Here, a bit late, is my survey of the comics published in 2016 likely to be of some interest to sf&f readers.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, fresh off winning the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his nonfiction memoirs and reporting, wrote his first-ever comic, Black Panther #1, which became the best-selling comic magazine of the year. T’challa, the premiere African super-science hero, celebrated his fiftieth anniversary in style. In collaboration with artists Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, Black Panther is a complex (and complexly told), subtle examination of power, loyalty, nation, and love that rewards attention.
Tom King, a former CIA counterintelligence operative and novelist, entered comics in 2014 as cowriter of Grayson, a superhero-spy starring Dick “Robin” Grayson. But King really came into his own in 2015 and 2016 with a trilogy of stories about family, honor, atrocity, and humanity. Omega Men (art by Barnaby Bagenda) took DC’s third-string set of alien superheroes and set them as rebels against an oppressive theocracy, exploring the question of how is it possible to fight monstrosity without willing oneself to become a monster. The Vision (art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta) features Marvel Comics’s classic weeping android trying to live a mundane suburban family life between missions saving the world. Unfortunately, even androids have ghosts, and it all goes horribly, harrowingly wrong. Covering many of the same themes (but without the sf elements) is Sheriff of Babylon, art by Mitch Gerads, in which a military policeman investigates the murder of an Iraqi police trainee in Baghdad’s Green Zone in 2004.
This was an excellent year for all-ages fantasy comics. Roger Landridge wrote two first-rate standalone series: Abigail and the Snowman (art by Landridge) tells of a girl and her New Best Friend, a yeti, who is pursued by very British, very bungling intelligence agents. The Baker Street Peculiars (art by Andy Hirsch) features four young British misfits who become the unlikely assistants of Sherlock Holmes in Depression-era London, investigating a rash of supernatural statue-nappings.
Another Castle (Andrew Wheeler/Paulina Ganucheau) and Mega Princess (Kelly Thompson/Brianne Drouhard) are two fine examples of the “princess who saved herself” genre. In Another Castle, the princess is abducted by a demon who intends to seize her country through marriage; in Mega Princess, the eponymous heroine is given, as a birthday present, the magical gifts of every other fairy tale princess and promptly becomes a detective. (The genre gets its name from the Jonathan Coulton song “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” which was made into a lovely illustrated book for younger readers by comics stalwarts Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa in 2015.)
And wrapping up the “charming comics for all ages”: DC Comics has been slow to respond to the resurgence of the comics reading among young women; Wonder Woman had not had an all-ages title since 2010. As former Wonder Woman writer (and comics critic) Gail Simone has observed, Wonder Woman is a superhero who is also a magical princess—the easiest comic in the world to sell to girls. Renae De Liz’s The Legend of Wonder Woman flew in to fill the gap. De Liz retells the story of how the champion of the Amazons ventured out into Man’s World, mixing mythology, action, adventure, Nazis, and sororal solidarity into as fine an introduction as you’ll find to one of comics’ great characters.
For decades, Grant Morrison has been working at making superheroes more mythological and myths more superheroic. In Klaus (art by Dan Mora), a leather-clad lord in exile returns to his home town to find its evil prince has banned toys; the result is a wonderful mash-up of Batman, Germanic myth, and the Rankin/Bass Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.
Cinema Purgatorio is an anthology comic created by Alan Moore; he (with Kevin O’Neill) contributes the titular strip, horrific explorations of the artifice, horror, corruption, and seductive power of film. Garth Ennis and Raulo Caceres’s comedy “Code Pru” gives us a young paramedic in a city infiltrated by zombies, ghosts, demons, and in one instance a Scottish Terminator. “A More Perfect Union” (an alternate-world Civil War by Max Brooks and Michael DiPascale), “Modded” (post-apocalyptic pokemon by Kieron Gillen and Ignacio Calero), and “The Vast” (baby kaiju by Christos Gage and Gabriel Andrade Jr.) round out each issue. Also noteworthy from Moore is his Providence (art by Jacen Burroughs), a slow-burn revisitation of the Lovecraft mythos with an eye toward the sexual horrors just outside HPL’s frame; the final issue is due this spring.
Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt brought us Clean Room, an ongoing series about a reporter, Chloe Pierce, whose husband committed suicide after reading An Honest World, the life-changing book that has made its author, Astrid Mueller, a giant in the self-help world. Of course there is more to Mueller and her book and the cultish organization she has built, but there’s more painful honesty hiding in her “clean room” hypnotherapy than anyone knows. A pyramid of horrors becomes slowly visible as the book moves deeper in and further out.
Alas, I have left myself too little room and might pick this up next issue. Go, read, enjoy!
—Kevin J. Maroney and the editors