2017 proved to be a surprisingly great year for comics, with strong work coming from all quarters throughout the past 12 months. When faced with so many good comics on the stands, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed when looking for something to read. Far better, then, to read on and look at what’s available via category — or, if you’re feeling particularly bold, go for everything and pride yourself on being very well-read.
Best Mainstream Superhero Series: Batman by Tom King, Mikel Janin, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, et al.
If you read one Batman comic this year, it should be Batman Annual No. 2, which is a love story between the Dark Knight and Catwoman, and likely to break your heart just a little bit. But that issue is just part of King’s masterful undoing of the emotional lockdown of Bruce Wayne, which has included an engagement to Catwoman, an exploration of his friendship with Superman, and a flashback to what he believes is his biggest failure as a superhero. With art from an array of talents, each one bringing a particular flavor and humanity to proceedings, it’s a very different take on the Bat-mythos, and one that’s constantly surprising; who would have expected a story that paired Batman with Elmer Fudd — yes, that Elmer Fudd — to be one of the year’s highlights?
Best Metaphor for 2017: Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
If Batman allowed writer Tom King to go deep on DC’s premiere character, Mister Miracle is an arguably more psychologically deep exploration of a far more obscure character — as well being as a dysfunctional family drama, study of depression and a guide to how to navigate a world that isn’t quite what it appears. In addition to being funnier than what that description might suggest, the comic’s secret weapon is almost certainly artist Mitch Gerads, whose work adds an essential understated humanity to events as they unfold, as well as a smart sense of both design and color that many mainstream comics would do well to try and learn from. For those wishing that an “adult superhero comic” meant more than just swearing and violence, Mister Miracle might just be the series you’ve been waiting for all along.
Best Metaphor for Adolescence: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
Ostensibly the journal of a young girl obsessed with monster comics and B-movies in 1960s Chicago, Ferris’ graphic novel debut is almost dizzying in both its depth and ambition; the book unfolds to include not only the political unrest of the 1960s, but also of Nazi Germany, as the journal’s author tries to solve the murder of her neighbor at the same time as struggling to deal with a difficult family situation, her relationship with her best friend whom she’s in love with and the very nature of art itself. Impressively, Monsters doesn’t just juggle this with ease, it weaves it all together in such a way that is magical, charming and addictive.
Best Teen Detective Series: Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero and Michael Walsh
The status quo of Marvel’s current Hawkeye series builds on a setup created during the critically acclaimed series by Matt Fraction and David Aja, but Thompson and Romero make Kate Bishop’s new career as a not-entirely-successful private eye in Los Angeles into something new, thanks to a knowing tone, quick wit and speedy execution that keeps the series moving forward at all times. Thompson continues to impress with her work (See below for another example), while clean line from Romero and Walsh, and coloring from Jordie Bellaire make each page an inviting proposition. It’s nothing like the Hawkeye fans know from the Marvel movies; it’s something far more fun, and far better.
Best Fantasy/Sci-fi: Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson
On the face of it, the high concept of Extremity might sound derivative — a family torn apart by a war that’s been going on for so long that the original causes have been replaced by grudges and a thirst for revenge, plus robots — but the execution takes all the influences, inspirations and predecessors and remakes them anew. Not since Image Comics’ Saga has a fantasy sci-fi comic arrived so fully-formed, or so immediately involving, but Johnson’s pacing is faster than that series, and his focus feels less on the larger world building — although he does that well, nonetheless — than the emotional journeys of his leading characters. Imagine Star Wars made by Studio Ghibli and you’re partway to what to expect, with all the thrills that suggests.
Best Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Captain Phasma by Kelly Thompson and Marco Checchetto
Sure, it sounds like a joke category, but there was a whole host of Star Wars material published by Marvel this year, from the ongoing monthly series set between the original two movies to the Poe Dameron series leading up to events in The Force Awakens. Against the stiff competition of Doctor Aphra — starring the original character who debuted in Marvel’s first Darth Vader series — the Captain Phasma series gave the chrome stormtrooper the spotlight she was never afforded in the movies, and the readers a chance to enjoy a surprisingly fun glimpse underneath the helmet of a character whose allegiance wasn’t exactly what fans of The Force Awakens might have expected.
Best First Contact: The Interview by Manuele Fior
The Interview tells multiple stories at once, as a therapist deals with the end of his marriage while also recovering from what may or may not be contact with an extra-terrestrial race, and perhaps falling in love with one of his patients, who may also be talking to the aliens. Told in slow, elliptical scenes that leave much to the reader, the experience of reading The Interview is purposefully disorienting and all the better for it, leading up to a climax that shows that everything the reader needed was right in front of them all along. A beautiful book that takes the appeal of Arrival to different (and arguably greater) heights, and a spectacular piece of speculative fiction.
Best Longform Payoff: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
The idea of successfully pulling an “everything you know is wrong” reveal three quarters of the way into a long-running serial feels almost parodic in this post-Lost world in which we’re living, yet despite all odds, The Wicked + The Divine did that very thing masterfully this year, with the yearlong Imperial Phase storyline ending with a couple of moments that no one saw coming. Even before that reveal, longtime creative partners Gillen and McKelvie (and colorist Matt Wilson, an integral part of this series pop-fueled appeal) were on fire, building tension as the literal gods of popular culture edged ever closer to their own timed demise and set about taking down each other — and the world around them — as they went. With just one year left, the series looks set to go out on a high in 2018.
Best Nonfiction: You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis
Sometimes, it’s the small things that count, and Davis’ travelogue of a cycle trip between states — from her parents house back home, off-road and by bicycle — is a celebration of that impulse, focusing on the tiny triumphs (The kindness of strangers, the surprise of riding further than expected on a given day) and the frailties of us all in such a way as to turn a specific experience into something universal, and charmingly heartwarming.