The Best Comics of 2021

It what could be the best year in independent comics in sales and quality, here are some examples of what made 2021 in comics so entertaining, funny, exciting, thrilling, and thought-provoking. 


Rumors of the death of the comic industry have been wildly exaggerated. Despite what some angry internet trolls may have posted, the comic book industry is alive and well, thriving in 2021. In fact, since 2012, book sales have steadily climbed every year becoming a billionaire dollar industry with no sign of stopping. Bolstered by manga, middle-grade publications, and graphic novels, comics are as healthy as ever. 

I've been lucky to read and review so many wonderful independent comics thanks to the generosity of comic book publishers, public relations agencies, and creators themselves that reach out and/or agree to provide copies. The truth is, there are too many great comics to not only read but to review in a timely manner. It can be overwhelming, especially for a one-man operation. We don't get review copies from every publisher so some of your favorite books may have been excluded. 

This list is comprised of books I've been wild about all year long. They made an impression that has stuck with me for various reasons. These are books I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. Different genres, different publishers, and a diverse field of creators make up what I think is a stellar list of comics that are representative of the best the medium has to offer. Is it comprehensive? No. Is it missing some popular titles? Yes. There is just simply too much good stuff to choose from. 

Let me know if you agree or what you loved reading this year. 

Here is this year's Best Comics, in no particular order:




STRAY DOGS COLLECTED 

Writer: Tony Fleecs

Artist: Trish Forstner, Brad Simpson, Tone Rodriguez

Publisher: Image Comics


It's scary being the new dog.

In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can't remember what happened. She doesn't know how she ended up in this house. She doesn't recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just...can't...recall...Wait! Where's her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what's happening, and how she's going to survive this. They say there's no such thing as bad dog-just bad owners.

STRAY DOGS is a heartbreakingly adorable suspense thriller by My Little Pony comic artists TONY FLEECS and TRISH FORSTNER. It's Lady and the Tramp meets Silence of the Lambs.

COLLECTS STRAY DOGS #1-5

'Stray Dogs' was instantly intriguing for its adorable depiction of dogs in the style of Don Bluth but this was not a title for children. When a new dog joins the pack, her memories begin to shed light on her new owner. Suspensefully written by Tony Fleecs, each issue of the series is an exercise in white-knuckle terror as a mystery unravels putting each of the dogs in danger. What makes the series look so quaint and cute on the surface is the flawless art from Trish Forstner and Brad Simpson. The unassuming and playful nature of the endearing cartoony designs gives way to moments of shocking violence that will unnerve readers and have them glued to the page. 




DOUBLE WALKER OGN

Writer: Michael Conrad

Artist: Noah Bailey

Publisher: ComiXology Originals


Cully and Gemma are watching their carefree, childless days come to an end and decide to take one last trip to the magical Scottish Highlands before the baby arrives. What was meant to be a romantic trip soon spirals into paranoia and violence as a bizarre string of murders follows them on their journey.

Michael W. Conrad and Noah Bailey, creators of the bestselling Tremor Dose OGN, available now through ComiXology Originals, and in print this fall through Dark Horse, have returned with DOUBLE WALKER, a bleak and mind-bending tale of neurotic folk horror.

Conrad has returned to his horror roots while continuing to write the celebrated Wonder Woman as well as Midnighter at DC Comics. The time in the mainstream has only driven him further into the surreal and twisted worlds in which he is most at home.

Meanwhile, Bailey continues to grow as one of the most sought-after illustrators for print and film. In addition to his work in comics, Bailey has developed a cult-like following of collectors hungry for more of his cinema-inspired multimedia work.

Lettered by Taylor Esposito of Ghost Glyph Studios, DOUBLE WALKER is another twisted tale of identity, anxiety, and our darkest fears manifest.

Thanks to Michael Conrad and Noah Bailey, I won't be visiting the Scottish Highlands anytime soon. Good scary stories will do that to a person. As frightening and suspenseful as 'The Shining,' Conrad weaves a new horror tale based on regional folklore that escalates into madness. Cully and Gemma are a young couple. She's pregnant and he's a bit of a selfish doofus stoked to explore the Highlands. The consequences of that visit change everything for them. A serial killer emerges during their stay and no one is safe. Haunting, tense, and eerily illustrated by Bailey, 'Double Walker' will keep you up at night.  




SCOUT'S HONOR

Writer: David Pepose

Artist: Luca Casalanguida, Matt Milla

Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

Publisher: Aftershock Comics


Be Prepared. Be Very Prepared.

Years after a nuclear apocalypse, a new society has risen from the ashes…and their bible is an old Ranger Scout manual.

A young Ranger Scout named Kit has endured the harsh survivalist upbringing needed to conquer the irradiated Colorado Badlands. But after discovering a terrible secret once lost to history, Kit must risk everything on a dangerous quest to uncover the truth behind the Ranger Scouts’ doctrine.

From multiple Ringo Award-nominated writer David Pepose (Spencer & Locke, Going to the Chapel, The O.Z.) and artist Luca Casalanguida (James Bond, Lost Soldiers) comes a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age tale that proves when all you know is a lie, a SCOUT’S HONOR is the only way to move forward. This volume contains the entire series, issues #1-5.

Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen. Cults worshipping a certain text or a charismatic leader isn't as far-fetched as it used to be. Yet, David Pepose has found a way to make it all new and exciting with another creative mini-series with 'Scout's Honor.' A society built on the foundation of a Ranger Scout manual is a good enough bible as any but its harsh patriarchal system will test the limits and challenge a young woman named Kit. A wild 'Mad Max' inspired landscape is brought to vivid life thanks to artists Luca Casalanguida and Matt Milla. Pepose's heroine is inspiring and brave which makes this coming-of-age story not only intense and entertaining but a worthy action hero the likes of Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, and Katniss Everdeen.




ALICE IN LEATHERLAND 

Written by Iolanda Zanfardino 

Illustrated by Elisa Romboli 

Published by Black Mask Entertainment, Inc.


Alice, a young writer of children’s storybooks, is hurtled out of her fairytale-like life when she discovers her girlfriend has been cheating on her! Charmingly defiant, she leaves her small forest town and leaps into a new adventure to seek love (and find herself) in the fast life of San Francisco. There, her concept of pure, magical love will be completely overturned–but her biggest challenge won’t be reckoning with other people’s sexual drive, it’ll be getting a grip on her own! From your new favorite writer and artist team of Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli, Alice In Leatherland is a comedy about sex and so, inevitably, about every other aspect of life, too. 

As Iolanda and Elisa describe the book: “Sex is recounted as a way to investigate our relationship with ourselves and others, with our bodies and our place in the world; sexual pleasure as self-affirmation and growth. There is room for Love, too, and bravery. And for many good laughs, that never hurts.”

Let's face it, the last few years have been a mess. A dark time of discourse and a pandemic. In 2021, Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli brought lightness and joy in the form of Alice Snowhite in 'Alice in Leatherland.' After a bad breakup, the writer moves to San Francisco to start fresh, find inspiration, and maybe some love along the way. Irresistibly charming, genuinely funny, unflinchingly sexy, 'Alice in Leatherland' is a ray of sunshine in the menacing dark cloud of life. Alice's journey of self-discovery, sexual awakening, and personal growth is the type of queer romantic comedy that's relatable to everyone. 




BARBARIC

Writer: Michael Moreci

Artist: Nathan Gooden, Addison Duke

Letterer: Jim Campbell

Publisher: Vault Comics


Owen the Barbarian has been cursed to do good with what remains of his life. His bloodthirsty weapon, Axe, has become his moral compass with a drinking problem. Together they wander the realm, foredoomed to help any who seek assistance. But there is one thing Owen hates more than a life with rules: Witches.

Welcome to the skull-cracking, blood-splattering, mayhem-loving comic brave enough to ask: How can a man sworn to do good do so much violence? Hah! F***ing with you. It’s just…BARBARIC.

Collects #1 to #3 of the multi-part series. 104 Pages

Nothing about 'Barbaric' should be surprising. It's written by one of the best writers in Michael Moreci. It has a dynamic art team in Nathan Gooden and Addison Duke. A publisher that consistently churns out quality books week after week in Vault. What I didn't expect was just how much fun and exciting a book about a cursed barbarian with a talking axe would be. In the spirit of action-comedy-adventures like 'Big Trouble in Little China' and 'Army of Darkness,' 'Barbaric' blends fantasy, humor, and epic action with ease making it thoroughly enjoyable and addictively readable. There's more to come but honestly, three issues were not nearly enough to satiate readers. We need more 'Barbaric' now!




JAMES BOND: AGENT OF SPECTRE

writer: Christos Gage | artist: Luca Casalanguida

covers: Steve Epting (A), Steve Epting (RI/Virgin), Steve Epting (RI/BW),

Steve Epting (RI/BW Virgin)

Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment


There's a civil war brewing within SPECTRE. An upstart American member of the international criminal organization is attempting a coup, threatening to depose Ernst Stavro Blofeld. She's on guard against Blofeld's men, so to take her out, Blofeld recruits a wild card - James Bond! With Blofeld threatening the life of Bond's friend Felix Leiter as leverage, Bond agrees...but he has a plan to use this internal strife to bring SPECTRE down once and for all.

Will he succeed, or is this a dark path from which even 007 can't return?

Dynamite has kept James Bond stories coming with different creatives taking a crack at one of the most enduring figures in fiction. With 'James Bond: Agent of SPECTRE,' writer Christos Gage and artist Luca Casalanguida put together one of the most exciting Bond adventures in years. SPECTRE is splintered within, opposing factions are vying for control, the infamous Blofeld enlists a compromised Bond to help neutralize a rival. Bond is always more interesting when dealing with villains of equal intelligence and gravitas. Blofeld has that in spades and Gage depicts a battle between equals, each trying to manipulate the other in an explosive civil war with Bond caught in the middle. Paired with cinematic bone-crushing art by Casalanguida, 'Agent of SPECTRE' is a Bond's fan dream come true. 




THE INVINCIBLE RED SONJA #1

Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner

Artist: Moritat

Letters: Dave Sharpe

Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment


Written by the award-winning fan favorites AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTI, Red Sonja finds herself on a spectacular journey filled with pirates, mermaids, princesses, and political intrigue as the threat of two kingdoms hangs in the balance. All this, plus the spectacular art of MORITAT and a cover by AMANDA CONNER and PAUL MOUNTS makes THE INVINCIBLE RED SONJA a series not to be missed!  In fact it's so great, we had to launch a whole new title for it!

Dynamite is home to some great characters. Vampirella, Dejah Thoris, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, are some of the most enduring and powerful women characters in all of comics. However, one particular red-headed She-Devil with a Sword may be the most popular among them. One of the newest series, 'The Invincible Red Sonja,' by the writing duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner with artist Moritat captures the very essence of what makes the character so endearing. Always confident, always ready for adventure (as long as she's compensated), a fierce warrior, empathetic, funny, and a dispenser of justice, albeit begrudgingly at times. 'Invincible' takes Sonja on many dangerous paths and one issue converges on the next so the action never ends. It's a swashbuckling magical time that finds Red Sonja at her best. 



COMPASS

Writer: Robert Mackenzie, Dave Walker

Artist: Justin Greenwood, Daniela Miwa

Letterer: Simon Bowland

Publisher: Image Comics

GREG RUCKA proudly presents a new direction in adventure!

Shahidah El-Amin is many things: scholar, cartographer, astronomer, mathematician, scientist, explorer, adventurer, and—when need be—two-fisted fighter. Setting out from Baghdad’s legendary House of Wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age, Shahidah’s quest brings her to 13th-century Britain…where the Welsh are whispered to possess the secret of eternal life. But Shahidah is not the only one after it…

Re-teaming from the pages of THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME, writers ROBERT MACKENZIE & DAVE WALKER (LAZARUS: SOURCEBOOK) and artist JUSTIN GREENWOOD (LAZARUS: X +66, Stumptown) take you on a breathless race across the map. Follow the Compass to unlock the secrets of the ancient world!

Collects COMPASS #1-5

Historical fiction might be an underrated subgenre in comics but when done right it can be entertaining and illuminating at the same time. You don't expect to see a comic set in the Islamic Golden Age but what Robert Mackenzie, Dave Walker, Justin Greenwood, and Daniela Miwa have done with 'Compass' is extraordinary. It's as stunning visually as any superhero comic but the central figures in this story are two intelligent women scholars on opposite sides of a mission to find the Cauldron of Eternal Life before the other one does. Both are motivated by different factors and their paths are destined to converge but the nuances of their quest don't form a cutthroat rivalry but rather a professional competition bound by circumstances. The back material that informs the places and time period in which the book is set is a fascinating history lesson that helps bring to life the context of the story. An intelligent and exciting read. 




THE GOOD ASIAN 

Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote

Artist: Alexandre Tefenkgi, Lee Loughridge

Letters: Jeff Powell

Publisher: Image Comics


Writer PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE’s long-awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed INFIDEL with stunning art by ALEXANDRE TEFENKGI (OUTPOST ZERO)! Following Edison Hark—a haunted, self-loathing Chinese-American detective—on the trail of a killer in 1936 Chinatown, THE GOOD ASIAN is Chinatown noir starring the first generation of Americans to come of age under an immigration ban, the Chinese, as they’re besieged by rampant murders, abusive police, and a world that seemingly never changes.

Collects THE GOOD ASIAN #1-4, plus covers by SANA TAKEDA, ANNIE WU, JEN BARTEL, DAVE JOHNSON, and more.

'The Good Asian' is many things. It's a murder mystery, a serial killer thriller, a missing person case, a historical drama, a noir detective story, and an American tragedy. It's also one of the best pieces of art in any medium that debuted in 2021. Arguably, it could be the single best comic of the year. Pornsak Pichetshote has done his research in bringing his self-loathing Chinese-American detective Edison Hark to life in San Francisco during the 1930s. The discriminatory policies that made Asians in America feel less-than are part of the backdrop to this bonafide noir suspense story. It's ingrained in Hark's journey from being the first Asian detective to navigating the streets of Chinatown amid racism and distrust even among other Asians. It's a page-turner, gritty, stylish, absorbing, thrilling, infuriating, and simply as good as any hard-boiled detective story you've ever read. Alexandre Tefenkgi and Lee Loughridge's distinctive art style and colors give the story the proper tone and visual gravitas required as the story jumps between the past and present. The back material is enlightening, enraging, and necessary to understand that hate doesn't always change in time. If you read only one comic this year, it's 'The Good Asian.'




THE WRONG EARTH: NIGHT AND DAY

Story: Tom Peyer

Cover: Jamal Igle

Art: Jamal Igle, Juan Castro

Colorist: Andy Troy

Publisher: Ahoy Comics


The vengeance-dealing Dragonfly sticks it to the man! The acrobatic sleuth Dragonflyman works with the police! These two alternate versions of the same masked crimefighter meet face-to-face for the first time in the second volume of the smash hit The Wrong Earth! Will their impossible encounter result in a team-up...or all-out war?

Collecting all six issues of THE WRONG EARTH: NIGHT AND DAY.

Imagine Adam West's 1966 Batman swapping places with Ben Affleck's 2016's Batman. They spend a year in each other's alternate universe before they come together to fight crime in one of the year's most unlikely but thoroughly entertaining odd couples. The gritty brooding Dragonfly and the affable do-gooder Dragonflyman have to set aside their differences in crime-fighting to battle villains and search for a missing sidekick. It sounds like a lot of fun and it is. Tom Peyer does a great job finding a happy medium between the two polar opposite heroes without turning it into a complete parody. They're a product of their respective universes and actually learn to respect one another. There's plenty of clever superhero action that is vividly captured by artists Jamal Igle, Andy Troy, and Juan Castro. This is sort of a throwback to Silver Age comics that reminds you why we love comics in the first place. 


BEST ONE-SHOT





Dame from the Dark

TKO Studios (One-Shot) 

Written by Rob Pilkington

Art by Kit Mills

Letters: Ariana Maher

Publisher: TKO Studios

Magic isn't always glitz and glam and sometimes there are darker secrets lurking behind the trap doors and red velvet curtains. Private detective Tommy, and his spirit comrade Eva, have come to teach magician 'Le Samson Fantastique' that some acts aren't always illusions...

As stated before, there were simply too many good comics this year to mention. I decided to make this One-Shot category to give me an extra slot for a comic I adored. 'Dame from the Dark' by Rob Pilkington and Kit Mills is part of TKO Studios' TKO Shorts, offering stand-alone stories apart from its regular line of graphic novels. The setup is pretty simple. Private detective Tommy is searching for a runaway at a magic show aided by his wits and a very dead aspiring actress from the 1930s. The spirit of Eva is a sassy and funny comedic foil to the grumpier Tommy as they navigate the investigation into a famous but villainous magician. The tone and rhythm are right out of comedies of the 1940s starring the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and James Stewart. Eva even appears in black and white in an otherwise story in color. Kit Mills creates a pace and physicality to the characters that accentuate the dialogue and action. It's a delightful homage to noir thrillers and 40's comedies but a one-shot is not enough. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:




Comments

Advertisements

Follow Us on Instagram