Best of 2016: Best Issues


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 2016.

DC Universe Rebirth 110. DC Universe Rebirth 1

(Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jimenez)

Moreso than any other publisher, DC Comics is defined by its history. If the New 52 was an attempt to shed that history, than DC Universe Rebirth 1 finds the publisher lovingly embracing it instead. Geoff Johns and his murders’ row of top-notch artists lead their readers through a tour of the DC Universe as they highlight the ideas of love, hope, and legacy, seeding plots for the upcoming “Rebirth” initiative. The meat of this issue, though, is Wally West’s struggle to return to life, a tale that’s simultaneously tear-jerking and life-affirming, and which highlights the aspirational, wish-fulfilling nature of the DC Universe. “Rebirth” itself has proven divisive, but DC Universe Rebirth 1 is a welcome reminder of just how utterly magical this world can be, when given the opportunity.

This issue also introduces the bizarre Watchmen twist, which, love it or hate it, deserves points just for its sheer audacity.

The Fix 39. The Fix 3

(Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber)

It’d be tempting to label Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s work on The Fix and Superior Foes of Spider-Man as stories about corrupt villains with hearts of gold, if only, y’know, they had hearts at all. It’s an alluring blend of cynicism and sincerity with a healthy spike of disarming honesty. In issue 3, The Fix turns that honesty on Hollywood starlets, tracking the horrifying rise and fall of Elaine, a sort of mash-up of every actress that’s ever come out of the Mickey Mouse Club. Spencer’s narration doesn’t disguise the forces that drive Elaine to excess, shining a harsh light on America’s preoccupation exploiting the virginal for sexual purposes. By the end, everyone’s trying to take advantage of this girl and SHE FUCKING DIES. The characters may not have hearts, but the story itself is almost nakedly heartfelt in its plea for some sense of sanity.

Captain America: Steve Rogers 18. Captain America: Steve Rogers 1

(Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz)

“Hail Hydra.” Only Nick Spencer can take two words — two words that have been uttered in most issues of Captain America — and use them to light the internet on fire. It’s easy to forget that this issue was anything more than that earth-shattering twist, but it’s actually a shockingly well-realized exploration of where opportunity comes from and what it looks like to turn to a force you know to be evil. The story takes an in-depth look at the origin of the suicide train-bomber, casting him as a victim of circumstance without giving him too dire of a backstory. It’s all just missed opportunities and goals deferred until the attacker is fighting for his last scrap of identity. There’s a parallel to Hydra Cap here that people tend to miss when lobbing death threats at Spencer on twitter.

Ms. Marvel 77. Ms. Marvel 7

(G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona)

Civil War, Schmivil War! Kamala Kahn has more important things to worry about than a dust up between superhero factions. Take, for example, the delightfully low-stakes science fair competition that pits Kamala against Miles Morales and his science club. It’s a hero vs. hero story that is alarmingly true to the worlds Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel occupy. Sure, there’s a flying shark in some kind of floating aqua-bubble, and one of the experiments does threaten to explode and kill everyone, but the majority of the story is refreshingly grounded. Never is G. Willow Wilson’s voice clearer than when she’s writing kids talking to kids, and that’s exactly what this thing is, cover-to-cover. The issue is also a return-to-form for artist Adrian Alphona, who relishes in the charming absurdity of every beat of this story. You’d be hard pressed to find an issue in this cross-over that has more fun with the concept of pitting two of our favorites against each other. And hey: there’s a bonus Nova tossed in there for good measure.

Batman 516. Batman 51

(Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo)

Gotham is mythic. Gotham is eternal. Gotham is — in many ways — the defining feature of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman. Or, to put a finer point on it: “Gotham is…” is the phrase that will ever define that run. Its importance was established in their first issue, but seared into our collective memories in their last (for now). Batman 51 saw not only the return of that iconic Gotham Gazette feature, but forced us to consider more deeply the relationship between Batman and Gotham — specifically, who Batman is if Gotham isn’t in crisis. The result is an issue that plays triple duty as a love letter not just to Batman, not just to Gotham, but to the readers as well, all while hearkening back to the opening moments of their first issue. It’s precisely the kind of structural feat that made Snyder and Capullo’s work on the series so thrilling, carried off with the same grace that always made it such a pleasure to read.

Deadpool 205. Deadpool 20

(Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli)

Man of Steel critics love to trot out the All-Star Superman story where Clark talks a suicidal woman off a window ledge as a prescription for how to fix Superman. It’s a moving story, but maybe fans are setting the bar a little low when it comes to compassion. Superman being a kind, empathetic person is hardly a story. But Deadpool? Oh yeah: that’s something. Writer Gerry Duggan took an issue off from his various insidious plot engines to tell a one-off story where a jumper’s only hope is Wade Fucking Wilson. Duggan never cheats by giving Deadpool unnatural or unearned empathy, instead letting Wade’s joie de vivre affect the woman and the reader in equal measure. Artist Mateo Lolli doesn’t pull his punches either — part of finding peace in a night out with Deadpool means embracing a lot of gruesome violence. Perhaps most refreshingly, the only conclusion the issue can muster is Danielle seeking help. In real life, there are no infinitely patient stranger-saviors and there are no easy answers for suicidal thoughts.

Spider-Woman 54. Spider-Woman 5

(Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez)

“Having a kid changes everything” is the conventional wisdom on parenting, though very few parenting stories manage to convey that message without stating it outright. Then again, few parenting stories have the patience to really sit with those changes the way Spider-Woman 5 does. Pacing out Jessica Drew’s evolution from overwhelmed new mother to her return to superheroics sounds straightforward enough, but writer Dennis Hopeless throws in some warranted anxieties about the dangers of her job and (perhaps less-warranted, but no less relatable) fears about leaving her child with a sitter for the first time, creating a remarkably nuanced portrait of the first few months of parenthood. Cramming those months into one issue might daunt a lesser artist, but Javier Rodriguez pulls out every stop to give each moment a unique emotional tone without ever feeling rushed or cramped. It’s an issue as varied in 20 pages as many series can hope to be in a year, and one that truly did change everything about Spider-Woman.

Superman 103. Superman 10

(Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason)

There’s a promise to “Batman vs. Superman” that is seldom delivered on. Those are two of comics’ biggest personalities, seemingly opposing ideologies with similar ends and drastically different means. Under all of that philosophical squabbling, however, it’s hard to deny that the conflict between Caped Crusaders is not only arbitrary, but funny as hell. Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman 10 takes that fundamentally hilarious concept and filters it through the 10-year-old sons of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, making for one of the more charming superpowered dust-ups of the year. Damian is even more Damian-y (read: more of an asshole) and Jon is even more Jon-y (read: more of a boy scout) than their fathers could ever dream of being. The concept is so simple, it’s almost elemental, and the execution reminds us why we like all of these characters so much.  

The Vision 62. The Vision 6

(Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta)

What does it mean to be human? This was the question at the heart of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision, which delighted in finding ever new angles on the nature of humanity. Issue 6 framed the question in terms of P vs NP — a computer science question that deals with questions that humans can easily answer but that computers (and presumably synthezoids) cannot. Agatha Harkness uses P vs NP to frame Vision’s solutions as random, incorrect stabs in the dark, though in so doing might just reveal how human his solutions truly are. That the constant references to Vision’s inhumanity always made him more human was always a feat of the series, but comes to a very fine point in this issue, as the Vision’s choices take a turn for the bizarre. As midway point of the series, this issue served as a turning point of sorts, distilling the moments that came before while laying key groundwork for the breathless second half of this run.

Secret Wars 91. Secret Wars 9

(Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic)

Check your calendars — this issue came out during the very first week of 2016, closing the loop on an event that the publisher had moved on from months prior. But Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s masterwork has one of the most life- and art-affirming conclusions of any story. For all the walls-made-of-Ben-Grimm and vaporized-Cyclops-Phoenixes, power in this series ultimately shifted based on simple, human kindnesses — and silly ones at that. One of the turning points in the issue is Miles Morales offering Molecule Man a hamburger he has stashed away in his suit. Secret Wars 9 allowed for a return to the old Marvel Universe in some ways, but with a aggressive, adventurous insistence on positivity and novelty. So much of Hickman’s mega-epic wrestled with impossibly huge questions of Master Morality and the true meaning of evil that it’s refreshing as all get out to see gee-whizardry save the day. Plus, the ending installs Marvel’s first family as the progenitors of the entire Marvel Universe — a fitting place for their legacy to land.

Want more Best of 2016 lists? Check out our Best Covers list!

12 comments on “Best of 2016: Best Issues

  1. You know who really deserves a lot of credit for that Spider-Woman issue? Letterer Travis Lanham. I went back to re-read the issue after reading this and that is a really wordy issue. Dude should get some credit for that and finding a way to make the word bubbles fit.

    • That’s a good point — a lot of what makes this issue feel so jam-packed is that there’s a TON of dialogue. Fitting all of that in without cluttering up Rodriguez’s art is no mean feat. The whole creative team on this is fantastic (Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors add so much depth to this issue, and Alvaro Lopez’s brushwork is gorgeous), and now I’m wishing we had found space to mention all of them.

  2. Alright! What did we miss? I’m bummed we didn’t get any Black Widow on the list, and I also really loved Uncanny Inhumans 4. I had others on my personal ballot, but these are the omissions that sting the most to me. What else would be on your list?

    • I’m gonna say Ultimates #2 where Galactus became the LifeBringer because WHOA.

      Spider-Woman #8 because that issue is just STUNNING art wise. Wow what a gorgeous issue.

      I forget if it’s WeirdWorld 3 or 4 but we learn about how Becca’s mother committed suicide and there was this one page that was utterly heartbreaking. Actually the whole issue was. Seriously if you didn’t read Sam Humphries WeirdWorld you missed out.

      Uncanny Inhumans #9 or 10 (I think it’s 10) that is the Reader focused issue and we see just exactly how powerful Reader is.

      • I really did not care for Ultimates 2. It felt far too easy. Ultimates advertised itself on the most impossible missions, and I was consistently disappointed at how it made everything fell easy and small. Turning Galactus should have felt epic and impossible, which would have made it so amazing when it happened. Instead, Ewing made the enormous feel small. Really disappointed

        And it is the first Weirdworld issue where we learn that Becca’s mother committed suicide. You see the pills in the final page. But I think it is issue 4 where you see Becca confront that. And both issues 3 and 4 are truly fantastic issues. Though honestly, while all of Weirdworld was utterly fantastic, issue 6 is my favourite. Issue 6 is one of the best issues I read all year. Inventive panelling, such a beautiful focus on empathy and the single best line of the year. Truly beautiful

    • I really liked that TMNT Deviations issue where it took a look at what might have happened if The Foot Clan was successful during City Fall. The series is already so good at riffing on the established mythology that it was sorta cool to see their specific spin on the TMNT story fucked with even further. And Zach Howard and Cory Smith’s art sells the Shakespearian tragedy of that ending so well, panning out to see that the only characters to survive are the four brainwashed turtles. It’s grim as shit, but I dug it.

    • My biggest regret is not getting Howard the Duck 11, that wonderful, wonderful grand finale, on this list. I bank my personal lists pretty heavily on issues that make me feel overwhelming emotions, and after Secret Wars 9 and DC Universe Rebirth, nothing else made me feel more this year than HtD 11. (it wasn’t my nomination, but issue 8, the Howard/Bev spotlight, was also in the running, and is probably just as deserving.)

      Other issues I can definitely make an argument for:
      WicDiv 23: the magazine issue
      Sam Wilson Captain America 10: Rhodey’s funeral
      Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat 8: The aftermath of Jen’s coma

      Issues that I initially considered, but which didn’t make my final nominations:
      Superman 51: the first, and by far, best installment of the “death” of the New 52 Supes
      Silver Surfer 7: Intergalactic casino!
      Daredevil 14: poor, poor Blindspot…
      Supergirl Rebirth 1 and Green Arrow Rebirth 1: both series have been inconsistent since, but these specials were pretty friggin’ fantastic

      • Rhodey’s memorial in Captain America was fantastic. One of Spencer’s highlights.

        And WicDiv 23 is probably the issue I am most anticipating reading (but I am waiting for the trade, as I do with nearly all Image stuff)

    • The obvious missing issues are Omega Men 8 and Sheriff of Babylon 12. Both of those are masterpieces.

      Omega Men 8 is where the book truly goes pitch black. Through some genius piece of continuity games, Tom King sets up a devastating moral quandary. What makes it work is that our bad guys actually tried to do the best thing they could do. And yet, what happened was a horrible travesty. It is here that you truly see things break. This is probably the best issue of King’s trilogy. In fact, I would say confidently that it is better than any issue of the Vision. King’s trilogy has always been about toxic environments, about being in a world where the game is literally rigged against you. And it is never clearer than in Omega Men 8.
      King and Bagenda stretches all of their skills with character, art and structure. This comic is so good that the arrangement and placement of panels goes beyond storytelling and into poetry. King know exactly where to place each line, to weave the multiple plot threads together and to punctuate each point perfectly. And the choice of the nine panel grid is never better justified than this. In part, because of what I said about the very panel placement. But also the use of the very form itself is used to devastating effect, to use the grid to create effects that would have been impossible without it.
      The fact that this issue is forgotten, and the fact that everyone is talking about the Vision (and to a lesser degree Sheriff of Babylon) instead, is a travesty. Because while the Vision and Sheriff are some of the best comics around, Omega Men 8 is the best single issue in recent memory.

      Sheriff of Babylon 12 is also just so amazing. Of all of Tom King’s endings, this is by far the best. One of the most tragic things about the Trilogy of Good Intentions is the tragic cycle. The Vision starts creating another wife. The Omega Men’s actions force everyone else to make the same choices that led them to this place in the first place. And never is that done better in Sheriff, where the leads end up doing the exact thing that motivated them on their quest for justice. The best part is how King refuses to give an easy morality to their actions. He creates a situation so full of doubt that it becomes impossible to judge them by the outcome. The outcome is impossible to know, and the cast know that the outcome is impossible to know. And yet, they do it anyway.
      And the real sick joke, after the cycle begins again and we have seen how attempting to change the broken world simply breaks you and starts the next cycle of horribleness, we learn that there has been a change. Quite simply, the Army are more used to it. That is what has changed. With every cycle, the horrors are being seen as more an more ordinary. We read the Trilogy of Good Intentions for its darkness. And no one managed a darker ending than Sheriff of Babylon. It pales only in comparison to Omega Men 8

      Injection 8 is fantastic. The perfect thesis statement of the whole book. What I love is how it manages to do this through comedy. It is the jokes (including the greatest montage of sex scenes ever) that reveal Injection’s ideals and genius, while the storytelling embraces the weird. Combine that with the exceptional storytelling, both the wonderful weirdness, the way the comedy blends with the moodiness and creepiness and how adeptly it transitions through its story points like a delicate dance, and Injection 8 has one of the best series around produce one of its best issues.

      Honestly, I would rather give Batman 49 or 50 the best issue award, instead of 51. 51 is great (though wish it had a little less Court of Owls references, and a little more references to the rest of Snyder’s tales) but I find those two more interesting.
      Yannick Paquette does a sensational job with the art in 49. I love the emphasis on circular panels that are like orbs. And the whole idea is just fantastic. The fact that Batman is born from tragedy is the key idea, and the metaphor works perfectly. The very worlds (and Paquette has made the concept of a world very clear) being created are simply not stable, as it is impossible to work without that central tragedy. The very ‘story’ collapses, as Batman doesn’t work without the heroic overcoming of tragedy. And the very ending affirms this idea. Not only do Julie Madison and Alfred place themselves in the positions to metaphorically recreate the tragedy, but the nature of Bruce’s strategy involves actual death. He literally dies, before the machine kicks in and he is reborn.
      Meanwhile, Batman 50 is a story where Batman’s ability to save the day comes not from his amazing abilities, but his ability to inspire people. There is astonishing spectacle, of Capullo at his best, but the most important thing is that Batman doesn’t directly do anything. Snyder cleverly creates an endgame requiring all three leads to do different things, and Batman achieves his by simply existing and reminding people of a better way. Meanwhile, the person who actually saves the day is Duke THomas, the kid inspired by Batman. A truly beautiful climax, especially encapsulated by that fantastic final monologue by Gordon. And, to make things better, it even gives us the origin of Mr Bloom, and gets it perfect. Shows us how we can get lost doing the ‘right’ thing and create something toxic, while keeping that anonymous everyman thing that makes Mr Bloom work.
      51 is certainly great, but I prefer the two issues before.

      I want to give something to Weirdworld or Mockingbird, which were both full of exceptionally strong single issues. But none cross the finish line. There is one more I wanted to highlight, but I can’t remember what is was…

      On your choices, I certainly approve of Secret Wars and Captain America. One issue of the Vision has to be on the list, but it is hard to say which one in particular. But 6 is a fantastic choice. p v np was a fantastic metaphor and a great climax to the first ‘arc’. Same with Spiderwoman. Spiderwoman has about two or three great issues, and one of them had to be the one to make it home. 5 is a great choice.

      When I read the Fix 3, nothing jumped out as ‘best issue of the year’ to me. The Fix is really, really good. But I wouldn’t say there is anything exceptional yet. The Fix feels like something that deserves to win best series for its consistent quality than best issue for any issue specifically.
      And I am still disappointed in that issue of Ms Marvel for how it got too superheroey in the end. It was fantastic at the start, but the need to put Nova in and the choice to make the big character moment a SPiderman/Ms Marvel thing instead of a Miles/Kamala thing was ill advised. What made the issue great was the two teams competitive spirits and need for scholarships driving them to insane lengths and eventually bonding over the shared struggle, so to make the major character moment be ‘Miles respects Kamala’s wishes to keep her identity secret’ was a bad choice in an otherwise great issue.

      And I’m surprised that DC Rebirth is there, because I don’t think the good parts of that book survive the reread. The two things I praised when it came out was the emotional arc and the Watchmen stuff. While the Watchmen stuff still works (as long as you ignore the fact that Rebirth itself brings back the misguided darkness worship that the Watchmen stuff was supposed to be a metaphor criticising), the emotional arc really doesn’t. Can anyone explain why Barry is the one who allows Wally to escape, and not Linda? How does that make any sense? The whole point is that Linda is always Wally’s anchor because of the depth of their love. And no offence, but the love between Barry and Wally is not greater than Linda and Wally. And seeing Barry be able to do what Linda can’t just rings false. Which hurts what was the strongest part of the book. You are right that the meat of the issue is Wally West’s quest, but the moment you put some thought into it, it doesn’t work
      And then there are the other bad parts. Like the fact that it wastes time foreshadowing future books like King’s Batman. Many of the cameos are thematically connected, but when you are giving a single panel to Gotham and Gotham Girl, you are spinning your wheels doing nothing. Which should disqualify you from this list by itself, considering how many issues this year managed to so dense and layered. Or the horrid sections like the Green Arrow/Black Canary section, that is built on such a disgustingly simplistic and offensive depiction of what love is. Even ignoring the Rebirth parts, there is enough legitimately bad stuff to disqualify this.
      Not that I think you can ignore the Rebirth stuff. This comic exists primarily as a vision of DC, and therefore you can’t ignore that. And what this comic does is set up a strawman to heroically kill, while discussing how much better things were in the olden days when everyone was straight, white men and none of those new ideas were around. It is honestly astonishing, in retrospect, the strawman is opposes. Rebirth makes a big point about returning Legacy, Love and Life. But DC YOU already had Legacy through books like Batman and Robin Eternal, We Are Robin, Bat-Mite, Prez, Justice League 3001, Catwoman and Batgirl (and that’s focusing only on books that either develop/celebrate legacy specifically or exist through the acknowledgement of a once forgotten legacy. I’m ignoring the books on Legacy Heroes, including the one literally called ‘Son of Batman’). DC YOU was full of love, through books like Batgirl, Black Canary, Starfire and Prez. And DC YOU was full of life (this is the same list as love, and Gotham Academy, basically). Hell, we know that internally, DC YOU was called the Batgirling of DC, which means DC Rebirth is 80 pages dedicated to pointing at a run known for its love, its liveliness and its celebration of the Batbooks history of female legacy and complaining that it is dark and gritty.
      Yeah, the art is still the best you can get with House Styles and the Watchmen stuff is fantastic, but DC Rebirth has far too many problems. From broken emotional arcs to really badly implemented teases for future series to certain scenes that end up being horrid. And you can’t ignore the fact that it creates an utterly inaccurate strawman out of DC YOU to attack, and cares primarily about straight white men and backwards storytelling. You can’t ignore that DC Rebirth is Rebirth.

  3. I have a hard time remembering individual issues for this kind of thing, but…

    I think The Black Monday Murders #1 was the best individual issue I read this year.

  4. Great list. I don’t envy you trying to get so granular in figuring out these awards. I loved the twists and young Erin/old Erin interplay of Paper Girls, so one of those might have been a contender. North/Henderson hit a couple Squirrel Girls one-offs out of the park, but I don’t know which one I’d pick. And, yes, Spencer should absolutely be on here, perhaps even higher, for Hydra Cap. The writing and plotting of that is everything CW2 could only dream of being.

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