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.
(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.
(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?
(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.
(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 Strange, Goddamned, 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 Wars, the 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.