2023 is already at a close, and it’s time to look back on this momentous year for comic books. This year, fan-favorite heroes were killed off, horror comics continued to thrive, and DSTLRY launched a new approach to creator-owned comics. Without further ado, here are the very best comics that came out this year.
The Incredible Hulk
The Hulk has been around since 1962, and it’s about time he starred in his own Southern Gothic body horror story. This year, The Incredible Hulk quite literally exploded his way to becoming one of Marvel’s strongest books. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Nic Klein delivered a haunting and lyrical tale of Bruce Banner and a spunky teenager named Charlie traveling through the American South. There’s creepy church songs, creatures exploding out of bodies, abandoned mining towns, and a brand new Ghost Rider – what more could you want? Horror comics are popular right now, but The Incredible Hulk has its own corner of the market because of its Southern Gothic specificity. Johnson and Klein are one of the finest creative teams at Marvel today, so don’t miss out.
One of the most powerful things that can happen while reading a superhero book is being reminded of why you love, or loved, a character so much. Immortal Thor by Al Ewing and Martín Cóccolo presents this type of awakening. Al Ewing has stated that his favorite kind of Thor is a smiling Thor. And seeing the god of thunder smile in Immortal Thor #1 breaks down any sense of separation we might feel from this arguably unrelatable character. Thor is at his best when you can feel chummy with him, even if you don’t quite understand the life he lives. Under Ewing and Cóccolo’s stewardship, Thor feels like your best friend who also happens to be a god. He sparks enough joy to pass the Marie Kondo test. How lucky we are to have him.
Star Wars: Dark Droids
If you are anything of a Star Wars fan yourself, run – don’t walk – to Marvel’s Star Wars comics. The ongoing Dark Droids event highlights the strength of the Star Wars line in its entirety, between the title series by Charles Soule and Madibek Musabekov, Bounty Hunters by Ethan Sacks and Davide Tinto, Doctor Aphra by Alyssa Wong and Mingkyu Jung, and Darth Vader by Greg Pak and Raffaele Ienco. Dark Droids poses the simple question of what would happen if all of the droids and cyborgs in the galaxy were corrupted by an evil virus. Considering how widespread droids are, it’s a genius question. Not even Vader is safe.
As algorithms continue to sway the course of popular culture, the X-Statix have never felt more relevant. The X-Statix are an X-Men team created by Peter Milligan, Michael Allred, and Laura Allred. Unlike other X-Men teams, the X-Statix have always had a strong satirical bent, as they are reality stars more than honest superheroes. The X-Cellent by Milligan and the Allreds is their latest adventure, where Mr. Sensitive’s team battles their vomiting foe, Zeitgeist, once again (yes, you read that right). The X-Statix are just about the most dysfunctional superhero team around, and The X-Cellent highlights everything that makes them so refreshing.
She-Hulk/The Sensational She-Hulk
The world is a better place when She-Hulk has an ongoing series. The Sensational She-Hulk is a continuation of Rainbow Rowell and Andrés Genolet’s She-Hulk series that wrapped up earlier this year. Rowell and Genolet’s love for the character shines through with their work, as it has more of a slice-of-life feel than most superhero stories. In a genre overcrowded by insanely high, universe-shattering stakes, The Sensational She-Hulk provides the rare opportunity to sit down on a comfortable couch and listen to characters have conversations with each other. She-Hulk is such a wonderful character that she makes every issue a gift.
Jeremy Adams and Xermánico’s Green Lantern is the Top Gun: Maverick of Hal Jordan stories. It’s effortless, impeccably executed, heavy on “hang-out” time with the characters, and there’s a motorcycle or two. This isn’t your typical Hal Jordan story, as he’s living out of a trailer and his old flame, Carol Ferris, has moved on. Regardless of what your feelings about Hal Jordan are, Green Lantern will give you a reason to root for this guy. Additionally, Xermánico continues to prove that he is one of the most versatile artists working in comics today. He nails soft, bright, emotional scenes alongside pulse-pounding, gritty action sequences. The sky is the limit in Green Lantern.
Fire & Ice: Welcome to Smallville
Fire & Ice: Welcome to Smallville is the female-led buddy comedy we’ve always needed. For those who aren’t familiar, Fire and Ice were on the Justice League back in the late 1980s and 1990s. Despite being one of DC’s best friendships, the two superheroines haven’t gotten their due. But now, thanks to Joanne Starer and Natacha Bustos, Fire and Ice shine as they set up their own hair salon in Smallville, Kansas. Each issue will make you fall in love with this dynamic duo even more, and there’s some hilarious cameos sprinkled throughout.
If you’re a fan of morally-grey superheroes, look no further than The Vigil by Ram V and Lalit Kumar Sharma. A brand new team composed of metahumans from India, The Vigil are built in a similar vein to the WildC.A.T.S. from the 1990s, except they’re even cooler. There’s a kid on the team named Castle who is so terrifyingly smart that The Vigil would rather have him on their team than risk the chance of someone else scooping him up. The evocative character designs by Sharma hint at the interesting backstories for each character, with Saya’s mask being an instantly iconic look. V and Sharma’s miniseries proves that The Vigil have immense potential in the DC Universe, so now is a good time to jump aboard!
Peacemaker Tries Hard!
If you’ve haven’t cried from laughter while reading a comic, you haven’t lived. Peacemaker Tries Hard! by Kyle Starks and Steve Pugh is one of the funniest books of the year. Kyle Starks launches one-liners like a potato gun, executed with precision by Steve Pugh’s gorgeous and expressive artwork. What makes Peacemaker such a delight is that he is not very good at being a superhero, and he lacks any sense of self-awareness. Coupled with the fact that he has an adorable puppy named Bruce Wayne, it doesn’t get much funnier than Peacemaker Tries Hard!
2023 was the year that Action Comics became a book celebrating the entire Superman Family. With new costumes designed by artist Dan Mora, the Super-Family has never felt more central to the evolving DC mythos. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson has consistently transformed a different Superman villain with every arc on Action Comics. Under the pen of artist Rafa Sandoval, Metallo reached new heights as a villain, with the story focusing on his chances for redemption. It’s the perfect model for Superman’s values in restorative justice, while also providing a counter to Action’s more clear-cut evildoers, like Mongul and Lex Luthor.
Image Comics’ Phantom Road is written by one of the most distinctive voices in horror comics today, Jeff Lemire. Together with artist Gabriel H. Walta and colorist Jordie Bellaire, Lemire takes us on a highway to hell with haunting images we can never unsee. The story follows a trucker named Dom who stumbles across a stretch of highway where desiccated zombie-like creatures roam. What ensues is like if Resident Evil 2 met Kentucky Route Zero. Walta’s grimy artwork is not to be missed.
Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees
Every once and a while, we are lucky enough to find a series that has us screaming, “WHAT IN TARNATION?!” at the end of the first issue. Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees from IDW Publishing is one of those series. Written and drawn by Patrick Horvath, Beneath the Trees has an adorable aesthetic that doesn’t hide the grisly habits of its protagonist, a serial killer named Samantha. However, Samantha is a very cuddly-looking bear, living in a quaint town with other animals, not unlike your own island in Animal Crossing. Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees has a gleefully macabre sense of humor and eye-popping visuals. Don’t miss it.
If you haven’t read even a bit of Image Comics’ Killadelphia, you’re missing out on one of the greatest horror books of the past decade. Written by Rodney Barnes with art by Jason Shawn Alexander, Killadelphia explores the sins of America’s past and present through vampires. Only, these aren’t your typical vampires, they’re figures like Former President George Washington. Killadelphia continues to be a thought-provoking look at American history. Alexander’s art captures the violence at the center of it all with gritty excellence. Come for the vampire former Presidents, stay for the heartfelt meditations on family.
Carmilla: The First Vampire
Between Killadelphia and Carmilla: The First Vampire, vampires have never felt more fresh in comics. Amy Chu and Soo Lee’s graphic novel is set in 1996 in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Social worker Athena Loo is pulled into a web of mystery after a number of her clients are murdered. Chu’s writing beautifully captures the everyday culture of Manhattan Chinatown, seamlessly weaving the dangers of gentrification with the vampire metaphor. The title of the graphic novel comes from Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella of the same name, and it stays true to the original as a lesbian vampire story. But make no mistake, Carmilla: The First Vampire has its own unique story to tell.