In a troubled year, it’s tempting to say comics are just the break we need from…pretty much everything. That’s a reductive view, though, in that the medium can do so much more than just entertain. The year’s great comics and graphic novels include some works that challenge, some that inspire, and some that are, not least of all, fun. Stories about superheroes, sure. And stories about extraordinary, magical, bigger-than-life people doing amazing things in bright and beautiful worlds. But also stories—some true-to-life—about ordinary people facing challenging times.
We often come to comics to be entertained, but we have a deeper need to be moved. Each in its own way, this year’s best comics and graphic novels do just that.
A.D. After Death, by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire
There are no guarantees in art, but when two of comics’ biggest talents team up, there’s a good chance that the results will be gold. Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, two guys who’ve proven they can play in almost any genre, collaborated on this twisty-turny science fiction story of a near-future world in which we’ve solved humankind’s oldest and most intractable problem: death. We’ve found a cure for it. Of course, human beings are much too complicated for that to be unambiguously good, and living in a world in which death might not be the end requires a massive re-think. It’s a story that’s both epic and very personal.
Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, by Tom King, David Finch, and Mikel Janin
There was absolutely reason to be skeptical, but DC’s Rebirth has reinvigorated the company’s line of superheroes over the year-plus, giving several books needed boosts. Batman probably needed the least help, but King, Finch, and Janin have nonetheless brought new life to Bruce Wayne and Co. following his epic, but very dark, fall and rise in the previous run. These days, Batman’s working with a couple of super-powered metas who take the city very seriously: seriously enough that they might be ready to get the Bat out of the way when they decide that he’s holding the city back. It’s simply one of the best superhero books running.
The Dark Knight: Master Race, by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Brad Anderson, and Alex Sinclair
He’s become a controversial figure, but unquestionably there are few names in comics who have had a greater impact than Frank Miller, and few books more influential than 1986’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns—you know, the one in which Bats comes out of retirement to battle mutants and comment on the Reagan era. In this long-in-coming followup, Miller is joined by some of today’s artistic legends and a cowriter, Brian Azzarello, for the third chapter in the story, in which the daughter of Superman leads an army that can only be stopped by the Batman. But isn’t he dead? It big, brash, messy—and signature Frank Miller.
The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1, by Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Michael Garland, and Rus Wooton
If you’ve ever felt like the global economy is working against you (and who are you if you haven’t?), superstar writer Hickman and company have suggested an answer: dark magic. The world’s banking cartels are working with and against each other, alongside Russian gangsters, American millionaires, the IMF, etc., in order to maintain control using incredibly dark magic, and with some help from actual demons. The book is a deep and dense bit of worldbuilding, with a lot to say and a mixed-media approach that blends comics, prose, and even some helpful charts.
Kim & Kim, Vol. 1: This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life, by Magdalene Visaggio, Matt Pizzolo, Katy Rex, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre
Punk pals Kim and Kim are space bounty hunters in a day-glo future world, getting in over their heads in the challenging world of cowboy law enforcement. Kim D is a cis bi woman, and Kim Q is queer and trans; the book is written by a trans woman as well. This one is worthy of praise for its high-energy sense of fun (truly, it’s wildly entertaining), but also for its broad view of what comic book heroes can be.
Snotgirl, Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care, by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung, Mickey Quinn, and Maré Odomo
Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim, Seconds) joins newcomer Leslie Hung for the story of Lottie Person, a gorgeous fashion model, blogger, and internet star secretly plagued by allergies that leave her a boogery hot mess in her offline life. Hung’s gorgeously gross art is a big part of the fun, but the book also smartly takes a knowing look at the difference between the selves we present to the outside world, especially online, and the snotty and imperfect human beings we see in the mirror.
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Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
The first volume of Liu and Takeda’s series was wildly popular and innovative, combining a gorgeous, lush visual style with an impeccably imagined alt-history and a deeply compelling lead (it even won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story). This second volume continues the journey of Maika, Kippa, and Master Ren on the run to Thyria, on the hunt for answers before a new threat makes itself known. Just as importantly, it continues the interjections from wise kitty-cat sage Professor Tam Tam.
Wonder Woman: The Lies, by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Liam Sharp, and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Wonder Woman’s 75th (give or take) anniversary has been a banner year for the Amazon warrior: making hawks into doves, stopping wars with love, making liars tell the truth, etc. (And, just as impressively, showing the boys how it’s done at the box office.) Last December’s fabulous Legend of Wonder Woman, from artist/writer Renae de Liz would have been a strong competitor for this spot had it not narrowly missed the cut-off, so instead we’ll celebrate the return of Greg Rucka to WW’s main monthly book. We had some reservations about the need to revisit Diana’s origin story, but alongside artists Sharp, Scott, and Fajardo, Rucka has been splitting time between the past and the present to tell a story that’s both tense and action-packed, but, above all, inspiring, as Diana comes to the aid of an old friend-turned-enemy while learning the truth about her own origin.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, by Emil Ferris
One of 2017’s most visually imaginative and thoughtful books, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is told in the form of a diary of a 10-year-old growing up in Chicago in the late ‘60s. Through a prism of B-horror movies and pulp magazines of the era, Karen Reyes recounts the murder of her upstairs neighbor, Anka, a survivor of the holocaust. In exploring Anka’s life in Nazi Germany and beyond, Karen draws connections between her world and that of Anka, whose life, at first, seems so incredibly different. The story is gripping and powerful, with brilliantly detailed illustrations.
Overwatch: Anthology, Vol. 1, by Matt Burns, Roberts Brooks, Andrew Robinson, Micky Neilson, and James Waugh
Overwatch has become something of a pop culture phenomenon over the past year or so, and this graphic novel anthology expands (significantly) upon the characters and universe introduced in the Blizzard game. Collecting twelve stories, the anthology gets personal by digging into the backstories of many of the game’s heroes. It’s an impressive gathering of established and up-and-coming writers and artists, each working in unique styles.
BLACK, Vol. 1, by by Kwanza Osajyefo, Jamal Igle, Robin Riggs, Tim Smith III, Derwin Roberson, and Khary Randolph
The flagship title of upstart publisher Black Mask, which burst onto the scene with some of the year’s most exciting, electrifying new titles. Kareem Jenkins is a teenager gunned down by the police for not much more than being a black kid in a hoodie. It doesn’t take: he wakes up in the hospital to find out he has superpowers. And he’s not the only one—this is a world in which there are superpowers, but only black people have them. The racial and political commentary is in your face, and if you don’t like it, BLACK doesn’t give a f***.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Alitha Martinez, and Afua Richardson
In this spin-off from Ta-Nehisi Coates celebrated Black Panther revamp, things in Wakanda get really interesting. T’Challa’s embattled kingship is fascinating, but there’s at least as much juice in the story of the Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards to the royalty. Ta-Nehisi Coates joined feminist writer and scholar Roxane Gay for a more-or-less standalone series that shifted the focus away from Black Panther and onto the elite fighters were once in competition to be wives of the king. This action-packed book charted the evolution of the (sometimes queer) women who’ve been in the background for most of Wakanda’s history, proving that they have their own stories of love, tragedy, and action to match that of the headlining king.
Champions, Vol. 1: Change the World, by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos
The young heroes of the Marvel Universe strike out to form an optimistic and idealistic new team, determined to show the grown-ups how it’s done. Ms. Marvel, Nova, Miles Morales, Amadeus Cho, Viv Vision, and a time-displaced young Cyclops (long story) are starting a movement. Waid is a master at blending an old-school sense of fun with a modern sense of depth and action, while Ramos colorful, stylized art is a perfect fit for the young heroes’ adventures.
Doom Patrol, Vol. 1: Brick by Brick, by Gerard Way, Nick Derington, and Tamra Bonvillain
The Doom Patrol has been innovative in every one of its incarnations, going all the way back to the early ’60s. Their reputation as the weirdest crew in comics is safe in this reboot, another stellar achievement from DC’s new Young Animal line, spearheaded by writer and former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. Derington’s artwork is at least as much of an attraction in the adventures of Robotman, Crazy Jane, Rebis, and Flex Mentallo. Fans of Grant Morrison’s run back in the day will be very pleased, but the book requires no prior knowledge—just a willingness to get freaky. Outcasts and weirdos can be heroes too, you know.
Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy, by Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Ryan Kelly, and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Another winner from Young Animal, which has been busy reinventing existing properties in unique (and wonderfully twisted) ways. With beautiful, bright, trippy art from Marley Zarcone and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, Shade, the Changing Girl introduces Loma Shade, an alien from the planet Meta who’s a huge fangirl for the planet Earth. To escape her world, she procures a madness coat that allows her to travel here and possess the body of a comatose girl. It’s as wonderfully weird as it sounds.
Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book, by Jomny Sun
Deceptively simple in style and conception, Everyone’s a Aliebn (not a typo), packs an emotional wallop in its tale of a lonely alien sent to Earth. Each creature he meets teaches him a new lesson about friendship, hardship, and acceptance. From inspiring snails, to indecisive eggs, to a dying ghost, and a puppy who just wants to be understood, Jomny is sort of Little Prince for our age.
Kill or Be Killed, Vol. 1, by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Brubaker and Phillips have produced several crime noir dramas (The Fade Out, Criminal, and Fatale), each one more compelling than the last. Their newest series is the violent story of vigilantism about a man forced into killing people, and the toll that takes upon his life. It’s a bloody action thriller that also addresses the real price of violence.
Motor Crush, Vol. 1, by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr
The team who brought new life and new fans to Batgirl by sending her to Burnside take that mojo to Image for a fun, fast-paced book, with a sidecar of black, queer representation. Domino Swift stars in a near-future sci-fi story about a woman who, by day, is a professional racer in a worldwide motorcycle league. By night, she’s racing in illegal street competitions and generally cracking heads in order to get her hands on the titular “Motor Crush,” a chemical that’s like steroids for bikes. The story moves along as quickly as you’d hope, with a genuinely kinetic vibe.
Love is Love, by Marc Andreyko, Phil Jimenez, Elsa Charretier, Sarah Gaydos, Jamie S. Rich, and many others
IDW and DC teamed up for this heartbreaking, but still pretty wonderful anthology book to support and honor the victims of last year’s Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Dozens of writers and artists from a wide variety of backgrounds contributed stories and art to the book, a few featuring well-known superheroes and characters. The stories are alternately tragic and inspirational.
Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, Vol. 1, by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh, and Jordie Bellaire
Some of the former Young Avengers have moved up and out onto their own, among them Kate Bishop, the marksman (-woman? -girl?) who consistently out-arrowed the original Hawkeye, saving him enough times that she got to keep the name. She’s off to Los Angeles in this fun and fast-paced series, putter her P.I. badge to good use in the sun.
Moonshine, Vol. 1, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
The team behind 100 Bullets is back with a new, equally brutal crime series. Set during Prohibition, and tells the story of a slick New York City rum-runner sent to negotiate a deal with one of the top moonshiners in West Virginia. He quickly finds himself in over his head as the backwoods criminal is easily a match for the New Yorker, and is also hiding a bloody supernatural secret. Stylish and bloody.
Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Taki Soma
DeConnick and De Landro have produced the most shameless book on the stands (at least among mainstream comics). The women who lead the cast have committed every crime imaginable against misogyny and traditional standards of behavior for women, and they’re not even remotely ashamed. Those “crimes,” however, did land these women of all sizes, shapes, and skin tones on a prison in space. The second volume goes deeper into the oldest and most forbidding sections of the outpost, introducing new trans characters alongside Eleanor Doane, the former president perfectly suited to lead the ladies of the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost in an uprising. Any good prison story needs a good riot.
Glitterbomb, Vol. 1: Red Carpet, by Jim Zub, Djibril Morissette-Phan, K. Michael Russell, and Marshall Dillon
Jim Zub and newcomer Djibril Morissette-Phan’s Glitterbomb is a horror story for our times, and one that becomes sadly more relevant every day: it’s set in modern-day Hollywood, where washed-up actress Farrah Durante is trying to get by despite being one of the worst things you can be in the entertainment industry: a middle-aged woman. Worse: someone who’d been a little too vocal in rejecting the advances of a popular co-star. Then, a dark power finds her and feeds on her repressed rage in order to enact brutal revenge. When we say dark, we mean it: the book is fueled by a righteous anger at the things the famous and entitled think they can get away with.
Imagine Wanting Only This, by Kristen Radtke
Radtke’s graphic novel memoir conveys her fascination with ruined and abandoned places, which began with the death of a beloved uncle in college. The narrative tells of tragedy in Radtke’s own life as well as in the life of all of America, as we visit deserted cities and towns in the US and around the world. In many ways, it’s a deeply cold book about loss and collapse, but moments of genuine beauty and some unique juxtapositions make it a moving exploration of all the things we leave behind.
America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez, by Gabby Rivera, Joe Quinones, and Ramon Villalobos
Captain America’s been a little less of a hero lately, but luckily, Young Avenger alumnus and Ultimates leader America Chavez got her own ongoing solo book to more than make up for it. Novelist Rivera and all-star artists Quinones and Villalobos are on hand as America breaks up with her girlfriend and heads off to college, takes a roadtrip with Kate Bishop, and battles a variety of inter-dimensional monsters. There’s also a trip back to WWII that does not end without some good, ol’ fashioned Nazi-punching.
Boundless, by Jillian Tamaki
Tamaki’s latest surreal collection has plenty to say about what it means to be a woman in the modern world. The centerpiece is the story of Jenny, who becomes wrapped up in the life of an alternate version of herself as transmitted via a weird mirror version of Facebook. As she obsesses over the better (?) self she sees on social media, her real self slowly begins to shrink away, quite literally. Tamaki’s other works have gracefully walked the line between absurdity and profundity, and this one is no different, painting a picture of our modern world that’s both deeply personal and universal.
What comics did you love in 2017?