Well, it’s nearly the end of the year again (where does the time go?), and with another twelve months in the (comic) books, it’s time for me to take a look back at some of the titles I’ve enjoyed most in 2021.
Let me know whether you agree or disagree with my picks, and feel free to share your own recommendations in the comments section below.
COMICS OF THE YEAR
(in no particular order…)
THE SWAMP THING (DC COMICS)
(Ram V, Mike Perkins, Mike Spicer, Aditya Bidikar)
Perhaps a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who knows me, but putting to one side my pre-existing love for the central character, there’s no denying that Ram V and Mike Perkins have combined to create one of the most singularly striking books on the shelves right now. Simultaneously paying homage to the past while carving out a fresh new niche for the future, this series sees newcomer Levi Kamei reluctantly thrust into the role of Avatar of the Green, and recently had its run extended from 10 to 16 issues – an emphatic indicator of how well received it has been.
Ram V is something of a BCP favourite, and delivers a strong narrative packed with thoughtful musings, immaculate prose and meaty character moments, while Perkins and Spicer combine to deliver intricately detailed and wildly ambitious splash pages and double page spreads aplenty. Rounding out the team is Aditya Bidikar, who delivers some of the most innovative lettering you’re likely to see, particularly from a ‘Big Two’ title. A legitimate masterpiece, and a pretty much automatic entry into my Top 5 from the moment the first issue dropped back in March.
DIE (IMAGE COMICS)
(Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, Clayton Cowles)
This makes it an unprecedented three consecutive years in the Top 5 for Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ Die, and rightfully so. It’s been a long time since a series has so completely and utterly gripped me, and the final arc, which sees our deeply flawed party of brilliantly realised characters finally engage in a little bout of dungeon crawling – of a sort, anyway – sticks the immensely satisfying landing with all the confidence I could have possibly hoped for.
Once again, Gillen, Hans and Cowles combine to deliver a blend of beautiful storytelling, moving character moments and intense high fantasy, all while running the entire gamut of literary influences from Tolkien to Brontë to Lovecraft. Geeky, gripping and beautifully illustrated, this is one of the best comics I’ve read in a long, long time, and while it’s sad to see it go, I’ll take solace in knowing that the entire twenty-issue run is going to stand the test of time as one of the very best titles that Image Comics has ever published.
WASTED SPACE (VAULT COMICS)
(Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, Jim Campbell)
With the final issue dropping last month, tying a beautiful bow on Vault Comics’ debauched, evocative and envelope-pushing space opera, there was no way Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s impressive creation wasn’t going to earn its second spot in my ‘Best of the Year’ list.
While I’ve been a massive fan of Michael Moreci for quite some time, the sheer depth of world building and characterization that he achieves here alongside artist Hayden Sherman is, for my money, the best thing he has ever done. Similarly, this feels like career-best work from Sherman, whose striking and boldly unconventional style fits hand-in-glove alongside Moreci’s plot to deliver an aesthetic and tone that is like nothing else on the shelves. I’m going to miss Billy, Molly and Dust, that’s for sure.
THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE (DC COMICS)
(James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Jordie Bellaire, AndWorld Design)
Invited by an old friend to attend a party in a luxury lakehouse in the middle of nowhere, a group of acquaintances discover that their friend Walter is not of this Earth. Not only that, but the rest of the world has seemingly been destroyed by a brutal invasion and they alone have been chosen to live out their days in this open-plan “paradise”, never wanting for anything.
As concepts go, Tynion IV has definitely come up with a great one, but it’s the flawless execution and slow-burning character development that really cements this series’ place in my Top 5. Not only that, but Alvaro Martinez Bueno and Jordie Bellaire combine to deliver some utterly striking artwork, keeping things grounded and expressive for the most part – an approach which helps the extra terrestrial and supernatural moments leap off the page. Highly recommended, and another storming success for DC’s Black Label imprint.
6 SIDEKICKS OF TRIGGER KEATON (IMAGE COMICS)
(Kyle Starks, Chris Schweizer)
Trigger Keaton, the world’s most unlikeable action star, is dead. And while it initially appeared to be a cut-and-dried suicide, a group of his former on-screen sidekicks, all berated, abused and discarded by him in various ways, suspect foul play. Cue a hilarious, exciting homage to the camp TV action shows of yesteryear, packed with fantastic dialogue, crazy choreography and quote-worthy moments aplenty.
It’s no secret that I absolutely love me some Kyle Starks, and watching him work together so seamlessly alongside the brilliantly comic visuals of long time friend Chris Schweizer is a real treat. Schweizer tackles the comedy beats and over-the-top choreaography with equal enthusiasm, and Starks’ distinctive sense of humour shines through in every page of what is probably the book I had the most fun reading in 2021.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Barbaric (Vault Comics), Ka-Zar, Lord of the Savage Land (Marvel Comics), Orphan & The Five Beasts (Dark Horse Comics), Department of Truth (Image Comics), Rainbow Bridge (AfterShock Comics) and Alice in Leatherland (Black Mask Studios).