We did it. We finally did it, we got through those hellish 12 months that we call 2016. It was a rough one. An arduous 365 days that most of us barely survived and so many of us didn’t.
While most of us are taking stock and hoping for 2017 to not be akin to the destruction of our very civilisation, we’re going to take a look back at the past month and celebrate that good comics that closed out 2016.
Best Issue: “Optimus Prime” #1
This might seem a strange pick, but no other issue stayed with me as long as “Optimus Prime” #1 did. It awoke an obsession that had long stayed dormant to the point where not only am I considering diving into IDW’s Transformers line of comics, but when I found the 30th Anniversary BluRay of Transformers: The Movie within a week of reading this issue, I just had to get it.
This is an issue that evokes the stylistic iconography of Transformers from the 80s, not just the design, but the colours and storytelling to the point where it was impossible not to read the narration in Peter Cullen’s voice.
Best Writer: Mariko Tamaki
In two fell swoops, Mariko Tamaki showed up and showed what superhero comics had been missing all along: Mariko Tamaki’s voice. Between “Supergirl: Being Super” #1 and “Hulk” #1 (both of which I will get into more in depth down below), Tamaki showed that a woman writing comics does not have to be confined to one tone, one style across all their works. Not every story has to feel like it’s still trying to exist in 2012.
With both “Hulk” and “Supergirl: Being Super”, Tamaki took two female characters who had long languished in the shadows of the male characters whose stories they were linked to and broke them free of that tie and allowed them to forge their own stories on their own terms. In “Hulk”, Tamaki tackled trauma and flashbacks in a way that made hulking out personally scary once more and in “Supergirl: Being Super”, Tamaki brought superpowers to a coming of age story with heart.
Both stories eschewed the traditional conflict of superhero stories for a more emotional conflict that brought a lot of depth to the writing and stood out awash a sea of paint by numbers superhero stories.
Best Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
It may have taken over a year, but the return of “Young Terrorists” was clearly worth the wait once I saw just how much Amancay Nahuelpan’s artwork had improved. It was simply stunning to see the hyperviolence and the sex and drugs roll into an almost cartoonish style that still felt visceral. Nahuelpan’s style became stronger throughout the issue, feeling less hyperrealistic and it’s perhaps this that allows Nahuelpan and Pizzolo to get away with the kinds of stories they tell.
The visceral gut punch of “Young Terrorists” would likely not be tolerable is Nahuelpan’s artwork didn’t have such a strong style to remove the reader just one step from the horrors taking place in the comic. I can only hope that “Young Terrorists” #3 isn’t a year away and that we get to see more of Nahuelpan’s artwork sooner rather than later.
Best Debut: “Motor Crush” #1
They’re no longer the Batgirl Team, but that doesn’t mean Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher lost their touch. “Motor Crush” was an elecrifying debut that blended elements of The Fast & The Furious with The Warriors and even Starship Troopers (Would you like to know more?) to create a story that hit the ground running with an engaging main character and engrossing world. It was a blur of neon pink and revving engines that once again proved that comics are not a medium limited by the fact that there is no actual movement.
The real star of the show was seeing just much Babs Tarr has come into her own as a sequential artist and the confidence she displayed in conveyed motion through still images on the page. That, plus the handwritten lettering style from Aditya Bidikar made this feel all the more personal than the work they had done on “Batgirl”.Continued below
Also, the backup story with art by Karl Kerschl being a completely different genre and tone to the main story is perhaps on the most engaging last page hooks I’ve ever read. I need more of this comic.
Biggest “Thank God That’s Over”: “Civil War II”
I know it’s pretty overdone to rag on “Civil War II”, but I haven’t had my go yet so let me kick this dead horse for a little while. This is what happens when corporate superhero stories try to come up with a story after coming up with the branding. This is what happens when you hand the reigns to the biggest Marvel event of the year to someone who used to be good at this ten years ago and has been floating on goodwill ever since. This is what happens when said writer ruffles through his index cards of the only plots he knows without regard for what any other writer is doing at Marvel.
Not only that, but it was delayed to shit (not through any fault of the creators, mind you) meaning this shitshow lasted the entirety of the year with some of the fallout issues coming out months before the actual conclusion. The actual conclusion, mind you, that amounted to fuck all other than turning Carol Danvers into a fascist for most of the year, killing one of Marvel’s most popular characters for no reason other than shock value and having numerous occasions where police officers aim loaded weapons at the teenaged, mixed race Spider-Man.
Thanks, Bendis. You really contributed a lot to 2016 with this one. Now let’s all agree to never let Bendis write an event comic ever again.
Best Superhero Rebranding/Relaunch/Re-Whatever: “Hulk” #1
Maybe one of the only good things to come out of “Civil War II”, I was almost entirely against this series on announcement. I was a huge fan of what Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Ronald Wimberly, Munsta Vincente, Clayton Cowles and Kevin Wada did with the character back in 2014. It was striking, vibrant and happy-go-lucky; much like the character. To take that run and saw “Hey, we’re going to ruin She-Hulk’s life so now she’s angry and sad all the time because we killed off Bruce Banner and now we need someone else to fill that role” felt like a major regression for the character.
That being said, and I praised this above, but Mariko Tamaki’s writing blew me away. She completely won me over with this direction through her writing which was incredibly well paired with some dark and atmospheric artwork by Nico Leon and Matt Milla. Tying the concept of hulking out to trauma-based flashbacks and panic attacks brings the idea of the Hulk back to this horror movie-style burden on the protagonist is a much more succinct way than anyone ever really succeeded with Banner.
Hell, this is a whole issue without an appearance from the Hulk or any kind of supervillain fight scene and it was still engrossing and engaging. That’s good storytelling.
Best Supergirl Rebranding/Relaunch/Re-Whatever: “Supergirl: Being Super” #1
On the flipside, Mariko Tamaki wrote a fresh and uplifting new take on Supergirl’s origin story with artist Joelle Jones that was a highlight of the month. I’ve always said that “Superman: Birthright” is the best Superman origin story because Mark Waid and Leinil Yu treat Clark Kent like a person with depth and a personality beyond his role as Superman. Tamaki and Jones do something very similar here, focusing on Kara’s high school life and fleshing out her supporting cast through her friends and family and going through what I can only imagine is something akin of the solar puberty presented in the Superman 2000 proposal.
As a first issue, it brought everything back to basics for the character and disconnected her from her role in the larger DC Universe and focused on the narrative issue of growing up as a teenage girl with superpowers and Tamaki and Jones knocked it out of the park.
Best Comeback: “Young Terrorists” #2
2016 suffered for the lack of “Young Terrorists”. I can’t exactly blame Black Mask or Matt Pizzolo or Amancay Nahuelpan for the delay, but I can mourn how empty the year felt without it. “Young Terrorists” burst out with an 80 page graphic novel of a first issue that took no prisoners in terms of tone or content, speaking to real world issues and horrors in a way that the insular nature of comic books never seemed able to.Continued below
With 2016 being a year of atrocity after atrocity after tragedy after tragedy, that sense of broiling anger infused into the page is something that pretty much every comic suffered from a lack of, but the complete absence of “Young Terrorists” hurt the most. Like I said, I hope to see more of “Young Terrorists” is 2017 and more often because, God knows, we’re going to need it.