LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Diverse Heroes, New Series: Seventeen Graphic Novels for February, Black History Month

Long live the king—the King of Wakanda! T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, will have superstar journalist and comics fan TaNehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) as writer for Marvel Comics’ new “Black Panther” series beginning in 2016. At DC Comics, discussions with Milestone Media point toward more ethnically diverse superheroes both in solo series and in concert with DC “regulars.”

The next real-life African American hero to get a comics biography should be Ona Judge, who ran away from George Washington’s enslavement. And although he pursued her until he died, he never caught her. We need heroes of all colors and backgrounds. At this year’s New York Comic Con, a librarian told about giving a black child a Batman coloring page plus crayons and getting back an African American Batman.

Meanwhile, awards for black comics continue at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention and, starting this year, at the Long Beach Comic Expo where the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity was given this past February to Nilah Magruder’s webcomic M.F.K.

All-new series with African American leads set to breakout next year include Star Wars: Lando (Marvel) and Strange Fruit (BOOM! Studios). Highly praised ongoing series include Ed Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree, up to Book 3; John Lewis’s autobiography March, Vol. 3; and Jeremy Whitley and Emily Martin’s Princeless, Vol. 4.

apb11615APB: Artists Against Police Brutality; A Comic Book Anthology. Rosarium. 2015. 200p. ed. by Bill Campbell & others. ISBN 9781495607523. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781495607530. SOC SCI/CRIME

These short comics, essays, and fictional pieces confront us with the pain and confusion of the families of victims of police brutality. Publication benefits the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and reform the criminal justice system. High-school aged and adults.

Bendis, Brian Michael (text) & David Marquez & others (illus.). Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man. Marvel. (Ultimate Collection, Bk. 2.). 2015. 376p. ISBN 9780785197799. pap. $34.99. f

A black/Latino teen in an alternate universe, Miles was bitten by a genetically altered spider and has abilities similar to the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. When Peter is killed, Miles takes over the web-slinging role and must defy challenges from other superheroes. Book 3 comes out in December. Teens and up.

Cross, Keef (text & illus.). DayBlack. Vol. 1. Rosarium. 2015. 104p. ISBN 9780990319122. pap. $14.95. f

Merce is a vampire who lives in DayBlack, a town with pollution so dense that day dawns to an inky sky. After centuries of immortality, he’s settled into a 21st-century career as a tattoo artist, cleverly rigging his tattoo gun to extract blood on the sly. But now someone he helped in the past warns him about approaching vampire hunters. Cross, himself a tattoo artist, crafts an inventive plot drawn with a woodcut feel. Winner of a Glyph Award, with further volumes expected.

Hale, Nathan (text & illus.). The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale About Harriet Tubman. Abrams. (Hazardous Tales, Bk. 5). 2015. 128p. ISBN 9781419715365. $12.95. BIOG
Escaping to freedom, Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross, changed her name and dedicated her life to helping slaves through the network of secret routes known as the Underground Railroad. This latest in Hale’s “Hazardous Tales” series makes Tubman and her era come alive for kids and tweens. (SLJ 5/15)

Hatke, Ben (text & illus.). Little Robot. First Second. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9781626720800. $16.99. F
A trailer-park youngster sneaks out to play and finds a small robot whose box fell off a truck. At home with a wrench, the tyke gets the little fellow moving, and the two make friends. But then a huge robot scout repossesses the missing one. Hatke’s cheerful color art tells a winning story of adventure and loyalty for early grade readers. (SLJ 8/15)

Humphreys, Jessica Dee & Michael Chikwanine (text) & Claudia Davila (illus.). Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War. Kids Can. (CitizenKid). 2015. 48p. ISBN 9781771381260. $17.95. MEMOIR
Kidnapped at age five in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by a rebel militia, Michael is forced to kill his best friend. After several weeks, he escapes his captors. And later, at age 11, he leaves Africa for North America, where he works tirelessly to educate people about brutalities forced upon child soldiers around the world. Written for tweens with suggested rather than explicit violence; the colorful art turns darker for Michael’s grim experiences. (SLJ 7/15)

Myers, Walter Dean & Guy A. Sims (text) & Dawud Anyabwile (illus.). Monster. Amistad: HarperCollins. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9780062275004. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062275011. f

Mixed up in a heist that turned lethal, teenager Steve Harmon is on trial for murder and robbery. An amateur filmmaker, Steve imagines his ordeal as a movie starring himself as a “monster,” since that’s what those accused of the crime are labeled. Myers’s portrayal of thorny moral issues as well as Steve’s complicated emotions led to a number of awards for the novel on which Sims’s graphic novel adaptation is based. Anyabwile’s gray-scale drawings add layers to the drama. Older teens and adults; great for reluctant ­readers.

greetingsfromvirgilthumbOrlando, Steve (text) & J.D. Faith (illus.). Greetings from Virgil. Image. 2015. 104p. ISBN 9781632154392. pap. $9.99. graphic novels

A Jamaican cop on the down low, Virgil goes girl-whoring alongside Omar, his best buddy on the force, while secretly in tight with beloved boyfriend Ervan. But Omar gets wise, gets furious, and sets the force against the “deviant.” Orlando describes the story as “queersploitation” in the tradition of hyperaction heroes who fight with righteous passion.

Priest, Christopher (text) & M.D. Bright (text & illus.). Quantum and Woody. Vol. 1: Klang. Valiant. 2015. 208p. ISBN 9781939346780. pap. $19.99. f

Eric—code-named Quantum—is a brainiac, and Woody is a jerk. Close frenemies in youth, they bond later in an all-new way when a lab catastrophe requires them to “klang” megatech armbands together every 24 hours to keep themselves from disintegrating. Now that they’re teamed up forever, why not be superheroes? This is the first of three 1990s volumes, reissued.

Santiago, Wilfred (text & illus.). Michael Jordan: Bull on Parade. Fantagraphics. 2014. 200p. ISBN 9781606997116. $24.99. graphic novels

Santiago’s 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente did well with both readers and critics, and this new biography spotlights basketball celebrity Michael “Air” Jordan. The full-color, energetic art reeks with sweat, while the background drama of Jordan’s life plays out in compelling counterpoint to his showy and wildly successful sports persona. Teens and up.

Seaton, Eric Dean (text) & Brandon Palas (illus.). Legend of the Mantamaji. Bk. 3. “And… Action!” Entertainment. 2015. 188p. ISBN 9781930315563. pap. $14.99. graphic novels

Assistant district attorney Elijah just wants to run for mayor of New York City, but he’s the Mantamaji, the mystical hero who must save the world from a villain’s megalomania. The accomplished superhero art excels with combat sequences involving armor, light-emitting weaponry, and capable women warriors. Lively entertainment for teens and adults who like urban superheroics with an occult fantasy vibe. (Xpress Reviews 6/25/15)

Schwartz, Simon (text & illus.). First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson. Graphic Universe: Lerner. 2015. 160p. tr. from German by Laura Watkinson. bibliog. ISBN 9781467781060. pap. $14.99. f/biog

The first African American to be accepted into the prestigious Explorer’s Club, Matthew Henson accompanied Robert Peary on his 1909 expedition to the North Pole and actually reached the target before Peary. Here, Schwartz fictionalizes Henson’s childhood and career, when Henson first worked as a cabin boy and then became proficient at multiple skills and learned the Inuit language. Graceful, bold artwork suits the arctic setting and incorporates Inuit mythological elements. (SLJ 10/15)

Simmons, Alex (text) & Joe Bennett (illus.). Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra. Dover. 2015. 99p. ISBN 9780486798523. pap. $14.95. f

Aaron Day, multiskilled 1930s soldier of fortune, leaves no swashes unbuckled in seeking revenge on a Bedouin warlord known as the Cobra. YA author Simmons, who’s written for DC Comics as well as Archie, delivers a twisting plot in period-piece dialog and voice-overs, while Bennett’s excellent color art bursts with action crafted with a vintage-design vibe. Originally published in 1995, this volume collects “Blackjack” Issues 1–3.

Taylor, Whit (text & illus.). Ghost. Whit Taylor. www.whittaylorcomics.com. 2015. 58p. ISBN NA. pap. $12. f

In this thoughtful personal fantasy interwoven with memoir, three ghostly images tell the author that she can spend a day with each of three dead idols—her choice. She begins with Charles Darwin, then goes on to Joseph Campbell. Yet her third idol is not who she asked for, but whom she needed to meet again. Intellectual, insightful, and surprising with simple, colorful marker drawings that show Taylor’s especially good skill with facial expressions.

miss11615Thirault, Philippe (text) & Marc Riou & Mark Vigouroux (illus.). Miss: Better Living Through Crime. Humanoids. 2005. 192p. tr. from French by Justin Kelly & Natacha Ruck. ISBN 9781594651205. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9781401206369. $19.99. f

Nola was an abandoned kid, finally kicked out of an orphanage, and she survives in partnership with a shady private eye. Then misadventures lead her to Slim, a savvy pimp trying to stay alive and ahead of his creditors. The pair team up as partners in crime, working as contract killers for the upper class. An ­enjoyable thriller with literary touches.

Walker, D.C. (text) & Bruno Oliveira (illus.). When the River Rises. Mastermind. 2015. 172p. ISBN 9781942734048. pap. $16.95. f

When Hurricane Katrina floods New Orleans, the youth at the St. Bernard Parish Juvenile Detention Center are moved into the adult-custody New Orleans Parish Prison to find safety (everyone thinks) from the rising waters. But when the flood breaches the adult prison, it’s every prisoner for himself. A compelling drama based around real events.

Walker, David (text) & Bilquis Evely (illus.). Shaft. Vol. 1: A Complicated Man. Dynamite. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9781606907573. pap. $19.99. f

Sexy PI John Shaft has starred in novels and films, and now we learn his origin story. Back in New York City from a tour in Vietnam, he finds a job with a security firm and takes up with a wonderful gal—but then she turns up dead. Clearing his name, he uncovers a complicated deal among the Mafia, the police, and a Harlem luminary. Winner of a Glyph Award; high schoolers and up.

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Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).