2016 overall, not really the best year, but not everything sucked really. For instance this year gave us some pretty amazing things in the world of comics and if I really had to think about it, these ten books are the best examples of just how good the year was for the comics industry.
Here we go, the top ten comic books of 2016.
10. Deadly Class
The Freshman Finals at King’s Dominion High School of Deadly Arts in 1988 changed everything. With betrayal being the real currency these kids pay with, Deadly Class continued to be an immensely fascinating read as it progressed along its Regan era setting. The high-stakes, kill-or-be-killed, end of semester finals took the journey of main character Marcus Lopez on a harsher road than ever before when he and several others were offered up as the sacrificial lambs given their status as rats, which isn’t what you’d actually think. Deadly Class more than ever solidified itself as an incredibly unpredictable story with some of the most genuinely shocking moments of the whole year that continued on in the fallout of the Freshman Finals.
Rick Remender’s dark sense of storytelling is also insightful in a lot of ways, not just possibly of himself, but also of whom he creates. Every student felt wholly different and remarkable in their actions and why they are in the position they’re in. It makes you invested in so many arcs that you start to hope for the best for them all, but know deep down that the worst case scenario is exactly what’s in store for this would-be assassins. It also needs to be said that Wes Craig is phenomenal here. With the crazy antics, high-speed pace, and rampant debauchery going on here, only he could truly capture what a wild ride this book is.
School never felt more chaotic or dangerous than in Deadly Class.
9. Scarlet Witch
Marvel’s two most prominent magical characters got a big boost in popularity over the year and that lead to two new ongoing books, but right now for me I must say the insight into the mind of Wanda Maximoff is far more engaging to me. (Though do read the current Doctor Strange, its amazing.) Comics veteran James Robinson really digs deep into the perception of Wanda that not just the public holds of her, but the one she holds up for herself. This book is ultimately Wanda’s personal journey into figuring out who she is exactly and it’s beautifully paid off in visiting her past and how it plays into her present. The underlying story of Wanda trying to fix broken witchcraft serves as the catalyst for this journey and it really is fascinating to see a character with as chaotic a history as the Scarlet Witch be examined this closely.
Another factor as to this book being on here is the rotating cast of artists from issue to issue. It’d take up too much time to really name them all, but suffice to say, they help keep this book fresh. The different styles and pacing really do keep the book fresh. Scarlet Witch features some of the best panels I’ve seen all year and some of the best I think I will ever see in all my years of reading comic books really. Each different style of art is also fitting given how much Wanda herself has changed over the years that it makes sense for the book itself to reflect and it does that in spades.
Scarlet Witch also does something very much needed, give a better presence and understanding to magic in the Marvel Universe, something I feel like its lacked for a good while and I hope it keeps this up.
8. Power Man and Iron Fist
The best friendship really in all of comics is once again in the forefront of the market and I am so happy about that! The return of Power Man and Iron Fist is a treat for those new to it and long time fans. David F. Walker was exactly the right voice to do this book as it really examines what the Heroes for Hire reunion means for both Luke Cage and Danny Rand. At first it appears to be able to right wrongs from the past, but it becomes bigger than that as it goes on. Its a great character and group insight that’s on display whenever your following Luke and Danny together or by themselves. These are the definition of best friends that will kindly lay everything down for the other. While balance exciting superhero fun, the book also deals with some of the heavier issues of today from social ones to political ones and they never feel force or anything. Its about examining life as it goes on as well and what it means to really help and stick up for our fellow man, no matter who they are. Sure they can save the world, but their little corner of it is what’s important to these heroes.
Series artist Sanford Greene really gets a lot across here and his art is a pure delight. His design and look have a stylized cartoon look to them, yet with the gritty, street level setting this book has, its perfect. Even the non-human characters involved with this series don’t feel out of place and when the action starts, man this book hits the bullseye. They are all nicely paced and focus on the essentials of the scene. The art really does help give the book a lot more character and that makes it one of the fresher books out there today.
Power Man and Iron Fist is just pure fun through and through!
7. The Flash
Little spoiler alert, this won’t be the last time you see Joshua Williamson on this list. More on that later, but right now no book has shined brighter in DC Rebirth than The Flash. The original Wally West was the catalyst behind Rebirth, but its here we follow Barry Allen and Williamson highlights what makes Barry not just a great hero, but a great person. Barry really is the hero this book needs as he more than anyone maybe in the DC Universe understands what it means to put it all on the line. Beyond that though, this book delves deeper into the inner workings of the Speed Force and really starts to examine the power and how far reaching it exactly is. Central City citizens becoming speedsters suddenly gave this book a quick boost early and it never slowed down from there. This really does create to me the best Barry Allen story in a good long while. Williamson has a clearly deep love for this character and his world and manages to look at Barry in fresh new ways and the introduction of new characters really help to flesh everything out even more.
Another big factor is this art is amazing. Now I wasn’t a big fan of Brett Booth’s art when he was on the book and thankfully before Rebirth, the art had gotten better under a new hand, but when I think about how a Flash book should look, I’m gonna be thinking about Carmine Di Giandomenico. The first main artist for the book, he really captured what a thrill it is to see someone break the sound barrier and that superspeed if really fun! It’s dynamic and vibrant. I just had a blast letting my eyes trail across the page over and over again as I read on. Efforts from other artists such as Neil Googe, Felipe Watanabe, and others get this feeling as well. Colorist Ivan Plascencia might be the biggest star of the book to me. He knows when the let it be bright and colorful fun and when it needs to get dark and grim. He helps set the mood more than anyone on here.
The Flash is an immensely important character within the long history of superheroes and its glad to have a book that really emphasizes that while still being able to look on the bright side of things. This is the guiding light at DC Comics right now.
6. Harrow County
I’ve twice spoken at length as to why this incredible horror drama from Dark Horse is an absolute must read, but do bear with me as I do so again. Harrow County is an immersive book given how on dime it can flip. The tonal shifts from sweet and innocent to dark and brooding are the best of any book today and I’ll gladly stand by that. This year more than even changed up Emmy’s world than ever before from discovering others possibly like her in Harrow County, to knowing more about the Skinless Boy, and possible outside threats, things got a lot more complicated for not just her, but the town residents.
The writing of Cullen Bunn and the art of Tyler Crook really make this book shine brightly. They are a powerhouse duo that makes reading this book a journey every month it comes out. Also what’s great is how genuinely scary the horror is. The horror in Harrow County is gothic and more psychological than not, but when it goes for the big scares and haunting and disturbing imagery, it more then delivers.
Harrow County is simply put incredible storytelling and you need to be reading this book.
5. Dark Night: A True Batman Story
Time to take a bit of a detour now with an original graphic novel. I’ve put this on here because of what it represents in art being great medicine. Art can do so much for so many and it can certainly heal. We knew plenty of Paul Dini from his hand in the DCAU, creating Harley Quinn, and much more, we didn’t know what happened to him one night out in L.A. While working on Batman: The Animated Series and production on Mask of the Phantasm just getting started, he was mugged and horribly beaten. Having a job writing about heroes, how can one believe in them when they weren’t there in their time of need. That’s the question that led Dini down a spiral of depression and hopelessness.
This autobiographical graphic novel is superb in many ways. For one it lets Dini open up in a safe environment to let it all out and even possibly help someone in the same boat as him. The scenes of Dini’s life, his struggle, and talking to those characters he’s admired and written are deeply moving. Dini’s journey is moving, yet hard to take in at times. You keep rooting for him to turn things around as the story goes on, but he does eventually turn into his own worst enemy. The book isn’t at all shy about the mental hardships presented and one must respect Dini for being completely honest about everything whenever he’s in the real world or when he’s talking alongside Batman and the Joker.
The art by Eduardo Risso helps truly paint a picture with the different styles and approaches he takes within the timeline of the book. Risso portrays Dini’s journey with such care and respect that it just complete sucks you and never lets go. It’s an engrossing book from beginning to end.
Dark Night shows what art of any kind can really to someone. That someone not real can still be the hero we need the most.
4. The Fix
Now time to talk about a book featuring underground robot fights and sex toys. Hands down the best debut book of 2016, The Fix is just so entertaining! Series creators Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber gained a substantial following from the equally entertaining, Superior Foes of Spider-Man so when it was announced they went to Image for a creator-owned project, many people, myself included instantly got excited and its far exceeded expectations.
Following the antics of corrupt LAPD detectives Roy and Mac, The Fix is a hodgepodge of so many great things. Really this is what would happen if Shane Black wrote a comic book based off of the works of Elmore Leonard and then also threw in a dash of Joe R. Lansdale just for good measure. The book is outrageous in how far it goes and the absurd lengths these characters go to in order to get what they want be it in clearing their personal debt with their psychotic boss or for their very own deepest, selfish gains. There is no question we are following the loves of absolute scumbags with barely any redeeming qualities. These are not good guys and they are fine with that.
Spencer’s strong sense of story and Lieber’s simplistic, yet energetic art style really blend well together and lead to some of the biggest belly laughs I’ve gotten all year. Every character is instantly memorable and each issue leaves you with a memorable moment or two. The Fix is a mad, mad book and I love every page of it.
Much like Desmond was to Penny, Saga is my constant. Ever since its debut back in 2012, Saga has remained one of the top three books of every year since then. Another reason Saga is here is because it’s over forty-issues deep now and the world created by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan is still expanding.
From the emotionally charged reunion of our main family to the epic all out war that had been building up since the first issue, anything and everything happened in Saga over the course of the year. Then again anything and everything does happen in Saga, that’s part of its main appeal since as emotionally grounded and human this book is, boy oh boy does it really get out-there. I mean it’d been established that this book does not give a damn when it comes to sensibilities, but that was truly proven recently and I love it. Also this book is hilarious. So many great laughs have come from this book.
Vaughan and Staples are true geniuses of their craft. The love and detail put in from both sides is incredible and really show as each issue just gives you more and more than the previous one. Saga constantly proves why it’s so beloved.
2. Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan is the best superhero today and I will fight you on that if need be. After a stellar first year as a superhero, Kamala came back strong once Secret Wars officially ended and in her second ongoing series felt like she never missed a beat. What’s so great about a character like Kamala is how she can easily represent so many of us if we were to have superpowers at that age and yet does represent some of the problems many of us must have faced as a teenager. The constant struggle between wanting to be a hero and your own real life duties is full of outstanding levels of stress, especially if you’re in high school. G. Willow Wilson here has successfully recreated the old school feeling of some of Peter Parker’s earlier adventures as Spider-Man in how badly both he and Kamala seem to balance their two separate lives.
Yet much like the previous volume before this, the book also takes a good look around its surroundings and for a Muslim teenager like Kamala, it offers up plenty of stories to tell. Wilson is always able too make every issue funny, sad, insightful, and overall enjoyable. It’s a rollercoaster ride each month, but its one you can’t wait to ride again and again. Be it teaming with Spider-Man, harboring her feelings for her best friend, or even dealing with the madness that is her family, Kamala Khan is just one cool hero because she deals with everything in stride and never forgets what it means to be a hero. Oh also this book is so good, I didn’t suddenly hate it when Civil War II worked its tie-in tentacles into it.
The main artist of note for this run is Takeshi Miyazawa who manages to capture the wild fun it must be to be a teenage superhero. He’s also a very expressive artist in a lot of ways and that’s a big plus for this book. Its outrageous and a little weird so you need to have art that conveys it perfectly. Miyazawa’s previous experience with Runaways certainly helped out here.
Ms. Marvel is the hero of today and hopefully tomorrow.
Nailbiter was my favorite comic book of last year and I knew if it could keep up the momentum it built up, it would still be my #1 in 2016 and would you look at that.
Simply put as to why Nailbiter is my top pick is because of how engrossing it is. No other overarching storyline has captured my attention the way Nailbiter has been able to recently. With the very end of the book around the corner, more and more has been revealed about Buckaroo, Oregon and what possibly led it to creating sixteen of the most notorious serial killers in history. What this book does right is lead you on well enough where you get some clues and a few answers, but then once you think its all laid out, it comes right out and stabs you. As great as the mystery of this book is, the horror really helps it out as well. This book pulls no punches. When it gets bloody, it gets BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODY!
No other book provides as much excitement in its twists and turns as this one does and it speaks to how much I love it when at the end of one arc, I don’t want to turn the page on the final panel because I know in big bold letters, TO BE CONTINUED is right there and I’m gonna have to wait a few months until the next part of the story starts up, but I need it now. I must know more about who the mysterious Black Butcher is, I gotta know about what Doctor Glory’s deal is, and more importantly, how does the titular Nailbiter himself fit into all of this.
Joshua Williamson is a master of long form storytelling. He is incredibly gifted in keeping a narrative fresh and exciting. Every thing can come back into play in this twisted story that examines so much about serial killers and the circumstances around them from their family, the townspeople, and how society views them in both horror and morbid curiosity. Series artist Mike Henderson is still a master of his craft with his perfect movement between panels and keeping the action and tension just absolutely right for whatever the situation calls.
Nailbiter was hands down the best comic book of 2016. No other book could come close to me for pure entertainment, investment, and excitement. Knowing it’s near the end is making reading this monthly an exciting ride and I can’t wait to see it all put out there.
Thanks for reading, hope you have a great New Year’s, let us know your favorite comics books in the comments below!