Top 5 Comic Books of 2021
What a great year for comics! We can't end the year without the (now) traditional Top 5, so let's jump right into it.
*every book on this list must have started, ended, or been published during 2020*
5 - Batman: The Imposter
Writer: Mattson Tomlin
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Steve Wands
DC's The Batman is due this March, but if you're looking for a gritty, noir version of the character to hype you up, screenwriter Mattson Tomlin has done work on the film and manages to capture a comparably moody atmosphere here.
It's hard to say that you haven't seen every version of Batman there is (because you have), but the way this puts an early Batman against an imposter who kills criminals is masterful. Andrea Sorrentino is masterful, with spectacular layouts and expressions. You've seen versions of this Batman, but you get to see it done spectacularly well here. And for a character 80+ years in publication, that's pretty damn good.
I've delved deeper into analysis of this book here, but this three-issue miniseries is perfect for hardcore and casual fans alike. Hunt down the floppies or order the hardcover now, because this is one of the best Batman books on the post-Rebirth era,
4 - Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Pasqual Ferry
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Joe Caramagna
What if Peter Parker never gave up the symbiote? That's the premise of this relaunch of Marvel's What If? imprint. Revisiting the classic Symbiote saga, this Peter takes a dark turn as the symbiote leads Peter down a darker path, and has to fight his way back to the light.
Chip Zdarsky, in his third outing with the wall-crawler, brings the drama and the action. His work here reads more like his Daredevil than his Spectacular Spider-Man in the darkness the characters have to fight, while also maintaining the unending fight that Spider-Man embodies.
Pasqual Ferry brings in a style perfect for this, drawing a lot from contemporaries like Phil Noto and Rod Reiss, who in turn evolved from John Paul Leon, who really is the next step after David Mazuchelli... you get it. It's a very classic, ink-heavy style with his own flair, his faces in particular being impressively expressive.
For a tale starting with a twist, it has plenty more in stock. Definitely one of the definitive Spider-Man stories of the decade.
3 - Nightwing
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Bruno Redondo, Robbi Rodriguez
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Letters: Wes Abbot
Dick Grayson is a very important character to the Batman. He is Bruce Wayne as a child, taken in by Batman, and raised to be better. Unlike Bruce, he is happy, charismatic, not taken by revenge or loss. Here, he finally gets the treatment he deserves as a proper A-lister. Tom Taylor brings the character from the brink of a very messy few years of being dead, a secret agent, shot in the head and having no memories, and returns him to his roots: being the best guy there is.
It's hard to talk about this run without going into spoilers, but Taylor changes the status quo, bringing a lot to the table in regards to characters and growth. The villains, one a classic menace to the streets, the other; crime. It's about helping people, about being a hero. This is a new Nightwing for a new era.
He's also got a dog.
Bruno Redondo's art is truly stunning. His clean and stylish style is perfect for a rebranding of the character, and Adriano Lucas' colors are bright and pop off the page. It's a deliberate juxtaposition of the classic heroic ideas, with a new look. It looks like a book from today. It looks like a book for tomorrow.
This relaunch, which began its first arc (now collected in hardcover!) with issue #78 and will continue as an ongoing, is as DC Comics as DC Comics gets, including a three-issue tie-in to to Batman's Fear State event that is still worth picking up as a solid story with some excellent character moments. The most recent issue, #87, is set up as one continuous image, so expect this run to continue being experimental and fantastic. There is also single-issue crossovers with Superman: Son of Kal-El and The Flash this coming spring, if you needed more convincing that this book is the heart of the DC Universe. Cannot recommend this book to people enough.
2 - Beta Ray Bill
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors: Mike Spicer
Letters: Joe Sabino
If Nightwing is as DC Comics as DC Comics gets, Beta Ray Bill is straight up, balls to the wall, Marvel Comics Bullshit™. What is that, you may ask? How about Bill wrestling Surtur (you know, the cosmic fire god) with a Diamond Cutter and the one where you throw a guy into your own arm to knock him down and various other wrestling moves (I know nothing about wrestling btw).
How about Bill playing ping pong?
How about Skurge the Executioner with guns?
Beta Ray Bill, the sole survivor in his race's efforts to create the ultimate defender, who earned a weapon equal to Mjolnir from Odin by fist-fighting Thor to a standstill and not leaving him to die when given the chance, starved Galactus by destroying every planet in the planet-eater's way, is one of the best examples of Marvel Comics characters. Defined by his nobility, his strength, and his curse. He recently lost Stormbreaker in a comic less enjoyable than this, and is burdened by his inability to perform. He cannot transform to his humanoid form, and he cannot perform feats of strength as he once did, equal to the Mighty Thor. He is changed, and he feels lesser for it.
Bill undertakes this journey to find a weapon that could restore him to his former glory, with twists and turns along the way. He is joined by Pip the Troll and Skurge the Executioner (dead [not a spoiler]), who provide great character moments and comic relief.
Daniel Warren Johnson, on my top 7 last year because of his written/drawn work, Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, makes a return here to the perfect character for his dynamic style and sci-fi chops. A master of balancing epic moments with emotional storytelling, he can bring it when you need a firefight or a fistfight, and he can bring it when you need a quiet moment, or an argument between two friends and their strained relationship.
He is joined by Mike Spicer, his frequent collaborator, who's favorite color must be the orange of the heart of the sun, because every time that color shows up, it is blinding. His blues are deep and his yellows are peaceful, and he perfectly sets the mood in every single issue, executing flashbacks with grace, nailing every quiet, lonely moment, and destroying characters on panel in phenomenally colored action scenes.
By the end, Bill is changed, and he is left pondering the eternal question: "what now?" What do you do after seeking a great change and having it in your hands? Can you recognize your reflection in the mirror? Are you happy, now?
A perfect, emotional, exciting miniseries that stands on its own as one of the greatest character studies in Marvel Comics. It is collected in trade paperback, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Like last year, there were too many comics great comics this year and I couldn't not mention a few others that stood out, as well as revisiting the follow-up to my number 1 from last year.
Coda - Inferno
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Valerio Schiti, Stefano Caselli, RB Silva
Last year, my #1 was X of Swords, the climax of the previous year of post-House of X/Powers of X X-Men comics (called the Dawn of X). Unfortunately, due to shipping delays, Inferno won't be completed until January and I wouldn't feel right ranking it as the climax of the last year of comics (called the Reign of X). However, it is still eXcellent, with Hickman following the threads of HoX/PoX and bringing bold new twists. The some of best artists of the X-Men run return to make this book look spectacular. I look forward to its conclusion and the following year (called the Destiny of X) and how Hickman's world will go on while he takes a much-deserved break.
7 - Dark Knights of Steel
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Yasmine Putri
Tom Taylor is well known for his Elseworlds. DCeased, Injustice, he's even got Dark Ages over at Marvel. DKOS is, of course, a medieval fantasy take on the DCU, with some clever twists (the name becomes clear in the first issue) and beautiful art by Yasmine Putri. So far only two issues have been released, though I have had the privilege of reading the third (perks of the job) and I have to stress if you haven't already, add it to your pull. I can't wait to see where this goes.
6 - Karmen
Writer/Artist: Guillem March
Content Warning: Suicide, Self-Harm.
Mostly known for his work at DC, Guillem March publishes his translated-from-Spanish graphic novel in a miniseries format with Image comics. His art is the best I've ever seen it here, with likable characters, a stunning take on purgatory and the afterlife, and more importantly, a cautionary tale against suicide. Pick this up in floppies or order the hardcover, and fall in love with this book the way I did.
I cannot stress this enough, if you are feeling depressed or have suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone or call 800-273-8255. You are worth it, and help is available.
1 - The Nice House on the Lake
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Alvaro Martinez-Bueno
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Andworld Design
It's hard to define "mastery" in comics. We often refer to the originals, the ones that took existing continuity and created seminal work, or the pioneers of the last twenty years, pushing the boundaries of what you can do with a comic book. It's hard to have that conversation without mentioning Alan Moore and his influence in the craft. And if there is one person very open on the influence and inspiration he takes from Moore, it's James Tynion IV.
Tynion, a well-known horror icon in the industry, puts out his best work (out of an already impressive library) to date with this mystery thriller title. The premise is simple. A group of people is invited on vacation to the most beautiful lakehouse in the world by their friend in common, Walter. Some of these people are friends with each other, some only know each other by association, but they all know their friend Walter, a gentle, caring, attentive man who loves all of his friends deeply.
And then the world ends.
Ten people stuck in paradise, apart from the apocalypse. Walter, an incomprehensible, multi-dimensional being, who has (trapped)/(saved) them and just wants them to be happy and enjoy themselves themselves in paradise and forget(?).
It's easy to pick up a Batman book and be engaged. You already know who Batman is. Or who Spider-Man is. Or who Michelangelo or Optimus Prime or He-Man or Rorschach, you know who they are. You pick up an issue and you are subconsciously engaged with the characters, you're already rooting for Peter Parker before you're given a reason, because the name and legacy and franchise do the work for you. It's more difficult to get into an independent character. You don't know who Ryan Cane or David Daye or Walter are. But you will. Their actions, interactions and motivations in the lakehouse are engaging in some of the best character writing I've ever read, and the flashbacks show you who Walter is, even if what he is remains a mystery.
I'd be remiss to mention the other half of this spectacular team-up, Alvaro Martinez-Bueno. His art is next level, with beautiful vistas, expressive faces, horrible disfigurements and hints of otherworldly horror. Tynion has expressed in his newsletter that comics can only continue pushing the envelope if the synergy between a writer and an artist is perfect, and that the canvas a comic book works best if an artists utilizes every single inch of the page. Martinez-Bueno excels at this, crafting individual masterpieces every page, with beautiful layouts and gorgeous panels full of detail. The last page of the first issue in particular is, in my opinion, a perfect page, with the receding panels creating a feeling of emptiness in your stomach.
Jordie Bellaire's colors, of course, perfectly complement this book. Each scene has its color palette that it sticks to, ranging from bright yellows and blues, to vivid greens and muddy browns, to the blue, blacks and whites of the most shocking of scenes.
The storytelling boundaries are pushed as well, using anything from transcripts and emails, to twitter feeds and handwritten journals as exposition and storytelling. One specific issue uses shopping lists as punchlines and set up for various characters, culminating with a particularly harrowing use that made my stomach drop.
Every single issue gives you more, every single issue moves the plot forward, every single issue was a surprise. You're right alongside the characters, knowing what they know and trying to figure out what's happening together.
Everyone on staff is reading this book. The moment the week's books arrive when this is slated for release, we drop everything to read it (and sometimes to re-read it). It is the most popular, non-franchised comic book on our pull list. If you haven't read it, heard us gushing about it, or been recommended it, you are, and I don't like saying this too often, missing out.
Tynion and Martinez-Bueno are two masters who have crafted a perfect comic with an incredible cast of vivid characters and even more vivid art, and I can say with full conficence that it is the best comic book DC is publishing right now.
The Nice House on the Lake is currently on a mid-season break, with issue 7 slated for March. It is available in single issues, with a trade paperback collecting the first six issues slated for release shortly before the book's return (order yours with us here!). Catch up while you have time, because based on the final issue cliffhanger, the second half is only going to get more insane.
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LE | Luis is the manager and senior writer at Limited Editions C&C. He manages the day to day of the shop, works on social media outreach, and writes articles some people say are “pretty good.” He’s a life-long fan of comics, loves hot dogs, bath and body works hand sanitizers, and people who try their best, but his true passion is writing bios for webpages.