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.
8. East of West 22
(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.
7. Godzilla In Hell 5
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.
3. The Sandman Overture 5
(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.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 50
(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.
1. The Multiversity Guidebook
(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!
As always, we came up with a damn fine list. Here’s my personal list of the best issues of the year, all of which I either voted for or nominated for Retcon Punch’s final list:
Batman 40: Best issue I read this year, hands down. Powerful story, bone-crunching action, perfect characterization, beautiful symbolism, and some of the most dynamic art of the year.
Archie 1: I honestly could have nominated almost any issue of Archie, but for me, #1 best captures the magic of this book. Those few pages of Archie playing music for the school are pure bliss.
Groot 6: The origin of Groot. Best earned emotional beat of the year. God I love that little tree.
She-Hulk 12: Of all the reviews I wrote this year, this one was perhaps my favorite to write. Soule’s meta-commentary about retcons and the value of hard work was a ton of fun both to read and to dig into. I miss this book.
The Wicked + The Divine 11: Midnighter 6 packed a hell of a twist, but I can say without hesitation that this was my biggest shock of this year. To be honest, I’m still reeling from this last page. Gillen and McKelvie ripped my heart right out of my chest.
Silver Surfer 11: I don’t know if there’s a more memorable issue this year than this issue’s Mobius strip motif, which forced readers to turn the book over and loop back over the previous pages, stuck forever in a loop until they decided to break the cycle and progress the story. So damn clever.
Batman and Robin 40: Those last few pages are downright iconic. Father and son, together again. Tomasi and Gleason earned that catharsis.
Convergence: Justice Society of America 2: The joy of superhero comics distilled down into 20 pages. Made me remember why I love superheroes in the first place.
Godzilla in Hell 5: The article already covered this one better than I ever could. Unique, gorgeous, oddly powerful.
Hawkeye 21: I definitely put the penultimate chapter of Hawkeye above the (also great) finale as well. Fascinatingly bleak, with just the right balance of hope and heartbreak.
Loki: Agent of Asgard 17: Loki spins one last story, and damn is it a fine one. This series had a weak middle with those Axis tie-ins, but man did it go out on top.
The Wicked + The Divine 13: Tara’s story hit hard, not only because it’s tragic, but because that tragedy is something that happens to women every day on the internet. This was a story that needed to be told.
Howard the Duck (Volume 2) 2: I fell in love with Linda the Duck and Shocket the moment they appeared. I haven’t been this immediately invested in characters in ages.
Silver Surfer 10: Another inspiring, breathtaking issue. Every inhabitant of an entire planet offering themselves up to Galactus to save Dawn and their friends? The stuff of legends.
Superman 39: Best Superman story of the New 52? Best Superman story of the New 52. A recent episode of Supergirl ripped this issue off wholesale, and I can’t even complain, because the story of a powerless Superman stopping crimes anyway hits on every beat that makes Superman such an inspiring character. Why can’t we see this take on Superman more often?
Yep. This is always the saddest list, because so many good picks don’t make the cut. As always, series that the majority of our staff are reading tend to do better than those that only a handfull are. I’m particularly bummed that neither Zero 18 nor Lazarus 15 made the cut (2nd and 5th on my personal list, respectively), but I think only three or four of us are reading either series. I’ll also make a shoutout to The Wicked + The Divine 13, which, for my money, is the most depressing thing I read all year.
Since I don’t write so much about individual issues, this is always the hardest for me. I can get into covers (it takes 30 minutes to go through the boxes at home) and series, but individual… I just don’t have that kind of memory or notes.
I do have a couple of ideas to look up when I get home (a late part of Hickman’s Avengers, a new Marvel title or two, maybe an independent title) but I’m going to save most of my energy for best series.
New Avengers 32. I think that was Thor and Hyperion vs the Beyonders. I think maybe that was the best individual scene for me this year. (I cheated and looked it up)
Cheating and looking it up is essential for me when making these. For what it’s worth, I don’t think its a coincidence that every issue on our list was covered with a full write-up — I know I use our coverage to jog my memory of what I liked and didn’t like.
Yeah. My list required me to have my comixology account open, and flick inside issues every so often. And I am despairing about how many great moments I missed because I didn’t cheat enough.
Also, Hyperion and Thor v the Beyonders is truly fantastic. It was so easy to think that Hickman gave Odinson Thorr’s hammer so that he could have a classic Thor in Time Runs Out, only for him to completely reverse it at the final moments for one of the most satisfying moments of the year. There is a reason it was on my list
Something I did last year (but somehow failed to have the foresight to do this year) was keep a running list of favorite issues that I’d add to anytime an issue bowled me over. Of course, I only did that to make voting on these lists easier, and I suspect I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t have to.
Lots of great choices here, though Spencer is wrong about Archie 1, which was the essence of okayness. The only thing missing is Batman 44, which would go for number one for me.
Instead of doing a best issues thing, I am going to do something else, inspired by a Film Crit Hulk article I read last night.
So, I am going to write about why I love Comics in 2015
Because Phil Noto’s Black Widow covers
Because Selina Kyle became Catwoman again Because Selina Kyle still was the head of the Calabresse Family
Because All New Wolverine is surprisingly amazing
Because Batgirl Endgame
Because of Curb Stomp’s character designs
Because East of West
Because Tom King Because Omega Men Because the Vision Because Grayson Because Sheriff of Babylon
Because Reed Richards lost everyone he loved Because Reed Richards lost hope
Because I learned why you don’t read Revival in a public place
Because Martian Manhunter
Because Esther is a doom magnet
Because Ms Marvel met Captain Marvel. Because Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel are stylish, but practical
Because of Virginia from Virginia
Because Gillen and McKelvie tricked everyone into thinking there was only one death in Wicked and the Divine 11
Because DC You changed things
Because Selina Kyle kissed a girl Because Genivive Valentine called it ‘confirming a rumour’
Because DC Bombshell’s Batgirls
Because a transwoman got married to her wife
Because Secret Wars
Because Cassandra Cain returned
Because Superman lost his powers
Because Babs Tarr
Because of the Pale Man of Gotham
Because Cloak and Dagger were the wrong way round on the Battleworld
Because of the Omega Men Covers
Because I was too scared to start an issue of Wytches
Because Colossus threw Hulks
Because Robin War is the smartest stupid thing ever
Because Kate Bishop is the best Hawkeye
Because of the new Nobody
Because Wonder Woman actually got pants Because despite Wonder Woman having pants, her design is still terrible
Because the Runaways in the Wild West
Because Secret Wars 1 had the best Rocket moment in comics
Because of Kyle Rayner’s faith
Because the Odinson picked up Thorr’s Mjolnir
Because the Odinson couldn’t pick up Thorr’s Mjolnir
Because Olive fought Batman
Because Omega Men didn’t get cancelled
Because of the nine panel grid
Because Giant Days was only supposed to be 6 issues
Because Angela needs to read more Gillen
Because I finally got Lazarus
Because Secret Wars was so big, we needed another Alex Ross cover Because it was a great, additional cover
Because Batgirl 45’s cover
Because Batgirl 46’s cover
Because of Injection’s insanity
Because a President and a Madame are indistinguishable
Because of the Thor Corps
Because Kamala’s dog
Because Joker put a smile on Batman’s… back
Because of Batman’s final fight with the Joker
Because Batman died with his friend
Because Batman’s final words were ‘Ha’
Because David Marquez
Because Doom dared to stand in front of the Beyonders
Because of Commissioner Gordon
Because Prez Because of Beth’s father’s speech. Because of Beth Ross
Because of Olive’s unmoving plaid
Because Jonathan Hickman
Because Selina Kyle couldn’t save everyone
Because the Avengers have never been more diverse
Because Stephanie Brown is Batman Because everyone is Batman Because Batman is eternal
Because We Are Robin 4
Because Stephanie Brown was Batgirl Because Barbara Gordon was Batgirl
Because Genevieve Valentine
Because the Marvel Universe Ended Because the Marvel Universe was reborn
Because Scraps loves princesses
Because of desperately reading Secret Wars 1 on my phone
Because Damian went to school
Because the cover of Thors 2
Because Weaver’s character designs
Because Thor Cops
Because Babs Tarr drew Dick Grayson as a Disney prince
Because Bendis entrances me and infuriates me in different titles
Because of the five Lokis
Because iZombie got a TV show
Because ‘Kiss me, sexy Batman’
Because Batman 44
Because of Jem’s art
Because Scott Snyder
Because the Wicked and the Divine
Because Morrigan used to play World of Darkness
Because lumberjack Bruce Wayne
Because of the simple humanity of Jane Foster
Because Dick Grayson’s butt was a recurring plot point
Because of Devin Faraci’s Fade Out essays
Because of the vase that kills all flowers placed inside
Because I read all of Powers
Because the Kingpin invited people to that place where we met that time for the thing
Because Punisher joined them
Because I like to believe Lady Katherine Bishop now lives in the Marvel Universe as Miss America’s roommate
Because Darth Vader was Frank Underwood
Because she is beauty, she is grace. She will punch you in the face
Because of the Kitty Pride and the Endless Summer Battalion
Because of the wide screen art of Marvel’s Star Wars comics
Because the Gotham Academy crew played the Witches in Macbeth Because Olive played both a Witch and Lady Macbeth
Because Jane Foster was THor
Because Ultimate Thor’s interrogation of Loki
Because Gillen described writing Darth Vader as the most Gillen title ever
Because Skarr and Amadeus Cho
Because Time Ran Out
Because a dog was Nova
Because Gillen said goodbye to the Marvel Universe with a barrage of bad puns
Because Stephanie Brown and Harper Row live together
Because Batgirl rejected the Killing Joke
Because Killer Croc
Because of Marvel’s Breakfast Club
Because Alex Ross’ Secret Wars covers
Because Hawkeye and Hawkguy
Because Greg Capullo
Because of the gravestone of the two Marvel Universes
Because the Battleworld
Because Tim Seeley
Because We Are Robin’s covers
Because Spider-Gwen got a series
Because Jessica Jones
Because Marvel’s response to that show was a light and fluffy book about Patsy (not Trish)
Because of the focus on fashion
Because Kamala got a crush
Because Kamala got her heart broken
Because of No Mercy
Because the Fade Out
Because Miss America saved everything by dancing
Because the simple humanity of Death Vigil
Because of We Are Robin! Sneak Peak
Because of the Omega Men Sneak Peak
Because Mr Bloom
Because there are many Mr Bloom
Because I missed so much great stuff this year
Because I tricked kaif into thinking my opinion is worth respecting
Because of everyone here, both the writers and the people in the comments
I agree with Howard the Duck #2. That was amazing. Comics about goofy talking ducks shouldn’t make me cry!
Manifest Destiny #18 made me feel the sickest and saddest of any comic this year. A stunning and brutal way to end a comic and an arc. Brilliantly executed.
Peanuts, the Snoopy Special #1: It was like a time machine to 1976.
I just can’t search any more. I’m sure an issue of Uber from March should be on the list, and I can’t believe Spider-Man isn’t anywhere on there. Secret Wars is the best major publisher event in forever and deserves something somewhere I’d guess…
I’m sure I’ll hit some of this on the best series of 2015 (Spider-Man won’t be on the list. Again. Maybe Renew Vows will be… Actually, Renew Your Vows #1 might deserve to be on this list).
Oh. Vision #1 should be on the list. Easy. That can’t be missed here. It was a revelation. My one problem with it is the same problem I had with another influential comic, Hawkeye #1. It took an old character and changed THE CHARACTER to make it interesting. While it made great comics, it felt cheating. I don’t care, it was still very, very good, but it’s a weird idea to me. Maybe the story could only be told with a broken or changed Vision, though. I won’t say more because I haven’t thought deeply on it and how the role of preconceived ideas of a character matter in the story, especially a dark one, and how Vision’s relationships with the Avengers and his role as a star in a major movie made the leap to this comic even more startling…. But Vision #1 was a masterpiece.
Hercules #1 wasn’t as good as Vision #1, but was great because of how it was a great story while bringing a C-list hero back from the pile of unwritable characters.
Honestly, more and more, I’m of the opinion that characters like Hawkeye need to get a proper shake up. The simple fact is that these characters haven’t been working, which is why they have never really connected. I mean, Scarlet Witch is basically a walking retcon instead of an actual character. Why not change her?
Especially considering the quality of Hawkeye and Vision. Vision 1 would have been on my best issue list, if I didn’t do what I did instead (kind of sad people didn’t post their own reasons)
Matt, I wanted to reply to you about your “list”.
It was great. And I can’t do a list like that. I don’t have the right kind of brain or the energy to make a list like that. I’d endless prune it and then add to it and constantly overanalyze it and eventually I’d have a list that I hated but worked too hard on not to post, but then make excuses for it over and over again.
But I can, when I have a free moment at home, go down to the longboxes of 2015 comics and leaf through them and find the stuff that struck me as great stories or art or covers.
I also like your point on Hawkeye and Vision (and maybe Scarlet Witch, but I don’t know much about her other than the nomoremutants thing). Change Spidey, the world is in uproar. Change Hawkeye and 12 guys with little purple arrows stitched in their underwear get upset with no vehicle for their sadness.
The trick with a list like that is that I simply let every idea go on the page. THere was no pruning, and I didn’t let the fact that many of the titles that were involved were from stories I ultimately didn’t like. Just found things, even a small moment, that put a smile on my face, then put it down. Then randomized the order, and posted.
One interesting thing with Spidey is that he did change a lot when John Romita Snr did art for him, and a lot of those changes influence who he is now. I think it is just part of how you have to treat these characters. Find a character who hasn’t found their place, and do it. Whether it is Frank Miller on Daredevil or Matt Fraction on Hawkeye, they both took characters that weren’t really working, and changed them. Found a new and interesting space where these characters could inhabit, and now these characters can support series. Because Marvel tried again and again to support the old Hawkeye fans, and yet it never worked
Hopefully, King’s version of the Vision will do the same (though I fear that it will be too weird for the average writer, even if the book is a masterpiece). And hopefully, Scarlet Witch will have the same thing happen to her one day. But when a character is struggling to find their place, the trick is to do something drastic. And drastic actions like that make characters like Daredevil, Hawkeye and hopefully Vision worth talking about