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Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2021

Even though it was a shitty year overall, I found some great comics to enjoy in 2021, both old and new. Beginning with its “Future State” event, DC easily shot up to become my favorite mainstream publisher thanks to its renewed focus on different visual styles instead of a Jim Lee-esque art style and its emphasis on LGBTQ+ characters even after Pride Month. Vault and Image continued to be the homes of both my favorite creators and SF stories, and AWA, Dark Horse and even Black Mask and Archie had titles that surprised me even if they didn’t make the cut on this list. Finally, continuing a trend that I jumped on in 2020, I continued to read or revisit classic comics (Both old and new) in 2021, like Copra, Invincible, The Umbrella Academy, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman: True Amazon, The Invisibles, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force, Hawkeye, and Black Bolt among others.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite comics of 2021

10. Alice in Leatherland (Black Mask)

Alice in Leatherland is a wholesome, sexy, and hyper-stylized slice of life romance comic from the creative team of Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli. The book is about Alice, a children’s book writer, who leaves her small town for San Francisco when her girlfriend cheats on her and captures the fear and adrenaline of taking a big step in your life. The series explores sex and love through an expansive cast of LGBTQ+ characters that I wanted to spend more than five issues with. Romboli uses fairy tale style visuals as a metaphor to examine Alice’s feelings and self-growth throughout the series, and she excels at depicting both the hilarious and erotic. Alice in Leatherland is an emotional, funny read with well-developed queer characters and made me immediately add Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli to the list of creators I’ll read anything by.

9. The Autumnal (Vault)

The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, and Jason Wordie was the most unsettling comic I read in 2021. The book follows Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil as they leave Chicago for the town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. However, this town isn’t a rural oasis, but incredibly creepy. Kraus’ script unravels the foundation of blood that the town is built on while Shehan and Wordie create tension with the fall of the leaf or a crackle of a branch. I also love how fleshed out Kat is as she deals with being an outsider in what turns out to be an unfriendly space with her parenting style and approach to life being critiqued by her neighbors. Finally, The Autumnal is the finest of slow burns beginning with NIMBY/Karen-like behavior and then going full-on death cult. It’s a must read for anyone who has lived or experienced a place where time seems to stand still, or who thinks a NextDoor app post could be the basis of a good horror story.

8. The Joker (DC)

Contrary to its title, James Tynion, Guillem March, Steffano Rafaele, Arif Prianto, and others’ The Joker isn’t a comic looking at the Clown Prince of Crime’s inner psyche, but is a globe-trotting P.I. type story featuring Jim Gordon trying to capture the Joker for some folks that looks shadier and shadier as the story progresses. Tynion and (predominantly) March show the effect Joker has had on Gordon’s life and his family while also showing him discover himself outside the bounds of Gotham and its police department. As the series progresses, The Joker shows the impact that Batman and his rogue’s gallery have had on the rest of the world, and the ways governments, intelligence agencies, and more nefarious organizations deal with threats of their ilk. Along with a crime novel set in present time, James Tynion, Matthew Rosenberg, and the virtuosic Francesco Francavilla created several flashback comics showing the development of Jim Gordon’s relationship with the Joker over the years, and how it effected his family life and career almost acting as a “Year One” for Gordon as Francavilla’s art style shifts based on the era the story is set in. Plus most issues of Joker feature colorful backup stories with Harper Row trying to bring Joker’s newest ally Punchline to justice in and out of prison from Tynion, Sam Johns, Sweeney Boo, Rosi Kampe, and others.

7. Kane and Able (Image)

Kane and Able is a dual-cartoonist anthology featuring work by British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Both creators have delightful, distinctive styles and put their own spin on genres like sci-fi, exploitation, and superhero. Kane and Able is free-flowing, clever, and most of all, fun and is tailor made for the larger page format of treasury editions.

6. Static Season One (DC/Milestone)

As far as pure visuals go, Static Season One by Vita Ayala, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and ChrisCross was easily one of the best looking books on the stands in 2021. This was in addition to reinventing the iconic Black superhero through the lens of contemporary social movements, like Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality in summer of 2020. Static Season One doesn’t merely pay homage to the classic Milestone series, but brings it into 2021 with fight sequences straight out of the best shonen manga and a three dimensional supporting cast that holistically explore the Black experience in the United States while also being a coming of age and superhero origin tale. Draper-Ivey’s character designs are sleek as hell, and his high energy approach to color palette adds intensity to fight and chase scenes. I’m excited to see what the talented creative duo of Ayala and Nikolas Draper-Ivey bring to Static’s journey as Season One wraps up and Season Two (hopefully) begins in 2022.

5. Renegade Rule (Dark Horse)

Renegade Rule is an original graphic novel from Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck that is a perfect fusion of a sports manga and a queer romance story set in the world of competitive video games. Even if you’re like me and have only attempted to play Overwatch a single time, Renegade Rule and its world are quite accessible via things like hypercompetitiveness, sexual tension, and breathtaking fight choreography. The in-game sequences are almost like musical numbers and use shooting, sniping, and various acrobatics to make characters’ unspoken thoughts real. Renegade Rule is like if your favorite sports movie and romantic comedy had a gay baby who loved kicking ass at video games, and I pumped my fist every time the Manhattan Mist overcame adversity or overwhelming odds and smiled when certain characters ended up with each other…

4. Echolands (Image)

After a four year absence from interior art, co-writer/artist J.H. Williams III didn’t mess around with Echolands, a love letter to both genre fiction and double page spreads. Done in collaboration with co-writer Haden Blackman and colorist Dave Stewart, Echolands is an epic fantasy quest loaded up with all kinds of genres and art styles leaking off the page and was one of the most immersive comics I read in 2021. It has a sprawling cast and world, but Blackman and Williams know when to slow down and dig into Hope Redhood and her allies and antagonists’ motivations and when to drop in a multi-page underwater or underground chase sequence. With its unique landscape layouts and all the details in J.H. Williams and Stewart’s visuals, Echolands is definitely a book worth picking up in physical format and has backmatter that both humorously and seriously adds to the worldbuilding.

3. DC Pride (DC)

In honor of Pride Month, DC Comics put some of its most talented LGBTQ+ creators on its most iconic LGBTQ+ characters in a super-sized celebration of overcoming adversity, being yourself, and loving whoever you want to love. DC Pride covered a spectrum of sexual and gender identities from a fast-paced date night story featuring the non-binary Flash, Jess Chambers, to James Tynion and Trung Le Nguyen’s fairy tale influenced story of Batwoman’s younger days and even the first appearance of transgender superhero Dreamer (From the Supergirl TV show) in the comics. Depending on the character or creative team, the different stories could be adventurous and flirtatious, heartfelt and emotional, or a bit of both. This book shows that superhero comics have come a long way since the stereotypes of the 1980s and 1990s, but there’s still room for improvement as many of the characters featured in this anthology are relegated to backup stories or are supporting cast members of cisgender, heterosexual heroes.

2. Barbalien: Red Planet (Dark Horse)

Barbalien: Red Planet is a masterfully crafted, queer rage infused superhero/sci-fi comic from Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal, Gabriel Walta, and Jordie Bellaire. It understands subtext is for cowards and draws parallels between Barbalien coming out as gay and a Martian with his new friend/potential lover Miguel, who is a Latino activist fighting for the US government to do something about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Barbalien: Red Planet pays homage to the Black and Latinx activists who fought for queer liberation and is also an emotionally honest character study for Barbalien, who is easily my favorite character in the Black Hammer universe. Lemire, Brombal, and Walta use the superhero and sword and planet genres to explore the conflict between queer folks and power structures as Barbalien struggles with trying to fit into Spiral City as a white cop or being his true, gay Martian self. And to get personal for a second, Barbalien: Red Planet inspired me to speak out against my city’s Pride organization’s open support of police even though it led to me resigning as chairperson of my work’s LGBTQ+ employee affinity group. It’s both a damn good superhero book and a story that had a huge impact on my life in 2020-2021.

1. Die (Image)

My favorite comic of 2021 was Die by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that wrapped up with the mother of all quest arcs. But beyond having cool fantasy landscapes and wrapping up each party member’s arc, Die nailed the importance of stories, whether games, comics, films, prose, TV shows etc., to change how we view and interact with the world in both a heightened and realistic manner. Most of the realism came in Die #20 where the main characters escape the world of the game into our reality with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and have emotional reunions with loved ones or just hang out by themselves. However, the final arc of Die also is full of existential nightmares courtesy of Hans’ visuals as well as awakenings and self-realization, especially in Die #19 where Ash comes out as non-binary and discusses how games and fiction shaped their identity. The final issues of Die is a double-edged look at the power of narrative and games to shape us done in both glorious and surprisingly intimate fashion, and I felt I really knew Ash, Matt, Angela, Isabelle, Matt, Chuck, and Sol in the end.

Honorable Mentions: Casual Fling (AWA), Nightwing (DC), Made in Korea (Image), Barbaric (Vault), Superman and the Authority (DC), Catwoman: Lonely City (DC/Black Label)

I Feel Love with SelfMadeHero

Love makes the world go round. It can also turn your heart as black as coal. I Feel Love is an anthology of short fiction that explores love’s dark, twisted underbelly and offers a much-needed antidote to everything that is sweet, cloying, and conventional.

Contributors from both the UK and US, bring their own illustrative style and unique take to bear on the many moods of love, often leaving romance behind in search of darker desires. Ignatz Award-nominated Anya Davidson explores a slash fiction obsession, while Kelsey Wroten, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Vice, depicts medieval penanceUK-based cartoonist Cat Sims gets entwined with childbirth, and Benjamin Marra discovers the attraction of swamp monsters on the fairer sex. Rounding off the collection, editors Julian Hanshaw and Krent Able offer their own contributions, with tales of wife-swapping and a mysterious black balloon.

A companion volume to the successful I Feel Machine anthology, I Feel Love questions the one emotion that is meant to make us feel good – but that often does the exact opposite. As unflinching as it is honest, this is the kind of book you don’t take home to meet your parents.

I Feel Love

Review: Kane and Able

Kane and Able

Veteran British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able perfect the art of the dual artist anthology in the cheekily named (and Biblically blurbed) Kane and Able. The volume consists of two Astonishing Shield Bug! stories from Kane and a Black Fur and Nightmare & Creepy story from Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Nightmare & Creepy is a gory and humorously nihilistic take on the Batman and Robin dynamic and the vigilante genre as a whole with vampires, rad vehicles, and spooky environs. In addition to these four stories, there are ads, contests, and even a letters page that contributes to Kane and Able‘s retro with a modern sense of humor charm.

Shaky Kane really knocks it out of the park with the opening story “The Astonishing Shield Bug!” that starts as a clean-lined, flat colored ode to the strange masked heroes that have entertained and inspired readers and viewers over the decades from The Fly, Dan Garret’s Blue Beetle, and Green Hornet to Jaime Reyes and Miles Morales. However, it evolves into an homage to the imagination of the cartoonist, especially Jack Kirby. Kane welds the historical record of Kirby serving in World War II and working sleepless nights as a writer and artist creating the Marvel Universe to the UFO craze of the 1950s. There’s also a Biblical connection between these extraterrestrials and Kirby like he was Moses taking dictation from Yahweh to write the Ten Commandments and a line of dialogue alluding to the Silver Surfer (And roasting Stan Lee.) builds off the genesis of Fantastic Four‘s Galactus Trilogy, which was “Let them fight God.”

Throughout the story, Shaky Kane’s plot is free-flowing, and he creates images ranging from Americana to the cosmos while also skewering the culture around comic books with a semi-autobiographical page of him at a convention hoping and begging for a smoke break. There’s a self-deprecatory quality to Kane’s visuals in these scenes as he draws himself with a sour expression and wrinkles, but later stories set himself up as one of the great cartoonists of his era. Mundane humanity juxtaposed with far-fetched, imagination-tinged images (Whether of wonder or fear) is a theme that joins Shaky Kane and Krent Able’s work in the anthology even if they have different art styles and approaches to storytelling.

Whereas Kane’s stories are surreal free verse, Able’s are grounded in B-movies and EC and Silver Age superhero comics. Modern elements pop up in both stories, but he laughs off a black armband, day of morning for the titular hero in “Black Fur” or the loss of yet another hapless teen sidekick in “Creepzone feat. Nightmare & Sleepy”. Instead, he leans into the absurdity of genre fiction, turns up the knobs to eleven with memorable images, bold colors, and an eye for the sick and twisted. Instead of facing Godzilla’s nuclear breath, Black Fur and his Chainsaw Dolls must endure the gastric of 10,000 human beings that the Deathroach has absorbed. Able’s visuals carry the story, but his clever captions add a layer of dark humor to the proceedings like the final fates of Black Fur and the Chainsaw Dolls. Like the space aliens and the magic pen of Shaky Kane’s stories, Krent Able understands that the comics medium has no limit and goes for (literal in some cases) face-melting outrageousness in “Black Fur” with poster-worthy panels of Black Fur doing his thing as well as pure body horror when Deathroach does her thing and exposes the conformity of the human condition.

Kane plays off the event of the previous Astonishing Shield Bug story, including a convention sketch done by a fictionalized Shaky Kane in “Dustmotes”, his second story in the anthology. He goes classic Edgar Allan Poe horror with mysterious house, coffins, and floor boards. Plus there are glimpses of a greyscale beyond that let Kane flex his zombie-drawing muscles to go with the superheroes, space people, dinosaurs, and general cosmic haze. “Dustmotes” looks at the darker side of imagination and perhaps even taking aim at nostalgia culture with narrative captions about comic book collections, autographs, and memorabilia. Towards the end of the story, there’s a definitely a feeling of moving onto newer creations and frontiers like the work Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s art might make dust look like Kirby Krackle, but it’ll make you sneeze instead of imbuing you with the power cosmic or The Source. The final page of the story is in black and white and acts as a reminder that comics are just lines on a page and can be the wellspring of any genre depending on the skill of the artist. Shaky Kane, for his part, transitions really well from sci-fi and superheroes in his first story to psychological horror in his second.

Krent Able also draws on the horror genre in his final story “Creepzone”, but he goes for the buckets of blood, beheading, and cruel deaths facing youths with sexual desire part of his story. Able’s artwork is like a screentone, exploitation movie poster with motion and flow. He pulls off one great page turn surprise that mines the psychosexual subtext of Batman and Robin that Frederic Wertham warned Congress and American families about in the 1950s before returning to severed heads, brain matter, viscera, and the good ol’ fashioned injury to eye motif. “Creepzone” is propelled by the sheer, fucked up nature of its protagonist Nightmare and his iconic mask and skeleton costume. He has a real penchant for doing everything in the showiest way possible with Krent Able spending whole panels on him squashing the heads of baby vampires in reference to his treatment of creepy, copyright friendly Mickey Mouse stand-in’s in a previous adventure. He badly needs therapy, but he’s the perfect character to wrap up Kane and Able.

Kane and Able is a 76 page reminder that comics can be a hell of a fun time. Shaky Kane and Krent Able bring their distinct visual sensibilities to tell over the top genre-melding stories that might have something a little deeper to say about the creative process or the power of comics, or because a bear with two chainsaw wielding babies on his shoulders fighting giant cockroach women in fetish gear will always be epic.

Story: Shaky Kane, Krent Able Art: Shaky Kane, Krent Able
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Shake Kane and Krent Able Deliver the Anthology Kane and Able in June

Comic book wise guys, Shaky Kane and Krent Able, serve up a summer dump cake of genre-busting mischief and masked mayhem in this oversized anthology of never-before-published strips.

Readers will slip in and out of subconsciousness with the “Astonishing Shield Bug”, surf the Fleshwave with Black Fur in “Who Fears The Deathroach?”, journey into the sub-basement in the gasoline-tinged “Dustmites,” and ride into the Creepzone with Nightmare and Sleepy in the aptly named “Creepzone”!

Kane and Able original graphic novel (Diamond Code APR210123, ISBN 978-1-5343-2016-1) will be available at comic book shops on Wednesday, June 23 and in bookstores on Tuesday, June 29.

Kane and Able