The final individual category of the year is here! Who penned the best tales in sequential art this year? Our staff says these eleven take the cake.
10. Jason Aaron (tie)
I was first introduced to Jason Aaron’s work a few years back when I picked up the first issue of “Wolverine and the X-Men” on a whim. That alone was enough to let me know I’d found a writer whose work I’d need to get any chance I could. But that was quite a while ago; let’s take a look at what he’s done for us this year.
There are few comics from Jason Aaron that particularly stand out from 2018. First and foremost, he set the stage for all the events, unfolding with “Generations,” and continues to pave the way in “Avengers.” He assembled a great lineup of heroes, kicked things off with a cosmic conflict, and is still building out the Marvel universe’s history with flashbacks and references to his team of ancient Avengers.
However, I would say his best work this year has been with “The Mighty Thor.” From the War Thor to the War of the Realms and Jane Foster’s final sacrifice, every issue has been filled with intense action, powerfully emotional moments, and generally epic storytelling. I hope every single person who complained about Jane being Thor will read his run so they can realize how wrong they were.
Outside of the specifics, Jason Aaron’s strengths come from both his dialogue and his storytelling abilities. There are so many snappy, clever lines in his works, whether it’s Tiger Shark and Stingray bickering about being related as they fight (“You’re the worst, Todd!”) or Thori being a very good dog who will kill any hammer that comes near Jane, every piece of dialogue he writes is a pleasure to read.
As for the tales he tells, Jason doesn’t know how to pull his punches. Everything starts off big and keeps getting bigger while working in so many aspects of the Marvel universe. Old man Thor at the end of time? Let’s throw in a Phoenix Force Wolverine as well. Is that not enough? How about Victor Von Doom, who also happens to be the Iron Fist, Starbrand, Sorcerer Supreme and Spirit of Vengeance? And yet it’s not only off-the-charts insane, it works perfectly well in the story too. Let’s not forget how all those elements are also coming into play in his “Avengers” run, as we’re seeing the history of heroes tracing further back than almost ever before.
I’ve often said that Jason Aaron could write the back of a cereal box and I’d still read it. This year has just given us reminder after reminder of why. – Robbie Pleasant
10. Mark Russell (tie)
Mark Russell may not have had very many books out this year but the ones he did were spectacular.
“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” used the comic medium to evoke the open-endedness and tight-scope of a stage play while applying a sharp eye to the plight of the LGBTQIA+ community in the HUAC era. “The Lone Ranger,” while only two issues in at the time of writing, is a commentary on the death of the western and an exploration of the history of the west through the lense of modern, complex portrayals of pulp heroes. “Judge Dredd: Under Siege” used world of Mega-City One to address questions of violence, rebellion and the ethics of legality. These series, the bulk of his writing this year, get to the heart of what makes Russell a writer to watch and read.
His work resists simplicity, taking a thoughtful approach to the characters he is given and giving them stories that stick in our minds long after they’re finished. He is a brilliant satirist, more Horatian than Juvenalian, always using the historical eras of his books to talk about today through the events of yesterday. While this may change going forwards, he has a few creator-owned projects & a “Red Sonja” series coming up, I have no doubt that he will continue to surprise and move us through the tragedy that is the human comedy. – Elias RosnerContinued below
9. Tom Taylor
In an interview on Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Tom Taylor opens up about his past life as a busker traveling across Australia. He says it was the hardest job he ever had. You have to entertain people and if you don’t, they don’t pay. He also said it was the most honest job he ever had. It taught him not to waste people’s time, to get to the good part. That approach describes his comic writing perfectly. Whether its his dark turn in “Injustice” or his incredible “All-New Wolverine,” you can be assured that a Taylor story will cut out all the boring parts and skip to the good stuff. That may be a sweet scene of Superman helping a kid fix his bike or a goofy one of Deadpool and Honey Badger (the best new superhero of the last few years) facing down a zombie sloth. Slowly.
Taylor’s talents have best been exemplified by his all-too-brief run on “X-Men Red.” Obscure characters, resurrections, and granular continuity couldn’t stop him from telling one of the best X-stories of the past few years. His team had perfectly dysfunctional dynamics, he rounded out cult favorite characters like Gentle, and he told one of the best Cassandra Nova stories of all time. No easy feat considering that she was created by Grant Morrison. I’d say that 2018 was Tom Taylor’s year, but 2017 was his year too, and 2019 is shaping up to be his as well. Maybe we just need to declare a decade of Taylor. –Jake Hill
8. Kelly Thompson
Starting 2018 off with an exclusive deal at Marvel Comics, Kelly Thompson has had a very good year. Which, by extension, means that we have had a very good year because her talents have secured her as one of the strongest writers currently working for the House of Ideas. Within the first quarter of the year, she finished off her character-defining run on “Hawkeye” and concluded the “Rogue and Gambit” miniseries, which secured the future of those characters as she moved on to write the “Mr & Mrs. X” series that followed.
Then there’s “West Coast Avengers” and “Jessica Jones,” both books which explore familiar characters in ways that are completely unique to Thompson’s writing style, and she rounds out the year being part of the writing team for the “Uncanny X-Men” relaunch, one of the biggest books in Marvel’s stable. I’ve not even talked about her work outside of her exclusive new home, which includes “Nancy Drew” this year and a “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” reboot coming in 2019.
“Sabrina” isn’t the only iconic comic book franchise she’ll be tackling in the new year either, as she’s down to write the new “Captain Marvel” book with artist Carmen Carnero, and neither project would be happening if it weren’t for the stellar 2018 she’s had. Now that she’s exclusive to Marvel, I’m expecting her to play a much bigger role in their universe-wide future plans. Crossovers, events, major stories with multiverse shattering consequences. Or maybe not. Maybe a small, character-driven piece. The point is, this year Kelly Thompson has earned the right to work on any project she chooses, and I look forward to whatever she works on next. – Matt Lune
7. Saladin Ahmed
Saladin Ahmed is new to comics. You’d certainly be hard pressed to prove it, given the numerous and impressive writing credits he racked up in 2018, but he’s only been in the game for just over 18 months. Sure, he came to the party with an impressive resume, including a Hugo Award nomination for his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, as well as numerous publications in anthologies and magazines for both fiction and poetry, but as we know, this doesn’t always translate into the world of visual storytelling.
Unsurprisingly, as an experienced fiction writer, Ahmed’s greatest strength is probably characterization, a fact he established immediately in his inaugural series. In what may seem like a daunting task for a debut comics writer, Ahmed was charged with essentially redefining one of Marvel’s most intriguing Jack Kirby/Stan Lee creations, Blackagar Boltagon, aka Black Bolt. Throughout the 12-issue run of this eponymous maxi-series, Ahmed not only wrestled with big ideas like criminality, incarceration, justice and redemption, he managed to do so while fully humanizing his protagonist and antagonists alike. Crusher Creel and even The Jailer were portrayed with incredible depth, nuance and empathy. It’s no wonder that “Black Bolt” won an Eisner for Best New Series.Continued below
Obviously, reimaging an iconic character conceived by the masters is no easy task. Creating one of the most exciting, engaging, likable and barrier-smashing protagonists in all of comics, however, may be even more impressive. In only his second series, the 5-issue creator-owned book “Abbott” from Boom! Studios, Ahmed did exactly that. A single, black female reporter in 1970s Detroit, Elena Abbot is smart, sexy, tough as nails and cool AF. As I said back in May, if someone doesn’t turn this into a movie or live-action series soon, I will be totally shocked. The comic is outstanding, but the role is far too rich to leave sitting on the shelf.
Honestly, “Black Bolt” and “Abbott” alone would be enough to land Ahmed on this list, but as the writer for the ongoing series “Exiles” and the 5-issue miniseries “Quicksilver,” both from Marvel, Ahmed unequivocally demonstrates his considerable range and balance, too. Working within the constraints of these established properties, Ahmed consistently plumbs the depths of his characters in new and interesting ways, blending efficient exposition, authentic sounding dialogue and highly engaging plots to create fun, fast paced page-turners with emotional heft. Obviously, he’s far from the only writer to bring depth, nuance and a level of sophistication to the form, but his consistency and commitment to craft on every page is remarkable. And with the debut issue of “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” dropping last week, it feels like the best is yet to come. – John Schaidler.
6. Brian Michael Bendis
Who doesn’t love a comeback story? For Brian Michael Bendis, the past year has represented more than just a return to celebrated status as a writer, with his bold move to DC that rocked the comics world. It was also a return to fandom’s appreciation and respect for a comics storyteller whose huge footprint on the industry had come to be taken for granted by many of us, as evidenced by his absence from this list for many years. The rebound in energy also followed from a near-death encounter with a MRSA infection, reported late last year, in a year whose comics in memorium reminds all of us to cherish the giants among us while we have them.
Bendis came to DC and resuscitated “Superman” and “Action Comics.” Though no final verdict should be rendered on his run, after the Bendis era launched in “Man of Steel,” a writer whose voice and a character whose familiarity could have come out stale instead popped with freshness and vibrancy. Turns out there’s great synchronicity in the Bendis quip and the Christopher Reeve smirk, the Bendis event-theatrics and the Son of Krypton magnitude, the Bendis Cleveland working class heroism and the Clark Kent aw-shucks humility.
Couple a promising stint at Superman’s helm with the return of Bendis the indie crime writer of “Powers” and Jinxworld repute with “Scarlet,” “Pearl,” “Cover,” and “United States of Murder.” Some of us still remember when the (then) revelatory stylings of the creator of “Torso” and “Powers” were a thrill to see in mainstream capes, back in his heyday in the Marvel of the Aughts. For us, a robust flow (rather than slow trickle) of the Jinxy side of Bendis is usually a welcome treat. The word balloons rattle out quick, the decompressed stories move glacially slow, but the old fans are just glad to have arguably the most impactful comics writer of the last quarter century at his lively best.- Paul Lai
5. Magdalene Visaggio
Although she’s been quietly operating in the industry for a few years now, Mags Visaggio has had a huge year in 2018. She’s brought back her acclaimed creator owned series “Kim & Kim” with artist Eva Cabrera for a much-applauded sequel, continuing the interstellar adventures of the protagonist duo. Working for newer indie publisher Vault Comics, she’s also worked on the infectiously fun “Vagrant Queen,” focusing on a renegade daughter of royalty roaming the cosmos. She even managed to slip one of the best and most haunting Superman tales as of late into the “Cursed Comics Cavalcade,” where the Man of Steel suffers from the most terrifying human condition: sleep paralysis. Underneath that, Visaggio still nails Superman’s character traits in subtle ways that few others could pull off.Continued below
For me, however, Mags Visaggio hit me hard with “Eternity Girl.” This might have been my favorite addition to the Young Animal line, with a fantastic cast of characters and powerfully cosmic and absurd worldbuilding. Visaggio really got me when dealing with the idea of existential dread and coping with immortality later in the series, in a way that few comics have ever done to me.
Outside of comic output, Visaggio has been one of the biggest combatants of the Comicsgate movement this year, making her one of the most important comics personalities right now. She’s stood up for LGBTQ rights at a time when so many events have been attacking them, helping and supporting these creators over social media. Visaggio’s creative work may have excelled to new heights this year, but her massive contribution to the state of the industry has also been a tour de force that cannot be ignored. – Rowan Grover
4. Tom King
Tom King made our top writers list the last two years in a row, as well as our winner for 2015 best new writer; it seemed almost inevitable that he would make this year’s list. King’s one of the best in the business: his clever dialogue and page-turning plots set him apart from the rest.
King drew in controversy this year from his run on “Batman” and “Heroes in Crisis,” particularly for his work on “Batman” #50. Some of it is deserved, some of it not. While I haven’t been a fan of every move King’s made — I’m squinting at his portrayal of Victor Mancha in “Vision” in particular — but when King is good, man is he good. He’s gifted at taking minor or overlooked characters and giving them their own spot in the limelight, and at creating new iterations of characters that bring old, stale characterizations and give them a fresh coat of paint. His story in “Action Comics #1000” in particular was superb, showing that King is more than capable with perhaps one of DC’s hardest characters.
I’ve been following King since his hugely popular “Grayson” series hit shelves in 2014. Since then, he’s become a bonafide Big Two juggernaut, pumping out hits like DC’s “Mister Miracle” and Marvel’s “Vision.”
This past July, King won his first Eisner for his work on “Batman,” “Batman Annual” #2, “Batman/Elmer Fudd Special” #1, and “Mister Miracle,” an accolade he shared with “Monstress’” Marjorie Liu.
Here’s hoping 2019 will only bring greater stuff from King. – Laura Gillespie
3. Scott Snyder
If you have ever listened or watched an interview with Scott Snyder (particularly on the topic of his “Justice League” universe), the one thing you’ll most likely remember is: man, this dude’s ambitious. It wasn’t enough for him to want to write the next volume of “Justice League,” it had to go to the next level, to connect multiple series. Back in May, he shared with us that philosophy:
I think the thing that we haven’t done enough of with “Justice League” over the last decade has made it connect, make it connective. I love the storytelling that’s gone on in the book from other writers, other artists, but what I miss about it was the sense of it being a hub for the whole DCU. That every great story happening in other books was reflected in Justice League, and once in a while, “Justice League” would drive story forward on those books, when those creators on those books felt the story warranted it.
There’s a fear in many a reader when you hear these kinds of ideas, it’s going to be a strain on your time and budget. Miss an issue of the event and you’re hopelessly lost. With “Justice League,” those fears are unwarranted. Snyder creates worlds that are certainly connected but can be enjoyed in isolation. If you only read “Justice League: Dark” or “Justice League: Odyssey,” you don’t need to read the main “Justice League” title (though it certainly helps). There are going to be crossover events where it is going to be necessary to follow from series to series (see the ‘Drowned Earth’ event). Yet, I missed two ‘Drowned Earth’ issue thanks to an iPad that crashed, and when I picked up with the main “Justice League” series, I didn’t feel like I had missed a thing. The ability to create such a universal universe for all types of fans is a talent not many writers have, but Snyder has it.Continued below
Every issue of “Justice League” feels like a big event issue. Other writers in event issues use the opportunity to cram every page and panel full of intensity. And that leaves readers overwhelmed and out of breath. Snyder knows how to pace himself, introducing characters at the right times and moments, and inserting pauses in each issue for the reader to breathe and muse on deeper philosophies. The finale of ‘The Totality’ featured many moments with musings on the beliefs of good and evil, such as this fear from J’onn: “What if we open the totality and … and learn that the inevitable design to everything is cruel, that the universe and life were meant to be something dark and predatory?” (“Justice League” #7). Tom King’s “Heroes in Crisis” is marketed as the series that dives into the psychology of superheroes, but Snyder seems to do it better. We honor the late Stan Lee as the creator of superheroes that recognize their human conditions. Snyder carries on that tradition.
I don’t think Scott Snyder has any plans to slow down in 2019, and quite frankly, I don’t want him to. His ambition pushes all of us higher, farther, faster, and more thoughtful. – Kate Kosturski
2. Donny Cates
We said last year was Donny Cates’s year, as he moved into the arena of Marvel comics with titles like “Thanos and Doctor Strange.” So it’s no surprise that Cates has had a stellar year once again, proving he doesn’t shy away from the outrageous. Cates, has a knack for taking his stories to the next level, outdoing himself with each new script. Not only does he have a voluminous output this year, the quality each comic is great.
His stories in “Thanos” and “Doctor Strange” drew to a close in splendid fashion during the first half of the year and he told engaging character-driven stories in titles such as “Doctor Strange: Damnation” and “Cosmic Ghost Rider.” Especially with “Cosmic Ghost Rider,” Cates takes a really cool concept and cranks it up to eleven adding layers to Frank Castle as he searches for redemption for the deeds his former slaver, Thanos. “Cosmic Ghost Rider” was a stand out series that blended humor and action in the best kind of way. Cates loves to get weird and has built up quite the cosmic corner for himself in the Marvel Universe.
Cates has also added a breath of fresh air to Eddie Brock and his symbiotic Other in the relaunched “Venom.” Once a character I was certainly not interested in a year ago, I cannot be more invested in Cates’s story here. He has even added to the overall Marvel mythos at large. Something that was set up at the beginning of Jason Aaron’s “Thor” saga is sewn into the story setting up an ambitious connective tissue. Cates’s characterization of each persona within Venom has been great, showing each of their fears spectacularly. Cates has also got a couple of one-shots under his belt with “Web of Venom.” The stories in these one-shots continue to add deeper mythology to the characters in Venom’s world and create new and interesting ideas. He humanizes Venom in a way I have not seen before and the story he’s building is no doubt out of this world.
Rounding out the year at Marvel, Cates gets to play in the Marvel Knights sandbox, first established by Joe Quesada 20 years ago. “Marvel Knights: 20th” is a celebration of the line that gives readers an interesting hook that will hopefully continue to amp up as the series goes along.
Cates’s creator-owned work is still flourishing as well. He does not shy away from the weird and outrageous in any of his work, including “Redneck” and “Babyteeth.”
Donny Cates came out of the gates last year swinging for the fences. This year his stellar work has not gone unnoticed. Cates has all he needs to keep playing in the Marvel sandbox and will no doubt be turning heads once again in 2019. – Matt Garza
1. Jeff Lemire
All hail Jeff Lemire, Comic Book King of 2018! This is Lemire’s second consecutive year in the number-1 spot on this list, and with work published by both Marvel and DC, in addition to a whole host of creator-owned content, it’s easy to see why.Continued below
This year, most of Lemire’s work-for-hire has been with DC Comics. He kicked the year off with a haunting tie-in to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Dark Nights: Metal” series. “Hawkman Found” revealed the hellish fate Carter Hall had been subjected to in the time leading up to ‘Metal,’ a fate that still sits uneasily with me today. Also at DC, Lemire co-launched “The Terrifics.” My personal favorite of the “New Age of Superhero” books, “The Terrifics” follows a team of people working together, despite their aversion to each other, in the hopes of saving the universe. “The Terrifics” proves Lemire can write superheroes with the best of them.
Speaking of superheroes, Lemire’s only Marvel writer’s credit this year is with the super-est hero of them all: Sentry. “The Sentry” is a tragic book about inner-demons and sacrifice. After retiring as The Sentry, Bob Reynolds spends his days as a line cook, but at night, he enters an artificial world to fight The Void and live as the Sentry again. But what happens when the device goes missing and The Void is able to enter our world again? All hell breaks loose, that’s what. “The Sentry” makes up for the lack of other Lemire written Marvel books, and again, shows Lemire firing on all cylinders.
As wonderful as all of those books are, Lemire is perhaps most recognized for his independent comics. His Black Hammer-verse, for instance, seems to have taken on a life of its own. The original “Black Hammer” characters’ story continues on in the unpredictable (but predictably great) “Black Hammer: Age of Doom.” The spin-off series, “The Quantum Age” captures all the magic of “Black Hammer” but with a new cast. “Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows,” another Black Hammer-verse book, wins the award of “made me cry the most in 2018.”
But it doesn’t stop there. This year, Lemire finished “Royal City,” a comic about a family in a small town and the ghosts that haunt them. Personally, “Royal City” is my favorite comic of the last few years and is an emotional powerhouse reminiscent of his earlier work like “The Underwater Welder” or “Essex County.” Finally, 2018 saw the launch of Lemire’s new series, “Gideon Falls.” Simultaneously a character study, a thriller, a drama, and a horror, “Gideon Falls” is one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling independent series of the year.
Lemire’s work often centers around themes of isolation, mental illness, and grief, but he’s far from a one trick pony. If you love super-heroes, read Lemire. If you love slice-of-life stories, read Lemire. If you just love good stories, read Lemire. Just read Jeff Lemire. – Brandon Arnold
Matt: I think theres a lot of talent here. There’s also a lot of representation of the corporate superhero houses here. And men. I think these guys should be lauded for their skill in structuring a story around editorial demands, crossovers, and a rigid publishing schedule. I think they should be lauded for using legacy characters in movong modern ways. And I think they are generally telling interesting stories within the mainstream structure. They’re big names because they’re so good at doing this sort of thing.
But where’s Hope Larson?
Brian: I do wish this list were a bit more diverse in terms of types of comics represented, though almost all of these writers did both corporate and creator owned stuff this year. There is also a lot of variety in the types of stories these folks are telling, despite the shared tether of superheroes.
That said, Hope Larson not making this list makes me rage!