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.
10. Kelly Thompson
It’s not hard to see how Kelly Thompson become one of Marvel’s go-to writers. After years writing great books like “Hawkeye” and “West Coast Avengers,” Thompson its now writing on 3 major comics for the publisher: “Black Widow,” “Captain Marvel,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” In the Eisner-winning “Black Widow,” Thompson has given us the best solo book the character has ever seen. A great spy story with a wildly strong supporting cast all about Natasha learning how to trust other people, “Black Widow” has been a very pleasant surprise. “Captain Marvel” is experiencing the longest run it has since Carol Danvers took on the title and it’s well-deserved. From time travel to magic to romance to family drama, this series has had a little bit of everything. This year has seen a great arc about Carol hitting some emotional lows, getting messy, and then picking herself back up and putting herself together again. Thompson only just started in a group of new writers on “The Amazing Spider-Man” but she’s done great work with a short arc that balanced fun vampire fights with solid emotional beats from the relatively large supporting cast of the current run. And all of that is just 2021! Soon enough, Thompson will be turning out some new, very cool-looking creator-owned work via Substack, the industry’s new frontier. Wherever she goes from here, you’re gonna wanna go with her. – Quinn Tassin
9. Dan Watters
The most interesting thing about Dan Watters is how difficult it is to draw a through line through his works. He’s been a name to watch for a few years now, but this year feels like the first where he could really cut loose. His work weaves between impressionistic dreams and stark nightmares. It’s a testament to his skill that his words are never overwhelmed by the visual feasts turned out by DaNi, Kishore Mohan, Caspar Wjingaard or any of his other skilled partners.
Reuniting with his “Coffin Bound” team in Gotham for “Arkham City: The Order of the World,” Watters created a neatly disorganized urban hellscape, transmuting classic Batman villains into the victims of a world that hates and fears them. “The Picture of Everything Else” somehow makes The Picture of Dorian Gray darker and (if possible) gayer, linking the superficiality of artistic expression and the use of art as an expression of power. “Home Sick Pilots” mashes up a haunted house horror story with a punk rock supernatural mecha throwdown. There’s a wildness to all these premises that goes above and beyond high concept, which marries perfectly with the abstract forms rendered by DaNi and Mohan in particular (as well as the energetic lettering from Aditya Bidikar on all three books).Continued below
As much as Watters’s strength as a writer comes from matching his tone to the strengths of his collaborators, the great success of his output this year is in his understanding of loneliness. He writes characters that are disparate in circumstances, but all find themselves isolated from a larger chaotic world, capturing the everyday sadness of being alone in a crowded room. That melancholy feels perfectly at home and relevant in 2021, and I can’t wait to see how Watters builds from this year into the future. – Reid Carter
8. Tom Taylor
It’s no small secret that comic books have had a rough couple of years. Fortunately, it looks like things are turning around and the good news is that we’re looking at a time period where there are a lot of great new comics that are either in the pipeline or already out. What’s even better is that it looks like writer Tom Taylor is smack dab in the middle of this new age of great comics.
Let’s be absolutely clear here, it’s been no small secret that Tom Taylor is a great writer. Over the last decade the Australian playwright and comic book creator has worked hard to establish himself as a capable and dependable talent across the mainstream comic book industry with his work on titles like Star Wars and the popular Injustice franchise from DC. While 2020 was a great year for Taylor which saw him working on some great books featuring great characters like Constantine and Nightwing, 2021 was the year where he became a trend setter working with DC heavyweights like the Joker, Batman, and Superman. But it’s his current run on “Superman: Son of Kal-El” that has garnered him the most praise and attention, successfully bringing the Man of Steel’s son into the spotlight and positioning him as a bisexual icon for years to come.
If 2021 was any metric to go by, the future of the comic book industry is bright and Tom Taylor is set to be a major part of it. – Matt Blair
7. Vita Ayala
2021 has been the year that the mainstream comics industry has embraced Vita Ayala and realized just how bloody excellent at writing they are. Ayala’s work has expanded out into the sprawling DC and Marvel universes big time this year, having excellent appearances in the “Heroes Reborn” crossover with “Night Gwen” and a terrific story in the “DC Pride” one-shot about Renee Montoya that makes an excellent case for giving them an ongoing “Question” series (If you’re reading this DC, I’ll buy it!). They’ve even had a hand in launching the new Milestone universe with a tonally perfect take on “Static”!
The book that has shown Ayala’s high level of craftsmanship, however, is their “New Mutants” run. This book has settled its cast into roles that pay homage to each character’s complex and interesting history, yet propel them forward with a fresh direction as mentors for Krakoa’s youth. This direction shift has manifested in so many perfect ways, with moments like the generational dissonance between Cosmar and Dani Moonstar, Magik just embracing her nature as a full-blown eldritch queer disaster, and putting James Proudstar in gym shorts… oh my. Ayala is giving each character a voice that shows them trying their hardest to shape a younger generation as fresh young adults themselves, and it feels genuine and realistic, which isn’t something you see often in comics of this type!
Even with all these killer titles under their belt, Ayala looks to be continuing their hot streak into 2022, and I’m 250% on board. Ayala is the voice that superhero comics of a new generation need to feel fresh again, and I can’t wait to see more from them. – Rowan Grover
6. Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang had a pretty low key 2021 compared to years past. He didn’t put out one of his typically prestigious OGNs or a critically acclaimed creator-owned series this year. The corporate comics work he did this year also seemed to be underrated, not doing the showy stuff that typically breaks Marvel and DC into the awards circuit. That’s not a knock on the writer as much as it is a testament to just how much he brings to the average year. Nevertheless, Gene Luen Yang got a vote from me and earned his spot on our list by bringing his heady sense of comics history and warmth to every title he was on. Take “Batman/Superman” for instance: a creative team relaunch pitched to readers as a simple “What if?” style story where the 1940’s pulp Batman and Superman film serials meet and crossover one another. To cop the 2021 viral phrase: Gene Luen Yang not only “understood the assignment”, but brought even more to it than he had to. Yang mixed and remixed established elements of the properties in dramatic, surprising ways. Showing us something new with a Batman and Superman crossover is tough to do after 80 years, but Yang found a way. With “Shang-Chi”, he managed to run a parallel campaign to the Marvel Studios movie and put his own authentic stamp on the title without too obvious a spectre of corporate synergy looming over it. But the most exciting Big Two development from Yang was the introduction of “Monkey Prince” – a new character that attempts to meld the lore of “Journey to the West” with DC’s history of Apokoliptian war. If all of this amounts to an under-the-radar year for Yang, that just shows the kind of cache of quality he carries now. – Vince OstrowskiContinued below
5. Chip Zdarsky
To say Chip Zdarsky has done some of his best work this year wouldn’t be an understatement. While he’s continued to put out well-written comics (“Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow,” for instance, worked a lot better than I thought it would have) it comes as no surprise that his strongest work this year comes from “Daredevil.” This is his third year on the title, and it’s only gotten bigger and better as he’s continued to work on it. From Matt Murdock’s struggles with the law and morality to Elektra trying to take his place, from multiple Bullseye clones to the romance between Wilson Fisk and Typhoid Mary, every single story beat and issue has continued to be engaging and impactful. Even the “King in Black” tie-in managed to continue the story and add to the character arcs in the midst of Knull’s invasion interrupting things.
All the while, Chip is demonstrating his grasp of horror as well, with “Stillwater” proving to be a gripping, engaging thriller of a comic that always leaves you wanting more. Who’d have thought that things can only get more horrifying when characters can’t die?
Chip has continued to show his mastery of characters, story pacing, creating and exploring important themes, and engaging readers with every single issue. With “Devil’s Reign” on the horizon, and plenty more “Stillwater” to come, Chip has earned a place on this list for 2021, and we can expect more great things in 2022 as well. – Robbie Pleasant
4. Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire is a seasoned veteran when it comes to writing comics. Lemire has written for DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse. His bread and butter are the titles he’s helped make using a sympathetic protagonist combined with an out-of-this-world narrative. He tends to find beauty in the usually broken and dystopian world, such as “Sweet Tooth” that had a return with a mini-series titled “Sweet Tooth: The Return.” It’s more of a soft reboot of the original but with darker themes and details that make the world much more complex, which Lemire loves to lean into.
In 2021 he came out with two more originals, with “Mazebook” with Dark Horse Comics. and “Prodigal” with Image Comics. The first is a story about a tortured father trying to make sense of the world after the death of his daughter, and he always makes me furiously turn the page because he creates this uncertain world without much dialogue to show the pain and loneliness of this man. Lemire always finds this way to connect with broken characters and wish them luck on their journeys.
“Prodigal” is Lemire’s project that lets him mix science fiction with historical fiction and create an overall trippy storyline that feels like it’s constantly switching perspectives and questions the reality of everything. Lemire flourishes in creating worlds that don’t feel real but are still grounded in reality. He’s finishing his first arcs for these stories by the end of 2021, so we can only wonder what’s next for these storylines for 2022. – Alex Manzo
3. Al Ewing
It’s probably not that big of a surprise to see Al Ewing on yet another year’s end best-of list. Seeing Al Ewing’s name on a comic is a guarantee that you’re going to be in for a quality series that masterfully blends different genres and tones while providing some powerful storytelling. In 2021, Ewing gave us space opera and gritty sci-fi, explorations into the mystical and the eldritch, all while playing with the formatting of comics.
One of the things that makes Ewing great is his ability to shift between tones and genres. This is probably best represented by Ewing’s three space-faring comics, representing the different ways writers have approached the genre. You have your gritty blue-collar The Expanse adjacent “We Only Find Them When They’re Dead,” the joy of exploring the unknown in “S.W.O.R.D.” and the sprawling space opera of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” In fact, Ewing is currently one of the most prominent voices in exploring the cosmic side of Marvel and seems to be building something big up in the stars.
But what really sets 2021 apart for Al Ewing is his successful completion of “Immortal Hulk.” That alone would earn Ewing a spot on this list, creating what will probably be considered one of, if not the, definitive run on The Hulk. Ewing brought an excellent balance of eldritch horror and action-packed moments to a fascinating and well-executed character examination. It’s a fitting conclusion to an excellent series.Continued below
2021 was a good year for Al Ewing, and as he continues his exploration of the far reaches of space, it’s safe to assume he will continue to be on this list for a while. -Joe Skonce
2. James Tynion IV
James Tynion IV had a great year in 2020. “Batman” was feeling the best it had in nearly 4 years (and maybe even longer,) proving me horribly, fantastically wrong about him being a safe, but unexciting, bet for the title. “Something is Killing the Children” was crushing it at every turn, while “Department of Truth” and “Wynd” showed that there was no end to Tynion’s range and talents. He started an indie horror anthology magazine, “Razorblades,” and the insight contained in his newsletter underscored just how damn smart this man is. That last bit has nothing to do with him as a writer, and yet everything. Here’s a man who not only gets how to make a good story, but knows how to ensure people are READING his good stories.
2021 took all that and ratcheted it up to 11.
Just in output alone, Tynion is crushing it. He’s got five indie comics, three DC comics (not including the two backups,) and “Razorblades.” And that’s not even talking his frankly ludicrously consistent newsletter-stroke-comics-via-Substack stuff! If the only books he were putting out were his new books, not including Substack, I STILL would rank him this high. “The Nice House on the Lake” is a revelation of intrigue and terrible mystery while the “The Joker” is everything one could ask for, and more, from a series with a title that is the epitome of “why does this exist?” He even took a page (and a writer) from Jeff Lemire in “House of Slaughter,” which may rival its sister book in featuring my favorite characters.
To say Tynion has become one of the most talented writers in comics is to say that the sky is blue. It’s been truly amazing to see him go from (some of my favorite, though quite wordy) backups on “Batman” during the early New 52 to comics juggernaut. James Tynion IV’s books run the gamut of heady, fun, horrific, whimsical, gut-wrenching, and absolutely, gobsmackingly exciting, thanks as well to all of the majorly talented creators he works with. Seriously, this guy knows how to pick, and write distinctly for, each and every one of them, and it’s a marvel.
If 2020 was the year Tynion showed up to comics’ door with a scrumptious fresh baked pie, then 2021 is the year he came with a three course, Michelin star dinner. – Elias Rosner
1. Ram V
Born and raised in India, Ram V read comics profusely as a child. Only rarely did he come across any titles from the Big Two. This year, aside from writing great indie series like “The Many Deaths Laila Starr” and the more recently released “Radio Apocalypse,” V also played a huge role in the DC Universe, writing high profile titles like “Justice League Dark,” “Catwoman” and “Swamp Thing.” Notably, within this deluge of floppies there’s some truly outstanding work in each of these series.
Talking about the way he approaches franchise characters in a recent interview V said: “I genuinely believe new stories are to be found by giving these characters to the world and bringing in voices from all over the world to tell their stories.” Not coincidentally, Levi Kamei – V’s iteration of Swamp Thing – also hails from India. Undeniably, the representation of South Asians is great, but there’s much more to it than that. V brings an intriguing, unique perspective to all of the titles he authors. Everything about his writing – tone, vocabulary, syntax – sounds decidedly different from the vast majority of other mainstream titles. The rhythm and pace of his narration have an uncommon, almost poetic quality. He’s far from the only author to explore his characters’ inner lives, but he does so exceptionally well.
Levi Kamei’s understanding of and experience in The Green, for example, stands apart from other versions you may have read before. The Green isn’t really a place, a plane or a realm. It’s information. It’s an idea. It’s the experience of life itself, a living reality of intergenerational memories. Here, V is able to balance his characters’ tangible, sensory input and with the abstract ideas that drift and swirl in their heads. “The forest is littered with the effluent of war,” muses the Swamp Thing, “but this place has survived worse. Life, though trampled, is true to its purpose. It lives.”
In contrast to this amorphous, philosophical dream world, V’s version of Alleytown and Selina Kyle/Catwoman is gritty, tough and hard scrabble. There is no clear right and wrong. No obvious heroes or villains. Everyday life is a challenge. Surviving from one day to the next is a victory unto itself. Selina Kyle is a folk hero. A Robin Hood-esque figure who stands against the wealthy establishment, a champion of the people.
As a storyteller, V is as versatile as anyone out there. His story structure is rock solid. His plot twists work to a T. His characters and their backstories are powerful yet unobtrusive, seamless and organic. He doesn’t waste valuable page space with extraneous thoughts and details. The thing that makes V stand out and takes his work to a higher level is his ability to explore and express his characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings as they wrestle with big questions that don’t have any clear cut answers. – John Schaidler