“Greetings people of Earth. It is I, Servitor Vek of the Doomlords of Nox. My all too convincing alien visage has come among you to pass final judgement on your species. I expect to reach a guilty verdict. Perhaps the comics you have selected in the Freaky Trigger poll can persuade me that despite humanity’s many imperfections, you deserve to be spared cosmic annihilation… for another few weeks.”
Gosh, thanks Doomlord. This is the – slightly delayed – second section of this year’s comics poll, and also has the honour of being the section where I have read fewest of the titles voted for. Will that stop me making brief and ill-informed comments? No, it will not. (An asterisk means I haven’t read it AT ALL, though)
I made the mistake of diving into this return of Matt Fraction’s dimension-hopping spy without having read any other Casanova, so I was completely lost. But obviously existing fans – and people with better reading comprehension than me – were digging it. The first Fraction title in this section of the poll and – cue foreshadowing noise – perhaps not the last…
36. SPIDER-GWEN (Latour/Rodriguez/Renzi; Marvel Comics)
Spider-Gwen, Spider-Gwen / First appeared in a one-shot then / It sold out, in a flash / Marvel made, piles of cash / Look out, here comes the Spider-Gwen! Great costume aside I wasn’t especially taken with the alternate-world tales of Gwen Stacy as the spectacular Spider-Gwen, but it is symptomatic of Marvel’s new demographic priorities – Stacy’s death, a sacrificial victim to give Peter Parker more to moan about, was the most prominent “fridging” of the Silver/Bronze Age, and here it’s been symbolically reversed to give Marvel another breakout heroine.
35. PREZ (Russell/Caldwell; DC Comics)
The concept of Prez is the same as it was when Joe Simon introduced it back in the 70s – “the first teen president!”). But this series – published under the DC You banner – feels quite different from that famously hokey outing. This time the first teen president is Beth Ross, viral video sensation and winner on a write-in vote, but the comic is a fair bit sharper than previous iterations, an enjoyable, well-paced mix of optimism and satire. Not every punch lands, and the comic isn’t exactly subtle – but I liked it, and the fact it’s been made and won at least cult success is a good sign for DC.
34. ASTRO CITY (Busiek/Anderson; DC Comics/Vertigo)*
I don’t think I’ve read Astro City since I stopped working at a comic shop in the mid-90s. Back then it struck me as the Crowded House of superhero comics, an exemplar of classicist superhero storytelling virtue in a fast, gaudy era, well-meaning and well-crafted but ultimately a bit lacking in thrill-power for my unrefined tastes. But it’s thrived, and now sits ensconced as one of Vertigo’s most popular series, it’s familiar but mature take on superheroics apparently as needed now as ever.
33. ODY-C (Fraction/Ward; Image Comics)
Last year, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C snagged 32nd place on the list despite only having one issue out. This time, with half a dozen issues under its belt, it’s… 33rd. Highly consistent! The gender-swapped sci-fi retelling of the Odyssey remains a unique experience – Ward’s gorgeous, proggy art matched with Fraction at his most formalist, trapping his human characters in a metrical cage of epic verse-form while his Gods’ scansion roams free. And now the creative team are branching out from their primary source towards other strands of Greek myth, the comic looks set to recover the element of surprise you lose by retelling a very famous tale.
32. HARK! A VAGRANT (Beaton; Webcomic, Drawn & Quarterly)
It was nice this Christmas walking into Waterstones and seeing Step Aside, Pops – the second Hark! A Vagrant collection – getting proper buy-this-for-your-nan promotional shine. I hope some people did! Anyway, in a strong year for webcomics on the list, it’s no surprise to find Kate Beaton’s perennial here. As well as the historico-literary wit of it all, I don’t think there’s anyone drawing today better at capturing our base emotions – boredom, contempt, scorn, frustration – in a line or two, and making it so delightful to look at.
31. HAWKEYE! (Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth; Marvel Comics)*
Apologies to creators missed out if more than one issue came out in 2015, but I think Hawkeye is this year’s Young Avengers – eligible on the basis of its final issue. (All-New Hawkeye picked up one vote too, but I decided not to roll them up). Anyway I, er, haven’t read it yet. But for all the delays, it’s obvious that the Fraction-scripted Hawkeye is one of the era-defining Marvel runs – up there with the Claremont/Byrne X-Men and the Miller Daredevil in terms of setting a tone for the comics around it and making different things possible (within the strictures of a corporate entertainment entity, natch).
30. CRICKETS (Harkham; Self-Published)
I’ve long lost touch with what used to be called ‘alternative comics’ – stupidly, on this evidence. The votes here are for Crickets #4, which is the only issue of Sammy Harkham’s self-published title to come out this year, and in fact, the only issue since 2010. (He is a busy man, editing acclaimed anthology Kramer’s Ergot). It’s the second part of “Blood Of The Virgin”, a story about exploitation films in the 70s, and it’s a marvellous piece of storytelling – the way Harkham captures character in a tiny handful of dialogue lines, and the way his dense, cross-cutting scenes evoke the chaos, ego-clash and idiocy of a movie shoot, are just wonderful. Strongly recommended – if I’d bought it before it showed up on the list, it would have been on my ballot too.
29. THE HUMANS (Keller/Neeley; Image Comics)
From a story about 70s exploitation flicks to pretty much the ultimate example of same. Not actually a film, but who wouldn’t flock to cinemas to see the ultra-violent adventures of an all-ape biker gang? The aesthetic is complete, the action is visceral without being sleazy, and behind the great, nasty fun is a dark tale of PTSD and betrayal: issue #7 is as upsetting a comic as I read this year.
28. THE ULTIMATES (Ewing/Rocafort/Brown; Marvel Comics)
Marvel Comics have had two clashing visions of the cosmic. One is Kirby’s from the 1960s – show us something bigger, vaster, newer every month. The other is Starlin’s from the 70s – outer space as inner space, cosmic entities and forces as personifications of psychological drives. Galactus on the one hand, Thanos on the other. For a long time, the Starlin side has been ascendant. In The Ultimates, Al Ewing (yes relation) is bringing Kirby back – as much as this follows on from the lovely ensemble storytelling of his Mighty Avengers, it’s also filling a gap left by Marvel’s decision to stop publishing Fantastic Four. Rocafort’s detailed, dramatic art is from yet another tradition – the “widescreen” comics of the 00s and the original Ultimates title. Of Al’s three post-Secret Wars titles, this one has picked up most critical heat, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
27. CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS (Ewing/Davis/Farmer/Quintana; Marvel Comics)
The second part of our Al Ewing double-bill, this Secret Wars tie-in has a simple premise. Faiza Hussain, the Muslim Captain Britain originally created by Paul Cornell in the 00s, versus a Judge Dredd analogue representing the forces of a paranoid security state. Sounds like it might be a tiny bit… topical? Perish the thought. Marks the first time a totalitarian robot villain has quoted David Cameron, and I dare say not the last.
26. THE TWILIGHT CHILDREN (Hernandez/Cooke/Stewart; DC Comics/Vertigo)
Probably the book on this list I know least about – I’m sure Darwyn Cooke is as strong a storyteller as ever but I’ve not kept up with his work lately, even with the temptation of a Gilbert Hernandez story. With those talents, no surprise to see it this high, though from the couple of reviews I’ve read I can’t work out what it’s even about. Apologies for this half-arsed blurb, Twilight Children fans – I will drop by a library when the trade comes out.
25. KAPTARA (Zdarsky/Macleod; Image Comics)
There are a lot of funny comics coming out right now – but Chip Zdarsky and Kagan Macleod’s bizarro mix of Flash Gordon and 80s He-Man cartoons was the one that made me laugh most all year. The set-up – selfish, cynical protagonist in a gung-ho world – isn’t new. In fact it’s the same set-up, historically, as Zdarsky’s other series, Marvel’s Howard The Duck. But while that title is good, for me Kaptara gets more mileage and better jokes from the idea, and its gleeful satire is more in the Steve Gerber spirit, too. Macleod’s gloriously grotesque, hyperbolic art and colouring completes the package, giving Kaptara a tacky tartrazine glow perfectly suited to its inspirations.
NEXT! Superspies! Parallel worlds! The highest climber from last year and – the oldest comic on the list!