Narrowing down a list of the Top 10 Comics of the Year is never easy, and looking at the list of nominations from the Deadshirt staff I was amazed at the sheer variety of titles represented. Here we have political satire, high school intrigue, superhero action, and wars of both the “Secret” and “Star” variety. Most of these titles are still ongoing, and a few are brand spanking new, so read on, dear reader, and I hope you discover your next favorite comic book.
— Kayleigh Hearn, Comics Editor
1. Prez (DC)
There is, quite simply, no other book like Prez. Ben Caldwell and Mark Russell’s look at a future America and those who control it is an openly absurd parable that rings uncomfortably true. It’s satire that calls out corporate control and mindless entertainment without feeling condescending (no “sheeple” here). It’s a book rife with showstopping visual gags and throwaway lines, one that will make readers laugh and cry within the span of a page, or even a panel. It’s a story that caricatures all the most embarrassing parts of our society, but one that cuts through that cynicism with Beth, the teenage avatar of idealism, kindness, and rationality that we long for. It’s a Big Two book that feels like an indie book, one that’s not beholden to crossovers and movie tie-ins and house style. It’s the best comic of 2015, hands down.
— Joe Stando
2. Monstress (Image)
One of the newest comics on this list, Monstress debuted in November with a jaw-dropping 66-page first issue that instantly made it one of the most notable titles of the year. Created by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress tells the story of Maika Halfwolf, an embittered and deadly survivor of a war involving magic and monsters. (“I’m not…not a monster,” Maika says, though we have reason to doubt her.) An elaborate, female-driven fantasy adventure, Monstress already feels like a fully developed world in only two issues. Liu’s writing challenges the reader to keep up with her mythology without an overabundance of exposition, and Sana Takeda’s Art Deco-inspired artwork is simultaneously gilt-edged and grimy, breathtakingly beautiful on one page, and then shockingly violent on another. Monstress is a comic that demands to be read, absorbed, examined, and admired.
— Kayleigh Hearn
3. The Multiversity (DC)
Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis and a literal army of artistic collaborators delivered the final four issues of DC’s everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink cosmic odyssey in 2015. And while the best issue of the maxi-series, Pax Americana, dropped in 2014, the team still put out some of the strangest and most thought-provoking superhero books of the year. The Multiversity Guidebook, part secret files and origins-style sourcebook and part bizarro anthology, was even Deadshirter Joe Stando’s single favorite issue of the year. Morrison’s DC work has historically been where he really shines, and the back half of Multiversity is a nice bookmark placed in his ideas on Superman, the vibrational multiverse, and the eternal good fight. If nothing else, this is a comic that managed to weaponize The Monster At The End Of This Book for a capes and tights readership.
— Max Robinson
4. The Vision (Marvel)
The Vision is Marvel’s most unsettling story of the year, which is why it made my top ten even amidst the monstrous Secret Wars event. Vision, a hyper intelligent and powerful android, has accepted a job in Washington D.C. and takes the opportunity to truly fit the model of the perfect public servant by creating a perfect family. Tom King’s take on the American Dream is subtly terrifying, as this newly minted family tries to suss out what it means to be human, even as a frank, emotionless narrator tells the reader that one of them will murder innocent people before the end.
Despite there being only two issues thus far, a lot of ground has been covered in the story thanks in part to artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s impeccable way of fitting everything on the page. Much of the dialogue consists of Vision and his wife, Virginia, discussing the meaning of words and actions, which translates into pages and pages of small panels, which are then juxtaposed with larger vignettes, such as Virginia sitting home alone pondering humanity while giving a side-eye to a gift from Scarlet Witch that Vision still proudly displays. All the while, the Vision family is illustrated with smiling faces and blank eyes as they greet their creeped-out neighbors. I can’t wait to watch this story reach its terrifying conclusion as an Avenger’s creation makes a deadly mark on the world.
— Sarah Register
5. Secret Wars (Marvel)
Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribić’s Secret Wars is no mere remake. Despite the name and the fact that it’s a Marvel crossover that throws heroes and villains on a “battleworld,” it’s a very different beast. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Secret Wars is the best event book Marvel’s ever done. While the series is largely devoted to (excellently) wrapping up plotlines seeded by Hickman as far back as his Fantastic Four run, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy. Hickman and Ribić deliver rapid-fire great moments, from Star-Lord triumphantly plugging a piece of his friend Groot into the Asgardian lifetree Yggdrasil to Spider-Men Peter Parker and Miles Morales bonding over a stale cheeseburger. Secret Wars is also the best Dr. Doom story Marvel’s published in a very long time: Victor Von Doom—now armed with infinite power and the family he has so desperately coveted—looks within and finds himself lacking. Taking ample inspiration from George R.R. Martins’ Game of Thrones, Secret Wars offers a from-the-ground-up examination of the gods, men, and monsters that make the Marvel Universe so great.
— Max Robinson
6. Action Comics (DC)
2015 has been a big year for the Superman books, with his “unmasked” status explored in a couple different ways. While Gene Luen Yang and Jon Romita Jr. told a sprawling, Kirby-esque epic in the main Superman title, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder focused on an even more stripped-down Superman: one in a T-shirt and jeans, who sticks up for poor neighborhoods in Metropolis and struggles to keep his anger at those taking advantage of them from spiraling out of control. Action Comics may have been the boldest ongoing of the new status quo, and his wrapped-knuckle brawling wasn’t for everyone. But it was a take on Superman that spoke both to his roots as a local hero who took care of the bullies, and to our modern frustration with inequality, prejudice, and institutionalized violence. Kuder and Pak put the “man” back into “Superman,” depicting him as a flawed, vulnerable champion who can’t solve things as neatly as he used to, but still never stops trying.
— Joe Stando
7. Star Wars (Marvel)
The best thing about the Star Wars comic is that it feels like Star Wars. From the very first issue, Jason Aaron encapsulates everything that we love about the films, right down to C-3PO ending up in pieces. Marvel’s groundbreaking step into the new Expanded Universe takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back as Luke, with the ever adorable R2-D2 in tow, quests to learn everything he can about the Jedi, and Leia keeps the Rebels on their feet while dealing with Han and his past. Aaron’s understanding of the characters rivals some of their own spin-off titles penned by other authors, and he seems to never miss an opportunity to offer fan service.
John Cassaday, who did the art for the first arc, gave us some beautiful action panels and impeccably illustrated ships, though his attempt to draw the characters in the exact likeness of the film actors sometimes left faces a little stiff. When Stuart Immonen took over in August, however, a new kind of life was breathed into the comic with expressive faces that drifted comfortably away from their actor counterparts. The second arc continued to deliver some incredible storylines, along with some pretty iconic splash pages shined up by Justin Ponsor’s beautiful colors. Any fan would be hard pressed not to get hype on Leia, Han, and Chewie all wielding lightsabers, after all.
Marvel’s Star Wars completely exceeded my expectations. As someone who never read the old EU, I can’t get enough of it now.
— Sarah Register
8. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel)
“Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also a squirrel!” So begins Squirrel Girl’s very own theme song (any similarities to that jerk Spider-Man’s theme song is purely coincidental). Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl brings bucktoothed superheroine Doreen Green out of the Avengers’ attic and into Empire State University, where she makes new friends and continues being the best damn superhero in the Marvel Universe. Don’t believe me? Then check out issue #4, which has Squirrel Girl taking a victory selfie on top of none other than a defeated Galactus—and that’s the very first page.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a sly, metafictional little romp, and one of the most charming Marvel comics available now. Ryan North pokes fun at the sillier aspects of the Marvel Universe (such as its seemingly endless supply of animal-themed heroes and villains) without ever making Doreen the butt of the joke, and the script’s humor is equally matched by Erica Henderson’s elastic, wide-eyed artwork. You will say “oooh” at the chiseled hunk named Koi Boi, and “ahh” at the adorable Tippy-Toe, a talking squirrel with a tiny pink bow. And above all, you will bow to the might of Squirrel Girl.
— Kayleigh Hearn
9. Jem and the Holograms (IDW)
One of the most outrageous debuts of 2015, Jem and the Holograms is a fantastic re-introduction to the beloved 1980s animated series. Revamping the series 30 years after new wave and hair metal’s heyday is no easy feat, but Kelly Thompson’s writing sticks to the show’s core premise—Jerrica Benton and her sisters become the fabulous rock band Jem and the Holograms thanks to a futuristic AI named Synergy—while breaking free of the constraints of an old Saturday morning cartoon. Characters are allowed to grow and develop in surprising new directions, such as Jerrica embracing the pink-haired Jem identity to cope with her crippling stage fright, and the sweet, star-crossed romance between Kimber and Stormer (you can still hear the fanfiction authors cheering).
Jem and the Holograms is also one of the most beautiful comics of 2015, thanks to Sophie Campbell’s stunning and vibrant artwork. Campbell’s updated character designs are recognizable enough for old-school fans while thrusting them into the twenty-first century, and the body diversity of her characters makes Jem and the Holograms one of the few mainstream comics where I can see women who look like me. (No longer do Jem and the Holograms look like identical, ready-for-mass-production Barbie dolls.) Her eye for fashion is also unmatched, giving her characters a fashion-forward wardrobe that, appropriately enough for the Holograms, feels almost too amazing to be real. Glamor and glitter, fashion and fame—it’s all here in Thompson and Campbell’s Jem and the Holograms.
— Kayleigh Hearn
10. Gotham Academy (DC)
2015 also saw the second Gotham Academy arc wrap up under co-writers Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (along with guest talent like Adam Archer and Sandra Hope). I’ve described Gotham Academy to friends as “a really good webcomic DC happens to publish” and I really think that’s true: Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl have created a title with a colorful cast that exists in its own little corner of Gotham City. While Batman, a host of Robins and villains like Clayface make appearances in the book, Gotham Academy is a DC title that isn’t centered around cool fights or explosions. Rather, it keeps you turning to the next page on the strength of character friendships and Gothic spookiness. Books like Gotham Academy—and characters like the adventure-seeking Maps Mizoguchi and the tormented Olive Silverlock—are genuine treasures in a sometimes homogeneous comics marketplace.
— Max Robinson