Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

With my top ten single issues of 2019 in the rear view mirror, let’s move on to the top ten ongoing series. Any comic that saw two or more issues released in the past calendar year is eligible in this category and so, as you’d no doubt expect, the mainstream is represented much more on this list than it was in the last, given that most of their titles are still, theoretically, on a regular production schedule. There are a couple of elephants in the room that I’ll address at the very end, but let’s worry about that after you’ve read the “countdown,” shall we?

10. Wasted Space By Michael Moreci And Hayden Sherman (Vault Comics) – The first of two ensemble cast sci-fi series where every member of said ensemble is an asshole to make the “best of” cut this year, Moreci’s scripts for this book are heavy on the humor and class-conscious political messaging, while Sherman, who’s one of the busiest artists around these days, seems to bring an extra level inspiration and creativity to this title. Fun and smart in equal measure.

9. Go-Bots By Tom Scioli (IDW) – Perhaps the most surprising entry on the list simply because no one expected that a good comic about some third-rate Transformers knock-offs was even possible, but leave it to the great Scioli to make these robots seem more human than — well, humans, while cramming more ideas and visual “hooks” into any given page than most cartoonists can manage in an entire issue. IDW is onto something with this whole “give an indie guy a crack at a licensed property” idea, as we shall see as things go on.

8. All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape By Josh Bayer, Josh Simmons, Trevor Von Eeden, et. al. (Floating World Comics) – After an up-and-down first “season,” the aesthetic and thematic goals of the brothers Bayer (the other being Samuel)  are coming into pretty sharp focus in this late-Bronze Age homage. Some of that might be down to the addition of  Simmons as co-writer, and some of it is certainly down to the monumentally-underappreciated Von Eeden coming aboard as main artist and proving he certainly hasn’t lost a step, but whatever the case may be, this amalgamation of the over-and undergrounds is firing on all cylinders now.

7. Clue : Candlestick By Dash Shaw (IDW) – I told you we’d be getting back to IDW licensed books, and what a beauty this one was : the endlessly-inventive Shaw littered each of the three issues of this mini with clever puzzles and crafted one of the more compelling characters in comics this year with his iteration of Miss Scarlet. Innovative, engrossing, and consistently surprising, we’re talking about a legit gem here.

6. Outer Darkness By John Layman And Afu Chan (Image/Skybound) – Our second ensemble-cast-of-assholes science fiction series serves up at least one “pinch me, did I really just read that?” moment in each issue, as Layman crafts an epic that’s equal parts William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, while Chan delivers the visually-arresting goods in a style that demonstrates some strong anime influence yet remains utterly unique. You may not like anyone in this book, but you’ll love the book itself.

5. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et. al. (Marvel) – The first time a Marvel book has made my year-end list, but anyone who doubts my judgment clearly hasn’t been reading this comic. Ewing is doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, and Bennett blends Bernie Wrightson and Kelly Jones with early-era Image and jaw-dropping character designs, ably abetted by Jose’s faithful, non-flashy inks . The best super-hero book in a decade or more.

4. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Every bit as self-indulgent and self-congratulatory as its detractors claim, this extended “farewell tour” by Moore and O’Neill is nevertheless a heartfelt love letter to the characters and the medium they’re leaving behind as well as (crucially) the creators who came before them, who gave voice to the dreams and imaginings of countless generations — and were, of course, unconscionably ripped off for their troubles. One of the funniest and angriest comics of the year, and prima facie evidence that the comics landscape will be a far poorer place with these two, dare I say it, extraordinary gentlemen no longer part of it.

3. Love And Rockets By Jaime And Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. have been reaching new plateaus since switching back to their original magazine format with this, the fourth “volume” of their justly-legendary series, and while I hate to pick favorites, Jamie’s Maggie and Hopey stories are perhaps the best they have ever been right now. Which doesn’t mean Beto isn’t on a real creative “high” right now himself — he surely is. So let’s just admit what we all know : as readers of this tile, we’re not just spoiled — we’re spoiled to an embarrassing degree.

2. This Never Happened By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Probably the most divisive title on this list, but also the bravest. Anyone who mines the worst period of their life for a creative “battery charge” is entering into combustible territory, and while Graham doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her portrayal of other folks, her sharpest barbs are aimed at herself and the crucial part she played in her own personal downward spiral. And the only thing bolder than the script is the art, which is Graham’s most emotive and self-assured to date. I won’t kid you, after reading the first issue I was a little worried if the cartoonist was mentally and emotionally okay, but after two installments it really hit me : the work itself is proof that she emerged from her crisis not just relatively intact, but flat-out inspired.

1. From Hell : Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Anyone who has a problem with me choosing a reprint series as the year’s best ongoing, have at it — because while you can criticize me all you want, the work in question is pretty well above reproach. I was as skeptical as anyone else that adding color to the proceedings would massively detract from the look and flavor of Moore and Campbell’s grimy (and no doubt accurate) interpretation of the Victorian era, but with the artist himself in charge of the palette, the results have ranged from “unobtrusive” to “amazing,” and the absurd levels of income inequality in today’s world, as well as the return of leaders who seem to believe they come from the “divine right of kings” school of “thought,” make this conspiratorial examination of the Jack The Ripper murders more relevant than ever. Even if it’s all bullshit, it’s still true.

And now for those elephants in the room —

Astute readers may have noticed that two perennial favorites didn’t make the cut this year, those being Jeff Lemire and Dean Haspiel’s Black Hammer and Eric Reynolds’ avant-garde anthology series Now. The reason for that is simple : while Black Hammer : Age Of Doom ended in very satisfactory fashion, the issue leading up to it felt hopelessly padded and derivative, and while Now rebounded nicely with its seventh and most recent issue, volumes five and six didn’t come close to meeting the standard set by the title early on. I’d be shocked if that comic in particular didn’t find its was back onto the list next year, but we don’t deal in speculation around these parts. You wanna make the cut in any given 12-month period, you gotta earn it.

Next — the top ten vintage collections of 2019. See you for that in a couple of days! In the meantime, if you’d like to support my ongoing work, please consider subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Do a jobbing freelancer a favor and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Go Buy “Go-Bots”

Even by the low standards of licensed toy properties, the Go-Bots don’t get much respect. Yeah, sure, they’ve had some animation revivals (even, I think, a feature-length film or two of the straight-to-video variety) and some comic books here and there, but a lot of that — while no doubt making their diminished fan base happy —was probably more about keeping IP rights semi-active on the part of Hasbro. No billion-dollar live action blockbusters for these guys. What can you get from them that you can’t get from the Transformers, right?

Leave it to Tom Scioli, one of the most innovative and distinctive cartoonists working today, to give the best answer as to what makes the Go-Bots different from their more celebrated —- uhhmmm — peers : “The Go-Bots bleed,” Scioli tells us on this month’s IDW promotional blurb page. And if you need any more reason than that to convince you that this is the guy to breathe new life into this moribund franchise, then fuck it, you’re just no fun at all.

I admit that I come into Scioli’s Go-Bots #1 with precisely zero knowledge of the characters or their backstory, but it doesn’t matter all that much — when you’ve got a true virtuoso firing on all cylinders, they can immerse you into the world they are creating in near-effortless fashion, and that’s certainly the case here. Scioli’s vaguely “retro” style, which has never been shy about hiding its Kirby-esque influences, here immediately reaches new heights of accessibility, his densely-packed pages guiding the eye from panel to panel with naturalistic ease and energetic gusto in equal measure. Fluidity and bombast don’t often work in concert with one another, but here — oh, my, do they ever.

Yeah, the plot is simple : members of a renegade Go-Bot faction are turning on their human “masters” and attempting to convince or coerce members of the “good guy” faction to do the same, but a series like this was never going to be about story complexity. That, however, in no way precludes it from having visualemotional, and maybe even thematic complexity — frequently, again, all working together in concert.

When a Scioli Go-Bot lands on the ground, for instance, you feel it. When bullets riddle a body, you feel that, too. But not all the impact here is physical — there’s a betrayal of a principal character by her mentor and friend that legit hurts even though we just met both of them. There are moments of levity that genuinely feel fun and carefree. The bright, childlike imagination on display here is unmistakable, to be sure, but it’s never feels even the slightest bit calculated, never mind cloying. Earnest? Sure. But undeniably honest.

And maybe that spirit, that ethos, that raison d’etre is what struck home most to me while reading Go-Bots #1, even more than the breathtaking illustrations, amazing layouts, vibrant colors, dynamic action, and pitch-perfect characterization. In so many ways, this book functions as an entirely unintentional, but nevertheless necessary, antidote to so much that’s wrong not only with nostalgia and revival, but the “dudebro” faction of independent/”alternative” cartooning : no disrespect intended toward Ben Marra (who supplies one of the main “retailer variant” covers to this issue, the other being by Dash Shaw), Josh Bayer, or their various and sundry All-Time Comics cohorts, but there’s no sense here that this might all be some “piss-take” on Scioli’s part. There are no ironic winks and knowing nods to the audience. There’s no attitude, even at the margins, of “yeah, we love this stuff, but let’s not kid ourselves — it is what it is.” Scioli knows what it is. He understands what it is. He loves what it is. And that love positively radiates off each and every page of this comic.