Comics

Top 100 Comics of 2019

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25. The Jungle

Writer: Kristina Gehrmann (Adapter), Upton Sinclair)

ArtistKristina Gehrmann

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Description: Long acclaimed around the world, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle remains a powerful book even today. Not many works of literature can boast that their publication brought about actual social and labor change, but that’s just what The Jungle did, as it led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. In today’s society, where labor and safety of the food we eat remain key concerns for all, Sinclair’s shocking story still resonates. Bringing new life and energy to this classic work, adapter and illustrator Kristina Gehrmann takes Sinclair’s prose and transforms it through pen and ink, allowing you to discover (or rediscover) this book and see it from a whole new perspective.

Why It Made the List: When you are adapting one of the most important literary works of the 20th century there is pressure to do it justice and Kristina Gehrmann does just that by capturing the essence of what made the original book have such a societal impact. It helps that we once again find ourselves in a time and place that learning the story of The Jungle is vital to see how far we have come but also how we are now regressing back to a time where a harsh unforgiving life was the way of the world.


24. Black Hammer: Age of Doom 

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Dean Ormston, Rich Tommaso 

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics 

Description: After learning how they got trapped on the farmworld, our heroes find themselves with everything they thought they wanted. But not everything is right just yet, and it takes the strong resolve of the new Black Hammer to get the team back together as shocking revelations change their world at every turn!

Why It Made the List: This year marked the end of the main Black Hammer storyline and it is a bit of a bittersweet way to go. For this last arc we were ahead of the characters as they are back in Spiral City living what appeared to be normal lives. Since the first issue, this has been a book where nothing is what it seems and what was different this time around is how quickly new answers arrived. One reason this series has had so many successful spin-offs is due to the strength of the main book. How it can construct and reconstruct superhero tropes in a  given issue. This is the type of journey where it is one step forward and two steps back, but when you have characters this strong it works. Now that this journey has ended you get the sense the overall story of the Black Hammer universe has just begun. 


23. The Plot 

Writer: Michael Moreci, Tim Daniel

Artist: Tim Daniel

Publisher: Vault Comics

Description: In order to receive… First you must give. When Chase Blaine’s estranged brother and sister-in-law are murdered, he becomes guardian to McKenzie and Zach, the niece and nephew he hardly knows. Seeking stability for the children, Chase moves his newly formed family to his ancestral home in Cape Augusta… which overlooks a deep, black bogland teeming with family secrets.

Why It Made the List: How do you create fear in an audience? With film, you have the benefit of sound and music that can often do much of the heavy lifting. With comics, the job is a lot harder. One of the ways The Plot accomplishes it is with how it plays with time to keep you uneasy. How you think you are continuing from the last scene but in reality you back in a different time and place. That is also a practice that can lead to a lot of confusion but with The Plot the structure of the story keeps things clear.  Your head comes above water just long enough to be forced back down into the muck. 


 

22. The Replacer

Writer: Zac Thompson

Artist: Arjuna Susini

Publisher: Aftershock 

DescriptionThe 1990’s. Tragedy strikes the Beharrell family in the form of a debilitating stroke. Now the youngest child in the family is convinced his paralyzed father didn’t truly fall ill but is pos-sessed by something sinister. He believes a demon, THE REPLACER, has come to take away his jolly, agreeable, tech-obsessed Dad. But no one seems to see the monster – and with every passing day, his father falls deeper into the clutches of evil.

Based on Zac Thompson’s true story of coming to terms with a disabled parent, THE RE-PLACER is a complete 64-page graphic meditation on loss, tragedy and fear told through the eyes of a nine-year-old – a horror tale about learning to walk again, even if a demon has to teach you how to do it. A bizarre mashup of IT, The Exorcist and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, with stunning visuals by Arjuna Susini (Made Men), THE REPLACER is not for the faint of heart.

Why It Made the List: I did not read the description of this story before I read it but it was clear this was coming from a real place of grief as well as guilt. Now knowing this is inspired by Zac Thompson’s own personal journey of coming to terms with his disable parent everything makes sense. What sticks with me most is the opening scene where we see a dad and son trying to share a moment together by making the nearly impossible decision of choosing what movie to watch. It was a tender moment that made everything that followed that much more important. I was not scared of the monsters hiding in the shadows. I was scared that a son was losing the father he so loves. For me, nothing could be scarier.

 

 


21. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: Steve Lieber

Publisher: DC Comics

Description: Jimmy Olsen must die! Wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Jimmy Olsen lives! Superman’s best friend and Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen tours the bizarre underbelly of the DC Universe in this new miniseries featuring death, destruction, giant turtles and more! It’s a centuries-spanning whirlwind of weird that starts in Metropolis and ends in Gotham City. And then we kill Jimmy.

Why It Made the List: I love that comics can be silly again. Not just silly but completely out there to the point that Jimmy Olsen turning into a giant turtle is just a brief moment of ridiculousness in a jammed back book of  crazy. Please give me more Batman in this book. Genius stuff. When we have a world so downright crazy right now a book that is guaranteed to elicit smiles and laughter is such a breath of fresh air. Steve Lieber needs to draw more comics. The world is better when he is given the freedom this book allows. All that insanity would not work if the person drawing it could not make everything look convincing. Lieber makes it look easy. 


20. Second Coming 

Writer: Mark Russell 

Artist: Cayetano Valenzuela, Richard Pace 

Publisher: Ahoy Comics

DescriptionSecond Coming follows Jesus Christ as he returns to Earth and discovers that his teachings have been distorted. To rediscover his inner messiah, Jesus becomes roommates with humanity’s superhero savior,  Sun-Man, the Last Son of Krispex.

Why It Made the List: If I was giving out awards for the dumbest controversy of the year it would be the one that lead DC to drop this title from their Vertigo line. Well, their loss was Ahoy’s gain as they got one of the best books of the year out of the deal. People concerned this would mock religion or simply exist to be sacrilegious clearly never read Mark Russell’s work before. Sure jokes are made, but there is also a thoughtful introspective look at religion and many of the current misgivings that exist with different faiths–oh and it is funny as hell. (pun kind of intended) Reading this it is clear the people making this book have more knowledge about Christianity than those who were calling for its cancellation. On a side note, this also has some of the most compelling letter pages in comics today. Where religion, that topic you are not supposed to talk about, is discussed in a mostly civil and constructive manner. Yes, apparently that can be done even today. 


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19. Doomsday Clock 

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank

Publisher: DC Comics

Description: Seven years after the events of WATCHMEN, Adrian Veidt has been exposed as the murderer of millions. Now a fugitive, he has come up with a new plan to redeem himself in the eyes of the world. The first step? Finding Dr. Manhattan. Alongside a new Rorschach and the never-before-seen Mime and Marionette, he follows Manhattan’s trail to the DC Universe, which is on the brink of collapse as international tensions push the “doomsday clock” ever closer to midnight. Is this all Dr. Manhattan’s doing?

Why It Made the List: One of the biggest drawbacks of the delays for Doomsday Clock is not the wait but how it has dominated the conversation around the book. What is clear is this underlying analysis of hope and how it has is slowly disintegrating, which is clearly a reference to the way Watchmen has impacted the world of DC comics since its debut. How the heroic sheen was lifted from the idyllic view of superheroes and replaced with a nihilistic deconstruction. Since then the direction of comics has changed and lead to a darker and more mature tone in order to capture the attention of an evolving fanbase. This seems destined to address that face head-on in order to finally evolve past it as a medium. Gary Frank’s art is as phenomenal as one would expect. The spectacle is there but so is the emotion.


18. The Immortal Hulk 

Writer: Al Ewing

Artist: Joe Bennett

Publisher: Marvel Comics 

DescriptionThe horrific, critically acclaimed saga of the Immortal Hulk continues! General Fortean has been pursuing his undying foe for some time without success, and now he must make a fateful decision. There can be no more half measures. No weapon is off the table. Force must be met with equal force. This is a war without rules — and Shadow Base is going to win. Its goal is to stop the monsters, to end the forces of chaos — and to give their power to men of order. But the monsters have goals of their own. And now they’re working together. Rick Jones remembers everything — and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Why It Made the List:  Al Ewing and Joe Bennett have put together a script that is able to balance a horror tone along with this lofty exploration into the relationship between humanity and divinity. They have used the Hulk as a vessel to examine some complex and difficult questions, as well as some classic horror filled smashing. Ewing has always been an ambitious writer and with The Immortal Hulk he has found a way to utilize that ambition in a groundbreaking way, and he has found a muse with Joe Bennett that is doing his career work with the twisting ways he renders some jaw-dropping body horror. With the risk of sounding hyperbolic this series is developing into one that would go down as a landmark for this current generation.


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17. Are You Listening?

Writer/Artist: Tillie Walden

Publisher: First Second

DescriptionThis chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Why It Made the List:  One of the biggest benefits of going into a comic and knowing nothing about it comes when reading a book like this. This had one of the most surprising story progressions of anything I read this year. Every time I thought I had it figured out it changed.

Tillie Walden has a great ability to construct this underlined sense of wonderment with her stories. People feel real but the world is something a bit more. She has to be considered one of the most successful creators this decade with another successful title like this.


16. Daredevil 

Writer: Chip Zdarsky 

Artist: Marco Checchetto, Lalit Kumar Sharma 

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Description: The next chapter in the ever-surprising saga of Daredevil! After a brush with death, Matt Murdock must piece together his shattered life – and that includes returning to action as Daredevil! But years of trauma have taken their toll, and becoming the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen he once was won’t be easy. Mistakes will be made along the way – and this time, one might actually prove to be the end of him. Because when a criminal dies, and Daredevil takes the blame, Matt must go on the run in a desperate bid to clear his name! But even he can’t outrun judgment forever. And with DD’s absence from Hell’s Kitchen, the real devils can come out to play.

Why It Made the List:  At first glance, this may seem like nothing new for the character of Daredevil, and in a way that first impression is right. Since Chip Zdarsky took over the book he is not rewriting what makes for a great Daredevil comic but finding ways to slightly tweak it and go further with ideas to play against expectations. The parallel stories of Mayor Fisk and Matthew Murdock complement each other as contentment is placed against regret. Fittingly it is biblical in execution like a superhero parable about the importance of conviction to self and duty. 


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15. Cats of the Louvre 

Writer: Taiyo Matsumoto, Michael Arias (Translator)

Artist: Taiyo Matsumoto

Publisher: VLZ Media

Description: A surreal tale of the secret world of the cats of the Louvre, told by Eisner Award winner Taiyo Matsumoto.

The world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris contains more than just the most famous works of art in history. At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic. Until now…

Why It Made the List: A manga about cats living in the Louvre may seem like a concept built on doing a social media keyword search but it is actually quite good. A modern-day fairytale about escaping into fantasy from the grief of the present day. There is a magic about this book.

A childlike innocence that holds onto the wonderment and imagination of art. One inspired by a multitude of cultural influences along with the general history of art. The mixture of Japanese and European styles produces a timeless style.

The center mystery centered on aging man longing to find his sister he lost when he was a child and refusing to let go of his story despite how unbelievable it sounds. A strange idea that ends up being quite heartfelt. 


14. Sara 

Writer: Garth Ennis

Artist: Steve Epting

Publisher: TKO 

DescriptionNAZI OCCUPIED RUSSIA, 1942. FIGHT HARD. SHOOT STRAIGHT. DON’T LET THEM TAKE YOU ALIVE. A team of female Russian snipers beat back the Nazi invaders on the WW2 Eastern Front.

Why It Made the List: When you read a Garth Ennis war comic it is evident it is coming from someone who is extremely knowledgeable about what he is writing. It is not that the stories are filled with facts rather small details and an approach that does not overly fictionalize what is already fascinating enough. With Sara Ennis is paired with an artist worthy of his talent in Steve Epting, who brings a level of realism himself. Epting is a force that help bring me back to comics years ago when he drew Captain America so seeing him here was a sight to behold. Sometimes the recipe for a great comic is easy. You take great creators and give them a fantastic story and it yields one of the best comics of the year. 


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13. Grass 

Writer: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, Janet Hong (Translator) 

Artist: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly 

Description: Grass is a powerful antiwar graphic novel, telling the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War—a disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.

Beginning in Lee’s childhood, Grass shows the lead-up to the war from a child’s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Koreans. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim emphasizes Lee’s strength in overcoming the many forms of adversity she experienced. Grass is painted in a black ink that flows with lavish details of the beautiful fields and farmland of Korea and uses heavy brushwork on the somber interiors of Lee’s memories.

Why It Made the List: This is such a tragic story that makes you question this experiment we call humanity. This follows the life of Lee Ok-Sun, born in Korea her life seemed to take one horrific turn after another especially as the Japanese Empire invaded most of Asia. She rebelled simply by living.

It is a story that needs to be told but even the book openly struggles with the best way to tell it. One that respects and doesn’t exploit. By giving a voice to someone who overcame true evil there is a large level of responsibility in this recounting of events.

What is perhaps most surprising is how emotionally numb this is. Almost mechanical retelling but when those barriers do slip and emotion does show the pain that is still clearly there for a wound cut so deep and so unjustly. 


12. House of X/Powers of X

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz 

Publisher: Marvel Comics

DescriptionFace the future — and fear the future — as superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (INFINITY, NEW AVENGERS, FANTASTIC FOUR) changes everything for the X-Men! In HOUSE OF X, Charles Xavier reveals his master plan for mutantkind — one that will bring mutants out of humankind’s shadow and into the light once more! Meanwhile, POWERS OF X reveals mutantkind’s secret history, changing the way you will look at every X-Men story before and after. But as Xavier sows the seeds of the past, the X-Men’s future blossoms into trouble for all of mutantdom. Stories intertwine on an epic scale as Jonathan Hickman reshapes the X-Men’s past, present and future!

Why It Made the List: Like many from my generation, the X-Men where why I got into comics. Despite many changes and adjustments to the X-Men line and titles, it appeared they were living on borrowed time. This year the X-Men are back as writer Jonathan Hickman looked to add something that had been missing from the titles for such a long time- A committed vision to the future. A vision that does more than relive or redo past landmark stories. Credit also needs to go to artists R.B. Silva and Pepe Larraz as that vision would not work without their input and fantastic art. Man, does it feel good to be excited for the X-Men again. 


11. Murder Falcon

Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson

PublisherImage Comics

DescriptionThe world is under attack by hideous monsters, and Jake’s life is falling apart-until he meets Murder Falcon. He was sent from The Heavy to destroy all evil, but he can’t do it without Jake shredding up a storm. Now, with every chord Jake plays on his guitar, the power of metal fuels Murder Falcon into all-out kung fu fury on those that seek to conquer Earth! From DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON-creator of the Eisner-nominated EXTREMITY-comes MURDER FALCON! GET READY TO SHRED!

Why It Made the List: Gorgeous, exciting, and poignant. Murder Falcon has the blockbuster excitement full of ridiculous fun with this central narrative so wrought with emotional honesty. A touching story on the bravery to say goodbye and the power of music to express the soul of humanity. There were so many different moments that got me from the page that symbolizes the power music can hold to an ending the left me wallowing in tears. Comics favor the bold, and that is exactly what Daniel Warren Johnson has been doing with his Extremity series and now Murder Falcon. Never would have imaged one could tear up from a book about a giant humanoid Falcon who is powered by Metal, but here we are.


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10. They Called Us Enemy

Writer: George Takei (co-writer), Justin Eisinger (co-writer), Steven Scott (co-writer)

Artist: Harmony Becker 

Publisher:  Top Shelf Productions

Description: In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

Why It Made the List:  A vital story to tell, especially in today’s climate and it is told with a sense of necessary importance and grace. Perfectly drawn with clean and distinct lines to enforce the harsh reality of what fear can lead to for the sake of supposed security

Although told through a personal lens it has a comprehensive reach to provide historical context and showcase the complexities that are often glossed over. One that shows the fragility of the American dream has when pressured by something unknown and different. And how when that dream is broken fixing it can take generations-especially when what happened goes ignored for the sake of convenience. 

No doubt this will be an Eisner favorite next year and deservedly so. It is one thing to have a story to tell and it is another to actually tell it. This executes both well as comics are the perfect medium to maintain the personal connection while displaying striking universal imagery. 


9. BTTM FDRS

Writer: Ezra Claytan Daniels 

Artist: Ben Passmore

Publisher: Fantagraphics 

DescriptionOnce a thriving working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer named Darla and her image-obsessed friend, Cynthia, descend upon the neighborhood in search of cheap rent, they soon discover something far more seductive and sinister lurking behind the walls of their new home. Like a cross between Jordan Peele’s Get Out and John Carpenter’s The Thing, Daniels and Passmore’s BTTM FDRS (pronounced “bottomfeeders”) offers a vision of horror that is gross and gory in all the right ways. At turns funny, scary, and thought provoking, it unflinchingly confronts the monsters—both metaphoric and real—that are displacing cultures in urban neighborhoods today.

Why It Made the List:  Ezra Clayton and Ben Passmore are two creative minds that came together to construct a bonkers horror story that speaks to the lingering effects of gentrification. Both are creators that appear poised to shake up the comic industry with original ideas that break through the regular muck the medium can be stuck in. So with their powers combined you see one their comic that takes a lot of risks that pay off. One that takes the haunted house concept to new odd extremes. Their commentary remains strong showing how culture can be stripped and replaced with something lesser than what came before.   Gorgeous with popping colors and may even gross you out just a little bit. 


8. These Savage Shores 

Writer: Ram V.

Artist: Sumit Kumar 

Publisher: Vault Comics

DescriptionTwo centuries after the first European ship sailed to the Malabar Coast and made landfall at Calicut, the East India Company seeks to secure its future along the lucrative Silk Route, in the year 1766. An old evil now sails aboard a company ship, hoping to make a home in this new found land. But he will soon find that the ground along the Indus is an ancient one with daemons and legends far older than himself. Along These Savage Shores, where the days are scorched and the nights are full of teeth.

Why It Made the List: When you look at the pages of this series you can see there is not a wasted inch. Each page is filled with pristine beauty and fine detail to make the world come alive. This is a story about the clashing of two different worlds and cultures so for that to work you need to give each a distinctive look and feel outside of the typical culture norms. Kumar does just that. There is also a Shakespearean like approach in the way this weaves in small personal drama with grand scale war and treachery. There is an elegance to this vampire story amongst all the horror. 


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7. Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos

Writer/Artist: Lucy Knisley 

Publisher: First Second 

Description: If you work hard enough, if you want it enough, if you’re smart and talented and “good enough,” you can do anything.

Except get pregnant.

Her whole life, Lucy Knisley wanted to be a mother. But when it was finally the perfect time, conceiving turned out to be harder than anything she’d ever attempted. Fertility problems were followed by miscarriages, and her eventual successful pregnancy plagued by health issues, up to a dramatic, near-death experience during labor and delivery.

Why It Made the List:  Lucy Knisley uses her own personal life story as a way to examine the history of woman’s health and how the subjugating of woman’s rights led and the misconceptions and misinformation surrounding pregnancy that still exist today.

This is by far more than an informative journey, as Kinsley opens her life up to demonstrate just how emotional things are and how unexpected life can progress. I learned a great deal to the point I wished I read this before my kids were born, and at the same time was super glad I did not because it would have added even more stress to the situation.

However, it does not matter if you have kids or have no interest. Why it works is her ability to place you within each moment and deepen the understanding of where we are by going back to how we got to our current understanding and the issues that still need addressing. I have read a lot of graphic memoirs and what tends to separate the mundane from the great is having a strong voice and purpose behind the retelling of past events. This has every bit of that.


6. Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt 

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Caspar Wijngaard 

Publisher: Dynamite

DescriptionHis level of genius is matched only by his heroics, and in humanity’s darkest hour, he’s the hero they need the most-alas, poor humanity. Peter Cannon-the man known as Thunderbolt-is only too happy to leave civilization to face its end. Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + the Divine) teams up with powerhouse artist Caspar Wijngaard (Doctor Aphra) as he returns to the superhero genre with a dark, humorous and relentless love song to the genre. Well, “Love Song” in a Leonard Cohen Love Song kind of way. Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: saving a world he hates.

Why It Made the List:  This appeared to be a call to arms to the comic industry challenging everyone to move the medium forward beyond the same tactics made infamous by Alan Moore and David Gibons’s iconic Watchmen. Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard took what could have been a throwaway miniseries and made something remarkably original. We have had plenty of books that utilize a meta-concept but not many that would approach it to this degree. Going as far as to completely change the genre, art style, and color scheme from one issue to the next. When you are willing to use handwritten letters to complete the throwback appearance you know these creators are dedicated. Major credit to letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou on that one. The attention to detail is uncanny. Nothing I read this year better empathized the versatility of comic book storytelling.


5. Wasted Space 

Writer: Michael Moreci 

Artist: Hayden Sherman

Publisher: Vault Comics

Description: For Billy Bane, Molly, Dust, and the outcasts they meet along the way, the path to galactic (and personal) peace isn’t getting any easier. They have their mission, delivered by the strange, towering deity known as Legion: They must kill the Creator, which is no easy feat. But it might be the only way to set the galaxy free, or it might just mean the end of all things.

Why It Made the List: Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space is an ambitious piece of Science Fiction that approaches the fatality of humanity and its relationship with the concept of free will. Its brazen sardonic style makes it one of the satisfying reads in comics today. What I find remarkable with each issue of Wasted Space is how it does not take itself too serious yet at the right time it can turn things up to another level to convey a really somber moment. Each issue has its own unique and complete theme and then that theme drives the narrative while still keeping the general story intact. How one issue would focus redemption allowing the story to slow down to further examine the actions of these characters. With all the absurdity packed into this book, you can overlook the depth of characters inside of it. 


4. Criminal 

Writer: Ed Brubaker 

Artist: Sean Phillips 

Publisher: Image Comics

Description: Teeg Lawless is back in town. But he finds himself in more trouble than ever, thanks to his delinquent teenage son—and this time, fists and bullets may not be enough to solve his problems. A perfect introduction to CRIMINAL and its dark, exciting world, this series will also include back page art and articles to bring readers more fully into the noir experience.

Why It Made the List: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are just effortless storytellers. It is evident they are confident in their story as nothing is ever rushed nor is there any need to unnecessarily call attention to what is happening. One of the best things about Criminal is how you really have no idea what to expect with each issue. Since issue two Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have shown they will stop one story right when you think it is taking off in order to start something new. This series is full of classic aimless souls that do nothing but create chaos around them despite their best efforts. They may do bad things, and they may even be bad people–but they are never boring to read about. 


3. Rusty Brown

Writer/Artist: Chris Ware 

Publisher: Jonathan Cape 

Description: Now, twenty years later, Ware is publishing Rusty Brown in book form. It is, he says, ‘a fully interactive, full-colour articulation of the time-space interrelationships of six complete consciousnesses on a single Midwestern American day and the tiny piece of human grit about which they involuntarily orbit.’ The six characters are Rusty Brown himself, a shy schoolkid obsessed with superheroes, his father ‘Woody’ Brown, an eccentric teacher at Rusty’s school, Chalky White, another schoolboy, Alison White, Chalky’s sister, Jason Lint, an older boy who bullies Rusty and Chalky and fancies Alison, and the boys’ teacher, Joanne Cole. Ware tells each of their stories in minute detail (or as he puts it, ‘From childhood to old age, no frozen plotline is left unthawed’), producing another masterwork of the comics form that is at once achingly beautiful, heartbreakingly sad and painfully funny.

Why It Made the List: Originality is something we tend to put too much importance on and overuse but for Rusty Brown, it is fitting. For one it, in essence, creates it’s own comic book language with its unique page layout and panel designs that lead to simultaneous stories that interlock. Reading it you need to forget much of what you know about the medium and learn how this world functions, like learning to ride a bike with four wheels after riding them with two for your entire life. 

The story deals with the mundanity of the drabbest school in existence next to actual space travel. Again a different type of comic. In the end, I ended up both loving it and respecting the hell out of its design. The wit is as dry as can be so I can see many checking out early. But if you respect the craft and the tone works for you it is one of the most rewarding reads of the year. 


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2. Good Talk

Writer/Artist: Mira Jacob

Publisher: One World 

Description: Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love.

Why It Made the List: I am not sure what more you can ask for in a comic. Starting with a conceptional framing device of how a conversation with your son can lead to a personal and societal reflection of where you are and how you got there. Personal, insightful, with a level of emotional depth despite never attempting to be sentimental. The phrase “I didn’t I know how confused I was about a situation until I tried to explain it to someone else” rang so true for me as a father of a growing inquisitive child.

Calling anything a must-read is almost always hyperbolic praise but this was the closest thing to it that I read this year. Although a very personal story Mira Jacobs encapsulates where we are and brings attention to the massive privilege that exists and how we can ignorantly contribute to that privilege.

Jacobs asks tough questions and attempts to answer them and confronts the messiness of those answers. With all that said the book is funny ad hell. And when you combine astute insight with killer knock-knock jokes you have a magical book on your hands.


1.American Carnage 

Writer: Bryand Edward Hill 

Artist: Leandro Fernandez 

PublisherVertigo 

DescriptionRichard Wright is a white-passing African-American former FBI agent offered a chance to right the wrongs of his past as his old mentor sends him deep undercover to infiltrate a radical and dangerous white supremacist group believed to be responsible for the death of a fellow agent. For Richard, this is his last shot to turn his life around. With the ghosts of the past constantly reminding him of the man he once was, he will have to not only find the redemption he seeks in the eyes of others but within himself.

Why It Made the List: Picking my favorite book of the year is always a big challenge. So much so it leads me to do a top 100 list. Still, I put a lot of thought into what I feel was the best comic of the year. American Carnage won the day for me for a number of reasons. What makes it such a strong book so is that every scene matters and even characters that have a short page time have nuance and layers. A prime example is the opening scene of issue four which involves a police interrogation. It would have been easy to make the police officer a glorified trope just there to move the plot, instead, we see he too is more than one assumes based on hsi political leanings. 

Leandro Fernandez’s art is great at setting the stage and keeping the mood consistent with the narrative however the MVP may be Dean White’s colors. The use of shadow alone is something to marvel at. There is this constant cloud hanging over everything as if the sun is unable to fully shine. How shadows are utilized in particular to hide the face of a man lost within his own life. It is for me the best book Vertigo has put out since Scalped and represents what made Vertigo such a prestigious name, to begin with. Inventive stories that are rich with social commentary pushing to medium forward to the next age.

Bryan Edward Hill is one of the best voices in comics today. Whether it is this series or something like Killmonger that was on the list previously, he tries to bring something new to that book that did not exist previously in his work. For American Carnage, I love how he took away nearly every cliche you tend to see in an undercover story. Secrets that may last for an entire narrative are answered right away, which leaves so much open for what can come next. 

When it came down to it I asked myself what book this year best-represented comics as a whole in 2019. The book I would answer if asked what work shows how the medium of comics can define our current time in both good and bad. Showing what makes us work and what makes us fail in a finely crafted story that will keep you entertained and emotionally invested from start to finish. Different people will answer that question in different ways. For me, the answer was American Carnage

 

 

100 – 76 | 75 – 51 | 50 – 26 | 25 – 1

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Dan Clark

A fan of all things comics, movies, books, and whatever else I can find that pass the time. Twitter: @DXO_Dan Instagram: Comic_concierge
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