After another year of great new releases, translations, and continuing series in the world of comics, ComicBook.Com has returned to offer you our take on the 20 best comics of 2015. If you missed the list in 2014, you can check out both halves here and here. Just like last time, I’ve opted to split the list into two parts to make it more manageable. I also wanted to take a brief look at the criteria for selecting only 20 comics to name as the best this year had to offer, especially in a world where there are more high quality comics being published than ever.
The key word I considered when selecting comics was “teachability”. As someone who teaches comics both in and out of classroom settings, I’m always looking for works that help illustrate the power and potential of the medium. That can come from a lot of different facets, specifically craftsmanship, message, and uniqueness all come into play. Essentially, each comic on this list should show a mastery of the form, convey an understandable set of ideas and themes, and push the medium forward in some way. Some works may do so in more obvious fashions than others, but all ought to be comics that could be explored and understood in a classroom for all three of these factors.
Although the list is ranked, the rankings are based on which works I found to be the most powerful and moving. None of the comics selected here are quantitatively better than any other. They are all a testament to the power of the medium and equally worthy of your consideration.
So without any further rambling: Welcome to the first half of ComicBook.Com’s Best Comics of 2015!
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark and Tyler Boss
Colors by Santi Arcas
Lazarus is a truly complete package of a comic book designed from front to back cover to immerse readers in its dystopian future. As engaging as false ads and complex timelines may be, it is the story of this comic that makes it worth returning to each month. Filled with deeply human characters engaged in high stakes plotting and action, everything about Lazarus feels shockingly real. That is what makes the commentary on current political and economic trends embedded in this science fiction masterpiece so cutting. Even the villains are understandable and the heroes truly believe they’re doing the right thing, especially when they’re not.
19. The Omega Men
Written by Tom King
Art by Barnaby Bagenda
Colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr.
2015 has been a breakout year for writer Tom King and no work has better established his comics chops than The Omega Men. Composed on a nine panel grid that mirrors itself in each issue, it is a masterclass in formalism with clearly defined climaxes and a tightly woven narrative. The detached structure of the series is mitigated by a warmly colored, action packed depiction. A sci-fi sprawl of planets worthy of the phrase “space opera” are brought to life in unique ways to construct a universe you will not want to leave for a very long time.
18. Southern Bastards
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
No comic better understands the realities of smalltown America than Southern Bastards. Grappling with violence, corruption, and football, it is a descent into the worst parts of the human soul depicted with a visceral beauty. Coated in layers of red and with characters whose muscles ripple and groan in their forms, it is impossible to look away from this story even at its most brutal. As the landscape, characters, and styles of storytelling became more diverse in 2015, it remained one of the best comics series coming out today.
Created by Noelle Stevenson
The complete collection of Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona is a ridiculous, charming, and surprisingly heart-wrenching affair. With sharp, simple line work it brings a satirical fantasy setting to life, one rife with gags and prepared to focus on the characters at its core. The mix of humor and human drama recalls Bone, easily moving between the two and doing both very well. Nimona is packed with youthful energy and marks the beginning of what should be a very fruitful comics career.
16. Assassination Classroom
Created by Yusei Matsui
Despite a title that might indicate otherwise, Assassination Classroom is a comic that adores education. Koro Sensei, the targeted teacher of this classroom is both hero and villain, as he threatens Earth and elevates each of his pupils. Matsui uses this wild premise to both create a rollicking action comic packed with fast-as-light sequences and an excoriation of class and social norms. Underneath all of the guns, traps, and high school drama is a very smart examination of how we treat disparaged youth and the offer of a better standard.
15. Step Aside, Pops
Created by Kate Beaton
Nobody can do as much with as little as Kate Beaton. Given only a few panels and a pen, she can evoke laughter, collegiate-level references, and social criticism. It’s no surprise that her webcomic Hark!, A Vagrant and its collections have been so successful. Whether you are looking to just have a few laughs or try your brain on a Jeopardy-esque range of topics, Step Aside, Pops will satisfy your needs. In an age where newspapers and the strips they contain are dying, Beaton has created the most essential comic strip in North America.
14. Hellboy in Hell
Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola
Colors by Dave Stewart
Mike Mignola is the “fine wine” of comics artists from the 1980s in that he only continues to get better with age. Everything about his truly unique style and auteur-driven Mignola-verse of Hellboy and other stories reflects what he wants to create, and from B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth to Abe Sapien, they just keep getting better. “The Hounds of Pluto”, the newest installment of Hellboy in Hell, features Mignola at his biggest and smallest with bold action and understated comedic beats. It’s almost everything you might want from two-issues of a comic book composed by one of the medium’s true masters.
13. The Fade Out
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have developed an A-team reputation as collaborators and The Fade Out is their greatest work to date. Combining the best noir elements of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy with a stunning depiction of Golden Age Hollywood, beautifully lit by Elizabeth Breitweiser, this comic is a detective fiction fan’s dream come true. Everything about The Fade Out from its complex, conspiracy-riddled plotting to its very full cast of tragically (or just plain) flawed characters will make you wish it never had to end even as it arrives at the conclusion.
12. Sacred Heart
Created by Liz Suburbia
Sacred Heart is a comic that taps directly into the deep strangeness of being a teenager. In a town where adults appear to be non-existent, teens continue to go about their days exploring who they are and what they’re becoming. Liz Suburbia effortlessly shifts between characters and tones in a comic packed with both. From the horror of mass murders to the oddity of falling in and out of love, Sacred Heart cuts a swath through a bizarre adolescent landscape before arriving at its unforgettable conclusion.
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales
Colors by Jeremy Lawson
You will never believe that DC Comics is publishing a comic as confrontational, mean, or hilarious as Prez unless you read it. Not since Stephen Colbert left Comedy Central has there been political satire this enjoyable and scorching. The bombastic cartooning in Prez makes for a fun reading experience, while also making the exaggerations blend seamlessly with a reality that isn’t too far from the one we’re living in right now. There’s never a page where Prez is not on point, and the fun house mirror it’s holding up encourages its readers to take a very necessary look at what’s going on, even as they laugh.
Be sure to come back tomorrow to see the second half of the list!
A Brief Note on Accreditation: Many of the comics on this list are a collaborative effort featuring the work of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers, designers, and many others. Rather than feature a comprehensive list of all creators involved in the creation of each comic, I have opted to include only the names of artists, writers, and colorists. Furthermore, only the names of primary creators (those most consistently credited to the work) are included. In the instance that a work was an anthology composed of the work of many creators the phrase “Various Artists” has been used instead. This is not meant to demean the work of the others involved. It is a decision made due to concern for space.