Each year, as December comes to a close, it seems like comics can’t get any better. 2015 was no exception. While the Big Two (Marvel and DC) delivered game-changing story revamps, the field was (not so quietly) dominated by publishers such as Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, and BOOM!, which all left their marks by putting out original and prominent stories, helping to push the industry toward what has become more and more of a mantra over the years: You don’t have to love superheroes to love comics.
The result of all of this? Not just more comics, but more variation in comics — no matter who you are or what you like, you could find something that suited you. In that respect, it was almost too tough to pare down favorites, but we did our best.
Best Revamp: ARCHIE (Mark Waid/Fiona Staples)
One of America’s most beloved redheads bounded into the 21st century in style, thanks to Archie comics’ revamp. But Waid and Staples’ reimagining wasn’t haphazard: As new issues arrived, it was clear that the series was being handled with care. This was a new Archie, beautifully modernized by Staples’ art with all the modern opportunities of the real world, but it also wasn’t an Archie bombarded by Snapchats and iPhones. Sure, Archie had a fresh new look, and the comics had a fresh new feel, but thanks to a great creative team, Riverdale High still felt like home.
Best Ongoing: SAGA (Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples)
The best ongoing is one of Image Comics’ stalwart series, and rightfully so — three years in, and Saga continues to churn out beautifully crafted and intense narratives, characters, and art. Reading each issue feels like a cozy, worn blanket: no matter how long it’s been, and no matter when you pick it up, there’s always a familiarity that’s fresh and comforting.
(Honorable mentions: the always on point Sex Criminals and the brilliantly spun The Wicked and the Divine).
Best New Original Series: MONSTRESS (Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda)
In the notes of her first issue, Liu describes how she wanted to write a fantasy-spun war story set in Asia, influenced by what her grandparents went through during WWII. And Monstress, one of Image Comics’ most imaginative and daring new series, is a true example of how the publisher puts its focus on independent and original stories. Like the Image series Bitch Planet, Monstress is dark, intense, and builds worlds in a way that doesn’t focus on holding your hand. By all accounts, Monstress had an epic page count for its first issue, but it certainly didn’t feel like it.
(Honorable mentions: Another Image standout, the coming-of-age comic Paper Girls and BOOM! Studios’ innovative Power Up!)
Best Historical Comic: DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS (Marguerite Bennett/Marguerite Sauvage)
What would happen if you took some of the most popular pinup versions of characters from the DC Collectible line of “Bombshell” statues, set them in an alternate WWII universe, and gave them the words of Marguerite Bennett and the art of Marguerite Sauvage? You’d get a beautifully crafted series where protagonists such as Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Supergirl deftly handle crime fighting and baseball on a daily basis, not to mention real world friend and family issues. Bennett’s world building is delightful and Sauvage’s art transports readers to a quirky and vintage-soaked alternate universe, where girls run the world both at war and at home.
Best New Superhero: UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL (Ryan North/Erica Henderson)
She talks to squirrels. She texts Tony Stark on the regular like it’s no big deal. She’s a little awkward, she’s got a too-positive attitude, and on occasion, she saves the world (with a little help from her friends). Doreen Green is this year’s Kamala Khan, and if you didn’t fall in love with her, you probably need to examine your priorities. In the character’s first ongoing since 1992, Ryan North easily handles the challenge of helping Doreen’s story appeal to a wide variety of readers, while Erica Henderson makes the character both charming and real. Imbued with quirky humor and in-jokes that are literally sprinkled across every single page like breadcrumbs, Doreen proves she’s here to not only “kick butts and eat nuts” — she’s here to stay.
(Honorable mention: The delightful and heartfelt revamp of Howard The Duck. Waugh!)
Best Single Issue: THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE #13 (Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie/Tula Lotay) and HAWKEYE #22 (Matt Fraction/David Aja/Matt Hollingsworth)
In some ways, comic artists and writers have a harder job than those who work on television shows and books: They have 20-30 pages, at most, to get readers invested in a story and keep them interested in that particular story enough so that they want to keep coming back. And sometimes, a story can be so powerful that it sticks in your mind long after you put it to rest. Two standout issues (yes, we couldn’t pick just one) that did exactly that: The Wicked and the Divine’s frank, emotional and beautifully brilliant commentary about the way social media can make an impact; and Hawkeye #22, the (long-awaited) final issue for Fraction & Aja’s series about Marvel’s most human archer, which finished off with a gut punch that left us both emotional and satisfied at the same time.
Best Comic For Kids, But Not For Kids: I HATE FAIRYLAND (Skottie Young)
Young trades his adorable Avengers and X-Men baby drawings for a fantasy world that’s not quite so innocent, and the result is a vibrant and fun story. The main character of Gertrude, a girl stuck in Fairyland who has aged mentally but not physically, is not a protagonist we’d normally take to. But in story and art, Young presents her in a way that allows us to relate to her: she’s an adult in a child’s body, struggling to deal with the issues that come with growing up, and sometimes getting a little frazzled along the way.
Best New Series: BLACK CANARY (Brenden Fletcher/Annie Wu)
When DC launched 24 new series earlier this year, few expected one of the breakout books to feature Dinah Lance fronting a rock band (named, of course, “Black Canary”). Fletcher understands that we don’t need a bunch of exposition and culls his storytelling in a way that gives just enough to keep us entertained, while not throwing out an overwhelming amount of narrative. Meanwhile, Wu’s always on-point art showcases a sharp realistic style that makes us feel like we’re on stage ourselves. Black Canary is so different that it probably shouldn’t work, but it does, and that’s what makes it memorable.
Best New Superhero Squad: A-FORCE (Marguerite Bennett/G. Willow Wilson/Jorge Molina/Craig Young)
You could sum up A-Force by flipping to page two of the comic, which features a spread of the superhero squad flying across the page. But you’d be hard pressed to find a comic with more heart and more passion, because when the dust of the battle settles, that’s what this series ultimately delivers. A host of wonderfully underrated superheroes (including She-Hulk, Dazzler, Nico Minoru, America Chavez, and Lady Loki) guide a story, with narratives driven home by Jorge Molina’s art. His drawings feel and look real, and not just because he doesn’t go for the “stick woman” superhero. A-Force was a product of Marvel’s Secret Wars (it’ll get another ongoing next year), but even if you didn’t follow Marvel’s big world building shift, the comic could grab your heart all on its own.