While there are many great comics that speak to both genders, it can be especially hard to find age-appropriate comic books for kids that feature girls or women as protagonists. It is also important to note that just because a book is appropriate for kids, doesn’t mean it is only for kids. The best children’s literature is usually a great read for adults as well. So don’t be so “grown up” that you lose your sense of wonder.
So without further ado, here are our 17 picks for 2016 in alphabetical order.
Writer: Tom Taylor
Art: David Lopez
Logan is dead, but his legacy lives on with his heir and successor Laura Linney — formerly X-23, now the All-New Wolverine. Writer Tom Taylor launched Laura’s new adventures as she is determined to honor the legacy of the man she considered a mentor, friend and father. Laura is both every bit as tough and capable as her predecessor, but she is also her own person and that allows for new stories to be told in a Wolverine mythos that frankly had gotten a bit stale.
The opening story “The Four Sisters” establishes that, like Logan, there are shadowy forces that want to exploit Laura’s gifts. It also creates a supporting cast that acts as something that Logan never really had: a family. With fantastic pencils from superstar artist David Lopez (Captain Marvel), this is a must read for fans of traditional superhero comics.
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most dangerous operative got a new series this year, this time powered by creative superteam Mark Waid and Chris Samnee who brilliantly reinvented Daredevil a few years ago. The series opens with the Widow on the run, as she has stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets and needs to escape the organization’s airborne fortress, the Helicarrier.
Like Daredevil before it, Black Widow benefits greatly by easing up on the introspective doom and gloom and returning to fun action. Watching Natasha crash through a window at 2,000 feet without a parachute or a plan is invigorating. It’s a testament to the storytelling abilities of the team that barely a word is uttered the first issue. The story is told almost completely by the action.
Waid’s story slowly reveals why Black Widow has betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D., as a blackmailer uses her sordid past against her. But he soon learns that Natasha has been playing this game for a very long time — and backing her into a corner was very, very bad idea.
Geis: A Matter of Life and Death
Writer/Illustrator: Alexis Deacon
Matarka, the powerful matriarch ruler of a fantasy kingdom, decrees with her dying breath that a contest will be held to find her successor. Fifty are chosen to compete for the honor, only to find that the contest has deadly consequences for the losers.
Some form alliances. Some sabotage their competition as they ll struggle to prove worthy under the watchful eye of the powerful sorceress Niope. Thankfully, writer/Illustrator Alexis Deacon finds moments lighten the tone by injecting humor and wonder into a story that otherwise might be unrelentingly grim and dark
Deacon illustrates the story with a faded palette and indistinct lines, giving the entire book an ethereal feel that makes the events seem both more otherworldly and oddly more real, in he first chapter of what is shaping up to be an epic
Writer/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier continued her dominance of the New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novels list in 2016 with Ghosts. Unlike her previous autobiographical works, Smile and Sisters, Ghosts is fiction. It tells the story of a Cat, a young girl whose family moves to the small Northern California town Bahia de Luna.
But, like Sisters and Smile, Ghosts surface story and cartoony drawings are hiding deeper themes. Bahia de Luna is haunted, and the Day of the Dead is fast approaching. Ghosts explores issues of cultural assimilation, Cat’s mother forcefully rejected her Mexican heritage, and now feels disconnected from her ancestry. Cat’s younger sister Maya has cystic fibrosis, but maintains her sense of optimism in the face of pain and hardship.
The convergence of the spirits returning for the Day of the Dead and Maya’s looming mortality makes Cat face the possibility of her sister’s death in a way that Maya accepted long ago. (“Will you be afraid of my ghost, too?” she angrily demands.)
Telgemeier offers yet another perfect example of how comics can tell powerful and meaningful stories in an easily accessible format.
Writer: John Allison
Art: Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar
Giant Days is a spin-off from writer/illustrator John Allison’s excellent webcomic Scary Go Round. Allison excels at telling stories about women dealing with major life changes, in the case of Giant Days, that involves three friends facing their freshman year at college.
Allion is greatly aided by an art team featuring artist Lissa Treiman and colorist Whitney Cogar. Treiman is a Disney illustrator who has worked on Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. She has amazing cartooning and storytelling abilities. The exaggerated expressions that an illustration can provide are the perfect way to explore the hilarity and heartbreak of everyday life, and Treiman is a master of the craft.
The book is an exhilarating blend of goofy humor and poignancy — but most importantly, the story serves characters that always feel grounded and real. More importantly, Giant Days is a nuanced female coming of age story in a medium overstuffed with men who wear their underwear on the outside throwing cars at each other.
Writer: Hope Larson
Art: Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern
Hope Larson and Brittney Williams have done great work creating a fun all-ages comic in Goldie Vance, a teen-girl detective series set at a resort hotel in Florida in the 1960s.
Goldie is a valet at the hotel that employs her father, but she moonlights as a detective for the guests. Tracking down a stolen necklace leads her to intrigue involving kidnapped scientists and Soviet spies.
While Goldie is mixed-race, the books is free of any sort of political agenda. So if you are looking for a polemic on race relations in America, this is not your book. (Check out March, below.) Goldie lives in an idealized ‘60s where race is not a factor.
Goldie Vance gives us a take on the teen detective genre that places her somewhere between the quasi-seriousness of Nancy Drew and lighthearted fun of Scooby Doo. There should be room on everyone’s shelf for books that are just plain fun, and Goldie Vance’s fluffy storylines and cartoony art are pure candy for the soul.
Hilda and the Stone Forest
Flying Eye Books
Writer/Illustrator: Luke Pearson
Luke Pearson’s Hilda might be the best comic series you haven’t heard of. It has recently been optioned for a series on Netflix, so if you want to be one of the cool kids in the know, now is the perfect time to pick up the latest installment of this wonderful fantasy series that is perfect for younger children (and discerning adults).
Hilda is an explorer and an adventurer. And while the adventures are perfectly fine unto themselves, Pearson weaves in life lessons into the fabric of the stories. Hilda is flawed and makes mistakes, but she learns things about herself and the world around her as a result of those mistakes.
Pearson carefully chose a muted color palette for Hilda, refraining from the pinks and pastels normally used to designate material for girls. In fact, Hilda could easily be a boy. It would barely change the story. But making Hilda’s gender female — while arbitrary from a narrative sense — gives young girls a chance to see themselves in a different type of story and it gives young boys the chance to see that girls are not so different after all.
Writer: Chip Zdarksy
Art: Erica Henderson
Archie Comics continues its renaissance with Jughead, a book devoted solely to the exploits of Archie’s best pal, Jughead Jones. As with their other titles, Archie has assembled a top notch creative team to bring Jughead into the 21st century: writer Chip Zdarksy (Howard the Duck, Sex Criminals) and artist Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.)
This is a case where the spin-off might be even better than the original. Zdarksy uses his gifts for humor and absurdism to full effect in Jughead, giving it a different feel than the teen melodrama in the wonderful Archie.
The first trade collects the issue 1-6 of the comic and tells a single discreet story. A new principal, Mr. Stranger, has taken over Riverside High and does the unforgivable – he changes the cafeteria menu. Soon Jughead notices other oddities: the new faculty he has hired appear to be training the Riverdale students to become an elite military strikeforce. It’s up to Jughead to convince his friends that his crazy theory is the truth and to get back their beloved principal Mr. Weatherbee.,
Legend of Wonder Woman
Writer/Illustrator: Renae De Liz
Art: Ray Dillon
2016 marked the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, and a lot of good things are happening for our favorite Amazon. Her flagship title was rebooted as a biweekly with the wonderful Greg Rucka writing (look for it on next year’s list.) We received our first trailer for her upcoming solo movie. And the exceptional Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae de Liz was launched: first digitally, then in print format.
DC retold Diana’s origin at least four times this year: once in the fetish-soaked Wonder Woman: Earth One; once n Jill Thompson’s ethereal Wonder Woman: The True Amazon (more on this below) and once in her newly rebooted solo title — but the version contained in the Legend of Wonder Woman may be the best of them.
De Liz returns Wonder Woman to her roots, a warrior and protector who fought for the allied cause during World War II, and she does an amazing job. The series takes its time establishing Diana in “man’s world,” letting her get her bearings and understand what is happening before she decides to take a personal role in the fight.
She transitions from nurse, to soldier to hero effortlessly. De Liz reinterprets key moments so they make more sense while remaining faithful to the core values that make Wonder Woman great. If you are looking for a book to get a youngster started on the love of heroes — look no farther than this.
(Note: Legend of Wonder Woman vol. 2 was cancelled as De Liz and Dillon were halfway done with the project. No one is talking on the record, but multiple sources are pointing to Dillon’s pointed criticism of some other Wonder Woman titles DC is publishing and a Mary Sue article that collected his tweets and that DC execs showed a “pattern.” It is extremely disappointing that corporate politics is interfering in one of the best books on the shelf right now.)
March: Book Three
Top Shelf Productions
Writers: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Art: Nate Powell
The medium of comics can be used to tell any kind of story. The idea that it cannot should have been regulated to the dustbin when Art Spiegelman’s true story of the Holocaust, Maus won a special Pulitzer Prize; or when Marjane Satrapi’s incredible Persepolis became required reading for anyone that wanted to understand the complicated relationship between Iran and the West. But the dismissal of comics as juvenile “kids’ stuff” continues.
The latest book to shatter the idea that comics can’t tell important stories has been the incredible March. Co-written by civil-rights legend Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with illustrations by Nate Powell, the March series of books tells the Congressman’s real-life recollections of the events leading up to, during and after the history March on Selma.
Book Three is the conclusion of the trilogy, tracking Lewis’ work in the Civil Rights movement in the aftermath of the March on Selma, as it battles racism, violence and Jim Crow to finally earn the right to “one man, one vote.”
Writer: Jason Aarons
Art: Russell Dauterman
Jason Aaron continues reinvigorating the realms of gods and men in The Mighty Thor. After establishing Jane Foster as Thor in the first run of her series. In this second volume, he thrusts the new thunder goddess into political intrigue, as the dark elf Malkeith forges an alliance with the evil Roxxon corporation in a bid to place all the nine realms under his control.
Thor is on her own as Odin is still blinded by rage that Mjolnir is no longer his to control and uses increasingly despotic methods to try and bring Asgard back under his thumb — imprisoning his wife and .giving power to his duplicitous brother Cul.
Will Thor be able forge an alliance on her own to fight these new threats? And will Loki reveal himself to be an additional threat or an ally? The Mighty Thor elevates the traditional fantasy setting of the Thor books by adding in a strong dose of “Game of Thrones”-style political intrigue and betrayal.
Male or female, Aaron knows how to write Thor. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Art: Kate Niemczyk
We only got eight issues of Mockingbird before the series was cancelled, but what a great eight issues they were. Writer Chelsea Cain took apart the pieces of Bobbi Morse a.k.a. Mockingbird and put them back together as a way to show what it is like to be a woman — even a superheroic woman — working in a man’s world.
Mockingbird certainly believes that women are every bit as capable as men, but she also acknowledges the stark reality that men get more of the limelight and more opportunities to succeed. Mockingbird is a former Avenger, a world-class biologist and one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents, but she is acutely aware that the world is much more familiar with her less-accomplished male peers. This matter-of-fact acknowledgement that the world is not always a level playing field for women is groundbreaking in a mainstream superhero comic.
And for someone new to comics, Cain has grasped the intricacies of the medium in a way that vets with years of experience can’t match. The first issue features multiple jumps from the present to the past and back again, but we never feel lost. As the series develops, Cain and artist Kate Niemczyk mix in charts and graphs to tell their story as well — utilizing the visual aspect of comics in a way that few others have even tried.
Marvel split the eight issues into two trade paperbacks to extract just a little more money from readers (boo!), but it will be money well spent.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Writers: Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare
Art: Natacha Bustos
Lunella Lafayette is a black preteen girl genius with a secret. She carries the Inhuman gene within her, meaning that at some point in the future, if she is exposed to the Terrigen Mist, she will change — and no one knows quite how — a thought that terrifies her and may serve as a metaphor for the changes that a lot of preteens face as they get a little older.
Then there’s the fact that Lunella is literally “the smartest person on Earth,” which means school bores her and she has trouble relating to kids her age. She is alone … at least until a scientific experiment opens a portal to the alternate dimension of “Dinosaur World,” where humanoids and dinosaurs live together and that world’s greatest hero, the intelligent red T-Rex known as Devil Dinosaur to her door.
Moon Girl is a part of Marvel’s calculated restructuring of their universe — moving away from the white, straight, male-centric world created in the 1960s and towards a world that more accurately reflects the diversity we see around us — and that is fine. But the fact that the book is so much fun is what counts and the dynamic duo of Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare (Rocket Girl, Secret Wars) have created a fantastic story — particularly for young readers and readers that may have had trouble finding representation on the shelves until now.
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona
Fan-favorite Kamala Khan has become the flagship character of Marvel’s effort to reinvent itself as a more culturally diverse brand. She is by far the most successful Muslim American superhero in history. But what attracts fans has never been the political message her very existence may be sending, but rather the fantastic characterization and verisimilitude writer G. Willow Wilson has given to Kamala, her family and supporting cast.
Kamala Khan is a Peter Parker for the modern age: a teenage hero juggling the pressures of home life and school while protecting her beloved Jersey City from harm. Kamala has matured as a hero while still retaining her sense of optimism.
After witnessing the events of the second Civil War among Marvel’s adult heroes, Kamala has become convinced that the the heroes she idolized have feet of clay. She no longer stands in Captain Marvel’s shadow, but is determined to show the world that there is a better way to be a hero.
Writer/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicks
Rat is a native of the city with no name. The city has been conquered and reconquered many times by many nations, all of whom give it a name, but to its denizens it remains the nameless city. The city has elements of both far east and middle eastern architecture and geography, but it intentionally never placed on a map that we would recognize. It is timeless as well as nameless.
Eisner winner Faith Erin Hicks (The Adventures of Superhero Girl) has created a fascinating new world with Nameless City, the first in a planned series of fantasy books. The book features a duo of unlikely protagonists; Rat, a native of the nameless city, and Kai, a young warrior sent to city for training by the conquering Dao. While skilled at combat, Kai finds himself drawn more to exploration, and soon runs into Rat — fascinated by her parkour skills.
Rat is understandably wary of Kai, but his honest curiosity wins her over and a friendship begins. Kai learns parkour from Rat, but more importantly, he slowly learns what the world looks like through the eyes of the conquered, rather than the conquerors. His growing realization of his own privilege is a major theme (although the book is anything but preachy.)
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
I don’t believe there is another book on the market packed with more entertainment per square inch than The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Every page has detailed notes written in the margins by writer Ryan North that compels readers to pour through the story multiple times to wring every last bit of the abundant humor and wit out of the book.
Artist Erica Henderson’s loose linework might seem off-putting to traditionalists, but she is absolutely the perfect artist to bring Doreen Green and her quest to “eat nuts and kick butts.”
2016 did not mark a turning point in Squirrel Girl’s character arc. Why mess with perfection? The book is just an absolute joy to read — for both grown ups and kids, and the frequent guest appearances by both hero and villain alike, let the book serve as a very accessible primer to the Marvel Universe for newcomers
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon
Writer/Illustrator: Jill Thompson
Wonder Woman’s origins have been interpreted and reinterpreted many, many times — but none of those interpretations have been as subversive as Jill Thompson’s The True Amazon. A common criticism of DC’s heroes (particularly from Marvel acolytes) is that they are “too perfect.” In The True Amazon, Thompson gives us a version of Wonder Woman’s origin that would feel right at home among Marvel’s more flawed heroes.
Thompson’s Diana was formed from clay and brought to life by the gods. But as the only Amazonian child ever, the constant fawning of the other Amazons has made her spoiled and arrogant.
The masked contest between the Amazons is not to see who is worthy to save Steve Trevor, who does not appear in this story, but rather a simple contest to see who is best. Diana’s arrogance means she is surprised when other Amazons challenge her superiority, and she resorts to more and more extreme measures to maintain her position on top. She eventually crosses a line that should never be crossed — with deadly consequences.
A hero filled with pride who makes tragic mistakes and needs to make things right? Those are all hallmarks of the classic Marvel hero, but Thompson deploys them to tremendous effect to recast Diana as flawed protagonist with a troubled past — a completely new take on the Amazon in a year when everyone seemed to be taking a crack at her origins.