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TNIAAM’s top comic books of the first half of 2021

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In case you need to catch up, here are picks forr what to read this year.

London Super Comic Con Photo by Ollie Millington/Getty Images

You’re certainly aware of the comic book fandom permeating the walls of TNIAAM, and that will rarely be more apparent than the next week. Starting this Friday and going through next Friday, we’ll have quite a bit about Marvel and comic books in general going on. The occasion? The release of Black Widow and the season finale of Loki aligning for what can only be dubbed “Marvel Week.”

So be sure to come back this weekend and into next week and we have various conversations around Marvel’s shows and movies, plus the comic characters themselves in our second annual Marvel bracket. And if you’re not into anything related to superheros, that’s cool too. We’ll still have plenty of Syracuse Orange-related content as well.

Without further ado, here are our picks for the top 10 comic books (individual issues, not just series) so far in 2021:

1. Way of X #1 (Si Spurrier/Bob Quinn)

While the Powers/House of X reboot of the X-Men books has been a shot in the arm and an incredibly interesting collection of stories, it’s also brought up quite a few questions about morality and faith. Luckily, NIghtcrawler stands in for the audience’s questions around the entire society — specifically, the crucible, resurrection and exactly what those things mean for the mutants that still belief in some sort of organized human religion. The first issue does a great job setting up what’s to come.

2. Thor #11 (Donny Cates/Nic Klein) -

Recent Thor runs have dug through a lot of questions around the character’s mythology and mortality, but there’s one that was rarely addressed over the years — Dr. Donald Blake, and what happens to the earthbound stand-in for the God of Thunder (a plot the movies don’t even bother getting into, thankfully). Well, ends up some bad things have happened to Blake as a result of just sort of vanishing for long stretches, and this issue examines what happens when he wants revenge.

3. Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #2 (Chip Zdarsky/Pasqual Ferry)

The “What If Spider-Man...” motif is probably one of the most played out in Marvel’s publishing history, yet Zdarsky’s second attempt after his award winning Spider-Man: Life Story is worth picking up for it’s ability to still do something interesting with what on it’s face seems like a predictable story. Yes, we know that if Spider-Man kept the symbiote suit in the 1980’s, he would not be a hero. But the journey, specifically in issue 2, works because Zdarsky understands the strength and narrative power in focusing in on the changes to Peter Parker’s supporting cast, rather than Parker or Spider-Man.

4. Something is Killing the Children #14 (James Tynion/Werther Dell’edera)

I’m (Steve) not a huge horror/suspense fan, but this one has me hooked. The first trade is a slow burn with a payoff, the second keeps things rolling and by the time Issue 14 rolls around, the hooks are in and Tynion is maintaining the same high level that has been characteristic of this book from the beginning. Think Stranger Things but the eponymous children are being killed... and their only hope isn’t quite what it initially seems. Dell’edera’s art really compliments Tynion’s story as well.

5. Daredevil #28 (Chip Zdarsky/Marco Checchetto)

From the start, Zdarsky’s Daredevil run has forced Matt Murdock to face the realities of heroism and the gray area he particularly inhabits as a masked vigilante. This issue takes that even further, as he’s forced to understand the realities that he’s not only a hero getting preferential treatment in prison, but a white man in said prison, with the advantages that also provides. Instead of a “cool down” issue in the wake of a chaotic, lengthy King in Black story, it’s yet another step in the continued evolution and growth of Murdock as a person.

6. Iron Man #5 (Christopher Cantwell/C Cafu)

Iron Man’s comic success has been hot and cold in the shadow of his movie portrayal, admittedly. And yet, it’s that challenge that seems to shape Cantwell’s depiction of Tony Stark so well. Steeped in his own history, humanity and mortality, this version of Stark is knocked down brutally and repeatedly while attempting to go toe-to-toe with more powerful foes. In this specific issue, his respective pairings with Hellcat and against Korvac both reveal a lot about the work he still needs to do to become the best version of himself — with or without armor on.

7. Captain Marvel #25 (Kelly Thompson/Lee Garbett & Bennett Ortega)

While there’s a bit of a formula to recent Captain Marvel story arcs, this one does seem to involve the various power sets of her associates far more than the rest. And in each of these scenarios, Carol Danvers does get closer and closer to discovering a bit more about what makes herself tick. This issue features all of that, plus some very quick but excellent character work for Ove and Namor and some great art especially around the conclusion. Thompson has a real feel for managing Carol being overpowered and understanding the challenges she faces as a person.

8. Non-Stop Spider-Man #1 (Joe Kelly/Chris Bachalo, Dale Eaglesham & Gerardo Sandoval)

This #1 does a fantastic job of doing something very few books have done: launch an in-universe Spider title that doesn’t feel like any other book while still using Spider-Man as the main character. The credit is split between penciler Chris Bachelo and writer Joe Kelly; The former has a unique style that previously worked best with a magical Doctor Strange run, but is used here to create a frantic 360 degree environment of danger Spider-Man has to navigate. Kelly’s quip chops were sharpened in Deadpool, and utilized here to give Spider-Man the more dark humor needed in a action centered adventure around someone drugging young adults of color.

9. Star Wars: The High Republic #2 (Cavan Scott/Ario Anindito)

Star Wars comics have come a long way since the 1970s and the initial run. This series is based in the newly defined “High Republic” set 200 years before the prequels. This allows Cavan Scott to craft a new narrative with limited repercussions on the existing canon and he does it quite well. I’ve been impressed in his first run on a Marvel title, which sets the Republic at peace, against new looming threats on the Outer Rim.

10. Justice League: Last Ride #1 (Chip Zdarsky/Miguel Mendonca)

Another Zdarsky mention, but this time the writer tackles a Justice League who really does not want to be a league anymore. Zdarsky balances the DC Holy Trinity well, and sets up a mystery that’s not about the task at hand (transporting Lobo to Apokolips), but rather why Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman mutually hate each other so damn much.

Honorable Mentions: Wolverine #9, Avengers #43, Shang-Chi #5

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So how about you? What have you been reading and what would you recommend others try out? Obviously this is a bit more Marvel focused above, but there’s plenty more options out there at your local comic shop (or Comixology).