Welcome to the first post in a countdown of my Top 125 [American digital] comics of 2019!
I read >2500 comics released between November 2018 & November 2019 from more than 550 series and more than 30 publishers, because I wanted to be able to say that one year I made a definitive list of my favorite comics considering everything.
To arrive at this list, I sampled nearly every US digitally-available release from Marvel, DC, Image, Aftershock, Ahoy, Boom, Cave Pictures, Comixology, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Humanoids, IDW, Lion Forge, Mad Cave, Valiant, Vault, & Zenescope, plus many comics from other publishers.
(Why November to November? Even though I was still reading in December 2019, most best-of-year lists cut off in October or November, and I wanted to be roughly analogous. Why a Top 125? Because it felt like a cut-off where I could favorably recommend almost any title on the list.)
Even though this is a subjective list of favorites, there’s still some objectivity baked into it.
I rated every issue I read, totaled the ratings within the release window, applied two algorithms to rank their scores, and then took some liberties with ordering based on pure love.
(My 1st algorithm combats recency effects and gives more credit to longer-running series since it’s harder to maintain quality on a longer run. My 2nd algorithm is my “recommendation index,” a modified Net Promoter Score that weighs a series’ awesome issues against its dull ones)
Okay, that’s enough of a preamble – onto my Top 125 Comics of 2019!
#125 – Butcher Queen (Red 5)
BUTCHER QUEEN (Red 5) peers 100 years into Earth’s future, where the planet is packed with (new) aliens and (still) plenty of prejudice. Jim Ousley gave us just enough of the character of a thick-skinned mercenary living with layers of guilt, and he gave Ben Sawyer so much to illustrate, from other species to graveyards of broken-down tech.
#124 – Dark Red (Aftershock)
In DARK RED (Aftershock), Tim Seeley’s small town vampire just wants to feed off a local chick with a rare blood disorder and be left alone, but his World War 2 service compels him to fight off big city Nazi vamps moving in on his remote town. Lovely, textured art from Corin Powell & Mark Englert make this more than just a bloodbath.
#123 – Princeless: Find Yourself (Action Lab)
PRINCELESS: FIND YOURSELF (Action Lab) continued Jeremy Whitley’s all-ages self-saving princess adventure to a 7th compelling chapter. Our un-princesslike princess Adrienne seeks to free her eldest royal sister from a sphinx-guarded tower, yielding lessons in self-sufficiency and family ties. Emily Martin contributed lovely art.
#122 – Breakneck (Titan)
BREAKNECK (Titan) is a terrifically weird low-key plot of secret agents and domestic terrorism in a slightly-fictionalized Philadelphia from Duane Szierczynski. Strong art from Simone Guglielmini & Raffaele Semeraro ensures that lots of hilarious lines land in this book that’s often profane without punching down.
#121 – Lois Lane (DC)
LOIS LANE (DC) is a rare non-powered peek into the politics of the DC Universe. Greg Rucka reminds us of the reach of Lane’s journalism by opening on Lois versus The White House, has her detangling an international plot sans Clark, and sees her playing private investigator alongside his favorite Question.
#120 – Harley Quinn (DC)
HARLEY QUINN (DC) found Sam Humphries balancing laughs with a long-running plot about Harley’s family, both related and found. He wisely stuck to one-shots and brief arcs so no gag wore out its welcome), and he was illustrated by murderer’s row of artists – especially Sam Basri!
#119 – The Realm (Image)
THE REALM (Image) continued its fantasy epic of a party questing across a US landscape remade to look more like a D&D campaign. Artist Jeremy Haun and colorist Nick Filardi deliver a textured, personal comic where you can feel the acting, which made this more-contemplative arc work just as well as the action that came before.
#118 – Doomsday Clock (DC)
DOOMSDAY CLOCK (DC) finally saw DC’s heroes reacting to the machinations of its imported Watchmen. For me, that finally took this to a thrilling place after a lot of waiting around. I was glued to the pages of issues #8-10. I feel like we could’ve (should’ve?) started here and eased into the backstory afterward.
#117 – Marvel Action: Captain Marvel (IDW)
MARVEL ACTION: CAPTAIN MARVEL (IDW) is something special: it gets Carol Danvers’ voice right and is a memorable adventure – all in a YA comic not even published by Marvel! Kudos to Sam Maggs for the story, and to Sweeney Boo & Brittany Peer for the super-cute illustrations.
#116 – Venom (Marvel)
VENOM (Marvel) is Donny Cates’s masterpiece of madness. Every issue includes an even wilder development than the last in the ever-expanding universe of symbiotes. Cates brought in the Maker, totally re-wired Eddie Brock’s history, and managed to keep things interesting while exporting his A-plot to Absolute Carnage.
#115 – Doctor Strange (Marvel)
DOCTOR STRANGE (Marvel) saw Mark Waid & Jesús Saiz do their best work on one-shot stories tucked between arcs. “Strange versus Gentrification” and “Strange: Plumber Supreme” don’t seem like stories that need the new hyperrealistic Star Wars artist Saiz to draw them, but Saiz treating them seriously let Waid’s jokes land big.
#114 – Titans (DC)
TITANS (DC) spun straw into gold with an in-between generation of DC’s heroes, even as its trio of traditional stars were sucked into other stories. Dan Abnett (and a fleet of great artists) gave this title its own epic arc and found a way for newer cast members like Miss Martian and Natasha Irons to fit…and shine.
#113 – The Avant-Guards (Boom)
THE AVANT-GUARDS (Boom) is ostensibly about an arts college that can barely field a basketball squad, but it’s really about navigating newly-adult relationships. Carly Usdin keeps it comedic but grounded while Noah Hayes cartoons expressive characters with unique silhouettes.
#112 – Conan the Barbarian (Marvel)
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Marvel) marked a glorious return of Howard’s sword-and-sandal hero to Marvel thanks to Jason Aaron’s clever concept of one-shots with a loosely-connected theme and stunning colors from Matthew Wilson. It’s a truly worthy successor to Marvel’s 70s classic.
#111 – Anal0g (Image)
ANALOG (Image) finds Gerry Duggan’s old-school gumshoe navigating a near-future dystopia that ensues after a social media apocalypse. I love how this books feel easily spans small-time noir to international spy action at all once. It’s dense with screwball comedy and mystery rendered by David O’Sullivan and Mike Spicer.
#110 – Delver (Comixology)
DELVER (Comixology) wields a clever concept: what happens to a small town that sits beside a randomly-spawned dungeon door in an RPG? As the towns ecology and economy undergoes upheaval due to the influx of intrepid adventurers, authors MK Reed & C. Spike Trotman focus on Temerity, a soup-selling teen turned sword-swinging adventurer as she makes her first dungeon dive. It’s a delight.
#109 – Daughters of the Dragon (Marvel)
DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON (Marvel) digital mini-series was everything a Daughters book ought to be – stubborn, funny, full of action, sometimes psychedelic, and with hints of its 70s exploitation roots. Jed MacKay found new ways to test Misty & Colleen that weren’t just gun-&-sword-for-hire plots, and I wish we got more.
#108 – Spider-Man / Deadpool (Marvel)
SPIDER-MAN / DEADPOOL (Marvel) was a little book that could, full of Spider-Man heart and Deadpool silliness. Robbie Thompson kept this loveable through the most-inane plots, mined Marvel history for hilarious deep cuts, and pulled off a ludicrous 4th-wall-break at the close that made me love this even more than I had before.
#107 – Punisher Kill Krew (Marvel)
PUNISHER KILL KREW (Marvel) made Frank Castle the action star of a fantastical and slapstick-funny cosmic adventure (along with the likes of Foggy Nelson and the Juggernaut!) while maintaining his grim character. Juan Ferreyra’s stunning art could sell Gerry Duggan’s silly-but-tragic War of the Realms follow-up even without word balloons.
#106 – James Bond 007 (Dynamite)
JAMES BOND 007 (Dynamite) is a thrilling, kinetic single Bond story in 12 parts from Grek Pak that gives Odd Job and Goldfinger a slight (but satisfying) reimagining. You can practically see the film grain popping off the page thanks to colors from Tríona Farrell & Roshan Kurichiyanil.
#105 – Hardcore (Image)
HARDCORE (Image) is a pure popcorn-munching action movie in comic book form, like Die Hard or Fast & Furious with a sci-fi twist. Andy Diggle keeps the action rising in every issue and Alessandro Vitti’s artwork maintains an appealing style of sketchy-edged realism. It’s a blast.
#104 – Knights of the Golden Sun (Mad Cave)
KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN SUN (Mad Cave) is biblical revisionism, inventing a dissension in the angelic ranks during a century-long disappearance of god. Shimmering digital painting provides an uncanny heightened-reality depiction for the angelic host, and the action becomes massive.
#103 – Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Marvel)
MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN (Marvel) has the tricky task of defining Miles both out of Ultimate Universe and away from Brian Bendis’s pen. Saladin Ahmed succeeds in making Miles feel like a real teen while giving him his own canon of fears and foes and adding nuance to his family.
#102 – Elvira: The Shape of Elvira (Dynamite)
ELVIRA: THE SHAPE OF ELVIRA (Dynamite) is a groaner of a pun worthy of the Mistress of the Dark herself, with the title playing on her buxom image as well the similarly-named Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Elvira gets to be herself here: a quippy, self-sufficient, self-deprecating, self-saving damsel.
#101 – Giant Days (Boom)
GIANT DAYS (Boom) wrapped a massive run with a whimsical set of stories that refused to steer into a big ending. John Allison reminded us that college days feel giant, but they’re just days, and so are the ones afterward – all better spent with friends who accept your flaws.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more of my Top 125 of 2019.
As I wrote up this initial 1/5th of my list I kept saying “This ranking can’t be right…this is one of my favorite comics of 2019!”
Really, all 125 of these comics are my favorites, regardless of placement. They’re all great