By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, Arpad Okay, and Jarrod Jones. If you thumb through the back issues of comics published in 2015, you’ll notice a strange narrative at play. DC and Marvel damn near mirrored each other this year in a squirrely race to rebrand themselves to an audience that seemed to grow more diverse by the millisecond. Meanwhile, creator-owned books from Image (and Black Mask Studios and AfterShock too, being the new kids on the block) enjoyed greater popularity than ever, stretching themselves out comfortably among the stands with daring (and headline-grabbing) sagas.
These are the mini-series that captivated us, brought us back with each successive installment, and left us twitching in the dust, craving more.
THE BEST MINI-SERIES OF THE YEAR
We Can Never Go Home. I wish there was some way to project to every person I’ve met every tremulous emotion that shot through my mind as I read Matthew Rosenberg & Patrick Kindlon’s We Can Never Go Home. (Hm? Oh, that’s right!) We Can Never Go Home is Black Mask Studios’ crown jewel, the comics industry’s best-kept secret.
Read just about every thinkpiece on We Can Never Go Home and you’ll find apt comparisons to Saga, Sex Criminals, and anything else of worth Image puts out these days. That’s not some kind of accident, that’s the gospel truth: with its thoughtful meditation of living fast, dying young, and leaving behind ash piles that used to be your enemies, Rosenberg, Kindlon, and artist Josh Hood gave us a mini-series that can sit proudly on your bookshelf among the stalwart greats. What’s so staggering is that it seemingly appeared out of nowhere. But as soon as it came to its bittersweet conclusion, there was among us absolutely zero doubt: We Can Never Go Home (and Black Mask Studios) had arrived. — JJ
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl. Yes, I know The Immaterial Girl hasn’t finished its six-issue run yet. It’s topping my list of 2015’s comic book miniseries anyway. The third (and supposedly final) installment of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson’s slowburn journey through the magic of pop music is just as achingly melancholic and incisively witty as it’s always been. In true Love and Rockets-esque fashion, we’ve aged alongside David, Emily, and Seth (and even the kids from The Singles Club), and now–steeped in the neons and static of 80’s music videos–the themes of identity, aging, and whether the true price of getting what you want is worth getting what you once wanted have become inescapable.
As ever, Gillen’s many musical name drops are flawless, and since much of the sources mined for Immaterial Girl is the visual medium of music videos, McKelvie and Wilson get to evoke just as many pop icons. They continue to produce some of the best interior art in the industry–issue #3’s journey through various music videos and album covers and all their respective, diverse styles was phenomenal. The fourth issue stands out as well, functioning as an homage to Scott Pilgrim, and also as a quick revisit to beloved characters from Phonogram’s second arc, effortlessly furthering the main plot all the while.
Knowing Immaterial Girl is the last Phonogram volume makes its approaching finale bittersweet (my heart–she breaks!), which is fitting for a comic about the effects our favorite songs and albums have on us, and how they define and divide the ages of our lives. — MJ
The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage. Doctor Mirage is a densely packed treasure chest of supernatural adventure, of world-hopping, Dr. Jones-ian occultish derring-do. A spirit world with the depth and breadth of Neil Gaiman’s Dreaming. The story of a master detective putting the job aside for a personal affair. Shan Fong-Mirage doesn’t know she’s been set up, she only cares about a fresh lead on the whereabouts of her long lost love. There’s intrigue. There’s magic. Shan looks so sharp and superheroic she could easily be an Avenger or a member of the Hellfire Club.
There is a cornucopia of aesthetics that go into the artwork for Doctor Mirage. Demons and ghosts, soldiers and simple stuff like Shan’s dog. Expressionist colors paint the page to the spirit of the story rather than its appearance, much like the work of Barry Windsor-Smith or John Higgins. Even the hard work put into lettering shines, every element pushing the overall quality of the book higher. The Doctor Mirage team (Jen Van Meter and Roberto De La Torre) works together in harmony, creating all things beautiful and haunting. — AOK
Airboy. The James Robinson Comeback Tour is steadily ramping up, but the groundwork for the paradigm-shifting reemergence was laid with a quiet look inward.
Airboy is as close to open heart surgery as a comic can be. We see who this man is, and how he’s acted. Robinson takes the warts-and-all approach and gives the audience a look at the man himself as an unlikeable sociopath who can’t stop abusing substances long enough to take a good look at the life he’s living.
And there’s no denying Greg Hinkle’s effort as one of the most stand-out displays of the year. The book is undeniably striking, and an absolute delight to look at. Hinkle’s got chops, and clearly the patience and will to carve out the details needed in a comic like this (or any book at all, really). Can’t wait to see his output in the years to come.
If we here at DoomRocket were giving out an “Entity of The Year” award, Airboy would win my vote, hands down. Nothing else stimulated, moved, or muddled my brain more than Robinson’s hyper-unreal breakup memoir. The whole thing is an all-encompassing journey through the innards of one of the most revered minds in the industry. — SS
Shaft. Pardon me for saying so, but you’re damn right: David F. Walker and Bilquis Evely’s Shaft mini-series was the most incendiary thing I read in 2015. But it was also one of the most beautiful too; Walker’s love and respect for the character of John Shaft is palpable throughout this far-too short series. The writer (who is working wonders over on DC Comics’ Cyborg, by the way) imbues the world-famous private dick with a humanity that transcends all pithy jokes and glib witticisms generally attributed to the character. If New Line Cinema is serious about bringing John Shaft back to the big screen, they need look no further for a suitable source for rich material. Walker decimated expectation and by doing so cemented his place as a preeminent voice in the industry.
Bilquis Evely’s artwork is at once detailed, nuanced, and gorgeous, evoking thoughts of workhorse artists like Jerry Ordway while carving out a style that is indelibly her own. Through Evely’s vision, the period setting of ’70s Harlem comes alive through her thoughtful, painstaking artwork. If I read another book as fully-realized and objectively perfect as Shaft, I can’t remember it. And leafing through the pages of Dynamite’s stunning mini-series once again, I don’t want to. — JJ
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
Sandman: Overture. Though it took this little six-issue miniseries nearly two years to finish, it was every bit worth the wait. Gaiman’s gorgeous grasp of language was finely met by Williams’ lyrical and beautiful interiors–with typically fantastic coloring by Dave Stewart–making for comics that caused you to pause and gasp at each singular page. (No, seriously: every page merited pause for study.)
This is a book that will have a long and fruitful life as a collected volume, and will stand as a testament to the marvelous talents involved in its creation. — MJ
She-Hulk. She-Hulk was the high water mark for the Marvel Now! imprint. The highest of highbrow paired with the tightest of tights comics. A book about She-Hulk the lawyer, playing to what makes us all love her the most: she is smart, she is able, she is supremely compassionate. Where do you draw the line when you are able to step out of the courtroom and actually solve crimes? She-Hulk asks grand questions, but it also lends humanity to everyone contained within, from henchmen to legal aides.
The final story arc, the big payoff for the series, broke the fourth wall in a thoughtful, semi-insidious and definitely ingenuitive way–it messed with the reader’s reality as well as its hero’s. (An intentional retcon initiated by a character in the story. Go figure.) The artwork is as blissfully sophisticated as the writing. A bauhaus eye for dynamic design. Characters drawn with the minimal touch of Mike Mignola, perfectly suited for a spot in Vicki Glori’s lady lucha libre wrestling camp. She-Hulk was fun, thought-provoking, and totally refreshing. — AOK
We Stand on Guard. If you’re not going to try and intrinsically change the way I view life, death, and art, then I’ll gladly take this dystopian pseudo-political, underdog-championed action thriller, thank you very much. BKV’s never not killed it, but this quick joint set in a future ultra-imperialist America (formerly Canada) is a fun, insightful foray into a light critique of modern politics. More accurately, it’s an in-depth look at a heady, a-ha moment of realization: “Whoa, at this point, maybe our government is just a parasitic entity of self-preservation.” We Stand on Guard is a sneakily smart statement piece masqueraded as a simple action movie (coincidentally, isn’t that what makes all action movies stand out? A bunch of explosions in between some biting commentary and a little bit of prodding at the audience?)
The idea of a physically re-colonizing United States isn’t entirely far fetched, especially at a time when we’re seeing the conflicts caused by natural resource scarcity and massive tensions between strategically important states. Brian K. Vaughan knows this and knows precisely how to tap into our insecurities as citizens of the current era. He’s effectively given us a short and sweet jab to the heart, where our hopes and fears lie. — SS
Space Riders. C’mon. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing this didn’t make the list.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “… ‘Space Riders’ taps into that primal core which lies in every single human being, the part of us that just has to let loose from our cultural microcosms from time to time. It’s a book that understands why people run off to the desert with a pocket full of peyote, or quit their menial day jobs in order to better control their own destinies. ‘Space Riders’ comes from a place deep within us all, the one that just wants the confines of reality to melt away in a mind-bleed of uncontrolled catharsis. Also, it’s fun as shit.” I meant every word. If there’s a mini-series that demands a full-blown, red carpet rollout towards your bookshelf, Space Riders is it.
Agree? Disagree? Which mini-series blew YOU away this year? Let us know in the comments section below.