Steve Dillon’s work may not be showy, but he has a knack for the twisted violence of Preacher.
I’ve read 261 comic books and graphic novels in 2016, a number that seems kind of big but is also much, much smaller than it has been in years past. Having a kid and being in grad school will do that to you.
What they’ll also do is make one perpetually behind on reading material. So here are my favorite comics I read in 2016. Some of them actually came out in 2016; a lot of them didn’t. But they’re all really good.
1. The Fade Out #4-12 (2015-16) by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, & Elizabeth Breitweiser
A phenomenal noir series, up there with Brubaker and Phillips’ best. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood, and this story of a screenwriter with writer’s block, the blacklisted writer who does his work for him in secret, the dead actress, and the dame who replaced her hits all the right notes. By crafting the book as one giant graphic novel serialized over 14 issues, Brubaker is able to use the best of both storytelling worlds, utilizing both the tight, singular focus of a finite graphic novel with the “gotta get the next ish” cliffhangers of a monthly periodical. Phillips’ stylized realism leaves you imagining the book as a film while simultaneously realizing no film could do his work justice, and Breitweiser’s mostly flat colors impeccably complement the many moods of the book. Comics really don’t get much better than The Fade Out.
2. Preacher #1-17 (1995-96) by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, & Matt Hollingsworth
I’ve read a ton of Steve Dillon comics over the years, yet I inexplicably had never read his magnum opus. His untimely passing this past October seemed the perfect time to correct this oversight. The first issue piqued my curiosity, but by the end of the second I was completely hooked. Ennis’s boldly blasphemous plot gets the lion’s share of attention, but it’d be nothing without Dillon’s rock-solid art. His work may not be showy, but he has a knack for the twisted violence Ennis trades in, and his panel-to-panel storytelling makes reading any book he illustrates a breeze. Paired with this, I also read Dillon’s work with writer Becky Cloonan on Punisher, and it, too, is just a great looking, great reading comic.
3. Huck #1-6 (2015-16) by Mark Millar, Rafael Albuquerque, & Dave McCaig
I’m as surprised as you are that a Mark Millar comic landed this high in my countdown, but credit where it’s due: This is up there with the best work of his career. That Huck would look pretty with American Vampire’s Albuquerque on art chores is a given, but the series itself proved surprisingly delightful for a Millar-written comic. The premise is a subtle twist on the Superman trope: Huck is a somewhat simple-minded but warm-hearted orphan who for years has used his uncanny superpowers (strength and speed, but the big one is a preternatural ability to find anything) to help people in his small town. Every day he does a favor—some big, some small—for one of his neighbors and they all love him for it, and keep his secret. That is, until some jerk who’s new to town sees dollar signs and rats out Huck’s existence. Now the guy who has lived a simple, sheltered life has the world knocking at his doorstep. He wants nothing to do with any of it until he encounters a stranger who just might be able to tell him the secrets of his past. It’s basically a fun twist on a told-too-many-times story, with wonderful art and (rare for Millar) a warm-hearted protagonist you actually want to root for. I guess you can see some of that classic Millar nihilism in that basically the entire world is populated with nothing but assholes and victims, but that’s mostly just shorthand to keep the focus on the hero’s journey and doesn’t detract. And Albuquerque does a phenomenal job here, basically combining his normal style with a bit of the sunny heartland air of Tim Sale’s work on Superman for All Seasons. The result is a real page turner: I grabbed issues #1-3 to read before bed late one night and ended up plowing through the lot plus #4-5 as well, ultimately kicking myself for reading them all before the finale #6 was in my hands. Heartily recommended!
4. Batman #35-52 (2014-16) by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & Fco Plascencia
Batman is a character I never tend to follow for any lengthy amount of time, yet Snyder and Capullo’s run hooked me in a way I’ve rarely been hooked before. Snyder pulls storytelling beats that other writers would think were too preposterous to even contemplate, and then stretches them out into lengthy arcs packed with twists and turns. Only Snyder could take something as silly as Bruce Wayne being reborn without the anger that makes him Batman, have him be replaced on the vigilante beat by Jim Gordon in a giant bunny suit, and actually make it a compelling story drawn out over 10 long parts—but somehow, he did it. And Greg Capullo was simply born to draw a Batman book, both for its square-jawed hero and for its freaktastic villains; his Mr. Bloom, in particular, is one for the ages.
5. Daredevil #34-36, #1-5 (2014) by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, & Javier Rodriguez
A superhero comic out of step with the industry today, which makes it all the more precious. There’s a lightheartedness to the storytelling here that seems absent from so much of today’s dour superhero stories, with preposterous twists straight out of the ’80s Marvel comics that made me a comic book reading lifer. Samnee’s art is deceptively simple, his uncomplicated clean line style hiding the fact he is one of the industry’s absolute best visual storytellers. This run finds Matt Murdock publicly revealing once and for all that he is Daredevil, leading to his disbarment and an impromptu move to San Francisco that opens up huge storytelling possibilities. Can’t wait to get more caught up on this one.
6. Black Widow #12-20 (2015) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto
Phil Noto is one of the best artists in the biz, with a unique painted style that looks hyper-realistic yet just cartooned enough to void off stiffness. This book marks the best work of his career. Author Edmondson blends quiet personal moments with espionage thriller material, and Noto just slays on all of it. The pair’s work is so singular that even the follow-on series by the unparalleled team of Waid and Samnee feels like the slightest of letdowns. Then again, that pair is much better suited to the title above.
7. Astro City #1-12 (2013-14) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson
When you buy more comics than you have time to read, it’s easy to fall in the habit of reading new series first and tossing your favorites on the “read later” pile. Thus was my problem with Astro City, upon which I ended up an unconscionable seven years behind at one point. Anyway, this year’s worth of stories is up there with the series’ best, and considering it’s one of the greatest superhero comics of all time, that’s really something. Highlights include issues #2-4 (one-shot stories that center around ordinary people in Astro City, shades of Busiek’s seminal Marvels) and the long-awaited Winged Victory arc.
8. One-Punch Man vol. 1-2 (2015) by One & Yusuke Murata
The only manga I read all year (16-year-old me is spinning in his metaphorical grave) is an epic one. Saitama was looking for fun and excitement when he trained himself to be the greatest superhero in the world, but he’s so strong that he can defeat any comers with one punch, so what’s the point? It sounds like a one-note premise, but a couple hundred pages into the series (and a few episodes into the anime, which is airing on Toonami) and I don’t see One running out of material any time soon. The jokes are great, but it’s the art that sells it, with Murata supplying a series of wild and wacky goons and capturing each of those singular punches in double page spreads swirling with speed lines and kinetic energy.
9. The Totally Awesome Hulk #1-11 (2016) by Greg Pak, Frank Cho, Mike Choi, Alan Davis, Mike Del Mundo, & Mahmud Asrar
One of only a handful of Marvel titles I managed to keep up to date on this year, this new series follows teen genius Amadeus Cho after he takes over the Hulk powers. He has to deal with the duality of loving his newfound powers, while struggling to convince the world that he will not be the uncontrollable monster Bruce Banner was in that role. The story later takes a turn toward the dramatic when it has to deal with the fallout of Civil War II. I’ve been a huge fan of Pak’s work with Amadeus Cho since his days on Incredible Hercules, and he’s still on fire here. The art is at its peak in the four issues Frank Cho illustrated, and while the revolving door of artists should be off-putting, the presence of personal favorites Davis and Asrar kept my eyes very happy.
10. Reyn #1-10 (2015) by Kel Symons, Nate Stockman, & Paul Little
A blast of a series canceled before its time. I picked this up because the colorist, Paul Little, is a longtime friend, but I was quite impressed with the final product. No spoilers from me, but one look at the cover art will reveal that the series starts as high fantasy and takes a sharp right to sci-fi without missing a beat. The story is packed with twists, the art is action packed, and while it’s a bit of a bummer the run ended early, it’s still a satisfying chunk when viewed as a maxiseries. | Jason Green