Best of Best Shots 2018: Our Review Crew Picks the BEST of the Year

Joe Bennett
Credit: Joe Bennett (Marvel Comics)

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! The year has almost come to a close, and with it comes the Best of Best Shots for 2018, where your favorite team of crackshot critics stack up all the comic book and comic-related media to come out this year, and decide which comes out on top!

We’ve seen a lot of news come from the industry in 2018, including the passing of Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in June and November of this year. Meanwhile, DC and Marvel turned to their pasts for inspiration, with the resurrection of Sandman and Vertigo Comics, as well as the returns of mainstay mutants Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Cyclops across the X-Men line.

Independent publishers also expanded and grew this year, with Valiant making strides on their upcoming Bloodshot film with Vin Diesel, Vault Comics announcing their new Myriad imprint, BOOM! Studios acquiring the rights to Joss Whedon properties Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Dark Horse striking a global financing deal with Vanguard Visionary Associates, AfterShock announcing their co-production of an upcoming God Country film with writer Donny Cates, IDW seeing the return of President/Publisher/Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall as well as beginning their publishing of all-ages Marvel superhero line, and the debut of new publishers Ahoy Comics and TKO Studios.

Multimedia was also kind to comics this year, with Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Venom, Aquaman, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and Teen Titans Go To The Movies all storming the cineplexes (with Black Panther notably earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture). Meanwhile, Archie Comics took another big swing into horror with their new Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Peter Parker made his triumphant swing to a Playstation-exclusive game with the critically acclaimed Spider-Man.

That said, this year also brought upheaval to the industry, including a number of executive resignations at Valiant following their takeover by Chinese investment firm DMG as well as the layoffs of 12 employees in November at Lion Forge. Even the Big Two was not immune, with Vertigo Comics’ breakout book Border Town being cancelled in the wake of sexual assault allegations against series writer Eric M. Esquivel.

Yet with this year in the rear-view window, what are the highlights? Wait no further, as we will kick off this year’s Best of Best Shots 2018 with Jumping Joey Edsall!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Joey Edsall:

Bronze - Donny Cates: It was pretty obvious in late 2017 that God Country and Baby Teeth writer Donny Cates was a good choice for revitalizing some of Marvel’s best dark horse properties, but the sheer quality of Cates writing at Marvel in 2018 has been near peerless at the Big Two. His runs of Thanos and Doctor Strange in particular were exciting, interesting, and expertly crafted stories that saw those two characters at their most engaging in years. Moreover, his hand in the experiment that is Marvel Knights 20th could have industry-reaching implications if other publishers and series try their hand at the showrunner/writing team approach to high profile books.

Silver - Long Lost (Scout Comics): As the Scout Comics’ critical darling rounds the corner on its second and final arc, it’s going to be tough to say goodbye to one of the most visually and narratively unique comics I’ve ever experienced. In book one, writer Matthew Erman and artist Lisa Sterle created something that was, more or less, normal, but with cracks hinting at how strange and overwhelming the world can feel when you are the adult child of someone with mental illness. In book two, those cracks have been completely ripped apart, and instead the comic delivers, with emotionally gripping storytelling and breathtaking artwork, a world that has no hesitance in showing readers how scary and unsettling the world and life can be. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Piper and Francis when this is all done, but those characters are going to stick with readers for a long time afterword.

Credit: Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)

Gold - Sabrina (Drawn & Quarterly): This book is a lot. I haven’t had as strong of a visceral reaction to a book since 2014’s Beautiful Darkness. And while much has been made about this book’s status as the first piece of graphic fiction nominated for the Man Booker Prize, as well as of how eloquently this book articulates this particular cultural moment. The graphic novel, which details the fallout of the abduction and murder of the titular character, was written and drawn by Nick Drnaso, and he depicts grief and mourning an unrelenting emotional realism that I haven’t seen since Sarah Palmer first heard the news of her daughter in Twin Peaks. The obvious reference point when talking about Sabrina is the Alex Jones-style of false flag conspiracy ranting in the face of horrific events, but the book goes further than that. Every few pages or so, it details rhetoric with some sense of ambiguity. It isn’t always as detailed as talking about crisis actors. Sometimes it’s simply talk of two dentists telling a patient they need completely different work done. Drnaso investigates how unhealthy and socially toxic conspiratorial thinking is, while also showing the innocuous experiences that leave people susceptible to it. With how the news of Sabrina’s murder is often juxtaposed with social media or entertainment media, it shows how tragedy becomes a spectacle that we gawk at, and in that mindless gawking we fail to empathize with the people who need it most.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Myriad (Vault Comics): Tim Daniel, Vice President of Branding and Design at Vault Comics, stated of the publisher’s new middle grade/young adult line, “A seismic shift in readers’ attitudes and expectations requires a myriad of choices - both in format and content.” Daniel will be spearheading the Myriad line alongside Vault’s Editor-In-Chief Adrian Wassel. Vault has been establishing itself as a home for high quality and idiosyncratic stories since 2016, and the trio of lineup titles look poised to continue that trend, while creating the kinds of works that can hook the next generation of comic faithful. Whether it’s Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Wrassle Castle, Matthew Erman and Emily Pearson’s leech-laced look at longing Bonding, or Dani Colman’s journey into Jewish mythology in Unfinished Corner, it’s hard to not find something that piques the interest of any reader. To think of these stories being marketed to teens and pre-teens who might not realize the vast world of comic books that exists beyond what they see on the silver screen bodes well for the new era of readers.

 

Credit: Kiyohiko Azuma (Yen Press)

Scott Cederlund:

Bronze - Yotsuba&! Volume 14 (Yen Press): Kiyohiko Azuma’s wonderfully innocent Yotsuba takes a trip to Tokyo with her father so that he can get a car and it’s like all of us get to experience going into a big city for the first time again. Azuma’s green haired little girl gives every reader the chance to engage the world through innocent and unknowing eyes and it’s a wonderful gift to be able to spend some time with Yotsuba, her father, their neighbors, and all of their friends. Yotsuba doesn’t grow up in her stories. Azuma gives us the opportunity in his stories to be carefree children over and over again for whom the whole world is one big mystery that we can endlessly explore.

Silver - Young Frances (Adhouse Books): Hartley Lin’s story about a young professional in a Toronto law firm creates a feeling of time and place but in a timeless story of trying to figure out who Frances wants to be when she grows up. Lin’s comic shifts between being a coming-of-age story and a workplace drama, creating a well-rounded character in Frances caught up in a very modern dilemma of not wanting her work to define her. Her wants and desires, the life she sees in her more carefree best friend, depict a young woman who wants to be in charge of her life but who doesn’t know what that means. Does that mean advancing in her day job, taking on more responsibility in an office that she’s not too sure she’s ready for, or tossing all of her work aside and joining her best friend in Hollywood? Lin’s book focuses on modern characters caught up in universal struggles.

Credit: Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly)

Gold - Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly): Jason Lutes’ twenty-years-in-the-making accomplishment is one of best comic books of the 21st century, let alone of 2018. The story of the men and women in pre-World War II Berlin show the complex relationships between a people and the country that they pledge allegiance to. Through reporters, artists, musicians, soldiers, orphans, and so many more, Lutes recreates a rich and conflicted society on the verge of turning ugly and hateful. When this project began in the closing days of the 20th century, the human drama functioned more as history and memory. As it concluded in 2018, the reflections of 1930s Berlin in our society today makes this book a timely mirror of the time that we are living in.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Shonen Jump (Viz Media): With its move to day-and-date release of the Japanese chapters of its serials and a huge back catalog of past chapters for only $1.99 a month (50% less than one issue of most comic books,) Viz’s Shonen Jump looks to be trying to establish a new model for digital comics and manga. Still a huge cultural force, manga publishers have been a bit quiet lately when it comes to innovations, so this move seems to be taking on DC Universe and Marvel Unlimited by putting a tremendous library online at a value price.

 

Credit: DC Comics

Robert Reed:

Bronze - Action Comics #1000 (DC Comics): There aren't any do-overs when it comes to milestone issues, and with something as big as the thousandth issue of Action Comics, it was important that DC get it right. And boy did they knock it out of the park. With beautiful stories that captured the different versions of Superman throughout the years and a bevy of variant covers to satisfy any collector, Action Comics #1000 was a big superhero book done right.

Silver - Bryan Edward Hill: Detective Comics, What If? X-Men, American Carnage. Aphrodite V, Cyber Force, The Wild Storm: Michael Cray, Killmonger. Keeping up with writer Bryan Edward Hill's work in 2018 would be exhausting if it weren't all so damn good. Riveting plots and complex characters abound in Hill's work, and if you aren't reading any of it, well, where were you this year?

Credit: Alex Ross (Marvel Comics)

Gold - Immortal Hulk (Marvel Comics): Marvel's Unjolly Green Giant has always been called a monster, but rarely has it been so fitting. It's one thing to pitch Hulk as a horror comic, but it's another thing to nail the execution, and that's exactly what writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett have done. Immortal Hulk has been an absolute blast since it debuted this past summer, revitalizing one of Marvel's marquee characters.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Jordie Bellaire: One of the industry's premier color artists, Jordie Bellaire's work should be familiar to any comic reader. 2018 saw Bellaire and Vanessa Del Rey receive an Eisner nomination for their series Redlands and Bellaire provided readers with truly stunning color art in Shuri. 2019 looks to be an even bigger year for Bellaire, as she will write the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series at BOOM! Studios.
 

C.K. Stewart:

Credit: Taj Tenfold (BOOM! Studios)

Bronze - Abbott (BOOM! Studios): Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivela, and Jason Wordie delivered an incredible limited series in Abbott this year, offering up a compelling and gorgeously illustrated look at early ‘70s Detroit through the eyes of investigative journalist Elena Abbott as she pursues the truth about a series of grizzly inhuman killers plaguing the city. Ahmed’s script is well-paced and the world fully-realized, but it’s Kivela’s art and Wordie’s colors that make Abbott feel like something straight out off a 1972 newsstand. Abbott is the spiritual sequel to Kolchak: The Night Stalker that you never knew you wanted, with a powerful voice and distinct visual style that elevates the concept to an entirely new level.

Silver - We’re Still Here (Stacked Deck Press): This anthology offers more than two dozen stories by trans and nonbinary creators exploring the myriad trans folks take in their lives. With stories across genres from Sophie Labelle and Arvi Tammi’s light-hearted “A Really Cool Sword” to Morgan Sea’s Marvel-inspired “Abominatrix” and Kameron White’s thoughtful, gorgeously illustrated “Out of the Box,” We’re Still Here is a well-curated, diverse exploration of what it can mean to be trans. Editors Tara Avery and Jeanne Thornton have curated a stellar roster of talent (including a foreword from Doom Patrol writer and novelist Rachel Pollack) and offered them space to do something disappointingly rare for trans and nonbinary writers in comics -- share their stories on their terms, in a book focused on uplifting trans voices from all walks of life.

Credit: Oni Press

Gold - Archival Quality (Oni Press): Writer Ivy Noelle and illustrator Steenz’s debut graphic novel is a powerful exploration of mental health through the framing device of an eerie, gripping supernatural mystery. After losing her job at a local library, Celeste Warren becomes the archivist for the Logan Museum’s unsettling collection of medical curiosities, only to find the Museum is harboring something much darker in its long history. Steenz’s art is emotive and engaging, the warm colors and Steenz’s youthful style an excellent counterbalance to some of the heavier themes of the work. Archival Quality is an excellent debut novel from both creators (with excellent lettering from Joamette Gil) and a reading experience that will stick with you long after the final panels.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Sincerely, Harriet (Graphic Universe): I’ve been enamored with the soft lines and warm colors of Sarah Winifred Searle’s art since her Regency romance “Ruined” appeared in Fresh Romance. In 2019, Searle makes the leap to graphic novels with Sincerely, Harriet, a middle grade OGN from publisher Graphic Universe that follows the titular Harriet in the wake of a family move to Chicago. Searle is an exceptional writer with a skill for emotionally profound and deeply touching stories - there’s a care and a warmth in her work that makes it hard to look away from. Sincerely, Harriet is the tale of a young girl trying to navigate the transition not just to young adulthood but to a new life of extenuating circumstances, and Searle’s style and skill are perfectly suited to this sort of coming-of-age tale. Sincerely, Harriet hits the stands in May.
 

Credit: Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion/FCO Plascencia (DC Comics)

Richard Gray:

Bronze - Dark Nights: Metal (DC Comics): While this started back in the middle of 2017, and took its sweet time playing out over the course of almost a year, boy did it make its mark on 2018. With the primary series reuniting the "New 52" Batman team of writer Scott Snyder and and artist Greg Capullo, the final couple of issues have implications that will change the way we think about the DC Multiverse. With the Source Wall shattered, the Multiverse just got even bigger. Batman reassured the League that he had a plan, but when has that ever gone right? Justice League: No Justice and Justice League Odyssey have already begun to forge stories in these new lands. The most immediate impact has been the New Age of DCHeroes, including Sideways and the excellent The Silencer, along with the Sandman Universe being reconnected into the primary DCU continuity.

Silver - Gideon Falls (Image Comics): Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino were the creative team behind Green Arrow and Old Man Logan, so expectations were high on this one. Thankfully the creative team knocked it out of the park from the very first issue and maintained the quality on the series to date. What do a trash-hoarding man and a Catholic priest have in common? A puzzle waiting to be solved, Gideon Falls defies categorization: it’s a thriller, it’s horror, it’s literary, and it’s also something truly unique. Sorrentino and Dave Stewart’s art is designed to disorient the reader initially, often violently exploding out of some mundanity like a jump-scare in a horror movie. Lemire engages and draws the reader in from page one and manages to keep us guessing as the series continues. We marked this as one to watch going into 2018, and it remains one to continue watching next year.

Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

Gold: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: In a year when both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War brought new audiences to comic book films and showed us how big those stories could be on the screen, it was the animated Spider-Man film that reminded us why the comic book source material was so rich in the first place. On paper it shouldn’t have worked: it’s a Spider-Man film that introduces origin stories of not one but six heroes unfamiliar to mainstream audiences. It’s also a film that takes its brilliant visuals from the pages of classic comic books, and tells a multiversal story featuring an unfamiliar Spider-Man and a talking pig. Yet it’s a testament to how comics literate audiences have become over the last decade or so and indicative of how willing audiences are to embrace diverse tales when they are told with the love and affection that clearly went into this production. A pure blend of comic books and movies.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Wonder Comics (DC Comics): What is a comic book without a reader to go along with it? While some of us may like to keep newcomers out of the clubhouse, comic books need new younger readers to survive into the next generation. After garnering massive buzz with his Superman comics in 2018, Brian Michael Bendis co-launches a series of titles designed for an all-ages audience. In addition to Young Justice, complete with a new teen Lantern, Bendis is also teaming up with David Walker and artist Jamal Campbell on brand new series, Naomi. Designed as a mystery with connections to the Superman books, it promises to take us into the "heart of the DC Universe and unfold a universe of ideas and stories that have never been seen before." If that's not enough to get excited about, Sam Humphries and artist Joe Quinones introduce teen daredevil Miguel in a fresh take on Dial H for Hero.
 

Credit: Eric Canete (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Justin Partridge::

Bronze - Motherlands (Vertigo Comics): There were a lot of funny comic books released in 2018, but none of them made me laugh as hard as the raunchy, truly clever Motherlands from Vertigo Comics. Helmed by Simon Spurrier and artist Rachel Stott, the series plunges us into a future where multiversal bounty hunting has become the entertainment of the masses and the career track for the downtrodden and violent. Following the morosely funny Tab and her viciously tongued mother, Spurrier and Stott pile on world-building, acidically funny dialogue, and tremendously staged action as the pair rip across the cosmos in search of fame, fortune, and Tab’s perpetually shirtless brother. If you liked your science fiction with a shot of camp and pitch black comedy, then Motherlands was the book for you in 2018.

Silver - Milk Wars (Young Animal/DC Comics): Comic book event crossovers were a dime a dozen in 2018, but there wasn’t a single one like Milk Wars on shelves this year. Serving as the Young Animal roster’s grand introduction to the DCU, writers Gerard Way, Steve Orlando, Jody Houser, Cecil Castellucci, and Jon Rivera took their weird little corner of the multiverse and smashed it together with some of DC’s A-listers in order to battle a diabolical *checks notes* reality branding company called Retconn, who plans on buying and selling the DCU to a demon. Comic books, am I right? But beyond the trippy, Grant Morrison-esque hook, the whole event actually ended up being a pretty soaring and optimistic look at stories themselves and how they can bring light into reader’s lives. Intermingled with some tremendous, classic comic book action from the likes of Ty Templeton, Dale Eaglesham, and Langdon Foss. Comic book event culture is always hit or miss, but Milk Wars seemed like it had something to prove and provided the pop-up imprint a true blockbuster.

Credit: Alex Ross (Marvel Comics)

Gold - The Immortal Hulk (Marvel Comics): The monster returned in 2018’s Immortal Hulk. Conceptualized by Al Ewing, who had been quietly building a solid body of work at Marvel for a bit before this, Immortal Hulk took a newly resurrected Bruce Banner and cast him in a harrowing tale of body horror. Told in bleak, loosely connected, Twilight Zone-style stories, Ewing and artist Joe Bennett put the horror back into the Hulk’s existence, positioning him as a wandering angel of vengeance with the Hulk crusading across the country. Each issue got more horrifying than the last, the most recent one deliver a sequence ripped straight out of David Cronenberg’s nightmares in the creation of a new Red Hulk. Superhero comic books went to a lot of interesting places this year, but for my money, none were more daring or haunting than the dark places Immortal Hulk showed us month after month.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy: While 2018 found Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s bizarro superhero riff return to shelves in the third limited series, Hotel Oblivion, 2019 will find the franchise unleashed onto an unwitting, binge watching public with the Netflix adaptation. Starring heavyweights such as Ellen Page, Mindhunter’s Cameron Britton, and friggin' Mary J. Blige, the series will, from the looks of a recent trailer, roughly adapt the comic’s first arc in a hazy, very true to the comic’s tone film style. There is a lot of superhero TV on the horizon for 2019 but I doubt any of them will have time-hopping furry assassins, a super-intelligent nine-year-old, and a monkey butler. All of that and more makes The Umbrella Academy the one to watch in 2019.

Credit: Marvel Comics


 

Matthew Sibley:

Bronze – Avengers: No Surrender (Marvel Comics): 2018 was a big year for the Avengers. Jason Aaron came aboard to helm Marvel’s flagship, that little movie called Infinity War, and this sixteen-part weekly, the strongest of the three. Weeklies can be a tricky thing to manage, yet this deserves praise for being focused and streamlined; straightforward without becoming overly simplistic. The premise as established in the first issue - that the Earth has been stolen and the Avengers are all that stands between it and further disaster - expands to involve the Black Order, a mysterious character named Voyager and more, yet manages to avoid becoming too sprawling for its own good, thanks to the co-writing team of Al Ewing, Mark Waid, and Jim Zub. Together, they did a magnificent job keeping it cohesive and character-focused over spectacle-driven, the relationships and motivations being what drove the big moments, rendered in gorgeous fashion by artists like Pepe Larraz, Paco Medina, and Joe Bennett. (Speaking of Bennett, another point in the series’ favor is it led to Immortal Hulk, plus Saladin Ahmed and Rico Renzi’s Quicksilver limited series). The co-writers will be reuniting for No Road Home where they’ll hopefully be able to match, or better, their work on this title.

Silver – Kelly Thompson: Some creators can struggle to keep up the quality as they take on more and more books, becoming stretched thin amid the perpetual wave of deadlines. Kelly Thompson on the other hand, has instead taken her continued success as the means to further ensure her identifiable authorial voice is even louder with each exponential book. Thompson’s year kicked off with the Rogue & Gambit limited series - a loving tribute to the pair’s tumultuous relationship that saw become a stronger couple - and was quickly followed up by her becoming Marvel exclusive. Of course, limited series must come to an end, but she and Oscar Bazaldua kept the ball rolling via Mr. and Mrs. X, one of the finer examples of making lemonade when life gives you lemons (read: how Kitty and Piotr’s relationship was handled of late). On a similar note, Hawkeye was swiftly followed up by West Coast Avengers with Stefano Caselli, where Thompson’s distinctive voice is prevalent despite the large ensemble cast and shades of X-Statix in its DNA. And all this is without even mentioning her being a co-writer on the Uncanny X-Men relaunch nor Nancy Drew or the digital-first Jessica Jones. If 2018 was anyone’s year, it was assuredly Kelly Thompson’s.

Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC Comics)

Gold – Mister Miracle (DC Comics): When picking my contributions for this column, I wanted to avoid regurgitating what was highlighted previously. Now, while I have written about Tom King previously, all I said about his, Mitch Gerads and Clayton Cowles’ Mister Miracle last year was that it was “a barnburner of a book.” 2018 saw the publication of the limited series’ second half, and the arrival of Jacob Free, Scott and Barda’s child. His birth gave the series an unexpected narrative and emotional pivot point. The creative team could shift focus, and juxtapose, at various points away from the harrowing and psychologically devastating effects of the war being waged, to the wonder and amazement that comes with new life being brought into the world, filtered through Gerads’ keen understanding of the nine-panel grid. It’s a formally rigorous aesthetic choice that could’ve led to a cold rendering of this story, yet Gerads evokes emotional nuance via how he blocks scenes and the ability to hold on an image across multiple panels. This blurb barely scratches the surface, let alone grapples with the ending, because there’s so much to be said about the full depth; I look forward to seeing how we discuss this phenomenal work going forward.

Item to Watch in 2019 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BOOM! Studios): It’s hard to overstate how influential Buffy the Vampire Slayer is to the world of pop culture that followed in its phenomenal seven-season run, from dialogue stylisation to threads of serialisation. The franchise is no stranger to the world of comics - having five canonical seasons worth of books produced at Dark Horse, in addition to a supplementary Angel and Faith series running alongside - though now it has a new home at BOOM! Studios,and their plans are proving to be beyond exciting as more and more is revealed. Jordie Bellaire and Dan Mora have been given the keys to Sunnydale and they’re opting to jump back to when the Scoobies were in high school, staying true to Joss Whedon’s original premise; that high school feels like hell, so what if they were practically one and the same? In other less-capable hands, this could easily end up being a regression, though based on Bellaire’s Redlands, Mora’s character designs and an already released preview, it seems more of an opportunity for simultaneous revitalization and reinvention. One that gifts a new generation their own version of Buffy without taking away from Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance.

 

Credit: Daniel Warren Johnson (Image Comics/Skybound)

Pierce Lydon:

Bronze - Daniel Warren Johnson: A one-man comics force of nature, Daniel Warren Johnson was on everyone’s radar this year after 2017’s incendiary Extremity, and he did not disappoint with the debut of his new book Murder Falcon. The book combines Johnson’s love of metal and sci-fi into a surprisingly heartwarming adventure that draws a direct line through the artists’ bibliography from his webcomic Space Mullet to today. (And it’s got a killer soundtrack - one that Johnson himself releases along with each issue.) Add to that the continuation of Extremity and Johnson’s stellar cover work for Marvel’s Cable, and things are only looking up for one of the most imaginative storytellers in comics today.

Silver - Infidel (Image Comics): If there’s one limited series that took comics by storm this year, it has to be Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell’s Infidel. Lauded as a “haunted house story for the 21st century,” Infidel quickly reveals itself to be so much more than that. Today’s political climate being what it is, Pichetshote and Campbell hone in on the very things that continue to make horror an increasingly relevant genre - one that can turn a mirror on our own lives in a way that forces us to examine our fears and our prejudices. And we’re not the only ones who thought so. Aside from rave reviews from the press, TriStar Pictures picked up a movie option for the book after only two issues came out.

Credit: Matthew Dow Smith/Lauren Affe (AfterShock Comics)

Gold - AfterShock Comics: Expertly curated but not without an edge, AfterShock Comics was an easy pick for my Best Shots Gold medal. Editor Mike Marts and the rest of his team have a nose for finding the right stories by the best talent and their track record speaks for itself. 2018 saw Cold War by Christopher Sebela and Hayden Sherman, Hot Lunch Special by Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornes, Patience! Conviction! Revenge! by Patrick Kindlon and Marco Ferrari, and Dead Kings by Steve Orlando and Matthew Dow Smith hit stands along with so many other books. The publisher has been open to a wide breadth of different genres and voices while maintaining high quality across the board. That kind of consistency is hard to find, especially in an industry as fickle as comics but AfterShock proved it could be done and I can’t wait to see how much further they can push the envelope in 2019.

Item to Watch in 2019 - TKO Studios: TKO Studios showed up seemingly out of nowhere and they’re looking to change everything you thought you knew about the way comics are distributed. Same-day digital releases are nothing new, but TKO’s plans include dropping full limited series in single issues, trades, and on digital platforms all at the same time. Sounds crazy, right? On some level, it kind of is, as single issues have been viewed as loss leaders for collections for some time now. And even if consumers aren’t convinced yet, the talent they’ve gathered in the early goings including Garth Ennis, Jeff Lemire, Ming Doyle, Roxane Gay, Steve Epting, and more suggests that creators believe the pitch. Could TKO be the disruption that comic books need as the direct market continues to shrink? We’ll see.
 

Credit: Ryan Stegman (Marvel Comics)

David Pepose:

Bronze - Venom (Marvel Comics): Who’d have thought that the most ‘90s of comic book antiheroes would turn into one of the most dynamic, fun and even heartfelt Marvel books on the stands? Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have balanced over-the-top spectacle (intergalactic space dragons mashed up with Predator-inspired Vietnam flashbacks and a heaping helping of guns and swords, anyone?) with some deep and thoughtful introspection on the codependence between Eddie Brock and his alien suit, as well as the soul-crushing sadness following the symbiote’s near-vegetative collapse. Teaming up with inker JP Mayer, this is also the best work of Ryan Stegman’s career by far - his layouts are so visceral and dramatic, from a series of close-ups of Miles Morales as he tumbles in freefall with Eddie, or just a quiet, moody scene of Eddie on a bus with his now-animalistic symbiote in tow. The dream of the ‘90s is alive and well in Venom, and this twisted love story is one we can’t stop going back to.

Silver - Eternity Girl (DC Comics/Young Animal): Mags Visaggio and Sonny Liew set a new bar for the Young Animal line with Eternity Girl, a daring and heartbreaking look at an all-powerful superhero as she battles her greatest foes of all: all-consuming alienation and all-annihilating depression. There’s a rawness to Visaggio’s characterization for Caroline Sharp that almost sears off the page - even in Caroline’s quiet moments, she struggles to maintain her form, dreaming of jumping off bridges in reveries that are both powerful and deeply moving. But it’s once the series starts to ramp up that Liew is able to really flex his muscles, sticking the landing on ambitious layouts like seeing an entire multiverse of the same character, or jumping from art styles from Jack Kirby to Charles Schulz. While this series wrapped in just six issues, the sheer artistry on display could have had Eternity Girl go twice that length.

Credit: Nick Derington (DC Comics)

Gold - Mister Miracle (DC Comics): Even the world’s greatest super-escape artist can’t get out of this one - Mister Miracle stood head and shoulders above the competition in 2018, winning just about every industry award you could think of and wringing heaps of well-deserved acclaim out of every pitch-perfect issue. The sense of atmosphere and mood in Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ work felt so fully realized - and so oppressive - as we watched Scott Free and Big Barda tackle suicide, royal intrigue, the trauma and sacrifices of war, and the everyday struggles of raising a child in this uncertain universe of ours. King’s scripts for this series felt as focused and deliberate as we’ve ever seen the writer - every chapter felt unique and experimental in its own fashion, with Scott having one last day in Los Angeles being a particular highlight. Gerads, meanwhile, rightly took his place at the top of the industry echelon for his work here, showing so much nuance and expressiveness throughout what must have been punishing nine-panel grids. An artistic highlight amongst the Big Two, Mister Miracle is a book that lives up to its name, and deserves its place at the top spot of 2018.

Item to Watch in 2019 - Shazam (DC Comics): Billy Batson and his gang of colorful orphans are coming back in a big way in 2019, with the one-two punch of a Zachary Levi-helmed film and a new comic book ongoing by superstar writer Geoff Johns and his JSA collaborator, artist Dale Eaglesham. And in many ways, this could herald a brighter Big Two, which understandably has skewed darker with the success of books like Doomsday Clock, Mister Miracle, and Heroes in Crisis - but Billy Batson’s inherent innocence and charm as a young boy turned full-grown superhero is absolutely the antidote to any superheroic doldrums you might see on the stands. In the case of Zachary Levi’s upcoming film, the sense of humor of Shazam! looks to be front and center, marking a full repositioning of the DC Cinematic Universe from the brooding of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel, while Johns and Eaglesham’s comic looks to expand the mythology of the character with not one, but five new members of the Shazam family (six if you include Hoppy the Rabbit!), expanding the inherent fun of the character and making it identifiable to kids from every walk of life. Superman might be the strongest character of the DC Universe, but 2019 might prove to readers why Shazam! should be one of the most important.

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