No longer the pulpy, cartoonish comic strips of yesteryear, the comic books of 2022 might be better compared to cinema. The medium can largely be split into two categories: the Marvel and DC arena and indie publishing houses like Image, Drawn & Quarterly, and Boom Studios. What unifies the two sectors, though, is a focus on poetic storytelling, character development, and genre-busting. More than ever, comics reflect the world outside the cells and grids of the paper pages.
For decades, the assumption of comic books being for — and by — nerdy, straight white men was fairly correct. But there has always been a rabid fanbase of queer BIPOC readers, especially from inner-city and suburban neighborhoods. Today, the brightest writers and artists flow back and forth between creative directing DC and Marvel titles and creating their own original stories for Image and other publishing houses.
For neophytes, though, entering the comic world can still be an incredibly intimidating exercise. Where does one even start?
Here, perhaps — with the best titles released in 2022, which require no prior knowledge of canonical history. Many of these titles are written or illustrated by divergent identities or are miniseries that allow new readers to jump into an engaging storyline without having to have read hundreds of issues that came before.
1. One Star Squadron (Ongoing)
Everyone is familiar with the legacies of Superman and Batman. They're storied superheroes whom we imagine never sleep — much less have to work or hold down a job, except for appearance's sake. Mark Russell, one of the best current scribes of sardonic, socio-political commentary, tackles the C- and D-list heroes and the pains they go through to make a living, instead. These are the guys who are the last ones called to save the day. The series is a dark examination of current American class warfare through the point of view of masked heroes with strange and awkward superpowers. We follow them as they get laid off, lose their minds, and screw each other over just for a few crumbs and extra dollars.
2. Dark Knights of Steel (Ongoing)
The basis of this series is what many comic nerds have dreamed of: A reimagined DC universe, where the genesis of our favorite heroes takes place not in the modern day, but during medieval times. In this version, Jor-El and Lara escape a destroyed Krypton and land on Earth, quickly becoming revered as gods and granted a kingdom. They establish a family and rule their domain with Bruce Wayne, Harley Quinn, Superman, and Supergirl in their corner. The series sees them at odds with other royal families, including the Amazonians and the Black Lightning family. This inventive approach to DC lore brings the heroes and villains to a time when their powers are even more dangerous and unchecked, leading to broken pacts, familial allegiances, and dark secrets that could undo the fabric of reality.
3. Wash Day Diaries (June 14)
It's been a long time coming, and publishers should have been greenlighting books like Wash Day Diaries for decades. Writer Jamila Rowser and artist Robyn Smith have crafted a lovely, intimate story about Black women, following four best friends in the Bronx — Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie — through interconnected threads that chronicle the joys and sorrows of young life and love. Comics rarely allow space for such intimate storytelling. Based on an award-winning mini-comic inspired by the writer's experiences, Wash Day Diaries uses interwoven short stories on each character's hair routines as analogies to their daily life, showing how the process of caring for their hair sparks joy.
4. Offshore Lightning (June 21)
Drawn & Quarterly has been at the forefront of publishing anthologies by independent artists telling autobiographical stories for decades. In Nazuna Saito's Offshore Lightning, the author details the melancholy and personal growth associated with aging. Saito started writing comics relatively late, in her 40s, and took sabbaticals to care for her aging parents before suffering a stroke in her 60s. During her career, her work captured poetic meditations on aging and death. Included in this anthology are two of her more popular graphic novellas, "In Captivity" (2012) and "Solitary Death Building" (2015). These stories move slowly, like a thin creek or light rain. They take their time to build tension, usually relying on the character's cold understanding of their place in the broader universe.
5. Saga (Ongoing)
Perhaps the greatest comic epic in modern history, Saga returns to comics bookshelves after a three-year hiatus and a nerve-biting cliffhanger. The series follows a star-crossed family and their offspring, a daughter who is born to two members of warring species with a history of hatred that spans galaxies. As the refugee family escapes to find peace from their respective tribes, they go on the run, escaping all manner of vengeful exes, bounty hunters, and political intrigue. While the macro-story telling is Shakespeare meets Star Wars, it's the gentle character moments writer Brian K. Vaughn interjects that makes this book a cornerstone of modern storytelling.
6. Flung Out of Space (April 19)
Queer voices and perspectives in comics have become more commonplace in the last few years. Veteran comics creators Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer have crafted a semi-memoir around the life of author Patricia Highsmith, most well known for writing one of the first lesbian romance novels, The Price of Salt, in 1952. This book chronicles the reimagined events that led her to write what was considered a transgressive book at the time due to its themes and sexual subject matter. This allows us to follow Patricia, or "Pat," as she endures conversion therapy and self-loathing, only to come out the other side inspired to write a same-sex love story with a happy ending.
7. The Bone Orchard: Mythos (June 21)
Anyone who has read Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentinos' brilliant Gideon Falls knows the depth of horror the duo is capable of mining. That series combined the ethos of David Lynch's Twin Peaks with uber-dark, cryptic imagery of humankind's deepest, most hellish fears. Now the duo has returned with a mystery project, about which there are few details. It seems the first book, The Bone Orchard, is the first of dozens of separate-yet-interwoven projects that will coalesce into a shared horror universe. The book's brief description states: "When a geologist is sent to a remote lighthouse to investigate a strange phenomenon, he finds a seemingly endless pit in the rocks. But what lurks within and how will he escape its pull?"
8. Hulk: Grand Design (Ongoing)
Building off the success of the Grand Design format of Fantastic Four and X-Men, the green behemoth Hulk gets his turn at a truncated history in Marvel lore. The Grand Design series condenses decades of Hulk's Marvel tenure into a mini-series jam-packed with emotional and physical smashing. Issue #1 synthesizes the first 20 years of Hulk and Bruce Banner's shared psyche and relays how the Hulk came to be, starting with the nuclear explosion and leading the gamma-radiated giant through love, loss, and existential dread.
9. Season of the Bruja (Ongoing)
With all the comic books on magic and European witchcraft, it has felt long-overdue that a book featuring brujería would enter the mainstream. Oni Press has released Season of the Bruja, a series following Althalia, a magical bruja who, as the last of her kind, has the responsibility of maintaining her family's history and powers from being forgotten. Althalia works at a paranormal museum, giving way to characters from Latin American folklore to make appearances. Althalia must be on guard against Chupacabras and were-coyotes, all while caring for her abuela, escaping religious persecution, and learning about her powers and deep ancestral history.
10. Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons (Ongoing)
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Phil Jimenez's artwork in Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons is what comics are meant to look like. Sure, art is relative, but when one thinks of reading about gods and mortals in philosophical debate and narrative fisticuffs, this is how you want to see it depicted. Jimenez illustrates the Amazonian gods in a style worthy of their grand mythology. In the first issue, as part of DC's Black Label line, Wonder Woman and most of the Amazonians are absent from the story. Instead, we are treated to the warring factions of their gods and are given a glimpse of the subplots and deception that reflect humankind's penchant for chaos.