Thursday, December 27, 2018

This Year In Comics: 2018

I wasn’t sure how to set up my end of the year comics post. Comics is a huge industry with the Big Two, indies, manga, graphic novels, trades, single issues, digital, and a whole lot of other complicated factors. It’s hard to rank a six-issue arc against an anthology or a ten chapter tankobon. So instead of a Top 10 list, I’m just going to highlight the comics, manga, and graphic novels that defined the year for me.

Puerto Rico Strong (Lion Forge)

This is an anthology made up of dozens of short stories by Puerto Rican comic creators, cartoonists, writers, and more. It was produced in wake of the tragic hurricanes that ravaged the island at the end of 2017. All profits from sales of the collection go toward disaster relief on the island.

As a Puerto Rican myself, I appreciated the work that went into this. I also enjoyed learning about my own culture and history and mythology. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I only got a smidge of my own culture at home and on trips. After reading this anthology, I visited my childhood home and suddenly understood the context of many of their paintings and decor. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about Puerto Rico’s history and culture, this is the book for you.

Click here to get your copy of Puerto Rico Strong and support hurrican relief efforts on the island.

Power Rangers: Shattered Grid (BOOM! Studios)
Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrot, Daniele Di Nicuolo, Dan Mora

I loved the artwork and tone of the new Power Rangers comics when they started, but eventually lost interest with the pacing. Unlike most superhero comics that have arcs of about four to six issues, Kyle Higgins was telling a story that seemed like it was going nowhere. At the panel at NYCC 2017, Higgins revealed where he was going.

For the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Power Rangers shattered the Morphin Grid itself and created its first ever comics event. Told over both of the main series with a few tie-ins here and there, Shattered Grid brought Rangers from across the multi-verse together for a massive crossover story. We even got to see Rangers from outside of the show and a few who haven’t even been on screen yet.

Shattered Grid brought me back to the Power Rangers comics - and I’m here to stay. When it first started, and when it was announced that the second series would be another adaptation of the original team, I didn’t think we’d even see stuff from Season 2, let alone every single season ever. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just getting back into it, Shattered Grid is quite possibly the greatest Power Rangers story ever told.

Skyward (Image Comics)
Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela

One day, gravity on earth suddenly became a fraction of what it is now. Twenty years later, humanity has adapted to its new low-gravity reality. And to Willa Fowler, a woman born just after G-day, a world Low-G world is as fun as it is dangerous.

Skyward told two distinct story-arcs in its premiere year. In the first, Willa explored the socio-economic effects low gravity has had on the world. The lower class lives high up in unsafe apartment buildings while the rich and wealthy live comfortably down below with all the luxuries needed to survive.

In the second arc, Willa fights giant bugs.

Skyward has genius-level worldbuilding and masterfully written characters that explore countless possibilities to a world with such a seemingly minor change. The writing is top-notch and the art is fantastic. In just two arcs I am already comfortable calling this the next Y: The Last Man.

Click here to order your copy of Skyward Vol.1 and enter a low-g world today.

Mech Cadet Yu (BOOM! Studios)
Greg Pak, Takeshi Miyazawa, Raul Angulo

Once a year, giant robots from outer space come to Earth and bond with young cadets from the elite Sky Corps Academy to defend the world from the terrifying aliens known as the Sharg. It’s a great honor to be chosen, but this year…well, the wrong kid was picked.

For years, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and others have created animated series in an art style that makes us wonder: is there such a thing as American anime? This year, we finally ask ourselves: is there American manga?

Mech Cadet Yu is a western comic book built like a Japanese manga. Not only is it about a kid named Yu and his giant robot drawn in a full-color manga style, the series beams with the style and heart of an anime.

Our hero faces obstacles from beyond the stars and in his very home that will make you question everything you know about what is right. But Yu, a boy who knows how powerful love and friendship can be, never backs down in the face of a challenge.

I’m a big fan of Greg Pak and this is not only the best thing he did all year, but it may also be his greatest work yet.

Click here to order your copy of Mech Cadet Yu Vol.1 and start your journey to Los Robos.

Crowded (Image Comics)
Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, Cardinal Ray

Ten minutes in the future, the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps, including Reapr: a crowdfunding platform to fund assassinations. Charlie Ellison leads a quiet, normal life until she’s suddenly targeted by a million-dollar Reapr campaign.

Hunted by all of Los Angeles, Charlie hires Vita, the lowest-rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. As the campaign picks up speed, they’ll have to figure out who wants Charlie dead before the campaign’s 30 days—or their lives—are over.

Crowded is the story of a terrible person who can’t seem to figure out why everyone she has ever met hates her enough to want her dead. No matter how low things get, Charlie never seems to get it and keeps causing social chaos and pissing off everyone around her.

What makes this series transcend beyond science fiction is how it doesn’t seem far off. Many of the ridiculous apps featured in these pages are very much real today or probably not that far off. This isn’t just a goofy story about someone’s friends Kickstarting her death - this is Bradbury-esque predictions of where our world is heading.

Crowded has been a fun and wild ride. And it’s already been optioned by Rebel Wilson - can’t wait for that movie! Click here to order your copy of the first volume of Crowded and get in on this hit series early!

Dr. Stone (Viz Media)
Riichiro Inagaki, Boichi

I love manga, but I don’t have the time, money, or space to keep up with some shonen series that go on for a thousand chapters. That’s why I only collect the first volume of a series aside from shorter, limited series. And Hunter X Hunter, but that’s easy to collect because it’s the greatest manga of all time and there is only a new volume every two years.

Dr. Stone is the first super-long shonen manga I’ve actually wanted to keep reading beyond the first volume in a long time. From the creator of Eyeshield 21, the only sports manga worth a damn, Dr. Stone follows a world where every human being on Earth become preserved in stone. Thousands of years later, a small group escapes their stone prison and prepares to bring humanity back.

It’s classic Shonen with a fun and simple premise that goes wild with its hilariously creative characters. The art is exciting and everchanging, jumping to cute chibi designs on one page and realistic text-book science the next. Oooh man, the science in this book is way more enjoyable than any classroom.

Click here to order Dr. Stone Vol. 1 and dive into my favorite shonen manga of the year.

Battlecats (Mad Cave Studios)
Mark London, Andy King, Michael Camelo, Alejandro Giraldo, Julian Gonzalez

I don’t review every comic I get from every publisher. Even if I had all the time in the world to read almost a thousand pages every week, they don’t always interest me or match the brand of this blog. As such, many lesser-known publishers aren’t represented here.

Mad Cave Studios blew me away this year. Here we have a brand new publisher releasing comics of a quality you’d expect from seasoned professionals. Battlecats, the premiere series from the new publisher, showcased the amount of talent lurking within the Mad Cave.

Thundercats meets Dungeons & Dragons in this dark Saturday morning epic where tribes of anthropomorphic cats fight for control of the kingdom. The Battlecats are an elite unit of warriors. Each one from one of the five tribes. Each one representing one of the classic RPG character classes.

Swords and axes, magical spells and mystical illusions, twists, and turns. Battlecats is more than just a fantasy series about cats. It’s a gut-wrenching, blood spilling tale that’ll leave you amazed to hear it comes from a rookie team with such talent.

Click here to order Vol. 1 of Battlecats and catch up with their first adventure.

RuinWorld (BOOM! Studios)
Derek Laufman

If Battlecats brought us an animal fantasy series for the Adult Swim crowd, RuinWorld took things back to basics with a cute and cuddly dungeon crawling series for all ages. RuinWorld features a colorful cast of characters and a beautiful world that will leave you wanting more.

RuinWorld wins for me in its practice of quality over quantity. Only being a five-issue series, every single page is jam-packed with stunning visuals that go way beyond the average panels-per-page to deliver some A+ worldbuilding.

And you have to appreciate the way Ruinworld treats the genre and its fans. So many fantasy series like this these days are chock full of easter eggs and references to the point where it becomes an annoying parody. Laufman didn’t create a fantasy world full of callbacks to other fantasy worlds - he just created a great fantasy world.

Click here to order your copy of RuinWorld. Here’s hoping for a sequel!

I Hate Fairyland (Image Comics)

Before I started reviewing comics, I Hate Fairyland was one of the many series that really got me into comics. It was so different, unlike anything I’d ever read before. Not only did it go beyond generic superheroes, but it also went in a completely different visual style that oozed Invader Zim and Adult Swim.

Gertrude is a sweet little girl who stumbles into Fairyland one day and sets out on a quest to find her way home. Almost thirty years go by and Gertrude has developed into a vile, grumpy woman trapped in a child’s body. And she’s not takin’ anyone’s shit.

This year saw the conclusion of Gertrude’s adventure in Fairyland. I was sad to see her go but I’m glad I was there for the end. The contrast of Gertrude’s heinous acts against the bright, family-friendly backdrop of Fairyland never gets old, but Young still knows when it’s time for a story to end.

Click here to delve into the madness of Fairyland with Volume 1 and follow Gertrude’s loss of innocence - and sanity - from the beginning.

Port of Earth (Image Comics)
Zack Kaplan, Andrea Mutti, Vladimir Popov

Imagine if aliens came to Earth, not in war or peace, but with a business deal: open up a spaceport here on Earth in exchange for advanced technology. But when our alien visitors break Port restrictions and wreak havoc in our cities, it falls to the newly formed Earth Security Agents to hunt down and safely deport the dangerous rogue aliens back to the Port of Earth.

Quite possibly my favorite science fiction story of the year. A story set in the future was magnificently topical in today’s political climate. And the politics are really what shines here. Port of Earth looks like an Xbox game about space marines wildly shooting aliens, the entire story tells a socio-political story that puts everything into perspective.

In the second story arc, our two leads have virtually swapped places as the young, by the book ESA Agent sets out for revenge and the redneck who joined up so he could shoot aliens becomes the voice of reason. And then we finally enter the Port of Earth itself - and the build-up was worth it.

Click here to check out the first volume of Port of Earth today.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Marvel)

Damn. Not only was this year the year for Spider-Man, it was the year for Miles Morales both on the page and off. When Brian Michael Bendis announced his departure from Marvel, I was worried most for my favorite webslinger. But the final Morales adventure from his original creator was a fantastic send-off that leaves the door open for the next team to come in and continue the journey.

And then, Miles got a supporting, minor playable role in Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4. My favorite game of the year featured my favorite superhero and introduced him to a wider audience. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Miles in a future game or DLC.

Last, but most certainly not least: Miles Morales starred in a theatrically released animated film that blew everyone away with it’s one of a kind visual style. It’s my favorite film of the year, my favorite Spider-Man film of all time, quite possibly my favorite superhero film, and perhaps my favorite animated film ever made.

This was a great year for comics with so many great stories - too many to mention here. Superheroes and indies, graphic novels and manga, 2018 was my first year seriously reviewing comics and I couldn’t be happier for it. I’ve been able to read so many great stories because of it. And I can’t wait to read what comes next.

What was your favorite comic of the year and what are you looking forward to most about next year?