The BEST OF 2022, from some of the POP Team:
2022 continued my trend of reading reprints and translations. The American comic industry is producing some great books, but they face some strong competition from the combined output of the past 100 years of the whole world.
My favorite book of the year is Carbon & Silicon by Mathieu Bablet. I reviewed his previous book, Shangri-la, and was taken with it. His second translated book of the year was a substantially more ambitious book. Telling the story of the first true AI, the book takes place over hundreds of years, travels to a dozen countries and most continents, and charts the ups and many downs of the human race as they fight economic crises, climate change, famine, and conflict with AI robots, who were never going to be able to properly integrate. The story has a definite arc, but it’s the story of humanity and its child-species, told through the AI’s perspective. Lush, detailed art drawn to be read in oversized print, the book goes through repeated visual overhauls as it switches era and country, and shows Bablet pushing himself to new creative heights. And for all its darkness, it’s not that depressing a story. When you have these stories of societal collapse, the true story can become about how light will find a way through. This is a good book, enjoyable as genre fiction, and enjoyable as literature. It’s a unicorn.
Other thoughts on 2022:
I loved the manga Sensei’s Pious Lie, by Akane Torikai. An immensely uncomfortable story sexual politics from multiple viewpoints. A web of relationships are portrayed, and none of them are healthy, and none are mutual. Each character seems completely alone, unable to express their feelings, but is getting some emotional transaction through their sexual relationships. It’s the most emotionally complicated and confusing book I read this year.
I enjoyed the volume I read of the current Humanoids collection series The Jodorowsky Library. Jodorowsky is a prolific author, and I find his work interesting at the very least. These new collections are giving us a new chance to enjoy works that haven’t always been easy to find.
Marvel’s Epic Collections continue to show that writers and artists that worked with a removed editor in the '70s and '80s produced far more compelling work than creators strapped to the albatross that is Marvel corporate oversight from the '90s onward. Kirby’s work in "To Wake the Mangog" revealed the appeal of '60s The Mighty Thor to me, while the combined punch of Avengers Epics 6 (2021), 7 (reprinted in 2022), and 8 (a new release in 2022) finally gave me a chance to read the entirety of Steve Englehart’s Mantis stories, the history of the Blue Area of the Moon (where the Watcher once lived), and the madness of Kang vs Rama Tut vs Immortus. I can’t say it’s exactly better than modern Marvel, but I tried reading that Eternals-Avengers-Eternals book and… Actually, Kang taking over a wild west town was much more memorable than that Eternals thing. I just prefer superheroes written for all ages, rather than mature readers. When I want grown up stories, corporate assembly line superhero products just aren’t where I want to look for them.
Tillie Walden’s Clementine shocked me by making me find the universe of The Walking Dead compelling for the first time in a decade (I tapped out of the series somewhere around Negan, but I had liked it for a long while before that). Walden managed to fuse the genre tension of the original series with poetic atmosphere of her previous work.
Mark Millar and Matteo Scalera’s King of Spies was a stylish though ultimately disposable book, but did what it set out to do: create a sizzling spy story, playing off existing tropes and throwing in a lot of memorable images and scenes. It’s a “What if James Bond, but…” book, I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare.
Keiichi Koike’s collection, Heaven’s Door, answered the question, what if an Otomo-caliber mangaka took a massive pile of LSD and drew a ton of comics. It’s not the most coherent book, relying on surreal dream logic to tell its stories, but it is the kind of book that stuns most people simply on a technical level. I know I sold a few copies simply by showing pages from it. It looks that good.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr from Ram V and Filipe Andrade was a stylish and contemplative book about life. Ram V is hit and miss for me, but this one was a hit.
Karmen by Guillem March is a great sister book to Laila Starr, covering a similar theme of life and death. It’s a stunning book. March specializes in anatomy, and this book has a lot of anatomy. Ultimately, it feels like a pretty shallow story dressed up to be something deep. But it has good characterization, and incredible art, so that aspect was forgivable. I think it would appeal to Sandman fanatics.
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross
It's been decades since Alex Ross last did the art for a full-length story from cover to cover, and Fantastic Four: Full Circle was worth the wait. Based on a FF reboot pitch he once made to Marvel (that was also featured in the 2018 coffee table book MARVELOCITY), this tale is written by Ross as well. However, it does not feature Ross's signature hyper-realistic paintings, but instead, conventionally pencilled and inked art with a very unconventional psychedelic and surreal color palette, that adds to the Retro-cool Pop-Art approach of it all. Very appropriate, since Ross aimed the book as an homage to the 1960s Lee-Kirby era of FF, and he succeeded beautifully and. . . fantastically! The oversized (8.5x11) hardcover format was a welcome surprise. His designs have inspired the current reboot of FF, where he handles cover art chores that are continuations of the look of Full Circle.
BEST MOVIE: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Black Adam gets an Honorable Mention, if only for giving us kickass live action versions of Golden Age heroes Hawkman and Doctor Fate)
There were several comic-book-inspired movie choices that I loved in 2022. But as much as I was thrilled to see the Multiverse versions of Peter Parker together in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, or Captain Carter, Reed Richards, and the Dark Phoenix-like transformation of Wanda in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there was no competing with the powerful tidal wave of emotion and grief found in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Marvel Studios' choice not to recast Chadwick Boseman (who died from a private cancer battle), but rather allow his character T'Challa to die as well, and write the movie about that tragic aftermath was powerful and moving. Plus, finally seeing Marvel's first mutant Namor the Sub-Mariner in live action for the first time was a treat, even though his Atlantean origin and physical appearance were somewhat controversially tweaked.
BEST TV: Superman & Lois
I am a lifelong, huge, HUGE Superman fan, so this choice will come as no surprise to my POP colleagues. The second season of Superman & Lois was just as super-satisfying as the first, with plenty of the now-signature twists, turns, and red herrings to keep knowledgable super-fans like me guessing and highly entertained. The producers and writers know their Superman lore, and it shows. And so do the very impressive, movie-quality special effects.
Tyler Hoechlin continues to be my favorite Superman/Clark actor since Christopher Reeve, and Bitsy Tulloch has grown on me as my favorite live action Lois: feisty, smart, loving, and brave. Season 3 will begin airing on The CW in March 2023. After that, the future of S&L is . . . up, up, up in the air, since the new owners of The CW seem to have soured on superhero shows.
BEST COMIC: Batman/Superman: World's Finest
In the same vein, it'll be no surprise my favorite comic of 2022 featured Superman as well. No, it wasn't the popular "Warworld Superman" story arc featured in Action Comics, but the newest Batman/Superman reboot: World's Finest. Writer Mark Waid revisits the Silver/Bronze Age title that featured Superman and Batman as fast friends, not the friction-y "I don't like you, but will work with you if I have to" dynamic of the following generations. Dan Mora's art is lush and fresh, his page designs are dynamic, and he draws Batman and Superman equally and superbly well, which is not something most artists can accomplish.
My favorite comic this year was The Human Target. I was a fan of the ‘90s Vertigo run, and Tom King has just taken it and flipped it on its head. It’s got heart, grit, and tie-ins to the DCU you wouldn’t expect. 100% recommend. And the art is spectacular!
My favourite Comic property of the year, to the surprise of probably no one, is Netflix's adaption of Papa Neil's magnum opus The Sandman.
To say I love this series, is probably underselling it. I could never have imagined that Sandman, long considered unadaptable, would not only reach our screens one day, but that it would be SO FREAKIN GOOD. Sandman is, at its heart, a story about stories. But what I've always loved about it the most isn't that it's as likely to reference Batman as it is Shakespeare... it's that when it does this, it treats both properties with an equal level of respect. The Sandman tells us that it doesn't matter what stories you enjoy, because ANY tale has magic in it. And that magic, and the feelings they evoke in you, are the only thing that matters. I can't wait to see Season 2, and one of my most highly anticipated arcs: "A Game Of You"! Trust me, friends, bring tissues.
What a year it’s been for comics. I’ve been slightly disappointed by comic-based movies and TV, but two comics series have definitely made up for that. Nocterra started its second arc with an incredible issue #7 —which was stunning— with the art kicking things off in the high octane way that we expected. Definitely the best single comics issue of the year.
My favourite arc has to be the third from That Texas Blood. "The Red Queen Killer" was an exceptional piece of storytelling that was suspenseful and exciting. Probably the best comics arc of the year.
My favorite of 2022 is Thor: Love and Thunder. It's a great mix of action, suspense, and humor. Christian Bale nailed it as Gorr the God Butcher, and Natalie Portman was fantastic as Jane Foster/Thor. The ending was heartwarming and very sweet. Taika Waititi is one of my favorite directors and he always brings a lot of heart, warmth, and humor to his films. I think he nailed it with Love and Thunder!