- January 17, 2022
Top Ten Comic Books of 2021!
Last year I put out a video ranking my favorite comic books of 2020, and now I’m doing it again for 2021. Here’s hoping it isn’t irrelevant by the time it comes out like it was last year. That was my bad.
But this year, I feel as if I’ve really opened myself up to new titles. I tried a lot of new comics, including indies like The Saturn Effect: Alpha, and Kickstarter titles like Coddlesworth’s Clockwork Circus. I’ve dived deep into lesser-known publishers like Scout Comics, and reviewed three massively popular Boom! series, in a row actually.
This year I think I really branched out and tried some new stuff. While, ironically, these lesser-known titles I’ve read aren’t making this list, they all make honorable mentions and helped me come to appreciate what I loved about long-standing favorites as well. I hope to carry this drive to expand my tastes into 2022. Maybe I’ll find comics that aren’t just about superheroes to populate my list of favorites.
Warning now, minor spoilers for all spots going forward.
#10. The Trial of Magneto
Written by Leah Williams with art by Lucas Werneck, the Trial of Magneto is a comic that stuns at the beginning and the end. For a while now, the Scarlet Witch has had a tenuous relationship with mutant-kind, and for good reason.
Brian Michael Bendis got his hands on her.
I’m kidding, but seriously, House of M has derailed her character for over a decade. This series decides to treat her with care and respect, rather than as some crazy woman she’s not. It rebuilds her relationship with the X-Men while taking honest criticisms of the choices she’s made, or really choices Marvel editorial has made with her character.
It’s really rare to see such sympathy and empathy come from a superhero comic. It’s even rarer to see it through superheroes. This comic does a lot in its first two issues alone, showing Marvel’s heroes in a light they haven’t been in a long time, and for the better.
The middle has some fluff and adds some unnecessary action that slows the pace down for no reason. It honestly kicked this series down a few spots, and the title is completely misleading. This isn’t a book about Magneto, it’s a book about the Scarlet Witch, making for a better story.
#9. Black Widow
Written by Kelly Thompson, with primary artist Elena Casagrande, we get another fantastic Black Widow series. For such a premier character at Marvel, she doesn’t have any story arcs that are household names. Even Iron Man and Thor have a couple. That’s a shame because she has several amazing runs that no one talks about. But I don’t think this is going to be one of those that people forget.
There’s nothing you can forget or ignore about this series. The creatives both reinvent Black Widow, but also keep her incredibly recognizable. They take what should be a formulaic premise of wiping her mind and giving her a fake family and make it work. They push Natasha Romanoff to her breaking point with this trope, something I didn’t expect to see. Then it flips her on her head again, making her a hero more in line with others, claiming a city as her own and stalking its city skylines.
That’s just the first two-story arcs, both filled with jaw-dropping art depicting the way only a Black Widow moves and thinks.
On paper, Black Widow didn’t become more complicated but actually became more like other superheroes. Yet, somehow they feel nothing like her. They don’t get the emotion that this Black Widow series gets out of me. They don’t bring classically stoic and cold characters to their breaking point and then leave them there to live and learn. This Black Widow series does that, and if you’re not reading it, you’re missing out on one of the best comic books of the year.
#8. Icon & Rocket
Written by Reginald Hudlin with art by Doug Braithwaite, this mini-series is almost over as the new year begins. Its first issue had me worried that it was just retreading the already amazing origin of the original series some decades ago. The second issue defied my expectations, punched me in the mouth, showed me a story about black superheroes in black culture, and told me to love it.
And I do.
There aren’t many comic books that capture the black community and depict how differently they would treat their own superheroes. Icon and Rocket tried their hand at regular super-heroics in their original series, but in this one, they’re tackling real problems. They’re destabilizing political cabals, getting the poison out of their neighborhoods, and making those who run the world actually afraid.
But they do it in such a way that everyone knows who they are within a week. Everyone knows that Rocket, the hero who punches out domestic abusers and destroys drug farms, is this girl from the fictional city of Dakota. It’s no secret, but that doesn’t mean when the cops come asking for her, that people tell them where she is. They’re tight-lipped, they’re a community, and they protect their heroes as their heroes protect them.
That’s what makes this one of the best comic books I’ve read all year. Other comic books do pay attention to how regular people react, but few that I can think of focus on how the black community would react, and in such a positive and hopeful way. That’s why I think everyone should read it.
Also, there’s a lot of shots of Icon killing Confederate traitors and slavers in flashbacks, which is just a cherry on top.
#7. Action Comics
Superman is the best superhero. He’s not the best at saving people, he’s not the most popular, and he doesn’t make the most money, but he embodies what a superhero should be more than any other.
This new run, written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson with art by Daniel Sampere, understands that better than most. Superman always has hope that he can save everyone, but he’s not a fool. He can’t always save people from themselves or their circumstances. What he can do is inspire them to save themselves, and help them every step of the way.
And he wants other heroes to do the same too, to believe in inspiring people and in hope as he does.
That’s what this arc has been about. With Mongul and his soul-crushing gladiator planet, he stands against everything Superman is and believes in. He becomes the perfect foil to Superman in a way he never has before. Superman is surrounded by people brainwashed and abused to never have hope, and even though it feels impossible and the stakes are always high, the series never lets you forget this is a story about Superman.
Superman will inspire us to follow him in the sun or die trying.
Written by Al Ewing, with various artists across its dozen issues, S.W.O.R.D. starts off as a comic that establishes mutantkind’s place in space. What it actually is about, is Abigail Brand playing everyone like a flute. Watching her play Game of Thrones with the many different species of the galaxy, Earth, and Krakoa raises the stakes of the X-books without anyone knowing.
Unlike Game of Thrones, it isn’t endlessly depressing, either. It’s funny, hopeful, and gives so many different characters time to shine. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, the strength of the X-books at the moment is how many characters they give the spotlight to. S.W.O.R.D. more than others, gives readers insight into other walks of life that comics don’t touch on enough with characters like Manifold and Wiz Kid.
The only weakness of this comic book was how often it got interrupted by events, but it also showed its strengths here too. Despite how events were interrupting its ongoing plot, it always moved the needle forward and added a new wrinkle to Abigail Brand’s master plan.
With each new wrinkle, the plot became more satisfying, and the tale more suspenseful. I was always glued to the page and hanging onto every word by the last issue. S.W.O.R.D. is fun, more fun than most books, but what it’ll be remembered for is not how it assured Krakoa’s hold on space, but Abigail Brand’s hold on Krakoa.
#5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Also written by Al Ewing, with art by Juan Frigeri, this series came to an end this year. I had never been a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy before this comic. I didn’t care for the roster, I didn’t care for their villains, and that’s not this property’s fault. Before this comic, I didn’t want to find new favorite superheroes that I would have to look everywhere and anywhere just to see again.
But that limited what I read and kept things samey and boring, and Guardians of the Galaxy proved that. When the big crossover was announced and the Guardians were tripling in size with tons of cool and lesser-known characters, it felt like a kick in the ass. I got caught up on the series, and it brought new depth to characters I wrongly thought lacked it.
Characters like Star-Lord and Gamora didn’t seem so bland, Groot and Drax weren’t jokes and Rocket… actually Rocket’s everything I thought he was but like in a good way.
But more importantly, I came to like characters I didn’t before. Phlya-Vel and Moondragon were so cool and the idea of them being two lovers lost in another world was a storyline deserving of its own book. Then there’s Quasar who looks like the coolest superhero around, so how did I not know about her? Or how about Hercules and Marvel Boy? When did they become so cool and interesting? I love their whirlwind relationship!
Most importantly, this series made me really care about their emotional states. All of them were constantly fluctuating between states of depression, hate, and love, to the point that I was getting emotional just seeing them go through life. They didn’t deserve anything other than a chance to rest, but when there’s no one else, it’s on them.
Comic books like this make you think not about what happens next, but what did happen long into the night. This series will stick with me forever.
My favorite comic book of last year remained fantastic all the way through 2021. A tale written by Chip Zdarksy and various artists continued its expert use of its dual storylines. Elektra learned what it meant to be Daredevil, and Matt Murdock went to prison to understand that putting away criminals isn’t doing much to help anyone. Either story could have been their own fantastic comic. Having them together only elevates both characters and their arcs.
But let’s focus on what it did this year that it wasn’t already doing last year. Last year we didn’t see Kingpin working with supervillains and falling in love with one of them. Last year we didn’t have Daredevil’s greatest enemy go up against two Daredevils. That was terrifying, as Elektra found herself on the ropes against a Bullseye who was deadlier than he ever was before. Even more terrifying was how she needed to rely on help to survive.
That made his defeat, all the sweeter.
So yeah, this is still one of the best comic books on my pull list. I just don’t have anything new to say without spoiling things I don’t need to spoil.
Just read Daredevil already, you have no reason not to at this point. If you are reading Daredevil, as all guilt-ridden Catholics should, what do you think its ending?
#3. Way of X/The Onslaught Revelation
Nightcrawler is one of the most underrated X-Men among the A-listers. I can’t think of any X-fan who doesn’t know who he is. At the same time, I also can’t think of any defining story that’s about him.
We don’t talk about the Draco in this house.
That makes Si Spurrier’s and Robert Quinn’s mini-series quite possibly the quintessential Nightcrawler story. We see Nightcrawler tackle Krakoa and the new mutant customs forming on it with a keen eye. Nightcrawler is a man of faith on an island that balks in all the rules and beliefs of his faith, and they do so for good reason. He questions how to bring back value into things like death and new life in a place where no one dies and everyone’s reproducing without care.
His journey and his burgeoning friendship with Legion, show a critical take of the status quo on Krakoa. It decides that it can be improved without downplaying the good it’s brought.
It also allows Nightcrawler to understand how he can begin to reconcile big topics like death, morality, and life.
If you’ve had a criticism of the Krakoa era of X-Men, but wish you didn’t, Nightcrawler probably feels the same. This is the best X-Men comic book to come out in 2021. It has left me incredibly excited for Legion of X in 2022.
#2. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
Tom King’s writing is controversial for good reason. His writing can seem nihilistic and depressing, look at his Batman and Mister Miracle runs. They always eventually end on hope, but hope is the light at the end of the tunnel rather than the path. While Superman: Up in the Sky shows that he can do stories about hopeful characters and do them well, we were still skeptical about his take on Supergirl.
And then we read his take on the Woman of Tomorrow. From the beginning, combined with heart-breaking art by Bilquis Evely, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow sets to stand apart from everything else on comic store walls. This series, with only a few issues left, has been a dive into Kara Zor-El’s psyche in a way we’ve never seen before. Through the eyes of a normal girl who gets to see Supergirl at her weakest, most powerful, and most mundane, we find ourselves understanding that she’s never been just a female Superman.
Superman doesn’t know what it means to have lost everything you’ve ever known, to be alone in the universe. He knows hope, but this series makes the case that Supergirl having any hope at all is more meaningful. She smiles, she uplifts, she loves and holds others so they don’t fall apart, while she has every reason to fall apart herself.
I think one of the most important things about this series, is that it’s not making fun of Supergirl. There are no jibs or jabs at her past or her iconography. This series aims to be the definitive Supergirl story, taking things once thought stupid and problematic like Comet the superhorse, and turning them into icons on the page.
If it weren’t for the number one spot, I would say that Bilquis Evely might have created the most gorgeous issues of the year, with every single one having at least one whole-page spread that will stick with you forever. This will end up being one of my favorite stories of all time. It’s already my favorite Tom King book of all time.
How strange it must be to see that it’s only #2 among my favorite comic books of 2021.
#1. Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons
I considered taking Kelly Sue Thompson’s and Phil Jimenez’s book off this list since it’s only one issue in. It might make more sense as the best issue of 2021 rather than the best comic of 2021 overall.
But no, this is the best.
Empathy and sympathy have been the prevailing themes of my favorite comic books in 2021. Wonder Woman Historia is no different. In fact, it’s the best example. Where other books have empathy and sympathy for specific characters or teams who have long needed it, this issue has empathy for the experience of women in a patriarchal society.
And not just white women, which is an honest and consistent criticism of Wonder Woman books. This issue seeks to have empathy for all and any woman who has suffered because they live in a world when men in their lives lack things lack empathy. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single class or minority not represented among Phil Jimenez’s magnificent Amazons, as his years of work come to fruition in some of the best pages he’s ever drawn, with some of the best designs he’s ever put to page.
Where Way of X was the best X-Men comic of the year, and Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow was the best series, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons, is the best thing I’ve read all year.
It may just be the best piece of art I’ve consumed in 2021. There’s no film, show, or video game I’ve found that matches the power behind the first Amazons. There’s no film, show, or video game I’ve found that can capture the emotion and rage that these characters feel.
Wonder Woman Historia sets the bar for comic books to come, and with more issues coming in 2022, I can’t wait.
What are your favorite comic books of 2021? Let me know in the comments below.