5. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro
Yes, it’s another genre book from Image, but damn if that publisher isn’t a great platform for original ideas from the most high profile people in comics. Kelly Sue Deconnick was fresh off of revitalizing Captain Marvel, and now is ready to tear down the entire misogynist world, piece by piece, alongside artist Valentine De Landro. Part prison escape drama, part hardcore exploration of modern feminism, Bitch Planet is a provocative book and one of the year’s brightest debuts.
The series constantly messes with your expectations, starting with a pair of unexpected twists in the very first issue. You’re slowly introduced to a cast of women sent to a space prison for being “Non Compliant,” a badge they come to wear with pride. It’s a harsh look at society that’s eye-opening for some, and all too familiar for others, creating a world you can’t ignore. And each issue comes with essays, one-off jokes, and a ton of personality that refuses to be ignored.
4. Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Shocking that my favorite book of 2014 remained one of my favorites in 2015. The series’ country fried noir continued its string of excellence this year, and the only real negative is that both creators became so in demand this year that they barely had time to complete more than a handful of issues. But, in a year when racism and a misplaced affection for the Confederate flag were all over the headlines, Southern Bastards was more vital than ever, especially to a southern born individual like myself.
Southern Bastards’ year began with the finale to the origin story of Boss, the ruthless football coach who rules over the small Alabama town, then continued with a series of one-off stories introducing us to the other embattled characters that fill up the book. From the colors on Latour’s pages to the tense language Aaron writes, it’s a pressure cooker of a book, and one that could only take place below the Mason-Dixon line. Reading it reminds me why I both love and hate the world where I grew up, Southern Bastards continues to feel as authentic as good BBQ, sweet tea, and the angry rantings of violent men.
3. Archie by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples / Jughead by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson
Archie Comics has been a constant of American sequential art since before World War II, making subtle changes each decade, but staying basically unchanged. 2015 was the year Archie, Jughead, and the gang decided to start fresh with a full-on reboot, headed up by some big name creators that the company usually eschewed. Thanks to the work of Waid, Staples, Zdarsky, and Henderson, the world of Archie feels more vital than ever, taking risks while still being an all-ages favorite.
The dynamics of the Archie gang are all there in Waid and Staples reboot, only the world is realer, the storytelling more modern. The characters feel like young people, and interactions between frenemies like Betty and Veronica are more natural, as are Jughead’s motivations. In his spin-off book, Juggie gets much sillier, which makes sense since the book is from two of the best comedians in comics. Jughead is about bending the rules without breaking them, battling against a new principal while still finding time to daydream funny parody sequences. I definitely look forward to the rest of the line getting similarly refreshed in 2016.
2. Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin
On a technicality, this book ended in 2015, so it still counts, even if Private Eye got most of its accolades in the last couple years. Once complete, I finally jumped on the bandwagon to see Private Eye as a stirring piece of neo-noir goodness that shows digital comics can be just as vital as the print versions. Distributed via a “pay what you want” model that disrupts the traditional comics industry, this tale of detectives in a world without the internet is the kind of engaging story only graphic novels can tell.
Vaughan is a master at worldbuilding, pulling readers in with a compelling hook, such as a futuristic world that anachronistically has flying cars but nothing online. Information is the most prized commodity, making a freelance journalist a pulpy action hero. As good as the premise is, it’s Marcos Martin who makes it all work, proving himself once more to be one of the greatest visual storytellers currently working. Like Steve Ditko for the modern age, Martin is on fire every single page (or Adobe file) of Private Eye. Everyone should be reading this, and no matter what you pay for the digital version, Vaughan and Martin are undercharging you.
1. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson / Howard The Duck Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones
Apologies for having a tie for my number one comic of the year, but it was near impossible to choose between these two unique-yet-oddly-similar books. Both are made by talents that are new to mainstream books, both had two #1 issues in 2015, and both took fresh approaches to two of Marvel’s silliest characters. Oh, and both are goddamn hilarious.
Squirrel Girl has had many cameos and guest starring roles that both mocked her and showed her beating heavyweights like Dr. Doom and Thanos, but this book found the reason why Doreen is so unbeatable. On top of having the powers of both girl and squirrel, she’s one of the most empathetic people in the entire Marvel Universe, finding a way to discuss problems with foes just as often as she kicks their butts (while eating nuts). North and Henderson find humor in the power of friendship, and also dig up some of the weirdest characters from Marvel’s forgotten lore, all explained by Deadpool’s trading cards. Squirrel Girl was already one of my favorites, but this book more than proved she’s more powerful than being a one-off joke.
Waugh! As negative as Squirrel Girl is positive, Howard the Duck is one unhappy guy… duck… thing. He’s grown accustomed to the world of humans, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it – in fact, the unlucky private eye seems to hate it every moment of the day. Zdarsky and Quinones put their tragic hero through a gauntlet of indignities, be it being beaten up by Aunt May or having to listen to the Human Torch brag about hooking up with aliens. Even when it ended and was rebooted with a new number one, it took it all with the good humor you expect from a lovable loser like Howard.
Together, these books were the first thing I read every week they came out, and they didn’t need massive crossovers or status changes to be compelling reads. Howard and Doreen just needed to be themselves, and they’re very good at doing that.
Those are my faves, but what are yours? Sound off in the comments, buster!
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