Black Hammer 8 featured Columns 

2017 in Review: Best Ongoing Series

By | December 22nd, 2017
Posted in Columns | % Comments
Logo by Benjamin Birdie

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!

Best Ongoing Series
When thinking about how to structure these articles, we agreed that “Best Ongoing” was the biggest category, as it represents all facets of the comics industry working together — not just the creators, but the entire team that makes a comic come out.

10. The Wild Storm

“The Wild Storm” defied all my expectations and was able to give me a place to start with the seemingly impenetrable Wildstorm Universe. The redefinition of the story and world weaved in with some aspects of the characters I know has made the title  one of the best comics DC is currently publishing. The title featured a hard reboot of the typical WildStorm property and ended up enriching the entire franchise by setting up so many new and familiar characters with different goals and motivations while still retaining the strong core and personality traits that brought them into the fold originally. Ellis’s shuffle of ideas and concepts for the book has led to great deliberately-paced stories that aren’t concerned with getting readers from point A to point B in the space of one installment. Another huge aspect of the comic is Ellis has a point of view that he’s willing to share, expressed through certain characters acting as ciphers. As wild as “The Wild Storm” gets, there’s something about the title that feels so accessible and connected. Artist Jon Davis-Hunt will go to space and then touch back down to New York for an intimate scene of two characters drinking coffee. Between remixing and changing a Universe and boasting wild, imaginative art, “The Wild Storm” carries an immediate sense of ambition dedication to the form of comics that often leaves me in awe. I can’t wait how the story will alter or change over time. The story seems to be leading into something huge regarding the plot which leads me to believe that 2018 could be an even better year for one of DC’s best books. – Alexander Jones

9. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Comics can be a great many things. Some tell touching stories, others epic adventures, and some are just plain clever and entertaining. “Squirrel Girl” is primarily the third, and that’s why I love it. Squirrel Girl has always had a history of being somehow unbeatable, in spite of her powers being entirely squirrel-based, from beating Doctor Doom in her first appearance to defeating Thanos off-panel (and yes, these are both canon, I will fight anyone who says otherwise), but it’s mostly been treated as a long-running joke.

Yet this comic takes that concept and really makes it work. It shows us Squirrel Girl beats her foes not with sheer brute force and a vast amount of squirrels (though those often help) but with her intelligence and compassion. She’ll talk to the villains to help reform them, but if need be, she can always “eat nuts and kick butts.” It’s built a network of strong support characters, from her roommate Nancy to fellow superheroes Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boy, and absolutely everyone is entertaining. The villains are amusing, the supporting cast is solid, and the artwork, while cartoony, suits the tone perfectly.

On top of all that, it is so darn funny. Ryan North often slips in these little asides at the bottom of each page, and they’re all a hoot, while here’s often little details in the background that add a touch of humor to every scene. The dialogue has a distinct style to it, where characters will frequently lampshade the comic craziness of their own situations, and it lets you take a moment to embrace everything about it.

Because this is a comic that loves being a comic. It finds the craziest, most amazing aspects of the Marvel universe and works with it for all it’s worth. There’s a place called The Savage Land where dinosaurs still live? Heck yeah we’re going to go there! A villain made entirely of bees? Time to fight him with science, but also in a “choose your own adventure” style comic. Upcoming issues will have Squirrel Girl and her supporting cast go into space, meet the Silver Surfer, and deal with Loki as the Sorcerer Supreme, and there is nothing about that sentence that I don’t like.

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Anyways, I’ve rambled on far too long about why I love this comic. At this point, all I can say now is that you should go read it for yourself to see if you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. – Robbie Pleasant

8. Doom Patrol

“Doom Patrol” loves comics. It loves the way a writer can invent a completely absurd semi-reality and have an artist bring it to living, breathing, flailing, squishing life. It loves the way dialogue and visuals can be bizarrely oblique as long as an artist handles the emotional storytelling beats from panel to panel. It loves the way lettering factors into a page’s design, as well as the varieties of lettering that can be used to create different voices: screaming, calming, glitching, enchanting, transcending. It loves the way old and new characters can coexist and reinvent each other just by taking up space on the same comic book page. It loves the way different varieties of coloring can reframe a figure or a scene and uniquely perform storytelling duties, from the ordinary blue-green glow of a hospital room to an only-in-comics group of humanoid figures made of black polygons outlined in red. “Doom Patrol” loves comics, and it loves storytelling through comics.

This year we finished out the first arc on the book, three issues jam-packed with societies of negative men, comic book bins that contain the history of the universe erupting in a fleshy mass when introduced to flame, cults run by a character’s dissociative identity disorder made tangible, and sentient ambulances leaving rainbow trails as they zoom through the cosmos. We then got an issue with fill-in artists Mike and Laura Allred where the crew deals with other-dimensional creatures who harvest negative thoughts, which, from visuals to emotional beats, became a loving throwback to Silver Age “Doom Patrol” stories.

We also got two issues (as of this writing) of the latest arc, which have already introduced us to a “Brotherhood of Nada,” the members of which its leader promises have nothing in common: The Breeze, a woman who was so good at everything that everyone got bored of her, existing right beside 50% Chad, a mysterious, faceless pair of human legs wearing only briefs and a pair of socks, who has “clammy skin” and “the whiff of failure.” And don’t forget the latest subplot about “$#!+,” which a group of corporate overlords have been trying to force the populace to eat by using catchy tunes, promises of good health, kicklines, and a marvelous flavor.

Yes, the appeal of “Doom Patrol” primarily comes from how completely bonkers its semi-logical absurdity can be, but also in how its storytelling nonetheless remains clear and emotionally sound. It is true that Way, Derrington, Fowler, Bonvillain, and Klein put so much into every issue, every panel really, it can be difficult to keep track of every tiny detail. The book also has an irregular schedule, having sporadically released only siix issues this year. But given the choice, I’d always take this boundless explosion of creative exploration over a decompressed, creatively barren (if regular) superhero book. There’s nothing ordinary about “Doom Patrol.” And best of all, its dedication to testing the comics medium has never waned. – Nick Palmieri

7. The Wicked + The Divine

2017 for “The Wicked + the Divine” brought us ‘Imperial Phase’ Parts I and II, which technically started November 2016 with that unforgettable issue of Pantheon Monthly, where the comic turned into a magazine with “interviews” by real journalists like Leigh Alexander and Dorian Lynskey.

Anyway, the year began with a bang as the Great Darkness pounced in spectacular fashion at the Shard. The epic battle foretold had finally come and then . . . nothing. The gods quarreled and dithered, a sophomore slump had settled in, with most of the characters giving into apathy and base instincts like resentment, jealousy, and murder. By the end of the year, two gods were dead, another was revealed to be an impostor, and more were revealed to be still alive. I expected more superheroic battles, and instead got a slowburn narrative about insecurity giving way to anger, when the achievement of climbing to the top becomes a desperate scramble to remain there.

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I initially found “The Wicked + The Divine” harder to love than in previous years, but the two major twists of the last issue meant it became a joy now to reread and spot the clues, with the seemingly start-and-stop nature of this year’s issues now capable of being understood as a long twist in the knife. The pacing still frustrates me, but only now because issue 34 is still months away, and I genuinely want to understand what the hell is going on. Now that is wicked, and divine. – Christopher Chiu-Tabet

6. Paper Girls

I will admit, I slept on “Paper Girls” at first. The first couple of issues were more mystery than anything, something I’m not always a fan of. It was only when I binge read a dozen or so issues that the series clicked for me and I realized that this book is something special. We already know that Brian K Vaughan is one of the best comic writers out there. There’s no doubting that. He threads the weirdness that is the overall story of “Paper Girls” through different time periods, but still keeps the story grounded with the interactions of the titular group of paper girls. On art, Cliff Chiang does some of the best work of his career. Whether it’s time travels riding pterosaurs or cybernetic teens from a far-flung future or just some kids riding bikes in a small town in the 1980s, everything looks fantastic and expressive. The two together make “Paper Girls” one of those special books with two creators both doing awesome work and getting a great product because of it. I’m still not sure exactly where the twists and turns of the story are leading, but I’m definitely along for the ride now. – Leo Johnson

5. Giant Days

“Giant Days” encapsulates everything that’s great about comics NOT involving masks, powers, or sci-fi Apple products. It’s just Susan Ptolemy, Daisy Wooten, and Esther de Groot, three University of Sheffield undergraduate roommates and their colorful supporting cast, juggling friendship, romance, family, and oh yeah, sometimes their university courses, in a monthly dose of chortle-inducing charm. Folks NOT reading “Giant Days” are now tired of being asked by their comics friends, “What’s your hesitation? Are you averse to fun? Do you despise likable characters? Are you DEAD INSIDE?”

2017 saw “Giant Days” reach 30-issue maturity, penned by fiendishly funny John Allison and brought to exuberant life with remarkable consistency and quality by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell. Capped by a Holiday Special drawn by Jenn St-Onge, the year was a triumph for the Boom! series, a monthly hit sustaining sales and a growing following by virtue of its unstinting hijinks, humor, and heart. And while the laughs-per-beat stay as rapid as a Mike Schur-via-BBC sitcom, a healthy dose of meaningful stakes keeps regular readers engrossed in the narrative twists and turns of Susan’s seven sisters and McGraw drama, Daisy’s first girlfriend and her package of quirks, and Esther’s latest job at a comic shop! Meanwhile, a sweet lampooning of sudden political awakening, MMORPG weddings, and Ed Gemmell’s continuous hair experimentation keeps the series bathed in an aroma of college nostalgia, filtering through every floorboard.

In an era when the ongoing series is going the way of the affordable college loan, “Giant Days” keeps proving to be a monthly series that repays faithful readers and new ones alike. It’s a unicorn in the crowded comics market filled with sci-fi-alikes and caped events, doing what memorably great comics in the funnies, on the web, and all-too-rarely in comics shops have always done: keep us coming back for characters we love, and glad we did so. – Paul Lai

4. The Mighty Thor

It’s hard to believe “The Mighty Thor” is part of the same run as Marvel’s first Marvel NOW reboot in 2012. It’s the only book from either of the Big Two publishers’ New 52 and Marvel NOW reboots that is still going strong. Thor has weathered several relaunches, events, retooled publishing initiatives, and even a protagonist change, all while telling a sprawling story that is as epic in scope as the original source material.

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“The Mighty Thor” is a fundamentally different book than what launched in Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s “Thor: God of Thunder,” not even counting replacing Odinson with Jane Foster as the star. Aaron, current main artist Russell Dauterman, and company were able to successfully pivot from the mythological epic in those first couple arcs, to something that has covered several genres — mystery, heist, political intrigue, smaller character-driven drama — while still maintaining a cohesive overarching narrative. And from the sound of it, Aaron still has plenty planned for the character. This year’s ‘Asgard/Shi’ar War’ was the best Marvel event by far, even though it didn’t have its own mini-series or crossovers. It managed to provide huge action beats at the same time as it was focusing on Jane’s internal struggles as she navigates her rapidly progressing cancer. The fact Jane acts as her own Kryptonite every time she transforms is such a compelling dynamic for her character and the story as a whole. Aaron is also using Jane’s struggle as a manifesto of sorts on what makes Thor and why there needs to be a Thor. It is storytelling on a Gaimanesque level.

The primary art team of Dauterman and colorist Matt Wilson is quietly producing some of the best superhero art in the business. Dauterman had some big shoes to fill when taking over for Esad Ribic and he has done so exceedingly. The characters have so much life; they feel about to jump out of the page. Everything has a vibrancy and joy. The spreads are jaw-dropping. Just look at the one in “The Mighty Thor” #700, as an example.

It’s rare to know when something will go on to be iconic and admired years from now while it’s still being released. Jason Aaron’s Thor is one of those things. It’s already one of the best takes on the character and Aaron is not even close to being finished. “The Mighty Thor,” and it’s preceding titles, have consistently been one of Marvel’s best books for years, and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon. – Justin Beeson

3. Detective Comics

2017 saw “Detective Comics” release issues #948-971. From out of the darkness, the League of Shadows appeared. Jean-Paul Valley came into the spotlight during the ‘Intelligence’ arc. After being presumed dead for nearly a year, Timothy Jackson Drake escaped the prison of Mr. Oz and returned to his Bat-Family. In between all of that, Anarky built an underground city for the forgotten people of Gotham, and Batwoman was spun off. A lot happened. The breadth of content with which writer James Tynion IV and art team collaborators led by Alvaro Martinez with Raul Fernandez and Eddy Barrows with Eber Ferreira were able to get through in this year is a positive mark for DC’s double shipping scheme. More important, is the sheer consistent quality “Detective Comics” has achieved across those 23 issues and multiple art teams. “Detective Comics” hasn’t been the loudest book in DC’s staple of titles but it is the one I’ve looked forward to the most week in and week out. Not everything was great, but it features a consistency of quality that is worth recognition, even in missteps there was something interesting to say.

Uniting this year’s stories — running the gamut of assassin cults to killer robots to time travel — is Tynion’s exploration of (Bat)Family while diving into some of the more ideologically-fraught aspects of costumed vigilantism. This perspective turns a year of ‘Tec stories into examinations of how families deal with trauma and loss, alongside confronting the potentiality that their justifications as to ‘why’ they do what they do are, perhaps, more selfish than altruistic.

For all the spectacle, “Detective Comics” has been staring into an abyss and that core has kept it from falling in. This gaze is best represented in “Detective Comics” #968, as two versions of Tim Drake, one of the present and another a potential dark future, stare out at the city from the broken windows of the Belfry. “This whole building, Tim. This was our dream. It can still be our dream.” In Rebirth fashion, hope for a better tomorrow remains in Tim Drake. An implicit recognition that no matter what present darkness clouds the view the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. – Michael Mazzacane

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2. Deathstroke

I’ve been raving about “Deathstroke” for what seems like a very, very long time, but it is all worth saying again. Christopher Priest and a crew of artists, including Carlo Pagulayan, Larry Hama, and Cary Nord, have taken a character that was synonymous with the New 52’s worst mistakes, and have turned in a thoughtful, deep, nuanced, and insane comic. Priest’s story unfolds in a sometimes non-linear way, paced unusually, and tells the story of a man who isn’t easily defined by a single moral code. Yes, he’s a bastard, but he’s also an incredibly successful assassin, an unbelievably shitty father and, as of late, a man trying for redemption.

But none of this really underscores why the book works as well as it does. I really believe it does, in part, because nothing could have prepared the world for this comic. The combination of creative team and character is unexpected, and just the idea of having a critically lauded Deathstroke series seemed laughable a few years ago. When people ask me why they should read the comic, I have three things to say: 1) it doesn’t insult your intelligence, 2) it isn’t afraid to do bold things, and 3) it reads like nothing else on the stands.

In 2017, the book stopped double shipping and started to be about Slade trying to fix some of the mistakes he’s made in the past by putting together a new team, Defiance, and trying to be a hero for once. The rationale isn’t hokey, and we don’t see Slade change in a way that seems untrue to his persona. Priest finds slivers of characters to pull out and build issues and arcs around, and he’s found Slade’s pride. The book, right now, is all about if that pride can be put aside and he can truly help others. This ain’t your regular superhero fare. – Brian Salvatore

1. Black Hammer

When people talk about superhero comics, they tend to only focus on Marvel and DC. They leave out tons of comic books when they do this and it forces the genre to take on a very specific definition that doesn’t do it justice. Superhero comics can and are more than just flashy costumes, quips, and Earth shattering events. They can be personal, human stories that touch upon things we can all relate to. They can be the most original stories the medium has to offer and “Black Hammer” by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart is exactly that. Over the last two years, this is my go-to series to anyone who says they want to read good superhero comics and to anyone who wants to get into comics. “Black Hammer” tells the story of a group of former heroes, who took on the Anti-God and vanished, only to reappear on a farm in some kind of alternate dimension. The first part of this series focused on each hero and their personal struggles but, in 2017, all that changed as Lucy Weber, the daughter of the Black Hammer, arrived and began her own investigation into what happened to all of them. “Black Hammer” in 2017 continued to be a sort of commentary on the superhero genre but didn’t rely on cynicism or snark to accomplish that. Instead, it took tropes and archetypes and examined each in a very unique way through the creation of a world that’s signature to this series. It’s golden age comics with a modern sensibility and a touch of magic. This is what Jeff Lemire has always been good at as a writer. His work for Marvel and DC had its up and downs but with “Black Hammer” he has the freedom to do the things he wants. He can create real, tangible stakes. He can kill off characters and give us the betrayals that will make our jaws drop. “Black Hammer” is not a condemnation of the genre and it absolutely isn’t a modern version of “Watchmen.”

“Black Hammer” would not be “Black Hammer” without the visuals provided by Ormston and Stewart. Ormston’s work, month in and month out, is some of the most unique in the genre. He gives “Black Hammer” its distinctive retro style with that modernity I touched upon earlier. Ormston homages a very specific time period of superhero comics but knows he’s creating a character driven drama at the same time. He does so much with these characters and there are times where the loneliness they all feel come through the page and cause a real reaction in me. It’s like I’m watching a television show in the sense that he forces the reader to linger on a single shot of a character the way a director would on a live action series. Each issue makes an attempt to make you feel something, which is something I wish more comic books could get from me.

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Each issue of this series has left you wanting more and in 2018 we’re going to get that with yet another miniseries and a continuation of the core series. “Black Hammer” has become more than just another superhero comic. It’s a special story that’s carved out its own corner in the genre. We throw around the term “must read” so often but rarely does it actually apply to anything. It applies here. – Jess Camacho


Editors’ Commentary:

Matt: I like Squirrel Girl, but a lot of it is a rehash of everything North did on “Adventure Time,” which you should all check out. I guess cape comics came back in full force for our staff this year, since they make up over half of the list. It’s fine and there are some honestly great choices our staff made, books you could recommend to even the most casual comics reader, though I would press everyone, not just our staff but readers of comics in general, to start exploring more beyond these things.

Also, the real best series of 2017 was “Kaijumax.”

Alice: This is the kind of list that writes itself, really. There’s a lot of stuff on here that, while still good, I think is rolling through on the momentum of goodwill more than continuing to impress with its storytelling. That being said, stuff like “Doom Patrol” and “The Wild Storm” were real touchstones for comics in 2017, I’d just like to see smaller, more risk-taking titles make these lists.

Brian: With all due respect to my compatriots, I think this list shows just how diverse (some) superhero stuff has become. “Black Hammer” is a metatextual tour de force, “Deathstroke” is unlike any superhero comic ever made, “The Wild Storm” is a workplace drama that happens too have aliens and cybernetics, and “Doom Patrol” is fucking bonkers. Just like how we said that the this year showed that ‘superhero’ stopped being a film genre, I think this is one of the strongest years that superhero comics has had in not taking the costumes of the characters as the sole indicator of tone or purpose for a title.

With any list like this, there are reasons to squabble and nitpick, and rarely do we see our individual tastes completely represented in the master list (our staff voted for 123 different series, which I’ve listed below), but I think the overall message from this list is clear. Though the industry may appear to be in shambles at times, with giant corporations and tiny publishers both doing really shitty things to its creators and fans, comics themselves continue to be good.

The full list:

All-New Guardians of the Galaxy
All-New Wolverine
American Gods
Astro City
Black Bolt
Black Cloud
Black Hammer
Black Magick
Black Monday Murders
Black Panther
Black Science
Black Widow
BPRD: The Devil You Know
Captain America: Sam Wilson
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye
Curse Words
Deadly Class
Dept. H
Detective Comics
Doom Patrol
Dr Stone
East of West
Eternal Empire
Food Wars!
Generation Gone
Generation X
Ghost Money
Giant Days
Grass Kings
Harrow County
Head Lopper
Hunter x Hunter
Jessica Jones
Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth
Kill or Be Killed
Mech Cadet Yu
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Moon Knight
Mother Panic
Motor Crush
Ms. Marvel
My Hero Academia
New Super-Man
One Piece
One Punch Man
Optimus Prime
Paper Girls
Pope Hats
Rock Candy Mountain
Royal City
Scales and Scoundrels
Seven to Eternity
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Sex Criminals
Shade, the Changing Girl
Silver Surfer
Southern Bastards
Southern Cross
Spy Seal
Star Wars
Star Wars: Darth Vader
Star Wars: Poe Dameron
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Bullets
Sun Bakery
Super Sons
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Flintstones
The Mighty Thor
The Old Guard
The Promised Neverland
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
The Unbelievable Gwenpool
The Wicked + The Divine
The Wild Storm
The Woods
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Tokyo Ghoul: re
Transformers: Lost Light
Usagi Yojimbo
Wonder Woman
X-O Manowar

//TAGS | 2017 Year in Review

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


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