I read a lot of comics this past year….a few hundred issues for a quick estimate. I started getting back into comics in the summer and fall of 2021, during my parental leave. When I was at home with my newborn son, who napped for the briefest of increments, a single issue of a comic book was a perfectly-sized thing to read. Over 2022, I really dove back into comics and rekindled a passion that was laid dormant by the demands of completing my PhD. Not coincidentally, I was also motivated to get back into collecting new monthly issues by the promise of Saga restarting after a several year hiatus (more on this below). My pull list has now grown back up to the point where I’m picking up at least a few new issues a week (shout out to my local comic shop, Parts Unknown in Greensboro!). I’d say that I’m safely back in the comics fold.
As I’ve been reading more and more comics, I wanted to reflect a bit on my favorites of the past year, highlighting the series that I’ve looked forward to the most month-to-month. I made a list of my top 10 favorite series and picked out one issue from each that really stuck with me. I love this dual nature of comics, which can be both a deluge of short/cheap stories, sometimes better understood and experienced en mass, devouring trade paperback collections…and the perfect package of the standalone issue — a 30ish page floppy book with the power to completely engross a reader.
10. Poison Ivy #4 (DC Comics), released September 6th
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Marcio Takara
Colors: Arif Prianto
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover: Jessica Fong
Pamela Isley attempts to rid the world of humanity by spreading a deadly, hallucinogenic spore while on a soul-searching road trip. Throughout the series, G. Willow Wilson deftly balances big themes of ecological crisis and eco-terrorism against an empathetic portrayal of Poison Ivy struggling with heartbreak and self-doubt. Ivy’s interior monologue is externalized as a tear-stained love letter to Harley Quinn, threaded through each issue to narrate the actions and provide insight into Ivy’s headspace.
The story intrigued me from the start, but Marcio Takara’s truly trippy rendering of the hallucinogenic spore at work — tearing apart victims’ bodies in a surreal haze — have had me flipping back through the past issues of this book all year. Perhaps my favorite such moment comes in issue #4, when Ivy unleashes the spore on the manager of an Amazon-esque warehouse, appearing before him in the guise of a demonic venus fly trap queen.
9. The Lonesome Hunters #1 (Dark Horse Comics), released June 22nd
This is probably the best-looking book I read all year, all the more impressive as the artist, Tyler Crook, has also written the start of a very compelling story. Howard is an old man with a magical sword that grants unusually long life, the last remaining relic of a traumatic childhood encounter with powerful, occult forces. Howard has seemingly led a reclusive life for many years now, until his neighbor, a young girl named Lupe, unwittingly stirs up the attention of these occult forces by stealing a watch — and Howard overcomes his fears (kind of) to team up with Lupe and confront this enemy.
The mythos of this world has not been developed super deeply in the four-issue arc that came out this year, though I’m intrigued so far. As hinted above, Crook’s artwork is the real calling card for this book. Crook has perfected a really unique style for this book, a mix of pencil/ink drawings and moody watercolors. How Crook illustrates Howard’s and Lupe’s faces is especially enthralling — each panel featuring their faces communicates slightly different emotional states along a continuum from absolute terror to trepidation to determination. The relationship between Howard and Lupe is fascinating too, both essentially children though Howard is in a much older body. I hope this series continues in 2023 so we can see this story progress.
8. I Hate This Place #4 (Image Comics), released August 24th
Writer/creator: Kyle Starks
Artist/creator: Artyom Topilin
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Alternately titled Fuck This Place, this comic probably captured my prevailing 2022 mood better than any other. The book follows Trudy and Gabby, a couple who have inherited a ranch from Gabby’s aunt. Initially seeing this as an incredible opportunity, a foundation for making their life together, the ranch is actually at the center of some kind of necro-spectral nexus and besieged by every kind of horror imaginable — ghosts, zombies, aliens, huge insects, serial killers, an animal-man creature.
I’m not facing quite these threats, but 2022 felt like this sometimes. Rather than dissolving their relationship, though, Trudy and Gabby’s love for each other deepens as they seek to protect each other and emerge on the other side of these horrors. I feel so fortunate to also be in such a relationship with my wife, and we’re both committed to making it through a challenging time (raising two young kids and cultivating careers during a frightening pandemic) stronger as a family.
I really love this book, though, because it embodies everything I also love about horror movies — and this book is certainly Kyle Stark’s ode to the horror genre. It’s over the top, darkly comedic, often grotesque, and driven by the character drama as much as the terrifying threats. All of this is on display in issue #4, when Trudy, Gabby & co. fight huge insects in the woods surrounding their ranch. Artyom Topilin’s artistic style is a great match for Stark’s story, with R. Crumb-esque giant caterpillars squeezing out a serial killer named Itchy. Very psyched to see that issue #6 is solicited for March 2023.
7. Monkey Meat #3 (Image Comics), released March 9th
This book is Swiftian satire: the social critique is clear as day, and would be heavy-handed if the story weren’t so well crafted and so damned funny. This anthology series, written and drawn by the singular talent Juni Ba, details the exploitative exploits of the Monkey Meat Company. Ba works through a thinly veiled allegory to level an obvious but no less biting critique of industrial capitalism. The Monkey Meat Company wreaks ecological havoc and exploits the labor of its employees to produce canned monkey meat that an unsuspecting populace buys up because there’s nothing better to buy.
Ba makes this satire work by leaning into the absurdity — issues are filled with Monkey Meat Multinational advertisements and the letter page is full of carefully curated (and definitely not censored) ‘fan mail’ for the greatest corporation on earth. Ba’s approach to sequential storytelling is also unlike anyone else’s — the vitality and bonkers nature of peak Adult Swim crystalized into a comic book.
Each issue is a standalone story of some unfortunate denizen of Monkey Meat Island, a kind of grim fairy tale that, again, Ba makes absurd and somehow fun despite the underlying message. Issue #3 is an especially interesting example, presented as a frame story expressly using fairy tale tropes. A delivery boy, whose family came to Monkey Meat Island as displaced refugees, confronts a troll under a bridge, albeit one amped up on toxic effluence from the Monkey Meat factory.
6. One-Star Squadron #3 (DC Comics), released February 1st
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Another biting satire of late-stage capitalism! Though One-Star Squadron is vastly different in tone and approach than Monkey Meat, driven by Mark Russell’s brilliant character work and Steve Lieber’s subdued and realistic depiction of capitalism’s inherent contradictions. Red Tornado leads a ragtag group of superheroes for hire (HEROZ4U) that is, unsurprisingly perhaps, struggling to compete with more nimble hero outfits. Red Tornado, despite being a sentient android, is the most humane character in the story, trying to protect his colleagues from losing their jobs (and their dignity) while struggling against the demands of upper management.
Never shying away from a self-aware sense of the ridiculousness of a superhero book, Russell and Lieber fill this series with so many incredible small character moments. Issue #3 features one of my favorites, with Red Tornado joking as he serves up enchiladas to his family (“do we have to have enchiladas again?” “no. we get to.”) only to break down from the stress of his job while washing the dishes. Russell does the “superheroes facing realistic implications of being superheroes” thing on a small stage, full of wit and honesty. This is a funny book that never stops being sad.
5. Love Everlasting #1 (Image Comics), released August 10th
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
The first issue of a comic series typically tries to do everything it can to intrigue and hook the reader. Love Everlasting starts out in quite an unassuming way, presenting itself as a romance comic snatched out of time, perhaps from a rack in the supermarket checkout. Elsa Charretier’s art is both an homage to this earlier era of comics and timeless; with just a few lines, Charretier can communicate powerful emotions and storytelling beats. King riffs on classic romance tropes but subtly shifts and undercuts the story that readers think they are reading…until, they along with the protagonist, Joan, begin to realize the story has moved in a totally unexpected direction.
The series has continued to develop very nicely along these lines, moving in and out of anthology-style romance stories while building up a compelling and mysterious mythos. But the first issue set the mold perfectly.
4. Saga #55 (Image Comics), released January 26th
Art by: Fiona Staples
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Letters + Design by: Fonografiks
Saga started right around the time I first seriously got into comics, in 2012, when I had finished my MFA Creative Writing degree and was kicking around in Missoula trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Like a lot of people, I fell in love with this book, and especially the family at the core of the story: Alana, Marko, and their newborn daughter Hazel. Issue #54 came out in July 2018, when my wife was just a few weeks along in her pregnancy with our daughter. Vaughan and Staples announced that the book would be taking an indefinite hiatus at the end of this issue, one of the most heartbreaking in a series defined by many, many heartbreaks.
Our daughter was born in March 2019, and my comic reading fell off as I balanced new parenthood, completing my dissertation, and (eventually) starting a career. Every few months, I would do a web search for “Saga #55,” but would rarely find anything other than fan speculation. As I mentioned in the intro, I started back up reading comics in the summer of 2021, filling in the fractured time in-between the kids’ naps. Then, miraculously, Image announced Saga #55, to be released in January 2022.
I promptly started a re-read of the series, my first readthrough since becoming a parent myself. For a series about new parents raising a daughter during turbulent times, I resonated with the book more deeply than I thought possible. Alana, Marko, and Hazel and are very different than me and my family — not only because they’re trapped in an epic scifi story spanning galaxies — but Vaughan and Staples excel at grounding these characters so completely that I can see my mundane experience of parenthood reflected in this exceptional one.
I walked into the comic shop on January 26, almost a year ago now, and got my copy. I held back a lot of the emotions that overcame me as I walked into a comic shop to, once again, pick up a new issue of Saga, something I’d done dozens of times before, repeating the ritual now feeling this new resonance with the book. I stuck it at the back of my pulls for that week, not letting myself sneak a peak until I could set up the perfect reading conditions. When I finally read the issue later that day, I mostly just felt the joy of reading a new issue of my favorite comic book. Despite this being the momentous return of the series from a three-and-a-half year hiatus, #55 was just another (glorious) issue.
3. The Nice House on the Lake #10 (DC Black Label), released September 27th
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist and Cover: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: AndWorld Design
Nice House is becoming not just one of my favorite all-time horror comics, but one of my all-time favorite horror stories in any medium. The final issue is waiting in my pull box at Parts Unknown right now, and I can’t wait to pick up and finish the story in the next few days. Tynion’s story is paced with bursts of revelation punctuating a deliciously slow burn, relating this tale of a group of people stuck in a nice house while the world burns around them. And Martínez Bueno’s art is some of the most gorgeous (and terrifying) I’ve ever seen in a comic book. His impressionistic, pastel-like pages are captivatingly beautiful while still driving forward the story. The final images of issue #10 are some of the most arresting in the series.
This is the book that I’ll give my kids (when they’re old enough) to relate to them the experience of living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Everything (for those of us privileged to watch the pandemic play out mostly on screens) was nice — while still being filled with absolute dread. My wife has taken my issues into her high school English class, and many of her students have gotten hooked on this series. It’s pretty fun vicariously sharing the book with her students and hearing their reactions to the series as it’s been developing. They’ll be pining to read #12, too, and my wife can bring it in right after I’ve read it a couple times!
2. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #7 (DC Comics), released January 18th
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Bilquis Evely
Colorist: Matheus Lopes
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Most of this 8-issue mini-series came out in 2021, but the last couple issues dropped in early 2022 and capped a story that forever endeared me to Supergirl, and by extension, the whole Super family. As with the other Tom King book on my list, Woman of Tomorrow presents itself to the reader as a compelling but seemingly straightforward story: Supergirl begrudgingly helps Ruthye, a girl from a distant planet, to avenge her father by hunting down his absolute bastard of a killer. As the first issue — and rest of the series — progress, this setup gives way to a complex and thought-provoking story.
Narrated by Ruthye many years later (as a very old woman, as we learn later in the series), the story is crafted as an epic poem, a song of heroes, folklore being made in the first generation of the telling. Each issue is a canto in this poem, full of wonderfully long, lilting passages (seamlessly integrated into the page by Clayton Cowles) and complemented by Bilquis Evely’s dark storybook illustrations.
Issue #7 contains some of the most breathtaking examples of this comic as epic poem mode, as Ruthye recounts yet another of Supergirl’s amazing feats accomplished during this hunt for her father’s killer. The Super books routinely evoke the Herculean, of course, but King and Evely achieve a very distinct portrayal of Supergirl in this series, flawed and disillusioned though still a through-and-through hero, depicted from the perspective of one particular person who was helped by this hero, but already in the telling transforming into a story that’s larger than life.
1. Ice Cream Man #31 (Image Comics), released July 20th
Written by: W. Maxwell Prince
Art by: Martín Morazzo
Colors by: Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by: Good Old Neon
“She is the last hook in my heart—the one that never comes out.” I guess I will now forever be a sucker for stories about fathers and daughters, but it’s going to be hard to top this issue of ICM: an issue that relates a father watching his daughter grow up, and a daughter watching her father grow old, each capturing their impressions in bits of a poem that dot the panels.
I started reading ICM, something of an anthology series that contains loosely related stories of existential dread and pitch-dark comedy, this year. I picked up issue #27, which dropped in late December 2021, intrigued by an adaptation of The Metamorphosis, but with a roach turning into a human and rather missing his bug’s life; and then picked up #28 the next month, which tells of an etymologist (not to be confused with an entomologist!) seeking the earliest roots of language on the peak of a holy mountain (hint: instead, he finds something of more interest to an entomologist). The issues were fantastic, both presenting these neat, formally-inventive stories that were strange and unsettling.
But then I continued to sleep on the series…until issue #31 came out, and I had to read this issue described as a poem about a father and daughter. While the issue does tap into some of the existential horror and dark comedy (and a fascination with bugs) that characterize and unify the entire series, this is mostly a simple story about a father and a daughter, with Prince subtly emphasizing the essential importance of cultivating these relationships against the inevitability of loss.
I quickly checked out the trade paperbacks collections from the library and read issues #1-26 in a couple weeks. There are some supremely disturbing stories in this series, especially those that prominently feature the titular character, but as I read, it was those deeply humane themes of love and family that, surprisingly, came to the fore. The world is terrifying, but losing our loved ones — whether to disease or disaffection — is the worst threat. What’s so terrifying is that we often unwittingly contribute to this loss, or ignore it. You’ve got to let those hooks keep pulling you.