Paper Girls. (Image Comics) Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson’s Paper Girls is one of Image Comics’ biggest success stories of the last two years. But how could it not be, when the creator credits include the writer of the creator-owned juggernaut Saga, the superstar artist of the 2011 Wonder Woman series (amongst myriad of impressive works), and one of the best colorists working today?
Hilariously, ever since this summer’s debut of a certain Netflix series, the easiest way to describe Paper Girls to the uninitiated is “Stranger Things, but with girls and time travel.” Although some of us, when watching that series for the first time, found themselves thinking “This is like Paper Girls, but with boys and no papers.” (I think it’s the “group of kiddos frantically pedaling on bikes” imagery, to be honest.)
With its second story arc, the girls (minus KJ) visit the present day (and Erin’s grown-up self), and the issues touch on the poignancy and difficulty of facing your spent youth, and how damn weird today would be for a bunch of 80’s kids who are not quite forged by the cynicism of our time. For those of us of a certain age, all this hits home with a vengeance. — MJ
Superman. (DC Comics) Blue skies. Yellow sunshine. Red badges over a beating heart. That’s what Superman is these days. Every time I pick up this book, I can’t believe it. As a life-long Superman fan, I want it to last forever.
It’s not hyperbole when I say that this is the definitive take on the Man of Steel in this century. No super-armor, no t-shirts, no gimmicky nonsense. Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, John Kalisz, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Wil Quinana, every single person on this book understands what makes Superman work. The only trick they had to pull off was to convince us that it was time for Lois Lane and Clark Kent to become something more than themselves.
Making Superman a family book is a no-brainer in retrospect. With Rebirth, DC Comics vowed that the company would honor the legacy of its own Universe while forging a new path towards a brighter tomorrow. With the inclusion of a Post-Crisis Lois & Clark into a Post-Flashpoint reality, alongside a young, energetic sprite named Jonathan, DC’s pitch became a promise.
When it isn’t paying homage to the late Darwyn Cooke, or honoring the legacies of other Super-creators with its thoughtful interpretations, Superman has fun in the DC Universe. (A novel concept, I know.) Its effortless vitality represents a sea change in the comics industry, that maybe the death grip the Eighties had on us has finally ended. There are no other heroes fit to lead that charge than the Man of Tomorrow, Lois Lane, and Jonathan Kent. (Oh, and Krypto too.) — JJ
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Archie Comics) Would it surprise you if I said that the best place to find occult images of blasphemous authenticity in 2016 was in the Archie Comics exploits of Sabrina the teenage witch? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina features broomsticks and familiars, glamours and sacrifices, blood rites and mutilation, and a skull-faced Satan for a husband. The worst nightmare of small town 60s America, behind letterman jackets and inside soda fountains, there are monsters.
The research on witchcraft grounds it, the romance of the retro and the perfect pop culture references give it spirit, and the intensity of the horror knocks it out of the park. Aguirre-Sacasa pens devious stories that inspire staggering and unexpected scenarios. Troubled dreams cause Sabrina to toss and turn a few feet above the bed. Hack’s art has a sketchy simplicity that leaves room for small town schoolgirl innocence to be unclouded. That is, until someone’s face is eaten off.
His characters look like pulp romance novels or Nancy Drew blended with obscene escapees from the Vault of Horror. She’s from Pep Comics, not EC, but Madam Satan is a formidable antagonist for the series and one of the criminally undervalued villains in comics these days. Driven. Cruel. Iconic- that look, 36-24-36 with a face like the inside of a corpse’s bowels, ruby lips and bleached white skulls for eyes. The images in Sabrina can be grueling, but the pace is not. Time is taken to pause and tell other stories. Histories. You couldn’t ask for a better venue for a multigenerational tale of vengeance and love than in the world of Archie Comics, through the dark mirror of Archie Horror. What Sabrina has seen so far has been sick. What comes next should be terminal. — AOK
Black Hammer. (Dark Horse Comics) When someone starts to compare a modern comic to Watchmen, your first impulse may be to slowly walk away and begin the search for a new partner in conversation. So when I say Dark Horse Comics’ Black Hammer has, yes, touches of Watchmen, don’t abandon me just yet…! Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart have created a comic that’s part mystery, part bittersweet retired-superhero anecdote, and part drama of loss. Black Hammer deconstructs the superhero myth, but in a way that is neither oppressive nor maudlin. And when it touches on the morbid, it’s never to the detriment of story, but to the benefit of its occasional spookiness. This year, Black Hammer was required reading.
Jeff Lemire has a large cast in (and outside of) that farmhouse/safehouse, many of them analogs for a few certain Marvel and DC superheroes, all of them ridiculously well-developed and sympathetic. Dean Ormston’s style is perfect for this series, and his expressions — from young Gail’s unsettlingly adult glares to the wild eyes of Colonel Weird — elicit chills at every juncture. Dave Stewart’s colors are typically amazing and expressive and beautiful. Black Hammer is one of Dark Horse’s most engaging and entertaining comics right now. We are fortunate to have it. — MJ
The Black Monday Murders. (Image Comics) For the people who still say “money is the root of all evil” allow me to direct you to Image Comics’ The Black Monday Murders. Money isn’t where evil comes from; money is how we quantify evil. Stacks upon stacks of malice. Those crisp bills in your pocket, rank with the stench of brimstone. Those little green strips raining down from the titanic empires above, just a taste of the wealth we so pinheadedly covet, one we will never, ever, have.
In Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker’s unfliching crime saga, wealth isn’t the family around you, or the love you have in your heart. Here, the menace of affluence has long poisoned our very souls. In The Black Monday Murders, it’s all we know. We, the people, heads lowered and shuffling at the whims of a power we will never rightfully comprehend. But, like most everything else, that power can be subverted, even destroyed. That’s where Grigoria Rothschild and Detective James Dumas come in. They’re diametrically opposed to one another — one has an endgame in mind, while the other is only beginning to scratch underneath this world’s scaly underbelly — but their fates are beginning to weave together.
Hickman and Coker’s world has rules. The Haves have always, and the Have Nots never will. Like any incredible story, the rules must bend. Then they must break. The scariest part is what comes afterwards. — JJ
What’s YOUR choice for Best Ongoing Series of 2015? Let us know in the comments section below.