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!
While most comics are long, continuous stories that span various months, if not years, if not decades, there is a special art to making a great single issue.
5. Captain America #695
Despite maintaining their status as the #1 selling publisher in the Direct Market, most people seem to agree Marvel had problems on a variety of fronts in 2017. None were bigger than their handling of the mega-event, “Secret Empire.” If you ask me (and apparently Multiversity Comics did), the problems with “Secret Empire” were too much to overcome without making a clean break from it. Whether there have been “Captain America” comics where he’s been “brainwashed” into being the enemy before or not, it just didn’t seem like the right time for that book. It probably never will be again. And besides, a one-off story where Cap becomes a Hydra agent because of a wacky potion or something is a lot different than a multi-layered event that affects the entire scope of the publishing line, playing up the Hydra-SS parallels to the point of re-decorating comic book shops and making sure the trains all run on time. Never mind that in this reader’s opinion, it just wasn’t a well-written event. It was overlong, overstuffed, the art was all over the place, and it betrayed several characters core tenets.
Enter “Captain America” #695, a 20-page colon cleanse for everything that ailed the character over the last year or so. A glorious mouthwash of a taste so fowl that Marvel appeared to build an entire Marvel Legacy relaunch around saying “we’re sorry we’re sorry, we’re trying to remove it.” You could argue that it’s success exists as a counter to the truly bungled superhero storytelling that came before, and that its inclusion on this list is a cheap win for Marvel’s desperate plea for goodwill. But if you set aside all of the baggage, you’ll see that it’s just a darn good “Captain America” comic. Enough about “Secret Empire.” I shan’t mention it again.
If nothing else, Mark Waid knows the exact formula for Americana in comic books. He’s done it time and again, whether it was in his turns with Flash or Superman, or in taking the Archie characters and updating them without losing their essential natures. If he’s not the writer Steve Rogers ultimately deserves (the tantalizing prospect of getting a Ta-Nehisi Coates Cap book has been dangled by a certain comic news site of ill-repute), he’s the one he needs right now. Waid’s Steve is decidedly a symbol of social justice. A vision of what we’re America should stand for, even if it doesn’t in practice. A hand reaching down to lift up the downtrodden. A diplomat. Anti-racist. An inspiration for young and old. The smartest thing Waid does with the character is a little moment where he instructs a young girl to look after an even younger boy. Why? “Because he’s smaller than you.” It’s an incredibly warm moment for the character after a year of cold calculation. And Chris Samnee is the artist Steve needs, too. Another master of modern flair with classic visual storytelling techniques. Samnee has developed an uncanny ability to make every panel a mini-icon, each image of Cap in perfect, heroic pose as his shield glances off another white supremacists’ head. Samnee’s Steve rides out of the murky nazi fog on a sweet motorcycle and re-affirms his place in the modern world. We need “Captain America” now more than ever. And we need him to be explicitly, unequivocally an enemy of Nazis wherever they live. – Vince Ostrowski
4. The Mighty Thor #700
If “The Mighty Thor” #700 is anything it would be pure class. The installment has the best Marvel DNA imaginable baked into the 55-page giant. This chapter of the story is so freaking good it kicks off with Walter Simonson interior art. From an artistic standpoint alone this book is a monumental achievement in publishing, showing the diversity and epicness of the Universe of Thor. The experimentally constructed pages of Russell Dauterman and the beautiful, stoic nature of Daniel Acuna’s work both feel at home here. If readers were to throw any criticism at this story regarding the obtuse structure and narration, the comic manages to tie the plots together toward the end and laces the book with some of the best crowd-pleasing moments a Thor story has ever had. For lovers of the full Jason Aaron run on the title, this book picks up plot points from years prior to prove how confident this entire issue is. The story has an unprecedented level of tragedy as well that evokes an epic feeling when Aaron calls upon years of plot threads and different Thors before giving way to the most double-page spread of a comic readers have seen this year. The spread teases so many things about the future and starts to tie the insane scope of the comic together. Aaron very much looks to the future in the installment as we have already seen him begin to start paying off some of the plots introduced in this issue. Each contributor to the art in the book does something special, but Dauterman has started to get absurdly experimental in the last few pages. His rendition of Thor’s battle with Karnila is breathtaking showing individual strands of magic give way to her demise. The amount of artists in this story are staggering and all bring something a little different to the table like with Becky Cloonan’s troubled rendition of a young Thor finding his place. “The Mighty Thor” #700 plays on a huge scale and still manages to bring home a beautiful, cohesive narrative with vibrantly wonderful art. – Alexander JonesContinued below
3. The Kamandi Challenge #9
Simply put, Tom King, Kevin Eastman, and Freddie Williams II’s contribution to the multi-creator “Kamandi” cliffhanger experiment is awesome. Up until this point, it had been a colorful, jaunty series that hopped merrily from one set of anthropomorphic shenanigans to another. “Kamandi Challenge” #9 stopped that trend dead. In stark black-and-white — or greyscale, rather, but we’ll get to that in a moment — King, Eastman, and Williams II muse on an almost elegiac rumination on the nature of the series as a whole to the nature of comics characters when they’re not on display in a four-colored frenzy. And they ultimately manage to wrap up an answer in a succinct argument about Kirby’s legacy.
The result is about as striking as a left hook to the face. And will leave you staggering all the same.
Confined to a single dimly-lit cell, Kamandi and a dozen others wait helplessly until the only door opens and a faceless entity drags another captive off . . . somewhere. We never find out. And we don’t ever need to know. With some of the most economic writing you’ll find all year, King manages to sum up the core of all these characters in their reaction to the unknowable, all the way from existential dread to awe-inspiring wonderment.
“Kamandi Challenge” #9 plays out almost as a series of vignettes, each packing an emotional punch of a different kind. A mother pleads with the entity to spare her daughter with a maternal passion so strong the thought never seemingly crosses her mind that she could be the next victim to be hauled away. Before being taken herself, a writer narrates her vision of the heroic Kamandi cutting down this foe, beautifully juxtaposed by the merciless beatdown occurring in reality, yet her last thought is not for safety but simply regret she cannot finish her story.
Every element of this book feels loaded enough to pour over. The desaturated shades of grey fit just as perfectly for the dank, hell-hole of a pit within which these people are held as it does for the thematic open-endedness of the story. Nothing is black and white, everyone has a different interpretation of what’s on the other side of that door. Each one seemingly as valid as the next. And the cell itself? Is it a holding pen for systematic execution, some kind of decontamination tank? Is it in fact the ethereal void where these characters are kept before being written/drawn back into existence by the comics creators.
Weighty themes, yes. But it plays just as well as an adventure yarn, albeit one with a gristly, existential bend. In a certain light, “Kamandi Challenge” #9 can be seen as an issue long training montage setting up Kamandi’s victory against insurmountable odds. Only it never comes. Eastman and Williams II design of the robotic assailant adds another layer of revelation. The telescopic, tentacle-like arms capture the eldritch dread of some hi-tech Lovecraftian horror, while the empty glass dome upon its shoulders imply we should not look to it for any answers or reason or compassion or malice. It simply is. And its possibilities are endless.
Closing with a quote from King Kirby himself, lingering on the final image of an empty table looking suspiciously like a sarcophagus in an empty tomb, King, Eastman, and Williams II use Kirby’s own words to equate this to the vastness of the universe, the universe of possibility within the self, and ultimately the awesome power of comics.
Simply put, astounding. – Kent Falkenberg
2. Mister Miracle #1
A single issue of a comic book series is maybe one of the most challenging things for a writer and an artist with big ideas. You want to give us everything but can’t simply because of the space limitations. It’s rare for a single issue to stand out because they all act as building blocks of a tower. The tower of course, being the full story. That’s why I struggle with this category every year because I remember the whole and struggle with the pieces. “Mister Miracle” #1 however is one of those rare cases. This was an issue that I immediately put down on my end of year questionnaire because it stood with me. King and Gerads do something with Mister Miracle that far exceeded any expectation I had. “Mister Miracle” #1 takes Mister Miracle and Big Barda and puts them right in L.A. as a modern, sort of celebrity couple. They are happy together, on the outside at least. There’s a lot of love between them but Scott is dealing with depression and the issue opens with him attempting to take his own life. Mister Miracle escaped death, the ultimate escape, and now he deals with the aftermath of that. As all that happens, they are still very much the Mister Miracle and Big Barda of New Genesis. They are part of the wars and the fights and all the drama that comes with that. This first issue sets a tone for the series that makes it feel like nothing else in the DC Universe and that’s a beautiful thing.Continued below
Mitch Gerads does some beautiful work in this issue, that again, makes “Mister Miracle” #1 such a memorable and special issue. Like “The Omega Men,” King implements the 9 panel grid style in the scripts and Gerads just goes all out. Despite the grid layout, there’s this dizziness and haze that goes with what Mister Miracle is experiencing. As someone who’s been through something similar, I feel like it this first issue captures some of that out of body experience that I felt at the time. In my own experience, I felt like this was happening to someone else and Gerads’s work gets a little into that. It’s dark but beautiful. I love how Scott and Barda feel when they’re in costume compared to their normal lives in L.A. They feel bigger than life, god like and unique. He does everything in this issue and it’s nothing short of amazing. – Jess Camacho
1. Batman/Elmer Fudd #1
If you had told me last year the best comic issue of the year would involve Batman, I’d have shrugged at you. If you’d told me it’d involve Elmer Fudd, I’d be slightly more skeptical. That it would be a crossover between the two? That’s absurd.
But Tom King and Lee Weeks didn’t just tell a functional story, they created an all-time classic. The issue combines the sort of fun thought experiment you can only find in comic books. Elmer Fudd, who’s narration is written in dialect but is never hard to follow, is placed into a rain-soaked noir potboiler on the streets of Gotham City. All of the Looney Tunes show up as two-bit Batman rogues. That’s half the fun. What astonishes is the deep level of pathos the creators manage to wring out of Elmer Fudd of all things.
After all, Fudd is one of the most hapless characters in the Looney Tunes canon. He never wins. Here he’s re-imagined as a bounty hunter of sorts, who grew up in the country, hunting and killing what he could to survive. His old catchphrases about “wabbit season” and “duck season” become part of a larger rumination on the cycles and forward progression of time. Add in some heartbreak, a misunderstanding, and a team-up, and it’s a pretty solid superhero narrative too.
Toward the end of the issue, when we finally see the hapless hunter battle the Bat, huge credit must be given to Weeks. The fight is a joy to read, but you also believe that Fudd could go punch for punch with the World’s Greatest Detective. In the final sequence, when they team up to battle the rest of the Looney Tunes, it’s a joyous, violent marriage of images and words. It’s darkly hilarious, capturing the greatest aspects of cape comics and kids cartoons.
If you’re still not convinced that “Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1” is the best comic of the year, look no farther than legendary Batman creator Neal Adams. Not only did he love the issue, he recorded a fabulous radio play version that acts as a perfect companion to the issue. It turns out that Adams is quite the Mel Blanc impersonator. He knows Batman, and he knows his Looney Tunes, and he understands what a special comic book we got this year. – Jake Hill
Matt: Frankly, I find it embarrassing our number one issue of the year is “Batman/Elmer Fudd.” It’s ridiculous Tom King took three spots on our Top Five since the guy’s writing is utter drivel. I think Jess said it best above that it’s difficult to remember the individual sequence when you have to consider the whole, but seriously. “Batman/Elmer Fudd?”
Alice: I didn’t read a single goddamn issue on this list.
Brian: Look, I know its a weird look for “Batman/Elmer Fudd” to be our top single issue of the year, but I have one rationale and one optimistic upside to this. The rationale is that, like Matt and Jess said, it can be hard to see one piece of a puzzle as being better than the rest, especially when reviewing all the comics we read all year. So, on that note, people tended to pick one-shots, because it is easy to recall liking/disliking one self-contained piece, rather than try to suss out which issue of “Paper Girls” stood above the rest. I get that.
The optimist in me, however, sees this as a win for a very simple reason: there is no reason for this book to be good. The title, alone, is laughable. What this means is that our staff read something, which they must have had some preconceived hesitations with, and gave it an honest chance. That is what we, as reviewers, are supposed to do with every issue that comes across our desk. We aren’t great at that all the time, but this proves that we can be.
It didn’t make my list, but that’s not really the point.