It's that time of year again. What comics site is complete without an obligatory "Best of 2017" list? No doubt it's been a crazy year in so many ways and the comic book industry is no different. But instead of concentrating on the scandals and controversies all that matters is the fruit of so many talented peoples' labor who've produced some amazing stories. These are just some of the best independent comics of 2017.
DISCLAIMER: [Editor's Note] Spartantown relies on the generosity of independent comic book publishers to provide review copies in order to post reviews. Thanks to companies like Image Comics, Valiant Entertainment, Archie Comics, Dynamite Comics, Black Mask Studios, Action Lab, and occasionally others, I've had access to some wonderful stories that otherwise I would have missed. I don't get review copies from mainstream publishers like DC Comics and Marvel so this "Best of..." list is far from comprehensive but a good sample of the best stories I've had access to over the year. If you haven't read some of these comics please consider giving them a chance.
writer: Kyle Higgins (main story), Chuck Wendig (Turok bonus story)
artist: Jorge Fornés (main story), Chris O'Halloran (main story),
Álvaro Sarraseca (Turok bonus story)
letters: Taylor Esposito
covers: Giuseppe Camuncoli (a), Jorge Fornés (b),
Aaron Conley (c), Daniel Warren Johnson(d)
incentive covers: Jorge Fornés (B/W art), Aaron Conley (B/W art),
Giuseppe Camuncoli (B/W art), Jorge Fornés (“virgin art”), Aaron Conley (“virgin art”)
Order the cover of your choice!
FC • 32 pages • $3.99 • Teen+
Do humans dream of owning electric sheep? Artificial intelligence, rather than becoming our overlords, have settled into an uneasy symbiosis with humanity - they work for us as our colleagues and servants, earning vacation time they spend in a boundless digital universe running on human-maintained server farms.
But not all AIs are cool with the deal. Enter Magnus - a human psychologist tasked with navigating both worlds in order to bring recalcitrant AIs back into productive society...
BONUS TUROK STORY! The all-new saga of the all-new Turok continues: He's a man on a mission, possessed, and he won't let anyone or anything get in his way!
Leave it to writer Kyle Higgins to reinvent Dynamite's Gold Key series "Magnus: Robot Fighter" into a female psychologist aiding AI androids who serve humans. Dr. Kerri Magnus uniquely traverses both the human and digital world and when an android murders its human masters, 'Magnus' becomes one of the most gripping detective stories in science fiction.
'Magnus' is a provocative and intelligent sci-fi drama that has a lot on its mind. Higgins establishes this futuristic tale with precision and intrigue while Jorge Fornes and Chris O'Halloran paint a grounded story with some effective android designs. Kerri Magnus is the latest and greatest iteration of the Magnus title and this worthy successor is our avatar to a strange new world where only robots dream.
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Trade Paperback: November 8, 2017, $14.99
4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK is the darkly comedic story of four burgeoning child criminals and their elaborate plans.
When a group of bumbling criminals shows up in her father's life looking to pull one last job, young Paige has two choices - let her father get caught up in their criminal hijinks or enlist her three best friends to do the job first. Paige picks the bad one.
180ish pages of full-color comic-booking about friendship, family, growing up, and grand larceny from rising star writer Matthew Rosenberg (WE CAN NEVER GO HOME, KINGPIN, SECRET WARRIORS) and equally rising star artist Tyler Boss (LAZARUS, CALEXIT, Vice Magazine).
This volume collects the complete series that Kieron Gilled (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, DARTH VADER) described as "Imagine Tarantino does Goonies. And excellent." and Brian K. Vaughan (SAGA, Y THE LAST MAN) said was "Exploding with ambition and love of the medium!"
In a time when adventures starring kids is hot again, '4 Kids Walk Into a Bank' is one of the hottest in comics. Just like the popularity of 'Stranger Things' and 'It' revolves around the resiliency and daring of teens and preteens, Matthew Rosenberg's and Tyler Boss' amateur thieves are no different. '4 Kids' is darkly funny and thoroughly entertaining as Paige recruits her nerd friends in pulling off a bank job before her dad and former partners get a chance. It's an amusing cat and mouse game as Paige tries to gather the intel while planning the heist. If you love the equally excellent 'Paper Girls' from Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, 'Goonies,' or 'Stand by Me' then you'll understand the beauty of this smash hit from Black Mask Studios.
Written by DAVID PEPOSE
Art by JORGE SANTIAGO, JR.
Colors by JASEN SMITH
Lettering by COLIN BELL
Publisher: Action Lab
Collecting the hit mini-series, Spencer and Locke follows hard-boiled Detective Locke as he investigates a brutal murder with the strangest of partners - his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. But when they face brutal gunfights, deadly car chases and memories of Locke's traumatic upbringing, can this unlikely pair survive long enough to find the truth?
I'll admit the premise of a gritty detective comic with a bizarro version of Bill Waterson's beloved comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, seemed cute but I wondered how it would it translate? Luckily, David Pepose, Jorge Santiago, Jr., and Jasen Smith proved that the detective with the imaginary panther was simply a vehicle to expose some real-life trauma. They were able to give this seemingly fun gimmick actual depth and layers of poignancy that elevated this dark exciting tale into one of the most unexpected reads of the year.
Writer: Natasha Alterici
Artist: Natasha Alterici
Publisher: Vault Comics
Release Date: February 15, 2017
Cover Price: $3.99
Aydis is a Viking, a warrior, an outcast, and a self-proclaimed heathen. Aydis is friend to the talking horse Saga, rescuer of the immortal Valkyrie Brynhild, and battler of demons and fantastic monsters. Aydis is a woman. Born into a time of warfare, suffering, and subjugation of women, she is on a mission to end the oppressive reign of the god-king Odin.
Collects the first four sold-out issues!
Natasha Alterici is a passionate creator. Her passion for 'Heathen' is undeniable and indelible with every word and illustration. She made storytelling look easy as her Viking Aydis defied her people to set her own path and change the world for women. Alterici effortlessly made us love Aydis as the strong-willed and independent warrior looking to free women of the chains that bind them.
This seemingly straightforward adventure tale has layers to it that address patriarchal societies, sexual identities, discrimination, oppression, and equality. It sounds like it could be some heavy-handed topics but Alterici's approach is so fluid and seamless, such ideas are woven into the fabric of Aydis' journey without weighing it down.
Action Lab Comics
MATURE READERS “No Crime Goes Unpunished. No Criminal Walks Away.” The death of a friend catches sixteen year -old Addison off guard, but a chance encounter with his killers on the subway forever changes her life. Crime cover-ups, dirty cops, and magical dead boyfriends consume her life as she’s thrust into the vigilante lifestyle and murder.
One of the most underrated mature books over the last two years ended its run in 2017. 'Tomboy' turns the magic girl trope on its head by making it a horror fantasy that is brutal and riveting. It's one big conspiracy that Addison is thrust into when her family lineage is revealed and the death of a friend puts her on a path of bloody revenge. Mia Goodwin provides the initial art for her script before giving way to Michelle Wong's excellent clean lines. The beauty of the art juxtaposed with grisly violence adds to the dichotomy of the series. It subverts the whole idea of girl magic being completely innocent and fun. Addison's life is forever changed, sadly in many ways, evolving into a monster she never asked to become.
On Sale: June 28, 2017
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Tomas Giorello
Cover Artist: Lewis LaRosa
Born under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire, Aric of Dacia learned warfare at an early age. It was amid such violence that he was abducted by an alien race. Forced into slavery, he survived where others perished. His escape would come from bonding with a weapon of immeasurable power: the X-O Manowar armor. With it, he returned to Earth… only to find himself stranded in the modern day.
But that was a lifetime ago.
Now, far from home on a strange and primitive new world, Aric has begun a new life. Liberated from his past, he tends to his crops. Free from war. Free from violence. Free from the armor.
But the machinery of death marches his way once again. Conscripted into an alien army and thrown into an unforgiving conflict, the fury inside him finds voice as he is forced to embrace the armor once more. With it, he will decimate armies, topple empires and incite interplanetary warfare as he rises from SOLDIER to GENERAL to EMPEROR to VISIGOTH. They wanted a weapon. He will give them war!
Join master storytellers Matt Kindt (Divinity) and Tomás Giorello (Bloodshot Reborn) right here for a stunning new beginning for Valiant’s most enduring icon.
Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2017) #1–3 with more than 30 pages of rarely seen art and extras!
Valiant comics is by far the most cinematic publisher of comics. Any number of titles from its line could have made this list. Ninja-K, Secret Weapons, Bloodshot, or Rai all offer some huge action movie moments that can simply be jaw-dropping to witness on the page. But it's the work of Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello on "X-O Manowar" that has pumped new energy and life into a character that traditionally depended on his suit for powers.
Instead, Kindt showed why Aric the man was so special. He's forced to fight and his military brilliance springs him into action leading the charge and moving up the ranks albeit reluctantly. Each issue is a blockbuster action film worthy of the big screen. It's an entertaining sci-fi fantasy that rivals just about anything playing at your local cinema.
writers: Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler
artist: Eric Zawadzki
colorist: Dee Cunniffe
A gentrified city. Its homeless population restricted to six square blocks called The Dregs. When people start disappearing, a drug-addled homeless man obsessed with detective fiction becomes addicted to solving the mystery. Equal parts Raymond Chandler and Don Quixote set in a thriving metropolis that literally cannibalizes the homeless, The Dregs is the first homeless meta noir ever made. Collects issues 1-4.
One of the year's most thought-provoking comic series was another Black Mask Studios title. 'The Dregs' shed light on the homeless situation in Vancouver and how they're being driven out by gentrification. Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler, and Eric Zawadzki frame this all-too-real topic through the eyes of a homeless man caught up in a mystery. The story opens with the cannibalization of his friend by a local trendy restaurant that they serve to the patrons. It's a heavy-handed metaphor but it gives way to an intriguing and poignant story steemed in classic pulp noir.
Arnold's love for Raymond Chandler fuels his mission to find his missing friend throughout Vancouver. Along the way, Arnold battles his addiction, faces discrimination and finds gentrification squeezing him out of downtown. Zawadzki's visuals create a dizzying maze that Arnold has to navigate and some of the most innovative layouts seen in comics this year.
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Jason Wordie, John J. Hill
Publisher: Image Comics
SOUTHERN BASTARDS meets American Gods in a high-stakes fantasy series that masterfully blends high-octane action and jaw-dropping worldbuilding.
In GOD COUNTRY, readers meet Emmett Quinlan, an old widower rattled by dementia. Emmett isn't just a problem for his children—his violent outbursts are more than the local cops can handle. When a tornado levels his home—as well as the surrounding West Texas town—a restored Quinlan rises from the wreckage.
An enchanted sword at the eye of the storm gives him more than a sound mind and body, however. He's now the only man who can face these otherworldly creatures the sword has drawn down to the Lone Star State...
In GOD COUNTRY salvation is a double-edged sword.
You could say 2017 was Donny Cates' year. The hardest working man in comics released a gazillion titles (THANOS, DOCTOR STRANGE, GOD COUNTRY, BABYTEETH, REDNECK,
ATOMAHAWK, INTERCEPTOR) give or take so choosing one for the list was inevitable and challenging. It was his Image Comics book 'God Country' that gets the nod for its simplicity and audacity. A high-concept fantasy grounded in its humanity.
Emmett Quinlan is too much for his son's family to handle. His dementia has sadly made him unruly and hard to control. A widower whose mind had been ravaged by Alzheimer's Disease finds rejuvenation when a tornado lands him a magical sword from another realm. Suddenly, Emmett's strength is restored but more importantly his mind is made whole. He recognizes his family again and memories of his dearly departed wife return. This magical sword had vanquished his disease but only while he's holding it. Of course, the otherworldly owner wanted his sword back and despite sending warriors to retrieve it, Emmett wasn't about to give it up without a fight.
What ensues is a gigantic battle between a determined man (a Texan no less) and gods illustrated in epic fashion by Geoff Shaw and Jason Wordie. There are some earth-shaking confrontations tempered with Emmett's unyielding desire to hold on to his memories, his mind. Here's a man, a relatable figure to any of us with an aging parent, desperate to retain a life's worth of memories especially of those he loved. How hard would you fight to hold on to them? How hard would your parent? It's that connection that makes this fantastic story hit home for the reader.
Writer: David Walker, Sheena C. Howard
Artist: Ray-Anthony Height
Publisher: Lion Forge Comics
After the Earth survived annihilation from an asteroid which was destroyed by a group of heroic astronauts, the resultant meteor shower turned Youngstown, Ohio, into a Level 5 impact zone. After a Columbine-like incident in which a superpowered teenager exploded and killed other youngsters, the Foresight Corporation took over Youngstown to find and regulate any other teenagers with emerging powers.
Kayla Tate has returned to Youngstown because her parents are scientists for Foresight. Kayla has reunited with her childhood friend, Jonah Watkins, a young man with Down syndrome. Kayla and Jonah are learning about each other again, as a mysterious new superhuman named Cosmosis has become the Internet sensation as the hero of Youngstown. Kayla discovers that Cosmosis . . . is Jonah!
Based on his favorite comic book hero, Jonah is using the secret powers he gained from the meteor shower to help people and fight bad guys. To protect Jonah, and discover the sinister mysteries of her town, Kayla uses her own powers gained from a meteor fragment to fight alongside Jonah as the hero Amina. When Amina and Cosmosis discover that young superpowered people are being kidnapped and trained to become Earth's best line of defense against the possibility of an alien invasion, the two teenage heroes use their abilities to stop Foresight, all the while helping each other navigate through resentment, naivete, and the awkward steps of rekindling their friendship.
I was only privy to the first three issues of 'Superb' from Lion Forge Comics. Actually, it was the only comic made available to me by the publisher but it really is an entertaining series. One that features lead characters that rarely headline a superhero comic anywhere else. Jonah, a teenager with Down syndrome and his friend Kayla, an African-American girl, acquire special powers from a mysterious asteroid. They team together against the nefarious Foresight Corporation who gather and train kids with emerging powers. Its place on this list is as much about the quality of the series by David Walker, Sheena C. Howard and Ray-Anthony Height as it is about Lion Forge's commitment to real diversity in comics.
"As a company committed to “Comics for Everyone,” we strive to publish titles that reflect the diversity of our world in the characters, the creators, and the Lion Forge team, and to create content that is just as original," reads as part of the company's mission statement. Senior editor Joseph Illidge has this to say to the Washington Post,"What attracted me to the job was, as an alumni of Milestone Media, I have always in my career in comics believed in the promotion of people from different backgrounds as creators through fiction."
So far Lion Forge's superhero universe known as Catalyst Prime features heroes that are black, Latino, women, and disabled. The diversity doesn't end at the page but also includes writers and artists. While mainstream publishers are paying lip service to diversity Lion Forge is leading the way in making comics more inclusive.