The DCN's Favorite Comics of 2019
It is time for the second annual "Top Comics" from everyone's favorite Driving Creators Network!
All kidding aside this is a fun endeavor to tackle because it provides an opportunity for so many doors to be opened and so much more joy to be had from the comics we read. Multiple readings upon multiple readings bring more and more life from the pages. It does get tough when whittling down the stack and you're left with two handfuls that have to fit into one. That though, is where the books begin to pick themselves for inclusion on this list. It is when the "feel" starts to set in about titles and the "it" that keeps making you put your eyes back on a book starts to grab hold of you. You rediscover the beauty of these titles and gain more appreciation for a slew of books along the way. It's extremely difficult but the enrichment gained is beyond any difficulty incurred.
I mean seriously ... "oh no, I have to re-read these glorious books, AGAIN" isn't exactly a disaster movie in the making.
There are two categories here at the DCN.
The first is the "published" for books from publishers you know/see on the shelves at your LCS regularly. As a quick reminder, a book had to have at least two issues published in the calendar year to be on the "published" list and, if a debut title, had to have had three issues or more published in the year.
The second is "creator owned/self published" books that are crowdfunded, or from creators that either do their own publishing or have labels not considered "main" lines. For the creator owned/self-published category the book had to have debuted during the year or had one new issue put out.
OF NOTE ...
Before we get to the first list there were several excellent titles considered before making the final decisions.
A Walk Through Hell, Superior Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Friendo, Fearscape, Evolution, Criminal, Little Bird, Invaders, Transformers, Infinite Dark, DIE, Category Zero, Goodnight Paradise, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Ax-Man, Infinity Agents, The Resurrected, and Miskatonic High are just some of the titles that were fighting for inclusion on the year end lists. I could very easily make cases for them but ultimately tough decisions had to be made. For instance from last year's list (and here) Black Badge, Spectacular Spider-Man, These Savage Shores, Dark Ark, Evolution, Bone Parish, Megatomic Battle Rabbit, and Captain Cosmic all carried over into 2019. All of these titles made this year's list incredibly difficult to finalize. Some of them were cannibalized by other works from either the creative team or about the characters (Friendo, Friendly Neighborhood SM for instance). Some titles suffered from going toe to toe with other titles from the same publisher (DIE, Infinite Dark, Fearscape, Transformers for example). Others ended which ultimately cost them (Black Badge, Dark Ark, Evolution fit this bill).
That said, there's three titles that have come back this year after being named to our Top Comics of 2018. Continued excellence seems harder and harder to spot on the shelves in today's comic world for a myriad of reasons. One of the biggest faults in having long(er) running books of high quality is that we, as fans don't allow for it anymore. We always look for something new and shiny instead of allowing a book to grow and explore. Many of the highly revered classic books and stories simply wouldn't be possible today because fans won't stick with a book for more than 6-12 issues and are highly reluctant to jump into one at an arbitrary numbered issue that has 'insert amount of history' before it. For creator owned/published titles you're essentially playing the lottery in hopes of hitting a jackpot book. This comes on two fronts; does the book end up being any good and is the creative team able to produce more than one issue (if not a one-shot)? Things have simply changed, though it can be argued if it is for the better or not.
Enough of my rambling let's get to it eh? SAVE FOR THE FAVORITE COMIC IN EACH CATEGORY here's the Driving Creators Network's FAVORITE COMICS 2019 presented in alphabetical order! And I'll get by with a little help from my friends ...
Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists
We kick off our list with a 96 page graphic novel that mixes Lovecraft inspiration with rural reality in a tale of dark truths. Some bad guys are supernatural and others are all to real. Whether they wear a badge or brandish blood sucking teeth, the evils revealed in AWBfT all combine for an excellent self cointained tale of things not being what they seem. Secrets are buried everywhere and within everyone. Though it is stand alone the story is left open for further exploration of our main character.
Circle Pit Press
Erick Palicki, Wendell Cavalcanti, Mark Dale, Shawn Lee
With Natasha Alterici and Caspar Wijngaard
A tribute to the timeless pulp classics of yesteryear, the Baboon is an all ages fun fest. Treacherous villainy and golden age do-goodery gets an infusion of slapstick banter that'll put you in a Dick Tracy-esque mood. Word is there are plans for more and hopefully so. The cast of characters is in place, the relationships are set, and the atmosphere is there for a good old fashioned comic book series. The Baboon doesn't just fit into the pulp mold of the books it pays tribute too. It is right at home among them.
Bow Tie Press
This is a brilliant piece of work. As time is literally running out for the one he loves, a valiant little robot must embark on an epic quest to save her. Fantasy driven and real world emotionally grounded Canto is a beautiful read for both younger readers and the young at heart. The creative team's love for their creation shines through and is mirrored in this all new timeless tale of the conquering power of love. This is the book you give to people to show them how powerfully a concept can come across through comics.
David Booher, Drew Zucker, Vittorio Astone, Deron Bennett
2018 Top Comic
The Silver Age is alive and well in modern comics. Thanks to Captain (and Kid) Cosmic sailing the star ways taking care of any dasterdly evil doers and lendign their helping hands to those in need. In the latest issue we are introduced to the Phantom Spaceman and are taught a valuable lesson as the story unfolds. Everyone will love these adventures and characters. This is the comic we all need.
Andy W Clift
Originally published by Titan, this truly unique book does what comics are supposed to do ... it dares. Crude, rude, gory, political and brimming with social commentary are just the start of the descriptors for this story. Now on its third volume and with a massive cult following Death Sentence is a poster book for what's possible with indie comics. Politics and deconstructing humanity around a plague of an STD that grants you superpowers but kills you in six months ... Yup, phenomenal.
Titan Comics (Vol 1-2)
Monty Nero, Martin Simmonds
Toward the end of the year we were lucky to have Kellie come on board as a contributor. She immediately jumped in ready to take on projects. Along with her own approach is willing and open to trying new books, creators, and publishers. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Kellie. As for her picks:
Soldier Mike Blackburn is sent from Earth to an offworld colony to do reconnaissance work because they haven’t heard from the colony since it was founded. Unfortunately he gets captured by soldiers, lead by the corrupt President Barrow, and has to escape with colony native Grace Moody. During their desperate attempt to return to Cemetery Beach, where Mike’s return ship is stationed, Mike learns more about the horrific secrets the colony has been hiding. Cemetery Beach is a seven issue mini series that’s perfectly paced from start to finish with nonstop action and plot points that keep you guessing until the very end. And the art style, with it’s intentionally rough linework and hatching, perfectly fits the wasteland dystopian setting. This is a great story to sit down and binge from start to finish.
Warren Ellis, Jason Howard, Fonografiks
MOTH & WHISPER
Before they disappeared, The Moth and The Whisper were the greatest thieves of all time; no one could capture them, and no one knew their real identities. But then they disappeared, leaving behind their only child Niki. Desperate to find their parents, Niki takes on the identities of both The Moth and The Whisper in an attempt to take down crime boss Ambrose Wolfe, the man they’re sure was behind the disappearance. Niki finds help from unlikely allies, including the son of another crime lord, as they try to solve the multilayered mystery their parents left behind, and discover Wolfe’s true intentions. The character design is amazing and it’s exciting to see which disguise Niki will wear next, and the colors are rich and saturated. Moth & Whisper is an exciting futuristic mystery/heist story that can appeal to a wide audience.
Ted Anderson, Jen Hickman, Marshall Dillon
Representative of the superhero story that society needs, being a true alternative to traditional takes is what makes Elk Mountain a must have. Without being preachy social reality (not commentary) is put forth to help build the world in which this book operates. It hits close to home, and for some at the doorstep, with the troubles and violence of merely existing that portions of our country live with every day. The superhero feel isn't lost in that though and that's the real prize. An aware book that uses classic tropes and archetypes to bring about resonating issues our world faces is exactly what we need more of, and exactly what Elk Mountain is.
Jordan Clark, Vince Underwood, Brittany Peer, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
The Fearsome Dr Fang
TKO burst onto the scene with a new publishing model, top notch production and four outstanding debut entries. Of the group the golden age pulp entry that harkens back to no nonsense thrills takes the cake. Driven point to point and not mussing about is what this book's purpose is and it does the straight line perfectly. It is fast paced and makes you keep turning the pages for more. Everything about it feels like it came out of a magazine from the drug store shelves. While it does play at some of the dated approaches to characters (racial) it is clearly distinct in tone that it is homaging the storytelling and not the portrayal of persons. Pulp done right is always a win.
Tze Chun, Mike Weiss, Dan McDaid, Daniela Miwa, Steve Wands
"Cartoonist Lane Lloyd harnesses chaos and tempers it into joyful adventure. Pure creation, uninhibited.”
"Aside from being an all-around swell guy, Lane Lloyd's art in "God Puncher" is exceptional, and unique. Each issue gets better than the last, and watching Lane grow is a joy. The scale of imagination at play in this book is delightful, and it's not without a keen sense of humor. You can spend ten minutes poring over a page and admiring the spindly, wild and weird characters, and you can chuckle at the jokes. That's a rare combination, and I very much look forward to seeing what Lane has in store for us next year, and beyond."
Unconventional, cartoony, mesmerizing, off-kilter, and an absolute breath of fresh air to take in, God Puncher is like nothing you've ever come across in comics. This is a truly unique approach and the ballad of Tim Finnly turns the comic medium on its head. By using the primal thought that resides deep inside all of us (who we are and what our place in existence is) as a guiding tone Lane lays out a slapstick adventure that is full of heart and raw emotion. The seriousness of the thought and emotion is juxtaposed perfectly by the zany art style. A perfect combination of its elements, God Puncher is a book you absolutely need to experience for yourself.
2018 Top Comic
Has completely rewritten how a "superhero" book can be done and how we as fans can and should think about the characters we read. Going back to the origins of the Hulk character has opened up a door way (figuratively and literally) of mythos and recreation for arguably the most difficult to present, but most endearing when done right, character in the Marvel Universe. Each issue is an event and making the kind of impact that each one does is something that hasn't been on comic shelves in a long, long time. There is no better illustration as to why I love ongoing series and giving a book the ability to be what it is. The Hulk is a monster. There's no spin. There is however, an exploring of just how complex being a monster truly is and how love, fear, pride and a host of other human emotions are just as powerful as any gamma given strength.
Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Paul Mounts, Cory Petit
Valiant will gets press for several books but this book is the pick for me. Why? It captures so many singular aspects of good books and marries them together to create a great one. The weight carried by this four issue mini series is astounding. Both universal and personal levels are hit head on and executed brilliantly. There's a major threat introduced, but as with the recurring Valiant characters in play, it's just an additional part that makes the sum of the book that much better. There is a certain feel to the original Valiant books that set them apart. Incursion channels that original feeling and brings it forward in using one of the strongest recurring themes in the Valiant universe. Everything is bigger than us and there's always something even bigger than everything else. Powerful and relevant themes drive this book and it delivers.
Alex Paknadel, Andy Diggle, Doug Braithwaite, Diego Rodriguez, Marshall Dillon
With Jose Villarrubia, Leonardo Paciarotti
Cyberpunk battle royale goodness and plight that tugs at the heart aren't usually two things that are found on the same page. Killtopia delivers both in grand fashion. Set on the backdrop of a dystopian future from where we currently exist we're given a point blank representation of the over corporatization we're quickly falling into. As much as things have changed, they've stayed the same. Most people are facing the same issues we try to manage in our lives. This is the heart of Killtopia. Just as the true story being told juxtaposes the thrill kill adventurous surface of the book the colors and presentation juxtapose the brutal realities that confront readers in each volume. Inspired many greats that came before it Killtopia does very well when held up side by side with 2000AD types of series. You'll get your glitzy neon glamour, cyber infused wrecking ball but you'll also get true depth in storytelling.
Dave Cook, Craig Paton, Robin Jones (VOL 1), Micah Myers (VOL 2)
Just, holy shit. It's very hard to find truly elite books at the Big 2 in today's comic world. It isn't their fault and it isn't to say that really good books aren't being produced. They are. When you're dealing with characters and stories that have fifty to going on a hundred years of history the deck is stacked against you in finding a way to create a book that truly drives itself and breaks out from already built in aspects of the characters. Acceptance of what is, can be, isn't, and can't be already in place makes it near impossible to create something truly unique. How do you do that? You take the most precious of characters (King Kirby's creations) from the most mythologicaly heralded sect (Kirby's 4th World) and you deliver arguably the greatest human story in modern comic history. What makes superheroes truly great is what's left after the super part is removed. Here everything is stripped down and what's left can't be touched by any superpower. Wow and damn.
Tom King, Mitch Gerards
King is. I need to re-read the series lest I be swayed by his other writings. King is. A haunting and tense story about depression, escape and family. King is. I felt empty at the end, but not in the ways I did while reading the earlier issues. King is. There is so much to love about this book. King is. But there is an undercurrent of dismissal of the reader that makes it hard to connect. Gerards is. This book is a masterclass in repetition and non-sequitur done right. Cowles is. The team is impeccable and there’s a reason it has earned as many awards as it has. King isn’t. It’s a shame I feel like I have to escape the praise to express my conflicted feelings about the book.
“Mister Miracle” is.
Prey For Us
Having fun with a comic while still delivering a tense and dreadful plot isn't the easiest thing to do. In Prey for Us it is done effortlessly. Presented in a very tv-eque fashion, this sci-fi terror delivers very quickly on several fronts. There's some chills, dread, panic and even an 'awwww shit' moment at the end. With minimal dialogue and ample visual cues you are engulfed in a struggle that very rapidly descends into its many layers. The usage of everything about a comic book to tell a story is on display in this book and shows just how fantastic the creative team is. It's refreshing to find a book that purposefully makes use of the medium to enhance what's being read.
Matt Garvey, J Francis Totti
Road of Bones
Horror comes in many forms. Here we're forced to deal with several. Most vividly on display is the absolute worst in the horror of the depths of man. What is usually tucked away and hidden until a gruesome final reveal is on full display in Road of Bones. The entirety of the book travels from one horrid display of what man is capable of to the next. Some is implied, some is shown, and some is directly moving the story. However, when you’ve got a story like this to tell setting is paramount. In this case the physical setting immediately sets the bleak and unforgiving tone that this story is dropped into. It’s perfect. It not only enhances but makes the horror of Road of Bones shine through. There are elements for every fan of the terror thrill and each one is expertly included to help make the others that much more effective. This one, when you're done, you don't feel good in the best possible way.
Rich Douek, Alex Cormack, Justin Birch
In Soviet Russia, you don’t eat people, people eat you. That’s how the joke goes, yes? Well, after reading “Road of Bones,” you won’t be laughing much. . .or, maybe you will. This dark mini will grab you by the shirt collar, dragging you into the frigid outdoors with a vice-like grip, refusing to let you go as the world darkens and the wind begins to howl and your teeth start to chatter and your stomach begins to gnaw and the hand that drags you starts to look just the teensiest bit like chicken until, suddenly, you’re alone and warm and covered in red, red, red, like the flag you’re escaping from. Dare you take the plunge?
Spencer & Locke 2
I'm so glad that David Pepose reached out to get this book reviewed. It was on my "read it at some point" list as several friends had mentioned the first series. Getting to it eventually would have been a mistake and out right robbing myself of pure comic brilliance. As innovative as the original series was the second amplifies the stakes ten fold. In comparison the first volume now seems like a gentle exploration of a mind fractured by intense trauma. Volume two is a much darker extrapolation of just what the fact of Spencer's existence means. Adding to the broken psyche relation and main tone of the book, the new antagonist represents one of the biggest mental health issues facing society currently. Continuing the the style and presentation that the first volume used once again helps relay both a wonderful comic and extremely important touching upon real world problems.
Action Lab (Danger Zone)
David Pepose, Jorge Santiago Jr, Jasen Smith, Colin Bell
Tomb of the White Horse
People always want to be scared. Fear "sells" as they say. What separates good horror from the pack and great horror from the good is the ability to use all of the elements of the genre to enhance the overall piece. We've got that here. In what is intended to be a multi-part tale the opening of this story uses pacing and atmosphere to create a very wound ball of tension. Taking influence and inspiration from classics such as The Thing has clearly helped the team make the uneasy feelings come about without a visual reveal. Getting a horror story to come across properly in a literary medium is not the easiest thing to do. The actual tragedy one of the characters suffers in his life helps set the mood and make the setting that much more soul devouring. It's a great mix of the demons we all hide, those that lurk in the closet, and those that are waiting to be unleashed on us all.
Ian Mondrick, Benjamin AE Filby, Lesley Atlansky, Zaak Sam
With Kim Myatt and Danny Lore
This was an immediate smash success that has created instant classic imagery with the Blade itself and the Executioner (and hell, the Hammer too). Yes, ComixTribe pushed this first issue of this book through Kickstarter. Regardless, this book belongs. The choice to Kickstart the first issue is more due to their guerrilla approach and the "in hand with fans" take that ComixTribe has as a publisher. I'm calling this a cult hit right now. Iconic imagery dazzles in this post apocalyptic mash up of every punk-mecha sci-fi piece you loved growing up. Full metal to the floor, Wailing Blade is a fantastical ride on its surface but also holds a solid story underneath. There's immense world building being done and the universe of the Blade is just getting started.
Rich Douek, Joe Mulvey, Chris Sotomayor, Jules Rivera, Taylor Esposito
"Ahoy Comics stepped up to the plate in 2018 and, for my money, immediately started pushing the envelope of the kind of quality you can fit on the shelves. The best of the bunch is Wrong Earth. A 60's campy comic classic mixed with a 90's violent vision created what just may have been the most entertaining read of the last couple of years. It debuted in SEP 2018 and finished up in FEB 2019. Perfectly encapsulating the fun side of comics while representing the edgier trends that the medium has seen, Wrong Earth proved so successful that it is being followed up with Dragonfly and Dragonfly Man (the two opposite "heroes" that were victim of an accidental switcharoo in Wrong Earth). As with comics that stand the test of time it is more than the window dressing. It delivers the fun that comics can but gives the reader a tale that deals with one of the most age old questions about what makes us who we are. The ending of this first volume went against the grain just like the entirety of the series did and has set up much more fun."
Tom Peyer, Jamal Igle, Andy Troy, Rob Steen
With Paul Constant, Grant Morrison, Juan Castro, Frank Cammuso, Tom Feister, Bryce Ingman, Mark Russell, Carol Lay, Alan Robinson, Kek-W, Matt Brady, Rob Staeger, Joe Orsak, Elliot Mattice, Gary Erskine, Robert Jeschonek, Steffie De Vaan, Cayetano Valenzuela
THE DCN's FAVORITE COMICS OF 2019
These Savage Shores (Published) - White Ash (Creator/Self Published)
These Savage Shores" proves that you can marry epistolary devices, intricate histories of global colonialism and throat-ripping vampires in one book.
Ram V, Kumar, Astone and Bidikar nail this book top to bottom. There's nary a hair out of place, and Bishan and Kori's story will thrill a wide range of comics readers, and this may be one of those books that entices new fans into the fold."
"Vampires are boring, you say. Vampires have lost their monstrous nature. Vampires are a metaphor that’s old hat and done to undeath. Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vitorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar are here to prove you wrong while also shoving the words back down your throat by providing a layered, textural and fucking gorgeous mini-series that demands to be read and re-read. One panel in and you will be hooked, suddenly finding yourself along These Savage Shores, where the days are scorched and the nights are full of teeth."
It's almost impossible to think a title can put out monumental issue after monumental issue but that's exactly what this book did. I’m crushed, in awe, and in love. Those were my immediate feelings upon closing out this magnificent book. The lines drawn in this epic saga and the journeys we’ve traveled are nothing short of brilliant. The overtones and bigger pictures that played the nuance during the start of the series have gave way to the very up close and personal theme of choice. The whittling away of the larger scopes to reveal the singular driving force behind it all was masterful. This book visually invokes the beauty of tragedy. The paleness of the somehow still vibrant colors mirror the acceptance of the realization that one way or another we will always be what we are despite what we may want. The harsh but fine lines remind us that even the most beautiful things are capable of being the most deadly. All throughout the design choices display the wonder and hope that we all feel and so desperately want to have shine through and win the day. Combined with the harsh reality of the narrative these elements have created one of the best pieces of art that has been produced in the last five years.
These Savage Shores gives us our own choice. We can choose to see the beauty in tragedy or the horror in reality. Or, we can choose to accept it all and realize a tale that is beautiful, horrific, fulfilling, gut wrenching, and everything in between. The one piece we don’t have a choice in is the truth that monsters reside everywhere. However, the takeaway from that is our choice. That is perhaps the enduring beauty in truth that These Savage Shores will have. Monsters DO reside everywhere both real and imagined. Their purposes and designations are as varied as their real and imagined states. You will be hard pressed to find a piece of art that is perfectly executed across as many levels as this book is. The marriage of history and myth is flawless. The literal and figurative representation is expertly done. The tale itself is horrifically beautiful and tragically elegant. Even though it rips your heart out you can’t help but love it. You’ll feel compassion while detesting the hate you can’t help but have. Even the character that is cruelest and most devoid of redeeming qualities will pull out understanding from you. Reflecting upon the totality of the circumstances will only deepen the heartbreak while sparking new flames of disgust for those you felt sympathy for.
While monsters are everywhere and heartache lies at the end of everything … choice is always ours, even when it isn’t. These Savage Shores is brilliant. I’m enriched and better for having chosen to trust this creative team.
Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vitorio Astone, Aditya Bidikar
"Finally, a new spin on the Fantasy genre!
Everything I want to say about this is a spoiler, but trust this Yeti, it’s great!”
White Ash is an absolute breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre. Mixing paranormal elements into a fantasy tale has helped create a truly unique world. Ripe with mythology and mystery, White Ash envelops you in a brand new coming together of age old tropes, a take on Norse mythology, fantasy, love, coming of age, and mystery. For a small town the secrets are pretty big.
It is insanely easy to get caught up in White Ash. The characters, setting, and blending of the familiar draw you in and welcome you with open arms. The mystery hints a bit towards the likes of a Twin Peaks while the mythology and fantasy is akin to Lord of the Rings. The mix and balance of these elements is done seamlessly in this wholly new aesthetic. Diving beyond the catchy surface elements reveals several issues that plague society. Racism and classism are very real and run rampant across every day life. White Ash doesn't hide from the very real effects of these within its pages. There are other aspects of life (such as the awkward realization of romance) sprinkled in that help convey a very relatable atmoshpere despite the fantasy and mythological inspirations. White Ash keeps the characters grounded in who they are while using the larger elements to illustrate what they are. This approach makes it virtually impossible for readers to not identify with what's going on and to whom the events are happening.
The following this book has already is immense. The popularity has given rise to the series being picked up by Scout Comics. Its beyond deserved as the quality of White Ash is second to none. There's no detail left untouched. The world building is on par with and even surpasses many "big" books you'll find at your LCS. Soon enough you'll be able to see for yourself just how fantastic of a book this is. Even though there is a complete HC edition available (and it is gorgeous) capturing the first four (oversized) issues of the series, this story is just getting started. Even with the reveals we've had thus far there is clearly much more to this little town, the people, and the mystery that runs through it all.
Comic readers are always looking for enthralling new worlds, stories, and characters. White Ash delivers on all of these fronts. This book is hands down one of the best comics being made today, period.
Charlie Stickney, Conor Hughes, Fin Cramb With Nick Robles, Romina Moranelli, Joe Quinones