- February 10, 2021
Best Superhero Comics of 2020
Okay, 2020 sucked a whole lot. It was scary when comics stopped coming out for a few months in the spring, but we got through it. A lot of good comics eventually came out.
Mostly X-Men, but still a lot of good comics. Now it’s time to pick my favorite books to come out in 2020.
The book had to come out in 2020 to be considered. It’s fine if its an ongoing title but didn’t start in 2020. It’s allowed if it was a miniseries that’s going to end in 2021 and the vast majority of it was released in 2020. Also, if it started already and most of it is going to be 2021, I didn’t consider it. Sorry, Batman/Catwoman, you’re only one issue in.
Forewarning, this list is of books I read. There are a lot of comics that come out every week, I didn’t read them all. It’s likely I may have missed your favorite.
I will be listing them by series, not individual issues, I can’t remember that far or that specifically. Sorry, but not actually sorry.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Worst Comics I Read Last Year
There are two books that I read that I do not like, though I finished them. I’m a glutton for punishment.
Batman: The Adventure Continues and Dark Knights: Death Metal are disappointing books. I absolutely love the creative teams on them both, I honestly think they started out great.
As a continuation of Batman: The Animated Series, written by the Paul Dini, an original writer on the show, I was excited for the Adventure Continues. He was introducing characters we never saw in the DCAU shows, like the Red Hood and Deathstroke. I was so excited, and it was a good read for the first few issues.
Then we got into a lot of plot holes that stopped being funny and just felt lazy. There were a bunch of mischaracterizations and stupid excuses to get characters into cool costumes because they had a toy to sell.
Worse than anything is how they tried to explain Jason Todd fitting between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake in the DCAU. This story added nothing new. Its yet another Red Hood origin that doesn’t get Jason Todd. These stories never remember what he was actually like as Robin. He was the nice Robin, not the angry kid they make him now. The fact that he was the nicest Robin is what made his death tragic.
Worse than that, they dragged it over so many issues, and retroactively made characters worse from the show. I just can’t like anything about it but the art.
Similar things can be said for Dark Knights: Death Metal. I love Scott Snyder’s writing and Greg Capullo’s art even more, but halfway through DC added all these terrible tie-ins. I hate how necessary the tie-ins became to the story. You honestly need to read them to follow half of what’s going on. Worse, they’re boring, they didn’t do anything interesting, and they dragged down Snyder’s story. The main story itself about halfway through, started stalling and spinning its wheels.
These two books started out pretty strong, but ended poorly, and its beyond disappointing.
Enough about them though, let’s get on to the tenth best book I read this year.
Number #10: Wolverine by Benjamin Percy and Viktor Bogdonavic
He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is be mean, hate himself, beat people up, and look great doing it.
This story isn’t a complicated one, Wolverine is being Wolverine as he does his best to protect Krakoa and mutant kind like in X-Force, just solo… mostly.
I won’t lie, if you don’t like Logan’s usual angst you won’t like this book. I don’t mind it because writer Benjamin Percy has twisted the drama that surrounds Logan to breath life into the character. There’s also two stories going on in the Wolverine book for the first arc that allow him to do that.
In one story Percy adds needed depth to Logan’s self-loathing. It’s less about his past, and more about the now. He’s been mind-controlled again and turned into somebody’s weapon. It’s a far more sympathetic tale and it’s easy to get behind the violence that comes with the Wolverine.
But that’s not why I love this book. Why I love this book above most others I’ve read this year, is simple.
I love vampires, and I love Bogdonavic’s art. His art style reminds me a lot of Greg Capullo. His art is distinctive in how he captures the forms of characters and their faces. This has led to some cool and menacing vampires, which I need more of in comics, and everything else too.
And as ridiculous as it may sound, pitting vampires against mutants works because Percy plays it serious. Vampires want to become the most powerful subspecies of humans by drinking mutant blood for their powers. Wolverine’s blood gave them the ability to avoid some of their famous weaknesses so it’s not total BS.
They also serve as an actual threat to Krakoa because they are a species, not a group or a single villain. They’re also not robots, and serve as this dark reflection to mutant superiority with their aristocratic nature. Krakoa has become a powerful nation of the physically elite. Putting them against vampire society paints Krakoa in a new light that I find fascinating. Plus, it’s also an enemy that Krakoa doesn’t tell Wolverine he can’t kill.
This book is pretty much giving me a Wolverine story I didn’t know I wanted, and I want little else from it. Maybe add Laura to the book too now that she’s coming back. Then this title will become my favorite.
Onto the next.
Number #9: Batman: Three Jokers by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok
This is going to be a controversial pick because I think most things about this book don’t work. The book’s main conceit, that there are actually three Jokers, doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense how Batman wouldn’t know there’s three different Jokers. Plus, there’s no real conclusion to who or what the Joker literally is. Worst thing about it is that there’s only one Joker by the end, the one we’ve been reading about for the past few decades.
So nothing is new, nothing has changed.
At the same time, the moment-to-moment story is gripping. Its Batman failing to be a father to Red Hood, and Red Hood failing to overcome the trauma he suffered by the Joker. Johns is a master of dialogue driven tension. Having Batgirl try to help Red Hood, a fellow victim of the Joker, is almost put to its full potential. There are so many small moments between Batman, Red Hood, and Batgirl that I still think about, and the ways that the Jokers target them is both harrowing and tense.
At the same time, writer Geoff Johns clearly doesn’t like Jason Todd as the Red Hood. He obviously tries to undo Jason’s character development by having him weirdly ogle Barbara as Batgirl. It’s one example of the good built or surrounded by bad.
Another is the book’s climax. The Joker tricks Batman into forgiving the man who shot his parents. He essentially tricks him into letting go of his trauma. Its this impactful scene that moves Batman forward as a character and making more human. The story is punctuated by Jason Fabok’s jaw-dropping art. In one moment, the theater that his parents were killed next to literally falls apart the moment Batman forgives his parents’ killer.
At the same time, this whole resolution wasn’t built up at all. The killer of Batman’s parents, Joe Chill, is little more than a footnote for the first two issues in this story. Let me remind you, there are only three issues that make up this story.
There are so many good things that are flavored with bad, and things that don’t make sense. This book survives off of good moments that aren’t earned.
But these moments make the book for me, so much so that it has to be in my top ten. Having Batman see that Joe Chill was just down on this luck when he shot his parents allows Batman to grow. The Joker now being able to be Batman’s worst trauma, is genius. This wasn’t earned.
The only thing undeniably good is Jason Fabok’s art. He’s a tour de force here. Everything he draws in this book is amazing, deserving of an award. He outdoes Gary Frank’s dedication to realism without delving into the uncanny valley. This dude deserves an award for giving his all when Johns didn’t.
Number #8: X-Men/Fantastic Four by Chip Zdarsky and Terry Dodson
In my review of this comic, I called it the best comic crossover event of the year by that point in the year. While I don’t think that’s true by the year’s end, it’s still pretty fantastic. Chip Zdarsky gets to the core of every character in this book. The way Zdarsky captures the Fantastic Four and the X-Men reminds me of how Tom Taylor captures the core of DC characters.
Every interaction is gold, and the conflict around Franklin Richards is both intriguing and gripping. To be ripped between what you are and the family you come from is a real conundrum. It makes Franklin into an interesting character in a way he hasn’t been since Dan Slott took over the Fantastic Four.
The X-Men and Fantastic Four have this real back and forth that doesn’t just devolve into, “The X-Men aren’t heroes anymore. God, why are the X-Men such jerks now?” Zdarsky treats every character here with respect and depth, which is amazing with how many characters show up here.
And Terry Dodson’s art is great. I’ll admit, its weird how Emma Frost and Sue Storm look the same in their face, but that’s alright. I like his art style more now than when I first read it. He adds character and expression, but his style never creates a dissonance between the humorous and serious tonal shifts.
For more on this book, check out the video review I did for it.
Number #7: X of Swords by Many writers and artists
X of Swords is technically the first official crossover between all of the X-Men books. Though I like to believe that X-Men/Fantastic Four should count as well.
Usually with crossovers, I end up hating them because I have to pick up a book I don’t normally read. They always interrupt the stories I actually want to read. That being said, the team leading the X-Men clearly have taken this common and popular criticism to heart. I say this because all the books that are a part of this crossover event lead into X of Swords perfectly enough. They also make it so that it doesn’t feel a bunch of separate books, but one story.
The first half is ominous, setting up this contest of champions between the mutants of Krakoa against the mutants of Arakko. It’s honestly better than the second half because it sets up so many questions, so many mysteries, and so many villains that I couldn’t wait to see more of.
Then the contest started, and it was, in all honesty, full of BS.
But, the BS that was going on was, while tonally story-breaking, led to hilarious and deep story moments. Moments that told us more about new and classic characters more than any fight could have. It built a relationship and a rivalry between these groups of mutants who could be friends if they weren’t from different islands.
Others hate that they got something that wasn’t what they were sold on. I do think this is a tragic flaw of the book. It has the same problem that Season 8 of Game of Thrones and the Last Jedi have, it wanted to subvert expectations. In my opinion, this one does a better job of providing a quality story that’s gripping in a way those other two weren’t.
Anyone who hates X of Swords for billing itself as a contest of murder, then turning into a wacky character driven talent show contest, have every reason to hate it. At the same time, the contest we got was still great. It even ended with a bombastic battle with all the X-Men you love, fighting for something more than just their lives. They fought for each other, for Krakoa, and their home, so to me, it ended up as one of my favorite crossover events in comics.
Number #6: DCeased, Hope At World’s End, Dead Planet, and Unkillables, all written by Tom Taylor with multiple artists
Now, this may seem like cheating, but I could not pick which of these series was my favorite. Tonally, they all honestly felt the same being that they were all written by the same guy, in the same timeline. They all intersect perfectly, and came out alongside each other. It’s hard for me to not feel like they’re all the same fantastic story.
Dead Planet continues where the original 2019 series left off, with the heroes who escaped the zombie invested planet Earth, now coming back to save those who remained. Unkillables was about the anti-heroes and villains who couldn’t get to the life ships in time. Now they’ve found a place where they could survive until those who escaped came back. And Hope At World’s End filled in the gaps in the original’s story.
They each came to capture who and what each of these long-standing characters are in a way that only Tom Taylor seems to do nowadays. More than that, he’s giving much needed character development and character interactions that people have been clamoring for for years, but the soap opera nature of comic books won’t allow.
Seeing Damian Wayne stop being a little snot-nosed jerk and getting Stephanie Brown back as Robin was cathartic. Jon Kent becoming the Superman his father wanted to be was emotionally filling. Then seeing characters of varying popularity finally share a page felt like wish-fulfillment in the best way.
At the same time, Tom Taylor, with a few exceptions, keeps the danger real without unnecessarily killing characters. There are a few exceptions I would pick, but for the most part, each of the deaths Taylor is known for, served a purpose, both subtle and blatant. It rarely feels cheap, and the stakes have never been higher. We don’t know if they’re truly going to win (partially because Dead Planet’s last issue isn’t out yet), but we never lose hope.
Taylor, with his DCeased universe of DC zombies, has created a world both full of fear and danger, without ever losing the hope that permeates through DC.
Number #5: X-Men by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Leinil Yu save for some specific issues
God, what can’t be said about this book? I love how this series feels like an anthology book. I love how it aims to show every new facet of the Dawn of X status quo. The X-Men are heroes, but they serve their people first, and they protect themselves first, as they should.
Mutants are developing their own culture, their own customs, new ways of life, and they’re happy doing it.
Except Wolverine, but that’s to be expected.
This is a comic both about learning one’s self, but also healing one’s self. Mutants who had their powers taken away, are getting them back. Mutants who died before their time, are being resurrected and reunited with their loved ones. People who for most of their lives, didn’t know the meaning of safety, now do.
It’s hard to say what this book has been about in 2020. The best way I can put it, is that it’s been about the mutant people through the eyes of Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men. It’s a book dedicated to catharsis. We read about for characters who have done nothing but suffer all their lives for being born a certain way.
Hickman makes you understand how characters feel. Not everything is hunky-dory, but there’s also no unneeded drama, no ultimatums, just living, and defeating those who think they can take that away.
And then the art is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I’m sad that going into 2020, artist Leinil Yu will only be doing the covers. He gave us so many gorgeous panels over the last year.
Before now, I believe Jim Lee was the most quintessential artist when thinking about the X-Men. Now I think Leinil Yu has properly and accurately redefined them for the world they live in and who they should be.
Read this book. If you only read one X-Men book, or even one Marvel book, read this book. It’s not my favorite considering it’s number 5, but it’s the one that will make you understand who the X-Men are and should be compared to the more niche tales of the other books.
Number #4: Injustice: Year Zero by Tom Taylor and drawn by Roge Antonio
This book is the best argument as to why Tom Taylor should be writing the mainline Justice League comic. DCeased is so successful because of the characterizations, the interactions, the history, and the clear love for DC current and past. The same is true tenfold here.
This is what we would get if Tom Taylor wrote an arc of Justice League. No zombies, no superhero civil war, just heroes versus villains. And he told a tale that just grips at the heartstrings with tension and payoff.
Giving the Joker a mind controlling magical amulet sounds like an idea ripped straight from a 70s cartoon, but Tom Taylor treats it as a real danger without ever going to far. He balances the wacky with the serious.
He even brings in lesser known characters like the Justice Society. With a single issue, Taylor establishes what these older heroes mean to the heroes of today. He’s the best at making you care about characters, even if you don’t know them, in a single issue.
The art by Roge Antonio is pretty good, but I’d be dishonest if I said I was writing home about it. He has a similar feel and energy to what Bruno Redondo did with the original Injustice comic that this is a prequel to. He captures a bit less detail, but I personally prefer it. His style doesn’t add unnecessary details which led to some pretty horrendous panels.
Antonio is able to make the light-hearted moments perfectly light-hearted, and the serious moments perfectly so. Antonio’s art style fits all the characters he draws, making his takes on them memorable but also original.
Number #3: X-Factor by Leah Williams and art by David Baldeón
Now, I know I said that Hickman’s X-Men is the comic I would recommend if you could only buy one Marvel comic this year, but that doesn’t it make it my favorite.
X-Factor is more niche, a title about a weird ragtag group of X-Men characters investigating mutant deaths after they’ve conquered death. Sure, every mutant who dies can come back to life, but its not that simple. The Five have to know that the mutant is dead for their resurrection protocols first. Otherwise, they could create a mutant body, give it a person’s memories, and end up having two of one person. There needs to be a team who finds out if someone is really dead, how they died, and if they can be resurrected.
A team called X-Factor is perfect for the job. Every person on the team save for Northstar and Polaris, the team leaders and powerhouses, have a different way to investigate. They make murder mysteries entertaining again with how mutant powers like telepathy, multi-vision, and pheromone control can get information and clues.
And that’s not even my favorite part. My favorite part is Williams’s writing and characterization. She pretty much reinvents these characters. Now they’re human, quirky, and I don’t know why, but really sassy. I love it.
No issue wastes a moment to illuminate a cool character dynamic. It can be Northstar and Daken’s rivalry throughout the first arc. It can be one issue of Prodigy and Eye-boy having fun with Prodigy’s deep man voice. Maybe another arc has Polaris and Rachel Grey being the best besties in comics.
It’s just… funny and fun. I love Hickman’s X-Men, it’s super serious, it’s artful, tactful, but it’s got nothing on just how fun X-Factor is. This book makes the team just hanging out in their headquarters fun.
My favorite insult to come out of comics in 2020 has to be Northstar calling Daken a bi-disaster.
Number #2: Marauders by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by multiple
I said before in my Dawn of X review that Marauders is my favorite X-Men book, and I stand by that statement still. Kate Pryde, don’t call her Kitty, has slowly become the kid everyone looks out for, to the hero everyone looks up to. Now, like any quality superhero, she’s going through her coolest-dude-on-the-block phase. For Wolverine, it was becoming a samurai, for Batman, a ninja, for Storm, a Queen, and now Kate, is a pirate.
You heard me, a pirate! I love pirates.
She has the coolest costume of Dawn of X, bar none, don’t @ me unless its of Daken. His redesign is a close second. She steals the show with a classic X-Men crew of both old heroes and new villains alike. Gerry Duggan shows them at their best and purest. He never shies away from their most vengeful and hopeful, and never forgets the mutant metaphor, arguably even more than the main X-Men title.
It’s about providing for the nation. They ship its main export, and smuggle mutants home to Krakoa. We’ve been in an immigrant crisis situation all over the world for some years now. This book puts the people suffering and trying to get away in a sympathetic and hopeful light, with heroes finally here to help them. Using mutant refugees is a powerful metaphor, one that interweaves with the action of the book.
The art is here nor there, starting out better than it is right now, but never bad. The way Kate Pryde, the new Red Queen has been using her powers to defeat even small grunts is exhilarating and clever. A woman who can walk through anything, can do a lot when she puts her mind to it and stops holding back.
Marauders is my favorite X-Men book of 2020, maybe even ever, but it turns out, it ain’t my favorite book of 2020.
But before that I gotta give out some honorable mentions to Books that Just Missed the Cut.
Honorable Mentions: More of the Best Comics I Read Last Year
There are four books I really wanted to put on this list, but couldn’t. Some of which I may do a video on eventually. Either a review or something similar because they deserve some spotlight.
Jeff Lemire’s and Denys Cowan’s Black Label series, The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage deserves more buzz and acclaim. It’s this big, well-written, well-illustrated book by DC about a character who isn’t one of the Trinity. It emulated the late Dennis O’Neil’s take on the character in a timeless tale I want to spend more time talking about. If you want DC to do books on characters not a part of the Trinity families, and you like the Question, get this book already.
I could say the same about the Sandman Universe’s Lucifer comic. The last sequel they did to the original, and finomia series was great itself. It didn’t capture the tone or the character of the original. That book was somewhere between the comic and the show. Now, This reboot is far more inline with the original series it follows.
It makes Lucifer a truly neutral character. A character who while infinitely powerful, uses his mind as his greatest weapon, and that mind never falters, even when it looks like it might. You’re never a step ahead of the devil. What holds this book back is how Covid has delayed not only the end to the series, but the somewhat aimless plot post the first two story arcs.
X-Men: Empyre deserves a shoutout too. I did a video this year because it was better than it had any right to be. It’s fun, has a lot of X-Men, and gets deeper than it has any right too sometimes. It’s just not doing enough to reach into the top ten.
Last honorable mention is New Mutants. I feel like this series fell off towards the end of the year before it got a new creative tea. Now I feel like its back on track. It was never bad, always good to great, but that inconsistency and lack of really amazing highs keeps me from putting it higher than even my 9 and 10 spots. Though, I fully expect it to be in my top ten this year.
But now, for number 1.
Number #1: Daredevil by Chip Zdarksy, art by multiple illustrators
I don’t talk about Daredevil a lot. He hasn’t ever been a really big player in the Marvel universe. He’s always been this low-level guy micromanaging a few blocks in New York City. His powers aren’t really all that interesting to me, his abilities and fighting style mimic Nightwing, and he shares a lot of his best villains with other characters. So I never thought much about Daredevil.
That means anyone who knows the character should now say that I’m really stupid. I’ve learned, after a modicum of research, that Daredevil is one of, if not the most critically acclaimed superhero of all time.
Jesus Christ, it’s harder to find a bad Daredevil story than a good one for most other heroes.
And Chip Zdarsky’s series is no exception.
I’ll admit, I caught up to this series in the last two months of the year. I binged through the volumes to catch up with the new status quo they announced, Elektra as Daredevil. Call me a fake Daredevil fan all you want, I started reading because of Elektra’s sick Daredevil costume, and I’m so glad I did.
To see Matt Murdock try and fail to come back as a hero is intriguing. To see him to go through the pain and agony of failing and causing someone’s death is humanizing. Seeing him struggle and fail to help people through normal means is satisfying. I don’t think there’s a bad issue in this run. There are bad issues in every run, but I can’t name one in this comic.
Zdarsky manages to add, show, and emphasize the many facets of Matt Murdock’s character with every story beat. In the process, he makes Matt Murdock maybe the most human superhero there is. He’s a man who he struggles, and who fails as often as he succeeds, but he’s never infallible.
And there’s so many things driving him. There’s an innate goodness to him, but also the childhood trauma of a superhero. Then there’s his Catholic faith, or should I say, Catholic guilt, making sure that Murdock is always questioning himself.
Zdarsky’s dialogue is on point, one moment Murdock is a regular guy, to an analytical superhero, to a sheer poet without missing a single beat.
I have nothing but praise for this book. Zdarsky’s writing is so on point that I can forget the revolving door of artists. And after everything I’ve said, I haven’t even mentioned the villains, specifically the Kingpin, who takes up nearly half of the book’s scenes.
Daredevil is the best comic book I read in 2020. It’s probably the best book to come out from Marvel or DC in 2020.
Conclusion: What are your Best Comics of Last Year?
If you read something you think is better, I want to know, because I think Daredevil is running me for other comic books.
To help me out, check out the video up on YouTube!
I want to know, what’s your favorite comic book of 2020?