Well, twelve more months of comic book goodness are in the bag, and it’s safe to say that it has been yet another great year packed with fantastic titles from almost every publisher. The small press scene, particularly in the UK, continues to boom, and with more and more publishers and creators reaching out to us here at the Big Comic Page (thanks guys!), we’ve been exposed to more even great books in 2016 than ever before.
Which is exactly what makes this time of year a little tricky for us reviewer types as we try to sift through the comics we’ve read in order to select the best of the best (#BCPproblems, amirite?). And with our awesome review team putting out close to 650 reviews – and counting! – in 2016 so far, we’ve all been truly spoiled for choice.
As usual, I’ve opted to kick things off, and I want to quickly preface my picks with the fact that my choices – the top five series in particular – were incredibly difficult to decide this year.
Anyway, enough rambling. Let’s see what I enjoyed most from the last twelve months…
Best Publisher – Vertigo Comics
A lot of companies have had impressive years, but for my money none have managed to crank out the consistently brilliant string of titles that the DC’s rejuvenated Vertigo imprint has. I mean, with books like The Dark & Bloody, The Sheriff of Babylon, Unfollow, Red Thorn, Clean Room, Frostbite, Suiciders: Kings of Hell.A, Jacked and Everafter – to name but a few – the sheer range of diverse, challenging and imaginative content being churned out by these guys and gals on a pretty much weekly basis is pretty difficult to argue with.
Honourable Mentions: Image Comics, DC Comics
Best Writer – Tom King
While his run on DC’s post-Rebirth Batman title may have divided fan opinion somewhat, King’s work on Marvel’s Vision and Vertigo’s Sheriff of Babylon make him a worthy candidate for ‘Writer of the Year’ in my mind. Vision may very well be the least ‘Marvel’ Marvel book of all time, with a gripping, imaginative and frequently dark take on the fan-favourite Avenger, while Sheriff of Babylon is (spoiler!) my absolute favourite title of 2016, featuring some of the best characterization you’re ever likely to read in a comic book and a gripping, uncompromisingly realistic take on the war in Iraq.
Honourable Mentions: Jason Aaron, Marguerite Bennett.
Best Artist – Ian Bertram
2016 has been a great year for artists, with a wide range of different styles and approaches earning the ‘Ceej Stamp of Approval’ (whatever the hell that’s worth) over the last twelve months. However, when making my final decision, I decided to go with my gut and pick the artist whose work impacted me the most this year, and in that respect, it was difficult to make any other choice than Ian Bertram. His work on House of Penance from Dark Horse Comics is utterly sublime, mixing astonishing technical draughtsmanship with a keenly sense of disturbing horror and some immaculately detailed linework. An absolute visual masterclass, and about as visually striking a horror comic as you’re ever likely to see.
Honourable Mention: Juan Ferreyra, Mitch Gerads, Skottie Young.
Top 5 Series of 2015 (in no particular order)
Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo Comics) – Okay, so I lied. This list is in a particular order. Or rather, Sheriff of Babylon has to come first, simply because I absolutely adored pretty much everything about it. No slight to any of the other titles on this list, but Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ gritty, compelling and emotive take on the fallout of the Iraq war had it all; fascinating characters, gorgeously understated artwork, a fascinatingly fluid narrative, and – perhaps most importantly – a worthy message at its heart about the real affect war has on people. Utterly sublime stuff, and far and away my favourite comic of the last twelve months.
Animosity (Aftershock Comics) – Marguerite Bennett and Rafael De Latorre’s Animosity is one of the most brilliantly varied books of the year, able to make you recoil in horror, snort with laughter and feel a lump in your throat pretty much simultaneously – a feat few, if any, comics can ever hope to achieve. Sharply written and gorgeously illustrated, this tale of a world where animals ‘wake up’ and start talking, fighting and acting like quote-unqoute “people” serves as the crown jewel in the already glittering crown of upstart publisher Aftershock Comics. Plus, as a result of its incredibly wide-ranging appeal, it’s also probably the comic I’d recommend most to each and every one of you reading this right now.
House of Penance (Dark Horse Comics) – I love horror comics. That’s something which has been well documented over the years. I love in-your-face body horror, I love subtle, psychological horror, and I flat-out love Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram’s House of Penance. Telling a (hopefully) fictional account of the mysterious Winchester Mystery House, the story features two incredibly intriguing protagonists – the house’s troubled architect Sarah Winchester and the equally troubled Warren Peck – coming together and forming an unusual bond as a result of their shared torment. It also features, as I mentioned above, some of the best artwork you’re likely to see in a comic this year courtesy of Bertram, with several genuinely haunting moments that are likely to stay with the reader long after they’ve put the comic down.
The Dark & Bloody (Vertigo Comics) – While adopting a slightly more traditional approach to the world of horror than the frequently surrealist, psychologically disorientating House of Penance, The Dark & Bloody features one of the most brilliantly executed body horror sequences I can remember reading. Wrapped round the truly relatable struggle of moonshine-brewing family man Iris Gentry, who returns from Iraq a changed man as a result of his actions (or should that be inactions?) only to find the sins of his past coming back to haunt him in a very real way. Both Shawn Aldridge and Scott Godlewski deserve all the credit in the world for weaving such a tightly-structured, utterly captivating tale with an intriguing moral message at its heart and, again, one of the best-designed “monsters” I’ve seen in a long, long time.
The Paybacks (Heavy Metal) – Ahhh, The Paybacks. One of my Top 5 comics of 2015 when it was published by Dark Horse Comics, and – thanks to the wonderful intervention of Heavy Metal Magazine – one of my favourite comics of 2016 as well. As I mentioned in one of my reviews, this series feels like it was written specifically for me, perfectly matching my sense of humour and staying on just the right side of outright insanity to keep me utterly entertained throughout. Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal bring the wittiness, the pop culture references and the slapstick silliness in equal measure, but also manage to wrap them all around a fantastically gripping story in its own right, all wonderfully illustrated by the supremely talented Geoff Shaw. Gone but not forgotten, yo. #PopsicleClub for life!
Honourable Mentions: Snowblind (BOOM! Studios), Red Thorn (Vertigo Comics), Faith (Valiant Entertainment), Unfollow (Vertigo Comics), I Hate Fairyland (Image Comics), The Goddamned (Image Comics), Roche Limit: Monadic (Image Comics), and I could probably list about another dozen more, but I won’t.