2020 Year in Review: Best Single Issue

By | December 23rd, 2020
Posted in Columns | % Comments
Logo by Mike Romeo

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 Single Issue

What is the smallest unit of comic book storytelling? Do you need to read a whole series? Or can it be broken down to something smaller, like a page or a single panel? While there’s a lot you can admire about the craft that goes into every part of a comic, stories tend to be told issue by issue. That’s why it is important to not only look at the bigger picture- sometimes it pays to get small. So every year we honor the year’s best issues, the ones that bring artistry and talent to telling a particular part of a larger story. These are our favorite single issues of 2020.

5. (tie) Barbalien: Red Planet #1

Despite not having any issues of the main “Black Hammer” series in 2020, it’s been an exceptionally strong year for the Black Hammer Universe. That said, the singular vision for “Barbalien: Red Planet” made the first issue stand out, even among its fellows. While developing the Barbalien spinoff around the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, “Black Hammer” writer and co-creator Jeff Lemire decided this story was not his to tell, and invited Tate Brombal to take the writing reins while Gabriel Hernández Walta handled the art. “Barbalien: Red Planet” is a Queer book by Queer creators, and given what readers already knew about Mark Markz’s history from “Black Hammer,” this was an immediately compelling premise for a new miniseries.

Then 2020 happened and somehow a book set in Ronald Reagan’s America in a fictional city became surprisingly timely. We all know this was an exhausting year, and reading about it isn’t fun, but “Barbalien: Red Planet” #1 struck a strange balance―distant enough that it didn’t drag us back into 2020, but deeply thematically relevant at the same time. Mark Markz is an alien passing as white, a gay man, a vigilante, and a cop during a time when people are protesting in the streets, trying to get justice from a society that refuses to help or even acknowledge them. It’s impossible to tell his story without engaging with these issues, and with the creators behind the book drawing on their own lived experiences, it made for a first issue that was an incredibly powerful read. It sticks with you long after you finish it. ―Mark Tweedale

5. (tie) Stealth #1

Some of the best introductions can come from the comics that have the least amount of fanfare. Such was the case with this year’s “Stealth.” A complete reboot of a short-lived and little-known character created by Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri; Mike Costa’s 2020 re-imagining was one of my most surprising and enjoyable premiere issues that I have had the pleasure of reading.

This issue does the incredible feat of delving head-long into economic commentary, namely on the status of Detroit, Michigan. It is thought provoking and smartly done, which is all the more shocking that it both feels like the key story device and also serves as the backdrop for a story that criticizes and praises vigilantism, takes a look at race, social status, and mental health. The entire issue is exciting, dark, and moving. From front to back it is wildly engaging in how it both mirrors a modern story-telling sensibility while embracing a mid-90s comic book aesthetic – more-so in its character design, and overall art style than anything else.

This is one series I highly recommend starting knowing as little as possible about. The twists and turns of the plot are all the more wonderful and engaging without knowing its biggest secrets before even cracking the cover. This first issue really checks off so many boxes in what makes a great superhero comic that there is no way it wouldn’t make it onto this list. It is for sure one of the best single issues of 2020.

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(Way back in the simpler days of March, this was my Pick of the Week. If you’d like to read a full review of “Stealth” #1 that keeps the major spoilers at bay before picking up the book, you can check that out as well.) -Chris Egan

4. Daredevil #21

Definitionally, an exciting comic issue needs at least one exciting moment. Often that’s enough. After an exciting first set of pages, resolving the story from the previous arc, “Daredevil” #21 kicks into overdrive and there are at least three moments that would have carried any other issue and indeed, any other series. All of it ties into the same tired themes superhero media has been considering for decades, but never as well as in this issue. Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checcheto consider what happens when a superhero kills someone. It frames the ethics of that choice from an American legal perspective and a Catholic perspective. Superheroes are compared to police officers, and looked at from the perspective of civilians. Oh, and Spider-Man is there too.

The Spider-Man confrontation is probably what most people will remember of this issue. Here he is framed as the platonic ideal of a superhero, the kind of guy who will call the other heroes out when they’ve lost the moral high ground. But this is a Daredevil book, so things can’t be that simple, and I was left really rooting for Matt Murdock, even though he is unarguably a hypocritical jerk. A lot of that has to do with Checcheto, who frames every conversation as dire and creepy. Spidey especially. You may love him, but you don’t want him breaking into your apartment.

This is the issue where everything comes together. You can see the whole conflict of the previous 20 issues- and you can’t help but wonder how it will play out for the next 20. Best of all, Zdarsky expertly uses Daredevil’s supporting cast, giving big parts to Foggy and Kingpin. “Daredevil” #21 proves that sometimes you don’t need a new idea, you just need to write the old ones better than anyone ever has before you. And how hard can that be? With Zdarsky writing, it looks downright easy. -Jake Hill

3. Marauders #12

“Marauders” continues to be one of the best books that Marvel currently has, and the best example of it is its twelfth issue. Here, after her death and resurrection Kate Pride is celebrated by the mutants, but she has something to do first.

One of the most important concepts from the Hickman X-Men era is the fact that every mutant can be resurrected, but it doesn’t mean that they come back from death unchanged, and writer Gerry Duggan takes this chance to further Kate’s growth.

The art from Matteo Lolli have an anime-inspired style, with big eyes and expressive bodies, and Edgar Delgado uses a color palette that works finely to show every character and place clearly and distinctively.

This issue has no action and is slow-paced compared to other numbers that came before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important, Kate learns about her fate and briefly confronts her aggressor, then goes to get a new tattoo because her new body doesn’t come with them.

At the last three pages we have two big revelations, Kate has changed her knuckle tattoos from the sailors’ classic “Hold Fast” to “Kill Shaw,” effectively appropriating her suffering in an act of self-empowerment, and following that same idea she kisses a girl, coming out as bi-sexual, just like co-creator Chris Claremont intended forty years ago. Duggan and his team are structuring this title to be a long run and I’m sure that this issue will kickstart the story to its next phase, I can only expect it to become even better next year.

(Also, shout out to “Marauders” #13 which, although surely done months in advance, it felt like an apt and heartfelt farewell to Chadwick Boseman) -Ramon Piña

2. X-Men #4

“X-Men” #4 was an unequivocally amazing comic that really hit the accelerator after the slow deceleration we saw in issues #1-3 of the series. With Leinel Francis Yu really getting to draw to his strengths: grave faces, business fashion, and delicious food.

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More than anything however, what I really respect about “X-Men” #4 is its confidence. This story is essentially a victory lap after the events of “House of X” and “Powers of X,” and yet it still feels necessary rather than indulgent. All throughout HOXPOX people were asking ‘what’s the catch here?’, which is the same question on the lips of the ambassadors and economists at Geneva in this very issue. That’s what makes this remarkable, this is Hickman, through Magneto, telling people there isn’t one. Krakoa is here to stay and it means what it says.

This issue also returned us to that HOXPOX pace of stunning reveals in quick succession, an adrenaline rush of sociopolitics and macroeconomics. It’s all very Hickman. This issue really feels like it’s built with speculation in mind. I mean look at it! We see the new Xavier take off Cerebro for the first time, the idea of the ‘Great Krakoan Novel’ (give me mutant Mark Twain right this instant) and the oh so casual reveal that •┤Ȧ├• ended of the Bronze Age. What do you even do with that information?!

“X-Men” #4 proved to us that mutantdom’s greatest power isn’t telepathy, regeneration or even resurrection, it’s the appropriation of neoliberalism in a world that respects money above all else. This was the story that explicitly told us “There will be no war” afterall, humanity is in for something much worse. – James Dowling

1. Sex Criminals #69

For those who haven’t read the rest of “Sex Criminals,” the melancholic and un-sexy aspects of its epilogue issue #69 may come as a surprise. I mean, look at that number! They skipped right from #30 to the Funny Sex Number!! Why is this so bittersweet and emotional?? But those who have been on this wild 7-year journey know that there’s no other way it could have ended.

“Sex Criminals” grew and changed and came to a better understanding of itself alongside its audience. The incredibly open community in the letters pages became just as important to readers as the story itself, and at a certain point, that understanding and growth and change became the point of the story — not the sex, not the bank robbing, not the dick jokes. This was a book about people. About connection. Which, I suppose, is also the point of sex, and comedy, and stories as a whole.

So it’s fitting, then, that issue #69 is about a gay wedding between two characters who found themselves, mostly off-panel, over the course of the series. Just as a wedding celebrates endings and new beginnings, so too did the issue as a whole. And alongside that celebration of the past and future was some heavy reflection on the importance of the present, of embracing your current understanding of yourself. Suzie and Jon are still searching for their ideal lives, but there’s nothing wrong with having made the most of what they had, and of making the most of what they have now.

On a grander level, that theme can be applied to the book’s entire 7-year run, this bizarre public therapy session between Matt and Chip and the letter writers and all the readers who just came to listen. We all learned to embrace the present — to embrace ourselves — together. Matt and Chip make clear in issue #69 how much the book, and their lives, were influenced by their relationship with the readers. And that experience is one we will all carry for the rest of our lives, even though it’s over now.

I can’t think of a more apt theme for this final issue. The experience of following “Sex Criminals” will never be replicated in comics, and there will never be another love letter to readers quite like this, the Funny Sex Number issue. -Nick Palmieri

//TAGS | 2020 Year in Review

Multiversity Staff

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


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