The Best Comic Books of 2016
In a year stuffed with invigorated reboots, stellar finales, and stunning debuts, these series stand out.
Best Ongoing: Monstress (Image Comics)
There are no easy answers in this gorgeous series from Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Its detailed fictional world is full of intricate details from multiple influences (including steampunk, dark literary fantasy, and anime), but reveals itself slowly, piece by piece. Same goes for its enigmatic protagonist, Maika Halfwolf, whose demonic powers and dark backstory are a mystery even to her. The title’s dual meaning is reflected in the series’ balance of wartime horrors with Takeda’s beautiful painted art. Monstress also presents a spectrum of feminity rather unique in pop culture. Here, women are sadistic witches, kind smugglers, scared kids, and everything in between. Their world — full of beauty, pain, magic, and darkness — is one you can lose yourself in. –Christian Holub
Best New Series: Black Panther (Marvel)
In a big year for Black Panther (Marvel’s first black superhero celebrated his 50th anniversary with an on-screen debut in Captain America: Civil War), the new comic series from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze stands as the highlight. Coates didn’t make things easy for T’Challa, using plot threads from the past few years of Avengers stories to interrogate Black Panther’s dual role as both international superhero and sovereign ruler of Wakanda while also building up a vibrant supporting cast of friends and enemies. For his part, Stelfreeze constructed a beautiful Afro-futurist landscape for Wakanda, populated equally by rebellious mystics and armored feminist warriors. The resulting series was a delight to read each month. –Christian Holub
Best All-Ages: Goldie Vance (Boom! Studios)
It’s no mystery why this young detective’s series has been such a hit. Goldie’s can-do attitude and savvy know-how, plus her knack for finding (and putting together) clues, means she’s never too far from her next adventure. And she’s not alone. Goldie is joined by a host of memorable characters, including best friend Cheryl and girlfriend Diane, as writer Hope Larson and artist Brittney Williams continue to populate the comic with friends and foes alike. Larson’s writing expertly balances mystery-based storytelling and emotional stakes, while Williams’ art easily combines a slightly modern sensibility with the nostalgia-evoking art deco style of 1960s Florida. It’s a place you want to visit, and an adventure you want to have. –Nivea Serrao
Best Reboot: DC Comics’ Rebirth
DC Comics underwent a much-needed course correction in 2016. Spearheaded by Geoff Johns, the Rebirth initiative rejected the New 52’s worst impulses and embraced the publisher’s long history, bringing joy and optimism back to the line of books. And the results are great: Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi are telling a sweet family story in Superman; comics-legend Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke is a smart, dense political-thriller; James Tynion IV ingeniously turned Detective Comics into the Bat-family team-up book we didn’t know we needed; and Green Arrow is the most fun it’s been since Jeff Lemire left the series. If you stopped reading DC in the past five years, now’s the time to jump back on board. –Chancellor Agard
Best Debut: Chelsea Cain
Chelsea Cain wasn’t the only novelist to try her hand at comics writing this year, but she made the most seamless transition. From the first panel, Cain’s Mockingbird series made no apologies for its sharp wit and poppy color, and neither did its fully-formed protagonist: Bobbi Morse, the superhero secret agent who makes up for her lack of superpowers with impeccable fighting skills and a keen scientific mind. The series was unfortunately canceled after only eight issues (and became the target of a hateful internet campaign that made Cain swear off both Twitter and comic books), but her work serves as a reminder of just how fun superhero comics can be. –Christian Holub
Best Returning: Bitch Planet (Image Comics)
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s sci-fi riff on ’70s prison exploitation films felt raw, almost urgent, when it debuted in 2014. Two years and only ten issues later, Bitch Planet, a saga of sisterhood centered around “non compliant” women in a dystopian realm, still offers plenty of unflinching social commentary — especially the most recent run of issues which sees the series’ feminist themes become more nuanced and inclusive. De Landro’s art continues to be a revelation, too. Another bonus? The back of each issue, which features not just letters from readers, but also essays, articles, even how-to guides by various feminist thinkers and writers. –Nivea Serrao
Best Crossover: Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy (Boom! Studios)
With two groups of fun-loving, adventure-prone kids in the comic market, it was only a matter of time until they teamed up — and thanks to some smart thinking on the part of Boom! Studios and DC, it happened sooner rather than later. But the six-issue arc wasn’t just a chance for the Lumberjanes gang and the Gotham Academy team to double the fun of both series (though it did), it also allowed writer Chynna Clugston Flores to deftly mix and match pairings, bringing out different sides to familiar characters as they tackled the paranormal problem they were faced with. The end result was a comic that celebrates the power of friendship and the excitement of youth, while also ruminating on what it means to grow up. –Nivea Serrao
Best Finale: Batman #51 (DC Comics)
A thank-you letter to Batman, Gotham City, and the fans, Batman #51 is the perfect conclusion to writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s sprawling five-year run on DC’s Batman. Following the Dark Knight on a quiet night in the city, the dynamic duo takes the reader on a pathos-filled tour of Gotham that features a few callbacks to their first issue. Snyder focuses on Batman’s relationship with Gotham City, which has been the theme for the series, but keeps his script light, allowing Capullo’s masterful artwork to take center stage. Snyder and Capullo’s Batman series will be remembered as the highlight of the New 52 era that introduced bold and exciting elements to the character’s mythology. —Chancellor Agard
Most Relevant: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is a superhero for the 21st century – not just because she’s a Muslim-American child of immigrants, but because she faces the same problems as many other modern millennials. In the third year of G. Willow Wilson’s stellar series, Kamala officially became an Avenger, and soon found herself struggling to balance school and her personal life with her crimefighting – something any millennial who’s spent their life bogged down with internships and extracurricular activities can relate to. When Civil War II rolled around in the summer, Kamala learned that Marvel’s elder heroes weren’t exactly the perfect role models she had thought they were. But through all the stress and disillusionment, her signature series retained its optimistic vision of everyday heroism, a beacon in a dark time. –Christian Holub
Superhero of the Year: Wonder Woman (DC Comics)
Wonder Woman was the busiest superhero of the year. The Amazon princess from Themyscira celebrated her 75th anniversary; she became a honorary U.N. ambassador; and she was the sole highlight of Batman v. Superman, her live-action movie debut. And, that’s on top of all of the interesting and unique retellings of her origin story in comics in 2016, which include the “Year One” storyline in her current series, the provocative Wonder Woman: Earth One by comic book prophet Grant Morrison, the empowering and all ages series The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon, and Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, which emphasizes Diana’s selfishness. There quite possibly hasn’t been a better time to be a Wonder Woman fan. –Chancellor Agard
Divinity II (Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine)
Valiant Comics kept pumping out innovative new superhero stories throughout 2016, but a definite highlight was this miniseries, in which two superpowered Soviet cosmonauts debated the nature of existence and fought across space-time in a mind-bending battle for the ages.
Giant Days (John Allison and Max Sarin, Boom! Studios)
John Allison’s slightly surreal slice-of-life series makes the mundane larger than life, and infinitely relatable as pals (and recent roommates) Susan, Esther, and Daisy make their way through what’s only their second year of college.
Hellboy In Hell (Mike Mignola, Dark Horse)
After more than 20 years, Mignola finally brought Hellboy’s story to an end – and this anticlimactic apocalypse only felt more relevant as our world continued to slowly disintegrate this year.
Secret Wars (Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribić, Marvel)
The conclusion to this epic, universe-changing event series was incredibly intimate, life-affirming and gave the Fantastic Four (Marvel’s First Family) the heartfelt send-off they deserved (for now).
The Sheriff of Babylon (Tom King and Mitch Gerards, Vertigo)
Writer Tom King also dazzled with this thrilling, realistic portrayal of the Iraq War’s devastating effect on the country’s people, rooted in King’s own experiences as a CIA officer.
Tyson Hesse’s Diesel: Ignition (Boom! Studios)
Diandra “Dee” Diesel’s quest to prevent a war between two old enemies is both a high-energy call to adventure, and a gorgeously-realized coming-of-age tale set in a world filled with floating colonies and “cloud seas.”
Vision (Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Michael Walsh, Marvel)
Very few series were as moving as King’s 12-issue run on Vision, which used Marvel’s resident synthezoid and his family to show how one act of violence can cause things to spin horribly out of control.
The Wicked & the Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Image Comics)
This inventive story of godlike pop stars stayed strong in its third year, thanks to both an action-heavy arc in the vein of classic superhero crossovers, and new innovations like an entire issue styled to look like a prestige fashion magazine.