It’s been a strong year for comics! DC has continued to kill it with its Rebirth line and more, with their Batman books in particular kicking ass across the board. Marvel were off my radar for a bit, save for the occasional standout like the excellent Kingpin miniseries, but have made a big-time comeback late in the year with a flurry of quality titles in their Marvel Legacy lineup, which if they keep up could be serious contenders in next year’s rankings. As usual, Image has maintained a balance of continuing standout ongoing titles and launching exciting new books, though I was sad that previous list-topper Southern Bastards was so sporadic in its release schedule this year (albeit for good reason) that I ended up having to drop it from my rankings… hopefully it’ll return to prominence in 2018. But other indie companies had impressive years for me, too, with Aftershock and Vault Comics launching some impressive debuts worth keeping an eye on, like Monstro Mechanica and Maxwell’s Demons, respectively, and Black Mask and BOOM! Studios putting out a wealth of titles that became contenders in this year’s rankings. There were enough notable releases that it wasn’t too hard expanding my usual Top 10 to a Top 20…
20. BLACK HAMMER
18. ROYAL CITY
17. DOOM PATROL
16. PUNISHER: THE PLATOON
15. BATMAN / THE SHADOW
14. THE DREGS
13. BEAUTIFUL CANVAS
12. DOCTOR STRANGE
And here is my top 10 for 2017!
10. SHORT ORDER CROOKS
This one was a late entrant, largely due to the fact that, rather than coming from a publisher, it came from Kickstarter. I’m really bad at keeping up with reading the comics I back on Kickstarter, especially when they’re digital pledges, so despite reading and enjoying the first issue ages back, I didn’t get round to catching up on issues 2-4 until recently. And I’m glad I did. Christopher Sebela has put out some quality work this year (I belatedly caught up on the first volume of HeartThrob, which was so great I wish I could retroactively insert it into my 2016 list), but this may be his best. It’s a tale of heists and turf wars in the wild world of food trucks which truly centres on a passion for cooking which can really be read as a passion for comics or any creative endeavour. George Kambadais was a breakout artist for me this year (small press oneshot Swift very nearly made it onto this list too), and colorist Lesley Atlansky brings out the best in his work. Letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou rounds out an all-star team on top form. It makes me sad that every publisher apparently turned this project down, as it’s just the kind of book we should be seeing more of, but I’m happy the team got it out there in some format.
9. DETECTIVE COMICS
When DC Rebirth started, this book got lost in the shuffle for me. I mistakenly assumed that I was already getting my fill of Batman titles and didn’t need another one. But when the buzzing word of mouth finally did make me jump onboard, I was so glad I did. James Tynion IV and a variety of gifted artists have, with this series, put together the best team comic on the market. The plotting is just so well paced, with various subplots meticulously bubbling in the background at any one time, and each member getting their turn in the spotlight where their brewing drama comes to a dramatic head. Everyone on the team matters and enhances the dynamic of the book. Among other things, this title has (re)stated the case that Batwoman should really be considered an A-list hero, reminded me that Tim Drake was an amazing character and MY definitive Robin when I first got into comics, and made me give a damn about Clayface. And Detective Comics also excels in its long-term plotting, with stuff seeded early on now paying off in dividends a year down the line.
This had the best lettering of any book I’ve read all year. It’s not common to lead with lettering in a review, I know, but it was so impressive and gratifying to see Colin, whose work I have long been familiar with, rise to the challenge of guiding our eyes through labyrinthine layouts and showcasing various forms of speech and song. Of course, the rest of the team are no slouches either. Si Spurrier has explored around these themes of prejudice and the marginalised being labelled as worthless while being exploited for their usefulness in his other work, but this was his most refined example, feeling like a culmination of the work leading up to it: a world that was frustrating and heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting. And Jonas Goonface’s vibrant artwork just blasted off the page.
7. EAST OF WEST
An old favourite that has been a perennial on this list for the past few years, it’s become hard to find new ways to express how consistently excellent Jonathan Hickman’s magnum opus is. Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin continue to be one of the very best art teams in comics, bringing to life a world of epic scope and substantial gravitas. It’s another book where I find myself thinking a more frequent release schedule might have seen it place even higher, but we got enough installments to maintain its place at around the same level it was last year. But this ever-reliable workhorse of the Image Comics roster is now approaching its endgame, and next year will likely be its last chance to make an appearance. So, it’ll be interesting to see if the future classic will go out with a bang!
Daniel Warren-Johnson is doing career-defining work on this book. Anyone who has taken one look at his output up until now was already aware that he is a fantastic artist, his work richly expressive and layered with impeccable craft and skill. And that mastery of design carries over into Extremity, with evocative world-building and characters so visually arresting that you want to grab a pen and draw them yourself. But what might surprise people (even if it shouldn’t, he’s shown chops in this discipline before) is just how excellently written it is, too. Extremity is a powerful parable about the toxicity of revenge narratives and a cutting condemnation on the cyclical destruction of war. It’s a book that is angry, sad, and ultimately just has a big, open, vulnerable heart.
5. GOD COUNTRY
Donny Cates has blown up big time. He’s putting out two of Marvel’s best comics, and seems primed to break out even bigger in 2018, one event comic or banner title away from solidifying himself in the A-list in a manner akin to Scott Snyder in 2011 or Tom King in 2017. But if you haven’t already, it’s worthwhile going back to read his breakout comic from earlier this year, God Country. You read this, and you can’t help but think, “Everyone involved in this book deserves comics superstardom.” Geoff Shaw’s dynamic, epic imagery is balanced with Jason Wordie’s delicate, muted colour palette, which along with Donny Cates’ nuanced storytelling crafts a world that swings between dizzying cosmic adventure and intimate family drama in a manner that brings real emotional heft.
4. THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS
I was late to the party jumping onboard this book. For whatever reason I wasn’t immediately grabbed by it, and it was in fact meeting colorist Mike Garland at Heroes Con and finding him to be a very nice man that prompted me to finally give it a try. And I’m so, so glad I did. It’s richly, skillfully coloured, for one, Garland’s aesthetic an ideal compliment to the detailed, textured visuals of Tomm Coker. And the story is another magnificent display of world-building from Jonathan Hickman, one of comics’ true masters of the discipline. The premise of the occult underbelly of the world of global finance has allowed Hickman to weave a rich tapestry of international banking factions and shifting allegiances, and each issue is a dense, meaty read that feels like a substantial experience on its own while also feeding into the tantalising larger mysteries unfolding. Don’t make the mistake I did by sleeping on this book.
3. 4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK
Writer Matt Rosenberg, artist Tyler Boss and letterer Thomas Mauer have crafted something truly special with 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank. Every page is rich with visual and structural innovation in a manner that you get the feeling this book will be getting talked about for its techniques years from now. It pushes the envelope in comics craft, but is more than just an exercise in technique. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank has character at its core, and it wouldn’t be the runaway success it is if it wasn’t for the fact that we like and care so deeply about the 4 eponymous children at the heart of the story. Each one feels like a kid you might have known at school, or maybe even a kid you were. Plus, this also manages to be one of the funniest comics I’ve read in ages, thanks to a rich selection of whip-smart lines and dynamite sight gags.
2. MISTER MIRACLE
The all-star pairing of Tom King and Mitch Gerads, along with letterer Clayton Cowles, produced last year’s #1 entry on my year-end list, Sheriff of Babylon. And they very nearly repeated the trick with this follow-up, the more high profile assignment of getting to tell a new epic based on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga to mark the King’s 100th Birthday, starring one of his favourite creations, Mister Miracle. But this is a dark riff on Kirby, drawing on the nightmarish, oppressive dread the Evil Gods seep into the comics page as previously explored by Grant Morrison in the likes of Final Crisis, but injecting it with a melancholy human flavour which is very on-brand for this creative team. Mister Miracle is many things. It’s a human drama about the feelings of inescapable despair we can feel in a world that seems broken and wrong, deeply relevant for our times. It’s a character study of Scott Free, digging into the dark corners of his identity and making the subtextual implications into text, carrying them to their full, grim conclusions. It’s a horror story, a Lynchian nightmare of an unseen evil spreading its malign influence over every interaction we see unfold. It’s a mystery, a puzzle box where we can’t trust anyone and can’t be sure of what’s real and what’s imagined. And it’s a love story, about how even when all else is lost or uncertain, Mister Miracle will always have Big Barda. Have I mentioned before that I love Big Barda? As Mister Miracle approaches its second half, going into 2018, there is still much about the series that remains unknown, with many narrative cards still being played close to the chest. But it says it all about the quality of the book that, even when unsure of where it’s going, I want to follow it through to the end no matter what. Can this team just keep on making these 12-issue maxiseries’ forever, please?
Tom King tops the list two-years in a row, this time further cementing his dominance by taking the top two spots on the list! I think I made the remark a few years ago, when talking about Grant Morrison’s run, I believe, that since Batman is the biggest comic in the American market, it’s nice when it can also be called the best. And I feel I can say that in 2017. I very nearly gave the top spot to Mister Miracle, but when thinking back on the year in comics, there is no title I enjoyed more consistently than Tom King’s run on Batman. Let’s take a look back through Batman in 2017, shall we? The year began with two-part palette cleanser “Rooftops,” a quiet exploration of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, featuring pensive artwork from Stephanie Hans, that set the course for the year ahead by shifting the dynamic between Batman and Catwoman and allowing them to be together. Then came gripping 5-part storyline “I Am Bane,” with a vengeful Bane coming to Gotham and tearing through Batman’s friends and foes alike in search of what Batman had stolen from him. This was perhaps Bane’s best story since Knightfall, certainly the most formidable and dangerous he’s been since then, and also boasted some of David Finch’s finest work in years. That was followed by a crossover with The Flash in “The Button,” a significant piece in the larger DC Universe puzzle setting the stage for the currently-unfolding Doomsday Clock, but also a chance for King and artist Jason Fabok to stage a thrilling mismatch showdown between Batman and Professor Zoom. This was followed by one of my favourite single issues of the year, one I’ve already gushed about in my newsletter: “The Brave and the Mold.” Regular King collaborator Mitch Gerads stepped in for this oneshot that saw Batman team up with my other fave, Swamp Thing. After that, David Finch was back in “Every Epilogue is a Prelude,” which made headlines by featuring the pivotal moment where Batman proposes to Catwoman. All this alone would be a year’s worth of developments in most titles, but Batman truly made the most of that double-shipping schedule, and so this was just the point where things started to get REALLY good! What followed was “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” an 8-part saga which reads like this run’s best attempt yet to provide an evergreen bookstore market seller, featuring a largely self contained story and a rich selection of Batman’s iconic villains. Mikel Janin here ascended to comics superstar status with some truly stunning work, while Clay Mann’s fill-in issues helped to build up longstanding joke villain Kite-Man into one of the most poignant, tragically human characters in the DCU. Most would struggle to follow this arc, but King was right into the swing of things with “The Rules of Engagement,” a two-parter which made me a fan of Joelle Jones, doing beautiful art along with colorist Jordie Bellaire. We then also got Batman Annual #2, which, far from containing light, throwaway fare you might expect in an annual, saw King and Lee Weeks tell a beautiful, heartbreaking love story chronicling the past, present and (possible) future of Batman and Catwoman. By this point, my mind was already pretty much settled that this book would take the #1 spot, but then Tom King and a returning Clay Mann (front and centre rather than on fill-in duties, this time) put an exclamation point on the year with the brilliant “Superfriends” two-parter. The first part features some of the most beautiful sentiments on the Batman/Superman friendship I’ve ever seen, with each explaining to their respective significant other how the other one is a far better hero and human being than they could ever be. Then the second part, a largely conflict-free extended double date between Clark & Lois and Bruce & Selina, became another candidate for my favourite single issue of the year. Seeing it all laid out like that, I don’t know how anyone could NOT choose Batman as the best comic of 2017!
Since I began doing this list, I’ve kept a tally of each year-end winner, and here’s the current list:
- 2010: Scalped
- 2011: Scalped
- 2012: The Underwater Welder
- 2013: The Manhattan Projects
- 2014: Southern Bastards
- 2015: Southern Bastards
- 2016: The Sheriff of Babylon
- 2017: Batman
And that’s us wrapped for another year. I already have a bunch of 2018 comics launches I’m excited about, along with a few late startups from this year I’m eager to see hit their stride. How will the lineup look next December? Will there be some surprises? I guess we’ll see!