Let’s face it: 2017 was a bowl of sloshing garbage water. Fortunately for those of us looking to escape, comics provided plenty of opportunities. Between some underappreciated gems from Marvel, nostalgic fun, quirky nonfiction, ongoing magic, and DC’s resurgence, we had a plethora of good comics to choose from over the course of the year.
Over the course of the year, we compiled our list of the best, most interesting, most entertaining comics for you. Check them out.
21. G.I. Joe (IDW Publishing)
Not every comic on this list needs to be a masterpiece, an exemplar of the genre that bends the interaction between reader and creator using strictly metered panel layouts and dialogue repetitions. Some comics are just stupid amounts of fun. When you give a wrestling guy who has internalized the concept that action movies are just musicals with the songs replaced by violence a toybox full of everything my generation used to play with when we were kids, you get a comic that’s ridiculous in all the best ways. A team of Joes, led by Scarlett, teams up with Skywarp from the Transformers to take down Cobra, who has been infiltrated by Dire Wraiths. This is not complicated, but it is lovely.
Aubrey Sitterson gets how to write these characters. I’m not the world’s biggest Joe fan, but I get their basic beats and the high concept of most of the characters, and I feel like Sitterson does too. The art, from Prophet vet Giannis Milonogiannis, is weird and jarring at first – you come to G.I. Joe looking for pictures of your old toys, and Milonogiannis’s art is really manga-heavy and sketchy. But after two or three pages, it doesn’t matter: the action is top rate. There is at least one scene an issue that makes you pump your fist because it’s so cool, whether it’s the Dreadnoks chasing down the Joes in their various vehicles, or Skywarp leaning over Doc and Grand Slam, he makes every page so much fun.
20. Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (Kodansha Comics)
More comics like Ichi-F should exist.
Admittedly, this is a bit of a niche book. Kazuto Tatsuta’s manga memoir about life working at the Fukushima Daiichi plant can be bone dry at times. Tatsuta worked there for six months, came back, and decided to document his experiences in painstaking, sometimes tedious detail. I say sometimes tedious as a complement: Tatsuta, in an effort to cut through the sensationalism and show people what was really going on at the plant, recounted every movement he made on some days, from how crowded the bathrooms were in the housing provided to the workers by the company, to how many times they had to fill the generators at the rest area.
That said, it’s also a fascinating look at the really technical recovery effort. Repairing the power plant at Fukushima is an engineering and organizing feat. Tatsuta’s book explaining the recovery in plain language to lay people is invaluable for taking some of the stigma away from that recovery. Tatsuta is a skilled draftsman and a capable storyteller, and with Ichi-F, he’s showing us why nonfiction like this is perfect for the comics medium.
It’s almost a little too on-the-nose to point out that BLACK is an extraordinarily timely superhero book. And saying that any work of fiction is “what we need right now” is both hyperbolic and a little depressing. But BLACK is exactly the kind of story you want to see emerge when the world isn’t everything you want it to be. And while that old adage about judging books by their covers is always true, BLACK could have found itself a place on this list on the strength of Khary Randolph’s covers alone. Fortunately, the work done by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Sarah Litt lives up to them.
Launching off the back of a wildly successful Kickstarter in 2016, BLACK found its home at Black Mask Studios, where the politically charged narrative feels right at home. While the X-Men have long used superhero comics as a metaphor for civil rights and the struggles of any number of marginalized groups, BLACK poses its question directly: “what if only black people had superpowers?” As you might expect, it doesn’t make things any easier.
BLACK wrapped its initial six issue run in 2017, which makes it eligible for inclusion here. There’s more to the story, though, with standalone tales set in the world of BLACK on the way. We’re looking forward to all of them.
18. Rock Candy Mountain (Image Comics)
This wasn’t a tough sell for me. A book about hobo culture (yes please) that has a guy fight the devil (good) written and drawn by the dude who gave the world Sexcastle? The only surprise was that I waited for the trade.
Kyle Starks is a deceptively good worldbuilder. He’s got a knack for keeping the reader focused on the jokes, while he subtly layers in details that make the world his characters inhabit rich and vivid. It’s not something you notice right away about Rock Candy Mountain, but because the book is so entertaining, when you go back to check it out a second and third time, you’ll see that he’s created such an elaborate, fun “dead frog on a string” stories that you have to step back and be impressed at what Starks did. There is so much weird hobo culture wrapped around ridiculous fights and interesting characters that Rock Candy Mountain is impossible not to love.
17. Shade the Changing Girl (DC Comics)
It was actually tough to pick just one Young Animal book – Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye is Michael Avon Oeming’s best work since Thor: Disassembled, and he and Jon Rivera came on really strong at the end of that first year. Meanwhile, Jody Houser is doing the best work of her career on Mother Panic, and Faith and the Future Force was on the first draft of this list. But Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone’s Shade the Changing Girl stuck with me every issue.
It’s ostensibly about a bird-alien who steals Rac Shade’s Madness Vest, and then projects her consciousness into a brain dead Earth teenager’s body. Loma then learns how to be a teen in modern America. The simplicity of the premise belies the utter lunacy of the product, though – this is one of the weirdest, most eerie (not scary, just odd and discomforting) but still beautiful comics out there. Even with the metaphor being blatant, though, there’s a subtlety in how Zarcone plays Loma’s weirdness that is incredibly effective. It’s not going to hit everyone the same way, and I bet I’m not even the most passionate evangelist for this book, but Shade the Changing Girl is wonderful and should be high on everybody’s reading list every week.
16. Atomic Robo
Robo is one of those comics that you’ve probably been hearing about for years. It was a small press darling for a bit, until the economics of the business moved the book online. With a heavy boost from crowdfunding, IDW eventually picked up the rights to publish the single issues, but the comic remains free to read on their web site. Around the time that Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener moved the book online, they also made a subtle shift in story for everyone’s favorite fighting action scientists.
Each volume of Atomic Robo jumped around in Robo’s timeline, but the last few volumes have tightened up the continuity a little, told a bit more of a linear story. And something about that tighter story also helped them open up the action a bit, and made an already smart, funny book more exciting. Wegener is a little bit Mignola, a little bit Oeming, and he manages to regularly make three overlapping circles (Robo’s head) the most expressive face in comics. Clevenger writes absurd action humor better than almost anyone in comics – the current volume has Richard Branson very seriously telling Robo “Without law, there is anarchy” in the midst of a super-science homeowners’ association dispute. That’s just wonderful.
15. Deathstroke (DC Comics)
We talked about why Deathstroke is amazing back in February, and there isn’t really much more to say about it. Priest has made a thrice-cipher of a character into the most interesting dad in the DC universe, and the folks at DC keep handing him incredible gifts for artists – Carlo Pagulayan started, but Denys Cowan, Diogenes Neves, even Larry Hama have stepped in to help. There have been some incredible talents on this book, and it shows in the final product. Do yourself a favor and get all of these in trade if you don’t already have them.
14. East of West (Image Comics)
As East of Westheads towards its finish line, it’s become easy to take for granted. The density of the story makes it tough to get your head around the whole story in single issues, but it almost doesn’t matter: Nick Dragotta’s art is stunning.
I once called it “Spectacular Spider-Man era Sal Buscema drawing Akira,” but that doesn’t really do his work in East of West justice. First of all, colorist Nick Martin is a HUGE part of the success of the art: his palate changes scene to scene and his color cues for the various factions of the world are essential to understanding what’s going on. And he helps make the art so much fun to look at. Secondly, Dragotta’s mastery of this world and these characters is total – he’s more stylish and angular than Buscema, and more expressive than Otomo. The way he captures the terror and tenderness in his characters’ faces is beautiful, and the scale and grandiosity of the world, the detail he puts into the landscapes is staggering.
Jonathan Hickman’s story is intense, too. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic Hickman story: a billion characters, an absurdly intricate plot, and incredible action. But this is a cut above much of his previous work. It’s simultaneously quietly resonant with thundering action; sci-fi, western, fantasy and alternate history; Especially if you read it in a big chunk, this is such a fun comic.
13. Black Panther (Marvel Comics)
I’ve had a pull list for about 5 years with almost no interruptions. In that time, every single book I’ve subscribed to has had off issues, or filler, or plateaus. Even the miniseries have had issues that weren’t as strong as earlier ones, or issues that were there to move the plot along.
Except for Black Panther.
This comic is the rare exception where every issue is stronger than the one that came before it, and now here we are, twenty issues in and in the midst of one of the seminal Black Panther runs of all time. Ta-Nehisi Coates came into the book having thought his way around Wakanda and how its geography shaped its society, and it was a fascinating, if slow-burn, take on a land that is set to become the most exciting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a couple of months.
I enjoy comics that I can inhabit, and Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin, Chris Sprouse, Wilfredo Torres and the rest of the art teams who have put this book together have built a deep, beautiful world with culture and politics and now as of this arc a religion that are all fully realized the second I crack the issue. Black Panther wasn’t on my list of best comics of the year until I realized that the last four issues had been the first ones on my stack that I read when they came out. This is probably the most well-made book that Marvel has on the shelf, and it’s one I’m excited to pick up every week.
12. Uber: Invasion (Avatar Press)
The first volume of Kieron Gillen and Canaan White’s “what if World War II had superpowers in it” story read like an alternate military history, with an emphasis on the history portion. The beauty of Ubersince its launch was that it turned the typical superpowered World War II story on its ear: instead of having titanic clashes between archetypical heroes and villains, Gillen treated the Panzermensch as weapons that existed in time and space and had rules to their use. He risked drying the book out to the point where it would have read more like a primary source from the war, like sorting through Rommel’s papers instead of reading a story, but he always kept the story moving. He thoroughly researched the war and the players, and any deviations from history were carefully explained.
Now, a third of the way into the second volume, he gets to unload. All three sides have the technology, and there’s combat everywhere. Daniel Gete, the new series artist, seems to be enjoying the opportunity to draw mass destruction in America, and Gillen is definitely having a blast writing Patton in Italy. It took time for characters to really shine through, but they have, and Uber is one of the best comics of the year because of it.
11. The Wild Storm (DC Comics)
Jon Davis Hunt is the reason The Wild Storm is here. Taken simply as a part of Warren Ellis’s enormous body of work, this would certainly be one of the better ones, but “excellent Warren Ellis” is common enough where it ceased to stand out a little while ago – not fair to him, certainly, but the price you pay for continued success is that it becomes routine.
Hunt, on the other hand, steps into an art tradition that goes back through Bryan Hitch and Frank Quitely all the way to Jim Lee at his most frantic peak, and proved he belongs in that group with some of the most inspired action sequences in all of comics. We practically gushed about his art before, but it’s worth reiterating: the samurai fight in issue 9 is one of the absolute best things put in comic books all year.
10. Secret Weapons (Valiant Entertainment)
The Legion of Substitute Heroes is one of the best parts of DC’s Legion lore, and about halfway through the second issue of Secret Weapons, Valiant’s Harbinger spinoff mini, I had a eureka moment that made me adore this comic. Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter behind the incredibly clever Arrival (that you should definitely not watch if you’re expecting a kid btw), made his first foray into comics writing with this book, and the Valiant folks, being generally good decision makers, paired him with Raul Allen and Patricia Martin, an incredible pair to get for your first comic ever.
The story follows a group of misfit Psiots (Valiant Universe code for mutants, basically) with borderline useless powers as they hide from a world that’s terrified of them. Live Wire, one of the Valiant U’s big shots, gathers them up to protect them as they’re being hunted by someone who wants their powers. They eventually learn to work as a team and overcome the big bad despite their inane powers – talking to birds, making random objects appear out of thin air, turning into a statue.
Heisserer sets the bar pretty high for himself with the story. It’s a lot of fun, with earnest, distinct characters and good action. And in an interesting role reversal for comic books, he’s a screenwriter who’s clearly excited to be writing comic books, enthusiasm that bleeds through to every page of the work. Allen is like a cross between David Aja and David Rubin with slightly more mainstream layouts: great figures, kinetic action, and good “directing” of talking head sequences. Everything Valiant puts out is usually very good, but Secret Weapons is great, definitely one of the best comics of 2017.
9. God Country (Image Comics)
Where the hell has Geoff Shaw been all my life?
A few people have been singing Donnie Cates’s praises to me for a while, so I grabbed the first volume of God Country on sale figuring I’d take a shot. And while the story was terrific, Shaw’s art was a revelation. He’s got all the energy and angular style of guys like Rafael Albuquerque or Sean Murphy, with the moody atmosphere of Jae Lee, and when you combine that linework with Jason Wordie’s terrific, understated coloring, you get something truly special.
Cates created a fantastic story, something surprisingly moving and personal for a comic about The God of Buster Swords. It’s weirdly melancholy and human, with some moments of pure joy and some character beats that are heartbreaking. And he does it in very little time – this was a breeze of a read, not because it wasn’t packed with details, but because it was so engrossing and impossible to put down.
8. Iceman (Marvel Comics)
I yearn for good X-Men comics. I’m the guy who scrolls to the end of the new releases on Marvel Unlimited every week, hoping against hope that they’ve digitized the remaining X-Factor and New Mutants issues so I can keep going with my chronological X-readthrough. I have every Uncanny and Legacy collection from Messiah CompleX to Schism, and I actually went out to buy the one issue of X-Cutioner’s Song that I was missing so I could read the whole thing (spoilers: it was…not good). But since Schism, the X-Men books haven’t really been doing it for me. So I approached the Resurrxion relaunch with a ton of hope. Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti and Robert Gill have absolutely knocked Iceman out of the park.
I’ve said elsewhere that good X-Men stories have three things: soapy backstories, melodramatic romances, and visually interesting uses of their powers. That’s true for non-comics media, but in comics, there’s one more necessity: a connection to the rich history of the X-Men and the rest of the Marvel Universe.
Grace’s strength as a writer is that he’s as excited to put that stuff on the page as we are to read it. He’s made Bobby’s relationship with his parents feel real without being stereotypical; his romance feel natural and honest while still also being broken up by a sentinel attack. Grace gets that Bobby is one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, and hasn’t been afraid to show it (but also hasn’t made every snowman full of angst). And he fills every issue with a terrifically realized supporting cast, from the students at the school to the villains Bobby fights, to the best Angel since Remender’s Uncanny X-Force and the best Hercules since Pak and Van Lente. Iceman is a joy to read, the best X-Men comic since Simon Spurrier left Legacy.
7. Aliens: Dead Orbit (Dark Horse Comics)
James Stokoe drawing xenomorphs.
I shouldn’t really need more to justify why this is on a best comics of the year list. Stokoe draws so much detail into every panel that it takes an hour to read one issue. He does grime and crappy, run down future tech better than literally everyone working in comics right now. Everything he touches is amazing because of his incredibly detailed, gorgeous art. It doesn’t even matter that the story is half Alien: Isolation and half Warren Ellis sci-fi Avatar project, or that each issue takes forever to publish. In fact, that’s almost preferable – I want him to put all that work into every panel. This comic was incredible.
6. Becky’s Cancer Fund
Kate Beaton is arguably the most gifted cartoonist of our time. There are more technically skilled artists, people who slave over every hatch in every panel, but nobody puts humor on mouths and in eyebrows better than Beaton does. And while she mines jokes out of absurdity a lot (A LOT a lot, Straw Feminists are incredible), a ton of her humor comes from earnestness, too.
Those skills make it easy to transition from earnest hilarity to just honest, moving, a little bit sad storytelling. That’s unfortunately what she’s done here – her sister is fighting cancer, and Beaton put together a combination of pictures and comic strips of family memories as a way to help raise money for Becky’s needs and treatment. It’s heartbreaking in parts, hilarious in others, and it’s really hard not to take the totality of her work here and not be in awe of how talented Kate Beaton is. Also the strip where she throws up on her sister from the top bunk is one of the funniest things I’ve read this year.
5. Mech Cadet Yu (BOOM! Studios)
It takes a lot to cause a visible reaction from me when I’m reading a comic. A smile, a chuckle, those are uncommon, but not unheard of. But I almost never outright cheer a book on. So when I yelled “YEAH” at my computer in issue 4 of Mech Cadet Yu, that’s when I knew this was going to be high on the list.
The elevator pitch for Mech Cadet Yu is “What if Disney made Pacific Rim,” but that undersells what a wonderful comic it is. Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa are two of the consistently best creators working in comics. Pak’s writing is as tight and fluid as always, but everything is infused with a sense of wonder that is too often missing from comics. Miyazawa’s body language is stellar, making Stanford a fully formed, deep character without needing a single line of dialogue from Pak. And as if that weren’t enough, this book had some of my favorite lettering of the year – color coding the word balloons to the mech pilot seems like it should be an old trick, but it’s one I haven’t seen enough. Mech Cadet Yu is full of heart, great action, and a fun story.
4. The Mighty Thor (Marvel Comics)
I spend a lot of money, time and shelf space on comics. Between my pull list at my shop, promo stuff, Marvel Unlimited, and various Comixology sales, the only stuff I buy in collected form are comics I really love. They’re usually stories that resonated with me, like Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, or particular editions that I need to own, like Absolute New Frontier. The point I’m getting to is, when my brother asked me what I want for Christmas this year, I told him “start at the beginning, but buy me Jason Aaron’s Thor.”
Legendary runs of Thor are at the front of everyone’s mind now that there’s a movie that drew so heavily from them that’s penetrated pop culture. Like all the great stories, Aaron has a point: he’s writing a huge story about myth and war and sacrifice. But the deftness with which he’s written it has been a sight to behold – he’s dodged multiple big crossovers, incorporating more than one of them into the overall narrative. He’s placed Asgard firmly within the Marvel cosmology in a way that reminds you of what Marvel used to be and can still sometimes be, without feeling like he’s pandering to old-school fans.
And he’s had some absolute superstar artists to work with – Esad Ribic on God of Thunder, and then Russell Dauterman and Matt Wilson since. Their role in the success of The Mighty Thor cannot be understated: Dauterman’s imagination is massive, and his Asgard is both distinct from others that came before him, and yet very much the Asgard we’ve always known. Wilson is so good at coloring he should get paid writer page rates and royalties. Look at any cover, or any panel from the Asgard/Shi’ar war, and you’ll be astounded. The Mighty Thor is one of the best comics of this year, one of the best stories with the characters, and one of the best Marvel comics ever.
3. My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Fantagraphics)
That this is Emil Ferris’s first published comics work is ridiculous. Ridiculous! Ferris weaves two incredibly emotional stories around each other, packs hundreds of influences and references together into a package that is one of the most engrossing, moving comics I’ve ever read.
The story is about a ten-year-old girl, Karen Reyes, growing up in late ‘60s Chicago. The comic shows Karen processing a bunch of stuff, from questions of her own sexuality, to the death of Martin Luther King, to growing up around racist, classist kids in the turmoil of the ‘60s, while her Mom dies of cancer and she investigates the death and life of a mysterious, alluring upstairs neighbor.
The emotions are raw and powerful because the story is told as Karen’s sketchbook/diary – the pages look like they’re lined paper from a spiral notebook. Everything is first person, and Karen draws herself as a muppet-ish mid-transition werewolf both because she’s detached from humanity and because she really loves the old horror comics and movies she shares with her much older brother. This is played to great effect late in the book in a really emotional sequence.
Ferris’s art is just absurdly good. She sketches the whole thing in colored pen, and the depth that she puts into the work with limited materials is almost unfair. The way she plays with light in some of her more detailed sketches is incredible, and she manages to replicate several pieces of fine art in the book with nothing but a few pen slashes. Her characters run the gamut from loosely sketched Muppets, to exaggerated cartooning that you see Harvey Kurtzman or R. Crumb’s influence in. My Favorite Thing is Monsters is an incredible achievement and an amazing comic.
2. Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 (DC Comics)
I’m as surprised as you are to see Batman/Elmer Fudd as my second best comic of the year, but the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t put this anywhere else.
For the past couple of years, DC has been doing…odd…crossovers with other properties they own. The Hanna Barbera books on their own were occasionally genius (see: The Flintstones), and when they leaned into the zany tone and put a solid creative team on a crossover with DC characters, they were usually good (see: Booster Gold/Flintstones). So of course they would do weird Looney Tunes crossovers this year, pairing off Bugs Bunny with the Legion of Superheroes, Wonder Woman with the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian and the Martian Manhunter, and Road Runner and Lobo. The rule here was much the same: the harder the creators leaned into the wackiness, embraced the Looney Tunes-iness of the book, the better it would be.
Except for Batman/Elmer Fudd.
Tom King and Lee Weeks made a straight up noir story that, had it stood on its own, would have been an excellent hard-boiled detective story. But what pushed this comic into legendary territory (and I will argue with you on calling it legendary – I promise you ten years from now people will be referring back to this the same way people talk about something like Frank Miller and Walt Simonson’s Robocop versus The Terminator) is the fact that King and Weeks put something on every page that made the reader step back and laugh from a combination of disbelief and humor. Turning all the Looney Tunes characters into scumbags at the local criminal dive bar is genius, but putting actual words into their mouths – especially chubby, short, mobbed up Tweety making “I did taw a puddy tat” utterly filthy – is absurd. If you haven’t read this comic, please go find it. I promise you won’t regret it.
1. Mister Miracle (DC Comics)
Tom King is a master of pacing. He’s not afraid to do an issue that’s entirely splash pages (see: Batman #12, the issue where Batman invaded Santa Prisca and took on Bane’s military all by himself), but King made his bones by mastering telling stories through the nine-panel grid. Reading a Tom King book has a certain musical quality, not so much a beautiful symphony, but a military parade march, staccato and geometric.
Mitch Gerads is the perfect artist to pair with him. The two made Sheriff of Babylon one of the most engrossing comics of the last decade. Gerads is a brilliant storyteller, someone who excels at emotionally charged small group talking head moments. The two have done a lot of work together this year. First, they had an interstitial arc on Batman that had Batman working out daddy issues with Swamp Thing. But they started Mister Miracle in the back half of the year, and both of them immediately shot to a whole new level.
Mister Miracle has what appears to be Scott Free dealing with an upheaval in Fourth World politics at the same time that he’s working through depression and the aftermath of a suicide attempt. There’s more, but that’s the top line of the story, and if we go deeper than that, we start getting into speculation. The reason this is the best comic of the year is because of the tension that King packs into every conversation, the love that Barda shows Scott in every panel Gerads puts her in, and the weird, uncomfortable twists every issue takes. This book is Vision, only darker, more screwed up, more beautiful and more fascinating. Mister Miracle is comfortably the best comic of 2017.