My Favorite Top Publisher Books of 2017
I don’t usually talk about the big two or do reviews for anything outside of indies but since I missed giving my input on some of the best things about 2017 on Comic Booked’s Best Of I thought it would be fun to rundown some of my favorite things from most of the big publishers. It’s not that I don’t read and collect comics from the bigger publishers, I have just always felt that the indie creator with a full time job and/or family that makes time to create is a more compelling story to tell and they probably need the exposure much more than someone writing Batman or the Avengers. But like I said, I’m still a fan and I still love comics, even the big boy publishers, so here is little taste of what I have enjoyed from some of these bigger publishers.
I think by far one of the biggest and best things in the entire year, let alone DC, has been the Metal event. The evil Batmen alone were worth the admission price. The Dawnbreaker, The Red Death, and my god The Batman Who Laughs. Nothing is more terrifying than the idea of bad guy Batman, let alone bad guy Batman with the Green Lantern ring or the Flash’s speed force. This event has me fully on board, I have been buying every issue and tie in’s with no regret or anger over the fact they tie in other books. DC has been my favorite of the big two and only second to Image as far as non indie companies are concerned. Batman is probably my favorite superhero, most certainly my favorite for DC, so aside from Scott Snyder’s Metal Tom King has been putting out some really fun and interesting Batman books, and has also been getting rave reviews for Mister Miracle. Dan Jergens did a fantastic run on Action Comics, The Oz Effect, where Superman uncovers some crazy secrets about a mystery man named Mr. Oz. Oh, let’s not forget about a little series from Geoff Johns called, Doomsday Clock! When I got the first copy in my hands and saw Rorschach on a comic page again my heart swelled with happiness.
Last year was a strange one for Marvel, a lot of ups and down, but in the end this comic juggernaut is on the right track. I think the biggest shake up they had was the changing of the guard as far as Editor in Chief’s and the switch from the Axel Alonso era to the C.B. Cebulski era. Alonso was from all accounts a great guy and he headed up a rather large event in Secret Empire, which was received with mixed feelings, and the negative press surrounding it caused me to get back into Marvel. I rather enjoyed the event and because Cap is my favorite Marvel hero I wasn’t thrilled about Hydra Cap but I thought Nick Spencer’s writing was excellent and was glad I gave it a go. I only speak about Secret Empire because it segwayed into the Legacy event that saw changes in Marvel that were somewhat overdue. It brought little changes like the switch back to original numbering but what it’s done that intrigued me was the resurgence of characters. Most notably they tease of the return of Wolverine, and exciting as it is to know Wolverine is headed back, they brought back Johnny Storm and the Thing which teases a return of the Fantastic 4’s full squad. Could the first family of comics be heading back? I sure hope so. This isn’t all either, Marvel has done a few one shots like Master of Kung Fu, Silver Sable, and Darkhawk, but for me personally it was the fact that they brought back Blade in Spirit’s of Vengeance. It’s a limited series but it’s really given me confidence in the future of Marvel. And this just covers superheroes, there is still a slew of awesome Star Wars books that have been having really been killing it, they’re consistently best sellers and even though I don’t read them they have been recommended to me time and time again. Another couple books I have really enjoyed have been Doctor Strange and Moon Knight. Doctor Strange was handed to Donny Cates, who you will read more about soon, so even though it’s only about three issues into his run I have been very satisfied with his take. I picked up Moon Knight on the recommendation of my LCS owner and I couldn’t have been happier, Bemis has done a fantastic job at intermingling the insanity of Moon Knight and the Egyptian mythos.
What can I say about Image that hasn’t been said. Image is my favorite publisher of all time, the shear number of Image books I pick up is staggering, I’m sure someones kids are going to college on my dime and I’m pretty proud of that fact. I can’t narrow down Image by genre or character or even talent; each book has its own style and are vastly different from one to the next and their all original in their own ways, plus they have so many talented creators it would be like choosing your favorite gold nugget.
One of my favorite books was A.D. After Death by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, both artists are on the tippy top of my list for people I keep an eye out for and I picked up a really choice looking hardcover of A.D. as well as the unique oversized floppy from each release. Lemire has held my intrigue with a book called Royal City that follows a family through their day to day lives. Lemire has an uncanny ability to make normal life seem so interesting by adding little things here and there that force the reader to relate. A kid that loves 90’s rock music, a struggling wife trying to keep her marriage intact, all of these day to day things that people overlook are so important in Lemire’s writing, it reminds you to be human again. This book is really just the tip of the iceberg, I could write an article on just Image, but I will focus on other creators that include; Matt Hawkins, Rick Remender, Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Donny Cates.
Matt Hawkin’s Top Cow is a partner studio of Image and has been killing it with titles like Think Tank, The Tithe, and Postal; Postal is one of my favorite books I feel like it could easily be made into a movie or TV show. There have been other writers like Bryan Hill but artist Isaac Goodhart has been on this book since day one. Goodhart’s style is realistic and fantastic to look at, he makes people look so realistic it helps give them depth to their personality.
Rick Remender is one of my favorite writers and he seems to partner with super talented artists to cap it all off. With Remender’s books I only read or have read a few different ones but because I enjoy him so much I will eventually get to all of them. I really enjoy Low, I bought the huge hardcover as well as all the trades because I was late to the floppy party. What helps make this book so amazing is the art of Greg Tocchini. Another book that has been visually stunning is Seven to Eternity, the world building with the writing and the art is second to none and what Jerome Opena has done with the book is almost always a visual masterpiece on every page. Of course I could go on about Remender with titles like Deadly Class or Tokyo Ghost but I think I made my point clear.
I haven’t actually been reading any of Brian K. Vaughn’s books but with the popularity of both Saga and Paper Girls I felt like he had to be mentioned. Saga is consistently selling in big numbers and Paper Girls has gotten great reviews all across comic review lands.
Kill or Be Killed is one that I was lucky enough to get in on from the start so I have all the floppies of this series and let me tell you something, Ed Brubaker knows how to craft a story. This guy makes me so jealous of his writing skills it’s crazy. Of course he wasn’t happy just being an amazing writer he had to go out and get Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser to do the art. Phillips and Breitweiser have a similar style as Goodhart where the people look realistic and emotions are clearly expressed facially. This is another book that sells really well and I’m guessing it’s for all the reasons I laid out.
Daniel Warren Johnson is on my list because aside from coloring help from Mike Spicer Extremity is all his creation and it’s been one of my favorite reads. Extremity is a politically heavy fantasy book that follows a small family as they seek revenge on a rival clan. Johnson has all of the boxes checked; stunning art, compelling storyline, and intricate world building. Extremity will be one I ride out till the end and probably pick up trades as well as floppies.
I’m not sure how many people had this next guy on their list but for me 2017 was the year Donny Cates. I sort of stumbled upon a few of his books in succession and quickly realized he was going places. I picked up God Country for the first time and I knew I had a hit in my hands but I had no idea how popular Cates would become. Just for Image I have picked up trades of Buzz Kill and Ghost Fleet, as well as monthly floppies of God Country and Redneck, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to anyone, and as I said this is just the stuff he has out with Image. Cates is another guy that can really tell a great story but he also doesn’t mind handing over the reigns to the artist and letting the visual story come out. God Country was a really well balanced story that pitted the real world and a fantasy world against each other and both worlds were able to flourish in the story. I think that was one of the reasons it became so successful.
Aftershock, in my opinion, is one of the best new publishers out today. Aftershock has been around since 2015 with a star studded cast of folks at the helm; Mike Martz Editor in Chief, Joe Pruett Publisher/Chief Creative Officer, Lee Kramer President. So basically talent got together and hired talent to shoot to the top of the comic industry. Some of the titles they boast are from incredibly talented folks like Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre, Donny Cates and Garry Brown, Joe Pruett and Szymon Kudranski. Those are just some of the writers and artists that they have working with them, they also have really talented colorists like Guy Major, or Mark Englert, as well as top notch letterers like Taylor Esposito and Marshall Dillon. I feel like Aftershock is a company in the same vein as Image where any story can and will be told and the creators are free to do what they think will be best. It’s no surprise to me that Aftershock had a great year and will be following that up with an even better 2018.
Animosity is one of those books that has a concept that makes you think, “why didn’t I think of that?” It follows a young girl and her dog as all the other creatures of the Earth become sentient beings that actually start to speak. At times the relationships between humans and animals is sweet and endearing, other times it’s terrifying, but all the time it’s a page turner.
Cates is a constant theme of fun and excellence in writing and Babyteeth is no exception to this. Ever wonder what it would be like to be the mother of the Antichrist? Read Babyteeth and get a first hand account. It’s a well written first hand account from birth until who knows when because Cates will be probably continue through 2018 with this unique horror story.
I know I’ve heard about black eyed kids before, I think on some show like Coast to Coast, but Pruett is the one smart enough to turn it into a comic. This book is creepy in all the best ways and well written when it comes to panels and characters. Pruett has been putting this out for a while so there are three trade volumes out. I didn’t get in when the floppies came out so the trades are where I’m catching up with B.E.K.
I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Black Mask but I believe the first thing I read from them was We Can Never Go Home. Although Never Go Home was an excellent book and I do have a pretty fun story about meeting artist Josh Hood at a con I didn’t read this book in 2017, but never fear because this year was full of Black Mask books that I enjoyed.
One of the first books I think about is The Dregs by writers Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, artists Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe. The Dregs follows a homeless drug addict as he investigates the reasons why his fellow homeless people are disappearing. This comic gives me the feels because it humanizes the homeless and homelessness is a pretty big problem here in the Seattle area as well as the Vancouver BC area where these creators are from. The very sincere look at homelessness doesn’t stop with the book itself, all of the floppies have a little section in the back where they take pictures and talk about homeless folks further helping to humanize people instead of looking at them as problems.
I think No Angel is my favorite of the Black Mask lineup this year. Written by Adrianne and Eric Palicki, yes Adrianne the actress, and illustrated by Ari Syahrazad and Jean-Paul Csuka. I met Eric at a con, the same one I met Hood, apparently Black Mask has a strong con game, and Eric is clearly passionate about comics. Eric crafted a story that is based around one of my weaknesses, religious dogma. The story is centered around a BA female protagonist cop and Iraq war veteran, who may or may not be based on Adrianne, I can’t confirm or deny. I do know that Adrianne would be perfect playing her on TV or in movies. The art is nice and realistic looking, even with supernatural things like angel wings and spiders coming out of eyes. Yes, spiders coming out of eyes, I know, creepy. The pacing and the story just happen to be right up my alley and I really hope they continue with this series.
Another unique series I picked up blind and not knowing what to expect was There’s Nothing There. This book was a winner for me because I really enjoyed Patrick Kindlon’s writing. The story follows a celebrity socialite as she is haunted by ghosts. It’s actually much more involved than that but this is the gist of the first few issues. María Llovet’s art is just very fitting for the story and I feel like this creative team work well together because the character development is shown in both the story and the art.
I enjoy comics that have a deeper meaning behind them, when characters struggle with choices, when decisions are not come by easy. That is exactly what Beautiful Canvas is like. Ryan Lindsay writes this story that involves a mindful hit woman, a child, and a lot of soul searching choices. Lindsay doesn’t just have a well written comic, he also blends in subtle Sci-Fi aspects and allowed artist Sami Kivela to really let loose with creative character development. Kivela is a wonderful artist and he makes some of the panels sweeping and gorgeous while others are up close and personal with characters but all of them flow well together and made for a really great book.
When I first saw Black in my LCS I thought it was a seriously impressive concept and I decided to pick it up on that idea as well as the Black Mask label. Kwanza Osajyefo has written a book that made me think about what it’s like to be a black person in the United States and it’s always a good read when I’m challenged to think outside of my personal cultural norm. One of the things that made Black so dynamic were the eye catching and controversial covers. Tim Smith III, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph have all contributed in design, cover art, or sequential interior art respectively. This art team has managed to capture some of the most important images in African American history, current and past, and have only added to make the book thoughtful and contemplative. Some of the images are uncomfortable to see, but considering the history of African Americans, they should be.
In today’s political climate it was only a matter of time someone made a book like Calexit. I feel like all of the Black Mask books have one thing in common, dynamic ideas, and every good comic starts with a good idea. Based on the idea that California exits the United States Calexit’s first issue was too quick an introduction to the characters and politics of a sovereign California where writer Matteo Pizzolo puts character’s first and lets the situation they find themselves in unfold before the readers eyes. Amancay Nahuelpan and Tyler Boss are the art team that bring a dystopian California to life, or maybe I should say bring the characters to life because although the city scapes are well done the art is more about character development.
For me Boom is one of those publishers that has always been around with good titles but they happen to be hit and miss with me because they tend to try and spread the love around all genres and target audiences. They excel on properties like Rugrats, and Adventure Time but also take on things like Big Trouble in Little China. They have award winning titles like Lumberjanes who took home two Eisner’s and one book I can say I wasn’t into but was impressed by the quality was Mech Cadet Yu from Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa. Of course Pak is a veteran writer and is the genius behind Planet Hulk and Miyazawa has an equally impressive resume that includes Ms. Marvel. I have enjoyed three particular titles but for vastly different reasons Klaus from Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, God Shaper from Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface, and Warlords of Appalachia by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Jonas Scharf.
Klaus is clearly amazing, I mean Grant Morrison knows how to write, but it’s the idea of Santa/Klaus as a real person and the historical feel that the book has that makes it fun. I loved this book so much that when the hardcover came out I had to get it, it’s simply a beautiful book.
God Shaper is such a unique book it’s hard to pin down what makes it so special, the entire thing is original and fresh, there isn’t anything I can think that’s like it, but the world of God Shaper’s is certainly one of Boom’s top books of the year. The art and character design coupled with the speaking style are so different it makes the world feel like something new.
I enjoyed Warlords of Appalachia because I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, it quickly became apparent that the new US civil war story was second to none and the art from Scharf was equally as good. There is a clear hero in the story and some truly evil antagonists but the world building and history of how the US came to civil war is what makes this book truly interesting. There are compelling characters and they all fit well within the storyline.
Darkhorse is another company that has a ton of different properties like Conan, Aliens, Predator, and Legend of Korra but it’s probably most known for their iconic properties like Hellboy by Mike Mignola or the break out sensation of the year Black Hammer from Jeff Lemire. Like most folks I love Hellboy and I will read just about anything that Jeff Lemire writes but for me the Darkhorse stand out was Lifeformed. I know it’s a shameless plug but I had the pleasure of meeting writer Matt Mair Lowery and artist Cassie Anderson at my LCS and then doing a interview with them about Lifeformed. It always makes me more fond of a book when I meet the artists and their super awesome people and that was for sure the case with Lowery and Anderson.
The theme of comic companies that deal with other intellectual properties is fairly vast and Dynamite is another one of those companies. Dynamite has recognizable properties like The Shadow and Green Hornet, and The Shadow has a Batman crossover with DC, so a lot of the Dynamite stuff is more recognizable than one might think. Red Sonja, James Bond, George R.R. Martin’s Clash of Kings are some other properties they have been developing in 2017. They have a lot of really interesting books at Dynamite but for me the only title I have been reading is Killer Instinct, written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Ediano Silva The originality of the fantasy world and the art that helps build the world is simply fantastic and I truly love to support the comics that are original, especially fantasy and Sci-Fi.
IDW is the last of the companies that deal in other intellectual properties that aren’t their own and they’re very recognizable because most of them are from successful toy lines from my childhood. Transformers, GI Joe’s, and Teenage Mutant Ninja are really only the beginning of their stable, Star Trek, Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters are some other big names properties they’re handling. Late 2016 Love is Love came out and moved me to tears, I know it’s not technically a 2017 pick but I read it in 2017 and it was truly made with love. I currently pick up a couple of IDW books, Dread Gods and Kid Lobotomy. Both books are unique in their own ways, Dread Gods is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy set in a post apocalyptic world, while Kid Lobotomy is a crazy mix of characters that run a strange hotel where a family struggles to maintain their day to day. Kid Lobotomy is written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Tess Fowler and is also part of the Black Crown imprint of IDW that is headed up by veteran editor Shelly Bond. I heard Shelly on a podcast talking about Black Crown and I thought she was a really neat person with a passion for comics and she basically convinced me to check it out. I wasn’t completely honest about what I pick up, I only pick up those titles monthly but I get the TMNT’s trades, because come on, it’s the Turtles! Cowabunga!
Scout has been a deceptively good publisher that has been flying under the radar for at least a few years now. I was first introduced to Scout through A.C. Medina when he asked me to review his book Elasticator. I was thoroughly impressed with Elasticator and Medina’s storytelling abilities and I decided to keep an eye on Scout ever since. After Elasticator I have picked up three other Scout books; Girrion, Mindbender, and Graveland.
Girrion is a book that’s produced entirely by Tom Lintern and is a unique Sci-Fi world with a ton of heart and pride put into the production. I’m pretty much a sucker for anything Sci-Fi and Girrion delivers on an epic scale.
Mindbender is certainly a mind bender but really this book could change the way we look at superhero comics. No joke, the writing from James Pruett is on another level, and the world building is continually revealing new things; not to mention the art from Federico De Luca that gives the book the look it needs to fit the writing.
I gave Graveland a chance strictly on the Scout label and I wasn’t disappointed at all when I found out it had giant kaiju type monsters and super soldiers that fight them. Graveland is a dual effort, written by Massimo Rosi and illustrated by Gabriel Ibarra Nunez. Like I said, I feel like Scout is flying under the radar and I hope to see great things from them in 2018.
I love Valiant comics. A lot of my love for them comes from Dinesh Shamdasani and his infectious enthusiasm for the Valiant brand. Shamdasani knows his comics and he truly cares, but it’s not just Valiant, he cares about all facets of the comic industry. One example of this is his backing of the Key Collector app, I did an interview with Nick from Key Collectors and he confirms Shamdasani’s enthusiasm for comics. With that said I could go on and on about some of the things Valiant has done in 2017, starting with the XO Manowar reboot and continuing with iconic properties like Bloodshot and Ninjak, but I want to focus on favorite properties, Britannia. Britannia is set in Roman times and follows Antonius Axia as he becomes the world’s first detective. Peter Milligan’s plotting and story structure is epic as Britannia Who Who Are About To Die picks up where the original Britannia left off and makes more than a solid second effort. Everything about this book is beautiful, the art from Juan Jose Ryp is realistic and stunning, and the David Mack covers are equally as gorgeous. I’m completely in love with Ryp’s style and I find his art to be descriptive in not just landscapes but amazingly telling in facial expressions. I seriously can’t think of anyone that makes a jerk personality shine in facial expressions like Ryp.
I think this year has been pretty good for budding publishers like Vault. I’m always on the lookout for new and original content, especially Sci-Fi and historical fiction and Vault has delivered on both fronts. I think the most notable effort in 2017 was Heathen, a Viking adventure centered around a young outcast named Aydis. Natasha Alterici is the writer and artist and only has help from Rachel Deering for lettering. Alterici has done a phenomenal job at weaving a story that is rooted deeply in Norse lore it follows and stays true to the feel of Norse myth. I find this more relevant than Thor in comparison when it comes to Norse mythology and I was truly impressed with the thought and research that must have went into making this book.
As I said before, the Sci-Fi factor is huge for me, I will give just about anything Sci-Fi a shot. Not just Sci-Fi, Donny Cates, at this point if Cates writes it, I’m going to buy it. Cates isn’t just a good writer, he always goes out and gets top notch artists to work with, people like Dylan Burnett, Dee Cunniffee, and Taylor Esposito. Reactor is a strident in your face read that is just all around fun. It’s set on an Earth that has been taken over by vampires so the remaining humans have colonized another planet. Most of the action happens on the vampire infested Earth but a lot of political stuff happens on the new Earth. This book was late 2017 so I’m excited to see where Cates takes the series.
One thing I love about Sci-Fi is the seemingly endless amount of potential for character and character development, there is only one limit in design of alien characters, the creators mind. Alien Bounty Hunter is proof of the creativity of Nick Robles as he flexes his creative muscles to craft a world full of unique characters. His ability to create an endless stream of characters is basically centered around the story that was developed from the story by Stephen Levinson and writers Adrian Wassel and David Booher. The story centers around a Californian named Ben Madsen, a bounty hunter. The character development of Ben and his sidekick is excellent but it doesn’t overshadow the events that lead him into being an alien bounty hunter. Over all this comic is excellent and according to the Vault website is being developed for the screen by Stephen Levinson and Mark Wahlberg.
There is no way for me to truly explain how much Peter Simeti and Alterna Comics have helped me as a reviewer and writer. Simeti was the first person to hand me the keys to the kingdom and allow me full access to his digit library for review. Ironically enough my two favorite comics that I reviewed way back when have ended up being two of the “news print” line that have finally bridged the gap between the indie comic world and the very mainstream Diamond Distribution.
The Chair was one of the first things I remember being a truly psychologically interesting book that made me think and still had a fun twist. I was impressed with Simeti’s idea and concept and thought it would be a great movie. Apparently so did Simeti because he found a way to get this movie into production. Simeti has shown a lot of love to indie creators and his success is warranted.
Fubar Press has been doing zombie stories for a while now but they have been doing them in select historical settings. Mother Russia is set in World War Two where a Russian sniper finds a baby and protects it from a hungry horde of zombie soldiers. With a concept like that I’m not sure I could leave a book like that on the shelf!
So there you have it, this is my small list of books I’ve been reading from all these different publishers. What do you think, do you read any of these titles? Did you enjoy something else that I missed? Let us know in the comments.