It’s that time of year! The Multiversity Year in Review is here, and from now until Thursday, December 22, we will be talking about favorites in a variety of categories. Let us know what we missed in the comments!
(Kyle Welch) I personally am a sucker for big conspiracy narratives with cults, shadow governments, and murder. “Black Monday Murders” has it all. The series reads like a culmination of Hickman’s best work to this point. The large jumping plots we saw in “Avengers.” The wheels within wheels from “Secret Warriors.” The deconstruction of the medium we saw from “The Nightly News.” The dark sci fi of “East of West.” Tomm Coker and Michael Garland match Hickman’s dark and grim narrative with sophisticated, thick, and calculated art. The art reads like a well shot movie. “Black Monday Murders” is less a comic and more of an experience. There is a feeling of substance every issue with questions and intrigue that leave you wanting more.
(Leo Johnson) I’m going to be honest with you: at no point in the last few years did I think I’d ever write really nice things about a Flintstones comic, but 2016 has been a crazy year. “Flintstones” came about as part of the line of “modern” Hanna-Barbera titles that DC published this year. Out of the four titles in the first wave, two were good and two not so great. “Flintstones” was the real surprise of the bunch, though.
While the lesser of the Hanna-Barbera titles were stuck in trying to “gritty” or “edgy”, Mark Russell wrote “Flintstones” as a wonderful satire that still manages to drive its point home. In just the first couple of issues, it hits on things like PTSD, religion, vapid consumerism, and gay marriage and did it all in ways that never seemed preachy or out of touch. Not to mention, Steve Pugh gives Bedrock and its inhabitants a fantastic look. In a year of really good comics, this book was one of the most pleasant surprises and ended up being one of my favorites. Like I said, 2016 has been a crazy year.
(Vince Ostrowski) More than any other title, I think “Shade the Changing Girl” represents the rebirth of DC Comics as a publisher that understands their audience — their entire audience. That meant resetting their main superhero line to the “iconic” versions of their characters, but it also means leaving room for the weird corners of DC history that may not be as outwardly popular, but definitely have their followings. Aside from DC Rebirth, we’ve got weird Hanna-Barbera books, Vertigo (which is basically Image-lite right now), an oncoming Wildstorm relaunch, and Young Animal — where “Shade” resides. Vertigo no longer serves the purpose of melding DC characters with more mature, weirder storytelling, but Young Animal has taken its place with aplomb.
Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone’s “Shade the Changing Girl” holds a quite literal reverence for Peter Milligan’s Vertigo “Shade” title — referencing Rac Shade’s fictional work as a poet as something of a metafictional guidepost for the fantastical aspects of the title. Apart from this, he hasn’t made an appearance yet, for this is “Shade the Changing Girl” and she is a thing all her own. Castellucci brilliantly strips away anything that’s impenetrable about “Shade”, which has been a thing for 40 years now, and turns the story of “Shade” into one of misplaced time, unimaginable loss, and rebirth. She takes the idea of “the madness coat” and redefines its purpose for something magnificently relatable: the malleability and uncertainty of adolescent identity. Zarcone is given plenty of room to flex when “Shade” decides to get weird — mostly when the madness takes hold or when visiting other worlds. Zarcone draws the madness as a thin-lined, lithe instability, with magnificent creature designs as a tether to a fiction for which the rules have all been broken. She gets to draw aliens doing sex stuff, synchronized swimming, and even a character that is decidedly Tilda Swinton-as-David Bowie in my head cannon. Yet at the end of the day, “Shade the Changing Girl” makes an impression not by being overly weird, but by tethering that weirdness to a melancholy that we’ve all probably related to at one point or another.Continued below
2. Doom Patrol
(Matthew Garcia) “Doom Patrol” hasn’t exactly been about anything yet, but that doesn’t stop it from being one damn cool book. It launched the DC Young Animal line with power and punch, showcasing a confidence and attitude that helped draw us in and overshadow some of its faults. Does it make a lot of sense? Not exactly, especially if you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU. Gerard Way and Nick Derington throw out long-forgotten/neglected characters with abandon. But, that’s not to say it’s unwelcoming. Unlike some of Way’s primary influences (here’s looking at you, Grant Morrison), they’re not about confusing you or bombarding you with weird-and-kind-of-fun metaphysical philoso-speak as they are about making sure you’re engaged and strapped in for the ride. Way has gotten so good at delivering a comic script while Derington consistently proves himself more than capable of matching the phantasmagoria of the material that you’re more than willing to sit back and watch it all unfold.
As the story develops, we can only hope it maintains these first few issues’ energy and weirdness. “Doom Patrol,” like the volumes before it, pushes at its structure and demands your attention. Not just in complicated and shrouded storytelling, but in its dynamic approach to the comics page. We may have been on the fence about this Young Animal project — especially in the wake of Shelly Bond’s unfortunate dismissal — but this did everything to assuage our hesitancy and, at least for me, buy DC books again.
1. Black Hammer
(Brian Salvatore) It is easy to get cynical when someone tries to update or comment on the superhero genre. Ever since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons brought “Watchmen,” it has been diminishing returns on the concept of making superheroes “grow up,” both literally and figuratively. But Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s “Black Hammer” has been such a refreshing series that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of so many of its predecessors.
It has all the essential elements you could want: a central mystery, compelling characters that don’t easily fall into tropes, gorgeous artwork, and a lurking sense of dread, bubbling just under the surface, erupting at times. Ormston, a veteran of books like “The Unwritten,” “Judge Dredd,” and “Bodies,” is an outsider to the superhero genre, and that makes his approach so interesting. Even in the flashback sequences, the heroics are presented differently, and because that is the lens through which so much of the series is presented, the dull pain of nostalgia is felt in nearly every panel, flashback or not.
While I don’t know if the series is built to last 100 issues, I’m extremely happy to pick up every month and bask in two great creators doing some of the best work of their career. Don’t sleep on this, folks.
Brian: This was an odd category, voting-wise, this year, because so many of the books our staff voted for are ‘new’ books, but are continuing concepts introduced in prior volumes. Chalk this up to Marvel and DC each relaunching a ton of books this year, but the five that won out are, I think, all doing something new, even when, like “Doom Patrol,” it is continuing the tale of a group of characters from the past. All of these books, to a certain degree, subvert expectations and allow the voices of their creators shine through loud and clear. I can’t imagine any of these books losing its creative team and looking anything like it did at its start.
Mike: In a world where “The Amazing Spider-Man” could’ve found it’s way onto this list, I think ‘odd’ is the gentlest way to possibly describe it. While there may be titles I’d like to see on this list, I find it difficult to argue with any of them. Except for one. But I’m not telling which.
Matt: Mike, you gave me nightmares with that one. Anyway, no doubt DC had a great year relaunching themselves. Like Vince points out, they embraced their entire fanbase and that’s led to some wild and diverse comics from them. I hope, I honestly hope they don’t lose sight of that, especially as their parent company struggles to figure out what to do next.