Did you think I’d forgotten you?
Actually, no, you didn’t. You were probably too busy watching The Force Awakens. It’s ok, so was I.
I mentioned at the close of my 2014 best and worst roundup that 2015 was going to be a quiet year on the website front for me, and it was. Work, thesis writing and tumultuous adventures (and adversity) with domestic situations got in the way of all those wonderfully mediocre reviews I like to write. As such, the only Chris Kills Comics entry for me in 2015 was a part-sarcastic/part-serious guide to which post-Secret Wars Marvel titles might be worth a look. Not that I’ve yet read any of them at time of writing, but I’m never afraid to judge books by their covers and writing teams. That’s also why it’s unlikely I’d ever stoop to checking out the gonzo mess that is Miller and Azzarello’s new Dark Knight Returns sequel.
But while it was a more sedate year for me comics-wise, 2015 still had no shortage of great titles. I did spend a lot more of 2015 reading novels and non-fiction books, thanks to a new gig I’ve got as a book reviewer over at Geek of Oz, but there was still the occasional moment for graphic diversions. I’ll admit up front that I maaaaaybe read a tenth of the good comic titles 2015 produced. Ok, probably closer to a twentieth. Call it a fiftieth, at least?
PICTURED: Some of 2015’s greatest hits that I haven’t read yet, but totally will. At some point. Yup.
So, in an effort to offer a mea culpa and address the deficit of comics critique from the past year, presented herein are some gems from the few comics I did read in 2015. I promise, once my thesis goes in on February 15th (submission forms are in, markers are being picked…oh God this is really happening), there’ll be more on the comics front from me. In fact, there are some fairly big plans being made for The Writer’s Multiverse as a whole, including one hell of a facelift…
But those will be in due course. For now, highlights from last year:
SAGA, VOLUME 5
Like you didn’t know this’d be on here.
There’s not much I can add to my previous gushing over how good Saga is. Suffice it to say, Volume 4 (from the tail end of 2014) was par excellance to its peers, and Volume 5 continued Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ overall conquest of the comics industry. Keep believing the hype; Saga is consistently delivering a thoughtful, engaging, nuanced and engrossing story across its gorgeously illustrated pages. Volume 5, while at times feeling a little like a bridging narrative than a story in its own right, closes with a nice hook that has me wringing my hands with apprehension during the wait for Volume 6. I guess what I’m saying, then, is that Saga‘s good for those who like feeling anxious and nervously expectant while they wait for the next book.
Actually, maybe don’t read it if you’re susceptible to that kind of thing.
THOR: GODDESS OF THUNDER
Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been a rollicking sine wave of quality, with some thrilling highs and lackluster bottoming-out. Despite that, I think it’s fair to say Aaron really hit his stride when he made Thor a woman.
Now, let’s be clear: this is not a gender-swap the way Loki’s was handled during J. Michael Stracynzski’s landmark run in the late 2000s; Chris Hemsworth hasn’t been turned into a woman, but instead has lost his worthiness to the mantle of the God of Thunder. Aaron’s new Thor is an entirely different character from her male counterpart (for reasons which become clear in the second book), uncertain of her new powers and bringing a more grounded persona to Marvel’s eminent deity superhero identity. It also helps that Aaron’s got a good story to go with the new protagonist, as well as some stellar artwork by Russell Dauterman and Jorge Molina. In an age where we need more powerful, prominent and well-written superheroines (and in a year where Meredith and David Finch were accidentally allowed to ruin one of them), it’s laudable to have one who’s as approachable, relatable and entertaining as Aaron’s lady Thor. Also, note my lack of capital on the “lady”; she’s Thor, not Lady Thor, Mrs Thor or Thorette. She is, you might say, the definite article.
MS MARVEL: GENERATION WHY
Continuing the theme of female empowerment, G. Willow Wilson’s landmark Ms Marvel run has also shone a light on diversity in cape comics. Muslim action girl Kamala Khan is a Ms. Marvel who couldn’t be more distinct from her contemporaries, or indeed her predecessor (who’s busy flying around space). She’s fun, kicks ass and, much like Bryan Q. Miller’s Pollyanna interpretation of Batgirl, doesn’t ever seem to really be brought down. Generation Why builds on the massive success of No Normal, introducing Wolverine and Lockjaw to Kamala’s world of burgeoning superheroics and navigation of young adulthood.
While the real world issues Wilson wraps her story around can get a little heavyhanded – including a protracted scene regarding seizing your life between Kamala and some misguided young people modeled off socially-inept World of Warcraft players – there’s still a very joyful, bouncy tone throughout. Like Aaron’s Thor, Wilson writes Kamala as an approachable, relatable hero, a character women can look up to as truly realistic; despite her superpowers, Kamala’s still burdened by the everyday problems of work, friends and family that the Muggles among us are plagued with.
Also, Generation Why slips into my highlights for this scene alone:
As much as I adored Death of the Family (it made it to my Best of 2013 list for a reason), I was hesitant about a return visit with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to their sickly psychotic version of the Joker. What were we in for in Endgame: more face-cutting and grisly dinner platters?
Well, turns out, not so much. Part of Endgame‘s effort to distinguish itself from Snyder and Capullo’s last Joker story is in having the mad clown come back, not to maim or threaten or cajole, but to kill the goddamn Batman. As part of his “closing up shop” in Gotham, Joker’s out to murder everybody; Batman, Batgirl, Red Robin, the lot of ’em. Deadsies, in the ground, end of story.
With stakes like that, it’s hard not to like Endgame. As always, Snyder’s on point with his writing, and Capullo continues to ably demonstrate why he’s the best Batman artist since Alex Ross. It may not be entirely inventive in parts of the story, and the ending (which, despite the internet spoiling it to high heaven, I won’t reveal here) might lack tension somewhat. But it’s also got a knock-down, drag-out fight between Batman and a Joker venom-addled Justice League, a compelling emotional core, and one of the best Batman-on-Joker fistfights ever put to the page.
I get the sense Snyder and Capullo might soon be saying goodbye to Batman; if this is the last we see of their Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime definitely ends on a high note.
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER, VOL. 1 – VADER
Believe me, nobody’s more surprised than I that a Star Wars comic ended up here, much less one centered on the Dark Lord of the Sith. 2015 was, obviously, a landmark year for Star Wars that really rescued the franchise from the mire (getting rid of its immense expanded universe probably helped with that). Part of that rescue involved Marvel nicking off with the Star Wars comics license, previously stewarded by Dark Horse Comics.
Of the many series Marvel have produced since they got their toys back – including a superb self-titled ongoing, an ill-regarded Princess Leia miniseries and a nice post-Episode VI diversion in Shattered Empire – I’d offer that Darth Vader is the most compelling. You would think, as I did, that an ongoing series based on Star Wars‘ most public face of villainy wouldn’t have a lot to offer. We know what happens to him, and any stakes regarding his survival in a cliffhanger would be removed based on that.
Writer Kieron Gillen circumvents that problem by taking Vader in an entirely different direction than the one I’d envisioned. See, the Emperor’s a little pissed off that Vader allowed the first Death Star to blow up, and as such he’s holding deadly auditions for a new apprentice. Vader has to “compete” against an array of colourful psychotics who are vying for the Emperor’s favour. Assisting him are a young doctor, who’s fully aware Vader will kill her when he’s done with her and only asks for a quick kill from his lightsaber as payment for her services, and a black-clad, evil pair of murderous droids modeled off C-3PO and R2-D2, with a dash of Borderlands‘ Claptrap and Knights of the Old Republic‘s HK-47 thrown in. The whole affair is gorgeously rendered by artist Salvador Larroca, whose work I was already in love with from his stint on The Invincible Iron Man.
I’ll have more to say about Vader and the other new Star Wars comics in a Mind’s Eye post I’m working on, but suffice to say I really enjoyed it. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a lot of fun. Vader himself makes for a surprisingly interesting protagonist, even though we know almost everything about him from nearly four decades of films, books, comics, video games and breakfast cereal boxes, and his supporting cast are a lot of fun. The plot kinda becomes like a really dark and twisted take on Doctor Who, with the more relatable human companion being our everyman viewpoint for an inscrutable protagonist. Safe bet says Volume 2 opens with Vader and Friends finding their own ship to go around the galaxy, solving mysteries.
One minor criticism: Volume 1’s subtitle is entirely redundant. We know his name’s Vader, guys; you wouldn’t have a book called Batman, Volume 1: I’m Batman. That’s less a title and more of a crazed inner monologue.