Comics

The 25 Best Comic Books of 2017

From Superhero Social Commentary to Deeply Personal Memoirs, These are the Best of the Best

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The 25 Best Comic Books of 2017

We’re not ashamed to admit that we had a beast of a time narrowing down our 25 favorite comics of 2017. While mainstream comics underwent tectonic shifts (Marvel’s Legacy initiative, DC’s dual explosions of Metal and Doomsday Clock), independent and original releases flourished from all corners—a clear development when you note that 13 different publishers and imprints are represented among our 25 picks. How do you rank a long-running and reliably excellent science-fiction family drama against an intimate memoir about loving and leaving dreams? Do you penalize a series for shipping sporadically if each issue to hit stands in 2017 landed with an utter gut-punch that left us reeling for months to come? The result of reconciling our various tastes is a mélange of superhero social commentary, immigration memoirs, meditations on monstrousness and caveman satire all occupying the same countdown. These comics, however far-reaching in their themes, styles and executions, are, quite simply, the best comics of 2017.

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25. The Flintstones
Writer: Mark Russell
Artists: Steve Pugh, Rick Leonardi
Publisher: DC Comics 
Paste is still mourning the loss of Mark Russell and artist Ben Caldwell’s Prez—could there be a better time for a spunky political palate cleanser?—but at least Russell had 12 full issues of The Flintstones (and soon Snagglepuss) to broadcast his subversive, socially skewed wit. Alongside artists Steve Pugh and Rick Leonardi, Russell has tackled commercialism, monogamy and race in this comic continuation of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This year has also introduced the goofy green alien, The Great Gazoo, as he grades humanity an “F” while the town of Bedrock grapples with the local church’s use of indulgences. Russell addressed similar territory in his hilarious prose Bible remix, God Is Disappointed in You, resulting in plenty of scholar-grade vitriol. Sean Edgar
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24. Shade the Changing Girl
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artists: Marley Zarcone, Marguerite Sauvage
Publisher: DC Comics/Young Animal
Like most of the Young Animal lineup, Shade fills the void left behind by ‘90s mature-comics staple Vertigo, a weird and wonderful adventure that feels like a gem from an indie publisher. A play on Steve Ditko’s Shade, the Changing Man (better known from Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo’s long Vertigo run with the character), Shade would be captivating if it only focused on the titular character’s alien origins and her adventures as she explores a foreign planet. But what really makes the book shine is the balance of the fantastical and mundane, recognizing that being a teenage girl isn’t all that different from being a super-powered alien with a magic coat that allows you to possess other people. Our teen years are marked by a youthful drive to escape the known and safe alongside curious shock at the behavior of others.

Marley Zarcone’s crisp but flexible art and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick’s palette are vital to making Shade into something both psychedelic and familiar, melting the reality around protagonist Loma even as she manipulates it to her will. This kind of introspective, kaleidoscopic jaunt isn’t unheard of in comics, but it is rare, if not completely unprecedented, to have it star a young woman. Loma is allowed to participate in all of the behaviors for which society often derides young women: she’s mean to her friends, obsessed with her social standing, constantly reaching for something new and unique. But this doesn’t make her any less compelling of a protagonist, or her journey of self-discovery any less important and enjoyable. It’s the perfect bridge to more adult comics for fans of shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe, rife with complicated characters and exciting adventures, but rooted in the desire to know both the world and oneself. Caitlin Rosberg
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23. The Best We Could Do
Writer/Artist: Thi Bui
Publisher: Abrams
A genre with clunky names including autobiographical novel and visual memoir, the ever-growing library of comics designed to encapsulate real lives is bringing a wide range of important stories to entirely new audiences. Following in the footsteps of authors like Gene Luen Yang and Lucy Knisley, Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do presents the story of the cartoonist’s family as it travels from Southeast Asia to America, and the position Bui finds herself caught in as she becomes sandwiched between her child and parents. As with many immigration stories, Bui’s book revolves around identity. The Best We Could Do has been a long time in the making, and its author sold early chapters online, but this printed volume collects all 15 in one place. Born in Saigon, Bui and her family came to America after the fall of South Vietnam, and her story offers readers a particular insight into the life of a family fleeing violence and fear in a time of political upheaval—a reminder of the micro consequences of macro political actions. Caitlin Rosberg
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22. Aliens: Dead Orbit
Writer/Artist: James Stokoe
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Like fellow precision artists Geof Darrow and the late, great Bernie Wrightson, James Stokoe doesn’t stop drawing until nearly every millimeter of canvas is shaded, hatched and/or stylized. As seen in Orc Stain and his Godzilla runs, a microscope is required to appreciate his images in their hyper-articulate, chiseled depth. In Aliens: Dead Orbit, Stokoe uses his talent to shape a cosmic graveyard of space junk, dwarfing in scope and mind-numbingly vast. Zoom in tightly enough, and one lone space engineer sits stranded in the wasteland. Though this miniseries utilizes one of the most iconic horror franchises in film history, it builds on its foundation by imposing a sheer sense of scale and futility. Yes, protagonist Wascylewski matches wits with Xenomorphs and facehuggers, but Stokoe’s art begs him what’s the point? in a celestial vacuum of hope, light years from any aid. Aliens: Dead Orbit is a Venn diagram of awe, depression and the ghost of salvation, all splayed on 6.63” x 10.24” paper that feels as big as the universe at its most indifferent. Sean Edgar

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21. Saga
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples 
Publisher: Image Comics 
If Saga’s 48 issues have confirmed anything, it’s that writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples are in this for the (very) long haul. At the end of this winding expedition of family, loyalty, sex and bananas sci-fi, grad students will write their thesis on this landmark comic and upcoming writers will avoid the genre, woefully sighing, I’m not touching that shit after Saga. The first act witnessed two star-crossed alien lovers give birth to a hybrid baby, united in an us-against-the-universe struggle as two amoral armies pursued them. The second act showed how the greatest battles—drug addiction, infidelity and doubt—can emerge in the most peaceful lulls. The third struck a personal blow against parent heroes Alana and Marko midway through. Reading Saga is experiencing an obsessive simulation of a family’s life-span, far more real than any comic with preying mantis school teachers should ever be. The creative team hasn’t stopped melding sucker-punch creativity with gut-wrenching drama, and not one issue has failed to warrant our endorsement. Sean Edgar
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20. God Country
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Publisher: Image Comics 
Plenty of comics deal with religion, including the pop-star cosmology of The Wicked + The Divine, the apocalyptic prophecies of East of West, the blasphemous absurdity of Battle Pope and the John Wayne-flavored sacrilege of Preacher. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s classic series about a wayward holy man imbued with the power of a minor deity had a lot to say about Texas and God, two huge entities that also figure into the new Image series God Country, written by Donny Cates and illustrated by Geoff Shaw with colorist Jason Wordie. Cates and Shaw have crafted a take on religion and family that’s personal and compelling, and it’s little surprise that Marvel reunited the pair on Thanos. Despite its larger-than-life scale, God Country feels like a very personal story about sticking by family members, even when all logic would say it’s time to let go. Mark Peters
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19. Spy Seal
Writer/Artist: Rich Tomasso
Publisher: Image Comics 
Spy Seal cartoonist Rich Tommaso made headlines after lamenting low orders for his vibrant new book. It’s a shame as the cartoonist is clearly talented and funneling a cool aesthetic—the clean, ‘60s Franco-Belgian all-ages fun of Tintin—in his marine mammal mystery. It marks the third visual pivot from Tommaso at publisher Image, first with the pot-boiler noir Dark Corridor and then the watercolor ‘80s horror of She Wolf. As with those previous entries, Tommaso embraces every aspect of his adopted aesthetic. The benign, simple font, an adherence to color fills instead of gradients, and an overall devotion to clarity make Spy Seal look more like a relic that exists inside of Wes Anderson’s head instead of a comic from a mainstream publisher. Fortunately, it is, and it is damn delectable. Buying this series is cultivating a marketplace willing to breach house styles and stretch the color palette range a few shades beyond the customary, and allowing yourself to be surprised by artistic legacies that shouldn’t belong solely in history books. Sean Edgar
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18. House of Women
Writer/Artist: Sophie Goldstein
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
Alternately spiky and luscious, House of Women draws you in by receding. Cartoonist Sophie Goldstein writes with economy about an interstellar commune of ladies, but the resulting story isn’t irritatingly arty or hard to follow; it’s not drawn by a comics artist only for other comics artists who speak the lingo and can read the subtext. It’s no surprise, in fact, that Margaret Atwood (restless, relentless experimenter, unafraid to leap into any genre that grabs her interest, including comics) is an inspiration for this female-centered and complexly feminist story of colonization and controlled social dynamics. Goldstein provides no easy answers—the book is thematically driven rather than focused on plot first and foremost—but she knows how to be just difficult enough. Hillary Brown
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17. Sticks Angelica
Writer/Artist: Michael DeForge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Sticks Angelica is not Michael DeForge’s most serious work. Rendered in black, white and magenta, it’s a vehicle for play. That’s not to say it doesn’t have melancholy moments. The plot is full of missed connections between characters and places, the meaning behind an utterance failing to jump the gap from one brain to another. All of these scenes are faintly sad, but they also have some sweetness to them. The geese, fish, deer, bears, humans, insects and rabbits who populate the book keep trying to reach one another; sometimes, but not frequently, they succeed. The ideas are interesting, and the individual strips, with their delicate patterns and intelligent use of color, produce a mindful, existential experience. Is there meaning in the world? In the wilderness? In the universe? Who knows. But there is art, and DeForge is making it. Hilary Brown
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16. California Dreamin’
Writer/Artist: Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second
Pénélope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas offers a daunting proposition. The era of ‘60s flower-child music is over-romanticized, the outlines of Elliot’s life are well known and the subject is primarily auditory, which makes it difficult for a medium that doesn’t cater to that sense. But Bagieu clears those hurdles with style while depicting the life of a woman who made huge musical contributions, despite struggling with her body image and substance abuse. The cartoonist works in pencils, with no color, but the graphic novel doesn’t need bright hues to roil with life. Bagieu’s line feels personal, as though the reader puts it down on the page with their eyes as they read it. Instead of being cleaned with ink and Photoshop, the aesthetic has an organic quality that fits the story of a woman defined by rough and soft contrasts. It’s a wary love song to a complicated artist who provided the world with moments of flowery joy. Hilary Brown
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