Of all the years I’ve been doing this best-of-the-year comics countdown, this was perhaps the hardest time I’ve had deciding on my final top 10. The quality has been insanely high this year. To demonstrate just how high, the top two entries of last year – Batman and Mister Miracle – both continued in this year and both maintained a strong standard, yet neither made the list this time round! The trend in this year’s list was “different.” Different in the number of new books on the list, but also in the variation in format and genre represented. Before jumping into the list proper, I want to bring up two honourable mentions, comics I loved that very nearly made the cut. One was Thanos by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw, which was a worthy showcase for one of Marvel’s greatest villains, with the “Thanos Wins” storyline surely destined to become a canon classic perennial seller as a collected graphic novel. It’s mainly its placement on the calendar, with half the series coming at the end of 2017 and the rest early 2018, that made it hard to nail it down as a definitive entry for either year. The other was Infidel, a scarily topical twist on haunted house horror from Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell. This was great, but I only read it this past week, meaning the list was already about finalised. Given the dizzying pedigree of the books you now know are not in the list, I’m sure you’re keen to see what did make it. So let’s get right down to it!
In an era of Brexit and Trump, the creative team of writer Ryan Ferrier (no stranger to emotionally wrecking us with animal allegory stories, as evidenced by 2016’s Kennel Block Blues) and artist Roger Langridge hit us with a powerful parable about the immigrant experience, told through the lens of Daggum Criminy and his family of adorable cartoon creatures. Forced to flee when their idyllic homeland is turned into a war-zone by tyrannical bandits, our band of travellers go from place to place, struggling to find acceptance, instead met only with scorn and exploitation, until they take it upon themselves to change hearts and minds. Langridge is a bottomless well of visual innovation in his realisation of these fantasy landscapes, offering resplendent imagery and distinctive characters. And the story wears its heart on its sleeve, managing to be surprisingly moving despite the children’s book pastiche presentation. In some ways, it feels like a companion to the Paddington films, other stories which package up a call for compassion for those coming to us seeking refuge in talking animals. But Criminy! has more teeth, throwing us off with some moments which are actually surprisingly harrowing and disturbing.
9. GRAFITY’S WALL
Ram V is a writer that has broken out a fair bit this year, garnering praise for various projects, chiefly Vault’s These Savage Shores. But perhaps his best work so far is this collaboration with Anand Radhakrishnan, a coming-of-age tale about 4 kids growing up in Mumbai, India. The book is broken up into 4 parts, each one focusing particularly on the perspective of one of the kids, giving us deep insight into each of their struggles and heartbreaks. Between them, they each have a unifying theme of having creative ambitions that they struggle to nurture against an environment that tells them at every turn that their hopes and aspirations are worthless. One wants to be an artist, another a rapper, another a writer, another an actress. All of them are other things in the story too, including criminals, but our focus is placed on what they want to be, what they could be if given the chance. Despite the far-off setting, so evocatively brought to life through Radhakrishnan’s art, it’s a story with sentiments that feel universal and deeply relatable
8. THE COMIC BOOK STORY OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING
As a lifelong wrestling fan, this book was just sheer joy from start to finish. It was always going to be impossible to cover everything in such a wide-ranging topic in the space they have, but Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno manage to tell what feels like a comprehensive narrative of the history of professional wrestling. I think it’s the kind of book that you could give to someone baffled by the appeal of pro wrestling, the kind of person who says, “Don’t you know it’s all fake?”, and sell them on what makes it such a magical artform. But even for someone like me, who already knew much of the content covered in the book (particularly the more modern stuff), I found immense value in not only the nostalgic return visits to moments and characters I recalled fondly, but in the evocative cartooning and wry wit of Chris Moreno’s renditions of these iconic characters. The most I’ve enjoyed a non-fiction comic (albeit one that revolves around ideas of artifice) in ages.
7. EAST OF WEST
I’m at the point now with East of West on this yearly list, that I’ve not only run out of ways to talk about how brilliant this comic is, I’ve also run out of ways to remark on me running out of ways to talk about it! I’d have to take a look back to confirm, but at this stage I’m reasonably confident that East of West has been in my annual Top 10 Comics list for more consecutive years than any other comic. And deservedly so, as each issue continues to be a consistently excellent package of comics craft, a book I sorely wish got more credit as being one of the best on shelves. Last year at this time I remarked about how this year would likely be East of West‘s last year, as the series is drawing to a close, but due to some scheduling delays that end-point has been extended into 2019. So once again I find myself anticipating this modern classic going out with a bang!
Above all else, Eternal is a triumph of format. That isn’t intended to sell short the emotionally charged writing of Ryan K Lindsay, deftly weaving a tale of Viking shieldmaidens that stands as a parable on the devastation wrought by violence, with more than one shocking, harrowing twist in the plot. Nor is it intended to downplay the stunning visuals of Eric Zawadzski, taking another quantum leap after his previous game-raising turn in The Dregs to deliver a career-best showcase packed with breathtakingly ornate layouts and vistas and bruising fight choreography, all exquisitely coloured be Dee Cunniffe. But the most striking thing about Eternal for me is it demonstrates that there are different ways of telling a story in comics in the American direct market than what is so often utilised. It would have been so easy for Ryan and Eric to expand this narrative out (there was certainly scope to do it with the world they created) and do a standard 4-issue mini. Instead, they went for an original graphic novel, done in oversized, European-style graphic album format, and the result is a book that is like nothing else in my collection. Even in this age of digital comics, this is one you owe it to yourself to own as a physical artefact. Everything right down to the paper stock is a sensory delight. This opened my eyes to new avenues what is possible in comics. I think the main reason you don’t see this placing in more end-of-year lists is that it landed so early some have maybe forgotten it, but I made sure to note it down as soon as it came out, indeed it was the first entry with a bullet in my “Best of 2018 contenders” doc, and even after a quality year of comics that followed, this stands above most of them.
5. PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #310
Okay, this one is going against my usual rules. I normally wouldn’t include a single issue of an ongoing run. Usually I judge the quality of the run as a whole in a given year. But in this particular case, I hadn’t been reading the run of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man as a whole, and only picked up this last issue, “Finale,” on a whim based on strong word of mouth. It essentially is a self-contained oneshot standing apart from the run as a whole. And hey, it’s my list, I can change the rules if I want! If this list was judged purely on how often I’ve reread a comic, then Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #310 would be #1. I have it sat at my work desk next to my laptop, and over the months since buying it I’ve just periodically picked it up and pored over it. Written and drawn by Chip Zdarsky, it is a consciously low-key tale, built around the framing device of various citizens of New York City asked for their opinions on Spider-Man for a documentary project. What follows are a series of anecdotes by turns silly (like you’d maybe expect from a Zdarsky comic), sweet, and ultimately surprisingly moving and heartbreaking. Before all the buzz around the PS4 game, and before Into the Spider-Verse blew my mind, this comic relit that spark of my love for Spider-Man, and honed right in on what makes the character so appealing at his best: that he’s a Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, a hero with relatable humanity who is a hero in small ways as well as big. “Spider-Man saves people. He does his best, expects nothing back. I think… I think we should all be more like Spider-Man.”
4. GIANT DAYS
It’s unbearably obnoxious to call Giant Days “my comic book discovery of 2018” when it’s been around for years and rightly getting acclaimed all this time, and I’ve heard this praise for ages and been meaning to give it a try, but only got round to it this year. That’s some Christopher Columbus shit. And yet that’s how I feel. I inhaled the first 6 volumes that were available in early 2018, and have eagerly picked up every edition that’s come out since. And I feel like my comics-reading life has been poorer for not having Giant Days in it all this time. The story of a group of friends as they navigate university life in Sheffield, John Allison and Max Sarin’s series might seem simple in concept, but in the execution it is a wonder, reliably laugh-out-loud funny in a way few comedy comics can manage. The sitcom-like episodic format makes each issue an accessible read in a way so many long-running comics fail to do, and yet it also excels in long-term storytelling and character development. Just in terms of sheer craft and characterisation, Giant Days may be better at what it does than anyone else in comics right now. Indeed, perhaps the only reason Giant Days isn’t higher or even top of this year’s list is because I’m reading it in trade format, and so am the better part of a year behind and not read enough of the 2018 output to fairly judge it.
3. GIDEON FALLS
Jeff Lemire has had a dynamite year. His Black Hammer franchise has continued to grow in popularity and acclaim, and news broke recently that he has signed a massive film/TV development deal for it, ensuring it’s going to become an even more widely recognised flagship title in the Lemire library. But as good as it is, my favourite Jeff Lemire series of the year is this other, less heralded Image Comics entry. Anyone who follows Lemire on social media or has read interviews with him is likely aware that he is an avid devotee of David Lynch, and a massive Twin Peaks fan. And Gideon Falls is perhaps his most overt ode to Twin Peaks yet, while still offering up its own distinctly sinister identity. The narrative of the series thus far plays out in two threads, with a priest with a chequered past settling in the small town of Gideon Falls and uncovering shady goings on in the town related to his doomed predecessor, and a haunted young man in an unspecified city elsewhere obsessively hunting for junk. The two threads are connected by the mysterious Black Barn, a structure not of this earth, within which dwells a truly ghoulish, terrifying entity. Lemire weaves a narrative that is enigmatic but also thick with suspense, while artist Andrea Sorrentino is melting faces with his stunning layouts, vistas you want to tear out of your comic and hang up on your wall.
Crowded was optioned for film before the first issue was even released, and if you were to hear that news nugget, you might be nonplussed. But it all makes sense when you read that first issue. How could you not read that and instantly see the dollar signs of the kind of dynamite, sure-fire hit idea that doesn’t come round too often? Right from the opening pages, we are thrown into a world that feels fully-realised, one of the most evocative, credible portraits of dystopian future in recent memory. The future hellscape is not created by nuclear war or invading aliens. It’s rooted in what we see already in the present, the grinding cruelty of the gig economy and apps and social media as a substitute for human connection, only heightened to proportions that are nightmarish and yet scarily not incomprehensible. What if you could crowdfund murder? And worse, what if society not only let it happen, but we got a whole parasitic culture of celebrity and fandom branching out of it? The art team of Ro Stein, Ted Brandt and Triona Farrell make this one of the slickest looking books on the stands, with a combination of hilarious visual comedy and masterfully choreographed action, not to mention all the little details that help make this world feel all the more lived-in and immersive. But beyond the high concepts and big ideas, what really helps this soar are the character dynamics at its heart. Christopher Sebela makes both beleaguered bodyguard-for-hire Vita and bounty target/walking disaster Charlie Ellison feel like real people, flawed but with human cores that make us care about them.
1. THE IMMORTAL HULK
I’ve been a fan of The Hulk my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of the old TV series, and of my Gran telling Hulk-related bedtime stories at my request, mixed in with the likes of Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. He’s one of my favourite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yet, I’ve never really found a comic run that’s truly resonated with me, despite several attempts, and despite some big names I admire giving it a shot. Then The Immortal Hulk came along, and it couldn’t be any more my jam. A take on The Hulk that goes back to the basics of the character – The Hulk as a monster that comes out at night, a terror to be feared rather than a superhero – then pushes deeper into those dynamics than perhaps ever before? A Hulk comic that reads like a horror series, pushing the genre bounds steadily further and further into this dark realm as it progresses? Yes, sign me up! Writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett (along with a couple of other guests) have given us a fresh, invigorating take on The Hulk, giving him his own sadistic personality with a frightening take on justice. The genius of the series thus far has been that, in the early going, it was very episodic, monster-of-the-week style one-and-done tales of this scary new Hulk. But then weaved through it were connecting threads, chilling references to a mysterious Green Door, hints that not only all the events of the series, but aspects of The Hulk going right back to his origins, were all part of a horrifying larger tapestry that was only now beginning to reveal itself. The cliffhanger we were left on as 2018 drew to a close, bringing all these seeds to harvest, was a heart-stopper. Up there with the best of superhero comics, and comics as a whole, this year. And I’m also ready now to suggest The Immortal Hulk might be the best Hulk comic ever.
Here’s the annual tally of best-of-the-year winners, and how it looks now…
- 2010: Scalped
- 2011: Scalped
- 2012: The Underwater Welder
- 2013: The Manhattan Projects
- 2014: Southern Bastards
- 2015: Southern Bastards
- 2016: The Sheriff of Babylon
- 2017: Batman
- 2018: The Immortal Hulk
Like I said, this year was tough! There was drafts of this list where all of the top 4 entries were at #1, there was barely anything between them. And, as always, we end the year with me excited about a bunch of stuff that has just started or is coming up, primed to make a big splash in 2019.