The year in review
2018 has come and nearly gone, but it will leave us with some beautiful comics. Rather than sort these hard-to-compare works into a numerical list, EW comic experts Christian Holub and Chancellor Agard break down this year’s graphic highlights across a variety of categories.
Best ongoing series: Monstress (Image)
In its third year, Monstress took its rightful place as the reigning queen of comics. The epic fantasy swept the Eisner and Hugo awards, and justifiably so: The series’ already complex mythology grew even richer as Maika Halfwolf and her inner demon-god encountered steampunk nightmares in the ruins of the Shaman Empress’ laboratory, while supporting characters like the fox-girl Kippa and the cat-wizard Ren grew more morally complicated, for better and worse.
Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda have created a unique world that is still a joy to explore, even as the characters themselves face apocalyptic challenges. — Christian Holub
Order Monstress volume 3: Haven here.
Best new series: The New World (Image)
Dystopian visions are everywhere these days, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a post-apocalyptic world as vivid and colorful as this one.
The New World takes place in a near-future America devastated by nuclear war, where police violence is reality-TV fodder and cops are social-media stars. But when one of these so-called Guardians” has a chance encounter with a passionate anarchist hacker, they begin a star-crossed romance that threatens to upend every border and division in their world — some of which, it turns out, are more real than others. Tradd and Heather Moore’s gorgeously striking art is the perfect conduit for writer Ales Kot’s fascinating ideas about society and its possible evolutions. — C.H.
Best finale: Mister Miracle (DC)
If you started the last issue of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ fantastic limited series — which has been DC Comics’ best book since it debuted last year — hell-bent on getting answers about what’s real and what isn’t and how everything ties into the greater DC Universe, something that was teased in the penultimate issue, then you may have walked away slightly disappointed. But Mister Miracle #12 gives us something better. It avoids wrapping everything up in a neat little bow (“That world full of superheroes who always end up hunky-dory”), because who cares if Scott is actually in hell or heaven and if any of this is actually happening? Instead, the issue, like its titular character, embraces the beautiful messiness that lies between heaven and hell, which makes it all the more intimate and poignant. The series began with Scott trying to escape life by committing suicide, but by the end of the run, he seems to have found peace with living, thanks mostly to his marriage to Barda and their children. “Darkseid Is,” “Yeah, I know, but we are too.” —Chancellor Agard
Buy Mister Miracle #12 here.
Best writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates (Black Panther, Captain America)
The Atlantic essayist has come a long way since his comics debut in 2016. His early scripts could be rather wordy and philosophical, but Coates’ recent work on both the outer-space-set Black Panther relaunch and Captain America (which follows Steve Rogers after his evil doppelgänger helped Hydra take over the United States in last year’s controversial Secret Empire event) is bracingly lean, allowing the visuals from artists Daniel Acuña and Leinil Yu to take center stage. That said, Coates’ writing is as incisive and thought-provoking as ever, exploring how to be a righteous citizen while trapped in a decaying empire. —C.A.
Best artist: Bilquis Evely (The Dreaming)
Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of the most critically acclaimed comics of all time, so it’s no easy task to revive that world of dreams. Different perspectives were needed, so new writers were commissioned to pen the four books that make up the updated Sandman Universe (The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer, and Books of Magic). But while their grand narrative designs are still enigmatic a few months in, Evely’s beautiful and haunting depictions of splintered pink skies, resurrected Confederate ghouls, creepy faceless drones, and other strange creatures in The Dreaming help the new project live up to the artistic legacy of Gaiman’s original series (and its star-studded lineup of collaborators). The images will linger on in your nightmares. — C.H.
Buy issues of The Dreaming here.
Best anthology: Hungry Ghosts (Dark Horse)
Anthony Bourdain’s last published work was, of all things, a comic book. But it makes a strange kind of sense, as Hungry Ghosts examines many of the same themes as Bourdain’s popular travel shows, such as the consequences of global inequality and the unique struggles of the chef lifestyle.
Here, though, these ideas are presented in the form of short stories about ghosts and demons. Each one is illustrated by a top-notch horror artist (including Paul Pope, Irene Koh, Francesco Francavilla, and more) in order to mimic the tension of the ancient samurai game 100 Candles. And if you’re somehow still hungry afterward, the collection ends with five related (and mouthwatering) recipes from Bourdain. — C.H.
Order the collected edition of Hungry Ghosts here.
Most relevant: Border Town (DC/Vertigo)
UPDATE: Since EW compiled our year-end comics list, a public sexual assault allegation has been made against Border Town writer Eric M. Esquivel, who has denied the allegation. DC has canceled the series and made the previous four issues returnable. Read more here.
EARLIER: Vertigo’s renaissance isn’t limited to the Sandman Universe. A perfect mix of timely allegory and horror, this new series from from writer Eric Esquivel and artist Ramon Villalobos follows a Mexican high schooler who moves to Devil’s Fork, Arizona, a border town that’s besieged by neo-Nazis and alien Aztec demons that take the shape of our fears. The political message is obvious, but it never feels didactic, and the teens at the center of the story feel like, well, real teens. —C.A.
Best return: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — The Tempest (Top Shelf)
After many years spent synthesizing a coherent fictional universe involving some of the most famous characters in the history of pop culture, legendary writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill still have some last things to say — and they couldn’t feel more suited to our tense and tempestuous times.
The last time we saw Mina Murray and Orlando, at the conclusion of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, they had waved goodbye to male friends and toxic male enemies alike, ready to set off into a fully female future alongside a newly rejuvenated Emma Peel. If the last few years have proven anything, though, it’s that 2012’s utopian dreams were naively misguided. This new series opened with the original James Bond finding the Fountain of Youth for himself, and using his newfound immortality to run rampant over the world in a way that feels uncomfortably similar to the 2018 news cycle. At the same time, the creative team is finally turning League’s analytical gaze toward superheroes, and the result is some of the best cultural satire currently available.
Moore and O’Neill have said this series will be their last comic. If the first two issues are any indication, it will be a farewell for the ages. — C.H.
Buy issues of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest here.
Best revamp: Runaways (Marvel)
Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s revival of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s beloved group of superhero runaways is one of the most charming comics out there. The series, which launched last year, begins with Chase showing up on Nico’s doorstep after impulsively traveling to the past to save his girlfriend Gert from dying. From there, it tracks the team’s eventual reunion, exploring the drama and comedy of growing up and reminding us why we fell in love with these characters a decade and a half ago.
Anka’s character designs are stunning, and colorist Matthew Wilson makes the story feel warm and welcoming. Plus, the book is downright funny: From the sight gag of Victor’s talking head to the appearance of Doombot, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that make the series a joy to read. —C.A.
Order Runaways volume 2: Best Friends Forever here.
Superhero of the year: X-23, a.k.a All-New Wolverine, a.k.a Laura Kinney
Back in 2011, issues of the then-ongoing X-23 comic series featured a collaboration between writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda. Their styles were such a match that the two eventually went on to create their own comic together, which is another way of saying that without Laura Kinney, we wouldn’t have Maika Halfwolf or Monstress. And that’s the least of her accomplishments. This year, Laura proved once again why she’s one of the most compelling superheroes in the entire Marvel stable.
She started out the year as the All-New Wolverine, having taken the mantle from her clone father, Logan when he died a few years ago. After he returned this year, Laura went back to being X-23. Though it felt like a step backward at first, Laura powerfully explained the change to one of the mad scientists who created her: “I took a name I hate so you know your end, the end of this work, came at the hands of your creation.” Despite being built as a killing machine, Laura has continued to fight to do good. In the pages of X-Men: Red, she even got to learn important lessons on fighting hate and prejudice from her father’s former love Jean Grey.
Whether wearing her father’s mantle as Wolverine or forging her own path as X-23, whether written by Tom Taylor or Mariko Tamaki, whether illustrated by Juann Cabal or Mahmud Asrar, Laura Kinney slayed the competition in 2018.
Special thanks go out to her younger sister Gabby, a.k.a. Honey Badger, who continued to be indispensable to Laura’s adventures this year — both as a second pair of claws and as a ray of sunshine to offset Laura’s moody lonerism — even if their delightful undercover mission as a high school student and gym coach in X-23 #6 was sadly short-lived. — C.H.
Batman #51-53 (DC): Tom King wasted no time in diving into the aftermath of the sad Batman #50, which saw Catwoman leave Bruce Wayne at the altar. In this short arc, Bruce manipulates his way onto a jury after mistakenly apprehending Mr. Freeze for a murder he may not have committed, and proceeds to use the jury as a way to work through his own issues about Batman, God, and the break-up. With art from Lee Weeks, “Cold Days” is a strong, emotionally gripping follow-up to the failed wedding.
Exiles (Marvel): Enjoying pop culture in our internet-saturated age often involves fan fiction or alternate-universe hypotheticals, imagining how characters might be different with altered backgrounds or personalities. By resurrecting the time-traveling Marvel superteam Exiles, writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Javier Rodriguez got to take that stuff to the next level, assembling a coalition of characters from across the infinite Marvel multiverse (including a Peggy Carter/Captain America mash-up and a literal cartoon Wolverine) and sending them to worlds based on the Wild West, the Arabian Nights, and more. The results have been endlessly enjoyable.
Justice League Dark (DC): It was a big year for the Justice League. Having broken the Source Wall at the end of the Metal crossover, DC’s superheroes decided to rethink how they did things. Of all the new team-ups and refigured alliances that resulted, the most fascinating has been the new magic-focused superhero team led by Wonder Woman. Writer James Tynion IV and artist Alvaro Martinez, who first teamed up on Detective Comics, brought creepy horror and status-quo shake-ups alike to the magical side of the DC Universe.
Man of Steel (DC): Brian Michael Bendis kicked off his tenure as new Superman writer with a strong and compelling six-issue miniseries that affirmed why DC put him in charge of Boy Scout and made us excited to read both Action Comics and Superman.
Prism Stalker (Image): Writer-artist Sloane Leong’s breathtaking new series felt almost like a comic book equivalent of Annihilation in the way it brought the protagonist face to face with truly alien life forms. Too often when humans venture into space, they encounter extremely humanoid aliens. Not here! Almost everyone poor Vep talks to on her exploratory mission looks more like a dragon, or a beetle, or a wolf monster. Vep and Leong alike are in uncharted territory, and the journey of exploration is a mind-expanding delight to read.
Saga (Image): All good things must come to an end, they say. Luckily, Saga isn’t over yet; it’s just going on a well-deserved hiatus in the wake of the series’ most jaw-dropping cliffhanger to date. Sometimes growing up means leaving loved ones behind — a lesson writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples just taught young Hazel (and readers) in devastating fashion. More than 50 issues in, Saga hasn’t lost any of its power, and fans should probably gird themselves for whenever the creative team returns recharged.
Wonder Woman: Earth One, Volume Two (DC): Wonder Woman is hard to define as a character because she defies easy categorization. Luckily, DC has lately given her the same treatment as Batman and Superman, in which multiple creators can tackle her from multiple angles and show all sides of her. So while G. Willow Wilson’s incipient run on the flagship Wonder Woman title examines questions of global conflict and Shea Fontana’s DC Super Hero Girls comics continue to show Diana as a young student getting a handle on her own powers, writer Grant Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette can examine her job as an ambassador of peace, while also resurrecting some of the trippier Amazon concepts from William Moulton Marston’s original comics.