On Monday I began my list of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2016! And now, onward to my TOP FIVE!
5. Lazarus (by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark) — In the future, the planet has regressed into an almost feudal system, with several warring families controlling the planet. The young woman named Forever is the “Lazarus” of the Carlye family, her family’s ultimate warrior/protector. Lazarus is an incredible example of world-building, as Mr. Rucka and Mr. Lark have put enormous effort into fleshing out every detail of this world they have created. With each and every issue, more fascinating pieces of this world come to light, an enormously entertaining journey of discovery for the audience. And yet Lazarus works as well as it does not just because of the depth of this world that has been created, but because of the array of wonderful characters who inhabit that world. I love Lazarus for the politics and combat, but I also love it for the coming-of-age story of Forever herself, and for the exploration of the many flawed characters who also populate the book. I read each issue of Lazarus with my stomach clenched, hoping for the best for the characters I have grown to love, but fearing the worst. As for Mr. Lark’s art, I don’t think I have enough compliments with which to praise his work. He is as skilled at capturing individual characters and their subtle facial expressions as he seems to be at drawing any location, any vehicle, anything at all. Amazing, inspiring work on every page. This year the story grew even richer and more complex, as the cold-war between the families erupted into open combat, and Forever was challenged more than she had ever been. I was also blown away by the twist that the audience had deeply misunderstood scenes from previous issues that we’d interpreted as flashbacks to Forever’s youth. Wow. I love this book.
4. Velvet (by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting) – What if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal? That’s the brilliant hook of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting’s phenomenal spy yarn Velvet. The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies. When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted. Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller and a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures. Mr. Brubaker’s twisty story constantly has me guessing, trying to put the pieces together (just like Velvet herself is doing). Mr. Epting’s art, meanwhile, is jaw-droppingly astounding, filled with incredible period detail. I don’t know how he does it. I love this book and, as I write every year, I desperately need it to come out more frequently. I believe we only got three issues this year.
3. Kill or Be Killed (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) – Dylan is a normal young man who gets sick and sees the devil in his dreams; the devil tells him that he will die unless he kills one person every month. Is this series a fantasy story, or is this a depiction of one person’s descent into dementia and murder? I’m not sure! The story works perfectly either way. It’s an intimate character study and a stomach-clenching look at how one apparently regular person can become a murder. Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips have become one of comic’s most unbeatable teams. I’ve been following their incredible collaborations ever since Image Comics’ Sleeper. Kill or Be Killed is another triumph, a dark, edge-of-your-seat page-turner.
2. Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) – This wild and crazy, funny and deeply moving sci-fi fantasy adventure continues to surprise and delight me at every turn. Mr. Vaughan is a Joss Whedon-level master at creating characters that we fall in love with, and then putting them (and therefore the audience!) through torturous hell. (Can you believe Mr. Vaughan killed off you-know-who this year???) There’s no other comic book out there that is anything like Saga, with its roller-coaster-ride style of storytelling, merging an overwhelming amount of stunningly original ideas and concepts with rich character arcs. Saga is funny and weird and terrifying and heartbreaking. Fiona Staple’s gorgeous artwork never disappoints, and is evidence, panel-after-panel and page-after-page, that she is now one of the very best illustrators working in this business. This Saga only gets richer and more emotionally wrenching with every issue. I adore it. (And the back-of-the-book letters page is the best in comics today.)
1. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe: Hellboy in Hell, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Abe Sapien, Hellboy & the B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, Witchfinder, etc. (by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Chris Roberson, Scott Allie, Laurence Campbell, Sebastian and Max Fiumara, Ben Stenbeck, Tonci Zonjic, Patric Reynolds, and many others) — Once again this year, no series has given me more joy than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy saga. Last year I re-read the entire Hellboy saga from the beginning (starting all the way back with Seed of Destruction from twenty years ago), and I’ve been writing about it here on the site. This re-read project has only increased my enormous love and admiration for what Mr. Mignola and his ever-growing team of collaborators has created. (Click here for the wrap-up of my Hellboy re-reading project.) What began as a series of mini-series about a big red paranormal investigator who likes to punch things has expanded into a huge saga encompassing an array of wonderful characters. Mr. Mignola now oversees multiple titles following multiple different characters and set in multiple different years, and yet they all have consistent quality and they all fit together into a larger, expanding saga. It’s quite extraordinary, and I can’t think of a single other shared universe, in any media, that shares such a singular vision. This year saw the wrap-up of what had been, for a while now, the three main Hellboy universe series: Hellboy in Hell, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, and Abe Sapien. For the first time in a long while, I have no idea where the Hellboy saga is going to go from here. It’s an exciting feeling. The end of 2016 saw several amazing new mini-series that explored different corners of the HB universe’s past: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1954, Witchfinder: City of the Dead, and Rise of the Black Flame. It’s clear that there are many more avenues for new stories, exploring this universe’s past and its future. The incredible inter-connectedness between all of these stories, the way Mr. Mignola and his collaborators will often wait years before making a connection or expanding on a detail or a small piece of back-story, is extraordinary. Each of these mini-series or story-lines stand alone, but together they fit into a hugely entertaining tapestry. It is incredible. This is the best comic book universe out there today, and whenever a new Hellboy universe comic comes out (usually multiple times a month, thanks to all the various series!) it goes right to the top of my to-read list. I can’t wait to see where Mr. Mignola and his extraordinary team of collaborators takes us in 2017.
Thank you all so much — I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Best of 2016 lists! Lots of exciting stuff coming up here at MotionPicturesComics.com in the coming weeks, in particular a TON of reviews of 2016 films that I caught up with in December while preparing my end of the year lists. Thank you all for reading!!