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2017 in Review: Best Writer

By | December 20th, 2017
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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 Writer
While this medium is, no doubt, a visual one, for whatever reason it is often the writer who gets the lion’s share of the accolades. That takes nothing away from these ten writers, all of whom are doing unquestionably great work.

10. Magdalene Visaggio

Magdalene Visaggio’s 2016 miniseries “Kim & Kim” was at the top of my best of list for the year. In 2017, Visaggio proved her versatility as a writer with a lot of creative range. Her year started with the weird psychological drama about Element Girl published as a backup in “Shade the Changing Girl” #4, giving a clear strong voice to a character  usually just a presence in the background of someone else’s story.

Black Mask Comics published two of her series this year. First, her gonzo sci fi time travel teen romance, “Quantum Teens are Go,” which was more centered on the lives of her heroes then the crazy strange science they were doing. She also teamed up with the other creators behind “Kim & Kim” to deliver a second adventure just as fun, funny, action packed, and openly heartfelt as the first, if not more so. In addition she got to contribute short comics to Marvel’s “Secret Empire” and “Venomverse” anthologies and IDW’s recent “Rick and Morty” issues.

She’s the kind of writer who drops you into the meat of the story and leaves it just early enough you’re aching for more. She writes characters who define themselves through words and actions, be they understated or boisterous. Her writing is often outright laugh-ou- load funny. She is a writer who not only has something to say in her stories but has the skill to hone those narratives down to their essence and deliver them in just a few pages or across a compact four-issue series. At NYCC, DC announced not only that Magdalene Visaggio was one of the authors joining the New Talent Workshop next year but that she will be writing the new Vertigo title, “Eternity Girl” with artist Sonny Liew, in 2018 as well. Really exited to see what else she has in store to put her on my favorite list again next year. – Greg Lincoln

9. Kieron Gillen

Another year, another time Kieron Gillen appears on a Multiversity Best Writer List. And with the year Gillen has had, it’s earned. He explored and took the “The Wicked + The Divine” pantheon through the Imperial Phase as the various structures of their existence begin to close in. “Doctor Aphra” came into her own and he recently took over the main “Star Wars” title. That is a pretty good year.

What shines through in these works is the appearance of long term planning, without the staid quality of just sticking to a plan. ‘Imperial Phase’ recontextualizes some assumptions and moments, but nothing feels preordained or like he is writing a puzzle for readers to solve. “Doctor Aphra” continues to reveal itself to be more than a gender bent riff on the Han Solo type. In the end, it’s a character’s own faults that damn or bless them even as the structures that created them become more and more evident. (Looking at you Amaterasu.) It creates room to get a little jazzy. In a recent interview talking about “The Wicked + The Divine,” Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie were upfront about how the original bible for the series is still largely intact, but how the cast has gone down this road has changed. New, more interesting paths presented themselves, like the friendship between Cassandra and Dionysus, allowing for these sign post moments hit harder than anticipated.

It will be interesting to see how this style evolves and comes out going forward in a highly managed property like “Star Wars” and the next year of “WicDiv.” – Michael Mazzacane

8. Donny Cates

Regardless of his placement on our overall list, make no mistake: 2017 was Donny Cates’s year. From an already impressive history with books like “Ghostfleet” and “The Paybacks,” Cates has exploded out of the gates this year with a prolific and superb line-up of titles. Books like “Redneck” and “Babyteeth” prove he has a knack for hiding real emotional melodrama behind a horror facade, a combination of elements that eludes some creators. The six-issue series “God Country” should be regarded as one of the best books of 2017, with its dichotomy of epic, cosmic stakes and grounded family moments. If that was his only output this year he would arguably still make this list.

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It seems that his skill hasn’t gone unnoticed either, as he rounds out the year with not one, but two Marvel titles. His stint on “Thanos” proves to flex those grand cosmic muscles seen on “God Country,” especially as he’s teaming up with the artist from that book Geoff Shaw, and similarly he should have no trouble mixing the outlandish with the distinctly human as he begins a run on “Doctor Strange,” with artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta. If you were to put together a stack of books that defined 2017, you’d find the name Donny Cates in the credits more often than not. – Matt Lune

7. Greg Rucka

For Greg Rucka, 2017 was a year of both endings and beginnings. In the summer Rucka finished his latest “Wonder Woman” run, which was one of the strongest to come out of DC’s Rebirth. At Image, he and Leandro Fernandez crafted a five-part miniseries, “The Old Guard.” Rucka’s persistent ability to balance the forwarding of the plot and paying attention to the characterization while blending these two together was strongly present in his 2017 work, especially in “Wonder Woman.”

Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s remarkable dystopian sci-fi story “Lazarus” continued first under the main title and then in the new “Lazarus: X+66” miniseries, plus a new sourcebook, adding to the already impressive world-building of the series. Rucka’s plot has many carefully researched influences and details and is now more connected to the real world than ever before. His excellence in paying attention to all the different aspects of good storytelling from the pacing to the characters continuously makes him one of the best writers working in the comics industry, and this year was no exception. – Frida Keränen

6. Brian K. Vaughan

You’ve heard it all before, you’ve seen him countless dominate lists, yet it’s hard to deny how much Brian K. Vaughan continues to be one of the consistently best comic creatives of this decade. And this year, Vaughan has two Image books, both well in their stride. “Paper Girls” has evolved from being an interesting nostalgia cash-in to becoming a totally insane time-travel, conspiracy-theory-unearthing, future-dinosaur-populated, and giant-mech-battle book. It’s clear to see that Vaughan’s experimentalism in “Saga” has allowed him to really let loose creatively on this book, and it’s infectiously fun to read. Plus, it’s kinda like Stranger Things, but with a better cast of protagonists and a bigger scope.

And then we come to “Saga.” Vaughan’s long running sci-fi epic kicked off the year with a fantastic war story, intertwining more ethical questions and achingly lovable characters into the plot than before. Vaughan shows his mastery of storytelling, bringing together plot threads in a satisfying way that still allows for more story potential down the line, ensuring “Saga” still has plenty of best-selling shelf life yet. On top of that, we’ve got another great oversized hardcover collection of the series to grace our shelves, and the next trade due in the first week of the new year.

To top it off, Vaughan still promotes indie creators through his Panel Syndicate website, continuing to publish Albert Montey’s “Universe”, introducing David López’ “Blackhand Ironhead”, Ken Niimura’s “Umami” and continuing his own “Barrier” series. In any case, it’s always a great time to be a Brian K. Vaughan fan. – Rowan Grover

5. Tom King

For the past couple of years there’s been a lot chatter about Tom King, but it is 2017 that has felt like his year. Between “Batman” and “Mister Miracle,” King has been making huge waves with critics, fans, and his fellow creators. These books are flying off the shelves, I couldn’t get a copy of “Mister Miracle” #1 until the third printing, but I’m so glad I managed to get one. That was the first Tom King book I’d read, and it is incredible. A take on a Jack Kirby creation in The King’s centenary is a lot of pressure for King, but he and Mitch Gerads have delivered a book that is fresh, interesting and emotional while being reverent and understanding of what Kirby did before. Tom King’s output in 2017 has given me the desire to go back and devour his acclaimed work from the previous years; “The Vision” and “Sheriff of Babylon” in particular. – Edward Haynes

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4. James Tynion IV

If James Tynion IV hadn’t already made himself inexpendable to DC, then this year has finally done it. Tynion has been crafting the best part of the Batfamily line this last year in “Detective Comics,” balancing all the various and continuously underrepresented members of the now aptly named “Gotham Knights” and clearly having a blast doing it. Tynion brought back Tim Drake in the pages of “Tec” in perhaps some of the best comics that DC has put out this year. I would almost go so far as to call “Detectice Comics” DC’s best ongoing series, but, if nothing else, Tynion is currently the best of the Bat. Not only that thought, but Tynion has made himself instrumental in crafting “Metal,” one of DC’s best event comics ever. Between co-writing the “Dark Days” one-shots and “Batman: Lost,” and finding himself being named dropped on a ton of the various tie-ins, and tackling “The Batman Who Laughs” Tynion has been instrumental. If Snyder and Capullo are co-captaining the “Metal” ship, Tynion is second-in-command.

Between all of that and his other work at DC co-writing the first arc of “Batwoman,” and bringing back Batman and the TMNT for round two along with three great creator-owned series wrapping this year in “The Backstagers,” “The Woods,” and “Eugenic,” Tynion has shown he can write it all from all-ages drama to horror. With his upcoming “Immortal Men” with Jim Lee for DC’s New Age of Heroes, you can bet Tynion isn’t letting up in 2018. I expect him to take on more responsibilities going forward and to build more bombastic stories from the Batman corner of the DCU to beyond, especially if he gets to stay and write “Tec” #1000 in 2019.

Tynion started out as a student of Scott Snyder, but this year has made it clear that Tynion is student no more and can be placed among DC’s big name creators and is entering into the hallmark of his career in comicdom. – Kevin Gregory

3. Christopher Priest

It isn’t unusual for famous athletes to retire or for professionals to switch gears in different industries. And like anything you dismiss for some time, there is a period of adjustment when coming back to it. In the case of Christopher Priest, however, if there was any struggle with coming back to write comics after a decade of absence, it certainly didn’t show in his work. Not only did any potential difficulty slip beneath the reader’s radar, Priest has completely revolutionized storytelling this year through DC Comics’ “Deathstroke Rebirth.” It’s only fitting that a series like “Deathstroke,” which has been severely lacking in comparison to other DC titles for over a decade, has a true rebirth via Priest himself.

While Priest has been recently named the next writer for Rebirth’s “Justice League” and has also picked up writing for Marvel’s “Inhumans,” his work on Deathstroke alone admittedly overshadows those two other titles. How, exactly? How can Deathstroke, a long time controversial character who’s previous runs didn’t last much more than 20 issues, outweigh fan favorites like Justice League? Simple: Priest shows no fear. At least, not within the confines of the one-eyed assassin’s circus of a life. Deathstroke is controversial for a reason and Priest doesn’t shy away from that very reality; he embraces it.

We watch as Slade ditches his daughter and lies about her true family. We hear his cold truth to the very real problem of gun violence in Chicago. We feel him fall in love paternally with Tanya Spears, aka Power Girl, only to violently break her heart. We understand the twisted motivation that drives Slade into going back in time to save his firstborn son. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, operated by Priest who clearly understands Slade’s character and that to write a successful story for him, you can’t forget about the people in his life. Like Batman, you need an Alfred, a Robin, a Catwoman, and a Joker. For Slade, you need a Wintergreen, an Adeline, a Ravager, and a Jericho. Priest gives us that, and more, where others have left those essential characters behind.

In terms of the strategy in which Priest writes that stands out among other stories, he seems to understand the evolution of comics and its prominence digitally. There is a huge difference in reading panel to panel on a Guided View online, in comparison to a physical printed version. Whether he realizes this or not, his partnership with the artists on this series and their ability to match script and panel so that your heart thuds with every click or swipe is unlike anything I’ve experienced with other comics. Opening to a page and naturally scanning it, you see everything that is to happen before you begin to read. Digitally, however, there is more emotional investment- especially when you watch Slade hugging Tanya’s dog grow sinister within four panels. An unforgettable moment that had me stopping for some time before continuing on with the issue. Along with this, there is a noticeable absence of internal monologue within the series, and it is a simple choice that can go overlooked, but a choice that makes Priest a genius.

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For ages the bare minimum of information that readers knew about Deathstroke was his intelligence, his mastery in strategy, and his combat ability. He’s meant to be a mystery, and so how can you possibly write a story with a man like that as the main character without inevitably changing him? How can you get into the head of a villain, when the story is always about the protagonist? Priest answers that question with a “you don’t.” Not once do we get a look into Slade’s mind, and this particular decision shows Priest’s dedication in making Slade what he is. A villain, who can only be explained by his words, actions, and company. It takes a special kind of writer to approach different characters the right way, while providing consistency in heart wrenching storytelling, and staying true to the history of those characters and the writers previously behind them.

Priest checks everything off the list when it comes to a well rounded and revolutionary comic. I don’t doubt that next year, his name will still be on this list. – Devon Browning

2. Jason Aaron

Jason Aaron has had a great year; maybe his best year ever. There are a number of wonderful Jason Aaron flavors — gritty crime stories, imaginative science fiction, epic psychedelic fantasy — and he did seminal work in all. He started the year by concluding his run on “Doctor Strange,” as weird and rollicking an adventure as the Doctor has ever had. His work on “Thor” has been one of the best the hero has ever seen and will stand alongside the all time greats like Walt Simonson. “Southern Bastards” continued to be excellent, proving there is an audience for comics about football. More than that, it effortlessly managed significant commentary on the cultural state of America, without deliberately responding to the daily headlines. That’s good storytelling.

For my money though, his best book has been “Star Wars.” A book by Aaron set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away was always going to be decent, but his run has been superlative. There’s so much that could have gone wrong. He had to match the voices of beloved characters while adding in some memorable ones of his own. He had to fit his conflicts into a narrow window of continuity without contradicting the movies, novels, or cartoons. He had to add to the universe while playing with the elements already beloved by millions. Most daunting of all, he had to define the parameters of a whole new Expanded Universe that not only had to live up to the legacy of one of the most beloved film franchises of all time, it had to equal 30 years of discarded continuity.

He pulled it off. He pulled it off so well the market for “Star Wars” stories has never been more robust. His first issue moved over a million copies in the Direct Market, the most of any comic in decades. After that, it continued to top the comic charts month after month. He brought us memorable characters like Sana Starros and the Scar Squadron. His stories were funny, vulnerable, and spiritual. Aaron did more to make “Star Wars” feel new than anyone since Timothy Zahn.

In a world where comic fans often find themselves apologizing for their favorite creators or ignoring their real world antics, Aaron has continued to be a role model. He’s humble, compassionate, and opinionated about the important things in life like barbecue. His style of vulnerable masculinity has been a theme in his writing, but it’s also been reflected in the way he conducts himself with fans. Comics are concerned in what makes a hero. Jason Aaron would immediately deny that he himself is a hero, but anyone familiar with his work can see that he knows what it takes to be one. Jane Foster faces impossible odds. Luke Skywalker never stops trying to be a better person. Doctor Strange puts himself on the line for the betterment of the universe. Berta Tubb is patient and confident. And Jason Aaron continues to write damn fine comic books. – Jake Hill

1. Jeff Lemire

Jeff Lemire has been doing fantastic work for quite some time now, but he really shone in 2017, especially his creator-owned work, which shouldn’t be a surprise to any of his readers. “Royal City,” like practically all stories Lemire both writes and draws, packs an emotional punch, very much in the vein of “Essex County.” Considering Lemire’s output this year, it’s pretty stunning he’s able to do a monthly book like this as well, let alone something of this quality. It’s the sort of book that sticks with you long after you’ve put it down, haunting its readers (much like Tommy haunts the Pike family). No matter what genre Lemire’s doing, his stories are driven by character and he always finds the space for emotional moments to land with maximum impact. Among his 2017 books, no where is this more apparent than in “Royal City.”

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But without doubt, my favourite work from him this year has been “Black Hammer.” Yes, the book was great right from the first issue back in 2016, but I’d argue it was even better in 2017. Lemire has this way of using our collective understanding of existing comics mythologies to create his own patchwork pantheon of superheroes, even though most of his heroes’ backstory exists off panel, merely suggested. Lemire somehow created a universe that feels vast with a long history, but the reality is the series is less than 20 months old.

I must admit, I’ve enjoyed the audacity of a comic named after a character that wasn’t even in the first arc. Hell, the spin-off miniseries “Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil” isn’t really about it’s titular character either, but rather Lucy Weber. Lemire seems to love doing a bait and switch, toying with his readers’ expectations, giving us something even better than what we thought we wanted. Plus he obviously has a lot of love for the superhero genre, and it shows in every page of the Black Hammer Universe. The last page of #13 was one of my favorite moments of the year.

I can’t wait to see what Lemire’s got in store for us in 2018. I’m looking forward to having my expectations subverted and my emotions thoroughly pummelled. – Mark Tweedale


Editors’ Commentary:

Matt: To this day, I mix up the Christopher Priest above with the Christopher Priest who wrote The Prestige, The Inverted World, and other sci-fi classics. I think the most exciting inclusion was Magdalene Visaggio, who’s still relatively new to the medium, especially compared with the heavy weights around her.

Brian: I’m encouraged by this list, based purely on the breadth of work produced. There is a huge swath of comics represented here, in terms of subject matter and tone. While I wish the list was more diverse, you can’t argue with the collective work these ten writers put out in 2017. I’m especially happy to see Visaggio, Priest, Cates, and Tynion make their ‘Best of’ debuts in this category this year. New blood on these lists (even if some of the writers are not exactly new) is always a good thing.

Alice: If there’s one thing I don’t like about this list, it’s that there’s only one entrant that isn’t a man. As much as I love and respect the work of the writers listed here, it’s another showing of how male-dominated comics still is, especially when considering the level of major publishers like Marvel and DC. Still, there’s always next year.

//TAGS | 2017 Year in Review

Multiversity Staff

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