In the latest example of mainstream news sites gushing over PC choices for year’s end, SyFy Wire’s got plenty to offer that are basically the same as several of the others, even if here, it’s mainly brief clips. In addition, theirs is a bit longer than some other lists, but, no less biased. It contains, for example:
Daniel Kraus and Chris Shehan’s The Autumnal felt like exactly my kind of comic the moment it was announced, and I was thrilled to find that remained true through page after creepy page. It’s a beautiful, and beautifully dread-laced, new folk-horror classic.
Because, as I’ve noted before, the horror genre is really all we need, and seems to be the most noticeable thing these news sites can promote at times. Too much darkness is spoiling the broth these days, and they don’t have what it takes to admit it.
Given what 2020 turned out to be, a concept like Billionaire Island might have worked in the hands of a lot of different creators, but only Mark Russell and Steve Pugh could make it this biting, inventive, and thoroughly unhinged throughout.
And that’s because they’re left-leaning. If they were right-leaning, this wouldn’t even make headlines.
Bitter Root had a big night at the Eisners over the summer, and for very good reason. Chuck Brown, David F. Walker, and Sanford Greene’s 1920s fantasy adventure may have debuted back in 2018, but it’s just as vibrant, relevant, and thrilling as ever as we close out 2020.
And that’s because of the political leanings Walker maintains.
Black Widow: Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, and Jordie Bellaire’s Black Widow run is a witty, action-packed, endlessly creative reminder that sometimes the best superhero books are intimate, tightly focused, and deeply rooted in a very specific, well-executed tone. If you haven’t jumped on this one yet, catch up while you have the chance.
Sorry, I’m not taking this at face value, seeing as it’s written by the same writer who turned out a cheap excuse for depicting Carol Danvers as evil. A big problem with this rendition of BW is that it’s given to the writers in charge more as a ghetto assignment, where female writers are in charge, and sometimes the only ones allowed to write such a title at this point. If Stan Lee wanted to create Natasha Romanoff today, he wouldn’t be allowed, because he was a man. He certainly wouldn’t be able to write her solo adventures again.
Blue in Green: Sometimes a comic just knocks you through the wall, and that’s what Ram V and Anand Rk’s haunting blend of horror and jazz did to me. Blue in Green is a staggering achievement that reminded me that this medium’s capacity for surprising new forms is endless.
What’s so new about horror? Only that it’s become the norm. Music-mixing is no excuse.
Dark Nights: Death Metal: If you read this column regularly, you know I’m a sucker for everything Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo set out to do with Death Metal, but that doesn’t make it any less of an achievement. It’s an epic, bombastic, face-meltingly good comic, and I’ll be sad to see it go in just a few days.
I don’t read the column regularly, but I do know somebody’s got a problem with predisposition to backing crossovers at all costs. He’s also got a problem with paying lip service to pretentious scribes:
Dracula, Motherf***er!: Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson delivered an instantly iconic Dracula story and an instantly iconic piece of exploitation horror in the same breath, imbuing the mythology behind the world’s most famous vampire with a fierce new energy that made me long for this book to be at least twice as long as it actually was.
Exploitation, you say? Coming from a troublemaker who willingly took part in the Whisper Network, that’s got to be saying something. All that aside, that this particular writer wants to be the umpteenth specializing in horror themes laced with questionable intentions is certainly telling on what’s going wrong with the industry.
The Dreaming: Waking Hours: The Sandman universe has always been a world of stories about stories, and with Waking Hours, G. Willow Wilson and Nick Robles proved that idea still packs monumental thematic and emotional power with this achingly gorgeous story of a rogue nightmare.
And here’s another example of a propagandist who enthusiastically played a part in foisting egregious propaganda onto the world of comics in the past decade, and now gets to script something based on a concept that ran between 1989-96 and was decidedly overrated, if only because of the way it made use of Lyta Hall from Infinity Inc.
Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling #1: I loved the whole Empyre event, but nothing within the main story could come close to the magic of this warm hug of a one-shot by Chip Zdarsky, Anthonly Oliveira, and Manuel Garcia. For me, it remains the perfect tie-in comic.
If memory serves, the emperor of this title was the teen variation on Hulk who’s characterized as homosexual, and debuted at the time Young Avengers first came about in the late 2000? Well if they’re keeping on with that propaganda angle, it probably figures, just as it does that they’d keep on with these non-stop crossovers, and today’s assigned writers are ones who’re in full, unquestioned agreement with the direction.
Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish is one of the most beautifully crafted graphic novels I’ve read not just this year, but in recent memory. Every page is packed with gorgeous, emotionally resonant comics craft all wrapped into a sweeping-yet-intimate tale about the power of stories to shape our connections with the ones we love.
And in this case, homosexuality, though it’s not mentioned here directly as it was in previous examples of biased articles. If a graphic novel were produced about a convert to Judaism who found it promising, chances are it would never make it to this list.
Once & Future: There was always a chance that Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora’s Once & Future would lose some of its urgency and shine after that initial high-concept buzz wore off, but 2020 has proven that’s absolutely not the case. This is still a fantasy-horror delight month after month, and I’m honestly at a point where I hope it never ends.
And not because it’s a fantasy, but because it’s a horror tale! Oh, how clever. Oh, here’s another example:
The Plot: Tim Daniel, Michael Moreci, and Joshua Hixon’s The Plot is set to wrap up its story with a final issue in February, and you should absolutely jump onboard and catch up before then. This creepy family saga remained one of the best horror comics on the stands throughout 2020, retaining a powerful aura that will resonate for at least a couple more months.
I’m sure there’s hundreds of non-horror examples that could’ve been cited here for if they offer an optimistic viewpoint and/or some fine fantasy adventure, but this site sure ain’t doing enough to prove they can look around for some that, in addition, aren’t full of heavy handed politics, and without basing their citations on whether they are. Here’s yet another:
Stillwater: If you’d told me at the start of 2020 that Chip Zdarsky’s best work of the year would be a new horror comic, I might not have believed you, but on top of exceptional work on titles like Daredevil he also managed to deliver an incredible new series launch alongside Ramon K. Perez. Stillwater is both one of the best new creator-owned books of 2020 and a must-watch title heading into 2021.
Uh-uh. He’d have believed it alright, and the citation is decidedly deliberate on the columnist’s part. As it’s bound to be with the next example too:
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber spent 12 issues engineering one of the funniest, most creative, and most joyous explorations of a modern superhero universe in recent memory, and the result is a jolt of pure happiness that could never have been long enough for me. I still want more.
Including more scenes of an alien cat belching red vomit? No thank you. This is not something worthy of the franchise Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster began in the Golden Age.
X of Swords: Giving some of the best mutant characters in Marvel Comics mythic swords and letting them slash it out in a tournament was always going to carry a certain allure for me, but I couldn’t have imagined just how ambitious and strange this delightful event book would get. Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz, Mahmud Asrar and the entire X of Swords team did something monumental and beautiful with this crossover, and I suspect we’ll still be finding new things to love about it in countless re-reads to come.
I’m just not sure why a comic has to be set mainly on an island and concentrate foremost on internal strife, or why there have to be so many forced crossovers to be what they think is entertaining. Next up comes what the columnist describes as best of the week, such as this comic starring a descendant of Jonah Hex, the Bronze Age western anti-hero:
Jinny Hex Special #1: I’ve talked before about how the legacy aspect of the DC Universe is one of the strongest points of its design (even if that design was, at times, maybe a little accidental), and I love when DC Comics leans into that aspect of its characters, embracing decades of shifting stories and relationships to weave a larger tapestry in which characters are constantly learning and re-learning what it means to be a hero. When the right creative team gets their hands on a legacy character they can spin absolute gold out of those thematic explorations, but sometimes it takes a little while for those particularly rich narrative wells to be tapped.
That’s, very happily, not the case with Jinny Hex Special #1, the new Young Justice spinoff one-shot from writer Magdalene Vissagio and artist Gleb Melnikov. It’s a slightly oversized issue, clocking in at a little more than 40 total pages, but even with that in mind the sheer number of things it’s able to accomplish in a single story — narratively, aesthetically, emotionally, and beyond — is rather astonishing. The issue follows the title character as she’s trying to get a family business back on its feet, only to have her life suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious stranger claiming a family connection of his own. From there, a box of Hex family memories ultimately leads to a journey back to the Old West (because comics), a battle for the future of her family and her town, and of course, a sense of what might be next for Jinny Hex.
What drew me into this issue, apart from the intrigue of getting to see how a character like Jinny Hex was able to stand on her own, was the deep sense of lived-in warmth that permeates the pages. Vissagio’s witty dialogue and Melnikov’s effortless expressiveness convey right away a sense that these are not characters you barely know, but old friends you’re getting to look in on, and it’s a wonderful way to dig into a story like this. From there, though, the issue really starts to soar as it manages to lay bare everything from the more fantastical aspects of Jinny’s legacy to the emotional choices beating at the core of this thrilling one-shot. It’s a book that lays out a sweeping narrative agenda in the opening pages and then manages to pay off every single beat along the way, right up until an ending that’s just begging to lead into a new ongoing series for the character. I hope that happens, because it would be an absolute joy to go back to Jinny’s corner of the DC Universe.
Wow, if that’s who’s writing this book, why should we take anything said at face value, considering the same scribe made reprehensible comments a few years ago, and his “Vagrant Queen” was such a flop on TV as much as in comics? One more item cited is the most recent Avengers volume, written by one more overrated buffoon:
Avengers #40: I’m generally rather in awe of Jason Aaron’s ability to just keep remixing and refreshing various nooks and crannies of the Marvel Universe, even the ones many fans might consider long-since played out. It’s the kind of thing that made his expansive Thor run such a joy, that made War of the Realms one of the best Marvel events ever, and has continued to make his Avengers run an absolute bright spot in the Marvel line.
Even with that in mind, though, I sometimes wonder if Aaron’s brand of playful audacity will ever overstay its welcome, and a great many fans thought that might be the case when Marvel announced the next Avengers arc would be a battle over the Phoenix Force. Back when “Enter the Phoenix” entered the conversation, I was convinced that if anyone could pull such a thing off, it would be Aaron, and now that the first issue is out I’m happy to say that it seems he and artist Javier Garron have indeed managed to do something fresh, engaging, and thrilling with their version of the Phoenix story.
Rather than attempting to lay a lot of groundwork upfront (something that, to be fair, the prelude issue helped along at least a little), Aaron and Garron throw us right into the deep end of this story with a launch issue that follows Captain America’s angle on the action as various friends and foes vie for the power of the Phoenix. Why they’re fighting, what they hope will happen, and what the endgame for all of this is will have to wait, and that kind of anticipation-building structure does this issue a huge favor right away. It plays into what we already know (or think we know) about the Phoenix Force, into its hunger and power and boundless reach, so that we can focus on a very specific set of character perspectives that Aaron has already proven over and over again that he can write the hell out of. Throw in Garron’s beautifully bombastic art, and you’ve got the start of something intriguing that’s primed to send the Avengers into 2021 the right away.
And here’s something else I’m tired of: the Phoenix Whatever You Describe It As. All stories like this do is make clear why the original X-Men tale was overrated in the long run. Why must people be vying for a power that symbolizes death? It’s sickening and definitely not funny. It’s also dismaying how Aaron, the same one who exploited Thor for social justice propaganda, is being lionized yet again. We could honestly do without that as well. This is some of the most lazy Best Listing propaganda I’ve seen to date, and it’s not bound to improve in the future.
Originally published here.