If you’ve been a reader of ours for any length of time, you’ll be aware that for one reason and another, we haven’t had an incredibly busy year in terms of writing about comics. But we’ve still been reading them, and so with the end of the year upon us, it seems a good time to check in and let you know what we’ve enjoyed in 2015, in case you’ve missed any of it yourself. Look, it’s an end-of-year post: you know how these things work.
Rather than doing a ranked countdown based on any kind of consensus, we’ve instead individually written about which books stood out for us this year. As ever, our tastes and consumption habits can vary hugely (although there is some crossover); and of course, we’re aware that we don’t necessarily cover the full spectrum of everything that was published across the industry in 2015. Nevertheless, if we’ve mentioned it below, then as far as this site’s concerned, it was a highlight of our year – and is well worth checking out if you haven’t already.
There must be something telling about the fact that my two favourite comics this year were similarly-themed books by Marvel that are actually going to cross over in 2016. Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones’ Howard the Duck was hilarious throughout its initial five-issue run, and has actually managed to start its second one arguably even stronger, with issue #2 of the current volume a striking and touching done-in-one about female clones of Howard and Rocket Raccoon. But as great as Howard has been, it’s beaten to the top spot for me by The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Ryan North and Erica Henderson), which has been just as relentlessly funny but with an endearing and completely un-cynical charm about it as well. Other writers would have to work for years to be as funny as its page-by-page footnotes, never mind the rest of it.
It’s not been an especially stellar year for DC, despite the promise of the “Divergence” relaunch (although it would help if the company themselves had had any confidence in it rather than basically giving up on it almost immediately). I enjoyed early issues of Black Canary and Prez but haven’t got around to going back to them, and I even dropped behind a bit on Batgirl. One of best of the new launches for me was Starfire – Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner writing some terrific and hugely likeable fish-out-of-water comedy, with beautiful art by Emanuela Lupacchino. I really hope this team find their way onto a new Supergirl book before too long.
Prior to Divergence, DC got a bit lost in the Convergence crossover event, which paired a pretty terrible main series with some mildly diverting sojourns back to previous continuity. Of those two-issue minis, I think the standouts were probably Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner’s The Question, and Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks on the 1990s Superman. A word, too, for the final few issues of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity (particularly Ultra Comics with Doug Mahnke) and the excellent “Endgame” arc of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman.
Oh, and of course, there was All-Star Section Eight by the Hitman team of Garth Ennis and John McCrea; which was (aside from the ill-judged Wonder Woman issue) predictably excellent, and in typical Ennis/McCrea fashion surprisingly touching at the end.
Some of the Image stalwarts were on good, rather than great form this year – it hasn’t been Saga‘s strongest arc but it’s still Saga, and Sex Criminals had some great individual issues but struggled a bit for momentum due to scheduling issues. I enjoyed Chew‘s climactic arc a lot, though, and Velvet continues to be strong. But as far as Image goes, it really was something of a Gillen-McKelvie year – The Wicked + The Divine building on its first year with a stunning and shocking conclusion to its second arc, and then the experimental third arc with guest artists. The highlight was #13, the devastating and hugely timely Tara issue, drawn by Tula Lotay – but the boundary-pushing of #14 (made up entirely of reworked art from previous issues) also further confirms them as the foremost storytelling team working in comics right now.
And finally, I have to give a word to Double D, the debut Image OGN by Eddie Argos and Steven Horry. While the fact that it’s their first major comics work clearly shows in places, it’s a tremendously entertaining (and very British) yarn, and we’ll surely be seeing a lot of Horry’s work in future.
If there’s any comic-creator better positioned to write a Howard the Duck comic than Chip Zdarsky, I don’t think anyone wants to know about it. Launching (twice) this year, Howard – like Silver Surfer and Hawkeye before it – has been evidence of Marvel’s commitment to allowing creators as free a rein as they need to produce the best comics they can. It could come from no other pen. Admittedly, if your sense of humour doesn’t click with his then you’ll probably hate it, but I don’t have that problem. It’s hilarious on a panel-to-panel basis but sticks the plot landings when it needs to – and the most recent issue (at time of writing) proves it can even be sincere if need be. Between Zdarsky’s writing and the fantastic art of Joe Quinones (which brings surprising amounts of subtlety to a cartoon duck) it’s easily the first use of Howard that remotely justifies the character existing outside Gerber’s own work. Better still, if you love the Marvel Universe, this is one of the few places you can feel it weighing on every story. Because let’s face it – if you’re turning up for a Howard the Duck comic, you’re probably a hardcore fan by default.
Featuring returning writers and artists from the cartoon series in addition to Vasquez, it’s fair to say that the Invader Zim comic is pretty successful at matching the tone and content cartoon itself, which is obviously a good thing. By necessity the show’s distinctive voice work and soundscape are sacrificed, but in their place we get funnier, more polished visuals and a purer creative vision, unfettered by budgetary restrictions. I’m not sure I’d recommend the comic to people who didn’t watch Zim at the time – but for those of us that did, it’s as close to a second coming as we could hope for.