The Beat has published their list of the best comic books of 2020. It's a nicely diverse list, from mainstream spandex to obscure indies.
Crisis Zone by Simon Hanselmann (Self-published)
During the pandemic, Simon Hanselmann has updated his Instagram nearly every day with 10 new panels of comics, which is by my count 250+ pages, dating all the way back to March 13. Within these updates, he's told (and continues to tell) one long and winding story starring his Megg, Mogg, Owl, and related characters. Dubbed Crisis Zone, Hanselmann's NSFW narrative has reacted to our absurd, turbulent, and devastating year in near-real time. As a result, it is perhaps the comic of 2020.
In Crisis Zone, characters have fought with parents lost to disinformation and fascism. They've escaped into Animal Crossing. They've gotten sick. They've gone to racial injustice protests. They've become Internet sensations, and they've become Internet pariahs. But the timeliness isn't all that's for sale. The range of emotional beats in the story is also consistently surprising and varied, oscillating between madcap hilarity and utter hopelessness. And as in all of Hanselmann's work, it's easy to find oneself just wanting the story to end for the sake of the characters on the page. Is anything more 2020 than that? – Zack Quaintance & Avery Kaplan
A Gift for a Ghost by Borja González (Abrams)
Spanish cartoonist Borja Gonzalez's first book-length comic explores, on the surface, different eras of female defiance by playing with concepts of time travel and ghost stories but instead of using them in obvious, plot-driven ways opts for a more mysterious, metaphorical approach to the tropes. This elevates what transpires and also extends their impact, inviting careful rereads with open minds. In one thread, three teenage girls in 2016 attempt to form a band with various complications. In the other, in 1856, Teresa insists on writing poetry and focusing on the macabre, in defiance of her family. Beautifully illustrated, Gonzalez fashions an otherworldly reality that supplies dark tinges to the characters' actions and argues for a more abstract reading of what unfolds. – John Seven
Empyre by Al Ewing, Dan Slott, Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia, & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)
Empyre is what superhero comic events should aspire to: a moderately lengthed and tightly scripted universe-spanning story that's versatile enough to set up quality tie-ins without imposing its will over the entirety of the company's continuity. A mouthful, I know, but it goes to show how tough of a balancing act events can be. Ewing, Slott, and Schiti pull it off beautifully with a story that puts alien plant life on the offensive against a world that's clearly disregarded it. Empyre's successes rest on how it distances itself from the same core Avengers characters that tend to dominate these type of stories in favor of focusing on those who've had less of a chance to shine in the main arcs of their event. This freed up those same tried and true characters from their protagonistic responsibilities to focus on other parts of the conflict, resulting in some highly compelling and noteworthy tie-in miniseries that demand to be read. The art is energetic and everything is paced appropriately so as not to overstay its welcome. Marvel and DC can learn a lot from this event for the coming new year. – Ricardo Serrano Denis
Bug Boys (reissue) by Laura Knetzger (Random House Graphic)
In Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger, best bug friends forever Stag-B and Rhino-B face a series of adventures in the wider world – in the world of insects, in the world of humans, and perhaps most importantly, within themselves.
This middle grade graphic novel is filled with bright and joyful artwork and a reflective story that digs deeper than one might expect… and the introduction of Dome Spider, the Bug Village librarian, offers some of the most effortlessly funny panels of the year.
Plus, like many of the books in the superb RH Graphic line, this graphic novel – which is technically a rerelease of comics previously published online – includes "how to draw" back material that will help guide readers who are inspired by Bug Boys to make their own comic. – Avery Kaplan
Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi & Erica Henderson (Image Comics)
It's not often we get an interpretation of Dracula that highlights its more monstrous side. Rather than falling for the romantic trappings of the Gothic vampire, de Campi and Henderson mine every bit of horror they can to create an almost shapeless, multi-eyed and dangerously fanged, mass of evil that represents everything that's wrong with the patriarchy. Dracula's brides take center stage in this story, with a crime-scene photographer thrust into the middle of everything, in what becomes a rebellion against the very creature that cursed them into an eternity of vampirism and then abandonment. Henderson's art captures Dracula's horror in a way that is entirely her own, with character designs destined to find permanent residence in its readers' minds. It's a powerful story that looks at tradition as something that's highly flammable and should be burned down. This book seems eager to be the match that sets it all off. – Ricardo Serrano Denis
[H/t Bob Knetzger]
Image: Cover art inset