Comics in their essence are a serialized art form. We might discuss arcs and runs, trading waiting and so on, yet , most comics are still centered on the experience of reading individual chapters parceled out over a (typically) monthly basis. With this in mind, I offer my third annual list of the year’s most memorable single issues.
I start with my choices for the two very best:
Sandman Overture #6 by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III: Dream’s cosmic journey across a universe (or two) came to a stunning conclusion in this issue. The issue contained several callbacks to Gaiman’s classic work, yet not none of them felt like self-serving fan service. Instead they enriched even further the fascinating personalities of the Dream Lord and his siblings. At the same time, Gaiman offered a story where the stakes were huge. Williams more than ably met the challenge of Gaiman’s script handing in page after page of stunning art. His detailed, imaginative work defied any traditional sense of page layouts, spilling the action in all directions. Rarely have words and pictures blended so well to create a truly emotional experience on an epic scale. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
The Wicked + The Divine #13 by Kieron Gillen, Tula Lotay & Jamie McKelvie: This issue shined the spotlight on Pantheon member Tara and in the process dug deep into the dysfunctional nature of celebrity culture. Prior to deification, Tara was a young woman who simply wished to be judged by her merits instead of the good looks that seemed more like a curse than a blessing. This trend continued after achieving a fame she never sought. Every time she tried to refine her image, she simply felt more confined, more trapped within the limits of how others wanted to view her. And then came the negative internet chatter, nicknaming her “fucking Tara.” The woman who only wanted the freedom to be her own person instead witnessed the public judge her merit solely on the size of her breasts. It is a heart-breaking story powerfully rendered by Gillen, Lotay and McKelvie. Tara may be gone but she will not soon be forgotten. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
The remaining selections are simply listed alphabetically.
8house Kiem #3 by Brandon Graham & Xurxo G. Penalta: One of the most ambitious projects of the year was Brandon Graham’s 8house, wherein a variety of creators joined Graham in investigating different facets of a shared fantasy world. Each book carved out its own distinct style, the most striking of which was Kiem. Graham and Penalta spin a compelling story of a young soldier who finds herself singled out for a special mission. The real star of the issue, though, is Penalta’s art which is bursting with detail and atmosphere. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Airboy #1 by James Robinson & Greg Hinkle: In this age of advance solicitations, it is unusual for readers to pick up an issue with no-preconceived idea of what to expect. Airboy though proved to be an exception. James Robinson hinted that the series would get a little meta, though never really elaborated. What readers got with the initial chapter was a self-portrait of the writer as a middle-aged, blocked depressive. Robinson and collaborator (in more ways than one) Greg Hinkle wander through the streets of San Fransisco stumbling from one fast thrill to another. it was a fascinating bit of (bluntly honest) character study which would only deepen as the series continued. Hinkle’s loose art was perfect match for their surreal odyssey. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Batman #44 by Scott Snyder, Brian Azzarello & Jock: Batman had a lot of splashy moments this year from the conclusion of Endgame to the initial outings of Jim Gordon’s time under the (metallic) cowl. Yet the most memorable impression the series made in 2015 was this low-key interlude story. Tangentially tying into Mr Bloom’s back story it is essentially a detective tale. A young man has been found dead, evidence points strongly in one direction, yet The World’s Greatest Detective suspects otherwise. However, the further he digs, the more complicated the picture grows (as illustrated by Jock’s stunning view of the Gotham skyline overlaid with text from competing viewpoints). Snyder and Azzarello effectively evoke contemporary social issues with an ending that suggests brute force is not always the best crime-fighting measure. Jock’s expressionistic art is the perfect fit for the story. For more, read Patrick’s staff review.
Deadly Class #12 by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig: The third arc of Deadly Class got off to a helluva start with this explosive issue. Past actions have come back to haunt Marcos and his companions. The issue is an action packed chase, propelled forward by the vibrant, adrenaline pumping art which is Craig’s specialty. Despite the hectic pace, Remender allows Marcos & Maria a moment to catch their breath, reminding readers that these characters are struggling with many of the same growing pains of adolescence that everyone does. All in all, a fantastic start to what would proved to be another stellar arc of Deadly Class. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
East of West #22 by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta: A simple concept executed beautifully. An assassination squad strikes, easily reaching the inner sanctum of Xiaolian but that is where their luck ends. Cornered and alone, Xiaolian proves to be every inch the warrior her father raised her to be. She rapidly dispatches her would-be killers with deadly grace. Dragotta’s always dynamic art coneys all the drama of the moment with a visceral charge. He also keeps the focus on Xiaolian’s actions, never rendering her in a leering matter (Xiaolian was surprised in her bath). In such a way, Hickman and Dragotta add their contribution to the legacy of silent issues, while also presenting a stirring portrait of a woman warrior. For more, read Patrick’s Week’s Finest review.
Flash Gordon #8 by Jeff Parker & Evan “Doc” Shaner: What makes a hero? When it comes to Flash Gordon, it is easy to assume that the answer is straight-forward: bravado, skill, luck and a bit more bravado. Yet, what Parker does so well in this issue is shift the focus from derring-do to introspection. Flash’s return to Earth is bittersweet; instead of basking in his newfound fame, he cannot help but feel doors of opportunity shutting behind him. In the end, a hero is not defined by how many idolize you, but by how you continue to strive, always reaching further. In such a way, Parker and Shaner provide a lovely coda to their excellent run. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Hawkeye #22 by Matt Fraction & David Aja: One of the lessons of 2015 was that fans need to complain less about delays. Sandman Overture and Secret Wars were both drawn out by delays, yet each new issue proved the wait was worth it. The same applies to the final issue of Fraction’s Hawkeye which some fans began to doubt if it would ever arrive; Marvel for their part went ahead and launched a new Jeff Lemire series. However, once #22 dropped it was clearly worth all the gripping. Fraction and Aja flawlessly bring their acclaimed series to close, hitting all the beats which made the title such a success. Clint, Kate & Lucky quip and saunter their way to victory over the Tracksuits. Clint’s brother sails off into a sunset. Aja’s art is as dynamic and kinetic as ever. Hawkeye helped define a period in Marvel; as Fraction, Kot and others take their leave of the company, Hawkeye #22 serves as a fitting grace note for their contributions to The House of ideas. For more, read Patrick’s Week’s Finest review.
Ms. Marvel #17 by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona: One of the surprising aspects of the whole Secret Wars project was how strong many of the tie-ins were. Wilson took advantage of the situation to explore another step of Kamala’s growth as a heroine. In this issue she teamed up with her idol Carol Danvers to rescue her brother. Wilson brought out both the joy Kamala feels in meeting Captain Marvel, along with the distress of current events. Kamala is forced to confront the tough lesson that no hero can ever save everyone (if the scene with the abandoned cats does not melt your heart, you do not have one). Alphona provided his loose, emotive style which fits so well with Wilson’s scripts. Together they produced one of the most poignant reading experience of the year.
New MGMT #1 by Matt Kindt: For the past three years, Kindt’s Mind MGMT has been one of the most consistently strong books on the shelf. With New MGMT, Kindt brings the series to a fitting conclusion. The dust has settled from the previous chapter’s action-packed climax. The surviving characters go about trying to find their place in new circumstances. Setting aside conflict, they seek instead empathy. Meru wants to create a new MGMT dedicated more to compassion rather than confrontation. A series of scenes emphasizes this as agents reach out to those in need. The most moving sequence is when Henry finally finds closure for the horror he sparked in Zanzibar. Throughout, Kindt’s lovely art beautifully suits the story. It is a powerful closing installment worthy of such a stellar series. For more, read Cosmo’s Week’s Finest review.
Omega Men #2 by Tom King & Barnaby Bagenda: This year Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda took a team of obscure cosmic characters and turned them into one of the most talked about new series of the year. They did so through a combination of insightful writing and dynamic art, both of which is on full display in this issue. What most comics would take as a fairly straightforward good/evil tale of a repressive dictatorship, King takes in a different direction. The heroes do not rush in to save the day, keeping their eye instead on the wider battle. It is impossible to save all the people, so they should focus instead on saving the most people and sometimes, that involves making tough choices. It does not help when the local authorities exploit their overloads’ punishment as a means for meting out revenge for their own local grievances (reflective of King’s experience in Iraq?). Barnaby’s art shines throughout highlighting both the fast-paced drama and the internal dilemmas. All in all, a perfect summation of what made Omega Men one of the brightest new stars of 2015.
Paper Girls #2 by Brian K Vaughan & Cliff Chiang: In this issue, Vaughan deepened the mystery, which in and of itself is not surprising. What is impressive is how Vaughan is able to do so on multiple levels. On one, more fantastical creatures are appearing on the ground and in the air. Meanwhile, all the adults seem to have disappeared. However, the heart of this issue is not anything directly related to the otherworldly; instead it’s a monologue delivered by Mac’s stepmother, whose been overwhelmed by recent events, having become convinced that they are experiencing The Rapture. Little shocked to find herself left behind, she is drunk and contemplating suicide. This insightful piece of character work is a terrific example of Vaughan’s ability to make even the most unfamiliar situation relatable. Chiang proves himself an excellent Vaughan collaborator by channeling all those story elements with equal skill. For more, read Dean’s Week’s Finest review.
Secret Wars #8 by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic: The first half of Secret Wars lingered over the world-building, detailing what Battleworld was, how it came to be, and how it functioned. Then in the second half, Hickmam proceeded to tear it all apart. This process reached a fever pitch in #8, an all out, crazed battle royal. Hickman orchestrated the melee expertly, smoothly transitioning between different fronts, while reminding readers of his keen sense of humor. Meanwhile, Ribic continues to turn in the best art of his already impressive career. It has often been observed that the best Secret Wars tie-ins were the ones, like Weirdworld, which took the blank slate of Battleworld to let their imagination run wild. In Secret Wars #8 Hickman and Ribic demonstrate how true that applies to the main series as well. Plus a stunning final page which leaves readers eager to see what happens next. For more, read Cosmo’s Week’s Finest review.
Secret Wars, Secret Love by Various: Secret Love represents well Marvel’s willingness to be unconventional in 2015. It is an anthology dedicated to a less serviced genre which also tied-in to a massive company wide Event. The roll of the die worked, producing one of the most delightful issues of the year. From Michel Fiffe’s affectionate homage to Ann Nocenti/John Romita Jr era Daredevil to Felipe Smith’s charming meeting of Ms. Marvel & Ghost Rider to date night with Danny Rand & Misty Knight to Squirrel Girl’s evening out with Thor to “Happy Ant-Inversary”‘s wordless re-imagining of the Marvel Universe from an insect’s perspective, this issue did not miss a beat. Hopefully its success will convince Marvel to pursue more titles of its kind in 2016. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Sex Criminals #12 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky: The first arc of Sex Criminals was focused on the thrills of falling head-first into a new relationship; the second was about the stressful complications of actually trying to build something long-term with that person. The current arc has broadened the scope to an exploration of the vast diversity of sexual experience. This was brilliantly done in #12 as Fraction weaved the continued adventures of Jon and Suzie with Robert Rainbow’s growing insecurity about his new girlfriend’s vaster sexual history with a lecture by Professor Ana Kincaid debunking the idea of any sexual “normalcy.” Fraction expertly balances all these tones so that the script flows naturally, never losing sight of the combination of humor and relatable characters which made the series so appealing from the start. At the same time, Zdarsky adds his trademark goofy, imaginative art (ranging from an inspired anime parody to a penis filled dream sequence). All in all, proof that the series is still as strong as ever. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Shutter #8 by Joe Keatinge & Lelia Del Duca: Shutter #8 opens with one the most original ideas of the year: telling the origin of Cassius, formerly Alarm Cat, through old comic strips. Keatinge and Del Duca perfectly evoke the spirit of each strip while also being able to advance the narrative of how Alarm Cat came to be. From there the narrative plunges into its usual fast-paced, wildly imaginative mode. After a strong start in 2014, Shutter shifted into high gear in 2015, rising from promising newcomer to one of the best books on the shelves. The reasons why are fully on display here. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.
Southern Bastards #11 by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour: One of the strengths of Southern Bastards has been how it has gradually expanded its canvas. This was especially clear during the current arc, as Aaron shined the spotlight on various members of Craw County’s society. For #11, Aaron chose to focus on Boone who stood outside the community. Living in the forests, frequenting a snake-handling revival church, Boone sees himself as the epitome of true country. A fascinating character, he represents well Aaron’s ability to treat his roots both sympathetically and honestly. Latour adapts his art to Boone sensibility, bringing a new lushness to the page in order to illustrate Boone’s love for the natural world. Taken together this issue is a good demonstration of why Southern Bastards was one of the strongest series of the year.
The Surface #2 by Ales Kot & Langdon Foss: Ales Kot has long been a fascinating writer, though one where his head sometimes got in the way of his heart. What made 2015 such a breakthrough year for him was the new depths of emotion he was able to convey in books as diverse as Secret Avengers, Material & The Surface. The most ambitious of these was The Surface which weaved political speculation, psychedelic imagery (strikingly rendered by Langdon Foss) and resonant character work into one compelling whole. All those elements are strongly on display in #2, which illustrates how The Surface was one of the most fascinating experiments of the year. For more, read Cosmo’s Week’s Finest review.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7 by Ryan North & Erica Henderson: Squirrel Girl has been an absolute pleasure from the beginning and this issue captures many of the reasons. Our heroine is challenged by an ancient evil in the form of Ratatoskr (see Wikipedia) which is manipulating people’s innate rage, turning simmering disagreements over databases or breakfast entries into violent brawls. Through it all, Squirrel Girl glides, full of her positive can-do spirit, her faithful allies (Tippy-Toe!)by her side. North and Henderson craft a delightful issue, an equal mix of humor and adventure. In other words, pure fun. For more, read Cosmo’s staff review.