Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series and Graphic Novels of 2019 — Part Three!
(As I did for parts 1 and 2, I’ll post Amazon links to all of these books at the bottom of this post.)
10. Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld titles (Pearl illustrated by Michael Gaydos, Cover illustrated by David Mack, Scarlet illustrated by Alex Maleev, The United States vs Murder Inc. illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming) — Well, this is obviously a huge cheat in my including all four of Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld series, but they’re all fantastic. This was a lighter year for Mr. Bendis’ creator-owned series than 2018, as three of these series (Cover, Scarlet, and The United States vs. Murder Inc.) all wrapped up their current runs early in the year. But I nevertheless got a huge amount of enjoyment out of all four of these series. Pearl re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Jessica Jones co-creator Michael Gaydos for the tale of a young female tattoo artist who is mixed up with the Yakuza. Cover re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Echo co-creator and Alias/Jessica Jones cover artist David Mack for the story of a comic book artist who becomes an undercover C.I.A. operative (a tale loosely based on Mr. Mack’s own experiences!). Scarlet re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Alex Maleev (who has illustrated MANY of Mr. Bendis’ previous comic book stories, most notably a long, incredible run on Daredevil, and who this year collaborated with Mr. Bendis on DC’s Event Leviathan), and tells the story of an angry young woman in Portland, railing against corruption in the police force and in politics, who winds up starting a new American revolution. Finally, the United States vs Murder Inc. re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Powers co-creator Michael Avon Oeming for a story of a world in which the mob (“Murder Inc.”) eventually took over a large portion of the Eastern seaboard and went to war with the U.S. government. All four titles are fantastic original creations, illustrated by four of the very best artists working in comic books today. These books are everything that I think great comic books should be.
9. The Batman’s Grave (by Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch) — Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch have previously collaborated on some incredible comic books (most notably their original run on The Authority), and this new twelve-issue Batman story already stands with their best work. We’re four issues in, and I still don’t yet quite see the picture of what larger story is being told, but these initial four issues, which have told mostly stand-alone Batman criminal investigations, have each been fantastic. I am deeply impressed with Mr. Ellis’ version of Batman. Mr. Ellis focuses on Batman’s skills as a detective, and the way he uses his technology to aid in his investigations. As good as Mr. Ellis’ Batman is, his Alfred is even better. Alfred is my favorite character in the story so far. I love his snarky wit and his banter with Bruce as the cases unfold. Bryan Hitch’s artwork is, as always, a glorious master class on every page. His artwork manages to be hyper-detailed and also clear and simplistic at the same time. It’s an astonishing feat. This was pretty much as good as a super-hero comic book can possibly get, in my opinion.
8. Gideon Falls (by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino) — This mindbending story follows Norton, a lonely, possibly mentally-ill man living in a big city, collecting pieces of garbage that he is convinced can be assembled into something important, and Father Fred, a elderly Catholic priest with a secret in his past who has been assigned to the small town of Gideon Falls. The two men are linked by the mystery of the Black Barn, an urban legend that both Norton and Father Fred gradually become convinced is very real… and very evil. Mr. Lemire really blew the roof off of this story in 2019, dramatically expanding the world of this series as we dug deeper into the characters and the secret history of this world. Andrea Sorrentino’s endlessly inventive page layouts continue to blow me away with each new page. And his covers are spectacular as well!!
7. East of West (by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta) — This gloriously bizarre, super-complicated saga came to a satisfying (and bloody) conclusion at the end of the year. I am so sad to see the series come to a close, and at the same time so happy that Mr. Hickman and Mr. Dragotta were able to stick the landing. East of West depicts a dystopian future in which the Civil War never ended, and what we know as the U.S. has been divided into several different still-warring territories. It’s also about the reincarnated four horsemen of the apocalypse, and their efforts — along with their followers — to bring about the end of the world. I love the sci-fi-meets-western vibe of the series. Nick Dragotta draws the way I wish I could — with a master’s eye for character and setting, and a genius-level ability for cartooning — and I’m endlessly fascinated by the rich alternate world that Mr. Hickman has created. The story is packed full to overflowing with remarkably unique characters and situations. I’m still not sure I understood it all, but this toweringly original piece of work was as memorable as it was engrossing. I miss it already!
6. Doomsday Clock (by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank) — I think the idea of other creators making a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1986 work Watchmen is close to blasphemous. (I completely skipped reading any of DC Comics’ Before Watchmen project from several years back.) But I was intrigued by the premise of Doomsday Clock, a story which promised to bring the Watchmen characters into the main DC universe. The first issue immediately hooked me with its intriguingly mysterious story (which depicted what happened after the events of Watchmen #12, as well as a dark vision of the near-future of the mainstream DC universe) and the mind-blowingly gorgeous art of Gary Frank. This series took a LOT longer to come out that it should have, but it was worth the wait, and the recently-released final issue brought this complicated story to a pleasingly satisfying conclusion. Throughout the series, I appreciated how reverential Doomsday Clock felt, to me, of the original Watchmen (Mr. Frank’s page layouts respected Mr. Gibbon’s tight nine-panel-grid layouts and carried on the Watchmen style of each issue’s cover serving as the first panel of the issue), while also moving the story forward. Geoff John’s story presented a pleasingly clever meta explanation for the many changes and relaunches of DC Comics’ history over the years, while also serving as a satisfying sequel to Watchmen and also a very important story with a lot to say about the current state of the DC Universe. Mr. Frank has been an incredible artist working in the comic book industry for decades, but his work here far outshines anything he has done before. It is masterful; my jaw was on the floor with envy as I read every page.
5. House of X and Powers of X (by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Laraz and R.B. Silva) — I grew up reading The Uncanny X-Men, during Chris Claremont’s epic run writing the title. I have deep love for these characters, and that love carries me through many incarnations of the X-Men comics produced by creators who cannot come near the greatness of Mr. Claremont’s work (which was illustrated so many incredible artists including Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, John Romita Jr., Mark Silvestri, Jim Lee, and others). But every now and then, a creative team comes along who are able to reinvigorate the X-Men franchise with new energy and new ideas: Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” run; Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men,” and Brian Michael Bendis’ return of the original five X-Men. But in recent years I felt the X-Men franchise had again fallen into the doldrums. Along comes Jonathan Hickman, who ripped the doors off the series with his incredibly bold reinvention of the mythos. These two interwoven six-issue mini-series were the best X-Men comics I have read in years. Mr. Hickman brought a completely new approach to these stories and these characters, creating an entirely new status quo that felt exciting and original and also a return to some of the series’ core ideas. I couldn’t be happier, and I hope the stories that follow can maintain the creativity and excitement of these opening gambits.
4. Paper Girls (by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang) — In 1988, four young girls on their paper-route confront what appears to be an alien invasion, and then find themselves flung across time, to 2016, 1999, the ancient past, and the far future. Mr. Vaughan is a master at creating a unique tone to every one of his series, and with Paper Girls he has once again created a complex, rich fantasy world, one filled with monsters and time-travel and apple products from the future. He’s also a master at developing characters, and I love the way he has fleshed out the four titular paper-girls, each a distinct and interesting personality in her own right. Mr. Chiang’s distinct style is a joy to behold; he’s just as skilled at illustrated magnificently weird splash-pages of sci-fi craziness as he is at bringing to life the subtle facial expressions of each of the four girls. This is a great character piece and a compelling sci-fi adventure. It started off amazing and has only gotten better and better and better as the series has continued. I was so sad to see the series end this year, but blown away by the emotional power of the final issue. This is one of the all-time great comic book stories. I’ve never read anything quite like it.
3. Criminal (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — I first discovered the team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips when they were working on the much-acclaimed series Sleeper for Wildstorm Comics back in 2003-2005. I have followed them ever since, through all of their fantastic collaborations. As good as all of their work has been, their crime-series Criminal has always been my favorite. I was shocked and delighted when their 2018 stand-alone graphic novel My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies turned out to be a stealth new Criminal story, and I was even more excited when that was followed by a relaunch of the regular monthly Criminal comic!! These new issues have been as brilliant and perfect as they have ever been. There are no super-heroes to be found here — Criminal is hard-boiled noir, filled with hard-luck cases. The series tells short stories (some running over a few issues, while some are done-in-one stand-alone tales) that together fit into a larger tapestry that is an epic crime saga. The world of Criminal is filled with vivid characters who we get to know and love, and also fear and pity. This is a marvelous series, and I hope that Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips continue telling these stories for a long time to come.
2. Lazarus (by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark) — In the future of Lazarus, global society has regressed into a feudal system, with several warring families controlling the planet. The young woman named Forever is the “Lazarus” of the Carlye family, her family’s ultimate warrior/protector. Lazarus is an incredible example of world-building, as Mr. Rucka and Mr. Lark have put enormous effort into fleshing out every detail of this world they have created. With each and every issue, more fascinating pieces of this world come to light, an enormously entertaining journey of discovery for the audience. And yet, Lazarus works as well as it does not just because of the depth of this world that has been created, but because of the array of wonderful characters who inhabit that world. I love Lazarus for the politics and combat, but I also love it for the coming-of-age story of Forever herself (Mr. Rucka is a master at writing fantastic female characters), and for the exploration of the many flawed characters who populate the book. I read each issue of Lazarus with my stomach clenched, hoping for the best for the characters I have grown to love, but fearing the worst. As for Mr. Lark’s art, I don’t think I have enough compliments with which to praise his work. He is as skilled at capturing individual characters and their subtle facial expressions as he seems to be at drawing any location, any vehicle, anything at all. Amazing, inspiring work on every page. This year, the series was relaunched in a new format of longer stories published in prestige format a few times a year. It’s incredibly hard to wait many months between new installments, but these first three lengthier Lazarus publications have been amazing. The extra material in each issue, including prose short stories set in this world, have been a pleasant surprise. This is a truly brilliant and well-researched piece of speculative fiction, it’s a gripping character drama, and it’s one of the very best comic book series I have ever read.
1. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe (by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Chris Roberson, and many others) — Once again this year, no series has given me more joy than Mike Mignola’s continuing, ever-expanding Hellboy saga. What began as a series of mini-series about a big red paranormal investigator who likes to punch things has expanded into a huge saga encompassing an array of wonderful characters. Mr. Mignola now oversees multiple titles following multiple different characters and set in multiple different years, and yet they all have consistent quality and they all fit together into a larger, expanding saga. It’s quite extraordinary, and I can’t think of a single other shared universe, in any media, that shares such a singular vision. The incredible inter-connectedness between all of these stories, the way Mr. Mignola and his collaborators will often wait years before making a connection or expanding on a detail or a small piece of back-story, is astounding. Each of these mini-series or story-lines stand alone, but together they fit into a hugely entertaining tapestry. It is incredible. This year, Mr. Mignola and his team finally brought the main story of Hellboy and his companions in the B.P.R.D. to its conclusion, an ending that had been planned and teased for over two decades. It was incredible to see so many long-running story threads finally pulled together. But even as the Hellboy story (and the entire world!!) came to an ending, we continued to get so many great new stories exploring this universe’s vast, complex history, and the series’ deep bench of characters. We got new stories of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. set in HB’s early days with the Bureau; a Crimson Lotus mini-series that explored the origins of this villain and B.P.R.D. mainstay Benjamin Daimio; a new Witchfinder mini-series chronicling the adventures of this paranormal investigator from the late 1800’s; and other short-stories and stand-alone adventures. This is the best comic book universe out there today, and whenever a new Hellboy universe comic comes out (sometimes multiple times a month, thanks to all the various series!), it goes right to the top of my to-read list. I can’t wait to see where Mr. Mignola and his extraordinary team of collaborators take us in 2020.
Thanks for reading!
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