It’s been a while hasn’t it? By my count, four months since I last wrote anything about comics. Part of the problem is that this really hasn’t been the best year for them. Both Marvel and DC have been so bogged down in crossover nonsense that barely any of their output has been worth a damn, most of the new Image titles have fallen flat, and this column shouldn’t be about always knocking writers and artists (as much fun as that can be), nor should it be about constantly championing the same old stuff month after month.
I wanted to do a run down of my top ten books of the year, especially because, looking back (especially at the last four months, where perhaps a third of the top ten comes from), things are picking up a bit. I also wanted to remind myself that there is good stuff out there, and sometimes it’s my own fault for not seeking it out.
- Southern Bastards – As long as Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s approach to this blood soaked southern crime book doesn’t change, it’s position on my top books of the year will never change. Southern Bastards is fantastic, a sprawling, humid story about small town nonsense. This year saw Aaron and Latour open up the narrative in fascinating ways, and found them exploring a population that you won’t find in most comics. The truest look at Trump’s America, before it ever was Trump’s America.
- Doom Patrol – The first new-ish entry in the list, and yet this feels so classic in its mould. Gerard Way (he of My Chemical Romance fame) channels early 90’s Grant Morrison to revive the series that made his name. Returning characters from Morrison’s run like Danny the Street, and Flex Mentallo; as well as a healthy dose of Morrison-esque weird humour makes it all tick over nicely. But Way has enough fresh ideas, and enough of his own personality to make it feel like his own work. I’ve yet to check out the rest of Way’s Young Animal line of books (revamps of a variety of lesser known DC properties), but if they are all as good as this, then we’re in for a treat.
- Bitch Planet – We only, sadly, got five issues of Bitch Planet this year. The feminist exploitation book about a prison planet for ‘non-compliant’ women found a strong political narrative for its second story arc. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro are both on top form every single time this book comes out. The single issues are a joy, not least because of the back matter, essays on feminism and the most interesting letters from readers pack the book full, making each issue worth far more than you’d expect
- The Forevers – Black Mask Studios have the most interesting books. They are the Vertigo of our time and more people should be taking note of the stuff they put out. We Can Never Go Home, Black and The Skeptics all sit well near my top ten and you should all go out and find them, but it’s The Forevers which clinches it. Curt Pires and Eric Pfeiffer’s book about a group of kids whose black magic pact from years ago comes back to haunt them is, like Doom Patrol before it, straight out of the 90’s. Pires channel’s the best of Jamie Delano and Warren Ellis in his story about the cult of celebrity. It’s classic Vertigo work.
- East of West – Like Bitch Planet before it, we barely got six issues of East of West this year, which is a shame since Jonathan Hickman’s future set western about Death hunting down the other three horsemen of the apocalypse has been one of the best comic series on the shelves since its debut three years ago. That’s partly down to Hickman’s masterful storytelling, balancing a multitude of storylines, characters and settings, and partly down to Nick Dragotta’s incredible artwork.
- Black Panther – Most of the rest of the Marvel’s stable might be busy with the dreadful Civil War II crossover right now, but thankfully Black Panther remains untouched by all that nonsense. MacArthur genius and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates is the perfect writer to tackle the complex world of Wakanda, and Brian Stelfreeze is the perfect artist to depict it. This is first rate storytelling about the weight of ruling a nation, about the complexities of terrorism, and of melding African and comic book mythology together.
- Kill or Be Killed – I love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ approach to genre fiction. They approached Lovecraft in such a smart, skewed way in Fatale, superhero fiction in Sleeper; and now they take on the…possession story? Kill or Be Killed is the story of a vigilante, but how in control he is of his actions is up for debate. As with all Brubaker books, this is wonderfully written, and as with all Sean Phillips books, it’s one of the best looking comics out there.
- Saga – Yeah, it might be the darling of the comics industry, and it’s going to be on every single person’s top list of comics this year and every year it gets released, but sometimes these things are on those lists for a reason. Saga is excellent. It’s gorgeous to look at thanks to Fiona Staples magnificent artwork. It’s funny and heartwarming, heartbreaking and tough in equal measures. It’s about growing up, it’s about how we see our parents change throughout our lives, and it’s about Lying Cats. Brian K Vaughan has written some brilliant comics before, but none like Saga. Long may it continue.
- Beast Wagon – Owen Michael Johnson and John Pearson’s sweaty, oddball, hallucinogenic tale of zoo animals running riot, is another in that run of books that didn’t get enough issues this year. The finale is expected in early 2017 and if it’s anything like the previous 4 issues, then it will be likely a perfect conclusion to a near perfect comic book. Think Animal Farm crossed with Fear and Loathing, if it was all an episode of Jam.
- Patience – Daniel Clowes brings his deadpan humour and beautiful artwork to a time travel story. The most out-there genre fiction story he’s ever done, but at the heart of it is a strong emotional core about a man trying to save the life of the woman he loved. The only book on this list that hasn’t been released as single issues, but rather as a single graphic novel, Patience is just another example of why Clowes is revered.