As 2021 draws to a close, we need to sit back, reflect, and answer that all-important question: What were the best comic books of the year? We asked our writers and assembled a weird and wild list of comic books starring mermaids, barbarians, gods, mutants, and even a Green Lantern. As different as they may seem at first glance, they all represent the endless creativity of the medium.
Here are the best big press comics of 2021, as chosen by WWAC contributors.
Barbaric Volume One
Jim Campbell (letterer), Tim Daniel (designer), Addison Duke (colorist), Nathan Gooden (artist), Michael Moreci (writer)
Owen is just your regular old barbarian who just wants to fight and fuck his way through life. He’s not interested in being a hero, but a curse gives him no choice but grudgingly help those in need while urged on by his bloodthirsty axe, aptly named Axe. The only person who can get along with Owen and knows that Axe can actually communicate (and Owen, therefore, isn’t just a crazy drunk talking to his massive weapon), is a necromancer with a dark past. The first volume of this series is shorter than the usual comic arcs, but it wastes no time in stuffing in loads of lore, mystery, sardonic humour, and a trio of fantastic characters. Barbaric is over the top good clean violent fun that makes good use of its R-rating without feeling like it’s trying too hard. Read my full review of the first issue here, and check out some of the sexy Vault Undressed covers that go with it.
— Wendy Browne
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letter and designer), Kieron Gillen (writer), Esad Ribić (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist)
Despite being named after a godlike race of superbeings, Eternals comic books tend to be rather short-lived. In the decades following Jack Kirby’s original, aborted 19-issue run on the title, many talented writers and artists have tried to match Kirby’s grandeur or bring these aloof, esoteric characters down to Earth from the halls of Olympia and failed. Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić’s Eternals series is still new, but I hope it breaks that celestial curse and stays with us for a long, long time. The current series likens the title characters to angels abandoned by their gods who must find a new purpose. For the blonde, laser-eyed Ikaris, that purpose is protecting the human boy Toby Robson from a mysterious death, even as Thanos cuts a bloody swath through Eternals society in a bid to become the new Prime Eternal. Gillen and Ribić’s Eternals is bold, philosophical, and surprisingly hilarious, but superhero banter and wisecracking narration hide an aching heart. If you never truly die, who can say you ever really lived?
— Kayleigh Hearn
Deron Bennett (letterer), Jamal Campbell (artist), Maggie Howell (assistant editor), N. K. Jemisin (writer), Andy Khouri (editor)
I had never read a Green Lantern book before Far Sector, and I don’t think I ever need to. I came for NK Jemisin and her award-winning storytelling and worldbuilding, and for Rookie Green Lantern Sojourner “Jo” Mullein as she tries to solve a murder in the City Enduring. And I absolutely stayed for Jamal Campbell’s breathtaking imagery. In my review of the first issue, I was 400 words deep into my astonishment over the beauty of the first few pages before I could even turn my attention to the actual story and characters — all of which are incredibly diverse and complex and worthy of deep dives themselves.
— Wendy Browne
The Hazards of Love
I have been trying for months to write about this phenomenal book and have failed to sum up all the things I love about it, so this best-of list will have to do. Stan Stanley is a creator I have loved for probably over a decade now, and Hazards of Love is a culmination of the themes and art and beauty woven through Stanley’s previous work. Her art is bold, with thick lines and dark gutters — but the colors in the Simon & Schuster volume are bright, intentionally reminiscent of Mexican folk art and bringing a whole new mythology to life. The story follows two young people at the beginning of a relationship, and what happens when one is sent to the Underworld only to have their real-world life taken over by a cat. It’s also about finding yourself — the potential you have for good or for worse. Cannot recommend it enough.
— Kat Overland
Lore Olympus Volume One
What is there to say about Lore Olympus that hasn’t already been said? Not only is it a gorgeously rendered, emotional, and hilarious romance, but it also subverts everything we believe about many of the Greek myths, most specifically the relationship between Persephone and her alleged abductor, Hades. Here, Persephone, aka Kore, has far more agency, and Smythe digs deeply into the fact that she isn’t simply an innocent goddess of spring. She is more likely to be a goddess of death, worshipped as such long before Hades even came into the picture.
Going beyond the 5 million Webtoon readers to take on a printed format is brilliant, as it has allowed Lore Olympus to reach that many more people ahead of its upcoming animated series. The printed graphic novel isn’t simply a straight copy and paste of the webcomic. Instead, it makes excellent use of white space and stark backgrounds to neatly shape the layouts of its story vignettes. Graphic novel readers will miss out on the immersive experience of embedded music in certain chapters, but the overall impact of the story serves just as well here.
— Wendy Browne
Jude Ellison S. Doyle (writer), A.L. Kaplan (artist), Fabiana Mascolo (colorist), Cardinal Rae (letterer)
There are certain ways you are supposed to act as a survivor of sexual assault. You are supposed to break down and cry constantly. Society teaches us to be acceptable victims, and emotions like anger or rage aren’t part of that equation. In Maw, Marion isn’t a “likable” survivor. She drinks; she’s dismissive, sullen, and pissed. She’s all the things we don’t get to see or unpack in four-minute news stories covering rape and gendered violence. That depiction is refreshing and freeing. Maw is about giving birth to rage and exacting revenge. It is about shining a light on how we can never expect justice in a legal system like the one in the US. Jude spoke much more eloquently about Marion and our assault in an interview WWAC conducted with them back in October. Ultimately, Maw is about how patriarchy makes monsters out of those it consumes and spits out. It is a mirror whose reflection makes us wince. Yet, you stare long enough, and you find catharsis. Healing you didn’t know you needed in a way you didn’t expect.
— Andrea Ayres
Planet-Size X-Men #1
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
Apologies for the shameless review quoting, but as we close out 2021, this remains just as true now as it was when I wrote it six months ago: Planet-Size X-Men is “an expansive status-quo smasher that raises the stakes for the merry mutants on a cosmic scale.” The centerpiece of the Hellfire Gala event, the Planet-Size X-Men one-shot puts the “red” back in the “red carpet” when Earth’s Omega mutants, led by Magneto, terraform the planet Mars into the mutant world Arakko. This single issue represents everything I love about the Krakoa era for the X-Men: it’s beautiful, joyous, and unapologetically weird. Pepe Larraz, unequivocally one of the best superhero artists today, builds a new world and populates it with fabulous new characters like the insectoid mutant Xilo and Sobunar, who has an entire ocean for blood. But the familiar faces arguably have more fun: Marvel Girl telepathically “impregnating” the reality-warping Monarch with an idea so powerful he physically gives birth to it may be my favorite comic book moment in 2021. Emma Frost was right. Planet-Size X-Men is “the one that will have all the fireworks.”
— Kayleigh Hearn
Simon and Schuster
Thirsty Mermaids is a fun, funny, and intensely heartfelt story about found family and belonging. And also about mermaids accidentally turned into humans who are unable to turn themselves back into mermaids. What started as a simple venture into the surface world to score some alcohol turns into a much longer trip than Eezy, Pearl, and Tooth had planned. Fortunately, kind bartender Vivi is able to help them find their feet on land while Eezy tries to work out a way to turn them back into mermaids. Kat Leyh’s art is so cute and round, and the very different personalities she’s created for the three mermaids and their new human friends play off each other really well. They try their best to support and understand each other, even when they don’t always know what they’re all going through. I couldn’t put it down!
— Masha Zhdanova