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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writers:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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
Writer:
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.

Top Comics of May 2018

May was huge for superhero comics, with both Marvel and DC locking their futures into place for the next 12 to 18 months. This resulted in some of the best #1 issues of late, as well as in one truly-epic finale for a long run on a flagship character (more below).

May was, in short, fantastic for fans of action and superheroes, and for those of us who like to feel like a kid again by leaving the office to eat lunch on Wednesdays in a sad Subway on Blue Ravine Road in Folsom, CA, where the sandwich artists are generous with the veggies and that one Ed Sheeran song (I’m in love with your body, Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I, etc.) is always always playing. Ahem. I’ve gotten oddly specific and way off track, a good sign it’s time to start our list.

Let’s do it!

Shout Outs

One of many fantastic and creepy panels from  Abbott #5.

One of many fantastic and creepy panels from Abbott #5.

Abbott #5: Abbott concludes with this issue, and man was it a killer series, laden with social commentary and supernatural chills, plus some of the prettiest panels in any comic this year. I highly recommend this book and even thought it could have used a sixth issue to let some of the ideas in its finale breath, but this is a small complaint.

Action Comics Special #1: This one-off conclusion for Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics run was heavy on Lois and Lex, which is enough to get a thumbs up from me. Extra points for the backup from Mark Russell (more on him below).

Avengers #1 - #2: Mark Waid did an admirable job on Avengers while we all decompressed following Jonathan Hickman’s all-time great stint, but I’m ready for the team to be leading the Marvel Universe again, which is where Jason Aaron has it in these early issues.

And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are  DC's  best art team...

And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are DC's best art team...

DC Nation #0: Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are the best artists working in superheroes today, as shown by the Justice League preview here.

Doctor Strange #390:  Cates-Zdarsky Spider-Man two-page vignette alone lands it here. Hi-larious.

Flash #47: Flash War is brewing. A lot of Rebirth books slowed down after the first two years, but Josh Williamson’s Flash is peaking. Also, more Howard Porter art, please!

Man of Steel #1: Needs more Lois, but I’m giving Bendis time there. Aside from that, his take on Superman started well, with deep understanding of what makes the character admirable, inspirational, beloved, etc. More here!

Marvel 2-in-1 #6: This continues to be Marvel’s best and most consistent comic, doling out laughs, action, and heartfelt moments in equal part. Chip Zdarsky is a criminally underrated superhero writer.

Spider-Man #240: Bendis farewell to his 18-year Spider-Man run almost made me cry. I read #1 when I was 15 (a scientifically ideal time to read about Spider-Man) and grew to adulthood with this writer and this book, which is all a poignant reminder of life’s inherent and unstoppable capacity for change.

Top Comics of May 2018

More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on  Super Sons .

More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on Super Sons.

5. Super Sons #16 by Peter Tomasi, Art Thibert, & Carlo Barberi: I’d be taking a far more somber tone about this book had Peter Tomasi not announced that he would write a 12-issue series, dubbed Adventures of the Super Sons, about Jon Kent and Damian Wayne in August, but it did, so here we are. Super Sons is my favorite book that hasn’t yet made our monthly Top 5, and I think the reason is it’s just so reliable and consistent.

The dynamic between Jon and Damian is the heart of this book, which has also boasted wonderful art during its run, most of which was done by my aforementioned favorite superhero team, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez. Tomasi’s plotting keeps to a modest yet exciting scope, and the guest spots from the boys’ parents are always delightful.

4. Barrier #1 - #5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, & Munsta Vincente: I first read (and loved) Barrier a couple years back when it ran on Brian K. Vaughan’s digital comics site, Panel Syndicate, but I used May’s print run to collect the issues and re-visit the story. As I did, I detailed some of my thoughts in reviews, and I noticed that many folks I knew were reading the book for the first time.

Simply put, good on you! Barrier is a beautifully-illustrated story about the constructs that have come to divide humanity, including language, nation states, natural resources, or misunderstandings. With this fertile ground, the surprising story goes on to tell a tense and poignant tale about two unlikely allies brought together and forced to bond.

I can’t say much past that without spoiling things, but I want to note the last panel of Barrier #5 is one that has stuck with me for years and was reopened in my mind this month like a trauma I haven’t fully processed. Barrier is truly my favorite type of story, one that asks hard questions without forcing pedantic answers.

From recent issues of  Amazing Spider-Man .

From recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #800 by Dan Slott, Stuart Immonen, & Team: Dan Slott and his many artistic collaborators really tell a story here worthy of milestone status, playing on an old Spider-Man trope that never fails to feel compelling—imperiling the many meaningful friends Pete has made over the years. The core concept for Peter Parker is he’s a lovable loser gifted with superpowers and doing his best to satisfy the responsibilities that come along with them. This makes the stakes for Pete always intriguing. After all, it’s his value to the world in question, and who hasn’t contemplated that?

But when the danger comes to his supporting cast, Spider-Man really turns compelling. Slott knows this, clearly. He also has a decade of stories to draw friendships from. That combination makes for one of the most taut over-sized comics in recent memory, one that eschews the multiple vignette thing similar issues resort to in favor of a grand finale for Slott’s landmark run on Marvel’s flagship comic, Amazing Spider-Man.

2. Nightwing #44 by Benjamin Percy, Chris Mooneyham, & Team: I have a documented love of Benjamin Percy’s run on Green Arrow, which concluded earlier this year, so I was looking forward to this issue as soon as it was announced Percy would on Nightwing. I was not, however, prepared for how much I’d like this book. Simply put, Percy wrote his fingers off (gross, I know), crafting a comic rich with clever turns of phrase, great interactions between characters (especially Babs and Dick), and a sprinkling of the odd factoids that make Percy’s narrations in comics (and novels/short stories) so compelling. This is also a timely story, with much to say about mankind’s accelerating reliance on tech.

My other major point of praise is Chris Mooneyham and team’s artwork. Be it a subway or junkyard, the art depicts Bludhaven as a gritty, hard-boiled place, more late 70s/early 80s New York than the absurdist alternate Atlantic City it had become under other recent writers. It’s a choice that contributes much without detracting from character or narrative, and it has me hoping this team remains on the book for a good while.

1. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, & Sean Parsons: As unlikely as it sounds, I have been made to laugh, cry, and consider about my place in society by a comic book about the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Snagglepuss. And this just a few months after the book’s writer, Mark Russell, inspired me to say this aloud to a friend, “The most cutting satire about 2018 is a comic book about The Flintstones.” Yes, it’s all very strange.

One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

The unlikelihood of such poignant work being done with licensed characters is an easy talking point when describing Exit Stage Left. What’s much harder is articulating what Russell and team have done with these comics to make the source material so relevant. In The Flintstones, each issue was a different vignette with a loose through-line to future installments, a fragmented narrative about how the military industrial complex and tribalism has shaped mankind. Exit Stage Left is just as smart, but here Russell has crafted a more linear and complete story, one that better enables him to kick the bottom of your heart out.

This fifth issue is the emotional climax of the series, within which the ill fortune Russell had planned for our hero finally catches up to him. He does the right thing and is punished by a misguided and unjust political society. This comic is not as direct a commentary as The Flintstones was, but in many ways it is the superior book—an emotional ride that makes readers contemplate many facets of humanity, from authenticity to artistic value to the mental gymnastics we perform to justify our points of views. There’s one issue left, but Exit Stage Left has already established itself as one of the best of 2018.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.