By Molly Jane Kremer, Arpad Okay, and Jarrod Jones. These are the limited series that captivated us, brought us back with each successive installment, and left us twitching in the dust, begging for more.
THE BEST LIMITED SERIES OF THE YEAR
Mister Miracle. (DC Comics) Mister Miracle is one of the most talked-about and critically acclaimed comics of 2017, so despite its lack of completion—only five of its twelve issues have been released at this point—it still feels like the most obvious of shoe-ins for Best Limited Series. Every issue so far has packed in as much pathos as possible into their respective twenty-two pages—a few of them ending on what can only be described as an emotional kick in the gut—but in so doing, the series is reimagining Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters for a new generation, and dragging us along kicking and screaming for the ride.
Tom King and Mitch Gerads (who handles pencils, inks, and colors himself) are a gotdang comics powerhouse. From Sheriff of Babylon to their couple of Batman issues together, there hasn’t been a thing the two have worked on together that hasn’t knocked my socks off. Gerads makes (mostly nine-panel) magic with King’s meticulous scripts and layered narratives, and their first Mister Miracle issue was one of the best debuts of (at least) the last five years. If there is one DC book you pick up this year (and next year too, let’s be real) it needs to be Mister Miracle. — MJ
Aliens: Dead Orbit. (Dark Horse Comics) I’m going to shove my nerd glasses up the bridge of my nose and go ahead and say it: Alien, as a franchise, ain’t what it used to be. When you think Alien, you think a visceral scream bottled by the cold, uncaring vastness of space, a bogeyman that’s more death engine than existential threat. Dunno what Covenant was supposed to be about, but I’m fairly certain the xenomorph was never designed with creation myth built into it. Anyhow. Whatever.
James Stokoe’s Aliens: Dead Orbit is meat and potatoes Alien. Dark Horse Comics keeping the tradition of Alien alive by steeping us in isolation, arch characters, and splashy gore. And, at its center, the marquee star in all its inky-black glory. Stokoe sets us up — motley space crew comes across distress signal, boards a decimated craft, accidentally brings a murder machine back on board with them — and then knocks us dead.
Dead Orbit is mayhem to behold. Imagine Mœbius had stashed away in his mind a brutal nihilist all this time, and finally succumbed to it. Stokoe’s scenery is equal parts sharp metal edges and gummy, rippable flesh. It’s all very confining and uncomfortable, a maze where hunters grin at the kill. For those who yearn for horror in its purest form — fast, visceral, unrelenting — Stokoe’s got you. It’s insane, this book. — JJ
Cloudia and Rex. (Buño Publishing/Lion Forge Comics) Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas have poured a metric ton of greatness into Cloudia and Rex, but my favorite thing out of all of it has got to be the strength of the characters’ voices. The kids are too real. Their sass, sarcasm, and raw emotion is unmatched elsewhere in comics. Cloudia and Rex are authentic. Their mother has the tender, funny, harrowed dialog you’d expect from someone trapped in a car with two girls and then trapped in an adventure with a pantheon of elder gods.
The gods are in a real deal Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett pickle. Monotheism is coming for them, so Death, Dream, and Time organize an escape into the real world. Out of the frying pan, an overworld on the brink of destruction, and into the fire, the bodies of adolescents and their smartphone. It’s a ludicrous book. And yet it manages to do right by the (heavily researched) mixed bag of deities. Death, dream, and time are more than characters in Cloudia and Rex, they are themes, explored with casual gravitas and considerable skill.
And Daniel Irizarri’s artwork is full stop beautiful. The aesthetic pulls from every holy pantheon, a hearty dose of psychedelics, and a touch of fashion from a family with unique character. The contour lines are bold and expressive, textured but smooth, cartoonish yet serious, a confidence and skill that unifies a plethora of aesthetics into a solid body. The colors are inspired. Twilight jewels of bound to mood rather than setting. The whole book comes together as something distinctly its own. It hits you on every level; its cast, its concepts, its execution, a fresh take not to be missed. — AOK
Hi-Fi Fight Club/Heavy Vinyl. (BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box) I have to admit, nostalgia is a part of my affinity for Hi-Fi Fight Club (later renamed Heavy Vinyl). How often do we see a super fun and adorable comic that directly speaks to those of us who were late-90’s high-schoolers? In general, there has never been a plethora of media with accurate or thoughtful representation of life as a teenage girl. And while joining an all-girls fight club might not be a universal part of girlhood (much as I wish it were) the book touches on experiences that affect everyone, even those of us who already had our graduation days fifteen years ago.
First-time comics writer Carly Usdin (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Suicide Kale) avoids typical newbie scripting pratfalls with seamless team dynamics in a wonderfully diverse cast. Worries about fitting in, making friends, sussing out both hormones and sexuality, and generally figuring out your path through life are issues successfully woven into the narrative amongst the unfolding mystery and general hijinks Chris and her coworkers-turned-friends get involved in. The art by Nina Vakueva, Irene Flores, and Rebecca Nalty is expressive, at times sweet, and always engaging. The awkwardness of youth is communicated wonderfully in Vakueva’s panels, and her storytelling prowess helps keep a quick pace on what could otherwise feel like dialogue-heavy pages.
I don’t often identify this closely with comic book characters, but a few of the gals in Hi-Fi Fight Club felt achingly familiar, and even if I didn’t have this comic to read when I was their age, I’m extremely grateful it exists for some other kiddo to pick up and be wowed by. Feeling “not alone” is always the greatest teenage objective, and this comic feels like a welcoming hug from a new best friend. — MJ
The Dregs. (Black Mask Studios) Let’s do a bit of math: A city prospers. Its skyline shifts and grows. The people who enter its limits are increasingly more affluent than those who came before. Its tastes change. Its desires warp. Who thrives here? In The Dregs, a city is not a home. Not for everybody.
In fact, The Dregs takes care to remind us that its core narrative isn’t so different from what we already perceive in waking life. Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler, and Eric Zawadzki prowled the streets of Vancouver and conjured a detective tale in the most unique way possible. Here we meet Arnold, a character who lives on the streets, who’s addicted to drugs, who sees life through a kaleidoscope. He navigates the harshness to get to the truth behind the missing denizens of the Dregs, no matter how horrifying the truth may actually be. All the while Arnold never slips into caricature. Thompson, Nadler, and Zawadski take special care to convey the realities of the homeless in their story, all while crafting a dizzying mystery yarn. Their aim feels true.
Eric Zawadzki is at the beating heart of of our story. His work recalls the grimier, meatier stuff from Eduardo Risso and Tim Sale. His shadows and Dee Cunniffe’s sinister hues give The Dregs its noirish edge. Which is perfect; in this story, our protagonist is a homeless Philip Marlowe. A gumshoe with a toe sticking through. When the cold rain comes down, it pummels him, but he can take a beating. Life’s been beating him down his entire life.
It’s his imagination that keeps him going. That’s where The Dregs feels like it’s tilting at windmills, simultaneously giving Arnold clues while giving us so much to unpack. It’s a story about gentrification, about displacement, about humanity. And yes, cannibalism — there’s some of that in there, too. Its influences include Cervantes and Chandler, clearly, but there’s just a bit of Tobe Hooper thrown it to keep its axis askew.
When the skies are littered with penthouses stretching up into the heavens, the polarity between the Haves and the Have Nots becomes more severe. We look at the satire in The Dregs and have a laugh, but there’s a bitterness to it. There’s a part of us that acknowledges that we people look at each other as numbers more often than we’d care to admit. We’re only so much meat. — JJ
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
Bug! The Adventures of Forager. (DC’s Young Animal) Bug! is a first-rate miniseries. True postmodern comix. Lee Allred groks what Jack Kirby wanted out of his Fourth World — mythic characters in a modern vernacular — and used it to lance itself. A super-satire that loves what it portrays. A tiny figure, a bug, caught up in a time travel multi-world chase to save existence and to save his own identity before both are lost in a short circuit of the god machine.
Bug! works alone as a hip adventure romp. Bug! works as a head-spinning super referential tribute. Either way, both ways, it is as fun as it is weird, full of mind blowing concepts, penned with all the wit and mystery of a sphinx. Its running gags end up being pay-dirt reveals. The humor taps into something Harvey Kurtzman in addition to Kirby. On the surface, it’s goofy. But read it and you realize it’s a sly wink to the attentive reader from a sophisticated storyteller.
Doubling down on this is the glory that is Allred family artwork (Mike on lines and Laura on colors). It’s glib and broadsheet colorful, sure, but it’s hip, hep, mondo exotic in a way that turns a Toon Tumbler into a highball glass. Kirby’s work was carved from marble, but this Forager is shaped out of clay. It’s loose, wiggly, everywhere and alive, but built on a foundation of the greatest art DC has to offer. It’s a rare treat for hardcore fans, newcomers, and lapsed readers who haven’t picked up a title since the mainstream weird works of the 90s dried up. Bug! stands with the legends it looks towards and leaves the collective myth thoroughly enriched. — AOK
Supergirl: Being Super. (DC Comics) It only happens every once in a while, but when we get to see women comic creators take the helm on female superheroes, the results are often very, very different from what has come before. Take Supergirl for example: a teenage-girl superhero who, for a very long time (with a few notable exceptions) has see-sawed between portrayals either angry or sexy, or some sad combination of both.
Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones’ take on Supergirl is an Elseworlds-type non-continuity story that gives Kara a solo origin treatment in the most identifiable and sympathetic way possible: by showing us the “girl” before they show us the “super.” This is a Kara we can grow to love, one that doesn’t require a famous cousin to find her place in the sun.
Best of all, this is not a series written with a male audience in mind. It is created by women, about women, for women. Even though artist Jones excels at pin-up style art, Kara is never sexualized—which you’d think would be a universally acknowledged rule for a teenage character. Male reviewers take note: There are some female-led books that aren’t made for titillation. Revolutionary idea, I know. — MJ
There’s Nothing There (Black Mask Studios). There are certain famous people out there who have that hungry look in their eyes. They’re pretty easy to spot, too: Constantly on the look-out for the cameras (and lamenting when they’re gone), they do whatever it takes to keep the spotlight on them. If you follow the hollow celebrity news cycle, you’re probably savvy on everybody’s stats. And, if you’re like me, you hold zero judgment for them. They’re living their best lives. Or trying to, at least.
Reno Selleti, the star of There’s Nothing There, is one such celebrity, living her life each day as though it were her last. She’s the type of socialite who isn’t above an amphetamine-fueled night of sexual abandon. She glides through morning-after TMZ blasts like it’s nothing. Only Reno’s achieved a heightened sense of self-awareness, almost super-human when you consider the norm. See, if public attention for her lessens — or in quieter moments, disappears altogether — Reno just might perish, whisked away into oblivion by some multi-eyed god of fame.
Patrick Kindlon relates Reno and the world around her with an effortless cool, yes, but what gives There’s Nothing There its supernatural powers is that it’s set under the gaze of an aloof omnipresent eye. What makes it feel almost four-dimensional is that there are moments where that omnipresence feels like it’s coming from… well, us. The readers. Maria Llovet gives everything a contemporary edge, a Lovecraftian might. Her work is equal parts sensual, frightening, stunning.
Fame. In our world it can be vapid and meaningless. But in There’s Nothing There, it’s a reason to stay alive. If there a metaphor to be found in that, I’m sure I don’t want to know what it says about celebrity in our time, or those of us who watch it burst and die like supernovae in our social media feeds. But I’m glad it’s here. Go read it. — JJ
Agree? Disagree? Which limited series blew YOU away this year? Let us know in the comments section below.