Krampus has passed you over and Yule Cat has decided you’re fine. You took Père Fouettard in a fight and Knecht Ruprecht was no match for you. Your feats of strength were peerless at Festivus. You’ve got the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa down. And I am optimistic about your chances at Hanukkah this year, even if there is that moose with eight flaming horns now. So maybe it’s time to turn your thoughts to what you might like to read. For my part, having survived all the supernatural horrors–so far–of the holiday season, I put together this list of 10 comics I liked in 2019. This year I had enjoyed a lot of space opera, daily strips, webcomics and some references, intentional and not, to classic film.
And, so you know, Monstress, Criminal and Beasts of Burden–with Jill Thompson–are all back! That’s my way of sneaking them into this list, too.
Barbarella / Dejah Thoris (Dynamite, 2019). Leah Williams, writing; German Garcia, art.
This is such a delightful comic that I am promoting it again, though I try not to write about comics here that I have already written about. But who is making the rules here? That’s right. Me! Something has happened to Mars and both space adventurer Barbarella and warrior / scientist / Princess of Barsoom Dejah Thoris investigate what’s what. This comic is filled with top space opera antics, weird science, intriguing alien civilizations and plenty of style. Who would think two characters with such different histories would go together so well? But they do and I want more.
Doctor Aphra, vol. 6: Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon (Marvel, 2019-ongoing). Simon Spurrier, writing; Wilton Santos, Caspar Wijngaard, Andrea Broccardo, Chris Bolson, pencils; Marc Deering, Don Ho, Walden Wong, Scott Hanna, inks; Chris O’Halloran, Stephane Patreau, colors; VC’s Joe Caramagna, lettering.
The latest volume of Doctor Aphra maintains the doctor’s trademark balance of being likable while often being the worst thing that ever happens to people. Oh, Doctor Aphra, you sure do mess everything up, even when you don’t want to. Aphra has a new ward and she’s teaching her the ropes. Or more honestly, Aphra just can’t handle laying low when the entire Empire, all her “friends” and her ex, Tolvan, are after her. So she’s raiding a new space temple and comes across a forbidden Jedi artifact. Does she leave it where it is? Does it have familial resonance? Are you surprised the answer to these questions is “yes?” Aphra’s also working out some maternal issues that, I have to say, are far more interesting than her paternal ones. Tolvan is back, if you are a Tolvan Fan and who is not?
Oh, Aphra, you do and cause terrible things while remaining likable. Which might be a reason to re-think “likability” overall.
False Knees: An Illustrated Guide to Animal Behavior (Andrews Michael Publishing, 2019). Joshua Barkman.
False Knees features animals who, whales aside, you might encounter on the regular in cities or suburbs. They sometimes reveal terrifying secrets—like being stand up comedians or a need to get blood out of feathers. It’s an intriguing combination of naturalistic art and absurdity. And without this comic, I wouldn’t know deer are Determinists. And now you can get your four-panel webcomic illustrating animal behavior in a nice print copy!
Nancy: A Comic Collection (2019). Olivia Jaimes
Sure, you already read Nancy online, but what’s cooler than a book? Now you can read a whole bunch of Nancy comics anywhere. And it contains a sweet interview with Olivia Jaimes herself. Frankly all her interviews are sweet. Nancy was one of those bits of comics history I could never get into. I recognized the quality of Bushmiller’s work, but I never felt it.
Now Nancy is lit. So is Olivia Jaimes.
Invisible Kingdom (Berger Books / Dark Horse, 2019). G Willow Wilson, writing; Christian Ward, art; Sal Cipriano, letters.
More space opera, more propaganda and more space monastic orders that might have done wrong. In a distant galaxy, a large Amazon-type corporation controls, well, everything and the only escape from it is the Siblings of Severity, a religious order dedicated to the rejection of material things. Except a young novice, Vess, discovers a connection. She teams up with Captain Grex and the crew of a shipping freighter, who have also discovered some funny business. Together, they make a run for it because it turns out Space Amazon has warships and doesn’t want anyone to know what they are up to. Old radio and movie weirdos might appreciate that Space Amazon is named, “Lux,” also the name of soap company that used to sponsor radio productions of popular movies. Also look at the beautiful, cosmic art by Christian Ward. I especially like the cosmic colors and the design for the Siblings’ robes.
Jessica Jones: Blind Spot (Marvel, 2018) & Jessica Jones: Purple Daughter (2019) Kelly Thompson,writing; Mattia de Iulis, art.
Now that I think about it, I don’t understand why it took so long for Kelly Thompson to write detective and former Avenger, Jessica Jones. But once Jones teamed up with Kate Bishop in Thompson’s run on Hawkeye, it was inevitable. Purple Daughter and Blind Spot are the two all too brief, digital storylines Thompson wrote for Jones. In Purple Daughter, Jones and Luke Cage try to throw a birthday party for their daughter, Danielle. But Danielle has suddenly turned purple, bringing up Jones’ terrible history with Zebediah Killgrave, aka, the Purple Man.
In Blind Spot, Jones tries to do right by a woman who is murdered after Jones blows off her case. And because Jessica Jones is that kind of detective with that kind of luck, she becomes a suspect in the murder. One day, I hope there will be more. (I would like also like a crossover event in the Thompson Verse! Jessica Jones! West Coast Avengers! Nancy Drew! Jem & The Holograms! Sabrina the Teenage Witch!)
Planet of the Apes Omnibus (Boom! Comics, 2019) Darryl Gregory, writing; Carlos Magno, art.
If you love Planet of the Apes, but didn’t get a chance to read the Gregory / Magno run before, now is a great time to pick it up in this easy to read volume. This storyline covers the fractures that drive humans and apes further apart as the Lawgiver’s adopted daughters, one chimpanzee, one human struggle to secure peace after their father’s murder.
Also, the book isn’t really that easy to read because it is 500 pages. But it has the entire run of the comic as well as special issues and annuals.
Pretty Deadly: The Rat (Image, 2019) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writing; Emma Ríos, art.
Death’s Daughter, the Reaper of Vengeance, Ginny is back and while it might be shallow of me to notice, she has a sweet bob. It’s the 1920s and Clara Fields has disappeared. Her Uncle Frank knows she is dead, but is desperate to discover what happened. He’s a professional psychic, the kind who connects wealthy patrons with the illusion of their lost loved ones. He’s also a real conjure man, and he is desperate enough to summon Death’s daughter to help him. Clara is a filmmaker, an animator in the vein of Lotte Reiniger, and the comic bears much of Reiniger’s influence as Reinigeresque shadow puppets spill into the frames.
The layered narratives work beautifully, both visually and in writing as we see Frank’s story, see glimpses of the film Clara was working on –often in the corners of the very comic we are reading–and Bunny and Butterfly return to frame the whole thing. Pretty Deadly: The Rat is beautiful and sad and lovely.
The Tea Dragon Festival (Oni, 2019). Katie O’Neill
Dragons are much more like fubsy puppies than I’d been led to expect. Or at least tea dragons are. The Tea Dragon Festival is a follow up to Katie O’Neill’s delightful The Tea Dragon Society. With aspiring but still not as good as they’d like to be cook Rinn, we meet Hesekiel and Erik in their adventuring days, before they had become the tea masters of The Tea Dragon Society. We also get to meet a dragon–not a tea dragon, but a dragon-dragon, a guardian of Rinn’s village and the surrounding area. Except he kind of fell asleep for the last eighty years or so. And he’s not a fubsy puppy. As you can see above, he looks more like a winged leopard, but still adorable. The Tea Dragon Festival has all the warmth and gentle charm of the original. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make a cup of tea.
Vampirella / Red Sonja (Dynamite, 2019). Jordie Bellaire, writing; Drew Moss, art; Rebecca Nalty, colors; Becca Carey, letters.
Hey, genius colorist Jordie Bellaire is writing her own comic! And it’s a team up between Vampirella and Red Sonja! And it’s fun! Well, as fun as a cursed Red Sonja can be. Strangely enough, the Gutter’s own Angela was just telling me about the brutal and mysterious deaths in 1959 at Dyatlov Pass in the Ural Mountains. While investigating this very mystery in 1969, Vampirella discovers Red Sonja, unbathed, living in a cave and cursed to travel from dimension to dimension. Vampirella also discovers a rocket scientist who believes he is at fault for the grisly deaths of the campers and a man who swears he saw the yeti. Meanwhile, Red Sonja discovers cheesburgers and starts to remember exactly what happened that led her to the Urals in 1969. And I am fine with all of this.
So those are ten comics I liked 2019, but I feel like I should say something about the best comics of 2010. It’s what people who write about culture do at the end of things. I’ve been writing about comics here at the Gutter since 2006 and for over a decade my concession to lists and ranking has been these lists of comics I liked but usually hadn’t written about yet. It has been my way of acknowledging the list article and that my own difficulty in writing about comics that I think are just plain good. It means that I often don’t write articles about some of the comics I like the most or think are stunning achievements–because I am often too stunned to write about them well. It’s been a good decade for comics, though every decade is, if you can search them out. So if you are curious about comics I liked over the last decade, here are my lists from 2010 on. Not all of them have been reformatted for the new site yet, but the comics are still there.
I also did a running list off the top of my head on Twitter that is not remotely final, complete or orderly.
And so my friends, let us ring in the new year and the new decade, and see what it brings us.
Carol Borden might have a sweet bob, but not as sweet as Ginny’s.
This piece was originally published by The Cultural Gutter on Dec. 26, 2019.