Episodic storytelling is the name of the game in monthly comics. Month- or even multi-year-long arcs are fine, but a series lives and dies by its individual chapters. From self-contained one-offs to issues that recontextualize their respective series, this year had a ton of great issues. Whittling down those issues to a list was no easy task (and we look forward to hearing how your lists differ in the comments), but we would gladly recommend any (and all) of these issues without hesitation. These are our top 10 issues of 2015.
10. Thor 8
(Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman)
It might be unfair to be surprised at the quality of Thor 8, given Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s work on the series leading up to it, but it’s hard to deny the cards were stacked against them. Wrapping up the key themes of any comic series can be difficult, let alone one mired in controversy long before issue 1 even hit the stands. Aaron manages to turn this final issue into a commentary on that controversy, simultaneously celebrating the women of the Marvel Universe while cutting down those that would stand in their way. But that wasn’t the only landing Aaron and Dauterman had to stick — the series was built around the mysterious identity of the new Thor, and any good mystery requires a solution. This issue’s final page reveal isn’t just surprising (Aaron manages to cram in one more fake-out); it’s also intentionally not a conclusion. Many mysteries end with the reveal, but knowing Thor’s identity only opens up the storytelling possibilities (which Aaron and Dauterman are already exploring in Mighty Thor).
9. Hawkeye 22
(Matt Fraction and David Aja)
Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye distinguished itself for being deceptively simple — both the art and the narrative feature a charming unfinished quality that masks just how intricately wrought they are. All of that intricacy is laid bare in their final issue, as themes from every issue, from caring for pizza dog to the value of teamwork, come roaring back. It’s as clever and stylish as any other in the series, but this issue’s real feat lies in hewing those themes together into a final portrait of Hawkeye-ness — particularly Clint and Kate’s rotten luck. They manage a satisfying (if not quite happy) ending in spite of that luck, pulling together to be a greater hero than either of them are on their own. It’s a beautiful conclusion to a beautiful run that may define Hawkeye for years to come.
(Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta)
East of West is about huge, world-ending ideas. The status quo of the series is apocalypse, so it’s easy to lose sight of the day-to-day suffering of those unfortunate enough to live through it. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s nearly silent 22nd issue details a single assassination attempt, taking the reader through one terrible hour in exacting detail. Dragotta sets a timer right on the page, and checks in with it between panels or at the top of a page, locking the reader into this very particular moment in time. And then there’s the violence, which would be horrific in it’s own right, made all the more gruesome by the storyteller’s insistence on lingering on any and all possible details.
It might be silly to dramatize the existential plight of Godzilla in such a literal way. (In fact, I’m certain that it is.) Nevertheless, David Wacther’s finale to IDW’s surreal Godzilla In Hell mini-series quiets those concerns early, presenting what appears to be a straightforward tale about a giant monster trudging unstoppably towards his freedom. For a while, it seems like smooth-going: Wacther evokes a handful of conceptions of Hell, all of which Godzilla can largely muscle his way through. That’s more or less standard fare for the series, but Wacther treats every panel like its the definitive image of the legendary monster. The issue even reaches a breathtaking conclusion as Godzilla comes to understand that the only way to escape Hell is to allow himself to be consumed by the tiny threats that plague him.
6. Hawkeye 21
(Matt Fraction and David Aja)
If Hawkeye 22 was the punctuation mark on Fraction and Aja’s run, issue 21 was their closing statement. Indeed, the bleak, necessarily unresolved nature of their penultimate issue may be a better articulation of Clint’s rotten luck. Clint’s Home Alone-inspired plan to keep the thugs out of his apartment building quickly goes from bad to worse, leaving Clint beaten, and his brother apparently dead. The return of the aptly-named Lucky offers a ray of hope (in the form of Kate Bishop) in the final image of the issue, but all of that bleakness makes it seem like Clint losing might just be the point of the series. It’s depressing, for sure, but it also means a happy ending isn’t a foregone conclusion, which means the high-stakes tension of issue 22 owes a great deal to the dismal outlook of this one.
5. Midnighter 6
(Steve Orlando and ACO)
Steve Orlando and ACO so thoroughly understand Midnighter’s perspective, and are so good at expressing it on the page, that the stunning betrayal of Midnighter at this issue’s climax hits harder than just about any other plot development this year. The ending of this issue actually does a number of remarkable things all at once: 1) it solves a mystery 6 issues in the making in a genuinely surprising way; 2) ties that resolution into Midnighter’s emotions, giving the audience a rare peek at the character’s vulnerabilities; and 3) it re-introduces the character of Prometheus to the DC Universe. Orlando deploys that narrative turn of the screw with such grace, it’s like he’s aided by an omniscient fight-computer or something.
4. Batman 40
(Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo)
There may not be a comic book in existence that better exemplifies the kind of conversations that got us to start Retcon Punch in the first place. We wanted a place to talk about Batman, his legacy, what he means within the narrative and outside of it, with no restrictions on how pretentious or highfalutin the dialogue could become. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s epic conclusion to End Game asks buckets and buckets of questions that beg those kinds of answers. It is somehow a satisfying exploration of the relationship between Batman and the Joker, a meaningful send off for both characters, and a provocative exploration of Batman’s creators, all at once! Perhaps most meaningfully, Snyder puts forth the argument that Batman’s mortality asserts him as a hero of the common man, rather than a god-like hero apart from the people he protects. Plus, in typical Capullo-style, the issue is an action-packed powerhouse, never sagging under the weight of Snyder’s gargantuan ideas. Even as it forges ahead with a status-quo-demolishing conclusion, Snyder and Capullo make references back to the first issue in the story and their first issue together.
(Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III)
If a sluggish release schedule and the ignoble distinction of being a decades-later prequel made anyone think that The Sandman Overture lacked the creative urgency that made The Sandman such a success, issue 5 quickly laid those concerns to rest. Writer Neil Gaiman surrounds the narrative in layers of postmodern conceits, turning the very notion of the series into one that rescues ideas from oblivion. Not to be outdone, artist J.H. Williams III keeps pace, layering his own postmodern touches (and distinctively lavish greytones) into the narrative. The result is as beautiful and strange as anything either creator has generated on their own, taking both to heights that could only be answered in the series’ epic conclusion.
(Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, Kevin Eastman, Mateus Santoluoco and Cory Smith)
To say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 50 has a lot of backstory would be a bit of an understatement. Indeed, as a virtual capstone of the franchise, riffing on plot points from and regularly making nods to its multiple comics, cartoon, and film incarnations, this issue was arguably 30 years in the making. A showdown between Shredder and the turtles may seem like a boilerplate story to commemorate such a milestone, but the creative team builds the fight to a fever pitch before ending with a twist that 30 years of TMNT couldn’t anticipate. It was a daring turn, charting new territory in a series that up until that point seemed so gleefully tied to its past. A very different past comes roaring to the fore here, capping page after page after page of epic Mateus Santolouco fight scenes with poignant flashbacks (courtesy of an equally capable Cory Smith), reminding us just how much all that fighting means.
(Grant Morrison, Marcus To and Paulo Siqueira, et al.)
“What the hell, Retcon Punch? The Guidebook?” I know, I know — “guidebook” implies the kind of pointless mythological minutia that we’re constantly rolling our eyes over. But The Multiversity Guidebook ends up telling two fantastic stories sandwiching the in-universe atlas of universes. In addition to mapping out the Multiverse, Morrison starts to reveal the actual substance of his worlds-spanning epic, letting the novelty of the series concept appear just as compelling for the characters inside the story as it was to those of us reading it. It was also just weirdly invigorating
The guide portion employs a murder’s row of artists depicting nutso versions of your favorite DC heroes and villains, rounding out the gorgeous narrative sequences by Marcus To and Paulo Siqueira, effectively turning the guide into a who’s who in DC’s artists’ stable.
Want more Best of 2015 lists? Check out our Best Covers list!