Cliché hook incoming. 2021 was an incredible year for comics! No, in all seriousness, 2021 was one of the better years in comics, not just for Marvel and DC, but comics as a whole. However, with me reading primarily comics from Marvel and DC, I found that both companies found a sort of momentum, specifically in the second half of the year. Many books on this list are some of my all-time favorites, and one of them, I might even go as far as to say it’s my favorite comic series of all time. Yet, I’m only one person, and this list yields to my personal opinions and biases. Trust me, if I had the time and could afford it, I would read every comic on the shelves from every publisher out there, but unfortunately, I can’t possibly hope to achieve that dream. So, please keep in mind that many comics some consider amazing, I probably didn’t read, or you might find that you didn’t like some of these books, but that’s ok because everyone has different tastes.
Warning!!! Spoilers For Some Ahead!!!
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Bruno Redondo
Nightwing was a character I got into early when reading comics, falling in love with Grayson’s Rebirth series. Going back, I still love it, and it’s one of the only titles from the Rebirth event I enjoyed, and the New 52 stuff is no different. I’ve been reading comics for almost nine years now (I’m 20), and that’s not horribly long, but Nightwing has been there for most of that journey for me. I love the themes of trying to become your own man and watching as Dick gets a large sum of money from Alfred, clueless at first on how to use it or how he wants Nightwing viewed by the people. More specifically, he doesn’t want the people of Bludhaven to fear Nightwing like Gotham does Batman. And, like most Nightwing comics, it’s fun as Taylor gives Nightwing a puppy and shows the character flipping and quipping against interesting villains like Blockbuster and Heartless. What makes the comic fun, however, is seeing Dick and Babs protect the city together, reconnecting their friendship, as well as reestablishing Bab’s reputation as Batgirl. The only downside to this comic is the constant interruptions from Batman crossovers. DC, just let Dick have five issues on his own!
Writer: Cristopher Cantwell
Artist: Ibraim Roberson and C Cafu
Cantwell’s writing is phenomenal in his run with Tony, from the protagonist hunting down Korvac to dealing with a developing addiction to morphine after Tony breaks his neck. There’s a massive theme of humanity and godhood that powers this comic, along with the question of “how would you reshape the world if you could?” There are classic villains and heroes mixed with new-age storytelling (and art) as Tony finds himself bonding with the power cosmic, essentially turning into Korvac. And, we see Tony sharing the same mindset of how the universe could be better, and it’s up to him to make it better. It’s chilling to see Tony battle tooth and nail to stop Korvac from obtaining the power cosmic, and once gaining that power himself, Cantwell teases that Tony might be as dangerous with that power as the villain he tried to stop. Also, my favorite part about this comic is getting an Alex Ross cover every month.
Blue & Gold
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Ryan Sook
This comic has as much chemistry between writer and author as its protagonists. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold have always had their sort of awkward place within DC Comics, and this comic embraces that. They’re two characters that are only semi-wanted by the Justice League (Ted got invited in the first issue), and their friendly bickering is entertaining as all hell. At one moment, the two are getting along and developing a new business plan for being superheroes, then the next, they’re arguing over who saved who. What I love so much, though, is you can tell Jurgens and Sook are constantly on the same page and pouring their hearts into this series. Maybe I’m biased because I love Jurgens’ work, but this comic fires on all cylinders and has a clear identity, both through its organized writing that keeps a somewhat chaotic duo reigned in and clean, fun to look at art.
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennet
I don’t know what to say about Ewing’s legendary run besides what I already said in a different article on this blog, but trust me, before 2021, I wasn’t a Hulk fan. Outside of World War Hulk, I didn’t really like Hulk comics. Sure, I’d hop in, read a few issues, and hop out, but this series was a game-changer for both me and the industry as a whole. Plus, it helped reinvigorate a short, rather interesting spurt in horror comics from Marvel (Absolute Carnage being a notable one). Just read it, the hype isn’t for nothing, and the ending is pretty satisfying as well. And, what I like so much is how Ewing will take classic, almost forgotten characters like Xenmu (I loved him in this series) and bring them back. It really is a comic that encompasses all of Hulk’s history, combining with Ewing’s prolific writing and Bennet’s grotesque art to create something legendary.
Crush & Lobo
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
I might be biased since Lobo is one of my favorite characters, specifically most of Giffen’s work with the character in the early ’90s. However, this eight-issue series focuses more on Crush, and honestly, I kind of love it. We’ve all seen Lobo- we’ve observed his semi-repetitive (depending on who you talk to) cycle. The character almost falls into a rut, and his stories sometimes blend together due to a similar plot structure, but Tamaki mixes it up. Crush’s perspective sheds light on how toxic Lobo is and how he demolishes everything he touches. And, we see how having such a menacing father affects Crush growing up, and what’s better, is we still get a plethora of moments I can only describe as “yep, that’s Lobo.” For example, there aren’t many characters that will run naked through a crowded alien city, laughing and having a blast.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artists: Ze Carlos, Marcelo Ferreira, Carlos Gomez, Mark Bagley, Federico Sabbatini, Federico Vicentini, Patrick Gleason, Mark Bagley
I almost didn’t put this comic on my list, but there were too many incredible moments to ignore. Firstly, I loved Kindred and Sin Eater- they were really the highlight of Spencer’s entire run for me, as well as a personal favorite storyline from the last half-decade. I like the quirky relationship with Peter’s new roommate, Boomerang, but sometimes, this comic kind of goes dry. One week, we’re reading the Sinister War event, which I loved, then we’re reading a filler issue with little importance. Oh well, thus the pains of a comic that has bursts of being printed weekly, but overall, Kindred’s development mixed with Spencer’s spot-on depiction of Peter is what made me decide to put this comic on my list. Also, The newest stuff with Ben Riley seems like it could potentially be an interesting read.
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Nic Klein
Cates is one of those once-in-a-generation writers that kills just about everything they do(except for Hulk, according to some), and Thor was my favorite run of his for Marvel. Sure, I love Venom too, but I hopped on late and read Thor from the beginning. Now, the series as a whole, I think it has lost a bit of steam since the Black Winter storyline a few years ago; and Donald Blake’s rampage, but the core of the story is still there. Mjolnir is getting heavier, and Cates isn’t letting up on the whole “troubled king” dynamic. The series may have slowed down a bit or may have even lost some of the fast-paced, “holy shit!” action, but all is good. The series is in a sort of reloading phase, and I can’t wait to see what major villain or story Cates writes next.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artists: Manuel Garcia, Jorge Fornes, Marco Checchetto, Francesco Mobili, Mike Hawthorne
Zdarsky has killed it on Daredevil since day one, and it’s undoubtedly my second favorite run with the character behind Frank Miller’s. However, as iconic and legendary as Born Again is, Zdarsky’s run truly makes you question if he is currently writing the best Daredevil run in Marvel’s history. The complexity and portrayal of Matt are spotless as he voluntarily goes to prison after killing a man as Daredevil. And, when Elektra takes over as Daredevil, you get this feeling that she’s up to something else, with recent hints in the newest Devil’s Reign event continuing to contribute to that. However, what makes this run so interesting is how Chip uses the Stromwyn siblings, pitting them against Kingpin. Sure, watching Matt and Elektra fight several Bullseye’s is fun as hell, and the relationship between Daredevil and Kingpin in the last few issues induces goosebumps- but these two characters are what kept stirring the pot, keeping the reader on their heels.
Writer: Shawn Aldridge, Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Artist: Daniel Sampere, Adriana Melo, Miguel Mendonça
Brian Michael Bendis’s run on Superman was entertaining as well, but it’s concluded for the moment, so I decided to talk about Action Comic, in which his run directly proceeds. Now, this run is supposedly going to kill Superman off in a more climatic way than Doomsday, and I don’t know how I feel about it, but damn, Mongul is one of my favorite Superman villains. I love how the recent runs from the two writers above have come together to symbolize everything Superman is about: freedom and hope. Risking everything, he travels to Warworld with a thrown-together Justice League of second-stringers, hoping to free an entire civilization from Mongul’s control. What’s even better is the Mongul we see isn’t the original, but rather, his descendant, and mixed with what Jon is doing in his series, Superman comics as a whole are following this sort of theme of surpassing those before us. And, I have to say, the newest Mongul is as terrifying as the first.
The Last Ronin
Writers: Kevin Eastman, Peter Liard, Tom Waltz
Artists: Kevin Eastman, Esau and Escorza, Ben Bishop, Samuel Plata, Luis Antonio Delgado
This has been my favorite comic of 2021, and I can’t wait for the fifth issue in February 2022. Last Ronin is simply beautiful: the art, the writing, the world-building, and character development. Not only is it my favorite comic of the year, but it’s probably one of my favorites of all time. I’ve come close to crying during these issues several times, and by the end of the series, I’ll be surprised if I don’t. I grew up with these characters, watched their shows, and have been catching up on the comics for a few years before The Last Ronin, and, to see Michelangelo reduced to such a sad, agonizingly sorrowful state is heart aching. I love it, but I hate it at the same time, wondering how Eastman and Laird can bear pushing one of their happiest, joyful creations through a meat grinder that leaves him without his brothers, sensei, a home, or hope. Even if you’re not a huge fan of TMNT, this comic is worth a try for everyone!
Writter: Tom King
Artist: Evan “Doc” Shaner, Mitch Gerads
I categorized this as an honorable mention because I haven’t finished the series but plan on picking up the paperback trade that was released recently. To me, Tom King is at the zenith of modern comic writing, especially when sticking to a twelve-issue format. Not just this series, but Human Target has been amazing so far, and Mister Miracle was a fantastic read. Sure, his Batman run had incredible moments, but sometimes, it felt a little dry. However, this series had everything I wanted from a King comic (from what I read). Deep, incredibly developed characters, a plot that constantly keeps the reader interested, and a heart-wrenching tale of love and family. Holy smokes, then when combined with Gerads’s art, Strange Adventures is a stunning comic in terms of art and writing. The only reason I stopped reading it was because I wanted to wait for its conclusion so I could read the entire story in one sitting.