Connect with us
AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Comic Books

AIPT’s Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Our best-of coverage rolls on with categories like best maxi-series, letterer, and more.

On Tuesday, we debuted part one of our best-of comics coverage for 2021. It was our goal to recognize that, in a year that felt mostly not real, great comics art and storytelling happen no matter the state of the world. If anything, the worse things get (and they likely can get worse, FYI), the more we the fans of comics will rely on this medium for emotional support and shared insights.

So, as we launch into part two, we hope that same lesson remains the same: comics are an essential way of sharing stories, ideas, politics, and general humanity, and by celebrating them together, we’re doing the most important kind of work we can.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

We’ll see you on the other side…

– Chris Coplan, Comics Editor

Best Ongoing Series (Part 2)

Daredevil

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Marvel.

Daredevil is a hero who gets knocked down, but he gets up again — he is the Rocky (or Chumbawamba?) of the MU. Since Chip Zdarsky became Daredevil‘s writer, he has done such an excellent job with the character’s voice and his ongoing struggles, and even got some of us to better appreciate Elektra. I’ve been very vocal about this series because it’s full of impressive drama, beautiful eye-catching art, and consequences galore. Those consequences will amp up more in Devil’s Reign and beyond — for those of us who have been following this series, we are getting ready for a significant change in Hell’s Kitchen. If you want to read a gritty drama that pushes a person beyond their limits and deals with worrisome villains, this is the series for you. It’s a series about the underdog who doesn’t quit but also doesn’t do himself any favors.

– Christopher Franey

New Mutants

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

New Mutants #23. Courtesy of Marvel.

Vita Ayala understands what the concept of New Mutants is all about — a new group of X kids. It’s so fun to be introduced to these characters, like Cosmar and Cam, while also giving enough panel time to characters who never got any before like Rain Boy. Reis’ art is fantastic, and he feels like the perfect fit for this title, giving it such a unique style that reminds me of how Bill Sienkiewicz took over the original book with his one-of-a-kind style. Watching these plots unfold has been a joy and I hope to see these characters back under Ayala’s pen.

– Lia Williamson

Shang-Chi

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Shang-Chi #1. Courtesy of Marvel.

Shang-Chi is my favorite comic at the Big Two right now. The Brothers and Sisters trade dropped early in the year, redefining Shang-Chi’s place in the Marvel Universe, and building a new status quo around him. Following that mini, Gene Luen Yang, Dike Ruan, Tríona Farrell, and VC’s Travis Lanham launched a new ongoing, serving as a romp through the biggest names, from Spider-Man to Thor. While it is fun as anything on the stands, it shows great thoughtfulness about racial identity, and how that interacts with Shang-Chi’s own heroism. I’m excited to see where this series goes, and I hope to see its status quo expand and continue to develop.

– Keigen Rea

Best Series That Was (Sadly) Cancelled

Hellions

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Marvel.

If you asked me to craft the best X-Men lineup, it would take me a while before I got to Havok, Nanny, or Wild Child. Or rather, it would have, until this series seriously elevated my affection for them and every other member of the cast. Hellions was a standout book in a standout line (thanks to the creative team of Zeb Wells, Ze Carlos, Stephen Segovia, Rain Beredo, and others), one where it always felt like anything could happen — largely because it’s truly good given how few of the characters could even count as C-list. Both funny and heartfelt, Hellions centered some of the most pivotal questions of the Krakoa era: who gets left out of paradise, and why? Where does one find family after being cast aside? Why does the baddest bitch on Krakoa look like a silver M&M?

– Alex Cline

Champions

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Marvel.

Champions had really come into its own with Danny Lore’s team (i.e., Eve L. Ewing and Simone Di Meo). It’s a shame to see the series go when it was home to such amazing characters like Kamala Khan, Miles Morales, Viv Vision, and more. It was a fun comic for younger readers that definitely felt like this generation’s Young Avengers. Hopefully the team will be back someday.

– Lia Williamson

Batman/Superman

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

The titular duo title of Batman/Superman has a fairly good track record among readers. It’s hard to mess up a book starring your two biggest heroes, and it’s been an exciting chapter in the canons of both heroes while also offering something entirely new. I was excited when DC tapped Gene Lueng Yang for the job; books like American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints were entertaining and enlightening. But given his run only ran from issue #16 to #22, it’s clear DC just didn’t think it was working out, or that the world didn’t need yet another Batman and/or Superman series right now. Which is a real shame, as Yang’s story involving Calendar Man and Mr. Mxyzptik was gearing up to be a weird and wonderful ride. Here’s hoping the world’s most super duo rides together again soon, and DC gives creators like Yang a chance to get going before dropping the axe on something with heaps of potential.

– Chris Coplan

Best Single Issue (One-Shot or Otherwise)

The Department of Truth #10

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Image Comics.

The Department of Truth has consistently been one of the highest quality books of the year, but what stands out as the best of the best? Issue #10, the first half of the Bigfoot two-parter. DoT does a lot brilliantly in terms of exploring the concept of conspiracy theories and how they affect the general societal consciousness, but this issue tapped into something all the more specific and visceral: their effect on, and rupturing of, a family’s relationships with and between one another. From the devout believer who’s utterly alone to the family who wishes he would just leave it all behind, every character involved is tragic. The prose diary pages on approximations of ruled paper with cryptid doodles in the margins are a perfect meld of form and function, and the tension established in the final panel is stellar.

– Alex Cline

Batman: The Long Halloween: Special #1

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Additions to iconic Batman tales have been attempted in the past…usually to detrimental effect. But against all odds, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale found a way to give fans an issue that functioned as a great one shot and a continuation of the OG storyline. Loeb’s grasp of Batman and his rogues gallery is on full display; and Sale’s noirish, art deco style is still streamlined and potent.

– Alex Curtis

Last Annihilation: Wiccan and Hulkling #1

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Marvel.

Anthony Oliviera did excellent work in Last Annihilation, exploring Billy and Teddy’s early years while fleshing out their future as a newlywed couple. He delves into these characters with such expertise that it’s clear he understands them right to their very core. When I read this issue, I walked away thinking “Wow, Billy and Teddy really are a supercouple in comics.” They’re our modern-day Lois and Clark, our Batman and Catwoman or Peter and MJ — they’re iconic and their bond is so strong I can’t ever see them breaking up. Oliviera did excellent work in this issue, so much so that I wonder when this man will get a chance to write Young Avengers volume 3 — he’s perfect for it!

– Lia Williamson

Look Back

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Shonen Jump.

This year, I’ve grown more and more reticent to try something that gets traction on Twitter. This is in part because of the unreasonable expectations that other people set, partly due to varying taste and partly because I’m plugged in enough to know what I like. This is one of the many times that I caught myself and decided not to be wrong for once. Look Back is a painful book about collaboration and friendship, about the pains and joys of creating, and about the choices we make with regard to, and in spite of, others in our lives. It’s hilarious, painful, beautiful, and you can read it for $2 in the Shonen Jump app.

– Keigen Rea

Best Maxi-Series

The Dreaming: Waking Hours

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

The ingenuity of a cohesive comic team never fails to amaze me. G. Willow Wilson weaves a wholly original tale within the Sandman universe that never alienates newcomers, using familiar Shakespearian lore to dive deep into the concepts of love and dreams. Nick Robles’ ethereal art is a perfect complement to the dreamy writing and would even distract me from reading the story sometimes. Mat Lopes’ textured colors feel fresh and fluid along with Simon Bowland’s complementary lettering. Guest artist Javier Rodriguez made the story’s interlude fun and new. Along with an ingenious introduction of a trans character, beautiful character design, and apt use of bisexual colors, this series was a dream I wish didn’t end.

– Madeleine Chan

Dark Knights of Steel

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

You may have heard more of this in part one, but this series didn’t have to work. It could have been if a comics writer wrote their version of A Knight’s Tale (or vice versa maybe?) But Tom Taylor’s writing has been great, and he’s done an amazing job balancing the essence of these characters and still trying to filter in some new perspectives. The new Batman-Superman dynamic (as loyal knight to an impatient prince, respectively) has been a great way to explore this iconic relationship. There’s been an effort to maintain the magic and weirdness of the DCU, but in a way that makes sense in this context. And the story proper feels like the best example of this kind of medieval landscape (like a less bombastic Game of Thrones). None of that is even mentioning the amazing art of Yasmine Putri, who similarly keeps up the superhero vibes while grounding this in something that feels wholly appropriate and relevant. Is it cheating because we’ve only gotten two issues in 2021? Maybe. But this story excelled from panel one, and its thought-provoking version of heroic storytelling will only grow with each subsequent issue.

– Chris Coplan

Strange Adventures

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics. 

There’s no question that Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Doc Shaner’s Strange Adventures was consistently compelling, intriguing, and hugely smart. It’s a series that juggles an extra glossy tale of superheroes with the disgusting underbelly of propaganda’s singular ability to distract. Blending sci-fi heroics with the disturbing nature of war, the creators have made a book that makes the reader reflect on real life, but also how we all perceived superhero tales and their larger power. When it comes to exploring war and retaliation, King, Gerads, and Shaner have shown it’s all very complicated, and in the face of the perfect heroic model, downright horrifying things can actually take root. For that, Strange Adventures holds up a mirror to ourselves in a way most superhero comics rarely do.

– David Brooke

Best Letterer

Aditya Bidikar

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

From Radio Apocalypse #1. Lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Courtesy of Vault Comics.

Some letterers take the act of simply reading text and elevate it to a visual pleasure: incorporating several fonts within the same issue, matching their styles to fit the tone and personalities of the characters and stories in question, and even warping the shape of words and balloons as appropriate. Aditya Bidikar’s work on Arkham City: The Order of the World and The Department of Truth would both make him a worthy candidate for this category on their own, but both of them together? Bidikar easily takes this one for me.

– Alex Cline

Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering from Memoria #1. Courtesy of Curt Pires.

There’s a reason Curt Pires called Otsmane-Elhaou a genius a few weeks ago. It’s the fact that he does things in lettering that you’ve never seen before. From the way the tails on word balloons wrapped around characters’ arm in X-O Manowar to the lack of border in Memoria, there are ingenious touches that add to the storytelling on the page. The actual letters have a life of their own that is unmistakable and so incredible that you’ll have the urge to go back and read the book again, focusing only on the word balloons and captions. It’s a transcendent trip, y’all.

– David Brooke

Ariana Maher

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

A page from Marvel’s Voices: Pride #1, with letter by Ariana Maher. Courtesy of Marvel.

Letterer Ariana Maher kicked off her 2021 in glorious fashion by winning a GLAAD Award for her work on last year’s Empyre: Aftermath Avengers. But she didn’t rest on her laurels one bit, and not only is Maher responsible for lettering a slew of weekly digital releases, but she put in work for the Pride Month one-shots from both DC and Marvel. And if all that weren’t enough, she’s got a long track record at other publishers, including Image Comics and TKO Studios. Her work deserves the nod because it’s always deeply reflective of any given project and the respective publisher, expertly reflecting the mood, vibe, and overall feel of each title. Yet you can just as easily recognize her overall personality in every project, practically seeing her passion and dedication in every clean line and character-specific thought bubble. It’s not always easy being in such demand, but Maher brings her A-game with every single new project.

Richard Starkings

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

From issue #2 of Doctor Who: Empire of the Wolf. Letters by Richard Starkings. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

British letterer Richard Starkings has been in the industry for a long time now, but his lettering continues to stand-out for its crisp, clean style. In his work on various Doctor Who titles at Titan Comics this year, he has brought character to every issue. Starkings has also been found in the pages of Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics in 2021.

Best Publisher

DC Comics

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Last year, we gave the nod to indie groups like Scout Comics and Panel Syndicate. But this year, DC Comics really did a lot to merit a special kind of shout-out. Sure, being one of the Big Two of comics publishing automatically means you’re going to get ample praise every single year. But 2021 was a big deal for DC in terms of comics publishing. Not only did they publish some great books (Batman, The Dreaming: Waking Hours, Far Sector, Nightwing, etc.), but they also responded with some of their more thoughtful and impactful events (see the giant-sized Future State, and the equally great Fear State). The publisher also gave a great spotlight to more diverse creators and editors, including promoting Marie Javins, only the second woman to hold that position (after Jenette Kahn).

It’s not that DC was struggling, and suddenly turned the page; no, the answer’s more subtle than that. It just feels like a perfect storm of sorts, and 2021 was the year when DC as a whole seemed to make the right decisions for its future and continue to deliver great stories across the board. Other publishers did much of the same, but none felt as important or even organic in their efforts as DC managed to pull off. It’s a testament that even after all these years, a powerhouse like DC can still innovate and grow in all the very best ways.

– Chris Coplan

The best event, Future State, was by DC Comics for sure, so it’s no surprise that DC Comics is my pick for the best publisher of the year. The company took chances as they moved away from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Death Metal era to a more happy and hopeful “everything matters” take on storytelling/comics. Aside from the multiverse being warmer and more open than ever before, incredible series like The Swamp Thing, Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, and Action Comics recontextualized how we think about the trinity. DC Comics may have done the most with their tried-and-true properties than any other publisher, not to mention their continued exploration of adult themes with DC Black Label and the new DC Horror labels. With all of that accomplished, DC not only stands above the competition but has some great potential for a similarly massive 2022.

– David Brooke

Best Newcomer

Olivia Stephens

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Author.

In recent years, writer-artist Olivia Stephens has built up quite the impressive portfolio of works. Projects like Darlin’ and The Tiger’s Tongue prove she’s as daring and playful as a writer as she is in building vibrant, Black-centric worlds. But with her debut graphic novel, Artie and the Wolf Moon, Stephens has opened herself up to a new audience entirely. The story of a young girl who learns of her family’s werewolf-esque traditions and existence, it’s one of those titles that provides wonderment for kids and something more poignant for more mature readers. In a story with magic and transforming mothers, though, that core of humanity is never lost, and Stephens tells a story for a specific audience but never forgets to speak volumes about a more universal sense of belonging and the uncertainty of life itself. The fact that story and art are both vibrant and engaging together, interacting and rebounding off one another like dancers, only proves that Stephens is a truly unique talent. We can’t wait for her next creative leap forward.

– Chris Coplan

Victoria Grace Elliott

There have been a few new creators to hit the comics scene this year, but one standout has to be Victoria Grace Elliot. Her book Yummy: A History of Deserts at Random House Graphic is an inspired look at food that blends history with a colorful narrative (thanks to food sprites Peri, Fee, and Fada). With a planned sequel already in the works, Elliott proved her ingenuity in blending creative characters, food, and facts, which makes for an inspired look at familiar topics in a brand new way. The book is also funny and heartfelt, and perhaps it just might inspire another generation of pastry chefs and creatives for years to come.

– David Brooke

Tim Sheridan

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Author.

You may know Tim Sheridan from his animated movie work, but for the most part he is relatively new to the comics scene. And despite that “newness,” he totally blew away any and all expectations. From Masters of the Universe to the inspired and exceptional Teen Titans Academy, Sheridan has entered the comics field as if he’s been writing for decades. Shazam! has also been a great surprise, even as a miniseries, but its ability to capture younger character voices, while also being inventive and true to the characters, is second to none. Meanwhile, in Teen Titans Academy, Sheridan has introduced new characters like Stitch, written a crossover with Robbie Thompsons’ Suicide Squad, and thoroughly captured our attention with the mystery surrounding one Red X. Sheridan truly is a creator we should all be watching in 2022 and beyond.

– David Brooke

Best Anthology

Rust Belt Review

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Sean Knickerbocker.

Now three issues into its run, the lovingly designed, oversize Rust Belt Review continues to pack itself with unique talent and breath-of-fresh-air comics. The most recent volume even contains information about self-publication to help promote the creation of artwork and provide space for the underdog, and that sort of energy truly sums up the vibe of the book: eager to share with you all its own excitement for what is contained in its pages (and even things that are not).

– Colin Moon

Batman: Urban Legends

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

The Batman part of DC has continued to expand this last year, and while that is frustrating, it is less so because of some of the books’ overall quality, especially the anthologies. Urban Legends is a book that continues to be wonderful, even if a bit uneven, but this year’s Black & White volume was stellar. With work from most of my favorite creators, every issue has a must-buy story in it, most having more than one.

– Keigen Rea

The Silver Coin

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

Courtesy of Image Comics.

The Silver Coin is so novel that it’s revolutionary. Take a simple concept: a cursed object. Then, allow for an artistic and tonal constant, with artist Michael Walsh illustrating every issue. Cycle out writers so that every issue is fresh and unique. And, voila, a great comic. It seems like such an obvious setup—it’s essentially the comic book version of The Twilight Zone, wherein Walsh and the coin itself serve as our Rod Serling, and all the twists involve some gruesome consumption of our lead character. But every issue is a stunner completely its own, which makes the book a continuing set of minor masterpieces.

– Colin Moon

Best Artist

Dani

Arkham City The Order of the World #1

From Arkham City: The Order of the World. Art by Dani. Courtesy of DC Comics.

There are so many potential candidates for best artist that it feels wrong not to name them all, but ultimately there’s one who decidedly sits at the top of the list for me: Dani. Specifically for her work on Arkham City: The Order of the World. Every aspect of her work is masterful: the composition choices, the use of negative space, and the body language and expression. Dani’s style pulls off that difficult sweet spot of feeling classic yet fresh and new all at once. Perhaps the apex of her work here is the Ten-Eyed Man: a character I had never previously heard of, but who thanks to her fantastic visual creativity has quickly become my favorite Batman villain.

– Alex Cline

Chris Samnee

Comics

Art from Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters by Chris Samnee. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Without a doubt, the artist that most excited and straight-up blew me away consistently was Chris Samnee. Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters is a masterclass in visual storytelling, with edge-of-your-seat scenes regardless of whether there is a giant monster, or simply a character staying out of sight in a market. Samnee reminds us with this series that high stakes or epic splash pages aren’t necessary to create tension, drama, and intrigue. Closeups of cakes, pies, and cheeses only increase the anticipation of main character Rainbow going for broke and attempting to snag food sans money. Samnee is very good at capturing anticipation and emotion with key establishing shots and pace. All this, and he also crushed with a daily Batober piece of art, including several that eventually sold on eBay for hundreds of dollars.

– David Brooke

Elsa Charretier

AIPT's Best Comics of 2021: Part 2

From Elsa Charretier’s YouTube Channel.

Elsa Charretier has not published a great amount of work this year. Altogether, her output only came out to around 150 pages or so, and even while being deeply gorgeous, it’s not a very high number. However, as she’s said in the past (“Let us be impervious to hustle culture!”), Charretier isn’t simply plugging away on art (even with a new project with Tom King in the works) — she’s creating and supplying us all with invaluable videos on the process of making art. (Not to mention delivering on one Kickstarter, and launching another successful one.) Even without producing piles of pages, Charretier proved this year that she is one of the most important artists in the industry, along with, perhaps more importantly, creating some of the most beautiful images of the year.

– Keigen Rea 

Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!

Comments

In Case You Missed It

the free fall the free fall

‘The Free Fall’ review: Chaos leads to clever twist

Movie Reviews

New details emerge for April 2022's return of 'New Mutants' #25 New details emerge for April 2022's return of 'New Mutants' #25

New details emerge for April 2022’s return of ‘New Mutants’ #25

Comic Books

'Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes' #1 feels cutting edge 'Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes' #1 feels cutting edge

‘Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes’ #1 feels cutting edge

Comic Books

Marvel Preview: She-Hulk #1 Marvel Preview: She-Hulk #1

Marvel Preview: She-Hulk #1

Comic Books

Connect
Newsletter Signup