paper girls

Photo via Paper Girls/Image Comics

The best comics we read in a year full of good reads.

We’re heavily invested in sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes here at Daily Dot Parsec, and 2016 provided a bumper crop of amazing new comics. So many, in fact, that it was almost impossible to narrow down our annual list of must-read titles.

Here’s our best shot at titles you can’t miss this year. 

1) The Vision

Vol. 1 and 2, Marvel Comics

Don’t sleep on The Vision, the disturbing and poetic new take on Marvel‘s android Avenger.

Created by writer Tom King, artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Clayton Cowles, The Vision is a creepy and compelling exploration of a familiar sci-fi concept: a robot who wants to be human. Determined to embark on a “normal” life, Vision creates a wife and two children in his own image, and moves into a house in the suburbs.

From the first page, the coolly omniscient narrator makes it clear that Vision’s plan will end in disaster. As Vision and his family try to fit into their new home, a sense of inevitable doom lurks in the background. It’s a trip straight into the Uncanny Valley, owing much to the blank yet incredibly emotive, hollow-eyed faces of the Vision family, colored in eerily subdued pastel hues.  

Vision #1

Now complete in 12 issues, The Vision is a mature, gripping story about the all-American institution of the nuclear family—a comic that embraces its literary nature without letting go of its superhero roots.

2) Bitch Planet

Vol. 1, Image Comics

Now in its second volume, Bitch Planet is a phenomenon unto itself. Inspired by grindhouse-era exploitation movies, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro created a dystopian scenario that instantly struck a chord with readers. Each issue ends with a zine-style section including a letters page, feminist essays by guest writers, and advertisements for fictional products in the Bitch Planet universe.

Bitch Planet is the name of a prison colony where women are sent for breaking the law—or simply failing to conform to society’s expectations of femininity. It’s a deeply political story about women raging against an oppressive system, and achieves the difficult task of feeling fresh and original in an oversaturated genre. Volume 2, which comes out in January, escalates the story from a dystopian prison drama (with plenty of action) to a wider political narrative, delving deeper into the backstories of the main cast.

3) Black Panther

A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1, Marvel Comics

Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Brian Stelfreeze, Black Panther was the most hotly anticipated superhero comic of the year—and it lived up to expectations.

Black Panther #1

Black Panther strikes an ideal balance between a thoughtful, complex political narrative and a traditional, action-heavy superhero adventure. After decades on the sidelines of the Marvel universe, characterized as a technologically advanced utopia, Wakanda finally gets the attention it deserves. Titling the first storyline A Nation Under Our Feet, Coates and Stelfreeze reintroduced Wakanda as a nation with political conflicts like any other, positioning King T’Challa the Black Panther as a flawed hero with relatable, sympathetic enemies.

Stelfreeze’s art gives Black Panther a clean, energetic look, with vibrant color work from Laura Martin. The Wakandan technology and architecture feel truly unique to itself, providing a satisfyingly futuristic contrast to the vocal cadence of Coates’ dialogue, which has the feel of a timeless epic poem about royalty and power. Like Vision, Black Panther is a superhero comic that bears rereading again and again, offering new insights into a character who has been around for decades.

4) Paper Girls

Vol. 1 and 2, Image Comics

It’s kind of wild that Stranger Things and Paper Girls came out in the same year. Both are set in the ’80s; both are adult-rated stories about kids in placid American towns; both transport those kids into an unsettling, monster-filled alternate dimension. Yet they’re different enough that each has something exciting to add to this very specific micro-genre—and each serves as a strong recommendation for the other.

Paper Girls Vol. 1

Paper Girls is instantly distinctive and memorable. Colorist Matt Wilson fills the suburban setting with deep blues for the early-morning paper route of the main characters, a group of middle-school girls. When they’re accidentally transported into a parallel universe, populated by mutant time-travelers and giant pterodactyls, the color palette slides into surreal shades of pink and lilac.

So far, Paper Girls is wholly unpredictable and effortlessly cool. The protagonists would feel right at home in one of the edgier ’80s teen movies (writer Brian K. Vaughan’s teen girl dialogue is very convincing), and each issue hits that sweet spot of ramping up the weirdness while still feeling totally believable. 

5) Chewbacca

Collected volume, Marvel Comics

It was very difficult for us to pick a favorite from Marvel’s ever-expanding library of Star Wars comics. Darth Vader is, of course, a must-read. Poe Dameron does a great job of capturing the simple joy of Star Wars, and gives much-needed screentime to some beloved background characters from The Force Awakens. But we ended up picking Chewbacca, because it was such an unexpected pleasure.

Chewbacca #1

Drawn by Phil Noto (who also does wonderful work on Poe Dameron) and written by Gerry Duggan, the Chewbacca miniseries partners Chewie with a teen girl named Zarro. Chewie’s personality really shines through in his body language and the reactions from other characters, which is just as well because all his dialogue is in Shyriiwook, without translation.

6) Hannah Blumenreich’s Spidey

Gumroad and Patreon, self-published

Marvel is currently publishing eight different comics about Spider-Man and Spider-Man adjacent characters like Spider-Gwen. Yet Hannah Blumenreich’s Spidey fan-comics made us fall in love with Peter Parker all over again, showing slice-of-life stories about Peter as a lovable, dorky teen.

Blumenreich’s Spidey comics were a breakout hit on social media this year, and we know we’re not the only ones who’d love to see her working on an official Marvel book.

7) Dark Night

Graphic novel, DC Comics

DC Animation writer (and co-creator of Harley Quinn) Paul Dini wrote this unique autobiographical comic, exploring how his life was changed by a violent assault in 1993. During the recovery process, he found himself imagining conversations with Batman characters, with the Joker as the devil on his shoulder, encouraging his self-loathing and fear. It’s a brilliant book about trauma and recovery, and it’s one that could only be told by a superhero comics mastermind like Paul Dini, who has spent his entire career getting inside the minds of DC characters.

8) Ancestor

Collected edition, Image Comics

Originally serialized in Image’s Island anthology, Ancestor is trippy, unnerving, and covers an epic journey through time, space, and the human mind.

Ancestor

Ancestor introduces itself in a near-future setting where everyone is fitted with an interface called The Service, which provides assistance during social situations and moments of emotional upheaval, but (inevitably) creates a dystopian environment of total control and surveillance.

When Ancestor‘s main character is invited to a party where everyone switches off their Service implant, this excellent but straightforward sci-fi concept veers into very unexpected territory. Created by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward, this highly original sci-fi/horror story is yet another reminder that Island is a great place to discover interesting new comics. 

9) The Flintstones

Ongoing series, DC Comics

Launched as part of DC’s new range of Hanna Barbera comic reboots, The Flintstones is subversive political satire with a dark sense of humor. Yes, The Flintstones is one of the best comics of 2016. It’s been a strange year.

The Flintstones #1

By no means a gritty reboot in the classic sense of the term, The Flintstones follows the 1960s stereotypes of the original cartoon. Fred Flintstone is a war veteran who struggles with corporate life, and the town is modeled off the clichés of white-picket-fence Americana. The contrast between the (comparatively) realistic art and the prehistoric puns of classic Flintstones is the icing on the cake of this very entertaining series. 

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