This category is all for books that were planned to exist for 12 issues or less; a sort of middle ground between the one and done graphic novel and the sprawling ongoing series. Our staff had some fun with their choices.
Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez’s “Assassinistas” is a delight, pure and simple. The most obvious reference points in film would probably be Kill Bill or Charlie’s Angels, but what makes “Assassinistas” unique is its refreshing honesty. While above all it is a fun miniseries, and delightfully over-the-top at points, it’s built on fundamentally grounded emotion. Getting older, coming out, figuring out what the hell it means to have a “real job,” without Howard’s delicate handling of these real human experiences, “Assassinistas” could have been yet another entertaining but generic grindhouse tribute. Instead, Octavia, Dominic, Taylor, and the rest of the cast feel like people you could meet any day of the week (were it not for their interesting careers). There’s a lot of excitement and laughs within the pages of “Assassinistas,” but Howard also ensures there’s a lot of heart, making for a well-rounded package.
It’s always enjoyable to see Beto drawing for someone else, and the art in “Assassinistas” is exactly what you’d expect from one of comics’ greatest living creators. His styling fits the tone of the book perfectly, giving an air of lightheartedness while still being able to evoke more deep emotions when the occasion calls for it. And while most people are probably more familiar with Hernandez’s art appearing in black and white (at least on interiors), Rob Davis’s colors fit so well that you could believe they’ve been working together for a while. All in all, Howard, Hernandez, Davis, and letterer Aditya Bidikar have put together a excellent little book that you should absolutely read in trade if you missed it. – Walter Richardson
4. Koschchei the Deathless
The Right Hand of Doom and the Deathless Soldier sit down in a bar, and thereby hangs a tale: this miniseries, a reunion of the team behind “Frankenstein Underground,” is one of the best Mignolaverse stories in quite a long while. Most of it is down to the mood which recalls the early Hellboy shorts whose narrative was that of myths and fairytales, the events in this series have this hunting dream-logic which makes truly uncanny; you can never quite sure what will happen next. So much of modern fantasy stories in comics feel regimented, drowning in rules for magic as if it they were a D&D game, but no this one.
Ben Stenbeck, already good in the pest, improves in leaps and bounds: he captures the dark and gothic mood of Mignola’s stories without ever becoming a copycat of the man itself; like the best of Mignolaverse artists (Tonci Zonjic, Duncan Fegredo) he forges his own path while staying in the recognizable “Hellboy” milieu, it’s a tricky balancing act which he manages with near-perfection (as evident by several scenes which replicates previous moments in Hellboy’s life from different POV).
The scenes with the Nightingale, whose voice is death, in issue #3 could make Mignola himself proud. They are such a triumph of understated storytelling – life and death mixed, beauty and horror in a single page. Likewise, the final issue, which brings the circle of the story to a close, recalls several times the greatness of Hellboy in well with some wonderfully moody decayed landscape shots.
All of that is brought to you with the stunning color work of Dave Stewart and superb lettering of Clem Robins. At this point these two are just as fundamental to this fictional universe as Mignola himself, it’s their strong and consistent work which keeps it all in line.
And there’s also Koschchei himself. Such a fascinating character, the risk with the dream-logic / mythical structure is that the character can become too passive, just passing through from one fantastic events to another. Not here, Koschchei’s life are far from pleasant but instead of building up from it he uses it as an excuse to delve farther and farther into darkness, becoming the monster people claimed him to be.
Here is a story in which the reader already knows all the major stations in the character arc, a story in which the protagonist is (by definition) never in any mortal danger – and yet it is one of the most captivating of the year. One to which we’ll return, like the man himself, over and over again. – Tom ShapiraContinued below
3. Mister Miracle
When Tom King and Mitch Gerads set out to tell a maxi-adventure for Mister Miracle and Big Barda, the first questions made were if it would harken back to the cosmic heyday of Jack Kirby and the “New Gods” series, or if it would steer in a new direction. And while the latter was quickly confirmed on the opening pages of the series, the roots and lessons these characters were never forgotten.
King explored the nuances of trauma, stress, and the family life, in a story that is often disturbing and provocative. How can a master of escaping finally accept his responsibilities and stops running? Can heroes even truly attempt a chance at a normal life? By contrasting the absurdity of cosmic wars with the challenges and joys of the middle-class life, King explains that no obstacle is too absurd, that no blunt is too light. It all relies on the point of view of those feeling and suffering it. It is not for anyone else to judge: the same way that Darkseid is, pain is, love is.
Gerads strictly following the 9-panel grid structure throughout the entire 12 issues (save for two very special situations), relished on parallel structures, gradual shifts in perspective, and distortion effects to put down in paper the confusion and mental unbalance that Scott Free is going through. Everything about his art – linework, colors, perspective – fits the mood of the story and give readers a sense of intimacy to the household of Scott and Barda. There are some truly inspiring narrative structure in display, from an invasion to the bowels of Apokolips, to a father taking a long shower contemplating an impossible choice.
Emotional, personal, touching, cosmic. Everything about “Mister Miracle” rings true and impossible. It is just as larger-than-life as it is familiar. Like the life it represents… it simply is. – Gustavo Lodi
2. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
I’m 29 years old and didn’t have access to cable TV growing up. Which is to say, I have no particular attachment to Snagglepuss. Or rather, I had no particular attachment, before “Exit Stage Left” hit earlier this year.
I’m not sure who at DC decided to let Mark Russell run loose turning old Hanna-Barbera characters into parables for the triumphs and tragedies of humanity, but whoever it is, they deserve a promotion. Russell and his collaborators, here Mike Feehan, Mark Morales, Paul Mounts, and Dave Sharpe, are producing some of DC’s most heartfelt work off in this odd corner of revitalized cartoon comics. And none of them impacted me more than this six-issue miniseries about a pink lion who is also America’s leading playwright.
Unfortunately for Snagglepuss, he’s America’s leading playwright during a time in which being a media luminary is a liability, not a blessing. And he’s gay during a time in which Americans were not allowed to be gay. Setting this story during the 1950s, during the era of McCarthy-ism, allows Russell to examine the history of the time. But more importantly, it allows him to remind us that 1953 wasn’t so long ago, and that what happened then may also be happening now.
I don’t know how your 2018’s been, but when Snagglepuss’s boyfriend, Pablo, tells S.P. about how gay people were ousted and murdered in Cuba after Batista seized power, and Snagglepuss says, “But this is different. This is America,” Pablo’s response gutted me:
“That’s not an argument. It’s a night-light,” he says.
And he’s right. He’s absolutely right. But as much as “Exit Stage Left” is about larger ideas and ideals like those, it’s also about the people who try and fail and try again to uphold them. To steal another line from the book, “Exit Stage Left” is ultimately about characters, not plot. If you’d asked me at the beginning of 2018 whether I’d care about the fate of Snagglepuss, or Huckleberry Hound, or Quickdraw McGraw as they live their lives in 1950s America, I would’ve told you “No.” But Russell and co. made these cartoons real, and so turned in one of the most affecting stories of 2018. – Matthew Ledger
1. Eternity Girl
DC’s Young Animal imprint may be on hiatus going into 2019, but there’s no question that it went out with a bang in 2018. Coming out of the delightfully bizarre “Milk Wars” crossover, the line broke out into several 6-issue miniseries that took the pre-existing properties to new and exciting places. There was one more book that would join the line, however, and it would turn out to be the best of them all. Of course, that book is “Eternity Girl,” our pick for #1 miniseries of 2018.
Written by Magdalene Vissagio and illustrated by Sonny Lieu, “Eternity Girl” is something I didn’t think I needed in 2018; an intelligent deconstruction of the super hero genre, following in the footsteps of books like “Flex Mentallo.” The book stars Caroline Sharp, an element women and one time heroine who has since lost her way in the world. Struggling with depression and the incredible anxiety of her own apparent immortality, Caroline’s story in “Eternity Girl” wrestles with daunting existential questions that readers can instantly relate to, despite their supernatural trappings.
Releasing squarely within DC’s “Rebirth” era, “Eternity Girl” coincidentally offers a fitting treatise on the history of comics and the nature of serialized story-telling. We’re first introduced to Caroline in the back matter of “Milk Wars,” which detail various incarnations of the character’s fictitious comic book history. The various versions of Caroline mimic the shifts in tone from ages of comics, Golden, Silver, etc, while also highlighting distinct genres. The concepts of iteration, rebooting, and re-creation are central to the heart of the series. It’s occasionally nihilistic tone ends with a sincere theme of hope, something we can all use a little bit of in 2018, or any year for that matter.
Artist Sonny Lieu delivers some of the finest work of his career in “Eternity Girl.” Liew works as a bit of a chameleon here, mimicking styles and sensibilities from throughout the history of comics, with more than a little Kirby influence on display. However, the work is always distinctly his own. His depiction of Caroline is emotionally evocative. Easily the most impressive aspect is Liew’s experimentation with panel layout and story progression. Colorful comic book magic leaps off the page as Liew toys with convention and teases reader expectation.
With “Eternity Girl,” Vissagio and Liew establish themselves as a premiere storytellers. Whether or not we ever see a return to these characters remains to be seen (the fate of Young Animal is still up in the air at the time of writing), but readers have been treated to an evergreen classic, one that stands out from the already exceedingly impressive imprint.- Zach Wilkerson
Brian: I find it really interesting that there’s only one real superhero story on this list, yet DC took three of the five spots. While other publishers, specifically Marvel, seem to be moving away from the announced miniseries (I say announced because Marvel cancels 90% of its books before they reach 12 issues), DC has embraced it as a place to take chances and do some weirder stuff. “Eternity Girl” is a marvelous sci-fi epic, “Assassinistas” is super fun, and “Exit Stage Left” managed to take absurdity and make it touching, even.
Matt: Books that work toward an ending are almost consistently better than books that are heading for a vague stopping point. I think there’s a better sense of space, of economy, and of innovation in these things. You can tell who’re the best creators or cartoonists whether or not they can stick their landing. I’m glad DC has been using some of these non-ongoings to play around in. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings for the format.