What can be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been screamed by a chorus of insane voices into the void? From COVID-19 to a seemingly endless presidential election cycle (and so. much. more), it’s been a year that’s tested every single one of us. If there’s been any upside to this dumpster fire of a calendar year, it’s been comic books. In fact, the industry had a rather massive year — both in terms of moving books (sales proved strong earlier in the year, underwent a mid-year COVID dip, and rebounded post-spring) but more so the quality of each book. There’s plenty of reasons as to why comics remain essential, but one thing remains clear: they’ve been a massive emotional and social anchor for people amid an endless stream of increasingly terrible news.
So, rather than further weep over what was in 2020, we here at AIPT are doing what we always do this time of year (besides wearing Christmas sweaters and talking about the best holiday movies): celebrating the year’s best in comic books. Over the next week or so, you’ll see a few different lists from our staff, but today we start with what we’ve deemed the “miscellaneous” category. But don’t take this scattershot of tributes and celebrations as bad organization; like 2020, it’s about finding some joy wherever you can. In this case, it’s a small sampling of what we love in comics.
The rest of our coverage arrives in a few days, as we count down AIPT’s favorite series of the year. And, of course, we have even more features and goodies still in the works. Either way, we can’t wait to keep celebrating comics with you in this year and beyond.
— Chris Coplan, Comics Editor
Best Variant Cover
Empyre #1 (Jamie McKelvie Variant)
Jamie McKelvie makes a brief but impactful return to the Young Avengers with this intense variant cover for Empyre #1. The evolution of Hulking’s identity from resident soft boi to powerful Kree/Skull leader is accurately depicted in McKelvie’s dynamic art. Mark me down as intimidated and attracted to our King of Space. Ally Iciek
Norse Mythology #1 (Bill Sienkiewicz Variant)
This was a special Dark Horse Direct which featured the variant cover art on the comic book alongside an extra-sized fine art holographic foil lithograph print. This cover captures the sheer awe and mystery of Norse gods Loki and Thor via a subtle shadow effect. The rendering of the horse is lifelike and there’s a real powerful dynamic at work with Loki in the foreground and Thor in the background. Even without the holographic foil, the cover stands up as one of the best of the year, which comes as no surprise with Sienkiewicz at the helm. Dave Brooke
We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1 (Christian Ward Variant)
If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know I’m a sucker for We Only Find Them When They’re Dead. This year’s best series, about an intergalactic salvage crew that operates on giant deceased gods, has one minor weakness: the covers. Sure, they’re totally awesome, and fit perfectly with the sheer size and scope of the book (which is all about emphasizing your innate inadequacies). But you still can’t help wanting a little more oomph. Case in point: this totally excellent variant cover from Christian Ward, which perfectly encapsulates the space pirate vibe of this series. Plus, it hints at other elements and motifs in such a beautiful and subtle way. You look so dang good, Captain Malik. Chris Coplan
Best Comic to Show a Lapsed Fan
Daredevil (Volume 6)
This series has jump-started the action, drama, and Catholic guilt that has defined Matt Murdock. Great elements from previous volumes by Waid and Soule also appear alongside ideas from the Stan Lee and Gene Colan days. So, if you were a Daredevil fan and have dropped out, now is the time to return; this book is hot! It feels like I’m picking up Born Again right as it was being released. Plus, even with comics’ brief pause by COVID, the creative team managed to deliver with 10 issues and an annual without cost to the art or story! Christopher Franey
Not unlike Mister Miracle, Strange Adventures is a series any lapsed fan could pick up and appreciate for what it is trying to do. It’s based on an obscure character even comic book fanatics aren’t familiar with, and in this latest Tom King and Mitch Gerads project (with Doc Shaner drawing flashbacks), the creative team is in the process of fostering a deeply contemplative and political savvy ride. Strange Adventures stands out as the most intellectually stimulating comic of the year.
It blends PTSD with a sci-fi soldier’s narrative, a princess from another world who has clearly defined priorities, and contemplates the concept of a hero in a world where manipulating world leaders and killing seem to be the only true options. It’s the opposite of hopeful, and in that it reflects our world. Strange Adventures is a gripping like the best primetime TV, dripping with excitement and delivered with precision. Dave Brooke
There’s a lot working in the favor of this Image Comics standout. For one, a great elevator pitch (the publisher described it as “Breaking Bad set in Mos Eisley”). Then there’s the deeply compelling creative dynamic between writer Johnnie Christmas and artist Jack T. Cole. Not to mention, it approaches sci-fi with depth and nuance to win over even the least interested of readers. All of this make Tartarus a series for anybody who loves the compelling action and boundless emotion of a plain ol’ great story. Chris Coplan
Gone Too Soon (Best Cancelled Series)
The Amazing Mary Jane
The Amazing Mary Jane wasn’t the kind of book destined for a long run. And really, it was only planned to get five issues. When the sixth issue was solicited, it felt like a gift to me personally. Then, when the seventh issue was never resolicited, it made sense, but it was still very sad. The Amazing Mary Jane allowed one of my favorite characters to get the focus she deserves with creators who had a great pitch for her. The series looked at villainy and reformation in a way most superhero books don’t bother with. It is missed, and will be for some time. Keigen Rea
Under Zeb Wells, artist Dylan Burnett, and colorist Mike Spicer, Ant-Man was a hilariously good time. This series followed Scott Lang and his daughter, Cassie, as they worked to stop an insect apocalypse. It was a very charming title that definitely deserved to keep on going. Ally Iciek
Here’s why Hellblazer was just so very good: despite knowing otherwise, it was like Simon Spurrier had invented John Constantine. Spurrier had such a dynamic connection with DC’s magical bastard, and he created a story that felt just as enthralling as any other tale in Constantine’s long and twisted canon. Add in art by Aaron Campbell, and you had a perfect marriage of visuals and narrative for this wonderful and slightly twisted series. Maybe it’s all a dash of magic and Constantine and Spurrier may still return? Stranger things have happened, folks. Chris Coplan
Best Book for Fans Who’ve Read it All
Lore Olympus feels like the perfect Venn diagram for someone who’s looking for something new. It’s been around for a while, and it’s massively popular, especially compared to the typical comic in the direct market, but it feels like it hasn’t quite permeated the general comics consciousness. You should change that, and the good thing is, it’s insanely accessible, Do you have a smartphone? Just download the WEBTOON app; Lore Olympus is right up top. If you’ve enjoyed Hades or just enjoyed everyone else digging Hades, Lore Olympus will scratch a similar itch. Keigen Rea
Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists
Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists reads like everything you may have loved as a young comics fan. It’s the weird and wonderful love-child of a monster movie, a horror story, and a ’90s superhero series (think less X-Men and maybe more WildStorm). It’s not to say the book isn’t clever or inventive; rather, it just takes things that’s been done before and does them in the best way possible. It’s a compelling story because you care about the characters, feel a general sense of uncertainty as the narrative unfolds, and might even jump a little at the various shocks and scares. Because a great story doesn’t have to always be “new” to mess with your head in the best way possible. Chris Coplan
Batman: Three Jokers
In hyping up Batman: Three Jokers, artist Jason Fabok called it “the ultimate Batman story.” And to an extent, that’s actually quite true. Is it the best Bats story ever told? Maybe not; it’s solid even as it sort of peters out at the end. Still, it earns that “ultimate” tag because it touches on every aspect of the Bats family and provides some rather keen insights and entertaining character portraits. In that way, it’s sort of like a sampler platter for everything interesting and essential about this massive canon. Just expect more jalapeno poppers than tangy buffalo wings. Chris Coplan
Best Book to Introduce Young Readers
The Runaway Princess
I recently discovered the joy and beauty of new graphic novel imprint Random House Graphic, and it all started with The Runaway Princess. The intensely beautiful adventures of a young princess are catalogued by the insanely beautiful work of Johan Troïanowski. The Runaway Princess is without a doubt one of the most creative and imaginative graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s three totally delightful stories filled with discoveries, thrills, and clever twists — all tied together by pleasingly varied visuals that are as endearing as they are wonderful. Dave Brooke
The relatable characters and fantastic art makes Runaways the perfect title for teens who are brand-new to comics. The title went on a hiatus this year, but it has thankfully returned in short order. I’m looking forward to upcoming stories with the entire Runaways gang. Ally Iciek
The all-too-short lived MCU show introduced many new fans to the world of the Runaways, a rag-tag group of teens who find a family in themselves. In many ways, the new run has a good duality, introducing newer fans to the series, but also giving longtime fans a reintroduction to their favorite team. With plots revolving around youth, relationships, and school, it’s the perfect book for young readers. Lia Galanis
The best comics for kids/young people in general always have a silly premise and some genuinely great content. That definitely sums up Lizard in a Zoot Suit. Here, twin sisters Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard in 1940s Los Angeles, kicking off a grand ol’ adventure story that’s as silly and endearing as it is slightly bonkers. But under all that weirdness is a great exploration of some lesser known history, specifically as it affects our country’s Latinx community. Because learning can be fun (if you make a lizard wear a giant red suit). Chris Coplan
Billy and Teddy’s Wedding
Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman have been engaged for years — dating all the way back to “Children’s Crusade.” For years now, the Young Avengers have appeared sparingly, giving fans many doubts that we’d ever actually get to see Wiccan and Hulkling tie the knot. In a surprise ending for Empyre #2, Wiccan reveals that he’d already married Hulking — and he’d know which Teddy was the real one anywhere. As far as surprises go, this one was one of the happiest ones fans could ask for. Lia Galanis
Fans of Shatterstar had been anxious to find out where this character had landed after noting his absence from Krakoa. Leah Williams finally revealed that this X-Men member was stuck on Mojo World in a ceremonious reveal within X-Factor #3. Was it necessarily world-shattering (pun intended)? Maybe not. But it was a perfectly organic occurrence for long-time Star fans. Ally Iciek
The Joker Hates Nazis
You’d assume that a mass-murdering psychopath would at least gave a minor nod to some equally heinous barbarians. But as he definitively proved in issue #4 of Injustice: Year Zero, Joker hates Nazis just as much as anyone else. This is more than just a “funny” gag, or something done to snag those sweet, sweet eyeballs (which it certainly did). In a year where white nationalism remains on the rise, and even the president of the United States won’t take a dang stance, it’s good to see even the Clown Prince of Evil has some standards (no matter how minimal). Plus, it’s another way to expand the character from a narrative standpoint, and a more nuanced Joker is the surprise that keeps on giving. Chris Coplan
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