There’s been a lot of comics published in 2016, and it’s been a very, very good year for material… which might make it seem all the more daunting to dive in and try and find the cream of the crop for anyone trying to catch up on the best of the last 12 months. Thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone: here, categorized by category — including a couple of “cheat” categories — are some of the highlights of the past year in comics. Squirrels, girls and imaginary friends await.
Best Superhero Revamp: Doom Patrol by Gerard Way and Nick Derrington
It’s been a busy year for superheroes — while DC’s superhero Rebirth has revitalized that line, Marvel’s Civil War II has significantly dampened enthusiasm for the House of Ideas — making it all the more surprising that the best superhero makeovers this year come from the periphery. Gerard Way and Nick Derrington’s Doom Patrol has proven to be a worthy successor to the previous versions of the series, pulling the weirdness and counter culture of earlier incarnations into a run that feels simultaneously contemporary and timeless, with fairy tale logic and anti-corporate theorizing running throughout the whole thing. The run is only three issues old now, but by this time next year, it might be in the running for book of the year.
See Also: Spidey (unofficial online webcomics and zine) by Hannah Blumenreich
Best YA: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Squirrel Girl isn’t just the best Young Adult comic of the year, it’s arguably the best superhero comic of the year for any audience: a series that takes the superhero genre as seriously as it deserves — which is to say, not entirely — and finds new ways to inject personality, humor and fun into proceedings, whether that’s turning an issue into a Choose Your Own Adventure comic, or putting aside the superhero stuff to focus on Squirrel Girl’s unsuccessful dating life. It’s a comic that purposefully, aggressively courts a new audience, and in doing so, appeals across the board.
See Also: Amelia Cole by Adam P. Knave, DJ Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire
Best Superhero: Superman
Sure, there are those who’ll always argue against the Man of Steel, but the character has had an impressive year, even ignoring his big screen death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A comic book version died in the “Final Days of Superman” storyline, which led to the Rebirth of the character — older, wiser and featured in one of the most enjoyable superhero comics of 2016. Meanwhile, this year also saw the conclusion of Superman: American Alien, a re-examination of the character from Max Landis and a number of artists that, freed from regular continuity, focused on his core values and presented a version that seemed brand new and entirely classic — and arguably more human than we’re used to seeing, as well.
See Also: Batman, Black Panther
Best Comedy: The Flintstones by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh
Announced as part of DC’s wider Hanna-Barbera relaunch alongside Scooby Apocalypse and Future Quest, expectations were low for Flintstones — but the book has proven itself to be one of the sharpest social satires around, in and out of comics, with religion, gay marriage and science denialism all having been skewered in the initial issues. It’s an absurd and hilarious series that feels very much like a surprisingly faithful update to the original cartoon. Who could’ve seen that coming?
See Also: Giant Days by John Allison and others
Best Nonfiction: Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden
Glidden’s follow-up to her wonderful 2011 How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less sees her travel to Syria and Iran, accompanying two non-profit journalists as they attempt to explore the effect of the Iraq War on the Middle East, with Glidden also exploring the strengths and limits of contemporary journalism and the effects of the war on those who fought in it, using a fourth member of their group — a former U.S. soldier — as an entry point. Subtle, curious and touchingly human, this is an exceptional piece of journalism, in addition to being a spectacular work of cartooning.
See Also: Something New by Lucy Knisley
Best Contemporary Commentary: Unfollow by Rob Williams, Michael Dowling and others
Unfollow started from a perfect pitch — social media meets Battle Royale as 140 random users of a Twitter-like service learn they’ll share in the inheritance of the service’s dying founder, turning them into immediate celebrities and targets for murder by those seeking a bigger share — and has unfolded in such a way that feels primed for mass consumption. Especially the jaw dropping climax to its first year, which felt like a better “season finale” than anything on television this year.
See Also: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Best Impossible To Categorize, But They Should Be Mentioned Nonetheless: Panther by Brecht Evans
Dark, disturbing and at times surprisingly beautiful, to explain Panther fully would spoil the mystery box of a book to a certain degree; instead, let’s just say that it’s about imaginary childhood friends, abuse and the power of storytelling, told in a manner that plays with comics as a medium. It’s not an easy read, but it’s one that will stick with you for a long time afterwards.
See Also: Demon by Jason Shiga, Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
Best Unofficial Trilogy: The Omega Men/The Sheriff of Babylon/The Vision by Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda, Mitch Gerads, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and others
If there’s one creator who could be called 2016’s MVP, it’s Tom King. His Vision series for Marvel (with art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta) was arguably the critical highlight of the publisher’s year, and his two recently concluded DC series The Omega Men and The Sheriff of Babylon brought a verisimilitude (and grim humor) to the war comic genre. Placed together, each of these three 12-issue series act as commentary on the expectations of heroism and the constraints of heroic fiction, especially the stories people tell themselves about their actions — which, in a strange twisted way, makes King the ideal choice to handle DC’s Batman series, where he’s currently breaking boundaries and finding new ways to play with the iconic Dark Knight.