The Best Comics of 2021 (So Far)

This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on July 3, 2021.

BETA RAY BILL

What is most striking in Daniel Warren Johnson’s superhero work is how he synthesizes the deeply personal with the commercially universal. Readers saw him transmute the thematic heart and potent style of comics like Extremity and Murder Falcon into Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, which was every bit as powerful. Now Johnson has done it again with one of Marvel’s cult-favorites: Beta Ray Bill. With only one issue remaining in this miniseries, Johnson took a spin-off from recent events in both Thor and Venom to tell a definitive tale about an alien seeking his place in the universe. The scope of the series has resulted in some of the most impressive splash pages and spreads of the past several years as Beta Ray Bill and his comrades travel through space and Hel aboard the enormous starship Skuttlebutt. Johnson’s skill in exaggerating forms to convey power is undeniable and even the smallest panels (in size or scope) possess the same detailed depictions and storytelling instincts that make all of Beta Ray Bill an undeniable thrill to read. However, Johnson’s greatest achievement and the thing that sets Beta Ray Bill apart as one of 2021’s best new series is the hero himself. As an exploration of belonging and identity, Beta Ray Bill is effects the heart every bit as much as the eye in a story that’s universal in more ways than one. — Chase Magnett

Published by Marvel Comics

Written by Daniel Warren Johnson

Art by Daniel Warren Johnson

Colors by Mike Spicer

Letters by Joe Sabino with Daniel Warren Johnson

CHAINSAW MAN

The first two volumes of Chainsaw Man were released in English in 2020, so when I discovered three volumes of the series at the start of this year it felt only a step removed from discovering fire. It’s nearly impossible to describe everything that Chainsaw Man encompasses or accomplishes, especially considering that it does so much in the fast-flying form of non-stop, gonzo ultraviolence. As pure indulgence, the series succeeds with some of the best pacing in comics in a story that never seems to stop sprinting as characters, concepts, and conflicts are introduced (and sometimes lost) in every new chapter. Yet the heart and mind behind this shonen style are similarly undeniable. Denji’s story of a debt-burdened young man brutally killed by the gig economy may seem on the nose, but the series’ critiques of a modern economy designed to strip every cent of value from its consumers is spot on. On top of all that comes my absolute favorite element, the relationship between Denji and Pochita—a boy-and-his-dog story that continually reminds Denji and readers what’s still worth fighting, even in a world so manically ravaged by violence as this one. Chainsaw Man is the rare comic where each and every new installment will likely leave your jaw hanging as you laugh through tears. Don’t miss it. — Chase Magnett

Published by Viz Media

Created by Tatsuki Fujimoto

HEAVEN NO HELL

DeForge has long since proven himself to be one of the most astute and idiosyncratic observers of modern life in the comics medium. Each new release, whether it’s an excellent bound volume like Heaven No Hell or an ongoing webcomic, is cause for attention as DeForge simply does not miss. More than a dozen short narratives collected in Heaven No Hell make that clear to newcomers and longstanding readers alike. DeForge’s characters are consistently ordinary, obsessed with past grievances and small details, and are made more accessible through their unique forms on the page. Flat, geometric depictions create a space where shape and size are every bit as important to detailing these recognizable concerns and emotions as the words surrounding them. As readers are lured in by DeForge’s style, he examines a sprawling array of problems that earn this collection’s haunting title, ranging from the omnipresence of big tech in our most personal moments to the search for meaning in mindlessly manufacture mass culture. Readers will find themselves challenged by recognizable characters, hauntingly recognizable conflicts, and one of the most accessible and honest artistic styles in comics today. — Chase Magnett

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Created by Michael DeForge

JONNA AND THE UNPOSSIBLE MONSTERS

Chris Samnee has been acknowledged as one of American comics’ modern masters for several years now after providing definitive work on the likes of Daredevil and Thor: The Mighty Avenger, alongside too many others to count here. While he continues to deftly portray superhero stories in the pages of Fire Power, the original, creator-owned work Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters is shaping up to be this master’s magnum opus. The first issue remains one of the best comics debuts of the past decade. Without prescribed constraints on space and time, Samnee, accompanied by his co-writer and wife Laura Samnee, carefully develop character, setting, and conflict through the actions on the page. Readers are shown every important detail in a truly immersive reading experience. Small interactions between characters offer levels of information to be explored and spreads of monster battles are nothing short of stunning. Each issue of Jonna reads like a gift, but the greatest gift of all is the recognition that this saga is just beginning. With only four issues published so far, now is the perfect time to remind ourselves why the comics medium is so powerful with a story that perfectly embodyies that power. — Chase Magnett

Published by Oni Press

Written by Chris and Laura Samnee

Art by Chris Samnee

Colors by Matthew Wilson

Letters by Crank!

MONSTERS

What is left to be said about Monsters at this point? Since its long-awaited debut in April, this volume, almost 40 years in the making, has caught the attention of nearly every media outlet beyond comics standard scope and was met by rave reviews and a critical appraisal of its medium. What may surprise NPR listeners was no surprise at all for comics readers, though, as Barry Windsor-Smith has been a renowned artist here the entire time. What Monsters did accomplish, however, was revealing new depths to Windsor-Smith’s storytelling and art. His examination of the very concept of monstrosity is novelistic in nature, embedding itself across multiple generations of American history to examine metaphorical monsters alongside the very literal ones appearing on the page. Detailed depictions of tortured faces and lovingly detailed handwriting alike make Monsters an immersive reading experience, never allowing readers to look away for long no matter how terrible the events depicted may be. Monsters is a culmination of careful artistic consideration, skillfully practiced and varied draftsmanship, and Windsor-Smith’s expansive comics career; it bears all of those expectations well, which is why it stands as a true cultural touchstone in 2021 as it reflects our current moment alongside the many decades leading to it. — Chase Magnett

Published by Fantagraphics

Created by Barry Windsor-Smith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *