Wednesday is one of my favorite days. Not only does it serve as a mid-week checkpoint for the weary warehouse worker (me, and many others), but it’s also New Comic Book Day. #NCBD, as it’s known in certain social (or NON-social) circles, is the day where—you guessed it—new comic books come out. Shelves are cleared, then refilled and reorganized with the newest issues from publishers large and small, keeping readers everywhere satisfied until next week. Thanks to comics, Wednesdays are now my pre-Thursday Friday. Not only do new comics make my weeks move, but comics are making the world move.
Comic books make the world go round. To some, that may be taking it a bit far, but current Pop Culture certainly owes quite a bit to the medium. The Walking Dead, one of TV’s biggest shows (if not THE biggest), is based on a comic book. The small screen also has popular shows like Green Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Flash, while Netflix delivered a killer iteration of Daredevil (and now Jessica Jones, with more to follow). Comic Con pulls over 100,000 outsiders to San Diego every year. Do I even need to mention how many comic book-inspired movies there are nowadays? Of course not. So yeah, the once sheltered subculture now largely influences mainstream media. That’s not why we’re here though.
We’re here for the actual books! I didn’t read all the big hits this year, but 2015 was a busy year for me and an important year for comics. Inclusion, diversity (an old wooden ship), and representation were hot topics that pushed publishers to make big changes to their top titles, popular creative teams, and historic characters. Although there’s still some (or a lot of) work to do in regards to these discussions, this year will go down as a game changer in terms of challenging the old standards and bringing fresh voices to this form of storytelling. With all that fun stuff being said, here’s my favorite comics of 2015.
(Please Note: Often times in comics, creative teams will change by arc or by issue, so some of the teams I list below may not be accurate by the time this goes live on the site, or they may not be accurate because I referenced a certain random issue for the info. Just a heads up for all you über fans out there that would put my head on a spike. Thanks!)
10. Batman :: By Scott Snyder (Writer), Greg Capullo (Artist), and FCO Plascencia (Colors)
What would a comic book list be without Batman? Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been the dynamic duo behind the Batman books since 2011, and they’ve delivered big story after big story. Check out “The Court of Owls” or “Death Of The Family” if you don’t believe me. 2015 was no exception as we saw Joker ravage Gotham with his latest batch of toxin in “Endgame.” Snyder’s writing has been divisive for some fans, but one of his many strengths is showing us a Batman we’ve never seen before. Current case in point : Jim Gordon, the guy who is usually the commissioner of Gotham PD, is Batman. Snyder’s stories keep things fresh while maintaing the grisly and grim world the Dark Knight lives in. Speaking of that world, Greg Capullo’s art is right at home in Gotham. He excellently portrays Gotham’s seedy grittiness and fills panels with haunting villains, intense action, and visceral fight scenes. It’s not for everyone, but there’s a reason Snyder and Capullo have been the creative team for four years running.
9. Thor (Now titled The Mighty Thor) :: By Jason Aaron (Writer), Russell Dauterman (Artist), and Matthew Wilson (Colors)
When someone mentions Thor, most people think: Chris Hemsworth. Other people think something aesthetically close—chiseled white guy with blond hair and a hammer. Marvel and writer Jason Aaron flipped that script by declaring Thor, the Odinson, unworthy of wielding his trademark hammer. Dr. Jane Foster, a woman who has been Thor’s on-again, off-again love interest, picked up that hammer and took the role of Thor into her own hands, becoming the first GODDESS of Thunder. Some fans didn’t take a female Thor too well, but most people welcomed the fresh take with open arms. I was one of them. I’d never read a Thor comic, so I figured, why not jump on now with a new book and new perspective on the legacy of a legendary character? At first, the female Thor’s identity was secret, and it was excellent watching the former Thor rack his brain trying to deduce who this woman was that so effortlessly claimed his title. Now that readers know Jane Foster is Thor, we’re introduced to a whole new set of problems. Jason Aaron is one of my favorite writers (you’ll see his name on this list a few times), and the art team on Thor backs him up magnificently. Russell Dauterman’s style is clean and strong, while Matthew Wilson’s colors are out of this galaxy! His color work sells Asgard’s utopian world vibrantly and brilliantly. It’s just as good to look at as it is to read, and that’s when comics work best.
8. Descender :: By Jeff Lemire (Writer) and Dustin Nguyen (Artist)
One-part A.I. Artificial Intelligence, one part Star Wars, all parts unique and beautiful; Descender was a breakout hit in 2015 from the creative team of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Lemire’s sci-fi story about a young cyborg trying to find his family in a harsh galaxy is charming, adventurous, and action-packed. Following Tim-21, the young cyborg, on his travels has been a grand adventure so far, but it’s set against the backdrop of interplanetary crisis. The story is layered like an ogre, and I can’t wait for more of those layers to be peeled back. Lemire’s plot and epic world-building are taken to otherworldly heights by Dustin Nguyen’s gorgeous art. Every page and every panel are hand-painted in wonderful watercolors that lend a dreamlike quality to the book. Descender is full of colorful characters whether they be human, robot, cyborg, or alien; planet-hopping action; and a tense universe waiting to be explored. It’s early in its life as an ongoing, and I’m excited to see where the creative team takes readers.
7. Star Wars :: By Jason Aaron (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), and Justin Ponsor (Colors)
The galaxy far, far away made its return to comics in 2015, and it quickly became a monthly must read. Jason Aaron tackles the time period between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, delivering new adventures for Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the gang as they continue their fight with the Rebel Alliance. Luke is trying to find a deeper connection to The Force. Leia is trying to strengthen herself and the Alliance. Han is trying to get paid. There’s great stories unraveling and they’re backed up by stellar art from Stuart Immonen. His visuals put readers into the Star Wars worlds they’re familiar with, and give fresh but faithful designs to characters we know and love. The best part? The comics FEEL like an extension of the original movie. The look, the dialogue, the action—it’s all there. Need something besides Battlefront to hold you over ‘til The Force Awakens drops? Go grab these back issues and catch up.
6. Rumble :: By John Arcudi (Writer), James Harren (Artist), and Dave Stewart (Colors)
I bought the first issue of Rumble because I thought the cover was cool. It turned out to be one of my more successful impulse buys in recent memory. Co-creators John Arcudi and James Harren have created an incredible world full of instantly-relatable human characters and their not-of-this-world, non-human counterparts. Rumble revolves around main character Bobby’s typical turned not typical life after he meets a mythical sword-wielding scarecrow that’s possessed by the soul of an ancient warrior. The warrior is searching for his body so that he can vanquish an ancient nemesis. As you can imagine, Bobby getting mixed in with the ancient warrior crowd doesn’t necessarily help the direction his life was going. The book is full of an assortment of wacky demons, giant sword-slingin’ action, and intimate human moments that ground the book with heartfelt reality. James Harren’s art is a perfect fit as he concocts a crazy crew of demons and monsters, while his human characterizations are more simple, but full of emotion. There’s a gritty, rough element to the art as well, which is heightened by Dave Stewart’s sometimes moody, sometimes bold, always strong colors. Rumble is a fun book at a time in comics where fun is often not a focus.
5. Birthright :: By Joshua Williamson (Writer), Andrei Bressan (Artist) and Adriano Lucas (Colorist)
Great plot, great art, great colors—Birthright is just plain great. A fantasy story that takes place after the fantasy has ended, Birthright took a unique turn. The story focuses around a family whose son goes missing. In their desperate, confused, miserable state of loss, the family falls apart only to be gobsmacked by the reappearance of the missing son—but he’s not the same. He’s aged considerably and has basically become Conan the Barbarian. Turns out, he was taken to a wondrous land full of terrible evils where it was his destiny to destroy a tyrannical being that was overtaking the land. Well, he fulfilled his destiny and now he’s back home to live happily ever after with his family… Syke. The story is just getting started. It’s an original take on familiar fantasy setups, but it also features a strong family element. Writer Joshua Williamson wonderfully combines mystical fantasy tropes with true to life, contemporary family problems. The art by Andrei Bressan helps realize the factual and fictional sides with gorgeous looks at the real and the fantastic. He’s just as at home drawing a car as he is a towering orc-like monster, and neither the quality or style diminishes between the two. The color work done by Adriano Lucas is well done on both sides, but he truly shines when working on the fantasy side of things. Birthright got rave reviews after its initial issue dropped, and I’m glad I was there to catch the wave. It’s been a helluva ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where the fantasy-meets-reality tale takes us.
4. Midnighter :: By Steve Orlando (Writer), Aco (Artist), and Romulo Fajardo, jr. (Colors)
This book would be ranked higher if the three above it weren’t so damn good, but that’s how rankings work right? Midnighter is a character that’s equal parts Deadpool, Batman, and Iron Man. He’s a vigilante with powerful tech integrated into his brain that allows him to be 1,000 steps ahead of his competition, and he’s a wise-cracking smart ass. Also, he’s gay. He’s openly gay. He’s also openly super-powered. He doesn’t hide his sexuality or his badassery, and it makes him an awesome character to read. Steve Orlando’s writing puts an emphasis on Midnighter’s vigilante exploits, but balances them with his quest to repair his wrecked past and inner turmoil. He’s trying to be a (somewhat) normal guy, but he has demons. He has a lot of demons. His demons have demons. The art delivered by Aco mixed with the colors provided by Romulo Fajardo, jr. deliver a visceral experience. It’s got Tarantino film-levels of blood, it’s funny, and the check boxes for diversity and representation can be checked. Bravo!
3. Grayson :: By Tim Seeley (Writer), Mikel Janin (Artist), and Jeremy Cox (Colors)
Dick Grayson—aka Nightwing or the first Robin—has had various solo series during his time as a DC character. His latest iteration is quite different though. After being killed (kind of) in DC’s “Forever Evil” crossover event, Dick made his return to comics not as Nightwing, but as super spy Agent 37. Grayson has planted its titular character in a “007 with superheroes” style story in which Dick is working inside a sketchy spy agency trying to discern if they are who they say they are. As with most spy stories, things aren’t all as they seem. Tim Seeley and Tom King handle the plot (Seeley handles the script), putting Grayson at odds with human traffickers, super villain-esque international terrorists, and Spyral, the agency he works for. All that, piled on top of the fact that he’s still connected to Batman and the rest of his allies in Gotham, even though for most of the series they didn’t know he was alive. Mikel Janin’s art is beyond dope, highlighted by over the top action as much as close up character work. Dick Grayson is an easy-going, smooth operator type hero who knows how to take things to the next level when he needs to. The creative team behind Grayson are doing a stellar job of making this Mission Impossible-meets-Batman-meets-Bond comic an exciting read month after month.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles :: By Tom Waltz (Writer), Mateus Santolouco (Artist), and Ronda Pattison (Colors)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the reason I like comics (among other things), but they’re not here by default. IDW’s TMNT ongoing has been killing it since 2011, but they hit a big milestone in a big way in 2015. The book reached its 50th issue, and in doing so brought about the death of Oroku Saki, aka The Shredder. That wasn’t the only big moment this year though, as only a handful of issues prior to #50, Donatello was severely wounded and left for dead. It’s been a busy year for the Turtles, but the creative team has pushed the book in a great direction giving the four heroes larger-than-life adversaries and intimate character-driven personal problems to face issue after issue. That’s why this book continues to be one of my favorites. The Turtles clash with their usual rivals and some new faces causing trouble, but the book also puts an emphasis on the familial relations between the brothers and their father. Writer Tom Waltz keeps things fresh while building on the already epic TMNT legacy, and artist Mateus Santolouco is a force of nature with his character designs, facial expressions, and action scenes. Original co-creator Kevin Eastman is also onboard contributing to the overall story and adding his iconic art to variant covers each month. It’s a great time to be a TMNT fan, and this comic is one of the reasons why.
1. Southern Bastards :: By Jason Aaron (Writer) and Jason Latour (Artist)
This is the comic that got me back into comics. I’d stayed away from the comic shelves for a handful of years, but the reviews and hype around this book were too much for me to ignore. I jumped onboard and haven’t looked back. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour are absolutely slaying with Southern Bastards, a crime noir set in the dirty south. Jason Aaron’s story, which revolves around a high school football coach who moonlights as a crime lord, is hard-hitting, gut-wrenching, and full of dialogue delivered with heavy drawls. Almost three story arcs in and we’ve seen two that deal with how family issues can shape a young man’s life, what it’s like to have your future stripped from you by your past, and why you shouldn’t mess with a man that carries a big stick. The current arc is taking a different approach by introducing us to important characters, one standalone story at a time. Jason Latour’s art drives home the southern atmosphere with sharp character design, filthy backwoods locales, and moody scenery. The Jasons are both Southerners themselves, so the dialogue, character design, and location feels all the more genuine. This book practically drips BBQ sauce, and I love it! In fact, it’s so good it was recently optioned by FX for a TV show. Here’s to hoping that it makes a successful run on the small screen!