So flat out, 2020 sucked and I don’t think that anyone out there in the ether would rush to disagree with me. Yet, throughout this Sarlacc Pit of a year, there were some damn good comics to blast through it like the proverbial Boba Fett. Even when the pandemic led to a two month comics publishing hiatus, our favorite medium came back with some bangers to pick up from our local comic shop and enjoy. This year may have been a dumpster fire but at least comics were there to help us cope and take our minds off things.
With all that being said, I thought it would be nice to look back on some of my favorites. This isn’t a “best of” list even though I would personally consider some of these books to be the best of the year. These are my picks and I sincerely hope you enjoyed these books as well. If you haven’t read them yet I would definitely recommend running out to your LCS and checking them out.
Dawn of X
X-Men by Jonathan Hickman continued and built up what the writer did so well with House and Powers. He made it entertaining and introspective at the same time. It’s Hickman so he’s all about world building, dropping questions, and creating a slow burn of a decompressed story until he gets to the big end-all, be-all Secret Wars-esque event that caps off his run. So if you just want to wait until we get there, cheers mate and enjoy the time off. I’ll be here reading this awesome and weird take on the merry mutants. It’s not everyone’s X-Men but it does some damn interesting stuff and I can’t wait to see the payoff.
Marauders by Gerry Duggan takes all the weirdness and turns it into a swashbuckling, action packed, comedic and dramatic romp that was easily one of my favorite X-Books of the year. Accompanied by some great artwork from the likes of Matteo Lolli, Stefano Casselli, and more, this series did as much work telling its own story as it did tying into the rest of the X-Books. The series was PHENOMENAL.
Excalibur by Tini Howard was the X-Men sword and sorcery book I never thought I wanted. I am not a fan of sword and sorcery but this book pulls enough X-Men, classic Excalibur, and Dawn of X material in and makes it all worthwhile. Excalibur is also an extremely important book for the X of Swords event. This book helped put the Captain Britain Corps back together, gave us a great new version of the good Captain in the form of Betsy Braddock. It has some great stories about being comfortable in one’s own skin, the schemes of Apocalypse, and some downright good ole superhero fights. Shogo Dragon? Need I say more? Well actually I will because Mahmud Asrar and Marcus To bring their best art to each issue, making it not only epic but dazzling.
X-Force by Ben Percy is the best superhero spy book I never thought I wanted either. X-Force continues its titular tradition of being a harder, more covert black-ops version of the X-Men but with the promise of the mutant C.I.A. fulfilled in the first few issues, we get a darker, morally grey side to Krakoa. It’s classic X-Force with a Krakoan twist. X-Force is no longer paramilitary but now fully mutant intelligence. Between the away team of heavy hitters (Wolverine, Domino, and Quentin Quire) and the brains of the operations (Beast and Forge), we get some great moments of both raucous action and cold-calculating mad genius. The only problem I had with the series was that it had a slow start and they still haven’t rehabilitated Beast from his “Bendis days”. I ended up appreciating the slow start to the series though, as well as highly enjoyed Beast as the “evil” genius behind the team. The art provided by Joshua Cassara, Stephen Segovia, and Oscar Bazuldua was choice. They are a great collection of artists to accompany Ben Percy’s writing.
New Mutants by Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brisson is a great dichotomy of story for the Dawn of X era. On one hand you have Hickman’s team of New Mutants going into space and getting caught in the middle of a Shi’ar political dispute and bumbling their way through it until they come out on the other side winners. It’s action-packed, surprisingly wholesome, always comedic, and has some fantastically crafted New Mutants stories. Rod Reis does a stellar job on art. On the other hand, Ed Brisson’s team of Earth bound New Mutants searches for mutants to bring to Krakoa and fight both mutant injustice and strange creatures. Flaviano and Marco Failla split art duties for this end of the series and both did a pretty great job.
X-Factor by Leah Williams reinvigorates the Peter David era of the team’s detective agency incarnation but gives it a Dawn of X twist by involving the team with Krakoan murders. The book is only five issues in, having launched in July, but the few comics we have so far are filled with fun, mystery, and some new lead-in stories to the upcoming “Reign of X” crossover. David Baldeon covers the art for the series and it is wonderful.
Hellions by Zeb Wells is a recent addition to the Dawn of X titles as well but it is also a hell of a book. The “dirty dozen” of the X-books, it focuses on some of the villains and hard edge members of Krakoa doing the bidding of Mr. Sinister. Touting it as the X-Men’s “Suicide Squad”, while basically true, is definitely not giving Zeb Wells enough credit for what he’s written here. It’s fun, it’s violent, and it’s a great parallel for the other X-books. Stephen Segovia and Carmen Carnero brought their A-game on the art and it definitely shows
Wolverine by Ben Percy and Cable by Gerry Duggan are the only two solo X titles in the Dawn of X and I’m OK with that. With the sheer amount of X-Men (X-Manning?) going on here too many books can be a bad thing. Both of these books really work for the characters in this brave new X-world and both harken back to both character’s classic stories while still building something new. With Wolverine, Ben Percy really gets the titular character and is still able to write a classic Wolverine story where bad guys get snikt-ed. He mixes the old with the new and makes it all great. Having both Adam Kubert and Victor Bogdonavic on art truly doesn’t hurt either.
Cable on the other hand goes into some bold new places for the character. Gerry Duggan’s comic background plays nicely into the adventures of Young Cable. His Cable is a teenager written believably like a teenager. He goes on dates, has to deal with his parents and is just trying to do his own thing. It all comes though genuinely and believably. Duggan turned a gritty book like Cable into an 80’s style action-adventure which doesn’t hurt and makes for a fun, wild romp through Earth and space. Phil Noto KILLS it on art for the series.
X of Swords (by all the writers and artists listed above) was Hickman’s first crossover event for his tenure on X-Men and it was pretty good. I take that back. Out of all the events in mainstream comics this year, X of Swords was the best. That’s right, I’m not mincing words.
It was the best.
This event was a fun ride through retcons, action sequences, mic-drop moments, comedic catharsis, and great character moments for Apocalypse, Saturnyne, and a bunch of different X-Men. It gets to be a bit chaotic at times and does need some beforehand reading but all in all it was a good old X-Men crossover event with some new tricks up its sleeve. Astounding work was done by all of the above writers and artists (also Vita Ayala guest writing an issue of Marauders and Pepe Larraz coming back from House of X to beautifully draw X of Swords: Creation, Destruction, and Stasis). X of Swords is a crossover event that’s fun, action packed, exciting AND it stuck the landing. I really couldn’t ask for more from a comic event in 2020.
Hawkeye: Freefall by Matthew Rosenberg
I was never a big Hawkeye fan. My extent of enjoying the character was in a few Avengers runs, the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series, and the Matt Fraction solo book. This miniseries written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Otto Schmidt came onto the scene at the beginning of this year fairly small but it left a big impact on readers like me. It’s got all of what made Fraction’s run work (comedic-yet-serious, action-packed, fast paced, and dramatic) but focuses a little more on Hawkeye’s street level status, his Ronin persona, and his relationships all in a six issue miniseries. Much like the Fraction run it is executed perfectly and is accompanied by some fantastic art in the form of Otto Schimdt’s pencils, inks, and colors.
Adventureman by Matt Fraction and The Dodsons
My two indie picks for the year are Adventureman by Matt Fraction and Terry & Rachel Dodson and Fire Power by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee.
Adventureman is an all-ages adventure tale that harkens back to the classic 30’s pulp magazines and adventure stories like Doc Savage. It’s fun with a simultaneous retro-modern feel and can be read by anyone from kids to adults. The Dodsons do their usual gorgeous artwork for the series and it meshes supremely well with what Fraction puts down in writing.
Fire Power by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee
Kirkman and Samnee’s Fire Power is a little less all-ages but still just as fun. Mixing together martial arts, magic and classic comic book-y goodness, you get a great story about family, Kung-Fu, and mysterious backstories. Robert Kirkman does a great job on writing and Chris Samnee gives his usual awesome work on art.
DCeased: Dead Planet by Tom Taylor and Trevor Hairsine
I’m already reviewing this book here on the Variant but if any of those reviews haven’t convinced you to go to your local comic shop and pick up this book, let me try one more time. The main DCeased event has been one of the best titles to come out of DC since it came out in 2019. It’s a great self-contained / action / zombie series that puts the story above all else. The same can be said for DCeased: Dead Planet. It has been quite the personal journey picking up each issue as it came out and reading what happens next in this joyful but hellish world. Each issue tops the previous as it finds new ways to punish the characters in the series and gives the reader hope and then immediately takes it away from us. Tom Taylor is the king of setup and does a fantastic job of both entertaining you and then punching you in the gut with great moments of sorrow. I can’t compliment Trevor Hairsine’s art from the series enough. It really is that damn great. It finishes up in late January with a final seventh issue so go to your local comic shop and catch up on the last six or preorder the trade if you can.
Strange Adventures by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner
Strange Adventures (along with DCeased) has been some of the best, most consistent work to come out of DC Comics. I am aware Tom King has been a bit controversial as a writer recently (his Batman run is pretty divisive) but he works really well within limited series’. Much like his Mister Miracle series, Strange Adventures is a great examination of a single character’s mental health and the factors that contributed to its deterioration. Add a murder mystery with a cosmic twist with the great art of Mitch Gerards and Evan “Doc” Shaner and you get one of the best books of the year. It’s a little over halfway through so if this isn’t currently on your pull list, call your local comic shop and catch up.
Hawkman by Robert Venditti
If you know me personally, you knew that I would not shut up about this series. Ever since it came out in 2018, I held its torch, telling everyone how great a series it continued to be and how it was one of the best books DC was putting out at the time. Unfortunately this series came to an end last November with issue twenty-nine, but the ramp-up throughout the entire year to its grand finale was a wonderful crescendo to an incredible ending. The entire series was the adventure through the many lives of Hawkman from Prince Khufu of Egypt to Katar Hol of Thangar and much, much more. The year started by capping off ”The Infected” tie-in to the Year of the Villain storyline running through DC titles. It was an event I hated but was done pretty well in this series. I can easily talk about the entire story for the rest of this article but I’ll just say it is a great story and truly one of the best ongoing DC books of the past two years. Robert Venditti did the research and put in the work and it really shows. He gets the character and crafts a great cosmic adventure for him to go on. Call backs and new ideas come together perfectly and create something both newcomers and longtime fans of the character can enjoy. Pat Oliffe finishes off his artwork on the “Infected” story arc and Fernado Pasarin takes over art duties for the rest of the series. Both do a really great job drawing the character and his world with Oliffe drawing a grittier style for “The Infected” Storyline and Pasarin drawing a more heroic Hawkman. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Anyway, that’s our 2020 comic book faves list. Check them out if you get the chance!!
Stay tuned for more reviews throughout 2021 and from myself and all of us here at the Variant we wish you a happy and safe 2021!!