There is a lot to praise in this category. There is a lot of variety in the styles of stories and the finalists genuinely look like a selection of what is worth paying attention to in the field. Particular congratulations to the Hugo packet organiser, who manage to get full versions of the works into the packet.
Less good in terms of variety is that the finalists split neatly between Marvel and Image. Possibly as a legacy of the previous Rabid vandalism, people have gone for safer choices?
How to pick? I think it is important that what gets rewarded is story. That doesn’t mean artwork or other elements of graphic stories be ignored but it does mean that story comes first. Each of the finalists are part of either an on-going series or volumes of a longer story. Judging them needs to take into account the extent that what we are seeing is an incomplete part of something longer.
In reverse order:
7. No ‘No Award’ in this category. All good stuff, worth reading and worthy of a nomination.
6. Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel). Off to Wakanda to see what the Black Panther is up to and it is bad news all round. This is a story about the perils of being in charge and the emphasis is on things spiralling out of control. It is both a bug and a feature of the story that multiple story lines are competing for attention but overall this volume by itself is unsatisfying. This is all set-up and while it cleverly depicts a good man desperately trying to hold a country together amid gathering crisis, it isn’t in itself a succesful story.
5. Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image). The Staples/Vaughan space opera about star-crossed lovers keeps powering on. Tricky to review because this is Volume 6 in what has always been quite openly a saga. Read it, enjoy it but if you haven’t read volumes 1 to 5, it won’t make a lot of sense.
4. The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel). The Vision, the synthetic being who is also a long running member of The Avengers, has constructed himself a family and moved to the suburbs. The premise suggests either comedy or a sprialling descent into suburban psychological horror and the writers decided not to pick comedy. Secrets and lies confront bigotry and fear and things just get worse. It is well put together but I found it dissatisfying and so much of the story relies on the central characters not anticipating events.
3. Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image). Another Brian K. Vaughan entry – this time a Stranger Things like 1980s set story about a group of teenage girls who deliver newspapers in a suburban neighbourhood. Things get weird very quickly as a future factional war and time-travel intrude into their lives. Entertaining but I feel the story could have gone slower and given more time for the characters of the girls to be fleshed out a bit more.
2. Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel). Ironically this is the most conventional of the finalists in so far as it is a Marvel superhero comic with cameos from Iron Man and features Hydra as the bad guys (minor spoiler there – sorry). Yet it is also the finalist that offers a complete story arc for its character as Ms Marvel tackles the demands of being an Avenger, corporate gentrification, mind control, school life and the demands of her somewhat traditional Pakistani-American family. Witty and humane, Ms Marvel navigates a tricky line between falling into pastiche and parody of the superhero genre while not taking itself too seriously. You don’t need to have read the previous volumes but you do need a sense of who is who.
1. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image). Dense and detailed both in plot and artwork, this volume feels longer than it is but in a good way. A fantasy with some substantial world building set in a world split between humans and half-human ‘Arcanics’ as well as a sinister holy order of witches (on the human side) and some kind of god-like demons. Also, it has talking cats in it – more than one! Great stuff and a standout in a high quality field.