Translation: “Good morning, everyone. I’m Rasher, the porcine companion of that young shaver Dennis, and I’m delighted to introduce the 2015 Freaky Trigger Comics Poll. In a year when pigs have had rather a rough ride in the news, it’s wonderful to be able to show that we are cultured animals with a deep appreciation of the ‘Ninth Art’. Some of the comics here may not meet my high aesthetic standards, but I think you’ll agree that the diversity of the list is a credit to its voters and our shared hobby. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with some week-old cabbage.”
Thanks Rasher! We had more voters, and more nominated comics, than last year, with the happy result that I’ve actually had to leave off some titles to produce this Top 50. I’m still greedy enough to go up to 50, mind you. The Comics poll is unique in that the same titles can, in theory, win it again and again if they’re being published year on year. So it’s worth reminding you all that last year Image Comics’ The Wicked And The Divine pipped Marvel’s Ms Marvel to first place by one solitary point, with Loki: Agent Of Asgard in third. Will any or all of those show up this year? Wait and see!
Titles marked with an asterisk are ones I haven’t read any of yet – thanks Pete’s film poll for this handy device
50. OMEGA MEN (King/Bagenda/Fajardo Jr; DC Comics)
Part of DC Comics’ “DC You” initiative, a slew of Summer launches designed to tap into the young, diverse new mainstream market so successfully identified by Marvel. Most of them flopped. As, to be fair, did this, at least in sales terms. But Omega Men was also DC You’s biggest surprise – a comic reminiscent not of Ms Marvel or Batgirl but of the ambitious and divisive 90s Legion Of Superheroes title, marrying a strict 9-panel grid to gritty, allusive political sci-fi. Omega Men is hardly subtle in its real-world references – its free preview featured Green Lantern Kyle Rayner as the unwilling star of an ISIS-style beheading video. But on-the-nose “relevance” is as much a DC tradition as reboots.
49. 8HOUSE (Graham/Churchland/Penalta/Maier/Barlow; Image Comics)
One of the joys of Brandon Graham’s Prophet series was the imaginative worldbuilding – wonderfully exotic, sometimes disturbing alien cultures and creatures brought quickly to life in a few sentences and panels. Another was seeing multiple creators given stylistic rein in a single-comic shared universe. Fantasy series 8House repeats both tricks, but pushes its diversity of approach even harder.
I feel like John Peel introducing a rare hip-hop entry in the Festive Fifty, but I must say I was pleased to see more Manga on this year’s list. Even if I voted for most of it. Case in point, One Punch Man, satirical fight manga webcomic turned bestselling digital and print manga (qualifying here because 2015 saw its first print publication). For me, the story of a superhero whose main enemy is boredom is at its best when it’s playing things for deadpan laughs, but artist Yusuke Murata has the chops to handle the straightforward battle manga scenes too.
47. A SILENT VOICE (Oima; Kodansha Comics USA)
Yoshitoki Oima, the creator of A Silent Voice, apparently had to take her publishers to court to get it published, as it casts Japanese youth and their school system in a deeply unflattering light. She’s been rewarded with awards, a successful anime adaptation and now English language licensing. A Silent Voice starts off as a brutal depiction of bullying from the bully’s perspective – Oima putting his actions in context without ever justifying them. Psychologically acute, attractively drawn, and with some terrific use of page and graphic design to convey interior states, A Silent Voice is one of the best teen comics in a strong era for them.
46. SECRET WARS (Hickman/Ribic/Svorcina; Marvel Comics)
Hyped as the blockbuster event that lives up to the hype, Secret Wars has been plagued by delays which have robbed the series of a lot of its in-continuity impact – we’re still waiting for its final issue. What we do have is a vast, bombastic homage to the best bits of the toy-shifting original: Marvel heroes and villains stranded on a patchwork world, and Doctor Doom in possession of ultimate power. Thanks to Jonathan Hickman’s ultra-portentious style, this is an event book that feels weighty, even if the universe it upended is capering happily on without it.
45. MATERIAL (Kot/Tempest/Cowles; Image Comics)
The productive, always-interesting Ales Kot published new titles with Image at a ferocious pace in 2015, as well as rounding off two cultish Marvel series. Material was the most ambitious and (as it turned out) the most doomed – an exploration of contemporary issues and news via the cross-cut stories of four unlinked protagonists. Black Lives Matter, black site interrogation techniques, islamophobia, movie industry misogyny, hacktivism, generation gaps – face it, true believers, this one had it all. Never didactic, Material’s greatest strength was the way it felt like we were watching Kot learn about, think about, and try and come to terms with contemporary life at the same time the rest of us were.
44. ISLAND (Anthology, edited by Rios and Graham; Image Comics)
Island has the distinction of being the only monthly comic I buy physically – its attractive oversize packaging being a definite part of the appeal. The downside of this is that I haven’t actually got round to reading much of it. European comics anthologies like Metal Hurlant are an avowed influence, and there’s a similar desire in Island to show the reader new imaginative worlds. But if the baroque fantasies of Heavy Metal are prog rock, Island is indie pop – a scratchy, friendly, cheeky and lived-in take on genre.
43. THE PRIVATE EYE* (Vaughan/Martin/Vicente; Panel Syndicate)
Since his return to regular comics with Saga, Brian K Vaughan has enjoyed a remarkable critical (and commercial) strike-rate. The Private Eye, his digital comics collaboration with Marcos Martin, took on themes of privacy and identity and finished its online run in March, getting a lavish print edition from Image later in the year. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s still up on Panel Syndicate under a pay-what-you-like deal.
42. DAREDEVIL (Waid/Samnee/Wilson; Marvel Comics)
Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil came to an end this year – most of the votes were careful to specify that’s what they were rewarding. There are no shortage of good Daredevil runs but Waid’s very distinct, optimistic vision stands apart from most approaches to the character since the 80s. Once the initial shock of a stable, happy Daredevil subsided, Waid settled in to doing what he does best: solid, entertaining stories about people trying to live a good life.
41. AIRBOY* (Robinson/Hinkle; Image Comics)
A metafictional superhero yarn which ended up as the most controversial comic on the list, when its second issue was sharply criticised for its transphobia. James Robinson and Greg Hinkle apologised – as Robinson admitted, they “fucked up”. The rest of the comic won widespread praise for its darkly humourous exploration of the insecurity and shame of the middle-aged comics pro, subject matter which had put me off in the first place, so I hadn’t read it anyway.
40. TRANSFORMERS VS GI JOE (Scioli/Barber; IDW)
I don’t give half a damn about Transformers and even less about GI Joe, but I loved this series for how seriously it treats its material. That would normally be a recipe for something dreadful – but Scioli’s seriousness isn’t the seriousness of the adult holding onto childish things by updating them, but the life-or-death intensity of the child lost in the flow of imaginative play. This super-heavy approach, plus the brickish Kirby-esque figures, masks a bunch of formal experimentation in the art – several pages here are spectacular. The overall feel is so compressed and worked it’s almost queasy – “it’s the PC Music of comics”, I said the first time I read an issue.
39. THE SPIRE* (Spurrier/Stokely/May; Boom! Studios)
This one is sitting in my Comixology account waiting to be read should my new iPad ever finally arrive – it’s a mystery set in one of those sprawling fantasy megacities writers love so much. Beyond that I don’t know very much about it (and have no desire to spoil myself) so I’ll just say that I’m glad a Si Spurrier comic is here on the list. The game of cross-generational comparisons between British writers is a reprehensible one, but his stuff reminds me of Pete Milligan – smart, stylish, occasionally a little cruel and happy to bamboozle the reader.
38. SILVER SURFER (Slott/Allred; Marvel Comics)
Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s reimagining of the Silver Sufer in the mode of modern Doctor Who – last of his kind, burdened with terrible guilt, travelling with a sparky young Earthwoman – hit #8 on last year’s list, and turns up again here. Like other Marvel titles, it got caught up in Secret Wars, though used the event to tie up all its own first year’s worth of plots and themes. There is lots of talk of TV-style “seasons” in comics right now, but Silver Surfer fulfilled that promise particularly well. And like its inspiration has so often, it ended that season with a triumph for the power of love.
NEXT! Teenagers! Animals! History! Violence! Al Ewing!