I wasn’t going to do this. I like to celebrate the good in comics, not lampoon the bad. Comic readers already have an image of being overly negative and I don’t want to be that guy. But… some of the comics this year truly did it for me. They managed to take my goodwill and optimism and grind it into the dirt. Yes, some of these series may recover, or may even have already. But that doesn’t take away from how terrible these particular comics are. With that in mind, here are the worst comics of 2018.
5. Dark Nights: Metal
I wasn’t going to include this series on the list because it started in 2017 (it just felt a lot longer) but it did have some issues released in 2018 so I’m including it. Never has a comic screamed “first draft” more than this. What happens when you take a writer whose best works are limited scope, personal stories an give him an event comic and license to shape your newly malleable universe? Apparently a mess that reads better as a plot summary and even then only reaches the dizzying heights of average.
Dark Nights: Metal is a cavalcade of ideas that were not thought out, as Scott Snyder moves on from his grounded take on superheroes in an attempt to be the next Geoff Johns. Except Johns’ retcons and world-building, for the most part, actually work; the ideas fit almost seamlessly within the DC universe, enhancing past stories while opening avenues for new ones. Scott Snyder, on the other hand, seems to just want to throw every idea he has at the wall no matter how illogical or ill-fitting it is. His “kewl” ideas don’t feel thought out, they feel like rough drafts, and that’s the overall writing style he seems to have fallen back to. All of the DCU’s immortals being aligned to each other in some greater scheme? Okay, we’ll just ignore how that doesn’t work for many of the characters. The Hawks being immortals who somehow… forgot how to be immortal? Sure, throw it in. The term ‘metahuman’ coming from a typo in-universe? Really. Barbatos somehow manipulating events so that Bruce Wayne became Batman? Sure, let’s do that! Every change this event made felt more and more like fanfiction, except we’re still dealing with the fallout and it seems like whatever Geoff Johns had planned for his Rebirth story is being dropped in favour of this Snyder/Tynion/Williamson plan that involves such groundbreaking things as “the Totality” and “the Sage Force”. Say what you want about Johns, but his ideas were better than this… mostly (we’ll ignore Barry Allen generating the Speed Force because everyone, DC included, seems to ignore that).
This series is just confused; it wants to be a blockbuster event, but the wordiness clashes with that. While Snyder has always been a wordier writer, this series started his trend of spamming dialogue everywhere he could, with characters just outright expositing at each other as he tries to catch the reader up on the plot that I’m sure made more sense in his head. That perfectly sums up this event: lots of noise but nothing to say. Sadly, it’s still talking — I’ve just opted to ignore it.
4. The Man of Steel (2018)
The Man of Steel is a series that just got worse the longer it went. The first issue was the best, with Bendis reining in some of his bad habits such as bad dialogue and messing with continuity, instead presenting us with a back-to-basics approach to Superman that showed off Bendis’ understanding of the character. But each issue got worse and worse, until you hit the brick wall that is the ending of this miniseries. Bendis doesn’t care about Superman’s supporting cast, shipping off Jon and Lois with an inexplicably alive Jor-El/Mr. Oz just so Bendis could have a hook to draw in audiences.
What was meant to set the stage for Bendis’ Superman and Action Comics runs instead threw away any goodwill I had for the creator. By this point, Bendis is the comic equivalent of clickbait; he uses shock moments that make no sense, clearly pads out anything he’s writing and appeals to the lowest common denominator. It says something that DC advertised the fuck out of Bendis’ run on their most famous character, and only a few months later nobody cares anymore.
3. Batman (2016)
Focus issue: #50
How the mighty have fallen. Tom King’s Batman run was meant to be the next big thing. A run on Batman by an up-and-coming writer with interesting new ideas, fresh off a related title (Grayson) and acclaimed, smaller works (The Omega Men, The Vision, Sheriff of Babylon). Instead it is a thundering echo of mediocrity, regurgitating Batman tropes, wearing the veneer of innovation. Batman has zero respect for the reader’s time or enjoyment; it doesn’t care that it took 18 issues to tell the “I am…” saga that in no way needed to be as long as it was. It doesn’t care that readers will be bored until the very end of a story arc. It doesn’t care that readers want answers.
This is best exemplified in Batman #50, the much promoted wedding between Batman and Catwoman; an event that basically has been building from the very start of King’s run, even earlier if we count the stuff not written by King that’s been key to their relationship. And what we get is not a story, it’s two characters presenting essays masquerading as letters to each other. It thinks it’s smarter than it is. The dialogue is awkward in its attempts to be poetic. There’s next to zero plot. It is unsatisfying but promises to answer questions later (which the series hasn’t so far). It is some of the worst of Tom King.
What follows is of… mixed quality. There are some good points, like “Cold Days” and “The Better Man”, there’s also terrible trite like “Beasts of Burden”. I used to say we just had to give Tom King time, that his Batman run would get better as he stretched his legs. But it’s halfway through and I’m tired of wanting it to get better, of being strung along by the potential of this series, of hoping that things turn out okay. I want a consistently good comic now.
2. Heroes in Crisis
Focus issue: #1
Heroes in Crisis sounded so promising. It was going to be Tom King’s look at the psyches of superheroes in a treatment centre designed for superheroes. Tom King has many faults as a writer — awkward dialogue, incredibly slow pacing, lazy continuity, lack of engagement — but this project sounded like it was made for him. And then we found out it was a murder mystery and an obvious spiritual successor to Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis. This series isn’t a deep look into violence in superhero comics; it is violence in superhero comics — it just pays lip-service to character work to try and pass itself off as having substance, even though the character work is shotty at best and only works because King rewrites characters to suit his story. Superman’s duality is given an atrocious hot take that feels like that stupid scene from Kill Bill in that I don’t think King gets Superman or has ever read him. Booster Gold’s character assassination continues from King’s “The Gift” where he’s crazy because Tom King wants him to be crazy. The list goes on.
Oh, and of course there’s all the death! Because every good event unceremoniously butchers characters, right? Heroes in Crisis doesn’t even give these heroes a heroic last stand or confrontation; they’re killed off-panel! But King’s not content on killing B-listers, no he needs the big guys! So here’s Wally West’s corpse! The beloved character who represented hope, optimism and legacy — who represented the Rebirth initiative as a whole alongside Jon Kent? Killed. If ever there was a summation of the state of DC, here it is. And there is no way DC didn’t know that.
Follow-up issues only made things worse. Harley Quinn takes out the Trinity in a fight that the Deathstroke of Identity Crisis would find insulting, where Superman and Wonder Woman forget they have super speed, Batman is apparently incapable of getting out of Harley’s choke hold and kryptonite is as bright as a flashbang. Wally West’s “therapy” consisted of asking him why he wanted his children back after he used a Danger Room to recreate them, and the answer is… he misses them! That… that is bad, even if it’s meant to be a parody. Is this King’s hot take on therapy? That it requires an actual person? King… I love you as a writer (or, well, I did), but I just have to say this: NO SHIT!
1. Uncanny X-Men (2018)
Focus issue: #7
Here it is. The series that made me want to start this list to begin with. Sure, one issue is what tipped it over the edge, but this series as a whole is just terrible. This was meant to be it; this was meant to be the X-Men back in form. Instead it’s probably one of the worst runs on a main X-title to date, up there with such gems as Chuck Austen’s and Jeff Lemire’s. Also, Marvel decided to spoil that the first 10-issue arc will lead into the Age of X-Man event the same day as the first issue’s release, so everybody instantly knew what was up with this story and it ruins all tension. There is, quite frankly, almost nothing redeeming about this series… at least right now.
The plot concerns the X-Men’s attempts to understand what the plot is about as armies of Jamie Madrox dupes show up to do bad things. To make matters worse, Jean Grey receives a vision of a vague bad future. It turns out that this was Legion’s plan to warn the X-Men of the coming of Nate Grey, because that is definitely the best way to go about warning people — but it’s okay, he’s crazy so he doesn’t have to make sense as a character, right? Nate Grey’s return has him become a reality warper (I don’t know if he was ever this powerful before) who brings with him his Horsemen of Salvation, who fill the same role as Apocalypse’s horsemen. One of these horsemen just happens to be Angel (because I think him being part horsemen is the only story anyone knows how to write with him). While the X-Men attempt to deal with this, some of the students think it’s the best time to demand they be treated like adults — namely, the boring ones such as Armor, Pixie, Anole, Rockslide and Glob. What follows is a round table of pointless, forced interpersonal drama that only works because every single character aside from Jean Grey is an absolute idiot.
Legion’s plan to warn the X-Men makes absolutely no sense and wreaks of forcing a conflict in case readers got bored. Psylocke turning Angel back into Archangel was pointless (why did she not just knock him out?) and seems to exist solely so the writers could revert Warren into the Archangel state because this series loves the 90s — ignoring that Rick Remender already told the quintessential Archangel story in “The Dark Angel Saga”. But the worst of it is the young X-Men plot, which infuriates me as someone who actually likes younger X-Men characters. The choice of characters is lame — Armor herself is barely a character, and I’m pretty sure she was chosen in large part because they needed a new high-profile Asian X-Man after returning Psylocke to her original Caucasian body. As someone who is actually Asian, I can’t help but be insulted that this is the best we get; go with Surge! If you need a young X-Man who feels she’s owed respect by the adults, why not the girl who actually lead her own team during the worst time for mutants, who got defaulted into a student role? Plus, an Asian character with actual depth, where her ethnicity plays a key part in her backstory but doesn’t define her character!
But moving beyond Armor, it only gets worse. Everything — and I mean everything — the young X-Men do either comes off as idiotic or self-obsessed. Kitty Pryde disappeared, causing the Blackbird to crash? Let’s blame Kitty despite the fact that it’s obvious she was kidnapped! The X-Men don’t trust Legion after his idiotic attempt to warn them? It’s their fault for not trusting him! They’re treating Nate Grey like an enemy and are unwilling to talk to him? They normally would try to talk to him, but the writers had to force a conflict.
This only gets worse as the story goes on, but hits its peak with issue 7. The team is seemingly trapped alongside Nate Grey in the Age of Apocalypse, and we get a whole year of a time-skip that we only find out about more than halfway through the comic. In the time between issues, apparently Pixie and Rockslide split off from Armor and Glob and the groups now hate each other. When they eventually reunite, Pixie and Rockslide want to kill Nate Grey, which Armor and Rockslide know… but they don’t know why. How… how did that happen?! How does a group split up over a difference of opinion like that without knowing the reasons for the opinions?! Then Armor stops Pixie from killing Nate… only to try and kill him herself, because apparently she’s going full Wolverine. This one issue is what made me want to make this list. There is nothing good about it. Characters act idiotically to further unnecessary conflict, the plot means nothing and is predictable, the structure is wonky at best and it’s all just noise in the end. Easily one of the worst comics I’ve read in years and if any of these three writers (Kelly Thompson, Ed Brisson and Matthew Rosenberg) are handling the obvious young X-Men title that this story is setting up, I will avoid it like the plague… except maybe if it has Surge in it.
What keeps me going with this series is the potential for it to be better. February will see the writing team slimmed down to only Matthew Rosenberg. It will see a smaller cast — most of which are not young X-Men, thank God — that actually looks creative and interesting. Cyclops and Wolverine will be leading this new team after lengthy absences from their home franchise, and after about a decade separated. I think Uncanny X-Men, more than any other title on this list, has the potential to be good. But then, I’ve thought that before. Time will tell if this is going to be a recovery for the ages or if we’ll be seeing another X-Men relaunch a year down the line.