Jonathan Hansen’s Favorite Comics of 2018

2018 was a weird year, as I’m sure you’re all aware. There was a lot of distracting garbage, both around the world and around the country. There was a lot of distracting garbage in fandom too. As a result, I was a bit distracted. Movies, TV shows, books—I feel like I was a little behind all year. I especially feel like I was behind in my comic reading too. I didn’t get to my local comic shop as much as I wanted to. My graphic novel to-read stack has barely moved at all. So, while I did read enough to make a full Top Ten this year, that doesn’t quite feel like the right way to sum up 2018 in comics.

So, I’m gonna try something a little different.

Also, just a warning, this year’s list is pretty much all cape comics. Sorry, but that’s just how things worked out. If that’s not your bag, then fair warning. If this upsets you… c’mon… get a real problem.

Let’s do this…

The Old Standbys

There are a few books that always pop up on these lists for me. These are cool, interesting, consistently good titles that I’ve been following for years. There are also a few creators who always show up as well. These are people I think of as talented and who write the kind of stuff I like. I’m good with this situation. In fact, I follow these creators from title to title, because… keep ‘em coming, y’know? Keep making what I like. The downside of this is, after a few years, you start to run out of things to say. There’s only so much you can gush before you’re just repeating yourself and/or desperately digging for lesser used synonyms for awesome…

So, I’m still reading Saga. A pretty well-known title at this point, well-loved and even better reviewed, it’s written by Brian K. Vaughn and drawn by Fiona Staples. Saga tells the story of two soldiers from opposing sides in an interplanetary war, different species who fall in love and lust, who run off together with their mixed species baby. This, of course, creates a huge scandal, and pretty much everyone in the galaxy—except for a motley crew of friends gathered along the way—sets out to kill them. It’s high fantasy meets space opera; fun, funny, exciting, and always very human. The characters are lovable, but flawed, and the story doesn’t flinch from showing them at their best, and at their worst. Also, the baby is the narrator.

Speaking of Brian K. Vaughn, I’m also still reading Paper Girls. Drawn by Cliff Chiang, this is the story of four paper girls who, while on their paper route in the morning hours of November 1st, 1988, stumble into a Temporal War. The sides are unclear, and the reasons for the fight even less so, but it sends the girls tumbling from Prehistoric times to the far-flung future and even into the midst of Y2K. There’s giant Tardigrades and giant robots and cave men and space women, and of course future versions of the main characters, most of whom have made some questionable choices. Both Paper Girls and Saga are hurtling toward their final chapters, but the trades are easy to get a hold of, so if you haven’t tried these titles out, get to it, because they’re great.

I’m still reading Thor too. I have never really been a Thor reader, or really even that much of a fan, but ever since Jason Arron and Esad Ribic relaunched Thor with the God Butcher/God Bomb story line, I’ve been hooked. There’s been a slew of good artists since then, but Aaron has stayed, putting together a tale of Thor that spans his past, his present, and into his distant future. It’s a bold mix of mythology and space opera and human drama as Thor loses his hammer and Jane Foster picks it up—until she finally succumbs to cancer, and Thor finds himself worthy again. It sees the duo fight classic villains, ancient legends, hellish beasts and more than a few corporate monsters, as the Nine Realms are consumed in a massive war that is going to be the big crossover event of 2019. Finally, Mister Miracle is an old character I’ve never really followed, but I do like writer Tom King’s work. His run on Vision at Marvel was amazing, a slow-burning examination of the synthetic hero’s humanity in a suburban hell. He then jumped to DC, teamed with artist Mitch Gerads, and the duo have done something similar with Mister Miracle, a super escape artist named Scott Free, and a member of the New Gods. He’s married to Big Barda, a super kick-ass warrior goddess, and the pair love each other deeply. They’ve also just had a baby, and between the pressures of being a new parent, and the pressures of waging an apocalyptic intergalactic war against the forces of the evil god Darkseid, it’s all starting to get to Scott. It’s a weird and twisting tale of marriage and parenting and the never-ending battle against unrelenting evil. It’s great, but honestly, Scott and Barda’s marriage is the best part, I’d be fine with more of just that. They’re fantastic.

The Special Mention

My favorite of the Old Standbys this year is Warren Ellis’ The Wild Storm. Wildstorm was once the name of the Jim Lee universe under the original umbrella of Image comics. For the first few years, it was a mostly 90s X-Men-based gaggle of strong jaws, shiny boobs, and the occasional swimsuit issue, but hey, the art was killer at least. Some better creators eventually came along and they did some cool stuff—one of whom was Warren Ellis—but eventually Wildstorm hit the skids creatively, despite some noble and potential interesting efforts, and Jim Lee sold the whole thing to DC comics for a buttload of money. DC tried a few times to merge the Wildstorm characters into their stable, but for the most part, that completely failed. So they gave it back to Warren Ellis.

Ellis teamed up with artist Jon Davis-Hunt, and they have created something special. Familiar characters, updated and redesigned for the modern day, and thrust into somewhat the same roles, are also completely new and different. It’s a re-imagining that mixes superheroes with the day-after-tomorrow sci-fi style of the more recent William Gibson books. It’s a bleeding edge, high-tech, super-violent, and hyper cool story, as two incredibly powerful intelligence organizations prepare to go to war, all while the next evolution of humanity begins to bloom, under the covert manipulations of two alien races living amongst us.

It’s a blast, and heading into its final chapter, but honestly, I want him to go on. I love this book. I love its freedom and its ideas, a mix of conspiracy and secrets and espionage and super powers, all with the feeling of a classic alternate universe story. I mean, no one has an eyepatch or a goatee… but it feels like it. I love that. I’ve always been a sucker for a good issue of What if? and this book delivers.

The Newbies

Even though 2018 was a terrible year, it did bring a slew of new comics for me to try out, and some of them have been amazing. Here are some of the newer books I’ve really enjoyed reading. Some feature characters I’m familiar with, by creators I know, while others showcase new characters by creators that I’m going to be keeping an eye on in the future.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is still writing the adventures of T’challa, but now he has joined with artist Daniel Acuna, and the comic is called Black Panther: Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda. The story is basically Black Panther is space, in the distant future, with the same characters, but now they are all rebels fighting against a Wakanda Empire that has conquered large portions of the galaxy. I don’t know if it’s just a small, alternate universe jaunt, or if it’s connected to the main continuity, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the Black Panther in a Space Opera, so… it’s great. I love weird alternate takes on characters.

I’m not only a sucker for alternate universe stories, but I also love dystopian future stories too, so I’m really enjoying Old Man Hawkeye. A spinoff from—and prequel to—the Old Man Logan story, it follows Hawkeye’ adventures before he showed up at Logan’s farm. The ex-Avenger is, obviously, older, and going blind too, living in a world where the supervillains won and killed off all of the heroes. Well, most of them…. Now, the old man is on a path of revenge, hunting down the villains who killed his friends, taking us on a tour of a wrecked and brutal America in a twisted future Marvel Universe, and all while Bullseye is on his trail, desperate to kill the last living superhero. I’m not familiar with writer Ethan Sacks and artist Marco Checchetto, but I’m impressed, because while this book doesn’t really do anything new, what it does do, it does really well.

Speaking of Hawkeyes, I’m also loving the new West Coast Avengers. I’m familiar with writer Kelly Thompson’s work and artist Stefano Caselli, plus I love the characters they’re using, so I was looking forward to this one. This is a goofy and fun title, with the idea that Kate Bishop is trying to restart the West Coast Avengers, because no matter how many times they bring it up, New York is still the only place with a regular superhero presence in the Marvel Universe. Anyway, with no money, and no real support, Kate has sold the idea as a reality show, so the comic has interview moments interspersed throughout each issue. It’s a lot like a sit-com. It’s charming, it’s funny, and fluffy, and like I said, the mix of characters is great. It’s a good time.

Then there’s Multiple Man. I’ve always liked the idea of Jaime Maddrox, a mutant born with the ability to create clones of himself at a strong enough impact—clones who he can then reabsorb, along with their experiences—but I’ve never really liked any of the books he’s been in before now. Written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Andy MacDonald, this is a mini-series full of time travel shenanigans and weird alternate versions of the main character—and some pretty good jokes too—so it’s stuff I like, and some pretty classic X-Men hijinks. It’s a good time.

The Special Mention

The X-Men are known for many things: obvious social metaphors, terrible movies, a veritable army of redheads, nothing but really bad luck in pretty much every future, Wolverine, Extreme-ness, color-coordinated outfits, epitomizing the 90s, and a historical continuity that is a huge god damn mess of nonsense. Ed Piskor is an alternative comic artist who is known for titles like Wizzywigs and Hip Hop Family Tree, as well as working with comic legend Harvey Pekar. His latest project is an attempt to distill nearly 40 years of X-continuity into a six issue mini-series called X-Men: Grand Design.

I love it. Piskor’s style is perfect for this. It’s like a primer for X-Men history, but filtered through a lens of weirdness… or at least, a different kind of weirdness than usual. It’s a quick and breezy read, funny and smart and with a great eye for detail. Piskor’s art is angular and strange, wildly expressive and absolutely perfect.

The X-Men are a strange franchise. I love it and I hate it. It’s everything wrong with comics, and a title with such incredible potential. This book does the X-Men justice. It’s funny and cool and weird and silly, the type of thing that transcends the source material, but also embraces it with nothing but love.

This is definitely worth checking out.

Comics to check out

As I was putting together this list, I noticed a few titles popping up a lot of places that I wasn’t familiar with. I plan to check these out. Some of these I have already purchased, but haven’t had a chance to read yet, and some of these I’m still hunting down, in order to catch up.

Comics to look for in 2019

It’s a new year, and that means new comics. Some of these books are from creators I love, some are by creators I don’t know, some of the books I’ve already read an issue or two, and some of them are still on their way. All of these books interest me a lot, so I will be looking for them this year. You should too.

And that’s it. That’s the whole list. So long 2018, you sucked. Here’s hoping 2019 turns shit around. In the meantime, go find a comic shop in your area and get yourself some comics, True Believer, you won’t be sorry.

Excelsior!