Best Comics of January 2019: A disparate bunch

By Zack Quaintance — There was a weird start to the year, what with the first Wednesday of 2019 coming the day after a holiday. There was also this thing going on in January, wherein DC Comics had more books than usual due to not shipping any at all on the fourth Wednesday of December, which was itself the day after Christmas. So yeah, it felt like it took a week or two for the comics-availability world to sort of jog back into its normal form.

With that in mind, I—as usual—still struggled a bit with narrowing my sections down to their usual number of selections: 10 for Shout Outs and 5 for the Best Comics of January 2019. I won’t go into the gruesome details, but I without question had to get rid of some books that it absolutely hurt me to cut. Thus is the life of a volunteer comic book website editor, though. All in all, I’m super happy with the books that landed on our list, and I hope you find some of your favorites here too.

So then, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to the comics!

Shout Outs

I’m stealing this from my friend Kirk on Twitter, but with Saga on hiatus, Monstress is my Saga. This is true first in how much I look forward to/enjoy the comics, and in how well-done and immersive they are. Monstress launched a new arc this month with Monstress #19.

Speaking of well-done and immersive, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robson Rocha’s burgeoning Aquaman run continued this month with Aquaman #44, which was even better than the previous issue. This feels like superhero comics by way of DeConnick’s creator-owned opus with Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly. That’s a very good thing.

Meanwhile at Marvel, shout out to Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s Thor #9, which got me excited as all get out for the upcoming War of the Realms. More on all of this in the next section (oooo, cryptic!)...

And now back to DC! One of my favorite comics from that publisher is The Terrifics, which has really taken a major step forward in recent issues. The Terrifics #12 from Jeff Lemire and Viktor Bogdanovic was the book’s best yet, featuring several all-time great modern Plastic Man moments.

On the indie tip, I’m absolutely loving the Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer collaboration Mars Attacks, which is using a touching father-son relationship and a classic hero’s journey structure to breath life into this licensed franchise I know little to nothing about.

On to properties I do know something about (aren’t you just living the segueys today?). Archie 1941 #4 was just as fantastic as the rest of this series (I have a feeling you’ll see this book back here next month—ahem), feeling both true to history and its iconic characters.

Are you looking for low-key the most disturbing series in comics? Well then, let me just point you to Black Crown’s, The Lodger, which had its best issue yet with this month’s The Lodger #3. Black Crown editor Shelly Bond said this at SDCC when announcing the title, but in crime comics one name is above the rest: the Laphams.

Another sublimely-disturbing comic (a seguey again!) is Immortal Hulk. This month saw the release of Immortal Hulk #11 and #12, a storyline in which the Hulk goes to hell and the book remains utterly alone as Marvel Comics’ current best.

I’ve made it no secret for a while that Mark Russell is one of my favorite new comic writers, and he’s most-certainly doing his thing this month with Lone Ranger #4. This book has the complex societal commentary that has long-defined Russell’s work, with a better sense of suspense than any of his previous comics.

Warren Ellis continues to re-imagine characters he’s been writing for years in the context of 2019. In The Wild Storm #19, this story introduces the group of these characters with the widest appeal: The Authority. Even if you don’t care about/like that group, though, this is just a straight-up great comic that begs to be read.

Best Comics of January 2019

Walk Through Hell #7.jpg

5. A Walk Through Hell #7
Garth Ennis
Artist: Goran Sudzuka
Colorist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Garth Ennis is as consistent a writer as we have in comics and has been for many years. While his new WWII story with TKO Studio, Sara, is grabbing the most attention from comics fans, readers would do well not to sleep on his AfterShock Comics title, A Walk Through Hell. This is a scary book with a patient storytelling tact and a lot to say about our times. What else do you want?

In this issue, the full scope of Ennis and co-creator Goran Sudzuka’s ambitions continue to become clearer. This has been a disturbing mystery story from the start (albeit one that seemed like it might tip into overly grim territory). And that has all continued, but now we’re seeing more commentary about our times. What I continue to find most impressive about this series, however, is the way it somehow manages to both make ample use of flashbacks while also remaining rooted in the present. It’s great stuff, from both a reader’s and craft student’s perspective.

4. Action Comics #1007
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Brad Walker
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher: DC Comics
Earlier this week, site contributor (and all around great guy) d. emerson eddy choose Action Comics #1007 as his pick for Comic of the Week, noting as he did that Brian Michael Bendis’ ongoing Superman saga was one of his favorite things at DC Comics. I absolutely 100 percent agree with this. As eddy notes, it often feels like a light shining from their superhero offerings. This is even true of this individual issue, which launches a new storyline that presumably involves conspiracy.

Moreover, this issue is a must-read for any long-time superhero fan because of a landmark conversation that takes place between Lois Lane and her father. All of it is illustrated by espionage comics master Steve Epting, with Brad Anderson colors. Simply put, this is just all-around strong comic book-making.

3. Avengers #12
Jason Aaron
Penciler: Ed McGuinness, Cory Smith
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Hoo man did this comic ever spark a lot of conversation on comics Twitter. On the surface, it sounds like a real chore: Black Panther, the Avengers current chairman, sets about shoring up the team’s new headquarters and its support staff. It’s procedural stuff, but writer Jason Aaron uses it to launch a new concept within the Marvel Universe, which can perhaps best be summed up with Hello Agents of Wakanda, Good Bye Agents of SHIELD!

A central theme to Aaron’s Avengers run has become the transition of America-centric heroes to a more global network of planetary protectors (or at least this stands to become a central theme very soon). As such, the transition from SHIELD, which almost always read as a more fantastical depiction of a combined FBI and CIA, with the Agents of Wakanda is basically perfect, as the latter group culls its membership from all across Marvel continuity, from Gorilla Man to Ka-Zar to some great surprises. Like all Aaron books this one is a slow-burn, well worth it to those willing to invest the time. This one is made even better by the entire Marvel line seeming to acknowledge that yes, this comic is the company’s flagship.

2. Livewire #2
Vita Ayala
Artists: Raul Allen and Patricia Martin
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
As I wrote on Twitter immediately after putting this comic down, this young Livewire comic feels like the best X-Men series in years. Valiant’s psiots have long-cribbed parts of the X-Men’s central metaphor, but this is perhaps the purest exploration of it. And writer Vita Ayala with the art team of Raul Allen and Patricia Martin (one of my favorites in the industry) are more than doing it justice.

I often use this column to award long-tenured runs versus the hot new thing. Livewire #2, however, was so good that I threw all of that out the window. It’s a tense, well-told story that really tests its central protagonist. It’s the type of comic that has me eagerly checking the calendar in anticipation of Livewire #3.

1. Ice Cream Man #9
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
We’re getting tight on space here (damn my self-imposed 1,500-word limit!), so I’ll keep this brief. Ice Cream Man #9 massively expanded the scope of this series, simultaneously re-contextualizing everything I thought I knew about this book. I thought this was an anthology series, with a few somewhat random appearances of the titular Ice Cream Man thrown in to heighten the sinister ambiance.

And it is some of that. I’ve read Ice Cream Man #10, and the horror anthology construction continues. This issue, however, adds a layer of multiversal, almost biblical consequence to the book that owes more than a little to the works of David Lynch and Stephen King’s Dark Tower. There are three issues left in this series, and I have a feeling Ice Cream Man #9 is not the last time our perceptions of what this comic really is will be upended.

Check out our monthly lists, plus all of our Best of 2018 coverage, here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.