2018 was an uneven year in terms of comics. A lot of series that were good took a nosedive, while others that were terrible managed to crawl their way to readability and sometimes even quality. But sometimes, there’s an outlier. Sometimes a single issue manages to say more than a series, or manages to elevate itself above the others. This is about those, the issues that stand as the best of the year.
5. Batman (2016) #53
Tom King’s Batman run has been an uneven read of good and bad ideas. For every “Rooftops”, there’s an “I am Gotham”. The most infamous moment of the series is undoubtedly the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, which did not actually happen. The trial against Mr. Freeze is a story that allowed Tom King to explore the fallout of the aforementioned event, but rather than focus on the villain sue that Bane has become, King hones in on Bruce Wayne as a character and his own disillusionment with Batman. Framed as Bruce Wayne defending Mr. Freeze from a possible wrongful conviction, Bruce debates the merits of Batman with his fellow jurors and King allows us to peek into his psyche. While Bruce acknowledges that Batman saved him and the people of Gotham, he also a comments on the hero-worship rampant in the city and the potential unchecked authority Batman possesses. King’s story does a good job skirting around the wedding debacle to refocus on Batman as a character, something that his run has excelled at, regardless of whatever other problems it has.
4. Captain America (2018) #1
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America debut brings the character back into the political ring after Mark Waid’s safer, more adventure-based approach to the character. Coates has the daunting task of tackling the fallout from the much maligned Secret Empire event and not only does he step up to the plate, he absolutely knocks it out of the park. Coates’ story of those abusing the fear and nostalgia for “good ol’ America” once again positions Captain America as a comic not afraid to comment on the American political landscape, but with a sympathetic ear that paints a fuller image than Nick Spencer’s run and a greater depth than Ed Brubaker’s. While this alone would have been enough to rescue Captain America from the dark age it’s found itself in since Rick Remender took the helm, Coates’ focus on Steve as a character, one who is both man and symbol elevates this issue from good return to form to great reinvigoration.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man (2018) #10
Speaking of Nick Spencer, his Spider-Man work has proven itself to be a good return to form for the writer. What makes this run special is how it is also a return to form for Spider-Man as a franchise. While I liked much of Dan Slott’s run, there was that uncomfortable shadow of “One More Day” that lingered over it; not helped by Slott himself having some… interesting responses to it. Spencer doesn’t agitate readers or ignore this; he tackles the problem head-on, getting to the heart of Spider-Man and his supporting cast. His entire run has been about tackling Peter’s relationships with his supporting cast, as the actual plots are largely forgettable aside from the involvement of a demon that may be hinting at a proper “One More Day” follow-up. But more than anything, this specific issue, which focuses on Peter Parker’s relationship with Black Cat — that has been ruined since “One More Day” — and Mary Jane stating how her love for Peter outweighs any other problems they may have because he is Spider-Man — is a course correction, a resounding statement that “”One More Day” was a mistake”.
2. Old Man Hawkeye #1
Ethan Sacks’ debut as a comic book writer is better than it has any right to be; what seemed like a random prequel cash-grab quickly became one of the highlights of the year. A prequel to Old Man Logan, this series tells the tale of Clint Barton’s last adventure before losing his sight. Old Man Hawkeye tells the story of Clint Barton’s quest for revenge against the former Thunderbolts after they betrayed the Avengers during the villain uprising. The series does a great job fleshing out its simple premise by giving the Thunderbolts interesting personalities and motivations, while keeping them all tied to Clint’s journey. Seeing Clint’s fall as he finishes his once last mission with Kate Bishop, destroying everything around him does an excellent job of showing how he became the man we’d meed in “Old Man Logan”. This story is essentially about failure; Clint’s failure to save the Avengers and his fall as a hero in the wastelands. Sacks’ story is a perfect prequel: its scope is personal and not far-reaching, its story can be considered unimportant to the original work while simultaneously playing off your knowledge of it and telling a strong story in its own right, expanding on the world of the original work.
1. The Flash (2016) #50
Reading “Flash War” can be frustrating after the events of the still ongoing Heroes in Crisis. However, ignoring DC’s treatment of Wally West after the story, Joshua Williamson’s epic (and the “Perfect Storm” arc immediately preceding it) is without a doubt one of the most sincere love-letters to a character I’ve ever read. While it has problems with forced conflict, the story is truly an epic one where the fate of the universe is at stake as two heroes race to do what they think is right. But that takes a backseat to the personal conflict between Barry Allen and Wally West. While Wally’s attempts to restore his family are initially brushed off, eventually the two Flashes work together and fight the returned Hunter Zolomon. This story says that — contrary to what Dan Abnett’s terrible Titans run said — Wally’s memories are more than something to be thrown away; they’re his connections to the people he loves, his family, and that is what empowers Wally. So yeah, as you can tell, this comic is more of a meta-statement about Wally as a character, but it just works so well and is so rewarding as a longtime fan of the character. And this is my list, so I get to put it this high!
Quote of the year: “You’re Wally West… and you’re the fastest man alive!”