Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a finale just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, comics, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
If you were following along with comics news this year, you probably noticed that it was pretty wild — even for an industry about guys with laser vision. In between the controversial crossovers, the sexual harassment-related firings, the unauthorized sequels and Batman going on a heavy-metal inspired cosmic romp through the multiverse ...
Here are my favorite comics of 2017.
The best books
I was skeptical when DC Comics announced that Gerard Way — yes, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, he does comics sometimes, too — was going to be heading up a whole imprint of alternative comics featuring either original characters in the DCU or very obscure classic ones. It seemed like a great project for another company; the sort of idea that, at a Big Two publisher like DC or Marvel, would sell plenty of #1 issues and slump immediately after. The books might be bright flashes of creativity worthy of reading, but the hurdle to find an audience would be too great.
The Young Animal imprint is not only still going strong, but hurtling towards a crossover event with the Justice League of America called (pause here, please) “Milk Wars.” And while all four books in the imprint, which includes Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, Shade the Changing Girl and Mother Panic, have their charms, there’s only one that I desperately want more people to read so I can have someone to talk to about it.
That book is Gerard Way, Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain’s Doom Patrol.
It’s quite an achievement to put together a cast of characters who I found instantly compelling even when I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. With a lead whose memory gaps turned out to lead back to the revelation that she’s the hero of a comic about more violent version of essentially-Rainbow-Brite, brought to life in reality by ... an ambulance that’s also a sentient fictional world named Danny?
I may not have gotten that exactly right, but Doom Patrol is wildly surreal, full of heart, beautifully colored and inventively drawn.
After the death of Bruce Banner in Marvel’s Civil War II, his distaff counterpart stepped into his name and title. In 2017, Hulk was about Jennifer Walters.
Jen (you might know her as She-Hulk) has long been a counter-narrative character at Marvel. Her first big hit series was infamously fourth wall breaking, and successive series have focused on her work as a lawyer for superheroic problems (like suing the company whose lax safety regulations caused the accident that gave you the amazing powers that are ruining your life) more than her work with the Avengers.
Mariko Tamaki and Nico Leon’s Hulk takes Jennifer Walters in a somewhat different direction. When Jen used to hulk out, she got to keep her personality and brains — but after her cousin’s unjustified murder and her recovery from a coma, she finds herself with less control than she’s used to.
Tamaki makes Hulk a book about Jen balancing her mental health, reframes the metaphor of hulking out with the language of anxiety rather than anger and adds in a supervillain who preys upon fear, doubt and paranoia. I was frequently blown away by the book’s colors and layouts and now that it’s confirmed to have been cancelled, I just wish even more people had picked it up.
My Lesbian Experience of Loneliness
For a story about anxiety without superheroes, or the lens of fiction at all, 2017 was the year that My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness was translated and published for Western audiences. The clear lines of Kabi Nagata’s autobiographical manga belie an intensely complicated and personal retelling of her struggles with depression, understanding her sexuality and throwing off the expectations of her family.
For anyone who has struggled with their own mental health, or been close to someone who has, Nagata’s story will be intensely — maybe even uncomfortably — familiar, even across thousands of geographical and cultural miles. It was a book I was glad to have read.
In 2017 I can say without equivocation that one of the best comic book stories I read all year was a work of erotica. Inspired by the true story of the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, C. Spike Trotman and Emilee Denich’s Yes, Roya begins with Wylie, an aspiring cartoonist about to get a big audience with his creative idol.
It ends as a story about confidently taking creative freedom, love and safety for yourself in a world that has short supply of it for people like you, and in the middle it gives the reader an intricately written and beautifully drawn love story.
And, yes, it’s very, very sexy.
Midnighter and Apollo
DC may have purchased the Wildstorm comics setting in 1999 and merged it with the main DCU in 2011, but its characters have never quite felt a full part of the whole. None moreso than Apollo and Midnighter, the gay, oft-married superhero duo who were created to coyly point a finger at Superman and Batman as much as they were to be themselves.
Midnighter and Apollo has been a long time coming, a toweringly hopeful queer revenge anthem about the world’s biggest badass taking a magic candle portal to Hell to recover the soul of his dead superpowered boyfriend from the devil himself.
Fernando Blanco’s layouts present superhero apartments and teeming masses on the plains of the underworld with equal interest. And while Steve Orlando always kills it when writing the sardonic Midnighter — even more so when he’s on a love-crazed warpath — in Midnighter and Apollo he proves that he can do justice to Apollo as well, as Midnighter’s (sorry) straight man.
The biggest surprises
I admit that after enjoying his work in Omega Men and Grayson, I found the first few arcs of Tom King’s Batman to be uneven and sometimes feel purposeless. But by the end of this year, it felt like everything I picked up from him was a home run with the bases loaded. From Kite-Man to Kamandi to Mr. Miracle, this was the year Tom King became one of my favorite comics writers.
I said it in my review, and I’ll say it here. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock had a huge ledge of my skepticism to climb over and gain my interest. But it did. The comic may have only just kicked off, but to my undying surprise ... it looks great.
And speaking of ...
Things that are just kicking off but look great
Image Comics’ Sleepless, from Sarah Vaughn and Leila del Duca, hooked me with but a single issue. Twenty-odd pages delivered courtly intrigue in a lushly illustrated fantasy world, with plenty of hints of dark magic, animal familiars, sworn protectors and dark plots, all hooked around a compelling female lead. I’m in for issue #2, so feel free to join me.
Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mr. Miracle gets my honorable mention as “most difficult comic to explain to my non-comics-reader friends.” It doesn’t even really belong in this section, since it’s up to its fifth issue, but with a leisurely pace and a story that’s all about questioning the fundamentals of existence, it’s very hard to put a finger on where it might be going.
Ostensibly a revival of the classic Jack Kirby character, Mr. Miracle belongs in the canon of comics that explore depression and the existential nature of reality. It’s also got a thick layer of metatextual reference to it that’s easy to miss. It’s as much a comic about imagining Jack Kirby’s state of mind when creating Mr. Miracle as it is about anything else — a comic book for comic book readers.
Things that kicked off forever ago, but are still good
Coming perilously close to its 50th issue, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga has become a reliable staple of the comics industry, and for me, sometimes too reliable. It’s most recently finished story arc brought me right back to anticipating every issue, however. Instead of hopping between multiple character groups and locations around the galaxy, our core protagonists are treated to a smaller arc on a quirkily distinct planet.
Everybody gets cowboy clothes and complicated emotions, and the reader is treated to scenes both horrifyingly macabre and sweetly touching. Like a stillborn baby’s potential tweenhood made manifest by strange magic just long enough for he and his older sister to play.
All-New Wolverine has kicked ass since 2015, and it’s still kicking ass. ‘Nuff said.
I could not end a “2017 In Comics” post without acknowledgement that it was Jack Kirby’s centennial year, and that it was the year I first started to get my eyes on Kirby from first sources. In the creative accretion that forms superhero comics, it’s rare to find decades-old characters who are just as compelling in their first appearance as they are now. Either the spark has gone out, or slow alterations by other artists have streamlined them for modern audiences.
Kirby’s original Mr. Miracle is a shocking exception. Kirby was 54 when he created the Fourth World, and it was 1971. And yet, the characters feel like they could have walked onto the page in 2017, from a modern creator at the top of their game. Mr. Miracle is fully operatic in story and setting but still feels full of familiar emotions and resonant themes. The fact that his Fourth World work was brazenly anti-fascist only helps, though I wish it didn’t.
If you want to know why comics people won’t ever shut up about Kirby, grab DC Comics’ recently reprinted Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby collection.