The Best Comic Books & Graphic Novels of 2022 (So Far)
It's time to update your pull list.
Heroes with severed arms, real-life dictators, sentient fart people, a man posing as an assassin. It’s early in 2022, but these characters are already staking a claim to be among the best in comics and graphic novels this year. Of course, any best of the year list has subjectivity baked into the gutters, and the expansive nature of comics means that subjectivity is inevitable. There are webcomics, Substack comics, floppies, mini-series, trades, graphic novels, YA novels, one-shots, Kickstarter-funded indies, and a whole lot more out there. Nonetheless, whether you like stories about groups of kids navigating an apocalypse, people with super-strength, voyeuristic looks into a blood-soaked underground world, memoirs, or graphic essays, there is a lot of new work out there for you to enjoy. Here are a few of the great works published in 2022.
Writer: Kelly Thompson; Pencils: Elena Casagrande; Inks: Elisabetta D’Amico; Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Thompson and Casagrande’s 15-issue run of Black Widow ended in April, and it might be one of the best series that Marvel has done in recent memory, belonging in the conversation with can’t-miss runs like Krakoa-era X-Men and The Immortal Hulk. The 2022 issues bring Natasha Romanov’s time in San Francisco to a close, “for now.” The final arc, “Die by the Blade,” forces Natasha to face The Living Blade even as the team around her continues to expand. In her San Francisco base, she is joined by White Widow (Yelena Belova), Hawkeye (Clint Barton), the Winter Soldier, Spider-Girl, and a mysterious girl named Lucy Nguyen who recently gained powers. Together, they’re chasing down multiple mysteries as some of those mysteries chase them. The ending sticks the landing, partly due to outstanding art from Casagrande and Bellaire, who can use a single panel to communicate a cascade of movement through a room or take eight tiny panels over less than half a page to slow down the moments before a bomb explodes. There’s a mastery over the reader’s attention in every issue.
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Caitlin Yarsky (issues #1-4, 9-12) and Malachi Ward & Matthew Sheean (Issues #5-8); Colors by Dave Stewart (Issues #1-4, 9-12) and Malachi Ward (Issues #5-8); Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot
As every hero franchise turns its TV shows and movies toward the multiverse, so does the Black Hammer universe. Lucy, daughter of the original Black Hammer, is constantly faced with no-win situations as she is forced to team-up with the despised Skulldigger, confronts the specter of her father, and has to stop two Spiral Cities from crashing into each other if she is going to avenge the family she presumes were killed at the hands of Colonel Weird. It all involves a not-so-dead Doctor Andromeda and the original foe (no spoilers) whose death sent the heroes into the not-so-real rural village of Rockwood. The art here is strange and gorgeous, and it creates an exciting build-up to the forthcoming Black Hammer: The End. Spinoff series like Colonel Weird: Cosmagog or Barbalien: Red Planet (one of our favorite comics of 2021) have their own tone and mostly self-contained stories. But Black Hammer: Reborn brings it all together in a satisfying, perplexing, action-filled convergence that drills everything that makes the series so exciting. It pokes fun at of all the familiar superhero tropes of Marvel and DC but manages to use them lovingly and effectively.
By Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton’s autobiographical story about leaving home and working in the Alberta oil sands is on its face the story of a difficult journey. Katie, from Cape Breton on Canada's east coast, moves west to get work in the oil sands, where she can pay off her student loans in a hurry. But what makes this the kind of book that you can’t stop thinking about is the empathy with which Beaton sees the world. It's easy to view the oil sands as an environmental disaster, a symbol of the climate crisis. But she also sees the humans there, the indigenous cultures surrounding the area, the economic forces that drive individuals from across the country to the camps surrounding the oil sands. The result is a story about the butterfly effect of capitalism, the way it exerts pressures that steer individuals through the world. The way work—the thing many of us do more than anything else—makes us who we are, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, whether we’re better for it or not.
By ND Stevenson
It was inevitable that something from Substack would wind up on this list. The newsletter service made a big splash last year when it announced a slate of high-profile creators who would run subscription-based comics through its platform, including the likes of Molly Knox Ostertag, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Jeff Lemire, Saladin Ahmed, and others. But ND Stevenson (Lumberjanes, Runaways) is running one of the most exciting series on the platform. It’s Fine is all over the place in the best way possible. The largely autobiographical comics are the most important email in your inbox twice a week, whether he’s writing about the experience of transition, mental health, self-described mushy comics, how much babies like Jimmy Buffet, or even just rocks. (No, seriously, “Rocks” might be my favorite comic so far.) Some are heartfelt; others are goofy and read like a Sunday paper strip. It’s a delicate, but natural, balance.
By Thomas Ott
Theoretically, you could read Ott’s wordless The Forest in just minutes. But I don't know that it's possible to open the book and not get lost in Ott’s intricate scratchboard art. The details, the texture, the depth of the images all feel like an illusion that drags you deeper into the world of this morose, unnamed boy at the story’s core as he faces the unfathomable power of nature. In The Forest, both dark and hopeful, a boy wanders off from a funeral into a forest. He is physically and emotionally finding his way in a world where it’s easy to choose fear in the face of heartache. There’s healing in the embrace of something as massive and mysterious as a forest—Ott does not require words to communicate that power here.
By Darryl Cunningham
I read this before Russia invaded Ukraine and was struck by how enlightening this book seemed then. It has only become a more pressing read since. Putin’s Russia is a graphic depiction of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, starting from his childhood. As a graphic novel, space dictates that it will never be quite as deep of a dive as you’ll get from something like Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face, but this thrives ihn its desire to communicate our gaps in knowledge about the Russian leader and where his motivations might lie. Putin’s Russia follows the style of similar books from Cunningham, like Billionaires. The art is sparse, bringing you swiftly from place to place. At its best, it connects the country’s history and its leader’s motivations to what we see in the news. It uses touchstone images—Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank or dancing, the Berlin Wall coming down, Putin on a jet ski, a shirtless Putin riding a horse, Pussy Riot in balaclavas—to connect the dots from Putin’s time in the KGB to the leader who ordered an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, interferes in foreign elections, and has refused to let go of his stranglehold on power in Russia.
Writer: Rick Remender; Artist: André Lima Araújo; Colors: Chris O’Halloran; Letters: Rus Wooten
Everything that explains the story of A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance does little to get at exactly why it’s so great. The first issue barely uses words, and the unnamed protagonist speaks just once in the final 11 pages. Still, you see a man who clearly carries secrets, winding his way out of a city into the countryside before stepping into a house that isn’t his. It’s a moment that changes his life. At least, we think it does. What follows is a story about an assassin network, a hitman who may not be a hitman, and a lot of people who are collateral damage to the confusion. Hitmen, secret identities, code names, crime, murder, people on the run. It’s bloody but quiet, chaotic but contemplative. Part of the reason the story works is the masterful collaboration between Remender, Araújo, and O’Halloran, using minimal dialogue, unexpected panel structures, creative lettering, and big emotions to tell the story.
Written by Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski; Pencils by John McCrea and PJ Holden; Inks by John McCrea; Colors by Mike Spicer; Letters by Becca Carey
If you have just one word to explain what the hell is happening in Soul Plumber, you might use profane. Or blasphemous, or chaotic. Basically, it’s a weird ride. Gas station attendant Edgar believes he’s meant for something more, that the Lord has more in store for him than what he has going now. Enter a group of actually religious individuals who are also working with hucksters to sell the Soul Plumber, a device that can extract the demons from your soul. It may or may not be a scam, but either way, Edgar can’t afford one. So, he steals plans to build his own, and… it kind of works. The rest of the journey is filled with an extraterrestrial cloud-being that chops pieces off other bodies to make itself a human form to talk to others, religious zealots, a noseless best friend, a sex cult led by the Fuckmother, and an epoch-spanning demon in a jar. It’s all over the place, but that’s the fun. The story hangs together through sheer absurdity, but every moment is delightful. It’s funny, quietly epic, and so imbecilic that you can’t resist each issue just to see what is possible in Edgar’s world.