THE BEST ONGOING SERIES OF THE YEAR
Redlands. (Image Comics) This is the most consistently shocking comic book I’ve ever read. Redlands haunts me. It is scary, visceral, skin-crawling dread that burns to the core of the reader with a power few reads can capture. I have finished issues with a thundering, panic attack heart beat and spinning mind, disturbed on a level I didn’t think I was capable of reaching any more.
It’s not the violence, though there is violence. Sure, there’s the odd decapitation, people getting ripped apart by alligators, cutting their own noses off, and so on. But the truly ghastly stuff happens off panel, and perhaps the most unnerving content lies within the characters Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey have so vividly fleshed out in the series themselves. Redlands is essentially a town of monsters coming to terms with their creation and coexistence, trying to hide from a much larger world where the monsters are men and their dark reign is over everything.
The empathy for the witches at Redland’s core is maintained in part by the subtle, sometimes beautiful, frightening, sexual art of Del Ray and Bellaire’s swampy colors. Redlands celebrates woman. It is bathed in fire and blood, capable of giving form to shapeless creatures and bestowing moments of familial love with genuine sunshine. But for every moment of life, every time Redlands touches on something close to the comfort of the real world, there is a dark echo, and hell to pay.
Redlands plays with the moral conflict that the patriarchy is a disgusting beast that must be killed at any cost but true witches require real sacrifice to maintain their power against the Sons of Adam. It is horror at its best, forcing us to regard our inner monsters, to choose between protagonists and antagonists who are both evil. — AOK
Black Hammer. (Dark Horse Comics) A crew of retired superheroes come together to solve a mystery that surrounds their fallen compatriot in a book that subverts the classic superhero archetype in bold and daring new ways. Now where have I heard that one before?
Yes, obvious parallels to DC’s Watchmen aside, Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer is a superhero book for the ages. It’s incredibly smart, inventive, daring. Armed with megaton themes of loss and sacrifice, it’s quite sad, too. Lemire, Ormston, and colorist Dave Stewart have a fondness for old DC heroes, and the iconography and imperfections that come with them. With Black Hammer, it shows, right down to the gorgeous letter work from industry legend, Todd Klein. Comics made by creators who absolutely love this stuff.
Black Hammer deconstructs superhero tropes with expert precision, never once letting its readers misinterpret its intentions. There’s none of that “Look upon my works, ye mighty” affectation here. Just a story about flawed people thrust into incredible situations… and what happens when all that’s left is their own reflected glory. In Black Hammer, the abyss gazes also. But it never succumbs to despair.
The characters are instantly recognizable yet fresh and exciting. Golden Gail, Abraham Slam, Colonel Weird, Barbalien, Madame Dragonfly… Mary Marvel, Wildcat, Adam Strange, J’onn J’onzz, The Spectre. Loving cracked-mirror players who feature in stories designed to surprise and mystify. It’s the finest Justice League story ever told that suggests our favorite heroes carried burdens that even their tremendous powers could scarcely overcome. Come for the homage. Stay for the devastation. — JJ
Giant Days. (BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box) There aren’t a lot of comic books that can cause consistent and audible laughter, but for me (and many other people I know) Giant Days is undoubtedly one of this rare breed. Begun as a webcomic by writer John Allison in 2011, it’s been a BOOM! Studios comic since 2015 — an ongoing series that sprouted from what was originally intended as only six issues. This year seems to have cemented its status as a dark horse success (oh, you know what I mean). Susan, Daisy and Esther’s trials and tribulations at uni are now six volumes deep and counting.
Our daring protagonists’ antics require emotive depiction, and artist Max Sarin is more than up to the task. Her panels are full of eloquent passion and silly laugh-out-loud expressions in equal measure. And while she packs in the visual humor, Allison paves her way with some of the funniest jokes in comics, keeping the reader in stitches throughout the entire issue. (I can’t think of another comic that makes me laugh aloud as often as this one does.)
But along with the comedy comes drama, as will happen with any student-centered stories. When tragedies do occur, the anxiety is palpable, because Allison and Sarin have made us identify with and care so much about these kids. Their lives and loves keep us turning the pages as much as the richly woven humor. We’re gasping for the next issue as soon as we’re done. — MJ
Motor Crush. (Image Comics) One of the most legit creative teams in comics has made a book that defies simple definition. It’s a pulp yarn with sci-fi mostly on the side, a near future tale that plays things real and then blasts into pure fantasy. Centered on an unlucky girl who is hooked on a drug that’s designed to make motorcycles run faster, it’s brash, packed with swagger and attitude. The motorcycle racing circuit oozes style and its illegal counterpart is something out of Road Rash, replete with spiked bats and chains. Motor Crush is just too cool to exist, but damn it, it does, and you sure should be reading it.
The collaborative flow — from scripts by Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr, to layouts by Stewart and Tarr (to finishes by Tarr, newcomer Rob Haynes, and production touch-ups by Tom Muller) — breathes an impossible intensity into a book that is all static images about stuff moving super fast. I love Tarr’s style, a touch of manga, the loose brush style of European comics, somehow both those things and neither, all with these breathtaking Fader magazine in 3030 outfits, vivid and glamorous. Babs Tarr is the future of comic art. Every element of the look is delivered by folks at the top of their game, the characters and their gearhead porn equipment, the muted neon color aesthetic that ties it up by Heather Danforth, the work by Aditya Bidikar and Muller on lettering and design that breaks the fourth wall and puts the reader directly into Motor Crush’s computer interface.
The craft is there, but Motor Crush truly rules because all this work is being poured into a compelling, spirited story. The family of bikers is real, their stakes are felt, the tragedy comes in spades and means something. Championship reading. — AOK
The Black Monday Murders. (Image Comics) I’ve never read a book that felt that it was simultaneously holding my hand and shoving me into an isolation chamber at the same time. The Black Monday Murders has that effect.
It’s a sprawling crime epic, a parable for our shattered days, a monolithic soap opera. It comes with charts and figures and timelines and other assorted supplemental material. Laying it all out. And even when/if you got every ancillary character, every violent incident, every generational secret laid bare in front of you, there’s still the matter of facing the merciless notion that humans are little more than a commodity in the eyes of the God Mammon. Like I said, it’s a book that’s both a cozy, lived-in mystery and a chilling indictment of our baser, and more material, desires.
It’s a wait to get to each successive chapter. That would kill my interest in most books. But The Black Monday Murders arrives each time to send me crawling under my bed to carefully line my coffers, considering what sacrifices it would take to thrive in a world not too dissimilar from our own. In The Black Monday Murders, the price of a human soul seems a bargain. Somebody explain to me why that sounds so familiar. Or, better still, don’t. — JJ
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
The Wicked + The Divine. (Image Comics) I’ve written about The Wicked + The Divine so often I’m not sure how much more there is to say on the subject. And yet, here I am, honorably mentioning it in the Best Ongoing Comics of 2017. And with good reason: there is no other comic with the same effortless and engaging combination of melodrama, suspense, pop-star superheroics, mythology, fashion, celebrity, and puns. (Oh, the puns.) It’s been a favorite of mine since its first issue dropped in 2014, and since then has never relinquished its “top of my reading pile” spot.
This is a comic that relies heavily on excellent character development, and writer Kieron Gillen goes all out. Here we watch characters grow into something new and wondrous, only to continue blossoming beyond that into uncertain destinies and/or untimely demises. Although if we’ve learned anything so far—and from this year in particular—we’re far more likely to experience the latter.
Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson ensure everyone in WicDiv is sexy as hell: exquisitely designed costumes and fashions (the best in comics, in my humble opinion) are always reflective of the wearer’s personality and style, and evocative expressions tug on the heartstrings, or sear the soul. Very few comics will make you feel so much so strongly.
As The Wicked + The Divine approaches its eventual end—like its remaining protagonists, it has a defined expiration date—I live in simultaneous anticipation and terror of my favorite comic book’s demise. I shouldn’t worry though. It can only die as it lived: gorgeously, heartrendingly, and sporting an insouciant sneer. It will be a finale for the ages. — MJ
Hulk. (Marvel Comics) Titles like this keep me coming back to Marvel. How do you make a big green lady serious? There has always been room for gravitas in She-Hulk’s stories, but this most recent take is all darkness. Mariko Tamaki transforms the violence at the core of the Hulk character into a vehicle for meaningful storytelling. The Hulks’ lack of control is typically expressed by leaning hard on the damage they do without a close examination of the victims. The Hulk is problematic because people suffer, but we rarely see them. Not here.
In Hulk, Jennifer Walters comes out of a coma with her powers out of control, her life fractured, her family dead. The monster is PTSD, it’s Jennifer Walters herself, an authentic portrait of the damage Hulk does as its effect on the perpetrator of violence. Walters has always enjoyed the privilege of the Hulk’s powers without any of the crazy. Her character is established as being above the fight. Her loss, then, hits harder. Hulk is an intimate, in-the-head telling (magnified by the use of comic book inner monolog), something sad and scary. As it should be.
Walters tries to continue her law practice, and Hulk pairs her with victims who challenge her recovery, reflect her problems, and intensify her symptoms. Intelligent pacing pays off big with supernatural horror moods and science fiction irony. The examples are amplified, super heroes and villains, but done with purpose, so that we can step back and examine human issues taken to the extreme. Hulk is an important work, it gives a subject that needs wider recognition an accessible means of approach without watering down its severity. — AOK
Super Sons. (DC Comics) Peter J. Tomasi has been the steward of both Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent for some time now. From the New 52 days of Batman and Robin, to the post-Rebirth Superman era and now Super Sons, the scions of Batman and Superman have never been in better hands — largely because Tomasi has kept them so near. That’s fine with me, particularly when you realize how consistently stunning Super Sons has become as a consequence.
The entire function of DC’s now-defunct Rebirth initiative was to show how the publisher was ready to move into the twenty-first century, legacy and hope advertised as its defining traits. Super Sons is a book that could only have happened because of Rebirth. And yet the book isn’t an exercise in sentimentality, or, for that matter, schmaltz. It isn’t here to play nice. This book exists to scrape knees, to get into trouble. It’s here to bend the rules, to make mistakes.
Because it’s illustrated by Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez — a creative team that should never not be on this book — Super Sons honestly feels like next-level superhero comics. Metropolis feels like its lights could blind our eyes if we looked too closely. Gotham legitimately feels like a modern city, all hard angles and deep canyons, filled with equal parts excitement and danger. Jimenez and Sanchez provide Damian and Jon the appropriate sandbox in which they may play — overwhelming, filled with possibility.
Tomasi elevates the stakes for these tiny titans. Jimenez and Sanchez throw them headlong into excitement. Their hearts full, their fists ready. It’s exhilarating. Look up in the sky. It’s the future. — JJ
What’s YOUR choice for Best Ongoing Series of 2017? Let us know in the comments section below.