My Top 5 Comic Reads of 2016

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2016 was the year of the comic book for me. I just recently looked back over my Goodreads account and realized that I barely read any novels this year compared to the large number of comic books I read. I’m going to strive for better balance in 2017, but in the meantime I figure why not share some of my favorite comics from this year with you.

The year isn’t quite over, and I will likely be reading more comics in the next week or so (after all, a trade volume is a relatively quick read), but I wanted to put this list out before Christmas, in case any of you were still looking for some gifts…or even some self-gifts.

Honorable Mention: Saga

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Saga’s sixth volume came out this year, and the series continues to be amazing, but I wanted to free up slots on this list to add in some other suggestions. By now, if you’re reading the series, then you know how good it is. If you aren’t, then do yourself a favor and pick it up from the beginning. It’s one of the best comic book series out there right now and well worth your time.

5.) Joyride

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I’m a big space opera fan, and Joyride was a delight to read. It takes place in a future where Earth has secluded itself from the rest of the galactic community, believing that humanity is better kept shielded from the dangers of interacting with other races. In order to maintain control, the dictators have a huge gun pointed at the planet and a shield that locks space craft in as much as it keeps them out.

The story follows the adventures of Uma and Dewydd who plan and execute an escape from Earth by stealing an alien ship on the moon, just outside Earth control and running off from there. They are joined by Catrin, a security guard who accidentally gets dragged along in the escape attempt. The team has a variety of misadventures in alien space all while being pursued by Earth’s Security forces which are trying to retrieve them, for spoilery reasons that I won’t elaborate on.

While Joyride isn’t the deepest or most profound story, it is a true love letter to the space opera genre, especially to its fun and adventure filled pulp roots. The characters are fun and compelling, and the different aliens and robots that are discovered are highly entertaining. The first trade collects the opening four issues of the series and more are slated to be published.

4.) Mockingbird

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Mockingbird was a comic that was destined for obscurity right up until it released its eighth and final issue. The trolls and Gamergaters went wild with rage all over Twitter and began harassing author Chelsea Cain. And then all of a sudden the comic started selling like crazy.

I knew Mockingbird from Agents of SHIELD but wasn’t familiar with the character outside of the show and hadn’t intended to read the comic until all of the hubbub, but I’m really glad I did. The story is great and in many ways unlike any other superhero comic I’ve read. For example, the first issue in the trade is a flash forward that then is explained slowly through the next several issues.

Cain’s take on Bobbi Morse is really funny. She’s a sarcastic and witty narrator who makes the story incredibly entertaining. The art in the comics reminded me a little bit of Archer, another super spy comedy series. Mockingbird isn’t overtly a comedy, of course. It is still primarily an action-adventure-superhero story, but it has a lot of humor and is really fun to read.

Unfortunately Marvel canceled the series before the controversy blew up the series’ sales, but who knows? Maybe with late success of the trade volume, they’ll decide to pick it up again in 2017.

3.) Ms. Marvel

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I ended up reading the bulk of Ms. Marvel this year, and this series is probably my favorite superhero story at the moment. Kamala Khan is a lovable and engaging lead with teenager problems that we can all relate to. She’s also a hugely nerdy fan girl who happens to get superhero powers. It’s really funny to see her spaz out when meeting other heroes that she has to work with.

The story follows Khan as she discovers her powers and begins using them to help people in Jersey City, an apparent hotbed of inhuman activity. While there are crossovers with other heroes and events from the larger Marvel world that impact Ms. Marvel, one of the things I like about the series is that it remains focused on her story, and I don’t feel like I’m totally out of the loop by not reading other comics in the MCU.

Ms. Marvel does a great job of humanizing a Muslim family, which I think is even more important following this year’s election and the growing surge of hate crimes in the United States. It is also, in many ways, a very pro-Millenial comic that champions the strengths and hopes of our generation. It fits these “diverse” elements into coming of age narratives that we are all familiar with and can relate to, which makes it a fun and compelling read.

I’ve currently read the first four volumes of the series, but the fifth one was released earlier this year, so I’ll have to pick that up at some point as well. If you’re buying this for someone else, I recommend giving them the first two volumes, as that presents a more fulfilling opening arc than just the first trade is able to.

2.) Descender

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I picked up Descender because the description sounded interesting. It’s a space opera, so that was a huge plus, but it also tackles issues of humans and our relationship to robots and AI, which I think is a very cool and important topic. The series has not disappointed, and I will say that if you are a fan of Mass Effect, you should definitely check this out. There are several parallels, but Descender is hardly a copy.

Following an attack by the mysterious Harvesters that cripples the society built by the many organic life forms of the sector, robots have come to be considered a danger and are hunted down and destroyed. However, robot designer Dr. Jin Quon managed to create a robot, Tim-21, that has code similar to that of the Harvesters and could be used to develop weapons against them.

Quon is conscripted by Captain Telsa to help track down Tim before he is found and destroyed by one of the many robot bounty hunters who exist out in space. The Tim model is a small child, meant to be a companion bot, and provides a friendly and innocent worldview that contrasts nicely with the generally darker circumstances of the setting.

Descender just released its third trade volume yesterday, which I haven’t gotten a chance to read yet, but it’s first two volumes are absolutely stellar. I highly recommend this series if you’re a fan of space opera.

1.) Monstress

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I found Monstress while I had to kill time in a bookstore waiting for a flight, and I’m really glad I decided to pick it up. Penned by Marjorie Liu, the story wonderfully weaves together influences from Eastern and Western mythology to make something truly unique and refreshing. On top of that, it imagines a more matriarchy-based society, which is interesting and a fresh take on the stereotypical Medieval Fantasy tropes that we’ve become used to.

The story is, in essence, a revenge story. It occurs during a truce period between humans and Arcanics, the hybrid children of humans and the magical Ancients. The protagonist, Maika Halfwolf, seeks to hunt down agents of the Cumaea, the fanatical magic users who hold power in the human government, who she thinks know about what happened to her mother. All the while, a strange power grows within her that comes from her attachment to one of the Old Gods, and she has to fight to maintain control of it while she goes on her mission and is pursued by foes.

There are also some great short interludes at the end of each episode by Professor Tam Tam, a cat (who are of course an intelligent and magical race in this setting) who explains the history of the world for some added world building that is fun and informative, helping to keep the reader on top of the different races and factions and their historical struggles.

Monstress is unique, immersive, and highly engaging. I think it’s as good or better than Saga, which has sort of been the gold standard for recent comic releases. It’s proof that the fantasy genre still has original perspectives to offer and new stories to tell. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

So there are my picks for favorite comics of 2016, or at least of the things I read. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your favorite comics in the comments!

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