Best Single Comic Book Issues of 2018

By Zack Quaintance — It is, perhaps, telling that the majority of picks for our Best Single Comic Book Issues of 2018 list are essentially self-contained. Six, to be exact, with a case to be made that at least one of the others could stand on its own, too. In an industry where many creators put out installments best consumed as part of a collected trade, a truly well-done story with a real beginning, middle, end stands out.

At least, that’s definitely what we found this year in evaluating our picks. We’re pretty happy with about it too, in part because it makes re-visiting these issues all the easier. Anyway, the below list contains stories about iconic characters like Wonder Woman, the existential horrors of decisions in life, the writer’s ego, and recovering from trauma. I hope you’ll see some favorites on here and also find new comics, regardless of whether you’re caught up on a book or have plans to continue forward.

Let’s check out this year’s list!

Best Single Comic Book Issues of 2018

Action Comics #1004
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ryan Sook
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: 10/24/2018
Why It’s So Good: It’s about the most iconic romance in comics: Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It’s also the first time Bendis gives extended play to the relationship during his current (and excellent) Superman run. What Bendis is doing is breaking down Superman’s central characteristics and building them back up for 2018. That’s definitely what he does here, giving us Lois as an aspiring author and Clark as the supportive (if occasionally long distance) husband. Cards on the table: this whole thing hits close to home with me. My wife is a reporter for the LA Times, and we’ve spent roughly three months total apart due to work in recent years. The reunion in this story felt true-to-life and romantic as all get out. As such, I absolutely loved it.

Batman Annual #3
Writer:
Tom Taylor
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher:
DC Comics
Release Date: 12/12/2018
Why It’s So Good: I haven’t said this in a week or so (what with the holidays and all), so I’ll say it now: Tom Taylor is the most underrated writer of corporate superhero comics today. It continues to boggle my mind that neither DC nor Marvel has locked this massive talent up with an exclusive deal and given him the keys to a massive franchise. Not the fourth Spider-Man, third X-Men, or alternate Batman hates Superman comic, but an honest to goodness flagship comic. He really is that good, and comics like Batman Annual #3 show why. This one-off is a stand-alone story that thematically ties to an exploration of fatherhood taking place in the main title, and Taylor absolutely crushes it. There’s a re-telling of the Batman origin through Alfred’s eyes that had me in tears within three pages and an ending that depicts the Alfred-Bruce dynamic in a way that had never occurred to me, suggesting that the stubbornness of Batman’s war on crime is a byproduct of Alfred setting such a noble example of necessary servitude throughout Bruce’s childhood. Put simply, it’s brilliant heartrending stuff.

Batman: Creature of the Night #3
Writer:
Kurt Busiek
Artist: John Paul Leon
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: 4/18/2018
Why It’s So Good: This series is a spiritual and conceptual successor to Busiek’s seminal 2004 Superman: Secret Identity, in that Batman: Creature of the Night essentially tells the Batman story on our Earth, where Batman is a ubiquitous comic book character. Plot-wise, Creature of the Night is a bit trickier than Secret Identity. Superman was easy to get going, because Supes got his powers inadvertently and surprisingly. Batman’s heroics, however, were born of tragedy and an obsessive, steely response. Creature of the Night got the tragedy aspect right from its start, as well as things like the protagonist’s personality and his supporting cast, or at least Alfred. What was missing until now was a believable way to have Batman as a crime fighter. This book gives us that, dark and surprisingly, as it should be. Overall, Creature of the Night is one of the best Batman stories in years, a pure distillation from veteran creators of the lessons learned throughout august careers, specifically Busiek’s penchant for layered and complex stories, the sort more common in award-winning novels than in comics.

Fearscape #1
Writer:
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Release Date: 9/26/2018
Why It’s So Good: Simply put, Fearscape #1 was the single best debut issue of a series I read all year. In it, writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Andrea Mutti use the graphic sequential medium to create a character and story that basically obsesses over the literary and genre fiction medium, thereby also reflecting back at the audience what it must feel like to be a comic book creator. It’s heady stuff, and it succeeds wildly. Perhaps the greatest strength of this debut issue is the protagonist’s narrative voice, which bounces violently from wild fits of looming ego to sobbingly insecure...as one imagines the creative process for great writers must feel like, oscillating from unchecked creation to solemn revisions.

From here,  Ice Cream Man #6  splinters into three timelines, and structural comics greatness ensues.

From here, Ice Cream Man #6 splinters into three timelines, and structural comics greatness ensues.

Ice Cream Man #6
Writer:
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 8/15/2018
Why It’s So Good: This comic somehow tells three self-contained stories in a single issue, doing so with little to no dialogue in a way that not only makes sense but will almost certainly haunt the vast majority of readers for weeks (at least, that’s been my experience). The craft is so impressive that I don’t want to think about it too hard, lest I lose motivation to ever attempt anything creative of my own ever again. Moreover, I have a strong predisposition against stories steeped in cynicism—and this issue is most certainly that—yet this book is so well-done I was able to get past all that. Ice Cream Man was one of 2018’s best explorations of what’s possible with this medium in terms of form and structure, and as such, I can’t recommend it enough.

Saga #54
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist:
Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 7/25/2018
Why It’s So Good: Because nothing will ever be the same. If you’ve read the issue, check out Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad. If you haven’t, please read the issue and then click that link. There’s just no good way to discuss this without spoilers. Simply put, though, I’ll just note that this is the most consequential issue yet in the best series in comics (as well as our Top Comic of 2018).

Secret Weapons: Owen’s Story #0
Writer:
Eric Heisserer
Artist: Raul Allen & Patricia Martin
Colorist: Patricia Martin
Letterer: Patricia Martin
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Release Date: 3/14/2018
Why It’s So Good: Secret Weapons: Owen’s Story is a tour de force of narrative craft, a tight balancing act that involves a series of complicated decisions (all of which have an emotional charge) that add up to a satisfying climax. It plays with structure and form while never losing the rightful focus on the characters at its core. The titular Owen is a Psiot who manifests seemingly-random objects, and his story here consists of vignettes based on objects he’s selling at a yard sale, objects he manifested, objects with stories telling us more about our characters. The concept is risky, but writer Eric Heisserer and the team of Raul Allen and Patricia Martin (one of the best art duos in all of comics) handle it supremely well, creating the type of book that reminds you why having a publisher like Valiant is such a benefit for the industry.

The Seeds #2
Writer:
Ann Nocenti
Artist, Letterer: David Aja
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 9/12/2018
Why It’s So Good: I wrote about this a bit in our Top Comics of 2018 list, but The Seeds second issue was so good that it elevated this book as a concept in my head, ultimately landing it (despite publishing a scant two issues last year) among my annual favorites. I found the first issue filled with promise, heavy with intriguing concepts. I wondered, however, how thoughtful the title was and worried a bit that the power would be lost if it wasn’t connected to great meaning. Those worries were dispelled and then some in a second issue that showed this book to be among the deepest near-future disaster concepts in stories today (and there are a ton of near future disaster concepts in stories today).

What If? Magik #1
Writer:
Leah Williams
Artist: Filipe Andrade
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher:
Marvel Comics
Release Date: 10/31/2018
Why It’s So Good: Writer Leah Williams and artist Filipe Andrade use the What If? concept to tell a story that sees the X-Men’s Magik tapped to be Doctor Strange’s replacement as sorcerer supreme. Her history, however, is the same: as a young girl she was kidnapped and taken to hell. To be sure, this is not handled lightly in the normal X-titles, but it also, to my knowledge, has never been extrapolated to a serious place where it reads like the supremely traumatic incident it would logically be. The villain in this story is Magik’s demonic kidnapper, cast as a manipulative human trafficker. This issue takes the character through a gauntlet of physical, mystical, and psychological tests, never discounting her trauma as the creative team shows us the Magik’s full strength, her stubborn optimism, her refusal to let a past ordeal limit or define her. That hard work and optimism (complete with expected setbacks) makes for a truly beautiful comic.

Wonder Woman #51
Writer:
Steve Orlando
Artist: Laura Braga
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: 7/25/2018
Why It’s So Good: With Wonder Woman #51, Steve Orlando and Laura Braga tell a stand-alone story with a deep and nuanced understanding of this character, one that shows exactly why she’s been relevant all these years. It’s the type of small-scale story that plays to a hero’s essence, done ad nauseum with Batman and Superman but not nearly as much with Wonder Woman. This comic, however, helps to fix that. It’s just so perfect. Aside from the adept characterization, it features an engaging and emotional narrative that speaks to Diana’s core values. It sounds cliche, but I teared up here at the drama and I smiled at the jokes. This is, to me, an issue we’ll be hearing new creators talk about on podcasts 10 years from now, citing it as an influence for the way they write/think about this character.

Check out Best Comics of 2018, #1 - #5, Best Comics of 2018, #16 - #25, and Best Comics of 2018, #6 - #15! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Top Creators of 2018!

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics of October 2018

By Zack Quaintance — This month there are quite a few titles from spring and summer appearing for the first time, books that launched with promise, settled in, and just now landed really memorable issues. I’d certainly put Action Comics #1004 and Submerged #3 in that category, both of which come from series I’ve liked from the start and was just waiting for a marquee issue to celebrate.

Meanwhile, our Shout Outs for October is heavily weighted toward superheroes. I’m not sure how this happens (or why), but I will note our Best New #1 Comics of 2018 had more creator-owned books. This could all, of course, be happenstance. I should also note this wasn’t one of the stronger months for individual issues in recent memory, but a quick glance at November indicates that is soon to change.

And now! On to the comics!

Shout Outs

I pointed this out recently on Twitter, but we are, indeed, lucky to have National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates writing comics. His work on both Black Panther #5 and Captain America #4 was outstanding, continuing to establish him as a massive talent increasingly confident within this medium. Shout outs as well to artists Daniel Acuna and Leinil Francis Yu.

Coates, however, isn’t the only massive talent with two killer books in October. Jeff Lemire had Gideon Falls #7 and Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6, stellar works from great series. Props to Black Hammer guest artist Rich Tommaso and Gideon Falls’ Andrea Sorrentino for their contributions.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #5 was a pleasant surprise in a series that is consistently fits that description. Writer Dan Slott and artist Gang Hyuk Lim incorporate (heh) Tony’s ethically gray younger brother in a one-off that foreshadows repercussions for the main plot as well. I’ve just found the futurism and corporate politicking angles in this run intriguing, so far.

Shout out to Bryan Edward Hill and N. Steve Harris for concluding their run with Wildstorm: Michael Cray #12, which ends the story of the titular character, murdering his way (sympathetically!) through evil versions of the Justice League within Warren Ellis’ new Wildstorm Universe.

Mark Russell is at it again in Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound Special #1, which is set in the Vietnam Era, and told in a way that draws comparisons to now and leaves one feeling wistful for the integrity of Nixon and Watergate.

Not much to say about Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch’s Hawkman #5, other than carry on boys, what you’re doing with this character and book is refreshing and excellent.

Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis’ Superman #6 was good, but Action Comics #1004 was better. Bendis’ dueling Man of Steel series are two of our favorite things at DC right now. More on that below.

Our other favorite thing at DC? Scott Snyder, James Tynion, and some of the best artists in the business ongoing Justice League epic, which reads like a really smart big budget epic touching every corner of the DCU. This month we get Atlantis, spread through a bevy of titles, including Justice League #9 and #10, Aquaman #41, and the Justice League Aquaman Drowned Earth #1 special.

Top Comics October 2018

5. Hot Lunch Special #3
Writer:
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
After Hot Lunch Specials’ first issue, I pegged it as a generational, Fargo-esque Midwestern noir, a comic that planned to deal in equal parts with a modern American immigration story and the sort of organized crime retribution that would be more at home in The Godfather. There is, to be sure, a fair amount of that stuff in this comic. Hot Lunch Special #3, however, serves up notice to readers that this book is headed for places they never expected.

Every issue of this comic so far has been great, but this issue pushes the book to a new level, one of organic storytelling (not a food pun) that has me excited to see how this all ends up. I don’t know how to explain it that much better without revealing the twists. So, I’ll just say that Hot Lunch Special is a must-read comic, last month and from here until its end.

4. Redneck #16
Writer:
Donny Cates
Artist: Lisandro Estherren
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
From its start, Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren’s Redneck has been a neatly-constructed vampire romp, filled with Robert Kirkman-esque twists and a down home Texan accessibility Cates has honed. This issue, however, does something I wasn’t sure Redneck could: it goes to emotional places that are welcome and justified.

In fact, in the parlance of this title, I’ll say I reckon’ Redneck #16 is a great representation of Cates’ biggest strengths as a writer. It has a scene in which Nazis are outlandishly thrashed in a prison (so cathartic) and another later on in which a son inadvertently/reluctantly comes out to his father, who meets the news with easy acceptance. I never get tired of that scene, and Redneck #16 nails it. There’s been a whole lot of blood in this book, but this is the first issue with a massive amount of heart (in retrospect that sentence was gross and I’m sorry).

3. Submerged #3
Writer:
Vita Ayala
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Colorist: Stelladia
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
We wrote a Submerged #3 review, so we won’t rehash the many reasons we love this book too much, but we will note this issue made us even more interested in a title that has hooked us from the start. Simply put, Submerged #3 simultaneously takes us to the most fantastical places this story has gone while also rooting its stakes deeply in character. It’s a great mix for a wonderfully scary and introspective book steeped in personal experiences.

Like many of Vault Comics other books coming out right now, this one is very much a must-read title.

2. Immortal Hulk #7
Writer:
Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer:
Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Simply put, Immortal Hulk #7 is the best superhero comic right now. I am far from the only comic critic to say this. Hell, it’s probably comic book critic Twitter’s favorite title so effusive have we been with our praise. Not that that means a book is unimpeachable, but what writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett are doing here is truly special.

They’ve taken a horror-laden approach to Hulk stories, which has been done before just not with this level of detail, imagination, and willingness to go to truly disturbing places. In this issue, the undead Hulk gets his comeuppance at the hands of the Avengers, who use a satellite from space to blast him into pieces somewhere in rural Iowa. Except, comeuppance is the wrong word. This title does a great job of making you feel sorry for everyone involved, which is perhaps the only correct way to handle stories about such a brutal, rage-driven figure.

1. Action Comics #1004
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ryan Sook
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher:
DC Comics
Price: $3.99
This issue hit me right in my personal life. In Action Comics #1004, Clark and Lois reunite after life has forced them apart. Now, my wife spent this summer in Washington D.C., covering federal immigration policy for the LA Times. Meanwhile, I was in California, working my own job, etc. In this issue, Lois and Clark pick up where they left off sweetly, almost as if nothing has changed, acknowledging that while neither can predict the future, their love is strong, even if their proximity must occasionally be distant.

I found it true to my own experiences with such reunions, especially in tone. I’ve also been a reporter for a decade, and I like Lois quitting the newsroom. I’m not advocating for superhero stories going too far into media industry weeds, but having the most-celebrated journalist on the planet give up the lousy daily newspaper grind to write books is a logical move. Books are, quite frankly, what everyone I know at daily papers now aspires to write. Mileage will (and should) vary based on your own connections with these classic characters; I only speak for my experience with the material.

Check out our Best New #1 Comics of October 2018 plus more of our monthly lists here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.