James' 2021 Favorites: Part 3 (Favorite Series That Only Released One Or Two Issues This Year)

Here's Part 3 of my favorite comics of 2021. This year it made sense for me to divide my picks into a few different categories, and 3 different posts. So, make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2. 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. I hope you find something you enjoy!

Adventureman 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.

Catwoman: Lonely City by Cliff Chiang, published by DC Comics

Catwoman: Lonely City only had a single issue published this year [Note: By the end of the year a second issue should be released], but it was that good of an issue that I couldn't not acknowledge it. This is a fantastic story about an older Catwoman, out of prison now and returning to a very much changed Gotham City. And mostly, you should read this because it is created by Cliff Chiang. Chiang is one of those artists where I will check out literally anything he does. His work is that compelling and meaningful to me. He has a gorgeous, distinct style that is incredibly accessible and inviting. The closest parallels I can think of is a slightly-more Manga influenced Fiona Staples (so, incredibly high praise). His work on Wonder Woman, and even more so on Paper Girls, was absolutely legendary. Not surprisingly then, I expected to love this series, and I am not disappointed. It’s Cliff Chiang writing *and* drawing, which is all I need to know. Chiang seems (thus far) to be a terrific writer, and he's already an incredible visual storyteller, so I have no doubt that this will continue to be great. This story seems to be about aging and adjusting to changed realities, something to which I think everyone can relate. 

Decorum by Jonathan Hickman, Mike Huddleston, Sasha Head, and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics

If Jonathan Hickman writes a book, I'm going to write about it (as you can see hereherehere, 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 them to zag, that's even better. Which brings me to Decorum, Hickman and artist Mike Huddleston's series, the first arc of which concluded this year. 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 strongly recommend it.

Human Target by Tom King and Greg Smallwood, published by DC Comics

I absolutely loved the first two issues of Human Target. It was everything I wanted and more. I knew very little about the character of the Human Target, and that wasn't a problem for me, and it won't be a problem for you either. People hire him to impersonate them if they think someone is trying to kill them. And then he catches them, in some cases by "dying". That's it. But now the Human Target actually is dying, and he has 12 days to figure out who is responsible. That's the premise, and it's a terrific one. But also, this is among the most gorgeous comics you'll read. Seriously, Greg Smallwood has outdone himself. He conjures a world that is ostensibly set in the modern day but evokes the stylish 1960's. It's bright, lively work, with incredible style and panache and skill as a storyteller. I was such a huge fan of his work in the Moon Knight series he did with Jeff Lemire and Jordie Bellaire (read me going on and on about it here). He has a clean line, and immaculate character work, and his panel payout is incredibly interesting and innovative. You should also read his work in this Marvel series of stories. That Marvel series feels like it might have been something of the inspiration for the new Human Target series.

What's The Furthest Place From Here by Tyler Boss, Matthew Rosenberg, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, published by DC Comics

What’s The Furthest Place From Here (WTFPFH) (from writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss) is an excellent, stylish, detailed, very satisfying series, that's 2 issues in so far. It's Stand By Me meets The Warriors meets Empire Records, and it's an absolute must-read (my full review here). In the world of WTFPFH, it appears that society has collapsed. All of the adults have disappeared and all that is left is different groups of kids trying to survive. WTFPFH is focused on a group of kids that have taken refuge in and a building containing a record store. By the end of the first issue, the kids have gone out searching for one of their number who is missing (or has been taken). In that way, it’s kind of a nice nod to the 1970s movie The Warriors (where a gang of teens has to make their way across New York City from one side to another confronted by one ridiculous gang or another with adults and law-enforcement and authority pretty much absent, as they try to make their way home to safety). Boss is doing amazing work so far in this series. He is a fantastic artist, but saying that doesn’t even really do his work justice. He is an illustrator, but more than that, he brings an amazing sense of design and structure to any comic that he's drawing.This is a fun, clever, engaging read.

Wonder Woman: Historia #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez, published by DC Comics 

There’s art that’s good, art that’s great, and then there’s art that appears to have descended from the heavens ex nihilo. Or it was found buried in a cave or in the jungle or something. As if it had always existed and just now been discovered. That’s the level of art that Phil Jimenez has created in Wonder Woman: Historia. The story in this issue involves the pantheon of Greek goddesses, who rise up against the treatment of women by men and the man justice from Zeus and the other gods. They are rebuffed by Zeus, and the goddesses decide to take matters into their own hands and create the Amazons. The story by Kelly Sue DeConnick is powerful, and the narration and dialogue in the story are beautiful and poetic. But Jimenez's art is so effective and so powerful that even without any words, you could understand the gist of what was going on in the story. There are pages and images in here, the intricacy in the detail of which make me ask “how the hell did he do that?” Which, as much as I love comic art, isn’t necessarily something I’m asking when looking at it. There are two other issues in the series, that will be drawn by other artists. They have an incredibly high bar to clear which has been set in this first issue. The story here is self-contained, so even if you don’t end up picking up the later issues, you will enjoy a satisfying read and insane art in this book.