The Best Comic Books of 2015

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10. The Wicked + The Divine
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Various
Publisher: Image Comics 

The debut of The Wicked The Divine felt too cool—almost unapproachably so—for some readers. The tale of teens-turned-gods has David Bowie analogues, underground raves and its debut was marked with coverage from Pitchfork—all of which says more or less nothing about the quality of the work. If the danger in WicDiv’s first arc carried an air of excitement and sexiness, the following issues have been filled with all the desperation and terror of a clubhouse wired to detonate. Under the veil of exclusivity, that build has paid off; The Wicked The Divine’s second arc sparked a slow burn that’s evolved into a full-on inferno. Tyler R. Kane
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9. Step Aside, Pops
Writer/Artist: Kate Beaton
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Step Aside, Pops indulges in wonderfully absurd doses of pure comedy: the notion of America’s Founding Fathers wandering around a shopping mall is handled terrifically, as is a take on Cinderella in which its titular heroine and her prince bond over bodybuilding. The series of strips about rival sea captains who share an unacknowledged bond utilizes terrific body language and facial expressions. And “House Full of Mulders”—the title should be taken very literally—blends elements from The X-Files and Pride and Prejudice into something charmingly surreal. For those who enjoyed Beaton’s first collection, this represents an expansion of an already-impressive comic voice; readers who enjoy smart, irreverent takes on history and literature will find plenty to delight in here. Tobias Carroll
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8. The Multiversity
Writer:   Grant Morrison  
Artist: Ivan Reis, Various
Publisher: DC Comics 

For a celebrated writer who’s built a reputation on crafting ornate, world-spanning epics, Grant Morrison and his latest descent down the rabbit hole—The Multiversity—touch on a sense of scale and complexity unique in comics, let alone any entertainment medium. The saga escorts readers through the various realities of the DC Universe and the ghoulish, nihilistic beings—The Gentry—who threaten to corrupt their foundation. The intoxicating project offers a chain of interlinking debut issues to comic series that don’t exist outside this umbrella title (yet), with a different artist tackling each chapter, save the opening and closing bookends from penciller Ivan Reis. In the course of The Multiversity, we’ve witnessed a world where the Nazis flourish with their own Superman, a 48-page dissection of Watchmen that mirrors the iconic work’s ambition, and an unholy alliance of super villains that creates a new day of the week. Sean Edgar
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7. Descender
Writer:   Jeff Lemire  
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: Image Comics 

Whether it’s Ah-nold’s thumbs-up at the end of T2 or Wall-E recognizing his best friend after his memory was wiped, I’m not sure why seeing a machine display human emotion makes this writer cry organic tears. In the case of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender, that feat’s illustrated by the boy-robot TIM-21, whose actions set an example of what humanity can be at its best. TIM-21 shares the same bionic DNA as the Harvesters, a race of machines that tear apart human life on a cosmic scale. While you’d expect TIM-21’s mechanical mind to orbit around human destruction, Descender’s issues are filled with heartbreak and yearning for family members long fled or resting. We wouldn’t expect a sci-fi epic based around mechanical genocide to be dripping with emotion, but Descender delivers big time. With pink and blue faces popping out above a sterile spaceship backdrop, Nguyen’s minimalist approach highlights the humanity within Descender’s pages—not to mention Lemire’s cast, which had the Paste Comics staff hooked from issue #1. Tyler R. Kane
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6. SuperMutant Magic Academy
Writer/Artist: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Founding X-Man Bobby Drake may have recently ventured outside the closet, introducing even more diversity to a title devoted to acceptance and tolerance. But Jillian Tamaki (That One Summer) has already been running her own progressive school for exceptional adolescents in SuperMutant Magic Academy, a poignant, hilarious and bold webcomic collected in print by Drawn & Quarterly. These raw panels may show kids with fantastical and physics-defying abilities, but Tamaki knows that magical mutant kids—even cat hybrids and boys that reincarnate throughout the cosmos—are still kids. They yearn, strive, hurt and meander into listless futures. Under this lens, SuperMutant Magic Academy is far more real than its title would ever suppose. Sean Edgar
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5. Killing and Dying
Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Forcing blanket descriptions of Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying is an awkward prospect; the man studies the touching, charming and sad lives of men and women trying to recover from previous failure or boredom. In other words, he writes about human beings trying to be better. At some subtle point, the word balloons fall away to reveal bittersweet facets of the human condition. “Amber Sweet” revolves around a girl’s struggles as she’s perpetually confused for a ubiquitous porn star. She finally confronts her doppelgänger in an unexpected surge of empathy and catharsis. The titular story, “Killing and Dying,” stands as a high point. Two parents watch as their teenage daughter attempts live stand up-comedy. Defined in silent panels and domestic squabbles, the story telegraphs a sucker-punch twist examining the precious glue that holds families together. Tomine remains a master of characterization and mood, crafting absorbing glimpses into lives both familiar and deceptively exotic. Simply put, Killing and Dying showcases the depth and range of the comics medium in startling ways. Sean Edgar
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4. The Sandman Overture
Writer:   Neil Gaiman  
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Within Overture, Gaiman weaves a complex algorithm that’s both an independent story and a complement to stories he wrote decades ago, an articulate narrative man o’ war. Who’s the tragic princess ousted from her homeland at the end of “A Game of You?” What’s a Vortex? What was the Corinthian up to before embarking on his eye-opening murder spree? Gaiman answers these queries with skill and grace, following a domino path back to origins lying captive in his mind till freed in this book. And though Overture is a ravishing story about one anthropomorphic entity attempting to save creation from an unhinged celestial body, its pleasures are all the more tangible after reading through the original series. Sean Edgar
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3. March: Book Two
Writers: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

As in March: Book One, the plot of this sequel shifts back and forth from the early 1960s to President Obama’s inauguration six years ago. Subtle visual parallels between that ceremony and the March on Washington argue the importance of the latter and its long-reaching influence on today. The impetus behind the book has shifted slightly from the first volume, with issues like voter rezoning and the conflict in Ferguson casting a renewed sense of urgency. The point here isn’t to review how far we’ve come since the March on Washington — it’s the realization that we need to keep moving. Hillary Brown
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2. Sacred Heart
Writer/Artist: Liz Suburbia
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Sacred Heart has already drawn comparisons to the work of Jaime Hernandez, and with its teenage protagonists, black-and-white palette, Hank Ketcham-influence, punk aesthetic and liberally scattered cultural references, it’s not hard to see why. But Charles Burns’ Black Hole is at least as relevant. A creeping sense of dread permeates these pages, which start with our protagonist, Ben Schiller, making her way through a graffitied landscape. Suburbia ignores exposition as much as she can, throwing the reader into the middle of an established scenario and expecting her to figure it out. Hillary Brown
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1. Nanjing: The Burning City
Writer/Artist: Ethan Young
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

American textbooks tend to omit huge and often horrific events if there’s not an opportunity to frame them through a white savior lens. Cartoonist Ethan Young’s Nanjing: The Burning City dramatizes the 1937 Japanese raid on the Chinese capital Nanjing without playing to Western-centric sensibilities or flinching from the atrocities committed in the name of patriotism. With sparse dialogue and expressive black-and-white art, Young’s debut Dark Horse work readies itself to be mentioned in the same breath as Boxers & Saints and Persepolis in classrooms, libraries and book stores for years to come. Steve Foxe

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