The 10 Best Comics Of 2020

Dec 30, 2020
The impact of Covid-19 was inescapable in 2020, and the comics industry wasn't immune, taking a substantial hit when things took a turn for the worse. Comic shops closed, distribution channels shut down... it all looked pretty bleak for the future of the industry back in March when lockdown kicked in.

But, as it has done many a time in the past, it bounced back, perhaps not always in a way that met with unanimous approval (the DC/Diamond debacle, for instance) but certainly things started to return to normal, or at least a new normal.

Which means, of course, that we've been sufficiently spoiled by the talent and creativity that the world of comics always delivers, and that hasn't diminished in any way over the last 12 months.

Here are what I consider to be the 10 best comics of 2020 (inclusive of original graphic novels):

Cover of The Goddamned: Virgin Brides #1

Scalped creative team Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra return to the fire and brimstone realm of the Old Testament for this second volume of The Goddamned. Whereas the first volume focused on Noah's preparations for the incoming Biblical flood (flipping convention by presenting him as a monstrously vile individual), here the concept of virgin sacrifice in ancient times is explored. As expected, it's grubby, violent, profane and doesn't shy away from the unpleasantness associated with a wrathful deity, with Guéra's exquisitely detailed, elaborately designed illustrations unleashing a truly breathtaking level of creativity at points. The content may put many off, and the employment of contemporary vernacular might not work for some, but those that can engage will find a tour de force of viciousness, but also resilience, sitting alongside a meditation on how enforced dogma can crush and destroy the soul.

Cover of X-Men #8

9. X-MEN (Marvel)
Jonathan Hickman's reinvigoration and reshaping of the X-Men mythos continues apace - it's possibly nearly impenetrable for new readers, due to a reliance on X-history and willingness to expand on it in various directions, but for long-term X-fans it's a delight. Although it sometimes seems like the overarching plot isn't moving forward swiftly, and that pertinent incidents may take place in the other (lesser) 'Dawn Of X' books, when Hickman engages fully with one of his fantastical concepts the results are never less than thrilling. The X Of Swords event was impressively mounted, even if it was somewhat disjointed for those not reading all the related titles, and where it all goes from here is unclear, but if anyone's going to make the journey to the eventual destination worthwhile, it's Hickman.

Cover of Far Sector #7

This excellent 12-part series from DC's 'Young Animal' imprint leans into the notion of the Green Lantern Corps as space cops and takes the form of a police procedural, albeit one with plenty of creative flourishes to differentiate it from a standard tale of criminal investigation. It's the world-building that initially sets it apart - novelist N.K. Jemisin has created an environment that feels alien - as Green Lantern Sojourner 'Jo' Mullein has to navigate her way through the culture clashes and longstanding traditions that appear to be on a precipice following the first murder in 500 years. Smart character work and an abundance of lavishly illustrated sci-fi habitats from Naomi artist Jamal Campbell make this an absolute treat that doesn't require comprehensive knowledge of Green Lantern lore to enjoy.

Cover of Strange Adventures #1

Following acclaimed runs on The Vision and Mister Miracle, writer Tom King turned his attention to Adam Strange in 2020, another 'secondary' character ripe for further exploration. Here King tackles the nature of subjective truth with Strange being lauded as a hero, only to be accused of war crimes when back on Earth, and Mister Terrific is dispatched to attempt to get the bottom of things when a murder exacerbates the situation. King splits the narrative between flashbacks on Rann and the present at home, the horror and exhaustion of war juxtaposed with the safety and luxury of peace, keeping all the details purposefully off the table so that uncovering the mystery happens at the same time for the reader as it does for Terrific. The two time frames have different artists - Evan 'Doc' Shaner for past, Mitch Gerads for present - with the former going for handsomely rendered comic book art in the more classic sense, the latter offering a more ruffled and realistic approach - visually distinct but complementing each other perfectly. Strange Adventures is a thrillingly intelligent page-turner.

Cover of Reckless OGN

6. RECKLESS (Image)
The pandemic prompted Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to look at a new way of releasing their work, so, rather than an episodic series that gets collected in a single volume at a later date, this expands on their approach with the likes of Pulp and My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies as it delivers a complete, extended story, harking back to the era of paperback pulp fiction, where a hero (or antihero) becomes embroiled in a new adventure. There are two further books starring the titular Ethan Reckless due across the next 12 months, and if they're anywhere near as good as this one then they'll be Day One priority purchases. Like a singular, more ruthless version of the A-Team, Reckless has a phoneline where people can call with their 'problems' and he may show up in an attempt to resolve them (for a fee). This particular tale sees someone from his past appear to complicate things, and really all you need to know is that the peerless crime fiction combo of Brubaker/Phillips do everything they're so lauded for exceptionally well here, and it's a riveting read from first page to last.

Cover of Daredevil #20

5. DAREDEVIL (Marvel)
Perhaps the most consistently rewarding ongoing superhero comic on the stands, Daredevil brims with the kind of spellbinding blend of soul-searching and urban fisticuffs that you'd expect from the title character. A sprawling crime drama with a burgeoning cast of characters (some newbies amongst the familiar faces), one of the main keys to the success of this run is writer Chip Zdarsky's firm grasp of Matt Murdock's ongoing anguish over his decisions and their consequences. His inner turmoil drives every decision, whether wise or unwise in the grand scheme of things. All the requisite elements are present and correct (the Kingpin, the Hand, Elektra, a Spider-Man cameo or two) and, while there have been a handful of guest artists, it's Marco Checcetto who provides the dynamic visual consistency to the proceedings. Longstanding DD fans will find plenty to enjoy in the run, and those more familiar with the character from the now-defunct Netflix show will also feel extremely comfortable in these surroundings.

Cover of That Texas Blood #1

In That Texas Blood, characters are burdened with shady pasts that they've boxed up and all it can take is one incident to rip that box open and let all the chaos and carnage out. This has been a brilliantly hardboiled, sun-drenched neo noir right from the opening pages, highlighting Chris Condon as a real talent to watch and proving that colouring his dad's work is just a small part of what Jacob Phillips is capable of. The setting gives the tale a unique vibe that feels authentic and sets it apart from the more regular inner city milieus seen in the genre and the characterisation cuts deep, full of pain, regret and a world-weariness that rings true. Any work of crime fiction in comics is inevitably going to be compared to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' oeuvre but That Texas Blood easily holds its own against that comparison - it's one of the best crime comics in years and fans of Criminal would be well advised to seek it out.

Cover of Pulp OGN

3. PULP (Image)
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips again showing their partnership is unimpeachable with a one-off tale that takes us directly into the world of pulps; not only the content that appeared in them, but the act of creation itself, blending history and fiction in a way that creates something exciting, vital and maybe a little dangerous. It's 1939, and the lead character Max Winter is making a meagre living writing pulp fiction based on embellished versions of his escapades in the twilight days of the Wild West. Money gets tighter, which leads Max down a criminal path of doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Brubaker's characterisation is as illuminating, complex and sympathetic as ever, with Phillips providing a melancholic tone for the proceedings, enhanced by Jacob Phillips' evocative colour work. This is absolutely their stomping ground, but they don't fall back on certain tropes out of habit; they are all entirely necessary to move the narrative forward in gripping fashion. Exceptional genre work from the best collaborative team in the business.

Cover of Lazarus: Risen #5

The new quarterly format means the frequency of engaging with the intricately detailed world of Lazarus is reduced, but the increased page count makes up for that - visits now feel deeper, with extra room to breathe, and may be a more more rewarding episodic experience as a result. It's still the most richly textured milieu in comics - you can feel the scale of the environment that exists outside every panel - and Forever Carlyle remains one of the most complex, compelling characters in the medium. She's the headliner, but it's really an ensemble piece, the rest of the cast developing in fascinating, plausible ways as the story has progressed and Greg Rucka has peeled back new layers in individual players. Michael Lark is one of the best artists in the business, and his work here - full of dynamism and gritty realism - adds significant power to not only the more obviously flashy (and beautifully rendered) combat scenes, but also the backroom politicking and subterfuge. Unequivocally one of the best comic series so far in this millennium.

Cover of The Department Of Truth #1

The most impressive new series of the year, The Department Of Truth is based around a brilliant premise: what if conspiracy theories gained enough traction in the world that they began to manifest into reality and became the truth of the situation? Flat earth, fake Moon landings, JFK's assassination, QAnon... the titular department has to prevent the lies supplanting the truths, working in the shadows to dismantle any efforts to thwart those who would seek to spread falsehoods across the globe. It's early days with this series, but its debut issue was one of the strongest in recent memory, and writer James Tynion IV totally avoided any sophomore slump by ensuring each subsequent chapter has been as gripping, enlightening and disturbing as the last. Martin Simmonds' shadowy artwork helps set the tone of danger and subterfuge with some wonderfully creative and inventive panel design. Not to be missed, and that's the absolute truth.


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