2019 – Ten of the best in comics

It’s been a year of great comics, along with the inevitable mediocre and just plain poor ones. Things that made a big impression included the energised Superman titles under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis (with the return of the Legion of Super-Heroes some compensation for the ageing up of Jon Kent and subsequent loss of the Super-Sons title), the latest big X-Men relaunch (as opposed to the seemingly annual ones) and the neverending Dark Metal/Batman Who Laughs nonsense. Batman and Catwoman never made it to the altar, Heroes in Crisis depressed fans everywhere and Marvel’s 80th anniversary proved a damp squib. I’d love to hear what you made of the year in comics, and any tips as to what I should have been reading would be welcome.

Meanwhile, here are ten of the comics that I’ll remember, in order of appearance – click on the highlighted titles for the original reviews.

Wonder Twins #1 In the Seventies, Zan and Jayna were the second set of annoying kid sidekicks on Super Friends. This year they’ve been the centre of a heartwarming, satirical unique DC book from writer Mark Russell and artist Stephen Byrne, balancing the innocent with the knowing.

Man and Superman #1 No, not a comic book adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play, but a 100pp Super-Spectacular collecting an unpublished story from the drawers of DC. It’s yet another take on Clark Kent’s first days in Metropolis, but this story by Marv Wolfman and Claudio Castellini, intended for the long-cancelled Superman Confidential series, is a great-looking, stylishly scripted gem.

Sideways #13 Among the ‘DC does Marvel’ titles launched in the wake of the Dark Metal miniseries, Sideways (think Spidey and Nova) was a bit of a gem – sadly this was the last issue for teen teleporter Derek James, but creators Dan DiDio and Kenneth Rocafort went out with a bang.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #95 The biggest loss for me this year was the cancellation of Scooby-Doo Team-Up after 100 digital and 50 print issues. Every instalment saw the Mystery Inc gang meet people from either the wider world of Hanna-Barbera or DC Universe. In this first of two digital parts – collected as one issue for the print version – Scooby and friends meet the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery in a story that could slot easily into the late Bronze Age. It’s another funny, vibrant and smart delight from Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela.

The Flash #71 Barry Allen, like Superman, has had his origin told a fair few times, but when this storyline interrupted the on and on and ongoing storyline about the new Forces that leaked into the DCU in the wake of the (yawn) Dark Metal business, I was thrilled. Not only did it provide blessed relief from such contrivances as the Still Force and the Sage Force, it proved an innovative, energetic update on the beginnings of the Silver Age Flash. Creators Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter’s story is so good that it even makes the Turtle threatening.

Action Comics #1011 Brian Bendis’s Leviathan saga was an engaging romp through the most clandestine corners of the DCU, even if the reveal as to who the mystery man destroying the world’s covert ops groups was proved to be a tad out of nowhere. This was one of the set-up issues, a confident, wide-ranging thrill ride that has Lois undercover in London meeting Tyger from the Grayson series, Amanda Waller in the Fortress of Solitude, Mr and Mrs Superman encountering Huntress, the Guardian getting a strange visitor in hospital and more. It’s an accomplished, entertaining comic from Brian Michael Bendis and Steve Epting.

Doomsday Clock #10 I’d been enjoying this offshoot of Watchmen by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank a lot when this blockbuster issue came along and elevated it – Dr Manhattan learns about the nature of the Universe and Superman’s place in it in a fascinating, great-looking thriller that also tells the smaller, but compelling, story of conflicted film star Carver Colman.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 Now this was unexpected – a take on the reckless red-headed reporter that perfectly melds his traditionally cooky character with the distinctly modern storytelling sensibilities of Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber. We’re now six issues in and the series is dazzling in the way it juggles seemingly dozens of story strands and plays with comic book structure.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 Welcome to the 31st century Jon Kent, hope you survive the experience… actually, there seems little danger of anything bad happening to any member of this revamped version of DC’s future superhero team any time soon. Not if the happy tone of this debut issue by Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook is anything to go by – it’s breezily scripted, joyously drawn and full of promise.

The Sandman Universe presents Hellblazer #1 Do you remember when John Constantine was a slightly sleazy backstreet warlock who didn’t shoot out bolts of magic alongside Justice League Dark? Well, the original and best version of the Hellblazer is back, courtesy of Si Spurrier’s ingenious script and Marcio Takara’s mind-blowing art. Once again, magic has a price, and John’s prepared to pay it.

There are other issues that almost made the cut – Metal Men #1, Lois Lane #1, pretty much every issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Justice League Dark Annual #1 and Inferior Five #1 – but let’s keep it at ten. I’m shocked that not a single Marvel comic made it – some of the early issues of the Jonathan Hickman X-Men revamp impressed me, but didn’t hit me in the heart. And apologies to the amazing colourists, letterers, editors and production staff who contributed to these titles, I namechecked writers and artists as they’re the prime creators, but these things are team efforts.

What were your picks of the year?

22 thoughts on “2019 – Ten of the best in comics

  1. Giant Days!! That was a series that wrapped up this year (no spoilers as I’m reading it in trades and so… still a couple stories behind), but this is a consistently great read! Engaging characters in a slice-of-life/coming-of-age story. It fills the void that Blue Monday has left in my heart.

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    1. Thanks Murray, I did finally try Giant Days this year, with a collection of the first few issues. I read the first couple and enjoyed them well enough, but wasn’t dragged in… maybe I’m too far away from the student experience? I shall have another go!

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  2. My list will be ten favorite series of the year in order of as they come to me:

    Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (How is no issue of this series on your list?)
    Legion of Super-Heroes
    Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur
    Giant Days
    Action Comics/Event Leviathan/Superman (too intertwined to rank separately)
    Marauders
    New Mutants
    Runaways
    Doctor Aphra
    Black Cat (big shocker to me!)

    And I have to say, Wonder Twins turned me completely off after (I think) three issues. It’s not as eye gouging bad as Dial H For Hero but honestly, I think it’s too dumb to be in canon. It should be in Earth Scooby Doo, not Earth Prime. Just my opinion…

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    1. There’s likely no Squirrel Girl because I haven’t read it since the first couple of issues – it was fun, and I meant to continue on Marvel Unlimited. Maybe time for a binge. I wonder if they still do those cutesie gag lines at the bottom of the page… they annoyed me, but it was impossible for me not to look at them!

      I shall try Moon Girl, it seemed Marvel was aiming that at a very specific audience that wasn’t me.

      I ignored Marauders because I looked like the portrayal of Kitty would annoy me, and buy the time it appeared I was pretty much HoXPoxed out. I did quite like the first New Mutants, but not enough to keep reading monthly.

      Runaways! I’ve not read any of them since BKV, I shall try.

      Doctor Aphra? I don’t have enough interest in Star Wars to read a comic, only seen about six of the film and can never remember what’s going on.

      Black Cat? Oh go on, once she shows up on MU I shall check it out. Lots of Batroc banging, I believe!

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  3. If you want to step outside of DC and Marvel, try Black Hammer and its multiple spin offs over at Dark Horse. With the exception of one or two issues (among the spin offs) it’s been consistently excellent since launch.

    Oh, and The Terrifics from DC is excellent fun!

    Merry Christmas, Martin!

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    1. I bought the first Black Hammer library editon, I rather enjoyed it, and I have the JL team-ups to read.

      I think I have reviewed Terrifics once or twice, I lost a lot of interest in the lengthy struggle against Simon Stagg’s computer god thingie, but I’m enjoying the Gene Yang stuff.

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  4. I’ve never made a Top Ten list in my life and this isn’t one. But as I think back, these are some books and storylines I really enjoyed.

    I’m having fun reading the goofy Young Justice, so I’ll suggest #7 – a multiversal romp. The team has just left Gemworld, and goes through a “Tiny Titan” kind of universe (apparently Earth-42, home of the Little League); then on to Earth-26, home of Captain Carrot; finally to Kingdom Come’s Earth-22 and an imposing Kal-L, whereupon that Dr. Fate accidentally sends them on to Earth-3. This issue kind of epitomizes the fun of Young Justice in its first year. Many of the issues include guest artists drawing some pages when a different style is called for; this one has two guests, including Dan Hipp of the Teen Titans Go! franchise, who draws the Little League.

    In the same Wonder Comics domain, perhaps Naomi is going to become an important DC character, in which case 2019 saw her debut, and I think it was a strong one, especially enhanced by the stunning art by Jamal Campbell.

    Finally, in “The Trials of Harley Quinn” story, which ran most of the year from #57 to #66 of Harley Quinn, Sam Humphries takes over the book and tells a story that is both funny and really pretty moving, as Harley undergoes trials to see if she’s worthy to be anointed Galactic Angel of Retribution, while dealing with family tragedy. And this is immediately followed up by a strong Thanksgiving issue where Harley continues to deal with the tragic aftermath. (The year concludes with a charming Christmas episode.)

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    1. Ah, you did review that “romp,” and I see I commented on your review :).

      A different kind of recognition perhaps belongs to Black Label in general, which put out several Prestige Plus titles this year. I think this is just the start of a transition DC is planning for older readers.

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  5. Great list, many of which I haven’t read. So you have given me some thoughts for future purchases.

    A few things –

    I loved Event Leviathan even if the ending wasn’t perfect. But nothing like a good old fashioned comic mystery!

    Second, Doomsday Clock turned out to be a love letter for Superman. I loved the last issue. But boy, if that was the point you could have done it in three issues. All the Watchmen stuff – Ozymandias, new Rorschach, etc – in the end kind of didn’t matter. Was it beautiful? Well done? Yes and yes. But this was a long walk.

    Thanks for the year review! Brill!

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      1. Well it looks like DC is on the same page as you about the Superman theory. No other comic has referenced it as far as I can tell, and I suspect it will be quickly forgotten.
        Fingers crossed.

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  6. A few of my unsung favorites:

    Fairlady, a cancelled-too-soon series of Rockford Files-style mysteries set in a fantasy world. By Brian Schirmer, Claaudia Balboni, and Marissa Louise

    Far Sector: A spectacular take on Green Lanterns, set in a vividly imagined sci-fi city. Take a seat, Grant Morrison, this is the best GL book around. By NK Jemisin and Jamal Campbell.

    Spider-Man: Life Story: A decade-by-decade look at Spider-Man by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley.

    Second Coming: By Mark Russel, Richard Pace, and Leonard Kirk, this look at Jesus and Sunstar as roommates examines biblical and superhero conventions, and has insightful things to say about both of them.

    Ignited, by Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo, and Philippe Briones. A bunch of students get superpowers, wich manifest after a school shooting at their high school.

    Archie: 1941 wrapped up at the beginning of the year, and it was a somber look at the gang during the wartime years when they were created. I read them in a bunch, and they hit me like a classic Hollywood movie. By Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, and Peter Krause.

    And Steeple, by John Allison: An absolutely joyful series about the friendship between a new clergywoman and the high priestess of the town’s devil-worshippers, as they work together on community bake sales and stuff. It’s adorable.

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    1. Oh, and Basketful of Heads, by Joe Hill and Leomacs! It has a great suspense vibe on a low-key resort island like the one in Jaws. And Leomacs’s art is simple but beautiful. A treat all around.

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    2. Thanks so much, Rob. I’ve not come across Fairlady, it could be good for me; I actively avoided yet another GL book, but perhaps should have a look; Life Story sounded totally my bag, I’m waiting for the Marvel Unlimited version; I reviewed the first Archie 1941 here, and meant to buy the collection; the concept of Second Coming didn’t have much appeal, but you never know; Ignited is new to me too, that doesn’t sound very me; Steeple sounds fantastic – off to buy!; I heard Basketful of Heads talked about on iFanboy, I’ll likely try it at some point.

      Much to think about!

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  7. I think Second Coming is probably worth a try for you, considering how much you like other Mark Russell comics, and how well-reviewed it is in general. It’s definitely not the book it was caricatured as on Fox News when they spooked Vertigo from publishing it.

    And as for Far Sector, I’ll tell you what? How about I write a guest review of issues 1-3 when #3 comes out? At that point, I’ll probably have more to say about the story than “Wow, this is the BEST” and might have a little more NK Jemison reading under my belt, to boot, as issue 1 inspired me to pick up her novel The Fifth Season, which I’m also really enjoying (and which has some similarities in approach).

    And you’ll love Life Story — it’s a big wet kiss to long-time Spider-fans.

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