Here’s a list that I actually really enjoy doing. Unlike the top issues, it’s not hard to recall — I can remember a good series much easier than a good issue. With this list, the series is judged as a whole, not by one single standout issue. At the same time, it’s a very positive list, unlike me lambasting the worst of the year. The main condition is that the series needs to have started in 2018 and had at least an arc or so; meaning anything with less than that by the time 2019 came around isn’t allowed on the list. I will make note of those newer series, however, since, quality is quality and should be praised. So without further delay (yes, this list is fairly late), here are my best new comic series of 2018.
Too new to count:
Like I said, a requirement to place on the list is that the series must have had at least an arc or so completed. However, lately many publishers have put out some great titles, and it remiss to not give these series a mention, series that although late to the party, showed up with such a flair that it’s hard to ignore them. So here, in no particular order, are the comics that are a bit too late to count, but deserve praise anyway.
The Green Lantern
A creative shake-up more necessary than most, Grant Morrison’s The Green Lantern is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. An irreverent take on the increasingly serious mythos that strips the franchise down to its most core state — Hal Jordan: Space Cop. Of course, this being the DC universe, there’s all sorts of weirdness abound, so Morrison has fun with Hal interrogating giant spiders, being in the mess hall, having a volcano Green Lantern… and of course, the best character of 2018: Trilla-Tru. If there’s something I didn’t know I needed, it’s a female member of Tomar-Re’s race that actually clucks like a chicken. Just… beautiful.
Political in the best of ways, American Carnage has a simple premise that it tackles incredibly well: a half-black, half-white former FBI agent who can pass as white goes undercover in the KKK. What makes it such a good read is to the degree to which Bryan Hill fleshes things out: the protagonist hardly cares about what he’s been asked to do, the daughter of the villain’s daughter has a softer side and may not be as bad as her father while also having her own personal issues (pretty sure she’s going to be more interesting than the protagonist), etc. American Carnage a pretty politically charged, but in a way that makes it culturally relevant while factoring into its interesting plot.
Essentially a series that only got the greenlight midway through its prologue, X-Force spun out of the events of Extermination. Reuniting the surviving original X-Force members under the able pen of Ed Brisson, X-Force is a surprisingly enjoyable read with fun characters, entertaining moments and a decidedly X-Men premise (X-Force reunites to hunt down Cable for killing Cable) that still feels like it brings some fresh air to not only a sub-franchise that needed it, but a franchise that needed it. Also, I love Boom-Boom after just one issue of her back-up story.
Geoff Johns dusts off his writers chair for a go at a franchise that’s been on unsteady ground since… what, the early 2000s? Despite mixed reception to his rebooting of the franchise in 2011, Johns seems to have taken the feedback to heart, keeping the family dynamic of multiple Shazam characters while returning the franchise to an optimistic tone. What makes Shazam! so much fun is just the sense of fun. There’s a real sense of adventure as the kids discover a secret underground train station to the realm of magic while the loving parents deal with the drama of Billy’s biological father returning to his life. This is the comic I never knew I wanted.
Now that we have the latecomers out of the way, here are the series that are long enough to have their overall quality properly gauged. Here are the best comics that debuted in 2018.
5. Multiple Man
Here’s a series that I didn’t read as it was coming out for… some reason (I think it was miniseries fatigue), but that I read in trade. As a big fan of Jamie Madrox, the way writers play with his powers is what makes him one of the most interesting X-characters, which only adds to how incredibly gripping the character can be — as Peter David’s amazing X-Factor run can attest to. What Matthew Rosenberg does is use Jamie’s interesting power, the time travel antics the X-Men are known for and a fun structure to tell a simple-yet-complex story that rewards attentive readers and has just enough twists and turns to keep you gripped.
The fact that this series stars a character that, while popular, remains a B-lister means that there’s a real potential for change and even death. In fact, Rosenberg has said that he planned to end this series with Jamie coming back just in time to die again and that’s something that he could probably actually get away with for the most part, given Jamie isn’t, well, Wolverine. That possibility for death and means that the absurdity is punctuated by genuine risk to the lead character who, while not the original Jamie Madrox, is still likable in his own right. Multiple Man, while a bit iffy to me as a big Jamie Madrox fan, was a surprisingly enjoyable and complex read.
4. Cosmic Ghost Rider
Here is a series that is better than it has any right to be. Perfectly balancing its drama and humour, with a keen sense of self-awareness that’s necessary for a title like this, Cosmic Ghost Rider is oodles of fun. What started as a seeming joke title turned into a fun romp with a character that is interesting beyond his absurdity.
Cosmic Ghost Rider tells the tale of an alternate future Frank Castle who gets kicked out of Valhalla. Determined to right his wrongs and prevent catastrophe, Frank decides to travel back in time and kidnap a baby Thanos, who he then raises. What follows in a dramady about Frank’s attempts at parenting, dealing with the fallout and the absurdity that comes from that. Things like Cable repeatedly coming back in time with new teams to fight Frank or an adult Thanos calling Frank his father. Of course, all of this is balanced with a dark take on Frank Castle’s methods that result in the character getting a surprising amount of depth along with a final, bitter callback to Cates’ Thanos run. Altogether, in a year of dark tales and death, Cosmic Ghost Rider is a refreshing balance of the absurd and the heart wrenching.
3. Old Man Hawkeye
I’ve praised this series endlessly and I won’t stop. Sure, it kind of peters out by the end, but this was a great ride of character work, woold rld-building and thrills. The perfect prequel, Old Man Hawkeye’s smaller-scale story of revenge fits perfectly into the Old Man Logan universe — better than some actual Old Man Logan stories, if I’m being honest.
Playing off the reader’s knowledge of the original “Old Man Logan” story perfectly, Old Man Hawkeye fleshes out Clint Barton’s character and provides a genuine sense of tragedy as Ethan Sacks dives into Clint’s great failure in life. Utilising a perfect assortment of supporting characters, Sacks tale of vengeance, honour and heroism has Clint confront his past and maybe just maybe become a hero once again. Better than a random spin-off should’ve been, Old Man Hawkeye is a great debut from Sacks, who I hope goes on to greater things.
2. Extermination (2018)
What’s that? An event done right? Well, it was bound to happen eventually! Extermination is yet another series that is better than it deserved to be. Meant to bring an end to the directionless story of the time-displaced X-Men initiated by Brian Michael Bendis in All-New X-Men, Ed Brisson actually put the work in to tell an entertaining story, an event that hearkens to a time when X-Men events were actually fun but also heartfelt.
Extermination, while clearly wanting the O5 X-Men gone, does a good job paying tribute to their time in the present. The time-travel antics provide the potential for a fun yet heartfelt story, with younger versions of characters running around, alternate timeline villains and the pathos that comes from characters interacting with their past selves — the Icemen’s farewell may be one of the best examples of why this kind of comic book narrative works so well. The sheer comic book-ness of this story makes it feel like a tribute to events past, when events weren’t about heroes fighting heroes or large creative restructurings, but using scope to lend a larger than life aspect to our characters’ stories. With Extermination, we got a creative resolution to the O5 problematic memories, a cool new plot hook in the form of Kid Cable and X-Force and an ending that was a guaranteed crowd pleaser — and the end of an era and that, while problematic at times, can say that it went out with a bang.
1. Venom (2018)
Duh. The king of “better than it has any right to be” is undoubtedly Donny Cates’ Venom, a series that I largely wrote off as a tie-in to the Tom Hardy-lead Venom movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Donny Cates — a writer who’s more than made a name for himself by this point — raises the stakes, telling a story of evil gods and symbiote soldiers, all while exploring the Venom symbiote and Eddie Brock.
Utilising retcons and world-building that would make Geoff Johns blush, Cates expands on the Venom mythos, tying it into the wider Marvel universe with things like Thor connections and a SHIELD symbiote soldier program, while disposing of some of the more questionable additions such as the Klyntar name. These retcons are almost completely seamless yet still feel fresh and original. Cates doesn’t bore the reader while constructing his epic, making sure to deliver strong character moments, pulse pounding action and badass scenes. Embodying the best of the 90s, Venom builds on itself and utilises the past of the Marvel universe to build towards what is sure to be a blockbuster future. While most writers would be content with that, Cates remembers to humanise his characters; Rex Strickland is an innately interesting take on the symbiotes while Eddie Brock is given true depth for the first time in what seems like forever. And of course, while most writers would be willing to insult readers who miss Flash Thompson, Cates not only honours the fallen Venom but incorporates his death not only into the narrative but into one of Flash Thompson’s core character traits.
Honestly, when it comes to Venom, the turnaround that Cates pulled is nothing short of miraculous. A one-note character with increasingly convoluted lore has been given genuine development (that doesn’t feel forced) and his lore has been both streamlined and expanded. Time will tell if this Venom epic will pay off, but as it is, it’s been a sight to behold and one hell of a ride.