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.

Best Comics of 2018: Batman’s Bookcase Contributor Picks

By Various — Without our crack team of contributing writers, this site would just be one guy pretending to be furniture while churning out semi-coherent musings about comics. Yes, our super talented group of contributing writers are the lifeblood of Batman’s Bookcase, and as such, they have some pretty great takes about the Best Comics of 2018. From Allison continuing to surprise herself by riding hard for all things Thor to Taylor’s analytical impressions of the revived Wild Storm, there’s a lot to take in on this list.

So please now join our contributors on a trip through some of their favorite comics of 2018!

Allison Senecal

Tini Howard
Artist: Nick Robles
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: IDW Black Crown
What can I even say about this series that hasn’t already been said by people (Scott Snyder, for one) who are way cooler than me? We already know 2019 is going to be the year of writer Tini Howard, and it sure as #$&% better be the year of artist Nick Robles too (Best Layouts of 2018 Award, not a thing...but it should be). The protagonist of this comic, Thalia, is far and away my favorite original character of the year, and she is just rendered so lovingly. What a heartfelt, at times darkly funny, and just flat-out interesting comic. With its almost cheerfully morbid (not to forget the gut-punches) fixation on death, Euthanauts is in many ways the perfect comic for 2018, but it sure has a lot of great things to tell us about living too.

Mighty Thor/Thor
Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Mike del Mundo, Christian Ward, Jen Bartel, Various
Colorist: Matthew Wilson, Marco D’Alfonso
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
If you told me a decade ago that my favorite Big 2 comic would be Thor, I’d probably laugh nervously at you, but here we are, and it is. Aaron and whichever stellar artist he happens to be collaborating with month-to-month (Dauterman, Bartel, Del Mundo, Ward, Moore, to name but a handful) knock this book out of the park every single time. No hiccups, no filler, all heart and tons of action. I’ve cried with Jane Foster, I’ve wheezed with Odinson, and vice versa. I also like the prospects for this book in 2019, because buckle up, kiddos, the War of the Realms is coming, and if you haven’t caught up on this entire Aaron run, do that now before it arrives.

Read more of Allison’s thoughts about Euthanauts and Thor!

Allison buys books professionally and comics unprofessionally. You can find her chaotic neutral Twitter feed at @maliciousglee.

Jack Sharpe

The Unexpected
Steve Orlando
Artist: Various
Colorist: Various
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Publisher: DC Comics
DC’s New Age of Heroes line produced some great comics, even if it sadly did not have sales legs. The best comic of the line for me however was The Unexpected. This book features a very personal tale while also going all out on the cosmic side of the DCU. Writer Steve Orlando crafted an amazing tale and while it’s sad this book is ending in January, there is still more greatness to come from Orlando with Martian Manhunter, which launched in December.

Read more about The Unexpected on our reviews page!

Jack Sharpe is a huge fan of history and comics. When he's not in the trenches surrounded by history, he's reading and studying comic books. You can follow him on Twitter at @JackJacksharpe5  

Maya Kesh

Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Sami Kivela
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
The ‘70s are my personal golden age of comics. The decade is when I began my journey, with Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane as my gateway book. In 1972 I was 8 years old. I loved bell bottom jeans, the wider the better. I even used to buy flare jeans for my daughter until one day she told me that my loving them was no reason to force them upon her. So, when I read the solicitation for Abbott, I knew I had to add it to my pull list.

Abbott takes place at the end of 1972 and stars a black female reporter, Elena Abbott. Reading it this year, it felt as if somebody was writing a comic book just for me. I had high expectations throughout, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Writer Saladin Ahmed doesn’t flinch from including the racism and sexism of the time. Civil Rights had passed in 1964, just 8 years prior, and the Women’s Liberation (feminism) movement was starting to make waves. This is the context the story takes place within. Elena Abbott lives in a white man’s world and those around her don’t let her forget that. She’s also grieving her husband. There is a really touching flashback with Abbott listening to John Coltrane’s jazz masterpiece A Love Supreme, perfectly rendered by artist Sami Kivela.

The story mixes the supernatural with murders in Detroit, and Abbott is on the beat trying to figure out what is going on. Kivela’s art is a perfect fit, adding a texture and personality to the setting.

The supporting characters also feel alive, giving this story another important dimension. The highest compliment I can give this book, though, is that when Abbott ended, I was left wishing for more adventures with Elena as she climbed the professional ladder and began to rebuild her personal life. This was a clear highlight of 2018, and I really hope there is a second series.

Read more of Maya Kesh’s thoughts about Superman and Lois Lane!

Maya Kesh is a lifetime comic reader and a writer whose articles often focus on how women are portrayed in comics. You can follow her on Twitter at @mayak46

The Stewart Bros.

The Weather Man
Jody LeHeup
Artist: Nathan Fox
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
The Weather Man by Jody Leheup and Nathan Fox combines sci-fi action with black comedy to spectacular effect. This book was one of the highlights of 2018. It also feels like it’s just warming up, and we can’t wait for what’s next.

Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Fearscape by Ryan O’Sullivan and Andrea Mutti from Vault Comics is the best comic book story about storytelling since Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Full stop. If you have ever embarked on a creative endeavor, this is a book that will speak to you.

Check out The Stewart Bros. Top 10 Comics of 2018!

Bo Stewart grinds for the Man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros

Taylor Pechter

Robert Venditti
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Andrew Currie
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Starkings & Comicraft
Publisher: DC Comics
This is, simply put, the sleeper hit of the year. Written by Robert Venditii (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 it also contains a lot of emotion within it. I’ll be blunt: if you haven’t already, go read this series.

The Wild Storm
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
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, in all its greatness. Not only did we see the formation of the proto-WildCATs and John Lynch searching down his Thunderbook agents before IO could get to them, but Ellis, like always, was a master of character interactions. His injection of dark humor also added a great edge to this book. Davis-Hunt’s art work continued to be simple yet also dynamic, featuring some of the best rendering of action in the business. The end of 2018 brought us to the end of the third of four arcs for this series. With all the pieces set in place, the final arc is sure to be a doozy, and I am all here for it.

Check out Taylor Pechter’s Top 5 Comics of 2018!

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

So there you have it. That concludes our contributor picks for 2018. Be sure to check back next week for more year-end lists, including Best Image Comics of 2018, Top Creators of 2018, and our official overall Best Comics of 2018!

Find more from our contributing writers on our comics analysis page, and check out our Best Comics of 2017 to see how those choices have aged!

The Batman’s Bookcase contributors are a super talented bunch, and we’re very lucky that they’ve chosen our site as a regular outlet for their thoughts and feelings about comics. Check back often in 2019 for more great pieces!

The Stewart Bros. Top 10 Comics of 2018

By The Stewart Bros. — What a year for indie comics. Seriously, has there ever been a year packed with more stellar indie debuts? We tried our hardest to limit this list to 10, but it was just too hard. So, we’ve also included a couple bonus picks! Our list is comprised of 10 indie books (five from Image, three from Vault, and one each from BOOM! Studios and IDW - Black Crown) and two from the Big 2. Ten…yes TEN of our picks have a #1 issue that was released in 2018. The future of comics is bright, indeed.

  • Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Image Comics): No story has better executed the strange people in a strange town trope, at least not since Twin Peaks. Artist, Andrea Sorrentino has crafted some of the most creative page layouts in comics for this book, and we absolutely love it.

  • Euthanauts by Tini Howard and Nick Robles (IDW Black Crown): A smart, stunningly-rendered trip down a mortality rabbit hole. This series makes death feel beautiful, not foreboding. No small feat.

  • The Weather Man by Jody Leheup and Nathan Fox (Image Comics): Combines sci-fi action with black comedy to spectacular effect. The Weather Man feels like it’s just warming up and we can’t wait for what’s next.

  • These Savage Shores by Ram V and Sumit Kumar (Vault Comics): Top to bottom this might be the most beautifully-realized comic on the shelves right now. Everything about it, from the story to the art, is gorgeous.

  • Kill or be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image Comics): I can’t remember the last time a series reached such a satisfying conclusion. This instant classic is only four volumes, so time and commitment are not reasons to skip this crime thriller. In fact, we can’t think of any reason to not read this one.

  • Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (DC Comics): The Eisner-winning creative team concluded this masterpiece in spectacular fashion. This is an all-time great story about the humanity behind superheroes.

  • Bone Parish by Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf (BOOM Comics): This book is Breaking Bad with a horror angle set in a gorgeously-rendered New Orleans. Cullen Bunn is the king of horror comics right now, and books like this make it easy to see why.

  • Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson (Image Comics): This comic rocks just as hard as the title implies. No one composes better pages than Daniel Warren Johnson. Each page is a piece of art unto itself.

  • Fearscape by Ryan O’Sullivan and Andrea Mutti (Vault Comics): The best comic about storytelling since Sandman. Full stop. If you have ever embarked on a creative endeavor, this one will speak to you.

  • The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett (Marvel Comics): This Big 2 book reads like an indie title, and we mean that as a high compliment. More creative freedom, more great comics.


  • Isola by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl (Image Comics): World building at it’s finest. This character driven story is immersive and heavy with gorgeous atmosphere.

  • Friendo by Alex Paknadel and Martin Simmonds (Vault Comics): Is modern technology sweet? Yes. Is it also subtly terrifying? Yes. No book explores this contradiction better than Friendo.

Find more writing about comics from The Stewart Bros. on our reviews page!

REVIEW: Fearscape #2 Brims with Imposter Syndrome…in a Good Way

Fearscape #2 is out 11/7.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 debuted last month(ish) as a bonafide hit, selling out, necessitating a second printing, and earning copious praise from comic book creators and reviewers (many—if not all—of whom are aspiring creators too) alike. This was, perhaps, unsurprising. Fearscape’s first issue spoke directly to the feeling of yearning to be an inspired creative genius, and, well, falling short. Simply put, us readers had been there. It was painfully relatable emotional territory for the book’s target audience: monthly indie comics folks. That familiar state of mind was then expertly accompanied by a high stakes fantasy quest in another realm (which most indie comics folk also enjoy), and—BOOM!—narrative dynamite.

A first issue as good as Fearscape’s is a blessing and curse, though, reeling in the audience while setting the bar almost impossibly high for a follow up. In other words, some regression is to be expected. The same tricks that felt so surprising in the debut are less effective. There’s a bit of that in Fearscape #2, but the smart initial construction of this book’s tone, plus an equally smart twist at this issue’s end, make for another thoroughly engaging read. And really, I haven’t stopped being impressed yet with the pitch-perfect narrative voice writer Ryan O’Sullivan has created, nor the way he uses it.

To recap: protagonist Henry Henry (perfect name for a writer, the Guy in Your MFA Twitter couldn’t have done better) went to the home of his bed-bound mentor and stole a manuscript to pass off as his own. Before he successfully absconded with the work, he found himself confronted by a ghostly extra-dimensional muse recruiting Earth’s best storyteller to represent mankind in a fantasy realm called the Fearscape, where storytelling ability is needed to stave catastrophe off from afflicting the real world.

The plot is enough to make for compelling comics. Fearscape, however, adds a deeper character layer with the way it portrays its protagonist’s roiling imposter syndrome. Henry Henry constantly overcompensates with his pretentious narrative voice while outwardly acting like a total jackass. You can see why he does and says things, and it makes sense, even if you can’t help but resent him for it. Here’s a great example: an early sequence has Henry Henry brusquely telling his guide, Try to keep up, muse...followed in the next panel by this narration [The asthma attack which immediately followed the prior scene has been omitted for the sake of narrative cohesion.] It’s creative, meta, narratively-effective, and riddled with self-resentment. It’s perfect.

Fearscape continues to read as if O’Sullivan is taking a deep inventory of the worst and ugliest parts of his own motivation to create...then cranking them to 11 and putting them in a comic. You can practically feel the self-loathing (in a good way), especially as Fearscape #2 comes to its conclusion. And it’s this sincerity that separates this story from the hacky work it worries it may become. This book is rich with words and ways of thinking seemingly culled from ghosts of painful undergraduate creative writing workshops. These moments emotions are honest, staggeringly so.

Andre Mutti is also just such a versatile artist, given a chance to really shine in the fantasy landscapes and characters found in this issue. Mutti’s character designs are impressive, but it’s the level of clarity the artist’s storytelling techniques lend to the ending sequence (which has real potential to confuse) that really stand out.  

This second issue has me curious about the future of the book, too. This is certainly not a Fountainhead-esque experiment about the value of individualism and uncompromising work, but there’s definitely a point of view about artistry coming into focus. To me, the real mystery seems to be not how the world will be saved from the Fearscape or who will be the storyteller to save it, but rather what the real life creators have learned about craft and aspirations along the way. And, really, isn’t that what most stories are all about? Anyway, I’m so far lost in self-reflective theories here, I may need a long walk...

Overall: Fearscape #2 builds on one of the year’s best debuts to deliver another adventure in metafiction, one perfectly tailored for an indie comic audience. The protagonist’s imposter syndrome is so ugly and sincere that writerly types can’t help but relate, regardless of how painful it becomes, and there’s real honest beauty in that. 9.0/10

Fearscape #2
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Fearscape #1 by Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, & Vladimir Popov

Fearscape #1 is out Sept. 26, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 is the latest new series from fast-rising indie publisher Vault Comics, with hints of a diverse range of stories about stories, from movies like Midnight in Paris to famous cartoon shorts like Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Google it, you’re likely familiar…). This comic is smart and unique, and it pushes the limits of the sequential graphic storytelling medium, deploying a strong literary voice along with a concept that ranks among the best of today’s creator-owned comic wave.

It’s one part Saga, Monstress, or Wic + Div, and it’s one part that killer short story you read in The New Yorker, maybe by Zadie Smith, T.C. Boyle, or Lauren Groff. It’s an amalgam of your favorite graphic novels and that conversation you had last week with that annoying guy in tweed at your friend’s dinner party, the one who kept referencing his MFA.

Phew. That’s an onslaught of gimmicky descriptors, but this book grows from, speaks to, and stands upon mankind’s storytelling traditions. As such, references are perhaps the best means of giving readers an idea of what they’re in for when they open this comic. Now then, let’s get granular and go into Fearscapes’ plot, strengths, and best lines, shall we?

Plot: An otherworldly being called The Muse comes to take humanity’s greatest storyteller to The Fearscape, a realm of dark magic where human fears exist as living creatures. That storyteller is tasked with overcoming the greatest of all fears, thereby freeing humanity from them. The Muse comes for a venerable fantasy writer and instead finds Henry Henry (perfect failed author name, btw), a fraud who is busy stealing a manuscript from the home of the aforementioned famous writer, who is Henry’s friend/benefactor and is also sick and dying. It’s a lot, but Andrea Mutti’s artwork is clear and imaginative, and it orients the reader, while writer Ryan O’Sullivan makes excellent use of authoritive narration, which brings us to Fearscape #1’s single greatest strength...

...its voice, which is just pretentious enough to remind us what type of guy Henry Henry is (seriously, perfect name) without making us totally hate him, although holy wow is it close. Voice does so much work in this story, conveying that our main dude is a personification of imposter syndrome, oozing insecurity with his pretentiousness cranked to 11. It remains to be seen if the creators can emotionally vest us in the guy, but for now the intrigue and imagination is so compelling it doesn’t matter.

So, let’s get into some of best lines, including: All authors are ultimately translators; endlessly rewording stories and ideas we’ve heard countless times before.

And this resentful take on genre writing: Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world.

Finally, this shot at a particularly loathsome subclass of human: Yet, despite this, we shall still find ourselves opposed by the casual reader and, even worse, its mutated older sibling, the critic.

Overall: A nigh-perfect debut, a unique comic that pushes the boundaries of sequential graphic storytelling. Fearscape #1 is one part killer creator-owned comic, one part famous literary short story, and 100 percent not to be missed.  10/10

Fearscape #1 is available Sept. 26, 2018.

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