Top Comics of 2018, #6 - #15

By Zack Quaintance —  The most difficult thing about a strong year for comics (like this one) is doing a year-end Best Of list. Now, to be sure, no one mandates websites do rankings. That would be a clear violation of civil liberties. There is, however, a part of the pop culture blogger brain that goes wild for it, whispering all year long...where does this one rank...and if you don’t satisfy that beast—well, bad things happen.

So, here we our with ours, freshly formulated for 2018 by our committee of one. Before we dive into part 2, which features in descending order selections #15 to #6 (Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25 is up now, with the Top 5 due later today), let’s rehash our ground rules:

  • No trades or OGNs: Building out our OGN coverage is a priority for 2019. We’re just not there yet. So, while I absolutely loved work like Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Box Brown’s Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, and Ryan Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal, you won’t find them here. Ideally, next year’s we’ll have an entire post dedicated to OGNs.

  • No webcomics, manga, or newspaper strips: Again, our site is a bit deficient covering these (if you are into these things, we’d love to chat about you writing for us!). I should, of course, mention that in 2018 someone under the pen name Olivia James took over the long-running Nancy strip and did amazing things with it (Sluggo is lit), but, again, you won’t find it on our list.

  • Longevity matters: New this year, you will find what I consider a key stat—how many issues were published this year. Late debut series like Die, Electric Warriors, and Bitter Root have tons of promise. They just haven’t been around enough to be a definitive comic of 2018. Ditto for comics that ended in April or earlier.

There you have it: guiding principles of our Top Comics of 2018. Now, without further adieu, let’s keep this bad hombre going!

15. Seeds
Ann Nocenti
Artist, Letterer: David Aja
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Issues in 2018: 2

The second issue of this series absolutely blew my mind. So much so it was enough to land this comic in our list, and at no. 15 too! I’m going to struggle to articulate why this is not only one of the best comics out today, but also the comic with the most potential to be an all-time great series. But here goes…

Writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja have clearly thought hard about the state of the world, dwelling on current trends, struggles, challenges, \and even a few victories to extrapolate a future the likes of which we’ve never seen. There are (as noted in yesterday’s list) many near-future disaster stories running through comics. Many of them do admirable jobs extending a fear or concern to logical places. Seeds encompasses much more with its predictions, in a way that feels impossibly novel yet so obvious you wonder why its ideas hadn’t previously occurred to you. If you start listing story elements—failing planet, media corruption, alien love story/menace—they sound a little rote, but the way these talented creators bring them together is nothing short of remarkable. Now, if only they could get a handle on the delays...  

14. Doomsday Clock
Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of delays (hey! would you look at that transition), next we have Doomsday Clock. Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank were as good as their word this year, mostly sticking to the every-other-month schedule they promised following Doomsday Clock #3. We got six new issues in 2018, and the last three were straight up killer comics. This series has, to be blunt, massive ambitions.

Indeed, the intentions of this comic are starting to crystalize, and if Johns and Frank can pull this off, they could end up with a story that speaks to the current rise of authoritarian governments across the globe, the reactions of the media and the populous, and what it means to be a public hero today, to take a strong position. It’s heady stuff, with potential to shape DC’s line and maybe even the stories the aging company does for the next decade.

13. Ice Cream Man
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

As I’ve noted throughout, ranking the many many many excellent comics this year has been no easy feat. There were a ton of tough choices, but as my friend Rob from Panel Patter noted, at a certain point you have to choose, otherwise there’s no purpose to the endeavor. For me, placing Ice Cream Man was the most difficult decision. An anthology horror comic linked only by the titular (and hella creepy) ice cream man, this book has been a tour de force.

The reason it lands at #13 is twofold. No. 1, 13 is creepy and it seemed fitting, because aside from one other selection (we’ll get into that later), this is the highest-ranking horror comic on our list. No. 2, I’m trying to rank series for holistic reading experience. Ice Cream Man being made of vignettes makes that trickier. This book is easily one of the best comics of 2018, and we’ll heap more praise on it in future posts, specifically the Best Single Issues of 2018, coming later this week. For now, I’ll just note everyone should read this comic, just pick up random issues (they’re all self-contained) and go. The rate of success is high enough I’m confident you’ll all find flavors (sorry) you like.

12. The Wild Storm
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

It’s pretty amazing this far into a celebrated career, Warren Elllis is doing his best work, writing a slow-burning epic that strips down characters he’s handled for years before building them back into something searingly-relevant for 2018. This new The Wild Storm has a few familiar names, while remaining entirely accessible for first-time readers of this universe. And what Ellis is doing here is exploring the vast influence wielded by long-standing (and hard to comprehend) power structures.

He’s joined by Jon Davis-Hunt, one of (if not the) most underrated artists in comics. Davis-Hunt comes fresh from career work of his own on Gail Simone’s Clean Room, and as good as he was there, he’s hitting a new level, crafting graphic sequential storytelling both kinetic and real, capable of disrupting any visual laws of reality yet photorealistic and engrossing. As intellectual and nuanced a comic as we’ve seen, this is a must-read story.

11. The Mighty Thor / Thor
Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Mike del Mundo, Christian Ward, Jen Bartel, Various
Colorists: Matthew Wilson, Marco D’Alfonso
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 4 / 12

Jason Aaron’s ongoing run on Thor is the best long-form story happening in superhero comics, and it’s really not even close. Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder #1, which essentially marked the start of this current run, hit stands in November 2012, a vastly different time in the world and industry. Marvel has no other run close, with Hickman and Bendis gone from the company and Dan Slott off Amazing Spider-Man. Invincible has also ended, and DC’s main challengers—Batman and Deathstroke, for my money—date back to summer 2016, which is hardly a challenge at all.

Thor, however, keeps going strong, landing this year’s 16 issues (and a Jane Foster one-shot) at #11 overall on our list. Our committee of one suspects it will be higher next year, what with the War of the Realms coming. The Jane Foster finale was certainly a high point his year, but it felt like more of a pause than a proper finish, setting the table for what is sure to be some damn fine comics to come. In summation, 2018 was another great year for Aaron’s Thor run, but we all but guarantee 2019 will be even better, possibly the high water mark for this story.

10. X-Men Red
Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Carmen Carnero, Roge Antonio
Colorists: Ive Svorcina, Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 11

What a surprise this comic was. I’d tapped out on X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold, deciding to wait for whatever next big X-thing. Then comes an announcement of a third color, part of the Marvel Legacy line, which, let’s face it, was dead on arrival. But here’s the thing: Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar’s X-Men: Red was good. Like, really really really good. Taylor’s scripting understood the franchise better than any writer I’ve read in I don’t know how long, casting the team as equal parts superhero high-flyers and common defenders of the oppressed, all with a geopolitical angle.

It made Jean Gray the face of Xavier’s continuing dream, a brilliant move given her legacy (ahem) and similar skill set, and it faced the X-Men against threats essentially derived from the messages of hate coursing through the modern media landscape, be it reportage or social posting. It was a brilliant stretch of 11 issues that ended way too soon, and, in my opinion, it was the first real hint how the X-Men can be made relevant for 2018, 2019, etc., taking them out of their long-standing continuity mire. It will be missed, and I hope this new generation of X-writers draw from its example.

9. Vault Comics: Fearscape / Friendo / These Savage Shores
Ryan O’Sullivan / Alex Paknadel / Ram V.
Artists: Andrea Mutti / Martin Simmonds / Sumit Kumar
Colorists: Vladimir Popov / Dee Cunnife / Vittorio Astone
Letterers: Andworld Design / Taylor Esposito / Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 3 / 3 / 2

Okay, so this one is cheating, but of the three new Vault Comics launched by British writers with clear literary roots in the fall, I couldn’t pick any one to elevate above the others. They’re all incredible, and so I built myself a loophole (it’s my website, afterall), and included all three on the list. I heard Vault editor Adrian Wassel on a podcast earlier this year, saying comics could swing to a literary place that incorporates both recent cinematic storytelling trends and their unique ability to synthesize words and pictures. All three of these titles reflect that viewpoint.

You can read more thoughts about each on our Reviews Page, but let me run through them quickly. Fearscape is a look at pretense, literary culture, and how the nature of creative writing often sees authors bouncing violently between bouts of outsized ego and crippling insecurity. The voice is pretentious and incredible. Friendo is a meditation on the decline of late-model capitalist countries, specifically the United States, casting apathy, ceiling-less corporate greed, and the marginalization of government checks as truly terrifying villains. These Savage Shores is a gorgeous and deep commentary on imperialism, using misdirection to to create an engaging and tone-heavy narrative. Basically, all three of these are well worth your time, and I highly recommend them all.

8. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Mark Russell
Artist: Mike Feehan
Inker: Sean Parsons
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of literary comics, Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (improbably) falls in that bin as well. Last year we highlighted Russell’s work on Flintstones. Another year and another smart take on a Hanna-Barbera property, and here we are again. In Russell’s re-imagining of this mythos, Snagglepuss is a basically closeted playwright during McCarthy-ism, trying to stay true to his values without running afoul of the federal government and staid societal interests.

Russell uses this premise to tell a sophisticated story that dances with ideas about life, art, politics, group think, and conservatism. The emotional core to this thing is the Huckleberry Hound character, whose tragic story beats brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. If reading a comic about Snagglepuss doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry—you’re not alone in that thinking. But Russell also uses the legacy of the character to do work toward the satirical points he’s making, to help drive them home.  

7. Wasted Space
Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 6 (counting the holiday special)

Phew, now we’re getting into the comics that I can’t imagine my 2018 without, the first being Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space. I have heaped my fair share of praise on this book over the past 12 months, and I’m not alone. In fact, Nerdist has called it “easily the best new series to hit comic shops so far this year.” For my money, it’s without question the best wholly new property of 2018, and I’m going to quote myself to elaborate on why...

Wasted Space to me feels like Star Wars by way of 2018, determined to honor the hi-jinx & high adventure of space opera while fearlessly exploring the central conflict of our times: where should one’s desire for comfort end and their obligation to combat oppression begin? I’ve compared Moreci’s absurdist, idea-heavy writing to the late David Foster Wallace and I stand by that, noting that Sherman’s chaotic high-energy art style brings the world to life in a special way. This is maybe the highest compliment I can give: in a day and age where i buy fewer paper comics than ever before, I still have a pull list and on it near the top is Wasted Space.

6. Thanos Wins
Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Toward the end of 2017, Brian Michael Bendis left Marvel, dealing the publisher as significant of a writing void as I’ve seen in the past two decades, dating back to before Bendis established himself as the company’s prime writing voice. The thing about voids like that is they force publishers to take bigger risks and bring in younger, newer talent. For Marvel in 2018, that meant Donny Cates (among others).

One of Cates’ first charges at Marvel was to takeover Thanos in the wake of another essentially departing writer, Jeff Lemire, who seemed from the outside to be off to focus on the superhero universe he owned and created, Black Hammer. What Cates and past collaborator Geoff Shaw did with the final six issues of this run was absolutely remarkable, telling what is not only the best Thanos story of all-time, but the best end of the Marvel Universe tail this side of Jonathan Hickman. It’s called Thanos Wins, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Thanos Wins is as bold a statement as a young writer doing his first work at Marvel could have made. Aided by the out-of-this-world Geoff Shaw artwork and Antonio Fabela colors, Cates seemed to put all of comics on notice here, not being content to just decimate the very futures of these decades-old beloved characters, but insisting on doing so with wild grin viscerally affixed to his face. You might wonder, how do I know he was laughing and smiling as he wrote all of this. I think the better question, is how could anyone who’s read Thanos Wins doubt it?  

Read our analysis of Thanos Wins here!

Check back later today for our Best Comics of 2018, #1 - #5! Check out Best Comics of 2018, #16 - #25! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Best Single Issues and our Top Creators of 2018!

For the history-minded readers, you can find our Top Comics of 2017, Part 1, 2 and 3 online now!

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

Taylor Pechter's Top 5 Comics of 2018

By Taylor Pechter

1. Hawkman
Robert Venditti
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Publisher: DC Comics

The sleeper hit of the year. Written by Robert Venditti (Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps) and drawn by Bryan Hitch (The Authority), Hawkman explores the character of Carter Hall. It weaves a story about history and self-discovery that is intrinsic to his character. From its start back in June, this has been a must-read series. Not only is Venditti’s script immaculate in consolidating the convoluted nature of Carter’s origins, but Bryan Hitch is supplying the best artwork of his career. The art is big and cinematic but also contains a lot of emotion within it. Go read this series

Read more about why we like Hawkman!

2. The Wild Storm
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Publisher: DC Comics

A holdover from last year, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s gritty, stripped-down, espionage-fueled retelling of the WildStorm Universe continued to chug along in 2018 and continue its greatness. Not only did we see the formation of the proto-WildCATs and John Lynch searching down his Thunderbook agents before IO gets a hand on them. Ellis, like always, is a master in character interactions. His injection of dark humor also adds a great edge to the book. Davis-Hunt’s art work continues to be simple, but also dynamic with some of the best rendering of action in the business. The end of 2018 brings us to the end of the third of four arcs. With all the pieces set in place, the final arc is sure to be a doozy, and I am all here for it.

3. Justice League Dark
James Tynion IV
Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Publisher: DC Comics

Re-teaming hot creative team James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez Bueno straight off their acclaimed run of Detective Comics, Justice League Dark focuses on the mystical side of the DC Universe. Formed by Wonder Woman after the events of Justice League: No Justice, titular team works to discover something amiss in the magic community. Much like his run on Detective, Tynion is an expert in character voices and dynamics. Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Man-Bat, Detective Chimp, Swamp Thing, and many more have great interactions with each other that help add a personality to this book. Martinez Bueno’s art is astonishingly detailed and creepy paired perfectly with Brad Anderson’s moody but vibrant color palate.

4. Doomsday Clock
Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Publisher: DC Comics

The series that never ends. Jokes about the delays aside, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s examination of the DC Universe through the eyes of Watchmen characters continues to be one of the most illuminating reads on the shelves whenever it does actually come out. How Johns expertly moves from dark and dour to hopeful and optimistic is a hallmark of his writing. His scripts are dense and complex, heavy with nuance. Gary Frank continues to be one of, if not THE, best artists in the business. He is a master of rendering and emotion, capturing both the bleak tone of Watchmen and the light tone of the DC Universe. He is also joined again here by colorist extraordinaire Brad Anderson. The release of issue eight brought this year to an end with a bang, both literally and figuratively.  

5. Action Comics
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, Ryan Sook
Publisher: DC Comics

In November 2017 it was announced that industry heavyweight Brian Michael Bendis was jumping from Marvel to DC. Speculation arose to which character he would write. In February of this year, it was announced he would write the six-issue mini series Man of Steel, a callback to the 1986 John Byrne-penned book of the same name. Bendis would then subsequently take over both Superman and Action Comics, focusing on two different aspects of the character. The main Superman book would focus on cosmic level threats and big action, while Action would be a more grounded take focusing on Clark Kent the journalist. This is an aspect that is barley touched upon in modern Superman stories, and it’s also what hooked me right away. Bendis’ main focus is on the Daily Planet. With Lois away working on writing a book, they have lost one of their premier reporters. Not only that, but a rash of unexpected fires have started popping up and a shady underground criminal organization is rising from the underbelly of Metropolis. Clark the reporter is on the case. Like most investigative journalism, there are a lot of steps to be traced. Bendis takes advantage of that by focusing on two new characters he created: fire chief Melody Moore and upstart Planet employee Robinson Goode. Intrigue is abundant as Bendis uses his signature snappy dialogue to give new life not only to the Planet newsroom but to Metropolis in general. Joining Bendis on art duties is Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, and Ryan Sook. Each of them lend their unique style, adding richness to the characters and the world around them.

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter @TheInspecter.

Top Comics of September 2018

By Zack Quaintance — This month is one that has the potential to be infamous, in that it ended with an event—Heroes in Crisis—that saw one of the Big 2 (DC) embrace a sort of grit and darkness that feels outdated. Word is now coming out that in addition to being a viscerally uncomfortable book, Heroes in Crisis also undersold expectations. Really, it almost feels to me as if the larger line itself is working like an antibody to reject Heroes in Crisis, purging its anachronistic themes from a shared superhero universe that is now bent on being brighter.

But, hey, this isn’t a piece about Heroes in Crisis! This is, instead, a piece about the comics from last month that I really liked, and within it you will find talk of some of my usual favorites—Wasted Space and Immortal Hulk—as well as some discussion of comics I haven’t written as much about, including The Seeds and Supergirl. And because I can’t help myself: yes! Okay, fine. I found Heroes in Crisis disappointing, but I still enjoyed September holistically as another great month for comics.

Let’s take a look at why!

Shout Outs

Snotgirl #11. I’m just so happy this book is back. The art is phenomenal, even if the story has seemed to search for direction. Still, there’s nothing else quite like this comic, one of the most singular today. It’s like reading a guilty pleasure Instagram feed.

While I thought the opening arc of Jason Aaron’s Avengers run was maybe two issues longer than it needed to be, Avengers #7 & #8 are two of my favorite standalone Avengers stories in years, Avengers #7 for its biblical qualities and #8 because of its deep focus on team dynamics.

Relay #3. I’ve been enthralled by this book from its start. It’s, to be reductive, mind-expanding sci-fi brought to life with illustrations that oscillate from detailed and realistic to totally psychedelic. It’s a complex read, one I’m doing my damndest to analyze via reviews.

I’m all in on the SuperBendis run these days, and I liked Superman #3 and Action Comics #1003 quite a bit. Supergirl #22, however, was a fantastic surprise. This is a smaller title, but it’s bringing a welcome additional depth to Bendis’ larger aspirations.

September’s Wonder Woman #54 & #55 teamed one of my favorite rising comics writers, Steve Orlando, with one of my favorite underrated art teams, Raul Allen and Patricia Martin. The results were (unsurprisingly) to my liking.

DC Comics is in a bit of holding pattern in a couple places, waiting for new superstar runs to start (Aquaman, The Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc.), but Justice League #8 & Justice League Dark #3 continue to establish its team-up book as a true flagship.

In Black Hammer: Age of Doom #5, some of this series’ mysteries become clear, and the team of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormstron have more than built a satisfying resolution.

I continue to be impressed with the world-building going on in Skyward, a charming comic that’s clearly lasting for a long haul. Check out our review of Skyward #6.

Not to give too much away, but the last panel in The Wild Storm #17 is well worth your time, provided you’ve read The Authority...

Tom King and Mitch Gerads work in Mister Miracle #11 is once again excellent, featuring action, a future classic nine-panel grid of Darkseid double-dipping a carrot, and a promise that mysteries will be unraveled next month (maybe).

Top Comics of September 2018

5. Wasted Space #5 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, & Jim Campbell

This month saw the conclusion of Wasted Space’s first arc, and what a doozy. What I find most compelling about Wasted Space is that it lives a double life, both as a slapstick space opera and as a deep ideological exploration of culture and society. I’ve said this before but it’s worth reiterating: there’s a David Foster Wallace-esque quality to the ideas and concerns in this book, one that is especially evident in some of the lengthiest bits of dialogue as well as in the intelligence woven throughout.

Aesthetically, it’s a bright and vibrant comic with a quick plot and jokes that feel surprising yet never inappropriate. I’m a vocal proponent of Vault Comics, and, as such, I’m often asked where new readers should start. After this issue (and arc), my answer is now Wasted Space.

4. Doomsday Clock #7 by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

This issue caught me off guard. In Doomsday Clock #7, there is more plot and action than in the first half of this maxi-series combined. Indeed, the first six issues here were almost introspective in nature, carefully building the individual concerns of different Watchmen characters as they moved from their world into the proper DCU.

In Doomsday Clock #7, our principals start to slam together, with a good deal of direct involvement from usual DC heroes as well. The result is a comic that almost serves as a mission statement for this entire event. It’s an entertaining read that has me more excited for the final five issues. There is a little bit of a bittersweet tinge to it, in that one can only imagine what it would have been like had this book kept to a monthly schedule, as well as what it would have meant for the larger DCU, too. Sigh.

3. Immortal Hulk #5 & #6 by Al Ewing & Lee Garbett

September brought us two new issues of my favorite Marvel comic, Immortal Hulk, and so I’m including them here together. It seems to me like these two books together took a deeper turn into the supernatural, opening the door for the titular undead Hulk to explore some darker, perhaps even supernatural spaces.

The glowing red visage of Banner’s demon father is the MVP of this new scary turn. Designed to horrific perfection by usual series artist Joe Bennett, the face is memorable and terrifying, a fitting personification of this book’s ambition to be a different, unnerving sort of Hulk story. I also like that this book is seemingly separate from the usual cash-grabby fray of crossing over Marvel titles. Indeed, it’s starting to feel like the publisher is actively separating prestige titles from gimmicky cash grabs, and discerning readers are better for it.

2. Batman #54 by Tom King, Matt Wagner, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Batman #54 was a comic that made me emotional. As I wrote in my Batman #54 review, I found this issue to be an all-time great Batman story, a father-son take on one of the most famous duos not only in comics but in the entire world. It’s also largely indicative of what I’ve liked most about King’s run so far: its humanity.

I think I’m far from alone in saying King’s Batman has been one of peaks and valleys, and I attribute this to a two steps forward, one step back journey he has Bruce on. King is trying to slowly humanize and grow a character whose owners have everything to gain by keeping him static. His solution seems to be a series of small pushes in lieu of any major leaps. This issue is one of the most blissful small pushes forward so far.

1. Seeds #2 by Ann Nocenti & David Aja (read our review of Seeds #1)

I didn’t know what to make of Seeds’ first issue. It was a blatantly creative comic, one that intrigued me and seemed to have something much deeper to say beneath the compelling visuals that made up its veneer. The first issue, though, withheld much about what the book intended to be about, and, as such, I withheld a bit of enthusiasm. After reading the second issue this has changed. I’m all in on The Seeds, to the point I now suspect that when the four-issue series concludes, it is likely to be praised as one of the best comics of the decade, if not longer.

This is a story that feels both impossible and real, that feels of our moment and also forward-looking. It’s thematic interests are disparate at first glance, ranging from sex between humans and aliens, the environmental death of the earth, and the bludgeoning impact of human reliance on technology. Look closer, though, and you’ll find a creative team that is almost unnervingly prescient. This is a comic book story that in my opinion is clearly laying out what should (or soon will be) easily the most pressing concerns of our time, and doing it with some of the finest art in the industry. Simply put, if you’re not reading this comic, you are making a mistake.

Check out our Best New #1 Comics of September 2018 plus more of our monthly lists here.

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

The Infinite Crisis of Being a Helena Wayne Fan

With DC’s Doomsday Clock halfway finished—and potentially serving as a re-instatement vessel for the Justice Society of America plus other DCU characters—we turned to Diane Darcy, likely the foremost expert on Helena Wayne, who details the history of her favorite character and why she should return.  

By Diane Darcy — I’ve made no secret that I’m a huge fan of Helena Wayne (see my blog, Tumblr, and Twitter), and today I’d like to share my interest with all of you. Let’s start at the character’s beginnings: Helena Wayne was created by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Bob Layton in 1977, originally conceived as the daughter of the Golden Age versions of Batman and Catwoman—a very intriguing background from which to build a character—and as a member of DC’s original superhero team, the Justice Society. She is, essentially, a character built upon DC’s Golden Age lore.

Helena Wayne’s Relationships

In the Bronze Age, The Huntress and Power Girl together were a second generation World's Finest team.

People are often defined by their relationships and Helena Wayne is no exception. Her most significant are her friendships with the Earth-2 versions of Kara Zor-L (Power Girl) and with Dick Grayson, the original Golden Age Robin who continued with that identity into adulthood.

With Power Girl, Helena provided a contrast to Kara’s outspokenness, impulsivity, and more assertive personality, but she also loved and respected Kara for those same qualities. Kara connecting with Helena in a meaningful way created character development opportunities for both women, effectively allowing them to cement their place as the second generation World’s Finest team.

With Dick Grayson, Helena provided a different contrast. Whereas Dick maintained unwavering loyalty to her father—never challenging Bruce’s authority—Helena didn’t hold her father on the same pedestal. When she felt her father stepped out of line, she refused to accept it. She either challenged his authority or worked to diffuse the situation another way. We saw this most notably in All-Star Comics #69 and especially in America vs. the Justice Society. When it came to Batman’s legacy, Dick considered it his responsibility to continue his mentor’s work as Batman, whereas Helena felt she could more meaningfully carry on that legacy on her own terms as Huntress.

Part of what makes classic Helena Wayne such a compelling character is her status as a superhero and a working lawyer.

Helena Wayne and the Crisis on Infinite Earths

Apart from Helena’s time as a caped crusader, I found her civilian life just as interesting. When she wasn’t fighting the good fight as Huntress—or stopping major crises with the Justice Society—she had a day job as an attorney, which also created interesting conflicts. She had a stronger preference for her work as the Huntress and often found it difficult to balance that with her day job. Her double life also created relationship problems with her boyfriend Harry Sims, who was Gotham’s District Attorney.

This was all established in Helena Wayne’s first eight years of publication, and writers used it to tell incredibly fun stories that went in interesting directions. You can imagine then how devastating it was when she was one of the characters sacrificed in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in 1986, later to be retooled in 1989 as Helena Bertinelli, the character we know as The Huntress today.

Helena Bertinelli

While not a bad character, there's no denying that apart from physical appearance, nothing of the original Helena Wayne Huntress survived via Helena Bertinelli. She was completely retooled. In fact, by the time DC reinstated the Wayne origin two decades later (during Flashpoint) we still ended up with a completely different character. Post-Flashpoint, Helena Wayne had a new origin and the same post-Crisis Helena Bertinelli personality. Also, her relationships with both Power Girl and Dick Grayson were profoundly changed.

Between two cosmic reboots, Helena Wayne moved further away from the compelling character Levitz, Staton, and Layton created in 1977, and her situation was made all the more complicated by being retooled into Helena Bertinelli post-Crisis.

Part of the promise of Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, however, has seemed to involve restoring all of DC's characters to their iconic statuses. What, then, would DC need to do with Helena Wayne to restore her to her original compelling stature while also saving her future? I have a few recommendations…

Four Ways to Fix Helena Wayne

Classic Helena Wayne as The Huntress contemplates crime and its causes in South Gotham City.

1. Make Helena Wayne and Bertinelli Separate Characters

Step one is to stop treating Helena Wayne and Bertinelli as the same character with two different origins. They are—at their cores—profoundly different. They are two very different women with different backgrounds and significantly different motivations.

Helena Wayne became Huntress to honor her family legacy. Helena Bertinelli, meanwhile, became Huntress as a way to reject hers. Essentially, Helena Wayne embraces where she comes from and Helena Bertinelli does not. Helena Wayne is a legacy heroine whose core values and motivations are shaped by her upbringing as the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Helena Bertinelli is a tragic heroine with a conflicted identity, molded by Italian-American heritage, her Catholic identity, and her roots within a crime family.

Quite literally the only thing Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli’s origins have in common is they both became Huntress after seeing their parents killed. The reasons and circumstances that led to the deaths, however, are still profoundly different, inevitably sending them on very different paths with different potential for stories. Simply put, Helena Bertinelli—while still a compelling character—does not satisfy the needs of Helena Wayne fans anymore than Wayne does Helena Bertinelli fans. The answer is to let these two women co-exist separately.

2. Reinstate Helena Wayne’s Pre-Crisis History

Maintaining Helena Wayne's legacy and motivations for fighting crime is vital to ensuring she remains a compelling character.

In post-Flashpoint continuity, a version of Helena Wayne was created in which she served as Robin. While it was cool to see what Helena as Robin looked like fighting alongside her parents, this is better as an Elseworlds or What If story. Making her Robin changes too much of her character.

In pre-Crisis continuity, Bruce and Selina marry only after reflecting on their lifestyle choices and concluding they were not happy with where their futures were going. They also reflected on who they were as people, realizing that Batman and Catwoman were outlets for pain, not true identities. When they became parents, they retired their costumes to give their daughter a normal upbringing. Making Helena Robin changes Bruce and Selina from responsible to irresponsible parents who brought their daughter into their dangerous lifestyles—a regressive change.

Making Helena Robin also drastically changes her motivation. Pre-Crisis, Helena became Huntress both in response to her parents' deaths and in response to their legacies. She felt that with the upbringing she had, she had a stronger chance of making a difference in Gotham as the Huntress than as a lawyer in a courtroom. Why wait for a crime to happen when she could actively prevent it? The decision to become a costumed hero was entirely her own. It was very powerful. As Robin, the decision was made for her by her parents when she was a young age.

Finally, it’s simply more interesting having Helena Wayne as a Harvard graduate and a successful lawyer. She just has so much more agency than if you make her yet another sidekick whose choices were made for her while she was a child. Seeing Helena try to balance her life as a lawyer and as the Huntress created a conflicting and compelling dichotomy that affected her most intimate relationships.

3. Reinstate Her Original Identity, Personality, and Relationships

Speaking of her identity and relationships, the change I want most is to see them reinstated. I love when Helena Wayne’s Huntress showcases her detective skills, combat training, and, of course, her signature pistol crossbow, but her civilian identity is just as important. It’s the Helena Wayne side of that Huntress that most strongly attracts me to her character vs. Helena Bertinelli when she occupies the same costume.

What makes the Helena Wayne identity so special? It goes back to what I said at the start. She is the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, and she originated the Huntress identity as a way to continue their legacy. In being the original Huntress, she even provided the base template for Helena Bertinelli. (I always think of Helena Wayne as the Jay Garrick to Helena Bertinelli's Barry Allen.)

I also like the fact that she is a lawyer because it positions her as a working woman who earns her own money as opposed to living on her family's fortune. She even differs in this way from her father, who seemed to spend more time fighting crime as Batman than working a real job. (Golden Age Bruce started working a real job after he retired his Batman lifestyle.)

On the personality front, pre-Crisis Helena Wayne was never a dark and brooding heroine. Even when she experienced low points in her life, she still maintained a high level of self-confidence, which always spoke to me. She remained happy and optimistic in the face of grave troubles, which is another way she differs significantly from Helena Bertinelli.

While not as important as her relationship with Power Girl, Helena's friendship with Golden Age Dick Grayson is also worth revisiting.

What was also vital to her personality was her relationships, which brings me to another vital point—Helena Wayne needs Power Girl in her life and vice versa. They enrich each other's lives by being the legacies of the Golden Age Batman and Superman, and their friendship also makes their tragic circumstances a little less sad. If Power Girl in particular is going to return to her status quo of being the Earth-2 survivor of the Crisis reboot (a development we’ve seen hints of), having Helena is vital.

Another relationship that would definitely enrich Helena's life on the main Earth would be rebuilding her friendship with Dick Grayson. Even though Nightwing is a different character from the guy she knew as her big brother on the original Earth-2, the Prime Earth Dick still embodies the charm and appeal of the Golden Age Robin (perhaps with a better fashion sense). Of course, DC could also just retcon the current Earth-2 Grayson back into the pre-Crisis original and settle for having two Dicks on the main Earth instead of one. I mean, why not? We already have two Wally Wests. Just let the Earth-2 guy grow a beard and call him Richard. But I digress…

One more classic Huntress panel for the road...

4. Return Her to the Justice Society

Last but not least, reinstate Helena’s membership into the Justice Society. The Justice Society was her superhero family from the beginning, and putting her back on the team would allow her to reclaim her place within DC's Golden Age lore. She was always a character built on that history. Now we have a main Earth that erases the Trinity from the Golden Age, but putting an Earth-2 Helena Wayne Huntress alongside Power Girl, along with Lyta Trevor as Fury, would help make up for that.

I am, however, a realist, and I know it is unlikely that any of the things I want to see happen for Helena Wayne post-Rebirth will actually happen. If there is, however, a creator or editor at DC who’s thinking of Helena Wayne fans (like me), we’d absolutely love to see the classic character return. Her existence would benefit other characters in the DCU, and, most importantly, she is still so ripe with the potential for good stories.

Click here for a reading list of comics starring Bronze Age Helena Wayne.

Diane Darcy is a huge fan of Bronze Age DC, Earth-2, the Justice Society, Power Girl, and especially Helena Wayne as the Huntress. When Diane isn’t obsessing about comics, she enjoys music, writing, animals, and researching exoplanets, multiverse theories, and time dilation. You can find her at @HelenaWayneBlog