By Zack Quaintance — Hey all, first off I need to apologize for the tardiness of this column. We’re now three full New Comic Book Days into the month of May, and here I am still writing about my favorite books in April. I do, however, have a legit excuse! I’m in middle of moving across the entire damned country.
Yes, my wife and I are leaving sunny Sacramento, California for new digs in the nation’s capital. By this time next month (if all goes well), we will be residents of Washington D.C. Incidentally, I may also stop reviewing Tom King’s comics, because if one of them’s bad, I’m simply not brave enough to talk shit about the work of an ex-CIA guy living within a few miles of me. Maybe look for the byline Guy From Nova Scotia in any future Batman reviews.
Okay then, let’s get to the Best Comics of April 2019!
Benjamin Percy and Juan Ferreyra’s Moon Knight short in Marvel Comics Presents #4 was so good it almost cracked out big list. I stopped short (sorry) due to length. Still, Marvel should get these two on a project together ASAP.
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #4 was the most mundane comic of the week. Gasp. So, why then is it on our list? ...Because it was by design (man, I got you all). Yes, this meta book looked at what would happen if a comicbook superhero came to our world, and the results were perfectly dull.
Steve Orlando and Travel Foreman’s future-set Electric Warriors #6 had a surprisingly optimistic ending and I loved it.
Paper Girls #27 continued this book’s recent trend of doling out rapid-fire clarity, and I loved it, especially how it made me better-appreciate all that had come before in this story. There’s also a neat three-pronged structure in this one, and the book continues to do interesting things with its letters page as well. Seriously.
Little Bird #2 continued the debut’s absurdly high level balance of imagination and pacing. Not to tip it, but I’ve already reviewed Little Bird #3 too, and this book is really something special.
Avengers #18 was a total blast, tying into the War of the Realms with the Squadron Supreme, while also foreshadowing what I would wager is writer Jason Aaron’s next big storyline in the pages of this comic. I love how he’s setting up a fight between the globalist Avengers and the America First Justice League analog, Squadron Supreme. Lots of room for great story there.
Of the crop of younger writers currently tearing it up at Marvel (and also Valiant), Vita Ayala remains one of my favorites. Comics like Livewire #5 and Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #2 illustrate why.
Speaking of talented young writers tearing it up at Marvel, Donny Cates. I’ve heaped tons of praise on his work with this site, but when he keeps making comics as good as Guardians of the Galaxy #4, I have to keep paying respects. This is Marvel’s second best comic right now, with number one being...
Immortal Hulk #16 was just so damn good. There simply is not another Big 2 book (with the possible exception of DC’s The Green Lantern) that possesses this high level of craft every damn month. What I especially like about Immortal Hulk is the way every chapter feels compressed and significant, delivering essentially a new status quo between issues, exactly how the universe intended for a periodical medium like comics.
Finally, I was sad to see G.I. Joe Sierra Muerte #3, because it marked the end of Michel Fiffe’s time on this book. I do, however, look forward to more Fiffe work, especially as it seems we’re destined to get new individual issues of his opus, Copra, via Image Comics.
Best Comics of April 2019
5. Criminal #4
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
When the announcement came down that Criminal was returning, the creative team—Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips—emphasized that this would be a traditional monthly reading experience, one in which it stories wouldn’t be collected in neat six-issue trade collections with a high ease of reading and a low price point that incentivized trade waiting. I didn’t make much of that at the time. Creators often say this. Wouldn’t you if you were trying to encourage folks to buy your monthly comic? It’s marketing.
Criminal, however, continues to back-up this claim. Not just back it up, but do so in a way I’m finding surprising. Every issue feels like it’s own experience, one that must be consumed at this time lest you miss out on the progression of this world, even if the preceding story was set during an entirely different era. This fourth issue stands alone, and it has almost nothing to do with the preceding two-part story in Criminal #2 and #3. It does, however, feature characters that will be familiar to long-time Criminal readers. What will also be familiar is the incredible high level of comicbook storytelling at work in this title. It’s so so good, and we’re lucky to have this month-to-month.
4. Action Comics #1010
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher: DC Comics
Where to start with this installment in the ongoing Leviathan Rises story arc...how about with noting that the subtitle on the cover is Lois and Clark: Agents of Spyral. I love everything about that. I’m also happy to report that the execution is as cool and goofy as the title, tinged as well with the seriousness of the shadowy conspiratorial story that’s building up to spill into this summer’s Event Leviathan comic. It’s all great, and I’m having a blast reading it.
Also great? The artwork in this book from the team of artist Steve Epting and colorist Brad Anderson. I absolutely love Epting’s work, and I think he’s one of the most talented illustrators in the entire industry right now. I, however, would never have had the vision to tag him for an extended run on Action Comics, and I certainly couldn’t have predicted that he’d have been this good. But I also couldn’t have predicted that Clark and Lois would be embroiled in such a complex web of spy drama as this story gives them, one that is self-aware and so comicbook-y that it’s making effective and dramatic use of characters like Mr. Bones, who is literally a skeleton. It’s all very surprising and welcomed. In a less competitive month, this title could have taken #1.
3. Fearscape #5
Writer: Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Simply put, this is the best issue of Fearscape since the series’ debut which is saying a lot because this has been a stellar series. Anyway, Fearscape #5 is the one that gives the rest of the well-done chapters even more meaning, the one that brings it all into focus. And, while I don’t want to spoil any of the payoffs even a little bit, I will say that in order to tell this story, the creators had to make what I imagine were very very hard choices to make with their characters.
A simple rule of writing (as protagonist Henry Henry would surely agree) is that much of it boils down to making awful things happen to your characters in order to see what they’re made of. Fearscape goes all in, doing so in a way that earns every last reveal of this finale. In the end, what we get from Fearscape is a meta trek through the darkest aspects of literary ambition, of any ambition really, one that shows us an unexpected and horrifying side to what a desperate and youthful need for validation can ultimately cost an individual. I have recommended this book without reservation throughout its run, and I’m happy to report that the payoff—while disturbing and unpleasant—is well worth the journey.
2. The Wicked + The Divine #43
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
This is the third to last issue of the brilliant creator-owned Image comic, The Wicked + The Divine, and boy is it a doozy. I’ll just come out and say it: I think this one is one of the best issues in the entire run. In the past, we’ve gotten issues heavy with action and we’ve gotten issues heavy with reveals and we’ve gotten issues heavy with meaning that relates to the concept’s central themes.
This issue, however, blends all three seamlessly, making it perhaps the most tangible realization of the vast potential that has coursed through this title since its beginning. It’s all in this one...the vying and backstabbing between gods, the machinations of a nefarious force bent on being immortal, and the subtle examination of how it feels to be so immersed in fandom, specifically related to musicians. This is a great read start to finish, for a series that has been among the highlights of this decade’s comics.
1. The Replacer
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Arjuna Susini
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
I’ve written about why I like this graphic novella at length late a few times in recent weeks, but I’m happy to do so again. It’s in this spot because it was (obviously) my favorite comic that came out in April. Why? Well, The Replacer is one of the most personal comics I’ve read in some time, based on real events from writer Zac Thompson’s childhood.
Being honest and personal in a story is an achievement in and of itself, but what Thompson also does here is use the storytelling chops he’s honed in recent years to tell a truly compelling tale that also stands on its own merits, even if you don’t have any inkling at all that he’s spun it out of his real life. I wrote quite a bit more about why I loved this so much in my Trade Rating review, so check that out if you’re so inclined. If you want the abbreviated version, here it is: you will find no better comicbook reading experience wrapped up within 64 stunning pages than The Replacer.
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.