It’s time for my Top 10 [American digital] comic book titles of 2019! Head back to entries #125-101, #100-76, #75-51, #50-26, and #25-11.
I read so many comics last year – some would say an inadvisable amount. Most weeks I read more than 55% of all of the new single comics out in the American market.
Why? Why spend all the time and money on this when I could spend it on something else? I wanted to be able to say that just once I spend an entire year immersed in comics the way people immerse themselves in films or TV or music, listening to every possible thing to come out with a holistic view of the industry across an entire year.
So many people undertake that mission in other creative endeavors, but when it comes to comics no one delves deep for the stuff at the margins at the big two, the indie titles without industry buzz, the small publishers trying to break through.
This was my year for it. I may never be able to do it again, and no one else may ever cover quite as much of the new comics out in a single year as I did this year! I’m proud I stuck with my mission, and thrilled to share with you the ten comics that excited me the most this year, month in and month out.
(If you prefer a Twitter countdown, start here.)
#10 – War of the Realms (Marvel)
Really, a Marvel event book in my top comics of the year? Absolutely, yes!
WAR OF THE REALMS (Marvel) is a six issue victory lap from Jason Aaron, Russel Dauterman, Matt Wilson, & Joe Sabino. It might be the prettiest event comic book of all time, it justifies every character it cameos, and it somehow manages to boil down the themes of an all-time-great 6yr run into a single final fight and a father finally accepting his son. This is the standard to which we can compare all future events, because it proves an event can be big, loud, beautiful, and – most importantly – really damn good.
#9 – Justice League Dark (DC)
What if instead of a major event, DC just had an ongoing comic that felt like the intersection of all of their magical and mystical characters fighting a series of threats big enough to swallow the entire Earth?
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK (DC) is a magic un-civil war as Wonder Woman tries to hold several foes at bay, including her signature villain Circe and the new and seriously creepy Upside-Down Man. James Tynion pulls in a massive magical cast but finds moments to make it personal for Diana, Zatanna, Bobo, Swamp Thing, Constantine, Doctors Fate, & the rest of the team. Alvaro Martinez Bueno delivers an astounding run of art as bold and beautiful as anything in comics alongside with Raul Fernandez & Brad Anderson.
#8 – Gogor (Image)
What if someone built a beautiful fantasy world to contain an evocative coming of age tale and no one read it?
GOGOR (Image) is pure childlike wonder on top of deep fantasy world-building. Think: BONE. I was puzzled by the lack of buzz around a comic that hit the all-ages fantasy buttons all so squaring while providing such an original take. Auteur Ken Garing relies on an uncluttered visual language to anchor this whimsical monomyth about a boy and his organic golem goliath, but he finds moments for complex commentary (as on the destructive vacuum of capitalism). This follows all the rules of a hero’s journey, but subverts expectations by pairing each step with new wrinkles about the world and its culture. It’s perfect.
#7 – Punchline (Antartic)
Why aren’t there more indie superheroes? There’s nothing about them that inherently requires one of the Big Two universes to play in, but given the freedom to create anything in your own comic it makes sense that you wouldn’t replicate an existing sandbox. Yet, there are a lot of superhero stories simply not getting played with in those sandboxes!
PUNCHLINE (Antarctic) is a straight-up superhero blast, like Kirkman’s INVINCIBLE but for a pair of female protagonists. In a moment of weakness, a desperate super-powered spy (think a supernaturally gifted Black Widow) gifts her powers to an unsuspecting teen girl…but now she has to train her (and manipulate her to settle scores with old foes). This book is all Bechdel-test passing, with these two women learning about their new relationship and how much they can trust each other. Along the way, the story is told with bombastic visual language that recalls the heady 90s days of Mike Deodato, Jr.
#6 – Murder Falcon (Image)
One of the best things a comic book can do is take an incredibly specific experience and make it universally relatable.
MURDER FALCON (Image) asks if it’s possible to find joy amidst the ruins of life. The world is consumed by monsters and a Heavy Metal anthropomorphic falcon summoned by a lonely local guitarist can’t save it… unless the rocker can get his band back together. I’ve never read a comic before that captured so well the feeling of making music with other people, and how the trust you share is as important as the talent. Also, there are ravenous Kaiju. Daniel Warren Johnson’s story of recalling what it feels like to have hope is both ridiculous and emotionally devastating.
#5 – The Savage Shores (Vault)
Even as comics are increasingly accepted by the mainstream and treated like both serious literature and serious visual art, it can be hard to find comics with the level of thematic density and reference of either.
THESE SAVAGE SHORES (Vault) is a staggering work of art. Ram V explores the subversion of indigenous mythology (both figurative & literal) via the British colonization of India as seen through the lens of a monster-against-monster throwdown. It’s history, horror, and epistolary, all masterfully illustrated by Sumit Kumar w/Vittorio Astone’s unreal colors.
#4 – Incursion (Valiant)
Every super comic wants to be about the end of the world. It can be exhausting. The secret to a world-ending comic plot feeling substantial is getting us invested in all of the characters on both sides of the conflict.
INCURSION (Valiant) is spectacular, massive adventure with huge stakes and swoon-worthy art. Andy Diggle & Alex Paknadel’s story feels like a timeless line-wide event in a tidy four-issue package that keeps a tight focus on the human through-line of this story: Gilad and his lengthy lifetime of regrets.
#3 – Ghost Tree (IDW)
I think one of the best uses of the comics medium is to tell a simple stories with genre trappings that wouldn’t make them feasible (or: marketable) in other forms.
GHOST TREE (IDW) is a beautiful, sombre, and striking story whose horror is just window dressing on a much smaller, personal story at its heart. Bobby Curnow & Simon Gane’s subtle ghost story has moments of levity and terror, but it’s mostly minor truths about the human condition and an indelible moral: some people don’t see what their lives are for until it’s too late.
#2 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW)
When we focus on what’s hot in comics, that focus is so often directed as what’s new and digestible. The current comics discourse tends to favor well-contained stories. Yet, there’s a different kind of magic when a long-running title builds up to a riveting crescendo that is greater than everything that came before – and, most comic companies aren’t leaving the runway for series to get there.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (IDW) juggles a cast of dozens and themes from well over 100 total issues (counting all of the sidebars and mini-series along the way), yet it’s easy to pick up and adore this year’s climactic run-up to issue #100. Over the better part of a decade, the titular turtles have built up a fascinating tapestry of relationships with their friends and foes, and it’s all brought to bear on this multi-sided city-wide war. Artists Dave Wachter & Michael Dialynas are efficient evocative storytellers who draw tension, negotiation, and halting compromise as well as they do action.
#1 – Invaders (Marvel)
Comics can be anything, and sometimes the best proof of that is seeing something inventive and new from characters and creators you thought you already thoroughly understood.
INVADERS (Marvel) transformed a 70s title created to tell retcon war stories into a sprawling epic about PTSD, memory, allegiance, & nationalism. Chip Zdarsky penned betrayals of trust even more brutal than his action, and used Namor’s fractured character as his greatest asset. Zdarsky’s signature humor crackled at the margins of this comic, but this was a personal and political book unlike any of his work to date. And, it looked great.
INVADERS (Marvel) was my favorite comic of 2019. It was created by:
Chip Zdarsky (script)
Carlos Magno (present day line art)
Butch Guice (flashback line art)
Alex Guimarães (color art)
Travis Lanham (letters)
(Splash page from Invaders #6, Magno/Guimarães)
A brief endnote on my list.
I think I was truly comprehensive in chasing down any title that had a shot of being in my Top 200 comics of the year to give it a shot. However, there were a limited number of titles I didn’t read in 2019 because I am reading (OR am planning to read) them from the start and have yet to catch up to present day.
Unread (& unconsidered) 2019 titles included:
- The Beauty
- Black Science
- Cyber Force
- Hellboy/Mignola Universe
- Lady Death
- Lady Mechanika
- Lola XOXO
- Manifest Destiny
- Princeless: Raven
- Project Superpowers
- Robyn Hood
- Squirrel Girl
- The Wildstorm
- XO Manowar