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    2019 in Review: Best Ongoing Series

    By | December 20th, 2019
    Posted in Columns | % Comments
    Logo by Mike Romeo

    While we love OGNs, webcomics, weekly anthologies, and everything in between, when we think of comics, we still think of monthly (or twice monthly) floppies. Serialized storytelling, 20ish pages at a clip, continuing stories, issue after issue are how many of us grew up reading comics. We love the format, and we wanted to celebrate, last but not least, our favorite ongoing books of the year.

    10. Justice League

    2019 was the year “Justice League” let loose. The Justice League’s fight against Perpetua has gradually grown to an incredible cosmic scale of epic proportions. Perpetua, Lex and the rest of the Legion of Doom are stacking the odds against the Justice League but writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV expanded the cast of the League this year to fight back. Snyder and Tynion have crafted a story with Multiversal stakes that features heroes uniting from across the DC Universe. The book started slowly transitioning into a title with an unwieldy supporting cast going up against an equally large cosmic threat. The threat of Apex Lex and Perpetua got even worse when the League lost one of their own in #28. It was great to see some of the humor for the series intact in issue #29 which served as a brief interlude with an essential new member of the league, Jarro. Issue #30’s surprise reveal kicked off a new phase of the title bringing heroes together for the League’s massive war against Lex. Every issue felt important and kept raising the stakes for the upcoming ‘Justice/Doom War.’

    Along the way, readers have been treated by great art crafted by creators like Jorge Jimenez whose name has been uttered among the best pencilers at DC. Readers have even been treated by the art of Francis Manapul who drew issue #35 in full. Getting an entire issue of interiors from Manapul is a special occasion but having an artist draw this many characters in one issue is a true delight. However, penciler Jorge Jimenez is arguably the best artist on the series. Jimenez can seamlessly blend a ton of figures onto the page together. Jimenez also has a knack for great poses and framing. Jimenez captures a youthful look from some of the oldest characters in the series.

    As good as “Justice League” has been, the next couple of issues of the series are likely going to be the best. The huge fight scenes have been reserved for the next couple of chapters which are scheduled to pay off impossibly high stakes. I currently have my fingers crossed that readers are going to see a satisfying conclusion to this story as Snyder, Tynion and Jimenez have limited page real estate in Justice League to finish off their run. If the past couple of years of publishing is any indication, the last chapters of “Justice League” are going to be really special.- Alexander Jones

    9. Thor

    The latest and final ongoing volume of Jason Aaron’s “Thor” saga will likely go down as the lesser one. Of course, the least remarkable section of one of the greatest “Thor” runs is nothing to scoff at. The series has no definitive arc like “God of Thunder’s” ‘God Butcher’ or Jane Foster’s ‘Death of the Mighty Thor.’ Instead the “Thor” of 2019 consist of one and done stories acting as lead up, companion, and epilogue to the main show in town, “War of the Realms.” Despite its second fiddle status, Aaron and artist Mike Del Mundo managed to deliver some memorable stories showcasing favorite characters from the Thor extended family.

    The year started off with one of the series’s finest issues, a spy-thriller featuring the newly inducted Agent of Wakanda, Roz Solomon. Roz is one of the best new characters of Aaron’s run and it’s great to see her taking on such a role. Blending plot threads from all the way back in “Thor: God of Thunder” with his more recent “Avengers,” “Thor” #9 sees Roz dealing with her demons after the Battle of Broxton while infiltrating a dark elf hideout in Queens. Del Mundo flexes his creativity to the maximum as Roz pits Wakandan technology against dark elf magics and ice troll brutality. The next issue, another standout, follows Thor and Loki as they fight and fail to connect with flawed fathers. Thor’s knockdown, drag out brawl with Odin is among the most heartbreaking and poignant moments in all of Aaron’s work on the characters.

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    Other chapters focus on Lady Freyja, Loki, and Cul Borson, each offering a sense of the growth of each character under Aaron’s time with them. The series culminates in its final two issues, together acting as an extended epilogue for “War of the Realms” and a final set up for “King Thor.” Even with a little more story to tell before the end comes, these issues are very much a victory lap for Aaron, who is able to create a few moments of peace, joy, and celebration after several years of trauma. Mike Del Mundo joins the ranks of the fantastic artists who have preceded him, crafting piece of Thor mythos that is all is own. So, here’s to All-Fathers Aaron and Del Mundo, long may they thunder! – Zach Wilkerson

    8. Daredevil

    When Chip Zdarsky does Daredevil you forget the hero was ever written any other way. The character was at his lowest when Zdarsky began writing him, having just survived his dispiriting rehab in “Man Without Fear.” It turns out, the best way to start this run was to dig Matt Murdock an even deeper hole. By making Daredevil inadvertently cross his personal moral line in the sand we get to see him at different kind of lowpoint, allowing for a gradual, yet satisfying reconstruction that replays old tropes in a newly compelling fashion

    Zdarsky’s interpretation of Matt Murdock is both combative and sincere, perfectly emotional without seeming over-expressive. Furthermore he uses the supporting cast masterfully; Wilson Fisk speaks with the restrained formality of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and the various sympathetic antagonists like Detective Cole North and Frank Castle wonderfully challenge the moral quandary Daredevil encapsulates by providing radical alternatives stemming from the same well-meaning objective.

    Marco Checchetto’s art for the series is consistently breathtaking and is arguably the best in his career. He perfectly depicts dramatic action and multifaceted emotion, giving each panel a sense of immersion and investment that burns scenes into your brain. Having Jorge Fornes and Jordie Bellaire on issue #10 was a gift and I couldn’t be more excited for their arc next year. Sunny Gho’s color art stands above the competition as well. He has amazing range, varying between a highly desaturated palette and rich primary colors that tint entire scenes, allowing him to expertly frame an image with a certain tone or create a sense of distance or intimacy between characters.

    Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto and the entire Daredevil creative team are taking Matt Murdock to higher heights and lower lows than any other team in recent memory and they should be commended for it. Daredevil is dead, long live Daredevil. – James Dowling

    7. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

    Throughout its entire run, “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” has consistently earned high praise from those of us at Multiversity, and for good reason. The series has perfectly blended humor, heart, and wit into one thoroughly enjoyable comic, which culminated in a very satisfying conclusion.

    The final few arcs of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” saw Doreen Green dealing with a renegade Skrull, teaming up with her past and future selves, and fighting alongside one-time enemy Ratatoskr in the War of the Realms, before finally wrapping up the series with a climactic final showdown against all her foes. The final arc upped the stakes by revealing Squirrel Girl’s secret identity to the world before pitting heroes and villains in a high-stakes battle that called back to every character Doreen ever fought and/or befriended (including and especially Galactus). Even then, the resolution doesn’t come about via violence, but through a peaceful moment to discuss change, forgiveness, and life. It was the perfect ending for the series.

    There are so many things that make “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” a great comic. The last time it was included in our “Best Ongoing Series” list, we mentioned how it pays loving tribute to all the crazy, amazing aspects of the Marvel universe. That is still true, but it doesn’t stop there. The characters have grown and developed so much over the run, in subtle and natural ways that let us grow with them. On top of that, the comic has introduced several endearing characters who I hope appear in future Marvel comics (can we get a “Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boy” ongoing series, Marvel? How about a “Brain Drain” special or two?).

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    There’s a sincere level of love in the comic that’s hard to match anywhere else. Ryan North’s writing is witty and smart, with an excellent sense of pacing and humor. Derek Charm’s art is crisp and clear, enhanced and brought to life by Rico Renzi’s color work. This was a comic that I’d look forward to every month, and now that it’s over, it will be hard to find one that could ever replace it. But we can give one last hurrah to “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” by naming it one of this year’s Best Ongoing Series. – Robbie Pleasant

    6. Gideon Falls

    “Gideon Falls” was lauded extensively in 2018, and rightfully so. It’s gracing our lists again this year because Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Dave Stewart and Steve Wands continue to deliver top-notch mystery and horror in spades.

    Lemire’s story is a tight, twisty pulse pounder, but what makes “Gideon Falls” sing is Sorrentino’s art. Each issue delivers inventive spreads, panel layouts and beautifully balanced imagery. Sorrentino takes the relative order of earlier issues and treats them almost as if they’re illuminated manuscripts or stained glass to fracture and defile as we dig deeper into some stranger stuff. Lemire starts to unravel the edges but keeps narrative control, and Sorrentino drags our attention to every little detail even as we jet through the pages to keep up with the story. That tension makes for a frenetic reading experience, and it’s a good one.

    Stewart provides the perfect crunch and texture to accent Sorrentino’s line, and gets to play with some more vibrant colors this year (in addition the ever-present red.) Wands has a hard job and keeps up with it to make sure that in the midst of the glorious chaos, we can always read. As a good letterer should.

    “Gideon Falls” continues to dazzle even as it pulls the rug out from under us, and the creative team keeps the book hurtling forward into the unknown. It’s been a vivid, pulsing ride to date, with the promise of more to keep us reading. – Christa Harader

    5. Die

    It was never going to be “Okay” … wait that’s the saying from the other Kieron Gillen series on this list. Also, I don’t think the creative team would be capable of the bland adequacy implied in the word. The review staff at Multiversity thought it was better than “okay” fighting to review seven of the 10 issues released thus for in full.

    In a comic book market saturated with content of all types and kinds, “Die” is one of the few books that feels like it must be read immediately when available. That sort of immediacy implies a frenetic pace, but “Die” is rarely in a dramatic sprint. Instead it slowly has worked through the Party for the readers with Stephanie Hans painting their faults and strengths (even if they can’t see it themselves.) What started out as a trip down memory lane has slowly become waking nightmare for the Party as they fight to be better people than they were the first time they came through Die-world. One of the reference points Gillen used to pitch “Die” to readers was “Planetary” for the Fantasy RPG, and that was enough to get my curiosity but the vivid character work Gillen and Hans have done with the cast has my full attention. That is what drives me to immediately read “Die” whenever it comes out.

    While some knowledge of role playing games and the fantasy genre would make things more immediately enjoyable, or at least funny when they parody something, it isn’t a requirement. There is enough plainly good character work and art here that anyone can and should read it. Hans design for this fantasy world feels both connected to the traditions and iconography associated with it and wholly unique and vibrant. Kieron Gillen brings the emotional gut punches and busters with his dialog.

    The back matter has become a surprisingly relevant and insightful paratext for the main series. Gillen often provides a insightful essay, similar to how WiCDiv writers notes but shorter, and a bit of stuff for the upcoming official release of the RPG rule set. At a time when I am actively cutting back on my single issues “Die” is proving the value of the format. I feel like I might be getting lost in this fantasy world which is a good and bad thing. – Michael Mazzacane

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    4. Deathstroke

    Often times, we don’t notice the brilliant happening in our midst, only to celebrate something after it is over. While I am currently writing this a few weeks after “Deathstroke” has wrapped, I am glad to say that I, along with many other readers, have been celebrating this book for years now. It is nice to be reading an iconic work before history has decided it is iconic.

    The final year of “Deathstroke” didn’t lose anything from its early heights, and took the book into new territory: having to interact with the greater DC Universe. Tying into ‘Year of the Villain’ is not something I would have celebrated when announced but, as he’s done time and time again, Christopher Priest found an angle that made the storyline work really well. Hell, even the Dark Multiverse got play in the final months of the title. For a book that was built around a core cast of characters and little else, it was ballsy to spend the end of its run more intertwined to current continuity than ever before.

    But that unyielding progress and creativity is what made “Deathstroke” the best book of ‘Rebirth.’ Don’t believe me? Our readers agree. And while I am glad it got 50+ issues to tell its story, 2020 will be a lesser year of comics without it. – Brian Salvatore

    3. The Wicked + The Divine

    New series debut every week, to much fanfare. They’ve got energy and potential. Everyone likes a new number one. Ending a series, with a planned final issue that comes out around the time you intended it to, that’s something else. That rarely happens and when it does, we should take notice. And when an ending is as good as the final issue of “The Wicked + The Divine,” we should celebrate, and study its success.

    As a whole, the formula behind WicDiv is simple. Four top creators, their support team, and occasionally their friends did a comic they felt passionately about. It was where they all came together that the magic happened. Kieron Gillen is one of the most celebrated comic writers today. Jamie McKelvie is an icon, doing famous work with Gillen and others. Matt Wilson is probably the top colorist in the biz. Clayton Cowles is probably the top letterer working today. The book they made, under the editorial stewardship of Chrissy Williams is all of their best work. It was showy, experimental, and bombastic, but it also was quiet, and knew when to get out of its own way. Every member of the creative team got moments to shine. The final comic felt like a throwback to classic Vertigo, but it also felt like a comic from the future.

    Issue #45 was a thematic epilogue, that offered closure on the ideas of identity, performance, and mortality. It came out at a time when comics rarely run consistently for more than a dozen issues, and remained strong in sales throughout. The comic industry tried to grow up, and WicDiv was growing up with it. I’d also be remiss not to mention the fandom that surrounded this book, a lovely network of weirdos who grew to love and support each other, inspired by the good example set by the creative team. Like so many other stories, WicDiv was about a group of people brought together by circumstance who formed a dysfunctional family. And through falling in love with this crazy series, the fandom mirrored that process, binding their fates.

    All of these creators will work again. The “Wicked + Divine” fans will find other things to obsess over. But this was a special book, and for those who let it, was a transformative reading experience. – Jake Hill

    2. Giant Days

    When people ask me “what comes should I read if I want to start reading comics,” the first answer is inevitably, “well, find something familiar you like — a favorite movie or TV show — and see if someone made a comic out of it.”

    The second answer is always “Giant Days.” It’s something completely original, but treads so beautifully in familiar experiences that it’s nearly universal in its understanding.

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    The story uses college years as its setting, but the experiences are timeless: learning to drive, relationships, family strifes, living on your own, coming to terms with your identity, the endless (and perhaps unattainable) pursuit of having it all. Whether you’re a college student in the UK, or a 20something millennial in Australia trying to find your career, or a GenXer in the US dealing with loss and grief, there’s something in “Giant Days” all will understand, empathize, and appreciate. Although “Giant Days” has its roots in John Allison’s webcomic “Scary Go Round,” none of that past project is fully necessary to appreciate Daisy, Susan, and Esther’s adventures. Hereby is another barrier that Allison breaks away: the fear of endless continuity getting in the way of appreciation of the story.

    When “Giant Days” gets heavy, as it did this year when a major character faced the sudden death of a parent, it doesn’t lose its trademark of laughter through tears. This is not a series that traffics in the maudlin, but knows that these college students do have to grow up sometime, and face very scary real world matters. Allison gave us the reality of human grief in that particular issue, but not without a laugh or two. That issue included quite possibly the best line of dialogue in the entire series, one that gave me comfort five years on after I buried my own father. That there is talent in writing to understand the human condition at its most raw, most affecting, most poignant.

    I’m sad to see the end of Daisy, Susan, and Esther. But I’m also grateful — grateful that the series ended as it was naturally to end, and on its own terms. But more so grateful that it existed. The stories of “Giant Days” are stories that transcend time, and that we will read and re-read again, and find new gems, highlights, and moments of wisdom and heart each time we do so. – Kate Kosturski

    1. The Immortal Hulk

    At the start of 2019, The Hulk was in Hell. Literally. The Hulk literally was in hell and his dad was the devil. Since then his ex-wife has been a carnivorous harpy, and he had to fight an acid-spitting version of his old foe the Abomination with a hand for a face powered by the corpse of his best friend. Oh, and in the far future, he has become a cosmic force of destruction.

    If all of that sounds INSANE it’s because “Immortal Hulk” is a wild ride from the jump. What started as a simple concept of returning the Hulk to his horror roots, has become one of the most consistently shocking and exciting comics out on stands. Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy José, Paul Mounts and a handful of collaborators have been doing an amazing feat of continuity deep diving in crafting a modern classing with the not-so-jolly green giant right at the center. Ewing’s scope keeps getting bigger and bigger, with the beginnings starting in expanding the Hulk mythos and now leading to the Hulk changing the Marvel Universe as a whole Ewing’s strength is also in not shying away from addressing the world we live in through incorporating predatory nature of capitalism and Bruce Banner’s identity has always been an angry white man who gets away with lashing out which instantly adds so much depth that is incredibly refreshing. While Immortal Hulk covers so much ground, it consistently remains grounded in the central question from the Hulk’s first appearance, “Is he man, monster? Or is he both?”

    While the concept has expanded incredibly, Joe Bennett’s pencils have kept the horror at the core and readers awake at night. Bennett depicts the unnatural spectacle of the Hulk’s transformations and just how nightmarish it is to see this creature who can never die and the monsters that arise to take him down. “Immortal Hulk” just as its titular character is a force of nature and we wouldn’t want to get in its way. – Kenneth Laster


    //TAGS | 2019 Year in Review

    Multiversity Staff

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