I dove deeper into the world of comics in 2022 than I ever had before, making some great discoveries of titles and artists. From mainstream series to new indie productions, here are my favorite comics and graphic novels of the year.
Above Snakes // Sean Lewis
On the surface, there isn’t much that’s particularly groundbreaking about Sean Lewis’ Above Snakes. It’s a story about a man out for vengeance in the Old West after his wife was murdered by an outlaw gang. But Lewis injects a distinct style and humor into the proceedings to make it feel exciting – did I mention the hero, whose name is Dirt, has a spirit guide that’s embodied as a talking, bloodthirsty vulture? Beyond the writing, Hayden Sherman’s visuals are top-notch, using bright colors loosely and expressionistically. Lewis also smartly plays with genre conventions by constantly pointing out the fruitlessness of Dirt’s mission. Lewis could have just as easily kept the story going to an indefinite end with more tales of Wild West justice – and he hints as much in the final issue – but he wisely chose to put the story to bed and ride off into the sunset.
Batman: One Bad Day // Various Writers
The world of Gotham is so richly developed that it’s no surprise it’s endured through so many reinventions and permutations since Bob Kane and Bill Finger published the first comic in 1939. Comics that are centered around Batman’s villains are nothing new, but the One Bad Day anthology has proven a similarly rich playground for some of DC’s finest artists. Whether serving as a new take on an origin story like in the Riddler issue, or a tale of redemption for the Penguin, the series has provided one compelling read after another, with beautifully austere artwork to match it. Of course, Batman does make a supporting appearance in most of the comics, and it’s a testament to the writing that there’s often just as much character development for him as the bad guys. The series began as a riff on The Killing Joke, Alan Moore’s landmark graphic novel, and DC seems to be wisely branching away from the Caped Crusader’s greatest foe to spotlight some of his lesser known enemies. Batman’s bench of villains is arguably the best of all comic book heroes, and the One Bad Day series proves that there’s an endless supply of stories to be told about them.
Eight Billion Genies // Charles Soule, Ryan Browne
What would you do if you could have anything you wanted? How would that be impacted if literally every other person on Earth was given the same opportunity? Therein lies the conundrum behind Charles Soule’s series, and it’s a wonderful spin on the age-old genie yarn. Soule smartly establishes the stakes and the characters in the first issue, and gradually ups the ante as the series evolves. That he throws in some sharp social commentary about the state of the human race if given essentially unlimited power makes it a worthwhile endeavor beyond a simple premise. But the series is filled with likable, complicated characters that are worth rooting for, characters that are still trying to figure out their lives without the aid of a magic genie. Ryan Browne’s artistic style may be the best I’ve seen all year, as each genie is ingeniously rendered, to go along with a bleak but colorful world. In its back half of issues released in 2022, time jumps forward rapidly each time, making the narrative possibilities virtually endless, and every character progression feels natural, which is the highest praise you can give to a story as fantastical as that of Eight Billion Genies.
Eve // Victor LaValle
I generally love post-apocalyptic stories, so Eve was right up my alley from the get-go. But Eve doubles as a coming-of-age story as one girl seeks to repair the world after it’s been broken. Writer Victor LaValle grounds the story of Eve – a pre-pubescent survivor of the apocalypse who has to journey across the country to eradicate the world of a deadly virus – by focusing on her relationship with her parents and, crucially, herself. The world can seem like a scary place when you’re eleven years old, even when it’s not overrun with an airborne virus that affects anyone once they reach puberty, and Eve is told from a genuine perspective, one that anyone can relate to. The series’ follow-up, Eve: Children of the Moon, has only recently begun, but it already shows promise that asks an equally crucial question: what do you do after you’ve saved the human race?
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth // Zoe Thorogood
Part of what I enjoy about independent graphic novels and comics is that they afford artists a unique way to get their ideas out into the world. With It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, Zoe Thorogood puts forth a raw, honest look at her own mental health struggles without sugar-coating her own experiences. Even with visual memoirs, you often struggle with whether the artist has sanded down the edges to make the overall experience more palatable, but Thorogood displays a superb self-awareness that makes her journey that much more poignant. Centre of the Earth is a visual diary of Thorogood’s anxiety about the very act of creating the book. The comic is peppered with self-deprecating humor and sharp observations about the world, and about creating art, that will make you look at art and artists in a new way by the end. Whether Thorogood continues to explore her own psychology or branches out to something else entirely, Centre of the Earth establishes her as a uniquely poignant comic voice.
Writer and artist Emily McGovern’s follow-up to Bloodlust and Bonnets may have toned down the silliness, but it nevertheless contains McGoverns’ sharp wit and creativity. The contemporary story has a lot to say about the inescapable crush of today’s economy, our reliance on technology to solve our problems, and our inherent need to distinguish ourselves. McGovern’s writing style zips along at an easy clip, with enough enjoyable material to savor on each page. Whether it’s focusing on the aimless college grad Katie – a kind of stand-in for McGovern herself – or an android specifically created to spread the good word about the tech company that created him, there’s someone you can empathize with at nearly every turn. Even the megalomaniacal tech CEO Michelle has a moment or two of self-awareness. I read my fair share of comics this year that had memorable characters, humor, intriguing drama, and creative visuals, but Twelve Percent Dread had all four – and more – in spades.
Zatanna: Jewel of Gravesend // Alys Arden
Part origin story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale, Zatanna: Jewel of Gravesend is a solid introduction to casual readers about one of DC’s lesser-known characters. Alys Arden’s graphic novel definitely caters to a younger audience, but it’s got enough relatable material for adults to enjoy. Jacquelin de Leon’s bright, poppy colors contrast nicely – Zatanna’s stark purple hair never fails to stand out – with a story that has some darker undertones. Zatanna is more layered than a simple teenager who wants to hang out with friends and her boyfriend during their summer break, and Arden efficiently lays out the complex world of Coney Island and its eccentric inhabitants. It helps that Zatanna is a breezy read that zips along from scene to scene while managing to dig into its character’s mythology, without aspiring to be anything monumental. Sometimes when I’m seeking out a new comic, I look for a unique world to dive into, and sometimes I look for an engaging set of characters or a dynamic plot. Zatanna proves to be a confident mix, with room to explore more in potential future installments.