December 17, 2019

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James' Favorite Comics of 2019

For 2019, I've decided to write about 25 comics I loved this year. As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just my personal favorites (listed in alphabetical order). 

I hope you find something you enjoy!

are you listening by Tillie Walden, published by First Second
A sad, poignant, surreal road trip. An exploration of dealing with trauma and loss. Incredibly vivid, gorgeous, intricate details, colored perfectly to bring the maybe-supernatural and hallucinatory elements to life. are you listening from Tillie Walden has all of this, and more. Walden's 2018 book On a Sunbeam (my favorite comic of 2018, in any form) would be a nearly impossible book to live up to, and thankfully she doesn't try. That book was an expansive tale of friendship, longing and adventure. This story, while taking place on the open road, feels more contained and has a smaller cast of characters. But it's a gorgeous book (seriously, Walden's art blows me away), and I came to really care about the characters, and I think you will too. This book is also a real in-depth exploration of dealing with trauma and loss. With regard to the trauma, Walden handles those issues thoughtfully and with great compassion. She has a similarly deft touch when it comes to loss, specifically the loss of a parent. The loss of a parent is something I dealt with earlier this year, and I was moved by the way Walden addressed loss and grief in this story. are you listening is a lovely, sad, surreal, beautiful, desolate exploration of finding connection in harsh circumstances, and I recommend it highly.

Captain Marvel by Kelly Thompson, Carmen Carnero and Tamra Bonvillain
Captain Marvel is a character I've really enjoyed in team books (well, other than Civil War II, of which we will never speak again) and have intermittently enjoyed in solo books. Well, 2019 is the year when Captain Marvel (the movie, which I've seen approximately a zillion times) made over (cue Dr. Evil voice) a Billion Dollars at the box office, so I was hoping that this would be the year that Marvel would put its best foot forward with the character and choose a strong creative team for the character. Thankfully, they did! Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero's Captain Marvel series has been a real delight this year; one of my favorite superhero books. Why? Thompson has an incredible knack for writing believable, interesting characters and stories, and has a fantastic ear for dialogue. I felt like I was really reading Carol. And Carnero (with whom I wasn't previously familiar) has a dynamic, engaging style of art that works wonderfully both with superhero action, and with quieter, more intimate moments. I'm excited to see what both of them do next.  


East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, published by Image Comics
There's only one more issue of East of West left, and I will be so sad to see it go. I don't know for sure if I have a "Book of the Decade" but if I did, East of West would be in the top 3 (at the very least). What makes East of West such a special book? Well, it has elements of alternate history, it's a futuristic western, there's religious and apocalyptic drama, it's a complex story of multiple nations and their intricate politics, it's a love story, and all of that is in the first few issues. It's at turns dramatic, funny, intense, action packed, cynical, optimistic, and always vast in scope. This is a huge world of many competing interests that Jonathan Hickman has crafted, but the biggest selling point in why to pick it up is that the art is out-of-this-world good every month, and has only gotten better over the course of years. Nick Dragotta is an absolute master of kinetic action, violence, physical humor, and drama, but also the quieter moments. He's got an incredible ability to control the pace of the book, speeding us up or slowing us down through the action. And the colors in this book have consistently exploded off of the page. The colorist is Frank Martin and he's really done special work in this book (some of my favorite color work). Color is such an important part of this book - each nation is associated with different colors, and colors have both thematic and also atmospheric elements to them. The "realism" of the colors is also often ratcheted up or down depending on the context. This book is an absolute gift and one you absolutely need to be reading.

The Fearsome Doctor Fang by Tze Chun, Mike Weiss, Dan McDaid and Daniela Miwa, published by TKO Studios
Doctor Fang is squarely in the “pulpy adventure comic” genre, which I absolutely love and want to read more of. The book is written (by Tze Chun and Mike Weiss) with a very readable, crisp patter between the characters that feels era and genre-appropriate. And while the story doesn’t stop to take much of a break, the pacing still feels entirely appropriate and manageable (as this is a “race against time” story). The engaging, fast-paced story (by Chun and Weiss) is brought to gorgeous, pulpy life by the spectacular team of Dan McDaid on art and Daniela Miwa on colors. I’ve been a big fan of McDaid’s work for a number of years now, which I first encountered on the wonderful Vandroid. He’s got a rich, detailed style with a gritty, realistically-exaggerated feel to it. In Doctor Fang, McDaid uses a slightly cleaner line but never loses his gritty feel. McDaid has an excellent artistic partner in Miwa, who really does terrifically varied work.  This book has heroism and derring-do and is just an immensely fun read.

 
Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar, published by Boom! Studios
Giant Days is a hilarious, heartfelt, absurd and very insightful book, which concluded this year. It’s the story of three women who’ve become best friends at university in England (along with their assorted friends and significant others), but that really doesn’t do it justice. Over the past few years I’ve come to love Esther, Daisy and Susan, along with their friends McGraw and Ed and others. Each has distinct personalities and great stories, and I promise you’ll come to love them as well.  These are characters that I've loved to spend time with, and that's a tribute to writer John Allison and artist Max Sarin. The art in this comic has been such a gift. It's "cartoony" and stylized, but Sarin has such a gift for facial acting, body language, and interpersonal interactions that it will feels as "realistic" as anything. Sarin's grasp on visual humor is first-rate, which is a good thing because this comic is hilarious. Hilarious and smart and empathetic and compassionate.

Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, published by Image Comics
Gideon Falls is a comic that delivers truly scary and creepy moments, a complex and intriguing world, and some absolutely jaw-dropping, terrifying and gorgeous art.  Written by Jeff Lemire, it started as a "religious horror" series but it has quickly expanded into something bigger, weird and much more ambitious. It’s a story with mysteries and dark shadows lurking in the corners, which also has a religious bent to it, and it’s building a complex and interesting world. The art from Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart is some of my favorite art of the year. It's seriously jaw-dropping. I love Sorrentino’s flair and style as a visual storyteller, and with Stewart on colors, Sorrentino’s work has never looked better or creepier.  This is a profound, insightful and empathetic look at lonely, scared people trying to understand an insane world. It’s also one of the best looking and freakiest comics that you can buy these days. So, not surprisingly, I highly recommend it.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh, published by DC Comics
I'm not particularly a Harley Quinn fan but I'd heard good things about this book and I checked it out. I'm SO glad I did. This was a wonderful story. This book tells the story of a teenage Harley Quinn, trying to survive in Gotham, and it shows the community of friends she makes, along with being a really smart story on conformity, representation, gentrification and other heady ideas. But lest you think it's a heady time, this is an incredibly fun read. Writer Mariko Tamaki has a wonderful voice and brings the distinctive characters to life. I feel like each of the main and secondary characters has an inner life, and it's a sad, funny and moving story. This story is brought to life by the incredible Steve Pugh. I know Pugh primarily from The Flintstones (a GREAT book) and his work is gorgeous there, but it's at a whole other level here. Really stunning, detailed, emotional work. All of the characters are brought to incredible life.  More generally I wanted to say that I've read several other DC YA graphic novels this year in addition to Harley Quinn, those being stories about Catwoman, Black Canary and Raven, and I've very much enjoyed all of them. DC has gotten really talented writers and artists to tell these stories.

 
Powers of X/House of X by Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, published by Marvel Comics
Ok this is a big one for me. Anyone who knows my comics interests probably knows how much of a fan of Jonathan Hickman's work I am (see here, here and here). Both his independent and Marvel work are some of my favorite comics, ever - in particular, his extended run on Fantastic Four is my favorite run on any ongoing book ever, and as far as I'm concerned, his takes on the various FF characters should be considered the definitive take. Anyway, when he left Marvel after the conclusion of Secret Wars, it just wasn't the same without him. Thankfully in 2019, the Hickman drought ended in a huge way.  House of X and Powers of X (or HoxPox for short) were published every week over the course of 12 weeks, and it was one of the best experiences I've had as a comics fan in years. The comics themselves were spectacular - the art from Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia was consistently great, and the stories were at turns funny, dramatic, action-packed, cerebral, tragic, elegiac and overall just really fascinating. Hickman knows how to tell a complex story that rewards careful rereading, and I loved this aspect of the books. But what I really loved was how excited the comics community was about discussing these books, week after week. I haven't discussed comics in detail on a weekly basis like that for a very long time. This was a wonderful read, and I'm excited to see where the X-Men comics go next, which is not something I've said in a very long time.

The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose, published by Marvel Comics 
If you haven't been reading Immortal Hulk, you're missing the very best Marvel Comics has to offer these days. The art from Joe Bennett (and a few guest contributors like the terrific Ryan Bodenheim) is scary and intense and with moments of dark humor. And when I say scary, I am saying there is some incredibly horrifying, freaky-ass stuff in these comics. Some very intense body horror that is appropriately horrifying. This comic has been a return to the Hulk's horror roots; it began as a story of Hulk as a dark avenging force in the night, righting wrongs with a malevolent grin, but as the story has unfolded it’s clear that writer Al Ewing is telling a much bigger story about evil, destiny, and the darkness within (full of obscure Biblical references for you Holy Scripture fans out there). This is an INCREDIBLY ambitious book, one that's telling a story about the nature of good and evil, and about inescapable darkness. It's a story that spans billions of years and is playing with huge ideas. This story has brought to life a whole new Hulk persona. This is a Hulk who sees through you, and can sees people’s lies and hypocrisy and secret desires laid bare. And he doesn’t just defeat foes physically, he’s smart in a calculating, cruel way. This is the definition of a must-read book.  


Invisible Kingdom by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward, published by Dark Horse/Berger Books
What if the Catholic Church and Amazon were each even more powerful than than they currently are. And what if they were outwardly opposed to one another but secretly in cahoots.  And what if there were spaceships and alien races and worlds with complex social structure and gender?  Well great news - this book already exists and its fantastic. It's called Invisible Kingdom and it's one of the smartest books out there. Writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Christian Ward (that's a hell of a team!) are telling what feels like a big, thought-provoking story about the intersection between commerce and religion on new worlds world where the characters still feel very human. I've read the first arc and it's really just what I'd hoped it would be. Wilson is a very talented storyteller, as she's created compelling characters with believable interactions, and she's also created a whole other world with complex systems and social structure. That's a really remarkable skill, and she does it very well.  She also has done something else that I think has a high degree of difficulty, which is to make up a religion and have it make sense and feel realistic. What an amazing creative partner she has in Christian Ward. Ward has done some of the most out-there, mind-blowing art of the last 10 years (Infinite Vacation, Ody-C, Black Bolt, and more) - the art in Invisible Kingdom feels less psychedelic thus far, but I'm loving the look of the book. Ward isn't just a creator of wild- out-there pages, he's also an exceptionally gifted sequential storyteller. This book is a definite must-read.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, published by First Second
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (or Laura Dean for short) is a spectacular story about teenage love, toxic relationships, the value of true friends, and the importance of learning to love and value yourself enough to remove yourself from bad situations. Laura Dean tells the story of Freddy, who's in love with (and in an unhealthy relationship) with Laura Dean, the most popular girl at school. It's at turns funny, sad, poignant, moving, anger-inducing, and is overall just such a wonderful story. You'll love the fantastic, emotional, insightful art from Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, who does incredibly detailed work in bringing this story to life. From big moments to the tiniest gestures, Valero-O'Connell is a talent to watch. And she brings to life such a moving, empathetic, insightful story from writer Mariko Tamaki, who really gets you to care about the characters. I totally hate Laura Dean, but I absolutely loved Laura Dean.  

Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram and Matt Hollingsworth, published by Image Comics
I only read this book recently, but it made such a strong impression that I thought it had to be on my list.  Little Bird is a dark story, but one that has some hope in it, even through some very hard times.  This is the story of a futuristic United States, that is now a total Christian theocracy and also controls Canada and Mexico, such that it is now the United Nations of America.  And it's a dark, scary, horrifying place. Any resistance is met with ultimate punishment, and many humans that have evolved or mutated live on the margins of society. There are robot/cyborg beings, but they're pretty terrifying. It's a story about the autocratic leader, and his connection to one of the rebel leaders and her daughter (the titular "Little Bird").  It's a story about holding out hope of independence in the face of oppression. And it's also a remarkably illustrated book, courtesy of the talented Ian Bertram. Bertram has a fantastic style all his own, but stylistically he is in the Geoff Darrow/Frank Quitely/Chris Burnham school of art, which is excellent company to be in. He's certainly a talented visual storyteller, but the art itself is just striking. Bertram puts a remarkable amount of painstaking detail on every page. His action is dynamic and so intense, and the book is brutal and visceral (like, literally, there are viscera all over the place sometimes). And there are some other just generally horrifying images in the story, which is not for the faint of heart. But if you're looking for a story of hope in a very dark place, I'd strongly recommend Little Bird

Meet the Skrulls by Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon, published by Marvel Comics
Meet the Skrulls is kind of like American Beauty meets The Americans meets Mean Girls, but with your favorite green, shape-shifting aliens.  That pitch should frankly be enough to sway anyone, but beyond just being a great idea, this is a truly wonderful story in its execution. Writer Robbie Thompson is telling an astute, timely story about alienation and assimilation, with sharp dialogue and dramatic twists. And the story is brought to life by the spectacular Niko Henrichon, artist on The Pride of Baghdad and Noah, both incredible visual feasts. He doesn't do a lot of comics work, and his artwork is both gorgeous and also beautiful storytelling. This is just one volume, and it's something you don't want to miss.

 
Murder Falcon by Daniel warren Johnson and Mike Spicer, published by Image Comics
Daniel Warren Johnson is an incredibly talented artist. Every time he posts a commission on Twitter, people (justifiably) freak out. He's got an incredible level of detail, and the art feels visceral and kinetic. And metal.  Totally metal.  With that in mind, Johnson's comic Murder Falcon pushed so many terrific buttons for people.  This is a comic that is a wild story but also feels incredibly emotional and personal. It's a story about the power of heavy metal saving the world. More specifically, it's the story of Jake, who's shredding metal guitar is the only thing that can power the Murder Falcon, our sole defense against the evil monsters of darkness. This book has incredible action, a great musical heart, humor, and is also incredibly emotionally affecting. Johnson has a great knack for action and emotion, and Murder Falcon is terrific read (and listen to something loud while you read it).

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher, published by Image Comics
Paper Girls has turned out to be so much more than I had originally anticipated (and I already knew from the beginning that I would love it, just based on the creative team). I knew from the get-go that the combination of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang would make for something great, but it become such a special, beloved book for me. My love of this book started with the 80's setting (I'm the exact same age as the characters), but it's so much more than a nostalgia trip. This is an incredible science fiction story where it truly feels like anything can happen, and it pretty much does.  Insane time travel, multiple versions of characters, wonderful bonds of friendship, young romance, it's all there. Every once in a while a comic comes along and feels like it really has the magic, and Paper Girls is one of those books. The art on this book is consistently stunning, courtesy of the virtuoso Cliff Chiang, whose gorgeous, heartfelt illustrations bring crazy ideas to life on a page where he's equally adept at capturing humor, sadness, and the full range of human emotion.  Matt Wilson on colors is a rock star, giving this book it's wild, neon, atmospheric colors that are so memorable. And every issue looks and feels terrific thanks to the design work of Jared K. Fletcher.  Given that Brian K. Vaughan s writing, this is probably not a surprise. He's the author of some of the most popular and deservedly beloved comics of the past 15 years. Runaways, Y: The Last Man and Saga had that magic, and so does Paper Girls. That amazing alchemy that comes from an incredible combination of writer and artists and creative team, where what they make feels like something with its own life to it. I absolutely adore this comic, and you will too.


 
Sara by Garth Ennis, Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by TKO Studios
Writer Garth Ennis is a master storyteller of war stories, and Sara is a masterfully told, tense war story that also feels like an interesting spin on the World War II story genre.  Sara tells the tale of Sara and her fellow company of Soviet snipers during the winter of 1942 in the siege of Leningrad. Their position is tenuous, and the Germans are close by. But Sara is unflinching, as she's someone with extraordinary skill and calm as a sniper, earning a reputation as "The Red Bitch".  Ennis brings a number of distinct personalities to life. And we can feel that Sara has a lot to say, but she's keeping it to herself.  It's a wonderfully tense, "in the trenches" story, which is brought to life by the spectacular duo of artist Steve Epting and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser.  Epting is one of my favorite artists, one of the few where I'll basically buy something just because he's the artist, regardless of what the story is. I first become aware of his work on Captain America, telling the iconic Winter Soldier story with Ed Brubaker. And I absolutely adored his and Brubaker's espionage story Velvet.  But it's possible that Epting's work in Sara might actually be my favorite yet. He has a wonderfully detailed style that's realistic without ever trying to simply look like the real world. It's detailed, tense storytelling, and Epting is a master of pacing, action choreography, and also of body language and facial expression. Breitweiser brings terrific skill to the colors here - there's a lot white here, but the combination of the whites and browns and other colors will have you feeling a shiver, as the sense of "winter" really comes across. Other flashback scenes (usually set in nicer weather) spring to life, as the contrast is clear. Sara is a fantastic and tense war story, and a great read.

Second Coming by Mark Russell, Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk and Andy Troy, published by Ahoy Comics
Mark Russell has been writing some of the smartest books in all of comics in recent years (Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Prez, The Flintstones) and Second Coming belongs in a category with those stories. Russell (paired with some remarkable artists) has a fantastic ability to deliver some of the most biting, brutal satire and social commentary disguised with cutesy images of talking animals, superheroes or ancient humans. The delightful art makes the satire all the more cutting.  Now, you might have heard about the controversy surrounding this comic (which was originally going to be published by DC/Vertigo, and is now published by Ahoy Comics), but here's what's clear  is that Russell knows his Bible (see the extraordinary God Is Disappointed In You) and his knowledge and clear love of the scripture comes across throughout this story.  This book is "blasphemous" in the same way that all great art is blasphemous, in that it makes you reconsider assumptions and ponder deeper issues. The story here involves God being very disappointed in us (and his son), and Jesus coming to Earth and hanging out with the world's greatest superhero. The art is gorgeously rendered by Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk, with Pace handling the heavenly/Biblical passages in a way that feels very "Illustrated Bible", and Kirk ably handling the superhero storytelling in a modern, more gritty style. And it's clear that Russell is coming knives out - not for Christianity, but for the hypocrites, fraudsters and tyrants that claim to be acting in God's name.  Second Coming is a must-read.

Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta, published by TKO Studios 
I only read Sentient a few weeks ago, but it was clear from the moment I started reading this story that this was going to end up being one of my favorite comics of the year.  I really enjoyed the first wave of TKO Studios comics (as evidenced by the presence of two other comics on this list) and was so impressed with this book as well. This is a tragic, dramatic, intense story in which a group of children and a star ship's AI need to make the best of a terrible situation. This story is brought to life by the wonderful Gabriel Walta. You might have last seen Walta's spectacular work on Doctor Strange for a little while, or before that on the acclaimed series The Vision.  In that story, Walta's distinctive style really brought to life the weirdness and existential dread of the story. Here, Walta similarly is perfect to bring to life the heartbreaking, ominous, scary situation these people are in. It's gorgeous work, his best yet (and that's definitely saying something).  It's a remarkable journey to see the AI attempt to go way beyond what it was programmed to do. And it's compelling storytelling to see children take charge in an unspeakable situation, simply because they have to. Lemire, as always, is a first rate storyteller and has a terrific ear for dialogue. His children sound like children, and the AI feels like what an AI in this situation might sound like.  This is a dramatic, beautifully executed story and I highly recommend it.

Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley, published by Marvel Comics
So typically, superhero comics follow a sliding timescale. This means that the timeline keeps getting adjusted so that the characters in the stories are not aging in real time. So, things will be adjusted (e.g., Iron Man first built his armor during the Vietnam war, and then this became the first Gulf War, and then it became another war) so that the stories make sense in the present day. Otherwise, if you let the characters age in real time, Spider-Man would be a very old man by now.  It's a terrific premise, and that's the basic pitch for Spider-Man: Life Story, written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Mark Bagley.  Having recently reread the whole series, I can tell you that this is a must-read for any superhero comic fans, or any reader who wants a terrific, emotional story. I really enjoyed Bagley's work here. Bagley has a ton of experience drawing Spider-Man, having drawn the Ultimate Spider-Man comic for many years. I enjoyed Bagley's art here very much, as he brings great emotion, action and detail to every page. Zdarsky also does remarkable work here, finding ways to cleverly weave in decades of Spider-man's history including his many members of his rogues gallery.  This is a dark story, as the team here pulls no punches in subjecting Peter Parker to one terrible situation after another. It's not exactly a charmed life he's leading. But the story ends on a wonderfully hopeful note. Like I said, this is a must-read.

 
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn, published by DC Comics
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen is an absolute delight and a joy to read every time a new issue comes out.  Matt Fraction is a writer whose voice I miss in superhero comics. His Hawkeye series (with an incredible artistic team, primarily David Aja) was a real masterpiece of humor, compassion and a slice of real life in a crazy superhero world. And Steve Lieber, well, I can't say enough great things about his work.  His work in Superior Foes of Spider-Man and The Fix is some of the best visual humor and storytelling I've seen in a comic (my review of The Fix here). So, I can't even tell you how excited I was to hear that they would be pairing up to tell a story about Jimmy Olen. Well, we're 5 issues in, and the series has been every bit as funny, intelligent, charming, insightful, absurd and wonderful as I'd hoped it would be.  Jimmy Olsen is like the Zelig of the DC Universe, he just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place, depending on how you look at it).  Steve Lieber is such a gifted visual storyteller. Facial expressions, comic timing, sequential storytelling - he's a master of all of it in this book. This is the hilarious, good-natured superhero book you need in your life.

These Savage Shores by Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault Comics 
If you're looking for a remarkably thoughtful story about love, war, commerce, politics, colonization, and also vampires, then These Savage Shores is just the book for you.  This story starts off as one thing, and then turns into something else entirely. But that's part of the story - as you initially think it's going to be told from the point of view of an English vampire in the 1700's, setting sail for India. But then you realize it's not a story told from the perspective of the colonizer, but the colonized. There's a lot of complex politics involved in the interactions of various Indian kingdoms, all the while with the East India Company looming. It's also a terrific supernatural story that's at its heart a love story. Ram V is a wonderful writer, as there are parts of the story that feel quite poetic. There's also sections of text mixed in that feel quite additive to the story. Ram V has incredible storytelling partners in Sumit Kumar (artist), Vittorio Astone (colors) and Aditya Bidikar (lettering). There's a ton of skill in every visual aspect of this comic. Kumar is a remarkably detailed, skilled illustrator, moving from the lush Indian setting to the streets of London and to supernatural monster fights, all with great skill. Astone's colors do an incredible highlighting the lush land of India where s very much alive and also something to be feared by colonizers (or vampires); the colors work perfectly with Kumar's lines to bring to life varied settings and emotions. Seriously - these two do incredible, haunting, gorgeous, alive work on the page. And Bidikar does terrific work lettering this story, using many different (but all perfectly chosen) fonts to bring to life the different voices and perspectives of the story. Seriously, read this book.   

Thor/King Thor by Jason Aaron, Mike Del Mundo, Esad Ribic and more, published by Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron has been telling a huge, epic, very impressive story about Thor, Asgard, and the other realms, over the course of seven years. This story began in the wonderful Thor: God of Thunder, illustrated by Esad Ribic, who more than anyone brings to life a muscular, adventurous world of fantasy and danger. This was a terrific story involving Thors of multiple time periods (including a King Thor from the dsitant future) and a terrific antagonist in Gorr the God Butcher). Aaron continued his amazing story of Thor by introducing a completely different Thor, that being Jane Foster, in The Mighty Thor. That was a spectacular series, as it raised many other issues and ideas that couldn't be explored with Thor Odinson. And that series was brought to life by the equally spectacular Russell Dauterman, whose beautiful linework and creativity are only matched by his skill as a sequential storyteller. But it's all coming to a close. Years of storytelling were building up to the War of the Realms, a fantastic miniseries, and so this year we had the conclusion of Thor (mostly drawn by the talented, Mike Del Mundo, who's dreamlike style brings an other-worldliness to the story) which brought to a close the story of the current-day Thor, now the leader of Asgard. This was a moving, powerful story. But Jason Aaron wasn't done. To conclude his saga, Aaron reunited with Esad Ribic, and returned to the story of King Thor, Loki and Gorr the God Butcher. This last series is dramatic, huge, intense, and very metal. It's great to see this epic run come full circle, and it's been an incredible ride. I recommend every book in this saga.

The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba, Nick Filardi and Nate Piekos, published by Dark Horse Comics
The Umbrella Academy has had a big year. There was the Netflix series (while I have thus far only watched the first episode of, but it was really great), and also there was a whole new arc in the story, Hotel Oblivion.  To recap, Umbrella Academy is the story of seven kids with identical birthdays who were raised from birth by an eccentric millionaire named Reginald Hargreeves who knew that they would all have super powers. It's super weird, really smart, and endlessly entertaining even if some of the time you're just like WTF. But in a good way, I swear.  The whole creative team is endlessly inventive, and this story is a really original, arch, clever take on super-powered people. Along with pocket universes, time travel, spirits from the afterlife, and a lot of drugs. This story involves a reckoning with some decisions by Hargreeeves, and their repercussions today.  All of the 7 kids are messed up in their own way, and the story covers some dark subject matter without ever being too dark. The art from Gabriel Ba and Nick Filardi is truly spectacular. Gabriel Ba (who often also works with his brother Fabio Moon) has a unique, fun, loose style that is so closely tied to the story here that I couldn't imagine anyone else drawing it. I wouldn't start here (you should start with Vol.1) but The Umbrella Academy is a fantastic read.

  
The Wrong Earth by Tom Peyer, Jamal Igle, Juan Castro and Andy Troy, published by Ahoy Comics
The premise of The Wrong Earth is one of those ideas that is so good, I'm sure there are lots of people who'd say "I wish I'd thought of that". It's a great premise for a superhero story; basically, imagine if Batman '66 (i.e., the Batman from the TV show) and the Batman from The Dark Knight Returns swapped universes. In this case there's Dragonflyman from a sunny, upbeat universe where the bad guys aren't really all that bad, and nothing too serious ever happens, and Dragonflyman has a friendly, cordial relationship with the police. Then there's The Dragonfly, who hails from a dark, gritty universe where his sidekick has killed himself, he's constantly antagonized by the police, and the villains are sadistic murderers.  So there's certainly good "fish out of water" potential with this series, as you see the more gentle Dragonflyman attempt to navigate the more brutal universe, and you see The Dragonfly come up against villains that are too innocuous to even be heroes on his world. But what makes this comic a great one rather than just a good one is the interesting things that writer Tom Peyer and artist Jamal Igle do.  In this story, the swapped and not necessarily predictable responses to being swapped from one universe to another - these guys may not be as naive, or cynical, or sane as they appear. Igle does terrific artwork, bringing to life these analogue characters and their respective universes with skill and fun. This is a really smart commentary on superhero stories, in addition to being a very fun read generally. 

X-23 by Mariko Tamaki, Juann Cabal and Diego Olortegui, published by Marvel Comics
Laura Kinney is probably my favorite X-Men character right now. I just find her journey fascinating. She's not the most well-known character, so, to summarize: she was a female clone of Wolverine, with his same abilities and with claws, and trained to be a mindless killer. But she broke free from her programming and has tried to become a hero, and in All-New Wolverine (written by Tom Taylor and illustrated by David Lopez and others) and X-23, she succeeded. She's just as brutal as Logan when she needs to be, but she’s also a legacy character, and she’s trying not to be the ruthless killer that she worries that she still is. She’s also trying to embody the best of Wolverine while not embracing his worst traits. She’s also a very likable, caring and compassionate character. I actually like her better than I ever liked Logan as Wolverine. After being Wolverine for a while, Laura reverted to her X-23 designation. I was disappointed, but I needn’t have been. In the comic X-23, Laura and her found family continued to have their story told by spectacular creators in writer Mariko Tamaki and artists Diego Olortegui and Juann Cabal. Tamaki goes head-on at the idea of sisters and overcoming what we were "programmed" to be. Tamaki's depiction of Laura, her sister Gabby, and all the other characters is just wonderful. There's humor and heart here, this is a terrific family story in addition to having strong superhero action. Olortegui and Cabal do really strong work on the art in this book. The action is dynamic and all of the characters' emotions really come across. I highly recommend this series.