Comics Alliance Best of 2015: Best Fantasy Comic of 2015
Our judges have adjudicated; our readers have voted. We’re proud to present to you the best fantasy comics of 2015 — and four great runners up.
A reference to a popular piece of pop culture can be a great sales pitch, but ultimately, a comic is not an elevator pitch, and a comic that describes itself as “the perfect new series for Buffy fans” has to deliver. Luckily, Jim Zub, Steve Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain and Marshall Dillon’s Wayward is more than just a pitch. Twelve issues in, it’s been consistently building its own urban fantasy world with magic girls, creatures from Japanese myth, and its own take on teen angst.
The premise of Wayward — a girl moves to a new home and experiences supernatural trouble and her own hidden abilities — might be familiar, but the book’s team has been great at distinguishing it from its sales pitch predecessor through the different cultural milieu of Japan, while steering clear of fetishizing or appropriating the place. They’re not riffing on tropes, they’re exploring what it might be like to be scared and young in a place where you weren’t ready to be. Cummings and Bonvillain’s art is energetic and bright, giving the book a unique look that fits the exuberance of its lead character, Rorilane. Wayward is confident and fun. [James Leask]
One of the long-running aspects of Marvel’s Thor mythology has been his a secret identity, the Asgardian’s human guise of Donald Blake. Sometimes used as investigation of the character of Thor, a way for him to experience life as a human, the idea has fallen out of favour recently. By Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder, it was entirely replaced by just having three different versions of Thor.
Colour me surprised, when Aaron, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson brought back the idea of the human alter ego when they launched Thor, starring a new goddess of thunder. However, instead of using the new Thor’s identity as a second character, the book used it as a mystery. As a result, Thor had a buzz around it that it’s sustained as characters and fans alike tried to find out who the woman was under the helmet. Now, with the identity revealed, the book is starting to explore the situation, but with a fresher energy than yet another Donald Blake story. Thor is new and is smart enough to know how to sustain that sense of excitement. Plus, at one point she hits patriarchy in the face with Mjolnir. A+++. [James Leask]
In Nimona, Noelle Stevenson isn’t concerned with fantasy tropes. The book has knights and castles, but no princesses or magic artifacts. There’s only one sometimes-dragon, and she’s the protagonist (maybe). Unlike so many working in the genre, Stevenson isn’t doing fantasy because she’s a Lord of the Rings fan (although she is one; LotR fan art first got her noticed on Tumblr). She’s doing fantasy because it’s a setting that allows for the story she wants to tell.
At the center of Nimona is its title character, who’s unlike anything we’ve previously seen in fantasy fiction. She’s a young woman of immeasurable power and deeply compromised morals. She can look like anything, but her default form is stocky and wears a decidedly butch haircut. Through her friendship with science villain Ballister Blackheart, both characters reconnect with their humanity (although whether Nimona qualifies as human remains in question), even as they attempt to bring down a supposedly law-keeping Institution and its champion Goldenloin, a man Blackheart once loved. Written and beautifully drawn by a young woman, with a powerful and unusual young woman at the center of its story, Nimona is a shot in the arm of fantasy, and of comics. [Elle Collins]
Rat Queens is a dirty comic, in the best sense of the word. It often feels grimy and caked in mud. It’s about women who curse constantly, have sex how and when they want, and specialize in getting into (and then out of) various kinds of trouble. And then there’s the violence. Graphic, uncensored violence — arrows through throats and hacked off limbs.
But at its heart, Rat Queens is a comic about four women being friends. Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty are all very different, but they love and support each other, taking the place of the family that each has lost or been alienated from. They have each other’s backs, often literally as they wade into the battlefield.
And of course, Rat Queens is a fantasy comic, drawing heavily from the Dungeons & Dragons tradition. Hannah is an Elven mage, Dee is a cleric who was raised in a Cthulhu cult, Violet is a Dwarf warrior, and Betty is a Halfling thief (although they use the less litigious word 'smidgen'). The book’s heady blend of high fantasy, female friendship, and gleefully vulgar elements never feels forced, but always feels unique. [Elle Collins]
This was a year for The Wicked & The Divine to have some fun — and when I say “have fun”, of course I mean “destroy the audience with sadness”. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson finished their second arc at the start of the year by killing off several beloved characters (although this is a series where almost every character is beloved by at least one part of the audience) before then spending the rest of the year on guest artists and one-shots.
We’ve seen Tula Lotay take on a particularly striking issue about ‘Tara’, Brandon Graham, Stephanie Hans — it’s been a cavalcade of comics creativity, where the team has done everything they can to make sure these issues didn’t feel throwaway or like a stalling tactic. The result has been a banner year for #WicDiv, where the comic has managed to remain important, noticeable and interesting when so many other comics struggle to maintain that sort of energy. [Steve Morris]