My 2018 in Books and Graphic Novels, Part 3 of 3

Best Books of 2018!

I didn’t rank all 62 books in order, but here’s my Top 6 of the year.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Time again for the annual entry in which I remind myself how much I like reading things besides monthly comics, magazines, and self-promotion from internet users who have me muted. Despite the lack of MCC entries about my reading matter, I’m always working on at least two books at a time in my ever-diminishing reading time. I refrain from full-on book reviews because nine times out of ten I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it. I don’t always care about site traffic, but when I do, it usually means leaving some extended thoughts and opinions unwritten due to non-timeliness.

Presented over this entry and the next two is my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections that I finished reading in 2018, partly but not entirely in order of completion. As I whittle down the never-ending stack I’ve been stockpiling for literal decades, my long-term hope before I turn 80 is to get to the point where my reading list is more than, say, 30% new releases every year. That’s a lofty goal, but I can dream.

As with last year’s experiment, every book gets a full capsule summary apiece, because 29 years of reading Entertainment Weekly have gotten me addicted to the capsule format. The list is divided into a three-part miniseries to post on back-to-back evenings in order to ease up on the word count for busier readers. Triple bonus points to any longtime MCC readers who can tell which items I bought at which comic/entertainment conventions we attended over the past few years.

Part One is linked above. Part Two contained a bunch more. And now: the other part. Onward! One last time! For the trilogy!

39. Raina Telgemeier, Smile. I got tired of hearing endless chatter about how the celebrated YA graphic novelist routinely outsells all the monthly comics I collect combined, and decided to check out her work for myself. One of a few memoirs she’s done, Smile covers the time she had to wear braces for years through all the really awkward ages, but also endured trauma and procedures above and beyond those of the average kid with crooked teeth. As someone who grew up in a lower-class family that could never afford orthodontics and wound up cursed with both vampire fangs and buckteeth, I sympathized with her experiences, I laughed, I recoiled at the worst bits, and I applauded her determination to see the grueling process through. This was better than at least 80% of the monthly comics I collect.

40. Charles Soule, The Oracle Year. An unremarkable NYC bassist wakes up one morning with 108 prophecies mysteriously spoken into his head out of nowhere. When a few innocent examples come true, at first he finds way to profit from the results. As his words are broadcast and his reach expands, the consequences reach farther outward, their ripples slowly intersecting in unforeseen, catastrophic ways. Weird, increasingly suspenseful reminder of the differences even the least among us can make over the extreme long term, the aftershocks they can create on the world stage, and the responsibility inherent in choosing our words and messages carefully.

41. Markisan Naso and Jason Muhr, Voracious, vol. 1: Diners, Dinosaurs and Dives. A hotheaded young chef at a low point in his life inherits a time machine from a long-lost relative, stumbles back into the age of the dinosaurs, and embarks on a new business venture: a restaurant whose dishes are made entirely from the dinosaurs he hunts, kills, butchers, and brings back into the present to serve with finesse. Culinary sci-fi has become a sort of micro-mini-subgenre niche in comics (cf. Starve, Flavor, and more than a few manga), and this one is the weirdest and funniest I’ve seen to date.

42. David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. A 2005 reissue of the 1988 nonfiction award-winner that was later adapted into NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street. It opened doors for Simon, then a Baltimore Sun journalist/editor, to connect with Hollywood, begin writing for the show, and then move on to create his own small-screen works like The Wire. Thirty years later, his fly-on-the-wall observations and sharp, insightful prose still have an impact when describing everyday life for the murder police back in the day. The 2005 edition includes a new foreword by the equally awesome Richard Price and a new afterword from Simon himself about the original writing process, how the book changed his career track forever, and a Where Are They Now recap of the detectives he shadowed and wrote about.

43. Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, Action Presidents #1: George Washington! From the creators of top-notch educational graphic novels such as Action Philosophers! and The Comic Book History of Comics comes the first installment of a new hardcover series in which their dual proficiencies in history and humor are brought to bear on the more renowned occupiers of America’s highest office. It’s fact-filled, impartial, funny, not averse to pointing out flaws but also not interested on obsessing on those flaws being the only things that matter. I was surprised and excited to find this in a gift shop inside one of Philadelphia’s roughly 7,000 history museums.

44. Carl Potts, Denny O’Neil, and Terry Austin, Last of the Dragons. In a 19th-century Asia where dragons are endangered but still around, a faction of angry monks decides it would be an awesome idea to import them to America’s west coast and start tearing stuff up. Only a handful of characters can save the say, including an elderly martial artist past his prime and a half-Japanese/half-American redheaded ninja. Potts was a longtime Marvel editor who didn’t have a lot of time to write, draw, or create his own works (see also: Alien Legion), but this one was the longest project he ever drew. Some parts haven’t aged well, but Potts was an underappreciated artists among tons of 1980s competition. And hey, there be dragons.

45. Ryan North, How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler. A thick, Kickstarter’d comedic nonfiction tutorial on how to invent science from the ground up if you’re ever trapped in the past and you’re not the Doctor or Reed Richards. It’s filled with tons of actually practical how-to guides from the basics of survival (food, fires, clothing, potable water) to Inventing Progress 101 (creating a language, farming knowhow, medicinal substances) to the very, very advanced topics at the end if you master all the preceding chapters (flight, simplistic computers, hazardous chemicals). Anyone who digs North’s ongoing work on Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will find the same voice here in full effect, though I admit I skimmed more quickly over some chapters that favored serious science at the expense of punchlines.

46. Joshua Williamson, Carmine DiGiandomenico, et al. The Flash: Rebirth, Deluxe Edition vol. 1. The most recent relaunch of the Scarlet Speedster brought new challenges (a super-speedster epidemic!), new super-speed-hero pun names (Godspeed! Fast Track!), and an unexpected surprise for fans of James Robinson’s Starman. DC’s “Rebirth” initiative went a long way toward recapturing the feel of classic arcs without the burden of caring much about The New 52.

47-51. Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, David Marquez, et al. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man v. 1-5. The original stories of Miles Morales, star of his own smash animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. On another Earth apart from the Marvel Universe we know, an escaped experimental specimen gives an average NYC teen a somewhat different set of spider-powers, which occasionally goes great except when everything goes wrong and loved ones keep getting injured or killed in front of him. It’s at turns funny, action-packed, and emotionally traumatizing, a solid launch for a hero with worse luck than Parker. The only major misstep comes in the third volume, a souring forced crossover with the Ultimates, a.k.a. Worst Avengers Ever. (Fair warning to those interested in catching up: Miles’ original timeline was much darker than the hope-filled splendor of Spider-Verse.)

52. Ray Fawkes, Underwinter, v. 1: Symphony. A string quartet unknowingly makes a deal with a devil and finds their fortunes going through the roof but their mental states growing increasingly precarious with each unsettling performance. Visually stunning horror with flourishes inspired by Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, possibly Vince Locke, and/or other abstract artists in the comics field.

53. Steve Bryant and Mark Stegbauer, Ghoul Scouts, v. 1: Night of the Unliving Undead. A group of kids band together to figure out what happened when zombies invade their town. It’s Walking Dead but for all ages, where it still takes head shots to kill a zombie, but nothing and no one bleeds much. The kids have chemistry and make decent tour guides when it comes to preparing your own children for the zombie apocalypse, and they confirm you can ward off a zombie with a potato gun if you set your mind to it.

54. Brandon Easton, Lyndsay Faye, N. Steven Harris, Steven Grant, et al., Watson and Holmes, v. 2. In this version Watson is basically Detective Luke Cage and Holmes is his shorter, sometimes smarter, equally black, dreadlocked partner. The adventures are transplanted to NYC and are more like crime dramas than detail-oriented mysteries, but are eminently serviceable in that vein.

55. Trevor Mueller and Gabo, Albert the Alien, v. 3: Home Life. Continuing the all-ages webcomic misadventures of the naive but advanced foreign exchange student from beyond. Harmless fun for kids and loaded with SF references for parents to pick out.

56. Brian K. Morris, The Original Skyman Battles the Master of Steam. An original prose novel starring one of many Golden Age heroes whose rights have been snapped up over the decades by various smaller publishers once they fell into public domain. Fans of WWII superheroics should enjoy Skyman’s return here, his simple ways of life, the occasional callbacks to unbelievable plot devices of yore, and — most importantly — the joys of old-fashioned Nazi-punching. (We’ve met Brian at multiple cons and would like to vouch for the awesomeness of him and his eminently entertaining writings.)

57. Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten, Umbral, v. 1: Out of the Shadows. Dark fantasy about a young lady, an aging magician, and other varying companions in a faraway land eluding shape-shifting monsters seeking the magical MacGuffin in said lady’s clutches, complicated by the fact that she doesn’t trust magic and the monsters keep returning in the forms of the book’s earlier casualties. It’s mostly a lot of well-drawn running and running, very little explaining or linear world-building, interspersed with bits of slaughter and cackling disembodied ghouls. The series only managed one more volume before it was canceled unexpectedly, so I had a hard time investing myself in it. Looks great, though.

58. Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo, The Life After, vol. 1. A dead young man finds himself mistakenly sent to the purgatory where suicides go, only to find himself cursed with the power to see the fates of the dead, pursued by a Brazil-style bureaucracy intent on fixing its systemic mistakes, and teamed up with the only suicide who can help him: Ernest Hemingway. I’m not a big fan of “Everything You Know About the Afterlife Is Wrong” or “Well Actually the Universe is Governed Corruptly” tales, but this one’s better illustrated and less cynically offensive than most.

59. Various, Sagebrush and Tumbleweeds: A Western Comics Anthology. Each year the Louisville Cartoonist Society assembles a themed collection by local creators, none of them famous in the medium and — judging by the results here — almost none of them ready for prime-time. A few might get high marks as high school art assignments, but when the best of the lot is a Kate Bush songfic…I guess it’s cool that my money went toward encouraging aspiring artists.

60. Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, et al. Essential Ms. Marvel vol. 1. With Marvel’s Captain Marvel coming to theaters in March, now seemed like a great time to visit the original adventures of Carol Danvers in her sexist first costume, entirely written and drawn by males. (The now-moribund Marvel “Essential” collections reprinted two years’ worth of comics in a big chunk made affordable by printing on cheap paper in black-and-white. In this case, the format perversely deleted all the handiwork of colorist Marie Severin, the lone female artist across two dozen stories. Gerry Conway’s then-wife did some co-plotting on his brief run, but otherwise: all dudes.) Carol’s early days saw her as an Air Force veteran turned ’70s women’s-lib magazine editor, struggling with her Kree-borne powers and her boss J. Jonah Jameson, and mostly fighting other heroes’ arch-villains. These stories also featured the first appearances of future movie stars Mystique and Rogue, making for a fun history lesson for X-Men fans, albeit hard to recommend to a modern audience itching to see her winning in today’s context, not yesteryear’s.

61. Joe Casey and Tom Scioli, Godland vol. 1. Astronaut Adam Archer gets vast superpowers and fights evil on behalf of the American government, aided and abetted by his three sisters, one of whom has her own STEM-heavy skill set and is none too keen on playing sidekick. The whole thing is one big Jack Kirby homage, with square jaws and crackling energies and messed-up sci-fi villains (one baddie’s head is a skull free-floating in a liquid-filled dome), but Casey the writer (a co-creator of Ben 10) eschews the cheesiness of Kirby the writer and instills the otherworldly characters with more natural, current-century voices. On the art side, I think Scioli may be my new favorite Kirby tribute act.

62. Ransom Riggs, A Map of Days: The Fourth Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. Probably kicking off a new trilogy, the last one ended with Our Heroes departing their merry-olde-England time loop (the formerly titular “Home For” them having been destroyed) and seeking refuge in present-day Florida. Central character Jacob Portman has to teach this bunch of time-traveling friends our strange and confusing ways, figure out how to deal with his non-peculiar blood family, learn new secrets about his dead grandfather’s past adventures, navigate a romantic relationship with his grandpa’s ex-girlfriend (the inherent “ew” factor finally moves front and center), and deal with new assignments, new peculiars, new lies told to Miss Peregrine (who’s much more entertaining now that she’s played in my head by Eva Green instead of Miss Beetle from Little House), and the complicated politics of American peculiars, which are vastly awful and touchy compared to the British WWII scene of the first trilogy. It naturally ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s an effective perpetuation of the series and filled with yet another round of vintage pics, though not as bizarre as those seen in earlier books. I think Riggs’ collection is running low on “how-did-they-do-that” enigmas, so now he’s digging into his “non-weird but pretty moody” scrapbook.


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