Daredevil #36 featured Columns 

2021 Year in Review: Best Ongoing Series

By | December 24th, 2021
Posted in Columns | % Comments
Image by Mike Romeo

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.

Best Ongoing Series

There are dozens of ongoing series that were somebody’s favorite that didn’t make it onto our top ten. But these were the comics that brought us together. Lots of us read them, lots of us loved them. We stayed up late debating them, and got into heated debates about what was going to happen next. Here are our ten favorite ongoing comic series of 2021.

10. Black Hammer Reborn

Jeff Lemire continued this year the “main” story of his and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer universe with its next ongoing, “Black Hammer Reborn.” With six issues so far, the story is following the same structure of the original book, with a personal story of a dysfunctional family slowly evolving into an epic about the end of the world.

The first arc, with art by Caitlin Yarsky and Dave Stewart, follows the intimate family story of Lucy Webber, the Black Hammer, in the present after she dropped the hammer and stopped being a superhero. This story is intercut with flashbacks of the past, where the reason for her renouncing the mantle is slowly revealed. And when the crisis couldn’t be worse, Colonel Weird appears at the beginning of the end and forces Lucy to be Black Hammer again. In the second story arc, with art by Malachi Ward & Matthew Sheean, we are currently seeing how the end begins, and the mystery of Doctor Andromeda starts to unravel, as Black Hammer has to team up with Skulldigger.

Jeff Lemire is a master of his craft, and he is in complete control of the story, giving us ups and downs, never losing a step along the way, both art teams give us wonderful pieces, similar but unique, Yarsky’s drawings are full of facial expressions and a “render”-like feel that plays with the illumination. And Ward toys between realism and abstract, relying heavily on inks/blacks to give a feeling of depth as the story keeps evolving and turning darker.

Next year this book will continue and evolve into “The End”, as Lemire has teased, and we can only expect a satisfying conclusion to the “Black Hammer” epic. – Ramon Piña

9. The Flash

“The Flash” is arguably my dark horse favorite of the “Infinite Frontier” era. It’s a tall order, following up on Joshua Williamson’s hundred issue opus on Barry Allen. However, Jeremy Adams has answered the call with a treatise on Wally West, treating the character with more care and respect than he’s received in over a decade.

The opening arc (#768-771 and 2021 Annual) is absolutely brilliant, a Flash family tour de force that is more worthy of the “Flash Rebirth” mantle than the original Geoff Johns series. Adams provided rehabilitation and redemption for Wally through his quest through the speed force while also celebrating the Flash family at large. The issue featuring Wally (as Jai) talking with his adult daughter Iris is one of the most satisfying scenes I’ve read this year. The following issue, which saw Wally confront the events of “Heroes in Crisis,” satisfyingly retconned the events of that series and set up a “terrific” new status quo for Wally.

The book has remained strong after the initial arc with a series of short arcs and one-offs, leading to the current Eclipso storyline which has been a delight thus far. The extremely meta issue #776 was among my favorite single issues of the year due to the high level of creativity and reader engagement. Plus, it was just plain fun.

The biggest detractor for this run has been the inconsistency in art. The opening arc featured a bevy of artists, highlighting the various Flash characters and eras, but was primarily helmed by Brandon Peterson. Later issues featured significant contributions by Fernando Pasarin and Will Conrad, neither of whom manage to capture the dynamism inherent in a character like “The Flash.” Pasarin, whose work I’ve enjoyed the most on this run, seems to be hitting his speed force powered stride in recent issues. Despite my quibbles with the art, this has been a delightful run and I cannot wait to see what Adams and company have in store for Wally in 2022. – Zach Wilkerson

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8. Department of Truth

“Department of Truth” is the only series that could have stories about school shooters and bigfoot, and treat both topics with the same thoughtful mania. That’s because it’s a series that pulls no punches- it’s about the weird power of belief, and how controlling information can control history. It’s a psychedelic sci-fi metaphor for all sorts of things, and it really gets to the core of what motivates people, and how they form their morality. The paranoia that James Tynion conveys is only matched by Martin Simmonds unforgettable artwork. Simmonds’ pages are sometimes stomach churning, and often employ the kind of collage work you’d expect to find in an experimental Vertigo comic in the 80s. There are few comics that can match “Department of Truth” for ambition and though many attempt to say something profound about our current times, few stories have a better angle. – Jake Hill

7. Something is Killing the Children

Now in its third year, many of the mysteries that were initially posed by the cryptic horror show “Something is Killing the Children” have been answered. As with any good conspiracy series, though, those answers have served to simultaneously widen the scope of this world plagued with invisible monsters and open it up to bigger, grander questions. Writer James Tynion IV has said in interviews that the book was originally a miniseries and expanded after its sudden popularity. It’s a testament to the craft of the creative team that the expansion has robbed the series of none of its bite.

Last year’s issues offered a talky, melancholy break from the monster slaying, letting its cast stew in the tragedy of all the killed children. It was, as might have been expected, the calm before the storm, and this year Tynion, Werther Dell’edera, Miquel Muerto and AndWorld Design delivered a brutal and bloody final act for the saga of Archer’s Peak that shattered the bottled, small-town narrative that had been a staple of the series thus far.

Yet somehow the series’ fourth arc, a jump to the past that introduces us to an Erica before she became Erica Slaughter, is the best the book has been since its introduction. There’s a danger with a character as mysterious as Erica that answering the questions of her backstory would rob her of what makes her so compelling, but “Something is Killing the Children” has proven that it’s far cooler to be human than to be a secretive sword-wielding ninja. The arc allows Erica to exist in the readers’ minds as both innocent and battle-hardened warrior, and the stakes of the series are more potent as a result. – Reid Carter

6. Nightwing

It is interesting that we have two Bat-books on our Best Ongoings list, but neither features Batman himself. As good as the Batman focused books have been, what Tom Taylor is doing on “Nightwing” feels like more of a step forward than anything happening to Bruce Wayne. With Dick Grayson now the beneficiary of Alfred’s wealth, it is allowing Dick to approach his benefactor status in a way that is very different than how Bruce did. Blüdhaven isn’s Gotham, either, and before having to put a pin in the book for a few ‘Fear State’ crossovers, Taylor was doing a lot of work to establish Nightwing’s home as a distinct setting of its own.

Bruno Redondo has been doing solid work at DC for a few years now, but has really come into his own in his collaborations with Taylor and, as evidenced by December’s ‘one panel’ issue, is challenging himself to do even more. His clean lines and dynamic sense work perfectly on this former acrobat, and give the book a fluidity that all Nightwing books should hace, but often don’t. – Brian Salvatore

5. Hellions

As a comic book critic, I have an incredibly difficult time talking about “Hellions” due to the dark nature of the title. “Hellions” is raw, unflinching, and honest. The past year has seen this team fall apart thanks to the secrets the “Hellions” kept from each other. Writer Zeb Wells partners here with artist Stephen Segovia to tell what is arguably the bleakest of the X-Men titles currently published in the Krakoa-line of comic books. Wells has found a great niche to take characters who are fighting their own demons. Wells and Segovia join these mutants together in a group of dysfunctional X-Men who work loosely with the villainous Mr. Sinister. “Hellions” has put readers through unflinching plot developments with the characters. Issue #17 was another heart-breaking development from Nanny and Orphanmaker that still lingers in my thoughts several weeks after publication. Segovia’s art is able to unlock the sinister nature Wells is hinting at from his script. Segovia captures the raw reaction and inner trauma from the other characters. Characters like Psylocke frequently dart strange glances that make readers consider what their true inner thoughts are. Segovia’s art is nimble and can even lessen the tension for spouts of humor depending on the tone of the issue. “Hellions” has been a creative success for the Krakoa comic books. While this series is not continuing forward much longer, I hope that Wells and Segovia will continue to craft strong work in Krakoa next year! – Alexander Jones

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4. Black Widow

Often, when a comic book comes out because the titular character is getting a movie, it can be a bit taxing. Characters can sometimes feel shoehorned in and the stories being told can feel a bit forced or unimportant. With Kelly Thompson’s “Black Widow,” that’s never been a problem. In its first year, the book followed Natasha gaining then losing a family. The idea of Natasha not only finding love and having a child, but feeling content, was a genuinely inventive step for the character, bringing her fresh depth and a great emotional fresh start (great being relative to narrative quality and not so much, y’know, her emotional state).

In its second year, the focus has been found family. Natasha is learning how to navigate putting trust in other people. The cast, Yelena, Anya Corazon, and the new and lovely Lucy Nguyen make for an excellent compliment to our hero. With Yelena, there’s history and and someone who can act as a good balancing force for Natasha. Anya and Lucy are mentees who bring out the best in both Natasha and Yelena and seeing them grow as heroes in their own right is awesome.

The art, principally done by Elena Casagrande, is superb. The action is laid out inventively and the characters are illustrated with grace and force. Casagrande’s art made it clear how much style matters in a series like this. From the way characters move to the costume designing the landscapes, everything feels cool.

Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande have constructed an incredible series with “Black Widow.” Gone are the days of generic super spy fare for Natasha. Long life rich character drama rooted in love and friendship. – Quinn Tassin

3. Robin

Of all of those to don the Robin costume, only Damian Wayne had never headlined his own ongoing series. Until this year.

Joshua Williamson and Gleb Melnikov took all of the aspects of Damian’s character and created a bespoke series that wouldn’t have fit any other Robin. The dual focuses on combat and familial identity might sound like strange bedfellows, but Williamson knows Damian inside and out, and makes the book feel incredibly natural.

No offense to Williamson, whose talents have been recognized for some time, but Melnikov has really been the star of the series thus far. Melnikov brings a manga influence to the book that feels perfect for Damian, and takes it a step further by giving Damian a manga to read in his downtime. Melnikov’s art is playful yet extreme, showing Damian struggling with both the brutality of the Lazarus Tournament and making friends. It feels both true to being a young teenager and also being the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul. – Brian Salvatore

2. Immortal Hulk

The fact that “Immortal Hulk” made it onto our Best Ongoing list every single year of its run, barring its first in 2018, is a triumph. The fact that it was #1 in all those years is a miracle and worth celebrating all on its own. While some might be sad it’s only at #2 in its final year, frankly, that’s only because our #1 had an even stronger year.

If you’ve been reading these end of year write ups, then you know why “Immortal Hulk” is here. It’s gruesome, it’s thought-provoking, and it feels additive and celebratory in a way not many Big 2 books are able to pull off. It’s a damn near perfect book. Al Ewing made a name for himself on it for good reason.

2021 saw most of the long-running threads come to a close with the final confrontation with the One-Below-All and The Leader, rendered in a stunningly surreal final issue that transforms The Hulk from a monster of the atomic age into a biblical protagonist, without sacrificing the strong supporting cast the creators had built up around him. Issue #49 in particular contained some bold presentational choices that I think about even now, all these months later.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that “Immortal Hulk” is one of the best, most consistent series of the past five years – I would even go so far as to say the new millennium – and the series’ close in 2021 only cements that feeling. It stuck the landing and earned its spot all the way up here once more. – Elias Rosner

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1. Daredevil

The thing about Marvel’s “Daredevil” is that it’s consistently been one of the best comics for decades, not just this past year: from Miller and Janson, to Waid and Samnee, and now Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, and Mike Hawthorne’s run, it is one of the safest bets for a great new superhero/crime read. One of the reasons why is that Matt Murdock is such a well defined character, that writers are forced to step up their game to convey how he sees the world (no pun intended), and his Catholic faith is so specific that they cannot be as vague about his moral code as they might be with other pulp heroes.

This year’s issues saw Daredevil (crucially, not Murdock) in prison for manslaughter, while Elektra filled his boots as the new Guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. Furthermore, it kicked off with something very unusual for the series: a two-part tie-in into the crossover ‘King in Black,’ a bold choice given part of the reason the comic is such a strong and accessible title is because it largely ignores what else is going on in the Marvel Universe. The creative team managed to make the title villain’s intrusion thematically gel with Murdock’s fear and self-loathing, as well as Elektra’s journey from killer to full-time savior, and left us with an unforgettable description of the smell of symbiotes.

The rest of the year saw Zdarsky turn his attention away from police brutality and corruption, the theme that had dominated his run thus far, to the inherent awfulness of prisons, which literally and figuratively rots Daredevil away from within; to see a Marvel comic imply carceral justice needs to be abolished was simply extraordinary. Meanwhile, Elektra battled the weight of her new heroic expectations, and faced none other than Bullseye, the man who murdered her, and not just him, but several clones! And perhaps most extraordinarily, the Kingpin fell in love again for the first time in decades, this time with Typhoid Mary.

So much of it was rendered with Checchetto and colorist Marcio Menyz’s infernal flair, that it was a shame towards the end of the year, as the artistic team had to concentrate on “Devil’s Reign,” that Zdarsky had to conclude the arc with several fill-in artists: regardless, “Daredevil” continues to set the bar for how thrilling and engaging a superhero title should be — long may it reign. – Christopher Chiu-Tabet

//TAGS | 2021 Year in Review

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