Good friend to AEISD, TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE‘s Joel Meadows, approached me to come up with my TOP FIVE COMICS OF 2015… Like I know what the hell I’m talking about, or something! Still, I’m always up for a recap of the best and brightest of the last twelve months and, seeing as I did a similar countdown on the last Talkin’ Comic-Con: A Cup O’ Tea… of the year, I said, “Sure, why the hell not? All I have to do is transcribe what I did on the hangout, right? Right?” Yeah, turned out to be a little more involved than that but still, the post on Tripwire is what came out of it – I present it to you here for your delectation…
Well, this is a challenge. It doesn’t help that I am in no way to be considered a professional arbiter of comics criticism – indeed, my primary online role is as an information resource for comics conventions and events, I have only started re-buying comics in the last twelve months and even then it is more as a investor, in an attempt to fund my future adventures in San Diego. (I know, I know: investing in comics. A mug’s game. What the hell am I thinking?!)
However, this has meant with my exposure to comics creators at cons becoming more frequent and my trips to my local comic book shop (OK Comics, in the bustling metropolis of Leeds in West Yorkshire) happening more and more regularly, I’ve been finding myself discovering books on a weekly basis. Hence, this list will be mostly made up of weekly release titles, rather than the usual graphic novels and collected trades that other critics may be seen listing in their yearly recap.
You may also notice a distinct lack of ‘off the beaten track’ books here. I’m trying my best to widen my reading palette and become more au fait with self-published and independent work; however, that’s not what I’ve been reading in the main and, as such, I can’t confidently suggest them here, it would be incredibly disingenuous to include them and would just be me, trying to appear more windswept and interesting than I actually am.
(That being said, I have seen some incredible work which I would recommend, such as TRUMPET and EGG from Wobbly Rock Books which has some of the most gorgeous, exquisite art I’ve seen in a sequential book in a while, and also ARCADIA from Boom! Studios, written by Alex Paknadel and featuring incredible art from Eric Scott Pfeifer, is also something that came very close to getting an inclusion here.)
This list first showed up as part of our ‘end of year’ episode of ‘Talkin’ Comic-Con: A Cup O’ Tea with An Englishman In San Diego‘ and features one change from that Top 5: I’ve removed SUPER-ZERO (Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, AfterShock Comics) from the list as, on reflection, it’s a bit misleading to recommend a book that is literally only a week or so old. Best to let this title mature and develop throughout 2016 first before including it on any countdowns. (Although, I suspect, it may still do, on the strength of that first issue. Incredible book!)
The landscape of weekly comics in 2015 has been dominated by the Big Two, as per usual, but both DC Comics and Marvel Comics have dropped the ball in determining how to evolve and develop their IPs – possibly because they operate in an environment where, well, they refer to their character lines as IPs, perhaps! Both of their summer events laid plans for the companies to consolidate and streamline all of their titles in (strikingly similar) world-building fashions but where one did it in a manner that was so derivative of it’s own previous attempts in years gone by (DC Comics, with the BATTLEWORLD event) and the other did it in such a manner that everything they published was folded into in to the event, leaving loyal readers to a title feeling they were being forced into an over-arching spectacle (Marvel Comics, with SECRET WARS), both left no space for an audience to believe there was anything being produced just for them.
At least SECRET WARS had some teeth to it, especially in its core title; however, even that book has become a tired engine of its own making, with release delays and added issues meaning that its release, supposed to dovetail into the All-New, All Different Marvel Universe, is still going on while the eventual aftermath of the series is now currently hitting shelves. What a mess – the American soap series Dynasty has nothing on this thing.
But there have been some bright points to the year. And so, to my Top Five Comics of 2015 – let’s do this:
When I interviewed Gillen at this years Lakes International Comic Art Festival, he said that he “…doesn’t hear James Earl Jones when I write Vader; I hear Darth Vader as his own character.” I understand and respect that but, let’s be honest: in much the same way that it’s always easier to relate to the characters in a tie-in when they look like the people that we know and love from the silver screen, you’re going to get a sense that you’re getting the real STAR WARS experience when you hear that rumbling Earl Jones baritone in your head when you see everyone’s favourite Dark Lord Of The Sith, cutting a sabre path through the panels. And I do hear him in Gillen’s dialogue in DARTH VADER, I absolutely do.
What Gillen does, in translating the relationship of Vader and The Emperor as seen at the end of Episode IV: A New Hope and what we know of the other two chapters of the Original Trilogy, this does such a remarkable job of taking the nuances we recognise from those films and connecting the dots in a totally believable manner. The run also introduces some new characters to the official Star Wars canon which I am desperately hoping survive the current VADER DOWN crossover event and pass over into the films – I’m not entirely sure how audiences would react to meeting super-psychotic Threepio/Artoo equivalents Triple Zero and Beetee but it would be fun to have those little bastards causing mayhem on the silver screen. While the current run is full of murky espionage and back-door intrigue, Larroca’s art is sharp and striking throughout the entire run and the book is incredibly lucky to have him, adding a firm and distinct grip to what could have been a rather messy proposition. Most of the Marvel STAR WARS books have been successes in their own way – DARTH VADER, however, towers head and shoulders over all of them. As well he should.
How did Maurgerite‘s Bennett and Sauvage get around all of the all-encompassing palaver of BATTLEWORLD? By ignoring it completely and going off to create their own little bubble in the DC pantheon – a book that translates the major female characters of the DC Universe into a Second World War setting and renders them into a very strong and powerful feminist manifesto in the process. This book could exist as a colossal ‘fuck you’ to the stance of people like Ike Perlmutter, as described in the leaked Sony Studios emails earlier this year, standing behind their outmoded and antiquated stance that female characters can’t and shouldn’t carry their own stories, that the general paying public will not come out and support such stories with cold hard cash.
Bollocks. DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS not only succeeds in appealing to readers of both genders but also serves as a shining example of that happens when you take strong characters – be they male or female – put them in a perfectly detailed and painstakingly created world, wind them up and let them go. Bennett’s ability to see through the looking glass and write a fully articulated, freshly populated world – something she has done to breathtaking effect on books such as ANGELA: QUEEN OF HEL and JAMES PATTERSON’S MAX RIDE – FIRST FLIGHT – is none more so evidenced here. The book is also glorious to look at, with a number of artists taking on individual characters or story lines, giving BOMBSHELLS a cracking anthology vibe. A book you don’t just feel happy to read in but also damn proud and honoured to pick up, too – ‘Because It’s 2015’ in comic form.
I love Gail Simone – she is one of the consistently funny and engaging people on social media and her writing on a number of books have understandably won her a legion of loyal fans – however, with her work on books such as DEADPOOL and SINISTER SIX, you always had the impression that she was acting the rebel while respecting the wishes of her paymasters: a throwback to her ignoble departure and subsequent rehiring on the BATGIRL series. There was always the air of a caged tiger, dying to cut loose and do some serious damage.
Here, with original creation CLEAN ROOM, that’s exactly what you’re getting: a creative force at the peak of her powers and flexing some muscle. Teamed with artist Jon Davis-Hunt, Simone tells a tense and tightly wound story of Lovecraftian stature and is delightfully Twilight Zone in its execution – you honestly don’t see any of the chills coming, this haunted house is a masterclass of shocks and scares. You are left firmly on the backfoot from the first, amazingly presented scene, shaken and unsettled from the off. And you can almost hear Simone, cackling off camera, revelling in the torture. Bring on the pain, baby.
The book that feels almost obligatory to include in a list such as this, WicDiv may have evolved from its indie kid / underdog roots on initial release into something a little more commercial and obligatory (The Kills morphing into Mumford & Sons, if you will) but the core band of Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson is still playing some stirring stuff, despite moving on to the Main Stage. The way that they have continued to keep the set list healthy and vibrant is by changing up the rhythm section in this, the current third arc – Commercial Suicide. Guest artists have presented our cast list of gods and acolytes in wonderfully varied ways during this arc – highlights include Tula Lotay‘s sumptuous telling of Tara’s tale in Issue #13 and Stephanie Hans‘ absolutely beautiful art on Amaterasu’s back story in Issue #15.
However, end of the day, we have to look at the bigger picture – and the framework of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE has moved from being a treatise on modern celebrity and deification into a full-blown murder mystery, buried behind political and interpersonal machinations of our protagonists: think HOUSE OF CARDS cast with gods, immature, ignorant, petulant and egotistical gods. The board has been set, the pieces are beginning to move and something tells me, by the time the next major stand-off is reached, there are going to be a lot less pieces on the board and blood in the water… An addictive read.
‘One of these things is not like the others’, right? Yes, DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS does have its lighter moments and you can definitely sense that Simone is having a giggle, creating her own work. But none of these books are what you could call balls-out fun… except this one: the simply incredible I HATE FAIRYLAND, creator-owned and entirely the brainchild of writer/artist Skottie Young, a man whose work you may find more familiar from all those Baby Variant Covers that seemingly come out every other week from Marvel, or his own comic take on Frank L. Baum’s Oz books for the same publisher.
Here, Young strikes out on his own (under the auspices of Image Comics) and takes the classic Alice / Dorothy / Sarah from Labyrinth tropes, turning them completely on their heads. In interviews, Young has said that he has found himself the artist which has painted himself into the corner of his own design: the go-to guy for Baby renditions of other characters, a man-child that, while forced to grow up as he matures into the role of new father and provider, still is surrounded by childish things. In I HATE FAIRYLAND, he projects exactly what that would mean for a young girl, Gert, magically transported to a world of colour and wonder and dreams. And left there for twenty-odd years, never aging and seemingly never going to get out. You know what? You’d go completely batshit. And, when the world is one of pure imagination and limitless creativity, you’d also turn just that little bit psychotic. Watch out, Cowardly Lion! That bitch has got an axe to grind!
This is the second book in this list where the name on the front of the book is also the creator, given license to cut loose and tell a tale the way THEY want to tell it, and you feel the unbridled joy Young is having with own creation. The feeling pouring into every page that he is free to do anything he goddamn feels like, it’s infectious. Like I say, this book is just so much fun and – until Jamie Smart gets off his friggin’ arse and translates CORPORATE SKULL into a weekly comic format – for now, I HATE FAIRYLAND will be the book that I will be found patiently waiting for the next issue with much eagerness and anticipation. Congrats, Skottie – it’s an amazing book!