Top 5 Comics of 2016

Top 5 Comics of 2016

The Pick Of The Four Colour Titles For The Year

Tripwire welcomes new Contributing Writer Olly MacNamee whose first contribution here is to pick his Top 5 comics of the year…

As my first contribution to tripwire magazine, Joel was kind enough to allow me to publish my ‘Top 5’ comic books of 2016 and what a year it’s been. Rebirths, re-launches and re-brandings and everything in between. I’ve barely been able to keep up if I’m honest, especially with DC going fortnightly on many of their titles. I take a look at 5 of my favourite titles of 2016 (and 5 more honourable mention too)  and apologise in advance for any titles missed off which you yourselves would have included. But then, I can only recommend what I go out and buy each and every week (and what I can physically read, which immediately means many, many worthy titles won’t be showing up) and, in keeping it to just 5, there will be even more very obvious tiles missing (e.g. I Hate FairyLand, to name but one). Other titles, such as the whacky and wonderful Doom Patrol, while great, simply haven’t been around long enough. I’ve kept it to titles launched this year, or in the case of one inclusion, a title that has come to an end in 2016.

 

  1. Black Monday Murders (Image)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Tomm Coker

 

Forget your Illuminati conspiracies and your Cold Wars as Hickman and Coker serve up a murder mystery that spans the decades and reveals the hidden banking elite who control our finances and our world from the shadows. Everyone I have spoken to has hailed this title as one of their favourites of 2016, and I have to agree.

Spanning back to the Great Depression, the followers of Mammon, who also happen to be the banking elites of this world – the 1%ers we all despise because of the power they wield –  have always been with us and, through machinations and manipulation, have a firm grip on this world while, behind closed boardroom doors, occultism and human sacrifice are the order of the day. If we didn’t already know that bankers were the real evil behind 2008’s god-awful recession, then the inclusion of the supernatural in this 4 issue series, only goes to amplify this belief.

While Hickman’s writing can be hard to penetrate at first – flitting between indifferent eras of American financial crises s it does, keeping the reader’s head suitably spinning – Coker’s photorealistic artwork brings a cinéma vérité style to proceedings that really helps elevate this murder mystery and add believability to proceedings. And, with each issue packed to the rafters with additional snippets form newspapers, official case files and the like, we are encouraged to put the pieces of the puzzle together for ourselves as we go along for the ride. Hickman can never be accused of treating his audiences like dunces and

A great first chapter to what promises to be an epic tale of greed, wealth, manipulation and murder and a desperate attempt by our gumshoe de jour, Detective Theodore Dumas, to reveal the Machiavellian cabal to the world. But then, as one character puts it in issue 4: ‘Even when the ground shakes and blood runs in the street, they choose not to believe.’ Who would believe that the financial movers and shakers controlling the world’s economy could ever possibly be so inhuman that they would ever practice human sacrifice – even within their own families – to maintain their greedy grip on this world, right? And, after the events and a certain funeral, at the end of issue 4, the best and the baddest is yet to come it would seem. Roll on 2017 and volume 2.

 

  1. Klaus (BOOM! Studios)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Dan Mora

 

Klaus is a somewhat simple tale, a fairy-tale if you like, in its setting, its cast of characters and archetypes and in its telling, this is a very different story than one may be used to from the mind of Morrison. Klaus with a very different depiction of the man, the myth, that would one day become Santa Claus. It’s a fun, heart-warming comic, and beautifully illustrated by Dan Mora – one of the best of many new artists breaking through this year – as we are presented with a rough and ready Klaus; a hunter, and outsider and man with a big heart. He lives in the winter wonderland of a Medieval styled world of Grimsvig; almost Scandinavian in design, with appropriate elements of gingerbread houses peaking through the icing-sugared snow. A story for the ages and treated as such.

 

As the story unfolds over seven issues, we come to see the traditional tropes of our modern day Santa, and Christmas as it is fashioned in the modern world, coming through. The presents, the Christmas tree, and an arch-enemy for Klaus that, once revealed, is an obvious fit when all is said and done.

 

Morrison may have billed this as his ‘All-Star Santa’, but it’s more than that. A hero’s quest that Joesph Campbell would be proud of, and a quest for identity and his place in this world. And, just as all hero’s are changed profoundly by their experiences, so too is Klaus. And, as such, the story has a bitter-sweet ending to it which I will let you find out for yourselves, given the whole seven issue run has recently been collected in a trade paperback. It truly is a magical story and worthy of its place on this list.

 

Never a true Morrison fan (I’ve never seen his massive appeal, really), this has to therefore be one of my favourite Morrison ventures (after his All-Star Superman run of course, which was quite simply divine, and one he will find hard to top, I think) and it was with some excitement that I found Morrison and Mora had also produced a one-shot just for this Holiday season: Klaus and The Winter Witch, out now.

 

Great stuff. The stuff of legends, in fact.

 

  1. Darth Vader (Marvel)

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Salvador Larocca

 

25 issues! That’s one Hell of a mini-series and appropriately so for such as leading figure as Darth Vader is, his shadow looming large over the whole Star Wars mythos. And, in the capable hands of Kieron Gillen, we are given a man of power, wielding the dark side of the Force for all its worth and revealing his true strength. A strength only ever hinted at in the original trilogy, but returned to once more with great success in Rogue One.

We are also given a deeper, darker look at Palpatine’s Empire and how it thrives on Machiavellian men and women only too happy to stab one another in the back to climb the slippery slope of success. Enemies of Vader come and go throughout this epic series but there are constants too that have made this series such as success. Gillen clearly realised early on that one man alone could not a series hold, so the inclusions of Doctor Aphra (think IndianaJones in space with a low moral compass at best) and the anti-CP30 and R2-D2 dopplegängers from a mirror universe, Triple-Zero and Beetee, make for a sinisterly satisfying supporting cast of characters that help carry the story and add to the twists and turns.

In a nutshell, Vader has something to prove to his master, now that the grand plan, the Death Sir, lies in ruins, and to show his mettle, he must take on all comers and, at one point (during the Vader Down series) a whole armada of spaceships ready to put the nail into his coffin. And, in that moment, we see a Vader that is a force to be reckoned with. A Vader that the galaxy should fear. A Vader that Palaptine should not make an enemy of, if you ask me. But then, we all know how that power relationship worked out ultimately.

Of course, Larocca’s realistic artwork only supports the strong scripting of Gillen and in his hands this comic – as with the main Star Wars title – feels like a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. Larocca adds depth to a silent Vader in each and every panel, while staying true to the mise-en-scene of the Star Wars universe. I’m sad to see the demise of this series, but it is with the realisation that with Vader, less is more, and Gillen and Larocca clearly planned to end on a high, while adding more layers to a character who, really, is more complicated than the original trilogy ever gives him credit for. This series has allowed Gillen, and the readership, to explore a fan favourite character and delve deeper into his psychosis. A most satisfying series.

 

  1. Superman (DC Comics)

Writer: Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Artist: Patrick Gleason & various

 

Think about this one for a moment. Take a step back and look at this title with objectivity and you may see what I see in this brave new direction of an overly familiar character. Here is a Superman we all thought lost, a Superman many of us grew up with. The post-Byrne Superman of the 90’s is back again, minus the Clark Kent identity but with the addition of a super son. Meanwhile, the NewDC Superman is dead and buried as is this world’s Lois Lane, bumped off, to many readers’ surprise, in issue 1 of Superwoman, surely one of the best kept secrets ahead of publication date this year, and worth a mention because of it.

Here is a Superman more at one with his roots as a product of a Middle American rural community where morals and ethics are as wholesome as the wheat growing in the fields. A Superman who has to prove his standing in this world to an unbelieving superhero community. Well, Batman at least, but then he’s always been a tough cookie to crumble.

And, in just a few months, we have a fully accepted Superman with links to the shadowing world of Watchmen that were so early introduced in DC’s Rebirth one-shot.

This Superman comic, for me, represents everything good about DC’s Rebirth titles, hence it’s inclusion in this list. He represents the further embracing of DC’s legacy; it’s past glories and past stories as well as it’s future. Who says we can’t have a married Superman? It worked in the past and it will continue to work. Not everyone has to be made younger (and it always disturbed me that their New DC Superman felt as though he was more in his mid-twenties, rather than his mid-thirties as I had always felt he was regardless of which ear he hailed from) and it was always Supes’s beliefs and values that were at his very core, not his relationship status. Superman is everything good in all of us. Something that seems to be lacking in these end of days.

Of course, Gleason’s solid, amazing artwork, along with stand-in artists such as Jorge Jimenez (another breakthrough artist of the year, for me), helps elevate this comic to the top of my ‘must read’ list every fortnight. It has a certain sense of wonderment to it, as Clark, Lois and little Jon, find their way and their purpose in the world. A Silver Age Superman for this Rusting Age we find ourselves living in.

At their best, superheroes represent everything good in humanity and society. During WWII their popularity grew because America needed heroes. I have no doubt in my mind, after 9/11, that’s one of the reasons we have seen the rise in superheroes once again. Something tells me that America and the world will need this grounded, mature, level-headed Superman over the next few years. DC’s biggest, baddest crises always have Superman’s hand behind their biggest victories. Will this Superman be up to the challenges posed by Mr Oz? 2017 may begin to reveal the answer to this slow-burn story.

 

  1. Wonder Woman (DC Comics)

Writer: Greg Rucka

Artists: Liam Sharp, Nicola Scott

 

The second DC title on my list and one of DC’s best Rebirth titles by a country mile. Rucka, a much loved Wonder Woman scribe of years past, is back on the title and while in recent weeks Nicola Scott has been getting all the love in speaking out against Princess Diana’s short-lived role as UN Honorary Ambassador, Liam Sharp’s detailed and suitably dark and dank artwork should be equally spotlighted as some of his best work. And, when the dust settles on the recent controversy, I am sure many readers (and writers) will recognise this as one of the driving forces behind this book. It was Sharp’s work, let’s not forget, that was met with great applause by one and all when it was previewed earlier this year, and it was what brought me slavishly to this book. In his and Rucka’s hands, the tale they are weaving ever other issue, is one that reeks of a certain kind of horror we do not necessarily associate with a character such as Princess Diana, as Diana’s whole world view is shattered and what she thought to be real is far, far from that. Who is Wonder Woman will be a question that will continue to be explored next year, but where has Wonder Woman come from is, at least, being answered in the Nicola Scott illustrated issues that explore Wonder Woman’s origins and her first year in ‘Man’s World’, having saved a half-drowned Steve Trevor from…, Ah well, you know the story, right?

 

I hadn’t followed either artists’ work in recent years, to be honest, and what a revelation both were as inclusions in this relaunch. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman was steeped in myth, and told its own 52 issue epic, inclusive of a pantheon of gods who would be better suited to Shoreditch than Mount Olympus, but it worked. And, while the detractors are slowly emerging from the wood work, Azzarello’s run (along with artist, Cliff Chang, I should add) was a great take on this 75 year old character. In time, I’m sure it will be seen as the classic it is. Sharp’s hyper detailed work breathes life into this Wonder Woman, while Scott’s breezier, beautiful art is quite the right fit for the origin of Wonder Woman; all innocence and naivety with subdued, soft colours running throughout. Two stories in one title. What a great idea and one I suspect DC may well consider for other fortnightly titles. Who needs two Wonder Woman titles when you have one every two weeks anyway? A very clever way to publish this sore away success.

 

Rucka, Sharp and Scott’s work on this new take on Wonder Woman will also be seen as another highpoint, I am sure, in a history of false starts and poor representation in the past. Hell, it even gives me a Steve Trevor who I can believe in. I never liked him (jealousy, perhaps, or maybe his Aryan good looks?) but sporting a beard and with more character development than I have seen him have as a leading light in A.R.G.U.S., playing second fiddle to whichever superheroes he is babysitting this week, this is a guy I could happily see wind up with Diana, should she chose to be with him of course. And, as for Wonder Woman’s relationship with a certain Cheetah under the spotlight (in the past and the present), the current Wonder Woman crew are moulding a new look mythos around Wonder Woman that will be the bedrock from which to build.

 

Worthy mentions must also go to the following titles, which I was unable to keep up with, I’m afraid, but loved the issues I did manage to grab and read:

 

  1. The Flintstones (writer: Mark Russel, artist: Steve Pugh, DC Comics) – an updated and throughly enjoyable take on this prehistoric family with some prehistoric views to boot. Taking a satirical swipe at our modern world has never been more graphically enjoyable. This is not your parents’ Flintstones, that’s for sure. This title, along with Future Quest, Scooby-Do: Apocalypse, etc. were the surprising hit for DC that no-one saw coming. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Hannah-Barbara/DC cross-overs! Putting the ‘Fun’ back into ‘Funny Books’. Thanks guys.
  2. Green Arrow (writer: Benjamin Percy, artist: Otto Schmidt, DC Comics) – the return of a more socially responsible (don’t call him ‘socialist’!) Green Arrow, once more reunited with his songbird, Black Canary, and all choreographed through most of this initial 2016 relaunch by Otto Schmidt, who’s art is a real selling pint for me. I haven’t read GA since the Kevin Smith days, and I’m glad I picked it up again decades later.
  3. The Last Gang In Town (Writer: Simon Oliver Artist: Rufus Dayglo, Vertigo) – a rollicking good heist (comedic) caper set in both the past of a discontent, punk-rock London of the 1970s (well, the title itself is a reference to The Clash song of the same name) as well as the future and all presented by two Uk creators clearly steeped in UK comic book tradition, and it shows. It even has, quite literally, the best toilet-humour any comic could care to mention. Go seek it out in trade paperback, as I did. It was always sold out in my LCBS, which tells you something.
  4. Adventure Time Comics (various writers and artist, BOOM! Studios) – an anthology title and bastard brother to the main Adventure Time title, this is a treasure trove of short stories and wildly different takes on everyone’s’ favourite post-apocalyptic boy and his dog. A firm favourite of mine and my daughter in our household.
  5. Limbo (writer: Dan Watters, artist: Caspar Wijngaard, Image Comics) – first timers to Image comics, this was a great debut from these UK based creators; a murder mystery with a supernatural dimensions and plenty of retro-80’s sass and style to proceedings. One part Mickey Spillane, one part Videodrome and another part Angel Heart. A great mini-series.

Top 5 comics 2016 www.tripwiremagazine.co.uk

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