Best of 2015: Best Writers

best writer 2015

In such a collaborative medium as comics, it can be difficult to say where a writer’s influence on the story ends, but there’s no question on where it begins: words on the page. Whether they thrill, elate, chill, or deflate, the best writers create characters, settings, and situations we want to return to, again and again. These are our top 10 writers of 2015.

10. Steve Orlando

(Batman and Robin Eternal, Midnighter, Undertow)

We weren’t paying attention to Orlando before Midnighter hit the stands in the wake of Convergence, but holy cow was that an oversight. In a few short issues, Orlando has asserted his mastery of telling stories through his hero’s lens — cool, detached and competent as fuck. Midnighter isn’t the easiest character to identify with — the guy can literally identify and solve a problem before anyone else even knows something’s wrong — but Orlando still managed to craft a story that drew the audience close to a character no one should be able to empathize with. Orlando, along with Genevieve Valentine, also lend some much-needed savvy and intelligence to the weekly Batman and Robin Eternal series, elevating the week-to-week quality above last year’s Batman Eternal. If the last couple months have been any indication, it’s going to be amazing to see what he cranks out in 2016.

9. Charles Soule

(All-New Inhumans, Civil War, Daredevil, Inhumans, Inhumans: Atillan Rising, Lando, Letter 44, Obi-Wan and Anakin, She-Hulk, Swamp Thing, Uncanny Inhumans, Wolverines)

As usual, the list of titles Charles Soule worked on this year is impossibly long. Don’t let that list fool you, though; while Soule was undoubtedly prolific this year, many of the titles listed above were mini-series that have already concluded (Civil War, Inhumans: Atillan Rising, and Lando), and others are series that concluded this year (Inhumans, She-Hulk, and Swamp Thing). Indeed, as 2015 ends, it looks like Soule is down to four-and-a-half series (Daredevil, Letter 44, Obi-Wan and Anakin, Uncanny Inhumans, and co-writing All-New Inhumans) — a heavy workload for most writers, but seems relatively sane compared to the seven he was writing in 2014. As always, the quantity of Soule’s work is only as impressive as the quality, which remains top-notch across the impossibly diverse range of series he works on. Whether he was elegantly wrapping up beloved series, steadily growing the mythology of ongoing ones, or launching characters in bold new directions, Soule continued to strike gold in 2015.

8. Mark Waid

(All-New All-Different Avengers, Archie, Daredevil, The Fox, Princess Leia, S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Between the likes of his Flash run and Superman: Birthright, Mark Waid has long had the reputation as the writer you want revitalising your favorite characters. His Daredevil run confirmed that reputation, drawing to an epic (and poignant) close in 2015. This year also saw Waid kicking off multiple new series, injecting new life into a wide variety of different characters. Archie found him launching Archie Andrews and the rest of Riverdale into bold new directions, an approach that resonated in his work on The Fox for Archie’s Dark Circle imprint. He also helmed Princess Leia, fleshing out her story by seeing what she does when not standing next to Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. and All-New All-Different Avengers seemed to allow Waid most of Marvel’s toys to do with as he pleased, and the results were predictably delightful.

7. Nick Spencer

(Ant-Man, The Astonishing Ant-Man, Sam Wilson Captain America)

Nick Spencer might have earned a spot on this list for his always-entertaining twitter feed alone, but it turns out (as many angry twitterers seem to forget) that he also writes some damn good comics. His work on Ant-Man and The Astonishing Ant-Man carried on the funny-but-also-kind-of-sad tone of his stellar Superior Foes of Spider-Man, embracing the inherent comedy and tragedy of Scott Lang’s life. His apparently controversial run on Sam Wilson: Captain America also found notes of humor in Sam’s own struggles, but never breaks quite as depressing as Spencer’s Ant-Man work (at least, not within the comic itself — the comments Spencer gets on twitter might actually be more depressing than anything he’s ever put Scott Lang through). His work with both characters shines for its thoughtful attention to their emotional struggles in between all of the punching.

6. Brian K. Vaughan

(Barrier, Paper Girls, The Private Eye, Saga, We Stand on Guard)

Speaking of twitter, 2015 will go down as the year Brian K. Vaughan maybe sort-of embraced social media. It may have started with the conclusion of The Private Eye, which twists its satire of internet culture into a dark warning about letting traditional media (or is it the government?) control the news. Or it may have started with the conclusion of We Stand on Guard, where livestreaming a battle revealed the US Government’s monstrous machinations for what they were. Even Paper Girls, which seems to be (at least in part) a love-letter to print media, offers an intriguing (if not yet fully understood) relationship with technology. Sure, Vaughan’s most recent project, Barrier, is thus far entirely unrelated to social media, but Vaughan joined twitter only a week and a half before that series launched. Coincidence? Only if we also ignore Saga, Vaughan’s beloved space opera about parenthood that continues to change as fast as the child at the center of the drama. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before Hazel wants a facebook account?

5. Jonathan Hickman

(Avengers, East of West, Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars, New Avengers, Secret Wars)

There are very few writers that can craft mythology on the scale that Jonathan Hickman can. This year saw the master plot-smith’s Avengers / New Avengers incursion story line reach a massive conclusion, settling plates that he had sent spinning years previously. The truly remarkable thing about Hickman is that he seemingly always has an answer to the question “what happens next?” For his Marvel books, it meant Secret Wars, which was not only an interesting cross-over event which allowed creators to indulge nostalgia and reinvention in equal parts, but also a breathtaking re-imagining of the Marvel Universe through the lens of Doctor Doom. This spirit of perserverence is evident in his Image series as well, both of which picked up after logical ending points to keep finding compelling stories to tell. Manhattan Projects became The Sun Beyond the Stars and when from wacky alternate history to high-adventure science fiction. And East of West leveraged the atlas / almanac that was published in December 2014 to reset some drama, and focus in on different stories and themes in the year that followed. There’s simply no stopping the Hickman plot engine.

4. Brian Azzarello

(Batman, Batman Europa, DKIII: The Master Race, Futures End)

Brian Azzarello had an interesting year, eschewing auteurship in favor of collaborating with other writers. That started with the conclusion of Futures End, but Azzarello embraced collaboration throughout the year, turning up as a co-writer on a number of Batman projects. The first was Batman 44, a surprisingly compelling flashback addressing the underserved poor of Gotham. DKIII: The Master Race carried Batman into Frank Miller’s future dystopia, but manages to capture much of the magic that made The Dark Knight Returns such a seminal work (and was so desperately lacking in The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Batman Europa, meanwhile, finds Batman teaming up with the Joker (perhaps a sly commentary on Azzarello’s recent collaborations), as the two scour Europe for a cure to a mysterious disease that’s killing them both. They’re all dark — Azzarello’s bread and butter — but also feature Azzarello’s distinctive attention to detail and penchant for wordplay, elevating them all beyond their genre trappings.

3. Greg Rucka

(Black Magick, Convergence: The Question, Journey to Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire, Lazarus)

Greg Rucka has always maintained an intriguing balance between his ingenious, thoroughly researched, and intricately wrought creator-owned projects, and his equally thoughtful and detailed big two work. His Lazarus, with it’s ever-expanding world and nuanced character work, has been a perennial favorite, but 2015 also saw him reunited with Renee Montoya in  Convergence: The Question, reaching back to his earlier DC work to further develop stories and characters that distinguished his 00’s writing. This year also put him at the helm of Journey to Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire, bridging the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and adding key pieces of mythology to the Star Wars universe. Meanwhile, he launched Black Magick with Nicola Scott, a supernatural police procedural that is just as grounded and beautiful as anything else in Rucka’s oeuvre.

2. Jason Aaron

(Doctor StrangeGoddamned, The Mighty Thor, Southern Bastards, Star Wars, Thor, Thors, Weirdworld)

Blockbuster. That’s got to be the only way to describe Jason Aaron’s work in 2015. Marvel entrusted him with jump starting both Thor and Star Warsthe former being a radical reinvention of a popular property and the other being a faithful continuation of a popular property. Aaron succeeds by finding the humanity in his over-sized heroes and then ratcheting their heroism up to 10. And while his huge books set an amazing precedent, his smaller, more idiosyncratic series reveal a much more interesting artist at work. Goddamned plays like an exercise in awfulness, while Thors mapped Thor-specifics onto a boiler-plate murder police story. Both of those series have such specific points of view and Aaron clearly expresses those points over and over again. Even his Secret Wars series Weirdworld, which seemingly sought only to celebrate the unexpected, remaining remarkably focused on its goal.

1. Ales Kot

(Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier, Dead Drop, Material, Secret Avengers, The Surface, Wolf, Zero)

I wrote the original outline and then the story became completely undone as I evolved as a person.

Ales Kot, The Surface 4

These words articulate the premise of The Surface’s postmodern fourth issue, but they also reasonably describe Kot’s 2015. He started the year helming two Marvel series, Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier and Secret Avengers, but seemed to turn from commercial endeavors to pursue more personal projects. Not that his Marvel work was ever particularly “commercial” — Secret Avengers concluded with an extended meditation on a Jorge Luis Borges short story, and Bucky Barnes featured a level of experimentation rarely seen in superhero comics — but the conclusion of both of those series allowed him to launch multiple creator-owned series this year (Material, The Surface, and Wolf), all of which wear their significance to Kot on their sleeve, commenting on everything from social issues to the power of fiction. No series reflects Kot’s 2015 shift better, though, than Zero, which took a hard left turn in issue 15, transforming a sci-fi spy thriller into a metafictional essay on all of the themes that permeated Kot’s work this year.

Want more Best of 2014 lists? Check out our Best Covers and Best Issues lists!

5 comments on “Best of 2015: Best Writers

  1. Have to say, I think this year has been a good year for women writers (or at least a better year, as everything is still fucked), so I would have liked to have seen some women on the list. It can be hard simply because they do not get the same opportunities to do big, major work, but I think there were a couple who deserved a place more than some writers on this list (you all know which one I really, really disagree with)

    But from the beginning,

    Steve Orlando: Since you brought her up, I would have chosen Valentine over Orlando any day. In Batman and Robin, I think the two stand out writers have been Valentine and Seeley (between Grayson and Revival, Seeley has been a top class talent for some time). Orlando was good, but positioned firmly in between that top class and the lesser writers. And his Midnighter, from the pages I’ve seen, are well written but never truly fantastic. A great journeyman writer (which is high praise) but not as good as Valentine, who managed to create an elaborate, sprawling story that pushed what a superhero comic could do, while also being utterly intimate.

    Charles Soule: What makes Soule’s output so amazing is that he is a practicing lawyer. Soule isn’t the first practicing lawyer to do this, but few lawyers manage to write as many comics in a year. Part of me feels it is unfair to accuse Soule of the same thing that I accused Orlando of, being a great journeyman writer (which is still high praise), considering his She Hulk run introduced a building that is now its own centre in the Marvel Universe, but Soule has never struck me as a writer to follow. If he’s working on a character I’m interested in, I’ll happily read it because Soule is good. But Soule’s name is not enough to make me want to read a book (unlike, say, Snyder, King, Aaron, Hickman and a whole list of others)

    Mark Waid: I, unsurprisingly, disagree. I can’t give any comments on the ending of his Daredevil run, because I gave up on it in frustration a long time to go (and no matter how good the finale is, ‘it gets good 30 issues in’ is a bad thing). Archie is classic Waid, decent enough but easy to find someone who does the same thing better (have you guys been reading Giant Days?). That that is before Waid messed up the Lipstick Incident and had Betty’s only friend befriend Betty to get Archie’s approval. And his Avengers, with a line up I was excited about, has been terrible. The first issue was a structural mess, caring more about quickly and poorly pastiching everyone else’s work while referencing other status quos than actually telling a story. Waid is usually not bad, just mediocre, but between Avengers and Strange Fruit, he has done some shit this year

    Nick Spencer: Always an interesting voice, and it is great that he is finally getting some recognition, instead of being hidden away off in the side of the Marvel Universe where he can do no damage. Him writing Captain America is fantastic. Just wish you mentioned Morning Glories. Morning Glories is a truly complicated story, but it is always grounded in the characters. A greatwork, even if it is one that needs constant rereading

    Brian K Vaughn: THere is no way that he can’t be on this list. He is doing awesome stuff right now.

    Jonathan Hickman: Hickman has been a big deal for some time. I mean, he left Fantastic Four with a great rep to take on Avengers. But 2015 was really the year of Hickman. Time Runs Out was honestly a fantastic conclusion to Hickman’s Avengers run, and it is easy to understate the quality of Secret Wars. It is easy to read it and talk about how it is good, but forget the fact that it has been a long time since a giant event like this has been good, let alone as great as Secret Wars. Think of things like Original Sin, Axis and Convergence, and then think of Secret Wars, and the sheer quality of Secret Wars becomes amazing. I mentioned above that Valentine’s Catwoman pushed what a superhero comic could be, and while she deserves all the praise for that, it is also worth noting that Hickman has been doing all the same things for a lot longer. Combine that with his independent stuff like East of West and that his Battleworkd has allowed stories like Infinity Gauntlet, Runaways and Siege to occur, and Hickman deserves the praise

    Brian Azzarello: A wonderfully cheeky option, considering his relatively low output and emphasis on collaborations, but I agree. Haven’t read Europa, but Batman 44 is a masterpiece and the best issue of the year, while I think that hi is too blame for a lot of Dark Knight 3’s strengths. I was scathing at Issue 2, but I believe that was because of the high level stuff set up by Frank Miller, as the individual, nitty gritty details (which, according to interviews, seem to be mostly Azzarello) have been fantastic. And we can’t forget that for all the issues the second issue had, the first was fantastic

    Greg Rucka: How did I not end up reading Convergence: The Question? Rucka always did such a great job with Renee, and I really should have. But Rucka is always a strong choice. He ended the Conclave story of Lazarus, and in doing so, fixed some of the issues plaguing the earlier parts of the book, and I can’t wait to read the next volume. Rucka is always good

    Jason Aaron: I think it is actually unfair on Jason Aaron to say Marvel entrusted him to jump start Thor. Jane Foster was part of his plans since he started Thor: God of Thunder, and he deserves the credit for everything that has happened with respect to her. And it has been amazing. Aaron has really set himself up as a truly top class talent, between his brutal and ugly Southern Bastards, his wonderful encapsulation of the adventurous nature of Star Wars and his personal yet epic Thor. He’s kind of sneaked in as a favourite writer this year, I feel. Especially when I remember some of the fun of Thors

    Ales Kot: I actually haven’t read any of his work. No judgement to make

    Some great choices by the site. Though to me, the obvious snubs are Scott Snyder, Genevieve Valentine and Tom King. All three of them have had fantastic years. Snyder’s Batman has always been great, yet I can’t think of when it has been stronger than the current Superheavy arc, while Wytches scared the shit out of me as it told an intensely personal story. Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman managed to create the first legitimate competitor to Brubaker in the ‘Best Catwoman run’ competition, an impressive achievement considering Brubaker’s run is a true classic for the entire medium. And Tom King has pushed the form of comics in truly amazing ways with the Vision and Omega Men, while writing works that are truly challenging. He went from cowriter of Grayson to a real, exceptional presence, with not a single work that isn’t getting well deserved critical acclaim. Can’t wait to see how he follows up Grayson, Omega Men, the Vision and Sheriff of Babylon

      • I think Gillen was probably my top writer of the year. This is the second row I’ve failed to get him onto the final list, and I’m seriously bummed about that.

        Matt, you mentioned a lack of women on the list, and I do just want to mention that we had a handful nominated, who I guess in the end, didn’t receive enough votes to make it into the top ten. G. Willow Wilson and Noelle Stevenson both had prominent places on my personal year-end list.

        In the end, I think we assembled a damn solid list as always, and I’m really happy to see Nick Spencer get such a strong response. (I trade-wait Morning Glories and am a volume or two behind because I want to reread the whole series from the start before I read the new volumes, but I consider myself a fan of it as well, even when I can’t understand what’s going on)

        • Yeah, I’m not going to tear you down. It would have been great to see, but the simple fact is that there is so much top talent that top 10 is never a good way of doing it. While I made my disagreements clear, the rest are all top class talents who deserve to be recognized. More and more, I prefer just to have top list, without caring about having an exact number of winners. In fact, considering that ultimately the person who came eleventh still did a great job and deserves to be mentioned, you guys should have done some honorable mentions.

          Noelle Stevenson and G. Willow Wilson are other great chocies (though Secret Wars A-Force really disappointed me, as did the new A-Force). Both have been doing top class stuff this year. Again, people I think I would easily put above someone like Orlando or Soule (who are still both really good writers) or Waid. And if I look through my comixology account, I’ll find more women writers who have done some really great work

          Spencer does a great job with Morning Glories. He knows he has the most complicated story in comics. Hickman’s most complicated story is simple compared to Morning Glories. Yet he grounds it in great characters, so that he care about them and what is happening even as we struggle to understand the greater plots. It is a very careful balance, especially considering that it is completely different to what we think of as Spencer’s strengths when we look at his Marvel work. And yeah, I trade wait as well, and can’t wait for the next trade. But may need to do an entire series reread before reading the next one.

    • It’s definitely a bummer that there aren’t more ladies on the list. As Spencer noted, there were a few that were nominated, but didn’t get quite enough votes to make our top ten. As always, I think a big part of what allows something to get that kind of critical mass is how many people are reading it — one writer ranked very highly by one contributor may not get as many overall points as another writer ranked in the middle on many contributor’s lists, if that makes sense. That is, a pretty good writer we’re all reading and like a little may very well be ranked higher than a fantastic writer only one of us is reading, even if that reader think’s that writer is #1.

      For this list, I think it largely manifested as favoring writers with a lot of series — we might not have all read Swamp Thing, but we all probably read at least one Soule series this year. Unfortunately, that cut out a lot of female writers — Valentine, Wilson, and Sevenson only had two series each that we covered this year. Kelly Sue DeConnick (another perennial on our ballots) had a similarly low output this year. Gail Simone, who has been on our list in the past, was much more prolific, but we just didn’t cover much of it — we lost the thread on Red Sonja sometime last year (which also allowed Sword of Sorrow to fall by the wayside), and Convergence stepped on the opening arc of Secret Six.

      There are a lot more women working outside of the mainstream of comics (including a few we’ve mentioned) that certainly deserve recognition as well, but that’s simply out of the scope of this site — we’re spread thin enough just trying to cover what we already cover.

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