From Darth Vader to Wonder Woman: Syfy Wire's best ongoing comics of 2016

Contributed by
Default contributor image
Syfy Wire Staff
Jan 5, 2017

The ongoing comic is a challenge to the creators that produce it month in and month out. It's a marathon of might and a test of endurance, because the stories have to be fresh, consistent or progressively take it to new heights or else lose steam and momentum among readers. While there are many comics that are worthy of being recognized, there are some titles that stayed in our minds throughout each month of the past year. A young and powerful witch, the rebirth of an Amazonian, an '80s sci-fi throwback and a 58-year-old dying man turned into a robotic wonder – these are just some of the stars of the Best Ongoing Comics of 2016 that the Syfy Wire staff selected in the science fiction, superhero, horror and fantasy genres.

The following list is in no particular order. Discuss your favorite Ongoing Comics below our list or share your thoughts on our selections and please check out our Best New Comics of 2016 list too. 

Clean Room (Vertigo)

Writer: Gail Simone, Artists: Jon Davis-Hunt, Eric Canete, Sanya Anwar, and Walter Geovani Colorist: Quinton Winter 

If you’re looking for a book to feed your taste for horror, then you should definitely give Clean Room a try. Writer Gail Simone weaves together a story that blends a philosophical look at faith as a business-model with the kind of horror that exists right on the edge of your vision. That eerie atmosphere wouldn’t be half as successful without Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork. Davis-Hunt manages to render disturbing images with just enough gore to freak you out without grossing you out too much. Ultimately, the two work together to create one intense, entertaining, and deeply unnerving ride that has easily moved from creepy introduction to deep dive into the existence of demons, monsters, and divine intervention. - Tricia Ennis

East of West (Image)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Artist: Nick Dragotta, Colorist: Frank Martin

Civil discourse has failed, war is imminent, and the end times are riding full speed ahead. No, I’m not talking about the evening news, I’m talking about East of West, the gripping cyber-western from comic masters Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. This series has been running since 2013, but it gets better and better each year of the apocalypse readers discover.

This year saw the end of “Apocalypse: Year Two” which focused on the collapse of the fragile peace between the various American nations, and on young Babylon’s escape from his prison and his long-awaited reunion with his father, Death. The complexity of the conflict in this alternate America continues to escalate with a mesmerizing mix of politics, philosophy and mythology that rewards intelligent, careful reading without sacrificing anything in the action department. East of West continues to be one of the most astounding, genre-busting titles of the Image Comics renaissance, and I can’t wait to see what the final year of the apocalypse brings.  - Matt Funk

Harrow Country (Dark Horse)

  • Writers: Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Artists: Tyler Crook, Hannah Christenson, and Carla Speed McNeil
  •  

It’s rare that we get such a well-written and beautifully painted comic in the horror genre, but to get it consistently and monthly like we do with Harrow County is an absolute blessing. Bunn and Crook gave Emmy a new family since leaving the one she knew growing up, which infused a lot of new interest and potential for her to learn new skills in witchcraft. Harrow also breathed more, having shifted the focus away from Emmy and onto supporting characters like Bernice as a counterpoint to all that is supernatural with the book; her lack of supernatural talents changed the pace, especially as Emmy’s abilities continues to grow in power.

Also noticeable this year were the one-page stories in the back being serialized and some being written by Crook. Some of these remained standalone stories but others folded in new elements to the greater story. What’s most impressive is that the book takes its time to add details and other narratives that will pay off later. In this day and age of “writing for the trade paperback,” some of these finer touches of the story could be considered fat to be trimmed off, but every tidbit makes this world more vivid and all the more immersive. - Ernie Estrella

Detective Comics (DC Comics)

Writer: James Tynion IV, Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez, Colorist: Adriano Lucas

In addition to generally being a great superhero story, Detective Comics: Rebirth has done one big thing very right this year. It has become a true Batman Family book, and brought back some fan favorite characters in ways that are starting to make up for the way they were treated in the past. By bringing in a cast of characters that includes Batwoman, Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), Orphan (Cassandra Cain), Red Robin, and even Clayface, Tynion has created a Batman book that isn’t so much about Batman, but about his legacy, both good and bad. - Tricia Ennis

Paper Girls (Image)

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Cliff Chiang, Colorist: Matt Wilson

Despite an irrational love of Kang the Conqueror, I hate time travel. It’s so rarely done well, and more often than not, self-contradictory and painfully obvious. But then Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson came along with Paper Girls and forced me to re-evaluate my position. Though Paper Girls started off as a tale that recalled eighties kid-gang classics like Stand By Me and The Goonies, it quickly proved itself to be so much more, as the enormity of the future conflict that spilled over into these young ladies’ lives is slowly revealed. Dinosaurs, doppelgangers, mysterious Apple products, giant water bears, cryptic hockey sticks, and all sorts of insanity is packed into every issue of Paper Girls, but it’s centered so firmly around a core of such incredibly likable and relatable characters that I’m not even mad that I’m still not exactly sure what’s going on. Can these girls’ friendship stand the test of time? I’m sticking around to find out. - Matt Funk

Wonder Woman Rebirth (DC Comics)

Writer: Greg Rucka, Artists: Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott, Colorists: Laura Martin and Rom Fajardo Jr.

Rebirth has led to a lot of great stories for DC Comics this year, but Wonder Woman may be the best of the bunch. For one, Rucka is taking an ambitious approach to the twice a month schedule, using it to tell two separate but interlocking stories. While the even numbered issues tell the story of Diana's origin, the odd numbered ones follow the heroine as she attempts to unravel the jumbled story of her life. But it's the art that really ties the whole thing together, as two artists work to keep everything in order. Sharp takes the modern story, his work dark but beautiful, reflecting the older, more world-weary Diana. Meanwhile, Nicola Scott takes on Diana's origin, her clean lines (along with Fajardo’s more muted colors) present a softer, more fluid view of Diana's younger days. If you're only going to read one Rebirth title, make it this one. - Tricia Ennis

Darth Vader (Marvel)

Writer: Kieron Gillen, Aritst: Salvador Larocca, Colorist: Edgar Delgado

Imperial in-fighting and intrigue, the scheming by the well-developed supporting cast, elegant artwork and spartan scripting, and oh yeah, VADER. These were just some of the highlights of the second and final year of Darth Vader. While Vader is the obvious star, it was the people around Vader, from his reluctant allies to his many enemies, who helped us learn as much about him as any actions he did.

The final six-issue stanza especially featured some of the most impressive and badass Vader action in the entire series, which is really saying something. His final showdown with Cylo, one of the best adversaries in ANY comic book of the last few years, is epic. Cylo proved to be endlessly fascinating and his ‘secret weapon’ against Vader - the kill switch to his armor - not only was a nice twist, it made perfect sense. Because of course an ambitious, duplicitous Imperial scientist would have a failsafe against the Frankenstein monster he created. Given the story’s timeline, we knew that Vader is going to survive, but that was never the point of this story. It was about reaffirming Darth Vader’s position as the most fearsome force in the galaxy. With issue #25, the duality of Anakin/Vader that was hinted at the past two years, comes to an end. Darth Vader quashes whatever was left of Anakin as he fully embraces the Dark Side. This is Vader approaching the peak of his power and his mercilessness. Vader’s period of redemption is over. Now is the time for him to plan his next move … reuniting with his son and overthrowing his master. It’s what Siths do. - Mike Avila

Inuyashiki (Kodansha)

Writer/Artist: Hiroya Oku

In 2014, Hiroya Oku began to write and draw Inuyashiki, his much-anticipated follow up to his sci-fi, action thriller Gantz. Here, Oku follows Inuyashiki Ichiro, an elderly man with terminal stomach cancer and an unloving family. Then there’s Shishigami Hiro, a teenage sociopath. On one fateful night, both encounter an extraterrestrial race who replaces their bodies with mechanical, weaponized vessels, capable of extraordinary things. Inuyashiki’s newfound abilities give him purpose and a deeper appreciation for life, while Hiro murders people for his amusement, rising to fame as the world’s most wanted criminal. The story compares and contrasts both characters, the choices they make, how age at both ends of the spectrum can be both cruel and empowering, and reminds that life is fragile.

A showdown between the leads seems inevitable, perhaps before the rumored final 10th volume in 2018 but the three volumes released this past year have been full of twists and consequences. There’s an avalanche of quality Manga every year to sift through but this is one science fiction series that doesn’t get enough attention and Oku’s art especially, is to die for. English Manga distributor Kodansha began translating the series in late 2015 and the first five volumes have been published in trade with the sixth volume available in February. It is also available digitally on Comixology . - Ernie Estrella

Vision (Marvel)

Writer: Tom King, Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

As the Avengers’ resident synthezoid, it’s not easy telling a personal story about The Vision. But Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta weave a dark suburban tale that finds the true heart in a character that is notoriously hard to get right. This run lived outside of pretty much every other major event happening in the Marvel Comics universe, and was the better for it. It followed Vision’s newly-minted family of fellow synthezoids, as they try to live a regular life in the ‘burbs. But, their perfect little life unravels bit by bit with each issue, resulting in a horrifying story about people (err, synthezoids) who become trapped in a web of their own decisions and fall deeper down the rabbit hole. The writing is top notch, and Walta’s art perfectly blends the regular with the surreal. Vision is one of the strangest, and best things you’ll read. -Trent Moore

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Marvel)

Writers: Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare, Artists: Natacha Bustos, Marco Failla and Ray Anthony Heights, Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain

It can be hard to find a good comic for young readers, especially one that has a lot to say and doesn’t talk down to its young audience. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is probably one of the best entries into the all-ages comic world. Writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare have introduced readers to a brilliant 9-year-old hero and her T-Rex best friend. What’s more, Lunella Lafayette, or Moon Girl as she has come to call herself, is plagued both with a need to change the world and an intense insecurity about being different for her brains AND her Inhuman DNA. That story has evolved over the last few months, forcing Lunella to face her genetic concerns and the responsibilities of becoming a hero. But Lunella is only part of the equation. It’s easy to empathize with a 9-year-old outsider, but much harder to do the same with a giant red dinosaur. That’s where the art from Natasha Bustos really shines, rendering Devil Dinosaur’s features into a mosaic of emotions that make him seem more like a puppy dog than a giant lizard. - Tricia Ennis

Descender (Image)

Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Dustin Nguyen

I simply can’t rave about Descender enough. The most compelling space opera in comics continued to set itself apart in its second year on the stands by fleshing out its post-robo-genocide setting by presenting readers with a series of tales delving into the backstories of its eclectic cast of outsiders. We learned how the lovably innocent companion ‘bot Tim-21 may have turned out when we see his twisted reflection in Tim-22, what Tim’s robo-dog Bandit was up to while he slept, how Tim’s owner Andy met his (now cyborg) ex-girlfriend, and maybe most importantly of all, we learned why Driller is a real killer.

Descender is a slow-burn, but it’s given us some of the most powerful character-driven world-building to be found in any genre. It’s also simply one of the most beautiful books on the stands, thanks to the smooth storytelling and breathtaking watercolors of Dustin Nguyen, who won an Eisner Award earlier this year for his unparalleled work on the series. If you haven’t dived in to Descender yet, get yourself to your local comic shop and fix that immediately. - Matt Funk

Captain America: Sam Wilson (Marvel)

Writer: Nick Spencer, Artists: Angel Unzueta, Daniel Acuna and Paul Renaud

Steve Rogers leaves some big shoes to fill, but Sam Wilson has done a heck of a job making the shield his own. Nick Spencer’s ongoing run tackles the inherent challenges head on, as Sam deals with everything from racism to xenophobia, while trying to make the tough calls required of a man who suits up in the America flag. Considering one cover bears the title “#TakeBackTheShield,” you can guess how well it’s going. Though Sam’s story is the heart, it’s his supporting cast that really makes this story run. Sam recruits a new Falcon and teams up with Misty Knight to keep the world safe. Sam also gets turned into Werewolf Cap for a while, which is just so absurdly fun you have to read it to understand. -Trent Moore

Saga (Image)

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Fiona Staples

Not many comics last for forty issues these days, and even fewer continue to increase in quality the whole time. Well Saga isn’t just any comic book. This year, the space-fantasy family drama continued its multi-award-winning run with Hazel’s unconventional education, a jailbreak, a baby seal wielding a giant battle axe, a loss of a beloved character, and the addition of a whole family of new ones. There’s not an issue of Saga that goes by that doesn’t hit you square in the feels, whether it’s because of a moment of joyous family memories, or from truly heartbreaking tragedy. Not only does Saga deliver all that in spades, it is also one of the most unashamedly imaginative books on the stands. Here’s to another forty issues! - Matt Funk

Head Lopper (Image)

Writer/Artist: Andrew MacLean, Colorist: Mike Spicer

A reader thumbing through Andrew MacLean’s art in Head Lopper can be sucked in 35 pages deep before coming up for air and when they eventually reach the back cover, I can guarantee they’ll be looking for more. There’s a lot of fun to revel in from MacLean’s minimalistic renderings to his imaginative mythology that’s rife with humor and adventure. I didn’t think I needed a mash-up of Hellboy, Conan The Barbarian and Adventure Time until I actually discovered it in Head Lopper and it quickly rose to the top of the “to read” pile whenever it came out. The only caveat is that Head Lopper comes out on a quarterly schedule, but the wait is worth it because each issue is 50-60 pages long! If more titles embraced this format, readers wouldn’t mind forking over $6 for an issue with no ads. As a result, Head Lopper reads better, so the reader is sure to be immersed in MacLean’s wondrous world of monsters, magic and decapitating heads. - Ernie Estrella

The Walking Dead (Image)

Writer: Robert Kirkman, Artist: Charles Adlard

Robert Kirkman’s zombie workhorse is still going strong, and it was as good as ever in 2016. The series has been dealing with the fallout of the creepy Whisperers, and follow the story of how Rick is still fighting to keep this new world together. The current run has also been a return to form for fan favorite Negan, as Kirkman & Co. find a very … creative way to work him back into the narrative. While most comics are rebooting themselves every 1-2 years, The Walking Dead is still going strong. Kirkman’s world is as compelling as ever, and if you haven’t been following along, you should be. -Trent Moore

Unfollow (Vertigo)

Writer: Rob Williams, Artists: Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly, Javier Pulido, Simon Gane, and R.M. Guera, Colorist: Quinton Winter

Some of the most compelling fantasy or science fiction reflects a world that hasn't strayed that far from our own. In my opinion, the best stuff of both genres investigate and challenge the audience about the human condition under extreme circumstances and that's what I love about Unfollow, when a dying social media mogul leaves a massive winfall to be split evenly amongst 140 random people around the world. The fascinating stuff happens once the chosen realizes they'll get more if anyone of 140 get picked off. Unfollow is commentary on the affects of social media, technology, celebritism, fortune, as well as how those things illuminate the good and bad in people. All of these things can be turn-offs or turn-ons and it's what these characters do under the variables they're faced with, that is as captivating as the inital hook of the comic.

Nearly a year a half into the book and there remains a little more than half still surviving and many characters have come to take the center stage like Dave, Akira and Rubenstein. It's been a bloody year that's for sure, but guest-artists have come in on single-character focus issues and that's been a fun twist, and keeps the packaging varied until Michael Dowling returns to the wider scale stories. Plus, there's still the mystery of a talking leopard. While the themes are timeless, this is comic has been ripe for the picking all year long. - Ernie Estrella

Spider-Woman (Marvel)

Writer: Dennis Hopeless, Artists: Javier Rodriguez, Joelle Jones, Tigh Walker, and Veronica Fish, Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

The series starts with the original and rather surprising storyline of a pregnant Jessica Drew, where she is divided by her impulse as a superhero of wanting to do everything and her acceptance to allow comfort and compromise into her life as she, Captain Marvel, Porcupine and Ben develop into a family. The comic is sweet in so many ways and the hilarious and inventive storylines include studying super-villains on flashcards, thwarting cannibalism in a ski lodge, and dealing with a hostage crisis while seeing the OB-GYN.

This dream team of collaborators produce incredible artwork, heartwarming storylines and colors that just blast off the page. Spider-Woman is playful, exciting, and suspenseful, like many Marvel titles, but what separates it is the characters drawing the reader in emotionally, developing a relationship so the conflicts against villains in the story act as only a backdrop to the real issue of how the characters within the family are growing closer or further apart. It’s a beautiful comic for all ages (though I MAY skip reading #9 AKA the cannibal issue to the kids) and my definite favorite ongoing series of 2016. - Matt Dorville

Moon Knight (Marvel)

Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artists: Greg Smallwood, Francesco Francavilla, James Stokoe, and Wilfredo Torres, Colorist Jordie Bellaire

Writer Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight series does not belong at Marvel Comics, and that’s what makes it so great. The series is a surreal deep dive into mental illness, as Marc Spector’s superhero tale weaves between the weird and wild, and he tries desperately to figure out what’s real and what’s not. Is he really on this epic adventure, or just medicated laying in a bed in a psychiatric hospital? We don’t really know, and that’s half the fun. The rotating cast of artists, including Francesco Francavilla and Greg Smallwood, do an amazing job of setting the series apart from the rest of Marvel’s fare. Marc lives in a different world, and the visuals here reflect that. - Trent Moore

Doctor Strange (Marvel)

Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Chris Bachalo

Dozens of minty-fresh classic Master of the Mystic Arts covers are prominently featured on the walls of my comics den, from his appearances in Marvel's Strange Tales and his far-out solo title in the late '60s to the under-appreciated run in the '70s. To put it lightly, Strange is my dude in the Dark Dimension! Marvel's resurrection of the title in October of 2015 jumpstarted the whole Doctor Strange craze that was satiated with last fall's trippy feature film directed by Scott Derrickson. The good doctor has ripped through 2016 in an immensely satisfying plot that culminated in the conclusion of "The Last Days of Magic" storyline and later a new storyline, titled "Blood in the Aether," saw the return of Baron Mordo.

Casting spells from the Book of Vishanti like the magical boss he is, summoning dark forces to defeat legions of icky, sticky tentacled creatures, microcosmic monsters and brutish hell-breathers from beyond, this epic Doctor Strange run will be read decades from now and be appreciated for its solid storytelling, sharp, severe wit and phantasmagoric artwork that'll have you questioning your sanity at times.  Enter the ectoplasmic plane and absorb your eternal soul with this gripping, ongoing series that is smartly written by Jason Aaron (Thor, Star Wars) with depraved and decadent art from Chris Bachalo (Generation X, Steampunk). This comic is one of Marvel's proudest achievements of the year that just keeps getting better.  - Jeff Spry

The Wicked + The Divine (Image)

Writer: Kieron Gillen, Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Colorist: Matt Wilson

When a book is built around a central premise that its main characters have two-year lifespans, it should go without saying that nobody is safe. Yet, every time one of the Gods in The Wicked + The Divine dies, we’re sent for a loop, because writer Kieron Gillen is a genius at torturing his readers. 

The stunning death of ****** in issue #22 is no different. It also launched the series into another direction, as we see these rock star Gods run wild and Laura, the former fangirl turned goddess herself, taking point. Jamie McKelvie’s mesmerizing art and Matt Wilson’s crisp colors continue to astound. At this point in the series, it’s like we’re witnessing the slow decline of a great rock band collapsing from the weight of its own internal strife. The current story, "The Imperial Phase," even offers a ‘Behind The Music’ style issue (#23) with revealing interviews. Every time we think we’ve figured this series out, we get another surprise. - Mike Avila