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Halfway Mark: The Best Comics of 2017 (So Far)

=Here are some of the best comics of 2017. They range from traditional superhero stories to slice of life and compelling crime and urban fantasy yarns. These comics show off the potential of the medium and feature a variety of art styles and points of views.

Giant Days (BOOM! Studios)

Giant Days is funnier than your favorite sitcom. It’s a sunny slice of life comic with plenty of drama to boot courtesy of writer John Allison, artists Max Sarin and Liz Fleming, and colorist Whitney Cogar and chronicles the misadventures of British university students, Daisy, Esther, and Susan. Allison excels at giving each member of the not-so-golden trio their own personal arc while bringing the whole ensemble in for kooky comedy moments, like when they attend a rave in Manchester and have to hitchhike home or the in-game wedding of a friend’s slovenly roommate, who is obsessed with MMOs, and may have bitten off way more than he could chew.

Part of Giant Days‘ genius is that each issue tells a standalone story with visual, wordplay, and occasionally satirical humor (The misogyny culture, performative activism, and Whole Foods type stores were recent targets.) while also creating clever character-driven comedy for readers, who have kept with the past 20+ issues. It’s very accessible for new readers, who want something to laugh at and relate to instead of endless slugfests and continuity. For example, Giant Days #25 puts Susan’s large, dysfunctional family in the spotlight in a holiday-themed issue, and we get to see her in a new light. A lot of the times, she seems like the “mom” of the friend group, but she’s really as out of her depth as Esther flitting from flirting to activism to even video games to find her identity or the introverted Daisy trying and failing to make things work with her extroverted girlfriend, Ingrid. Allison, Sarin, and Fleming have built up the main cast and their friendship so much that in the book’s third year, they can spread their wings and tell stories foregrounding other denizens of this quirky, yet often harshly realistic universe.

But Giant Days wouldn’t be its charming self without the eyes and faces that penciler Max Sarin makes the characters pull, the background details that inker Liz Fleming fleshes out, and bursts of color from Whitney Cogar, who brings an odd surrealism to the university town of Sheffield. Cogar’s color choices can establish a relationship without a single word, like when the trio’s friend Ed walks into his apartment and is greeted by a sickly green stink, and you know he has issues with his housemate, Dean. Except, in that same issue, Allison writes Dean like a real human being, who is inexperienced in romantic relationships and falls for an extremely controlling woman while playing a video game, and this earns the sympathy of both the readers and characters.

Giant Days holds up a mirror to all the triumphs, failures, and the messy stuff in-between of being a young person while having a heightened, off-the-wall sense of humor.

-Logan Dalton

Batman (DC Comics)

Normally, when talking about Batman, you could just end the conversation with “Because he’s Batman!” and that would be the end of it. In writer Tom King’s case, he’s elevated Bruce Wayne and Batman into a character that is emotionally letting down his walls and finally letting people inside. Overall, King has played the long game with his run on Batman, and it’s been magnificent to witness it all come full circle with intimate character arcs and stand alone storylines (Like a team-up with Swamp Thing and an Eisner-nominated issue centered around Batman’s dog, Ace.) sprinkled in for good measure.

The “I Am” trilogy reads as one long story about Batman doing what he needs to do to save someone and while his mission statement is a simple one, the journey to save one soul is anything but. Story arcs are supposed to build on what came before, of course, but King truly makes use of what happened previously to give long-term payoff down the road. His character evolution emphasizes on a Bruce Wayne, who is more emotional and human than we’ve seen him before. We’re getting to see more focus on the man behind the mask, and it sheds a different light in terms of why Bruce is doing what he’s doing, including an added wrinkle to his origin. Artists David Finch, Mikel Janín, and Mitch Gerads act as the driving art force in this run and deliver on some of the best Batman scenes. The consistency between them keeps the comic visually adjusted between the story arcs.

Batman has covered plenty of ground after seventy-five years, and there’s still fuel in the tank in DC Rebirth. Tom King shows no signs of treading old ground with the big bad Bat.

-Terrence Sage

Josie and the Pussycats (Archie Comics)

Josie and the Pussycats is the clever, meta older cousin of the All-New Riverdale titles from Archie Comics.The tone of the comic is more like the underrated 2001 film than the underused supporting characters in the CW’s Riverdale as the Pussycats go from playing underattended charity gigs to world famous superstars in the space of seven issues. In each issue, co-writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio come at the fourth wall using ditzy, yet erudite drummer Melody as a wrecking ball. (I think she would appreciate that reference.) Audrey Mok’s art is stylish and fashion-forward, and she can also pull off big splash pages featuring Fury Road-esque motorcycle chases, boat races, magical girl homages, and various and sundry things with the help of some gorgeous colors from Kelly Fitzpatrick.

My favorite thing about Josie and the Pussycats is that Bennett and DeOrdio write Josie as a flawed and often self-involved protagonist, kind of the villain of her own story. Thankfully, Valerie, who is the band’s voice of reason and probably the most talented member of the Pussycats, calls her out on making the band all about her using some well-timed Bojack Horseman references. The nature of fame has become a major theme as the comic enters its second year, and they’ve gone from playing crappy dive bars to the Roman Colosseum or sneeringly portrayed award shows, and Josie deals with this in a different because she wants to be a pop star while Valerie and Melody are all about the music. However, Josie isn’t always portrayed as a diva, and Mok and Fitzpatrick go full Audrey Hepburn movie meets romance comic in their art in colors when she falls in love with her manager, who then dumps her almost immediately. Pop stars have feelings too.

Josie and the Pussycats is sometimes too clever for its own good (Like that’s a bad thing.) with its plethora of pop culture references and homages, but it’s full of heart and structured like a Saturday morning cartoon so it’s loads of fun too.

-Logan Dalton

Doom Patrol (DC Comics/Young Animal)

Doom Patrol is weird! Doom Patrol is a legacy! Doom Patrol is insane! That basically sums up Doom Patrol, which is by far one of the weirdest comics to ever get a new lease of life. Speaking for myself, my Doom Patrol knowledge isn’t as extensive as I’d like to be but the new #1 provides fresh takes on characters and harkens back to the glory days of old. It keeps the history and knowledge in place from previous runs by writers, like Grant Morrison while spinning a new yarn for newer generation readers, which is much appreciated.

Former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and artist Nick Derington have created the mother of all comics where “You have no idea what’s going on; except, maybe you do, but you’ll need all the issues to figure it out because this comic and its history is older than you.” They play a long-term game as far as plotting where the pieces fall where they may, and each issue leaves you just a bit more curious to return to next month’s issue, or whenever the book comes back from hiatus. Derington’s art and Tamra Bonvillain’s brilliant colors are its own brand of weirdly exciting energy that sparks the hopefulness of a crazy world in which a Negative Zone creature has fashion sense, a “hero” named Robotman fights in the Microverse, and a paramedic that was born from a sentient street named Danny has to save the day. Also, the universe (and the cover of Doom Patrol #1) is a gyro.

Yeah, Doom Patrol is the most insane comic book of 2017, but the journey through this madness is what makes it an amazing title to read and the flagship book in the Young Animal imprint.

-Terrence Sage

Shade the Changing Girl (DC Comics/Young Animal)

DC’s Young Animal imprint has harnessed the infectious energy of curator Gerard Way and some of the stranger entries in their catalog characters to craft creative and mind-expanding comics in the tradition of the Vertigo books of the late 80s and early 90s. One of the best Young Animal titles is Shade the Changing Girl from writer Cecil Castellucci, artists Marley Zarcone and Marguerite Sauvage, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. It is about a young alien girl named Loma, who is tired of her life on the utopian planet of Meta, steals an M-Vest that belonged to the legendary poet Rac Shade, and uses it to take over the body of a petty, bullying teenage Earth girl named Megan.

Shade the Changing Girl is a psychedelic science fiction-meets-the weirdest teen comedy you’ve ever watched take on what it means to be human and to grow up. Castellucci, Zarcone, and Fitzpatrick seamlessly switch from Shade’s new life on Earth to the friends and enemies she left behind on Meta and finds the universal similarities between this highly advanced civilization and the relatively primitive mud rock that we call home. But we both have music, dancing, and rebellious teenagers, and the scenes where Shade enjoys these things are the most poignant ones in the comic.

In recent months, Shade has really upped its game with Shade leaving high school behind and heading on a road trip to the cities of the DC Universe. Of course, her first stop is Gotham, and it’s so cool to have a fresh perspective on this overused piece of pop culture milieu. Shade feels all the hope, pain, cynicism, and yes, beauty of a big city while Marley Zarcone’s artwork flows like the chorus of your favorite pop song with a touch of dissonant feedback in Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors because Shade is still getting acclimated to Earth.

If you like your coming of age stories with delectable side dishes of trippiness, poetry, and musicality, Shade the Changing Girl is the comic for you.

-Logan Dalton

Deathstroke (DC Comics)

Deathstroke is a comic about Slade “The Terminator” Wilson. He’s the World’s Deadliest Assassin, and in the Rebirth era of DC Comics, family is a close second to his contracts. Deathstroke is a title that calls for complex father and daughter time and features Slade’s son, who was a victim of an attack and is now mute and in love with the doctor who gave Deathstroke a new suit (Gravity Sheath) for the modern age. Joseph “Jericho” Wilson also tries to break away from the family business and attempts to be a hero in his own right.

Christopher Priest, of Black Panther and Quantum and Woody fame, returns to monthly, ongoing comics and breathes new life into the hired gun that isSlade Wilson. Every character is written sharply with enough intricate details and moments that makes picking a favorite hard in and of itself. The long game, narrative storytelling of Deathstroke can still be felt twenty issues in, and it’s an achievement to give one of the most badass villains in DC Comics history a title (again) that humbles him and allows him to have his own corner in this sprawling universe of superheroes. It’s a complex avenue to navigate as Priest gives Slade Wilson and his close-knit family and associates stories that stand by themselves and make for good drama as well. Rose and Jericho are connected to Deathstroke because they’re family, but the issues they face are all their own. It’s exciting to see them progress in each issue of the series.

The art provided for Deathstroke by Larry Hama, Carlos Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Cary Nord, Joe Bennett, Denys Cowan, and others makes the arcs grounded in reality in the universe of Superman and Batman. Priest has truly given the World’s Deadliest Assassin a rebirth across the board. Deathstroke is one of DC’s surprise hits in their new era. It’s a hard-hitting, deeply thought out, and hilariously dark title that fits in everything you’ve come to know about Slade and charts out new territory for the Murder Family of DC.

-Terrence Sage

Supergirl: Being Super (DC Comics)

The DC Comics prestige format miniseries Supergirl: Being Super is an example of how to tell a compelling superhero origin story and also how to destroy one’s feelings. Unlike her main universe series and the Supergirl TV show, writer Mariko Tamaki, artist Joelle Jones, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick focus on Kara’s human side and keeps her Kryptonian origin simmering in the background. The first issue organically establishes the friendship between Kara, Dolly, and Jen and portrays the future Supergirl as an average high school student, who runs track, does pretty well at her studies, and even has chats about feminism over burgers at the diner that seems to be the centerpiece of most fictional stories involving small towns like Midvale.

Joelle Jones’ art is supernaturalistic and complements the mellow, mostly skin tones, greens, and browns color palette that Kelly Fitzpatrick uses throughout Supergirl: Being Super. Kara looks like an actual teenage girl and not a stylized pin-up figure, and she has realistic reactions to her heat vision, flight, and other super abilities, including getting green acne because I guess that’s what Kryptonian puberty is like. This realism serves the story, especially after the emotional hammer drops in the second issue, and Kara has to deal with mortality at a young age. Supergirl Being Super #2 will probably make you cry, FYI.

Supergirl: Being Super is the book to read if you like your superheroes to have meaningful relationships, emotions, and generally act like human beings, who are sarcastic and cry sometimes,  and not intellectual property or action figures. It’s the template that future comics featuring teen heroes should really look to.

-Logan Dalton

Ultimates (Marvel Comics)
The cosmic space of Marvel Comics got an upgrade in late 2015 with The Ultimates. Its tagline was “The ultimate super team comes together to find and fix problems beyond the limits of the infinite! From cosmic forces lurking on Earth to what waits on the outside of the Omniverse – the impossible is where they start!” That’s the mandate of the team and while “Season 1” of The Ultimates proved that problems can be solved without punching and explosions… “Season 2” elevates the title to new levels of super scientific, funky fresh cosmic madness.

Writer Al Ewing is reconstructing and adding to the Marvel Cosmic landscape like never before. The Ultimates 2 is his current focus for 2017, and Ewing has taken this super team of intellectuals, including Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms. America, and even Galactus, to awesome heights and is doing new and creative things with concepts as old as Jack Kirby and new ones too. The Marvel cosmic entities, like Chaos and Order, are getting new anthropomorphic versions of themselves and remaking the universe as they see fit after the multiverse shattering events of 2015’s Secret Wars.

There are so many actions and reactions that focus on the entire Marvel Universe whether you know it or not, and it’s a treat to see! Ultimates2 is what happens when a team of creators is allowed to run wild with characters in familiar, yet uncharted terrain. To top things off, Travel Foreman gives us some of the most elastic and vibrant art since his time on the DC New 52’s Animal Man.

Ultimates2 is its own unique beast of a comic, and when it’s not elevating characters to Marvel Hall of Fame status, it’s too busy being one of Marvel’s best titles.

-Terrence Sage

Kill or Be Killed (Image Comics)

With collaborations on Eisner Award-winning titles like Hollywood murder mystery The Fade Out and Lovecraftian neo-noir Fatale, writer Ed Brubaker, artist Sean Phillips, and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser have established themselves as auteurs of the comic book medium. In Kill or Be Killed, they turn their attention to the vigilante (Definitely not superhero.) genre in a post 9/11 world. The protagonist isn’t some Charles Bronson-esque action hero, but a New York City grad student named Dylan, who struggles with depression and attempts suicide. He miraculously survives and makes a deal with a demon to kill one human each month so he can live. Of course, since he isn’t a trained assassin or fighter, Dylan is in way over his depth and ends up on the run from both the NYPD and the Russian mob when he kills a brothel owner and a corrupt businessman.

Phillips’ pencils are purposefully rough to match how utterly prepared Dylan is for any kind of killing and combat situation, and Breitweiser makes red and black the story’s primary color anchor points to go with Dylan’s guilt and violence. The action is pretty awkward and not stylized at all and all filtered through a young man, who has anxiety and depression to go with being part of a love triangle that is the friendship obliterating kind, not the sexy CW show kind. Some of the most tense scenes are when Dylan is going through his daily routine after a killing and feels paranoid in the hustle and bustle of New York as Phillips definitely nails the lack of personal space one has in a big city.

Entering its second storyline, Kill or Be Killed has turned into the early seasons of Breaking Bad-esque thriller about a flawed, ordinary guy, who has done terrible things to bad people for good reasons. Except Dylan’s moral compass is getting more and more fucked up as the series progresses, and the stakes rise. Kill or Be Killed is more exciting than your favorite “prestige” TV show.

-Logan Dalton

The Wicked + the Divine (Image Comics)

The Wicked + The Divine is a comic unlike most on the stands. WicDiv is about a pantheon of gods and goddesses from a multitude of religions and cultures being reincarnated once every ninety years inside of young people for two years. There is Luci, the devil herself; the Greek goddess of the underworld Persephone, Woden from Norse mythology, Inanna from Mesopotamian myths, the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, and many more. As the saying goes, “They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead”.

WicDiv sheds the book’s initial premise early on: the murder mystery of who would and could kill a god. Throughout its run, WicDiv has had snappy dialogue, characters that are human despite their godhood, and eye-popping visuals from artist Jamie McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson, which give the series its own aesthetic and unique brand of consistency. There were even special issues dealing with specific god from the Pantheon, like Morrigan, Sakhmet, or even fucking Tara. These stories showcase different artists and Pantheons from different eras, like ancient Rome. Their styles were different enough to give the issues their own individuality while still move the ongoing arcs forward.

The Wicked + The Divine is a comic that has a lot to say throughout the emotional roller coaster that it takes its readers on.  Social media, being in a fandom, being a celebrity, and even some things concerning the music industry are all explored when Gods aren’t snapping their fingers to the “1-2-3-4!” rhythm or doing whatever they want…which they end up doing anyway. WicDiv continues to push the envelope as time goes on and is nothing short of a story that amazes, stuns and drops jaws every issue.

-Terrence Sage

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