2020 was a turbulent year for the comics industry, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting publishing schedules and closing direct market shops (sometimes permanently). Despite this chaos, a slew of excellent comics were published this year, from fantastic first issues to well-earned (if heartbreaking) endings. Selected by our contributors and featuring heroes, humor, and horror, these are the best big press books we read in 2020.
Bill and Ted are Doomed
Evan Dorkin (writer and cover art), Roger Langridge (letterer and artist)
Dark Horse Comics
Bill and Ted Face the Music was a beautiful, timely continuation of the adventures of everyone’s favorite San Dimas-living, world-saving, time-traveling metalheads. Bill and Ted are Doomed, which serves as bridging material between Bogus Journey and Face the Music, goes fantasy-based with the material. There are magical trolls and a universe-scanning phonograph record, but it always stays grounded in the friendship between Bill and Ted, the love between both guys and their wives and daughters, and the rest of the miscreants they’ve added to their lives over time. It is, in a singular but very cromulent word, station.
– Lisa Fernandes
Alex Paknadel (writer), John Lê (artist), ROSH (colorist), Aditya Bidika (letterer)
First issues always feel so damn difficult to get right. Pacing, introductions, building a setting, an ethos, mythology…all of it has to be done enough to lay a foundation but not enough to be boring. It’s a tall freaking order. For me, Giga does it all and then some. There are facial expressions I’m unable to get out of my head, the look of genuine terror. Acting in comics is easy to get wrong and damn hard to get right. Maybe what I appreciate about Giga is that it shows what’s possible when the creative team is united behind a narrative. There are small characterizations, from small articles of clothing or textiles to the language of the Giga. There’s a robust history and it’s all been figured out and attended to before the reader ever gets to the page. That kind of care matters and it shows on every page of Giga.
– Andrea Ayres
John Constantine: Hellblazer
Matias Bergara (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Aditya Bidikar (letterer), Aaron Campbell (artist), Simon Spurrier (writer)
I feel like a bit of a broken record given how much time I’ve spent reviewing each of this series’ 12 issues, but John Constantine: Hellblazer was truly the nasty, angry balm I needed in this hellhole of a year. It’s easy to sink into despair in the face of so much horror—horror in this comic, horror in the real world, the clear and intentional overlap between the two—but this team has done an incredible job of making a story about xenophobia and injustice and guilt in some way motivating rather than morose. It’s easy to be carried away by Constantine’s tendency to crack wise and be a dick, but the team behind this series has infused each panel with a sense of simmering rage that makes me feel like burning something terrible down rather than sitting around being miserable. It’s a genuinely phenomenal series cut short before its time, which, unfortunately, makes it a perfect Hellblazer entry.
– Melissa Brinks
Lumberjanes: End of Summer
Aubrey Aiese (letterer), Brooklyn Allen (layouts), Alexa Bosy (artist), Kanesha C. Bryant (artist), Maarta Laiho (colorist), Kat Leyh (writer and covers), Sharon Watters (writer)
Want to cry your eyes out for a couple of hours? This is the final arc of the long-running Lumberjanes series, and it pays a dignified, boisterous, and respectful farewell to all of the Hardcore Ladytypes who’ve seen us through the last few years. From The Kitten Holy to the romance between Mal and Molly and all points in between, original writer Sharon Watters gives it to you in spades, and by the time you’re done with it – if you at all have a fondness for the folks from Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Ladytypes – you will leave this issue smiling…or in tears.
– Lisa Fernandes
The Magic Fish
Trung Le Nguyen (writer and artist)
Random House Graphic
There is no shortage of books about the power of stories—Neil Gaiman colonized that turf a long time ago—but I can’t think of any graphic novel that’s explored that theme with the intricate poignancy of Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish. Young Tiến bonds with his Vietnamese-born mother by reading fairy tales with her, but talking about real life is much harder—due to their language barrier, he literally can’t find the words to tell her he’s gay. Shifting from fantasy to reality with the grace of a princess gliding across a ballroom, The Magic Fish is a stunner, combining sumptuously ornate artwork and heartfelt emotion. You won’t be able to tear your eyes away. This is the most beautiful book of 2020.
– Kayleigh Hearn
Marvels Snapshots: X-Men
Kurt Busiek (curator), Jay Edidin (writer), Chris O’Halloran (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), Tom Reilly (artist), Alex Ross (cover artist)
Jay Edidin’s work is a masterstroke of characterization that is organic and seamless reconciles and enhances over 60 years of Cyclops stories in a single issue. It’s a character study like no other. It’s a story about trauma, a story about the ways we make sense of and work through that trauma. To call it a coming of age story doesn’t do it justice. Edidin shows us how the Cyclops we know today is very much who Scott Summers has ever been. It’s packed with easter eggs and amazing art that feels contemporary and fresh but evocative of the silver-age style that the story slots into. It’s a herculean task for a writer to contextualize a character with nearly 60 years of continuity, and Edidin does so with an effortless cohesiveness that can only come from somebody who feels as deeply for the character as he does. I could go on endlessly about how much this issue meant to me, and I have. This is by far my favorite issue of 2020, if not of the entire 12 years I’ve been reading the X-Men.
– Dani Kinney
Solutions and Other Problems
Allie Brosh (writer and artist)
Seven years after the collection of Allie Brosh’s sensational webcomic Hyperbole and a Half comes the big, blue brick of a sequel, Solutions and Other Problems. To call this book “long-awaited” is an understatement, but reading it now in 2020 feels absolutely correct; it couldn’t have come out at any other time. Brosh’s illustrated, autobiographical essays remain relentlessly funny (just the sight of her avatar—a feral, fish-eyed figure with sticks for arms and a yellow shark fin ponytail—makes my reptile brain smile), but they’re also fundamentally about loss and loneliness. Solutions and Other Problems reflects the absurdity of our existence, whether we’re a three-year-old deliberately stuffing our entire body into a bucket or an adult confronting the sudden, inexplicable death of a loved one. And perhaps no single comic panel captures the sheer vibe of trying to make it through 2020 than little Allie screaming “YOU CAN DO IT!” at a dead fish.
– Kayleigh Hearn
Mahmud Asrar (artist), Matteo Buffagni (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Phil Noto (artist), R.B. Silva (artist), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
“What are you waiting for? Show them who you really are.” Without a doubt, my favorite piece of serialized fiction in 2020 is Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men. Carrying the torch lit by House of X and Powers of X, X-Men is an impressive feat of worldbuilding and a much-needed revitalization of a once-stagnant franchise. Each issue—illustrated by powerful artists like Leinil Francis Yu, Mahmud Asrar, and Phil Noto—builds on the one before like bricks constructing a massive tower. It’s a book of surprising range and complexity, containing both Nightcrawler’s philosophical musings on resurrection and Magneto dropping satellites on a tree alien that might as well be Wile E. Coyote. And? It’s a damn good superhero comic.
On your feet, child. Krakoa is waiting for you.
– Kayleigh Hearn