Man, what a year, right? As we all know, the impact of Covid has been felt all around the world, and the comic book industry has certainly felt the full force of that impact in the form of cancellations, delays and all kinds of financial struggles across the board, from publishers to local comic shops.
However, as with every setback in the past, the industry has picked itself up, made the necessary adjustments and got right back to producing top-quality stories. Which is exactly what this list is all about – a celebration of the books that have made it through the carnage to leave indelible marks on this particular reader, and the creators and publishers who helped bring them to life.
As always, the caveat that this is just one humble reader’s opinion definitely applies.
COFFIN BOUND (Image Comics, Dan Watters/Dani/Brad Simpson/Aditya Bidikar)
Honestly, I’ll admit to being a little late to the party on this one, only discovering Coffin Bound when the first issue of the second arc caught my eye back in August. I rapidly devoured the entire first volume in a single sitting, and found myself absolutely captivated by Watters and Dani’s story of Izzy Tyburn’s existential road trip as she tried to erase every trace of her existence before her violent past could catch up with her. The second arc took an entirely new approach, with young Taqa – a supporting character from the first arc – trying to prove the existence of “god” by courting a spectral entity who encircles the dying by putting out a hit on herself.
Boasting some of the most delightful dialogue I’ve read in quite some time along with a dynamic, chaotic and utterly mesmerising visual style, this grindhouse meditation on self-destruction and the corrosive nature of faith is like nothing else on the shelves over the past year, and gets my absolute highest possible recommendation.
DIE (Image Comics, Kieron Gillen/Stephanie Hans/Clayton Cowles)
For the second year running, Gillen and Hans’ dark fantasy series breezes into my Top 5 comics. Broadly described by Gillen as “Goth Jumanji”, the ongoing series which sees a group of forty-somethings drawn back into the D&D-esque world they visited as teenagers continued to go from strength to strength with its latest arc, expanding on the already impressive character and world building.
Plus, with Gillen’s storyline twists raising the stakes even higher, Hans matched this escalation by turning in some absolutely spectacular work over the five issues which were released this year.
More on that later, though ;)
John Constantine: Hellblazer (DC Comics, Simon Spurrier/Aaron Campbell/Matias Bergara/Jordie Bellaire/Aditya Bidikar)
One of the most bittersweet comic book stories to come out of 2020 is the spectacular rise and untimely cancellation of DC’s John Constantine: Hellblazer.
Full disclosure, I’ve never really been a huge Constantine fan (that is, I haven’t read many of his comics rather than not liking the character), but this series hooked me right from the get-go, with Spurrier’s typically world-class dialogue and the scintillating artwork from Campbell and Bergara prompting something of a deep dive on my part into the Hellblazer back catalogue.
Packed with timely humour, stunning visuals and an utterly gripping storyline, this is right up there with the best things to come out of DC in the last decade.
We Only Find Them When They’re Dead (BOOM! Studios, Al Ewing/Simone di Meo/Mariasara/Miotti/AndWorld Design)
When Rick Remender and Mateo Scalera’s Black Science wrapped up in late 2019, I found myself with something of a sci-fi void in my life. Enter the brilliantly-titled We Only Find Them When We’re Dead, which hooked me from the very first issue with its tale of space prospectors ‘mining’ the corpses of giant gods for materials, and the complicated exploits and history of one particular ship’s crew.
Ewing’s credentials as a writer need no introduction, but what really blew me away about this series was the stunning visual work of Simone di Meo, whose hazy blend of epic and intimate really helped to sell this slice of high-concept sci-fi awesomeness.
Slightly worryingly, I’m still not entirely sure if this one is planned as an ongoing or a five-part story, but either way, it’s definitely more than worth of inclusion in this year’s list.
Crossover (Image Comics, Donny Cates/Geoff Shaw/Dee Cunniffe/John J. Hill)
Yeah yeah, I know we’ve only technically had two issues of this Image Comics series released so far in 2020. But you know what? Considering the impact it’s already had on me in such a short space of time, there’s no way I wasn’t going to include this ridiculously ambitious tale from Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw in my Top 5 of the year.
When fantasy comes to life and superheroes jump out of the page and start knocking lumps out of each other, this story is undoubtedly one of the most exciting to be released all year, managing to be by turns intimate and epic, humorous and intense. And given what Cates has already been hinting about on social media for the next steps of the story, it feels like things are only going to get bigger and better from here on in.
BEST WRITER – Dan Watters
I’ve previously enjoyed rather a lot of Watters’ output over the years, including the likes of LIMBO at Image Comics and LUCIFER over at DC. But for me, his offerings in 2020 have taken his talents to a whole new level and have, in turn, made him an easy selection for my writer of the year. For me, COFFIN BOUND is unquestionably the best book of the year, and Watters singular knack for evocative dialogue and translating bold concepts to the page plays a huge part in that. Honestly, that series alone may have been enough for me to hand the award to Dan, but his recent first issue releases of HOME SICK PILOTS (Image Comics) and THE PICTURE OF EVERYTHING ELSE (Vault Comics) made it an absolute certainly, with the latter standing out as probably the best first issue I’ve read in the entire fifty-nine months (or however long it’s been) of 2020.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Maximum appreciation for Kieron Gillen, whose stellar run on DIE was supplemented by an equally consistent turn on ONCE & FUTURE, and who actually managed to get a lot of Warhammer agnostics like myself genuinely excited about the 40k Universe with his MARNEUS CALGAR series over at Marvel, and; Si Spurrier, whose JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER run may stand the test of time as one of the absolute best in the character’s already rich history (yeah, I said what I said).
BEST ARTIST – Stephanie Hans
I’ve loved Hans’ work on DIE since the very first issue, but something about the most recent arc has seen her kick things up to a whole new level, with her rich, painterly style and expressive blend of character and setting making the book an absolute visual treat. Equally at ease with a quiet, emotionally-charged conversation as a giant fantasy showdown, Hans’ passion for this project shines through on every page, and makes her a truly worthy winner of this year’s award.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Dani deserves a huge amount of credit for her frantic-yet-restrained linework and impeccable use of negative space on COFFIN BOUND, and I couldn’t not give Dan Mora a nod for his immaculate linework and knack for scale, movement and dynamism on the likes of ONCE & FUTURE.
BEST PUBLISHER – Image Comics
With an output that features no less than three of my Top 5 comics of the year, there was never really any doubt that Image Comics would be my publisher of the year. Continually championing exciting storytelling and creativity, they have managed to overcome a significant number of their tentpole series like the Walking Dead and Black Science coming to an end in 2019 with an absolutely stellar 2020, ensuring that their legacy is in good hands moving forwards.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: While not quite making the #1 spot this year, BOOM! Studios are still churning out some cracking reads, and while their all-ages imprint is absolutely world-class, their main line continues to put out some incredibly strong work as well, including the likes of ONCE & FUTURE and KING OF NOWHERE. Massive credit also needs to be given to Vault Comics, who have continued to go from strength to strength with an impressive slate of titles in 2020, and who look set to build on that even more in 2021 if their latest round of creator announcements are anything to go by.