Going back to an office or wherever you happen to work is never fun after the holidays, but this January wasn’t as bad as usual, mostly on account of all the great comics that came out. So many great comics, in fact, we struggled to fit them all on our list.
This is why, as you're about to see, we found creative ways to include extra books. Plus, we figured if you didn’t want to read about more comics, you wouldn’t be on a website called Batman’s Bookcase, right?
Enough explaining, though. Let’s get to the top comics of January 2018!
A new feature! Our rankings heavily account for longevity, rewarding creative teams for the entirety of stories as well as for the quality of a given month’s issue, but everyone loves new #1s and so we've decided to highlight those too.
Behold! We’ve chosen our first firsts.
Abbott #1 by Saladin Ahmed / Sami Kivela: This debut does everything well, from setting (hardboiled 1970s Detroit) to protagonist (equally hardboiled journalist-cum-ghosthunter) to art (wow!). The supernatural dread reminds me of Ahmed’s excellent fantasy novel The Throne of the Crescent Moon, and this book is also set in his native Detroit. Both of these things seem to make this story all the more personal. Overall: Signs point to a hit that matches (if not exceeds) what Ahmed has accomplished with his great and surprising run on Marvel’s Black Bolt.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 by Mark Russell / Mike Feehan: There’s something deeply appropriate about Mark Russell taking The Flintstones, a repurposed corporate property, and telling stories about post-capitalist society, about everything from the military industrial complex to theology to gentrification. I expected more of this from Snagglepuss, just reoriented toward art and discrimination. Issue #1, however, builds on Flintstones while taking a subtler approach to commentary. It’s also relentlessly stylish, thanks to Mike Feehan. Overall: Can’t believe I’m typing this, but the spiritual successor to Mad Men is a comic about Snagglepuss, and I love it.
Another new feature! A section for books that didn’t quite make the Top 5 but were close, starting with Captain America #697, a nigh-perfect Marvel story and another fantastic entry in this young, back-to-basics run from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, one of comics’ best teams.
Last week, we celebrated the end of an all-time great Green Arrow run, but maybe that celebration was premature, as the book won’t officially end until April. Good thing, because with issues as funny and gorgeous as Green Arrow #36, we want to savor every moment.
News broke that Christopher Priest’s Justice League and Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America would end in April, replaced by Scott Snyder’s mega event, No Justice. This is exciting, but also sad because the current Justice League line is telling its best stories in years. Orlando’s character dynamics are intricate and compelling, while Priest is putting a fascinating real-world spin on the League. The good news? We'll still get six more issues of both books.
Superman #39, meanwhile, was a sweet and inspiring story right from the heart of the character. One of the best standalone issues of a run that has had many great standalone issues.
Finally, Sean Murphy’s ongoing Joker-centric epic Batman White Knight has been our favorite non-continuity in as long as we can remember. Murphy clearly has a real creative vision here, one that is taking him to corners of the character’s mythos that have never before been explored.
Top 5 (ish) Comics of January 2018
5. Monstress #13 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Monstress has been one of my favorite books since it started in 2015, and, despite a nearly eight-month hiatus, this issue immediately reminded me of why. It’s just so good. Around the time this book started, I read an interview in which Marjorie Liu discussed the difficulty of world-building for an entirely original concept such as this one.
The effort she’s put into this really shows, resulting in a world that is among the best in comics. It feels like an edgier, politically-charged setting for a classic Final Fantasy, rendered more exquisitely than those pixelated realms by Sana Takeda, one of the most underrated artists in comics. Monstress #13 is largely a table-setting issue, but that doesn’t make it less worthy. This, quite simply, is a book that should be on everyone’s pull list, and I foresee it climbing higher on our charts in future months as the new arc continues.
4. Southern Bastards #19 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
I almost didn’t put Southern Bastards #19 on this list, even though the book was as tense and bastardly as always. I almost skipped it because #20 seems to be the issue to bring a major climax, possibly even a turning point for the book, much the way the end of the first arc did way back when. I just couldn’t resist, though; this issue was too good.
It was delayed, as always, yet the plot felt as if Jasons Aaron and Latour had a new creative momentum, so much so I think we may see the next issue in March (an optimistic timeline for this book). Southern Bastards is rife with political commentary about smalltown cronyism, corruption, and the dark side of sports, which is all compelling, but moreover the script and art here is just on a higher level.
3. Walking Dead #175 by Robert Kirkman / Charlie Adlard
This was the first issue that felt like it had real stakes in a while, definitely since *SPOILER* Andrea’s death, maybe even since before The Whisper War. And when it was finished, Walking Dead #175 brought us yet another new status quo, one Kirkman planted the seeds for sometime back.
The last page here was a literal tear jerker for me, bringing a major revelation for a long-time character who, like all long-time characters in this book, has been through so much. My only complaint is the new character, Princess, feels too forced, to the point the script emphasizes her eccentricity by having her say aloud, “I’m kind of weird.” It’s all good, though. Subtly isn’t what’s for sale here; good-old fashioned survivalist apocalypse is.
2. Mister Miracle #6 by Tom King / Mitch Gerads
Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is getting progressively harder to write about, because A. it’s been on our lists four times now, and B. it’s a complex and building masterpiece. Previously, I’ve gushed about King and Gerads’ other modern classic, The Sheriff of Babylon, and I’ve talked about how the beauty of this story, as in Kings’ other work, is how it uses superheroes as a lens pointed back on us, forcing evaluation of our own lives.
This time around, I’ll just note that Mister Miracle #6 has some of the trappings of mundanity that made King’s work on The Vision so special, but there’s also a deeper, meta layer here playing with dual ideas: the first being that as an escape artist and comic book character, Scott Free is a showman, a celebrity, and the second being that the nature of wanting to escape, be it a traumatic childhood or a literal hell planet, is one born of stress or depression, and it doesn't go away once you're out. The true beauty of the story will eventually be in how those notions intersect.
T-1. Doctor Strange #384 - Redneck #9 - Thanos #15 by Donny Cates / Various
Donny Cates is a man on fire. Not literally, at least I hope not, but in terms of his writing. I’d been a fan of Cates’ Paybacks, which he wrote with writing partner Eliot Rahal, but hadn’t realized his massive potential until he burst back onto my radar a year ago this month with God Country, Image’s best new book last year.
He’s now Marvel exclusive, and the publisher looks mighty wise for it. This month emphasized that. Cates' other Image book, Redneck, is putting its characters through awful travails at breakneck speed while also doing a great job of simultaneously unspooling their secrets. And his Doctor Strange is a tour-de-force of humor, action, and ideas built upon the excellent Jason Aaron run that preceded it.
The best Cates book this January, however, was Thanos #15. Controversy about Jim Starlin aside, because it wasn’t Cates’ fault at all, Thanos is the best Marvel book going. Cates writes with a joyous and dark sensibility that reminds me of the Coen brothers' movie Blood Simple, and it fits perfectly with big bad Thanos. Geoff Shaw, who has teamed with Cates on much of his best work, seems to be having just as much fun, rendering young Thanos’ smugness and older Thanos’ condescending wisdom exquisitely, especially during the flame sword scene. This book ends on a cliffhanger involving one of my favorite characters, and I’m dying...DYING...for the next issue.
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.