And we’re back with part two of the 2015’s best comic books! If you missed part one, head over here. This time ‘round let’s get into the nitty gritty subcategories. Hit up the comments to with your top comics of 2015.
Descender (Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Steve Wands—Image)
It’s no wonder this series was optioned for a film before it even hit the stands. Descender is a powerful story about an android who looks like a little boy who finds himself in an era where robots are banned. He searches for a family as his enemies hunt him down. I’m not much for science fiction, but Lemire keeps the high concept from getting too techno jargon and grounds it in a heartbreaking story about a lonely little robot boy. Nguyen watercolor-like style adds a vibrancy to the prose and raises a very good story to greatness.
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks—Image)
As long as Saga is still being published it is guaranteed to be on every Top Comics list. There’s not much that can be said about it that hasn’t already been said. It’s topped the bestsellers list for months, is beloved by fans the world around, and has managed to attract non-comic book readers in droves. At its heart, Saga is a story about family, what it means to have or lose one, how we create them, and how we break them apart. And it’s set to a backdrop of Star Wars by way of Lovecraft and the Brothers Grimm on peyote. With Vaughan and Staples driving the story there’s no way it could be anything less than excellent.
The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles, etc.—Image)
The plot about a murder mystery involving reincarnated gods is only one reason to fall in love with this series. Gillen’s dialogue rivals Joss Whedon in quippy sarcasm and McKelvie’s artwork manages to be both animated and subtle at the same time. They are constantly pushing themselves to make their comic book worlds as diverse as the real one, and it shows nowhere better than here. When left to their own devices, Gillen and McKelvie make some seriously off-the-wall comics. WicDiv is probably the most accessible—and even then it’s still pretty far out there for the average reader—which is why it ended up on the NY Times Bestseller list.
Hellboy in Hell: Hounds of Pluto (Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Clem Robins—Dark Horse)
It was over a year between Hellboy in Hell #6 and #7, but with the 2 new issues this year—comprising the “Hounds of Pluto” storyline, the reunion was well worth the wait. New Hellboys are like meteor showers: while expected, they’re still damn exciting to witness. No one carries more guilt than our titular monstrous hero, and here he gets up close and personal with his hellish relatives. This two-part arc continues in Mignola’s fine tradition of wisecracking humor crossed with dark fantasy. After so many years it’s a relief to see Mignola and Hellboy still feeling fresh and creative.
Monstress (Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, Rus Wooton—Image)
I very nearly added this comic to part one’s “Prettiest” category, and for good reason. Where Liu created a densely rich world overflowing with gory history and exotic mythology, Takeda breathed life into it. Also like the other series in that category, Monstress isn’t the easiest thing to get a hold of. There’s a lot going on here, much of it only half-hinted at yet even despite the preponderance of exposition. Nevertheless, it is a haunting, frightening, bloody story of the lengths we go to be cruel and the risks we take to merit out revenge. Perhaps best of all, the main characters are all women of varying races and body types, but it’s treated as a given rather than diversity pandering or worth a clap on the back.
Best Comics Starring Kids
Cursed Pirate Girl 2015 Annual (Jeremy Bastian—Archaia)
Apollonia continues her search for her missing pirate father in this swashbuckling fantasy/adventure tale. The writing is quirky and clever and it’s impossible not to love Apollonia’s sparky determination. Bastian’s art is simply gorgeous. It’s mind-bogglingly dense, the kind of illustrations where you find yourself forgetting you’re supposed to be reading a story because you get lost in reveling in the intricacies.
Paper Girls (Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, Jared K. Fletcher—Image)
This is hands down my favorite series that debuted this year. A quartet of teen girls delivering newspapers in the 1980s get caught up in a terrifying mystery when their entire neighborhood vanishes before their eyes. Feminist theory seeps in at the edges but just as importantly the kids feel like actual teenagers. There’s a ton of crazy alien/monster/whoknowswhat going on and Chiang renders it beautifully. And of course Brian K. Vaughan. I mean, what more is there to say?
Plutona (Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, Jordie Bellaire, Steve Wands—Image)
Living in a world of superheroes sounds fun at first glance, but Lemire shows it’s probably worse than you think. A group of kids stumble across the corpse of Plutona, a superhero in their world, and struggle with what to do about it. There’s clearly a larger story at play, but Lemire is wisely doling out the backstory in bites at a time. Lenox captures the kids and their world with her unique, vaguely manga-esque art. Like Paper Girls, the kids in Plutona come off as genuinely young and confused rather than adults mimicking youthfulness.
Best Action (Anti-) Heroes
Grayson (Tim Seeley, Tom King, Mikel Janin, Jeromy Cox, Carlos M. Mangual, etc.—DC)
No longer Nightwing, Dick Grayson goes undercover as a very acrobatic spy. Not every issue works to perfection, but the creators are treading interesting territory. After all the blergh with the New 52, Grayson rights the good ship Dick. The former Batman sidekick gets some much needed character development. The plot is tight and action-packed, and the series as a whole makes a good start for new Bat Family fans. And if you liked Jessica Jones’ female gaze, you’re gonna love Grayson. Janin knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure.
Midnighter (Steve Orlando, ACO, Hugo Petrus, Romulo Farjardo Jr., Jared K. Fletcher, etc.—DC)
Speaking of Grayson, he temporarily teams up with Midnighter on the latter’s eponymous series. Midnighter is a one-man punching machine with precognition and super strength. He also happens to be gay and while his sexuality isn’t the fulcrum of the story, his relationship with his boyfriend is. He is a man fighting and killing a path through his enemies, but just as important is what kind of man he is outside the brutality. ACO’s artwork is superb. He gives Janin a run for his money with his depictions of Grayson.
Velvet (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Eliabeth Breitweizer, Chris Eliopoulos—Image)
If I were making a list of my favorite comics of 2015, Velvet would be at the top. Not only is Valentine Templeton a badass spy, she’s a middle-aged woman battling the patriarchy in the Cold War era. James Bond wouldn’t stand a chance against her. She is relentless in her quest to clear her name and uncover the truth about why her ex was murdered. She is a keen strategist, driven fighter, and tough-as-nails woman who carved out a place in a male-dominated industry. The art is spot-on and the story ratchets up the tension with every page.
Best Webcomics Published as Books
Nimona (Noelle Stevenson—HarperCollins)
This simple, sword and sorcery with a twist webcomic began in 2012 and quickly outgrew its britches. By the time the fable wrapped up in 2014, Nimona’s once playful antics had taken a turn for the dark and she became less of a wannabe hero and more of a teenage anti-hero. Nimona turns the genre upside down so no one behaves in the way their trope says they should. Stevenson also improved her artwork and skills at storytelling…not that the tale wasn’t addicting from the very first panel. The full webcomic is no longer available online, so print is your only option.
The Private Eye (Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, Muntsa Vicente—Panel Syndicate)
Set in a future of our world where the internet is dead and everyone hides in costume, the creators blend futuristic sci-fi with old school pulp detective mysteries. The layered plot is brought to life by stellar, intensely detailed artwork. The 10-issue series was recently released in print after Vaughan, Martin, and Vicente made a deal with Robert Kirkman to do an issue of The Walking Dead in exchange for getting a hardcover. Otherwise you can buy a digital version online. You can’t go wrong with a series that won both a Harvey and an Eisner this year.
Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection (Kate Beaton—Drawn and Quarterly)
This semi-sequel to Hark! A Vagrant, does what its predecessor does, that is collect together some of the strips from the webcomic into a book. The strips are random non-sequiturs but with with a strong intersectional feminist bent that takes no shit. Hark! A Vagrant is ongoing.
The Flash and Arrow
The CW is cranking out some of the most consistently good SFF television in general, but these two DC superhero shows are the cream of the crop. These are shows that trust their audience, understand the genre inside and out, and push their stars to be better. On Arrow, Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak have a complex, realistic relationship built on trust and undermined by their own insecurities. Laurel Lance and Thea Queen have had the most character development in the shortest amount of time, going from what rags to firecrackers in a single season. And on The Flash, Barry’s portrayal of PTSD is evocative while the Wests deal with with emotional crises in very human ways. The Flash goes light and fun where Arrow turns dark and serious, making them a wonderful pair, especially on crossovers. I’m usually wary of spinoffs, but after watching The Flash get backdoored out of Arrow and seeing how they’re building the Legends of Tomorrow roster out of guests stars has me giddy with excitement for the new series. Did I mention that Arrow and The Flash are also very diverse and feminist? That’s what happens when DC keeps out of showrunners Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg’s kitchen.
Every thinkpiece has already been written about how amazing Netflix’s Jessica Jones is—plus Tor.com’s Tansy Rayner Roberts great recaps—so you already know why you have to watch this show. In short, not only is it a well-written and beautifully shot with talented actors putting in powerhouse performances, but it’s also a vivid take on domestic abuse, rape, and microaggressions. While both Daredevil and Jessica Jones are concerned with “micromanaging the shit out of 10 blocks in midtown Manhattan,” Jessica goes beyond getting the crap beat out of her to drown out the guilt of failure to stand up against the torments the patriarchy inflicts on us all regardless of race, class, or gender expression.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.