The 25 Best Comic Books of 2016

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20. Copra
Writer/Artist: Michel Fiffe
Publisher: Bergen Street Press

Michel Fiffe continues to embarrass the heck out of every other person working in comics with his tour de force one-man assault, Copra. Written, drawn, colored, lettered and sequentially self-published by Fiffe, Copra began as a copyright-testing homage to the Ostrander-era Suicide Squad tales before evolving in its own bizarre way. Round Four continues the psychedelic assault of Fiffe’s highly expendable commandos, rendered in his masterful multimedia style. Copra collections can be challenging to nab, and the title is much more appreciable after reading the whole epic in order, but Fiffe’s mad creation continues to be one of the best comics in existence and is more than worth hunting down. Steve Foxe

19. Nod Away
Writer/Artist: Joshua Cotter
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Nod Away, a complex and beautiful sci-fi epic, alternates between a narrative of scientists working on a space station to tweak a biologically wired “Innernet,” and back to nearly wordless scenes of a man traveling by himself through the desert, toward an unclear goal. Dreamy, packed with interesting ideas and suffused with the same quiet-but-felt emotions as cartoonist Joshua Cotter’s debut, Nod Away fills a void that makes the author’s eight-year absence all the more evident. Hillary Brown

18. Harrow County
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artists: Tyler Crook, Carla Speed McNeil
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse’s creepy, atmospheric flagship spook title continues to dive deep into a southern-fried nexus of horror, folklore and nostalgia. The bulk of the series has focused on Hester Beck, a witchy woman who wasn’t afraid to make Faustian deals with the townsfolk. But that plot has branched into myriad directions equally chilling and visually arresting. Most importantly, writer Cullen Bunn and artists Tyler Crook and Carla Speed McNeil keep a dark and magical heart thumping throughout Harrow County, even while expanding its borders. Their haunted storybook remains dangerous and inviting, disturbing and wistful. It’s a fitting look at the past; though it may appear kinder and simpler, it obscures a history of violence and discord waiting to erupt again. Sean Edgar

17. Midnighter/Midnighter and Apollo
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artists: ACO, Fernando Blanco, Various
Publisher: DC Comics 

It was disappointing, if not surprising, when Steve Orlando and ACO’s Midnighter came to a close in the beginning of 2016; the “DC You” title was a critical success and a fan favorite for its expansion of DC’s “violent gay Batman” into a fully fledged (and still very violent) leading man, but sales never matched the book’s near-universal praise. Despite being the first successful integration of Wildstorm characters into the DCU since the two universes merged in 2011, Midnighter seemed destined to become a high-quality footnote as Rebirth reshaped DC’s shelf space. Midnighter and Apollo, the six-issue follow-up with new artist Fernando Blanco, takes the sting out of the original title’s cancellation by serving up the bloodiest, most homoerotic take on Orpheus and Eurydice the superhero world has ever seen, as Midnighter punches his way through hell to rescue his solar-powered lover, Apollo. For DC readers concerned that Rebirth might turn back the clock on queer representation, Orlando and Blanco’s sexy, violent, epic and, yes, romantic miniseries shines bright when it’s needed the most, and hopefully bodes well for Midnighter’s continued leather-clad presence in the DCU. Steve Foxe

16. Patience
Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Colored in the flat, desaturated hues that Clowes’ readers will recognize instantly, Patience is the Ghost World author’s longest work to date. The story of a man traveling back in time to rewrite history and save his wife, the book stumbles and falters in a number of key spots. The politics are unclear, and, at times, it falls prey to the same objectifying gaze that it seems to be criticizing. But it’s ambitious and complex, and it grapples with a set of emotions—honestly, forcefully and at length. Clowes’ familiar linework is intact, and the book feels timeless. Or rather, Clowes nostalgically conjures a mish-mash of past aesthetics, imbuing Patience with a lust for a time that never even existed.

The book has found both incredible praise and worthwhile excoriation, but regardless of how you end up feeling about it, it really is something you should read for yourself. Shea Hennum

15. Cosplayers
Writer/Artist: Dash Shaw
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

This collection of Dash Shaw’s introspective dive into the most theatric element of comic fandom ripples with humanity and texture. Whereas the cartoonist’s previous works like New School and Doctors weren’t afraid to suspend realism for wildly inventive takes on exploratory fantasy and sci-fi melodrama, Cosplayers borrows from Shaw’s intimate observations on the con floors. The Perfect in the title is especially interesting, as the art, and the characters, are imperfect by design: instead of rendering facsimile versions of genre culture’s gods, mutants and heroes, Shaw’s mission is to make the flawless mundane—to make reality asymmetrically mirror surreality. For fans of Adrian Tomine and Dan Clowes, this is essential sequential art vérité. Sean Edgar

LegendOfWonderWoman copy.jpg
14. The Legend of Wonder Woman
Writers: Renae De Liz
Artist: Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon
Publisher: DC Comics 

DC Comics  offered fans no shortage of Amazon origins this year, from Jill Thompson’s gorgeous Wonder Woman: The True Amazon to Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s controversial Wonder Woman: Earth One to Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp’s in-continuity Rebirth soft reset. For our money, The Last Unicorn illustrator Renae De Liz did best by Diana this year in The Legend of Wonder Woman. This nine-issue outing retells Wonder Woman’s origin on Themyscira and her first encounter with the world of man in a way that distills the best, most hopeful aspects of the character for a brand-new audience—as well as the legion of Wonder Woman fans unhappy with her inconsistent treatment over the years. Illustrated with a clean line and clear respect for the subject matter, The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins is the best sequential introduction to a character everyone is going to be talking about in 2017, as the heroine becomes the first female character to headline a solo superhero flick. Steve Foxe

13. Moon Cop
Writer/Artist: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Tom Gauld is the book-lover’s cartoonist. His comics appear regularly in populist high-minded publications like The Guardian and New Scientist, where they focus on literary genres, both fiction and nonfiction. They’re silly, but in a serious manner, where a sandpaper-dry delivery renders the absurd amusing. Gauld demonstrates a very British way of executing humor—the appearance of noisy attention-grabbing is strenuously avoided for more casual methods of engagement. At the same time, the comics swim in melancholy, even when they aim to make you giggle. Gauld’s simplified forms, which often appear in silhouette, have skinny arms and legs. If they have faces at all, he often defines those faces only with eyes and an occasional nose. This visual technique, along with the figures’ restrained body language, can make the characters seem down, and an atmosphere of failure pervades the strips (because failure is much funnier than success).

His latest work, Mooncop, is a great exercise in restraint: a brief page count, panels with an Ernie Bushmiller level of minimalism, emotions expressed with body language and a few words. Yet, despite its location, it’s not airless. Gauld mixes sweetness and melancholy in a story that’s slim but not slight. Hillary Brown

12. Black Hammer
Writer:   Jeff Lemire  
Artist: Dean Ormston
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Jeff Lemire’s portrait of a rural, dream-like (surrural?) town and the family of retired superheroes inexplicably trapped in its borders continues to be one of the most moody, captivating titles from the author in years. The comic pivots from the nostalgic battles of the characters’ pasts to the conflicts raging inside their heads as they navigate involuntary retirement. Ultimately, Black Hammer is an accessible, articulate comic that would be welcome to fans of post-prime-time series like The Leftovers and The Path, drawn with sinewy darkness by Dean Ormston. Sean Edgar

11. Monstress
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics 

Monstress may flaunt an exterior filled with unicorns, multi-tailed cats and angelic warriors, but much like its titular heroine, it hides something far more savage inside. Seriously: shit gets real dark real quick. Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda fearlessly address human trafficking, experimentation and the horrors of war through the travails of Maika Halfwolf, a survivor hiding a blood-thirsty behemoth in her soul—both metaphorically and literally. Takeda contrasts an escapist world and adorable character designs against unflinching horror, illuminating warfare’s brutality no matter the context. Liu has also constructed an ornate background mythology, where ruthless humans, body-harvesting witches and magical hybrids don’t even attempt to co-exist. Though the denseness of the plot and the streams of exposition don’t make Monstress the most accessible of comics, there’s nothing else like it on the stands. Sean Edgar

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