In a lot of ways, 2015 was a banner year for comic books and comic book-inspired media. Because I loved so many comics last year, and in light of the recent passing of David Bowie – who influenced more comics and science fiction than most people realize – I’ll be awarding several different comics awards named after classic Bowie songs.
The “I’m Afraid of Americans” Award: “The Omega Men” (DC)
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the year was when former CIA operative Tom King teamed with artist Barnaby Bagenda to revive “The Omega Men,” changing the space opera from a post-“Star Wars” adventure property into something more like the early 2000s revival of “Battlestar Galactica:” an allegory for modern times with no direct metaphor on either side. In 2015, the Omega Men were branded terrorists as they tried to take down the Citadel, the once-benevolent but now-despotic galactic theocracy in a comic that was just as fresh, dangerous and important as the characters and situations it depicted.
The “Space Oddity” Award: “Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier” (Marvel)
Ales Kot, Marco Rudy and Langdon Foss continued their tale of former Captain America Bucky Barnes’ adventures across the stars, using the cosmos of the Marvel Universe to explore the very real concepts of social responsibility, sexual identity, parentage, disability and even the very notion of war orphans. A complex series, and certainly not for the faint of heart, “Bucky Barnes” came to a conclusion that was altogether emotionally fulfilling and intellectually profound.
The “Because You’re Young” Award: “Spider-Gwen” (Marvel)
Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez have created a very different Marvel Universe in “Spider-Gwen,” where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider that imbued her with powers that allowed her to become Spider-Woman, and you know what? It’s the most fun you could ever hope to have with a superhero book. Addressing the franchise’s themes of power and responsibility through a different lens, “Spider-Gwen” puts its heroine through the emotional ringer. Not a page of stylish art or quick-witted dialogue is wasted, and every re-interpreted character or concept has a clear rationale for being thusly altered. If “Scott Pilgrim” creator Bryan Lee O’Malley had created “Spider-Man,” it might have been a lot like this.
The “Always Crashing in the Same Car” Award: “Stray Bullets – Sunshine and Roses”
“Bullets” reached its fiftieth issue with “Sunshine and Roses #1,” and, if you’ll excuse the pun, found David Lapham’s Altmanesque crime thriller firing on all cylinders once again. The slow burn is intentional and profound, frightening and anxiety-inducing, and that’s why the series has been able to maintain its status as one of the best the genre has ever produced. Characters like Beth, Scott and Monster continue to at once terrify and entertain, and newcomers like Kretchmeyer, with his monologue about transcendental meditation, supplied the kind of terror usually reserved for cable dramas.
The “Moonage Daydream” Award: “The Multiversity” (DC)
Grant Morrison completed what was probably the finest work of his career – no exaggeration – in 2015 with the conclusion of his long-awaited tour of the Multiverse. In presentation, a universe-spanning tale of heroism, Lovecraftian incursions, industry satire and the fate of everything that ever was, is or will be. In summation, a tale of multiversal gentrification, brilliantly defying the labeling of “the other” by making those who would create the labels more “other” than anything most people could imagine. The jewel of this year’s issues was probably “Mastermen,” a story featuring a Nazi Justice League in a world where the Allies lost World War II, featuring the finest work of artist Jim Lee’s career.
The “Cracked Actor” Award: “Providence” (Avatar)
Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows return with the third and final installment of their Lovecraft trilogy. Perhaps the most personal and daring work of Moore’s since “Promethea.” “Providence” doesn’t try to hide its use of Moore’s – and Lovecraft’s – standard themes and personal code of ethics. Rather, it embraces them, even when they run contrary to one another, creating the sort of dissonance that possessed Lovecraft himself. Horrifying, heartbreaking, gut wrenching and suspenseful, “Providence” is the best horror comic in years.
The “Future Legend” Award: “The Spire” (BOOM!)
Imagine a science-fantasy version of “Game of Thrones” with even more complex politics, a penchant for fart jokes, a smaller cast and the sense of immediacy provided by 9/11 and Sandy Hook and you’d have Si Spurrier’s and Jeff Stokely’s “The Spire.” A mystery wrapped in a political thriller cloaked as a history, “The Spire” fearlessly depicts a lesbian detective with a mysterious past – potentially reaching past centuries – fighting the system from within while protecting it from without. Timely, elegant and memorable, “The Spire” should be more than read, or even cherished – it should be taught.
With a year like that, how can 2016 hope to measure up? We’ll just have to see, won’t we? All I know is that after the stellar year that was 2015, there is a lot of power in the hands of this year’s creators, and with great power comes, well, you know…
-By Kevin M. Brettauer