2016 provided such a gargantuan googleplex of geeky goodness that I could not possible limit my list to a mere handful or two of my favourite comics. To be honest, any such list would feature about fifty comics and thus be untenable (and a pretty boring read !). So instead of a long list I will discuss some of the themes of the last year, and the comics which led me to consider these themes.
Golden Oldies: Some of the best comics released this year featured characters from the Golden Age of Comics – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DCs Rebirth event has worked wonders for these characters, making them more relevant than ever. This has been achieved by taking the best elements of the characters from their long histories and adding new and interesting twists. As a result, we have the classic Superman teaching his son how to use his newfound powers in Action Comics, Batman heading up a team of sidekicks and a reformed villain in Detective Comics and a Wonder Woman who is examining her life after discovering her memories may have been tampered with in Wonder Woman. It’s been a welcome surprise for this old comics geek left cold by the changes wrought by the New 52 to once again be enjoying books launched at the very dawn of the Golden Age. Oh, and even better – my favourite Flash of all time – Wally West – is back in the DC Universe (in the DC Rebirth Special and monthly in Titans) !!
In the same vein, the Will Eisner’s The Spirit comic from Dynamite used many elements from the classic comic strip to provide a story which had the characters taking on new roles while retaining the elements which made the strip popular in the first place. Fantastic work here from Matt Wagner and Dan Schkade.
Twists and Turns: There are so many new comics coming out each month it is easy to be distracted by the new, shiny thing and forget about the great work being done in established series. Doing so, though, means you miss out on the fascinating twists and turns in plot and character which are occurring in these series. Revelations aplenty amazed me in a number of series in 2016, including the reveal of who killed Em and how the dead have returned to life in Revival; the true role of mega fan Laura in The Wicked + The Divine; a marriage and births in Savage Dragon and the many plots and secrets of the Carlyle family in Lazarus.
Writers: In 2016 we were lucky for incredibly talented writers to make their mark on the “Big Two” universe of Marvel and DC comics. Firstly, Al Ewing took the lead in showing us how the “new” Marvel Universe created at the end of the Secret Wars story works. From the discussion of how Iso-8 forms the building blocks of life and power in Contest of Champions, to the reveal of an imprisoned Eternity (embodiment of the universe) in The Ultimates, Ewing did the necessary but often overlooked task of defining the universe in which our beloved heroes live and fight. And he did so without enormous amounts of exposition or tedious detail; instead he gave us comics in which the world building was wrapped around great characters stories, be they the cleverness of Roberto De Costa in defeating the Ultimate Reed Richards or the conversion of Galactus from Eater of Planets to Life Bringer. More than that, even, Al Ewing has set up some interesting mysteries about this new universe and what lies beyond – mysteries I am excited to watch unfold further in 2017. Read The Ultimates, New Avengers, Contest of Champions and Ultimates 2 for important and fantastically fun stories.
Another writer whose work I devoured in 2016 was Tom King (whose nickname should be “Midas”. Everything he touched was gold !). Tom King gave us an insightful look at the grey areas of rebellion in the Omega Men (while also giving us a great Kyle Rayner character study), an even more interesting character study of occupiers and the occupied in Sheriff of Babylon and then pumped the volume to eleven in an action movie-inspired run on Batman. His best story, though, was the way he defined and redefined the character of the Vision in his comic of the same name. The set-up of the comics was simple and brilliant – after years of being the only “android who can cry”, the Vision decides to create his own family by building a synthezoid wife, son and daughter and giving them personalities based on his – and one other person’s – brain patters. As a result, the comic felt like a great Twilight Zone episode: there were intriguing mysteries (will Vision discover his wife’s secret ? Whose mind formed the basis of his wife’s brain ?), tension infusing every page (it is inevitable that at least one member of the family will go insane, but which one(s) ?) and characters the reader could not help but love. This is a comic for everyone, from someone completely new to comics to the oldest of comic geeks ! The Vision by Tom King was definitely my favourite book of the year.
Perhaps more exciting is the work being done by brilliant writers (and artists, despite my constant talk of writers, there are many artists I similarly love ! Alan Davis’ art in The Infinity Entity was amazing ! ) outside of the Big Two publishers. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips brought us the end of the “Moneypenny goes on James Bond’s missions when he dies” book Velvet, a murder mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood in The Fade Out and the beginning of a very cool look at vigilantes in Kill or be Killed. Earlier in the year Greg Rucka and my favourite Australian artist Nicola Scott ended the first arc of their cool witch-cop comic Black Magick, before moving on to Wonder Woman while Si Spurrier, Ryan Kelly and colour artists Lee Lughridge, Matt Wilson and Nick Filardi brought us the remarkable Cry Havoc limited series (see my review here). Most exciting of all, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have returned to doing Love & Rockets as a quarterly magazine ! This means we will get Los Bros Hernandez genius four times a year instead of one ! And at the traditional magazine size which makes their artwork look even better ! There are not enough exclamation marks in the world to convey my excitement !!!!!!!!!
Cool Crossovers: Okay, this is the (almost obligatory) cheat in my article. See, in 2016 the big “event crossovers” were pretty bland (after bringing us a new Secret War in 2015, Marvel doubled up and gave us a “new” Civil War in 2016. It was not pretty), with the exception of Valiant’s 4001 AD which set up some interesting scenarios and brought the saga of Rai to a fitting conclusion. Much to my surprise and delight, the crossovers which had me jumping up and down with pure joy last year were on the screen ! On the small screen, the historic four-way crossover between Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow (all on CW) was just perfect. Seeing all of the heroes interact (especially Heatwave and Supergirl) and even fight one another before ultimately teaming up to defeat the villains was a dream come true and reminded me of the crossovers of the 1980s which had me eager for the next issue.
Speaking of 1980s cross-overs, my favourite ones were those which featured the Avengers, especially when all of the Avengers which had served with the team came together (the Avengers/West Coast Avengers annuals had the best of all, with both teams playing a friendly game of baseball). So of course my absolute favourite crossover (and comic-based story) of 2016 was Captain America: Civil War. The airport fight scene was pure comics awesomeness, both in its huge scope (the initial scene with both teams coming together to fight was a perfect “splash page”) and the smaller battles especially the scenes with Scott Lang becoming Giant Man and the tussle between Spider-Man, Falcon and Bucky.
Other comics-related media I enjoyed in 2016: Batman: The Telltale Series videogame, all of the trailers for the Lego Batman Movie, the Raging Bullets podcast and most especially the Preacher TV show.
And, while I am destroying the premise of the article, let me add the other geeky stuff I loved watching/reading/playing in 2016: Westworld, Stranger Things, Humans series 2, Star Wars Rebels season 3, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Deep cartoon (based on the amazing graphic novels by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer), Ben Aaronovitch’s latest Peter Grant novel The Hanging Tree, the final installment of the Night Watch series Sixth Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko), Lego Star Wars The Force Awakens videogame, the Lego “airport scene” from Captain America: Civil War (Giant-Man looks amazing !) and “Sanctum Sanctorum” set from Doctor Strange (complete with tentacled other-dimensional beast !) , the Labyrinth boardgame produced by River Horse – and the Labyrinth 30th anniversary comics ! – and many more I will not include to keep this list from getting out of control !
So, despite the year being rough in terms of the amazing people we lost (Bowie, Prince, Steve Dillon, Darwyn Cooke, Jack Davis and Carrie Fisher to mention a few) and personal illness – kidney stones are hard-core people, so eat a healthy diet !! – 2016 was a great year for geeks. And with many of the awesome series above continuing into 2017 and the amazing array of movies on offer – is it only me or has everyone booked a day off from work for the Guardians of the Galaxy 2 release ?) this year looks to be even better !
GS Blogger: Brett Harris