2015 has been an exciting year to be a comic book fan, casual or otherwise. With increasingly more publishers getting into the digital game and media such as the Internet, TV, and film providing more gateways to exploring the world of comics, there really is something for every potential fan considering dipping her or his toes into the four-colored waters. That said, let’s a gander at the wealth of books and artistry that the year bestowed upon us, as well as some of the hiccups along the way. Welcome to our 2015 Comic Book Year in Review!
Gotta say, for the second year in a row, the crown has to go to DC Comics’ Batman title, helmed the team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, who never fail to deliver on engaging stories about the Caped Crusader and his ever-changing world. What especially made the series stand out this year is their work on the “Superheavy” storyline, which follows former police commissioner Jim Gordon as he rolls around in a robo-suit as a government-sanctioned Dark Knight while Bruce Wayne has neither the memories or abilities or trappings that go along with his former life after a battle with the Joker. While an intriguing concept, the idea easily could have gone off the rails in the hands of other creators, plodding along until Bruce retakes the cape and cowl. However, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Capullo’s romp not only keeps a break-neck pace, but also manages to reveal layers of Bruce’s characters, Jim’s moral code, and just what compromises are needed to be a Batman. Mr. Capullo is leaving the title after issue 50 which, for our money, will see the end of one of the finest runs on a Batman series or any comic book series, period.
Related: Batman and Happily-Ever-Afters
Best Ongoing Series (non-superhero): Wytches (Image Comics)
The sobering thing about writer Scott Snyder and artists Jock and Matt Hollingsworth’s Wytches is how close to home that the subject matter most likely hits for so many readers. So many folks are struggling with mental illness or knows someone who is, with those who struggle to help feeling helpless in the process. Snyder overlays that struggle for the series’ Rook family with the metaphysical horror of the flesh-eating wytches that inhabit the woods of a New England town. Jock’s intentionally-sketchy linework and the erratic splashes of color from Hollingsworth contribute to make for one of the most engaging yet uncomfortable reading experiences of 2015.
Best Miniseries: The Sandman: Overture (DC Comics/Vertigo)
2015 marked the conclusion of writer Neil Gaiman and artist J.H. Williams III’s miniseries The Sandman: Overture and it unequivocally was well worth the wait. While the tale led to how we find Dream bound by greedy human actors at the beginning of The Sandman, the affair had all the fanfare of a homecoming, returning to characters that have resonated with fans for decades. However, more than just a revisiting of the familiar, Gaiman and Williams III add depth to the already rich mythology of Dream and his Endless siblings. While Sandman: Overture can surely be appreciated on a nostalgic basis, more than that, it adds layers to a complete story and allows readers to look at old tales with fresh eyes.
Best Original Graphic Novel: Two Brothers (Dark Horse Comics)
Adapting a novel to graphic form is heavy-lifting on its own, let alone tackling a book as beloved and intricate as Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers. However, comic book creators and brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’ aren’t just any writer/artist team, as shown in their treatment of the tale in their original graphic novel Two Brothers from Dark Horse Comics. Chronicling the relationship of twin brothers Yaqub and Omar through the years as they navigate the emotional and physical scars inflicted upon them by life and each other, Ba’ and Moon bring to life Hatoum’s work in a way that will leave readers both pensive and spiritually fraught in a way that will echo through both their daily lives and familial interactions for some time to come.
Related: Review: Two Brothers
Best Writer: Scott Snyder (Batman, Wytches)
While writer Scott Snyder’s Wytches from Image Comics and Batman from DC are two very different animals, they both are, at their core, about people who are just trying their best in a world that’s often quite unkind and sometimes downright nasty. While enough can’t be said Snyder’s fabulous storytelling and gripping plot twists, what makes him the best comic book writer of the year is that, whether he’s focusing on a damaged Bruce Wayne or the psychological damage of Sailor and her family, he appreciates that the greatest, most compelling battles are those we wage with ourselves.
Best Artist: Sophie Campbell, Jem and the Holograms
Comic books haven’t felt so imbued with genuine, honest-to-God joy and fun like we’ve seen in 2015, and part of that shift can be attributed to artists like Sophie Campbell and her work on IDW’s Jem and the Holograms. Working off the excellent scripts from writer Kelly Thompson, Campbell’s linework pops off every page with an ebullience that is impossible to ignore. From her smart, kinetic reimagining’s of the classic 1980s cartoon’s characters to the smaller moments between friends and lovers, Campbell has brought an air of delight to the four-colored medium that was incredibly welcome in the often darks and greys of other mainstream fare.
Related: Review: Jem and the Holograms #5
Creepiest Comic Book: Clean Room (DC Comics/Vertigo)
While what lurks in the dark and under the bed can easily cause one to cause a hitch in one’s step, writer Gail Simone knows that the most disturbing evil can lie in the human heart. Drawing on charismatic religious traditions like the Church of Scientology, Clean Room draws the spotlight on what can happen when belief twists and turns into something more sinister and the results of blind allegiance to any once cause. Clean Room’s Chloe Pierce is each of the readers and, as she confronts new age religious leader Astrid Mueller, her trepidation is our own. I haven’t held my breath as much while reading a comic this year as I have with Simone’s new masterstroke.
Best Avengers Title: Black Widow (Marvel Comics)
This has been yet another banner year for Marvel’s Avengers franchise between the films The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man to the comic book relaunches for the All-New, All-Different line. However, while Earth’s Mightiest Heroes continue to enjoy their renaissance, no other Avengers title fully captured the essence of one of the stable of characters like artist Phil Noto and writer Nathan Edmonson’s Black Widow. Bringing depth and quieter personal development in a sea of bombastic superhero titles, Edmonson gives readers a Natasha Romanov who is a badass by necessity, not necessarily by choice. Noto’s always exquisite pencil strokes give a haunting, reserved anguish to a spy-turned-hero who has seen too much to do anything other than own her past and affect her future.
Related: Review: Black Widow #12
Most Fun Comic on the Shelves: Jem and the Holograms
There’s a reason I read IDW’s Jem and the Holograms first in my buy pile the week it hits comic shops every month: The book is an instant mood-lifter. I can be in the most sour, surliest states of being and when I see Stormer and Kimber tentatively, awkwardly, sweetly flirt with one another or Jerrica exclaim “Showtime, Synergy!” I’m immediately smiling like an idiot. Artist Sophie Campbell’s linework and character designs are a feast for the eyeholes, working off scripts from writer Kelly Thompson that are brimming with food fights and emotional relationship angst. Jem and the Holograms delivers more bang for your buck than nearly any other title being published today and will have you quietly and unapologetically singing along with the Holograms and the Misfits as you read the book.
Related: Review: Jem and the Holograms #1
Biggest Missed Opportunity: Cyclops and Uncanny X-Men #600 (Marvel Comics)
Stretching back as far as writer Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men stint back in the early 2000s, there seemed to be a concerted effort on Marvel’s part to flesh-out the character of Scott Summers, the X-Men’s leader Cyclops, in order both to make him more relatable and to demonstrate why he’s the man for the job of leading Earth’s mutant community. Writers such as Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker ran with Whedon’s concepts and built on that work, creating a Cyclops who, if not always likeable, had very clear goals and a singular vision.
After the events of the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover in which Scott, while under the influence of the cosmic entity the Phoenix force, killed X-Men founder Charles Xavier, scribe Brian Michael Bendis seemed to make it one of his missions in his Uncanny X-Men title to look at Cyclops under the microscope, examine what it is that Scott truly wants to achieve as a mutant revolutionary, and, ultimately, if he can gain some kind of redemption. With Uncanny about to hit the 600-issue mark and Marvel’s Secret Wars, universe-changing crossover right around the corner, it was promised that, before the post-crossover reboot “changed everything,” we’d see some sort of resolution to the Ballad of Scott Summers.
Instead, in Uncanny X-Men #600, readers were given an anticlimactic whimper in which Scott orchestrates a congregation of the world’s remaining mutants, protagonists and antagonists alike, at the United States Capitol as—a metaphorical gesture, maybe? To show that mutants can come together without threatening humans? As a demonstration that, despite the chaos in the mutant community, they’ve managed to survive? Not very clear, really. What made matters worse is the fact that Marvel’s shipping schedule was cocked-up from the Secret Wars event, so readers kinda already had an inkling that the mutant community would be in disrepair post-Secret Wars, but with Cyclops as part of the cause. For any fans of Scott Summers following his tale of character development and redemption, this was a bit of a slap in the face and a missed opportunity.
Biggest Break-Out Creator: Kate Leth (Power Up, Patsy Walker: Hellcat)
For folks who have been following her work for years, there might be a few eye-rolls to suggest that 2015 was her breakout year, as Leth has been amassing an impressive resume of comic book-related fare for years: Edward Scissorhands, Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, her work on the always chucklelicious and informative comic strip “Kate or Die.” This year, however, it felt like I couldn’t go into a comic shop without seeing her name on the new releases shelf. Soup to nuts, her words on Power Up was one 2015’s most sublime titles I read and her work with Fresh Romance was one of my favorites in the anthology and made the collection sing. With a strong start as writer of Marvel’s Patsy Walker: Hellcat that debuted just this month and projects like contributing to an Attack on Titan anthology coming down the pike, Leth has no intention of slowing down, which will make 2016 kick ass for readers, too.
Biggest Sigh of Relief: Lucifer #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo)
When it was announced that Vertigo would be producing a new Lucifer comic book series as part of its big fall 2015 series launch of new titles, many fans cocked an eyebrow. Writer Mike Carey had set such a high bar with his 75-issue run, taking the iteration of the fallen angel as seen in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and bringing more complexity to Old Scratch than seen in nearly any other medium. However, writer Holly Black and artist Lee Garbett’s Lucifer #1 takes what made the original Vertigo series such a joy to read—the rich characterization, the humor, the sprawling Judeo-Christian theology and mythology—and, while not ignoring what came before, uses the foundation built by previous creators to craft a new and engaging tale. One issue in and I’m already eager to see what winding road Black, Garbett, and the Morningstar are going to take us.
Best 1970s Rock Musical Education: This Damned Band (Dark Horse Comics)
So many of the bands that were in the thick of the rock music culture of the 1970s had a rough-around-the-edges, raw quality about them, hoping to cash in on that visceral, immediate nature that went along with the time. With the glut of wannabee rock gods competing for space on Mt. Olympus, the flash and the outrageous won the day and the dollars of fans. Some of that flash and showmanship was entwined with the occult, with bands following (or claiming to follow) some dark lord or lord. So it is with the Motherfathers, the group at the center of writer Paul Cornell and artist Tony Parker’s This Damned Band from Dark Horse Comics. Cornell deftly takes every musical act you’re familiar with from the time period to create an amalgam of bombastic characters who may or may not be led by the nose by some nefarious demonic presence. While Cornell’s plotting is expertly executed to keep the readers guessing, the characterization makes the book shine, with each band member or groupie’s motivations, virtues and vices, pushing the plot along in an organic way. Parker’s art only adds to that sensibility, making events set in the 1970s feel immediate and at the surface.
Best Reinvention of the Wheel: Archie (Archie Comics)
Comic books—especially mainstream comics—necessitate, in part, that the characters stay somewhat static. Changes can be made—a tweak here, a spit-shine there—but, at the end of the day, the chess pieces have to be returned to their proper places, ready for the next player to come to the board. There has to be an accessibility, and probably no comic book franchise over the years has been as accessible as Archie and its related titles. Produced by Archie Comics for nearly 75 years and starring the eponymous teenager and his Riverdale classmates, the cast might just be the most static comic book characters in publication history: Archie is always struggling with dating either Betty or Veronica, Reggie is perennially a thorn in Archie’s side, and Jughead loves hamburgers. And while many creators have added their own stories to the canon, pretty much nothing—including the art style and wardrobe—changes in Riverdale. While this might have made Archie reader-friendly, it also, at times, made the tales feel dated.
That is, until this year. Archie Comics ushered out a spankin’ new relaunch of Archie, reimagining the traditional stories and linework that has made the cast so recognizable in the past and updating them for the 21st century. However, unlike many comic book updates, this isn’t a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, writer Mark Waid (Daredevil) and artists Fiona Staples (Saga) and Annie Wu (Hawkeye) have taken the traditional tropes associated with Archie, Betty, and the gang and added a subtle modern flare. Waid examines the struggle Archie has with the comfortable and familiar as he edges closer to graduation, while Betty’s love for the red-head butts heads with her desire to change. Just as IDW’s Jem and the Holograms made those 1980s characters feel more real than they ever did on television, Waid, Staples, and Wu have taken characters that were somewhat staid and breathed fresh life into them. The accessibility is still there, but a reason to care has been a welcome addition to the mix.
Best First Issue about the First Son: The Goddamned #1 (Image Comics)
Writer Jason Aaron (Thor) and r.m. Guera (Scalped) have managed to do for Cain what Mike Carey, Neil Gaiman, and Holly Black did for Lucifer Morningstar: make him relatable and understandable. In their phenomenal The Goddamned #1 for Image Comics, Aaron and Guera take the first son of Adam and Eve—who is also the first murderer—and use biblical lore to make him approachable, if not forgivable. The creators inject a sense of melancholy and reserved regret into Cain who, while not completely resigned to his immortal fate, has taken his wandering and turned it into a mission. Part Mad Max, part apocalyptic catastrophe, The Goddamned takes the Cain of myth and somehow humanized him into someone who we, if not cheer on, are curious to see what he will do next.
Most Inaccessible Crossover Event: Secret Wars (Marvel Comics)
For a year prior to its release, Marvel touted Secret Wars as its most comprehensive, world(s)-changing event in its nearly 100 years as a publisher. Marvel has never really dipped its toes in the reality retconning like DC has done time and again, so readers and fans were cued into the idea that this was A Big Deal. However, between issues of the miniseries being pushed back (a hallmark of crossover events) and incomprehensible, convoluted backstory that only readers who had digested books such as New Avengers and Avengers prior to the tale’s release, Secret Wars was hardly a jumping-off point for new fans that the publisher purported it to be.
Related: Review: Secret Wars #1
Best Explanation of the Roots of Crime: Batman #44 (DC Comics)
While Bruce Wayne might fight the crime that permeates Gotham City at night as the Masked Manhunter known as the Batman, during the day he throws himself into the business that comes along with being a billionaire, including philanthropic pursuits meant to lift up the spirit of Gotham and her people. However, while Bruce might have been cognizant of the source of crime as an abstract early in his career, writers Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello and artist Jock present a tale in Batman #44 about how systemic issues and gentrification have a powerful impact on the poor and minority citizens of Gotham City. By using issues pulled straight from the real world handled in a respectful manner, Snyder, Azzarello, and Jock craft a tale that examines crime in a way that is humanizing to all involved and handled more thoughtfully than most television pundits and the press.
Related: Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Culpability
Best Return-to-Badassery: Darth Vader, Darth Vader #13, Vader Down Part 2
Fans of the Star Wars saga have been told time and again how in tune with the dark side of the Force is Anakin Skywalker, the Sith Lord Darth Vader. However, aside from a few force chokes and lightsaber battles in the original film trilogy, we’ve rarely had a glimpse of that raw power on display. Marvel Comics’ crossover event Vader Down looks to fully exhibit what a terrifying power Darth Vader truly is, following the former Anakin as he’s crashed on a planet and finds himself the target of an armada of Rebels looking for their chance to cut the Emperor’s right hand man down once and for all.
When surrounded by foot soldiers and tanks in the story’s second chapter, however, Vader doesn’t even blink. Lightsaber gleaming at the ready, he gives the Rebels the opportunity to surrender. As expected, the Rebels don’t take the bait, leaving them at Vader’s mercy as he ignites grenades strapped to combatants and destroys a tank with only his raw power alone. Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca leave no doubt as to why Darth Vader made the Rebel Alliance tremble in fear and injects the Dark Lord with more badassery than any of the movies managed to achieve.
Best Emotionally Poignant and Filthy Homage to He-Man: Kaptara (Image Comics)
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s knew that television was hell-bent on making young’uns want, nay crave, the latest action figure set of characters. From He-Man toy commercials to Thundercats cartoons exploding across the screen, it was impossible for a kid to avoid or be influenced by the weirdly half-naked citizens of Thundera, Cybertron, or Eternia. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Kagan McLeod drew upon their memories and experiences of that time to create Image Comics’ Kaptara, which can best be described as an exceedingly-filthy homage to that time and those cartoon-inspired toys. However, while the world of Kaptara is busting at the seams with sexual perversion and cracked-mirror versions of Skeletor and She-Ra, what makes Kaptara work is the through-line that the tale’s Keith Kanga cuts, representing anyone and everyone who feels lost in the world. While Kaptara is irrepressibly funny, the story would not have worked as well without the heart and existential crisis that Keith embodies.
And that’s it for our review of 2015’s year in comics! Do you have your own thoughts? Agree or disagree with us? Let us know in the comments!