Goodbye 2021, and hello 2022! Well, not quite yet. We may be in January of the new year now, but This Month in Comics stops for no one. Let’s take a look back at December of 2021 to see what stories made our hearts warm, which stories stopped us cold, and which ones gave us either too much or too little. This month certainly had its highlights — from some A+ Marvel stories to quieter, more thoughtful but nonetheless exciting tales, let’s dive in and see what we had. This represents only a slice of the pie from this past month and this past year, but we think it’s a generally tasty slice. Eat up, and join us as we take a look at This Month in Comics!
Best Milestone Issue: “Avengers” #50
End of the year posts are a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come, and where better to do that than on “Avengers,” a series, franchise, and cast of characters that has honestly changed the face of comics history. Who among us doesn’t remember wandering into Iron Man in the late 2000s? Look where we are now. But we digress. Nostalgia alone doesn’t make a series, and in this case it’s a good thing that this milestone 750th issue packs a punch. It includes many intersecting storylines, including the aftermath of “World War She-Hulk.” Jason Aaron is in top satisfying form, and while sometimes long runs like this can feel like they’re phoned in, that really isn’t the case for “Avengers” #50. While the artwork shifts between artists from story to story, it still feels cohesive and, well, generally masterful. One note about the art is that there’s an attention to detail here that will delight old school “Avengers” fans; because these stories span different eras, we get to see a lot of different character designs. Sometimes “Avengers” #50 feels like walking through a museum, but not a boring, old and stuffy one filled with pilfered artifacts, but one filled with awesome dioramas of really cool stuff — think the giant whale room at The Museum of Natural History. Truly, “Avengers” #50 is a collection of icons and iconic moments. Check this out if you want a reminder for why this particular cast of heroes has such staying power.
Best Unexpected but Welcome Sequel: “Maniac of New York: The Bronx is Burning” #1
Ah yes, our unexpected, but not unwelcome surprise. Sorry, no lightsabers in this one — but still plenty of slicing and dicing. Last May, we were shown “Maniac of New York,” a wonderfully violent tale of a killer on the run in New York that was part police procedural, part horror, part satire, and all around a good time. It’s not that a sequel was unwarranted, just that the world is large and can only fit so many comics to it. So when we learned that Elliot Kalan and Andrea Mutti were back to the Big Apple, we had to check it out. The sequel, “Maniac of New York: The Bronx is Burning” #1 expands the world with enough exposition to pique our interest, but not so much that we get bogged down in details. The writing thrills and the kills are still just as brutal as the first installment of the story. But really, “Maniac of New York: The Bronx is Burning” #1 is on this list because Mutti’s artwork is a sight to behold. It’s bold, gruesome, yet tasteful as well. Killing is a lost art, we suppose, but it’s good to see it revived here with such verve. The story also gives the reader some time to catch up at the start of it, so honestly it’s not the worst as a standalone story if you didn’t get a chance to catch the first installment. But really, this is an endorsement of both — so pick them up if you haven’t gotten a chance yet!
Best One Shot: “Wastelanders: Wolverine” #1
One shots occupy this odd space in comics. The comics format is usually short-form and episodic, the former trait’s power resting on the latter. Comics work because while each installment only gives so much, the content accrues over time until you’re served a rich, lore-heavy world filled with images beyond your wildest dreams. Okay, so we skipped some points from A to B, but the idea still stands. One shots disrupt that paradigm, and are obligated to fill out a complete story in only a little bit of space, totally eschewing the episodic nature of comics. Blasphemy, or innovation in the form? Well, sometimes one shots stink, so it’s worth giving praise to one that brings us joy. “Wastelanders: Wolverine” #1 is just that story. When we first reviewed it in our Wrapping Wednesday column, we called it “what an episode of The Mandalorian would look like with Marvel characters, and we stand by that. “Wastelanders: Wolverine” #1 is moody, full of action, and well designed. The art and colors in this are exquisite, thanks to Ibrahim Moustafa’s and VC’s Cory Petit’s hands, respectively. Check this one out if you’re curious about what happened in the Old Man Logan storyline with Wolverine and Bruce Banner’s baby (or one of them, at least). And the best part? It all fits into one slim but impactful issue. We think this one will have something for both completionist Marvel fans and more casual readers alike. Check it out!Continued below
Most Buoyant Story of the Month: “Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer” #1
Look, we don’t like being overly negative on this site, but we also won’t shy away when something doesn’t meet our expectations. It’s for that reason that “Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer” #1 is our most buoyant story, based on the fact that there’s a lot of bloat here giving it air. In this metaphor, the life raft of “Buffy” technically stays afloat, but in the metaphor within the metaphor ( Take that, “Tales of the Black Freighter”), it sinks fast. So what went wrong here? To rephrase our previous review of the story from earlier last month, “Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer” #1 moves too quickly, picking up disparate plot points from neither here nor there. The whole thing feels too immense and too unwieldly by the time it’s finished. That, paired with some awkward tonal shifts, lead to a generally unsatisfying story. Look, “Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer” #1 isn’t a total flop, but we wouldn’t be upset with some narrative shifts in future issues that help make things feel more manageable. If “Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer” #1 has one thing giving it air (the good kind, this time), it’s the art. Joe Jaro represents the main cast faithfully and deftly, so we appreciate that. There’s a kernel of something here, and all we can hope is that it grows in future installments.
Best Mini-event kickoff: “Devil’s Reign” #1
Let’s end with a bang, shall we? “Devil’s Reign” #1 really impressed us. Many Marvel events, cross-overs, or what have you start in media res on a Perfectly Normal Day, before something uncouth happens and everything goes sideways. “Devil’s Reign” #1 doesn’t waste any time, and follows the swift and brutal moves of Wilson Fisk, who uses his political power to settle a grudge and ongoing feud between himself and Daredevil. Things get gnarly quickly, and “Devil’s Reign” #1 is just a smart, efficient, and exciting tale. Fisk makes use of the Thunderbolt team to track his prey, which works well in this story and makes for solid opponents. Maybe this is why “Devil’s Reign” #1 works so well: the bad guys know what they’re doing, and the good guys are believably on the ropes. We don’t know exactly where this event is headed, but it’s managed to hook us quickly with effective stakes. What more can we ask for? Well, we can always ask for kick-ass art, and in this case, Marco Checchetto’s illustrations paired with Clayton Cowles’s lettering kick us squarely in the ass. There’s a sense of dread and darkness on these pages. When we read “Devil’s Reign” #1, we feel like we’re reading some kind of dark omen. The worst (and therefore, the best) is yet to come with this one. Check this one out if you haven’t yet, because we have a feeling you’re going to want to be here for this ride.