Are you all abuzz about the Golden Globes? Gearing up for the Oscars? Pshaw! They hand out those awards every year. Truly prestigious honors are only presented every few years — at least that’s the premise I’m going with for this post. Join me as I dole out dusty ocular prosthetics and discuss the top comics and industry creators of 2018.
Eye on Comics hasn’t seen a best-of list in six years, mainly because this is a one-man operation and there’s only so much time for comics. With that in mind, please bear in mind these “awards,” such as they are, are by no means to be considered comprehensive. My picks for the best books of the year are based on nothing but a quick perusal of my files from the past year and my best recollections (which are far from the best they could be).
Best Limited Series: I tried to whittle each category down to five picks or “nominees,” but this was the one with which I had the most trouble keeping to that number; this is perhaps due to the fact that the nature of comics publishing has shifted to offer much more in the way of limited-run storytelling as opposed to ongoing titles. As such, I ended up with six. Two of them came from Image Comics, which offered a phenomenal and diverse array of material in 2018. Infidel justifiably earned a lot of praise last year, and I was among those heralding this fascinating examination of racism and xenophobia through the lens of the horror genre. I was also struck by the strength of a piece of historical fiction from Image in 2018; Shanghai Red was a story of bloody revenge that explored feminism at a time before it was called such, not to mention gender roles and identities. It was a riveting read through which I learned a bit about a dark page in America’s past.
Super-heroes are well represented in this category as well, and I found the most interesting and entertaining limited series in the genre came from DC Comics. While obviously controversial as a sequel to Watchmen, Doomsday Clock proved to mirror its source material successfully while bringing those dark characters into the same space as the publisher’s more iconic properties. Batman: White Knight was bombastic and finely crafted love letter to Batman: The Animated Series that featured unrelenting kinetic artwork and dazzling designs. And there was Mister Miracle, a weird philosophical super-hero sitcom mashed together with a classic Greek tragedy
When pushed to choose what struck me the most in 2018, to single out a limited series that stood out just a shade more than the rest, I have to go with She Could Fly. Christopher Cantwell’s story of teen angst, mental illness, metahuman warfare and international intrigue was unlike just about anything else I’d see before. Artist Martin Morrazo acquitted himself impressively on the book as well, providing an unflinching look at violence and delusion. That it was mature and innovative really came as little surprise when I realized it was from heralded editor Karen Berger’s imprint of new titles from Dark Horse Comics. She Could Fly isn’t all the story one expects it to be, and the unpredictable and unconventional plotting made it a must-read comic last year. The trade-paperback collected edition is due out in March, and you’d be well served to check it out if you hadn’t already.
Best New Series: Image Comics is well represented in this category as well. Skyward is a new sci-fi adventure series in which its creators build a world in which gravity stopped working. At first, I thought the premise might be limiting, but with every issue, we learn something new about the rules and science of such a scenario while getting to know the characters and culture of such a place better. My next pick takes us from science-fiction to fantasy, with the Miyazaki-inspired wonder of Isola. The story of a dedicated soldier trying to get his cursed queen to a fabled land where a cure might await them has been a delight to read, but more importantly, the fluid figures and haunting colors are absolutely mesmerizing.
And now, we’re back to the super-heroes. X-Men Red was a poignant and thoroughly amusing commentary on a growing sense of xenophobia in the world. Marvel’s mutants were originally conceived as a means to comment on racism in America, and this series examined how insidious far-right fears have played out as of late on the international stage. And Ahoy! Comics made a splash with The Wrong Earth, which juxtaposed the goofiness of costumed crime-fighters of the 1960s and the grittiness of the anti-hero of the 1980s and ‘90s. It deconstructs the source material while celebrating it at the same time.
For my top pick of new titles of 2018, I turn my attention back to Image and its Skybound arm. Oblivion Song was difficult to describe and even more difficult to ignore. The story of a man driven to undo a sin that condemned hundreds of thousands of people to a literal Hell became all the more compelling when we met his brother, who embraces a distorted monster-scape as his refuge from a life of disappointment and failure. It’s a fascinating commentary on technology and the comforts of modern living versus a simpler yet more dangerous life. The misshapen and seemingly fluid creatures that populate Oblivion made for great visuals, as did the haggard look of the human characters as they desperately claw their way through the conflicts in their lives.
Best Series: Speaking of Skybound, The Walking Dead continued to offer a great blend of extreme characterization and speculative sociology. TWD has yet to feel like it’s rehashing plotlines and just spinning its wheels. I continue to read it because it keeps developing new scenarios that test its characters and challenge our conceptions about how community works. Wrapping up its run last year, also under the Image banner, was Kill or Be Killed, through which its creators presented a much more realistic version of our world. It explored mental illness and social anxiety, but it kept us guessing if there was something otherworldly and unnatural serving as the catalyst.
On the wilder and weirder side were Saga and The Wild Storm. Saga always dazzles with its weird amalgam of science-fiction and fantasy in deep space, but it holds onto your heart with its honest depiction of family life, demonstrating that no matter no dysfunctional or traumatic one’s upbringing is, love is still possible, can still thrive. The Wild Storm has proven to be a fascinating reinvention of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters. It’s horrific and hilarious, intense and intellectual, touching and touched in the head. Just about everything visual in Saga is hauntingly beautiful, while almost every face and facet of The Wild Storm is deliciously ugly in some way.
But the best established, ongoing title in 2018, as far as I was concerned, was Batman, and what’s truly impressive about that was the schedule the book kept, coming out every two weeks. Top-tier artistic talent rotated in and out of the series to keep it on track. There was a lot to love about the book — its deep cuts as it referred to obscure and campy characters while maintaining its edge, its larger-than-life action, stunning and varied visuals — but what kept me (and undoubtedly, countless others) coming back was how the titular character was portrayed as uncommonly human, striving to achieve something that had been so elusive for him before: happiness. Batman presents us with a Dark Knight who’s in love, who doubts himself, who rages when his family is hurt.
Best Graphic Novel: A project from the powerhouse team of Brubaker and Phillips has already turned up in this post, and it’s time to mention another. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is set in their Criminal world, but it stands up incredibly well on its own. It’s a riveting crime drama, but more importantly, it’s a poignant piece of characterization, developing and exploring a broken young woman who does what she needs to survive, but only fractures her psyche all the more in the process. Conversely, I found A Girl in the Himalayas, with its environmental message, to be wonderfully touching thanks to the introduction of a purely innocent character making her way through a world of wonder as unusual creatures discovers what it means to become a family.
On the surface, About Betty’s Boob appears to be a story about overcoming cancer, but in reality, it’s not about that all. That’s just the catalyst for the heroine’s journey. Instead, it’s about discovering who you really are, casting off others’ expectations and taking the risk to explore the world until you find your people, your family — people who accept you for who you are. It’s a magical, wordless adventure that transcends culture and language. It’s something of a fable, as was My Boyfriend Is a Bear, another one of my picks for the best graphic novel of 2018. My Boyfriend is also about taking chances and disregarding what others think of your choices, about finding happiness and/or peace in unconventional places. It resonated with me, taking me back to my days as a single dude, clumsily trying to navigate through my own social life.
When I look back at the graphic novels that impressed and entertained me last year, at the top of the heap was Bingo Love. The story of lesbian love spans generations of a family, and it was just so touching and sweet and satisfying. There was a softer touch at play in the plot. Violence didn’t enter the picture, and patience is celebrated as the ultimate virtue. The curvy lines and cartoony look of the book reinforces that inviting and tender quality. There are tears, yes, but ultimately, the story is incredibly encouraging in tone. The cast of characters represent a diverse array of shapes and faiths, of colors and cultures. What’s even more impressive about Bingo Love is that it was the work of emerging new voices in comics. Tee Franklin came barrelling out of the gate, crafting a story that demonstrated a keen grasp of the medium and of the human condition, and artist Jenn St-Onge, who offered up characters whose bubbly and vulnerable nature made it impossible not to fall in love with them.
Thus concludes the first half of the 2018 Glass Eye Awards. Click here to read the second, in which I list the talented creators who kept me entertained throughout the year.