More self-contained than an ongoing series (which may build on decades of backstory), but capable of more depth than a one-off, the mini-series may stand as the truest analog to novels that monthly comics can provide. 2015 was a banner year for mini-series, with both of the big two switching to minis almost entirely during their respective crossover events, and many more stellar minis coming from other publishers. These our our top 10 mini-series of 2015.
Convergence was an event rooted firmly in the comforts of nostalgia, but its best installments found a way to be more than just a walk down memory lane. Convergence: Superman was clearly one of those installments; while it succeeded at tapping into the elements fans loved about the pre-Flashpoint Superman — largely thanks to bringing in 90’s Superman superstar Dan Jurgens on writing and art — it will probably be most fondly remembered for where it took Lois and Clark next. The birth of their son Jonathan would have been a powerful final story for this incarnation of the Man of Steel, but fan reaction was so strong that DC decided to continue their adventures. Jurgens also made smart use of his Convergence setting, highlighting the cynicism of the Flashpoint universe as a contrast to Superman’s infectious, all-powerful optimism. It’s a powerful exploration of everything that made — and continues to make — Superman such an inspirational character.
Then, of course, Greg Rucka took everything that made Convergence: Superman work and dialed it up to 11 with Convergence: The Question. Rucka almost entirely ignored the trappings of Convergence to instead tell an intensely personal story about Renee Montoya and Harvey Dent, one that relied upon nearly 20 years worth of history with (and between) the characters, yet never got tripped up by all that continuity. Artist Cully Hamner also made his return to these characters, bringing to life both complex, intricately choreographed fights and some thematically dense staging (such as his focus on individual halves of Two-Face’s face, but on Flashpoint Harvey’s face as a whole). By focusing on these two complex characters — both as individuals and as something perhaps approaching “friends” — Rucka and Hamner not only managed to bring closure to fans of Renee Montoya, but to create Convergence‘s strongest tie-in as well.
While it’s an angle that’s gone increasingly by the wayside in recent decades, science fiction has incredible potential to explore social issues and ideas of progress, and few creators understand that better than Pierrick Colinet and Elsa Charretier. Their IDW mini-series The Infinite Loop tells the story of a couple on the run in a future that forbids any deviations from the norm, expertly balancing thrilling action, complex, heady time-travel concepts, and a smattering of erotica — more importantly, though, it’s also a rousing call to action. Colinet and Charretier use The Infinite Loop to show the efforts each and every one of their readers can make to break the unending cycle of hatred that continues to threaten the LGBT community. The Infinite Loop is more than just a story (though it is an excellent one) — it’s a plaintive call for change that simply cannot (and should not!) be ignored.
Godzilla in Hell made its way onto Retcon Punch’s pull list through the sheer outrageousness of its premise alone, but it stayed there because it sold the hell out of that premise. Godzilla in Hell almost defies explanation, transcending any real sense of continuity to instead focus on a variety of top-notch creators’ (including James Stokoe, Bob Eggleton, Ulises Fraines, Erick Freitas, Buster Moody, Brandon Seifert, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Dave Wachter) takes on what would happen if the King of all Monsters got trapped in Hell. While every creator’s approach varied, what each issue had in common was intricately detailed, achingly moody art, and a Godzilla who tore through each enemy that crossed its path with righteous fury. That all changed in the final issue (one of our best issues of 2015), where Godzilla discovered that the only way to escape Hell was to purposely submit to its horrors. That such a powerful moral (and such a cathartic finale) stemmed from such a bonkers concept still surprises us, but it can’t be denied: Godzilla in Hell is one helluva book.
Mark Waid and Terry Dodson’s mini-series followed the titular princess as she sought to collect and protect the remnants of Alderaanian culture spread throughout the galaxy that were orphaned by the Death Star. But playing the role of Savior of Alderaan proved to be more difficult than Leia expected, not because she lacks the ability to save her people, but because there are some aspects of Alderaanian culture that maybe weren’t worth saving. The series weaves its way through original trilogy and prequel trilogy imagery, making the case that while not all of the movies are worth saving, they’re all part of the rich tapestry that is Star Wars. Leia’s responsibility to her people, flawed though they may be, echos the creators’ responsibility to their source material. It’s a beautiful plea for accepting the whole saga, warts and all. Terry and Rachel Dodson’s softer artwork helps sell a story that’s much more grounded in the emotional realities of its characters than the on-going series.
The gritty reboot of Canadian Bacon nobody knew they wanted, Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce’s We Stand on Guard traded Michael Moore’s focus on farcical politics for the horrors of war. The result was a much more potent message that emphasized the complicity of every American in pretending our wars are about anything other than material interests. Vaughan has never shied away from political messages — particularly in the wake of (and in regards to) 9/11 — and this series offered a clever mirror for America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. In true Vaughan style, that seemingly straightforward message is complicated by diverging opinions and inconvenient facts, twisting his simple parable about our true interests in Iraq into a more fully developed (albeit cynical) portrait of the world — all within six issues.
4. Secret Wars
We are still holding out for the resolution on this one, but Secret Wars ended up being a breathing-takingly imaginative reshuffling of decades of Marvel history into one horrifically thorough Doctor Doom fantasy. The mini-series acts as a cap on Jonathan Hickman’s glorious — if indulgent — three-year epic in Avengers and New Avengers, and as such, started by destroying the final two Marvel Universes. Both the destruction in issue 1, and the introduction to Battleworld in issue 2, are spellbindingly rendered by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina, a team who’s artwork knows only one speed: epic. Every issue reads like a collection of the coolest and most mind boggling images Hickman could imagine. The end of the multiverse? Check! Phoenix-Cyclops obliterated by God Doom? Check! Ben Brimm, as a living wall, breaking free of his bondage? OH, MAN: CHECK! The creative team wields these powerful images with so much grace and confidence, that maybe we would have been okay never coming back from Battleworld.
For all the popularity of prequels, they all share the same problem: the inevitability of the story they presage. Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace might have been more compelling if the entire audience wasn’t already aware of his fate. Or that he’d father twins before that. Or that he’d become a Jedi before that. In true Sandman fashion, Neil Gaiman addresses that problem directly in The Sandman Overture, making the story’s predestiny a matter of narrative conflict. As the series wound to a close in 2015, Orpheus managed to break free of his brother Destiny’s book, setting the course for an ending none of us could have anticipated. The result was a series as alive and unpredictable as its predecessor — enlivened by some equally adventurous (and gorgeous) art from J.H. Williams — allowing it to break free of the strictures that normally limit the narrative possibilities of prequels.
Skipping from universe to universe with each issue, The Multiversity is arguably better categorized as a series of related one-offs than a proper mini-series — or, at least it might have been at the beginning. As the series approached its conclusion in 2015, the interconnectedness (and the subplot where a multiversal band of heroes rescues each other in hopes of saving the multiverse) became impossible to ignore, pulling the series into a coherent, if convoluted, narrative. That’s exactly the kind of narrative we’ve come to expect of Morrison’s DC work, but the premise of The Multiversity allowed him to work with a new artist every issue, bringing on some of DC’s heaviest hitters to create entire universes alongside him. That those distinct universes just happen to all be part of the same multiverse allows this mini-series to be more varied than any other series could ever hope to be.
Charles Soule and Alex Maleev’s Lando tells a relatively self-contained story about everyone’s favorite non-Han-Solo-scoundrel, Lando Calrissian, and his ability to get into and out of a jam using nothing but his charms. It’s a simple premise, and the heist that follows is equally by-the-numbers, but it’s Maleev and colorist Paul Mounts execution of this story that makes it our favorite from 2015. So much extra information is coded into every coloring choice and every subtly innovative layout. The series is also constantly inventive, embracing Star Wars’ habit of crazy aliens and cool new characters, instead of merely churning out more wookies and more protocol droids. Characters like Chanath Cha or Sava or Papa Toren all feel bizarrely at-home in the Star Wars universe. And by the end, Soule had even crafted an emotionally rich story about sacrifice and the lengths true friends go to for each other.