After a whirlwind holiday, and first few weeks of the year, I’ve finally been able to return to you with the absolute definition of greatness in comic books for the past month. Although this juggernaut of a blog has been totally unreliable and inconsistent over the last month, comic books, and their publishers never are! (wink, wink) Comic books have plowed on and that being so, there are many to discuss and rate. Sticking with the format of the previous abominable post, which definitively listed 2015’s best comics. Below you will find a similarly definitive list of the five best comics of the last five weeks. Do not try to dispute, or undermine what you are about to see, what you will see are simply facts, and I am simply the messenger. In fact you may notice a bit of a carry over from the best of 2015 list, which is further proof that these lists are infallible truth offerings created only for the benefit of furthering your cultural awareness.
For a guide on what the “star ratings” mean see “About” on the home page.
Behold! The five best comics published between December 30, 2015 and January 27, 2016:
5. Lazarus #21
Written by Greg Rucka, Illustrated by Michael Lark, Colors: Santi Arcas
The final installment of the “Poison” story arc, has been one of the most suspenseful arcs of the series thus far. This arc has followed the main protagonist, Forever, in a military battle for control of Duluth, Minnesota, where we have seen her nearly die, and her father, the “Family” patriarch cling to life after being poisoned by the family they are currently battling. This issue’s development of the Forever character, and the last page reveal that teases to resolve an ongoing mystery that has developed over the last fifteen is jaw-dropping.
Michael Lark is amazingly consistent issue-to-issue, as is Santi Arcas who’s colors are hugely important in creating mood and place each issue. The artists’ combined efforts display a realism that Rucka’s grounded world of speculative fiction demands. Although in previous arcs, Lazarus seemed to be trailing off, this arc, and especially this issue bring the series back in a big way.
4. Copra #25
Written and Drawn by Michel Fiffe, Guest Writers/Artists: Jeffrey Brown, Kat Roberts, Chuck Forsman, Tim Hamilton, Sloane Leong, Paul Maybury, Matthew Allison, and Benjamin Marra
This was a huge anniversary issue with eight guests, two of which did small back up stories, the others offer up fantastic pin-ups or spreads of various Copra characters.
The main story written and drawn by Fiffe, named Special Secret Stage is a prequel or “#0 issue” to use comics lingo. The story follows an early mission placed before we were first introduced to the Copra “special ops” mercenary team in issue number one. The story is extremely action-packed, and as always, drawn amazingly in Fiffe’s unique style and layout. Fiffe’s knack for illustrating action, and his approach to page layout and pacing make for a story that after a few establishing pages, flies by at a break-neck pace. This issue included much more traditional page layouts than issues passed, using standard four panel grids, with a only a few pages using asymmetrical paneling. Although the layout is a bit more standard, the colors and inks create a texture and uniqueness that makes all Copra stories look like nothing else in comics today.
The story itself not only adds layers to the on-going saga of Copra, but provides answers to questions that had been raised through out the last twenty four issues, as to characters’ origins and motivations. It also spins a tale of true suspense even in the case of character’s you know will survive to see the end of fight. The end leaves you with a mind-bending look into the arch-villain that plagued the Copra team throughout early issues of the series.
Additionally, the first back-up story titled: A is for Afterlife, written and drawn by Tim Hamilton, adds fascinating layers to the Lloyd character and creates a new dynamic between Sonia and the “Copra” mercenary team that she leads. The story centers around a female love interest of Lloyd’s that had not been alluded to before in the series, that was apparently a huge part of his life. You come to find out, Sonia has changed his memories to believe she had died in a secret mission alone. You are then introduced to a fantastically gruesome villain, who has an equally gruesome back story, who brutally murders this love interest of Lloyd who was a fellow mercenary. This truly engaging story backed up with art that you might describe as more traditional for the comics medium, is a treat, and has massive potential to influence the forthcoming coming arc.
Overall this issue is an absolute treasure for anyone who has been a long time reader of Copra, being able to see different creator’s takes on the characters. Also getting a delve into these characters’ past that isn’t just for the sake of an anniversary issue, but truly advances the series and characters in a meaningful way, making this issue very rewarding. I think it can also serve as a great introduction to the world and to its characters, as the stories do well to establish the characters and what the Copra team is.
3. Batman #48
Written: Scott Snyder, Pencils: Greg Capullo, Inks: Danny Miki, Colors: Fco Plascencia
The eighth part of the current arc entitled: “Superheavy”, in which Jim Gordan has taken the mantle of Batman since the events of the previous arc that left Bruce Wayne completely unaware of his past, most importantly unaware of his role as Batman. This issue was easily the best part of the arc so far. The through line that starts with the particle accelerator on page one and connects back on page twenty was wonderfully realized. This issue reads as the culmination of the past seven issues, with a last page that leaves you pumping your fist in triumph.
After a first page that shows a crisis happening at the Gotham particle accelerator facility, we see Bruce Wayne talking to a man who’s words and appearance seem to indicate he could be The Joker who’s recollection of the past has also been erased. As this mysterious man nearly attempts to commit suicide in front of Bruce, spouting a rhetoric that no one is really able to make a noticeable difference in the world, they are interrupted by Mr. Bloom and his cronies laying waste to Gotham.
Mr. Bloom, the new villain introduced in this arc, becomes a completely new entity in his scope during this issue. The drug that he has developed to give any person super powers is revealed to be dispersed through out the city, and after growing hundreds of feet tall, and holding Jim Gordan he issues his manifesto to Gotham to seize the day and become what this “new Batman” could never be. Which is an individual with real agency, to snatch the power he offers to them, be their own protection, and take what they believe is theirs.
In some of the best three pages of comics in the last year or more, the story culminates as the Gotham Police “Batmen” descend on Mr. Bloom, the city erupts, the particle accelerator looks to be near meltdown, and Gordan is about to loose his life, we see Alfred sitting next to a door about to be kicked in. Then there it is, a last page that will be nearly impossible to top in the coming year. One that in good conscious I could not possibly ruin for you if you haven’t read this comic. That said, the absolute next thing you should do after reading this sentence is to find this comic and read it, because it is only January, and this is almost certainly going to be in the running for top five issues of 2016.
2. The Fade Out #12
Written by Ed Brubaker, Drawn by Sean Phillips, Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser
The finale of Brubaker and Phillips’ masterful Hollywood noir, ends fittingly in a tragic whirlwind. Although the answers to the story’s mysterious murder and cover up are discovered, the tragedy and pain of the main protagonist, Charlie, is hardly reduced after discovering these answers. The emotion evoked in Brubaker’s writing and Phillips’ ability to translate the emotion to his art is unparalleled. The heartbreak and desperation of Charlie as he stumbles his way through this final act is profound, as the mysteries are revealed to you and Charlie, you feel as he feels, and realize the emptiness of the truth. As Charlie realizes the answers he was so desperately searching for offer no closure, and no justice, he spirals back to rock bottom, and drunkenly stumbles through New York, questioning the meaning of it all. Phillips’ expressiveness, and Brubaker’s narration provide an amazing ending to a stellar series that stands among the best of the two’s collaborative works.
1. Secret Wars #9
Written by Jonathon Hickman, Illustrated by Esad Ribic, Colors by Ive Svorcina
Despite the numerous delays, and other hurdles this book faced throughout its nine months of publication, Secret Wars, and its finale, did what very few thought it would, and actually lived up to the hype. As most regular comic book readers know, almost all “event” series like this one are billed to be “universe-altering” and are supposed to have massive implications on all your favorite characters. Also, as regular readers, we know that this is almost never true, and that’s fine, we don’t expect for the publisher to seriously do away with the centerpieces of their publishing line, but we can fairly expect for the story to be at least slightly entertaining, which these event series rarely are. This is where Secret Wars is the rare exception. Serving as an all-of-reality spanning finale for the entire body of Jonathon Hickman’s work at Marvel, Secret Wars truly felt epic, and important, and this final issue is one that I find truly touching and heartfelt. It also leaves a lasting impression on some of the most important characters in the Marvel universe, that feels genuine and earned.
This issue brings to a head the final showdown between the best villain and hero duo in the Marvel universe, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), and Dr. Doom (Victor Von Doom). As Richards’ daughter realizes that the reality she and everyone else is living in is a lie fabricated by Dr. Doom, who is posing as her father and husband her mother, Sue, Reed Richards confronts them, before heading off to confront Molecule Man. Elsewhere, Doom is being distracted by the Black Panther who is serving as a diversion to buy Richards time to meet with Molecule Man, who is, for a lack of a better term, the battery, for this Dr. Doom ruled reality. As Dr. Doom realizes this, he transports himself to Richards’ location (Doom can do that kind of shit, he is basically an omnipotent god in this reality), this is where the throw down to decide the fate of all reality ensues. Esad Ribic’s pencils in this issue make every week and month that this series was delayed worth it. His rendering of Richards’ and Doom’s emotion and brutality is astonishing. The importance of the moment, and its repercussions emanate off the page, and Hickman’s ability to grasp the essence of each character is fully realized as Doom admits to Richards that he is the better man, and the control of reality is reverted to Richards.
As the issue comes to a close we see the Black Panther who used the infinity gauntlet to transport himself with his original consciousness intact to a new Wakanda (the super technologically advanced African nation that he rules), in which the nation is even further advanced than before. Also, we see both Peter Parker, and Miles Morales (the Spider-Men from their respective universes) conversing with the Molecule Man, who has seemingly spared them as well, and allowed them to retain their original consciousness. Finally, we see Reed Richards, his wife Sue, his two children and the Future Foundation (a team of ultra-smart kids that worked with the Richards in the past to solve world problems through super science), together creating universes! In one of the greatest lines in recent Marvel history, Richards, talking to his son Franklin, responds to him asking if they were going to be super heroes anymore: “Well, here’s the thing, Franklin. It’s doing good that counts, not necessarily how you do it. And what we’re doing right now matters–it might be the most important thing ever–and the best part is I get to do it with all of you. So, no… No more super heroes for a while, just science.” If that doesn’t elicit a major emotional reaction out of you, than you are an evil robot. As he finishes Franklin bounds off to go play, and Richards asks Sue if there was something more they could have done to save the other half of the Fantastic Four, and she reassures him that he did what was right. It is there we leave the the Richards family, possibly forever. We close as Richards’ narration trails off over images of Dr. Doom standing on his castle balcony removing his mask, and revealing his healed face, apparently still possessing his original consciousness thanks to the mercy Richards.
At the close of the issue, you can feel the love Hickman has for these characters, and that it truly means something to him to leave such a lasting impact on them and the Marvel universe as a whole. The choice of Esad Ribic to pencil this epic I believe was a terrific decision. His realism and craftsmanship is among the best in comics. Each page is magnificent and feels epic, and his ability to convey emotion in his faces make the highly charged moments, feel important and real. Hickman and Ribic, along with their fantastic color artist, Ive Svorcina, did what very few have ever done, and created an event that was actually as far-reaching, affecting, and emotional as it was advertised to be, which is why this comic is easily the best of the month, and could quite possibly be one of the best of the year.