It’s been a pretty remarkable year for comics. Where 2017 was a platform for both writers and illustrators to upend traditional norms, 2018 has given them the freedom to run with ideas that challenge our values, emotions, and ability to not put a book down and yell "HOLY SHIT, BATMAN" at anyone within earshot. In just a few months, Marvel made Venom and Thor great again; Image went full Thragg on us with new works such as Die and Unnatural; and for every unexpected end (R.I.P. Gwenpool), there’s been a serialized pull that's dissected the importance of relationships and tugged us closer to the girl squads, romances, and father-daughter bonds that make us whole. All of the below continue to show us that comics and graphic novels are still some of the best forms of pure escapism, and below are 25 books from 2018 that do it to the nth degree.
Big Boi From OutKast Introduces Cliff to Atlanta’s Food Scene
Release Date: November 21st (ongoing) As one of the newest additions to Image's infatuation with the dark arts, Middlewest is a heady scattershot of the ups and downs of the Midwestern United States and its "hidden magics." It’s a kid-on-a-quest that builds off of a talking fox and sequels to Dungeon Days, but Skottie Young’s (Deadpool, I Hate Fairyland) gift for flipping your emotions like a light switch while dragging you through the mud of a fractured relationship is what sets it apart. It's heavy stuff that's more Neon Genesis than Teen Titans, and with artists Jorge Corona, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Nate Piekos, and Mike Huddleston, Middlewest is a visually breathtaking splice of reality and fantasy, telling the story of a boy and his journey to discover who he really is. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release Date: June 13 (ongoing) Jason Aaron’s new reinterpretation of Thor still feels like a fever dream. The Marvel mainstay is responsible for the recent-ish Female God Of Thunder and her underrated greatness, but his latest iteration wastes no time in building its own quirky tone. Mike Del Mundo’s artwork screams high fantasy and pop art, dragging you into every detailed shift across the color spectrum. There’s monster trucks, love triangles, Chtylok Fried Chicken, 1v1s with Juggernaut, and a whole lotta’ smiting, and it all bleeds into the perfect homecoming for anyone who has wanted to see the Odin boys ride again. It’s everything The Dark World isn’t, and for both Aaron and Del Mundo, the sky’s the limit. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release Date: May 16 (ongoing) Much of Flavor’s appeal boils down to the fact that writer Joseph Keatinge (Stellar, Shutter) and artist Wook Jin Clark (Adventure Time) waste no time in delivering a world that’s worth investing in. It follows a young chef named Xoo (and her dog, Buster) and characterizes her through a walled-in city in which "chefs are the ultimate celebrity and food is the most valued commodity." Throw in an overarching whirl of mystery and excerpts by food scientist Ali Bouzari, and you have a light-hearted adventure that taps into various societal norms and ideals while emulating Hayao Miyazaki’s most cherished films (see Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke). There are levels to Flavor's charm, and with an undying love for crêpes, we can't wait to see where it goes next. Buy Issue #1 here.
22. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies
Release Date: October 10 My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is a rare pull that tears at your heartstrings, while using every tiny detail to absolutely floor you. It’s the first original graphic novel from writer Ed Brubaker (Westworld) and artist Sean Phillips (Batman, Hellblazer), and much like their work on Criminal and Kill Or Be Killed, it takes a pop and drug-powered tale of a young girl seeking darkness and lets it spiral into a visceral reading experience. It corners the subject of romance in a Killing Yourself To Live kind of way and leaves Post-It notes in its wake, dissecting the darker sides to Billie Holliday, Gram Parsons, Judy Garland, and Nick Cave. It’s pretty heavy stuff for a novella -- especially when it goes out of its way to call David Bowie’s Hunky Dory the greatest record of all-time -- but that’s Brubaker and Phillips for you. They cut deep and dig even deeper. Buy it here.
21. The Unstoppable Wasp
Release Date: October 17 (ongoing) Jeremy Whitley deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award for: a) relaunching The Unstoppable Wasp, and b) turning it into a neurotic obsession for Marvel fans of all types. The series from Whitley and Gurihiru (The Unbelievable Gwenpool) follows Nadia van Dyne and the Agents of G.I.R.L. as they investigate a connection between Nadia's father and the super scientists of A.I.M. It's crammed with quirky nerd jokes, nods to Tegan And Sara's "Closer," and henchmen who'd prefer to avoid jail time as they still have tickets to see Dazzler in concert. It's a remarkable reboot that bridges together science and a personal discussion of trauma, and with a sense of humor that's every bit of Gwenpool (and more), it uses its platform and social thematics to crystallize the fact that the future of comics is young, female, and queer. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release Date: August 15 (ongoing) Even before the first issue had been released, Crowded had been picked up for a movie. The premise of Crowded is simple: Charlotte "Charlie" Ellison is an outspoken socialite. Her life is pretty normal -- outside of the fact that she’s suddenly the key target of a million-dollar campaign on Reapr, a platform that funds assassinations. She’s hired Vita, the lowest-rated bodyguard that’s available on an app called Dfend, and hell breaks loose as they Odd Couple their way through a 30-day period of all-things death. Christopher Sebela’s approach to a semi-cyberpunk society mainlining crowdfunding apps is a novel idea, and combined with pencils/inks/colors from Ro Stein (Captain Marvel), Ted Brandt (Captain Marvel), and Triona Farrell (Runaways, Mech Cadet Yu), it never ceases to be an emotionally engulfing rollercoaster. Buy Issue #1 here.
19. The Weatherman
Release Date: June 13 (ongoing) The Weatherman thrives on three different principles: speed, humor, and itty bitty moments that can self destruct in a matter of milliseconds. At its bright pink core is Nathan Bright -- a modern Bill & Ted mind that’s infamous for being the number one weatherman on a terraformed version of Mars -- and what follows is a sci-fi action soap that goes zero to sixty like it’s Nicolas freakin’ Cage. It’s one of those stories that is incredibly hard to not spoil, but rest assured, Jody Lehup (words) and Nathan Fox (art) are onto something special. They render action sequences with abandon, Kirkman when they went want to, and continually reupholster an intoxicating art style that’s up there with the likes of Extremity and Paper Girls. Buy Issue #1 here.
18. Eternity Girl
Release date: March 14 - December 4 In a year where it’s easy to lapse into malaise, Eternity Girl is a gleaming beacon of hope. It’s a bit of an oxymoron considering how dark its debut issue gets with its opening sequence on momentum, Jackass, and how "the possibility of failure is never an excuse to try. But it isn’t macabre for macabre’s sake; instead, it’s several shades of cathartic. Caroline "Chrysalis" Sharp is a unconventional superhero who finds herself stuck in a life weighed down by depression and an inability to change. She’s jaded, in full sarcasm mode, and already on the brink of fading out, and Magdalene Vissagio and Sonny Liew do a stand-up job at leaving her thoughts out in the open to eradicate the stigmas attached to mental health. Eternity Girl’s Marc Maron-esque humor and dreamlike structure isn’t for everyone, but like all of DC’s Young Animal tales, it’s a beautifully dense narrative that riots against the mainstream with its emotional awareness. Buy the complete series here.
17. My Boyfriend Is A Bear
Release date: April 17 Dating is hard. It just sort of happens in college, and as you traverse your 20s, you evolve into a deflated husk barely coping with the trappings of adulthood. It’s a tiresome montage and Pamela Ribon’s debut novel dissects how those routines tend to push us to find love in unlikely places. As much as MBIAB is about 28-year-old Nora dating a literal 500-pound American black bear, it goes to lengths to discuss the ups and downs of relationships and the honesty and intimacy that accompanies each side. With Cat Farris’ expressive art style, it taps into various tinier moments -- involving Farmer’s Markets, mating season, and how "it’s so much fun" that bears are open to watching anything on TV -- and it never weirds itself out. Instead, it uses each unpredictable frame to help connect you to one of the greatest love stories ever told. Buy it here.
Release Date: March 14 (ongoing) For what it's worth, Vampironica is one of the greatest crossover events to date. It's equal parts Riverdale, True Blood, and every post-'90s romp that has ever paid tribute to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and it never shies away from being a newfangled adaptation on the undead. Greg and Megan Smallwood turn the concept of "Veronica gets bitten by a vampire" into its own Archie Horror classic, binding modern tones to a tasteful approach to blood and gore, and doing so with art that screams Night Of The Comet. It's undeniably campy in spots, but its charm is enough to pull you in for another spill through the drive-in slasher universe. Buy Issue #1 here.
15. West Coast Avengers
Release Date: August 22 (ongoing) In just three issues of Kelly Thompson's West Coast Avengers, it's taken the likes of Kate Bishop, Clint Barton, Gwenpool, America Chavez, and Kate's new boyfriend Johnny Watts (a.k.a. Fuse), and cemented itself as an open-ended Marvel spinoff joyride through superhero chaos and absurdity. There are land sharks, makeout sessions, giant-sized Tigras, and handsome drifters named B.R.O.D.O.K., and if it's not force-feeding you an immeasurable amount of sarcasm, Thompson and co. are certainly going out of their way to cue up nods to Weekend At Bernie's II. West Coast is edgy, goofy, and L.A. to the core, and to quote Gwenpool herself, it's "a trainwreck you can't look away from" and one that you'll never have the heart to break up with for years to come. Buy Issue #1 here.
14. Rogue & Gambit
Release date: July 17 Even though the X-Men are perpetually stuck in a weird multiverse that has Inception-ed itself for the love of Marvel and Bryan Singer, Kelly Thompson’s Rogue & Gambit is a lush step forward. Its story follows the former flings who are sent to infiltrate a resort for mutants by pretending to be a couple in need of marriage counselling. Rogue is ultra-sassy; Gambit is thirstier than ever; and in between their "sugars" and "cheries" is a whole lot of sexual tension that actually feels real on an emotional level. One minute they’re debating the logistics of "kissed" versus "made out with" (spoiler: Deadpool’s involved) and in the next, they’re dissecting memories and every shard of happiness and pain that starts to sink in. It’s a "will they or won’t they" story that’s both romantic and tragic, and it’s undeniable proof that a five-issue miniseries can fillet your heart to pieces. Buy it here.
13. Death Or Glory
Release Date: May 2 (ongoing) Rick Remender’s latest reexamination of the American West is a charged narrative. It sticks to the story of Glory, a gutsy mechanic who was raised off the grid and now has four days to pay for her dying father’s surgery, and being the surprising Lady Bird-meets-Sicario hybrid that it is, Death Or Glory barrels its way into a cannonball run involving crooked cops, mob killers, and psycho exes named Toby. Its first five issues excel at keeping a foot hard on the gas, but Glory’s kicker is the way it balances Remender’s raw moments with an art style that’s charmingly surreal. Bengal is Bengal after all (see Supergirl, All-New Wolverine) but every wordless interstitial and helter skelter car chase is accentuated by expert line work and onomatopoeias designed to make your heart skip. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release Date: May 9 (ongoing) Holy shit, has Donny Cates made Venom creepy again. The veteran wordsmith has his fair share of accolades (see Redneck, Doctor Strange), but the way in which he has webbed up his own post-S.H.I.E.L.D., mid-Morales take on Eddie Brock is incomparable and in a startling way. Cates’ first nine issues sinks its fangs into the expansive history of the symbiotes and gnaws at Brock’s attachment to his mimic, and with Ryan Stegman (She-Hulk, Renew Your Vows) in tow, it wholly embraces its gothic palette and Lovecraftian undertones. Stegman’s propensity to experiment with frames and contextualize a flawless balance of reds and blacks is a MoMA exhibit in itsel. It’s a beautiful nightmare in every way possible and one that will leave you champing at the bit for more. Buy Issue #1 here.
11. Batman: White Knight
Release Date: October 9 Batman is an enigma of sorts. He fights crime, solves puzzles, and inherently broods, and if he's not suffering from being a hopeless romantic, he's taking on DC villains in a perpetual game of Clue that always leads to The Joker being in the dining room with a candlestick. Sean Murphy’s White Knight, however, fastens a stack of dynamite to Bats’ middling thirties and blows the whole thing wide open. The eight-issue miniseries pins The Joker as a man named Jack Napier, who has been cured of his insanity and reconciled with Harley Quinn in an effort to discredit Batman as the sole enemy of Gotham City. It's a twist that spirals into several different directions at once, but Murphy’s open dissection of justice, corruption, and the darker side of mental illness propels it to be one of the greatest stories that DC Comics has ever printed. Buy it here.
10. Heavy Vinyl
Release date: April 24 Previously known as Hi-Fi Fight Club, Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva’s Heavy Vinyl is a wildly inventive series that shows what you can accomplish when you run with your inner circle. Its first volume follows Chris, a teenager who has just started working at a local record store in her New Jersey town. She deals with pretty much everything -- including grunge posers, misogynistic metalheads, and even a crush on one of her co-workers -- but when the shop’s favorite singer suddenly vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris comes to realize her dream job is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club. The premise is heavy on the cheese, but it works. Usdin and Vakueva waste no time in pacing out their mystery with relatable anxieties, a dynamic team, and panels that aren’t afraid to have fun or subtly reinforce the importance of iconic records like The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. It’s a stunning remix of ‘90s nostalgia and all things Clerks and Mallrats, making it the perfect palette cleanser for when Batman is being a total drama queen. Buy it here.
Release Date: July 11 (ongoing) Laura Kinney is getting too old for this shit. She’s pretty much over birthdays; fed up with being a memory away from where she came from; and just flat out tired of being called a "little girl" by evildoers who keep trying to turn her sister into a metaphorical pretzel. It sounds like an angsty teen drama in the making, but X-23 is a mature saga that dips back into the manipulation of mutant genes and goes full berserker with a sisterly bond that’s indestructible. Mariko Tamaki (She-Hulk, Hunt For Wolverine) and Juann Cabal (Elektra, All-New Wolverine) go to lengths to make you care for Laura and Gabby when they’re not constructing frames that glorify pancakes or spell out onomatopoeias in blood. It’s smart, violent, and visually stunning. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release Date: October 3 (ongoing) The first two issues of Blackbird made good on two promises: making magic great and using fine art to level you into a state of submission. The new Image Comics series from Sam Humphries (Nightwing, Harley Quinn) is a neo-noir fantasy drama in which a 20-something by the name of Nina Rodriguez is at ends to uncover a secret magic world that's hidden under the glow of Los Angeles. The problem here is everyone thinks she's crazy. What follows is a beautifully written tale that effortlessly balances supernatural themes with emotional realism, and chases it all with a shot of Jen Bartel's artwork and her ability to illustrate frames that make Blade Runner 2049 look like a student project. Every single dose of color and inner monologue about paragons and bar creeps flickers with unlimited potential, making Blackbird the kind of everyday pull that can transcend genres (and stereotypes) with style. Buy Issue #1 here.
7. Amazing Spider-Man
Release date: July 11 (ongoing) While Marvel’s latest reboot of the Amazing Spider-Man could be tied into an endless DeviantArt soliloquy about power and responsibility, it’s proven itself to be more of a 2.0 remix than an oversimplified fresh start. Nick Spencer (Secret Empire) and Ryan Ottley (Invincible) have followed up Dan Slott’s decade-long stretch with an intimate look at Spider-Man being Spider-Man. In 11 issues, Peter Parker’s dealing with "aim bro" roommates; Kingpin is fussing about the need for better speechwriters; and if Mysterio isn’t agonizing about being in a creative rut, then there’s a good old-fashioned brawl going down at an overpriced book fair. It’s all wrapped up in Ottley’s love for detail and composing frames and character designs that superglue your eyes wide open, and with Laura Martin (colorist) and Cliff Rathburn (inker) in tow, it’s hard not to see them taking the series places and making it one of the biggest must-pulls of the next five years. Buy Issue #1 here.
6. On A Sunbeam
Release Date: October 2 Tillie Walden's On A Sunbeam is a masterclass in world-building. The 22-year-old Eisner award-winner turned heads with last year's Spinning -- an autobiographical graphic novel that explores her connection to professional figure skating -- but On A Sunbeam one-ups it in every way, turning an older webcomic into a 500-page flip-through on love and girlhood that's set entirely in outer space. It'd be a disservice to spoil anything as every bit of dialogue and demonstration of linework is traumatic and cathartic in the best (and worst) ways. Walden never ceases to recode our definition for "intimacy." Buy it here.
5. The Wild Storm
Release date: January 24 (ongoing) Warren Ellis (Red, Transmetropolitan) isn’t a stranger when it comes to blowing your mind wide open. Hell, he wrote 2008’s Dead Space and redefined the meaning of "survival horror" in an entirely different industry and it’s why his new reset of The Wild Storm universe remains one of the most underrated books on DC’s shelf. Its first few issues threw together a few badass leads and an eyebrow-raising plotline about transhumanism, and since, it’s leaned on Jon Davis-Hunt’s (Judge Dredd, Clean Room) art style to hash out politics, secret agendas, ulterior motives, and futuristic powers. It’s bloody, fast-paced, and sci-fi as all hell -- in a good way. Ellis and Davis-Hunt’s gift for setting up and pacing out a single scene and conversation over the course of multiple pages -- while making you forget you’re reading a comic book and not watching HBO -- is what makes The Wild Storm a postmodern thrill ride. Buy Issue #11 here.
Release date: January 24 (ongoing) Monstress isn’t just epic fantasy; it’s a masterclass in character design and world-building, and how much destruction they can cause when they’re paired together. Marjorie Liu’s continuation of Maika Halfwolf’s story is still a harrowing analysis of her internal and external conflict, but the intricacies have been ramped up. Deities and witch-nuns are now joined by tiger pirates, ancient illusionists, automatons, and border wardens that just DGAF about your liberties, each with their own distinctive take on dialogue and cadence. Sana Takeda’s Art Deco-inspired style is still undefined and beautifully morbid, and even more so in the latest arc. Every page is lined with a rich sense of history, and before you know it, they’re peeling your eyelids back with action sequences that provide a whole new meaning to the idea of violent delights having violent ends. Buy the series here.
3. Black Panther
Release date: May 23 (ongoing) Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here for the bullshit. His unparalleled take on Black Panther could have been a charming, Ragnarok-like pivot from his work on A Nation Under Our Feet and Avengers Of The New World, but instead it’s a cinematic push into the idea that Wakanda has become an intergalactic empire in its own right. It’s intimate, provoking, action-packed, wildly disorientating, and an unchained, hyper-stylized dip into science fiction. If Coates isn’t catching you off guard with his distinctive wordplay and hidden themes, then you’re probably still obsessing over Daniel Acuna’s visuals and the way he uses color to set moods and style spacescapes that feel out of this world. There are levels to the duo’s chemistry and with it being an incomparable force, their narrative is the perfect jumping on point for anyone who needs a little more Panther in their life. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: February 28 (ongoing) We don’t deserve Saga. Its first few acts hit us with star-crossed lovers, political warfare, infidelity, drug addiction, and heart-splitting tragedy, and 50-plus issues in, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still have the sci-fi genre in some weird Krav Maga hold that’s more complex than Bruce Lee’s "Hall Of Mirrors" scene. It is embarrassingly hard to replicate or dissect in this day and age, and that’s not about to change as Saga is beelining towards an irrevocable shift. The series’ latest arc has experimented with pacing, full-page illustrations, and the way a comic can tie its odds and ends together; it’s been remarkably terrifying to witness. Very few writers and artists can lull you into a false sense of security and then Thanos you within seconds, but Vaughan and Staples are bent on doing that again (and again) and for another 1,500 pages. Buy Vol. 9 here.
Release date: April 18 (ongoing)
Joe Henderson’s take on the post-apocalyptic genre and the concept of living in a world that has lost most of its gravity is what makes Skyward such a breathtaking piece of work. It focuses on a young woman’s journey to find her place in a "low-G reality" and it never feels content to stick to the ground, dotting each issue with strong characterizations and a personal take on a father and daughter relationship that explores love, pain, and loss. It floats out there sometimes, but Lee Garbett (art), Antonio Fabela (colors), and Simon Bowland (letters) don't pull punches when it comes to setting a mood or a sense of immersion. They excel at bringing every little detail to life, which helps Skyward balance its emotional hooks with an unimaginable dose of adventure. Buy Issue #1 here.
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Joshua Khan is a Toronto-based writer (and a total nerd) who would definitely wear a fireproof cape if he could. Find him on Twitter over at @blaremag.