December 22, 2020

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James' Favorite Comics for 2020

For 2020, I've decided to write about 25 comics I loved this year. As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just my personal favorites (listed in alphabetical order). 

A little more info on my picks for this year (I was inspired by my Panel Pal Mike's list):

  • The list includes 11 different comics publishers (with Image leading the way (9 books), followed by Boom!/Archaia (4 books))
  • My favorite genre continues to be sci-fi (7 books), followed by superhero (5 books), horror and action (4 books each)
  • 8 of my selections were individual books/volumes, and the rest were ongoing series/miniseries
Anyway, I hope you find something you enjoy!

Adventureman HC vol. 1 by Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics

Adventureman is possibly the most purely fun comic I've read this year. It's written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by the Dodsons, and lettered by Clayton Cowles. So what I'm saying is, you're in incredibly capable hands with this book. What's great about this book is, well, pretty much everything. But more specifically, what's great about Adventureman is that it provides the reader with several different kinds of stories all in one. The story begins in an idealized, pulpy 1930's New York, as the city is under attack from evil invaders. But the police commissioner calls upon Adventureman and his band of science/mystical heroes to save the day. Adventureman is a classic barrel-chested, square-jawed Doc Savage type hero, and he and his allies do their best, and all appears lost...and then we realize that we've just been hearing about a story that a mom is reading with her son. It's present-day New York City, a much more mundane place. Adventureman is just a long-lost pulp-fiction character.  OR IS HE???  You'll just have to keep reading to find out. I promise you'll have a great time, and you will just want to pore over the incredible art from Terry and Rachel Dodson. Seriously - the characters, the city - it's all so gorgeous. This book is a real delight.

Bang! by Matt Kindt, Wilfredo Torres, Nayoung Kim, Bill Crabtree, and Nate Piekos, published by Dark Horse

Bang! is a stylish, fun series that begins as a classic James Bond style spy tale, but very quickly turns into something different. Writer Matt Kindt, artist Wilfredo Torres, colorist Nayoung Kim, and letterer Nate Piekos are telling a story that moves very quickly from genre fiction to metafiction, (including references to Kindt’s on prior work).  Kindt is a greater weaver of complex, weird mysteries, and Bang! has those in abundance. Each issue begins with the tale of a different hero, saving the day in their own way (and in their respective genre). But forces bring them together, and make them realize that while they are living their lives as real people, they are also someone else's fiction. They look for answers and band together. This is a fun, entertaining story, with accessible, entertaining, skillful art from Wilfredo Torres, and bright colors from Nayoung Kim.

Black Stars Above by Lonnie Nadler, Jenna Cha, Brad Simpson, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, published by Vault Comics

Black Stars Above is a fantastically unsettling supernatural horror book that perfectly evokes a world of desolation and loneliness. Black Stars Above takes place in 1887 in rural Manitoba, and centers on the life of Eulalie, who lives in a small cabin in the rural woods, with her family. Eulalie encounters a strange man who gives her an opportunity. He will pay her a considerable sum of money if she can deliver a package to the mysterious town north of the woods. Eulalie is desperate, and anything feels better than being trapped in her life. So she agrees. Eventually, Eulalie sneaks out and heads off. From there, things get weird, and then they get even weirder. Black Stars Above creates an atmosphere and a sense of place, as well as any comic I have read in a very long time. And that place is cold and desolate and freaky.  I wasn't familiar with artist Jenna Cha before this story, but I am now, and I promise you will be hearing a lot more from her. Cha's work in Black Stars Above is a real revelation, in conjunction with some absolutely stunning work by Brad Simpson on colors. Cha and Simpson bring a terrifying world to life.

Black Widow by Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, and Jordie Bellaire, publlished by Marvel Comics

Kelly Thompson is one of the best writers of superhero comics out there. Captain Marvel is an excellent book, and Thompson previously wrote Hawkeye and West Coast Avengers (both excellent comics). And her newest book, Black Widow, is another home run, thanks to sharp writing and absolutely jaw-dropping art (from artist Elena Casagrande and colors from the always-excellent Jordie Bellaire).  This comic finds Natasha working as an architect, living with her husband and son???  Something isn't right, and Hawkeye and Bucky are going to figure it out. But Natasha seems happy, and seems to have settled nicely into this life. It's a great story, and it's brought to life by the absolutely staggering artistic skill of Casagrande and Bellaire. The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous, as are all of the characters. The people are beautiful, the action is stunningly rendered with intricate and inventive sequential storytelling, and the colors from Bellaire just pop off the page.  Natasha Romanoff is a great character who deserves a great comic, and she has one. 

Blue in Green by Ram V, Anand RK, John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar, and Tom Muller, published by Image Comics

Blue in Green is one of the best, most engaging books I read all year, full stop.  It’s a stunning, freaky, fantastic story of pain, loss, legacy and generational trauma. The creative team weaves a story here that exists in a dreamlike space where you don't know if some of the things in the story are actually happening, and that's ok. We are all just along for the ride. Every aspect of the story is top notch. Ram V has an ear for dialogue and narration. He knows how to keep things moving, and the dialogue feels true to life. And Anand RK is an incredible illustrator. This is weird, scratchy, mesmerizing work. I very much enjoyed his prior collaboration with Ram in Grafity's Wall, but there's nothing in that book that would have prepared me for the work here. He and colorist John Pearson combine for an explosive, weird, incredibly powerful story with work that reminds me of classic Bill Sienkiewicz, but still very much its own thing. And talented letterer Aditya Bidikar brings his A-game to this story as well, as the lettering here is hand-lettered, and detailed and sometimes scary or unsettling or sad, but incredibly additive and very much part of the story. Lastly, this book is brought together by the impeccable design sensibilities of Tom Muller, who brings a 60's Jazz feel to the book (which is entirely appropriate), and makes the book feel both new and old at the same time. It's impeccable design work from the very best (and whose involvement in a project is usually an indicator of high quality). Basically, I'm saying you need to pick up Blue in Green. It's weird and scary and emotional and a must-read.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams by Mike Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred, published by Insight Comics

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams (Bowie for short) is an absolute pickup for any fans of David Bowie (his music, his life, his personality). It’s a gorgeous graphic novel (illustrated by the husband and wife team of line artist Mike Allred and color artist Laura Allred, and written by Mike Allred and Steve Horton) telling a creatively imagined story about Bowie’s life, with its primary focus from the beginning of his career as a musician, to the end of his “Ziggy Stardust” phase. Horton and the Allreds convey a lot of information in Bowie. This is an exhaustively researched book that covers Bowie’s life on an almost-daily level. However, Bowie never feels bogged down by minutiae, because the story moves along nicely, providing interesting and relevant details. Also because Bowie is an absolutely gorgeous book. Mike has clean, dynamic line work and every page of the story flows very nicely. And Laura’s colors have an incredible texture and variety, as we move from the mundane to the psychedelic from page to page, from panel to panel. This is a biographical story, but first and foremost it is a work of art. So, there are all sorts of imaginative flourishes on every page. Bowie brings this quest to push boundaries to life in gorgeous and fascinating detail. Horton and the Allreds do wonderful work in transporting the reader to another place and time, and I highly recommend joining them on that journey.

Child Star by Box Brown, published by First Second

As a child of the 1980's, I watched a lot of TV.  Even more specifically, I watched a lot of sitcoms with precocious kids.  Different Strokes, Silver Spoons, Webster, The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Cosby Show, and others.  I watched and loved these shows, and then grew up hearing story after story about how difficult and terrible the lives of former child stars end up bring.  Clearly, so did Box Brown.  Brown excels at comic storytelling with a mix of humor, storytelling skill, and profound empathy for his subject. Do yourself a favor and read Andre the Giant: Life and Legend and Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and you will see all of the humanity that Brown brings to his subjects. For his most recent book, he decided to tell a fictionalized story, rather than do another biography. And I can say that Brown is equally as adept at fiction as he is at biography. Child Star tells the story of Owen Eugene, the star of a sitcom, from his early life and his time as a big star, to his sad decline over the course of many years after that. Child Star is very clearly drawing from Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis, among others. But even as a fictional character, you'll feel his very real pain and sadness. But the books isn't just a downer, it's a very engaging story and a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks about getting their kids into showbiz at a young age. 

Crossover by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Dee Cunniffe, and John J. Hill, published by Image Comics

Crossover is an absolute popcorn thrill ride of a comic, and some of the most fun I had reading a comic all year, which is why it's on this list even though only 2 issues have been released so far. It's a meditation on the significance of fiction and on our relationship to fictional characters. And it's also...a story about love and hope and community?  Above all of that, it's a stunning work of art that you can stare at slack-jawed all day. There's so much happening in Crossover, and the comic is just bursting with ideas (in the same way that the extraordinary artwork from Shaw and Cunniffe burst off of the page).  First, let me reassure you and tell you what I do not think this comic is about: I don't think this is intended to be any sort of Watchmen-style deconstruction of the superhero genre. This isn't a story about the world of superheroes; this is a story about us. Our relationship to fiction, our relationship to problems and fear, and ultimately our relationship to each other.  But, you know, there's also superheroes involved.  
 

Decorum by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston, published by Image Comics

If Jonathan Hickman writes a book, I'm going to write about it (as you can see here, here, here, and here). His work speaks to me in a way that few other comic writer's work does. He's up there with Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis as far as comics that are as complex as they are engaging. I find his interest in systems. structures, and hidden elites to be fertile ground for storytelling, whether it's an alternate-history apocalyptic Western, World War II, or dark magic controlling international finance. But, what I also love even more than all of these things is being surprised.  If a writer I love can zig when I expect the ot zag, that's even better. Which brings me to Decorum, Hickman and artist Mike Huddleston's new creator-owned series. While the scope of this story feels incredibly vast, it also feels like a totally different focus than I've come to expect from Hickman. Most of Hickman's work feels like a look at the people behind the curtain moving the levers of society. This also has that element (which is huge and cosmic and robotic?), but it also is a much more ground-level portrayal of someone operating within that structure. But honestly?  As intriguing as the story is, the chief selling point for this comic is the stunning art of Mike Huddleston. I'd never seen Huddleston's work before reading Decorum, and it's an absolute revelation. He is in complete visual command of this comic, displaying amazing skill in a number of completely different artistic styles that he blends together (seriously, this book feels like it was done by at least 3 completely different artists, but it was one guy).  I do like a story that mixes the macro and micro, and Decorum works well in that regard. We've got big, cosmic ideas, but we've also got the story of a paid assassin with impeccable manners, and a courier who really probably wishes she'd said no to a particular job. Decorum was a delight to read and a serious feast for the eyes, and I can't wait to see where it goes.

Department of Truth by James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds, Aditya Bidikar, Dylan Todd, and Steve Foxe, published by Image Comics
Department of Truth is a comic that I wish didn’t exist.  Well, that’s not quite right. Department of Truth is a fantastic comic that I very much enjoyed and highly recommend to anyone looking for a dark, smart commentary on our current times. What I mean to say is, I wish that the current circumstances in our country/world were such that a book like Department of Truth didn’t need to exist.  The central premise of Department of Truth is based around the idea that belief itself shapes reality. Not just in an abstract, philosophical sense of "your perception shapes your reality" but in an actual "what people collectively believe can change and warp reality itself" sense.  This is a comic of shadowy figures and dark rooms, fitting when this is a story about the ways in which rumors and conspiracies can actually change reality.  Martin Simmonds' work in this comic is perfectly suited to those ideas, and is an absolute revelation.  Simmonds' absolutely staggering work is one of the fundamental elements in creating the absurd, conspiratorial feel of the story. Simmonds' art here is scratchy, angular, sometimes messy, and often downright weird. And all of that weirdness and perceived imprecision works perfectly in telling the story and setting the tone of these issues. The art here is so much about setting the tone. And what is the tone? It's like X-Files, but weirder, and more supernatural, and filtered through the fog of memory and the haze of confusion. All of that comes across perfectly in every page. The scratchy lines and the occasionally blotchy or imperfect coloring works seamlessly in this story. This is a weird world, and we are (as readers) going down an insane rabbit hole.  This is a fantastic, unsettling book, and I highly recommend it. 

Fantastic Four: Grand Design by Tom Scioli, published by Marvel Comics
I really love the Marvel Grand Design books, particularly in their oversized treasury editions. Marvel has previously published Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design books (which I highly recommend), and this year they published Fantastic Four: Grand Design from Tom Scioli.  Scioli is one of my favorite creators in all of comics, and if you've seen his work, you know that the creator to whom he gets compared the most is Jack Kirby (more on that later). Scioli's work is a deliberate homage to Kirby (particularly in books such as Godland and American Barbarian), but he goes in all sort of amazing, weird, and wonderful directions in books such as Transformers vs. G.I. Joe and Go-Bots.  Scioli brings his love of Kirby and all of his narrative skill to tell the story that's told in the first 100 issues of Fantastic Four. This book is a delight for fans of the FF, and it is jam-packed, with pages routinely having 20 or more panels on them. But all of the FF's most iconic moments of their early years are brought to life, and Scioli weaves in other story elements to make this story make sense in the broader context of the Marvel universe. This is a rich, dense read, to be pored over slowly. This comic also contains a reprint of the iconic This Man, this Monster... issue of FF, recolored in fantastic (sorry for the pun) fashion by Scioli. This is a delight for long-time Marvel fans, and I highly recommend it. 

Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart, published by Image Comics

Gideon Falls is a comic that delivers truly scary and creepy moments, a complex and intriguing world, and some absolutely jaw-dropping, terrifying and gorgeous art.  Written by Jeff Lemire, it started as a "religious horror" series but it has quickly expanded into something much bigger, more weird and much more ambitious. It’s a story with mysteries and dark shadows lurking in the corners, which also has a religious bent to it, and it’s building some complex and interesting and completely bonkers worlds. The art from Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart is some of my favorite art of the decade. It's seriously jaw-dropping. I love Sorrentino’s flair and style as a visual storyteller, and with Stewart on colors, Sorrentino’s work has never looked better or creepier.  This is a profound, insightful and empathetic look at lonely, scared people trying to understand an insane world. It’s also one of the best looking and freakiest comics that you can buy these days. So, not surprisingly, I highly recommend it.

Gunning for Ramirez Book One by Nicolas Petrimaux, published by Image Comics

There are always going to be some reliable entries on my year-end favorites (familiar names such as Jonathan Hickman, Matt Kindt, and Matt Fraction), but I'm happy that every year there are always a number of books that come along and just completely surprise me out of the blue. There have been a number of books like that this year, and one of the most delightful ones was Gunning for Ramirez.  If you haven't heard of it (and you probably haven't), here's the pitch. Gunning for Ramirez is set in Arizona in 1987, and there is a mild-mannered employee at a vacuum company who is mistakenly (?) believed to actually be a legendary hitman for the Mexican cartel, by some cartel members who end up in Arizona. From there, all hell breaks loose. This story (first of 3 planned volumes) is an absolute blast. Nicolas Petrimaux is an incredible artist, with a fun, exaggerated style that never feels too "cartoony" for the story and totally conveys the reality of the situation (car-chases, shootouts, etc.). And the story is really fun from start to finish, as Petrimaux has very successfully captured the feel of a 1980's action movie. Fans of Lethal Weapon will feel right at home here. This is a great read.  

The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, and Ruy Jose, published by Marvel Comics 

If you haven't been reading Immortal Hulk, you're missing the very best Marvel Comics has to offer these days. The art from Joe Bennett (and a few guest contributors) is scary and intense and with moments of dark humor. And when I say scary, I am saying there is some incredibly horrifying, freaky-ass stuff in these comics. Some very intense body horror that is appropriately horrifying (like Junji Ito-level stuff). This comic has been a return to the Hulk's horror roots; it began as a story of Hulk as a dark avenging force in the night, righting wrongs with a malevolent grin, but as the story has unfolded it’s clear that writer Al Ewing is telling a much bigger story about evil, destiny, and the darkness within (full of obscure Biblical references for you Holy Scripture fans out there). This is an INCREDIBLY ambitious book, one that's telling a story about the nature of good and evil, and about inescapable darkness. It's a story that spans billions of years and is playing with huge ideas. This story has brought to life a whole new Hulk persona. This is a Hulk who sees through you, and can sees people’s lies and hypocrisy and secret desires laid bare. And he doesn’t just defeat foes physically, he’s smart in a calculating, cruel way. It's also a book that has elevated The Leader (who I thought of as kind of a joke) into a terrifying villain. This is the definition of a must-read book.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics by Tom Scioli, published by Ten Speed Press/Random House

I mentioned earlier that Fantastic Four: Grand Design was a wonderful homage by Tom Scioli to the work of The King, Jack Kirby. Well, this next book is an even more direct homage, as Scioli tells the tale of the life of The King himself. Before I knew this book was being published, if you'd asked me who should do a graphic bio of Jack Kirby, the answer would've been beyond obvious - Tom Scioli. I don't know that there's a better match of creator and subject, and I'm happy to say that Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics is a wonderful read. Scioli does some wonderfully detailed work in telling the story of Kirby's life. The story is told with a great deal of empathy and it also very much has a point of view (Stan Lee and Roy Thomas definitely don't come off great in this book). Scioli's art is as excellent as ever; interestingly he draws most people with regular Kirby-style eyes, but draws Jack himself as a little more cartoony, a little more wide-eyed; I think this conveys the sense that Kirby just takes everything in and absorbs it as part of his creative process. The art is great, and among other things Scioli reproduces exactly the styles of many other artists within the book, at any point where Jack is reading a comic as a kid, or if we are being shown a copy of another comic. For any fan of Kirby, this is a delight to read. 

November by Matt Fraction, Elsa Charretier, Matt Hollingsworth, and Kurt Ankeny, published by Image Comics

November is a fantastic crime story, to be told in 4 volumes (volumes 2 and 3 were published in 2020). It tells a number of interconnected stories, taking place in the same city at approximately the same time. That sense of interconnection gets at the heart of one of the major themes running through November, the idea of chains. Chains can be something that bind us together, but they also represent a barrier, whether we are talking about a chain link fence, or someone being chained (literally or figuratively). The motif of the chain link fence shows up a number of times in November; one character feels the weight of the money she earns as an anchor around her neck. She’s chained to that money, and limited in her options. There are corrupt cops in the story, and the idea of the “chain of evidence” is discussed. A chain of paper clips is used as a metaphor for keeping the evidence properly, but it’s also a good metaphor for the ways that these characters are all bound to one another. November is an absolutely gorgeous book. Elsa Charretier brings the story to life with terrifically paced, emotive, grimy yet stylish art. Charretier’s style feels classic (in a silver-age kind of way) but her skills as a sequential storyteller feel very modern. Charretier is a master of subtle facial expressions and body language (which are extremely important as much of the story involves quiet conversation), but she also uses creative panel and layout choices to play with pacing and time within the story. Her work is colored by the terrific Matt Hollingsworth who uses some creative, atmospheric coloring choices. Lettering is done by the talented cartoonist and letterer Kurt Ankeny. He hand-letters the whole book, and gives each character a distinctive font for narration (a font that suits the character well). The lettering is additive and effective and feels very much apart of the story. The whole presentation of the book is terrific (thanks to the involvement of Rian Hughes).  November is a must-read for fans of crime stories and great drama generally.

Once & Future by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain, published by Boom! Studios

Once & Future is a blast of a comic and one of the most fun, gorgeously illustrated books you'll read. The basic premise is that there's a monster-hunter (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who (after successfully killing all the monsters) raises her grandson and that grandson grows up to become a professor. But then someone gets the bright idea to resurrect King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, who would be unlikely to support a modern, progressive, ethnically diverse England. So there's battle and adventure and ladies in lakes, and swords in stones. And Arthur is not the only mythical or quasi-mythical character to show up. There are others as well. All the while our heroes are running around trying to stop the evil, and trying not to get killed. It's a gorgeous book, with wonderfully fun and engaging art from Dan Mora, with absolutely stunning color work from Tamra Bonvillain. Writer Kieron Gillen is a great, witty, thoughtful writer, and he's just the sort of writer to bring to like this story of myth and reality and meta-fiction (given his delving into some of these ideas in The Wicked + The Divine), and this is a hugely entertaining, intelligent read. I promise you'll love Once & Future

Pulp by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips, published by Image Comics

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are no stranger to my lists of year-end favorite comics. They're the brilliant storytelling team that has brought to life so many wonderful stories (Criminal, Fatale, Sleeper, etc.). Well, I'm happy to say that in addition to issues of Criminal (which remains a terrific read) and Reckless (a crime story set in the 1980's which just came out, I haven't had a chance to read it yet), they published Pulp which is probably my favorite Brubaker/Phillips story since The Fade Out (a noir murder mystery set in the classic Hollywood of the late 1940's).  Pulp is set in two time periods, the tail end of the Old West in the 1890's, and New York City of the mid-to-late 1930's. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but it's both a western and a crime drama, and there are Nazi supporters involved (which sadly makes it more topical than I would like). But it's a great story of an older man trying to make it in a changing world, and a story of the blurry lines between fiction and reality, and of the times when you need to take a moral stand. Pulp is also, of course, a gorgeous book as Phillips (colored here by his son Jacob) is at the top of his game. Every page of this book is an absolutely joy to look at. Pulp is a fantastic, satisfying, self-contained story. 

Remina by Junji Ito, published by Viz Media

Remina, written and illustrated by the spectacular Junji Ito, is a masterful work of science fiction and horror that should please any fan of Ito's work, and more broadly, is an incredible example of using genre to convey dark, true, existential terror. The horror in Remina is vast and epic, on a cosmic scale. The planet Remina (named after the teenage daughter of the astronomer who discovered the wormhole from which it entered our universe) has an extremely unusual trajectory and appears to be swallowing up whole planets and even stars, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. All of the fervor for Remina (the planet) and Remina (the teenager) turns to panic, as the planet Remina changes direction and is now on a direct collision course for Earth, moving at impossibly fast speeds. People quickly become convinced that the astronomer and his daughter are somehow summoning Remina (the planet) to Earth. From there things only get more and more chaotic.  Ito is a peerless visual storyteller, perfectly controlling the pace of the story.  He doesn’t waste time and keeps the story moving in a very propulsive way. The first few pages of the story begin with someone tied to a cross, surrounded by an almost inhuman mob hungry for death, as the horrifying planet Remina looms overhead, occupying the entire sky. Remina (the planet) shows humanity our utter insignificance and powerlessness and the inevitability of death. But Remina (the story) shows us some equally terrifying, ugly truths about ourselves. We quickly embrace celebrities and heroes, and we love them. And because we think that we love them, we feel a sense of ownership over them. Just as quickly, we can turn on them. And if we (as a society) are facing something terrifying, sometimes our instinct is just to look for someone or something to blame. But even more than that, we’re looking for power in a situation where we are powerless. There are a ton of big ideas and scares in Remina, and it's a terrific read. 

Slaughter House-Five: or the children's crusade (Graphic Novel adaptation) by Kurt Vonnegut, with Ryan North and Albert Monteys, published by Archaia/Boom! Studios

Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, and we follow him as he moves through all of these different moments in his life, from his time as a POW during WWII (when he experiences the firebombing of Dresden) to his life as a doctor, and everything in between from the beginning to the end (including the time when he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tramfaldore). Yes, this is an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s all-time sci-fi classic Slaughter House-Five. I read the novel, but that was more than 20 years ago. However, I'm happy to say that even if you've never read the novel, this adaptation tells an immensely satisfying, sad, and hilarious story. Billy's movement back and forth through time is used frequently for hilarious, profound, and poignant effect. This is an adaptation of a novel, and so it b3ears the mark of Vonnegut but also that of its adaptors, writer Ryan North (Squirrel Girl) and artist Albert Monteys (Universe!). Noth is a writer of hilarious, intelligent, and poignant comics, so he's a great person to bring this story to life. And Albert Monteys is an absolutely incredible cartoonist (please do yourself a favor and read Universe!, it's available digitally now and is going to be collected by Image early next year). He's got a wonderfully humorous style that somehow still works perfectly with the often dark subject matter. His storytelling skills are remarkable, and all of his characters are expressive and engaging. This is a fantastic story in its own right, and a terrific and worthy adaptation of a classic work.

Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV, Werther Dell'Edera, Miquel Muerto, and Andworld Design, published by Boom! Studios

Something Is Killing The Children(SIKTC for short) is a great, terrifying read that works on a number of different levels and feels especially suited for the world we're living in right now. That's not intended to make you run in the other direction, but simply an acknowledgement that SIKTC is not a light, easy read.  It's about fear and terror and abandonment, and feeling alone and misunderstood, and it's also about the feeling that no one's in charge and there's no one to keep us safe. But it's also about giant monsters and an incredibly badass monster-hunter! And, told skillfully by writer James Tynion IV, artist Werther Dell'Edera and colorist Miquel Muerto, SIKTC is a stunning, freaky read. It does what great speculative or genre fiction can do, which is to shine a light on our world with enough distance to give us an enjoyable story, but close enough to our lives to make us feel uncomfortable (in a good way). SIKTC is a must-read for horror fans. SIKTC really gets at a fundamental idea, in a freaky and unnerving way.  Monsters are scary, sure.  But you know what’s really scary? Feeling alone. Feeling like no one believes you or understands you, and feeling like you’re in danger and there’s no one looking out for you.  It can be terrifying to know something terrible is out there and that you don’t know what’s going on. But what’s really frightening is the idea that the people in charge, the ones who are ostensibly there to protect you, don’t know anything more than you do, and they too have no idea to stop what’s happening. That’s far more terrifying to me than any freaky monster.

Strange Adventures by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan "Doc" Shaner, published by DC Comics/Black Label

Strange Adventures is a mystery, a commentary on race, political intrigue, paranoia, "the fog of war,” and what it means to be a hero.  It's also an absolutely gorgeous book courtesy of Gerads and Shaner, both of whom bring their A+ game. And it's unquestionably one of my favorite series of 2020. There's a lot to unpack in Strange Adventures, and the series is a little more than halfway through.  But the comic seems to be focused on the central and overlapping ideas of truth and propaganda, heroism, and who gets to say who is or isn't a hero (and more broadly, who controls truth).  The art duties are split between Gerads and Shaner who have very different styles.  With multiple artists, the creative team seems to be drawing a contrast between the everyday *normal* life as experienced on Earth (done by Gerads) and the world of war and invasion and adventure (done by Shaner). The contrast is always stark, and in some places it's just overwhelming. Intense scenes of battle, heroism and bloodshed are intercut with quiet, contemplative scenes of two people walking through the snow or sitting in a bar, just having a conversation. Gerads and Shaner have very different, contrasting art styles. But it's more than that. I think there's more than just "different artists are better suited for different aspects of the story". Because the contrast is often so stark, it's almost like we're reading two different stories. From two different worlds. Such that the Shaner part of the comic is more than just a depiction of earlier events in the comic, it's almost more like a story within a story.  This is a complex comic full of layers and ideas, and I recommend it strongly. 

Undone by Blood or The Shadow of a Wanted Man, by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, Sami Kivelä, Jason Wordie, and Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou, published by Aftershock Comics

Undone by Blood is a really smart, intense revenge drama set in 1970’s Arizona that cleverly uses a “story within a story” to explore ideas of revenge and justice. Not to mention it’s got gorgeous, gritty and vivid art. It’s a highly entertaining read and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for smart and ambitious comics. Undone by Blood begins with slightly stilted narration, in the old west. It tells the story of a cowboy named Sol with a past, who’s settled down to a more domesticated life, but quickly finds tragedy when his wife has been shot and injured, and his son kidnapped. To get him back, Sol has to return to the life he abandoned a long time ago. Just a few pages into the story, we realize that we’ve been reading the book that’s being read by a mysterious short-haired girl who gets off the bus in the middle of what feels like nowhere.  It’s 1971, the girl's name is Ethel Lane, and she’s gotten off the bus in order to make her way into Sweetheart, Arizona. She has questions, and she needs answers.  The team here of Sami Kivelä (art) and Jason Wordie (colors) is a real revelation. They work seamlessly here and in a fantastically complementary manner. Kivelä has a grounded, fairly realistic (but not photo-realistic) style, reminiscent as a general matter of the work of Sean Phillips, David Aja, or Gabriel Hardman. Kivelä’s work reminds me most of that of Phillips, whose frequent collaborations with Ed Brubaker over the years have played in the genres of crime and revenge stories. Similar to Phillips, Kivelä has a style that is extremely effective at evoking a specific place and time. And this is colored perfectly by Wordie who captures the dusty feel of the desert, and the sepia-toned feel of old west stories.  If you're looking for a smart, engaging, crime-revenge story with a pulpy western feel, then Undone by Blood is the perfect comic for you. Even if you're not looking for those really specific things - seriously, it's great, give it a read (and also, this is a great story to pair with Pulp).

We Only Find Them When They're Dead by Al Ewing and Simone Di Meo, published by Boom! Studios
We Only Find Them When They're Dead (WOFTWTD, for short) has a recipe for comics that I can't resist - heady, thought-provoking ideas, a compelling plot, interesting characters, and absolutely astounding, gorgeous artwork. Like some of the very best science fiction stories set in the distant future or on a far-off world, it's got imaginative and original ideas that also serve as perfect allegory for the world we're living in right now. So, come for the intriguing ideas and stunning visuals, and stay for the trenchant critique of late-stage capitalism. WOFTWTD is many things, but it is first and foremost a stunning work of art thanks to the gorgeous work of Simone Di Meo. I wasn’t familiar with Di Meo’s work prior to this series, but I’ve seen enough to say that I'll probably pick up most anything Di Meo does, regardless of the project. He’s that good. Di Meo convincingly portrays an ethereally Beautiful Dead Space God, and shows us the act of harvesting that God for “parts”. He’s also got to show chase/battle scenes in space, which isn’t easy to pull off in a way that’s compelling and not hard to follow. I’m happy to say that Di Meo does all of these things and does them beautifully and richly in a way that brings this story to life.  You don't have to go all that far to see the ways in which this story precisely parallels the world we live in right now.  In WOFTWTD, the smaller mining ships have been crowded out by the bigger mining companies that receive favorable treatment from the governing authorities. Sound familiar? It sounds like it's become harder and harder for people to succeed in the God-mining business. We too have been dining on the corpses of dead Gods in order to sustain ourselves, given our dependence on fossil fuels. You stop and think about that one for a moment - "fossil" fuels. Now, are these Gods *the* God?  We have no idea. But faced with a world (or civilization) that is short on natural resources, and working in a job where one's role is to literally carve up the corpse of impossibly beautiful beings, our hero is confronted with the fact that he wants more out of life. He doesn’t just want to subsist as parasitic flies on the corpses of Gods. He wants to see a living God, regardless of the risks, and without any certainty as to the outcome of his voyage. It's a tremendous leap of faith (and act of courage, or foolishness, or both) by the captain and his crew, and I could not be more excited to join them on their journey in WOFTWTD.


X-Men/X of Swords by Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Gerry Duggan, Leinil Yu, Pepe Larraz et al., published by Marvel Comics
Writer Jonathan Hickman continues to lead the charge on revitalizing the X-Men books in 2020, both in the main X-Men title (illustrated by Leinil Yu) and in shepherding and masterminding the X of Swords crossover, which ran through 3 standalone issues at the beginning, middle and end of the crossover, and ran through all of the main X titles.  All of it has been a complete blast, and has really made the X books continue to feel like the place to be in Marvel in 2020. The gist of the story involves the mutant island of Krakoa, which was originally connected to Arakko, and was the single land of Okkara. Thousands of years ago, invaders came to Earth from a dark realm in Otherworld, and mutants breached the barrier to keep these monsters at bay and to protect the mutants on Earth. That barrier has opened up, and there's a lot to catch up between the mutants of Arakko and the mutants now living on Krakoa. And, this catching up will inevitably involve fighting. And it does! And it's epic! But there's a lot more than just amazing, fun mutant battles. There's a sense of purpose to this giant crossover, and also a sense of joy and excitement that I felt last year during the initial House of X/Powers of X crossover.  Many different mutants get lots of moments to shine, and I think any fan of the X-Men will enjoy this.