The Question: The Best Comics of 2016 (So Far)
The comics world is full of questions — like “Who would win in a fight?”; “Which one of the Powerpuff Girls is best?”; and “Who is the handsomest hero and why is it Gambit?” Here at ComicsAlliance, we spend a lot of time thinking about everything from the big questions that matter a whole lot to the small ones that are still kinda fascinating. With The Question, we’re going to give our writers the opportunity to give their answers, because if we’re always thinking about this stuff anyway, we might as well write it down.
For our latest question, we wanted to keep things simple. We’re now more than halfway through the year, and 2016 has brought so many exciting new comics. With all that in mind: What's your favorite comic of the year so far? Here are our answers; you can add yours in the comments.
My favorite superhero comics are team comics. The mix of high adventure and interpersonal drama just works for me. And right now the team book that’s giving me the most of what I want is A-Force by Kelly Thompson and Ben Caldwell.
Even when the team is fighting an unthinkably huge dragon, the ways they interact with each other are always at the forefront, and I love that. Team leader She-Hulk is constantly balancing no-nonsense Captain Marvel with pompous Medusa and cynical Dazzler. Then there’s Nico Minoru, the most powerful member of the team, but much less experienced than most of them, being mentored by these veteran heroines. And of course there’s Singularity, a cosmic explosion of joy in the shape of a girl.
Caldwell’s art accents Thompson’s writing perfectly. His Captain Marvel and She-Hulk are suitably muscular, while Medusa is all curves. Nico is slight and youthful. And Dazzler — this is really important to me, what I’m about to say — Dazzler looks like a contemporary pop star for the first time in decades. And colorist Ian Herring plays a key role in making Singularity a joyful splash of blue.
I don’t know if this book can make it through Civil War II, but however much of it we get, it will remain one of my favorite things.
My favourite comic of the year is Andy Poyiadgi’s Veripathy. It's a collection of vignettes about people using a new technology: the titular “veripathy.” Veripathy is the ability to feel the feelings of another; to experience the experience of someone who isn't usually you. It's cyberpunk, a concept very similar to William Gibson’s simstim entertainment, but Poyiadgi takes it down a notch. Even more “everyday” than entertainment, the basic experiences of existence — a doctor uses Veripathy to verify a patient’s symptoms and diagnose their disorder, for example.
Shea Hennum defines cyberpunk as “generally concerned with disfiguring the body,” whereas Poyiadgi imagines a disfigurement (with no value judgement) of relation to the body: how experimental embodiment could perhaps change human interaction. Most of these stories are concerned with dehumanization. Not as an absolute, or even a negative. They're very gentle, sunset-colored stories, about how transfer of feelings beyond language or vision could work for still-physical humans.
In all likelihood, I wouldn’t have noticed this series if I hadn’t been sent the first volume for review, but my fave of the year is undoubtedly Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano. It’s a pretty simple story at its heart — sensitive Punpun is emotionally overwhelmed by his awakening sexuality, pressures of adolescence and family problems — but the genius lies in the detail.
Detail like how Punpun and family are simplistic cartoon birds, but everyone else is drawn super realistically; how God (a photograph of a Japanese man with an afro) appears to butt heads with Punpun; and how there are intense moments of both gonzo surrealism and raw emotional honesty and introspection.
Asano also makes this series look like no other manga out there, blending pencils and ink with CG backgrounds and heavy photo reference to gorgeous, gripping effect. There are two volumes out now, and I can’t wait to dive into the rest.
My choice is Toil and Trouble, by Mairghread Scott; artists Kelly & Nichole Matthews and Warren Montgomery; with covers from Kyla Vanderklugt. The premise was a gem, and the whole comic delivered, with soft dreamlike art that denotes all-too-human bloodshed and incomprehensible shifting of fate with equal skill, and a story that mirrors the downfall of Macbeth with the breakup of the three witches.
The final issue was the best of the bunch, as things sank to their grimmest turn — spoilers, but our centered character, Smertae, cast aside everything to ensure that Macbeth will be king, only to discover that he has sinned too much to ever be a good one. But it all begins to turn around when her sisters, Riata and Cait, arrive, and Riata apologizes and embraces Smertae for doing her a wrong turn. And while that's not all it takes to mend their bonds, that's all it takes to start.
I was expecting Smertae's story to mirror the tragedy of Macbeth, but my expectations were subverted by an act of simple humanity, and it's a better story for it. The scene where they finally put their feud aside has stuck with me like few other comics from 2016.
I was excited about Space Battle Lunchtime at first glance. As a kid who was interested in food, I spent a lot of time staying up late to watch the original Japanese Iron Chef series, gawking over the ingredients I’d never heard of. I didn’t know what the dishes were; the feeling was unforgettable.
That feeling is the same in Natalie Riess’ book, where Earth chef Peony finds herself flown across the galaxy to compete in an interstellar cooking show for riches and glory. The only hitch is that she’s never heard of any of the ingredients and has no idea how to cook them. No biggie.
Riess’ gorgeous cartooning brings all this to life: the ingredients, the aliens and the emotion. Peony might not be there to make friends — neither is Chef Melonhead — but she does all the same. She just might win too, if she doesn’t poison a judge.
My favorite comic of the year is one that I expected to like a lot, but not to love the way I do: and that's Ta-Nehesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's Black Panther. I'm not sure what I expected from it, but I don't think I expected it to be as much of a superhero comic as it is. It dives deep on continuity like few other cape comics are doing these days. Do you remember that time Black Panther fought Morlun? I don't, but Coates does.
I'm really enjoying the various subplots and how packed they make every issue feel. It's always a satisfying read. Stelfreeze is rightly referred to these days as a living legend, and his work on Black Panther is nothing short of stunning. The redesign of how Wakandan technology looks is some of the best futurism in comics, and Wakanda feels like a real country as opposed to one city set in a jungle. There's so much thought and care and research that's gone into this comic — it's going to go down as an all-time classic, I can feel it.