Welcome to the penultimate installment of my top 125 [American digital] comics of 2019! Today I am counting down books #25 to 11. Head back to entries #125-101, #100-76, #75-51, and #50-26.
I’ve already told you about 100 of my favorite titles of 2019 this week, but now it’s time to share my TOP 25 COMIC TITLES OF THE YEAR! I recommend every title in my Top 125, but these are the titles I MOST STRONGLY endorse. I thought nearly every issue from these books was great.
Yesterday I shared the details of my “Recommendation Index” algorithm with you; these are titles with an elusive >50% Recommendation Index score.
Here’s a wild fact: over half of my Top 25 are books I would have NEVER touched if I stuck with my usual pulls and favorite creators. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. I’m happy I got out of mine, and I hope my list helps you step outside of yours.
Let’s go! (Or, if you prefer a Twitter countdown, start here.)
#25 – Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (Marvel)
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN (Marvel) focused on Spidey as a hyper-local hero. This was a friendly, witty Spider-Man who was out to learn all of his neighbor’s names (and their problems, too). Tom Taylor with artists Juann Cabal + Ken Lashley told his mix of arcs and 1-shots all set within a few square blocks of NYC. He delivered hilarious spider-quips as well as tear-jerking emotional beats, which made this feel like the most classic take on Peter Parker we’ve seen in years.
#24 – Punks Not Dead: London Calling (IDW / Black Crown)
PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING (IDW) continued the uproarious adventures of the ghost of Sid Vicious and the Extra-Usual Affairs department out to exterminate him. David Barnett tied his sequel’s plot in a humorous (and scary!) bow with delightful pop art from Martin Simmonds. This sequel focused more on family and history than the gag-filled first series, but that didn’t slow down the stream of British pop culture and pop music references.
#23 – Daredevil (Marvel)
DAREDEVIL (Marvel) is a revelation. Chip Zdarsky began with awesome street-level action, but pivoted hard into Matt questioning what it means to be a hero (and Kingpin questioning what it means to rule). We’ve seen so many deconstructions of Daredevil over the years, but this version of Matt as a flawed, doubtful, plainclothes human being struggling to accept responsibility for his actions was riveting stuff.
#22 – Fairlady (Image)
FAIRLADY (Image) is a genius set of 1-shot mysteries, plus maybe the best comic concept of 2019. Years after a fantasy world war, many former soldiers living in a town built in the desiccated remains of a fallen giant became peacekeepers and detectives…but only one of them is a woman. This is the story of her private investigations along with a massive anthropomorphic feline partner while also working on retainer for a mysterious local wizard and his prickly chief of staff. It is absolutely criminal this ended early – I could spend another 100 issues in this world.
#21 – Star Pig (IDW)
STAR PIG (IDW) finds a teen girl spaceship-wrecked in a galactic quadrant far, far away from Earth that happens to be obsessed with Earth culture. Her only ally is a giant-size tardigrade, the seemingly deathless microscopic creatures that can survive even the frozen silence of space. Delilah Dawson’s script is full of LOLs as it pivots issue by issue from sci-fi farce to romance to horror. Francesco Gaston’s art is effortlessly charming, grounding characters in realism but surrounding them with the ridiculous.
#20 – History of the Marvel Universe (Marvel)
HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE (Marvel) could’ve been a dull encyclopedia full of static pin-ups. Instead, Mark Waid created an intricate “it’s all connected” look at Marvel’s entire history told via awe-inspiring full-page illustrations from Javier Rodriguez. I lingered on EVERY page of this dense narration of Marvel from the birth of the universe to present day, and I devoured the obsessive endnotes full of issue references and excerpts of key panels.
#19 – Teen Titans (DC)
TEEN TITANS (DC) let its team of teens be teens … all full of messy emotions, rash decisions, hormonal rage, and plenty of angst. This book’s greatest asset was eschewing any of the classic line-ups it could’ve drawn from. Adam Glass’s new inventions Crush, Roundhouse, and Djinn became dynamic, tragic characters as compelling as Damian or Kid Flash. While there was ostensibly a big plot about forcibly reforming villains to focus on, it was the character drama that kept me glued to this series. It often reminded me of 80s teen books like New Mutants.
#18 – Runaways (Marvel)
RUNAWAYS (Marvel) has a timeless quality, like it could (and should!) go on forever regardless of what happens elsewhere at Marvel while still effortlessly fitting in with any present day status quo. Rainbow Rowell writes small, authentic moments that blossom intoebigger stories, and Andrés Genolet’s art delivers on the nuanced emotion required to make them work.
#17 – Lazarus: Risen (Image)
LAZARUS: RISEN (Image) found Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s grounded dystopia the strongest it’s been in a remarkable six-year run. A lengthier quarterly format left room to linger on scenes of a damaged child craving love or a brutal 2-on-1 duel without being a slave to 20-page story beats. Each issue was backed by terrific prose features digging into the unseen corners of this world, perhaps the most interesting in all of comics heading into 2020.
#16 – Valkyrie: Jane Foster
VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER (Marvel) is somehow even better than Jane as Thor. HOW? Maybe because her remit to observe the dying and transport the dead aligns well with her character, but certainly due to CAFU’s unbelievable artwork and Jason Aaron and Al Ewing’s script that never wastes a word. These adventures are at once smaller and larger than what Jane was responsible for in Thor, because they are about single lives and the entire afterlife of death, and in that massive scope Jane feels more fully-realized than ever before.
#15 – Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Marvel) is perfect for Donny Cates’s “take all the toys out of the box” strengths as a writer, because Guardians of the Galaxy has A LOT of toys. Cates hits slam bang hilarious highs again and again but never loses the complicated affection among the core team of this title. Geoff Shaw was career-best on the first arc.
#14 – Sentient (TKO)
SENTIENT (TKO) was a fundamentally perfect comic. Beautifully textured art from Gabriel Walta, thoughtful lettering from Steve Wands, and a brilliantly-paced tale from Jeff Lemire full of knife twists of plot but containing fleeting moments of pure love. Don’t get spoiled on this tale of a single ship’s journey to a new home across the universe!
#13 – Captain Marvel (Marvel)
CAPTAIN MARVEL (Marvel) finally gave Carol Danvers the memorable stories to match her character’s nuanced history and memorable design. Kelly Thompson perfected the balance of Carol’s defiant demeanor against inner self-doubt as she hit some familiar plot beats but executed them in new and different ways. Penciller Carmen Carnero was a Marvel-wide MVP with action, acting, and shading that sometimes hinted at Colan. This title never hit a false note.
#12 – The Life & Death of Toyo Harada (Valiant)
THE LIFE & DEATH OF TOYO HARADA (Valiant) asks what happens after you’ve tried to heal the world and then tried to rule it with an iron fist. What’s left? Joshua Dysart deftly intercuts Harada’s early life with current conflict stunningly rendered by CAFU for a riveting look at a life spent swing from downtrodden to privileged to powerful. This is the scope and vision of House of X / Powers of X but in a way that hits without knowing any of a character’s history.
#11 – Harleen (DC Black Label)
HARLEEN (DC) is an artistic tour de force. Author and illustrator Stjepan Sejic’s digital painting is stunning, but what’s even more stunning is that his prose is some of the best in comics. This portrait of Harleen Quinzel’s slow descent into madness has an arresting, filmic quality that rarely relies on being subversive for its thrills.
And that brings us to the end of today’s list! I’ll be back tomorrow with my TOP TEN COMICS of 2019! I’m so excited.