Picking the 5 best comics of the year was difficult, with God Country, Saga and Wic + Div all making aggressive arguments for why they should be included. I powered through, though, but the thing was, once I had a top 5, it was even harder deciding on an order. Changes were literally being made as recently as this morning. Making comics is tough, sure, but ranking comics is, well, slightly less tough but still pretty hard.
Anyway, this speaks to how good comics were in 2017, powered largely by a renaissance at DC. Whether this keeps going in 2018 is a matter of discussion best left to a future post, but as you’ll see here, 2017 really was a great year for DC Comics. The industry, however, also needs Marvel in order to comfortably sustain the thousands of small retail shops that sell books every Wednesday, but, again, that’s a matter of discussion best left for a future post.
Let’s get out of the future and into the past! That sounds good, right? I mean, if you spend as much time as I do reading about heroes created decades before you were born, the past is probably an interest of yours. But okay okay, no more rambling. Let’s do the thing.
The Top Comics of 2017
5. The Flintstones by Mark Russell / Steve Pugh
I remember openly laughing at this book when it was announced: a realistic monthly comic adaptation of The Flintstones. This was before Rebirth, when DC was still short on goodwill and almost every choice the publisher made was wrong. Man am I embarrassed by that laughing now. In time, it was my dopey pre-publication mockery that proved to be as thick as Barney Rubble.
With The Flintstones, writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh created an incredible satire, one that used a prehistoric setting to examine so many issues that matter today, issues like religion, warfare, employer dominion over employees, gentrification, materialism, whether true happiness can be found in success, and the list goes on. Every issue was packed with more ethos and questions than a freshman philosophy course. It’s a shame that in June it had to end, but stop crying! Who's crying? I'm not crying, you're crying! Anyway, Mark Russell returns this month with a new book in the same vein, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, which some critics are already calling the best new book of 2018.
4. Black Hammer (Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil) by Jeff Lemire / Dean Ormston & David Rubin
Jeff Lemire’s work is difficult to describe. It's a special type of storytelling, so intriguing and layered that the entire scope of what drives it is rarely evident, even long after a story has ended (I still think about Plutona, like, often). Lemire is a nuanced writer who has supreme confidence in the worthiness of his stories, and nowhere is this more evident than in creator-owned books like Descender or Royal City.
What Lemire has done with Black Hammer, however, is even more impressive. He’s created a superhero universe unlike any we’ve ever seen. It has a similar mythos and many of the same tropes from those we know, but the world of Black Hammer is defined by a central tragedy in which the biggest superheroes inexplicably disappeared. It's a concept that would stem from a Big 2 event, before being quickly undone in order to return our heroes to the status quo. In Black Hammer, however, the heroes have never reappeared. Our story instead finds them aging and in a strange small town they can't escape. The tone is dour, the characters deep, the themes varied. Sometimes the story seems to be about family, sometimes contentment, sometimes duty, sometimes something I can't even guess.
The main storyline has paused for a moment while we digress into an auxiliary book, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil. This spot, however, is for the entire Black Hammer concept, which was one of the most original superhero takes of not just 2017, but of any year in recent memory. This might be a deconstruction of superhero deconstruction, but you'd have to ask Lemire to know for sure.
3. Batman by Tom King / Various
Tom King had such big shoes to fill when he took over this title. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had just stepped away after a 51-issue run during the New 52 era that ranks as one of the greatest in the history of the character, and, meanwhile, Scott Snyder was sticking around, playing the Jay Leno to King’s Conan by doing All-Star Batman while King was still working to find his way and his audience.
Unlike Leno and Conan’s dumpster fire of a situation, however, King’s and Snyder’s seems as if it has been mutually beneficial, pushing both writers to do some of the best work of their careers. While Snyder strings together one of the best events in recent memory with Dark Nights Metal, King has become a rock star at the height of his powers, putting out hit after hit after hit. He’s done multi-part arcs like The War of Jokes and Riddles, and he’s done stirring romance with issues like Batman Annual #2, which was the second best standalone issue of any comic this year, and Batman #37, the double date with Superman issue. Speaking of the best comic this year, that would be King’s Batman and Elmer Fudd special, an imaginative take on both of those characters that dove deep into their core conceits and emerged as a poignant and entertaining one-off.
I remember when Tom King was first announced as Scott Snyder’s successor on Batman at the DC Rebirth live stream launch event during Emerald City Comic Con. Someone (either Geoff Johns or Dan Didio or Jim Lee) asked Snyder how it felt to have King take over, and Snyder said you always kind of hope the next guy will be Hacky McScripty, but, ego aside, he was glad the character would be in good hands with King. At this point, I think all of comic fandom agrees (apologies, of course, to Hacky McScripty, a dirty sonofabitch who owes me money).
2. Mister Miracle by Tom King / Mitch Gerads
It’s nice that in a year of so much polarization and national discord, the entire comics industry and fandom could agree on Mister Miracle as one of the best books of the year. In fact, as I write this I’ve just come from Twitter where someone noted that Mister Miracle has been awarded best comic of 2017 more than any other book. Readers of the series understand why.
Mister Miracle has the makings of a modern masterpiece, just as King and Gerads’ Sheriff of Babylon was before it, just as King’s work on The Vision and Omega Men was before that. Like all of King’s best work, Mister Miracle turns its titular superhero into a lens through which we as readers are forced to view ourselves, evaluating our own reputations, skills, and struggles with malaise and depression. It’s a dour book that also has a sense of humor; it’s a bleak story with heart; it’s a tale of ugliness and suicide and betrayal that also brims with beautiful art.
It’s a study in contradictions, a story perfectly suited for our times, for the heavy examination we as Americans are doing in this chaotic era where norms are being broken and our country often can’t agree on even minor issues or concerns. Where facts themselves have been called into question. At the end of 2017, this book is just shy of halfway done, and based on what we've seen, I'm confident enough now to predict that its second half will make it one of the most praised books of 2018 as well.
Finally, I'd like to note that deciding between Mister Miracle and the final entry on the list was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do as a critic.
1. Silver Surfer by Dan Slott / Mike Allred
Silver Surfer ranks as the best comic of 2017 and one of the best runs of all-time on any well-established superhero comic character. The final issue of Slott and Allred’s phenomenal collaboration ran in October, capping a story that started back in March of 2014 and saw the duo put out 29 phenomenal issues, some of which were innovative (the endless Silver Surfer #11 from the Marvel Now! era comes to mind) and all of which were filled (as I noted back in October) with Slott’s ambitious emotional concepts and Allred’s utterly unmatched eye for pop art.
Throughout its run, Silver Surfer was often delayed, but when it finally arrived it was immediately evident the extra time (which Slott says was his fault, always) had been put to good use. I’ve never read a book with such a unique feel. It was like watching a deep romance, an unfurling love story between The Surfer and Dawn Greenwood of Earth. The book was sweet and funny and sometimes even sexy. As I also noted in October, I’ll really miss it, and, to be honest, I can't intellectualize much more beyond that.
This Silver Surfer run accomplished one of the most difficult feats in modern superhero comics: it gave us an ongoing story that was driven by character but was at the same time satisfying on a monthly basis. It was this medium at its best: a mosaic of contained chapters that wove a larger tapestry but could also be appreciated for their individual merits. My favorite issue was the penultimate Silver Surfer #13, which was about our human desire to share our lives with a deeply beloved partner, all while knowing that time will eventually claim one of us, knowing how painful that day will be and deciding that loving another person is worth it anyway. It drove me to tears with its beauty.