The best comic books of 2022 were anything but two-dimensional: They featured epic superhero action, innovative fantasy storytelling, contemporary social commentary, and more. Read on for our favorites of the year.
<em>Cosmic Detective</em> (Kickstarter)
Matt Kindt (writer), Jeff Lemire (writer), David Rubin (artist)
In the darkest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the comic industry had ground to a halt and the future looked uncertain, many creators turned to Kickstarter to crowdsource new passion projects. This year, we finally got to see the results — and Cosmic Detective was a particular highlight. The mash-up of hard-boiled noir and psychedelic sci-fi — where the dead body is a god and the murder weapon is not a smoking gun so much as a weaponized pocket galaxy — felt totally fresh. David Rubin, who has been one of the most exciting artists in the field for years now, is perfectly equipped to portray this genre-bending story with innovative page layouts that explore the story's multidimensional depths.
<em>Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands</em> (Drawn & Quarterly)
Kate Beaton (writer/artist)
Comic books can reach a scale as grand and fantastic as a planet-sized clash of titans, or as intimate and focused as a single person's life. Ducks is one of the latter, and marks a new achievement in the memoir genre. Kate Beaton, who first made her name as a cartoonist with the webcomic Hark! A Vagrant — in which she cleverly riffed on history, literature, and pop culture — now turns her artistic talents to depicting her own life, specifically the years she spent working in the Canadian oil fields after college in order to pay off her student debt. Beaton's narrative is relatable (who among us hasn't felt burdened by debt?), beautiful (she is so good at drawing expressive human faces), tragic (there are horrible consequences for being a woman in an industry dominated by men), and thought-provoking (are the life-changing monetary benefits of working in resource extraction worth the lasting damage to the environment?).
<em>Judgment Day</em> (Marvel)
Kieron Gillen (writer), Valerio Schiti (artist)
It's not every year that a summer superhero crossover event stands out as a truly great comic, but Judgment Day was special. Having already succeeded where the MCU could not in making the Eternals interesting, and then bringing Succession-style boardroom politics to Marvel's mutants in Immortal X-Men, writer Kieron Gillen collided these worlds in an explosive story that had three distinct acts of terrestrial war, celestial judgment, and apocalyptic action. Valerio Schiti's gorgeous art captured both intimate moments of regular humans reckoning with apocalypse and the massive scale of towering magical-scientific killing machines. Judgment Day's story also exploded outward. A brief fistfight or exchange of dialogue in the main series would be expanded and deepened in a subsequent issue of X-Men Red or Legion of X, making the overall experience feel like an exponentially epic story.
<em>Monkey Meat</em> (Image)
Juni Ba (writer/artist)
The title may not sound super appetizing, but Monkey Meat is an endlessly entertaining anthology comic that eviscerates capitalism, pop culture, and even selfish hero fantasies. The connection between these stories is the same mega corporation, which got super-rich and powerful by selling mysterious meat. Every issue contains pitch-perfect parodies of corporate advertising, along with genre-bending stories about how such unchecked wealth can eventually poison everything — even the myths and legends people rely on for comfort in the face of such greed.
<em>The Nice House on the Lake</em> (DC Black Label)
James Tynion IV (writer), Alvaro Martinez Bueno (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist)
Sometimes it takes a while for real-life events to seep into pop culture, but The Nice House on the Lake is the single best comic about what it was like to live through the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not a one-to-one comparison; Eisner-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Department of Truth, The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country) is way too smart for that. But this story about a group of people getting invited to the titular lakehouse by their mutual friend, only to eventually find out that an apocalypse is raging in the world outside while they enjoy grilled food and fun movies, perfectly evokes the surreal experience of the year 2020 and everything that's happened since. Alvaro Martinez Bueno has worked with Tynion before (they created great superhero action on Justice League Dark) but he upped his art to a new level on The Nice House at the Lake, using shadows and textures to get you invested in each character as they try to unravel the exciting, horrific mystery that their host has created for them.
<em>The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night</em> (Abrams Comic Arts)
Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (artist)
As if continuing to make the years-long epic fantasy saga Monstress wasn't enough, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda began another comic collaboration this year in the form of The Night Eaters — and delivered yet another incredible reading experience. Takeda proved she is just as capable at depicting modern young people with lovable personalities and knowing humor as she is at drawing Monstress' cat people and tentacle gods. Liu constructed another inviting fictional world of supernatural monsters and all-too-imperfect humans, albeit one a lot closer to the world we know — which made the divergences that much more exciting and terrifying. There are two installments left in this graphic novel trilogy, and we can't wait to see more of Milly, Billy, Ipo, and Keon.
<em>Once & Future </em> (Boom! Studios)
Kieron Gillen (writer), Dan Mora (artist)
Kieron Gillen was on quite a roll this year. In addition to masterminding the best superhero crossover event in years with Judgment Day and launching an actual role-playing game based on his D&D-meets-Jumanji comic Die, Gillen also managed to put a whole new spin on British mythology. Once & Future observed that there is something rather…necrotic about our era of endless revamps and reboots of old material. Instead of allowing new ideas to flourish, we are suffocated by the same outdated concepts — embodied by Once & Future's skeletal King Arthur, whose archaic concepts of race and British identity seem downright monstrous when he crosses over into modern-day England. Yet there's also a deep love here for mythology and history, and Mora makes even the demonic versions of characters like Merlin and the Green Knight look absolutely awesome.
<em>Poison Ivy</em> (DC Comics)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Marcio Takara (artist), Jessica Fong (cover artist)
Contrary to what you might think, Poison Ivy is more than just the secondary protagonist of the Harley Quinn animated series. This well-deserved solo comic from Ms. Marvel co-creator G. Willow Wilson rightly puts Ivy at the center of a story about environmental catastrophe. Judgment Day wasn't the only superhero comic this year that pondered a dying planet, but Ivy had to address it without the godlike powers of a Celestial. Instead, the supervillain went back to basics: Spreading deadly spores across the country in order to save nature from humanity's depredations. Marcio Takara's depiction of the spores' aggressive mutations recalled the stunning horror of films like Annihilation, as Wilson's narrative saw Ivy struggling to choose between her eco-terrorist ideals and her desire for fulfilling human relationships. The combination was a rich reading experience that felt very in tune with 2022 concerns.
Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)
Saga went on hiatus after an all-time midpoint cliffhanger, and when that hiatus got stretched out further by the COVID-19 pandemic, there were times when readers wondered if they'd ever see more. But Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples came roaring back this year with a time-jumped narrative that saw young Hazel finally seize her true role as Saga's actual protagonist, and also introduced wonderful new characters like Bombazine. We missed Saga while it was gone, but now the future of comics' best space opera looks brighter than ever.
<em>Step By Bloody Step</em> (Image)
Si Spurrier (writer), Matías Bergara (artist), Mattheu Lopes (colorist)
2022 was a big year for fantasy. But despite the detailed world-building and made-up languages often associated with hallmarks of the genre like Lord of the Rings or House of the Dragon, one of the year's best fantasy stories managed to be completely wordless. Step By Bloody Step reunited Coda collaborators Si Spurrier and Matías Bergara for a masterful series about a young girl traveling the wasteland with an armored giant as her protector. It's not a wasteland for long, though, because these travelers seem to have a magical effect on their environment. Unfortunately not everyone welcomes their arrival, and Bergara depicts the epic action of the giant fighting off attackers as masterfully as he conveys the sublime beauty of the child marveling at flora and fauna. Freed of the burden of over-explaining itself, Step By Bloody Step feels like a welcome expansion of what comics can do.