It has been a frankly amazing year for comics—filled with big events, controversial moments, and an incredible variety of comics, with diversity in genre, characters, and stories giving us shelf upon shelf of amazing books to dig into week after week. It was hard to narrow them down to 20, but without further ado, here are our absolute favorite comics from this year.
20) Power Rangers
When Boom Studios announced that they’d start making a comic based off of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, it’s safe to say that the expectation going in was that it was going lean heavily on ‘90s nostalgia and then leave it at that. But what’s made Power Rangers such a great surprise is that it’s risen to do more than just wink and nudge at you for remembering parts of the show that you loved as a kid—it’s an update to the formula that has balanced nostalgic throwbacks with a modern approach to the characters that we loved. It’s been unafraid to do things new and surprising with the Power Rangers franchise, and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun while doing so.
Creative team: Kyle Higgins, Hendry Prasetya, and Matt Herms
19) Future Quest
Likewise, DC’s announcement of a new wave of comics based off of legendary Hanna-Barbera cartoons was met with some confusion (and a little bit of derision), but the line as a whole has gone on to produce some of the weirdest and most wonderful comics we read this year. Future Quest above all had the hardest job of the new wave, bringing together all sorts of strange action cartoon heroes, but it’s done so brilliantly—creating a whole new universe to tie disparate heroes like Space Ghost, Birdman, and Johnny Quest together while adding layer upon layer of meaningful character development on characters that rarely got such a spotlight shone on them in the world of cartoons.
Creative Team: Jeff Parker, Craig Rousseau, Ron Randall, Steve Rude, and Evan Shaner
It’s been a good year for Valiant, but one of the most surprising comics it’s done has been far removed from its world of superheroes and scifi superstars: it’s starred a detective/warrior in ancient Rome named Antonius Axia. Blending a sort of Game of Thrones-ian mixture of politics and violence with a novel approach to crime stories in a historical setting, Britannia managed to tell a tight, intriguing tale across its four-issue format that made for quite unlike anything else Valiant (or even other comics publishers) has done this year—and we’re very glad to see it’s making a comeback in 2017.
Creative Team: Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp, and Jordie Bellaire
17) Black Widow
Fans who’ve longed for a Natasha Romanoff movie in the MCU should definitely be picking up this comic, which is the next-best thing. Black Widow has balanced explosive action—both in terms of fun and shocking brutality—with an engaging mystery not just for Natasha to solve, but for readers to explore her tragic, haunting past through as well. If there ever is a Black Widow movie, Marvel already has the perfect blueprint in this tense thriller.
Creative Team: Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna
Comics in 2016 have been all about defying expectations, and one of the best examples of that has been DC Comics’ take on The Flintstones. Like DC’s other Hanna-Barbera creations, this has been a series that has transformed its titular characters well beyond their original cartoon roots into something completely different. Flintstones has recast itself into a post-modern commentary on the role of art, faith, commercialism, and other industries in society, told black-humored stories about politics and war, and done so while still being set in a pre-historic world where talking animals are household appliances and cars run on the power of your own two feet.
Creative team: Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry, and David Sharpe
15) Captain America: Sam Wilson
Sam might have had to deal with Steve Rogers returning to claim his mantle once more this year (and a certain other aspect of Steve’s supplementary Captain America series that’s been one of the biggest talking points of the year), but that’s not stopped him from being the star of one of the best Captain America books in recent memory. Sam Wilson has blended a more on-the-ground, social justice-oriented take of Captain America with a total adoration for the long history behind the mantle itself. A series that can tackle issues like immigration in one story, flip to something as goofy as Cap-Wolf the next, and still be deft and engaging is a rare one.
Creative Team: Nick Spencer, Daniel Acuña, Angel Unzueta, Szymon Kudranski, Paul Renaud, and John Rauch
14) Superman: American Alien
What is there left to be said about a hero like Superman? Well, Max Landis found a startling amount in a year that’s seen a lot of big changes for Superman both in the comics and on the big screen. American Alien told snapshots from the earliest days of Clark Kent’s discovery of his powers, all the way to his decision to become the man of tomorrow—and while doing so, gave us a vulnerable and intriguing take on Clark Kent that succeeded in adding a warmth and humanity to the last son of Krypton in a time where other interpretations of the character are trying to do so and failing. It was a fresh re-imagining of the man behind the emblem that reminded us why we still love Superman.
Creative Team: Max Landis, Jock, Jonathan Case, Francis Manapul, Jae Lee, Joëlle Jones, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Nick Dragotta.
Legendary writer Christopher Priest had been away from the monthly comic writing world for a while before Deathstroke, but you’d hardly notice given how quickly he laid the groundwork for a deep and character-driven series for Slade Wilson that dialled-back some of the more anti-hero elements added to the character in recent years to give us a dark, uncompromising look at the evil that Deathstroke is capable of. It might be a strange twist to try and make a character an asshole and alienate him even further from the reader, but Priest’s take on Slade has done so to remind us what a great villain Deathstroke has always been.
Creative Team: Christopher Priest, Carlos Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Jeromy Cox, and Willie Schubert
12) Black Monday Murders
Jonathan Hickman’s latest series for Image Comics blends noir storytelling, supernatural bleakness and issues of power and control in modern American society, and is just as compelling when it’s tackling grim, dark magic as it is with commentary on socioeconomic angst. Black Monday Murders feels prescient in 2016 in the age of the 1% and all that, but where it excels the most is in its sense of mood and tone, whether for its gumshoe lead character or the accursed mystery he finds himself wrapped up in.
Creative Team: Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker
Mockingbird’s time on comic shelves might have been short, but it was definitely sweet. First-time comics writer Cain lept into Bobbi Morse’s life with aplomb, weaving an emotional and intelligent take on Bobbi as both a hero and as a woman throughout a series that rejoiced in using every literary technique in the book it could to dazzle, humor, and deliver some solid superspy storytelling to its readers. The way Mockingbird shaped its story through the unreliable lens of Bobbi Morse—and, through that, gave us an insight into her character we rarely got to see—made for some extremely clever storytelling, and it’ll be a book we miss next year.
Creative Team: Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, and Rachelle Rosenberg
10) Midnighter and Apollo
Midnighter and Apollo and its predecessor, Midnighter, have done an incredible job of balancing brutal, fun superhero action alongside a compelling love story that just happens to be about two gay men. In fact, Midnighter and Apollo’s relationship is one of the best in comics at the moment, which has made for one of the most interesting and enjoyable portrayals of LGBTQ characters in a mainstream comic right now. The fact that it does all that without compromising on telling a bunch of wild and over-th- top superhero stories is nothing short of delightful.
Creative Team: Steve Orlando, Fernando Blanco, Romulo Fajardo Jr, and Josh Reed
Originally serialized in the Island anthology series by Brandon Graham, Image’s Ancestor tells a tale of technological dependency and artificial intelligence that remains with you well after you thought you were done processing it. Mixing in a heady, psychedelic aesthetic with scifi body horror, it’s sharp and prescient commentary on how we accept and rely on technology in our lives and in our societies, for better or for worse.
Creative Team: Matt Sheehan and Malachi Ward
8) Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Yes, we hear it a lot: 2016 has been the worst. But one of the brightest spots amidst all the bleakness that is complaining about the events of the year has been the wonderful, hilarious adventures of Doreen Green and her friends. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is hands-down one of the funniest comics around, one that practically guarantees a chuckle, if not a full-blown belly laugh, with practically every page. It’s a series that has dazzled with its wit, charm, and almost ceaseless desire to poke and prod at the superhero genre and even the very format of comics itself, while giving us a hero in Doreen that never relents in a quest for boundless optimism, eating nuts, and kicking butts. You do you, Squirrel Girl.
Creative Team: Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, and Travis Lanham
7) The Legend of Wonder Woman
Obviously 2017 is shaping up to be a big year for Diana, but this year we got one of the best-ever takes on her origins and how she grew up to become the hero we love in Legend of Wonder Woman. Unlike so many other comics, Legend had the breathing room to spend much of its run exploring Diana’s young life before she takes on the mantle of Wonder Woman and enters man’s world, letting her character form and come into place, that made the moment she finally does step into the world of superheroes all that more satisfying. It nailed everything we love about this character in a wonderful framework, and the fact we are suddenly not getting the rest of this series is one of the biggest crimes in comics this year.
Creative Team: Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon
6) Black Panther
There was a lot of excitement about the news that seminal writer Ta-Nehisi Coates would be tackling Black Panther in his own series this year Yet, somehow, Black Panther pulled it off, creating one of the biggest comics of 2016. Coates, Stelfreeze, and Martin’s story is deep and compelling, jam-packed with characters who are given enough time and detail that they rival T’Challa himself for some of the book’s most interesting character moments, wrapped into a story that balances superhero comic extravaganzas with intriguing politics and societal discussions. The weight of expectation behind this book could have crushed even the most brilliant of series, but Black Panther stood proud as it rose above it.
Creative Team: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin
We might not have gotten a lot of Saga this year, but what we did only served to confirm that it is still one of the best scifi comics around. The sixth volume came to a close this year, and yet, Saga still manages to surprise us—once again by bringing it all back to the characters we care about the most: Marko, Alana, and Hazel. The nature of family has been a theme that has sat at the heart of Saga throughout its long and excellent run, but it really hit home this year through some incredibly touching moments revolving around Marko and Alana’s separation from their child. It’s been around for so long it’s sometimes easy to forget just how compelling and brilliant Saga can be, and its sixth volume is a perfect example of that.
Creative Team: Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, and Fonographiks
Dark fantasy is hot right now, but one of the best examples of it comes in the form of this lush, bleak, and fantastical Image series. On the surface, the fantasy world of Monstress might seem grand and filled with beauty, but underneath that gorgeous sheen lies a dark heart that Liu and Takeda have brilliantly explored with frightening, enthralling abandon. Monstress tackles some gritty, miserable situations, and dark underbellies rarely acknowledged in epic fantasy stories, and the density of its world and the characters within it is so well handled that it makes for extremely rewarding reading.
Creative Team: Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
3) Paper Girls
As if Brian K. Vaughan wasn’t already busy enchanting us with Saga, along comes an altogether different scifi tale for Image that is just as brilliant. Paper Girls mixing smart, engaging coming-of-age storytelling about a group of young girls with sci-fi mystery that hits the ground running and rarely lets up. There’s always another layer, another brilliant character moment, another freaky event happening on each page that sucks you in and rarely lets you come up to breathe.
If we didn’t already love Paper Girls as much as Paper Girls clearly loved its ‘80s setting and aesthetic, the series’ recently-started second volume transported its lead characters into a situation so wild that to spoil it here would be too cruel, but it made us fall in love with it even more. If you loved Stranger Things, you owe it to yourself to check this series out immediately.
Creative team: Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson
Bruce Wayne has had the pleasure of not one, but two excellent creative teams behind him this year. Between the brilliant conclusion to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s extensive, frequently sublime run on the character this year, and Tom King’s cerebral, twisting take on Batman for DC’s phenomenal Rebirth relaunch, it has never been a better time to be reading Batman’s adventures. Both of these teams have tackled meaty questions about who Bruce Wayne is as a character and what the Batman identity means to him and the wider world around him in some hugely interesting ways, and both have given us some downright amazing stories with the Dark Knight.
Creative teams: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, FCO Plascencia, Nathan Fairbairn, and Steve Wands, and Tom King, David Finch, Jordie Bellaire, Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, June Chung, and Clayton Cowles
1) The Vision
I mentioned earlier that 2016 in comics has all been about defying expectation, and I can’t think of another comic this year that has defied expectation more than The Vision, one of the most enthralling comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
Since the moment began late last year, The Vision cast aside your expectation of a kooky superhero series that played off the character’s cinematic debut in Age of Ultron, and instead lunged at you with a dark, tragic tale of humanity and family that happened to star synthetic androids. A Shakespearian epic in 12 parts, The Vision hooks you in with its stark, brutal art, its masterful pacing and plotting, and a gutwrenching sense of momentum and inevitability that made reading each issue, turning each page, a daunting yet unstoppable act. From start to finish it is a masterclass in what can be done with a character like the Vision, and the superhero genre at large, and never lets up from sinking its hooks into you, even well after you reach its final pages. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best comic I’ve read in 2016.
Creative team: Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez-Walta, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles.