The best comics I read in 2023

Hello! πŸ‘‹

This post is part of my Best of 2023 series, in which I tell you about the coolest art I experienced last year to give you some ideas for your own book shelf, watch list, and gaming collection.

Today's topic: comics.

The rules are the same as last time: 5 entries in reverse awesomeness order, plus some honorable mentions at the end. Let's go!

5th: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, and Fonografiks

The cover image of the comic book Saga, issue 61.
Image: Image Comics

If you ever did something for even a moderately long time, you know how hard it is to keep quality up. Especially if that something is art.

Yet, even after twelve years, Saga's creative team keeps impressing me.

For the uninitiated: Saga is a space fantasy epic about an unlikely family on the run. See, Alana and Marko were supposed to be enemies, not lovers. And especially not lovers with a child on the way, whose mere existence is a threat to not one, but two of the most powerful empires in the galaxy. If the soon-to-be parents want to live, they need to flee β€” and fuck everyone up who dares to follow.

From this rather simple premise, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples spin a story that will take you to some unexpected places.

Saga is a bit past the halfway mark of its planned run, and the six issues that came out last year are some of the best in my opinion. If you want to experience the best that modern comics can offer, read it.

I promise you're not going to be disappointed.

A good fit for: Lovers of intricately woven science-fantasy tales. Haters of war and fans of the found-family trope. People who have never read a comic book in their life.

Not a good fit for: People who are still not over the Red Wedding emotionally. Firm believers in the monarchy and the military-industrial complex. Readers who don't appreciate cussing.

4th: The Cull by Kelly Thompson, Mattia De Iulis, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

The cover image of the comic book The Cull, issue 1.
Image: Image Comics

The Cull is about a group of teenagers who plan to do something stupid.

I know, what else is new?

However, in the deft hands of Kelly Thompson, this age-old setup becomes a vehicle for a powerful story about the ties that bind people and the scars those people carry.

But The Cull is not just a slightly claustrophobic chamber play. It's also a terrifying bio-horror thriller, evoking the style of Stephen King and Jeff VanderMeer. If you enjoy King pitting a group of kids against the unknown, or VanderMeer disorienting you with a gorgeous but lethal world, you'll love The Cull.

A good fit for: Fans of horror, science-fiction, and especially a mix of the two. People looking for a fix until the next season of Stranger Things. Anyone who wants to look at a comic book page that doesn't feel like a drawing anymore, but a series of stills taken from a gorgeously shot movie.

Not a good fit for: People bothered by mild horror vibes. Readers who like slow-burn mysteries. (The Cull moves at a pretty fast clip since it's just six issues.)

πŸ₯‰ 3rd: Poison Ivy by G. Willow Wilson, Marcio Takara, Atagun Ilhan, Arif Pianto, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and Jessica Fong

The cover image of the comic book Poison Ivy, issue 8.
Image: DC Comics

Are you in your villain era?

Did you finally have enough of the spandex-wearing goody two shoes and their freakishly high moral horses? Do you think that while a rich boy is running around in a bat-shaped cape, someone ought to take care of the real problems?

Then come on board and join the Fungal Queen as she journeys back to Gotham.

To take care of shit.

I'm really happy that Poison Ivy was extended into a full ongoing series. While the second "season" wasn't as tight as the original arc, it was still way above the average superhero comic's nuance and complexity. And it also added Harley Quinn and more "Janet from HR" shenanigans, so really, I couldn't have asked for more.

Sign me up for the next round too, please and thank you!

A good fit for: Like I said, people in their villain era. Lovers of artistic body horror, mushrooms, and psychedelic trips. Readers who appreciate intelligent writing and a wry sense of humor.

Not a good fit for: People who want their comic books about superheroes doing superhero stuff. This is definitely the story of a villain. Lovers of big corporations, unchecked capitalism, and environmental harm.

πŸ₯ˆ 2nd: The Hunger and the Dusk by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Wildgoose

The cover image of the comic book The Hunger and the Dusk, issue 1.
Image: IDW Publishing

Is this another G. Willow Wilson joint in the top three spot?

Yes, yes it is.

Is she my favorite comic book writer?

Yes, yes she is.

And if you read The Hunger and the Dusk, you'll begin to understand why.

It's hard to make orcs interesting in this year of our lord 2024. They have been made and remade so much since Tolkien that it feels like we explored all possible permutations from blood-thirsty beasts to noble clanspeople to anything in-between.

Yet, Wilson and Wildgoose could make me interested in them again.

And not just them, but in the whole world of The Hunger and the Dusk. The inspirations definitely shine through β€” Game of Thrones and Blizzard's Warcraft universe β€” but Wilson and co. build their own thing on these bones.

We're only four issues in, so it's too soon to tell where the story will go. Wilson is mostly just setting up plot threads and mysteries. But she does it with such flair that The Hunger and the Dusk quickly became my favorite new series in 2023.

And I can't wait to see where it goes.

A good fit for: Hot orc enthusiasts. People who enjoy mystery box storytelling. Fans of Littlefinger, Varys, and Tyrion Lannister. Former β€” or current β€” Warcraft players.

Not a good fit for: People who don't like high fantasy stories. Readers who want their morality to be black and white instead of various shades of grey.

πŸ‘‘ 1st: Wonder Woman by Tom King, Daniel Sampere, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles

The cover image of the comic book The Hunger and the Dusk, issue 1.
Image: DC Comics

Diana Prince β€” Wonder Woman β€” is one of my favorite heroes.

Tom King, on the other hand, is a comic book writer I was only passingly aware of.

But then he took over the ongoing Wonder Woman series, and now I'm ready to read everything this man ever wrote.

I think superhero stories only work on the opposite ends of the realism spectrum. They are either extremely silly β€” think most of Harley Quinn's stuff, or the time Superman punched the sun. Or they are extremely realistic, like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy or The Boys TV show.

Stories on the latter end are not necessarily realistic because the powers are explained scientifically, or because there are clear or consistent rules to their universes. Most often the secret is just emotional realism. That the characters are not clichΓ©s, paper-thin action figures, but thinking, feeling humans who happen to live in a fantastic world.

Tom King does this emotional realism really well.

The premise of the new Wonder Woman run is quite silly. I won't spoil it for you, but it's easily my least favorite part of the whole comic book. But once King turns the focus to Diana and how she reacts to that premise, the story comes alive.

You get to see a woman who is defiant, yet caring, lethal, but diplomatic, extremely cool, and also heartwarmingly silly at times. With King's words and Daniel Sampere's amazing art, Diana almost steps off the page.

When he made the pre-debut interview rounds for the series, King told journalists that "the point of this book is to show you how awesome Wonder Woman is. [...] To put the highlight on a character who doesn't need to be fixed."

Four issues in, it's clear that he and his team have succeeded.

A good fit for: Wonder Woman fans β€” this one is for us! Readers who enjoy the quiet moments the most in stories of spectacle. Folks who want to see Diana kick some serious ass.

Not a good fit for: Once again, misogynists. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ People who like their comic books to be about the end of the world. Readers who are irritated by stubbornly hopeful protagonists.

Honorable mentions

Thanks for playing; see you next time when we will talk about the best movies of 2023. Until then, check out the previous post in this series (books!) or the winners of my 2022 roundup.

See ya!

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