Come on, can I really kick off 2016 with anything other than a top ten list of 2015’s comics? Okay, I know I could have closed out 2015 with said list, but in case you missed it — Star Wars happened. I’ve been a bit distracted. And also, as I pointed out at the top of last year’s list, I really don’t like compiling top ten lists until the entire year is over. Who knows what gems could drop in December?!
But 2015 is over now and I’m ready to dive into 2016. I’m also ready to not get behind on my reading like I did in the last few months; I guess a side effect of “Star Wars” mania is letting digital to-read piles grow uncontrollably. So here are the top ten titles I enjoyed in 2015 (and you can also see what the CBR staff chose as their top picks for the year). I read a lot more than this, close to 450 single issues last year, but this is what stuck with me. And to show how jam-packed the year was, a few of my fave books that I’ve written about in this space before (“Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Secret Wars”) barely missed the cutoff.
And now, on with the countdown.
10. The Vision #1-2 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Tom King; art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta; colored by Jordie Bellaire; lettered by Clayton Cowles; edited by Will Moss, Chris Robinson
What is this book? I’ll admit that after 25 years of nonstop comic reading, it takes a lot to stand out from what, at times over my life, a hobby that can feel like a slog. Reading “Vision” #1, a book I really had little interest in at first, gave me a major jolt. Usually when Avengers get solo titles, they’re more of the same superhero fare. Instead, this feels like Marvel’s first true prestige drama — like the AMC or HBO equivalent of a super-series. The book, which follows Vision and the family he made for himself as they move to the suburbs, filters the weirdness of the Marvel Universe through a family drama, offering relevant takes on modern cultural issues of prejudice and assimilation, while also injecting the story with true horror — both psychological and physical. Listen: I now care about two pink robot teenagers, and it only took two issues for that to happen. And unlike so many other superhero comics, I have no idea where this is going. That’s exhilarating.
9. Ms. Marvel v3 #11-19, v4 #1-2 (Marvel Comics)
Written by G. Willow Wilson; art by Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa and Elmo Bondoc; colored by Ian Herring; lettered by Joe Caramagna; edited by Sana Amanat, Nick Lowe, Charles Beacham
This book continues to be as delightfully and refreshingly fun in 2015 — even if this year contained a story wherein Kamala Khan watched the entire world get destroyed. So you know, not exactly light fare. But before that world-crushing “Secret Wars” tie-in, which brought Ms. Marvel adorkably face-to-face with Captain Marvel, G. Willow Wilson and Takeshi Miyazawa gave Kamala an Inhuman love story packed with twists provided by the book’s progressive P.O.V. Thankfully the world didn’t end and we have a new ongoing series, one that’s putting Ms. Marvel up against a new adversary — super villain gentrification. This book is no longer the new kid on Marvel’s block; this is now a veteran series quickly approaching the start of its third year. The book is still top notch exploring new territory. Success has only made this title more fearless and ambitious.
8. The Fade Out #4-11 (Image Comics)
Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Sean Phillips; colored by Bettie Breitweiser; edited by David Brothers, Sebastian Girner
If anything was going to scratch my itch for brooding drama set in past decades following the end of “Mad Men,” it was “The Fade Out.” After making a stylish debut last year, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ “The Fade Out” continued its slow burn throughout 2016 as the mystery behind the death of starlet Valeria Sommers plagued screenwriter Charlie Parish. Sleek and smart, every issue of “The Fade Out” felt like slipping into a completely different, dangerous time — meaning the book more than succeeded in capturing the vibe of McCarthy-era Hollywood. And to be honest and superficial at the same time, the fact that I bear a slight resemblance to the bespectacled protagonist only made me more invested. I now basically have Sean Phillips-illustrated avatars of almost-me getting punched square in the nose. How could I not love this series?
7. Ant-Man #1-5, Ant-Man Annual #1, Ant-Man: Last Days #1, Astonishing Ant-Man #1-3 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Nick Spencer; art by Ramon Rosanas, Brent Schoonover; colored by Jordan Boyd; lettered by Travis Lanham; edited by Will Moss, Jon Moisan, Tom Brevoort, Chris Robinson
I will admit that I initially bemoaned “Ant-Man” as being a tie-in to the next big Marvel movie. “Of course there’s an ‘Ant-Man’ comic, big whoop,” was probably what (narrow-minded) past me thought. So yeah, I was surprised when I responded so strongly to this series. Nick Spencer proved with “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” that he’s the wittiest writer in superhero comics, and he continued to live up to that superlative all year long with “Ant-Man.” The book stars a gay robot and a man in a bear costume — what’s not to love? But “Ant-Man” was also heartbreaking at times, with hapless hero Scott Lang struggling in his professional life and personal life. Despite all the title and numbering changes (ah, the story of comics in 2015!), this book was consistently entertaining all year long.
6. Paper Girls #1-3 (Image Comics)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Cliff Chiang; colored by Matt Wilson; lettered by Jared Fletcher
Brian K. Vaughan launched a number of fascinating new series in 2015 (shout out to Steve Skroce’s dazzling return alongside Vaughan in “We Stand On Guard”), but none felt so fully realized and downright fun as the 1980s-set “Paper Girls.” The series follows a group of teenage newspaper delivery girls as they’re witness to invaders that seem both extraterrestrial and other dimensional; the series mixes in “what the?”-worthy reveals right in with nuanced character dynamics. The book feels like watching “E.T.” or listening to “Like a Virgin” or looking through old photo albums; it feels so intrinsically ’80s, but in a way that’s void of guilty-pleasure-nostalgia. It feels real. But as interesting as the story is, and it’s hella engrossing for sure, Cliff Chiang’s artwork makes this an essential read. This series allows him to cut loose alongside frequent collaborator Matt Wilson and earnestly weave Reagan-era details into the narrative.
5. Captain America: Sam Wilson #1-4 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Nick Spencer; art by Daniel Acuna, Mike Choi, Paul Renaud; colored by Daniel Acuna, Mike Choi, Romulo Fajardo Jr.; lettered by Joe Caramagna; edited by Tom Brevoort, Katie Kubert, Alanna Smith
2015 wasn’t an election year, but you wouldn’t know that just by turning on any news station or late night show. As a guy that tends to eat breakfast to “The Daily Show” and work to the sounds of MSNBC anchors repeating the same half dozen stories all day, I definitely feel the highly political vibe of “Captain America: Sam Wilson.” This book played off the very real schism forming in America’s population with a keen eye towards realism; remember, this book predicted the super-right-wing reaction it would get and put it right there in the opening issue. Spencer even pulled off making Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson disagree while maintaining both characters’ integrity, proving that all sides have nuance to them. And in a book that could easily become overly dramatic, Daniel Acuna’s brightly colored pop art provides a tonal check that makes this socially conscious book thoroughly superheroic. But Spencer, never one to shy away from a good joke, also made this book fun. Misty Knight’s continued glee over seeing Sam turn into a Cap-Wolf is delightful, and the book is hilariously self-aware about the fact that a bunch of guys in snake costumes have now gone corporate.
4. Spider-Woman v5 #5-10, Spider-Woman v6 #1-2 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Dennis Hopeless; art by Javier Rodriguez and Natacha Bustos; inked by Alvaro Lopez; colored by Javier Rodriguez, Muntsa Vicente, Veronica Gandini; lettered by Travis Lanham; edited by Nick Lowe, Devin Lewis
If any book is gonna pick up the torch passed from “Daredevil” to “Hawkeye,” it might just be “Spider-Woman.” With just one format change (Jessica Drew: Private Investigator) “Spider-Woman” instantly morphed into a book unlike any on the market. Armed with a redesign from Kris Anka and gorgeously pop art interiors from Javier Rodriguez, this book began to turn one superhero trope after another on their head. Super villains became sympathetic! Jessica Drew is now dealing with pregnancy — and in a comparatively realistic and nuanced way, too! Now Jess is pregnant but no less aggressive, and Hopeless is using this opportunity to examine all the ways (both physical, mental, and emotional) that Spider-Woman is a true hero. It’s also refreshing to see that after turning in stunning fill-in work on “Daredevil,” Rodriguez finally has a series to unquestionably call his own. This book is a tour-de-force of visual storytelling every month, and the stories it tells are among the best superhero ones of the decade.
3. Invisible Republic #1-8 (Image Comics)
Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman; art by Gabriel Hardman; colored by Jordan Boyd; lettered by Dylan Todd; edited by Brenda Scott Royce
After honing their craft on politically tinged stories set in the “Planet of the Apes” and “Star Wars” universes, Bechko and Hardman went the creator-owned route with “Invisible Republic” and it paid off big time for me. Set on a colonized moon hundreds of years in the future, “Invisible Republic’s” dual narrative follows the rise of dictator Arthur McBride and one reporter’s quest to expose McBride’s past atrocities. While ostensibly a sci-fi series, the story itself is a tight political thriller infused with vulnerable humanity and strikingly realistic settings rendered in detail by Hardman. Pop culture has kinda grown allergic to original stories, with the constant resurrection of ’80s and ’90s franchises as TV shows and reboot/remake/sequel/prequel films as evidence. What I love about “Invisible Republic” is how new it is. It pulls from other sources, it draws inspiration from elsewhere, but it’s still a vitally new idea presented in quite possibly the most direct medium that exists — comics. Each issue is also augmented with fascinating science essays about space exploration by Bechko and process pieces by Hardman and colorist Jordan Boyd. Informative and concise, this book’s back matter enhances the experience better than any comic I’ve read. Each issue of “Invisible Republic” feels like its own world.
2. Daredevil #12-18 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Marc Guggenheim; art by Chris Samnee, Peter Krause; colored by Matt Wilson; lettered by Joe Caramagna; edited by Ellie Pyle, Sana Amanat, Nick Lowe, Charles Beachamâ€¨
Well, this book made me cry. I’ve written about this run many times before, as this is the “Daredevil” run that really cemented the character as my favorite non-mutant Marvel hero. And I lived with this run for over four years. That’s a significant chunk of time for a run to last, especially one as consistently revolutionary as Waid and Samnee’s work here. The last stretch of their run included a visit from the Purple Man, the return of Ikari and the subtle menace of the Shroud. And then the creators played their ace: the Kingpin, Daredevil’s definitive villain that they saved for the very end. Superhero comics rarely get runs like this anymore, and — at least for me — the finales never feel like that much of an event. This one did. That’s special. But even after that goodbye, there’s a hello coming up. I expect to see “Black Widow,” the book that the entire “DD” creative team is moving on to, near the top of 2016’s list.
1. Star Wars #1-13, Star Wars Annual #1 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen; art by John Cassaday, Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen, Mike Deodato, Angel Unzueta; inked by Wade von Grawbadger; colored by Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor, Frank Martin, Paul Mounts; lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, edited by Jordan D. White, Heather Antos, C.B. Cebulski
And you thought I’d go a week without writing about “Star Wars”? Not possible, not when I’m running through a list of my favorite comics of 2015! This comic surprised me more than any other series this year. Jason Aaron dumped all the “Star Wars” toys out of the Lucasfilm toy chest and slammed them together in brilliantly thrilling ways. Han Solo driving an AT-AT! Luke versus Boba Fett! Dengar actually doing something! It’s a testament to Jason Aaron’s writing that a book packed with this many references and callbacks still felt grounded and patient. But you know what? It felt like Star Wars, which is a surprisingly hard thing to do. Some “Star Wars” movies don’t feel like “Star Wars” to me, and yet this comic hit the mark every month. I look forward to seeing what this series takes on in 2016 — especially if there are any “Force Awakens” toys that Aaron’s dying to play with.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).