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AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Comic Books

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Our celebration of 2020 continues with a dive into the industry’s standout issues and storylines.

Our celebration of this year’s best-in-comics continues today with part two. Unlike the miscellaneous entries from part one, we’re focusing our efforts on the best-in series. So whether it’s picking the spookiest comments, highlighting the coolest events, or even selecting our favorite debut issues, it’s all about giving some praise to some genuine highlights from this year’s releases. As a rule, 2020 was sort of bad for the world but genuinely great for thoughtful and essential works across the comics spectrum.

We hope that list show that very dynamic. And these maybe give you something to read (or re-read, JIC).

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

— Chris Coplan, Comics Editor

Best Horror Comic

Lonely Receiver

Comics

Nothing could have prepared me for Lonely Receiver. It’s the kind of horror that I can easily apply to myself on multiple levels. It’s the perfect match of artist to concept, and has some of the best storytelling in comics.

— Keigen Rea

The Department of Truth

Department of Truth

This might also fall under the “biggest surprise,” but only because it was far and away the best comic I’ve read in my life. This series is horrifying for all the right reasons in a modern world where choosing which truth to believe is king. Conspiracy theorists seem stronger than ever thanks to the internet connecting these groups, not to mention how current American politics are seemingly tied to conspiracy-centric ideas now more than ever. Plus, each issue offers a different conspiracy theory to delve into, making it a series with infinite possibilities.

The creative team is on fire, delving into new conspiracy theories in each issue and showing how evil lurks amongst us at all times. Given a supernatural push, The Department of Truth turns the horrors of fringe conspiracy theorists into the scariest things imaginable.

— Dave Brooke

Frank at Home on the Farm

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

How do I know Frank at Home on the Farm impacted me so fully and completely? I wrote a whole 2,000-word feature. Even as I personally struggled to understand the role of horror comics in 2020, there’s no denying just how deeply unsettling the first couple issues proved to be. It’s not about cheap jump scares, or tricking readers into terror via a slew of bad gimmicks (blood, demons, weird monsters, etc.). No, Frank… is about confronting readers about the horrors of war through the lens of one man’s endless struggle with reconciling reality and what happens in his head. The book expertly balances a sense of tension in its early issues, making the reader feel totally unsure about the insanity as it unfolds. And that’s the best kind of horror: finding yourself trapped right alongside the main character. Add in some truly amazing arts, which build on the tension and proves to be utterly charming and unsettling, and Frank’s real home should be your bookshelf.

— Chris Coplan

Best Event

“Empyre”

Empyre: Captain America and The Avengers

For years now, Marvel events have centered around a hero vs. hero conflict, aggravating fans of both sides. “Empyre,” however, took events back to their roots (and quite literally so), giving fans a classic hero vs. villain beatdown. The Cotati as villains was an inspired choice, introducing a new generation of readers to a classic baddie and tying in years worth of Marvel lore that’s sure to excite any longtime fan. The Fantastic Four and the Avengers shined bright, with many characters from each team getting a breakout role, though it was the Young Avengers who stole the show.

At the end of the day, “Empyre” is a story about family, betrayal, and the ties that bind us. In a groundbreaking move, the event gave Marvel its first gay wedding between two superheroes (Northstar’s husband, Kyle, while a great guy, is a civilian), finally tying the knot between Billy and Teddy. The event ends on a happy note, proving that “shocking” scenes don’t have to be tragic ones. Carol Danvers as the Accuser was an inspired choice, paving the way for an excellent arc on Kelly Thompson’s Captain Marvel run. Just about every hero (except the X-Men, really) got a chance to shine in this event.

— Lia Galanis

Best #1 of the Year

Stillwater #1

Stillwater #1

I had no idea I was going to enjoy Stillwater as much as I have, and much of it has to do with the first issue, which in my opinion was perfectly paced and executed. It’s an oversized issue, but it uses its added space not to cover a lot of ground plot-wise but to develop the main character, and slowly sink him into a mess. It was a great showing by everyone on the team, and a perfect way to start a series.

— Keigen Rea

X-Factor #1

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Leah Williams and David Baldeon hit the ground running with issue #1 of 2020’s X-Factor series. The mysterious death of Jeanne-Marie Beaubier prompts the formation of this dynamic team of odd-balls, all under the leadership of Beaubier’s twin brother, Northstar. Williams’ talent for dialogue shines through in this issue, supported by Baldeons’ expressive art. X-Factor #1 went above and beyond reader’s expectations — and it just got better from there.

— Ally Iciek

Hellions #1

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Krakoa’s dark underbelly has been a fascinating if not inevitable aspect to the new canon, and Hellions doesn’t shy away from it. The series has created some truly interesting moral conflicts for the characters and readers) to work through. While Kwannon and Havok can easily be justified as fan favorites, most would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who was a die-hard fan of Greycrow, Nanny, Orphan-Maker, Wild Child, or Empath. Writer Zeb Wells managed to make these outcasts stars, creating one of the most intriguing premises from its debut issue. This dysfunctional team also has some of the funniest writing in the series, relying on quick wit and punchy dialogue. Stephen Segovia’s pencils are a great fit, providing art that never misses a beat.

— Lia Galanis

Batman: The Adventures Continue #1

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

There was a lot working against Batman: The Adventures Continue from the very beginning. For one, the “digital first” gimmick isn’t always 1) the best format for some readers and 2) does indicate how a publisher views a book (i.e., with few prospects). Then there’s the matter of this being a follow-up to the extremely excellent Batman: The Animated Series (and its mostly enjoyable predecessor, The New Batman Adventures), which is sort of like trying to one-up the Mona Lisa or the grilled cheese sandwich. But lo and behold, the book, especially its debut, has been solid.

From that first issue, writers Alan Burnett and Paul Dini (not to mention artist Ty Templeton) have created a genuinely worthwhile continuation of that iconic series, presenting the same sharp aesthetic and tight storytelling that so many people associate with Batman. It’s a series that has the same kind of depth of character and world-building but also the sheer accessibility you want with any great story. Is it the best Batman story to emerge in 2020? Perhaps not. But it feels classic and essential despite it all, the kind of narrative hero we all deeply needed.

— Chris Coplan

Best Mini-Series

BANG!

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

BANG! is one of the best new series of this year. Written by Matt Kindt, and illustrated by the artistic duo of Wilfredo Torres and Nayoung Kim, BANG! encapsulates all the thrills of a blockbuster movie. The series masterfully updates classic pulp characters into the modern world and taps into what made heroes like Doc Savage and Mack Bolan so engaging for their time. Each issue has fluid pacing in both the scripting and the artwork, depicting stylish action and exceptional visual storytelling. At its core, BANG! creates a fun and engaging pulpy narrative with a meta-twist that easily made it my personal favorite mini-series this year.

— Ben Morin

Hawkeye: Freefall

Hawkeye: Freefall #6

Hawkeye: Freefall is a must-read for Clint Barton fans, or anyone that wants to read a perfectly executed limited series. Writer Mathew Rosenberg is an absolute master in writing Marvel’s favorite (or second favorite) archer– as the story sees Barton grapple with the moral limitations of being a by-the-books superhero. Artist Otto Schmidt creates panels that feel almost kinetic, and he aces the physicality of Barton’s character in both emotion and combat. Hawkeye: Freefall is a subversive, highly entertaining series that certainly begs for an ongoing Hawkeye-led run with the very same creative team. Marvel, we’re waiting.

— Ally Iciek

Ludocrats

The Ludocrats Featured Image

Ludocrats is both the most fun I’ve had with a comic, and the most I had to push myself to enjoy a comic. It isn’t something that I typically go for, but I’m happy I did, as it’s beautiful, fun, and ridiculous.

— Keigen Rea

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5

Break out your action figures and let your inner child out! This was such a great way to revisit these classic TV heroes and create a team-up that was all about unadulterated fun. I mean, who isn’t intrigued by the idea of Green Ranger Shredder? Plus, with that same notion, we also got Ninja Rangers and Power Turtles. The relationships between the Rangers and the Turtles were great, especially by seeing Mikey and Zach come up with crazy pizza combos, and then Donny and Billy geek out scientifically. That was fantastic, and the timing couldn’t be better to revisit these two properties as we have amazing comic book series from BOOM! (Power Rangers) and IDW (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), alongside some fantastic toys from Hasbro and NECA. You can find the five-issue miniseries in the back issues, or get a trade paperback edition, so here’s to hoping for the sequel!

— Christopher Franey

CroneAIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

I fell in love with Crone right from the very start. If Kill Bill and Conan had a baby, and that baby was raised by Lone Wolf and Cub, it still wouldn’t be nearly as amazing as this series. Dennis Culver’s story perfectly capture the story of Crone, formerly the badass Bloody Bliss, as a metaphor for loss, regret, second chances, and the cost of revenge. Justin Greenwood’s art, meanwhile, balanced both an innate sense of humanity with a viciousness and intensity that expanded on these ideas with dizzying effectiveness. Through all the violence and savagery of this book, there’s this beating heart of emotion, this core of humanity that makes you care deeply about what happens when the bloodshed is over. The ending may surprise some, but the message remains clear: Crone is a book about the harshness of life, and from that comes a real sense of beauty and fulfillment.

— Chris Coplan

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Black Label, DC’s imprint for “mature,” standalone prestige format series, has mostly been a great repository for Batman (or Bat-adjacent) stories. Between Killer Smile, White Knight, Damned, and Last Knight on Earth, it’s an obvious venue for the seedy, sometimes twisted tales that occupy that canon. But if you’re looking for a genuine standout, Wonder Woman: Dead Earth feels like a massive accomplishment. And did we mention it’s also hella gorgeous to boot?

Here, Wonder Woman wakes up several hundred years into the future, whereupon she embarks on this grand adventure to save the last remaining humans and figure out what happened to the world (including her Amazonian home of Themyscira). This is no mere dystopian whirlwind of familiar characters and landscapes transformed into nightmarish hell-versions (thought it sure is); it’s a great study in what makes Wonder Woman effective. Through the entire four-issue run, writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson builds this dynamic narrative about what makes Diana such a great moral pillar, casting her as both this “Jesus lost in the wilderness” with a dash of Iron Giant.

As she learns about the fate of the world, she gains and loses and re-gains valuable perspective that makes her a character study in decency, justice, and personal and social responsibility. The world may have ended, but it’s through Diana we understand the value of heroes and what there’s still left to fight for, regardless if the world’s a burnt-out shell of itself. It’s about exploring hope as it exists in the world, not some flashy version that feels unobtainable. In that sense, Dead Earth is a story brimming with endless life and energy.

— Chris Coplan

Best Original Graphic Novel

The Magic Fish

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

The Magic Fish is an intensely beautiful story weaving classic fairy tales into a story about a young boy who wishes to come out but struggles to do so. (The book’s narrative is complicated as the boy’s mother attempts to stay connected with her own mother, who still lives in Vietnam). As the young boy and mother trade off reading three fairy tales to each other, there’s a subtextual story going on, one that touches on ideas about being who you really are, accepting yourself, and navigating a world with overbearing authority figures. Trung Le Nguyen writes and draws this work, which is deeply moving and beautiful from its story, message, and visuals.

— Dave Brooke

Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Stones

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Sticks & Stones is the second published instalment in Ngozi Ukazu’s webcomic, Check, Please! This series follows university hockey player Eric Bittle and his romance with teammate Jack Zimmerman. Sticks & Stones is the ideal read for anyone craving something warm and feel-good among the chaos of the year. Queer romance, pie baking, and perfectly toned hockey assess — what is not to love?

— Ally Iciek

Dragon Hoops

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Easily one of my favorite comics this year, where Gene Luen Yang (with colorist Lark Pien, and art assists from Rianne Meyers and Kolbe Yang) delivers a thoughtful autobiographical story about honesty, perseverance, and learning to enjoy things you don’t think are for you. It’s a comic by a genius of the medium, so go read it!

— Keigen Rea

Best Single Issue (One-Shot or Otherwise)

X-Men Snapshots

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Since “Dawn of X” started, many Cyclops fans had felt that the hero felt a tad out of character. Marvel Snapshots: X-Men was the comic Cyclops fans wanted since the new era had been ushered in, telling a lost tale from Scott’s childhood. It’s clear Jay Edidin had done his homework, mentioning several beats from Scott’s canon, including how he came across Sun Tzu’s The Art of War,  which he quotes in Lee Black and Dean Haspiel’s 2011 Cyclops one-shot. The book reads like an Easter egg hunt for Cyclops fans, picking out reference after reference from the character’s long lore. Nothing about this Scott feels anything but authentic, and Tom Reilly’s pencils are a perfect fit for the narrative.

— Lia Galanis

The Last God: Songs of Lost Children

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

It’s easy to brush one-shots aside. It’s especially easier to brush off one-shots for creator-owned series that happen to not even be written by the creator who owns the series. So, The Last God: Songs of Lost Children had an uphill battle to fight when it hit stands in late October. But, my oh my, this issue absolutely shattered my expectations and immediately became one of 2020’s stand-out issues.

Written by Coffin Bound scribe Dan Watters, and drawn by Steve Beach (with colors by Dave Stewart), this one-shot centers around a quick adventure from Queen Cyanthe’s younger days where she is touring the lands undercover in the hopes of gaining perspective on the lives of her subjects. This story doesn’t try to reveal secrets set in the main series, nor does it really have anything to do with the main narrative at all. Instead, Watters, Beach, and Stewart decide to tell a concise, self-contained story that will scare the s--t out of you and give more depth to the world of The Last God. Readers will gain an entirely new perspective on Queen Cyanthe and the horrible decisions she faces as queen while Stewart’s nightmare-inducing creatures keep readers uncomfortably glued to each page.

This is high-fantasy body horror at its absolute finest, and the abominations within these panels will haunt readers long after they close the comic. Whether you’re a fan of The Last God or not, this one-shot is a must-read for any comic book reader.

— Connor C.

Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling #1

Empyre State of Mynd

Honestly, anything that includes the line, “I want that twink obliterated” is good in my books. Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulking is written by Anthony Oliveira and Chip Zdarsky, illustrated by Manuel Garcia, and colored by Triona Farrell. The all-star creative team work together in this issue to make a fabulously queer and fun romp, all while setting the stage for the highly anticipated Empyre event. Oh, and shoutout to the confirmation of Tommy Shepherd’s and David Alleyne’s relationship, which has made the Young Avengers gayer than it already was! Hooray!

— Ally Iciek

Doctor Strange: The End

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

If anything in this world was fair, we would have gotten a 30-issue run in between this issue and the creative team’s What if? issue from last year. As it stands, I’m elated we got this single issue bookend. I will remember this beautiful, heartfelt, and thoughtful story for quite some time.

— Keigen Rea

Best Story Arc

Star Wars: Darth Vader (Vol. 3 ) –“Dark Heart of the Sith”

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Let’s get something out of the way right now — this is more than just a great Star Wars story. Greg Pak and Raffaele Ienco’s Darth Vader is an incredible comic, with or without the license. It shows two creators who don’t just thoroughly understand what makes Star Wars so enthralling, but who have completely mastered the craft of comics and use every advantage of the medium to strengthen the narrative.

The incredibly crisp page layouts and detailed art allow for the story of Darth Vader’s search for answers to play out effortlessly in a way that is both extremely entertaining and more emotionally engaging than any Star Wars comic before. As Darth Vader seeks to uncover how and why his son was hidden away, readers will watch a man relive his most horrifying moments, constantly struggle with the person he has become, and very slowly start to feel the pull to the light only to be violently dragged back into darkness. If you’re a Star Wars fan of any caliber, this series will absolutely blow you away — but even if you’re not, you’ll be in awe of the expertise of the creative team.

— Connor C.

Hawkeye: Freefall

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

Look, I’m not saying that Mathew Rosenberg sneakily wrote a commentary on how the law favors the rich and powerful through one of Marvel’s working class heroes. However, Mathew Rosenberg did definitely sneakily write a commentary on how the law favors the rich and powerful through one of Marvel’s working class heroes. Props to you sir, it was very good. Bonus points for making Clint’s emotional breakdown the perfect metaphor for my mood throughout this year.

— Ally Iciek

The Dreaming: Waking Hours 

AIPT’s Best Comics of the Year: Best Series

When The Dreaming ended, I was heartbroken. Si Spurrier and Bilquis Evely perfectly recharged Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe, introduced a new character, and made this incredible Vertigo series sing again. Hark, would the universe die? Not if G. Willow Wilson, Nick Robles, and Mat Lopes have anything to say about it!

With a new entry, dubbed Waking Hours, the series introduced new characters and old ones, too. It’s an exploration of storytelling, the nature of nightmares, and so much more. Wilson infuses this story with deeply meaningful ideas that’ll roll over your mind while Robles and Lopes destroy your expectations of fantasy realms, storybooks, and reality itself. By the end of this series’ first story arc, you’ll feel like you have new friends by your side, which is especially important during this extra trying year. Plus, this series is littered with moments of great and sublime beauty to boot. The Dreaming: Waking Hours is an excellent series capped off by a satisfying first story arc.

— Dave Brooke

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