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 2017.
10. Kieron Gillen
The fact that Kieron Gillen managed to keep the twists that closed out 2017’s issues of The Wicked + The Divine a secret alone should earn him a spot on this list; that Gillen managed to keep the series moving steadily towards its endgame without ever losing steam, consistently revealing more and more about its characters even as they languished in self-inflicted Hells, is just as impressive. Over in the Star Wars universe, Gillen continued to expand Doctor Aphra’s world before bringing it all crashing down around her, and he dug into the new lore created by Rogue One with relish. Clearly Gillen operated in many different modes this year, but they all continued to be as carefully planned, clever, and downright cool as we’ve come to expect Gillen’s work to be.
Simon Spurrier may just be the best world-builder working in comics today. Each new series he launches creates an entirely new experience, with worlds that feel unique and far more expansive than readers ever get a chance to fully see thanks to distinctive dialect, lore, and consistently excellent artistic partners. Despite his world-building skill, though, Spurrier remains focused on character and theme above all else, using the environments he’s built to deliver powerful stories and pointed messages about religion, wealth, and man’s search for answers. No two Spurrier stories ever feel the same, but they’re all united by their fervent desire to see justice done, and to call to task those who obstruct it. It’s a sentiment that’s hard not to get behind, no matter what form it takes.
When the two main Inhumans series (Uncanny Inhumans and All-New Inhumans) dissolved, the Royal Family was left in a bit of a lurch. They were set on their own free-wheeling space adventure, but Black Bolt was tragically cut out of it, replaced by his evil brother Maximus the Mad. If that sounds like a lot of crazy concepts bouncing off each other, brother, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Saladin Ahmed found the heart of Black Bolt’s loneliness under circumstances too bizarre for most of us to even comprehend. Moreover, Ahmed breaks so many of the rules that normally dictate what Black Bolt can and cannot do — he speaks for the majority of the series, and he’s surrounded by a makeshift “family” that isn’t his normal crowd of Atillanians. Ahmed stripped away all the superficial qualities that we previously thought defined the character and built him back up from scratch.
2017 was a bleak year, and nobody does bleakness better than Jonathan Hickman. Moreover, Hickman seemed particularly poised to comment on our times: between the apocalyptic struggles in East of West and the economic ones in Black Monday Murders, his work brushes up against our ongoing political concerns without ever falling into open parallels or parody. And while those series are undoubtedly bleak, what had us most thrilled by them this year were the little moments of hope embedded within every issue. Whether it was Doma’s secret affair with the Widowmaker or Dane’s secret affair with Daniel, there was dignity and beauty to be found in the private lives of underlings, even as their leaders were content to let the world burn. That’s a powerful lesson at any time, but couldn’t be more apt in 2017 — especially when delivered with Hickman’s signature confidence.
The final few issues of Spider-Woman (one of our favorite series of 2016) were bittersweet, mixing the joy of Jess and Roger’s happy ending with the pain of, well, the series ending. Thankfully, Dennis Hopeless crafted a fun follow-up in his brief Doctor Strange run, one that managed to bring Jessica and Ben into the world of Secret Empire, and more into the Marvel Universe at large. Between Strange, the final issue of Spider-Woman, and his run on Jean Grey, this was a prominent feature of Hopeless’ work this year as he mined consistent laughs, lessons, and insightful character beats out of a cavalcade of guest stars. The fact that Jean Grey also closed out the year on a beat that managed to shock and surprise even the experienced readers here at Retcon Punch shows that, even with his breakout series concluded, Hopeless hasn’t lost his touch.
Both Saga and Paper Girls are high concept series that have blown way past exploring their initial conceits. Vaughan took 2017 to double down on the themes of loss previously established in Saga, pitting Marko and Alana in a race against the clock to get their miscarried son out of her body. And while that reads like some truly ghoulish storytelling, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Vaughan’s actual work on Saga is simultaneously more monstrous and more sympathetic than any sensationalist slugline could ever hope to capture. But that’s what’s so powerful about the beautiful, crushing world Vaughan has created. Paper Girls handled its aging premise by relying on the magnetic personalities of its core cast. Whether they Girls are flung into prehistory, or Y2K nightmare, it’s the connection between them that buoys the series to such high quality.
4. Nick Spencer
Last year, Nick Spencer was the easy number one pick for the Best Writers list. His appearance on this year’s list is an obvious continuation of his stomach churning accomplishments through Secret Empire. All three of the main series around the event were written by Spencer, as his horrifying vision of the United States usurped by fascists could not be fucking contained by meager monthly ambitions. Spencer gave his readers a way to process what exactly was happening to us, spending whole issues focusing on the gaslighting and press-silencing techniques that were playing out in the real world with startling accuracy and prescience. Meanwhile, The Fix offered a somewhat more lighthearted take on corruption, as crooked cops Mac and Roy bumble their way between imminent danger and another easy payday.
3. Greg Rucka
As ever, Rucka’s work this year has been so eclectic that it’s almost impossible to summarize. Lazarus X+66 alone brought us everything from small family dramas to international espionage. Actually, the huge contrast between the smallest and biggest moments in each series might be the best way to typify Rucka’s writing. Black Magick found Rowan facing down an ancient enemy while trying to hold things together at work. Lazarus found Forever facing down one of her biggest threats in battle, even as the even larger question of her place in the family bubbles away in the background. And The Old Guard found quiet moments for its characters to share, even as they’re fighting for their own freedom and peace of mind. The point is, even within his series, Rucka keeps us on our toes, changing things up such that we can never really guess what’s coming next.
We’ve been following Kelly Thompson since long before she wrote her first comic — her thoughtful, often incisive articles and podcasts never feared to go into the kind of depth that appeals to us around here. That made her first forays into comics writing must-reads for us, and they all featured the kind of depth (and sense of humor) we’d come to expect of her work. But there’s little doubt that Hawkeye is her breakout hit. Combining noir styling with Kate’s irreverent sense of humor — and, more often than not, her incompetence — Thompson has crafted a series that manages to be a spiritual successor to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run without ever retracing their steps. Indeed, the focus on Kate allows Thompson to deal with issues like toxic masculinity and the male gaze in ways that Clint never really could. The result is a series that really only Thompson could write, revealing just how valuable her perspective is.
1. Tom King
There’s little doubt that Batman is one of the highest-profile gigs in comics — and one of the most stressful. Between the tastes of fans, the expectations retailers (and DC) have for sales, and the demands of a double-shipping schedule, it’s a tall order even for the most seasoned veteran. Coming from smaller, more oddball (though undeniably fantastic) series, there was room for doubt that newcomer Tom King was right for the job. But he found his footing this year, breaking new ground on Batman’s relationship with Catwoman while also taking some time for a flashback story that had us all saying “Hell yeah!” Meanwhile, he launched Mister Miracle, a maxi-series that combines all of King’s formal control and emotional sensitivity in bold new ways. Either one of these series would earn a writer a spot on this list, but the two together make King our favorite writer of 2017.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because your list is almost certainly different from ours. Who were your favorite writers of 2017? For more of our Best of 2017 coverage, check out our Best Covers and Best Issues lists!