Top 10 of 2016: Comics and Graphic Novels

This is part four in a series of top ten lists. For movies, television shows, and books, check out their respective posts.

Out of all of the lists I made, this was the trickiest, because my comic book reading is pretty much all over the place. I read single issues, graphic novels, and the occasional manga series. Oftentimes, I read current releases, but I also dig into older runs. As a result, this list is kinda chaotic. I’ll try to be as honest about what I actually read without diving into information overload.

Without further ado, here are my top ten comics and graphic novels of 2016, leading up to my number one favorite.

10. Daredevil. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Chris Samnee– This year I finished off the longest run on Daredevil by reading the final two trades, and even those last few issues were pretty freakin’ fabulous. The Waid/Samnee run on Daredevil was exciting, and fun, but not afraid to get serious as well (they gave Foggy Nelson CANCER!). The artwork was dynamic and unique, and the characters were oh-so-lovable. I have yet to dive into the Charles Soule run, which follows this, but it has some sizable shoes to fill.

9. The Private Eye. Written by Brian K Vaughan. Illustrated by Marcos Martin– The Private Eye is a self published webcomic by Vaughan and Martin that has been collected into this ENORMOUS hardcover collection. And I don’t necessarily mean enormous page count. The panels here are some of the largest I’ve seen. The Private Eye has a singularly unique concept. In the future, The Cloud bursts, sending everyone’s private information out to the wild. To protect themselves, everyone takes on a secret identity, complete with costumes and masks. Take this cool worldbuilding and combine it with a noir-esque storyline and you have a comic that’s really worth your attention.

8. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Written and Illustrated by Jill Thompson– In this graphic novel, Jill Thompson re-imagines the Wonder Woman origin story in a rather surprising way. Sure, it involves amazons, and ends with Diana leaving Themyscira, but it also suggest that maybe growing up as a spoiled princess had some… adverse effects on Diana’s personality. As a result, Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is less about Diana discovering her powers, as much as it’s about what inspired her to become a good person. What brings this to the next level is the fact that the hand-painted style artwork is so gorgeous, almost more like a storybook then a comic. Not all existing fans will appreciate this portrayal of Wonder Woman, but if you’re looking for a good place to start with the character, then this would be a great choice.

7. Monstress. Written by Marjorie Liu. Illustrated by Sana TakedaMonstress is a grimdark fantasy that takes place in a gorgeously illustrated matriarchal fantasy world, involving Lovecraftian level horrors, and chibi-style sidekicks. And if that description sounds like your type of book, seriously, why haven’t you read this yet? Writer Marjorie Liu has really hit her sweet spot with this one, and Sana Takeda is one of the best artists currently making comics. I’ve only read the first trade, but I am so ready for volume two.

6. Saga. Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Illustrated by Fiona Staples– This is one of the comics I read in single issue form- although I am a couple issues behind due to holiday shenanigans. It says a lot about the quality of Saga given that this year produced the storyline that I’ve been the least fond of (the prison storyline) yet it’s still this high on on my list. So instead of falling in love with every issue, I merely enjoyed the crap out if it. Saga remains the perfect place to go for a wonderfully weird sci-fi adventure that’s not afraid to step on your heart every now and then. I’m really looking forward to catching up on this one.

5. Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat. Written by Kathe Leth. Illustrated by Brittney Williams– I’m also reading this one in single issue format, although it couldn’t be any more different than Saga if it tried. Patsy is a wonderfully relatable protagonist. She’s trying to help out people with superpowers who don’t necessarily want to become superheroes or villains, AND juggle her complicated past, while dealing with the crazy machinations of the Marvel universe. The fact that this comic feels so grounded while totally embracing the crazy-cakes backstory of the protagonists is a real testament to the writer, Kathe Leth. This is a great selection for those looking for a light, fun read, starring a female superhero.

4. Ms. Marvel. Written by G. Willow Wilson. Illustrated by Adrian Alphona. This year, I read the 4th and 5th trades for G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and damn it’s still good. Kamala Khan is everything I want my superheroes to be. Admirable, yet flawed. Well intentioned, yet still learning about herself. This year, Kamala dealt with her newfound fame as Ms. Marvel as well as the massive crossover event, Civil War II. As someone who usually despises crossover events, I’d like to hold up the Ms. Marvel comics as an example for how to incorporate crossover events while still keeping the storyline personal. Too often, crossovers feel like useless filler that detract from the protagonist’s current journey, but that was not felt here. Civil War II brought some massive changes to Kamala’s life, and I can’t wait to see what happens to her next.

3. Attack on Titan. Written and Illustrated by Hajime Isayama. This year, I’ve been keeping up with the manga, Attack on Titan, reading volumes 17-19, as well as the spin off, No Regrets. Last year, the manga, while still good, was caught up in a political arc that didn’t always play to Isayama’s strengths. Now, the emphasis is on character drama and action, which is where Attack on Titan shines the most. Attack on Titan is one of those series that 100% worth all the hype it gets. The spin off, No Regrets, which focuses on Levi’s backstory, is also really great, despite the fact that it wasn’t written by Hajime Isayama. I am both excited (and dreading) to learn what will happen to our cast of characters next.

2. Wonder Woman. Written by Greg Rucka. Illustrated by various. Now this is going to be the most confusing item on my list, because while everyone else is reading Greg Rucka’s current run on Wonder Woman, I’m reading the one he wrote ten years back. And why am I doing that? Because it’s awesome. I still have a few more issues to go, but time and time again, I have been impressed at how well Rucka manages to capture Diana. Wonder Woman is a peacekeeper, but also a warrior. A diplomat, but also someone that will kill when necessary. A woman who isn’t bound by traditional women’s roles, despite being from an ancient society. It can be difficult to capture a character who wears so many hats, and is seemingly full of conflicts, but Rucka always portrays her with dignity and grace. I can see why they invited him back for a second run.

1. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Written by Ryan North. Illustrated by Erica Henderson– Please. You know me. What else could I pick for my number one? I only wrote an entire column praising Squirrel Girl, and this run specifically. There’s just something so lovable, so perfect, about Doreen Green. She’s feisty, strong, smart, and compassionate. The artwork by Erica Henderson is just suits the story so well. And it’s so nice, that in a world where humor is so often devalued and looked upon as lesser, that you have a comic that’s not afraid to put the lighthearted first, and is pretty much universally praised for it. Squirrel Girl is my favorite superhero of 2016, and my favorite comic book (I’m reading it in trade paperback form). I can’t wait to see what she gets into next.

Honorable Mentions: Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang Run- last two trades), Paper Girls (current issues), Lazarus (current issues), Black Widow (Mark Waid/Chis Samnee run- current issues)

Anything I miss? I’d love to hear what everyone else has been reading for comics this year.

Next, for my final top 10 list, I’ll be talking about my random favorites. Think music, podcasts and anything else that didn’t fit into the previous categories. Hope to get that up soon!

Top 10 of 2016: Television

On Monday, I posted my top ten movies of 2016. Now, it’s television’s turn.

Admittedly, television is a trickier beast. You can’t really make a list of the best television seasons, as network TV shows follow the school year, instead of the calendar year. You also can’t do television episodes, because shows on netflix are so arc-heavy that they don’t always have one episode that stands out above the rest. So instead, I’m just going to completely open things up. Which basically means that anything goes! That includes my favorite stand out episodes, beloved characters, story arcs, etc. The end result may be a little messy, but it’s a far truer representation of my top 10 of television of the past year.

Just like my movie list, this list includes TV shows that I first experienced 2016. And while not all of them first aired in 2016, most of them did. Also, like the movie list, this IS a countdown. So the number one was my number one moment of television in 2016.

10. Agent Carter– “Smoke and Mirrors”– Poor Agent Carter. While it was chock full of lovable characters, great humor, and did a wonderful job expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include post WWII America, it didn’t always live up to its full potential. “Smoke and Mirrors” is an example of how good it could be when it did. This episode not only revealed the origin story of Peggy Carter herself, but season two’s villain Whitney Frost, expertly exhibiting the challenges facing women in the 1920s and 30s without feeling hamfisted. While it’s tragic that Agent Carter will never see another season, I’m so happy that we got a season two, if just for this episode.

9. Daredevil- The Punisher– While season two of Daredevil wasn’t quite as impressive as its first outing, it certainly had its strengths. The most obvious of those strengths was The Punisher, expertly played by Jon Bernthal, who added shades of gray to this already very gray section of the MCU. I’m so happy to see that The Punisher will be getting his own spin off series in 2017, and that Karen Page will be following him as well. Their complex relationship was one of my favorite parts of this season.

8. Luke Cage– Misty KnightLuke Cage proved to be another strong addition to the Netflix corner of the MCU, bringing in several new memorable characters. Perhaps it’s due to my weakness for tough lady cops, by my favorite of these new characters was Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, the intelligent and driven Harlam detective. I can only hope that, much like The Punisher, Misty will be given a spin off of her own. I’d happily watch a show all about her.

7. Noragami– The Lady Bishamon Arc– Season one of the anime Noragami was plenty of fun, filled with great humor, fascinating ghostly worldbuilding, and action sequences. But it was the Lady Bishamon storyline of season two that really pulled me in. This arc was filled with twists and turns that really changed how you viewed the main characters, and the final showdown between Yato and Bishonen was nail biting. Can we get a season three? Soon?

6. The Flash– Earth 2– While I certainly have my quibbles with season two of The Flash (not to mention season three), it doesn’t change the fact that it was just so fricken fun to visit Earth 2. I’m a sucker for alternate universe storylines, and had a ball getting to meet the different versions of The Flash’s all-too-likable cast of characters (the highlights clearly being the alternative versions of Caitlin and Cisco). The actual visit to Earth 2 was short, but meaningful, and its effects were felt across the entire season.

5. Supergirl– The new characters of season two- Sometimes when you see that a TV show is bringing in A LOT of new characters in for a new season, you get nervous that things will start to feel crowded. This is how I felt going into season two of Supergirl, but dammit, somehow they managed to pull it off. I love all of the new faces that we’ve gotten to meet in season two, from the tough but likable Detective Maggie Sawyer (there I go again with awesome lady cops!), the morally complex Lena Luther, the should-be-annoying-but-is-actually-quite-charming Daxamite Mon-El, the secretive Miss Martian/M’gann, and Tyler Hoechlin’s wonderful new version of Superman (who I fangirl over on Speculative Chic right here). It’s a virtual smorgasbord of fabulous, new characters and I enjoy digging in every week.

4. Arrow‘s 100th episode– Perhaps the most impressive thing about Arrow‘s epic 100th episode is that it really shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it have to reflect on the legacy that Arrow has built over four and a half seasons, but it was also the third part of an ambitious four night crossover event. Under a lesser writing team, Arrow may have worked in one area or the other, but the Arrow team clearly knew what they were doing. Arrow‘s 100th episode was moving, exciting, and grand. I can see myself rewatching this one over and over again. If you’d like to see my further thoughts on the crossover event as a whole, check out this joint review I did with JL Gribble over at Speculative Chic.

3. Psycho-Pass– Season 1, part 2– I didn’t know what to think about Psycho-Pass at first. While the tech and worldbuilding were interesting (it’s kind of like Minority Report, only instead of killing all the future murderers, they turn them into captive hit men for the police force), it took several episodes before I was fully invested in the characters. By the time I got to part two of season one (which basically means season two), I was 100% on board, excited to learn more about this world and desperate for the pure-minded Akane and the latent criminal Kogami to just make out already. If you’re a dystopia fan, do yourself a favor and watch Psycho-Pass. You don’t need to be an otaku to find it as addicting as I did.

2. Game of Thrones– “The Battle of the Bastards”– And now for the most cliche item on the list! Having completely broken free of the incomplete book series, Game of Thrones reached new heights in season six, and no height was higher than the penultimate episode “Battle of the Bastards,” which managed to capture the horrors of war, finish off a long-running arc in a thoroughly satisfying way. I am crazy excited to see how the show will develop in season seven.

1. Agents of SHIELD– Fallen Agent– One of the best and worst things about network television is how long it takes to tell a story. Twenty-two episodes a season, with storylines that can go on for years. In its infancy, Agents of SHIELD showed the drawbacks of having such a long season (it took quite a while to get off the ground) but by the end of season three, it showed the strengths as we witnessed the final showdown between Skye/Daisy and Ward/Hive, a moment that we’ve been building up to for years. This was only a small part of what was an incredibly strong two part finale (topping off what I feel was SHIELD‘s best season yet). SHIELD‘s season three finale was everything a finale should be, filled with show stopping set pieces, dramatic emotional beats, and plot developments that will change the show and its characters forever. Last spring, I must admit, many of the finales left me feeling underwhelmed, but Agents of SHIELD made up for it all on its own.

Honorable Mentions– Master of None– “Parents”, Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt– “Kimmie Meets a Drunk Lady”, Doctor Who– “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, Legends of Tomorrow– Captain Cold

And that’s it for me! I’d love to hear what shows/episodes/characters everyone else fell in love with during 2016.