While historically ‘best of’ lists are best suited at year’s end, the reality is that waiting until then actually leaves some doubt throughout the year itself what is considered great as it’s happening. With that in mind, throughout 2021, I’ll be regularly updating Comic Book Herald’s best comics of 2021 guide, so that the work can function as a check-in for your next series to read, and by year’s end, a summary of everything we recommend.
Related Best Of Lists:
Below you’ll find all the best comics released primarily in 2021. See a graphic novel or series you love missing from the list? Let us know in the comments!
The Best Comic Books of 2021!
I’m blown away by the confidence, focus and creative synergy in The Department of Truth, the Image Comics series from James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds, Aditya Bidikar and editor Steve Foxe. The series tackles the nature of conspiracy theories, in a world where belief in various real-world conspiracies transfers to manifesting those false ideas into reality. So flat-earth rallies lead to helicopter rides to the true edge of the world, and false flag school shootings lead to one of the most heartbreaking and chilling comics I’ve read.
To keep conspiracy from overtaking truth, there’s The Department of Truth, one part Men in Black, one part Planetary. Creating a platform to explore the insidious nature of conspiracy in modern culture is one thing, but managing to make it horrific, entertaining, mysterious, and engaging? That’s some good comics.
‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ looms large in my memory, one of those classics of literature that I simply read at the right point in my most curious voracious consumptions of high-minded college art. A Picture of Everything Else from Vault Comics builds on the foundations of that Oscar Wilde classic, portraying high society art scenes interuppted by paintings that can destroy, and perhaps the literal Devil himself.
While I’m sure I would have enjoyed Scarenthood years ago, the post-kids experience definitely sends this four issue miniseries from Nick Roche and Chris O’Halloran soaring up my favorites. Equal parts the comedy of getting to know other parents at daycare, and the horror of unleashing an eldritch evil underneath their school (ok, only one of those is particularly familiar), Scarenthood is immaculately constructed and one of the most charming comics I’ve read this year.
Getting into Canto from David M. Booher, Drew Zucker, Deron Bennett & IDW Publishing is one of my favorite moves of the entire year. The sophisticated all-ages fairy tale follows the clockwork knight, Canto, as he attempts to free his people from the magical enslavement of The Shrouded Man. The irony that Canto and the clockwork knights have had their hearts replaced with ticking clocks is not lost, as Canto’s bravery and sheer fortitude in the face of the impossible is delightfully charming. Canto draws inspiration from “The Wizard of Oz,” and Dante’s “Inferno,” but in modern comics terms, it’s very much in the conversation with Bone, Amulet, and Klaus.
Who would want to live forever? Stillwater’s far from the first time anyone’s asked the question, but it’s one of the most memorable answers in recent memory, distilling the prospect down to a single small town, and their mysterious never-ending, never-changing lives. Chip Zdarsky’s post Sex Criminals comics career is off to a fascinating start, with the strong opening of a run on Stillwater, plus the continued intrigue of his classic-in-the-making work on Daredevil (not to mention, TONS of other projects).
You don’t have to say more than “punk rock haunted house” to get my interest, but a creative collaboration between Dan Watters, Caspar Wjingard, Adita Bidikar and team certainly doesn’t hurt. early in the run, Home Sick Pilots is a brilliant blend of teenage angst, found family, and supernatural legacy begging to welcome you inside.
When I interviewed Steve Orlando about Kill A Man mid 2020, he mentioned an upcoming creator-owned work riffing on DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and a multiverse of superheroes, and I immediately wanted to do nothing but read that comic and ask him questions about it. Lo and behold, the work is Commanders in Crisis, and it has lived up to my high expectations with a Morrisonian spin on a multiversal gathering of Presidents as Earths around them are eradicated due to mysterious forces.
Apart from the explosive conceptual ideas, the queer spin on Commanders in Crisis helps elevate the series into a less familiar pastiche of the well trod genre. At its best, the series reminds me a lot of Morrison’s Action Comics and President Superman.
Recommendation #2: My interview with writer Tate Brombal on all things Barbalien!
The really incredible thing about the Chip Zdarsky era of Daredevil isn’t just that it’s fantastic, but that – especially when combined with series regular Marco Checcetto – it’s perpetually making a case that it’s the very best Marvel Comic in the entire house of ideas. The build from issue one to twenty-five, with an astounding “One More Day” annual thrown in for good measure, is just a masterclass in rising stakes, thematic evolution, and character work. 2021 issues of Daredevil kick off with King in Black tie-ins, a possible death-knell for an ongoing run, yet Zdarsky and company simply don’t miss a beat, integrating the Venom-based insanity of the main event seamlessly into their tale of Daredevil, Kingpin, Elektra and Hell’s Kitchen.
Honestly, at a certain point, I’m borderline embarrassed with how many Vault Comics new series launches I want to include on year-end best ofs. I’ve been called a ‘Marvel Shill’ (I wish!), but I have this weird internal resistance to promoting literally everything Vault does as potential year-end best of quality. I’m my own free-thinking pound of beefcake, ya know?
And yet, Vault’s internal quality filter is insanely good, and the reality is the publisher simply knows how to combine some of the best creators in comics with excellent concepts, and in the case of I Walk With Monsters, subtle, twisting horror. I already knew I liked Paul Cornell’s writing an awful lot (what’s up, Captain Britain & MI13!), but Sally Cantirino’s art that completely blows me away, and sells me on yet another Vault book on the best of 2021.
I’m not surprised that I like SWORD by Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia and their X-Men line collaborators, but I am surprised how rapidly the focus on Marvel’s mutant space program launched into my absolute favorite comics. The first issue of SWORD packs a punch like the finest moments of House of X / Powers of X, and Ewing is firing in 2021 in a way he never has before (which is saying something for a storyteller known for the likes of Ultimates and Immortal Hulk!). Not to mention, SWORD pulls off the remarkable feat of (nearly) launching straight into a linewide Marvel crossover event (King in Black), and still retaining its core purpose and sense of story. Al Ewing and team are somehow pulling double duty on establishing a new Marvel Space Age and fitting into the grand scheme of Hickman’s X-Men, and honestly, I couldn’t be more impressed.
My expectations for After the Rain were absolutely blown away, as this adaptation of a Nnedi Okorafor short story is an exceptional graphic novel, kicking off the incredibly promising Megascope line of comics curated by John Jennings. As scripter and colorist here, Jennings and artist David Brame convert Okorafor’s afrospeculative fiction into a creeping, encroaching, Swamp Thing esque horror story about a young woman’s transition from America to her African roots. Brame and Jenning’s art and panel layouts are mind-boggling yet natural, and worth the price of admission alone.
For more, check out my conversation with John Jennings on After the Rain.