2019 is almost upon us, and with it a new year of DC Comics. Before the new year launches in a big way with the launch of Young Justice from Wonder Comics (just to name one top new book), Ray and Corrina are looking back at the year that was and spotlighting DC Comic’s standouts.
Read on to find out the best series, single issues, new runs, creator-owned books, and oddball comics put out by DC in 2018.
Ray: In only two arcs, this high-octane reinvention of Shadowpact has managed to be both an event every issue and one of the most compelling character-driven titles on the stands. With a first arc that introduced the chilling Upside-Down Man, a mini-event (The Witching House) that rewrote the rules of magic in the DCU, and a third arc focusing on Detective Chimp and his grief, it never fails to surprise. And it wouldn’t do nearly as well without the brilliant art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno and Daniel Sampere. It’s easily the best team book DC has put out in years.
Corrina: I don’t like horror as a rule so I shouldn’t have liked this series much. Instead, it’s my favorite among the DC regular series of 2018. How did it win me over? By presenting this wonderful cast of characters who, by all rights, shouldn’t work together but, instead, work brilliantly as a team. And, yes, the artwork was consistently amazing, counterintuitively using bright colors that were sometimes more effective than the dark tones usually associated with horror stories.
Ray: Christopher Priest’s DC noir focusing on Slade Wilson’s dysfunctional family network has been one of the gems of the Rebirth lineup from day one, but this year may have been its best moment yet. That’s thanks to a duo of longer storylines – the mini-event Deathstroke vs. Batman, which turned a custody battle over Damian Wayne into a global showdown; and Deathstroke: Arkham, a mind-bending suspense thriller that revealed some of Arkham’s darkest secrets. Priest on a Bat-book when?
Corrina: What’s going on in Deathstroke? It’s complicated. And twisty and, yes, confusing every now and then. But it’s also unpredictable, full of fascinating characters, and it has more to say about mental illness and the nature of criminal sociopathy in one issue than in that other, much-hyped DC series.
Ray: While much of it came out in 2017, Jimmy Palmiotti and Pier Brito’s cosmic reinvention of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon remains the finest hour for DC’s cartoon-based line. A family-driven story of futurism, climate change, and the possible end of the world, it wouldn’t work nearly as well if it didn’t make us care about each of the Jetsons clan. Its apocalyptic finale delivered with a cosmic twist ending that was as close to a Kirby book as DC has put out in the modern era.
Corrina: In the end, it’s about family. It took a jokey concept of a future nuclear family seriously, and gave us a great love story, and promised that maybe humans, in the end, can make the right choices after all. That’s a lot for a cartoon tie-in.
Ray: Jeff Lemire is saying farewell to work-for-hire as a whole in 2019, and he couldn’t have picked a finer last act than this unconventional team book. Originally viewed as a Fantastic Four homage, it turned into much more than that thanks to its nuanced take on Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and Phantom Girl. An ambitious journey through the multiverse, it introduced Tom Strong and family to the DC Universe and benefited from excellent artwork from Doc Shaner, Dale Eaglesham, and Viktor Bogdanovic.
Corrina: This story evolved from a collection of people forced to work together because they can’t physically be apart, to people who learned that they needed to rely on each other. Then it teased us with the Strong family, who need to have a series right now. (Alas, Lemire wouldn’t be writing it. :sigh:) Like Justice League Dark, it took a list of lesser-known characters and made us care a whole lot about them.
Ray: It’s been a long time since there was a true standout story taking place in the Wildstorm Universe (Steve Orlando’s brilliant DC-based Midnighter run doesn’t count). That streak ended with Bryan Hill’s Michael Cray, a James Bond-inspired global conspiracy thriller where the former Deathblow took on twisted alternate versions of Green Arrow, Flash, Aquaman, Constantine, and Wonder Woman. But it wouldn’t work nearly as well without the main character, a compelling and ruthless figure equally informed by the alien intelligence in his head and his experiences growing up a black man in America.
Corrina: As I was reading this series, I was reminded of the last time a Wildstorm title caught my attention. That was Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips with Point Blank, a miniseries which rolled into Sleeper, still some of the best work the now-acclaimed team has done. Michael Cray gave me the same feeling–a story focused on one man caught between conflicting loyalties and yet is so utterly competent that he can defeat most anything–except perhaps the evil inside himself. Hill said recently on Twitter that he’ll be leaving comics after 2019. That’s a loss for comics but a gain for whatever creative field he enters next. But at least we have Batman and the Outsiders for 2019.
Although the end of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ character-driven Fourth World reinvention was hit by a lot of delays, it didn’t do anything to dull the impact of the story. Following Scott Free and Big Barda through suicide attempts, interstellar war, and the foibles of new parenthood, there’s no series this year that had a greater emotional impact on me. The unspeakably brutal peace treaty issue on Apokalips was paralleled nicely by the much lighter “guy’s night” scene with Scott, Booster, and Beetle. But nothing equaled the infiltration of New Genesis as Scott and Barda had a relationship heart-to-heart while taking on an entire planet’s guards and deathtraps.
Corrina and I consistently disagreed over Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s ambitious and controversial sequel to Watchmen. While it does move unusually slow for a comic book event, it more than makes up for that with a brilliant level of suspense and fascinating takes on Ozymandias and a new Rorschach; a dense and conspiracy-driven new status quo for the DCU, and some of the best art of Gary Frank’s career. The highlights include a spotlight for the Golden Age hero Johnny Thunder and an unbearably tense Russian showdown for Firestorm and Superman.
No Young Animal title benefitted more from the soft reboot of the line more than Jody Houser’s Mother Panic. Our heroine was dropped into a completely different Gotham, one where Batman no longer exists, and one where her doppelganger has been sidelined and imprisoned. That leaves Violet as the dubious savior, along with her somewhat violent new sidekick. I’m going to miss this title. A lot.
Gail Simone returned to DC Comics with this miniseries starring the former thief Eel O’Brien desperately wondering if he’s as evil as everyone remembers. (He lost his memory due to events of the Dark Metal crossover.) I love redemption stories and when you add this to the ridiculousness of Plastic Man’s essential character, and his attempts to form a bond with a street kid, what you have is a comic that’s by turns hilarious, sad, and poignant. Adrian Melo’s art was consistently outstanding, and never more so in the fight between two Plastic Men.
Best Single Issues:
Batman Annual #3
Ray: Tom Taylor and Otto Schmidt’s recent spotlight annual for Alfred is one of the best stories ever for one of the best supporting characters in comics. An emotionally-driven tale that follows Alfred from the moment the Waynes were shot to the present day, it shows exactly how far the butler and former spy will go for his adopted son. I dare anyone to read the last few pages of this issue and not tear up a little.
Injustice Annual #2
Ray: While Tom Taylor is best known for his Marvel work, his two best comics this year were DC one-shots. Almost as good as his Batman annual, this finale to his dark alternate universe spinning out of the popular video game put a bow on its tragic conflict between Batman and Superman. Not only did it go far deeper than most comics in this universe in exploring Superman’s fall and whether there’s still hope for him, but it featured pitch-perfect moments for the Kents and especially Lois Lane. Seeing her investigate and kick butt alongside top superheroes may be her best moment in comics in years.
Corrina: How good were these two issues by Taylor? So good they might have me picking up his X-Men work. And I have not read X-Men regularly in, oh, twenty years.
DC Nuclear Winter Special
Ray: All the DC anthologies this year have been surprisingly strong, but none better than this unusual Post-Apocalyptic holiday special. Featuring heroes ranging from Catwoman to Superman as they dealt with the end of the world and what comes after, its highlights include a Steve Orlando tale teaming up Superman One Million with Martian Manhunter, and a Catwoman story featuring her delivering some justice alongside a young protege. But maybe the best eight pages of the year came in the form of Tom Taylor’s poignant tale of an aged Supergirl trying to keep history from repeating itself.
Corrina: It should have been depressing and, instead, it was as if the creative teams had been challenged to write the most hope-filled stories possible after a great apocalypse. I’m still smiling at Selina remembering she has a conscience.
Best Creator-Owned Series:
Ray: Bryan Hill had a great year at DC, although he’s hinting that 2019 may be his last in comics as he gets to be a bigger name in TV. His Vertigo series has just launched, but it’s already turning out to be another gem – a pitch-black of a disgraced black FBI agent who gets an opportunity to redeem himself by infiltrating a white supremacist organization. Both a compelling crime thriller and a unique look at the life of a white-passing black man, it’s highly recommended.
Corrina: A disgraced Black FBI agent who can pass as a white man infiltrates a far-right cult-like group that seems eager for a race war. But the group isn’t one-note, it seems to be divided between the more militant and the quietly malignant who want to do everything underhanded and below the radar. It’s not easy to tell who is the most dangerous, either. This series promises to be a deep dive into the question of if justice is possible in this country.
Ray: Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson concluded their long-running creator-owned superhero series – for now, with the series due to continue in original graphic novels down the line. But it couldn’t have found a better way to wrap up, with a sequel to the series’ best moment – “The Absence of You”, a story about the strange ways grief can manifest in superhero universes and the way ordinary people are affected by cosmic events. The sequel took that concept to a larger scale, showing us how the man at its center made something of his life in the many years since – and how not everyone will understand his loss.
Corrina: Reading this arc made my heart hurt with the pain and sorrow of the survivors but it also showed how they can help each other cope and move forward. If you are looking for an examination of trauma in a superhero universe, this is a must-read.
These runs have just started, but in only a few issues they’ve stood out enough to spotlight.
G. Willow Wilson on Wonder Woman
Ray: Midway through her first arc, the Ms. Marvel scribe has brought Wonder Woman back to being one of DC’s top books thanks to an inventive take on the Greek Gods and a fascinating story about the nature of war and what it means to fight a “just war”.
Corrina: If you’re going to write Wonder Woman, go big, I say, and Wilson did, instantly resurrecting Ares as a god who seems to want to help but hasn’t changed his methods, not to mention bringing back (possibly), the rest of the Greek pantheon of gods.
Kelly Sue DeConnick on Aquaman
Ray: Only one issue into her run, the Bitch Planet creator has taken Aquaman back to his roots – leaving him as an amnesiac fisherman stranded in a mysterious beach community where everyone seems to be from elsewhere. Combining claustrophobic, character-driven storytelling with a mysterious mythology involving a scapegoated woman, it’s an incredibly promising kickoff.
Corrina: I’m tempted to make a joke about this new beginning being a “fish out of water” story but that would be taking lightly a run that’s started so well, placing Arthur in a kind of a limbo that may be something like Purgatory.
Martian Manhunter #1
Ray: While it’s Earth-based murder mystery plotline hasn’t been fleshed out yet, Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo’s new maxiseries distinguished itself from the start thanks to a brilliant segment set on Mars – illuminating everything from the fluid nature of Martin children to the way Martian couples have sex. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about J’onn’s true nature here, but we’re off to a great start.
Corrina: Never has a series written J’onn simultaneously as so human and yet so alien.
Geoff Johns’ return to regular comic writing kicks off with this sequel to his 2011-2012 Shazam backup with Gary Frank. Reuniting Billy with his five foster siblings to form a super-team of Marvels, this debut issue had a fantastic Stranger Things/Goonies vibe – but the real standout was the Mary Marvel-focused backup illustrated by iconic Shazam fanartist Sen.
Best Oddball Gems
These books may not have been the best comics DC put out this year, but they deserve applause for just how much they embraced the unique nature of the DCU and turned crossovers into great stories for everyone involved.
Ray: One of the longest-running ongoings at DC right now, this hilarious Sholly Fisch all-ages title has introduced countless kids to obscure DC and Hanna-Barbera characters through crossovers with the Mystery Machine. The series is consistently good, but two stand-out issues include a clever team-up with the Birds of Prey that did better with Black Canary and Huntress than many main-line books, and a celebration of DC oddball characters that included Angel and the Ape and Sugar & Spike.
Corrina: I peek into this series now and then and I’m never disappointed. I needed Fisch’s Birds of Prey comic in a big way this year.
Catwoman/Tweety and Sylvester Special
Ray: The best of this year’s DC/Looney Tunes specials, Gail Simone and Inaki Miranda managed to take a concept that could have been silly – a cosmic magic war between birds and cats – and turn it into one of the best Catwoman and Black Canary stories of the year. It’s probably the best example of how to seamlessly combine the two disparate fandoms into one.
Corrina: If you just said “Simone is writing Black Canary in this,” I’d have been sold on that alone. But then there’s a terrific Catwoman story as well, and, of course, Tweety and Sylvester.
Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey Special
Ray: Another entry for Bryan Hill on this list, this noir-grindhouse martial arts tale is inspired by Black Lightning’s 1970s roots. It also manages to make Hong Kong Phooey work as a PI who just happens to be a dog, and delivers some of the best action and fight scenes of the year.
Corrina: Hey, if Detective Chimp can be the heart and soul of the serious Justice League Dark, Hong-Kong Phooey can be written as a serious martial artist.
Ray: Sometimes, it’s best to embrace the inherent absurdity of the concept. This DC/Hanna-Barbera crossover teaming Aquaman with a singing shark leaned into the silliness, introducing a very different Atlantis and using villains from both properties well. Easily the most obscure Hanna-Barbera character from this line of books, I think Jabberjaw also helped create the best issue of Dan Abnett’s run.
Corrina: I hardly remember Jabberjaw save that he was annoying. He’s still annoying but now he has Aquaman to play off against.
Happy Comics reading in 2019!
Perhaps Ray and Corrina will finally agree on Doomsday Clock. (Probably not.) But hopefully, the upcoming year holds some gems, especially the unexpected kind.