Everyone loves reading top 5/10 lists, right? Well, it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s also nice to get others’ opinions and have your own validated. And since I already do annual video game lists, I figured it’d only be right to do one for comics as well. Also, this may be because I feel bad about not praising Grayson #12 enough last year, even though it was an absolutely amazing issue and I’ve praised it to anyone who would listen. But yeah, that’s what this is going to be: ranking the top 10 series of the year, with particular focus on a specific issue if it’s a standout (the covers don’t mean that particular issue was good; I just like certain covers or don’t want to reuse covers I’ve used before). My general rule is that the series has to have released at least one issue this year. Anyway, these are my top 10 arbitrarily ranked comic books of 2016.
Oh, and just assume all these series have amazing art unless I say otherwise.
Warning: Mild Spoilers.
Too New to be Considered:
These are the series that probably would be in the running for either a spot in the Top 10 or Honourable Mentions if they had at least two or three issues out (congrats, Doom Patrol, you just made the cut). And yes, I did forget to pick up Mother Panic #2, shut up 😦
Kill or be Killed
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser
And Ed Brubaker does it again. While I’ve found his Image stuff hit-or-miss, Kill or be Killed is the one for me. It tells the incredibly realistic, gritty story of a depressed man who becomes a vigilante. And while it could have easily come off as “The Punisher-Lite”, Brubaker writes it well enough that Kill or be Killed easily overtakes its competition from the Big Two to become the standout gritty vigilante series on shelves right now. Kill or be Killed portrays vigilantism in the most grounded setting possible, and deconstructs vigilantism while also giving readers a great thriller.
Dylan is a depressed uni student who attempts suicide. But he survives, and sees a second chance at life. Of course, he also starts seeing a demon which may or may not exist (it probably doesn’t), and this demon tells him that he’ll die unless he takes a life. Dylan eventually convinces himself to do so, but decides it has to be a truly awful person he kills. And so begins his vigilante tale.
All his vigilante work is very, very gritty. It works out about as well as you’d expect when a twenty-something guy with no training who doesn’t work out goes out trying to be the Punisher. But Brubaker writes it so well that you can’t help but feel invested in Dylan’s life, even though there’s tension dripping from every panel.
There’s also Dylan’s social life, which is… complicated. So far, the only life he has outside of his vigilante work is with his childhood friend and unrequited love, Kira. But the relationship is sweet and complicated, and adds just enough to Dylan’s life that it feels relevant and interesting, while never like it outstays its welcome.
Kill or be Killed is a great look at the grim and gritty side of vigilantism in a medium that tends to glorify vigilantism in its most dominant genre. But more importantly, it’s just a plain good thriller with the great writing I’ve come to expect from Ed Brubaker.
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Yanick Paquette, Javier Fernandez, Marcio Takara and Marcus To
Colours by Nathan Fairbairn, Chris Sotomayor and Marcelo Maiolo
Okay, this series had a shaky start, but through it all Tim Seeley clearly understood Dick Grayson’s character. In fact, that’s easily the strongest part of this series: Seeley is exploring Dick’s character in interesting ways. While Grayson was a good read and did the same, there’s just a great energy to Dick being back as Nightwing, working with the Bat-family and protecting Bludhaven.
While the first eight or so issues are very hit-or-miss, they did serve to set up the current status quo. And even those issues weren’t that bad; Raptor is an interesting character who has a good connection with Dick Grayson, and is an interesting depiction of a Romani character who wants someone to embrace their heritage. He’s also got a bone to pick with the rich, so he has ample reason for going after Bruce Wayne, who “corrupted” Dick Grayson. While the Parliament of Owls was pointless, they were more just a plot device to get Dick and Raptor together. And then there was the pointless “Night of the Monster Men” crossover, which I’m pretty sure only existed so Steve Orlando could get a paycheck while DC worked out Midnighter and Apollo and Justice League of America.
But the current arc, “Bludhaven”, makes it all worth it. Seeley builds off the previous arcs, in particular “Rise of Raptor”, wherein Dick’s trust in Raptor bites him in the ass. On the advice of Superman, Dick moves to Bludhaven in an attempt to simplify his life. But instead, he finds more (good) drama. Things like reformed supervillains who need a second chance, those who are falsely accused, and just a city looking to reshape its identity. All these things all line up perfectly with Dick’s character, and Bludhaven itself is just a cool city with its own identity. It’s got a notable Asian population (hey, DC remembers we exist outside of the continent!) and a more grimy feel than Gotham. At the same time, it’s filled with neon lights and is a getaway location. It doesn’t feel like Seeley’s out to replace the previous version of Bludhaven; it feels like he’s building on the foundation Chuck Dixon set.
The supporting characters are cool too. Raptor will obviously be a recurring threat (he’s already scheduled to make an appearance in Deathstroke) and with his interesting motivation and ideology, he’s a character who might act as an ally at times. Tiger, now the Patron of Spyral, is on-call for help and is still lots of fun with Dick. As is Lotti, the Scottish college girl who named Dick’s butt cheeks and deserves more panel time. And the ex-supervillain support group has real potential, with the Defacer already serving as a great supporting character, even if certain aspects of her relationship with Dick are rushed.
While it had a shaky start, Nightwing has found its footing and is easily one if, if not the best Batman ongoings right now. An interesting theme that suits the character, a cool and unique setting, and a good supporting cast makes this a series that’s a delight to read.
Written by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Art by Leslie Hung
Colours by Leslie Hung
I’m not a fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley. Namely because I’ve never read any of his work. I really enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but that’s the extent of it. But apparently he’s a critical darling, and I decided to jump on.
Just from the solicitation, I thought this series was going to deconstruct social media like so many works before it. But while it does that, it remembers to have its own story to tell, and an engaging one at that. Rather than focusing so much on generic social media critique, O’Malley tells an interesting story about the fashion blogger world and the drama therein, with some humour thrown in.
Lottie Person (the titular Snotgirl) is a fabulous fashion blogger who’s invited to all the big parties. She’s also got more emotional issues than every member of the Bat-family combined, as she takes huge offence when something doesn’t go her way even slightly. While she projects confidence, inside she’s a mess, and it’s just really entertaining to watch a bitchy but compelling character go about the drama in her life. O’Malley manages to make her incredibly sympathetic, as we find that she is very sensitive. Even minor things are made into a big deal, and it’s both compelling (through her narration) and hilarious (through her extreme reactions). Things like someone wearing Lottie’s old dress are made into huge plot points, as our heroine tries to determine if these were just insensitive acts of spite.
While I have no experience with the fashion world, Snotgirl is just really entertaining to read, while still being compelling. The main character is a gloriously messy bitch of a character, and it’s just really entertaining to watch her react to everything, while O’Malley also seems to be building something of a larger overall plot. Snotgirl is just really good drama, with enough self-awareness and humour to not be overbearing.
9. The Vision
Written by Tom King
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Okay, technically this started last year. But it ended this year, so screw it. The Vision is generally the most acclaimed of Tom King’s works so far, though he’s not lacking in that regard, and with good reason. While The Vision is a heavier read than what I’m used to from King, it’s a powerful read nonetheless, encouraging and rewarding analysis from readers. The Vision touches upon themes of humanity and family, wrapped in a smaller-scale story about a family living at 616 Hickory Branch Lane.
King takes the B-lister (c’mon, even with an MCU counterpart, barely anyone cares about Vision) and does something really interesting by having Vision try to build himself a family. While he dips into your typical stories regarding robots wanting to feel more human and analysing emotions, he does it in a way that is truly engaging. Framing the lives of the Vision family with omnipresent narration, and juxtaposing the Vision’s obviously technical understanding of humanity with the flawed, but deeper understanding of his daughter, Viv. Having the Vision make irrational decisions all in an attempt to hold on to what he’s built. Building to a grand story while keeping almost all the attention on the Visions and their neighbours. King manages to tell such an epic story while always keeping it intimate, giving meaning without explaining it, and manages to make the Vision an actually intriguing character.
The Vision also plays with your expectations very well, with even the narration being important in that regard. It’s vague enough that it all sounds like some sort of prophecy… which it turns out to be! And King plays with that in some really cool ways.
While I’ve heard that a very small number of longtime Avengers fans are upset about Vision’s characterisation here, when the result is one of the most intriguing, filling reads of the year, I don’t think it’s that big a deal.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez and Doug Mahnke
Colours by John Kalisz, Will Quintana, Alejandro Sanchez
I’m not following the Superman titles, but that’s more my unwillingness to commit to a franchise that I know loves its crossovers. And yes, I know that’s stupid when I’m reading the Bat-books, but I’m already reading most of them, so shut up. Anyway, I still read the series now and then, and I have to say, I wish I was less hesitant to follow it monthly (though with Superman Reborn on the horizon, I’m kind of glad I didn’t).
Straight out the gate this series surpassed its New 52 counterpart by having the Pre-New 52 Superman not be an angry jerk. Yes, NuSupes kind of outgrew it eventually, but it just didn’t make him that likeable. But this Superman is restrained, polite and just loving. He’s the Superman I can see actually inspiring people to be better. And despite the tragedy he’s faced, including the loss of his entire universe, he still is truly the hero others should aspire to be. He’s the stern father that the superhero community needs, what with his decades of experience and happily married life with Lois Lane.
Not only that, but just giving him a son opened up so many avenues for storytelling. Parenting, like most good Superman stories, isn’t a problem that can be solved by Superman’s brute strength. And it’s not something he’ll always be perfect at; because he’s a person, and nobody is ever really prepared for parenthood. And that’s if his son didn’t have his powers half the time! And the kid himself, Jonathan, is just a great character. He’s got parts of his father in him, like his goody goodness and awkwardness around girls (his scenes with his neighbour Kathy are easily the most adorable scenes from this entire year), but he’s also got his mother’s inquisitiveness and fire. He’s got so much potential, but is unsure of himself and his ability to live up to his father’s legacy. He’s got a friendly rivalry with Damian Wayne. He’s just such a breath of fresh air.
That can sum up this entire series, really: it’s such a breath of fresh air to read a Superman who is married and has a son, and is truly inspiring after the lack of marriage and the de-ageing of characters in the New 52. Sentimental and filled with heartwarming moments, this is Superman at his best: as an inspiring hero, a father figure who is still relatable, tackling problems he can’t just punch his way out of. While it feels like it’s got some filler, Tomasi’s Superman clearly understands what Superman should be.
7. Silver Surfer
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Mike Allred
Colours by Laura Allred
I have absolutely adored Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer run. It has drama and scale while still feeling remarkably down to Earth and heartwarming. The adventures of a silver man and Earth girl through the cosmos have become a highlight of my month in terms of comics, even if this current series feels like a bit of a step down from the previous series by Slott.
While I’m divided on Slott’s other works, his Silver Surfer run is just fantastic. He can combine Silver Age whimsy — with the invaluable help of Mike Allred — with modern storytelling sensibilities. However, whereas Brad Meltzer darkened the Silver Age, or Geoff Johns makes things more “mature”, Slott recognises the inherent charm of the Silver Age style, while updating it for modern times only where necessary. There’s just this amazing charm to Silver Surfer.
Part of that charm comes from the characters, who are just engaging, despite one being what many would consider overpowered. Dawn Greenwood really is an awesome character, one who grounds the Surfer while having her own issues, mainly stemming from her family. Meanwhile, the Silver Surfer is a man naive to human culture, but not in an irritating way like 99% of characters like this. He obviously has some understanding, but Dawn is quirky and he’s still struggling with some of the finer details.
Silver Surfer is an endlessly charming comic. The current series follows on well from the previous, and while I think the run is coming to an end, it’s been a hell of a ride. While the current series isn’t quite as good as the previous by Slott, it’s still an amazing comic.
6. The Omega Men
Written by Tom King
Art by Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress, Ig Guara and Jose Marzan, Jr
Colours by Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi
The Omega Men is what happens when you give an up-and-comer an obscure, unused sci-fi team and let him do whatever the crap he wants. The result is one of my favourite sci-fi comics of all time, and the case for why Tom King should be writing the Legion of Super-Heroes (DC would be complete idiots to not give it to him by this point). But beyond that, The Omega Men is just a very, very good comic. Equal parts space opera and political thriller, and partly political commentary (maybe), it plays with morals in interesting ways and goes so far as to test how much you’re willing to cheer for the “good guys”, or even use that term. With a cast of colourful and interesting characters, The Omega Men does all this and somehow doesn’t come off as pretentious! While it feels like its own unique beast, it also still feels firmly entrenched in the DC universe.
The series made small waves with the killing of Kyle Rayner, but if you’re a Kyle fan like me, please overlook that. Really. He’s back by the end of issue 1. Past that, The Omega Men is a grand space opera where the stakes are always high. It’s a comic where the characters are complex and can’t simply be labelled hero or villain by the end. It’s a story where the stakes are high and there are no easy choices. The world is unforgiving and everyone in it equally so. Our protagonists make some truly huge sacrifices in pursuit of their goals, but that makes the triumphs mean so much more. There are moments of true humanity (for lack of a better word), moments that are so much more powerful because of the bleakness of this story.
Kyle Rayner serves as the audience surrogate, at least in part. Kyle finds himself in the middle of a war he tries to see from the superhero perspective: oppressive government, rebel heroes. But his naivete is tested at almost every turn, and without his ring, he’s that much more vulnerable. Despite this, he still tries to connect with the Omega Men. He still tries to be a hero in all the darkness. And how that plays out is both tragic and beautiful, as he finds himself manipulated by both sides at every turn. King very clearly understands how to use foreign situations to dissect superheroes (he did something similar in Grayson, though that was a much more optimistic work), and does it wonderfully here. While Kyle comes off as naive, he also comes off as hopeful in the face of war.
The Omega Men came out of nowhere. It sold like crap and barely managed to avoid cancellation due to public outcry. King came back and finished his story, and it sold well in trade. In the end, all the struggle was worth it. And that just about sums up The Omega Men… or does it? I don’t know, it’s up to you.
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Rafael de Latorre
Colours by Rob Schwager
If it wasn’t obvious by this point, I really enjoy Animosity. It uses such a simple concept — that animals have suddenly become anthropomorphic — and creates such an interesting world. While it doesn’t always fully explore those ideas, it’s so well-written when it does.
Animosity just has such an interesting world filled with wonder and tragedy and moral upheaval. There are twists and turns at every corner, but they never feel cheap; rather, they feel like natural extensions of the world. Things like a father feeling like he was replaced by his child’s dog. All these twists don’t spin out from the plots themselves, but the status quo set up. And the world feels so unique, when it could have been the typical “humans are the real monsters” stuff that most post-apocalyptic works devolve into. And despite all the drama, Bennett isn’t above injecting some dark humour.
But, of course, there’s our protagonists, Jesse and Sandor, a girl and her dog traversing America after the mysterious event that anthropomorphised all animals. Bennett writes them as the most adorable father-daughter team ever, and their relationship is just adorable. There’s drama regarding Jesse’s human family as well, so it’s not all cuteness. Hell, their bond is constantly questioned by everyone they meet, and while it hasn’t been tested yet, I can see that happening eventually.
Animosity is just such a good comic. It took a simple concept and really did something with it. While i doesn’t always make the most of its concepts, it also means no story ever outstays its welcome. I just can’t do it justice with this one entry; it’s such a great work that you simply have to read it yourself. Just a cute, heartwarming, but also heart wrenching comic about a girl and her dog in a messed up world.
4. Wonder Woman
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Liam Sharp, Nicola Scott, Bilquis Evely and Matthew Clark
Colours by Laura Martin and Romula Fajardo, Jr.
This series made me like Wonder Woman, so of course it was going to be here. But even dismissing my bias, this run has been phenomenal. While it casually dismisses the character’s New 52 incarnation, honestly the stories that have come from this series have more than justified the act.
The strongest part of Wonder Woman is the characters. Everyone is just so well-written, and you really get the sense that Wonder Woman just brings out the best in people. But the absolute highlight is the relationship between the eponymous heroine and the Cheetah. From her first appearance, you know these two have a complicated history, just from the way they look at each other. That’s not to say that the other relationships aren’t written well, because they are. I’ve never cared about Steve Trevor, but here, he’s a good supporting character whose failed relationship with Wonder Woman is not just tragic, but also hopeful. And Diana herself is just perfectly characterised as a compassionate, but strong woman, one who always tries to be an ambassador of peace before being a warrior.
There’s also great interplay between the alternating arcs, “The Lies” and “Year One”. While the fact that “Year One” exists takes something away from the story if you’re not thinking about it, the arcs play very well off each other, especially when it comes to Cheetah’s life before becoming Cheetah. And while there’s some confusion if you’re not somewhat familiar with Wonder Woman lore, I’m barely familiar with it and didn’t get lost at all.
Wonder Woman feels like Greg Rucka’s dream come true; and that dream just happens to perfectly line up with my tastes. After years of having his Wonder Woman work meddled with or taken away, it’s great that Rucka has already crafted such a great run. While I’m not keen on the return of a straight-up villainous Ares after the interesting things I’ve heard were done with him in Brian Azzarello’s run, I’ll embrace him with open arms if it means we keep getting such an amazing run from Rucka.
3. The Flash #9
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Jorge Corona
Colours by Ivan Plascencia
This entry really only applies to this specific issue, because the rest of the run has been a mixed bag.
While Titans largely served as the follow-up to Wally West’s return to the DCU, he also obviously had to appear in The Flash at some point. He appeared in the Rebirth issue and Joshua Williamson clearly understood his and Barry Allen’s relationship. He also clearly knows how to write Wally much better than he writes Barry (Barry has no personality, and Williamson hasn’t really given him one), and he also writes a cool relationship between Wally and NuWally; Wally acts like his cool uncle or older brother. The two have a nice talk about working with the Flash, and there’s real chemistry there as the two instantly click. It feels like Williamson would be much better suited to writing Wally, preferably a series with both of them in a student-mentor relationship. There’s also finally some movement on the Daniel West subplot, and while it’s forced, it’s followed up within the series itself (and Teen Titans)
Aside from that, the issue also was a huge fanservice exercise, but in a good way. It sets up the return of the Flash family and mythos, with references to Barry Allen’s murder of Eobard Thawne, the Quick’s speed mantra, and a blatant tease of Jay Garrick. But it all made sense, as the issue feels more like Flash Family #0, and that’s a big compliment.
While the art was very miss, it didn’t matter. This issue clearly got the Flash family, while also adding a cool new dynamic. While not much within it has really been followed up on, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. In fact, it’s because of how strong this issue was that I’m so disappointed in the rest of the run! It all just fills like filler until we get Jay Garrick and the Quicks back!
2. DC Universe: Rebirth #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez
Colours by Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Hi-Fi and Gabe Eltaeb
I think it’s safe to say that DC Comics needed this relaunch. While the New 52 started out financially strong, artistically it always seemed… lacking. From not knowing the appeal of the DCU, disregarding canon, not knowing what it was disregarding between any given series, the darkening of everything, to the misguided attempts at modernising characters, the New 52 wasn’t something that seemed to care about the passionate and large fanbase of DC. While there were some gems here and there, it was as a whole pretty bad. But a lot of things did eventually find their footing, particularly the Batman line. And then DC You came along to make things worse. The “Batgirling” of DC’s various series tanked sales and felt like DC was doing anything and seeing what stuck, not realising that if something didn’t work, the readers who left probably weren’t coming back.
But then DC Rebirth happened. While it didn’t do away with the New 52 universe, it has been doing its best to bring it closer in line with the Post-Crisis DC universe. And what better way to do this than reintroduce the classic Wally West — the character most missed from the New 52 — and have him comment on the general suckiness of the New 52? At the same time, Wally saw his cousin, the New 52 Wally West (NuWally or Little Wally) save a life, and was willing to let the kid be Kid Flash. While Wally was upset with the state of the universe, he was willing to pass things on, and acknowledge the positives of it.
The DC Rebirth line delivered on almost all promises, with the universe feeling brighter and more optimistic, but with writers also being able to tell dark stories. Characters that were long since exiled from continuity or changed into almost irrecognisable versions were moved more in-line with versions of them that had passionate fanbases, while the positively received aspects were kept around. Legacies were restored, with the aforementioned Wally West returning to his role as the Flash, while NuWally took up the mantle of Kid Flash. While not all the books are hits, the line as a whole is the best DC has been in years. And it all started with DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Geoff Johns and Wally West… railing against DC’s screw-ups.
1. Doom Patrol
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Nick Derington
Colours by Tamra Bonvillain
The Doom Patrol has a reputation as being the place where oddballs go; both characters and readers. It’s not undeserved, with Grant Morrison’s acclaimed run introducing characters like a sentient, teleporting street and an ape-faced girl who wills things from her imagination into existence (yes, I know the previous run technically introduced her, but Kupperberg did nothing with her). He tackled themes of identity, trauma and creativity. These things were a far cry from what most comics tackled at the time, and still are when it comes to works from the Big Two.
Gerard Way’s series retains the weirdness of the Doom Patrol, but is much more inviting. We get a better audience surrogate — in previous runs, Robotman served that purpose but is far too familiar with their weirdness to do that anymore — in the form of Casey Brinke, a paramedic who strikes the right balance between audience surrogate and being her own character, while also not feeling like a pet character. And Way’s plots are more straight forward, though structured in a way that you can’t demand immediate gratification, something Morrison’s run also had. While you still get the idea that these guys are all oddballs, it’s a more modern take on that, where it’s a more downplayed, controlled depiction of strangeness, as opposed Morrison’s more wild approach.
In a surprising move, Way also keeps the Doom Patrol’s history (at least the Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen stuff). While I don’t think anyone would’ve begrudged him for starting fresh, he made it so the team was indeed a team before his current story. Not only that, but he explicitly references their stories under Morrison and Giffen. It’s a nice little touch, and adds to the idea that the band is getting back together, with Casey as an addition, as opposed to a standard origin story. This really helps to reaffirm Casey’s role as an audience surrogate, as someone who fell into the lives of this group of weirdos who talk about their past adventures and are already friends.
My love for the first issue of this series, what with its controlled quirkiness, got me to read the entire Grant Morrison run! And by the Keith Giffen run! While the Young Animal imprint is still… young, Doom Patrol really showed everyone what it could be: a corner of the DCU where everything’s just that little bit stranger. Just that little bit more loose with rules. Just that little bit wilder.
Edit: Doing this list, I fully realised why certain sites do the “Best New Series”, “Best Continuing Series” thing: it makes things infinitely easier to sort out. Next year, I’m going that route.