Updated: Jan 1
This past year was another unusual one for the comic book industry, with many titles plagued by lengthy COVID-related delays between issues. But the publishers persevered, and released some comics that just shouldn't be missed. In our humble opinion, here are our picks for the Best Comics of 2021:
ANDREW CARR: Over the last year I’ve been lucky enough to read many fantastic books: BRZRKR, the first comic from Hollywood A-list actor Keanu Reeves; Shadowman from Cullen Bunn, mixing horror with action; and That Texas Blood has still been going strong.
However, there are two titles that really stand out to me.
Nocterra, from writer Scott Snyder and artist Tony Daniels, features a post-apocalyptic world where there is no sun and everything is deformed by staying in the dark. This beautifully worked tale of struggle against such incredible odds is without a doubt the standout book for the year for me.
Each issue manages to better the last, and furthers the story with amazing intrigue, all the while we have stunning panels from Tony. It got to the point for me where I couldn’t think of any criticisms of the book in my regular POP reviews. Almost flawless in every way. Which for me is why I’m putting it up there as the best new series of the year, and to which I compared every other comic after its release.
The second was X-O Manowar issue 9. From a relatively good start to a rocky middle, this title has seen its fair share of problems and delays throughout its run. All 9 issues took almost two years to be released. There was even a point in the middle where Valiant Comics had said that issue 5 would be a great jumping-on point, to which I disagreed. Despite these problems with the book, its release of issue 9 saw not just stunning visuals but one of the best scripts I’ve seen in any single issue. Having a powerful hero like Aric/X-O Manowar actually solve the situation through debate rather than strength showed his intelligence and compassion. It was also a very well thought out argument about the idea of one man knowing what’s best for an entire world. With this fantastic finale, all the problems leading up just faded away and it felt like a deserved ending of the arc, and a beautiful way to cap off the year.
BRITTON SUMMERS: Man…I read a lot of great comics this year. Hard to pick just one. But I have to go with the second Reckless comic: Friend of The Devil. I mean, it’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, what else is there to say? They’re one of the strongest creative partnerships in modern day comics. Friend of The Devil proves to be one of Ed and Sean’s best books in years. While it’s magnificently paced and engrossing as their work usually is, Friend of the Devil has one of the duo's most haunting endings, that gives a gut punch that lasts long after you’re done reading it. It’s peak comic book storytelling, and Ed and Sean’s best ending since The Fade Out. Highly recommended.
IAN M: As a waiting-for-the-trade guy, while I read a ton of books, most didn't have a 2021 publication date (how about that Fraction Jimmy Olsen series? How about that Ram V Blue and Green?). Certainly, I read some good candidates: Barry Windsor-Smith's Monsters is great and deserves a read, but unlike many, I had some criticisms of it. Brecht Evens's City of Belgium is definitely on my list, but it's a book I wouldn't recommend to most comic readers, as it's pretty abstract. It's much more suited to pretentious art snobs who wouldn't touch a comic normally, and would alienate most Wednesday Warriors. Those are good books that deserve a look by fans of the medium though.
The book that I'll go with for Best of 2021 is Crisis Zone by Simon Hanselman. His target was much lower than those two books mentioned above, but he pulled it off spectacularly. Barely a book, but rather a COVID lockdown diary using the lens of his characters, it was written throughout 2020, and mostly published on his Instagram. The book rolls with the madness of the year as it happened, and ends only because book contracts were signed and he had to wrap it up (though I'm sure he was ready to chill out after a page a day for ten months). People riot, people get COVID, people get cancelled. People do horrible things, violence happens, and people are depressed. They get a Netflix series. There are ghosts. Vegas entertainer CarrotTop brings meaning to the name "Carrot Bottom".
Upon reading it, I thought it wasn't as good as Hanselman's previous five collections, but months later, I remember what happened in this book. All his other books are mostly just a smudge of drugs, crying, and rimming to me now. Years from now, as serious dramas and comedies try to set stories in COVID times, and they all struggle to succeed, the reason will be this: Hanselman already pulled it off. He made a depressing, laugh-out-loud book that is all I'll ever want to remember of this era.
TAHEG GLODER: Picking a “Best” Comic for 2021 is almost impossible. We’ve had some truly amazing books released in the last 12 months. Kelly Thompson has continued to entertain with both Black Widow and Captain Marvel. Si Spurrier saved the soul of Krakoa in Way of X. Al Ewing brought Immortal Hulk to a beautiful conclusion after 50 amazingly strong issues, and gave us a Guardians of the Galaxy run that surprised and amazing everyone. And then, Donny Cates continued to sort-of write Thor.
But, if I'm being honest here, regular visitors of the POP site already know what my favourite comic of the year was, don't they? Because one of the greatest books of recent times came to its epic and damn near perfect ending, a few months back, as Kieron Gillen’s DIE reached its brutally, beautifully bittersweet conclusion. Between Gillen’s astonishing character work, and Stephanie Hans’s unmatched art, DIE is a comic that I will never stop reading, recommending, and talking about. A heartbreaking, soul-healing conclusion to a series that demands your attention. What else could I pick?
MACK JOHNSON: The comic that moved me/disturbed me/impressed me the most in 2021 no doubt was Barry Windsor-Smith's epic, decades-in-the-making MONSTERS. A massive tome full of evocative black-and-white art that's a grueling, devastating horror study about the fragility of the human mind, and the many ways that humans can inflict physical, mental, and emotional abuse on each other, whether intentionally and not.
But the comic that I enjoyed the most, and most looked forward to each month was Fantastic Four: Life Story. Building on the successful premise of Spider-Man: Life Story, Fantastic Four: Life Story retells the history of the FF from the 1960s in issue #1 through the 2000s in issue #5, each issue covering significant events in each decade in-between...but with a major twist: the characters age through the decades, throwing out the comic book tradition of characters aging very slowly or not at all.
Writer Mark Russell created a fascinating alternate FF universe that incorporated real-world events and people, with plenty of surprise deviations from established FF history. The 5-issue tale is tied together with an underlying feeling of dread that began with Reed's vision in issue #1: Galactus is coming within their lifetime and the FF has to convince the world that the threat is real and to prepare for it.
Artist Sean Izaakse goes above and beyond to capture each decade's fashions, hairstyles, automobiles, etc., while Carlos Lao and Daniel Acuna create memorable graphic designs and iconic covers.
To a major FF fan like me—and as a professional graphic designer, illustrator, and copywriter who appreciates all those creative forms—these five issues represented a Complete Package of comic enjoyment.
MATT HENRY: The title is still ongoing, but when it comes to my favorite read this year, it has to be The Last Ronin. It hits all my favorite things: action, adventure, and nostalgia. It's an amazing story that's told slowly, and deliberately. Getting to see the future of our TMNTs is so much fun.
AUSTIN KEMP: David Chisholm's Canopus is my pick for Best Comic of 2021. His innovative composition and emotional narrative create a one-two punch of cathartic impact that resonates on both a personal and cultural level. His bare bones art and concise writing made me weep from its simplicity, while I marveled at its powerful complexity. A step forward in the form of comics, Canopus conveys hope not just for comics, but for ourselves in an ever complicated world.
MICHAEL AUSTERLITZ: Rorschach by Tom King and Jorge Fornes. Expanding on the world of Watchmen, further expanded on by the HBO show, it's a noir that takes all the elements of one of Alan Moore’s best works and adds Tom King’s flair for verbosity in the best way. A crime drama uses its namesake not as the main character but as an idea, blending grit and exposition in a way that left me wanting to read the next issue as soon as possible.
Well, those are our picks for BEST COMICS OF 2021. . .what are YOURS? Let us know!
HAPPY NEW YEAR from POP Culture and Comics!