Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016 - Top 10 Ongoing Comics

My comics taste still runs pretty mainstream. Never claimed to be an iconoclast or a capital-A Art comics fan in general. My comics love was heavily formed in the years of 1984-1992, for the most part. My character selection has grown more diverse, but a lot of the talent behind the books I love remains dudes, and often white dudes at that. The industry still has a long way to go toward diversity, or maybe my tastes do, honestly probably a bit of both. At any rate, these lists are my favorites, based on a reading of over 500 single issues for the year, and access to more than that.

Last year, Image had 6 of my top 10, and Marvel had the other 4. This year, Marvel overtook Image, holding 8 of the top sots, with Image claiming only 2. Big year for superheroes, as all 8 of the Marvel series are in that genre, while Image hangs on with two science-fiction books.

Last year, none of the series in my top 10 published 12 issues. This year, eleven or twelve issues was the standard at Marvel, but Amazing Spider-Man published 17 (!), All-New All-Different Avengers hit 13, Saga managed 8 and Descender hit 11. Not bad.

1. Ms. Marvel #3-14 (Last year: #1 on my Best Ongoing Series)
My favorite book three years running with no sign of slowing down. The year opened with a story of Ms. Marvel dealing with cultural assimilation as a trendy new corporation tried to rebuild Jersey City and use her image to do it. They did a fun weird science story involving cloned Kamalas. Dealt with Kamala's upcoming role as the young central figure of the soon-to-be Champions. Then it was Civil War II, where G. Willow Wilson did a great job threading the needle of Kamala's hero worship of Captain Marvel and her own moral compass in a believable way that honored both characters, followed by a memorable one-shot with Kamala returning to Pakistan and another memorable (for kinda the wrong reasons) optimistic one-shot about voting that had the unfortunate timing of coming out right after Trump got elected when we all thought we were getting Hillary. Overall, a great year and the artwork, whether it was by regulars Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona or newcomers like Mirka Adolpha or Nico Leon, is always fantastic.

2. Captain America Sam Wilson #5-16 (Last Year: #7 on My Best New Series)
After wrapping up the introduction of the new Falcon and the Serpent Society, Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna turned their attention to the paranoid thriller conspiracy Standoff (which I largely liked, and loved all the Sam Wilson issues), addressed Black Lives Matter by way of Gruenwald creation The Americops and Fabian Nicieza creation Rage, made fantastic use of U.S. Agent, and even gave us a solid one-off wrestling issue with D-Man and Battlestar. Combining politics, humor, action and an absolute love for the Gruenwald Cap that might even surpass my own, this book was consistently at the top of my favorites every week it came out.

3. Spider-Woman #3-14 (Last year: #2 on my Best Ongoing Series)
I'll be honest, no small part of my love for this book comes from Javier Rodriguez artwork, but no small part of my joy came from Dennis Hopeless nailing the balance of superheroics and personal drama of single motherhood for Jessica Drew. Reminded me of how Dan Slott balanced legal drama with outrageous superheroics in his She-Hulk run. Kudos especially for the reinvention of Roger a.k.a. Porcupine as Jess's loyal guy Friday and Ben Urich as her reluctant older ally. As with Ms. Marvel, the close relationship between the lead character and Carol Danvers meant fireworks during Civil War II.  The end of the year saw Veronica Fish replacing Javier Rodriguez, but while I'm sad to see him go, this is my favorite work from Fish thus far, and I remain optimistic this will be in my top 10 next year, as long as it survives the dreaded axe of cancellation. This is definitely one of those "best books not enough people are reading."

4. Amazing Spider-Man #6-22 (Last year: #7 on my Best Ongoing Series)
We're in year eight of Dan Slott's work on Spider-Man, and he continues to take ideas that sound terrible on the face of it and make them compelling, instant classic reading. He's teamed with Christos Gage, one of my favorite writers in comics ever since his Deadshot mini, and the two of them have been doing great Spider-Man. This year, they continued the trend of Peter Parker as a worldwide entrepreneur who sometimes farmed out Spidey work to the Prowler, teamed up with my favorite superspy Mockingbird and took on the Zodiac with the help of SHIELD. Aging Peter up and making him something of a Tony Stark figure shouldn't work, but it does, and I'm surprised to find it feels like the '80s Spidey I grew up with, or at least a perfect evolution of same. Then they brought back Mr. Negative, a less-than-inspired addition to Spidey's villains, made him interesting (bonus points for using Cloak & Dagger really well), and did a pitch-perfect Iron Man team-up that also played into the potential dangers we saw in the Secret Wars Spider-Man Renew Your Vows series last year.

Not content to simply touch on the Spidey/MJ relationship and then *not* give fans the reunion they wanted, Slott and Gage just put their tongues right on the third rail of Spider-Man stories and gave us a new take on the clone saga, which up to this point has been compelling reading with a fascinating take on the Jackal (another Spidey villain I didn't think I liked). All of this with fantastic art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and others.

5. All-New Wolverine #4-15 (Last Year: Too new to judge)
Tom Taylor first caught my eye with his work on the Injustice series at DC, and he brought his gift for dialogue and humor even among dark subject matter and fantastic action with him. The artists were a varied bunch: David Lopez, Marcio Takara, Ig Guara and Nik Virella, but I thought each and every one of them did a fantastic job with the action and humor of this book, and it's no small task for the others to live up to Lopez, an artist whose work I've admired since Fallen Angel. Taylor doesn't shy away from Laura's dark past without making the book overwhelmingly grim or exploitative, and his superheroes-meets-espionage tone and plot was on point this year. Mix in a fun crossover with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl that gave us a pet Wolverine and Gabby, who hits the same notes that Molly did in Runaways, and you've got a book that is firing on all cylinders on a monthly basis.

6. Descender #9-17 (Last Year: #3 on my Best New Series)
Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's sci-fi epic continued this year in fine form, wrapping up a visit to the Robot Resistance homeworld before jumping into a series of issues that illuminated the backstories of the characters, deepening characters I had already fallen in love with. The new story, recently begun, and aiming to bring together the disparate characters again, is also promising.

7. Saga #33-40 (Last year: #3 on my Best Ongoing Series)
Slipping another few spots, not because I don't still enjoy it but because it's become more familiar, and at the same time I've realized that I really enjoy it more in the larger trade paperback sized chunks. That said, it's still #8 on my top series, and tossing our cast into a warzone provides an interesting look at Marko and Hazel after they've spent a considerable amount of time in peacetime.

8. Doctor Strange #4-15 (Last Year: Too new to judge)
Kicking off the year with art by legendary artist Kevin Nowlan (who'd return for another issue later in the year) was a good start, and Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo quickly rose to the top of my all-time Doctor Strange teams. The battle with Empirikul, the anti-magic technological force, presented a lot of interesting ideas about the cost of magic, was weird and Ditko-esque while also being modern and gritty, and though I'd worried about the notion of de-powering Doctor Strange, so far it's made for really interesting reading, as Aaron returns a parade of his classic villains (Mordo, Dormammu) along with some weirder ones (Satanna and The Orb?) and Bachalo continues to do career-best level work.

9. Daredevil #3-14 (Last Year: #9 on my Best Ongoing Series - different version)
After Waid and Samnee gave us such a perfect Daredevil run, I didn't expect to love the follow-up just as much. But Charles Soule brings a different, grittier tone to Daredevil that I really like, and little twists like moving him back to New York as a prosecutor or introducing a new sidekick, a Chinese-American kid with an invisibility suit, really make it stand out from what went before. I'm a little sad that none of Waid's re-invention stuck, and a little annoyed that we've gotten to issue #14 with no actual explanation of how or why Matt put his identity back in the box, but when we're getting a perfect Elektra/Hand 2-parter, or a Spider-Man/Daredevil team-up, or a creepy new villain in the closing story of the year, it's hard to focus too much on that. Especially when the art, featuring a stunning noir color palate from Matt Milla, is continually top-notch, whether it's veteran Ron Garney working in a new style or newcomer Matteo Buffagni.

10. All-New All-Different Avengers #3-16 (Last Year: Too new to judge)
I have to admit, a lot of my love for this series has been transferred to Champions, and it feels almost like this was a booster rocket to launch that book. But... everything I love there started here, notably the friendships/rivalries between Nova, Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar also introduced the new Wasp, who I like a lot, and did a star-faring story that I quite enjoyed.

Of the series in my Top 10, five of them (Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Amazing Spider-Man, and Saga) were also in 2015's Best Ongoing Series, and two of them (Sam Wilson and Descender) were in my Best New Series of 2015. The other three (All-New All-Different Avengers, Doctor Strange, and All New Wolverine) were in my "too new to judge" section.

Also in the running: All-New Hawkeye #3-5, Astonishing Ant-Man #4-13, Astro City #31-40, Beauty #6-11, Birthright #13-20, Chew #55-60, Darth Vader #15-25, Huck #3-6, Klaus #4-7, Lazarus #22-25, Paper Girls #4-11, Silk #3-14, Star Wars #14-25, The Fade Out #12 and Velvet #13-15. In several cases, they didn't make the cut not due to quality but due to the small number of issues produced for the year, relative to what's on the list, and in a couple others, it's because they read better in collections for me. My top 10 are books that I love to read in single issues and then reread in collected format.

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