This book has a ton of imagination and heart. It's a love story but it's a lot more than that, there's a real sense of joy and adventure here. Mike and Laura Allred's art has never been better (in my opinion) - they have a way of conveying joy and sadness simultaneously in their art, and it's something special. I highly recommend this.


The Ultimates 2 by Al Ewing and Travel Foreman, published by Marvel Comics.
The Ultimates 2 was a great series that scratched my itch for cosmic science fiction superhero storytelling, that I've been missing ever since Jonathan Hickman stopped writing for Marvel.  I will say it feels like a book that suffered to some extent when it had to serve as a tie-in to whatever event was happening at Marvel at the time. When this book is left alone, is when Al Ewing's story (with art from Travel Foreman) really shines.  Ewing really wanted to tell a story that was enormous and cosmic and multiversal in its implications. And he got to do that, and this story ended up being mind-blowingly cosmic and epic in its scope, and also has a lot of heart. I recommend it.