Vaughan continues to find surprising new directions for his intimate and epic space opera, introducing new characters and new settings that immediately become essential to the ever-changing story. And Staples depicts them all with boundless creativity and stunning expressiveness.
There seem to be no limits to the always expanding story of explorer Kate Kristopher and her massively messed-up family, with shocking new discoveries in every issue. Keatinge and del Duca constantly come up with crazy new directions, new characters and new worlds to explore, keeping the story grounded in Kate's mix of skepticism, wonder and fury.
Even after 20 years, Busiek is still finding new emotionally rich ways to examine and celebrate the age-old traditional superhero genre, telling deeply human stories with characters who wear silly costumes and fight crime. This year, he's opened up the series to new artists, and while Anderson's work is as solid as ever, it's been a treat to see other talents (including Gary Chaloner, Joe Infurnari and Jesus Merino) take on Busiek's stories.
Faerber's best work to date combines his strengths at low-key character-building and meat-and-potatoes genre storytelling with a simple but evocative premise: A sheriff on the rugged frontier -- in space. Faerber and Godlewski seamlessly blend conventions of Westerns and science fiction without either one ever feeling forced, and they've built up a rich cast of complex characters, led by human Sheriff Clara Bronson and her gruff, resourceful alien deputy Budroxifinicus.
Every month, Wilson evokes the wide-eyed magic of classic superhero storytelling while combining it with the equally wide-eyed discoveries of coming-of-age stories. Kamala Khan is both an immensely relatable everyteen and a character tied specifically to her time, place and background, making Ms. Marvel the perfect combination of the universal and the specific. Also, it has a giant teleporting dog.
What started out as a sort of murder mystery in space has developed into something more cosmic and psychedelic, while retaining the emotional core of main character Alex Braith's search for her dead sister. Cloonan builds a convincing future world and populates it with realistically flawed characters, and Belanger brings to life the dingy, low-rent locale of the space freighter that serves as Alex's temporary home and potential final stop.
As he did with Trillium, Lemire tells an emotional, humanistic sci-fi story with this worlds-spanning tale about a young android boy, his robot dog and the war they find themselves caught in the middle of. Nguyen uses soft watercolors to give the futuristic world a sense of beauty and timelessness.
Given the freedom to tell any kind of story they want, Brubaker and Phillips have synthesized the noir tone of their Criminal series with the grand scope and historical detail of Fatale, along with a deep love for the seedy side of classic Hollywood. The Fade Out is a top-notch murder mystery, a fascinating history lesson and an insightful character study about an industry full of compromised characters.
Like their underrated Vertigo series The New Deadwardians, Abnett and Culbard's Wild's End combines old-fashioned British reserve with genre staples (in this case an H.G. Wells-style alien invasion) to both suspenseful and dryly comic effect. Wild's End has the added benefit of starring anthropomorphic animals in the roles of characters who respond to a potentially world-ending threat with a stiff upper lip.
Crofts' bright, thick-lined art provides the perfect counterpoint to this surprisingly dark story about teenage girls peddling addictive brownies, a sort of cross between Mean Girls and GoodFellas. The cute, sunny suburban look gives Wright's story an extra sting when things get serious and dangerous.
Honorable mentions: 8house (Image), Black Widow (Marvel), Chew (Image), Gotham Academy (DC), Velvet (Image).