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!
We love a good one-shot here at Multiversity Comics. Big Two superhero comics use one-shots to spotlight the sort of character who isn’t likely to get a movie any time soon. Sometimes, creator owned books will take a break from their usual format and do something different. Whatever the intent, a one-shot is good like a short story is good. With such limited space there’s not time to mess around; great one-shots have a strong central point and they make it, clearly and concisely. Here are our favorite one-shot issues from 2020.
5. X-Men: Marvel Snapshots
Cyclops has been a much maligned hero ever since his first appearance. The goody-two-shoes, stick in the mud, no nonsense leader often looks, at first glance, like the X-Men’s most uninteresting main member with the strangest and most impractical power set. Most people wouldn’t call Cyclops their favorite X-Man—who would want to have eye beams you can’t control when you could surf around on ice or read people’s minds?
Jay Edidin, however, is not most people. He writes Scott Summers with trauma bubbling just under the surface, only to channel that difficulty into an internal drive. Like all the Marvels Snapshots, “X-Men: Marvels Snapshots” #1 is about an everyday person—in this case, it’s Scott Summers before his powers kick in, before his life’s passion, and before he had any sense of what his place in the world might be. Scott, feeling lost and unsure, becomes driven to learn how to solve… everything. In that drive, he finds a reason to keep going, and an ability to change the world. This is a take on him that is rooted in insecurity and unaddressed pain, but also in warmth and empathy. Namely, it lets Scott be a complicated person trying to figure out how to live in an increasingly complicated world, just like all of us.
The glimpse into Cyclops’ headspace is only made more compelling by the visuals. Tom Reilly and Chris O’Halloran artwork renders Scott’s mundane life at the orphanage with clean, mostly monochromatic panels. Those, just like Scott himself, eventually give way to a burst of color and energy as what lies dormant in him is awakened. “X-Men: Marvels Snapshots #1” is easily the standout of the Marvels Snapshots issues, and will likely go down as an essential piece of Cyclops’ canon. A must read. -Reid Carter
4. (tie) Hedra
I hate to say it, but one-shots are pretty much the bastard child of the comics format. There just aren’t really historic one-shots in the same way there are famous ongoings, minis and OGNs, which is a shame. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jesse Lonergan’s “Hedra” goes a long way towards changing that.
This book plays so perfectly with how you read each scene, with each of the 35(!!) panels on a page being used for sequential storytelling, mood setting, displaying some larger image or all of those at once! I fell in love with that articulated design almost instantly, which makes it even more thought provoking when those conventions twist and crumble in front of you.
“Hedra” mostly runs on tropes to set up its story, but that’s more of a strength than anything. It helps build a really streamlined, image-first kind of book. Plus I really dig the whole lonely astronaut adventure in it all, it’s a fun kind of pioneer story that’s not bogged down in any imperialist baggage. This whole book is like the best of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animation.
“Hedra’s” trademark minimalism extends to the pencils too, where each line feels meaningful in the shape of a panel, building this endearing contrast between the explosion of information given by the page format, and each simple vignette within that page. It’s just such a geometric book, presenting you with legible shapes, lines and silent stories, then remixing and reconstructing those building blocks into an astounding odyssey of spacefaring action. Jesse Lonergan shows that deep down, we’re all just geometry and stardust, and that’s a pretty nice thing to be. -James DowlingContinued below
4. (tie) Empyre: Savage Avengers
I’m going to be honest: I didn’t like Empyre, in few words, I don’t like when the important stuff happens in the tie-ins instead of the main book and I didn’t like the concept overall. I think tie-ins are meant to have a one-off fun story around the main event, and there was one book that managed to do that: “Empyre: Savage Avengers.”
Here we don’t have a dramatic story in three acts, it’s just as simple as there’s an alien invasion and Conan and Venom fight against it in Mexico City. Gerry Duggan uses Conan’s narration to give the story a little depth, from criticizing Mexicans as being weak, to recognizing there are heroes there. But other than that, we are here to have fun.
We see Conan fighting Mexicans on a lucha libre coliseum, then he uses a tractor to Cotatis and avenge the death of a farmer, and Venom launches a tank truck to an alien ship. And all that fun is gorgeously illustrated by Greg Smallwood, who is capable of drawing beautifully expressive faces and action poses. He uses contrasting colors to set moods and feelings and his Venom is the best take on the character I have seen in a while.
If all that doesn’t convince you, I’ll tell you what, this comic deserves to be on this list simply because on the last page Conan and Venom are eating tacos sitting on the street, and that is the best culinary experience you can have in Mexico. – Ramon Piña
3. Fearless Dawn Meets Hellboy
“All right, let’s bust of some Nazi spooks!” With these words, Steve Mannion’s Fearless Dawn and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy lay a beat down on some Nazi zombies in one of the most delightful comics of the year. The team-up book is one of the most time honored forms of one shots, and Hellboy is no stranger to them. Having teamed up with Batman, Starman, Painkiller Jane, Ghost and many more, perhaps a team up with another Nazi fighter was inevitable for big red. Storming a castle full of undead german soldiers is when Hellboy is in his element so injecting him into a Fearless Dawn story is seamless.
The story opens with art by Mignola, as Hellboy discovers a skeleton with a photo of Dawn, and is transported to her dimension. Hellboy and Dawn hit it off right from the start, as Dawn offers him his favorite pancakes. Then it’s off to the races, and Hellboy is soon beating the stuff out of swastika clad walking dead, with Dawn and her crew along for the ride. The story is self contained, and is creatively bookended in a way that doesn’t feel out of place for either universe. Mignola and Mannion don’t come up with a long contrived story to get their two characters together, they just whip up an interdimensional portal and skip straight to the action. One could view this as a cop out, but this kind of event is far from out of place in the story for either characters. It’s refreshing to read a team up one-shot that doesn’t waste pages on exposition for a short story.
Mannion provides the art for the majority of the action, and he’s well suited to Hellboy. With Dave Stewart on color, the exaggerated, scratchy style evokes Richard Corben’s iconic Hellboy work. The action is stylish and the hits pop hard. Truly though, it’s wonderful to see Mignola doing interior art again, even if only for a few pages. His brief bookend panels are deeply moody, and feel straight out of the golden age of Hellboy adventures.
“Fearless Dawn Meets Hellboy” is a must read for fans of the two characters, and will still be a highly enjoyable one shot for any newcomers looking to see what Mannion and Mignola are all about. – Ryan Fitzmartin
2. Dark Nights Death Metal: Multiverse’s End
Event tie-ins are usually pretty disposable. Even when they are ‘good,’ they often times feel like cash grabs or stories that didn’t really need to be told. “Dark Nights Death Metal: Multiverse’s End” is unique in that it both tells a story that is borderline essential to the overarching “Death Metal” narrative, and also that it is a story with a ton of heart and stunning artwork that stands as one of the finest comics I read in 2020.Continued below
The story brings in the multiversal characters from “Final Crisis,” informally known as ‘Justice Incarnate,’ and teams them up with the Green Lantern Corps and Owlman from Earth-3 to tell a story that connects not just the many years and locations of the DC Universe, but also grapples with loss and struggle in a year when many of us have had too much experience with both. Juan Gedeon’s art is a revelation here, oscillating between hard-fought action and cartoonish melodrama and absolutely crushing both halves. James Tynion’s script allows for Gedeon to shine, as well as to allow characters like Captain Carrot and Guy Gardner to have unexpectedly poignant moments together, at the end of everything and, hopefully, at the beginning of a better future.
1. Sex Criminals: Sexual Gary
As a lapsed “Sex Criminals” reader, I started looking for an entry point back into the series. It turns out the “Sex Criminals: Sexual Gary Special” ended up being the perfect spot to jump back in. Instead of catching readers up to the events of the series lead characters, writer Matt Fraction teamed up with artist Rachael Stott to stell a story about the iconic background gag character Sexual Gary. Stott’s art is the perfect pair with Fraction’s script and seeing the world of “Sex Criminals” through a different interior artist was a delectable treat. Stott told a story that is unafraid to be sexy, funny, and really dark. Fraction’s script toys with a sports narrative as a spine to base the rest of the story on. When Gary’s saga comes crashing down Fraction doesn’t shy away from the consequences of Gary’s choices. Stott’s art fits this series shockingly well. The expressions mentioned above are perfect when they are capturing the dread on Gary’s face. Stott’s layouts are just as ambitious as regular series artist Chip Zdarsky’s work. I can’t help but respect that Fraction and Stott don’t omit any of the naughty details in their scenes.
Stott and Fraction push the envelope in a couple of moments that emphasize nudity but still depict the figures in a slightly grotesque manner. The positive attitude from the creative team lends a sense of whimsy to the issue that shines through the darkest moments. Gary’s personal life in particular is in shambles all throughout the issue. Stott’s figures capture a great deal of emotion that made me reflect on some of my past decisions that I’m not proud of. Stott also captures the humor and even picks up on a lot of small visual gags in the background that gave birth to the ideas behind this one-shot. The tone of this issue mirrors the arc of the regular “Sex Criminals” really well. At times, a book like these has a hard time capturing anything other than the humor. Thankfully, Fraction’s detailed, gut-wrenchingly honest look at Gary’s life lends time for drama. Fraction’s script also relentlessly mocks the structure of a sports film with the typical climactic last few moments coupled with a bittersweet ending. If any of the above sounds interesting, you owe to yourself to check this one-shot out. -Alexander Jones