by Zachary Whittaker
First and foremost, while this is our best of 2020 list, this is a ‘best of’ written by someone buying books…so it isn’t going to include everything that came out this year. To be honest with you, I couldn’t afford everything that came out this year, hell I couldn’t even afford all the books I wanted this year. So if there’s something you’ve loved this year that hasn’t made it into these recommendations let me know, as much as I’m writing this based on what I’ve read and would recommend, I’d love to hear what you think comic book readers have been missing out on.
So in no particular order…
Well the best of DC in 2020 as far as I can tell has been the time they’ve spent releasing DC indie books. You know the ones, all those non-canon Black Label titles.
Basketful Of Heads
The first book from Joe Hill’s Hill House imprint is everything you might expect from the seasoned horror comics writer and Leomacs artwork is the perfect blend of stunning modern visuals and classic horror vibes. I’ve already written a full blurb back in our Halloween recommendations, so in a nutshell; it’s about a girl fending off criminals with an enchanted axe that keeps the heads it cuts off alive and talking once they’ve parted with their body.
There’s no shortage of Harley Quinn these days, but Stjepan Šejić taking on writing and art duties for this retelling of her origin story is definitely something unique that’s worth your time. Feeling like a darker and more realistic telling of the Batman animated series, Harleen is a book that makes you understand how Harleen became Harley, and it does it with gorgeous artwork and great writing throughout.
Joker: Killer Smile
This might be the most sinister Jeff Lemire book I’ve ever read, it’s that quiet creeping horror that takes you by surprise. Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork compliments Lemire’s writing perfectly, which I think speaks volumes for how well the two work together as a creative team. In a nutshell Killer Smile is the story of another therapist trying to figure out the Joker, while ultimately learning that that’s not something you can do without losing who you are in the process.
The Low, Low Woods
There’s something wrong with the town of Shudder-To-Think, women regularly black out with no memory of what’s happened, there’s skinless men crawling out of holes in the ground, deer women lurking the woods and only two teenage friends willing to investigate what’s causing it all. This is Carmen Maria Machado’s first comic book series, and she’s done a great job of telling an interesting supernatural, body horror tale set in small town America. I’m really looking forward to what other series she’ll write in the future. While I’ve praised her artwork before when I wrote about Coffin Bound I can’t help but say more good things about Dani as an artist; she brings forth a great combination of nightmarish horror and authentic emotion.
Wonder Woman: Dead Earth
It’s Wonder Woman after the end of the world, and it’s written and drawn by Daniel Warren Johnson, how was this not going to be super cool? Taking place after the end of the world, we catch up with what’s left of the DC universe. When members of a tribe stumble into what’s left of the Batcave, they’re saved from a monster attack by a recently woken from stasis Wonder Woman who’ll do everything she can to discover what happened to Earth and help save what’s left of humanity from the monsters that wander the land.
The Pride, Season Two
With the core members of The Pride in place the team look to expand their ranks to prepare for new threats and show that The Pride stands for everyone. In this second volume of The Pride creator Joe Glass expands on the original series in a wonderful way, organically introducing new characters to the series that work wonders for positive representation while telling an interesting alternative superhero story.
Lost On Planet Earth
Basil Miranda wants to be a Captain in the Interplanetary Fleet by the time she’s 25…unless she doesn’t? There’s no mistaking that Lost On Planet Earth has a clear Star Trek inspiration, but it serves as a recognisable backdrop to a story about not having everything figured out and discovering your own path.
The story of someone using a new dating app that makes it appear that you’re seeing someone to get your friends and family of your back, and another person who’s her fake boyfriend. I don’t want to give too much away, but Virtually Yours is funny, heartfelt and relatable in equal measure.
Blue In Green
Jazz music, ghosts and the unraveling of reality, what’s not to like? Ram V is one of my favourite writers in comics right now and I can’t recommend checking out his books enough. This is the second collaboration I’ve read of his with artist Anand RK and Anand’s art style is very different here; he’s clearly channeling some Dave McKean vibes which makes for some gorgeous and nightmarish visuals to accompany this supernatural horror story.
Definitely not your usual Dracula story. Taking place in 1970’s Los Angeles, Dracula, Motherfucker! tells the story of a crime scene photographer getting caught in an ongoing feud between the resurrected prince of darkness, and some of his ex-wives. While Alex Di Campi’s writing is great in the graphic novel, I really feel Erica Henderson’s artwork steals the show, the whole book is a glorious whirlwind of colour and outstanding character design that you’ll want to read again and again.
It’s just your average story about a young girl turning into a tree, just like past members of her family apparently have. It’s an interesting blend of supernatural mystery and body horror, never giving too much away but always keeping you hooked. It’s no secret that I’m a big Jeff Lemire fan so I was always going to give this series a try, but Family Tree has easier exceeded my expectations, with Lemire and artist Phil Hester creating a series that’s reminiscent of both Stephen King’s work, Swamp Thing and Lemire’s own run on Animal Man.
Back in my teens I was always drawn to horror and science fiction short story collections and anthologies, but for some reason I didn’t much pay attention to the comic book equivalent until the last year or so and I’m glad I have. Although not every story may be for you, Stairway Anthology has a little bit of something for everyone, showcasing mostly up and coming creators, with tales of time travel, alien abductions, and a whole heap of other oddities. This was always going to appeal to me, and while some stories are clearly concluded others have the potential for continuations I very much hope we see in the not so distant future.
I’ve already talked about this one in our Halloween Recommendations, so I’ll keep it brief. Izzy is being hunted by the Eartheater, an unstoppable force of a being that will wipe her from existence. Bitter about this she decides to remove every memory of herself from the world before her time is up. It’s a glorious, grindhouse inspired tale with an incredible creative team in Dan Watters and Dani, absolutely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something weird and nihilistic.
By now I think I’ve said everything that can be said about Money Shot. Simply put it’s been my absolute favourite comic book this year, capturing a great balance of comedy, science fiction and sex positive storytelling. It’s an absolute must read if you’re aiming to catch up on books from this year.
The Necromancer’s Map
This is a continuation of the Song For The Dead series, but it also works as a standalone graphic novel. Following good-guy necromancer Bethany and her recently resurrected warrior friend as they search for a guild of necromancers using a map they can’t read. Along the way they end up befriending a cursed wizard who can only do spells involving household tasks. It’s a book that packs real D&D vibes and it’s a really fun read.
Family secrets and mysterious deaths plague the Blaine family, and when Chase Blaine suddenly becomes the legal guardians of his niece and nephew they’ll be faced with threats from both his own past and the family’s.
With shades of both Locke & Key and H.P. Lovecraft this is a series that’s stronger and spookier than the sum of it’s parts.
Cult Classic: Creature Feature
The second instalment of Eliot Rahal’s Cult Classic series packs the same nostalgic B-movie punch as Return To Whisper did, and that’s entirely what I’m here for. A glowing meteorite lands just outside the small town of Whisper, unleashing something otherworldly from the lake accompanied by an army of parasite’s that can literally make your skeleton jump out of your body! Honestly I don’t think this series could be more aimed at me.
It doesn’t really matter what the series is, if Christian Ward is drawing it, I’m probably going to be interested, as was the case with Invisible Kingdom. As seen in previous books like Infinite Vacation and ODY-C Ward’s artwork is the perfect choice for a science fiction series, and this is no exception. Telling the story of how two individuals uncover a conspiracy between the leaders of a solar system’s dominant religion and a massive super corporation.
Machine Gun Wizards
Set in Chicago during prohibition, Machine Gun Wizards retells the well known story of Al Capone and Eliot Ness reimagined to bring together organised crime and magic. You’ve just read my thoughts on Christian Ward as an artist, but this is his first time writing comics, and honestly it’s a fantastic first effort, bringing new ideas to how magic can work together with constantly interesting characters.
No One Left To Fight
Vâle is the world’s greatest hero, and he’s defeated every threat that has crossed his path, but what can he do when there’s no threats left and – you guessed it – there’s no one left to fight? Aubrey Sitterson’s sheer enthusiasm for whatever he’s writing about always shines through and you know you’re reading something that the creator was genuinely excited about, which is just a great feeling to accompany a book.
The story of a huge shopping centre opening in a small town, and the effect it has on the community around it. Which is something I’m sure you’ve heard before, but this shopping centre has something more sinister lurking in the shadows. Christopher Cantwell and I.N.J. Culbard have created a series packed with unease, you know something is coming, but you just don’t know what.
Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer Of Justice
I wasn’t really sure what I was going to get with this one, I absolutely love Black Hammer, and there’s some JLA stories that I love too, but I wasn’t sure how the two things would really work together. That is until I realised Jeff Lemire and Michael Walsh were doing a classic character swap kind of story. The Justice League find themselves confined to the farm from Black Hammer and the heroes usually confined there find themselves fighting crime in the DC Universe, seemingly none the wiser to what’s going on. As the story unfolds they’ll discover the inconsistencies and try to get back to where both groups belong.
Dragonfly & Dragonflyman
This prequel to The Wrong Earth shows us what life was like for Dragonfly, Dragonflyman and their respective Stinger sidekicks before the two found themselves changing places. While there’s a slightly different creative team from the previous series, Dragonfly & Dragonflyman is just as gripping a read, although you might find it slightly frustrating that you’re now waiting for two series’ to continue rather than just the one.
Mark Russell has written some really interesting comics over the last few years, but I think it’s fair to say that Second Coming might be the most controversial…there’s just something about setting up the son of God as a superheroes housemate that seems to rub people the wrong way. While it might be an unlikely premise, there’s no denying that Second Coming is an incredible read, and one that asks a lot of deserved questions about religion.
While out getting ice cream Oliver and his stepdad disappear without a trace, but years later and after being declared legally dead, Oliver returns alive and well and with a perfectly reasonable explanation of what happened, but everyone seems to have trouble believing he was being abducted by aliens. Mightnight Vista is a series loaded with every bit of conspiracy theory and abduction mythos you’ve ever heard, which makes for a unique sci-fi read.
There’s been a few years since we’ve seen a Doctor Mirage book from Valiant, which isn’t exactly unusual, but it was beginning to feel overdue. Luckily this latest chapter in Shan Mirage’s story might be the best one yet. Written by Mags Visaggio and with art by Nick Robles, this volume catches up with the eponymous Doctor Mirage as she realises that the ghosts she’s usually surrounded by have suddenly fallen silent, including her ever present husband Hwen. Following Shan as she explores the afterlife in the hopes of discovering what’s happened to her and the spirits she become accustomed to, Visaggio and Robles present a series that works both as a jumping on point for the character and a great continuation. Visaggio’s writing is well suited to the character and Roble’s artwork makes the book with otherworldly depictions of the afterlife.
Heavy Vinyl: Y2K-O!
They’re a crime-fighting girl gang that run a record store and they’ve just formed a band. After discovering a conspiracy to brainwash musicians and strip their music of its message, the staff of Vinyl Destination are the only hope of saving music. I’ll admit that’s a lot to take in, but that’s the premise of Heavy Vinyl: Y2K-O!. Heaps of late 90’s nostalgia, positive representation and a great cast of characters make this a great read, but definitely pick up the first volume if you’ve missed it.
I’m sure you love a good complete collection as much as I do, and while these aren’t new for 2020, this format is!
Royal City: The Complete Collection
Be warned, there’s going to be a full writeup of Royal City pretty darn soon, so to keep it simple. This is a series that showcases Jeff Lemire’s character driven storytelling at its absolute best by following the reunited members of the Pike family when their fathers ill health brings them all back home. The entire series is illustrated by Lemire and as always the atmosphere he creates is incredible, making Royal City feel like a real lived in place, instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in a small town.
From small towns in America, to huge towns in India, Grafity’s Wall follows a group of friends living in Mumbai. Written by Ram V and brought to life by Amand RK’s glorious artwork, this is an absolute must read graphic novel that seems to have passed under a lot of people’s radars.
Resident Alien Omnibus Volume 1
It follows the story of Harry, a retired doctor living on the outskirts of Patience, Washington. He’s content to live a quiet life until one day the police come to see him hoping he can lend a hand with a murder investigation in town.