Nearly a year ago to the day, Civil War II #8 came out with a pitiful whimper, eliciting mostly shrugs from fans and lackluster reviews online. At the time, Marvel must have thought, well, it’s a new year soon, we can regroup, and things can only get better from here.
Without going into detail about Marvel’s troubles, things did not get better. Things, in fact, got worse—much worse. So epicly worse that earlier today the Hollywood Reporter published a piece about how almost everything that could go wrong for Marvel in 2017 went for Marvel in 2017, like the House of Ideas was suddenly Jurassic Park, battling Ian Malcolm’s Chaos Theory.
And my Top Comics of 2017 reflects this. A scant 3 of 25 spots on the list went to Marvel. By comparison, 10 went to DC and its various imprints, and 11 went to independent publishers, with Image unsurprisingly leading the way with 6 books. But this list is supposed to be celebrating the good! So, enough about problems. I’m sure much will continue to be Tweeted and blogged about Marvel’s ongoing struggles anyway.
So, let’s get to the obsession that, if you’re anything like me, drives you to some storefront every Wednesday for a stack of floppy comics, a medium that blends of art and capitalism better and more directly than anything else this great nation of ours has conceived.
Here are 16 - 25 of the my top comics of 2017. Enjoy!
25. Infamous Iron Man by Brian Michael Bendis / Alex Maleev
I’ve said this on Twitter and been met with silence from my admittedly modest following, but one of the most interesting things about Brian Michael Bendis ending a nearly two-decade run at Marvel is that in 2017 Bendis quietly did great work for the publisher. Jessica Jones, Defenders, Spider-Man and Invincible Iron Man were all engaging, character-driven stories. Spider-Men II didn’t work for me, but the rest were A+, and none was better than Infamous Iron Man, 12 excellent issues that tackled ideas of public redemption and also featured Doctor Doom cleaning house.
24. Catalyst Prime by Lion Forge
I’ve dug Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime books, an ambitious attempt at a new superhero universe. It doesn’t have iconic characters like Marvel or DC, obviously, and because of this, at times the stories can be fuzzy and dull. That’s just the cost of doing business in a world where there are really only 8 - 10 good superhero narratives. What Catalyst Prime does at its best is provide alternative takes on these narratives, positing questions like what if an alienated teen hero had a disability, or what if a suave rich guy hero got an unglamorous power rooted in mindscapes and introspection? Within this line, I like Superb and Astonisher the best, with Noble close behind. The art in Accell is strong and Summit is promising after only one issue.
23. Clean Room by Gail Simone / Jon Davis-Hunt & Walter Geovani
This book was so good for its entire run, but it seemed like nobody paid attention. I get that Vertigo had fallen on hard times, but Gail Simone is one of the best writers in the industry and Jon Davis-Hunt’s art is Frank Quitely-esque yet still wholly his own (Walter Geovani also did an admirable job when Davis-Hunt left for The Wild Storm). Anyway, since I feel like the only one who read this, I want to implore you now to please please please pick this up in trade, so we can get another volume of Clean Room at some point.
22. Grass Kings by Matt Kindt / Tyler Jenkins
Grass Kings is a beautiful and deliberate book, rich with Matt Kindt’s interest in the effects of malfeasance or neglect through time and Tyler Jenkins blurred, almost abstract watercolor artwork. It’s a book that feels real, from the things the characters do and say to the ideas about independence and transparency and the cost of preserving a larger community even if it means sacrificing safety of those inside. At least, that’s how I’ve read it so far anyway. This is a bit of a mystery book, the scope of which is yet to be made entirely clear.
21. Snotgirl by Bryan Lee O’Malley / Leslie Hung
There are few books as stylish or obsessively in the moment as Snotgirl, a tale of a vapid Instagram model in LA, who is only concerned with personal growth if that growth leads to a reduction in the severity of her super gross allergies. This book is a smart take on us as a social media generation, as well as a meditation on the personality disorders constant social media validation is likely creating.
20. Victor LaValle’s Destroyer by Victor LaValle / Dietrich Smith
Victor LaValle is one of my favorite literary writers, and, in fact, I may write a post early next year about how his novel The Changeling is a good choice for fans of modern suspense and horror comics. But that’s later. If you’ve already read the Changeling, I can tell you Destroyer’s plot has far more action and sci-fi, but it also has the themes of parenthood, being the other and technology that powered The Changeling, glossed with a layer of mythology culled from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Trust me, it works.
19. Super Sons by Peter Tomasi / Jorge Jimenez
Super Sons did an impressive job telling a story about new characters and a new situation (Batman and Superman mutually raising adolescent sons) while also creating a nostalgic, classic feel that so many fans enjoy, myself included. This book was filled with fresh stories that felt familiar, and although we’re only 11 issues in, the scripts by the criminally underrated Peter Tomasi made this book feel as if it had been around for years. I love all things Super Sons, and I hope this rumor about Brian Bendis taking over Superman doesn’t rock the boat (Bendis never seems to write just one book about a character, see Iron Man, see X-Men). And Jorge Jimenez's impossibly clean lines are a perfect fit.
18. Aquaman by Dan Abnett / Various
Dan Abnett’s Aquaman has been a great book since before DC Rebirth, depicting Arthur Curry as a global diplomat constantly juggling a desire to do the right thing for Earth, to placate the nationalistic populism of his people in Atlantis, and to soothe the fears and concerns of the equally nationalistic populist surface dwellers. This book, however, has really become something special now that *SPOILER* Abnett has taken Arthur off the throne and put him in Atlantis’ underworld, where he leads a timely resistance effort against the leader that schemed to replace him. Oh, and Stjepan Sejic dual work as artist and colorist since June has been something to behold. His aesthetic is a fantastic fit for the character.
17. Think Tank by Matt Hawkins / Rahsan Ekedal
Think Tank, now on its fifth volume since launching in 2012, was as sharp as ever, taking writer Matt Hawkins dense scientific research and insatiable curiosity about the military, and distilling it into stories about global dynamics, all while telling the personal story of Dr. David Loren. What I like so much about Think Tank is every arc essentially tells three stories at once: one about the protagonist’s personal life, one about technology, and one about global affairs. It never becomes unwieldy, which is a testament to Hawkins’ deft plotting and Rahsan Ekedal’s crisp art.
16. Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson
Aside from the gorgeous artwork, strong family dynamics and earned big twists, one of the things that endeared Extremity to me was artist / writer Daniel Warren Johnson’s earnest back matter, in which he explained this story is about his greatest fear: losing his drawing hand. It’s a personal premise, and Johnson does a great job of weaving a rich sci-fi / fantasy around it.
SPECIAL NOTE: Tomorrow I'll be posting my Top Comics of 2017, Pt. 2: #6 - #15, and Sunday I'll be posting my Pt. 3: #1 - #5.