Comics Alliance Best of 2015: All the Winners
We asked you to vote for the best comics, creators, and more in 2015, and over the last few weeks we've been sharing the results. Now you can check out all the winners in one place!
It might sound like an unlikely comparison for a story about religious persecution in 17th century Europe, but at its heart, Lion of Rora is a superhero comic. The book opens with French troops burning a cave of Protestant worshippers alive. It establishes them as a villain worthy of any rogue's gallery, and gives our hero a tragic origin story.
That hero, Joshua Janavel, is the kind of guy you could imagine played by Liam Neeson: a simple farmer who wants to put violence behind him, but incredibly proficient in a fight. Able to put an arrow through a bird mid-flight, fend off an army of six hundred men almost single-handed, and always get the better of the baddies, Janavel is Batman, Superman and Green Arrow rolled into one. Sadly the basis in historical fact means he never transforms into the lion of the title, but thanks to the compelling way his story is told by Ruth Fletcher Gage, Christos Gage, and Jackie Lewis, you'll almost believe he could. [Alex Spencer]
The history of professional wrestling is filled with characters and personalities that are all kinds of fascinating and tragic, but none loom as large as Andre Roussimoff, aka Andre the Giant, and in this touching biography, Brandon Easton and Denis Medri memorialize his extraordinary life. Written from Roussimoff's perspective, Closer To Heaven chronicles his triumphs and failures both inside and outside of the ring, painting a complete portrait of a complicated and compassionate man.
With assistance from Robin Christensen-Roussimoff, Andre's daughter, Easton and Medri craft a portrayal of Andre the Giant that glorifies his achievements without ignoring his faults — chief among them his lack of relationship with Robin — and humanizing him while ultimately bolstering his mythology. Beautifully written and illustrated, Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven is somber, understated, and engrossing from beginning to end. [John Parker]
Over The Garden Wall was one of the strongest animated projects to come out of Cartoon Network in the last few years, even stacked up against the wealth of animated goodness we’ve got in Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, and Adventure Time. Equal parts Hayao Miyazaki, Grimm Fairy Tales, and classic Americana, Over The Garden Wall was a miniseries that told its story without overstaying its welcome, and while that’s great in a lot of ways, it also means we’re deprived of more stories set there.
Thankfully, our patience didn’t have to be tested for long, since 2015 saw a four-issue miniseries written by series creator Pat McHale and drawn by storyboard artist Jim Campbell. Squeezed between various episodes in the original show, and placing the focus on some of the bit characters like Fred, everyone’s favorite kleptomaniac talking horse, it was a perfect encapsulation of the joys of the series: the jokes snap, the dialogue sings, and the art style fits as well on a comic page as it did on the television screen, and that’s a (rock) fact. [Ziah Grace]
Just about every teenager in history feels like an outsider with secrets to hide and something to prove; adding superpowers only makes the inherent metaphor explicit. In Kamala Khan, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have created the most relatable teenage superhero since the original Spider-Man.
Kamala’s impossible not to relate to, a Pakistani-American everywoman who has fears and crushes and friends and a meddling family, all wrapped up in the understandable desire to do good in the world with the power she has. Wilson’s dialogue is true-to-life, with strong character work for Kamala’s supporting cast, and the titular heroine’s constant excitement at meeting other superheroes is contagious. Alphona’s expressive, packed panels, and soft lines convey more character details in individual panels than most comics can squeeze inside a full issue. Ms. Marvel is a joyful, incredible story of a young woman discovering her true potential, with a creative team that only gets better issue by issue. [Ziah Grace]
There's been a little confusion as to why Imperium got shortlisted into the horror category, because many feel it's a sci-fi series. Or a thriller. Or a political work. And hey, yeah, it's all three of those things — but it's also the most terrifying comic I read all last year, and its victory in this category shows that I'm not alone in thinking that.
You can't get comfortable in this series at any point. The collection of monsters, freaks, horrors and otherworldly creations that makes up the ensemble cast are unpredictable in the extreme, with writer Joshua Dysart doing everything in his power to make sure that the readers are left in terrible suspense with each turn of the page. With this being a book where only one of two characters have ever been seen before, there's no safety net for any of the characters — your favorite could be mutilated forever within the events of any one issue. This is a psychological horror as much as it is anything else, and Valiant's series has quickly leapt up in intensity to the point where each issue is a gleeful sequence of spectacular suspense. Sometimes I can barely dare turn a page. It's riveting. [Steve Morris]
Oni's Rick & Morty comic captures the feel of the TV show exactly. Every issue has the same manic-but-meandering style as the best episodes. CJ Cannon's art could be lifted straight from the animation cels. Reading Zac Gorman's dialogue, with each character's familiar tics in place, it's hard not to hear each the actors' voices in your head. With a show as singular as Rick & Morty, getting all that right is a mighty achievement. A perfect imitation doesn't necessarily make for an entertaining read, but luckily, the show's energy translates perfectly to comics, and the team manage to build on it.
The format allows for stories that run between multiple issues, while Marc Ellerby's backups squeeze stories about the rest of the family, exploring their lives outside the B-plot, into a more traditional gag-strip format. Most importantly, it rarely leans on familiar characters and settings for simple fan service. It's as restlessly inventive as the show, taking you to new worlds and letting Rick and Morty be as awful as ever within them. [Alex Spencer]
Science fiction's most appreciable attribute is its ability to comment on the now, and there's no better example of that in comics than Saga. In the fourth year of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' epic, the pair upped the drama, amplified the intensity, and continued to make their far-flung space opera the most real comic series of the era. No matter how bizarre or alien the character, each is flawed and unpredictable and relatable, dealing with the same tangle of family and jobs and sex and drugs and mistakes as the rest of us.
And woven into everything spectacular are issues that concern us as a culture right now: the war between Western superpowers and the Islamic world, interracial marriage, xenophobia, entertainment overload, trans acceptance, mistrust of power, ghost babysitters and menstruating walruses. (Those may not be relevant to your life at this particular moment, but you're young.) Saga continues to be funny and sad, touching and shocking; epic and fantastic and human and real. An ongoing triumph that we'll be talking about for years to come. [John Parker]
2015 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 was a banner year for #WicDiv, where the comic managed to remain important, noticeable and interesting when so many other comics struggled to maintain that sort of energy. [Steve Morris]
It’s hard not to immediately associate the word “superhero” with Ms Marvel nowadays, perhaps because she sometimes feels like one of the only remaining characters to ever practice the word properly. As everybody else wanders off into muted stories about in-fighting and metaphor, Ms Marvel continues to notice a problem, run straight towards it, and work on solving it until things are working again.
In 2015 the character was cast into her first event storyline, and came out no less optimistic and positive than when she entered. Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll be forced to see her mope like Peter Parker, but for the time being we’re in an age of “Kamala Khan: Because She Can” and it’s terrific.
People wonder why this series by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and friends continues, while similar ones have fallen to the wayside. It’s because Kamala is genuinely enjoyable to hang out with. You revel in your time reading her. [Steve Morris]
What's it like to have to compete for the job of magical representative of your fantasy nation, with the help of your familiar and a group of street urchins? The nonbinary one-eyed apprentice Lucy and their familiar Ivy are going to find out, with no help whatsoever from live-in master Rothhart, and maybe too much help from a group of street urchins with more skill than sense. A delightful webcomic by Taylor Robin, with sharp artwork, artful storytelling, and a colorful, diverse cast of characters, Never Satisfied is a deserving winner of best new webcomic of 2015, and hopefully will go from strength to strength in 2016. [Charlotte Finn]
If you had told me even a year ago that the single best comic on the stands was not only a Transformers comic, but the Transformers comic where the entire cast just sort of goofs around in space without ever getting any closer to accomplishing the goals that are nominally driving the book, I would've laughed you out of the office. And yet, here we are, in a world where I've read every issue of More Than Meets The Eye and can't wait for the next one.
The character work and astonishingly clever setups in this series have taken a franchise I never cared about and made it one that I'm deeply invested in, with heartbreaking drama and thrilling action just underneath a surface of comedy that's very hard to pull off.
It is, quite simply, The Best. [Chris Sims]
A nerdy high school outcast named Parker learns that great power brings great responsibility. That was the sensational character find of 1963; it also happens to neatly describe the winner of Best New Character of 2015, Mary Parker, aka the new wielder of the Witchblade in Stjepan Sejic's bold reinvention of the concept for his Top Cow series Switch.
To many readers, Witchblade is forever associated with the bad girl comics of the late 90s, which saw formidably powerful women dress (just barely) in outfits designed more for the straight male gaze than for fighting crime. Mary Parker plays against type, embracing her own comfort and some of the underdog vibe of Spider-Man to bring Witchblade up-to-date with new audiences. What makes Mary most quintessentially 2015 is that she started out as an idea on Sejic's Tumblr, amassing over a million views. An internet success story; a character redesign for a changing market; a fresh take on the female superhero. It's not hard to see why Mary Parker is a very 2015 success story. [Andrew Wheeler]
The first challenge of redesigning the Jem characters for 2015 is that they’re so tied to the 1980s. The genius of Sophie Campbell’s take is that, rather than trying to root out the 80s, she embraces it. The pop stars of today are influenced by the past, after all, and Campbell’s Holograms and Misfits keep their 80s style while being unmistakably modern.
She also allows each character their individuality, more so than the originals. Jem, a literal hologram, wears clothes limited only by imagination. Aja, the gearhead, is more punk, with metal accents like chains and zippers. Shana’s the most high fashion, displaying her interest in design. Kimber’s the most dedicated to being a rock star, and she’s queer, so her clothes mix high femme with menswear elements to create a something like a female Bowie.
In the Misfits, Pizzazz is a bratty punk in high-end tatters. Stylish Brit Jetta wears only black and white. Tough girl Roxy is always in pants, usually torn. Queer fat femme Stormer has the cutest dresses. Each character is recognizably themselves even as they fit into their band and the comic’s unified aesthetic. This is a master class in character design from Campbell. [Elle Collins]
Ms. America Chavez is everything I want out of a Marvel superhero. She’s aggressive and quick-tempered, without ever letting you doubt her intelligence. She’s a gorgeous hard femme Latina lesbian who absolutely notices the way that “straight” girl looks at her. She’s so strong she can kick holes in reality itself. She was amazing in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers, and then she didn’t appear for a year, despite her growing popularity online.
Now she’s in The Ultimates, which is a good book that doesn’t seem well placed to give her the spotlight she deserves. With a plethora of Ms. America cosplayers at every convention, how could Marvel not give this breakout star a solo book? The publisher has been touting its diversity even as it's under steady fire for a lack of prominent queer heroes, so why wouldn't it give this gay Latina a shot? In a comics climate where fun superhero adventures have come back into vogue, how can Marvel say no to the adventures of this dimension-hopping hero? In an America that can use all the heroes it can get, who could pass up an America Chavez title? [Elle Collins]
Daredevil’s arrival on Netflix was an exercise in restraint, in keeping with the best of the character’s comics over the years. Charlie Cox was a quiet, calm centre who allowed various other characters to stalk around him — from Kingpin to Karen Page to the delightful Wesley. The slow-burn everyone expected was replaced by a show that frequently exploded into violent rage, reflecting the true nature of Matt Murdock behind the layers of guilt, repression, bitterness and Catholicism.
Carefully drawn together, and with only a slight lag as things reached the finale, the show was a cleverly constructed piece of work that surprised everyone with its high quality. It led the way for the equally powerful Jessica Jones, and put some fresh life back into Marvel Studios in a year of middling movies. [Steve Morris]
Matt Ryan as John Constantine may have a more passionate fan base than the show he starred in. The audience for the Constantine TV show wasn’t big enough to keep that show alive, but fans of Ryan as the hangdog British trickster-magician propelled him to victory here, and perhaps persuaded the makers of Arrow to give the character a reprise with a guest shot on that show. Even that probably isn’t the last we’ve seen of Ryan’s Constantine, now he has a foothold in the CW’s shared superhero universe; there’s a rumor he might star in a future season of Legends of Tomorrow.
That’s all a testament to how perfect Ryan is in the role. He doesn’t just look like a John Constantine who walked right off the comics page; he carries himself with the same serpentine charisma and unctuous self-confidence. Matt Ryan was ultimately so good as Constantine that he outlived his own show. And that’s magic. [Andrew Wheeler]
Chip Zdarsky writes: "Erica’s one of the most talented people working in comics, and the joy I get from seeing her Jughead pages come in, knowing I’m taking time away from her working with Ryan North on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, fills me with so much joy.
"And now, the people have spoken and Erica has been deemed my greatest collaborator! But a collaborator is only as good as the person they’re collaborating with, so thank you all for voting me number one!"
So much happens in this comic that I double-checked that it’s not double-sized. And it’s not, it’s just chock full of story and humor. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, has a tone and a storytelling style unlike any other superhero comic, and it’s all there in this first issue.
The book opens with Squirrel Girl effortlessly beating up some muggers while she sings her own theme song. And because it’s written to the tune of the classic Spider-Man TV theme from the 1960’s, just about any reader will be able to sing along. The sequence immediately makes two things clear: First, this is a book that’s not afraid to be silly in the pursuit of fun. Second, Squirrel Girl herself is never the butt of the joke; Squirrel girl is competent and awesome. After that perfect intro, Squirrel Girl moves to college, meets a cute boy and her roommate and soon-to-be BFF Nancy, and even defeats a formidable supervillain in the form of Kraven the Hunter. Her new status quo is established, as is the book’s tone. The issue even ends with a perfect cliffhanger — Galactus is coming. [Elle Collins]
There’s poise in Marguerite Sauvage’s variant cover for issue #1 of Valiant’s Ninjak series. Without showing the character beyond a silhouetted profile, it manages to convey more sense of who he is than any of the other covers released — perhaps because of that limitation, and not despite it.
A ninja-spy (for want of a better term), Ninjak operates out of sight wherever possible anyway, and Sauvage’s cover plays on that to use him as a spotlight into the other fascinating character that debuts in the issue: Roku, the assassin he comes up against briefly. The side turn is partially used for sexual effect, of course, but it also allows Sauvage to emphasize an aspect of the character that proves important to the issue; her hair.
The straight, sharp lines that define Roku’s hair in the image — sweeping from the top of the silhouette and out of sight — reflect the fact that this is a character whose hair is actually made of razor blades. We see nothing of Ninjak in the cover, but we know everything we need to; we see so much of Roku without ever learning what she’s really about. [Steve Morris]
Twelve months ago, you might have spied King's name on the first few issues of Grayson or... well, that was about it. In the past year, though, his body of work has grown considerably. In addition to more Grayson with Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin, he kicked off the Robin War crossover with a surprisingly compelling #1, had his sci-fi series Omega Men uncancelled due to popular demand, and launched his first Vertigo and Marvel books with Sheriff of Babylon and The Vision respectively, both to great critical acclaim.
That's a remarkable body of work for a single year. Even more impressively, there's no single throughline to those books. You might be able to spot the influence of King's previous career as a counter-terrorism officer in the CIA — Grayson is a spy story, albeit an unusually inventive and female gaze-y one; Sheriff of Babylon is set during the Iraq War; at its heart, even Omega Men is a story about religious extremism and terrorism — but then you pick up The Vision, a story about a suburban family of robots desperately trying to fit in, and you see how inventive and original King can be. What really unites King's work is that he's an exceptional writer, and he had an exceptional year. [Alex Spencer]
A huge part of The Wicked & The Divine’s appeal has been seeing different artists taking on the stories, as Kieron Gillen attempts a different approach for each issue. But that experimental style wouldn’t be anything unless the letterer were Clayton Cowles, who knows how to tell a page as well as anyone else. Cowles has been able to handle anything that’s been thrown at him with grace, continuing to make the story consistent and coherent with each issue, and his style and choices have ensured that even with a rotating artist, the comic still retains the magic and style of the early issues.
Cowles hasn’t settled there though. Many of the best comics of 2015 — The Vision, Squirrel Girl, The Surface, Pretty Deadly — have benefited from exceptional lettering. The one common factor for all of them? Clayton Cowles. [Steve Morris]
Jordie Bellaire’s been arguably the best colorist working in comics for years, and recent accolades like the 2014 Eisner for Best Colorist have only drawn more attention to her incredible work ethic and vibrant colors. No matter the comic or genre, Bellaire's work possesses an unmistakable vibrancy and symbolism that is hard to match by just about anyone else.
This past year has shown arguably some of her best work to date, with the incredible palette of Autumnlands, the subtle character work in They’re Not Like Us, and the stark, grim colors of Injection, all showing off both her incredible ability and breathtaking versatility. No matter what penciller she’s collaborating with, Bellaire deftly demonstrates how a colorist can transform a pencil-and-ink drawing into something even more spectacular, all without drawing attention away from the artist’s original work. [Ziah Grace]
Individually, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are excellent creators whose work I'll pick up entirely on the basis of their names, and the results are almost always rewarding. But together, they bring out the very best in each other's work, and the results can be truly special.
Along with colourist Matt Wilson and letterer Clayton Cowles, they form a comics-creator Megazord, capable of incredible feats. Like putting out two of 2015's best creator-owned comics, The Wicked and The Divine and Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, not only in the same year but often on the same day each month. Like putting together an entire issue remixed from old McKelvie art. Like pastiching “Total Eclipse of the Heart” andScott Pilgrim in the same series. Like setting a comic to a four-to-the-floor beat. Like...
It's difficult to think of two other names in comics that have become so completely entwined. Even Morrison & Quitely or Lee & Kirby spent time apart, but McKelvie & Gillen have shackled themselves to one another seemingly permanently. For all the time they spend dissing each other on Twitter, their reationship is one of the greatest romances in comics. [Alex Spencer]
Noelle Stevenson is an excellent writer, and it’s not surprising that most of her mainstream work has come from that direction. But something truly magical happens when she draws her own stories, such as Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style has become more polished since she started Nimona on the web in 2012, but it remains delightfully loose and playful. Her characters’ emotions are perfectly displayed on their faces, but just as often their whole bodies are equally expressive. Stevenson can show you a character’s mood through their posture, their walk, or the way they leap into panel. And of course, in Nimona’s case, her physical form is often a reflection of her feelings.
Nimona is a fantasy story, a story about heroes and villains (and anti-heroes, and heroic villains), but at its heart it’s really a story about emotions. Nimona might be a monster, but she’s definitely a young girl in need of a home. Blackheart is a science villain, but really he’s just working through the loss of his greatest love. These themes are expressed through the unity of Stevenson’s words and art with a deftness that marks her as a world-class cartoonist. [Elle Collins]
A great comic can come from anywhere, even a property built to sell toys, which has been through enough reboots to make DC Comics go “well, hold on now.” Nothing is better proof of this than Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, a comic canonized as a minor miracle by Pontifex Prime (what the Popemobile turns into) due largely to its writer, James Roberts.
Roberts humanizes the Transformers like never before, keeping every detail of their massive backstory alien without being alienating, spinning a story where a minor detail from three years back can snowball into a revelation today, and unafraid to be funny, sentimental or heartbreaking, with breathtaking skill at all of these. That this is his first professional work is stunning, and I hope it’s far from his last. [Charlotte Finn]
Fiona Staples accomplishes so much with relatively little. Sometimes space operas can almost choke with all that sci-fi in the background, but in Saga, Staples makes ample use of space and focuses on her beautifully-designed and lively characters. Regardless of how strange and alien her subjects, her cartooning is so spot-on that each one of them has their own body language; they have personalities; they emote.
What really drives Saga is character interaction, and Staples communicates humor, drama, and conflict with all of them, no matter how inhuman they are. Even television-headed robots seem to have facial expressions. Her lines are clear and authoritative, but loose and relaxed, and as her own colorist she gives Saga a sumptuous, almost animated look, with spare backgrounds and vibrant characters. A stylish minimalist who blends the fantastic with the mundane and gives it all something real, Staples makes every issue of Saga a visual treat from beginning to end. [John Parker]