The 25 Best Comic Books of 2016

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The 25 Best Comic Books of 2016

More than the previous few years, 2016 reached deeper into what the comic industry is and, more importantly, what it could be. On the Big Two front, Marvel further diversified its core titles with heroes who weren’t relegated to straight, white dudes crafted in the ‘50s. DC took major strides forward with its Rebirth initiative, embracing the soul of its heritage characters and a new majority of the market share for a few months.

But the indies seemed to shout the loudest this year. For all of comic journalism’s attention to Diamond Distributor’s lists, Raina Telgemeier is a one-woman industry who routinely dominates the majority of The New York TimesGraphic Books list. That success should come as no surprise on the heels of work like Ghosts, Telgemeier’s searingly emotional and joyous look at mortality. But she has new company that won’t be leaving any time soon; Congressman John Lewis’ graphic novel autobiography, March, concluded with its third entry, co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. It’s the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award and it’s rightfully being adopted as required reading in public schools.

In addition, stalwarts Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics delivered a front-loaded bulk of innovative, mind-expanding tomes, writer Tom King infiltrated Marvel and DC with two of the most melancholy, heart-breaking comics of the year and Image continued to carry the torch of progressive genre fiction, with all-time greats like Saga, Southern Bastards and Lazarus losing ground on this list not due to a dip in quality, but an expansion of the playing field. This year may have been a garbage fire of bad vibes, but at least comics continued to foster dreams of a brighter 2017.

25. Moon Knight
Writer:   Jeff Lemire  
Artists: Greg Smallwood, Francesco Francavilla, James Stokoe, Wilfredo Torres, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

Jeff Lemire  and Greg Smallwood’s radical take on the Fist of Khonsu is a singular, disorienting sight to behold. Lemire—who’s addressed mental illness in other comics like Bloodshot and The Underwater Welder—approaches a character who was once a mercenary saved by the Egyptian god of the moon. That man has since dressed up as a vigilante named Moon Knight, protecting those who travel by night. Lemire asks what most reasonable readers might: is that normal behavior, even by superhero standards? Add the historical footnote that the term “lunatic” translates as “moon sick,” and Lemire and Smallwood have the perfect character to dissect mental illness from a cape-and-cowl perspective. Sean Edgar

24. Tetris: The Games People Play
Writer/Artist: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second

Tetris: The Games People Play is a layered examination of pixellated nostalgia, politics and philosophy. Box Brown’s second bio-graphic novel embraces the same obsessive research and personality as his previous work, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, this time focusing on Russian game developer Alexey Pajitnov. The affable genius escorts his idea through a bramble of Cold War bureaucracy and parasitic businessmen until his narrative arrives at something of a catharsis. But Brown isn’t content to reconstruct the convoluted beats of proto-gaming history; he analyzes the very philosophical pillars of why humanity games and its history to present day. Smart, obsessive and engrossing, Tetris’ storytelling blocks align perfectly. Sean Edgar

23. House of Penance
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Ian Bertram
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

House of Penance is a grand, gothic epic built on a foundation of pupil-dilating art, informed by one of the most bizarre incidents of late 19th-century history. Sarah Winchester—the widow of the man who founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Company—built a sprawling San Jose mansion to house the souls of the Native Americans and soldiers who fell victim to the weaponry her husband forged. Writer Peter Tomasi scripts in the constrained, eloquent dialogue of past-century spook slingers M.R. James or Bram Stoker, while artist Ian Bertram wraps the plot in winding, grid-bound tendrils of blood and architecture, conjuring a dwarfing sense of doom that no character escapes. The closest we’ll ever get to a collaboration between Edgar Allan Poe and M.C. Escher, House of Penance is horror that could only be accomplished in comics, and its morbid majesty has to be seen to be understood. Sean Edgar

22. Giant Days
Writer: John Allison
Artists: Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Caanan Grall
Publisher: BOOM! Box

John Allison and artists Max Sarin, Caanan Grall and Lissa Treiman have spent the last few years building up a world and characters that are deeply human and relatable without losing a sense of just how messed up each of them is. No surprise, given Allison’s successful decade-plus creating webcomics, but it’s still a genuine pleasure to read a story about young women where they are supportive and loyal (sometimes to a fault), even while making an absolute mess of their lives, as is their right and duty as university students. Caitlin Rosberg

21. The Mighty Thor
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Various
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

For all the misogyny a female thunder-wielder ignited in 2014, few could have predicted her complete dominance as the coolest Marvel superperson a few years later. Shifting from the heavy-metal opus of his opening “God Butcher”/“Godbomb” arcs in Thor: God of Thunder, Jason Aaron now weaves a meticulous tapestry of shifting allegiances and gender dynamics in a story that deserves every connotation of “epic.” All of Asgard has accepted that a mysterious lady now tosses Mjolnir save one man: Odin, the one-eyed king of the realm. Add in exploitive corporations, dark elves and branching fantasy worlds, and The Mighty Thor remains a story built on sweat and blood with huge relevance outside of its fantasy trappings. Sean Edgar

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