Here we are at the close of 2016, and we have had another stellar year of comic books. Which is good, because everything else has been terrible, so at least we have comics to take comfort in. And take comfort I did!
You’ll notice more recurring entries and long-running series on this list than last year: part of it is a function of those comics improving on what was mostly already excellent, but part of it is very likely me taking refuge in the comfort of constancy. It’s easier to appreciate a comic that’s been good for 40 consecutive issues when a quarter-millennium old electoral system is starting to lurch and buckle, y’know?
To remind you, here are my guiding principles when choosing the list:
– I didn’t want to be redundant. That’s why there aren’t eight Batman books on the list, and why I only had one entry for good anthologies instead of three.
– That said, when the comics warranted it, I have no problem being a little redundant *waves at Tom King.*
– I went with gut reactions to the books. This is by no means a scientific survey of the quality of comics from 2016. It’s the books I liked best, the ones where when I sat down to make this list were what I wanted to talk about most.
25. The Biggest Bang (IDW Publishing)
The Bigger Bang, last year’s antecedent to The Biggest Bang, made my list in 2015 mostly on the strength of Vassilis Gogtzilas’s art, which I compared to “seeing Bill Sienkiewicz or Sam Keith for the first time.” I wasn’t overly impressed with the story, however. That wasn’t the case with the follow up. The Biggest Bang was really funny.
I’m noticing that I’ve been more receptive to returning comics this year in part because good creators and creative teams grow together. DJ Kirkbride’s story in the new series is definitely more polished, and a little more nuanced in a way that makes me think it’s because he’s more comfortable with Gogtzilas’ style. There is a sequence early on with The Gorehound that is hilariously absurd, but I’m not certain they could have pulled it off in the prior volume. I rushed to preorder this trade when it was solicited, and I’m glad I did. It was worth every penny.
24. SP4RX (Nobrow Press)
I think I read SP4RX at the perfect time. I was between sci-fi when I picked it up (my video game library has been letting me down for a while, and I’ve been mostly reading fantasy and classics for novels), and I had been longing for something cyberpunk that I could disappear into when I picked up Wren McDonald’s comic, and four hours later I was texting people about it.
SP4RX is a hacker who hates the people who rule his city, Avalon, with a sort of general anti-authority vibe. He gets lumped in with a bunch of rebels in a quest to bring down the corporation pushing cybernetic enhancements on the populace. It’s not a terribly complex story, nor is it particularly original, but McDonald’s art is awesome. My first instinct set a very high bar – it’s like if Adventure Time, Neuromancer, and Akira got thrown in a blender. It’s meticulously detailed and incredibly easy to get lost in, and I definitely did.
23. Huck (Image Comics)
I am really digging late period Mark Millar, where he ditches the flash and empty KEWLness of stuff like Kick-Ass for genuine emotional impact. Since Starlight, Millar has been doing the absolute best work of his career, and Huck is the latest entry in that run.
It doesn’t hurt that he gets staggeringly talented artists to work with him. Rafael Albuquerque is one of the best in the game right now. He fills the title character with enough doe-eyed earnestness that it’s impossible not to root for him. It’s amazing work – there are panels that made me think the original pitch for this comic must have been “What if Norman Rockwell created Superman?”
Huck, the title character, is uncomplicated and superpowered. He lives in a small town and does one super good deed a day – taking out the trash for everyone in town, rescuing a fisherman from drowning, mowing everyone’s lawn – until one day he goes national, kicking off a plot to claim him by the Russian super-scientist who held his similarly powered mother back in the ‘80s. It’s sweet and earnest and a little dopey, but it’s also gorgeous and fun and impossible to dislike.
22. Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse Comics)
I adored the first issue of Chuck Palahniuk and Cam Stewart’s follow up to the incredibly influential book-then-movie, then my attention drifted. I missed an issue (Diamond can eat a big bag of butts) and it felt like I lost momentum, and I was ready to drop it until I realized that it was ending at 10 and stuck it out. I am so glad I did.
The first issue was brilliant. It used Photoshop collage to amplify the mood of the story and add a layer of metaness, toying with the reader the way the movie did so well. The story slowed down a little in the middle, but it didn’t really lose any of the clever nihilism that made the earlier entry so appealing.
But it wasn’t until the last issue that it transcended to best comic of the year status: the story went from a stylistic but a little rote follow up to a commentary on the interaction between art and its audience and its creator and it used the comic book format exceptionally well to make its points. Fight Club 2 was smart and funny and dark and awful, and I can’t imagine it being anything but a comic book. And I love that it was.
21. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Archie Comics)
It’s almost a cliche at this point to talk about what an absurdly good creative stretch Archie has had for the past five years, but it’s still really amazing to think that Archie, Jughead, Sabrina and the rest of the Riverdale gang are routinely among the best comics out in any given week. It’s even more absurd to think that they’re also the best horror comics being published.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn’t the same kind of horror as Afterlife with Archie, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa deserves a lot of credit for not trying to make them the same. Afterlife is more of a things-jumping-out-at-you terror, while Sabrina is a slower, more tense build.
Robert Hack is outstanding and tonally perfect for this type of horror comic, a cross between pinup artist and evil landscape painter (is he evil or are the landscapes? I’ll leave that to you to decide, dear reader). It’s odd to say that a book with a Satanic baptism is a quiet thriller and more cerebral than the other Archie book it shares a line with, but that’s where we are and I’m pretty cool with it.
20. The Spire (BOOM! Studios)
I talked about The Spire a little in our look at this year’s Eisner nominees. I feel like I focused a lot on Jeff Stokely’s art there, and that’s totally justified by the richness of the worlds he creates. Voltron probably wasn’t the right comparison, though. His art, especially here and in Six-Gun Gorilla, is more like if Trigun had been conceived in the ‘80s – gritty, Western (the genre, not the direction) and manga-influenced.
Si Spurrier writes some of the most earnest, weird stories in all of comics. The Spire was full of intrigue and just enough comedy to keep it from being heavy, right until the end when it turned into a heartbreaker. This is a rich, high-quality fantasy world, and I hope Spurrier and Stokely get to come back to it someday.
19. Midnighter and Apollo (DC Comics)
I think Steve Orlando and I have the same taste in comics. I mean, sure, he could have just decided to use Prometheus (created in Grant Morrison’s JLA) as the villain in volume 1 of Midnighter (on last year’s list) because it made sense. But that doesn’t explain why, when he got the chance to keep going, he chose to pit Midnighter against Neron (who I only know as the lord of Hell screwing with Zauriel in Morrison’s JLA) and the Mawzir from Garth Ennis’ Hitman. And apparently he has a deep and admirable love of redeeming…problematic…characters from deep in limbo, because he ALSO brought in Extraño.
I’m psyched that Warren Ellis is getting to relaunch the Wildstorm universe, considering he was the architect of so much of it that I actually cared about. The one thing that concerns me is how they’ll deal with Apollo and Midnighter: Orlando is a gifted comic writer who is routinely blessed with gifted art partners (Fernando Blanco on Midnighter and Apollo, ACO on vanilla Midnighter), but the combination of him writing these characters has created something really special, and I hope he gets to stick with them for as long as he has stories to tell.
18. Carver: A Paris Story (Z2 Comics)
The hype train for Chris Hunt’s post-World War 1 Lost Generation noir comic Carver: A Paris Story was pretty strong. Paul Pope’s influence is all over it, and that’s a great foundation to start from. And as it turns out, the hype was validated. Carver is a great read.
It’s like someone made a Corto Maltese story with more anger and grit, but with all of the same adventurous charm. Hunt’s art shows its Pope influences a lot, especially in figures, but with a lot of the lumpiness that you find in Pope’s art smoothed out. The result is a more streamlined cartooning that’s just as dynamic and expressive, but a little less flashy and stylish. The story doesn’t suffer for this lack of style, though. Francis Carver and Stacker Lee are both great characters, brimming with personality and energy, and this book was just a ton of fun.
17. Mockingbird (Marvel Comics)
Lost in the hubbub about the cover of the final issue (and here, hubbub is the polite way to say “disgusting, vile sexism spewed by scum who should have no place in comics fandom”) is the fact that Mockingbird was a really good comic.
Kate Neimczyk’s art is excellent. In the hands of a less capable artist, Mockingbird would have collapsed under its own tonal whiplash, but Neimczyk was able to handle the action with vibrancy and clarity, the comedy with the right balance of exaggeration and subtlety, and made the body language in the dramatic scenes authentic enough to let all of these different vibes land.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Cain was fantastic. You know the old explanation of the difference between DC and Marvel, how DC was superheroes mingling with the people, with all the problems that entailed, while Marvel was people who happened to be superheroes, so their problems were regular, mundane, real-world issues? Mockingbird was Marvel to its core. Cain managed to give Bobbi real world issues, but dressed them up in Hellfire Club bondage gear and made fun of them a little bit.
Mockingbird was engaging and entertaining, and a book I looked forward to every time it came out.
16. Black Hammer (Dark Horse Comics)
CONFESSION TIME! Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool Grant Morrison fanboy, I have had a really tough time getting into his Doom Patrol. I’m not sure if it feels dated or if the format I’ve been trying to read it on, but it’s not clicking at all. That’s not been the case with Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, a riff on the Doom Patrol formula from Dark Horse.
Ormston’s art is awesome. It’s so close to Lemire’s own art that it feels like a high-adventure version of some of his solo work like Underwater Welder or Sweet Tooth, but the difference here is the adventure-y story. It has a group of heroes trapped on a world without any after saving their world countless times. It’s full of interesting characters and characterizations, and while it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, it feels just bizarre enough that you don’t mind the pastiche.
15. The Tipping Point (Humanoids)
Here’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day: 2016 has been a great year for comic anthologies. Granted, that sentence is frontloaded with unlikelihood, but it doesn’t change the fact that we had three superlative comic anthologies come out this year: the Attack on Titan anthology from Kodansha, which will hopefully bring some manga fans over to Western comics; Island, which never feels like it costs $8 a month because of its consistent quality and the fact that it is a minor miracle that Image keeps publishing something so abnormal and outside their typical line; and this one, from Humanoids, which was both my favorite and, I think, the most successful.
The press release announcing The Tipping Point talks about Humanoids’ history of trying to bring European comics to American audiences and vice versa. It’s a little outside their typical offering – usually we see Jodorowsky and Moebius stuff from them, European reprints with the sprinkling of new-ish work from creators from Asia or South America.
This is all original work put together from a ridiculous collection of creators: John Cassaday and Paul Pope from American comics; Bastien Vives, a creator of the great The Last Man bandes dessinees; and Naoki Urasawa, one of the greatest manga creators who’s ever lived. There aren’t any weak stories in here, but the highlights are Pope’s story, where a woman and a shark get into a knife fight; Bob Fingerman’s tale of an atheist in the afterlife; and Keiichi Koike’s acid flashback put to paper. The variety and craft in The Tipping Point makes it absolutely worth checking out.
14. Deathstroke (DC Comics)
DC’s Rebirth initiative was for the most part a really pleasant surprise across the board, but it’s been less about the new linewide direction and overarching story of the DCU, and more about the fact that books are allowed to have distinct voices again. There was a time in the darkest pits of the New 52 where everything was just kind of…the same. Now we have Barry Allen doing Flash-y stuff with Carmine di Giandomenico making him crackle; Otto Schmidt and Rafa Albuquerque making Green Arrow and Batgirl so much better than they should be; Tom King (who we’ll get to later) breaking Batman open, and Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason putting Superman back together again.
Deathstroke has been one of the best surprises because DC gave Christopher Priest room to work, and that work has been exceptional. The tone and the pacing feel like Priest’s Black Panther just enough to make Deathstroke feel like hardass comic guy comfort food, like coming back to something you’ve loved for years. But Slade is very much not T’Challa: though they’re both manipulative, Slade is a sadistic bastard who has no qualms about using anyone, including family, to further his own goals. Priest gives his art team (Carlos Pagulyan and even eight issues in I feel like “holy shit!” is appropriate for Larry Hama) more to work with than the Panther artists did, for various reasons, but it’s still a twisty, complicated, cerebral story that looks great and rewards attentiveness.
If you’re not reading Deathstroke, you’re missing out on one of the true gems of the Rebirth relaunch.
13. Power Man and Iron Fist (Marvel Comics)
It’s a very rare thing for a big crossover event to actually improve the quality of its tie-in comics. Power Man and Iron Fist is a huge exception to that rule – it’s a book that found its voice the moment it was forced to deal with Civil War 2.
Before the crossover, PM/IF was good, but not great. David Walker’s scripts and dialogue were entertaining, Sanford Greene is a treasure, and Flaviano is an inspired choice of art partner for Walker and Greene, but it wasn’t quite tuned correctly – there were bits that felt off, like the characterization would cut off right before Luke or Danny hit their heroic peaks. But the second they had to deal with the stupidity that was “predictive justice,” it’s like an extra dimension was added to each character – Luke became an inspiration and a leader, and Danny added empathy to the goofiness he had before, and that’s when Power Man and Iron Fist went from a fun, slight book to a must read.
12. 4001 A. D. (Valiant Comics)
Here’s the flip side to Marvel’s Civil War 2: a crossover that seeds good stories in other books and feels like a natural culmination to a story. Clayton Crain and Matt Kindt had been working towards 4001 for almost two years in the pages of Rai, the kind of unspectacular, steady, high-quality long game that Valiant’s latest incarnation has excelled at. It’s the kind of work that consistently pays off: their formula of publishing a limited, cohesive line with a few lead voices all pulling in the same direction and a ton of forethought means that there aren’t really any drags on the line, nor are there any crossovers that aren’t worth reading.
4001 checks every box you want from a crossover like this. In a future series set in a world with a smattering of immortals, you want to check in with them periodically, and we do in both the main series and the one shots. You want high action, which is impossible to get in a comic from someone as talented as Crain. You want stakes, which Kindt has worked hard to establish as the sole proprietor of Valiant’s future universe and which he provides right away in this book when he starts dropping hunks of New Japan on the Earth from orbit. And you want pace, which is perfectly set in this tough to put down comic. It was probably my favorite crossover this year.
11. Black Science (Image Comics)
Matteo Scalera and Moreno Dinisio kept me with Black Science, and it paid off this year when it hit a new level of awesomeness. From the start, Rick Remender’s seemingly very personal tale of a punk rock super-scientist travelling through the multiverse while fucking up his family always danced on the line of being too morose for its own good, but Scalera’s linework felt liberated by the conceit – Romans with jetpacks! Giant fish horses! Native Americans in mechs! – and Dinisio’s colors were always just bright enough to keep the tone dialed down from that moroseness. Then Remender hit a new level, and Black Science went from a book that I enjoyed to one I love.
Much of this year of Black Science has been taken up with high fantasy. Grant McKay finds himself on a sentient planet and decides to stop being self-absorbed. It then followed him on his journey towards self-sacrifice, reuniting with his daughter at huge cost to himself. The tone of the book completely changed, and that was enough to kick it up to one of the first I read from my pull list every month.
10. The Nameless City (First Second)
In casual conversation a couple of months back with a cousin who teaches middle grade kids, the subject of using comics to get them excited about reading came up. I held up a hand, went down to my wall of books, and brought Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City upstairs and said “buy a bunch of these and hand them out. They’ll love them.”
I also loved it, and not because I have the maturity of a 12 year old. Or not ONLY because of that. Hicks got Bryan Konietzko to blurb it on the cover, and I was worried going in that having the Avatar/Korra guy lead like that was setting unreasonable expectations. I was wrong. The Nameless City is a rich, lived-in universe. Kai and Rat start out tropey, but eventually grow into their own people. Hicks’ art has a great energy to it, making you feel the motion in every panel. This isn’t a complicated comic, but it’s so well done that it’s perfect for anyone looking for an entree into comics.
9. Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics)
Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez have put together possibly the best horror comic of the year. The scares are particularly potent because they’re so close to real life, especially for a superhero comic.
Is this really what having kids is like? Oh my God how does she afford to live in New York City as a single mom? What if The Porcupine really is what women are attracted to now?
In all seriousness, this is maybe my favorite traditional superhero comic Marvel is publishing right now.
It would be easy to credit Rodriguez for this because he’s doing career-defining work here. Every single issue has one page (or one two-page spread, usually) that makes you put the book down in a fit of rage because it’s unfair that someone can be that inventive and only able to draw 20 pages a month. I’m not using hyperbole here. I just went back through the first five issues and found one in each, and all for different reasons: in issue 1, it’s the comedy of Spider-Man’s reaction to Iron Man asking who the father was, while in issue 3 it’s the crazy creativity of the page where she swims through the alien aquarium, and in issue 5 it’s the economy of storytelling in the sequence where Jess and the gang go out for the night.
The way that Rodriguez and color artist Rachelle Rosenberg convey so much story in so few panels is almost reminiscent of webcomics. Hopeless is getting short shrift here, but he is consistently one of the two best writers Marvel has working for them, and I’m hopeful that he’s going to get a higher profile soon.
8. The Omega Men (DC Comics)
There was a point in time for me when the Marvel cosmic universe clicked. I think it was when I was pulling Annihilation trades out of bargain boxes on a con Sunday years ago, I would flip through them and think “Well shit, there’s an entire universe in Marvel that’s not Earth, and it is really interesting.” That click is what happened for me in the middle of Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s The Omega Men.
I’m too biased to accurately judge it, but this is the book I recommend to everyone I know and should probably be closer to the top. Bagenda handles the action pacing and blocking better than any fast-moving comic I’ve read all year, and King wrote a comic that is so infused with DC space history (seriously, I won’t spoil the big reveal about the Citadel for you, but it grew out of a throwaway line by Tomar Re in a 1972 Superman story) that you can’t help but think of the broader DC space universe beyond Earth and whatever other color ring the Green Lantern Corps happens to be fighting. But at the same time, King is methodical and intricate, and wrote one of the most delicate stories I’ve ever read.
7. The Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo Comics)
The Omega Men and The Sheriff of Babylon are almost parallel stories. Both are written deliberately and with great detail by Tom King, and both really hammer away at the nine panel grid as a storytelling device. But whereas King uses it in Omega Men to mix action and character development, he and Mitch Gerads use it on Sheriff almost exclusively for storytelling rhythm and character beats.
The perfect example is in issue 5 of Sheriff: it isn’t the climax, but it is the emotional pivot point for the story: Chris, the detective investigating a murder, gets drunk in Saddam’s old pool with Fatima, his “partner” (for the story, at least)’s wife. They talk about the invasion and occupation, and Chris talks about meeting one of the 9/11 hijackers. This conversation is quiet and repetitive – Chris is the spine of the page, sitting the same way on the middle three panels – but it’s ultimately an encapsulation of the entire series: a conversation full of nihilism and discomfort while the main characters, all varying degrees of sad, try to do the right thing.
Sheriff gets the slight edge over Omega Men because Gerads is doing more great work with less action to lean on, and because of Travis Lanham’s outstanding letters (using different fonts when characters are speaking Arabic rather than English is a trope I would love to see more of please), so you really should be buying Sheriff of Babylon. And Omega Men. You know, Comixology should just do a Tom King bundle.
6. 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (Black Mask Studios)
This is the Stranger Things of comics. It trades so heavily in nostalgia that less capable creators might have turned 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank into Stand By Me 2 or Punk Rock Goonies, but because Rosenberg and Boss are exceptional, it’s just a great comic you can disappear into.
It’s ostensibly about four kids finding out one of their Dads is a bank robber, but the joy of it is the four kids just standing around talking. I have to believe that we’re all far enough away from our childhoods that we don’t actually remember what our everyday dialogue sounded like, and we idealize it and make it tougher in our memories, but Matthew Rosenberg’s dialogue is that idealized smartassery I have in my head (to be fair, I could also make a sailor’s blood curdle at 7 years old, so this isn’t too idealized for me).
Tyler Boss’s art is a little bit Steve Lieber, a little bit Shin Chan, and when you’re doing a talky comic like this, selling the humor through body language and facial expressions is everything. He absolutely nails it in every panel, and this is comfortably one of the best books of the year.
5. Saga (Image Comics)
After 40ish issues of absurdly high quality, it’s impossible not to take even the best comics for granted. I mentioned this last year in justifying leaving Saga off – it’ll come off my pull list when I don’t have a pull list anymore, but when I thought of the comics I was most excited to talk about, the best I could muster for Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ stuff was “it’s great. Still.” I think that’s why Vaughan goes for the nut punch character deaths periodically, so he can remind readers not to get too comfortable and to treasure the time you have with these books.
Vaughan’s longform comics stuff usually runs about 60 issues, and if that holds true here, we’re just getting into the last third of the series, which explains why stuff seems to be picking up. Marko and Alana are totally different people than they were when the book started – more interesting and more natural – and Hazel is maybe my favorite kid character in all of comics. Fiona Staples continues to be the most imaginative artist in comics, someone whose creativity makes the rest of the world jealous. I don’t really want this book to ever end.
4. Copra Round Four (Bergen Street Press)
I know Copra made last year’s list, and there wasn’t really anything in Round 4 that made it stand out relative to last year’s work. The big difference, and the reason why Michel Fiffe’s book made the list again and made it so high, is because I finally got around to reading John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad, the book that Fiffe is homage/riffing on here. Now, having seen what Ostrander and Yale did and feeling inklings of what Fiffe must have felt reading their book, I am even more impressed with Copra. This comic has no right being this good.
Suicide Squad is one of those books that was (until recently) never a blockbuster, but quietly hugely influential: ask folks who work in comics what their favorite DC stories are, and you’ll find Ostrander and Yale’s series near the top of most lists. It was smart, funny and had genuine stakes – because they were C and D listers, they could grow and evolve without worrying about collapsing under the weight of their own continuity.
It’s really rare for a story like Copra to be any good at all. The best you can usually hope for is well-written fanfic, like Axanar or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Most of the time it’s trash or just plain embarrassing. What Fiffe is doing with Copra is taking some recognizable archetypes out of the comics many of us loved, but making them entirely his own. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredibly talented artist. His layouts are stunning, and his colors are some of the best in comics today. I’m really bad at ordering trades, but I make a point of keeping an eye out for new volumes of Copra because they’re always wonderful.
3. The Flintstones (DC Comics)
There’s not really much else I can say about The Flintstones that I haven’t said already, but one thing does jump to mind:
There came a point in Prez, Mark Russell’s political satire from last year, where I stepped back and thought “this is hitting a little too close to home to be funny.” I’m not sure if it was entirely fair of me to think that, and it didn’t really make me like Prez any less, but it did take some of the edge off of it for a second. The Flintstones is now as far into its run as Prez made it AND it did an explicitly election issue, and yet at no point did I feel that it was too on the nose to be uncomfortable. Steve Pugh and Mark Russell are doing something really special with The Flintstones. I’m glad I’m reading it.
2. The Vision (Marvel Comics)
Once upon a time, I reviewed comics every week. That ended before Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Jordie Bellaire started The Vision, so I wasn’t able to register my thoughts about the book on any regular basis. So let me give you a quick capsule review, what I probably would have written about each issue every time a new one came out:Jesus Christ, man. That is one messed up comic book.
The Vision was messed up in all the best ways. Walta (and Michael Walsh for one issue) perfectly illustrated what was end to end the eeriest, most disturbing superhero story I’ve ever read. King filled the book with flat, declarative dialogue that made the emotion it was packed with even more effective, and Bellaire’s flat colors set the tone for the book at first glance. This was a story I couldn’t believe happened in the mainstream Marvel universe, especially on the heels of Vision’s introduction the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But at the same time I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else: this story was so steeped in Marvel Universe lore, that used decades of continuity to add emotional depth and resonance to a story without being bogged down in that continuity, that had they tried to do it on a parallel Earth, it would have fallen flat.
This series is a slow burn disaster that keeps building, fueled by good intentions and entirely realistic emotions overlaid onto a family of synthezoids created by Ultron. It’s sentences like that that keep me writing about comics, but it’s comics like The Vision that keep me reading superhero books.
1. March Book Three (Top Shelf Productions)
I would have thought that after two volumes of marvel and praise, there wouldn’t really be anything more to say about March, the autobiographical comic from Congressman John Lewis, his former staffer Andrew Aydin, and comics great Nate Powell. The craft is and has always been impeccable, from the pacing to the art to the greyscale to the placement of the word balloons for maximum impact. The last volume was in my top five last year, and the bombing of the Freedom Rides was one of the scariest things I’ve ever read in a comic because of how real it was. But there isn’t really a way for them to improve on the work they did. It was already about as good as you could make a comic book.
Right in the middle of this volume, Congressman Lewis and the team bring us to the 1964 nominating conventions, and while the parallels aren’t perfect to this absolute nightmare of a year, they’re close enough to be eerie. We had one party consumed by bigoted extremism, and one paralyzed by an abundance of caution while the world outside changed faster than anyone had ever experienced to that point.
The best thing about March is its perspective: this isn’t a look at the civil rights movement through the lens of someone weighted down in the future by decades of his own legacy like much of the work focused on Dr. King is, nor is it a look at the movement filtered by an approach through the system like most of the political histories are. It’s a story remembered by someone who had to balance the burden of leadership with his own passion and desire for change.
It doesn’t hurt that Nate Powell did some of his best work (and probably some of the best work in any comic ever) to connect readers to the story. When he got burnt out, I was exasperated with him. When he felt triumphs, I felt them. When he got scared, I did too.
But much of what makes March so good is that it’s told from a point of view I can relate to better now than I could when it first came out, and I’ve always been active. This isn’t just a great comic or a great story, it’s a guidebook on how one man fought for justice in a terrible world, and that is extremely useful today.