Best of 2015Comic BooksReview

Emertainment Monthly’s Top Ten Indie Comics of 2015

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In all honesty, nobody here hates superheroes. They’re great. Their comics are great when they’re not written by known sexual predators, their movies are great when they aren’t trying to convince us how tortured and edgy they are, and their TV shows are great when they’re not Teen Titans Go! But the main problem with superheroes—besides their questionable motives for dressing up in costume—is that they dominate nearly all discussion about comics. One need only Google the many, many thinkpieces on the eternal Batman vs. Superman debate to see just how deep their infiltration goes. So as we move into the New Year, we’re taking a moment to spotlight some of our favorite indie titles from the past year–that aren’t Saga, because we like not having obvious #1 picks. From the trippy sci-fi thrillers, to the insane 80s punk fantasy, to the stories that gave us way too many feelings at once, here are our top ten indie comics of 2015.

10. The Life After

Image Credit: Oni Press
Image Credit: Oni Press

W: Joshua Hale Fialkov

A: Gabo

P: Oni Press

Gee, wouldn’t it suck if all versions of the afterlife from all faiths were merged into one excessively complicated, borderline sadistic bureaucratic labyrinth? Enter The Life After, where a guy named Jude randomly discovers he’s in purgatory for suicide after a chance encounter with Ernest “Women don’t matter, I have gazelles to hunt” Hemingway. From there, they embark across the afterlife in search of a woman Jude accidentally sent to Heaven, with heart-breaking consequences, along with a way to improve the afterlife for everyone. The comic has a weird sense of humor about itself, as they encounter Hell’s answer to Garnet from Steven Universe and even an army of children who died in childbirth along the way, but the story that lies beneath all the madness is engaging nonetheless.

9. Nailbiter

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Joshua Williamson

A: Mike Henderson

P: Image Comics

The idea that the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon has produced sixteen of the worlds most outlandish and prolific serial killers already brings a healthy dose of Twin Peaks’ surrealist intrigue to Nailbiter’s story, but it’s the lore behind the killers in question that steals the show. Three volumes in, we still don’t know all that much about the killers save for Warren the Nailbiter himself, but his mere presence in the town and twisted relationship with Sheriff Crane is enough to bathe Buckaroo in an atmosphere of dread. This town breeds killers, and the residents know it, but some deal with this fear with far less grace than others–see: the mom who wants a killer baby, the crazy bus driver, and Brian Michael Bendis. We’re still not sure what exactly creates Buckaroo’s serial killer—assuming there is one unifying cause at all—but for those wanting for small-town mystery and bloody murder, Nailbiter delivers.

8. Descender

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Jeff Lemire

A: Dustin Nguyen

P: Image Comics

Formerly one of the few saving graces of DC’s New 52, Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Green Arrow, Justice League United) makes his Image Comics debut with a moody sci-fi epic-in-progress that boldly asks, “What if Astro Boy had been horrifying?” A decade after the United Galactic Council was almost destroyed by a giant robot called The Harvester, A.I. have been hunted to near-extinction as a result of fear and a desire for retribution. Then an android named Tim-21 wakes up on a desolate mining colony with his robot dog Bandit and a mining unit named Driller, who’s determined to convince everyone he comes across that he is, in fact, “a real killer.” While the story is still quite young and there’s much of the universe yet to discover, Tim-21’s struggle to survive after waking up in a world that wants him dead is easy to get behind, and Dustin Nguyen’s art makes every page a masterpiece.

7. Sundowners

Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics

W: Tim Seeley

A: Jim Terry

P: Dark Horse Comics

You may be wondering why what appears to be your standard indie superhero fare has a cover ripped straight out of a horror scene. Well, the truth is The Sundowners aren’t superheroes as much as they are a violent, psychologically scarred self-help group who shop at the same Party City. The story of Sundowners can prove hard to follow at times, as you’re never fully certain if they’re actually fighting crime or if it’s all just in their heads, but the comic completely makes up for it with its deeply flawed but fascinating cast. Sundowners tastefully incorporates each of their psychoses into their superhero personas, portraying their secret identities as symptoms rather than solutions, and never lets you forget just how messed up each of them are. It’s an engaging twist of superhero tropes into psychological horror, and by far one of most engaging reads in Dark Horse’s current lineup.

6. Roche Limit

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Michael Moreci

A: Kyle Charles, Vic Malhotra

P: Image Comics

This dark sci-fi trilogy that questions just how mankind’s foray into space exploration will play out is now two-thirds in, and now the doomed colony Roche Limit has now seen two emotionally draining, beautifully crafted tragedies transpire on its blackened soil. The first a repentant drug maker’s and a disgraced NYPD detective’s quest to save their mutual loved one from the machinations of the colony’s crime lords, the second a grim expedition 75 years later trying to figure out why the colony went so wrong. Within these stories is a grim vision of mankind’s lust for power and drive for scientific exploration forming an unholy union and the horrific consequences that result as the colony falls in disrepair and later total decay. Drawing from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Cowboy Bebop, Roche Limit is the somber sci-fi trilogy we deserve. Here’s to a hopefully strong finale.

5. Deadly Class

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Rick Remender

A: Wes Craig

P: Image Comics

As you may have noticed, we really, really, really like Rick Remender’s work with Image Comics, but Deadly Class is still the clear winner of the pack. It’s unquestionably the most unique of the four, containing only the barest of fantasy elements in a secret school for assassins beneath San Francisco. This comic is completely submerged in the late ‘80s punk scene that Marcus and his motley crew of would-be killers call home, and all the crazy music, violence, and drugs that came with it. Wes Craig is a powerhouse on art duties, illustrating Marcus’ drug trips with gleeful insanity and crafting visceral portraits out of wholesale slaughter and destruction–seriously, the finales of volumes one and two and the first two issues in volume three would bring Tarantino to tears. Coupled with Remender’s razor-sharp wit and emotionally devastating storytelling, few comics reach this kind of sublime intensity.

4. The Fade Out

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Ed Brubaker

A: Sean Phillips

P: Image Comics

Structured like a three-act play and at the penultimate issue of its twelve-part run, The Fade Out is the shortest story on this list, but what it accomplishes in its brief lifespan is downright mystifying. Like Deadly Class, The Fade Out is completely submerged in its own setting, bringing the dark underworld of post-WWII Hollywood to life. However, the lack of anything truly outlandish brings the immersion to an even deeper level, and the noir-inspired murder mystery takes center stage with fluid-like ease. The most unnerving part is how normal every character feels—even the openly misogynistic police captain feels pretty grounded for the times—so the shock that comes with revealing their dark deeds feels totally organic and casts an even darker shadow on the story at large. The Fade Out may look like a simple whodunit set in ‘50s L.A. at first, but trust us, there’s so much more underneath.

3. Zero

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Ales Kot

A: Various

P: Image Comics

Still need to wash the bitter taste of disappointment from Spectre out of your mouth? We have you covered. Besides maybe the last run of Marvel’s Black Widow, this is hands-down the best espionage thriller on the shelves, and the aesthetic consistency it maintains despite Ales Kot’s plan to have a different artist draw each issue is impressive in its own right. Sure, you may have heard its final arc got really weird, and it did, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking this out. Edward Zero’s story of what led him to betraying The Agency and the ensuing fallout is a mesmerizing multi-generational tale of the consequences of war and how it changes people, throwing in some borderline psychedelic sci-fi elements and fight scenes that rival The Raid 2 in their intricately choreographed bloodshed. Forget your James Bonds, Jason Bournes, and Black Widows, Zero is the new ultimate spy story.

2. Lumberjanes

Image Credit: BOOM! Studios
Image Credit: BOOM! Studios

W: Grace Ellis, Kate Leyh, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters

A: Brooke A. Allen, Caroline Nowak

P: BOOM! Studios

What more can you ask for in a comic than punk-rock merpeople, disgruntled scouts who grow up into monster hunters and wannabe god killers, and a merit badge dedicated to making puns? The recent departure of writer Noelle Stevenson did leave us a little worried for our all-ages comic of choice, but Lumberjanes soldiers with fresh new faces behind the scenes and hilarious summer camp weirdness in the pages. What elevates Lumberjanes to number 2, however, is its ability to introduce complex, adult themes and questions into an undeniably kid-oriented atmosphere without rupturing the fun bubble. This comic never talks down to anyone, and even in its silliest moments cares deeply about these girls as they find their way in this wacky world. While why exactly they keep finding monsters and magic in the forest is still up in the air, Lumberjanes definitely has our attention for the long haul.

1. Wytches

Image Credit: Image Comics
Image Credit: Image Comics

W: Scott Snyder

A: Jock

P: Image Comics

It only took them six issues. Six issues to tell a heart-breaking story about a father’s struggle to rebuild his family’s life. Six issues to redesign the witch mythology while celebrating their entire history. Six issues to build a whole new world of horror. Six issues to bring us to tears followed by absolute terror. If you couldn’t already tell, Wytches is not for the faint of heart. It is by far the scariest comic of this year, thanks in large part to the disjointed, eerie artwork of Jock and Scott Snyder years of horror cred. But fear and atmosphere alone can’t secure the top spot. No, Wytches goes even farther, using the revamped wytch mythos to tell interconnected stories of a family trying to put itself back together, albeit through disparate and ultimately tragic methods. It’s one of those rare instances of telling a completely realized story while also building a rich universe to further explore, and we can’t recommend it enough. Have your safety blankets handy.

 

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