Thursday, December 21, 2017

Top 10 Comics of 2017

2017 has effectively come and gone. We came into the year one person and have probably left it a completely different one. It's been an interesting year, especially for me. I've unfortunately (as many readers may have noticed) not been quite as on top of things as I have been in past years. It was a big transitional period in my life this year, and I'm hoping that 2018 will allow me more time to get back to this blog, because I do love writing about various anime, movies, TV shows, and most especially comic books. And if there were always one thing this year I could count on, regardless of quality or quantity, it was my stack of comics week in and week out. 

So today, let's check out my Top 10 Series and Issues of 2017. 
Like last year's list, I figure we'll start with the series. I'm strange in that I like to get into the nitty gritty and actually talk about the ten issues I liked best over the year. I know it may seem like that's over analytical, but that's why I keep a handy list of comics that I like best each week.
My pick of the week. And yes, the iFanboy podcast did it first (you should really go listen to them, they're amazing!). 

And like previous lists, too, I won't bother with Honorable Mentions. I say we just get straight into things, with my Top 10 Comic Book Series of 2017. 

NOTE: I didn't read every series that came out, this is just of what I read. 

10.   Ultimates 2 – The most important comic that like nobody read. Galactus, the Lifebringer, battled against the entity of Logic itself in a struggle to save Eternity, all the while recruiting his own band of Ultimates and suffering heavy character damage along the way. The comic shines through Galactus and making this an interesting character, making it a great read for anyone looking to explore the former World-Eater. Sadly the events of Secret Empire butted in and slowed things down from being spectacular, but it’s just for a few issues and the focus remains on the Cosmic entities as it should for an pretty solid ride.

9.      Brittania: We Who are About to Die – A sequel to last year’s Brittania, this comic is a detective story based in early-B.C.E. Rome, featuring magic and witchcraft galore, while also containing the heartwarming tale of a man unsure of his place in the world and within the life of his estranged son. Plus, a tale of the empowerment of women that’s eerily reflective of our modern times, despite being set so many centuries ago.

8.      Green Arrow – Green Arrow is back to form and we’re back to exploring the depths of his character. Backed by an incredibly fun arc as GA went around to meet with the various members of the Justice League and some amazing side-stories with Black Canary and Emiko Queen, this comic brought Green Arrow back to his politically-charged roots and brought a lot of heart back to the character of Oliver Queen, and has begun realigning his history to position it for a standout 2018.

7.      Injection – What kind of Top 10 Comics list would this be without mentioning Injection
Another year, another arc, although this one went completely bonkers and explored the full power of the Injection in the world. Despite some delays to shipping, it remained one of the more consistently good comics on a month-to-month basis through heightened action and genuinely great character moments.

6.      The Wild Storm – As the flagship title for the revitalization of the “Wildstorm” brand in DC, this comic came running out the gate with amazing, fluid action scenes and has continued that, but has also deepened the lore of this world and of its characters. While at times this comic can be overwhelming with exposition, the characters are interesting enough that you care about what they’re going to do next, and are curious to see where they can go. Also did I mention that the action scenes are amazing?

5.      Green Valley – Some people are discouraged when they see Fantasy and Sci-Fi roped together, but won’t be with this series. This series subverts all expectations of what’s to come and always promises something new, something fresh, something…strange. It explores the journey of four lost knights as they come to grips with who they really are in this strange new world and how they’re going to reconcile with their past transgressions. It rarely goes where you expect, and it was one of the nicer surprises that wrapped up this year.

4.      Moon Knight (2016-2017) – While not quite as good as the Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire run of 2014, this team (quite massive at times) painted a brand new light on the Moon Knight and revealed aspects of the character’s history this year, and paid homage to previous runs with the character. It was the ultimate character study, and it’s a series I already miss.

3.      Batman – Continuing from 2016, this ongoing proves that there are still so many new things that can be done to the mythos of Batman. From the gut-wrenching battles with Bane to start the year to the shocking revelations of “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” and finally exploring Batman’s relationship with his closest friends, this comic has it all and has no signs of slowing down.

2.      X-O Manowar – Rising high from art and helped by spectacular writing, this comic excels at space operatic story-telling as it explores a world divided and shows one man not trying to save one people, but trying to keep the world as a whole safe. Aric of Dacia has never been better as he tries to reconcile with his past as he realizes that some things can never die. It’s truly an interesting character study of a broken man that’s not yet ready to give up, but is still searches for what he wants in his damaged life.

1.      Mister Miracle – By the same people who made Omega Men a surprise hit, this series surprises at every turn and almost every issue is a home run. It’s only gotten better as it’s gone on and is the only comic from this year that made me have to read every issue multiple times to understand what I just read. It’s the runaway pick for my book of the year, definitely something to check out the second you get the chance.

And without further ado, the Top 10 Comic Book Issues of 2017!

10. Ultimates 2 #6

Writer: Al Ewing/Pencils & Inks: Travis Foreman/Colors: Matt Yackey/ Letters: Joe Sabino
Kicking things off at the precipice of the "Eternity War" as Eternity itself fights for survival and we get a history lesson of how literally the multiverse itself came into being. So, yeah, small potatoes and all that nonsense. But for real, this issue highlights some of the best parts of Ultimates 2. It shows high-stakes drama as well as action at a level that is, really, beyond comprehension. It would be later in the series that it's explained that how we, the readers, are perceiving the action is only as a metaphor, that the conflict going on is so out of control we couldn't begin to comprehend it. That idea comes on full-blast here, as well see the birth of the Celestials and rise and fall of several multiverses. We also see the true threat of the First Firmament and how it his power scales in comparison to, again, the living embodiment of Eternity. It also has some very well drawn action scenes that really give the scope, and the characterizations of the various Eternities have cool designs. The color work in this issue is pretty fantastic as well. There are many interesting ideas presented in this issue that sadly weren't noticed at a larger scale, so we may not get the continuation of all the ideas introduced in this issue alone, but I'm still really glad I got to read it. 

9. Dark Days: The Forge #1

Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV/ Pencils: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Scott Williams, Klaus Johnson, Danny Miki/ Inks: Alex Sinclair with Jeremy Skipper/ Colors: Steve Wands/ Letters: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair
The first lead-in to the major DC event of the year, Dark Nights: Metal, this comic introduced so many new, wacky ideas to the DCU that've been hinted at since the inception of the New 52. The comic masterfully incorporates old ideas back into the fold and reintroduced past characters into the mix of all of this, bringing explanations for questions like, "Where's ____ been?" or "What does ___ have to do with ___?" I don't really want to get into spoilers here, because I'd like you to read the comic itself. It has some major jaw-dropping moments and images sprinkled throughout that makes this a much more fun read than a serious one. It's meant to be crazy and wacky; it's meant to be a super hero comic. Sometimes it can be a little jarring to switch from artist to artist, but normally what's going on in the scene can make up for it. The character interactions are all a ton of fun, too, with characters you wouldn't really expect to see talking to each other, like Green Lantern and Duke, or Batman and Mister Miracle. It definitely worked to get me hyped up for "Metal" later in the year. 

8. Dark Nights: Metal #2

Writer: Scott Snyder/ Art: Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion
Oh, hey, speaking of Dark Nights: Metal. For the most part what I said about Dark Days: The Forge can be applied here, only amplified x 10 and with much more consistent art, thanks to the always-great Greg Capullo. It was excellent to see Snyder and Capullo working together again, and while the first issue of this miniseries was a bit exposition heavy, this one just goes straight into the action with a thrilling chase-sequence and doesn't get any better. I mean, how many comics feature Batman threatening to use the baby-version of a cosmic entity as a weapon to throw himself back in time and prevent all of this from happening? It's one of the craziest images I've seen all year in a comic book, and that's not even the craziest thing! This issue was just non-stop insanity and I loved it, but it also afforded a ton of good servicing to what's going on now in the DCU and helped answer lots of questions people had going into "Metal," like how everything was connected through these various "Metals." It also has an incredibly chilling reveal of the Dark Multiverse's Batmen. It's nonstop action and fun, majorly delivering on the promises made for the series. 

7. Divinity #0

Writer: Matt Kindt/ Art: Renato Guedes/ Letters: Dave Lanphear

One of the things that initially deterred me from putting this comic on the list or even having it in consideration is how exclusive it can feel the first time through reading it. This comic takes readers through the most important parts of the Valiant Universe before the big shakeups that are likely to come next year, so if you have no idea who these characters are, it may be a little confusing. First-time readers will grasp the intelligence of Toyo Harada, the tragedy of Bloodshot, the cunning of Ninjak, and the shame of X-O Manowar. And they’ll probably have no idea who the Red Brigade is. So, why is it on the list? 

Because of the second time through and you realize that this isn’t a journey through the Valiant Universe as a reader, but as Divinity himself. This is hot off the heels of Divinity 3: Stalinverse where the world has just recovered from a reality incursion causing Russia to take over the world. It was Secret Empire done right. But that’s beside the point. Divinity experienced true horrors in that comic and it’s explained here how he now wants to become a more active part of the world, to observe everyone and make sure to check up on them.

The ending of the comic is simply brilliant, and truly highlights these points. He comes home after the day of exploring basically the universe and treats it like, “Just checked on the kids, honey, they’re doing great.” This comic emphasizes how separate a level Divinity is on everyone else, yet the respect he shows for everyone, in particular Harada and Ninjak, the only two in the world that have ever contended with him. It’s brilliant.

And the artwork is fantastic. It’s gorgeously done to show how mired and malleable things are for Divinity, and the most consistent thing flowing through it all is him. I especially thought it was smart to have the still moments be clear artwork and then the moments where he’s travelling and gets lost in thought to be a bit more obscured, almost as if he is travelling through reality itself to get to the next single moment. While it is a bit rough for the first go-through if you’ve never read a Valiant comic, the second time through will convince you to check out Divinity’s journey and maybe the journeys of some of these other characters.

6. X-O Manowar #1

Writer: Matt Kindt/ Art: Tomas Giorello/ Colors: Diego Rodriguez/ Letters: Dave Sharpe

This comic exceeded every expectation I had for it. I didn't read much of the 2012-2016 X-O Manowar series, but what I did was far different than this. This is a space opera, a brutal tale of a man that doesn't want anything to do with violence, but is slowly realizing that his life is nothing but violence, and perhaps there isn't a way to escape this. We see through brilliant artwork as Aric of Dacia struggles through this battle not as a warrior but as a person.

There's great narrative contrast between how Aric is clearly feeling about all of this and how he's performing in battle. He's wiping the floor with these goons, but isn't happy to see it. If there's one narrative weakness to this book, it's that things go a little as planned, as the commander describes the battle as it happens. Thankfully, it's backed by incredible action set-pieces with, again, stunning artwork. There are so many panels or backgrounds that I would want hanging in my room as paintings, and it only gets better.

This comic feels like a video-game but reads like a great science fiction story. We're one hundred percent behind Aric as we take this new adventure with him, and the opening pages really hammer home the world and where his character is, so we can just jump right in with him. It's a true jumping on point for the character. Anything you would need to know for this is explained as he discusses his time on "Urth," but it's not done in some bland expository way. It's done in a way that he's trying to cope with what's going on as well as explaining it to a woman he thinks he loves?

Plus, there's the new power dynamic at play: the suit. There's definitely a feeling throughout the book that something is missing, and it's the suit, but Aric doesn't want the suit. Well, why? He clearly yearns for the ability to rid himself of violence, and the suit is the fastest means of doing so. It creates interesting and thought-provoking questions going forward into the series. It's a great starting point for an even greater series. 

5. Detective Comics #965

Writer: James Tynion IV/ Pencils: Eddy Barrows/ Inks: Eber Ferreira/ Colors: Adriano Lucs/ Letters: Sal Cipriano
Gonna have to lead with the compliments to artwork on this one because DUDE. Eddy Barrows knocks it out of the park and makes it look easy. His artwork hooked me in the early “Rebirth” parts of Detective Comics and it was a brilliant idea to bring him back for this all-important arc that features the return of Tim Drake, as well as the brilliant return of the Batman of Tomorrow. I love the way he does the expressions on the characters as well as how fluid all the action is throughout the comic. He really nails the emotional weight and depth of what’s going on, and how painful it is for Batman to be discussing the future with his younger self.

I particularly enjoyed the flashback (that was actually in the future, so…hmmm…) that shows how the Batman of Tomorrow was on the run. It immediately showed that we weren’t dealing with the average artist anymore and that he was here to bring it. Sure the art was fine in Issue 965, but there wasn’t as much emphasis on action in that one, as they weren’t being hounded by Doomsday. There’s a particularly awesome spread in this issue that could probably be hung as a poster, it’s that good.

As if that weren’t enough, the story here is also great. It echoes the “Titans of Tomorrow” storyline from when Geoff Johns was on Teen Titans by having Tim confront his older self, but in a move that’s absolutely BRILLIANT, the Batman of Tomorrow is actually the older version of the Tim Drake from the Geoff Johns comic. Basically, when those Titans went into the future, Tim Drake saw that Batman and swore he’d never become that. However, as this comic reveals, it was inevitable that would happen, and Tim Drake ultimately succumbed to it. So, basically, Post-Crisis Tim Drake is destined to become a vengeful, murderous Batman, and Rebirth Tim Drake has an open destiny.

This comic also has some of the smarter ties to the “Rebirth” story of how Dr. Manhattan hi-jacked the DCU. It shows how drastically altered the future is just in how the Batman of Tomorrow behaves in the final few pages, as well as how shocked he is for Connor Kent not to exist in the current DCU. It makes one wonder how that’s possible? What role does Hypertime play in all this, if any? Can Connor still exist, was he wiped clean of everything? It raised many questions and still brought us a satisfying story of how one can possibly change their fate, or how accepting one’s fate will affect them moving forward. It was an arc worth the wait and this issue was a stand out, for sure.

4. Moon Knight #14

Writer: Jeff Lemire/ Art: Greg Smallwood/ Colors: Jordie Bellaire/ Letters: VC's Cory Petit
It seems like Moon Knight just can’t catch a break with an ongoing title. He has some great runs in fast bursts, like a solid sprinter. Thankfully, this latest run was good all throughout it, instead of just having an excellent run at the front end and then petering out to still be good, but not as good. This issue, the finale, highlights all the good parts of this run and finally, finally, brings closure to Moon Knight (that was later undone for the sake of “Marvel Legacy” so screw this I guess).

It brings in all the elements of the entire run and pays serious homage to Moon Knight’s history, giving respect to almost every iteration of the character up to the final conflict with Khonshu. Marc Spector has never been better here as he fights his way with a mind fit to burst in order to end it all. It pays off that badass final shot of Issue 9 in a brilliant callback way, too, with a good final shot of its own.

This issue also manages to close the book on Marc’s relationship with Bushman. While the character will return in the current run of Moon Knight still being published, seeing Bushman show up here was no surprise but was a great way of showing how Marc was ready to seriously put the past behind him and let it all go, including Khonshu himself. The best parts of this issue are the payoff and potential. Years—decades!—of storytelling all built up to an incredibly emotional climax here that left readers thinking, “What’s a world look like where Moon Knight doesn’t have to listen to Khonshu?” It was an incredibly exciting place to leave things.

Greg Smallwood’s art was brilliant as usual, and was a standout throughout the run. He just draws a good Marc Spector, Moon Knight, and Mr. Knight, conveying excellent emotion through the character’s facial expressions and he’s pretty good at action scenes as well.

This also brought an end to the illustrious Jordie Bellaire’s time with Moon Knight, which is almost as tough a blow as seeing the book go away for a little bit. Her colors were always a shining light for the comic, really allowing some things to stand out over others, emphasizing people or things in the foreground that are meant to catch our attention.

3. Batman/Elmer Fudd #1

Writer: Tom King/ Art: Lee Weeks/ Colors: Lovern Kindzierski/ Letters: Deron Bennett

What a surprise. I mean it. You tell anyone a year ago that a comic with Batman and Elmer Fudd is going to be one of the best of the year and they’ll laugh at you. Now? If you tell anyone, “Hey Tom King and Lee Weeks are doing a thing” they’ll get immediately excited. This comic is simply brilliant, from the story to the art. Both perfectly match that noir-style tone that Tom King is going for with this world. You can just hear some old detective-movie music playing in the background the entire time.

From the moment that Elmer Fudd sits down at the bar and starts talking to Bugs, I was hooked. The first shot is dripping with atmosphere, yes, but it’s not until you settle into the bar alongside Elmer and allow the characters to just talk in that old-school noir style that the book begins to come together beautifully.

It’s an interesting character study of Elmer Fudd, too, as he pursues his target. It’s a dedication only rivalled by the goofy hunter of the Looney Tunes but it’s taken to a degree of, “No, what if he were serious about this, what if Elmer Fudd were as good as he thinks he is?”

One of the things that truly helps this story stand out is how unnecessary Batman is to the overall enjoyment. He’s nothing but a bonus when it comes down to it. Batman could be replaced by Daffy Duck and while it’d definitely be a different story, I think it’d still have some heavy emotional impact building to the ending. But having Batman in does take the story in interesting directions, as neither character is really all that great at dealing with highly emotional situations and both tend to have problems with trust.

The final reveal is also brilliantly done, and fits together very well with the story. It makes the second or third time through the comic more exciting, like any good detective story, to see the clues as they appear, to see where everything fits. It’s a comic that ages well with time, no matter how many times you think, “No, this thing couldn’t have been that good.”

I should also mention how well famous Looney Tunes lines are incorporated throughout the comic, as they’re all mismatched in terms of how they’re often used and how they’re played out here in the story. The best is one, for me, is probably “That’s all folks.”

The backup to this story is also pretty good, playing out like any old Bugs Bunny/ Elmer Fudd sketch, but replacing Daffy Duck with Batman. It’s got good slapstick and isn’t afraid to poke fun at the goofier elements of Batman. The Robins have a particularly funny inclusion to the back up.

This is easily the best one-shot issue of the year, definitely check it out if you get the chance.

2. Mister Miracle #4

Writer: Tom King/ Art: Mike Gerads/ Letters: Clayton Cowles
I can’t even with this comic. I mean. HOW. How does it work? It shouldn’t. Describing this comic to someone will make it sound so incredibly dull and boring and so against what a comic book is meant to be AND YET.

And yet.

What Tom King and Mitch Gerads do with the nine-panel grid style and the art and the dialogue is just so brilliant that this sky-rocketed to the top of the list and was one of the most satisfying comics I read all year. And basically the entire issue is a trial!

But it’s such a unique setting for this. Imagine if God himself came down and said to one of his angels, “We are going to put you on trial for working alongside Satan, and we’re going to hold it in a suburban living room.” Just the image of Orion, Lightray, Barda, Mister Miracle, and “some security guy” sitting in the living room, about to partake in a trial of the gods, is simply brilliant. There aren’t really words to describe how insane, goofy, and yet so fitting it is for the series.
Mister Miracle has made its name from taking the extraordinary—insane powers, epic battles, gods, demons, war, love, death, the universe itself!—and turning it into the ordinary. This issue is no exception. There’s a brilliant interlude between Lightray declaring the trial and the trial itself wherein Mister Miracle does another one of his acts and it just shows how boring and mundane it is compared to what’s coming, and yet for the average person, Mister Miracle is the most exciting thing there is. But when you have to contend with your malicious brother that’s now usurped the position of God?

Perspective, you know?

The trial itself is tense and simply amazing. If the entire issue were the trial, this book would be the Number 1 comic of the year. But it has a bit of a slow start to get going. There’s good comedy, with Barda telling Lightray to go away and Scott is just rolling with it because he’s so done with all of this, but it takes a little bit to get going.

It isn’t truly until the veggie tray makes its first appearance that things get going and things get amazing. You barely even realize that all the panels are basically just copy and pasted over and over until Scott finally snaps and lashes out at Orion for what could be a monumental reveal that the book slowly hints at and then it suddenly ramps up to a thousand.

It’s an excellent pairing of interesting dialogue sucking you right into the story, making you feel like the three on the couch that are just looking back and forth from Orion to Mister Miracle, paired with the panels that are simple enough to let the story move but convey the proper emotion for each piece of dialogue spoken. When Orion yells, you feel it. When he’s just asking questions and slowly digging into Scott, you feel it.

It’s such a shock when Scott finally punches Orion, and it’s somewhat played for laughs, even though it could be a horrifying revelation. So what’s he do? He goes to the veggie tray, takes a carrot, eats the carrot, and then declares Mister Miracle guilty and none of it feels out of place. Because this story is so weird and out there that you’re already going with it. And it ends on such a great emotional downer that you immediately have to go re-read the issue. This comic, this single comic, is so re-readable to break down the issue and try and understand each question being asked and what it means for Mister Miracle as a person and as an entity.

Go. Read. This. Comic.

1. Batman #21

Writer: Tom King/ Art: Jason Fabok/ Colors: Brad Anderson/ Letters: Deron Bennett
This was the early front-runner that nothing caught up to. It’s the opening of “The Button,” the continuation of the “Rebirth” story, and is overall just an excellent, excellent action comic that highlights the best traits of both Batman and the Reverse Flash, of all characters through simple combat. It has minimal dialogue from either character, too, which is a nice change of pace, and instead lets the art and action speak.

The issue also starts in a really interesting place, showing Saturn Girl having a mental breakdown that gives the book a real air of tension. Who’s going to die? Where’s Superman, why isn’t he around? What’s going on, isn’t this just a hockey game? When we pull out to see Batman watching, that’s when you know something’s about to go down, he knows something is up, too.

I love the shot of the Comedian’s button all over the Bat-computer, as it towers over Batman, like it’s about to consume him entirely. Jason Fabok’s art it, as usual, spectacular, and it’s on full-blast here. From regular set-pieces to the thrilling, visceral action, his artwork sings throughout the comic.

The story here is actually fairly basic on the surface, but a bit of a deeper look reveals that this is Batman at his finest, as he takes hits from a villain he cannot defeat and knows he doesn’t need to defeat. He doesn’t go for any weapons, he doesn’t pull out any tricks, he just plays to the Reverse Flash’s ego that he can immediately discern from the way that he came into the Batcave. It’s a fight for survival, plain and simple.

But there are still very good story beats throughout. When Reverse Flash rips up the letter from Thomas Wayne in the Flashpoint world, there is a very emotional beat for Batman in the comic. The execution of the nine-panel grid in this comic is excellent, and I can barely imagine this comic without it. It echoes Watchmen but also plays to Tom King’s strengths as a writer, and shows Fabok’s flexibility as an artist. Thus, it allows the emotional moments to play out over two or three panels instead of just one, so we can get more out of it at smaller, powerful increments rather than one big thing.

Let’s talk about the fight for a moment, because it takes up the bulk of the comic and is very well done. Thanks to the artwork, we can really grasp the pain that Batman’s taking, and can feel each hit as he takes it. Reverse Flash just pummels Batman and he keeps getting up, and it isn’t until he finally anchors Reverse Flash that this fight jumps to the next level and shows one man in way over his head against a man that’s realizing he’s fighting something he can’t entirely understand. And the best part? That description can flip-flop easily for Reverse Flash and Batman and this comic knows it and plays that up to the max.

The real thing that hooked me on this issue, and what really made this the best comic of the year for me, isn’t the great story or the amazing action or incredible art: it’s the countdown. From the moment Barry says over the com, “Be there in a minute” the countdown begins and remains for the entire fight. At first it seems like a countdown to someone’s death, hearkening back to Saturn Girl’s premonitions, but then you realize, in a single panel, an excellent panel that always gives me chills, that Batman has been counting down for the entire fight.
“I don’t need to win. I just need eleven seconds.”


So good.

The comic also ends on a humongous cliffhanger that is paced masterfully. It’s almost haunting how still everything is from the moment Reverse Flash gets taken to see Dr. Manhattan to the time where he comes back and claims to have seen God, and then falls over, little more than a skeleton in the suit. You just have to wonder: “What the hell just happened?”
Thankfully, with Doomsday Clock, it looks like we’re about to find out.

And that’s my list for the year, everybody. I’m really looking forward to what every company is going to bring to the table next year, as DC continues headfirst with Doomsday Clock, Marvel begins to change things up with “Legacy,” and Valiant continues their format of having very good miniseries in place of a ton of ongoing series. Plus all the other amazing creator-owned books we get every year!

See you next year, everyone. Have a safe and happy Holiday season, and may the comics be good, and the memories greater.

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