I Dissent: Our Contributors' Favorite Comics of 2016 That Didn't Make the Year-End List

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  • comicsdissent high-bone-theater-cover Hillary Brown
    Comic: Highbone Theater
    Writer/Artist: Joe Daly
    Publisher: Fantagraphics

    Of all the weird comics that came out in 2016 (and there were many! Brian Chippendale's Puke Force, Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm, Julie Doucet's Carpet Sweeper Tales and Chester Brown's Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, just to name a few), Joe Daly's Highbone Theater is both one of the strangest and the most winning. No metaphor for describing it quite describes its full appeal. If I were to say, “It’s a bit like what would happen if Bobby Moynihan’s second-hand news correspondent from Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update was the star of a book,” that would be part of it, but it would leave out the weird majesty of Daly's steroidal figures moving through space. It’s not an easy task to focus on characters who aren't particularly smart without condescending or unjustly elevating them to archetypes of the common man, but Daly treats them with gentleness and respect, yet doesn't minimize their flaws. Is it a dream? An alternate universe? The half-thought-out musings of a stoned brain? Whatever it is, the reading experience is immersive, and the pages have an obsessive Michelangelesque beauty. This book needs more love.
  • comicsdissent gina-wynbrandt-someone-please-have-sex-with-me Sean Edgar
    Comic: Someone Please Have Sex With Me
    Writer/Artist: Gina Wynbrandt
    Publisher: 2dcloud

    Dear Lord this was a difficult task, and Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts, Lucy Knisley’s Something New and Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s Deadly Class were all strong contenders, but Someone Please Have Sex With Me ventures into uncharted territory. The title is also the most apt description of this collection— Gina Wyndrant’s autobiography diagrams her unflinchingly honest quest for carnal pleasure and Justin Bieber. How, exactly, the reader is supposed to digest these narratives is an experiment within itself. Should we assume that Wynbrandt’s quest is an unhealthy attempt to patch emotional fissures, or are we projecting our own insecurities and “values” on someone with the confidence to articulate her needs, tears and all? I don’t know. Any book that can make its reader ask this many questions deserves more attention. I do know that this filterless self-reflection, full of humor and abrasive color schemes, contains shades of brilliance that my post-Catholic-school psychology is still unraveling. Also: a colony of creepy cats with Nicolas Cage’s face.
  • comicsdissent doompatrol Steve Foxe
    Comic: Doom Patrol
    Writer: Gerard Way
    Artist: Nick Derington
    Publisher: Young Animal/ DC Comics

    Ugh, this was torture. Gerard Way, Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain's Doom Patrol was really only ever going to be my selection, but it pains me to prioritize such a high-profile release over stellar under-the-radar books like cosmic chiller Southern Cross, supernatural barbarian saga Rumble, inspiring Marvel ongoings Moongirl and Hellcat, consistently queer DC Bombshells and great indies like Fantasy Sports Vol. 2. Still, after binging the old Rachel Pollack/Ted McKeever/etc. Doom Patrol run on a recent international flight, I'm set in my selection. Way's Young Animal "pop-up imprint" at DC Comics resurrected the best of the early Vertigo ethos without falling prey to simple nostalgia; Doom Patrol pays homage to what came before it (not just the storied Grant Morrison run) while pushing boldly forth into the weird and new. As a standard-bearer alongside Shade, the Changing Girl, Cave Carson and the surprising Mother Panic, Doom Patrol ushered in one of the most exciting mainstream publishing moments of the year, and Young Animal's debut timing alongside DC's Rebirth initiative helped assure readers that experimentation is alive and well at the publisher even as it seeks to return to its superheroic roots. Way, who has long since proven himself as a comics scribe and student of the highest caliber, is in top form introducing new players and resurrecting old Patrollers, but it's very nearly Derington who steals the show with his hybrid Hernandez Bros./Frank Quitely linework, elevated to psychedelic highs by Bonvillain's colors. If Doom Patrol continues apace, I can't fathom not seeing it on our Best of 2017 list, but just in case the world ends some time after January 20th, I need to gush over this book now.
  • comicsdissent peter-parker-tv Jakob Free
    Comic: Spidey Zine
    Writer/Artist: Hannah Blumenreich
    Self-Published

    The best Spider-Man comics of 2016 were written and drawn by the cartoonist Hannah Blumenreich. Most of those comics, which are extended strips, can be found in her pay-what-you-want digital compilation, Spidey Zine. Hannah Blumenreich gets Spider-Man. Her Peter Parker is the Peter Parker we talk about when we explain to anyone who will listen why Spider-Man is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time. She understands what makes the ol’ Webhead work: he’s a human teenager at his best. And Blumenreich's Peter Parker looks like a teenager in the pages of her comics. He’s the opposite of the buff, super good-looking adult Peter popularized by artist John Romita Sr. after co-creator Steve Ditko left the book. He acts like a teenager. He's awkward and lazy. He whines. He likes things that a nerdy teenager might like. And not just any nerd, but a nerd coming up in today’s diverse pop-culture jungle, where a person can comfortably exist in the overlap between Cowboy Bebop and Gilmore Girls fandoms.

    There are no large-scale, world-ending threats for Spider-Man to punch and kick and tumble over. In one strip he rides the subway home with a young woman so she can avoid a group of creepy dudes. In another, Spider-Man shoots hoops with a group of girls after admitting he doesn’t know much about sports. In one particularly poignant strip, Blumenreich catalogues Peter’s entire life up until the moments right after Uncle Ben’s funeral. She accomplishes this in four completely wordless, heartbreaking pages. It is, in a word, perfect.
  • comicsdissent prettydeadly Shea Hennum
    Comic: Pretty Deadly
    Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
    Artist: Emma Ríos
    Publisher: Image Comics

    The follow-up to one of 2014’s most auspicious debuts, Pretty Deadly Vol. 2: The Bear reunites the team of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Ríos, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles. This installment brings the acid western-via-shoujo manga story of Death and her reapers forward a number of years, affording Ríos the opportunity to render the trenches of World War I. Drawn with equal measures of stylized detail and clarity, the pages of Pretty Deadly move with an inimitable grace, as they feature some of the artist's most accomplished storytelling and drawing, as well as some of Bellaire’s most inspired coloring. And because the collected edition comes complete with the serial’s backmatter—including fan art and pin-ups by Ríos’ collaborators Hwei Lim and Brandon Graham—there is no excuse not to pick up this book.
  • comicsdissent injection Mark Peters
    Comic: Injection
    Writer: Warren Ellis
    Artist: Declan Shalvey
    Publisher: Image Comics

    So a detective, a scientist, a programmer, a spy and a wizard walk into a bar… Or, more exactly, form the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, with the mission of making the future more interesting. Prospects looked dull, so they released a powerful, magic-infused AI into the internet. How could that go wrong? They deal with the consequences in this extremely badass series.

    Genres mix, jokes fly, Declan Shalvey’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors kick ass, while writer Warren Ellis tickles your brain like only he can. Each arc spotlights one of the main characters, and the second arc was a 2016 highlight, proving Vikek Headland is the omnisexual deadpan detective we all needed in our lives. This series could end up rivaling Ellis’ other genre-bending opus, Planetary, and should not be missed.
  • comicsdissent nighthawk Caitlin Rosberg
    Nighthawk
    Writer: David F. Walker
    Artists: Ramon Villalobos, Martin Morazzo
    Publisher: Marvel Comics

    In an era when even just including an LGBTQ+ character is seen as a political act, it’s become increasingly common for creators to strive for more inclusive and confrontational content; what’s often lacking, unfortunately, is a sense of authenticity. David F. Walker has consistently and constantly overcome that hurdle with books that are timely and evergreen as they tackle racism and intersectional identity politics. Walker focuses on microcosms that tell much larger stories, writing three-dimensional characters and rich worlds. Marvel gave him a shot with Nighthawk to tell a true vigilante story, brutally honest and uncompromising about the systematic racism that keeps the wealthy in power and cops in their pockets. Set in a very real Chicago, the comic features neon gore courtesy artist Ramon Villalobos’s gritty, dynamic style and Tamra Bonvillain's vibrant colors. The book was cancelled long before it’s time at just six issues, but Walker and Villalobos—plus guest artist Martin Morazzo for one issue—managed to show the world for what it really is in the middle of a cape-and-cowl book starring a character who was originally a take on an even more unhinged Batman. Nighthawk is complicated and nuanced, and like Walker’s work on Shaft, doesn’t offer easy answers or happy endings. It’s a gutsy book, especially for a company owned by the House of Mouse, and deserves more credit than it got.
  • comicsdissent blackpanther Barry Thompson
    Comic: Black Panther
    Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Artists: Chris Sprouse, Brian Stelfreeze
    Publisher: Marvel Comics

    Upon the formal announcement of his gig with Marvel, some readers expected celebrated Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates to plant the Wakandan head of state at the crux of an allegory for contemporary American politics. But that didn’t wind up happening. Of course, Wakanda has plenty of issues with working-class resentment against the political and financial elite, plus occasional terrorism, but that only makes the vibranium capital of the globe a possible metaphor for virtually any country at any point in human history. Instead, opening story arc “A Nation Under Our Feet” explores T’Challa’s family dynamics and obligations—or, at times, lack thereof—to cultural ideals and conventions. He also kicks a whole bunch of butt, as is customary for a superhero king. Artists Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse and colorist Laura Martin pooled their talents to establish a section of the Marvel Universe that in no way resembles New York City or outer space, which is grand, because we are all bored to tears with New York City and outer space.
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