Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2021! To call this a weird year is a Hulk-sized understatement, but one thing that was a pleasant surprise was the sheer number of interesting and excellent comics that came out this year. We’ve got over 25 categories to get through, so make sure you’re checking out all of the articles by using our 2021 Year in Review tag.
5. The Good Asian
Noir works well as limited series. The ticking clock, the spiraling dangers, the ominous sword of Damocles over the protagonists, villains, and antiheroes. And as Pornsak Pichetshote, writer of this deft and masterful Image Comics series, puts into main character Edison Hark’s narration on the last page of issue #4, “God knows if there’ll be Chinatowns in America come the morning.” As historical fiction set in deeply researched 1930s Chinatown, “The Good Asian” also banks on the foreboding of policed, diaspora communities whose sense of permanence can’t ever be taken for granted. Artist Alexandre Tefenkgi also draws like there’s no time to waste. Elegantly, atmospherically, adroitly, but with no excess.
Cleanly constructed for ten issues, seven of which came out in 2021, the crime thriller follows Chinese American detective Edison Hark into SF Chinatown streets and the stately mansions of white tycoons exploiting Chinese labor… and more. Hark mimics the hardboiled heroes of the 1930s, but the combination of toughness and vulnerable haplessness of those trench-coated characters finds new resonance in the survival game of post-Exclusion Act Chinese in America. The book’s horrors and betrayals also pack that double resonance, making for a limited series whose snowballing tension and short fuse make for both compelling crime storytelling and stark mirror of the nation’s racist legacies.
Definitely one of the year’s best limited series. The best (and worst) of “Good Asian” may be yet to come. – Paul Lai
4. Arkham City: The Order of the World
It is rare that DC has an in-continuity series that looks and feels as unique and outside the box as “Arkham City: The Order of the World.” Writer Dan Watters and artist Dani are taking what is a relatively status-quo scenario in the Bat-books and putting their own spin on it in a way that feels markedly more interesting. Dani’s art is both a throwback to the late 80s/early 90s era of prestige Bat-books and also something new, combining her influences into something unseen before. Her work instantly creates a mood that Watters’s scripts take into overdrive.
These issues feel tense, moody, and mysterious, without removing them totally from the ‘Fear State’ status quo or making it feel like the square peg of the bunch. This is an incredibly hard feat to pull off, and Watters and Dani have done so marvelously thus far. – Brian Salvatore
3. Superman and the Authority
When “Superman and the Authority” was first announced, it was unclear how this would dovetail with the status quo in “Action Comics,” which featured the same characters but, seemingly, at a different point in time. Despite that question hanging over its head, Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin, and co. delivered a story that is as dynamic and interesting as any at DC in 2021.
From a scripting perspective, Morrison managed to continue his Superman story into uncharted territory with an aging, less powerful Superman needing help from an unlikely crew, but managed to keep Kal’s perspective and focus exactly where it has always been. Kal has changed, but his mission hasn’t. Janin, Fico Ossio, Evan Cagle, and Travel Foreman gave a story a heap of visual tones but, through Janin’s foundation, found common ground for characters from vastly different backgrounds and looks to live together. The book both stands as a complete tale and a great preamble to the current ‘Warworld’ story. – Brian SalvatoreContinued below
2. Nice House on the Lake
With a big name like James Tynion IV taking the helm and DC giving the rare creator-owned story the green light, you just know it’s going to be something special. “Nice House on the Lake” is a horror story about a group of people invited on a memorable trip by a friend named Walter that they all have in common for various amounts of years. Walter has always been a little off socially but meant well, so it was overlooked. As it turns out, he is not a part of the ordinary world and gathered them as the last remaining people while the world goes into an apocalyptic state, but their lake house remains furnished, filled with food and anything they can ask for.
Every issue Tynion changes the perspective to a different individual in the House, and we get to see their point of view of what is happening and how they attempt to make sense of everything. The creepy vibes that this story elicits would be nothing if it weren’t for the artwork by Alvaro Martinez Bueno and the color choices by Jordie Bellaire. There is this supernatural element to each panel and page where even the reader tries to make sense of it all. The story utilizes the house and flashbacks with Walter, old-school chatroom conversations, and newspaper articles to provide evidence for the reader.
We’ve hit the halfway point in the series for 2021, and I can’t wait to see how it finishes next year. – Alexander Manzo
1. Beta Ray Bill
In recent years, writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson and colorist Mike Spicer have established themselves as one of the comic industry’s finest pairings. For their latest collaboration, “Beta Ray Bill,” with VC’s Joe Sabino joining them on lettering duty, the pair ventured into the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe and delivered a book that managed to be both a heartfelt exploration of the titular Korbinite and an action-packed thrill ride.
The series started with Bill in an incredibly dark and vulnerable place; he was without his hammer, Stormbreaker, following a battle with Thor, and perhaps more significantly as a consequence of Stormbreaker’s destruction, he was trapped in his horse-like cyborg form. Over the course of the series we followed Bill on a quest to find himself, or find a way to return to his old humanoid form, and it was an incredibly compelling emotional read. The series delved into Bill’s origins and literally reshaped his relationship with Skuttlebutt before delivering a satisfying ending. That was until the series’s masterful final page sent readers off with a heartbreaking twist.
Rather than buckling under the weighty themes of Bill’s journey, the visuals and their artists thrived under the pressure; the anguish that was wrought across Bill’s face was painful to witness and so too was his horrific disbelief in the closing moments. To counterbalance these heavy emotions, the artistic trio let loose and treated audiences to action sequences that included a hard-hitting bar fight in deep space and a huge Fury Road-like clash with Surtur-worshipping goblins on a river of lava. Spicer navigated through the turbulent atmosphere of the book with ease, deploying vibrant pulses to the action and dampening washes to the character beats. Likewise, Sabino’s lettering made itself at home amongst the chaos and the quiet that wreaked across the pages.
Ultimately, “Beta Ray Bill” delivered everything you could possibly want from a comic: emotion, action, humor… I could go on and on. To call it unmissable might just be an understatement. – Luke Cornelius