Friday, December 24, 2021

Favorite Comic Books of 2021

 I haven't done a list of my favorite comic book moments since... hell, maybe 2013 or 2014? This year, however, I read more comics than I have in years, and a lot of them were current books. I guess that makes it only natural I should have a list of stand-out moments, especially because there were so many great ones.

Deadly Class came back this year (had it been gone since 2020?) and boy did it make a splash upon return! Every issue has been a jaw-dropper, but the first one back - issue 45 - had one of the most cinematic openings to any comic I've ever read, and it culminated with this, the first indication that we had left the 80s behind and done a serious time jump. Easily my favorite single issue of any comic book this year.

Of course I knew who Beta Ray Bill was prior to this year, but really only by name and visage. But Daniel Warren Johnson? I had never heard of the man. And then Beta Ray Bill came out and I fell in love with DWJ's take on this left-of-center Marvel character, essentially a Thor knock-off. No disrespect intended, as I'd rather read a Bill story any day of the week than hang with Thor. Anyway, this series really traffics in the 80s pulp-gamer-Sci-Fi I remember from comics and Role Playing and movies back during my childhood, when the future was always filled with a lot of junk and technology was a more varied, messy thing. DWJ's wheelhouse lives in the same neighborhood as Richard Stanley's Hardware, Hobby Shop TSR bric-a-brac, and comic scribe Bill Mantlo's world-bending take on Jack Kirby's aesthetic. And it's fucking GLORIOUS.

I've been raving about the current iteration of Eastman and Laird's classic TMNT for the last 120+ issues, but really, this year and the "Mutant Town" storyline have been a foray into uncharted territory that just couldn't have been done better. Where the first 100 or so issues of the series - while taking great strides to expand the classic story and characters into new directions - were still based in a continuity fans were already somewhat familiar with (Shredder, Utroms, Nutrinos, Stockman, etc), the last few years have moved the book and the characters into entirely new territory, culminating with the formation of an entirely new setting amidst the fallout from Hob's Mutant Bomb. There are obvious similarities to real-world events of the last few years, but without being heavy-handed about it, and as always, the characters and their continued evolution comes first.

A Horror anthology that just doesn't stop - and shouldn't for that matter - The Silver Coin is endlessly inventive, thought-provoking and endearing in the stand alone story approach to a massive concept that can go literally anywhere it wants to - the future, the past, summer camps, casinos, dive bars. Anywhere. This was my introduction to the art and storytelling of Michael Walsh, and it locked me in as a forever fan. 

Heartfelt, creepy, and just plain wonderful. I can't say enough good things about this book that, at first glance appears to be one thing masquerading as another, but really turned out to be a perfect thesis on why lovable cartoons like Disney makes are actually perfect vehicles for scary stories. Horror with the biggest of hearts.

My reintroduction to the X-books, and specifically, the brand new world Jonathan Hickman has crafted for them. When I picked this up, I didn't realize that Planet-sized literally meant, Planet-sized, as in the mutants terraform Mars, change its name to Arrako, and make it the Capitol of our Solar System. Everything about this X-era is huge, but this was just magnificent in its audacity. Audacity that Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz pull off with the perfect degree of assurance that makes it land. And from that landing, great things continue to spring.

Seven To Eternity ended this year, and whether the speculation that it was originally supposed to go a lot longer is accurate or not, I thought the series played out in a perfect series of acts that never once gave ground on its No Black and White, life is a Gray Area aesthetic that made my heart sing at its uncompromising nature. The Mud King will always live just under The Walking Dead's Negan as one of my all-time favorite 'villains' because neither character is actually a villain, but an amalgamation of complex choices based on a chronology that feeds into itself - to quote Boards of Canada, "the past inside the present."

And I loved that Rick Remender stuck the landing. Wow. 

I came in late to Nick Spencer's run on Amazing Spider-man, and it was the first Spidey comic I'd read in decades. Also, picking up with issue 49 and carrying on until the conclusion of Spencer's run with issue 74, this is by far the most consecutive issues of a Spider-comic I've ever read. I've loved the old Webhead since the 80s when I'd buy issues here and there, jumping on story arcs like Kraven's Last Hunt, the Eddie Brock/Venom origin, and anything with the Hobgoblin. I'm not sure what drove me back into the character this past year, but I had a fantastic time following the last few acts of Spencer's run. And even if it was a bit bloated, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending, overall, Amazing Spider-Man was one of my favorite comic experiences in 2021. 


I totally forgot one: Sandman/Locke and Key: Hell and Gone

For a brief moment this year - well, okay, not really a brief moment because it took almost the entire year to complete the run - we got Neil Gaiman's Sandman back. Hell and Gone was both a return to everything I loved about that seminal series, but also, a grand new vision that united another favorite series. All written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. It couldn't have been better if Dream himself had waved his pale appendages to conjure the story.

Crime comics just don't get any better than what comes from the desks of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and as if that weren't enough, with the Reckless series of HC Graphic Novels, they've perfected their craft even more. I LOVE these so much, and both entries that dropped in 2021 - Destroy All Monsters and Friend of the Devil - were fantastic. 

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