Is this a better year than 2018?
That's the question I'm going to be asking myself over the course of this list because quite frankly, even I'm not so sure yet. Some of the best titles from 2018 were not present here and some that I was pretty confident about their part here are not even present because of the simple reason that they became a disappointment in 2019 or delivered a rather underwhelming ending.
Yes, this is going to be me complaining about how much of a letdown some series were and the biggest letdown for me this year was Grant Morrison's The Green Lantern. The first half of the series was amazing and I was pretty sure that it was going to be at the top of this same list early in 2019, sadly the latter half was just a bunch of padding that was setting-up the battle against Qwa-Man only for that battle to end rather quickly because Morrison wanted to create yet another set-up for his Blackstars miniseries. Yes, Morrison pulled-off a Scott Snyder on us.
There are also other books that didn't quite live-up to their potential like Gene Luen Yang's The Terrifics, Mark Russell's Wonder Twins and Bryan Hill's Batman & the Outsiders while others were pretty close but didn't reach their spot because they were still not as good which include titles like Greg Rucka's Lois Lane and Brian Bendis' Young Justice. Plus, the rules are still maintained so the titles here need to contain at least 6 issues published in the year so the magnificent Sean Murphy's Batman: Curse of the White Knight is out unfortunately.
Then again, I might be cheating with this one a bit. Let's see how:
10. Robert Venditti's Freedom Fighters.
If there's something this year brought was quite a few surprises from different lines and one of the most pleasent was the return of sort of "Elseworlds" stories which allows to the exploration of several different alternate universes and what better way to exploit that concept than with the reintroduction of one of the most unique concepts in comics?
Once that the Freedom Fighters were brought from Quality Comics to DC Comics in the 1970s, their premise was changed about how they fought a neverending fight on an Earth where the Nazis won. There were several alterations in their history since then but DC fortunately decided to go back to their own universe where they have to fight such struggle once again.
Robert Venditti knows how to exploit such idea in a pretty interesting way, not by reinventing the wheel, there are not particularly innovative implementations here but what he does is create a pretty logical worldbuilding for this universe and a really solid story at its core.
Characters like Uncle Sam and his team are given an understandable reason for their initial loss and their ultimate return in a way that is reminiscent of recent incarnations of the team that played with the idea of legacy and we see how the reign of the Ratzis (The Nazis of this universe) has affected their lives in their own particular ways, the most interesting being Black Condor due to how terrible it was being black in such world. The inclusion of such appropriate characters like the Nazi Superman, Overman and Plastic Man (Who originated from Quality Comics) reinvented as the "Plasstic Men" who serve the Ratzis, it's all pretty fitting.
The plot itself is a bit of slow burn, it doesn't escalate quickly but once that some of the ideas and characters are presented, the book rapidly becomes much more engaging.
Not groundbreaking, not outstanding but still a rock solid work on its own and speaking of that:
9. Mairghread Scott's Batgirl.
This is yet another example of not reinventing the wheel but working with what you have and creating a really enjoyable story.
Mairgread Scott didn't have an easy job coming from the disastrous Hope Larson's run, she needed to bring back attention to Batgirl in a positive way and I don't quite know if she managed to increase sales but she did deliver a pretty solid run.
Compared to Larson's run, anything could have been considered an improvement but Scott actually went beyond that. Just like Robert Venditti on Freedom Fighters, Scott is not exactly blowing any minds but the difference is that the overall quality of the work is much better in almost every regard, especially from a character standpoint since Scott really knows how to develop Barbara into her own competent hero and person while also portraying a fairly entertaining cast and even making a few previously unlikable characters much more complex and understandable (See Jason Bard).
This was especially surprising for me since I wasn't that much of a fan of her Transformers work. I thought she did good character work there but her plots were mostly pretty lacking. However, Scott was able to offer appropriate storylines for Barbara and her world that built up from previous arcs, storylines that again, were not amazing but still worked with her own strentghs at character development and relationships to reinforce the overall quality of her run.
This is definitely the best run we have gotten since the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr's days and I would dare to say that is much better than Gail Simone's misguiden New 52 era, and the only thing Scott needed to do was be a decent writer.
However, we're done with decent writers. We need to do better.
8. Tom Taylor's DCeased.
Yes, yes, I think anyone familiar with this blog and me knows that I don't have the best history with Tom Taylor, particularly because of his frustrating work on Earth 2 that literally destroyed years of worldbuilding simply to create a cheap blockbuster movie full of shock value.
With that in mind, what is a better fit for Taylor's approach than a title where people get brutally murdered in every issue?
DCeased is basically "DC Zombies". An universe where the Anti-Life Equation took an even worse turn and turned every person it touched into a violent monster whose only objectives were to kill and expand the infection. So you can guess that things can only go so well once that such disease arrives into a world of Metahumans.
Taylor's execution of big moments is perfectly implemented here since every scene, every battle feels big in scope and even the goriest segments don't feel out of place because of the tone of the book, after all, people go into a Zombie story with expectations of death. Deep characterization has never been exactly Taylor's specialty but the little character moment he injects here and there manage to give you a break from all the bloodfest and even achieve a certain level of charm.
The characters who appear here are mostly in character and Taylor knows how to portray the very basics of each one of them and depict interesting situations where they try to escape the infection or in other cases, how they use their powers once they're infected (He still writes a pretty bad Green Arrow though).
Hell, it also seems like Taylor is willing to give his work on "Earth 2" another chance based on the ending, maybe he wants to correct the mistakes he made during his first try (Or maybe not but I'm also willing to give him a chance).
Exciting and adequate, I think Taylor's formula has found its perfect home.
Now let's talk about writers with a better track record shall we?
7. Joshua Williamson's The Flash.
First of all, this title in 2019 hasn't been as good as the last couple of years, it sadly has fallen for a kinda erratic routine but despite of that, it's still one of the most solid superhero series around.
Joshua Williamson continues his ongoing story that tries to expand Barry's world and that's where it falters because a lot of such "worldbuilding" doesn't come from Williamson himself but instead from editorial. Yes, as I mentioned before in my Top Ten Worst DC Comics of 2019 list, Scott Snyder's direction for Justice League made quite a few titles worse and sadly The Flash was one of the victims. This is especially obvious based on the ideas that were introduced by Snyder like the Still Force, the Strength Force and the Sage Force, ideas that were quite derivative as most things Snyder did during his run and Williamson was forced to use them in his stories which produced some of the weakest arcs in this run.
That being said, when Williamson did his own stuff he shined. One of the best examples was when he reintroduced the James Jesse incarnation of the Trickster in a way that is very reminiscent of Geoff Johns' classic work on the Rogues and even implements a few ideas that Johns left unresolved during his first run on The Flash. Zoom also got an interesting resolution for his whole character arc (at least so far) and one that creates an intriguing twist for his origin.
Hell, Williamson even realized how weak the idea of the new Forces were and halfway he decided to get rid of them and it's really the best course of action he could take for such creatively bankrupt concepts.
Not as good but still pretty good and not really because of the writer's fault. That speaks a lot about this title.
Which leads me to yet another title whose quality speaks a lot by itself.
6. Christopher Priest's Deathstroke.
This run has come to an end and while it might not be remembered as the classic I initially thought, it will surely be remembered as one of the best eras of Deathstroke.
During the last couple of years I've mentioned how Christopher Priest's work on this title hasn't been as strong as his first year, possibly because the novelty of his writing and character development started to lose impact but still, he was able to create solid story after solid story in a consistent manner.
A lot of the themes that Priest introduced during his time were brought back during the final arcs this year and there were quite a few important events in Slade's life. For one, he died and returned as a deranged version of himself, none of these situations are what they initially seem obviously but Priest plays expertly with such ideas to create intrigue and make you wonder what's actually happening. Priest also does an admirable job at implementing Snyder's misguiden direction for his final story in a way that makes sense for the tone of his book. What a better way to end this book than literally making Slade face the worst parts of himself?
The rest of the cast also get an interesting development, not necessarily in a positive way though since Slade's children have to react to all the things that have been happening in their father's life in their own way which shows how far Slade's reach has damaged them and, while the conclusion for them appears to be hopeful, their father's own tendencies are bound to repeat such cycle over and over again.
Deathstroke is a villain and a villain he stays but there's no doubt that Priest made him one of the most complex in DC Comics.
But he's shockingly not the best at writing bad characters.
5. Scott Lobdell's Red Hood: Outlaw.
Yes, this is surprising even for myself.
Since the Rebirth initiative, Red Hood has been one of the most consistently great titles at DC written by none other than the less than consistent Scott Lobdell. In the last few years I've talked about how this book showcases compelling character work, team dynamics and solid action all at the same time in a way that you don't expect such quality from an author that mishandled the Teen Titans franchise so badly.
But the most impressive thing about this is that the title is better than ever even after three years of its creation.
If there's something that one has to appreciate about Lobdell is that he's willing to be a team player and follow whatever editorial mandate that happens in DC Comics and try to get the best from it. As we have seen in Teen Titans, that doesn't always work but based on his work on Red Hood, I think he just needed the right kind of characters.
Just at the beginning of this year we saw a brand new direction for the title in which Jason becomes the new owner of the Penguin's business and that create a whole new dynamic for him and the people around, Lobdell also reintroduces a few forgotten characters like Bunker (which is great considering he was easily the best part of his Teen Titans tenure) and Isabel who gets a proper resolution after the terrible send-off James Tynion IV made for her.
And we get yet another change of status quo forced by the all so lovely Year of the Villain event created by Scott Snyder but Lobdell is not letting that stop him and uses it in his favor to create one of the most creative directions yet. "Generation Outlaw" introduces new young metahumans who are under Jason's mentorship to teach them how to become either good heroes or villains. This is pretty reminiscent of Lobdell's work on X-Men and demonstrates how he still has it at writing teenagers by portraying with their own unique voices and even giving them inventive abilities. Plus, Doomed is back as well, Lobdell is really focused on making this title a big reunion for all his creations.
A title that is not afraid of changing its direction and still delivering compelling stories. A title that continues to shock people for being this good.
And the surprises are far from over.
4. Adam Glass/Bernard Chang's Teen Titans.
Yet another writer with an erratic track record continues to deliver some of the best books on the market. Who knew?
Just like I mentioned last year, Adam Glass was able to create one of the most engaging runs on Teen Titans in years, in fact I would dare to say that this is the best era of the team since Geoff Johns left in the 2000s. The way how Glass handles the relationships between the characters is nothing short of great due that each character has a different interaction with one another. From Wallace's friendship with Roundhouse, to Emiko's distrust for Djinn, to Crush love and hate for Djinn and Robin respectively, it's a pretty multidimensional dynamic that allows for quite a few different scenarios and situations.
While last year was mostly dedicated to built-up the relationship between the cast, this year was devoted to basically destroy it but in an understandable manner. Several different adversaries enter the scene to test the group which include Deathstroke, Lobo and a few other surprising ones, each one of them create their own ramifications that affect each kid in their own way and break the status quo that the book was going for so far.
However, there's a particular opponent who appears in the latter half of this year, one that has actually been part of the team since the beginning and has been waiting for the right time to strike which lead to one of the most interesting twists that the Teen Titans have seen since the Marv Wolfman/George Perez days. Best of all is that such character's reasons to betray the team are understandable and play with the themes about proactive action the book has been implementing so far.
Not the single twist the series would see though since Glass also shows how much he does his homework by reintroducing an adversary who hasn't been seen since Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated and his appearance makes a lot of sense all things considered.
This book wouldn't be the same without Bernard Chang's vibrant artstyle that allows for many expressive models and an energetic tone that is perfect for a book about young metahumans.
The best team book at DC Comics no doubt but what amazes me is that one of the few better titles was delivered by a writer I usually hate.
3. Sam Humphries/Joe Quinones' Dial H for Hero.
My experience with Sam Humphries has not been pleasent.
For the love of Lord, I swear he delivers some of the cringiest books ever and that's mostly because of his sense of "humour". The guy is simply not funny and every time he makes a joke he only insults the meaning of comedy. That's one of the reasons why works of him like Green Lanterns were not good for me since every page he tried to make a failed attempt at making the reader laugh and just makes people roll their eyes, this is also why I don't even want to get near his Harley Quinn run because I sure as hell don't want to read a book actually dedicated to humour being contaminated by him.
That's why I wasn't really anticipated his work on Dial H for Hero. In fact, I was dreading it, I was expecting the worst.
And what I got was the best.
I don't know what happened to Humphries here but it seems like every single complaint I had about his work was addressed here. The cringiest attempts at humour? Gone. The poor storylines that revolved around that? Gone. The simplistic characterization? Gone.
I mean, the latter point might be because Humphries is dealing with brand new characters but at the same time, he somehow got rid of most of his flaws and went beyond of what I expect from this title and line. The title is about the classic Silver Age idea of the H-Dial that transforms any person it uses into a different superhero everytime he uses it. What makes this really interesting is that Miguel, the new user of the H-Dial, is indeed just introduced in this series but the concept itself is not and the original owner of the artifact, Robby Reed is present alongside the original mythos that are expanded during this story to showcase a much bigger universe than how it was initially presented.
The idea of the Heroverse is created and emphasizes the multitude of creative superheroes that exist inside of it, showing how complex and immense such dimension is and how each different hero comes from it. This also explains what actually happened to Robby Reed and why he was absent for so many years while also revealing his connection to the main antagonist of the book, Mister Thunderbolt in a way that is pretty intriguing.
The characters are solid so far, nothing amazing but solid enough. Miguel and Summer are likable protagonists and their personalities contrast with one another nicely. Humphries' execution can still be pretty blunt at times, particularly when it handles the themes surrounding the sexuality of one of them but they still get the job done and at the end, it seems like both characters might be Queer after all and so makes the book more diverse.
Joe Quinones plays an EXTREMELY relevant part of this book's quality since I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't be half as good without him. Is not only that he has a pretty clean and incredibly beautiful artstyle that depicts all the characters perfectly but he's also amazingly flexible being able to create several homages to other series and eras for all the different superheroes. At one time he references indie comics, at other comic strips, at other Frank Miller, at other the 90s and so on, there a no limits for him.
Easily the most pleasent surprise of this year and easily deserves its spot.
Now let's talk about books that I always expected the best from.
2. Geoff Johns' Shazam.
This was a long time coming but it was bound to happen.
Geoff Johns' early work on Shazam goes as far as the beginning of the New 52 as a backup story in Justice League. I think I included it during one of these lists in a previous year actually mentioning how much his worldbuilding recaptured the magic of the character and mythos while also exploring the themes of family in a way that are perfectly connected to the essence of the franchise.
Things only got better once that the proper title got released since Johns further expanded the ideas he cemented before and created very logical concepts for the Shazam universe. The Seven Magiclands being the most prominent and impressive since they're all connected to classic ideas around the franchise like Tawky Tawney being part of the Wildlands, the Monsterlands being part of Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil and the Darklands going as far as referencing the original name of Shazam as Captain Marvel.
The dynamic between the kids continues to shine during these stories due that Billy Batson has gotten more used to the life around his new family which makes him more like his classic kind portrayal (which he already was, it just that we initially saw how living as an orphan affected him) while the rest of his brothers and sisters are still quite entertaining in their own ways and all of them represent an important part of the future for the Magiclands.
The plot progresses at a nice pace despite of the constant delays of the title since each chapter presents an interesting development. In one chapter we learn about a new Magicland, in another we see how each member of the Shazam family are connected to all of them, in another we see the return of a familiar, in another we see how one of the members of the family might betray them, etc. Johns knows how to distribute all of these events in a way that makes the pacing appropriate and each read satisfying.
The future is bright for the book, my only complaint about it is that I wish it was released more frequently.
And speaking of titles that I wished would have been released more frequently, here comes the number 1 spot. Just at the beginning of this list I talked about how I might be cheating about the inclusion of this book in the list due that I always put series that has at least have 6 issues but in my favor, each chapter of the next series contains at least 2 issues worth of content and has just finished this month because of how frenetic its schedule was.
Although if I'm completely honest with you and myself, I just wanted to put this book here no matter what and I know I mentioned in my Top Ten Worst DC Comics of 2019 list that this hasn't been a good year for Superman but on the other hand, it has been a good year for what he represents.
1. Geoff Johns/Gary Frank's Doomsday Clock.
Constantly delayed, constantly altered and yet constantly awesome. Nothing really tops what Doomsday Clock has done since its launch.
Geoff Johns did pretty much the impossible, create a valuable Watchmen sequel that builds-up from the ending of the original story and still managed to respect all the mythos. Funny enough, the series was originally criticized because it wasn't so much about Superman as it was initially advertised but Johns pretty much shut everyone's mouths by making the ending all about the Man of Steel.
While Brian Bendis was wasting everyone's time with decompressed storylines that tried to destroy everything around Superman's world, Johns actually explored Superman's history and demonstrated how truly important he is to the DC Universe and comics in general. Every single reboot that has happened in DC Comics revolves around Superman and so every era can exist because it has Clark in it.
Johns exploits this premise perfectly to allow every continuity to continue. For example, the Golden Age characters still exist in Earth 2 but now the Silver/Bronze Age characters exist in Earth 1985 as if Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened and so Earth 52 based on the changes that the New 52 relaunch brought. The potential to go on is there and creates a lot of promise for the future.
Speaking about the future, Johns also creates the tapestry for upcoming events. There are a few things that are certain, others that might not happen and others that probably won't happen, to be honest and considering Johns' usual release schedule, I highly doubt things are going to occur the way he plans but he does have a plan and is one that gives me a lot of hope about what's coming next.
Even Doctor Manhattan gets a satisfying resolution showing how hope can actually change a God and creates a brand new timeline for his universe and the main DCU. It was pretty obvious that Johns was going to bring back all the classic characters readers love so much and he did it in a way in which their return felt triumphant. Unlike Scott Snyder on Justice League, Johns knows how to pace these moments properly instead of bombarding you constantly with them.
Obviously this title wouldn't be the same without Gary Frank's magnificent artwork. He always finds a way to elevate Johns' books to another level and this is probably his best effort yet since every page, every panel contains a lot of detail and the big scenes look even bigger. Frank's magnificent storytelling made an already great book outstanding.
For all the damage that Superman has gotten since Bendis arrived, Johns has compensated it by creating a vibrant direction that hopefully will last longer than Bendis' tenure on the line and for all the disappointing finales we have seen this year like Morrison's The Green Lantern, it was good to know that an author can still offer a satisfying resolution.
So, to answer my initial question: Is this a better year than 2018?
Sadly, I don't think so.
For one, there were more disappointments than last year despite that there were quite a few pleasent surprises. Not to mention that some titles were not as good as last year despite that Doomsday Clock ended with a bang and we all know how Heroes in Crisis pretty much anhilated every character that touched.
That doesn't stop 2019 from being a good year for comics though and I seriously hope that 2020 is even better in that regard. Best of luck.