5. Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters
Chris Samnee is another one of those artists where you buy and read everything they do. Daredevil, I’m all over it. Black Widow, hell yeah. Fire Power, yo, that comic needs a movie right now. His latest project, co-written by his wife, Laura Samnee, and colored by the magnificent Matthew Wilson, is his cartooning triumph.
Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters is a love letter to the Samnee daughters, a sibling saga where one kiddo goes missing during a kaiju-like attack, and the other goes on the quest to find them. Each page presents a sprawling landscape overflowing with wonder and danger.
Chris Samnee constructs highwire panels where his characters precariously balance one second and race across the next. Each issue can be devoured in a single, quick bite, or you can savor them, gnashing slowly and methodically, appreciating the mischievously effortless craft that no doubt took a lifetime to realize.
4. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
We find Supergirl in a cantina that might as well be on Tatooine. She’s lost, drinking her sorrows away, trying to understand herself as someone apart from her Superman cousin. Then, a teenager tugs on her cape. Ruthye saw her father murdered, and she wants revenge. To get it, she could sure use a Woman of Steel. Supergirl is not a mercenary, but she also can’t imagine this child venturing throughout the galaxy and succeeding in anything other than death. With her spirits low, the Kryptonian accepts the mission.
Yes, Tom King is writing his True Grit. But that film donates a mighty fine skeleton, and artist Bilquis Evely unleashes a cosmic canvas that no cinematographer could ever pull off. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is a lavish, mystifying soak of a comic. You read this one at a snail’s pace, afraid that the next page will be the last one. It’s the kind of comic you don’t want to end, and thankfully, we still have several months before it reaches its conclusion.
Juni Ba smashes West African folklore with his childhood Cartoon Network obsession. The resulting Djeliya is a powerfully original Afro-fantasy that also feels familiar to anyone who’s spent a few too many hours pickling within Dexter‘s Laboratory.
It’s a traveler’s chronicle that follows Prince Mansour and his royal storyteller, Awa, as they seek the supreme Wizard Soumaoro and the Tower that sparked armageddon eons ago. In their pursuit, Awa and Mansour confront their natural gifts and consider what they have to offer the world around them. Can they do better than the previous failures who walked the earth?
Ba’s arrival feels like a moment. There were comics before Djeliya, and then there were comics after Djeliya. As exciting as this book is, the future appears even more so. In January, Ba, via Image Comics, will release his socially enraged but gleefully impish anthology series Monkey Meat. We’re already clearing space for its inclusion on next year’s list.
2. Destroy All Monsters: A Reckless Book
Destroy All Monsters is the third Reckless book and the second one to release in 2021. Artist Sean Phillips and writer Ed Brubaker are so perfectly harmonized it’s almost hard to imagine that they’re two people. What they’ve consummated together with their Criminal collections and various other hardboiled tangents has all been foreplay to this climactic collaboration. Hopefully, they’re not totally knackered, cuz after Reckless round three, we need 2022’s The Ghost in You to hit even harder.
We’re finally starting to understand where and when Ethan Reckless is coming from, and his narration in Destroy All Monsters suggests a catastrophic escalation. The third Reckless title begins like the previous, Ethan accepts a case, and it drags him into brutal, physical damage.
Its conclusion, however, is unlike what we’ve experienced before, and it leaves us with a hollow pit in our stomachs. Filling it with more Reckless is a natural response, but you can’t solve hurt with more hurt. Unless it’s noir, baby, and you’re just another glutton for punishment.
1. Beta Ray Bill: Argent Star
Do you know the ballad of Beta Ray Bill? He’s the Korbinite who once lifted Mjolnir against the mighty Thor, and in doing so, impressed the All-Father so much that he forged Stormbreaker as a second prize trophy. The horse-faced warrior is tired of his “A for Effort” status. In Argent Star, Bill flees his Asgardian shadow and seeks to replace his weapon with the Twilight Sword, the blade that once eradicated his homeworld.
As a Beta Ray Bill fanatic, I would have read this comic no matter the creative team, and I’d have found enjoyment in however it turned out. In the same fashion, I’ll read whatever story Daniel Warren Johnson feels like creating. The cartoonist and his trusty colorist Mike Spicer make metal AF comics: Extremity, Murder Falcon, Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.
No other book looks like them, their characters screaming from the page, leaping into concussive reality. As you make your way through them, you’re pumping your fist, rapidly drumming your feet on the floor below you. Johnson’s comics build to crescendos, and you can feel them vibrating numerous pages back before they burst. Anticipating their raucous arrival hides the other punch his comics contain, the one directed toward your gut.
This year dished a lot of wallops, and many of them left me a heap in my bedroom corner. Ardent Star pulverized with every issue. Johnson pulls a beloved supporting player close to his chest, sensing Bill’s shivering heartache, and administers a hug. In tracing the character’s pounding self-loathing, Johnson renders relief for the character and the reader. All earned while the panel borders detonate with fire, body parts, and Fin Fang Foom’s neverending snake neck.