The 25 Best Comic Books of 2018

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Why Art? Cover Art by Eleanor Davis

5. Why Art?
Writer/Artist: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
You’d think that I’d be running out of things to write about Eleanor Davis’ comics. Luckily, she’s not content to do the same thing over and over, which makes it easy on a writer. Why Art?, her latest standalone release, is a joke that turns serious—both a series of silly drawings and an actual attempt to grapple with a gigantic question. It’s a smart way to address a labyrinthine task. Art is complicated, and unless you’re going to rule out the role of pleasure in people’s lives (a valid approach but not a fun one), writing about it is like trying to lasso a shadow. What is it? How does it do the things it does? Should we do it at all? Can we humans even stop ourselves from making it? This fat little book performs a sort of magic trick, sidling up to these big scary questions and disarming them before it reveals its teeth. Hillary Brown

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Land of the Sons Cover Art by Gipi

4. Land of the Sons
Writer/Artist: Gipi
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
Gipi has focused on the tangled mess that is masculinity for years now, especially on adolescence, when personalities are still being forged and feelings run closer to the surface. Land of the Sons takes those concerns and inflates them, stretching the surface ever thinner and creating greater tension as a result. Some sort of disease has ravaged the land (or has it?). A father and his two sons live virtually alone, scavenging for food; pretty much everyone else is dead (or are they?). Literacy no longer exists, but the idea of it still does, causing the brothers to become enraged that they can’t read a book their father is writing. That’s the kick that sets the story in motion, like an angry wolverine rolling down a hill. At times, Land of the Sons is almost unbearable to read. It made my heart race. It made me feel like I was beyond wanting to cry because my intestines were too tight. It made me wonder if I shouldn’t have had children. Does that sound like fun? It’s not, but it’s a great example of the fact that not all good art has to be fun. Hillary Brown

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Grafity’s Wall Interior Art by Anand RK, Jason Wordie & Irma Kniivila

3. Grafity’s Wall
Writer: Ram V
Artist: Anand RK
Publisher: Unbound
Ram V has had a great year. Paradiso remains a weird sci-fi highlight, These Savage Shores is one of the most promising launches of 2018’s final quarter and his first foray into “Big Two” comics arrived on leathery bat wings. His greatest triumph in 2018 is the one that’s easiest to miss: Grafity’s Wall, a graphic novel funded and released through Unbound. Following an eclectic cast of young people in bustling Mumbai, Grafity’s Wall is a snapshot of a culture too rarely explored in Western media, told with heart and authenticity by Ram V and his collaborators, Anand RK, Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila and Aditya Bidikar. Anand RK’s dizzying art gorgeously captures not just the exciting hustle and bustle of Mumbai, but its challenging underside, as a barefoot muralist, an illiterate wannabe rapper, an awkward but sweet-hearted waiter and an aspiring actress carve out an existence in the margins of the densely populated city. There are echoes of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet here, but Grafity’s Wall is ultimately its own bittersweet perfection. Steve Foxe

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The Immortal Hulk Cover Art by Alex Ross

2. The Immortal Hulk
Writer: Al Ewing
Artists: Joe Bennett, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Writer Greg Pak’s work on The Totally Awesome Hulk these past few years has been an awesome showcase for the character Amadeus Cho, but the Jade Giant portion of the book never quite clicked as well as it does with the classically cursed Bruce Banner. Following his bow-and-arrow demise in Civil War II (if anyone read that book), Banner came back—and he couldn’t die again even if he wanted to. In Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s horrorific The Immortal Hulk, killing Banner does nothing to kill the Hulk, who rises again each night like a green ghoul to wreak his emerald-tinted havoc. Bruce Jones, Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben have all explored the scarier potential of the Hulk before, but Ewing and Bennett unlocked a potent combination of body horror and psychological manipulation, culminating in a hellish surprise development in the most recent issue that sent emerald jaws dropping to the floor. It’s difficult enough to sustain horror across an ongoing series, let alone one fully immersed in a shared superhero series. Ewing and Bennett don’t just sustain the terror, though—they keep ratcheting it up. Marvel’s iconic heroes returned left and right this year: Tony Stark is a dashing iron-suited hero again, Dude Thor has a hammer once more and Captain America almost definitely isn’t a fake Nazi now. The Immortal Hulk isn’t just a return to form for the Banner/Hulk dynamic—it’s one of the scariest examinations of the body and mind in modern comics. Steve Foxe

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Berlin Cover Art by Jason Lutes

1. (Tie) Berlin
Writer/Artist: Jason Lutes
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
When Jason Lutes started releasing what would end up running 580 pages back in 1996, Bill Clinton was president, the Internet was barely a thing and Drawn & Quarterly was still in its early youth. It’s weird to pick what is in some ways an old book as the best book of 2018, but what is “weird,” anyway, these days? As history goes around and around, the past has plenty to teach the present. Lutes knew that when he started Berlin, but he didn’t know how relevant his book, which covers the titular city’s atmosphere in the years before Hitler became chancellor, would become. How did Nazism rise to power? What were ordinary people thinking and feeling that they enabled the evils to come? Lutes doesn’t have easy, bird’s-eye-view answers to these questions, and although he flits around the city from story to story, he’s more a sparrow than an eagle, diving down to the ground level when something catches his eye. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of a wide variety of people that may technically be in black and white, but is metaphorically very much in shades of gray. Hillary Brown

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Upgrade Soul Cover Art by Ezra Claytan Daniels

1. (Tie) Upgrade Soul
Writer/Artist: Ezra Claytan Daniels
Publisher: Lion Forge
Call it a copout, but when it came time to pick the single best comic of 2018, the chance to juxtapose a sweeping look at the past with a glimpse into the future was too good to pass up, and we have our first-ever tie for first place. A personal anecdote about the “future” half of that pairing: Lion Forge sent me an advance review PDF of Upgrade Soul during a busy week, and I put it off…and put it off…and put it off, until just recently after I returned from a vacation in Japan, unable to readjust to Eastern Standard Time, flipping through files on my iPad at three in the morning. I started Ezra Claytan Daniels’ earth-shattering sci-fi story out of a sense of delayed obligation, but hardly wanted to blink after a few pages. In Upgrade Soul, a well-off elderly couple funds an experimental new medical treatment to restore youth, on the condition that they’re the first human test subjects. When they wake up days later, they discover that the test wasn’t exactly a success. It’s difficult to explain much more without undercutting Daniels’ masterful pacing, but Upgrade Soul has profound things to say about mortality, aging, identity and the fundamental sense of self. One could shallowly compare it to an episode of Black Mirror, but it’s operating on a higher level, reaching at some of the same themes explored by Kazuo Ishiguro and Ted Chiang. Every choice, every component of Upgrade Soul simply works, and I don’t regret further destabilizing my sleeping schedule to read it one sitting, or to reflect on it in the hours and days that followed. Steve Foxe

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