The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale. (Chip Zdarsky, Kris Anka, Matt Wilson, Aditya Bidikar, Image Comics) This bittersweet, heartbreaking comic offers ruminations on hope in the face of regret, and the hollow echoes of violence that undermine one’s future. Lying at the heart of Chip Zdarsky’s script is the realization that all you have to offer your children is sacrifice, to give them the chance to find love and peace as you could not. And Kris Anka, Matt Wilson & Aditya Bidikar’s art so beautifully captures the wounded soul of this story, as they layer in so much melancholy underneath the daddy vibes of the characters. White Trees is a thorough and resonant masterwork that demands attention. — BFH
This Woman’s Work. (Julie Delporte, Helge Dascher and Aleshia Jensen, Drawn & Quarterly) Julie Delporte writes about a world that would pay to see her body but has no interest in her mind, her style largely untethered from traditional comics aesthetics. Delporte’s is a more concentrated form of sequential art. The intimacy of the pencils and process, colored pencils and hand-drawn lettering, combined with the delicacy of the translation by Helge Dascher and Aleshia Jensen, makes for a deceptively simple medium for compelling ideas. This Woman’s Work is where folksy retro landscapes mingle with art house film references and pieces from the walls and halls of museums. Politics, history, identity, folded into each other; comparing your personal expectations with how your heroes lived, what society has trained you to expect. This Woman’s Work is a book of vulnerability and urgency that refuses to compromise. — AOK
The Green Lantern, Green Lantern: Blackstars. (Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Steve Oliff, Tom Orzechowski, DC) Do you remember when you were in your twenties, sitting on a lawn at four in the morning, gawking at the stars as a six-hour mushroom spell was winding down quietly behind your eyes? Remember how absolutely brilliant those stars looked and how nothing seemed impossible, or ridiculous, or beyond the scope of knowing? Yes, me too!
That’s what reading The Green Lantern has been like for me. Weirdo, subversive shit from a superhero publisher who plays it safe damn-near all of the time. Cosmic drug cartels, space vampire princesses, anti-matter nemeses—what’s a hunky space cop to do? Mid-Eighties-style 2000 AD cosmo-nonsense and mind-expanding visuals, enlightened ideas and low-brow humor, The Green Lantern (and it’s equally bonkers intermission series, Blackstars) is precisely what I want my DC sci-fi to be, forever and ever. — JJ
Once and Future. (Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, Ed Dukeshire, BOOM! Studios) Via the sharp wit of Kieron Gillen and the gorgeous visualizations of Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ed Dukeshire, Once and Future throws one of the great British legends back into the country’s face with verve and vigor. That they accomplish this while crafting an energetic, borderline-frothy adventure story should comes as no surprise to those familiar with the creative team’s work (as we all should be). The commentary is incisive, the humor is wily, and the action is fierce. It’s exactly the sort of pointed fun that we need these days, on every side of the pond. — BFH
Lodger. (David Lapham, Maria Lapham, Black Crown/IDW Publishing) There’s a monster out there with a girl on its tail. Lodger. A body swapping mass murderer who runs a travel blog on the lighter side of leaving a trail of spoiled lives across America. And a teenager, total mess, litany of mistakes and fiery eyes and gold plated pistol. Maria and David Lapham have created a riveting pulp fiction (in glorious, luscious black and white), full of anguish, triumph, terror, and the inexplicable. With its publication by Black Crown and Shelly Bond, you can practically hear the Gun Club’s Fire of Love coming from the page. — AOK
These Savage Shores. (Ram V., Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, Aditya Bidikar, Vault Comics) Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A sophisticate travels across oceans to a land where easy profit and plunder wait for him—as well as prey. This is a vampire. A monster. A quasi-interesting historical fiction that isn’t satisfied with being merely interesting. It kicks over the table, changes the fortunes of a character we believed (through generations of storytelling conditioning) to be its lead in an instant, comes alive in the process, and a critical darling of the comics scene in but a single issue. Sweeping romance, bone-crunching monsters, cunning vampires and a bloody history. Poetry in its DNA and visuals that will make you gasp, These Savage Shores is the real deal. — JJ
House of X, Powers of X. (Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, RB Silva, Adriano Di Benedetto, Marte Garcia, Clayton Cowles, Tom Mueller, Marvel) The sprawling creative team took massive swings with this oddly-structured event series. The result is a wonderful mish-mash of science-fiction ideas that reframe the idea of Marvel’s mutantdom to great effect. The highlight of this is House of X #2, where we see the lives of Moira MacTaggart in an intricately-constructed puzzle of a story, intellectual and detached while still centered completely in character. Hickman and company have redefined the X-Men in ways that accentuate their best aspects through stunning new conceits; the end result is a truly remarkable accomplishment in mainstream comics. — BFH
The Hard Tomorrow. (Eleanor Davis, Drawn & Quarterly) A poor couple tries to have a baby in The Hard Tomorrow, to carve out a better place in the world, a place in a better world, while the police state tightens the noose. Friends and allies hold the line for those with no recourse. We’re all navigating responsibility as the structures begin to collapse. Here is food for thought and spirit.
I love Eleanor Davis’ lively art, its perennial style, the strength and confidence in her figures. Even the old woman on assisted living has a bodied presence, the permanence of ink on the page. The perfect solitude in lines slashed across blank space, bending to a grace, a tone that rings bold and true from all life. Person, pet, fruit, forest, nature, and home.
And fleeting. These pages are all we get of the folks within, if that. Why bring a child into an impermanent world? The Hard Tomorrow isn’t waiting for broken things to be mended, it is standing up and fixing them. The nest young lovers weave is tangled. The tree, the woods, the world, the future, all passed forward from hand to hand. — AOK
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. (Mariko Tamaki, Steve Pugh, Carlos M. Mangual, DC) Breaking Glass was to standard Quinn comics as Cirque du Soleil is to a popsicle-stick puppet show—innovative instead of derivative, brilliant instead of hokey, devastating instead of saccharine. Mariko Tamaki, Steve Pugh and Carlos Mangual gave us the best reinvention of a popular DC icon since Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier—I ain’t joking. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass will sneak up on you, knock you over the head with a brick-stuffed rubber chicken, leave you on the ground seeing stars. — JJ
Thumbs. (Sean Lewis, Hayden Sherman, Image Comics) Writer Sean Lewis and artist Hayden Sherman (handling literally every visual component of the series) work in beautiful harmony to depict a reality that is anything but beautiful or harmonious. Their story offers a classic piece of broad, unequivocal speculative fiction that is brought to life in vivid, gritty detail. On each page, the bright patches of magenta pop against the grays and blacks that inundate the panels, representing that digital presence that’s drowning out everything tangible around the characters and scratching away at their individual identities. Thumbs is a viciously heartbreaking tale, one of immediacy and impact. — BFH
Mimi and the Wolves, Vol.1. (Alabaster Pizzo, Avery Hill Publishing) Put aside for a moment that everyone in this book is a cute animal person, part Sanrio and part Silver Sprocket, and what they do, how they act, that will catch and hold you in the pages of Mimi and the Wolves. Farm town mouse girl drops out of the mix to follow her dreams. Which means do drugs with wolves in the woods. Alabaster Pizzo has sewn a handful of dreamers and a couple of layabouts and a mystical power play all together in this collection of Mimi’s minizines. Cynical, psychedelic, and consistently earnest. Weird fun with real heart. — AOK
We Are Here Forever. (Michelle Gish, Quirk Books) Everyone’s oohing and aahing all over Baby Yoda these days, and I get it, I am too. It’s only natural for adorable li’l creatures to steal our hearts, though I was absolutely prepared for this year’s squishy phenomenon because I had previously beheld the Puramus—those wee purple kinda-cat lookin’ stuffs on the cover above. We Are Here Forever, Michelle Gish’s webcomic of dystopia and what comes much, much later, is a wonderful tome that captures bitty moments for our bitty new friends, exploring a world we left behind—or swallowed us whole—a long, long time ago. Warning: Reading the struggles of the Puramus will elicit pangs of longing and unexpected amounts of joy. And our enjoyment of the Puramus’ happiness is genuine because—as you, the reader, will soon find out—their very existence is so, so pure. — JJ
Invisible Kingdom. (G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward, Sal Cipriano, Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics) This stunning series from G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward and Sal Cipriano critiques major pillars of Western society, covering the corrupting nature of consumerism and religion, the struggles of the marginalized, and how the average person is numb to such manipulations. And it avoids reducing “resistance” solely to direct armed conflict, distancing itself from the genre’s norm. It’s all brought to vivid life by the gorgeous and expansive visuals, which depict space as something truly wonderous. It’s a tale intent on avoiding the easy answers to its own heady concepts, with deep reservoirs of righteous fury to power it all. — BFH
Little Miss P. (Ken Koyama, Taylor Engel, Abigail Blackman, Yen Press) In Little Miss P, every girl has her own personal titular yokai. Get a flavor of different times. Different periods for different bodies. Different social situations, even clichés like finally bonding with your dad’s new girlfriend via mutual colleague, menarche, who is also a pink butt bun health mascot yokai thing. A fun flex on reality that doesn’t change systemic problems—why should it? A chance for Ken Koyama to do a lot of research; menstruation touches every corner of life and who better than a supernatural agent of renewal to take a jab at what needs to change.
Delightful book. Taylor Engel’s translation is laid out with simple sophistication by letterer Abigail Blackman, and the endnotes are priceless. The maternal (and correspondingly fierce) bond between Little Miss P and her girls—despite her monthly pummeling of period punches—is no joke. — AOK
Outer Darkness. (John Layman, Afu Chan, Pat Brosseau, Skybound Entertainment/Image Comics) In space you can scream bloody murder and probably should, because in Outer Darkness you’re likely a passenger on the starship Charon and that’s bad news. John Layman & Afu Chan’s satanic star trek is populated by a shifty-eyed crew looking for all sorts of creative ways to stick a knife in each other’s back, yet they are each powered by enough charisma to birth a galaxy of their very own. Within these sumptuously illustrated pages are time-displaced nuns, an immortal warp core that feasts on souls, a haunted knife, and a body count that would make a Cenobite blush. It’s sinful, sassy, belligerently vulgar—though not without a sophisticated flourish or two. A bloody compulsive read. — JJ
What was your favorite comics of 2019? Let us know in the comments section below.