Catch it in the Trades: The Top 10 Best New Comics of 2015

I wanted to start a tradition of looking back at the best comics of the year, but I wanted to make sure that successive yearly posts don’t get repetitive. To keep things fresh, I thought I would only talk about comic series and mini-series debuting in 2015. That way we don’t end up talking about The Walking Dead and Saga every year and acting surprised. The biggest weakness of the following list is that I did not take enough time in 2015 to delve into some of the smaller independent-publisher gems that I know are out there. This is why I suggest that you use this list as an excuse to head out to your local independently-owned comic book retailer with a primary mission of picking up some trades and back issues. Your secondary mission is to talk to the employees, check out other indie-oriented lists online, and take a risk on something you’re unfamiliar with.

Here are my favorite new comics of 2015.

NOTE: Most of the release dates for collected editions are listed online for Tuesday release dates. I have adjusted these releases for the following day mainly because that’s when new comics come out and we should all get in the habit of stopping by our local comic shop every Wednesday.

  1. Batman & Robin Eternal #1-13 (DC Comics), writers: Scott Snyder, James T Tynion IV, Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando, Genevieve Valentine, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, and Ed Brisson; artists: Tony S. Daniel, Paul Pelletier, Scot Eaton, Francis Manapul, Sandy Florea, Raul Fernandez, Alvaro Martinez, Roge Antonio, Fernando Blanco, and Fernando Pasarin.

Whereas last year’s weekly Batman Eternal title made the case for there always being a Batman, this year’s weeklyBatman & Robin Eternal claims that for every Batman there ought to be a Robin. Decades of evidence exists to suggest that a sidekick humanizes and softens our mission-oriented caped crusader, but once the Bruce Wayne / Batman piece has been removed from the board it seems that Robins flock together. Of course, they’re not all Robins anymore.Batman & Robin Eternal follows Grayson (formerly Nightwing), Red Hood, Red Robin, Spoiler, and Bluebird as they seek to uncover the truth behind a mystery that reaches backward in time to the good old days of Bruce and Dick. These Eternal titles that Scott Snyder and James T Tynion IV have been executively producing are probably intended to act as a buttress for struggling Bat Family titles, introduce new and pre-New 52 characters into the mix, and to use up Snyder’s deep well of Bat-book notes before he eventually changes gears and makes another title his number one priority. Batman & Robin Eternal is not always brilliant, but it is consistently fun. In fact, the flashback in issue six, by Snyder, Tynion, Florea, and Daniel, borders on sublime.

The first volume of Batman & Robin Eternal collects issues #1-12 and is scheduled for release on March 9, 2016. The second volume will presumably collect issues #13-24. At this time, there is no release date for volume two. As for last year’s Batman Eternal, there are three available volumes collecting issues 1-21 (Vol. 1), 22-34 (Vol. 2), and 35-52 plusBatman #28 (Vol. 3). Batman, volume 7: “Endgame” collects Batman #35-40 and is also currently available.

  1. We Stand on Guard #1-6 (Image Comics), writer: Brian K. Vaughan; artists: Steve Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth.

If you needed proof that 2015 was a great year for comic books, look no further than the fact that, at one point, there were three Brian K. Vaughan titles (Saga, We Stand on Guard, and Paper Girls) being published by Image Comics. We Stand on Guard is a six-issue mini-series following a woman named Amber as she joins up with a rag-tag band of Canadian fighters as they plan their final show-down against invading American forces. This is not present day war, but future war with its giant space ships and mech warrior suits. Like much of his previous work, We Stand on Guardtouches upon issues concerning children growing up during times of war and how they are, in some way or another, affected for their entire lives. The more interesting novelty that Vaughan adds to the extensive literature on this subject that he has already written is an interesting comparison between superheroes who have lost their parents and dedicated their lives to fighting for justice and children who lose parents due to terrorism, politics, and war and what kind of people they turn out to be.

I haven’t been able to track down a specific date for a We Stand on Guard collected edition, but the sixth issue just came out on December 9th so we shouldn’t have to wait too long for a release date. I would image we’re going to have a March release date like Batman & Robin Eternal.

  1. E is for Extinction #1-4 (Marvel Comics), writer: Chris Burnham; artist: Ramon Villalobos.

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E is for Extinction was probably Marvel’s best Secret Wars mini-series, at least when it comes to nostalgia factor. Burnham and Villalobos perfectly encapsulate the feeling of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s work on New X-Menduring the early 2000s and deliver a brand new story featuring some Morrison-era favorites like Cassandra Nova, the Stepford Cuckoos, Xorn, and Quentin Quire. On the story-end it feels like Secret Wars is meant to be the crossover to end all crossovers — don’t hold your breath on this idea, though — while on the business end it feels like many of these stories were meant to sell trades of some of Marvel’s better past story arcs. Whatever Marvel is trying, sometimes it is just really great to have fun in a familiar sandbox, and this is what you get when you read E is for Extinction.

The one-volume E is for Extinction: “Warzones” collects the full 4-issue miniseries with the addition of the now classicNew X-Men #114 by Morrison and Quitely and will be released March 2, 2016. As for Morrison and Quitely’s New X-Men, the entire run is available in either one omnibus, three hardcover volumes or fourteen trade paperbacks covering New X-Men #114-154 and Annual #1.

  1. Star Wars #1-13 (Marvel Comics), writer: Jason Aaron; artists: John Cassaday, Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen, and Mike Deodato.

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When Aaron and Cassaday’s Star Wars #1 was released in early 2015 I don’t think that it had even set in that by the end of the year I would have seen Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Force Awakens in theaters, but at that time Star Wars#1 was enough. I remember grinning from cover to cover, feeling like I was watching a new movie featuring young Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa, and friends with every page I turned. Die hard fans will be happy to learn that Marvel’s 2015 Star Wars is considered canon now that Disney has purchased the rights to George Lucas’s franchise. In other words, the events of these comics matter and could be referenced at any time as the canonical universe expands with new comics, books, TV series, and films. A while back I joked that the only way Marvel would ever be able to separate Jason Aaron from writing Wolverine comic books would be if they killed off Wolverine and got the rights to Star Wars, but all jokes aside I think Aaron is great at writing Star Wars and I think he has found his next Wolverine. In other words, he is likely here to stay.

The first volume of Star Wars titled “Skywalker Strikes” (issues #1-6) was released on October 6, 2015. Volume two (“Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon,” issues #7-12) is scheduled for a January 27, 2016 release and the crossover Star Wars: Vader Down (Vader Down #1, Star Wars #13-14, Darth Vader #13-15) is scheduled for an April 20, 2016 release.

  1. Doctor Strange #1-3 (Marvel Comics), writer: Jason Aaron; artist: Chris Bachalo.

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Remember what I just said about how hard it must have been to separate Jason Aaron from Wolverine? Well, the last time Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo worked together was actually on Marvel’s Schism-era series titled Wolverine and the X-Men. The team-up was a little more short-lived than I would have wished, but Doctor Strange is certainly an acceptable continuation. In fact, the second issue’s exploration of the Sanctum Sanctorum was probably one of my favorite issues to come out this year. It seems pretty clear that Marvel has rolled out a couple of its heavy hitters to flesh out the character of Doctor Strange prior to the release of the Doctor Strange film on November 4, 2016, and I think this particular decision was a success. Aaron has already gotten me more interested in Marvel’s arcane side than I ever have been before, and Bachalo’s art looks so good that I’d probably leaf through each issue even if Aaron weren’t any good at spinning a tale.

We won’t be seeing the first volume of Doctor Strange until May 11, 2016, but it is titled “The Way of the Weird” and it includes issues #1-5.

  1. Amazing Spider-man: Renew Your Vows #1-5 & Amazing Spider-man #1-5 (Marvel Comics), writer: Dan Slott; artists: Adam Kubert and Giuseppe Camuncoli.

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Dan Slott’s Secret Wars-era “Renew Your Vows” was a momentary glimpse into what the world might look like if Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s marriage hadn’t been erased from continuity by Mephisto, and that glimpse was pretty cool. It was especially neat to see Pete’s rebellious daughter Annie trying to protect people in need against the backdrop of Peter Parker applying his responsibility only to his wife and his daughter. The contrast, as we return to regular continuity in Amazing Spider-man, is stark. In this post-Superior Spider-man world, Peter Parker has more power and therefore more responsibility than ever before now that he is the CEO of a multinational corporation. Of all of the neat innovations Slott has already brought to this volume just in the first five issues, I would have to say that his efforts in making the Zodiac interesting is probably worthy of a medal. In the same year, we get to see Pete back with MJ and Pete getting a chance to move forward with his post-MJ life. In a lot of ways, since both of these volumes are a continuation of Dan Slott’s multi-year Amazing Spider-man tenure they probably don’t belong on this list, but it is not my fault Marvel keeps playing the stop and start game. I did think it would be appropriate to collapse both volumes into one so we could talk about some other comics as well.

The Amazing Spider-man: Renew Your Vows TPB just came out on December 30, 2015, so you can grab one fresh off the presses once you hit your local comic shop. The first TPB for the new volume of Amazing Spider-man titled “Worldwide” collects issues #1-5 and is showing a street date of April 20, 2016.

  1. Invincible Iron Man #1-4 (Marvel Comics), writer: Brian Michael Bendis; artist: David Marquez.

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I can’t be the only one out here who has had extreme difficulties relating to or caring about Iron Man for most of his life. In fact, I don’t think I cared for him as anything more than Avengers air support until Robert Downey Junior appeared on the big screen as a version of Tony Stark that felt like George W. Bush with a pickled heart of gold. In light of this I think Bendis’s new volume should actually be titled Surprising Iron Man, which is not very farfetched in a comic book environment which includes Totally Awesome Hulk and an Avengers book with such a long title that it requires two hyphens and a comma (All-New, All-Different Avengers). Though only the fourth best new comic this year, I think Bendis and Marquez have created a comic that would be a perfect benchmark for other comics. If you’re looking to work on a serialized comic depicting an established character who you want to take in an interesting direction, your sourcebook should probably be the current volume of Invincible Iron Man.

The first volume of Bendis’s Invincible Iron Man, titled “Reboot,” collects issues #1-5 and will be released April 20, 2016.

  1. Constantine – The Hellblazer #1-7 (DC Comics), writers: Ming Doyle and James T Tynion IV; artists: Riley Rossmo, Vanesa Del Rey, and Ming Doyle.

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I am normally about as keen on John Constantine as I am on Tony Stark, but I’m also happy to admit when I’m wrong.Constantine – The Hellblazer has been one of the most refreshing comics that I have read in years. If Peter Milligan’s 1988 comic Hellblazer was the first chapter of the John Constantine story, I am honestly beginning to believe that Tynion and Doyle’s Constantine – The Hellblazer is the beginning of the second chapter. John Constantine has always been this complicated brooding anti-hero with an edge, but now, impossibly, he is depicted in vivid colors and potentially emotionally available. Against all odds, I am rooting for John Constantine’s love life to take center stage and for everything to work out for him. I find this reimagination of Constantine particularly exciting because most of the art is done by a guy named Riley Rossmo, who I’m proud to say I discovered before he was doing work for the big publishers. He was always one of the little guys, someone like you and me, only he works harder than anyone you know and his passion for his craft is really paying off. DC can go ahead and cancel whatever they like next year, so long as they keep their hands off of Constantine – The Hellblazer.

The first six issues of Constantine – The Hellblazer will be available on February 17, 2016 in a volume titled “Going Down,” followed by a second volume consisting issues #7-12 to be released on August 17, 2016.

  1. Extraordinary X-Men #1-4 (Marvel Comics), writer: Jeff Lemire; artist: Humberto Ramos.

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With a couple of possible exceptions, I have probably read more X-Men comics than anyone I know. As a result, I have a strong idea for when a creative team is sticking true to the core of what it means to be mutants in a world that fears and hates you. I loved Jason Aaron’s Schism and Brian Michael Bendis’s recent work on All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, but if I’m being honest I think Extraordinary X-Men has already blown them away in its first four issues. Jeff Lemire has gone from this unknown quantity to a surprise hit with DC’s The New 52 and Animal Man to perhaps one of the most consequential X-Men writers since Grant Morrison, and it has been a great ride. Until 2015, I knew Humberto Ramos as that guy who does a lot of art for Dan Slott’s Spider-man comics, but now his vibrant characters remind me of the Jim Lee and Joe Madureira days of the X-Men and I hope he’ll never leave. What else is great about Extraordinary X-Men? Everyone’s favorite mutants are fighting a battle both on the home front — on the streets of every city where a mutant’s life is in danger — but also away, in fantastical places like Limbo. Storm is finally back in charge after seemingly everyone in the comic book industry forgot that she’s always been one of the most successful leaders the team has ever seen, outshining Cyclops at every turn and talking down Wolverine whenever he starts thinking with his animal side. We get comic relief in the form of Cerebra the Sentinel while in the meantime the fate of mutant life on earth may rely on whether or not the X-Men can summon their allies to their side. There’s some cheese here and there, but every good X-Men title has had a little bit of that. Not every X-Men title feels like it fits perfectly into the continuous story since 1963 though.

The first volume of Extraordinary X-Men titled “X-Haven” collects issues #1-5 and is scheduled for release on May 11, 2016.

  1. Huck #1-2 (Image Comics), writer: Mark Millar; artist: Rafael Albuquerque.

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There are quite a few comics that were released during the last quarter of 2015 that I had to bump to the Honorable Mention category, but when the first issue of Huck was released on November 18 I was pretty sure that, barring some sort of Christmas miracle, this was going to be the best new comic book of the year. Huck himself is Mark Millar’s secret weapon. It doesn’t really matter what happens in the span of this 24-issue comic, because so long as our small town autism spectrum man of steel is the main character it is going to be fantastic. I like Batman, but I’m not so sure I’d like to know Batman. I like Cyclops, but he isn’t exactly the type of person I like to spend time with. I like Huck, and I think I could move in with him and maybe help him with some of the smaller good deeds on his to do list. This is the comic book that you don’t want to miss out on. It is something you want on your shelf. The series had barely hit the shelves and already there is rumor of a movie in development. If you didn’t read Huck in 2015, you’re going to want to make it the first thing on your to do list for 2016. This is not a comic to pass up.

I’m not sure that Image Comics has set a release date for the Huck Volume 1 TPB, but luckily Huck is still new enough that you might be able to pick up first editions of the first two issues.

Honorable Mentions

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I really loved reading All-New, All-Different Avengers (Marvel), I Hate Fairyland (Image), Karnak (Marvel), and Paper Girls (Image) this year, but unfortunately all four are just now starting to find their footing so I didn’t really know where to put them in the rankings. Marvel’s Darth Vader had a fantastic first arc with a one of the best annual issues I’ve read in some time, but unfortunately it fell just short of the top ten. Secret Wars and Ultimate End both had so much promise but were ultimately a little too all over the place for my own tastes. That said, Secret Wars is up there with Avengers vs. X-Men as one of the best crossovers in the last five to ten years and the final issue of Ultimate End was a great conclusion to Bendis’ work in the Ultimate Marvel imprint.

* * *

I hope you had as much fun reading these posts as I did writing them for the last quarter of 2015. I expect to continue with the weekly comic book posts until some huge life change or lack of motivation hits me. As we move into 2016, I am going to devote the introduction specifically to highlighting the new comic books that the various publishers are releasing that week. To make things a little more interesting, I am going to vow to read every first issue of every comic released by Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image, Marvel, and Vertigo. There are a couple of reasons for this. This will make next year’s round-up post a lot easier to pull together, but more importantly it means that I won’t miss as many comics in my evaluation. If it weren’t for the help of my friends / readers, I would have overlooked Extraordinary X-Men, Constantine – The Hellblazer, and Invincible Iron Man, my second, third, and fourth place new comics! This is more than likely due to the fact that I only promise to read the first three pages of every new comic that I am trying out. I’m still looking for a good methodology so I don’t miss out on the better comics from the independent publishers. Hit me up if you have any ideas outside of just asking the employees at my local comic shop, and until next time lets talk comic shop.

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