James' 18 Favorite Comics of 2018

For 2018, I've decided to just write about 18 comics I loved this year. As always, these aren't the BEST comics, just my personal favorites. 

All-New Wolverine/X-23
Written by Tom Taylor and Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Various
Published by Marvel Comics

I’ve been a huge fan of the push in recent years to make superheroes more diverse. Both because I think it’s a necessary corrective to decades of under-representation, but also because I think it unlocks the potential for interesting and different sorts of stories. One of the best examples of this has been the story of Laura Kinney, the All-New Wolverine. I have mixed feelings about the character of Logan/Wolverine; while Hugh Jackman has made him one of the best parts of The often wildly inconsistent X-Men movies, I’ve found the character to be overused and fundamentally not that interesting to me. He’s grumbly, he’s like a failed samurai, he’s hard to kill, he likes beer, he’s Canadian, I get it. And Laura Kinney is an interesting character - 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), she succeeded.

Her Wolverine is 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. In fact, in the course of the story, she meets other clones of her, and she takes one in, a younger girl named Gabby. Gabby is a singularly great new character. She’s a tween who’s funny and enthusiastic and delightful, but also has the darkness of knowing that she too was a vicious killer. Laura and Gabby become a loving sibling pair, and throughout the series of All-New Wolverine, you see what a spectacular hero Laura really is. I actually like her better than I ever liked Logan as Wolverine. Taylor (along with some excellent artistic collaborators) really showed what a strong, nuanced, complex character she is. And then they ended the series, much to my disappointment. They announced that the “real” Wolverine was coming back, and Laura would revert to her X-23 designation. I was disappointed, but I needn’t have been. Laura and Gabby and Gabby’s pet Wolverine Jonathan have continued to have their story told by spectacular creators in writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Diego Olortegui. I highly recommend both books.

Black Bolt
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Illustrated by Christian Ward
Published by Marvel Comics

The Black Bolt 12-issue maxi series is one of the very best books of the past few years. It should absolutely be up there with The Vision, Mister Miracle and any other complex, deep, thoughtful explorations of a superhero. I’ve always liked the character of Black Bolt, but I found him more badass than actually interesting. But that changed with the Black Bolt series, written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Christian Ward. This series takes Black Bolt out of his element as the king of the Inhumans, and places him on a strange, nightmarish prison full of various aliens. Even in this horrific place, he finds unlikely friendship with Carl “Crusher” Creel (the absorbing man), Raava, a powerful Skrull warrior, and Blinky, a telepathic alien.

This story chronicles their harrowing attempts to free themselves from captivity, and to eventually make things right (things have gone terribly wrong). Not only did this book do a ton to humanize Black Bolt, but it also made me really love Crusher Creel, a character to whom I’d never really given much thought previously. But Ahmed really shows the decency and humanity in all of these characters. And Ward’s does absolutely spectacular work here. His psychedelic, weird visions are perfect for this otherworldly prison, and he is capable of bringing truly psychologically nightmarish visions to life. This is a truly spectacular book.

Black Hammer (and associated miniseries)
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by various
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Jeff Lemire keeps impressing me more and more with what he’s doing in Black Hammer. Over the course of the last few years he’s built a truly spectacular, complex world of heroes and villains and archetypes that serve as meta-commentary on superheroes and other genres, but they also do so much more than that. With Dean Ormston as main artist, Lemire is unfolding a spectacular mystery (full of darkness, sorrow and regret) has just been getting bigger and bigger. And in Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, Lemire and artist Max Fiumara tell an absolutely heartbreaking story about the dream and the gut-wrenching cost of being a hero. In The Quantum Age, Lemire and artist Wilfredo Torres are unfolding a fun, engaging futuristic mystery that has terrific shades of classic “Legion of Super Heroes” stories. And just recently, Lemire and artist Rich Tommaso took a turn for the super weird and meta-textual by traveling into some sort of idea space full of insane, half formed ideas. Tommaso has a beautifully weird, idiosyncratic style that was perfect for this. It’s a remarkable, varied, gorgeous collection of stories that succeed in building a broad universe.

And that was enough to be one of my favorite stories/series of the year. But then he went ahead and released Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, drawn by Emi Lenox, and that pushed this whole thing over the top. The Cthu-Louise story is about a girl who’s dad is a Cthulhu-type monster, and she’s a kid trying to be normal in a world where she can never be normal. It’s sad and funny and then it takes a turn I wasn’t expecting because one of the darkest, most twisted, saddest, most satisfying single issues I’ve read this entire year. Lemire certainly knows how to tell an emotional guy punch of a story. And Lenox does amazing work here; deceptively cartoony given the sad story being told. But every emotional and story beat here is precise and perfect. An incredible issue. Jeff Lemire and his collaborators are building a masterpiece.

The Dead Hand
Written by Kyle Higgins
Illustrated by Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics

The Dead Hand is a tremendously fun, engaging, espionage series that goes in a lot of surprising directions. I don’t want to say too much, but I think of this story as a cross between the amazing spy book “Velvet” and the wonderfully terrible 80’s movie “The Experts” with John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Arye Gross (and with a little bit of “War Games” or “D.A.R.Y.L.” thrown in). Go watch it, it’s so stupid and fun. Anyway, this series has great energy, an engaging plot, and fantastic art from Stephen Mooney and colorist Jordie Bellaire.

Dept. H
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Matt and Sharlene Kindt
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Dept H wrapped up this year, and only as the series concluded do I think I finally appreciated it for everything that it was. Dept. H is fascinating murder-mystery, a harrowing undersea rescue adventure story, and a deep psychological exploration of many flawed characters that have come together in being trapped at the bottom of the ocean. It's doing a lot, and doing it well.  It's a consistently gorgeous book, with spectacular watercolor art from Matt and Sharlene Kindt. Matt Kindt is the creator of Mind MGMT, one of my favorite comics of all time. That story was fully of mind control, conspiracies, insane abilities, and secret operatives. Dept. H was very different. It felt more like a play, in some ways, as much of the action was confined to one undersea base. It was also a much more internal story, exploring the inner lives of the characters. Over the course of the series, I saw what a thoughtful, insightful, emotionally resonant story the Kindts were building, along with showing a strange and exotic world at the bottom of the ocean, and exploring a mystery. But like any other projects the Kindt’s have worked on, the art is wonderful. Matt has a gorgeous, idiosyncratic watercolor style, and with lush, expressive colors from Sharlene, his work has never looked better.

East of West
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin
Published by Image Comics

East of West continues to be a terrific read (this is the alternate history futuristic western apocalyptic drama you need in your life). It's at turns dramatic, funny, intense, action packed, and always vast in scope. This is a huge world of many competing interests that Jonathan Hickman has crafted, and now we're really starting to see the proverbial $%^t hit the fan as everything comes to a head, war is declared, and alliances are made or broken. The art in this book continues to be among the very best in the medium, as Nick Dragotta is an absolute master of kinetic action and drama, but also the quieter moments. He's a master at controlling the pace of a book. And colors in this book continue to be really special and engaging thanks to the work of Frank Martin. I only wish this book came out a little more frequently.

Giant Days
Written by John Allison
Illistrated by Max Sarin
Published by Boom! Studios

This is the book that consistently brings me most joy month after month. This is a hilarious, heartfelt, absurd and very insightful book. It’s a 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.  They’re approaching the end of their time in university, and when that time comes, I’ll be sad to say goodbye to them.

Gideon Falls
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart
Published by Image Comics

Gideon Falls is without question one of my favorite series of 2018.  It’s brought to life by the all-star creative team of writer Jeff Lemire, artist Andrea Sorrentino, and colorist Dave Stewart. 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.  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 Sorrentino and Stewart is some of my favorite art of the year. I love sorrentino’s flair and style asa visual storyteller, and with the master Dave 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 comics that you can buy these days. So, not surprisingly, I highly recommend it.

Written by Kelly Thompson
Illustrated by Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire
Published by Marvel Comics

Kelly Thompson has done some excellent work at Marvel this year as a writer. I’m loving West Coast Avengers and the Uncanny X-Men book she’s co-writing is a lot of fun. But my favorite thing she did at Marvel was her Hawkeye series that concluded earlier this year. It focused on Kate Bishop, the younger Hawkeye who was originally part of the Young Avengers but who has now tried to make a go of it as a private detective in LA. This book has the charm and fun of the legendary Fraction/Aja/Wu run on Hawkeye, and it’s like the parts of that book which focused on Kate’s time in LA. Here, she starts a small case that turns out to have much bigger ramifications. I can’t say enough about the wonderful work of artist Leonardo Romero. Romero is a modern classicist in the style of Chris Samnee or Doc Shaner. He’s an incredibly skilled visual storyteller whose art has a ton of life and fun and humor and personality. This was a fun, engaging, funny, compelling and sweet book that ended too soon.

The Immortal Hulk 
Written by Al Ewing
Illustrated by Joe Bennett
Published by Marvel Comics

The Immortal Hulk has been a fantastic comic, and one of my favorite surprises of 2018.  This has been a return to the Hulk's horror roots, as he is a dark avenging force in the night, righting wrongs with a malevolent grin. The art has been terrific as well. The book started with each issue as a self-contained story,  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. He’s been able to successfully bring a whole new personality to the Hulk. 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. The terrific art from Joe Bennett is scary and intense and with moments of dark humor. I highly recommend this book.

Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman
Written and Illustrated by Box Brown
Published by First Second

If Box Brown is writing a biography, then I want to read it. I absolutely adored his biography about Andre the Giant and his history of Tetris, so I was excited to see this story brought to life. And I was not disappointed. If it didn’t quite grab me in the same way as “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend”, I think that’s only because I LOVED Andre the Giant as a kid and I still play Tetris regularly, but I had less of a connection to Andy Kaufman as an entertainer. I didn’t watch Letterman or Taxi as a kid, and I think I missed all of his insane forays into wrestling. But I feel like I did learn some fundamental things about Kaufman. As always, Brown is a compelling and compassionate storyteller who really gets the reader to try to understand his characters even when they are doing terrible things. I feel like for Kaufman, the connection to wrestling was essential. He seemed to constantly be living inside kayfabe. As an aside, I also learned a ton about the history of wrestling, and the consolidation of the old territories into the WWF (now WWE). The whole book is a fascinating read, and I really enjoyed it.

The Mighty Thor
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Russell Dauterman and Matt Wilson
Published by Marvel Comics

Above I spoke about Laura Kinney being a better Wolverine than the “real” Wolverine. I honestly feel that way about Jane Foster as Thor. If you haven’t been reading Jason Aaron’s work in Thor the past 5 years or so, what the hell have you been doing? It’s some truly spectacular comics. And really nothing was better than his work with artist Russell Dauterman and colorist Matt Wilson on “The Mighty Thor” telling the story of Jane Foster as Thor. In recent years, Jane Foster has been dealing with cancer...and ever since Thor Odinson stopped being worthy (it’s complicated) the universe still needed a Thor, and Mjolnir called to her as being truly worthy. So she has been Thor, and a wonderful one at that. Solving problems in her own way, and using Mjolnir in creative ways that never occurred to Thor Odinson, who himself was always more of a blunt instrument.

But all her heroism came with a tremendous cost. Every time she becomes the Mighty Thor, Mjolnir cleanses all impurities from her body, essentially negating the results of her radiation and chemotherapy, thereby worsening her cancer. So, basically, being Thor is killing her. But that in no way stops her. Both Jane and Jane-as-Thor are figures of true courage, honor, and moral strength, and...I won’t tell you exactly how it ends, but it’s a really spectacular series.  And I can’t say enough about the work of Russell Dauterman. Dauterman may be the very best illustrator and storyteller in superhero comics. He’s got incredible detail and gorgeous figure work, along with being an incredibly skilled sequential storyteller. And colorist Wilson is equal to the task. The colors here are vibrant and weird and electric and completely befitting the action and godly nature of the book. This was an incredible story. And honestly I miss Jane-Thor

Mister Miracle
Written by Tom King
Illustrated by Mitch Gerads
Published by DC Comics

I knew that Mitch Gerads was super-talented at bringing highly detailed, realistic worlds to life, from his work on Punisher and The Sheriff of Babylon.  But I had no idea he could turn those talents into something so unsettlingly weird and existential unease-inducing. But that's Mister Miracle, a fantastic book from Gerads and talented writer Tom King that concluded this year. King and Gerads ostensibly told a story about the New Gods, but it feels to me like they did was to take a deep dive into both depression and delusions, and the way that mental illness can alter your very sense of reality, and make you your own unreliable narrator. The banal absurdity of worrying about baby food and diapers as the main characters are engaged in horrific warfare, well that was its own masterpiece of compelling weirdness. And I’ll never think about crudités without thinking about Darkseid. It's a weird and intense book. and also a book that doesn’t have an easy ending, and will leave you with a lot of questions. And I absolutely loved it. It's a fantastic book that’ll mess with your head and stay with you.

On a Sunbeam
Written and illustrated by Tillie Walden
Published by Avery Hill/First Second

There are stories you enjoy and then soon forget. But there are other stories that stay with you. On a Sunbeam feels like it’s going to be the latter for me. It’s a gorgeous story that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it’s full of tension punctuated by lovely moments of romance, friendship and the beauty of found family. It’s also one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve read in a long time. There are pages of this book that I count help but longer on because they were so beautiful, and that’s not something I normally do when reading a comic. Creator Tillie Walden is a remarkable talent, and I really can’t recommend On a Sunbeam highly enough. 

On a Sunbeam is set sometime in the indeterminate future, where humans have the ability to travel the stars. People seem to be scattered all over the place, living on various planets, moons and asteroids. This isn’t a 10,000 foot-view-story (a la Jonathan Hickman or Star Wars), so we don’t really learn anything about the broader state of humanity, or galactic civilization, or anything else of a more “macro” scope. Rather, this is an incredibly grounded story (ironically, one set in space) which is really just focused on the lives of the characters in the story. For a story with a vast scope, it feels quite intimate. And it’s kind of a science fiction story, but one where the creator doesn’t waste any time bothering with the science of it all. Because that’s not the story; the story is in love and loss and courage and memory and isolation and family. This was a joy to read.

Paper Girls
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared Fletcher
Published by Image Comics

Paper Girls has turned out to be so much more than I had originally anticipated. I knew from the get-go that the combination of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang would make for something great, but it's really become a special book. It's full of surprising twists, and the scope of the book has turned out to be much more vast than I was expecting. There's a lot of time travel, and tons of weirdness that keeps you guessing. Vaughan's strength also lies in crafting terrific dialogue and creating characters the reader very much cares about, and all of strengths are present here, along with tons of heart and humor and crazy plot twists. The book is amazing to look at, thanks to the fun, expressive art from Cliff Chiang and the bright, crazy, expressive colors from Matt Wilson that form an integral part of the storytelling.  This is a story of friendship (and very sweet budding young romance) and time travel and a fight for the future, and a great story of 4 tween girls just trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It's a must-read

The Sentry
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by _ Jacinto
Published by Marvel Comics

If you have a superhero who’s somehow broken, mentally fractured or otherwise has some serious problems, Jeff Lemire is clearly the guy to write that story. I loved his run on Moon Knight, and as I mentioned above, Black Hammer and Gideon Falls are also among my favorite books this year.  The Sentry is a fascinating and I think sometimes misused character. He’s the world's most powerful superhero, but he also suffers from profound psychological issues. Part of that stems from profound problems with which his alter ego Bob Reynolds is managing. But the Sentry also happens to have a dark half which is its greatest threat. Are they the same person? Two halves of the same coin? Who can say. It would be like if Superman had a split personality and his other personality was Doomsday. And the Sentry’s story just gets weirder from there. This arc was a lot of fun, and I think Lemire has some genuinely interesting and new ideas on how to handle the Sentry. There’s wonderful, action-packed, weird and expressive art from Kim Jacinto.  I highly recommend this book.

Shanghai Red
Written by Christopher Sebela
Illustrated by Joshua Hixson
Published by Image Comics

Shanghai Red is one of my biggest surprises for 2018. It’s a series that I knew virtually nothing about, but ended up being one of the most memorable books of the year for me. Shanghai Red is a pirate-revenger-adventure story that clearly has a lot to say about sexism, society, and I'm sure many other things. It’s a dark book that doesn’t shy away from difficult moments and challenging ideas. Christopher Sebela is a terrific writer, and his dialogue always feels like things actual people would say. And on art, I didn't know Joshua Hixson before, but he's an amazing talent.  He does work that rmeinds me of others like Paul Azaceta or Gabriel Hardman, all colored with an expressive, engaging palate. This book is a really strong exploration of gender, the futility of revenge, and unintended consequences. A fantastic read.

Wasted Space
Written by Michael Moreci
Illustrated by Hayden Sherman and Jason Wordie
Published by Vault Comics

Wasted Space is an absolute blast. It’s a fun, raunchy, sometimes hilarious series with terrific art that also happens to be a compelling story and a sharp allegory for present-day American politics, along with having some insightful thoughts about religion and faith. A lot of crazy stuff happens in its first volume, and I strongly recommend you give this book read. It is a story about a failed prophet traveling around space with a sex-bot (excuse me, a “Fuq Bot”) named Dust who serves as their sole earner of income, and something of a pragmatic, neurotic conscience. And there’s a new prophet, and a tyrannical dictator, and visions of god that looks like a robot. 

As you can guess, this is a genuinely entertaining series with a real sense of personality, thanks to the fantastic team effort from writer Michael Moreci, artist Hayden Sherman, and the rest of the creative team. They’ve built what feels like an organic, lived-in world that’s messy and full of contradictions and complexity. This is a series that feels so smart that it’s not afraid to be dumb sometimes because the creative team knows that high and low art are arbitrary distinctions, and don’t need to be separate; this book is a really nice mix of smart social and religious satire and commentary (even in the future, radical and angry movements recruit vulnerable and awkward teens on message boards by making them feel special), trenchant political humor (the tyrannical leader has the last name of an orange vegetable), and the occasional dick joke. Wasted Space is also a perfect example of synthesis between story and art, as the stellar work of Sherman and colorist Jason Wordie perfectly executes (what feels like) the mission of the story. The art depicts a vivid vision of a grounded, lived-in universe. It’s a hugely entertaining book and I highly recommend it.