How many comics come out every year? Thousands? Tens of thousands? It’s with that in mind that we set out to determine the ten best single issues of the year. It’s a nigh-Herculian task, for sure, but it’s one we do every year. So dust off the ol’ memory banks and dive in to our list with us. And be sure to chime in with a comment or two to let us know what you think we missed!
10. (TIE) BPRD: Hell On Earth #130
(Brian Salvatore) This absolute gut-punch of an issue has stuck with me throughout the year – the image of Johann seemingly leaving his containment suit for good was a jarring image, and one not easily forgotten. Now, as should be obvious by now, this wasn’t the end of Johann, but it did mark a huge turning point for the character. Peter Snjebjerg somehow manages to wring emotion out of a blank, robotic face, and adds a melancholic haze over the issue that was so strong that, in some ways, the series still hasn’t recovered.
10. (TIE) Lazarus #15
(Paul Lai) The great single issues that are (or seem like) stand-alones (e.g. the winner of this list) and those that launch series or arcs (most of this list) have to lay down a lot of bets; the single issues that culminate arcs, like Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s “Lazarus” #15, have to gracefully collect all the payoffs. I’d argue more comics stumble on the latter than the former. But this climax of Lazarus’ “Conclave” arc rewards the gradual, patient world- and tension-building of the prior four— and heck, fourteen— installments so dramatically that it earned a place among our issues of the year.
Without spoiling the conflict, or the often implausible story device “Conclave” uses to resolve it, I can gesture at how the issue plays up the protagonists’ main quandary of identity in a ceremony of wrought combat, or the Shakespearean turn in the final pages that turns up the Machiavellian melodrama. But really, if you’ve read it, you know where the stuff is: the thirteen wordless action pages at the issue’s center, some of the sharpest choreography, cinematography, and motion-capture of up-close fighting we’ve ever seen in comics.
9. The Vision #1
(Ken Godberson III) “All-New All-Different” Marvel has not exactly been particularly “new” or “different”. Sure, there are good books, but few of them seem to fulfill that promise. “The Vision #1”, though, very much does fit into that “All-New All-Different”. Very different. “A.I.” meets “Twin Peaks” meets the Marvel Universe as the Vision tries to acclimate into D.C.’s suburban landscape creates one of the most bizarre openings for a book that no one expected. Tom King made his debut at Marvel unforgettable with the combination of wholesome setting, teen angst and existential horror as Gabriel Walta and the queen of colors Jordie Bellaire, both fresh from the incredible “Magneto” run, bring a grounded sense with the undertones of sci-fi and surreal menace. “The Vision #1” carried through with the promise of the Post-Secret Wars world, and it is the strongest debut in ANAD Marvel yet.
6. (TIE) Hellboy in Hell #7
(Mark Tweedale) There’re four ink-wash pages near the beginning of this issue that are simply stunning to behold. This isn’t the first occasion Mignola’s used this particular technique (see “B.P.R.D.: King of Fear” #4), but what makes these pages especially noteworthy is the moment he used them for. They showed a dream-like glimpse of what England has become, but more importantly, it was Hellboy’s goodbye to Alice. It was a beautiful and melancholy moment. My god, those four pages are more than worth the cover price alone.
The thing is, by page six we’re back to the rest of the comic, and how could it possibly compete with an opening like that? Surprisingly, by going the complete opposite direction. The rest of the issue is funny and absurd, with python-esque dialogue, talking skeletons, a puppet show, and a pissed-off monster that’s going to get trapped in a mummified cat. There’s even a golem that kills people while reciting different kinds of fish. You’d think this would lead to a wildly inconsistent issue, but it holds together splendidly. This is without doubt the best issue of “Hellboy in Hell” so far.Continued below
6. (TIE) Hawkeye #22
(Kevin McConnell) It took nearly five months to arrive, but “Hawkeye” #22 was an amazing triumph and a sad ending. Matt Fraction & David Aja (along with a few others) created essentially Marvel’s “indie” book. There weren’t a lot of superheroes, science fiction or fantastical elements…just good street level storytelling. Clint Barton had been elevated from B+ character to superstar. Kate Bishop took a step out of her mentor’s shadow and became just as important.
However, all of those pieces come together in a masterful final issue. Everything that had been building, all the questions were answered and everyone who was important got their chance to shine. It is exactly what I was looking for from a final issue. While I am certainly sad to see it go, it went out on such a huge high, I don’t think any book could be this cool from Marvel again. A bold proclamation for sure, but Marvel has every opportunity to prove me wrong.
6. (TIE) Airboy #1
(Greg Matiasevich) If you follow a creator’s career long enough, you’re bound to see stretches where they are firing on all cylinders…and others when the creative engine is stalled. I’ve been buying James Robinson books since a few years into “Starman”, so I’ve seen both those times, best and worst. What you don’t usually get is that creator acknowledging the valleys in their output. And even when they do, it’s almost always in private conversation, not in the form of a four-issue miniseries from Image with Greg Hinkle bringing it and every other personal demon you can imagine into crystal-clear focus. But Robinson is nothing if not fearless. And while later issues brought more of those demons to light than either of them probably intended, the first one still hits like a confessional bolt from the blue.
4. The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1
(Keith Dooley) Writer Grant Morrison and artist Doug Mahnke made a trippy yet profound comic book that places us, the readers, into the story. As part of “The Multiversity” miniseries, it is a vital chapter to the weaving tapestry of this masterpiece. As a standalone comic book, it is one of the best of the year. Eerie, exciting, action-packed, and thought-provoking, it demands close reading like the best and most intricate issues of the series. Morrison has played with the idea of the creator of a comic book interacting with the reader, but does it in a frighteningly intense new way with “Ultra Comics”. With Morrison planning on exploring his ideas with the Multiversity even further, there is nowhere else to go but into the furthest reaches of our imagination. This issue is just a taste.
3. Archie #1
(Vince Ostrowski) The old theme song used to say “Everything’s Archie”, but in 2015, “Archie” #1 really did have everything. One always fears that updating or “rebooting” a decades old franchise is going to result in the loss of something intrinsic to the original – or the addition of something superfluous that will feel dated in just a few years. That is, unless, you are one of the smartest publishers in the market (Archie Comics, who have been making all the right moves for a few years now) and hire Mark Waid and Fiona Staples to do the reboot. Instead of something dated, we got the entire stable of very familiar characters transplanted into the era and comic book stylings of the present day, and a fresh introduction to all of them. The premise is simple: Archie has broken up with Betty, and Veronica moves into town – the classic love triangle begins anew. But the way that Archie navigates through life at school, post-Betty, and shares his story with the reader is positively magnetic. Archie’s life is clearly turned upside down, so much so that he misses what’s happening around him. We feel for him, but we also see how everyone else is or isn’t affected by this turn of events as well. It’s high school, after all. Last but not least, you can’t have a good Archie comic without providing the Jughead and getting him right. Jughead was, in fact, the puppetmaster of “Archie” #1, and as such, 2015 proved to be “The Year of Jughead” that so many were predicting it to be. In establishing all that it did, while still telling a propulsive story with a compelling end point, “Archie” #1 was as good as #1 issues in comics get. Throwing in the awkward original Archie comic as backmatter and just sliding in under “The Dark Knight III” for total number of variant covers didn’t hurt either.Continued below
2. Justice League: Darkseid War: Green Lantern #1
(James Johnston) So this came out of left freaking field.
Even though 2015 was the year of me learning how to love DC again, that had more to do with titles like “Prez” and “Batgirl.” Geoff Johns’s “Justice League” run is the opposite of interesting to me and was something I just wanted to sidestep entirely. However, I’d also been reading “Omega Men” and “Grayson”, two really strong titles from Tom King who is going to get a lot of love allover this Year in Review series if I’m going to be frank. So, without any context whatsoever I picked up the “Green Lantern” tie-in from King and Evan “Doc” Shaner. And, honestly, I think I know who the next team on “Green Lantern” is. Or at least who it has to be.
“Darkseid War: Green Lantern” found Hal Jordan trying to save Oa as all the other Green Lanterns are getting indoctrinated into Parademons for Darkseid’s army. Hal has a way to save the day: turn into a New God like the rest of the League. The odds are clearly stacked against Hal if he tries to fight off the paramedics without the god powers, as his ring helpfully reminds him, counting down the millions of Parademons he has left to fight after Hal gets exhausted terminating a couple dozen. Hal’s reluctance to use the New God powers everyone else is tapping into is explained with what is, straight up, the best look into Hal’s origin ever. Hal flashes back to after his father died and his mom (who was Jewish but respected her husband’s Catholicism) sent young Hal to light a candle for his father. Jordan, young and not really sure of what religion is, lashes out against God for letting his father die until a man who knew him comforts Hal. And what follows is the most frank discussion about religion as it applies to superheroes since, uh, the last comic from Tom King that featured a Green Lantern.
Most times when I read a new interpretation of a character, I really dig it but can kind of feel the creator in that comic. “Howard the Duck”, for example, is really good right now but it feels more like a Chip Zdarsky romp than some quintessential “Howard the Duck.” “Darkseid War: Green Lantern,” despite being radically different from the “Green Lantern” books we (or at least just I) have seen lately, feels so damn right. Everything about this comic, from Jordan fighting for his fellow Lanterns while trying to stick to his own morals, to the beautifully pulled off reveal in the church, is what I want to see from Hal Jordan comics on a regular basis. Not only were King and Shaner able to create a compelling tie-in issue, they did one that painted a complete portrait of a character who has really needed some texture for the past couple years. If you’ve been steering clear of the “Green Lantern” comics as of late for whatever reason, seriously go back and dig up the “Darkseid War” tie-in. The fact that it flew in completely under the radar only to blow everyone at MC’s mind with its intelligence and intensity. Do you know how likely a month ago I thought it would be for me to write about Hal Jordan in a “Best of Anything” series? That’s how great this tie-in is. If this doesn’t result in a series with Shaner and King then we can call this whole comic book thing off.
1. Batman #44
(Matt Garcia) Every so often, superhero comics do something right. Mainstream superhero comic companies are so concerned with catering to the broadest possible audience and status quo, that they frequently forget times change; they can come off as vapid and out-of-touch. “Batman” #44, written by Scott Snyder and Brian Azzarello, with art from Jock and Lee Loughridge, remembers that there’s a real world, takes inspiration from it, and manages to pull off something that’s relevant and thought-provoking. It’s an angry comic, disgusted with the systematic fuckery of the world, and has meat to its story.Continued below
This is a book that’s meant to remind you that Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and so many many more were all stuck in shitty situations and were victims of a shitty, broken system. Through a well-plotted, entirely fictitious, but deeply empathetic detective story, “Batman” #44 reminded us to look at these events realistically rather than turning away and pretending they don’t exist. We need our fiction to be grounded in reality. We need our heroes to be able to address the current issues and problems of the day. If art is meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, then “Batman” #44 actually managed to achieve something beyond itself.
Mike Romeo – Our first 10-pick category, and boy is it a doozy! Every year, after we put these together, I say to myself, “I’m going to start a running list of issues I like and keep track of it throughout the year!” And then that never happens. Maybe next year, right?
Brian Salvatore – Me too, Mike. Me too. (Opens up Google Sheets, create new)