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TNIAAM’s top comic books of 2020

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If you like comics, you probably had some time to read this year.

Tourist takes a photo to a figure of Marvel Comics character... Photo by Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

Without any new Marvel movies or TV shows this year (go away, “Helstrom”), superhero content seemed to be at a premium in 2020. As a result, folks looking for a fix may have turned to comics a bit more than they did in the past, especially with so many quality stories coming out across various publishers. Various apps also made that pretty feasible with local shops closed for portions of the year.

Keeping all of that in mind, TNIAAM’s comics wing went ahead and ranked the top 15 individual books of 2020. Whether you’ve been reading these or want to catch up on what you missed, we’d highly recommend these books — and the series they’re from, as well.

1. Thor #6 (Donny Cates)

Avoiding spoilers here but in a very short amount of time, Cates (and artist Nic Klein) manage to both create and resolve an absolutely bonkers arc for Thor that expands on the recent levels of depth applied to the character while also breaking new ground. Again, hard to discuss too much more without spoilers, but everything comes to an incredible apex in this sixth book, casting additional doubt on who Thor is vs. who he considers himself to be.

2. King in Black #1 (Cates)

Cates and Stegman’s Venom has told some amazing personal stories, but both writers flex everything they have when they can tell a universe-spanning story. KIB #1 is a rock concert of a comic that firmly establishes the power of Knull and the stakes at hand for the Universe headed into 2021. It’s a stunning and dread filled comic only these two can pull off.

3. X-Men #7 (Jonathan Hickman)

Hickman’s world-building is typically top-notch, and here, he goes even deeper while diving into how Krakoa builds a culture and society from the ground up, no matter how weird and strange that may become. Here, the crucible serves as the central theme of a discussion between Cyclops and Nightcrawler on faith and morality. It’s intriguing and rewarding to watch the characters through these paces with the crucible ritual in the backdrop (until it very much enters the foreground).

4. Daredevil #20 (Chip Zdarsky)

Sometimes, a creator just “gets” a character, and Zdarsky seems to “get” every character he touches. Lately, he’s been the next in line on the Daredevil book, which has been one of the best at Marvel dating back to the Brian Michael Bendis (of Miles Morales’s creation) days, and elevated the title to the best Marvel book. (Immortal Hulk fans: I see you) #20 culminates the first arc Zdarasky has weaved, showing just how cool Daredevil can be, while alter ego Matt Murdock comes to terms with the moral dilemma that has paralyzed him to date.

5. Captain Marvel #16 (Kelly Thompson)

Thompson has had an excellent run making Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) even more compelling as a character, with more interesting and less conventional storylines surrounding her. Issue #16 here is the conclusion of “the Last Avenger” arc — an intense look at Carol’s sense of right and wrong, and her various relationships with the other Avengers. Even if the outcome doesn’t necessarily surprise, it still feels big as a story, and continues to move the ball forward on Danvers as a character.

6. Marauders #8 (Gerry Duggan)

Marauders has been a great showcase for Kitty (Kate) Pryde, but this issue is more a showcase on loss — and how those that are basically immortal at this point may deal with such a development. Stefano Caselli’s art here helps showcase the sadness and anger without a slew of words accompanying the likes of Emma Frost, Storm and Iceman, in particular.

7. X-Men/Fantastic Four #4 (Zdarsky)

There are a lot of dynamics at play here, yet Zdarsky seems to balance all of them well — Sue Storm being fiercely protective of Franklin, Reed Richards overstepping again, the X-Men firing then aiming, Doctor Doom grasping for control... and Franklin himself desperately searching for his sense of self without abandoning the mutant or Fantastic Four side of things. It’s a packed conclusion to a fun offshoot story to the overall Dawn/House of X narrative. Though if you’re entering this story just from the FF side, perhaps you’re less impressed by how this fits.

8. Once and Future #6 (Kieron Gillen)

Gillen has made a name for himself with many of the major titles, handling runs on various X-Men, Avengers and Iron Man titles. He also manned the Star Wars line and the 2015 Darth Vader run. Where he really has shined is in his indie work and this is no exception. Taking an old Arthurian legend and twisting it right on your head, Gillen makes your Grandma into the most badass person you’ve ever met and turns the legend on it’s head. Well worth taking a look at the entire series. Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain nail the art as well, with a look that perfectly pairs with the action packed, but absurd antics throughout.

9. Avengers #36 (Jason Aaron)

Aaron’s Avengers run has challenged Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in interesting ways, but nabbing former Miles Morales artist Javier Garron for his biggest arc was the best thing to happen to the book. In what feels like the story’s finale (the story wraps in #37 & 38), Garron’s hyper athletic and detailed style gives a cinematic feel to a fight between an overpowered Moon Knight and a beaten, bloodied, yet determined Black Panther that vaults this book into a new level.

10. Star Wars #6 (Charles Soule)

Taking place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, this ongoing series by Soule fills in some gaps between the movies. It fills in the gaps as to what the crew was doing to set up the events of the trilogy. He masterfully crafts this thread between Luke Skywalker and a would be captor that track through the entire arc, culminating in this issue. Soule is seeming to reach levels with Star Wars that he did with the Darth Vader (2017) run that was one of the best Star Wars comics to see print.

11. Amazing Spider-Man #43 (Nick Spencer)

I am the first to admit Spencer’s Spidey run has missed the mark for me, but this single issue gem stands out not because it furthers the overall narrative of the wall crawler or because of a well scripted epic moment; artist Ryan Ottley uses minimal words to tell the story of a creature who has suffered immeasurable loss only to become a pawn in the game between two characters who don’t understand it. No one asked for a Gog backstory and nor does it even fit into the grand scheme of Spencer’s story. However, this is a true Spider-Man story as we are gripped by a story of loss and the emotional baggage that loss weighs upon us.

12. X-Men: Marvel’s Snapshots #1 (Jay Edidin)

This is the stereotypical Cyclops comic. Edidin, of Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men fame, takes his crack at the leader of the X-Men, and absolutely nails it. The book tracks a teenaged Cyclops through the trials and tribulations of concealing his mutant abilities until he can’t anymore and wrestling with the loss of his family, and inspiration from “modern day” superheroes of the time period it was set in, all while showing Scott grow into the person who eventually leads the X-Men. The art by Tom Reilly really hits the notes it needs to in order to convey the vintage feel of a teenage Cyclops as well.

13. Star #2 (Thompson)

Showcasing Marvel newcomer Star — Ripley Ryan — right off the bat is an interesting move, but giving it to Thompson (who helms her debut within the pages of Captain Marvel) makes the character spring to life immediately. Here, she’s quickly shown to possess some of the best and worst qualities of Danvers and the Scarlet Witch. Javier Pina and Filipe Andrade create a vivid picture of trauma and soul-searching while pairing her with a character that knows plenty of that herself in Scarlet Witch.

14. Venom #23 (Cates)

What Cates (and art from Mark Bagley) really capture well within this Venom run is the frantic desperation that Eddie Brock operates with while talking to his “Other” (the Venom symbiote). And while the more action-packed issues are intriguing, those that stay pretty locked in on the Brock/Venom dynamic and how that pairing deals with challenges are those most engaging. This one is a more manic and disjointed version of that, but that’s what makes the storytelling immensely entertaining throughout.

15. X-Force #9 (Benjamin Percy)

Percy has made it a habit of knowing how to write the personalities of the X-Men and does such to great effect in this issue. Whether it’s Wolverine (and his solo run as well), or the bad-ass-ness of Sage, the weird thing Beast has going on in this X-verse, or how Domino is dealing with resurrection and some other details coming from that, this is an issue that really pushes the boundaries of where this team is going, while posing some interesting questions on the Hickman-verse and how things will continue to develop.

Honorable mentions:

  • Dr. Strange #1 (Mark Waid)
  • Wolverine #1 (Percy)
  • Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1 (Hickman)
  • Something is Killing the Children #5 (James Tynion IV)
  • Captain Marvel: The End #1 (Thompson)

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Yes, this is mostly Marvel. Sorry. Feel free to recommend other books if you’d like as well.