The Best Comics of January–June 2016
A Silent Voice, Vols 5–7 by Yoshitoki Oima (Thomas Maluck)
The latter half of A Silent Voice came out in 2016, and Oima made sure to end on a high note. If the first half of the series showed the unwitting cruelty of children and Sisyphean task of recovering from one’s guilt, then books five through seven have been playing out clashes between what seem like healthy friendships and the tensions simmering underneath. Between its compelling, honest depictions of bullying, deafness, depression, social dysfunctions, and how they all manifest in everyday interactions, this series deserves to be absorbed and discussed by all ages for years to come.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (María Cristina García Lynch)
A parody of those choose-your-own-adventure books? A pastiche? No, an homage! You expect nothing less from Ryan North (author of To Be or Not to Be and Romeo and/or Juliet), but you are absolutely delighted by Erica Henderson’s spot-on cover. If you pick up this issue based on the format, you may be skeptical about how well it translates to a different medium; but you find that the color-coded paths make it easy to follow each possible timeline almost concurrently, so you can enjoy the (illusion of) free will the original Bantam series afforded without sacrificing the sequential reading order of a traditional comic book. If you pick up this issue because you think it’s about time someone fights a super villain with…THE SEA, then you are in luck; you thrill to the aquatic heroics of Koi Boi. If you are uninterested in both nostalgia and hilarity, then there’s still something for you: Galactus. In a smoking jacket. The end.
Monstress #5 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Amanda Nelson)
Maika Halfwolf is a veteran of the war between Arcanic hybrids and the Federation of Man. After breaking into the headquarters of the Cumaea, the Federation’s powerful and hella-scary religious order that systemically slaughters Arcana for their own purposes, Maika is on the run with a powerful mask and a photo of her mother–as well as with a dark monster that lives inside herself. Maika runs, from both the Federation and from the Arcanics who want the thing that lives in her. Issue #5 was my favorite so far–the backstory it provides into Maika’s childhood, as well as the multiple WTF IS GOING ON?? twists, gave me all the feels (not an easy feat). Happily, the first trade comes out this month, so if you haven’t taken a look at this comic about the dire cost of war and racial oppression yet, now’s your chance.
The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon (Charles Paul Hoffman)
2016 has been a great year for Wonder Woman fans, with a veritable feast of projects coming out in time for Diana’s 75th anniversary later this year. But, hands down the best of them has been the digital-first The Legend of Wonder Woman, written and pencilled by Renae De Liz and inked, colored, and lettered by Ray Dillon. It is a stunningly beautiful retelling of Diana’s earliest adventures (it’s set during World War II), with spot on characterization for the entire cast (Etta Candy is a particular treat). If you have ever been remotely interested in Wonder Woman—or even if you haven’t—this is a must read series. I am so excited for Season 2.
Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze (Sonja Palmer)
I’ve been excited about this comic for months, so I was thrilled when it finally came out and more than lived up to expectations. Coates writes an interesting and complex story about T’challa and the political turmoil Wakanda is going through, while playing with gender politics and revolution. The art is absolutely stunning and beautifully reflects Wakanda’s futuristic technology. Stelfreeze captures the rage of these characters so well, and T’challa’s conflict through his art. Overall, the series so far reads like an epic poem, and its one I know I’ll want to go back to again and again.
Velvet #14 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and Chris Eliopoulos (Katie McGuire)
Imagine if Ms. Moneypenny, the stalwart secretary to the head of MI6 and verbal sparring partner of James Bond, was once one of the top clandestine operatives in her own right — and that when Bond turns up dead, she’s suspected of killing him. That’s basically the premise of Velvet, which follows ARC-7 secretary Velvet Templeton through the turbulent 1970s, as she works to track down the killer of X-Operative 14, both to clear her name and to stop others in her organization from dying. Issue #14 finds Velvet in Washington, D.C., where she blackmails Vice President Gerald Ford and kidnaps President Richard Nixon to pump him for information. This issue perfectly exemplifies what readers will love about Velvet — sharp dialogue, international intrigue, a firm grounding in the time period, and some good, old fashioned spycraft.
The Astonishing Ant-Man #9 by Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, and Julian Totino Tedesco (Priya Sridhar)
Nothing like a typical heist, especially after watching the Ant-Man film. In this comic issue, however, the heist receives so much parody while in motion that it doesn’t seem like Scott may succeed this time. He assembles criminals for a job that will help him go straight. One of them wears a bear suit while posing as a security guard, and the real guards get suspicious. Scott realizes in hindsight that he may have not hosted the best scheme.
Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (Gina Nicoll)
This is a beautiful book about a terrible topic. Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart’s joyful, energetic daughter, dies suddenly at nearly 2 years old. This graphic memoir dives into the grief that follows, and yes, you’re in for a lot of tears, but when I think of this book—which I do often, over three months after having read it—I think not of the loss, but of the love. Every page is full of the deep, profound, inspiring, hopeful and ultimately healing love Hart has for his daughter. It made me think about what it is to truly love another human being in this uncertain world.
To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts by MAYBE (Kory Cerjak)
A war between the north and south where the north wins sounds familiar, but I don’t remember any Incarnates (humans-turned-monster that helped the north win the war) from the United States Civil War. This manga combines a fantasy aspect with the all too familiar aspects of war. The Incarnates – now without a meaning to drive them and hated by the very people they protected – find themselves pariah. Worse, the transformation that allowed them victory in the war makes them lose their logic and humanity; they now attack the very people they swore to protect. Their comrade and former commander takes it upon himself to kill them before they kill any more people. The psychological implications thereof are endless, and only addressed in the Incarnates’ final moment between them and their commander. A few words exchanged and the always pained look on the commander’s face are the chapter coda. These are their realities of war, captured in manga form.
Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire (Eric Margolis)
Terribly predictable or terribly consistent? Vision was my book of the year for 2015 and it is again my pick for mid-year 2016. Everything about this book is very special and I stand by my statement that Vision will be one of Marvel’s classics in years to come.
Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos (Jenn Northington)
Since Issue 6 dropped in November, the second arc of Pretty Deadly has been the first thing I read when I get my monthly comics-mail. Strong right out of the gate, the story has been building beautifully with each new installment. We’re now in the trenches of World War I, following a young black American soldier as he fights alongside the French. His mother is home dying, and the Reapers are out looking for him — some to help, and some to hurt. Everything that I loved about the first arc is present in spades: the deep mythology, the spaghetti-Western influences, the careful storytelling, and Ríos’s game-changing art. I also see improvements; where the pacing and the mythology took real time and dissection to understand in Issues 1-5 and, to my mind, was best read in trade, this new arc has more clarity and is highly readable in installments. In short, one of my all-time favorite comics continues to be one of my all-time favorite comic, each word and image perfectly chosen.
A-Force, Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson, Jorge Molina, Kelly Thompson, and Ben Caldwell (Keri Crist-Wagner)
I picked up A-Force during Secret Wars knowing little to nothing about the majority of characters therein. She-Hulk, check. Captain Marvel, sure. But who the heck was Medusa, or Nico? And don’t even get me started on Dazzler. Regardless, I jumped into the story and I haven’t regretted it. The current A-Force is told through the eyes of our favorite pocket universe, Singularity, who just so happens to be the only one who remembers the events of Secret Wars. It’s a consistently heartfelt and entertaining book, with lots of action and fun team-ups. Despite a creative team switch at issue #5 the characters remain true to the original tone and I feel pretty confident going into the obligatory Civil War II tie-in issues.
Saint for Rent by Ru Xu (Latonya Pennington)
There are time machines and then there’s an inn for time travelers. The inn is run by a guy named Saint and his friends. In the very first chapter, there’s a cat, a monster, a kick-butt female time traveler, and a random surprise for one of Saint’s friends. It’s quirky unexpected fun and I love it. Besides the premise, a really cool aspect of the comic are the animated gifs that make some of the artwork seem 3-D. I’ve only read the first chapter, but I’m really excited to keep reading.
Help Us! Great Warrior by Madeleine Flores (Hilary Lawlor)
Look, Great Warrior is a bean with legs and a giant bow on her head. She’s lazy and she loves snacks and she occasionally kicks butt with an awesome sword. Her best friend is a badass trans woman superhero named Leo, and there’s a beautiful being of wisdom and light named Hadiyah who spends most of her time trying to get Great Warrior to do her duty and save the world. Somehow, Madeleine Flores managed to create an epic story about heroism and friendship that is hilarious and feels completely original and modern. I may never get over how great this comic is.
Don’t Come in Here by Patrick Kyle (Emma Lawson)
Koyama Press publishes some of the best indie comics, and Patrick Kyle’s latest comic is definitely up there. It’s a bit of a break from his previous work, which tended to be abstract, super dense illustrations. He tones it down a bit here in favor of narrative, but it’s still got his beautiful weirdness all over the pages. The story (as much as there is one) is about a guy who lives in a supernatural apartment, and all the wonderful and strange things that happen there. I laughed so much reading this comic. You’ve got to check it out.
Power Man and Iron Fist by David Walker and Sanford Greene (Jessica Plummer)
It’s rare that third-stringers get a truly great spotlight series. Usually they’re mugging for closeups in team books, filling in the crowd scenes in crossovers, and maybe, if they’re lucky, scoring the occasional decent miniseries. But with Netflix bringing Luke Cage and Danny Rand from the third string to the second, along comes what is almost certainly the best showcase either character has ever had. Walker and Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist is laugh-out-loud on every page, crammed not just with action and gags but with heart. It evokes the best of the duo’s original outing together back in the 70s while remaining absolutely fresh and looking like nothing else on the stands, and is an absolute joy to read every issue. It’s certainly sunnier than anything we can expect from Netflix, but if the folks there are smart, they’ll still mine this book for the gold it is while figuring out how to shape Luke and Danny’s friendship for the small screen.
20×20: Twenty Years of Conundrum Press by Andy Brown (Ed.) (Hattie Kennedy)
Conundrum turns 20 this year and to celebrate Andy Brown asked 20 Conundrumites (one for each year of the press, who had had a book out in that year) to contribute a new piece of work to this anthology. The result is excellent, a collection of comics, essays and memories that show the sheer range of works, authors and styles published by Conundrum. Like last year’s Drawn and Quarterly 25 Years Anthology this gave me new works by old friends and also opened my eyes to a number of new-to-me artists who I now intend to splurge on. I can thoroughly recommend you pick this up and discover some new-to-you artists too. I personally can’t wait to see what the next 20 years hold for Conundrum. It is such an exciting time to be a fan of Canadian Comics!
DC Comics: Bombshells by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Adolfo, Laura Braga, Wendy Broome, J. Nanjan, Wes Abbott, and many more (Katie Schenkel)
What can I say about DC Bombshells in the first half of 2016? I could talk about the second Batgirls issue that highlighted xenophobia used for political gain. I could talk about the Cuban American version of Lois Lane being introduced into the Bombshells universe. I could talk about the Ivy/Harley romance that included a beautiful moonlit kiss. I could talk about the recent, stunning subversion of a certain classic superheroine, featuring her as a proud young Jewish woman whose powers come from the legendary Judaic heroines of old. I could talk about all of that … but you know what, you should just read it for yourself. DC Bombshells is smart as hell and a delight every week and I will keep stressing to everyone who loves these heroines to read this book.
Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North (Melody Schreiber)
OK, so this isn’t a comic exactly. But it has plenty of awesome illustrations, and it hails from one of my favorite creators in the biz–and there are a ton of comics references! (Perhaps surprising to fans of Shakespeare, but less surprising for Squirrel Girl afficionados.) I can’t really put into words how much I love this book. It’s hilarious, it’s fun, and it makes you think about Shakespeare and his romantic icons in whole new ways. It’s also SUPER fun to read out loud with friends and family. I’ll be sad when I die for the last time!
4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss (Dave Accampo)
Just two issues out in the first half of 2016, but after reading the second issue, it’s clear to me that these four kids represent some of the best comics of the year. From Tyler Boss’ fun and compelling layouts to the witty dialogue that feels authentic and 80s without pandering or dropping in nostalgic references, this series from Black Mask is truly electric. Our four protagonists find themselves at that crossroads of adolescence — emerging from arcades and RPG campaigns to discover that the larger world is just as full of threats and bullies as their sidescrolling video games. And how they act next? Insert Coin to Continue…
Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride – Lucy Knisley (Swapna)
I’ll admit it—comics have been tough for me lately. The toxicity of certain elements of fandom, combined with it being my day job, has made it harder and harder to just sit down, turn my brain off, and enjoy comics. But it was Lucy Knisley who reminded me just why I love the medium. This comic was at once effortless, easy to lose myself in, but also deep and meaningful. Knisley examines so many facets of what it is to get married, the institution of marriage, and how it might change (or not change) a person’s perceptions of themselves. As always, the art is so incredible, with vivid colors splashed across the page. Series comics are having a harder and harder time keeping my attention, so I appreciated being able to dive into this substantial graphic memoir.