December 16, 2019

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Sean’s Favorite Comics of 2019

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 as drawn by Sean’s daughter, Isla.
Twenty Nineteen was the year that I read more comics than any year prior. Maybe reasoning was that I needed more substance to withstand the dread that was all around. Maybe because I had responsibilities that needed subconsciously ignored. Maybe my midlife crisis involves me approaching forty flipping through pages of comics rather than speeding through highways in a sports car. More than likely, though, it was simply driven by the fact that we simply have vast amounts of quality comics at our finger tips these days; more than we ever have before. My ten-ish favorites of the year could easily be ten entirely different than yours, simply because there are just too many good stories being told right now to narrow it down to a common collective. If you are not a reader of comics, but have a desire to start... do so here. Take note of some of my favorites, and peak around elsewhere for more, because the year end lists are bound to come flooding through.

Enjoy..

Honorable Mentions:

Ice Cream Man
by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo
published by Image Comics

For fans of scary stories and those that don't require long collected volumes that tell a large overarching story to understand what's going on. This monthly comic brings (mostly) stand alone Twilight Zone-like tales of horror to the comic shop. 

Spider-Man: Life Story
by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley
published by Marvel Comics

I explained to my eleven year old son the idea behind this comic book when it first started. I told him that it was a six volume mini series retelling the entire six decade story of Peter Parker as the Amazing Spider-Man. My son's response:  "why would anyone waste their time reading any of the old issues when they only need these six to get the whole story?" Congratulations Chip and Mark, you have successfully one-upped Stan Lee and Steve Ditko with this publication in the eyes of my young and impressionable son.

Canto
by David Booher and Drew Zucker
published by IDW Entertainment

Who said a robot can't play lead in a fantasy tale of love in knight shining armor? Certainly it wasn't Canto who said so, because in this series with the same name we bear witness to the tiny fearless robot who stops at nothing until he is able to track down the heart of the one in which he loves. In a land where love is forbidden and robots are enslaved, this story is as heartwarming as it sounds.  

Die
by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans
published by Image Comics

Full disclosure: I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I've never played Dungeons & Dragons and I have absolutely no exposure to fantasy role playing table top games. That is how this story starts, as a group of friends getting together to play a game. From there it goes in directions that Jumanji only wished it had. This is a wildly fun story with huge potential to be the next epic having everyone talking.

Frogcatchers
by Jeff Lemire
published by Gallery 13

There isn't much left that Jeff Lemire needs to prove to us. He is a master at his class and is not wasting any time doing it. Quite literally one of the hardest working creators of comics over the last decade with no signs of slowing down. Frogcatchers is an original graphic novel told exclusively by Jeff's own hands and it is one of his most touching and beautiful things I've ever read of his. He tells stories best when he dives deep into the existence of his characters and there's no exception here. Lemire is at his best when he is able to tell large stories in small format such as this. This is one for the bookshelf, believe me.

Alright.. enough of the small talk, right? Now for the meat and potatoes, the reason by which you are here. The following ten comics, listed in order down to my favorite of the year, are what I consider the best reads of the last twelve months.

Enjoy!

Top Ten:


10) Daredevil

writer:
Chip Zdarsky
artist:
Marco Checchetto (1-5, 11-15), Lalit Kumar Sharma (6-9), Jorge Fornes (10), Franscesco Mobili (14-15)
colorist:
Sunny Gho (1-5), Java Tartaglia (6-9), Jordie Bellaire (10), Nolan Woodard (11-15)
letterer:
Clayton Cowles
publisher:
Marvel Comics

Being a mostly on again off again reader, but avid collector of Daredevil comics makes me but a slightly strong case to be judge for how critical this new era of Matt Murdoch is. Let me just start by saying: this Zdarsky period is something to take note of. I’m not declaring this as being an influential piece of the overall Daredevil story in the coming decades, but simply acknowledging that what is being told here is some of my favorite done with the character. Time will be tell whether this epic exploration of Matt Murdoch after this chapter is complete. Coming in strong with his debut issue on the character, Chip Zdarsky and company waste no time executing a near flawless rendition of territory explored so many times before. Sometimes characters who have been around as long as Murdoch have they tend to muster about a stale sensibility to their existence, but here is not the case. I adore the art that main artist, Checchetto, brings as he assumes life in every panel and spread. Add to this the colorist team and the lettering prestige from Clayton Cowles and Daredevil is simply one of the best superhero comics on the stands right now. The television show saw its final episode late last year, but that does not mean that the story has to end. Pick up a comic book and follow along with the rest of us.

9) Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

writer:
Mariko Tamaki
artist:
Rosemary Valero-O'Connell
publisher:
First Second Books

If I had to pick the most surprising pick within my year end best list then I'd say with no hesitation that it would be this one. I read this book late in the year and was taken by surprise by how much it grabbed me from the very first page. For whatever the reason I often find myself avoiding a book based solely on it's exaggerated hype, but this time I listened to the rave reviews and against what I thought was my better judgement.. I tracked it down and gave it a shot. Truly, I am very glad that I made myself do that, because this time the book was deserving of that hype. This is a touching story of love and high school obsessions, all told in a creative format something similar to Dear Abby or Ask Cokie. I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It didn't teach me anything profound or show me something about myself that I hadn't yet known, but it did keep the pages turning and entertained the hell out of me for a solid hour. This was my first time reading a book by Mariko Tamaki and I assure you that I will be back for more. This believable and heartbreaking story of a young person's obsession for love had me cursing out loud at the one who kept breaking up with her. All that with a positive message and an ending you can stand behind and be glad.

8) They Called Us Enemy

writers:
George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott
artist:
Harmony Becker
publisher:
Top Shelf Productions

This wins the award for most timely graphic novel of the year. I'm at a loss of words with this one. I'm convinced that everyone should read this. I had tears, I laughed, I cringed, and I smiled as I read through this story recounting the life and upbringing of George Takei and his family during one of America's most shameful and regrettable times. I experienced every emotion possible as I read through this book and there isn't much I can think to say other than.. damn. This book exists for a reason. This story was told with a purpose. George Takei and team collaborated to materialize an upbringing that most would do much to suppress. Today, as we point to others who are different and label them as something similar to "enemy", we must never EVER forget what some of our ancestors did to others in what they thought was necessary in order to maintain safety. This needs to be schoolhouse curriculum. This needs mass exposure. This needs to be taught to our children. This needs not to be forgotten. Oh.. and.. George Takei's parents were god damn heroes!

7) Stronghold

writer:
Phil Hester
artist:
Ryan Kelly
colorist:
Dee Cunniffe
letterer:
Simon Bowland
publisher:
Aftershock Comics

Stronghold caught me by surprise this year. It was my first exposure to some of the folks involved in this creative team and I was thrown back by how easily the story grabbed me. In a large sense this is an exploration of mortality and self-actualization while remaining what it intends to be first and foremost: a good old-fashion science fiction horror comic. The entire first story arc is now collected and titled The Primacy. This comic had intense climaxes with every issue, and I cannot stress enough how quick and exciting of a read this is collected together. This was a breakout year for Aftershock Comics for me, and this title in particular led the way as I took notice to one of the smaller publishers putting out numerous quality comics every month.

6) Little Bird

writer:
Darcy Van Poelgeest
artist:
Ian Bertram
colorist:
Matt Hollingsworth
letterer:
Aditya Bidikar
publisher:
Image Comics

Oh man. I'm not sure how to say this, but.. you really gotta read this comic. I may say that a lot from time to time, and I admit it does get cliché to recommend nearly everything you read. But good god this book is nuts! It is somewhat of a dense read at times, and it may take you a moment to settle into the pace of the narrative, but the art.. the illustrations.. the colors.. the lines.. everything about all the things visual in this comic will cement your attention to every single page. Each issue of Little Bird transcends itself to separate corners of the reality being told here. The art by Ian Bertram and Matt Hollingsworth has been literally some of the best I've seen all year. Texture and life given to the world thought up by writer Darcy Van Poelgeest is something you have to experience for yourself. The art will surprise you, and it will disgust you. It is grotesque without really being distasteful, all while the story critiques the current political and social structure without taking itself to a narrative elevation that takes itself too seriously. Not necessarily satire, while not commentary either. This is a dystopian version of what might happen if our current version of now continues down its spiral of powerful religious nationalism spreads to the empire elite.

5) Friendo

writer:
Alex Paknadel
artist:
Martin Simmonds
colorist:
Dee Cunniffe
publisher:
Vault Comics

Coming in and topping off my five favorite comics of the year is a comic book that was trade paperback collected early this year from single issues released in late 2018. Prior to reading this book I was familiar with Martin Simmonds' art in his other works, but I hadn't a clue who writer Alex Paknadel was. Friendo was my introduction to his craft while Simmonds and company helped translate the narrative into vividly colorful illustrations page after page. Mass consumerism and toxic masculinity are at the heart of this story and it is told with no apologies. Things get messy in the life of our lead character, Leo, as we watch a chain of events decimate his life from the outside all the way inward. Told in a similarly congruent nature as stories of recent past, so too will Friendo cause you to look at your personal devices and question who really is in control over the other.

4) Second Coming

writer:
Mark Russell
artist:
Leonard Kirk & Richard Pace
colorist:
Andy Troy
letterer:
Rob Steen
publisher:
Ahoy Comics

OMG, I adore this book! There is nothing about this comic I dislike. Keep in mind that I am breaking my own "Trade Rule" by including it in this list at all. (Note to reader: my Trade Rule is that in order to be featured in these year end lists I require them to have a collected book available. Geeky and OCD, I realize.. but that's where I am right now). Considering that if any of these entries deserves to break a rule then it's the one that features Jesus Christ in a supporting role. This book's brilliance shines through no matter the spin you attempt to take. Even cohorts of false fiction and champions of lies will admit this is the best adaptation of blasphemy we've ever seen. No kidding.. you can Google it and see for yourself. The troubled beginnings this story had before there was even a beginning to be had were nearly chased away from being published at all. For everything involved, this is my favorite thing to read on a Sunday morning. (Sorry). As I chuckle dryly and quietly to myself the clever irony and satire placed on every page is my everything. I haven't had as much fun reading a comic as I have recently while reading this one. Russell, Pace & company have put together a fine piece of illustrated fiction that blurs the lines it shares with our present realities so vividly that it is nearly impossible not to read this thing and ask things you never thought you would. What WOULD happen if the real Jesus Christ came back now? Like for real, right now. What if we already had a famous super-someone handling evildoers? I do sometimes toy with the thought that our cape and cowl infatuated culture may soon lead to someone actually believing they can be one. Think about that for a moment, it's not too crazy to imagine someone doing that in real life anymore. Ok, got that image to consider in your mind? Now, drift your thoughts further and visualize Christ's return soon thereafter. How would we respond? If you want a silly, while smart rendition of this exact premise, then look no further.

3) Immortal Hulk

writer:
Al Ewing
artist:
Joe Bennett (11-13, 15-27), Kyle Hotz (14), German Garcia (25), Matias Bergara (28), & Tom Reilly (28)
colorist:
Paul Mounts (11-27) , Rachelle Rosenberg (19), Matt Milla (23), Chris O'Halloran (25 & 28)
letterer:
Cory Petit (11-28)
published:
Marvel Comics

We've finally made it to my top three favorite comics, and, if I were to be honest, I'm more than a little surprised to admit that two of them are mainstream and long-standing characters. This one in particular I jumped in on late, but caught myself up quickly as I found myself unable to stop reading. The horror and the visual tricks that this comic took made for some of the best spreads of the year. I am not speaking lightly when I say that there are some pages in The Immortal Hulk that are works of modern art. Last year this book was on everyone's best-of year end lists and for some reason I slept on this title and I couldn't have regretted it any more. With that said, I managed to catch myself up and I am currently dreading the eventual day when this specific chapter in Bruce Banner's life comes to its inevitable close. Al Ewing is doing phenomenal storytelling with this run and the art by main illustrator, Joe Bennett, has been horrific and mind-blowing all at the same time. The entire creative team has been doing career defining work over the last couple years and I have enjoyed this years issues tons. This is scary as hell Hulk and it is the story that I did not know I needed. There is no reason to ask more from this character, or with this story, or with this mythos, because Ewing and Co. are literally doing it all. Want to understand the mysteries behind the green door? Want to know who the one-below-all is? Then I urge you! Find this book in whatever legal capacity that you can come up with, because it is the ride of a lifetime that'll grab you by the gut and won't let go.

2) Middlewest

writer:
Skottie Young
artist:
Jorge Corona
colorist:
Jean-Francois Beaulieu
letterer:
Nate Piekos
publisher:
Image Comics

Middlewest has managed to reserve a special place near my heart. I hold this book close to me knowing it exists as a materialized reminder that we are not who that which we came from if that place is not where we want ourselves to be. I recently did a deep dive review of this series and it completely solidified my faint adoration for these characters and what they represented. I love everything about this book. The childish nature of it's storytelling and the rapid and sketch-like renditions of the world that gets bigger with every issue. Abel, the boy that this story centers around, is able to represent self-repentance for readers of all ages, because no one is without character flaws or emotional ineptitude needing adjustment. As certain characters in Middlewest experience outbursts of rage and anger finding themselves materialize into funnel clouds capable of destruction beyond measure, so is also our own realization of similarly personal things. At the surface of this story it may seem like an apocalyptic domestic story of fiction, or simply another fairytale told in comic book form, but it is so much more than just that. This story of a boy and of a fox represents so much of who we are as a species regardless of our actual circumstance that the similarities in all our parallels are impossible to overlook. This comic book uplifts the idea that we are who we are while not determined by which where we came. Though the road is turbulent as we seek out a safe place for our thoughts to be trusted when left alone. Reading stories such as this one is when reading becomes more than just fun as it becomes essential.

1) Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

writer:
Tom Taylor
artist:
Juan Cabal (1-4, 6, 9, 11-12), Yıldıray Çınar (5), Ken Lashley (7-10, 13)
colorist:
Nolan Woodard (1-10), Rachelle Rosenberg (11-13)
letterer:
Travis Lanham
publisher:
Marvel Comics

Hello. My name is Sean and I am a thirty nine year old man who loves a good thwip-thwip story. If that isn't an opening salutation at a meeting I should be at then I don't know what one is. I crave a good Spider-Man story and good god is this one! Tom Taylor might as well put on the Spidey suit because the words he feeds his version of Peter Parker as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man are simply dead spot on. There is heart. There are laughs. There are sight gags, and one-liners. There are so so SO many Spider-Man books on the shelf these days, and the welcomed saturation on screen is an apparent driving force to this. Absolutely zero disrespect to all the others, but if time or money is reason enough to just chose one of them then let it be this one. Take it from me, a lifelong Spidey Stan, these are some of the best issues of Spider-Man to be made in a very long time.