This award goes to the books I really didn’t expect much going into but they managed to impress me. Some of these books might not be the greatest of all time or anything but they did manage to be better than I had heard.
Runner-Up #1 – The Bigger Bang/The Biggest Bang by D.J. Kirkbride and Vasillis Gogtzilas
I included two books here together as The Bigger Bang and The Biggest Bang is basically just one story split into two parts. I put it in the surprise hit category because I found this book while scrolling through Comixology and I knew nothing about it beforehand. The cover is very appealing and striking, but the first few preview pages turned me off because of the sketchy art. While there are some places, mostly in the first book, that the art put me off, eventually I started to dig it. Gogtzilas has a unique style and the kinds of alien creatures and character designs they draw are all unique and interesting.
The unique premise Kirkbride came up with is a big reason I was interested in this book. The story follows Cosmos, a being created after a Big Bang-like event wiped out a whole universe. In this new universe created after, Cosmos defends people as a hero but is shunned and called a Destroyer. Eventually, Cosmos comes to fight King Thulu, a green slime monster whose true form is one of the best moments of the series.
The Biggest Bang follows after these events and focuses on Cosmos’ relationship with Wyan, King Thulu’s number one solider. They have a nice dynamic but I don’t want to go too far into spoilers for why because it’s just a nice bit of dramatic irony. This book is pretty great on reflection but it stays a runner-up because a lot of the great ideas Kirkbride has don’t get utilized to the fullest because the story doesn’t have many issues.
Runner-Up #2 – Contest of Champions by Al Ewing, Paco Medina, and Rhoald Marcellius
Contest of Champions is a Marvel idea that goes back to the 80s. It began as a pretty weak event comic and then had a sequel a few years later that I haven’t read. Thirty years later, Marvel made a video game with the name and created this tie-in comic to it. For a video game tie-in comic, this book has almost nothing to do with the game. The book mainly focuses on some lesser-known characters like Ares, Outlaw, Night Thrasher, and some new characters like White Fox battling the Maestro, an evil future version of Hulk. The book is pretty short, unfortunately, as it was cancelled at ten issues but Ewing does some amazing stuff in the time he has. Many characters and alternate realities are brought in. Ewing dived deep to pull out characters like Punisher 2099 or the Sentry from Age of the Sentry. Paco Medina draws some amazing battles as this comic is mostly just heroes fighting each other. It’s not a complex book but it’s a fun ride through the Marvel universe with some good fights.
Winner – Omega the Uknown by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Jim Mooney
Omega the Unknown was another short-lived comic from the 70s. Created by the late, great Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, this book is a hidden gem of the era. It follows two protagonists who are worlds apart at the beginning. The first is Omega, a man with energy powers who battles robots on an alien planet until he comes to Earth to find our second character, James-Michael Starling. Starling is a strangely smart, emotionally distant twelve-year-old child whose parents die in a car crash. The parents are revealed to be robots themselves and Starling falls into a coma. The rest of the book follows Starling and Omega as they adjust to their new lives, Omega living with a pawn store owner and battling villains and Starlin going to public school.
This book has a lot going for it. There’s a great central mystery which is the connection between Omega and Starling. Somehow Starling can use the same energy blasts Omega fires and he dreams of Omega sometimes. The dual narrative is quite impressive for the time, as we get to explore the two characters’ reactions to their new setting. Middle School in New York is a lot rougher than I expected and it’s Hell for Starling. Something seriously dark happens at the school and this book ends very unexpectedly afterwards. I highly recommend Omega and I only wish it had concluded its ideas under Gerber and Skrenes’ pens instead of another writer.