The New Batch
If 2008 saw the rebirth of Image Comics, then the past 2-3 years have seen Image mature into the colossal powerhouse it is today, known for publishing exceptional creator-owned comics. Many of its varied genre comics that are heavily revered began publication in 2014 and 2015, and are still ongoing to much critical and reader acclaim. No Image celebration would be complete without these titles.
15. Southern Bastards
Created by: Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
Who should read it: People who love a good crime story or revenge story
Southern Bastards takes place in Craw County, Alabama, the deep South of America and tells the tale of Earl Tubbs, a Southern man returning to his hometown to pack up his deceased father's (and ex-sheriff's) house. He intended to stay three days. When he witnesses the crime, corruption and injustice festering in his hometown though, he stays a lot longer.
The 'big bad' of the comic is Euless Boss, the high school football coach, owner of Boss BBQ, the shadiest of BBQ joints, and crime lord, who reigns supreme in Craw County. Murder, drugs, bribery - you name it, nothing is off the menu for Boss.
The creators describe Southern Bastards as a "Southern fried crime comic" and liken it to "The Dukes of Hazzard by the Coen Brothers". Being Southern men themselves helps keep this story authentic, weaving in a rich tapestry of Southern culture. Its not all BBQs, religion and football, but also a suffocating and grim tale of the human condition.
16. The Wicked + The Divine
Created by: Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Who should read it: Fans of dark fantasy, theology, mythology and mystery
The premise of The Wicked + The Divine, as taken from the blurb on the back of the first volume trade paperback, is "Every 90 years 12 gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead." In this version of the Recurrence (the 90-year cycle), the gods have returned as pop stars.
The Wicked + The Divine (or WicDiv as called by fans of the series) looks at celebrity culture and the nature of obsession through human eyes as we follow these mythological beings tackling good versus evil and life versus death. The series is narrated by Laura Wilson, a 17-year-old human who is a 'fangirl' of The Pantheon, the 12 gods. In the first story arc, she befriends Lucifer, the androgynous David-Bowie lookalike, who has fire-starting powers.
Amongst the Pantheon, we meet Egyptian goddess Sakhmet, Norse god Odin (known as Woden), Shinto goddess Amaterasu, Hebrew god Nergal and Roman goddess Minerva.
Gillen tells a story diverse in race, gender, sexuality and religion, where these things are not used as plot points but rather more subtly. All the while telling a story about magic and mayhem that is a triumph in compelling narrative.
Created by: Scott Snyder & Jock
Who should read it: Fans of monsters and supernatural horror
Wytches at its core is series about monsters. The most obvious of which is the spindly, man-eating creatures known as wytches. The wytches live in woods, creating creepy things, such as love potions, life extenders and cures for a multitude of ailment, which are called 'boons'. The wytches will leave these boons to humans in exchange for the life of a loved one. And this is where we find the more subtle monster: human monsters. People willing to 'pledge' a loved one for selfish gain. And the wytches' devotees who will do what it takes to ensure those pledges are fulfilled.
The first story arc follows the Rook family who have just moved to a new town. Charlie is the bestselling author father, who is also a recovering alcoholic; Lucy is the doctor mother, who is struggling since a car crash left her paralysed from the waist down; and Sailor is their teenage daughter, who is still dealing with what she saw when her vicious bully from her previous school was dragged into a tree and devoured right before her eyes.
When Sailor is 'pledged' as a sacrifice to the wytches, Charlie's worst fears are realised and he must do all in his power to protect her.
Snyder has created a horror comic that on the surface appears to follow all the usual tropes of horror - brutal, bloody and violent with real monsters lurking in the dark. But deeper than that, is a tale of real fear: parental fear, fear of growing up, fear of letting go.
Combined with Jock's sublime artwork, which blends symbiotically with the deep, underlying horror of the story, this has fast become my favourite horror comic of recent years - and I'm sure yours too.
Created by: Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen
Who should read it: those with an interest in artificial intelligence, fans of Mass Effect, and lovers of great coming-of-age strories
Descender tells the story of Tim-21, a boy robot waking up after a decade of being decommissioned. The universe which Tim-21 wakes up to has turned against artificial intelligence, with all robots and androids being hunted down and destroyed.
Lemire describing the plot has said "This young boy wakes up and there's something secretly mysterious about him and his creation ... that could save the universe. So he becomes the most hunted robot in this hostile galaxy. Jumping from one planet to the next, looking for the secrets of his origins, with human and robot allies and enemies at each turn."
Nguyen's artwork is painterly, able to draw complex emotions on his characters' faces and create stunning galactic landscapes. Each world and each technological creation feels unique, while the softness in the drawing and colours somehow perfectly matches the universe as seen through a young boy's eyes.
Descender doesn't necessarily bring something completely new to the table, but it is completely beautiful and will often subvert your expectations of the sci-fi / robotics genre, and that is why it makes it on this list.
19. Paper Girls
Created by: Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang
Who should read it: Fans of Stranger Things, Stand By Me, the 1980s, alien invasion and mystery sci-fi
My favourite comic book of 2015, bar none, is Paper Girls. Following four ferocious 12-year-old paper delivery girls in 1988, Paper Girls is the ultimate answer to that craving for nostalgia whilst you wait for Season 2 of Stranger Things.
While out delivering papers at 4am on November 1st, the town of Stony Stream, where the girls live, is struck by an invasion from a mysterious future-dwelling force. To say anymore would reveal massive spoilers, but please do take my word when I say this is as fine a sci-fi mystery as they come.
Paper Girls is a neon-drenched pastiche of the 80s, a loving homage that remembers the time without the rose-tinted glasses. Tough, acerbic and pulling no punches, Paper Girls is a triumph.
20. I Hate Fairyland
Created by: Skottie Young
Who should read it: Fans of Adventure Time, Tank Girl and 90s cartoon comedy-violence (think Looney Tunes / Tom & Jerry)
I Hate Fairyland is the utterly demented comedy fantasy comic from Skottie Young. The description from the Image Comics website encourages the reader to "Join Gert and her giant battle-axe on a delightfully blood-soaked journey to see who will survive the girl who HATES FAIRYLAND."
Gertrude is the 6-year-old girl who fell into the magical world of Fairyland some 30 years ago and has been hacking and slashing her way through anything to find her way back home since. She has an insect side-kick named Larry, an enemy in the ruler of Fairyland, Queen Cloudia, and a 'frenemy' alliance with Darketh Deaddeath.
Gert may not have aged physically, but mentally she is a jaded, foul-mouthed, straight up psychotic adult who had long ago had enough of unicorns, magic, talking animals and whimsical elves.
Scottie Young takes many of the tropes and clichés found in children's stories and subverts them into something altogether more twisted and laugh-out-loud funny. If you're looking for something unlike anything you've ever seen before, check out the candy-coloured, ultra-violent I Hate Fairyland.
The Femme Movement
Feminism in comics means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some it is a female character fulfilling a typically male role, fighting the patriarchy, and generally being free of the objectification often found in comics (c'mon now, lets be honest, some of those superhero costumes are wildly unfit for purpose). For others it is a female story written by female author, someone who 'truly gets it', 'it' being what its actually like being a woman. For many, it is about female characters our daughters can look up to and aspire to; strong, independent and intelligent women.
For me it simply means female characters being penned in an authentic and relatable way. That means they aren't all good or all bad. They do have 'real' bodies. They are flawed. Most importantly, they feel genuine.
And this is where I feel Image is really leading the pack. The last 5 of our '25 of the best from the best' unequivocally fall into the feminist comic category, and do so with aplomb. These are the comics you read for original and inspiring women's voices.
21. I Kill Giants
Created by: Joe Kelly & J.M. Ken Niimura
Who should read it: Fans of Dungeons and Dragons, Nimona and people who like a side of emotional gut-punch with their comics
I Kill Giants was a 7-issue limited series in 2008 about Barbara Thorson, a girl who is struggling with real life, so finds comfort in a fantasy life filled with magic and monsters.
Kelly himself describes the comic as "a story about a girl who's a bit of an outsider - she's funny, but totally in our geekland: she's obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, she doesn't have a lot of friends, she's a bit of a social misfit. She's taken her fantasy life a little far, and really only talks about giants to people. She's convinced that giants are real and giants are coming, and its her responsibility to stop them when they show up."
I Kill Giants deals with some big themes like grief, bullying and escapism. So many young girls will relate to Barbara, myself included, and her stubborn need to remain in a fantasy world. Real life may terrify her, but as long as she has her trusty warhammer, Coveleski, she will dare to fight any beast. In her fantasy world, she is brave in the face of fear, while in her real world, she hides away from it. She is quite possibly all of us.
22. Rat Queens
Created by: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Who should read it: Fans of adventure, medieval fantasy and, again, Dungeons and Dragons
Rat Queens has been described as 'Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids', and honestly, that's pretty apt. The titular 'Rat Queens' are a questing party in the medieval town of Palisade, comprised of rockabilly elven mage Hannah, hipster dwarven warrior Violet, atheist human cleric Dee, and hippie halfling thief Betty. (Yes, Wiebe created these characters as a 'love letter to D&D').
Rat Queens doesn't bring something especially new to the swords and sorcery genre, except for the fact our main protagonists are women. Booze-guzzling, monster-killing, drug-addled, vitriol-spilling, ridiculously obnoxious women. They quest for fun and money, to fuel their debaucherous lifestyles; they most certainly aren't 'heroines', proving themselves to be more Chaotic Neutral, than Chaotic Good (if you got that D&D reference, *high five*).
Winner of the 2015 FLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book for its portrayal of LGBT characters, that ultimately is Rat Queens triumph. In a beautiful and engaging story, it has brought some of the best, most diverse and wonderfully subversive characters not just to fantasy genre, but also comic books in general.
And if you're completely new to Rat Queens, then REJOICE, as just this month (March 2017) it got a 'soft reboot' at issue #1. Get in to a new story right from the beginning!
23. Pretty Deadly
Created by: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios
Who should read it: Lovers of westerns and ghost stories, as well as fantastical fairy tales
The third collaboration for creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly is the part-western, part-fairy tale, part-ghost story about redemption, revenge and destiny. The story follows Death's daughter, Deathface Ginny, who has skulls on her face and is accompanied by a horse made of smoke as she traverses the Old West. There is also Sissy, who is destined to become death, and Big Alice, who relentlessly chases down the runaway Ginny.
This comic is an entirely unique story, one that only really makes sense in the last few panels, and one that begs to be re-read. DeConnick has created multi-faceted characters, that combined with Rios' outstanding ethereal artwork, make for one of the more intriguing comics on this list.
24. Bitch Planet
Created by: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro
Who should read it: Fans of 1960s exploitation movies, dystopian sci-fi and satire
Bitch Planet is the ultimate dystopian sci-fi feminist comic that every comics fan should be reading. In the near future, women who refuse to fit the mold are branded as "non-compliant" and shipped off into outer space to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost that is also known as Bitch Planet.
The planetary prison is run by a holographic nun, who wears an all-white corset to cover her Barbie-esque body, called The Catholic. In a bid to impress her superiors, the authoritarian group The Council of Fathers, the prison warden creates a brutal bloodsport, Megaton, which sees inmates volunteered in a rugby-like game whilst televised for those on Earth.
The incarcerated women come in all shapes and sizes, from all races and religions. Their crimes range from murder to disobeying their husbands to simply being "too fat". A corrupt patriarchy decides what is "non-compliant". And as the warden aptly points out, "Non-compliance is not recommended".
Bitch Planet is about as subtle as a shark attack (what did you expect, really - its called Bitch Planet!) but don't let that put you off. It is fun, violent, suspenseful, surprising and it constantly pushes boundaries; everything you could want from a comic and more.
Created by: Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Who should read it: If you love Game of Thrones and 'history retold' type stories, you will love this
Monstress tells the story of a young woman and her monster, set against the backdrop of a reimagined 1900s matriarchal Asia.
Taken from a Spotlight on the Image Comics website, "the series features war, monsters, evil jailers, witch-nuns, and cruelty delivered to the lower class from the upper class. But it's the mix that's different, the way Liu & Takeda have taken all these concepts we know and enjoy and turned them into something new. MONSTRESS takes place in an alternate version of early 1900s Asia, with a firm art deco influence in its visual style. This world is different from ours, more ornate and cruel, and one where magic and science aren't too far off from each other."
The story touches on social and political issues, such as race and feminism, whilst also building a world so epic, it is rarely seen so early on in comics (the first issue was 3 times bigger than the average first issue). Its about inner strength and survival in a post-apocalyptic world run almost entirely by women and otherwordly entities.
Its hard not to invest in the lead character and her struggles and triumphs in this most beautiful of comics.
And THAT, my friends, concludes this article! If you made it all the way to the end, thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you have any to add, let me know in the comments or @ me on Twitter.
Comic Book Club is the comics-oriented geek out column on The Digital Fix. Let us know what you're reading or what you're going to read and if you have an idea for a feature or recommendation, contact us on Twitter (@GeekDigitalFix) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).