Best Comics Of 2021

Dec 23, 2021
The comics industry got back to something approaching an even keel in 2021 following the disruption experienced in 2020. There were residual issues (a worldwide paper shortage didn't help) but a weekly fix of comics was in evidence, and absolutely welcome through another difficult year.

As always, the breadth of talent working in comics is as impressive as it's ever has been, with both new and established concepts thrilling and exciting in equal measure. 

Here are what I consider to be the 10 best comics of 2021:

This miniseries takes the concept brilliantly utilised in Spider-Man: Life Story (characters age in real time across the decades, from the 1960s onwards) but goes about telling its tale in a markedly different fashion, suggesting there's no dictated format beyond a decade per issue (a good thing). Writer Mark Russell and artist Sean Izaakse take a familiar starting point to weave a more divergent narrative than seen in the Spider-Man mini so, following the 'birth' of the Fantastic Four, the maintenance of a functioning team gets side-tracked by Reed Richards' obsessive desire to prepare the planet for the coming of Galactus, a task that stretches out over many, many years. The dynamic is twisted into a different shape because of this and although there are plenty of similarities to the team's canonical counterparts, it's watching how the characters respond to an only loosely familiar sequence of events over an extended period of time that provides the entertainment value, and shows the 'Life Story' idea is one that has the potential to be applied to other corners of the Marvel Universe.

The Good Asian #1

Hardboiled noir is a genre that relies on certain definable elements to an extent that it's very easy to swiftly succumb to cliché but this is not a trap that The Good Asian falls into. Far from it. It finds new and interesting ways to freshen up the familiar tropes, and the central premise - the Chinese-American detective investigating a murder in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1936 - means it comes at the genre from a unique angle to begin with, with racism and familial connections complicating matters for the protagonist. Writer Pornsak Pichetshote layers his story with fascinating, illuminating historical detail, giving resonance to the characters and their motivations, effectively rendered by Alexandre Tefenkgi's deceptively simple linework, with a sheen of weariness provided by Lee Loughridge's colours.

Batman The Imposter #1

Applying a realistic approach to the Dark Knight certainly isn't anything new but rarely has it worked as well as it does in this three-issue Black Label series. It's early on in his career as Batman and Bruce Wayne finds his psyche under the microscope as someone impersonating his costumed identity pushes him closer and closer to the edge. Screenwriter Mattson Tomlin brings the requisite level of street level grit and pathological obsession to the proceedings and artist Andrea Sorrentino continues to astound with ingenious and absorbing panel compositions, elevating the vérité stylings into aesthetically intense realms. An excellent reminder of why the concept and mythos of the Batman endures some 80+ years later.

Nightwing #79 variant

One of the most marvellous surprises of the year has been how the incoming creative team of Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo injected such vibrancy and drama into a title often overlooked within the line of Bat-titles. There's a clear sense of direction and a stable supporting cast that suggests a confident vision for the future. Taylor gets deep into Dick Grayson's noggin to explore his response to the loss of a mentor and Redondo's balletic panel design is beautifully infused with kineticism. An obligatory diversion into a crossover event gave a stutter to flow of the initial instalments but with issue #87's bravura 'single image' sequence to see off 2021 it feels like this is a title still in its ascendency.

That Texas Blood #7

The second arc of this excellent crime book took a step backwards into the early '80s to get tangled up with some occult murders that shook the community of Ambrose County to its core. A younger Joe-Bob Coates hooks up with the mysterious (and wonderfully named) PI Harlan Eversaul to investigate, the latter's determined, cocksure approach balanced by the rookie Coates' inexperience and connections to the victims. Chris Condon gets to dig deeper into the world he's created, showing there's plenty more to unearth within the hidden history of Ambrose County, and Jacob Phillips layers the imagery with a low key verisimilitude that adds quiet but effective power to the proceedings.

The Nice House On The Lake #1

James Tynion IV strikes mysterious gold again with this tale of an apparent apocalypse and the twelve members of a social circle who may or may not be the last people alive on Earth. Keeping the reader in more or less the same position as the cast of characters, Tynion slowly reveals details of the situation the twelve individuals find themselves in, each issue viewed from the perspective of one of the group, as shock and confusion leads to acceptance and apathy and then onto doubt and suspicion. It's very clever and subverts expectations from the first page onwards. Alvero Martinez Bueno's art provides a visual aesthetic that brings the imagery to the brink of full blown horror, creating an edginess that suits the slow burning plot.

Strange Adventures #9

Tom King again takes another low profile character and invests a level of love and intelligence usually reserved for the top tier icons. Reteaming with frequent collaborator Mitch Gerads and bringing along Evan 'Doc' Shaner to share art duties, this is a story of truth and heroism, and how sometimes they don't sit comfortably next to one another. Shaner and Gerads take the past and present respectively, their styles distinctive but complementary, and King gets philosophical about the nature of heroism and perception versus reality. Smart and provocative, it's exactly the kind of material that makes DC's Black Label imprint so exciting right now.

Destroy All Monsters: A Reckless Book

The second Reckless book of 2021 - and the third in total - Destroy All Monsters may well be the best yet. The decision by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to release their latest collaboration as as series of graphic novels rather than in the single issue comic book format has proven extremely successful; sure, the wait is longer between releases but when they do arrive there's an awful lot to sink your teeth into. Book Three (apparently there will be five in the current cycle) sees private eye/fixer Ethan Reckless digging up more dirty secrets in LA when he takes up a new case, but perhaps the reason why this one stands slightly above its predecessor (Friend Of The Devil) is the focus it brings to the relationship between Reckless and his assistant/sidekick, Anna, and the emotional tenor that provides. The flashback framing device becomes more apparent here, indicating whilst there's thankfully more Reckless adventures to come, there's also a definite endpoint planned.

Department Of Truth #9

Now in double digits, this conspiracy thriller shows no signs of running out of gas. Frequently exposition-heavy, with a dazzling array of wacky notions woven into the narrative, its volubility doesn't prevent it from being utterly gripping. James Tynion IV keeps readers on their toes as he delves deeper into the Department itself and its leader, Lee Harvey Oswald, with new recruit Cole Turner uncovering dark secrets not only about the organisation they're pitted against but also his new employer, leading him to question whether he's on the right side of the battle. Martin Simmonds' artwork feels like it captures a world just beyond our peripheral vision, inhabited by shadows and twisted power.

Supergirl: Woman Of Tomorrow #1

Since leaving Batman Tom King has avoided ongoing titles to focus on limited series featuring mostly second tier characters that may not often get the spotlight all to themselves. With the exception of Batman/Catwoman (not second tier of course, and more of a continuation of sorts to his run on Batman), over the last 12 months we've had Strange Adventures, Rorschach, Human Target and this miniseries, which is perhaps the best of the lot. Kara Zor-El arrives on a planet with a red sun (no powers!) in order to get sloshed for her 21st birthday. Unfortunately she finds herself drawn into a quest for vengeance as a young girl named Ruthye sets out across the galaxy to seek justice from the man who murdered her father. Ruthye's formal narration frames the story in a specific way but, between the lines, awe and reverence for her new companion seeps through. Bilquis Evely's art is wonderfully detailed and vibrant, nailing the emotionality of the characters within the beautifully rendered fantasy landscapes. Funny, exciting and touching, it's a testament to long-running durability and adaptability of the Kryptonian immigrant concept, as well as the exceptional talents of all involved.


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