This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: the Best Comics of 2021 .
I didn’t do a Best Of List for 2021 because I thought my sampling of comics wasn’t as wide as it had been in years past because I’d been reading a lot more graphic novels and books than I had been typical comics. While this is a fantastic way to catch an entire story in one go – or a few if you’re reading one of Marvel’s Epic Collections that contains comics from the 60’s and early 70’s – it did mean that I typically wouldn’t pick up a floppy comic before either my current book or tpb I had on the go.
But as I was filing away the books I had read this year, I realized I’d still read more than I expected – and as luck would have it, almost all of the books I’d enjoyed the most weren’t from the Big Two (Daredevil being a notable exception to that), and so here we are at an Underrated Best of 2021 list. I didn’t realize until I’d made the list that for the most part there’s only one book from each publisher – that wasn’t intentional, unlike me choosing to avoid a traditional top five/ten, just a happy coincidence.
By The Horns (Scout) Markisan Naso, Jason Muhr and Andrei Tabacaru aren’t one of the more well known creative teams in comics, but they’re certainly one of the best. By The Horns is a story set in a lusciously vibrant fantasy world with technology not unlike what you’d see in the Star Wars franchise. It’s a beautifully illustrated and written series that should be on every person’s pull list.
This series was hands down one of the very best from 2021 from any publisher. For my money, only Daredevil came close to matching the excitement I had to read each issue. Easily the best of the year.
Shadowman (Valiant) Valiant have had some ups and downs this year, but the unequalled high point for the publisher was this book from Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis Hunt. In what is probably my favourite take on the character, we get four issues that are essentially stand alone comics with an overarching theme. It’s a brilliant story so far, and one that leads into what’s promising to be an epic event in the Valiant universe.
Once And Future (Boom) It’s almost cheating to include this given the buzz that surrounds the comic on a consistent basis, but here we are. Once And Future brings fairytales, myths and legends from Europe into a more modern setting. The series has been consistently brilliant with the stakes escalating in an organic and believable way – there’s no out of the blue or unexpected twist when it comes to villains, but rather a genuine progression from where the series has progressed from the first issue to the current. Keiran Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain have never produced any less than a good comic book month after month.
Wrong Earth: Night and Day (Ahoy) The best way to describe the premise of Wrong Earth is that the Batman from the 1960’s TV show switched places with Ben Affleck’s version of Batman; one, an idealistic man with gadgets not unlike the Bat-Shark Repellant, and the other, a vigilante who’s far more violent (and deadly) in his approach. The two men have to adapt and survive in the other’s world, and the actions they take are often hilarious. The series takes jabs at the innocence of the Silver Age and the grimdark comics we have now all while extolling the virtues of each. You’ll come away from the series on a meta level even more confused about why one era is more beloved than the other, but there’s no doubt about the fact that what you’ve read is absolutely top tier stuff.
Two Moons (Image) A supernatural comic set in the late 1800’s staring a Native American soldier in the titular role, the series deals with identity, the erasure of native culture and the freedom of self. It’s dark, atmospheric stuff, but it was the sleeper hit of the year for me because I picked the series up in one chunk based on the cover art more than anything having completely missed anything to do with the solicitations.
Eniac (Bad Idea) Bad Idea have been an interesting experiment. The publisher has had so many off the wall ideas when it comes to marketing, appealing to fans and even releasing their books into stores. So much so, that the quality of the books is often overlooked when it comes to the discussion of the publisher. I haven’t read a bad comic from Bad Idea yet, but the best of the bunch has remained the very first series to be released. A tale about an evil computer that has decided to take the world into a peaceful direction… at any cost. If you can find the issues for a reasonable price, it’s worth checking out.
Home (Image) A story about a mother and son being separated at the border as they try to find a better life in the states, the first issue was utterly heart breaking. I had no expectation of what would follow, and so as the book’s world expands and we see how the son is part of a legacy of people with powers, the book becomes a coming of age tale with the protagonist constantly on the run from immigration enforcement. Maybe the book impacted me because I am an immigrant (albeit with a much different story), but Home is a comic that everyone should read.
Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.