It’s that time of year! The Multiversity Year in Review is here, and from now until Friday, December 22, we will be talking about favorites in a variety of categories. Let us know what we missed in the comments!
Lots of new books start each year, but our staff felt that these were the best of the bunch.
4 (tie). Redlands
“Redlands” is the comic I needed in 2017. This year has been, by most accounts, pretty rough to get through and being of any minority identity has just added a difficulty modifier on top of that. Being transgender, it’s been difficult to watch the world over treat people like me and those I love like so much poison in our society. The reason I needed “Redlands” was because I needed somewhere to channel that frustration, that anger at being targeted day in and day out.
Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey have used “Redlands” to channel pure, white-hot rage at society into art. Its first issue was a masterpiece of comics storytelling, encapsulating an event in which a coven of witches excised the tumour of toxic masculinity from a small town in southern USA, before the series skipped to the present to explore the real story going on. A story about men who think they own women, who think women owe them their bodies and who cannot take no for an answer.
It would have been so easy for “Redlands” to have fallen flat, to have existed just to cash in on the rising popularity of witch and pagan #aesthetic of the last year, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not just an aesthetic, it’s embroiled in the art. There is rage in every line of dialogue, frustration in every line of ink.
“Redlands” is a comic about 2017. About channeling our rage into art and making a difference. – Alice W. Castle
4 (tie). Extremity
“Extremity” is a book that leaves a lasting impression and delivers an emotional impact issue after issue. Daniel Warren Johnson has masterfully crafted a story that blends the storytelling DNA of Hayao Miyazaki ‘s “Nausicaa” and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. I don’t make those comparisons lightly. Johnson’s line work, layouts, creature design, sense of scale, scenery, and battles remind me of Miyazaki’s “Nausicaa” manga. Like Miller he’s able to tell an action-packed story with violence all around, yet hits you with its consequences and does not glorify it in the least. Like cartoonists and manga artists, Johnson does nearly everything, including drawing his own sound effects, making them a seamless part of the art the the storytelling experience. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the textured layers of color added by Mike Spicer and the lettering by Rus Wooton that make the pages deep and rich.
Daniel Warren Johnson’s initial thought experiment about an artist losing or having ability to draw taken from them spawned a science fiction fantasy tale that looks unflinchingly at loss. This story about the Roto clan’s quest for vengeance against the Paznina shows a window on a long standing cycle of anger, hatred, fear, and violence that, in a already pain filled world, makes things progressively worse. He openly shows the personal continuing cost it takes from the bodies and spirits of everyone that gets caught up in its edges. Johnson’s expressive faces show in silent moments the costs they pay. He and his co-creators masterfully tell a story that shows dynamic, full on violence and manage to make you hurt for the people losing the good things about themselves and around them because of it. – Greg Lincoln
3. Royal City
The first issue of “Royal City” opens and closes with a narration from an unidentified source until the last few pages, when it becomes apparent the words are those of Tommy Pike written back in 1993, shortly before he died. Those words are shown again on the very last page, written on blue-lined paper, in Tommy’s handwriting. It completely recontextualizes what’s written, no longer something said to the reader, but something personal, with frustrations spilling out onto the page. And yet, some time after Tommy’s death, his family probably all read this page. Hell, Patrick turned it into a bestseller.Continued below
Right from the beginning, Jeff Lemire made it clear this was a series that would reward readers that look twice. Rereading that first issue knowing exactly what the narration is and who wrote it is an entirely different experience. As “Royal City” goes on, Lemire continues to reconstruct the way we view his world. The static on the radio, an element that has a habit of interrupting scenes in the first arc, takes on a different quality in the second arc when experienced from Tommy’s perspective. There aren’t the same ‘KTT’ and ‘ZHRR’ interference sounds everyone else gets, simply a steady building of ‘SSSHHHHH’—perfect for a character with crippling headaches that finds silence in his mysterious connection to the radio waves.
Each character in the series is stuck and it would be easy for “Royal City” to mirror this in its tone—this could have been a dreary comic. Instead, Lemire has crafted something that evokes dreariness without being dreary at all. While its characters may be stuck, “Royal City” never is; it’s constantly shifting and re-evaluating and transforming. We’re currently two issues into the second arc of “Royal City,” and it seems its entire structure is built around challenging our assumptions from the first arc. Lemire is seemingly a master at getting us to look at something familiar and making us to see something new. “Royal City” is one of 2017’s most fascinating new series. Don’t just check it out—check it out twice. – Mark Tweedale
2. Super Sons
I never would have guessed I’d have voted for “Super Sons” as one of the best new series of 2017. “Super Sons?” “Super Sons???” Those question marks aren’t from some deep-seated anti-World’s Finest prejudice. My shock in getting this title to write about has legitimate origins. Superhero comics focusing on younger heroes are tricky enough to pull off, but kid-led titles are notoriously difficult to execute. Not only that, but a comic focusing on the sons of Batman & Superman sounds like exactly the type of Silver Age high concept that crashes into flames in the modern era. Plus, the book was delayed several times from announcement to first issue publication, which usually signals an overworked and ultimately mediocre final product. No way this book is anything less than a train wreck. And yet? Here it is.
“Super Sons” earns the 2017 silver medal because it chomps on my skepticism like a cocky-AF Superman harmlessly eating Kryptonite in front of crooks. A lot of that swagger comes from the linework of Jorge Jimenez. When you can draw kids that don’t fall into the “miniature adults” stereotype AND combine kinetic action with strong storytelling AND a wonderful sense of design, you’ve earned a Kryptonite-eating grin. Aided by colorist Alejandro Sanchez and sympatico fill-in art teams, this book is consistently one of the best looking titles in the DC line, which is saying a lot.
Then there’s writer Pete Tomasi. Although created by Grant Morrison, Damian Wayne has been guided by former Bat-Morrison editor Tomasi more than any other writer at DC, so finding the Wayne side of “Super Sons” handled well is no surprise. But Jonathan Kent as Superboy was (to me at least) a real blank slate prior to this book. Tomasi shows a real grip of steel on understanding how these kids should be written, either separately or together. Plus it takes a seasoned writer to keep the adventures of the future World’s Finest team consequential and lighthearted in equal measure.
“Super Sons” is such a good series it could make you see “Superman” and “Batman” as the books about the Super Sons’ parents, not the other way around. Don’t see a chance in hell of that happening? Just remember how sure I was this series was going to suck. – Greg Matiasevich
1. Mister Miracle
I’ll admit it, when cracked open “Mister Miracle” #1 and the conceit presented itself, my months-long hype started to diminish. Is this . . . is this gonna be a 12-issue version of “Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle” #4? And to be fair, that was really the first Mister Miracle story I’d ever really read, not counting his appearances in Giffen and DeMatteis’s classic “Justice League” comics. So there, the idea of “death” being the “ultimate trap” seemed like a pretty fresh and nifty metaphor. It quickly became clear, however, there was something much deeper going on. Yes, “death” here is a “trap” to be “escaped,” but from the very beginning, King and Gerads shift the framing. Here it is a suicide attempt. Scott Free himself is trying to escape life.Continued below
Now, you might be asking, what gives us the nerve to claim a mini-series as any kind of comic of the year before it’s even halfway done? Well, I suppose it has the benefit of being released during our “Oscar Season,” so it’s fresh in our minds, but it’s more than that.
In seemingly no time at all, Tom King has established himself as a kind of literary comic book writer, which is a snobby and relatively pointless way to say he focuses on character, on the inner lives of the people in his books. And what comics excel at is exploding out the inner lives of characters through metaphor and conflict. In “Mister Miracle,” King performs some of his most impressive feats. The ageless warring on Apokolips that comics fans have thrilled to for decades is, here, just another day at work for Scott Free and his wife Barda. Something to grudgingly fulfill an obligation towards. Key conflicts take place in small apartment living rooms. If it’s “life” that Scott Free is looking to escape, the comic has an obligation to illustrate that life as realistically as possible.
A big part of that illustration is, naturally, the art. Mitch Gerads is one of best (first?) artists to take digital illustration in comics and move it past simply replicating the look of physical art. He’s been doing this for years, but his work on this book as artist and colorist, brings it to a new level of seamless experimentation. Gerads uses tone, distortion, blur, any number of digital effects to build the world of “Mister Miracle” (there’s even a brief instance of cel shaded animation!). He also creates any number of moods perfectly suited to the many different emotional tones of the story thus far; romance, humor, despair; they all resonate perfectly thanks to Gerads’ work here.
And this doesn’t even account for Gerads’s accomplishments as sequential artist, conveying the characters’ emotions expertly and designing clever and compelling transitions in the confines of the books’ rigid 9 panel grid.
Is it possible that “Mister Miracle” could completely flub the landing (or even the middle at the this point)? Sure. But in four issues, King and Gerads have already established a story that explores the desperation and heartbreak and adventure in every day life, and what it takes to survive it. – Benjamin Birdie
Brian: 5 different books with 5 totally different approaches and tones. Even the two superhero stories couldn’t be more different, with “Super Sons” being a youthful and joyous expression of being a hero, and “Mister Miracle” being the exact opposite. “Extremity” is one of the most visually arresting books I’ve read in a long time, and “Royal City” hits me in all the sweet spots. I’m woefully ignorant on “Redlands,” but I think Alice will kill me if I don’t rectify that soon, so I’ll get right on that.
Matt: When I first saw the ads for “Super Sons,” I thought it was a book about Batman and Superman being gay dads with Damian and Jon their gay sons, a sort of queer superhero Brady Bunch. Whenever I flip through it, I still see elements of that in the story. “Redlands” is great, though. Glad to see it up here.
Alice: Y’all already know why I think “Redlands” should be up there, so I’ll instead point the spotlight on “Extremity,” which finally showcased to a wide audience just what Daniel Warren Johnson can do, and “Super Sons,” which has been a routine delight from DC. This is a good cross-section of the wide variety of new series that made big waves in 2017.