It’s the time of year for recommendations and best-of lists. These are my favorites and least favorites of the comic books I published reviews of in 2019. My rankings are averaged from my individual reviews.
In 2019, I reviewed 338 pieces of individual media. This year, I focused a lot of reading down my to-read pile and also reaching into my unread bookshelves.
For the most reviewed series, I reviewed 21 issues of The Wild Storm and Wonder Woman respectively, and 16 issues of Giant Days.
I read and review at my own pace. Sometimes I read more comics, and other times I read more prose books. For many comics, especially superhero ones, I find myself around one year behind. I’ve found myself more and more interested in indie comics and other stories.
Unfortunately, the big two superhero producers (DC and Marvel) seemed to have regressed, and they’re now telling more crossover stories to sell single issues, and when I look over Previews catalogs, the creator names seem more white and male than in previous years — which just aren’t points-of-view I’m interested in. And when these companies do bring in creators from marginalized groups, those books aren’t headliners and often don’t find enough support to create a lasting impact. I’m a bit tired of books getting canceled before they’ve been able to breathe.
A theme of the books I loved this last year has been incredible art, along with great stories. The more comic books I read, the picker I find myself about, not just the writing, but the accompanying art and what it does to bring life to the story.
The Best Series (reviewing 6+ issues)
28 different series were eligible in this category.
1. Blackbird by Sam Humphries, Jen Bartel, Paul Reinwand, Nayoung Wilson, Tríona Farrell, Jodi Wynne, and Dylan Todd
Average rating: 5/5 stars
A stunning series with the stand-out gorgeous art of Jen Bartel, who may be my favorite artist working in comics right now. The story follows Nina, an early 20s-something, who cannot seem to get her life together or work through her trauma. When her sister goes missing, Nina finds out what she’s been missing: a magical world which she believes is the key to everything wrong in her life.
2. Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooten
Average rating: 5/5 stars
Continuing a theme from the last several years, Monstress tops my recommended list. Liu’s fantasy world-building, combined with Takeda’s brilliant Art Deco-influenced style, pushes my love of this book. The mysteries build and change as some are unraveled, and some answers make things more complicated. Maika continues to define her own path, Kippa breaks through on her own bravery, and we finally find out who Ren’s working for.
3. Sleepless by Sarah Vaughn, Leila Del Duca, Alissa Sallah, and Deron Bennett
Average rating: 4.87/5 stars
Sleepless was masterfully plotted and paced to be a complete 10 issue story, even if I did want more of this world. Poppy and Cyrenic’s story unfolds beautifully in a medieval setting with crisp fanciful art from Del Duca. Unsurprisingly, this is yet another story about characters defining themselves by their own terms on my list. It also blends action-adventure, mystery, fantasy, and romance in a perfect mix.
4. Invisible Kingdom by G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward, and Sal Cipriano
Average rating: 4.8/5 stars
I read a Game of Thrones review that argued one the reasons the show captivated audiences (and why the last season was so disappointing) is that GoT functioned on systems, not a hero-driven narrative, and how to deal with our current world, we need more systems stories. This is why I’m so excited about Invisible Kingdom, because it’s about systems — specifically megacorps and institutional religion — and corruption. Plus, it’s sci-fi with compelling characters who are unlikely heroes. Additionally, Ward’s space art makes you dream of exploring other worlds.
5. Die by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, Elvire De Cock, Clayton Cowles, and Rian Hughes
Average rating: 4.53/5 stars
I was so excited about a new series from Gillen that featured the glorious art of Hans. This book follows up on what happens when a group of teens, who spent several years trapped inside a D&D game, are now adults and get sucked back into the game. This book is about the consequences of our choices, what it means to face what we did in our youth, and so much trauma.
The Worst Series (reviewing 6+ issues)
Animosity Evolution by Marguerite Bennett, Eric Gapstur, Rob Schwager, and Marshall Dillon
Average rating: 2.15/5 stars
This is a spin-off/companion to Animosity, a world where all animals have “woken” and can now communicate with each other and humans, which causes a chaos apocalypse. Animosity Evolution specifically follows the story of Adam, a vet, and Wintermute, the wolf leader of San Fransisco. This tried to touch on a lot of issues around technology, hierarchies, utopia/dystopia, love, warfare, criminality, etc. but failed to deliver with depth the more ambitious the story became.
The Best Series (reviewing 5 or less issues)
16 different series were eligible in this category.
1. Lois Lane by Greg Rucka, Mike Perkins, Paul Monts, and Simon Bowland
Average rating: 5/5 stars
It only took 10 years after me calling for a Lois Lane series for one to happen, and Rucka would’ve been one of my top choices to write this. While Rucka certainly incorporates the newest Superman direction, he deals with it deftly and makes this book about Lois’ journey and her own stories. Sure, she’s a wife and a mother, but she’s also an ambitious journalist, brave, and a person of her own making. Rucka’s addition of the Question as Lois’ PI, bodyguard, and friend is the best. Perkins’ art isn’t always my favorite, but the mood is there.
2. LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, James Devlin, and Sal Cipriano
Average rating: 4.5/5 stars
A fun, imaginative sci-fi story that explores race, immigration, family, and what makes sentience. At the book’s center is Future, a pregnant woman who flees her home in Nigeria to return to her hometown, New York City, when her alien plant LetMe Live tells her they’re in danger. Future’s world is rich, and her journey relies on the open hearts of her family (especially her grandmother) and community. Okorafor continues to build intriguing worlds, and Ford’s art brings all the planty love.
3. SparrowHawk by Delilah S. Dawson, Matias Basla, Rebecca Nalty, and Jim Campbell
Average rating: 4.15/5 stars
A surprising book that my partner insisted I read, SparrowHawk follows the story of Art, a teenager in an ~1700s household where her dark skin marks her the product of her title-having father’s affair. To save her beloved sister, Art enters the dark fairy world, and the book flips the hero’s journey on its head and unfolds familial cycles. The art reminded me of stain-glass.
4. Welcome to Wanderland by Jackie Ball, Maddi Gonzalez, Nimali Abeyratne, Mollie Rose, and Ed Dukeshire
Average rating: 3.75/5 stars
Bel is obsessed with a local theme park, Wanderland, which has fallen in disrepair. In her exploration and love for it, she finds a secret door that transports her into the magical world Wanderland’s based on. This story is a coming of age tale, but also one about family, found family, and accepting and meeting people where they are. Plus, there are adventures and park fun.
5. Rainbow Brite by Jeremy Whitley, Brittney Williams, Valentina Pinto, and Taylor Esposito
Average rating: 3.6/5 stars
It makes me so cranky this book was canceled after issue #5, and also, the artist changed for the last couple. Whitley brought life to the ’80s kids series Rainbow Brite in a way that no one has, and Williams’ friendly pop art style was a perfect match. This was one of those brilliant kids’ books that made you want to share it.
The Worst Series (reviewing 5 or less issues)
Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger, Lee Loughridge, and Serge LaPointe
Average rating: 2/5 stars
This hard and gritty sci-fi ghost story started out with so much promise, but then the writing gave in to its worst instincts. It went from an intriguing mystery with evil forces/aliens to excessively gross violence, sexual violence, and fart jokes. The body horror got cranked up to 110, and it became more disgusting than scary or intriguing while the mystery disintegrated around it.
The Best Graphic Novels
16 different novels were eligible in this category.
1. Finding Home Vol 1: The Traveller and Finding Home Vol 2: The Healer by Hari Conner
Rating: 5/5 stars
There’s a tie for the best graphic novel this year. Both of these are magical and in one series together. After I read the first volume, I wanted to read the second immediately. Conner’s art is beautiful, and the story’s a mix of nature and queer romance. It also deals directly with mental illness and recovering from abusive relationships in a magical world. I adore this imaginative world, and I cannot wait for more.
2. Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts Vol 2 by Otava Heikkilä
Rating: 5/5 stars
Surprise! It’s yet another queer love story. This one’s a historical romance with supernatural creatures. In this book, Ed and Lucardo get engaged and get even more dramatic. (Well, Lucardo gets more dramatic and demands cake!)
3. Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak
Rating: 5/5 stars
This collection of short-stories felt too real for how queer women think and function. There are incredible friendships at the center of many of these stories, and Nowak plays with several genres. One of my favorites was a story of a woman who gets a robot boyfriend as it goes in places I’ve never seen that story go.
4. As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Rating: 5/5 stars
As the Crow Flies is a journey of a young black girl at a white Christian camp who’s discovering her boundaries and who she is. Gillman writes and draws about that one moment when you go from childhood to tween/teenager and start understanding the world at a greater depth.
5. Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill
Rating: 4/5 stars
O’Neill has an incredible knack for drawing and writing immersive fantasy worlds in children’s books. Her worlds are inclusive, her characters are soft, and the stories make your heart happy at the end. Aquicorn Cove follows a journey of grief over Lana’s loss of her mother and environmental devastation to renewal and hope.
The Worst Graphic Novel
Faith Says You Vol 1: It’s Dark Outside by Kate Brown
Rating: 2/5 stars
A promising book about finding faith and going from teen to adult in an English seaside town, unfortunately, Faith Says You fell flat. It plays with ideas about emerging technology and a messiah, but ultimately the story didn’t offer me enough to enjoy or want more from this world.
What were some of your favorite comic books in 2019?
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