2018 has come and gone and for the first time in a very long time, I have single issues in my possession! It’s been a very interesting year for comics, with DC’s Rebirth bringing the quality and Marvel’s… whatever bringing a lot of the quantity. But let’s talk about what actually were the best single issues of 2018, shall we? Check out my compatriot Kevin’s list right here, and then come back for the correct list! (Sorry Kevin, just had to do it!) Anyways, here we go:
5. Red Hood: Outlaw #27
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Pete Woods
Letters: Troy Peteri
Well, well, well, after all these years of talking trash about Scott Lobdell and calling him one of the worst writers to ever curse the medium, I have to eat a big bowl of crow. His Red Hood and the Outlaws was a hugely entertaining book since Rebirth began, but with Red Hood: Outlaw #27 (part of a rebranding that just started in the previous issue), Lobdell provided an issue that actually hit me in the heart as well as entertained me. God, I can’t believe I just said those words!
Following in the wake of Heroes in Crisis #1, Jason Todd is informed that Roy Harper, his best friend in this continuity, was murdered in Sanctuary. And who tells him this information other than his father (who beat the crap out of him two issues prior), Bruce Wayne. No, not Batman. Bruce Wayne. The conversation they have, including Jason’s almost self-aware remarks about the constant deaths and resurrections in the DCU, has a lot of heart to it specifically because of the rocky relationship the two share. Batman feels responsible (even if he won’t admit it) for what happened, and you can feel the guilt in his words along with the barely-concealed grief in Jason’s. The final exchange they have, where Batman tells Jason that he’s a hard-headed son “who needs a kick in the ass sometimes” but that he loves him regardless, actually brought me to tears. Pete Wood’s page of the two hugging goodbye will forever be in my mind as one of the defining scenes for these characters, and that’s why it’s on this list.
4. Doomsday Clock #7
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Rob Leigh
I’ll admit, I was one of those people that was skeptical about using the characters of Watchmen as the lynchpin for Rebirth. It just seemed like a desperate Hail Mary, a scrambling yet still somewhat genius effort to wash away the New 52 and bring readers back. Geoff Johns is a master creator and I held out hope that he could make it work, and boy did he. Paired with the incredible artwork of Gary Frank and Brad Anderson’s brilliant colors, Doomsday Clock has been a very deep, complex work that wisely builds from Watchmen and tells an excellent meta narrative about how that book’s success changed the industry and by extension the DCU in general. It’s focused more on the Watchmen characters, but I waited with baited breath for more. I knew the big moment was coming where it would finally and completely win me over.
Issue #7 is that moment, an excellent read from start to finish. Right from the beginning Johns answers key questions regarding the Justice Society, what Ozymandias has been up to and why Dr. Manhattan came to the DCU. But like any great writer, for every answer Johns gives he asks more fascinating questions, as Dr. Manhattan’s reunion with the characters of his world takes a truly dark turn and promises a significant conflict that may shatter the universe. Plus, the secrets revealed here recontextualize events from earlier issues and make you wonder if what I consider the true villain of the series now (no spoilers, sorry guys) had anything to do with them, amongst other things. The stage has been set for the final act, as Superman and Dr. Manhattan are poised to go at it with the fate of all things lying in the balance. And I can hardly wait to see what else Johns and Frank have in store for us.
3. The Wicked + The Divine 1373
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Clayton Cowles
The Wicked + The Divine has always been that kind of high concept comic book that appealed to me. Twelve gods return to Earth every ninety years in the bodies of young people. For two years these gods live among us, empowered by divinity and encouraged to do whatever they want, because when those two years ends they all die. This time they returned as pop musicians, probably to reach the biggest audience possible, but things have gone wrong in more ways than one. I won’t spoil the insanity, but let’s just say things have not gone well for the gods or for the people around them.
This little side issue takes us back to the days of the Black Plague, when all of the gods had died save one: Lucifer, in a much different and more penitent mode than the one we see at the beginning of the series. She is brought to face the guide of the gods on Earth, Ananke, and the two have a conversation that answers so many questions and brings disturbing truths about this world to light. Just like Doomsday Clock #7 recontextualized that series, more of the already fascinating mythology is added here and made me immediately go back to reread the series. Regardless of all that it’s simply a brilliant piece of writing, a strange little tale of suffering that leads to an emotionally wrenching conclusion, filled with excellent art (which isn’t by usual artist Jamie McKelvie, but is great nonetheless) and leaves you with a hunger for more. With the end of the series fast approaching, this issue is a reminder of how brilliant it has been, and a sign for what craziness, excitement and despair is yet to come.
2. Deadly Class #35
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Wes Craig
Colors: Jordan Boyd
Letters: Rus Wooton
On paper, Deadly Class sounds like every wannabe Tarantino’s biggest fantasy: a series set in the 80’s about kids who go to a school to learn to be assassins. But what Rick Remender and Wes Craig have done with this series has been nothing short of fantastic, turning what should be a shallow action quip fest into a tense and well-crafted thrill-ride, with equal amounts of humor, tragedy, action and heart. It’s a coming of age story like we very rarely see, turning the exploits of our teen heroes into events that feel weighty and important despite how ludicrous they may appear. It’s a true balancing act that embraces the fun of the power fantasy while also showing the consequences of this world and these actions, one of Remender’s greatest strengths as a writer (see his other excellent book Black Science).
After a raucous, bloody arc featuring ninjas, Mexico resorts and a lot of Frank Miller references, Deadly Class #35 puts the focus square on our hero, Marcus Lopez Arguello. His journey from issue one has been a rocky one, starting with him seeking revenge, continuing through the deaths of many of his friends and now an attempt to leave it all behind. I won’t spoil what happens, but Marcus’ confrontation with his arch-nemesis Viktor is resolved with a decision that is the culmination of 35 issues of organic, brilliant character work and felt so satisfying to me despite taking a turn I didn’t expect. Even a seemingly contradictory scene later on makes sense as Marcus struggles to come to terms with this new reality, marking him further as the imperfect but always fascinating character he’s been since the beginning. We didn’t get a lot of Deadly Class this year, but man this arc was definitely worth the wait.
1. Batman #50
Writer: Tom King
Colors: June Chung
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Yes I know, the issue that broke the Internet and pissed off so many fanboys is the number one issue of the year on my list. Well, let me make the case for why some of you may have overreacted at the time, and dismissed the brilliant work Tom King has done in setting up this issue. The entirety of King’s run on Batman has been a deep dive into the psychology of Bruce Wayne, digging up predictably dark secrets but also exploring the way that loneliness, anger and grief really do drive him to be Batman. As he says early on in the run, “I don’t do it because I want to be Batman. I do it because I’m Batman.” Bruce Wayne is a hurt, psychologically damaged and practically suicidal little boy trapped in a grown man’s body, driven to find purpose by exacting vengeance on the criminal element that took his parents. There is no Bruce Wayne, not really. There is only Batman.
Then comes Catwoman, a criminal who has long vexed the Caped Crusader, but someone who truly relates to him. She’s someone who can relate to the rough childhood, the feelings of isolation, the fury at the injustices of life and the desire at times to simply end it all. Selina Kyle, some might argue, understands Batman better than anyone ever can or ever will, even moreso than Alfred, Nightwing, or even his own son Damian. And King has spent his entire run setting up this romance between the two as an acceptance of that fact, arguing that the two truly are meant for each other and that they belong together. He even introduces the idea that through this relationship, Bruce Wayne might actually find… happiness?
And this, I think, is where readers neglected to find the other side of this coin. For fifty issues, as King masterfully established this relationship, he also openly pondered another possibility. Can there be a Batman if Batman is happy? Every step we’ve taken to issue 50, from the opening battles with Bane to the double date with Superman and Lois to reuniting with Talia to even the lackluster Poison Ivy and Booster Gold arcs has given us the answer to that question, and it is absolutely a no. Going back over King’s run I was surprised at how many times this was openly discussed amongst the characters, and how many story arcs were centered around this very idea, but with this issue it all comes together in one perfect, painful package that breaks your heart along with Batman’s. The surprise revelation that the events of this run have been the work of one of Batman’s deadliest foes only drives the knife even deeper, as this old foe sets out to break the Dark Knight in every way he can. Batman and Catwoman may yet wind up together at the end, but King seems determined to make Batman earn that happy ending. Regardless of the questionable choices, some lackluster writing in parts and other issues, I am fully onboard for this ride, and I cannot wait to see where it leads.
Here’s hoping we all have a better 2019! Happy New Year!