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2020 Year in Review: Best Digital First Comic

By | December 22nd, 2020
Posted in Columns | % Comments
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Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!

Best Digital First Comic

The biggest comics news stories in 2020 had to do with distribution. While the industry was doing work to figure out how they were going to get physical copies of books into stores, digital first comics continued to make themselves known. Big publishers see the benefit of highlighting a particular series to get digital distribution. Small publishers see a huge potential market. So even though there isn’t a singular unifying theme to digital first comics, they are their own format and we thought it was worth looking at those sorts of comics. Here are our top three digital first comics for 2020.

3. Youth

Curt Pires and Alex Diotto took a story about, you guessed it, being young, and extrapolated it to its furthest possible endpoints. Young people make bad decisions, and these characters likely make your bad decisions seem charming and quaint. Or, at least I hope they do; did you and your friends ever basically go to war with your federal government?

One part “Uncanny X-Men,” one part Kids, “Youth” looks at what dumb teenagers may do if they got powers, but didn’t have a Professor Xavier or a Justice League to show them how to effectively wield them. There’s also a lot of questionable relationships and drugs and uncertain feelings and other signifiers of not quite having your shit together just yet.

All of this is rendered without judgment by the creators, who take the reader on a journey from teen angst to tanks, with significant detours away from the main characters. Those detours are incredibly important, as they act as reminders of just how not normal all of this is. While the underlying issues in this comic are relatable to anyone who was ever young, “Youth” is, thankfully, a story we can just observe from behind a monitor. – Brian Salvatore

2. Quarantine Comix

“Ice Cream Man” was one of the most consistently stellar ongoing series this year, and one its primary assets is its ability to defy categorization, shifting and changing week-to-week while pushing formal boundaries. So it isn’t really a surprise that during the printing stoppage caused by COVID-19 the “Ice Cream Man” creative team was able to so successfully morph their twisted horror book into a series of digital shorts.

Released weekly in the early days of the pandemic to raise money for struggling brick and mortar shops, the stories W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, and Chris O’Halloran worked up for “Quarantine Comix” are very of the moment. A Shakespearean short in iambic pentameter that uses the madness of King Lear to illuminate the creative drought of quarantine; a trip to the Garden of Eden that ends in modern capitalist malaise; a convention of Mikes (all aspects of the same Mike, obviously) learning that who we are, for better or worse—each story is concentrated “Ice Cream Man,” the themes of the ongoing reflected through COVID-era uncertainty. That’s before even getting to the guest series, which enlisted creators Declan Shalvey, Christopher Cantwell, Deniz Camp and more. All of the guest stories are great, but I’m not sure I laughed harder at a book this year than I did at a page turn in Al Ewing and PJ Holden’s short story, a riff on Animal Crossing that I refuse to spoil.

“Quarantine Comix” is the best kind of art that came out in the midst of the pandemic: fun escapism from the chaos of the daily news cycle that also feels specific to 2020, a social commentary with just enough bite to cut to the heart of the year while still going down smooth. The fact that it was put together for a great cause is just (sorry) the cherry on top. – Reid Carter

Continued below

1. Harley Quinn: Black & White & Red

The legend of “Batman: Black & White” looms large. Once imagined by Mark Chiarello as a way to depict the many aspects of Batman’s character through the artwork of the best comics artists in the business, its legacy has spun into multiple volumes over decades, action figures, sculptures, and now, even other characters. I see you, Marvel, putting out that “Wolverine: Black, White, & Blood” comic, but the DC Comics Black Label editorial team and Harley Quinn got there before you. A dynamite editorial team of Chris Conroy, Andy Khouri, Amedeo Turturro, and Maggie Howell teamed up to edit artists such as Stjepan Sejic, Erica Henderson, Dani, Riley Rossmo, and too many more to name here. Seriously, every artist that touched this series was a great one, and did top notch work in marrying their art to the concept of doing a story entirely in the black, white, and red color scheme. And as with the original Batman rendition, Harley Quinn got to put her entire personality on display, from the comic to the tragic. In one story, Harley might be joined by her “Gang of Harleys” as Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner return to their fan-favorite take on the character. In another, there might be another bittersweet examination of her more tragic past with the Joker. Like any good anthology, there are many notes to be played, even when all the stories are about the same person.

Available as $0.99 digital issues on a weekly basis, “Harley Quinn: Black, White, and Red” was an easy sell, even for someone who might be tired of one of the more overexposed characters in cape comics. The digital-first formula is a format that publishers should experiment with more. If Marvel and DC are less and less likely to take artistic longshots in favor of something more easily digestible, maybe a shorter form digital anthology style could allow a little more room to play. If something didn’t work for you this week, next week there will be something new that might be more your style. That seems to be a big part of what made “Harley Quinn: Black, White, and Red” such a joy to read from week to week. Every week was a new adventure with a new creative team. I suspect that even cape comic cynics and Harley Quinn haters could find something to appreciate in the artistic intent behind that. -Vince Ostrowski

//TAGS | 2020 Year in Review

Multiversity Staff

We are the Multiversity Staff, and we love you very much.


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