In similar fashion to my year-end ‘Top 5’ lists for video games and anime, the stories detailed below are the five best comic books/graphic novels that I read between January and December of this year. Some of these series may have been released in years prior, but I simply did not get around to reading them until recently. Also, keep in mind that while comic book reviews are one of the newest additions to my blog, having only started in April of this year, that some of the earliest reviews posted here were of comics I read in 2014 or earlier, and are thus ineligible for making this list.
#5) All-New Ghost Rider: Perhaps the strongest debut in the Marvel NOW! launch next to Nova, All-New Ghost Rider sees teenager Robbie Reyes raising his younger, wheelchair-bound brother without parental aid in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood. Surrounded by frequent gang shootings, drug lords, and common school bullies, Robbie works twice as hard to earn money as an underpaid mechanic to afford basic necessities for his brother’s medical care. When he is granted the powers of the Ghost Rider, Robbie decides to try and clean up the town, and hopes to make it a safer place for his brother, himself, and increase the overall quality of living for locals who – whether directly or not – are affected by the criminal goings-on.
#4) X-Men ’92: Exactly as its name implies, X-Men ’92 is a trip down memory lane, as the cartoon counterparts of the classic X-Men team debut in comic book form as part of the 2015 Secret Wars event. An original story that takes place after the Brotherhood of Mutants have been defeated, the miniseries sees Jubilee, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Gambit, Rogue, Beast, and Storm reunited for one more adventure, as they investigate a suspicious rehabilitation facility run by one Cassandra Nova. Other faces drop in as well, such as the X-Force team, while the finale offers plenty of satisfying, slightly goofy homages to the X-Men history, and still manages to successfully tease future storylines, as X-Men ’92 has since been greenlit as an ongoing series post-Secret Wars. X-Men ’92 is strikingly self-aware, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to land a joke about the X-Men arcade game, or the 1990s censorship rules regarding what could or could not be said on a children’s television program
#3) X-Men: Age of Apocalypse: A bold reimagining of the X-Men universe from the mid 1990s, Age of Apocalypse details an expansive ‘what if?’ scenario, where Charles Xavier was killed by his unstable, time-traveling son Legion, leading Magneto to champion all of Charles’ ideals and form his own team of X-Men. As the years pass, Apocalypse rises to power, corralling humans into prisons and pens, only serving to further strain relations between humans and mutants. Despite all this, Magneto and the X-Men strive to help those humans still living in the futuristic dystopia created by Apocalypse and his four horsemen, and intend on striking directly at the villainous conqueror, no matter how greatly the odds may be stacked against them.
#2) Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy run stands as the highest point of the already-superb Marvel cosmic renaissance of the mid 2000s. A broad cast of strange, yet oddly intriguing characters drive a plot that is just complicated enough to suck readers into to these spacey adventures, without getting lost within its own backdrop. This series stands masterfully on its own as the premiere cosmic Marvel storyline, while also acting as an effective bridge between the two Annihilation events and The Thanos Imperative finale.
#1) Black Science: A wild and unrelenting ride into outlandish realms and alternate realities, Black Science is bold; unafraid to mash vastly different scenarios together. Much of the series’ visual spectacle comes from equally fantastical and terrifying backdrops that include of a World War I-era battle between ill-prepared German soldiers squaring off against Native Americans who have repurposed hyper-advanced alien technology for their own needs, a tribal conflict between fish people and frog people on a moving island set on the back of a giant turtle, a society of territorial snow monkeys who are skilled in both clockwork and steam-based mechanicals, and a fallen Roman Empire where troops travel by jetpack while a virus has killed the majority of the populous. The plot, meanwhile, revolves around Grant McKay and his team of scientists, as they are stranded in these increasingly dangerous locales. One of the team members has broken the Pillar, the device that allowed them to make the initial jump through time and space, and as such, the series begins with all of them becoming suspicious and distrusting toward one another. The other significant conflict is Grant attempting to reconcile with his children, who have also been swept up in these events, over years of being emotionally and motivationally absent from their lives, and for causing his marriage to their mother to fall apart due to an affair with one of his co-workers. These interactions between the core characters ground the series in relatable terms, and the character progression therein is surprisingly satisfying. There are a few twists along the way, and the payoff of each proves worthwhile. Though there is still plenty to be explored in future releases, these first three trade paperback volumes do well to cap off what is essentially the first story arc of Black Science.