Half the year has passed, so our Panelteers have reflected on the best comics published so far this year.
Jem & the Holograms by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell (Jon Erik Christianson)*
Before this year, I had never encountered anything Jem. My interest in this series came solely from my knowledge of the creative team—I’ve been a fan of Kelly Thompson’s since I started reading comics, and Sophie Campbell’s work speaks for itself.
Holy shimmering sequins am I enamored with this series. I want Campbell to re-design everything: DC and Marvel superheroes, my wardrobe, the world. The characters in comic boast different heights, body sizes, facial features, hair colors, and stature. Expressions are varied and often hilariously fun. The series has a strict #NoHomo policy—if “homo” means “homogeneity.” On the flipside (#YesHomo), the series is bursting with prominent queer characters who aren’t sabotaged by dated tropes. Presumably with the help of goat sacrifice, Thompson manages to tell a character-centric story with a cast of eleven characters. Even characters lacking in panel time make up for it with efficient, smart dialogue.
I liken this series to Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. It’s a character-focused story set in a diverse, realistic world drenched in visual spectacle and a rad color palette. And it shouldn’t be missed.
SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (Hilary Lawlor)
Jillian Tamaki’s Supermutant Magic Academy is so brilliant, it’s a little bit scary. When you first start reading, you think the comics aren’t connected, that they’re just about random kids at this school for… kids with random powers? But as the book goes on, you see the threads of stories between friends, interlocking timelines, jokes made in the beginning of the book that come up again later – and then, epiphany: this isn’t a random selection, it’s an ongoing sitcom/drama where every page is a different episode. Everything comes together in the end so subtly, you have to commend Tamaki’s deft hand. Plus, it’s hilarious and her art is fantastic.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, Clayton Cowles, Maris Wicks (Katie Schenkel)*
2015 has been an amazing year for new comic series, but this one? This one is the one that consistently makes me happier every time I can get my hands on a new issue. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is absolutely hilarious, has a focus on female characters, and allows the title character (who is kind of known for being majorly overpowered) to solve her problems through ways other than just punching. She still does a good amount of punching, but she’s also empathetic to her foes and often recognizes when the situation can be defused by simply suggesting an alternative course of action.
I can’t forget about the art — Erica Henderson brings a cartoony, fun look to the story and her version of our squirrely heroine is adorable. The fact that Squirrel Girl (alias Doreen Green) is a STEM student and the rest of her friends are people of color who are also STEM students is also pretty fantastic. The art and writing is both appropriate for kids while being clever and downright funny as heck. I can’t recommend this all-ages book enough.
They’re Not Like Us #3 by Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, Jordie Bellaire & Fonografiks (Brian McNamara)*
What if the only way you could find your place in the world, the only way to feel normal, to become part of a better life where you could be yourself, you had to kill your parents? That’s the choice placed in front of Syd, a young woman who is just learning to deal with innate telepathic powers. After years of no one believing she could read minds and being tortured by psychic chaffe, she chooses to take her life. But a charismatic stranger with telepathic powers of his own attempts to save her and in doing so brings her to a whole new world; a place full of others with unique powers, a place where outsiders could be free. They’re Not Like Us is a sort of postmodern X-Men; combining issues of acceptance, coming out and self-awareness with the world super powers and discrimination. It presents a realist view of what those powers mean, what moving beyond your old life could be like, as well as what the cost of cutting all ties really is. Simon Gane’s art stands out, presenting fleshed out rooms, distinct characters and is expertly accompanied by a moody yet vivid color palette from Jordie Bellaire. A novel feature of the single issues is that the cover features the first panel of the story, bringing the reader right into that world. They’re Not Like Us is at once a celebration and takedown of San Francisco hipsterism, placing our disaffected youth in a world that fears and hates them as much as they fear and hate it.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Melody Schreiber)
The more I think about it, the more I like this book. The characters are complex and compelling, and they challenge our ideas about heroes and villains. And it’s hilarious. I identified really deeply with Nimona, who is extremely self-confident and afraid of who she really is at the same time. It’s the kind of book you want to wave around in public places and shout “READ THIS NOW!”
Bitch Planet #3 – Kelly Sue DeConnick, Robert Wilson IV, and Valentine De Landro (Jenn Northington)*
Bitch Planet is everything I want out of a comics reading experience — and then some. I’ve always been hungry for politically inspired science fiction (thanks to early exposure to Ursula Le Guin) and Bitch Planet more than delivers on that front. By taking inspiration from exploitation films and the current battles for women’s rights and then throwing them into the future and into outer space, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro have created a place to explore what these things did mean, do mean, and could mean for us. They’ve created a roster of characters that is truly diverse — body type and shape, race and culture, orientation, opinions, abilities. The stakes are high, the action is intense, and the story takes place on a PRISON PLANET IN SPACE. And then there are the essays in the back of each issue, exploring issues of intersectional feminism — I am here for your think-pieces, ladies and ladytypes. There’s a reason I have a non-compliant tattoo, and that reason is that Bitch Planet is my favorite comic of 2015 so far.
Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado (Michael Chasin)*
Kieron Gillen’s been on fire lately, but even going into his newest book with high expectations there was something about this exploration of one of the biggest bads in history that took me by surprise. As a comic it’s great, and Larocca and Delgado do a thrilling job bringing the long ago, far, far away galaxy to life in a familiar, striking way, with every character perfectly designed and quiet moments that hit just as hard as the free-flowing action. For the Star Wars junkie, this is a great ride, and if it only succeeded on that level it would be worth checking out. But it goes further than that. This book is full-fledged rehab for Darth Vader, a character whose gravitas and iconography have been cheapened for decades. Well, no more. Once again the Dark Lord of the Sith is menacing, compelling, visually exciting, and outright cool in ways I forgot he could be, and that’s just for starters. Beyond simply bringing Vader back to his roots, this comic also integrates some of the less cringe-inducing material from the prequel trilogy through intelligent and emotionally true storytelling. For the first time it really does feel like Hayden Christensen’s Anakin might have grown into the man behind that legendary mask, and the fact that this creative team has pulled off that connection without lessening Vader in any way is astounding. Combine that with a great supporting cast (Triple Zero, the C-3PO of torture, is inspired) and a narrative that feels important in the context of the franchise, and we’re left with the best thing so far to come out of post-Disney Star Wars. And with the latter half of the year sure to be dominated by anticipation for the new movie, Darth Vader—its first arc just completed—is the perfect way to remind yourself why we cared about this world and these stories in the first place.
Giant Days by John Allison and Lissa Treiman (Marcy)*
I hadn’t heard of Giant Days until it was recommended to me by a friend – it quickly became my current favourite comic of the year. It has a simple premise, three young women are at university, and this is the story of how they interact together and with other students. It’s a story of that awkward in-between time when you think you’re no longer a child and believe yourself to be an adult attending university; but looking back you were really just a big kid learning how to adult.
The art is really cute, the story is sharp with great conversations between the protagonists. Issue #1 is a masterclass in how to introduce characters that should be studied by everyone who wants to be or is involved in creating comics. Giant Days is a short six issue series and it’s a classic.
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis (Hattie Kennedy)
Unflattening is the published version of Sousanis’ PhD dissertation which happens to be a comic book. It is a fascinating exploration of comics and their potential for communicating stories and information. Sousanis explores how we read and just why comics might be the perfect way in which to experience all new ways of seeing, free of the limitations of purely visual or verbal forms of representation. If I am making it sound really dry, I really must emphasise that it isn’t, indeed for someone who reads a lot of comics and writes about them this has been one of the most exciting things I have read in ages. If you’re even the smallest bit interested in how comics work and the potentials of the form then this is essential reading. References to other texts abound and Sousanis uses the page creatively to make this an intriguine and immersive reading experience.
Alex + Ada, Volume 2 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn (Chris Arnone)
Volume 2 was published in March, but I can’t recommend this entire story enough. I used the first two trades to catch up to this story and was in tears several times right up to the end (the series ends with issue #15). Alex + Ada is a beautiful story of love and what it means to be human. It’s a simple story and all the better for its simplicity. I will absolutely be purchasing a nice, collected hardcover when it becomes available. Alex + Ada has a purposeful pace, so it’s best read all at once anyway.
Ms. Marvel #16 by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Ali Colluccio)
I’m going to be real with you guys because Panels is a safe, non-judgy place. I cry every time I read an issue of Ms. Marvel. I laugh too. There’s a lot of gasping and cheering. I’ve been know to hug an issue or two after reading. I feel bad for the people on the subway or PATH with me when I read this comic because it’s gotta be awkward to see some random stranger go through a full range of emotions in a packed rush hour train. We’re 16 issues into Ms. Marvel and this still happens to me every month.
Miami Vice Remix by Joe Casey and Jim Mahfood (Eric Margolis)*
So, my favorite comic of 2015 at this point has been Miami Vice: Remix. Really? Yeah, really! But, in an ironic way, right? Nope, I genuinely adored this comic. Back in April, Issue #1 was my pick of the month. This book caught me off guard, in the best possible way. Like I said back then, I’m not a fan of licensed comics nor am I a fan of Miami Vice in general, but this book was AMAZING. The storyline was a completely ridiculous buddy-cop book with bath salt zombies, pet gators and insane over-the-top violence. Casey’s script was superb and Mahfood’s art was absolutely gorgeous (Really looking forward to seeing Mahfood on that upcoming issue of Howard the Duck now). I’m super sad that this book was only a 5 issue miniseries, but I’m hoping for a follow up. Buy this thing and tell everyone you know about it, because we need more!
Convergence: Superman #1 – Dan Jurgens, Lee Weeks, Brad Anderson (Mart Gray)
Maybe nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but when you’re in the mood, it’s just fantastic. And that was my reaction to the first issue of a two-part DC Convergence spin-off that gave us a pre-New 52 Superman and Lois Lane. For a few fabulous minutes I could forget the mess of a non-relationship they’ve had over the last few years and wallow in the love between my two old friends. Lois and Clark, partners in life and partners in crimefighting, one more time. That they’re in an intriguing story showcasing the best aspects of their characters doesn’t hurt. Writer Dan Jurgens, tasked with having them encounter the World of Flashpoint, reminds us of the heart contained within this classic pairing. They’ve been trapped in an impenetrable dome, God knows where, with no idea what the future will bring once the child they’re expecting is born; Superman has no powers; Lois has no outlet for the reports she can’t stop writing … but do they lose heart? Nope, their optimism is intact, their spirits stronger than ever. Individually, they’re amazing. Together, Clark and Lois are a force of nature. And Lee Weeks, an artist not associated with the Man of Steel’s world, draws them beautifully. The gentle strength of Superman, the indomitable presence of Lois … it’s all there, along with the twisted Flashpoint Captain Marvel, Batman and co, looking scary as hell. In current canon, Superman and Lois are lost to one another, but this issue reminded me that the classic versions are out there, ready to be returned to us if we just want it enough.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1 – Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl (Swapna)
I’m a sucker for gothic mysteries. You say “gothic mystery” and I say WHERE GIVE IT TO ME NOWWW. So when I first picked up Gotham Academy, a YA comic with a gothic feel, I was immediately hooked. Karl Kerschl’s art is absolutely gorgeous, and gives the comic a moody tone. It’s up to the characters to bring the fun into the comic, and they do so in an incredible way. It doesn’t matter if you read other DC comics, or if you generally shy away from superheroes in your comics–this is one you should give a try. I love the pure joy that is this comic, and am waiting for the next issue with breathless anticipation.
*denotes a link to a trade that hasn’t yet been released, though the first issue was released in Jan-June 2015