This last year has been a particularly strong one for comics—so much so, in fact, that this year’s Top 5 is actually a Top 6, and even that is only because we made the decision not to include titles that continued to be great after their inclusion in last year’s list. (The Flintstones, Giant Days, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, we still love you, honest.) Even without those favorites, the books on this list represent some of the finest comics to hit the stands in the last 12 months, and go from depressed super escape artists all the way to adolescent skater angst and gods on the brink of death. There’s something here for everyone, which means all the more for those with an open mind.
The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics)
Now in its third year, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s series in which regular people are transformed into mythical figures—with the knowledge that they’ll be dead in two years or less—got into its groove and then completely took off. Thanks to the masterful year-long “Imperial Phase” story arc, the two creators (and colorist Matt Wilson, whose work is integral to the series in a number of ways) made good on all the planning they’d done up to that point and pulled off the greatest twist since the end of the first season of The Good Place. (No spoilers, but it’s one of those moments that leaves you simultaneously thinking, “I didn’t see that coming” and “That makes perfect sense, I should have known.”) The Wicked + The Divine has always been one of the smartest, most stylish series out there—not to mention one of the most discussed—and as this year made clear, it’s only getting better with age.
Mister Miracle (DC Entertainment)
Surprisingly, it was DC rather than Marvel that went all-out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book legend Jack Kirby in 2017, with special issues and new series dedicated to Kamandi, The Demon, and New Gods, amongst the many concepts Kirby had created for the company during his brief tenure there. The finest of all the tributes was undoubtedly Mister Miracle, Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ compelling reimagining of the escape artist hero as a story about depression, family, and feeling trapped in your own life. Heartbreaking, funny, and human, it’s an all-time classic in the making.
Extremity (Image Comics)
What if Star Wars was… well, less fortunate for everyone involved? What if the family drama came with greater emotional cost, and Luke and Leia didn’t lose their family in an instant, but had to watch it get torn apart by war right in front of their eyes? Image describes Daniel Warren Johnson’s new series as a cross between Mad Max and Studio Ghibli, but it’s a far richer mix of influences—including Image’s Saga, the art of Paul Pope, and the real life generational trauma of those caught up in genocide and warfare as children. (It is, we promise, far more exciting and less depressing than that makes it sound.)
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics Books)
Describing Emil Ferris’ debut graphic novel—the first volume of two, with the follow-up due next year—isn’t easy. On the surface, it’s the journal of a 10-year-old horror-comic-obsessed girl in the late 1960s whose family life is complicated, to say the least. However, it’s also a comic about loss, identity, longing, murder, and so much more—not least of which is a book that pushes at the formal conventions of the comic medium itself in a number of ways. (It presents itself as a lined notebook with sketches done in biro, as opposed to a traditional comic book, for one thing; if it weren’t for Ferris’ beautiful art, you could be forgiven for believing it really was a journal of a 10-year-old.) Perhaps it’s better to think of it less as a traditional comic book and more as an entirely immersive experience that will overwhelm you, and make you impatient for whatever comes next from Ferris.
Spinning (First Second)
Tillie Walden’s memoir about her adolescence is, as she admits in the afterword, not exactly the competitive figure skating tell-all that it might appear on first glance. Instead, it’s a coming-of-age story that deals with its subjects in a charmingly real manner that avoids the cliches while embracing the ambivalence and uncertainty of being a teenager. Walden’s incisive writing is matched by her confident artwork, which vacillates between a pleasant sketchiness and a simple line filled with personality, emotion, and precision in a way that feels like the ideal illustration of life at that age. A surprisingly affecting exorcism of personal demons that feels universal in its execution.
Hawkeye (Marvel Entertainment)
Who would have thought that one of the best comics of the year would feature the name of everyone’s least favorite big screen Avenger (sorry, Jeremy Renner, but you know it’s true) and the attitude of Veronica Mars? Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero, apparently. The creative team behind the current Hawkeye series—or Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, as it’s called in collected editions—ditched Clint Barton and focused on the younger, less-male incarnation of the character, who set herself up as a somewhat lousy private investigator in California, only to find trouble everywhere she looks. It’s fast, snarky and so fun that you’ll find yourself hoping that someone kills off the cinematic Hawkeye as soon as possible so that this version can replace him pronto.