Another year in comics is behind us, and there’s a dizzying array of new books on the shelves from 2015. We’ve got just the ticket, with a string of comics that launched this year and that are the must-reads.
The Omega Men
Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda take what could have been a Guardians of the Galaxy knock-off and change it completely: The Omega Men aren’t heroes. They’re terrorists. Turning a bunch of swashbuckling space opera heroes into brutal, ruthless, morally conflicted killers is largely an excuse for King and Bagenda to explore just what drives someone to those kinds of depths. Bagenda’s command of tone and King’s insight into human desperation, something reflected in his other DC series The Sheriff of Babylon, make this a unique book and one you can’t miss.
Steve Orlando and Aco are putting out what might be the most delirious, manic superhero book on the stands right now. But for all the brutal violence and smart-ass remarks, what anchors this series is Midnighter himself. If the guy were just an arrogant jerk, the book would be grating, but Orlando and Aco wisely contrasts Midnighter’s revelry in brutal violence with his far different personal life. Honestly, too often in comics, gay people are presented as if being gay were a random factoid, like where they went to college or their hometown; it has zero impact on the story or the character. And while there’s something to be said for not treating anybody’s sexuality as a big deal, it happens so often in so many books it feels a bit like a cop-out. That Midnighter has an openly gay man struggling with relationships, going out and finding a boyfriend, and unabashedly flirting with Dick Grayson is not only refreshing, it gives the book more flavor and focus, and makes Midnighter more than just the Batman parody some might mistake it as.
Howard the Duck
Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones offer up an affectionate satire of the Marvel Universe’s quirks and unquestioned assumptions, while skewering superhero tropes and coming up with bizarre, off-kilter plots into the bargain. Which doesn’t mean they’re not fully capable of nailing you right in the feels, as the most recent issue proved. Hilarious, smart, and unique, this is everything you want out of a humor comic.
The Vision has built a family, moved to the suburbs, and gotten a government job in Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s new book. It’s all perfect suburban life until his “wife” murders the Grim Reaper and becomes the target of an unknown blackmailer. That this is the Vision struggling with his humanity versus his nature in four different ways just makes this dark suburban noir all the better.
It’s understandable if you see Yet Another Steampunk Book, you might pass it on the shelf. But don’t be fooled: Lantern City‘s steampunkiness is just a backdrop to a deeply complex and rich story of one man trying to save his family and tied up in a mess of intrigues and obligations. It’s a story where there’s no real bad guy; even the worst of the worst are just trying, ultimately, to survive.
John Allison’s gentle romantic comedy about three college women and their various messy and hilariously real problems is a refutation to every dumb college comedy Hollywood cranks out. Allison taps into some real struggles with a warmth that will almost make you nostalgic for them.
A bunch of privileged kids, too smart for their own good, go down to Central America to burnish their college applications with some Third World volunteer work. The Third World quickly proves how little use it has for smug brats in this shockingly brutal thriller. Alex de Campi writes from personal experience here, but the big winner is Carla Speed McNeil and her art, which doesn’t pull a single punch but can change gears quickly when dealing with real emotion.
Ales Kot and Matt Taylor scratch that Hellblazer itch fans have with a spare, sharp book about Wolf, a P.I. of sorts dealing with the surprisingly mundane supernatural underbelly of Los Angeles. The book stands out for Kot’s characterization; even a guy with tentacles for a face turns out to be relatable, and Taylor’s spare backgrounds and deliberate roughness give the book a sun-bleached tone.
Mark Waid? Fiona Staples? On freakin’ Archie? This relaunch is a change of pace for both, but Staples and Waid both happily switch gears and pay tribute to the classic Double Digests this book is based on while updating and fleshing out the cast of characters.
Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez just finished this book, and we already miss it. Van Lente juggles both utterly demented alternate worlds and mind-bending time shenanigans with equal facility, and Perez makes it all look like something you’d experience every day. Underneath the comedy of a book that has an issue titled “Let’s Not Kill Hitler!”, though, is some real emotion, and the finale is bittersweet at best. It’s funny, it’s beautiful, and it’s one of the best SF books to hit the stands this year.
What happens when an unstoppable killing machine breaks down? Jeff Lemire and Mico Suayan explore that in this relaunch that’s as much about what drives people to violence, and whether you can keep your humanity in the face of doing terrible things, as it is about a ’90s anti-hero. Plus Bloodsquirt might be the creepiest character in comics this year; Bloodshoot should not be a kids’ cartoon.
This thoughtful look at the American Revolution followed revolutionary Seth Abbott from the New Hampshire Grants to Yorktown, and has spent the issues since looking at the Revolution from a kaleidoscope of perspectives, not all of them pro-American. Serious historical comics are rare these days, unfortunately, but Rebels does an excellent job of exploring a crucial era of history without dumbing it down.
Scott Kolins and Matt Kindt set aside the dour and serious for a big ol’ dose of subverted Silver Age fun. Our heroes are time travelers from centuries later who, it turns out, don’t like each other terribly much. Kindt, best known for his espionage comics, is having a blast here and Kolins enjoys every moment of this goofy, witty series as well. Sure, it’s comic book candy, but it’s delicious, well-crafted candy.
Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer may not be major names yet, but they will be. Arcadia explores a world where most of humanity has been uploaded to a virtual reality simulation to escape a brutal virus, and work on a cure in peace, while “The Meat” struggles to survive a world that’s moving on without humans. Paknadel and Pfeifer use their setting in smart ways and pack the book with intelligent twists. If you haven’t read it already, seek it out.
Jem and The Holograms
Viewed without nostalgia, to be honest, Jem is a terrible show, no worse than The Transformers or M.A.S.K. or what have you, but definitely no classic. Which makes Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s reinvention of the series all the more impressive; Thompson and Campbell give everyone in this series genuine dimension and feelings, and their exploration of the joys and frustrations of the creative process is oddly inspiring.
What were your best new books of 2015? Let us know below.