Best Comics of 2017
2017 was an amazing year for comics. But with so many powerful stories across so many different genres, it’d be almost impossible to pick a straight top 10 list. But here are some of EW’s 2017 favorites, in a variety of different categories.
Best Series: Mister Miracle (DC)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of comic legend Jack Kirby’s birth. Writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads honored the old master by revisiting one of his most original characters, the superhero escape artist Mister Miracle. Like seemingly everyone else in 2017, Scott Free now feels adrift in his own life. He can escape chains and straight jackets and death traps, but he’s having a much harder time escaping the “life trap”: All the little annoyances and responsibilities and dreary tasks that just keep piling up, day after day. Scott attempted suicide on the very first page of this series, and ever since has been trying to find his place in a universe that just doesn’t make sense. Worst of all, Scott can’t tell if this is all the manipulation of his archenemy (and adoptive father) Darkseid, or if he’s just losing his own grasp on reality. His wife Big Barda, the book’s co-lead, does what she can to help, but there are no easy answers to any of these problems. Maybe the universe is just evil. Darkseid is.
Kirby comics remain influential for their kinetic action, but Gerads took the opposite approach. With nine-panel pages, there isn’t much room for Kirby-style brawls. Instead, the action plays out on the characters’ faces, as they wrestle with changing developments and shifting allegiances in the great cosmic war between Heaven and Hell. King does something similar with Kirby’s words, which were often just as powerful as his pictures. In captions, he often quotes Kirby’s original Mister Miracle narration, juxtaposing that bombastic grandiosity with the broken-down helpless situations of the characters now, as they try and fail to live up to their own hype.
Two of the best creators in comics, at the top of their game, taking on one of the most fertile storytelling worlds around. And we’re still only a third of the way through this 12-issue series! —Christian Holub
Buy issues of Mister Miracle here.
Best Graphic Novel: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics)
Where to begin with Emil Ferris’ masterpiece? Set in the riotous political climate of 1968 Chicago, this astounding graphic novel takes the form of young Karen Reyes’ notebook as she tries to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor named Anka. Karen is an inquisitive wannabe detective who’s also obsessed with monster movies. She even depicts herself as a little werewolf cub, and constantly wishes that a monster would bite her and save her from having to deal with mean classmates, a sick mother, a dead neighbor, and all the other problems swirling around her. The full majesty of this work is hard to put into words, but it’s a feast for the eyes and heart. Ferris had to survive a bout of West Nile Virus and shipping delays (at one point copies of her book were “arrested” by the Panamian government) over the course of a 15-year creative process to get this book out into the world, but it was more than worth it. — C.H.
Order My Favorite Thing Is Monsters here.
Best Writer: Tom King
We’ve already talked about Mister Miracle, but it can’t be overstated how essential King’s voice was to making it through this tumultuous year. His writing on Mister Miracle and the equally impressive Batman is not only about the dark, chaotic, and frightening absurdity of the world, but also how we respond to it, how people find reasons to keep going in spite of everything. While King has tackled this theme in a lot of his writing, it never feels redundant because he finds new, interesting, and nuanced approaches to it each time. With Mister Miracle, that means head-on, and on Batman, that means coming at it sideways through the heart via Batman and Catwoman’s engagement. No matter what, though, the stories have been psychologically complex, poignant, and down-right entertaining.
King’s run on Batman — one of the best in recent history, and that’s saying something given what came immediately before it — reveals how much room there is to invent when working with a character as old as this one. This year, King pushed Bruce in a bold new direction by exploring what happens when the Dark Knight tries to find happiness through a relationship with Catwoman, the best love story of 2017 (Batman Annual #2 brought me to tears); he staged an epic yet character focused war between the Joker and the Riddler; and, most impressively, he turned Z-list and walking punchline villain Kite Man into an empathetic and heartbreaking character. As the year comes to the close, King’s tremendous work on Batman has left me wondering if he isn’t the real superhero. — Chancellor Agard
Buy Batman volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles here.
Best Artist: David Rubín
Comic art looks better than ever these days, thanks to a wide variety of styles and skills. But even in a crowded field of astounding artists, David Rubín has managed to distinguish himself. Retelling the story of Beowulf with writer Santiago Garcia, Rubín used the comic medium to give a refreshing new take on the age-old legend (that graphic novel was originally published in Spain in 2013, but finally got an English translation this year). His eye-popping art also injected a huge dose of adrenaline into writer Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer series. In that series’ new spin-off, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, Rubín has visualized a cast of strange new supervillains (from the titular mad scientist to the tragic plumber Cthu-Lou) more than capable of standing up to Lemire’s established heroes. And in Ether, Rubín has helped writer Matt Kindt create a magical fantasy world that is just as dark and threatening as it is bright and colorful. His art was one of the most consistent attractions from this year in comics. —C.H.
Best Debut: Saladin Ahmed, Black Bolt (Marvel)
Recruiting novelists to write comics has become more and more common lately, especially at Marvel (YA author Rainbow Rowell also made her comics debut this year, on the revived Runaways series), but few have provided such a fresh perspective as Ahmed.
In this new series, the Throne of the Crescent Moon author sent the Inhuman king Black Bolt to a hellish space prison. Superheroes have long had a cozy relationship with the prison system, often sending scores of criminals there without worrying too much about the humanity of this punishment; the CW superhero shows, where heroes like The Flash keep all their enemies in an underground gulag without due process or parole, are emblematic of how extreme this attitude can get. But by putting the hero inside a prison, Ahmed explores a different side of this issue. Black Bolt knows that as a king and hero, he doesn’t belong in jail. As he bonds with fellow inmates like Absorbing Man, Black Bolt realizes they don’t really deserve this hell either.
Combined with Christian Ward’s cosmically psychedelic art, Ahmed’s empathic writing made Black Bolt a delightfully fresh take on the superhero genre. That this happened even as the long-awaited on-screen version of Black Bolt and the Inhumans tanked horrendously makes it even more impressive. — C.H.
Best All-Ages Comic: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars (Dark Horse)
When The Legend of Korra ended its TV run in 2014 with a finale that brought its two female protagonists together in a loving embrace, it set the internet on fire. The romance between headstrong Avatar Korra and glamorous tech wiz Asami Sato captured the minds of animation fans and Tumblr users everywhere.
This year, Legend of Korra co-creator Michael DiMartino finally continued the story with a comic that picks up right after Korra and Asami walked into the Spirit World together. Irene Koh’s gorgeous art gives a colorful aura to the proceedings, as the two explore their burgeoning romance and also learn about the history of same-sex relationships in the Avatar world. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of element-bending action here, too, proving that the Avatar universe remains as fertile a storytelling playground as ever. — C.H.
Order The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars here.
Best Finale: Silver Surfer (Marvel)
Before Batman and Catwoman’s engagement, Dan Slott and Michael Allred’s Silver Surfer was the best source of modern superhero romance. For the past few years, the cosmically-powered Sentinel of the Spaceways has explored the far reaches of the universe alongside his human companion, Dawn Greenwood. A new character created just for this series, Dawn made a delightful addition to the Marvel Universe. Like a mix between a Doctor Who companion and the female protagonist of a Hayao Miyazaki film, Dawn loved exploring the fantastic world around her and meeting all kinds of creatures, often turning enemies to her side and injecting a whole new life into the Surfer and his board.
All good things must come to an end, but Slott and Allred pulled off a truly satisfying finale — one that connected all the way back to the first issue of the series and left a lovely, permanent mark on the Surfer’s life. True love, after all, is a power greater than cosmic. — C.H.
Order Silver Surfer volume 5: A Power Greater Than Cosmic here.
Best Political Commentary: Shaolin Cowboy: Who'll Stop the Reign? (Dark Horse)
Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency provoked a lot of pop culture reactions this year. The overt commentary, such as Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression on Saturday Night Live, got the most buzz, but the best realization of 2017’s political-cultural mood could be found in Geof Darrow’s latest comic. As the unnamed monk protagonist continues his journey across America, he now runs into the symbols of a broken culture: People in immiserating poverty, given over to crime and openly walking around with swastika tattoos. Trump references litter the background of the comic, and even though the real villain is a talking mind-controlling crab, the parallel with another leader feeding off his followers’ desperation is readily apparent. — C.H.
Order Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? here.
Best Escape From 2017: Moonstruck (Image)
In a year that often felt dark and dystopian, this delightful series from writer Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), newcomer artist Shae Beagle, and editor Laurenn McCubbin was a wonderful escape. This world is populated by fantasy creatures who are also comfortable in their diverse identities, from lovestruck werewolves Julie and Selena to the upbeat non-binary centaur Chet.
There was still danger here, thanks to an enigmatic and magical fox, but the warm art and beautiful world still allowed readers an escape from the horrific real world — in the same way Julie herself treasures her Pleasant Mountain Sisters books (which appear as a “Tales of the Black Freighter”-style story-within-a-story in segments illustrated by Kate Leth). — C.H.
Buy issues of Moonstruck here.
Superhero of the Year: America Chavez
In a year that featured a Nazi Captain America in comic book pages, real life Nazis walking the street, and overt bigotry in many areas of the country, America Chavez, a.k.a. Miss America, has been the inspiring symbol we’ve needed. In her first and immensely fun and colorful solo series — written by Gabby Rivera, with art from Joe Quinones — this queer, Latina superhero is a powerful role model for both men and women of color. The freedom with which she travels not only the country, but time and the multiverse, and her willingness to stand up against injustice and defend both strangers and loved ones alike make her an inspiration, especially for people of color and in the LGBTQ community (see: America punching Hitler in issue #2). Her ongoing series has been a bright spot in these very dark times. — C.A.
Order America volume 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez here.
Bloodshot: Salvation (Valiant): Bloodshot was created as a merciless, nanite-enhanced killing machine, but over the last few years writer Jeff Lemire has managed to give him depth. This newest series is the culmination. Set in two different time periods (the present, where Bloodshot is taking care of his girlfriend Magic and their newborn daughter Jessie, and the near future, where Magic and Jessie are desperately trying to survive without him), Salvation continued Lemire’s exploration of violence and family in the context of Bloodshot. Between this and Logan, it was a big year for grizzled old super-warriors teaming up with young girls who have inherited their powers and trauma, for better and worse.
Dark Nights: Metal (DC): In the first major event of DC’s Rebirth era, Batman dynamic duo Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reunite for this bonkers story about nightmarish versions of Batman from parallel universes invading the DC Universe. It’s sensational and over-the-top and a lot of fun!
Deathstroke (DC): Christopher Priest’s family saga about DC’s resident antihero assassin was already one of the highlights of the Rebirth initiative, but this year it got even bigger and weirder. After an encounter with the Speed Force, Slade Wilson decides to take a crack at the straight and narrow, taking on a new costume and assembling a group of talented youngsters into the superhero team Defiance.
Detective Comics (DC): Batman comics were firing on all cylinders this year. Even beyond Tom King’s game-changing run on the flagship book and Snyder/Capullo team’s balls-to-the-wall Metal extravaganza, writer James Tynion IV managed to make this comic everything a Batman diehard could want, especially those that came of age in the late ‘90s/early 2000s: Zatanna! Azrael! Tim Drake!
Kim Reaper (Oni Press): Sarah Graley’s delightful story about a university student falling hard for the cool girl in her class, who also happens to work as a Grim Reaper leading souls to the afterlife, managed to also include pirate ghosts, a man using his cats as body armor, and all kinds of other fun fantasies.
Monstress (Image): EW’s favorite comic of 2016 continued to astound with its second arc. When Maika Halfwolf and her friends take a trip to the Isle of Bones, they find a secret darker and creepier than they ever could have imagined, as writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda continued to build their engrossing, complex, unique mythology.
Ms. Marvel (Marvel): Kamala Khan continues to be one of the most inspiring superheroes around. This year, writer G. Willow Wilson continued to pilot her millennial Muslim superhero against issues that many millennials actually face, from over-crowded schedules to political protests. Kamala’s resilience in the face of these struggles signifies how her generation is ready to step up and try fighting for a better world.
Redlands (Image): Boasting striking body-horror and a powerful “smash the patriarchy” message, this comic about three witches who take over the law enforcement of the titular Florida town is one of the best horror comics out right now. Creators Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa R. Del Rey’s series is scary but never forgets to have to fun.