The last time the Marvel universe had a debut this perfect, the character’s surname was Parker. I could, and have gone on about how smart, funny and entertaining G Willow Wilson‘s latest title is. After all, It’s a teenage superhero story that discusses issues of social inclusion, cultural integration and the untrammeled horror of adolescence with a clear eye, rock solid comic timing and huge intelligence.
But that’s only half the reason Kamala tops this list. The other half is that this is the year she led a charge into the heart of the whilst, most conservative, least ready to face those facts shard of the entertainment industry; comics. The title was designed as a short run, Wilson producing what was in essence an 8 issue miniseries that would at least give fans a complete story.
At time of writing, the first issue on its 7th printing.
A title about a new character and a female, non-Caucasian, non-Christian or atheist one at they being not only great but successful? That’s the textbook definition of unprecedented. It’s also decades overdue and is a bell that cannot be unrung. Kamala Khan is the future and the future, finally, doesn’t look like more of the same.
More Than Meets The Eye
Yes it’s a Transformers comic. No the Michael Bay jokes are unneeded and irrelevant. James Roberts‘ script, along with companion book Robots in Disguise continually digs into just how beautiful, absurd and horrifying being a functionally immortal transforming robotic life form can be. Eye narrowly beats out Disguise for me, if nothing else for the fact it’s the lighter and somehow more British feeling book. Disguise is neck deep in metallic Shakespearean politics back on Cybertron while Eye plays a little more lik the darkest take on Red Dwarf ever. It’s crew of just functional sociopaths includes the best, and most annoying, version of Hot Rod ever, Ultra Magnus reimagined as a pissy Judge Dredd, an autobot who essentially slept through the last war and the single best gay romance I’ve read in mainstream US comics. Seriously.
Oh and Swerve.
See? Vastly ambitious, sweet, dark stuff. If Transformers comics were really great coffee, they’d be this.
The first of Charles Soule‘s entries on this list is about to come in to land, with two issues left as I write this. That, from the outside, looks like a failure and God knows the comic industry loves talking about its failures almost as much as TV journalists love speculating over ratings.
But in this case that year long isn’t a failure, it’s an asset. Firstly because Soule, the busiest man in comics right now, has been given the chance to d a full year of stories, as he initially planned, with a character he was born to write. Secondly because the hints of the creative team returning for a season 2, if they pan out, might finally lead the charge into one of the new narrative structures that that western comics need if they’re going to survive.
And thirdly because it’s brilliant. Soule, a lawyer writes Jen, a lawyer, like no one has before. Issues cover networking, the perils of setting up your own firm in the Marvel universe, intellectual property disputes over repulsor technology and what happens when one of the most renowned superheroes in history is taken to civil court. It’s brilliantly witty, fun stuff that shows a new perspective on the Marvel universe and also sets up Jen Walters as one of the most sensible, compassionate, grounded people in the Marvel universe. By the time it’s done, the run will stand as a textbook example of how to write one of Marvel’s second tier characters with wit, heart and style. Here’s to season 2.
The second entry for Charles Soule on this list opens with Stephen Blades, the 44th president of the US receiving the traditional letter from his predecessor. However, instead of the usual handshake and advice, this letter is a confession; the previous administration detected an artificial structure on the edge of the solar system and mobilized vast amounts if military spending to prepare for war. They also sent a mission to investigate the structure, one that’s about to arrive.
Mix The West Wing and science fiction and you officially have my attention. Add in Soule‘s typical attention to detail and eye for character and you have a winner. The book splits it’s attention between the mission and the Presidency and Soule excels at showing the different wars being fought. The best stuff though comes from the mission’s decision to have open relationships and the spiky, fragile but surprisingly functional micro community that finds itself a reluctant tip of humanity’s spear. A gripping, confident, tough series and one that left a real mark this year.
A Voice in the Dark
Let’s face it, given my fondness for Midnight Caller and Northern Exposure, a horror title about a DJ was always going to have my attention. The fact it’s this good just means it’s held my attention throughout the year.
Larime Taylor‘s book follows Zoe, a trauma survivor who has got away with murder just before going to university. Zoe is brilliant, kind, killed for the closest thing there is to a good reason and…is bored. She liked it. She wants to do it again and, despite her best efforts, is starting to realize she will. Soon.
Taylor‘s script is keenly observed, combining Zoe’s talent for listening and the issues she encounters on air with her growing numbness and dissociation. There’s tension in every line of the precise art and the story unfolds down a very dark path that never feels trashy or wallows. Zoe is a monster of sorts but she knows it and her struggle to channel her aptitude is a big part of the book. The end result is a series that plays like Dexter with out the comforting self deprecation, and is the smartest, most disturbing horror book of the year.
Honorable mentions also go to Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, Archer & Armstrong, Zero, Umbral and The Fuse. All of them bear out just how clever, innovative and fun a year this was for comics. If you’re interested, my pinterest boards showing the comics and graphic novels I read this year are over here. They’re not small and that should give you an idea of just how great these books are, to fight to the top of a crowd that size and that good. Here’s to next year.