My favorite comic book, graphic novels reads of 2021

Captain Orion, longtime reader of comics and graphic novels, of strangerworlds.com, writes:

2021 was a quiet year for comic book stores and retail shelves, but the awesome new reads keep coming.

The impact of the ongoing global pandemic continues to affect the industry, creators, publishers. Yet, there the push to keep sequential arts remains perpetual in a forward direction, from and for folks who are passionate for its pure form of art and storytelling. Comic books and graphic novels will never die as long as there are intelligent creatures who can distinguish, interpret, enjoy visual storytelling. But in our present days, that may change in format, and how they are received.

For myself, I am well aware of the new trends of online comics as long form storytelling, particularly with WebToons, and scrolling comics. I do find that evolving form interesting, but found nothing yet that has grabbed me. There are many new webcomics series self-published as well, which I hope to explore in 2022. But for last year, it was all about print and what was available at comic stores, borrowed from friends and local libraries.

I’m often excited if a favorite writer or artist is involved, so there might be a bit bias for how much involved with a read I get. In 2021, I was especially excited to see many favored names prominent on shelves, especially Mark Russell, J.H. Williams III, Naoki Urasawa, Tom Taylor, and more. I also discovered new favorites for the years ahead.

Many of those, I will share below as my best comics and graphic novels of 2021, which I highly recommend for 2022…

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2021

Stray Dogs

Writer: Tomy Fleecs Artist: Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics (limited series)

It’s scary being the new dog. In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can’t remember what happened. She doesn’t know how she ended up in this house. She doesn’t recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just…can’t…recall…Wait! Where’s her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what’s happening, and how she’s going to survive this. They say there’s no such thing as a bad dog—just bad owners.

Stray Dogs is an underrated hit and an exhilarating reading experience. By that, I mean looking at the old cartoons. mostly from Disney where house pets and street animals are humanized, to a point of talking and having there own lives. But, also with a realistic approach keeping in mind their physical limits. Stray Dogs brings it all to a creepy extreme, with grisly murder and dark turns where nothing is off the table for the fates of some very cute, talking animals. Throw in some many nail-biting moments, leading to an epic finale. And overall, Stray Dogs is an awesome read.

BEST FANTASY (and NEW) SERIES of 2021

ECHOLANDS

Writer: W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III Artist: Dave Stewart, J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

In a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history, a reckless thief, Hope Redhood, holds the key to excavating its dark, strange past—if only she and her crew can escape a tyrannical wizard and his unstoppable daughter. But fate will send them all on a path leading to a war between worlds. Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships. It’s going to be a helluva ride!

This series is a bold mix of magic, technology, world-building, but with a unique feel and presentation, bringing the reader on a dreamy, wild journey. Echolands delivers well with a landscape oriented pages, utilizing J.H. Williams III (which I know well from Batwoman, Promethea) inventive use of panels and transition. It’s all very fast-paced as we follow Hope and friends are in constant danger, but also for the reader to slow-down and really take in beautiful complexities of this strange, fantastic adventure full of interesting concepts. Also, love the extras every issue brings, expanding upon both the insights of the creators and the world of Echolands. This brings what true fantasy should be, without limits and breaking the boundaries of the fantastic.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES of 2021

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Simone Di Neo
Publisher: BOOM! Entertainment (monthly Series)

Captain Malik and the crew of the spaceship the Vihaan II are in search of the only resources that matter — and can only be found by harvesting the giant corpses of alien gods that are found on the edge of human space. While other autopsy ships and explorers race to salvage the meat, minerals, and metals that sustain the human race, Malik sees an opportunity to finally break free from this system: by being the first to find a living god. But Malik’s obsession with the gods will push his crew into the darkest reaches of space, bringing them face to face with a threat unlike anything they ever imagined, unless the rogue agent on their trail can stop them first…

This is some crazy cool sci-fi fun, told with modern digital coloring, slick animated style, and fluid storytelling. There’s action mixed with moral reflection on our place in the stars, and the limits sentients ponder on breaking. But also, the story feel believable with space physics and engineering that doesn’t seem like made up nonsense. Our main hero, Captain Malik, is the cosmic romantic with an deep life-story bringing him to the edge of the known, and beginning of the unknown. It’s all a wonderful story unfolding in vibrant color and dramatic faire, giving this hard sci-fi a wicked sharp edge. I look forward to see where this all goes!

BEST COMICS PANELING of 2021

The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Writer: Heloise Chochois Artist: Kendra Boileau
Publisher: Graphic Mundi – PSU Press (graphic novel)

A young man has a horrible motorcycle accident. He wakes up in the hospital to discover that one of his arms has been amputated. Then a portrait on the wall of his hospital room begins to speak to him. The subject of the painting introduces himself as Ambroise Paré, the French barber-surgeon who revolutionized the art of amputation. From this wonderfully absurd premise, the two begin an imaginary conversation that takes them through a sweeping history of surgical amputation, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Unencumbered by pathos or didacticism, this graphic novel explores the world of amputation, revealing fascinating details about famous amputees throughout history, the invention of the tourniquet, phantom limb syndrome, types of prostheses, and transhumanist technologies. Playfully illustrated and seriously funny, The Body Factory is sure to delight anyone interested in the history and future of medicine and how we repair and even enhance the body.

This read is both a wild story journey and a real look at the history, science, psychology of amputations and prosthetics. The story is also psychological, dealing with a protagonist dealing with the loss of his body part, and coming to terms with what comes next. It’s fascinating on that level where the situation can happen to us, what how we can understand, given it’s necessity to history and medical solutions. There are parallels of the fictional, the non-fictional, textbook information, mixed in a strategic placements giving the reader a broader understanding of the subject matter. The Body Factory gives much on this unfortunate situation that amputation brings, yet also giving an enlightened approach on the act of living through fixing ourselves. Telling this through expressive art, story mixed with information through this inventive, entertaining style, is awesome.

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES of 2021

Superman: Red and Blue

Writer/Artist: (Various)
Publisher: DC Comics (limited series)

Around the world, everyone knows that when they see a red-and-blue streak in the sky, it’s not a bird…it’s not a plane…it’s Superman. Collected for the first time in its entirety, this unforgettable anthology series showcases fresh new visions of the Man of Steel in his two signature colors!

A series of very diverse stories about Superman, sometimes from different perspectives, that give a fresh look at a character that some would think all has been done to. Those people would be wrong. There are some very interesting takes on Superman, his strengths and weaknesses, and what helped make him so iconic. All of these stories, with an artistic challenge where only red and blue colors used. I loved every issues, and excited to read about Superman again.

BEST CREATIVE STORYTELLING of 2021

Mawrth Valliis

Writer/Artist: EPK
Publisher: Image Comics (graphic novel)

During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets. A fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format, sci-fi adventure through Mars’s mysteries all told in its original Martian form.

It’s a short read with a lot of heart. There’s a pursuit across a Martian landscape, leading to some fantastic twists and turns. But, also, there is no exposition of an Earth language. It’s all in “Martian.” giving the reader a more alien feel, and more reading of actions, reactions, and situation. There is more show, don’t tell, and I love that. The use of colors are fantastic, the choice of opposites of blank and white in our two main characters are brilliant. The end is haunting, leaving room for the reader to ponder its overall message and true nature of the story.

BEST SATIRE SERIES of 2021

Not All Robots

Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: AWA Studios – Upshot (monthly Series)

In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them in this sci-fi satire from Mark Russell (The Flintstones, Second Coming) and Mike Deodato Jr. (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Resistance).

I love Mark Russell’s style at satire with Prez, Flintstones, God is Disappointed in You, dark but with a mix of wit and humor to it all. But here is a brilliant escalation in Not All Robots; to what happens when machines are made to be more human, with attitudes and status. There is a lot of back and forth with human elements/ That includes taken in all the insecurities are also inherited with both humans and machines that they create. But there’s also a lot of metaphorical moments, bouncing back to who we treat as machines today, who we take for granted, and groups we take in as cheap, willing labor. It’s funny, because we see the absurdities that Mark Russell loves to mix as cartoonish tropes brilliantly disguised as current, real human issues.

BEST IMPORTED SERIES of 2021

Asadora!

Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher:
Viz (published in monthly volumes, 16 volumes)

In 2020, a large creature rampages through Tokyo, destroying everything in its path. In 1959, Asa Asada, a spunky young girl from a huge family in Nagoya, is kidnapped for ransom—and not a soul notices. When a typhoon hits Nagoya, Asa and her kidnapper must work together to survive. But there’s more to her kidnapper and this storm than meets the eye.

Asadora is a historical fiction, science fiction, and suspense mystery all rolled together. There’s much stroy to follow with multiple plotlines, but with memorable characters that we trust will eventually be more connected – a signature style to the storyteller that brought us Monster, 20th Century boys, Pluto – all great works but took time to develop. There’s only a few volumes in the US so far, and off to a big start. Asadora gives more in curiosity with real life events mixed in with science fiction familiarities; all rooted deep in Japanese culture. We also get some great developments, with some tense reactions. But Naoki Urasawa’s art style seems more detailed than ever here. I’m excited, and looking forward to reading more of this in 2022.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Monsters

Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Publisher: Fantagraphics (graphic novel)

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters is brutal, mean, and really putting the “graphic” into graphic novel. The art is amazing with a story that leads through the familiar territory of government experiments gone out of control, but then heads into darker territory into both physiological and psychological. It’s started as a Hulk story, then kind of mutated over time, with elements from Barry Windsor’s work on Conan and Marvel’s Wolverine story of Weapon X. There is amazing passion that comes from telling the grand story of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters, which comes out as an uncomfortable, emotionally-driven masterpiece.

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSICs of 2021

Berserk Deluxe Editions

Writer/Artist: Kentaro Muira
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (published in volume compilations)

Not much else needs to be said about the amazing epic story of Berserk and art/storytelling of Kentaro Muira. His sad passing in 2021 has brought fans and new readers together to further appreciate his great work and what we will miss in the years ahead. But to best appreciate his work I believe, are these amazing deluxe hardcover compilations of his smaller sized manga volumes, all beautiful brought on larger, high quality pages. For myself in later years of rereading, this will be how I best enjoy the story of Guts and his many companions and challenges.

BEST HISTORICAL COMICS of 2021

The Comic Book History of Animation

Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
Publisher: IDW Publishing (limited series)

Incredibly informative and very entertaining. From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age, no bits of significant knowledge of moving art is forgotten and so well put together. Everything makes perfect sense, especially in the critical turn of my growing up with Saturday morning commercialized cartoons, anime binges through college, emotional Pixar masterpieces, and all in between and moving ahead. Much behind the scenes is explained, including many rough legal spots and bitter feuds, leaving the history of the industry as cartoonish and wacky as expressed through every chapter.

That’s all my favorites for the 2021 year. I probably missed or overlooked some as I could only cover so much. I would love to read your favorites in the comments below.

Big changes, new horizons…

After much thinking and heavy thought, there will be momentous changes for the Stranger Worlds journey.

There will be new plans, and a repurpose of its original mission on this grand journey. To discover, and rediscover the worlds of the infinite imagination and beyond. There will be reaching out, with new tools and a crew gathering, to a whole new outlook, and presentation to our findings, to share and bring back so most far our concepts and ideas that only our creative minds can fathom..

Sometimes, that means going a different way. More information will come soon across strangerworlds.com, its social media connections, and more. It all might take a little time to present our pathways, but we will get there….

A strange look back at the obscure Black superheroes of the Golden Age

I love comic books, and its long, strange history through its mainstream American publishing. Imperfect, by way of how Black superheroes have developed over the many decades, but in an awesome, positive direction. I am a reader of color, of mixed race complexation, yet often identified as Black because of my darker skin tones and facial features. Yet, I haven’t thought much of my representation throughout my many years of reading. I was more concerned with inclusiveness, being part of the grander designs of those comic book multiverses, and that is enough.

Yet, I ponder over some often said comments on the arguable statement of Marvel’s Black Panther, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, being our first mainstream Black fictional superhero. This is certainly believed, since the recent popular and award-winning Marvel movie brought much attention to this previously mid-tier character of comics. It’s probably true, before I research anything.

When we often think Americanized super-heroes of a top-ten tier, we think the most prominent in this modern age – Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America, Wolverine, Hulk. Most of these, have long standing roots dating back through decades of comic book history. All of these have primarily Caucasian appearances, set to their most known popular incarnations.

Since then, we have Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Cyborg, Storm (X-Men), Falcon, Luke Cage, Static Shock, Blade, Black Lightning, and more. All Black and proud, part of a building legacy. And it’s great that we get representation out there for comic readers, especially for those very young and discovering comics for the first time.

In my early years, I discovered my first Black super-hero in the comic pages of 1980s run of The New Teen Titans written by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. He was part of a very super-team where all seemed equal, together, a group of young friends with personal problems and gripes, yet also helping to save their city, planet, universe, and beyond. Part of that team, was Victor Stone, better known as Cyborg – a young African America man who became part machine, resulting from a tragic accident. With that, the powers and strength of an enhanced body, and he can a shoot powerful, sonic energy blast from his arm cannon. Cyborg was awesome, and still is. So, he is my first mainstream Black superhero. Storm of the X-Men follows a close second.

Though my readings and early obsessions with big comic book crossover melodramas, especially Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, Infinity Gauntlet – I would learn of many more black superheroes. I would read many more comic titles from 25 cents bins, and become obsessed with sourcebooks like DC’s Who’s Who, and Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. Many more of mine favorites include the Black Racer, Bronze Tiger, Vixen, Bishop, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart), and more

So for this Black history month, I looked back to this recent claim that Black Panther was the first black superhero. Black Panther appeared in Fantastic Four #52, released in 1966 as an African king from the fictional land of Wakanda. He would not be well-known for a while in the mainstream until the recent movie. And, he was far from any top favorite super-heroes as I enjoyed those closer to the X-Men and DC Teen Titans more. I liked the costume, and I like panthers, and that was it. I never realized how significant T’Challa really was, until later on as I enjoyed critically acclaimed runs by Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, Reginald Hudlin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. He also showed up in various cartoons, toy shelves, video and board games in the over the last two decades.

Yet, what legacy for Black superheroes, is known before the arrival of our king of Wakanda? Before 1966, to the Golden era of comics of the 1930s to 1950s?

So, I dug through the awesome archive of human history that is our Internet and its many searchable resources. I also picked through some comics history on my shelf including the highly recommended recent book, Invisible Men, The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books, by Ken Quattro. Here are my compiled findings.

The first Black superhero to hit the niche pop culture of early comic books appeared first in 1934 in the Mandrake the Magician. daily newspaper strips. Lothar is Mandrake’s best friend and crimefighting companion, also an African prince of the “Seven Nations” a fictional league of African jungle tribes. His super power was his mighty strength, stamina, and invulnerability to any weapons, and magic. his early appearances had him featured as a servant with poor English skills. His clothing choice was typical of such depictions of a mighty, yet very foreign African man at the time.

Well, Lothar seemed also a bit stereotypical of the African muscleman. manservant (possibly slave as well). Yet, that was far more acceptable and dignified than racist depictions of Blacks in comics of that time. Among the most dubious was “Whitewash” Jones, a young, very minstrelized patriot who joined Captain America’s Sentinels of Liberty in pages of Young Allies, published by Timely Comics in the 1940s (later Atlas Comics, then reborn as Marvel Comics). I don’t count him, or Ebony White (The Spirit, by Will Eisner), or Steamboat (Fawcett’s Captain Marvel series), or any awful racist depictions of the era. They don’t inspire, and held back the potential for better Black superheroes in a time where real life African Americans fought proudly yet segregated, throughout World War II.

I did a bit more digging and found the Red Mask featured in the pages of Best Comics, in 1939 which only lasted four issues, and very short printed. Unlike Lothar, the Red Mark stood alone, featured in his own stories. He wore a simple red mask, and fought bad guys. Weirdly, his skin color changed from cover to cover, and in the pages as well. But, for sure he was an African (edit: correction, not African but likely a Pacific Islander) chief who masqueraded as a heroic masked fighter. Not much else is known.

But then, a real surprise came in 1947 with an obscurity, All Negro Comics – a single-issue, small-press American comic book published, written and drawn solely by African-American writers and artists.

Inside this special issue were multiple stories including “Ace Harlem” was an African-American police detective. The featured superhero was Lion Man, the first Black hero created by a Black man (Geo. J. Evans Jr.). He was “a college-educated African American sent by the United Nations on a mission to a uranium deposit on Africa’s Gold Coast, where he adopted the mischievous orphan Bubba.” Though his character costume was jungle-tribal style attire, it meant to more to inspire black American pride in their African heritage.

Yet, still a jungle-themed man, but with noble intentions at least.

Eventually came Jungle Tales #1-7, released circa 1954 featuring Waku of the Bantu, another African prince protagonist hero who battled sometimes battled supernatural foes. His serialization was part of an anthology of tales published by Atlas Comics (previously Timely Comics, and then soon rebranded as Marvel Comics). Waku was a more developed hero who favored non-violent solutions, yet skilled at martial combat, by writer Don Rico and artist Ogden Whitney. The comic art and storytelling was high quality…

And that pretty much all, ushering in a new Silver Age of comic books to come with the rise of Marvel Comics and the evolution of DC Comics. The Black Panther of Marvel Comics would arrive, though still carrying on the jungle royalty archetype. At least T’Challa wasn’t restricted to a loincloth, and hailed from a nation that was more technologically advanced, yet remained hidden and low-key to prevent the curiosity of outsiders.

The 1970s would play up a new type of African American hero, the urban tough city streets defender with the likes of Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart), Black Goliath, Misty Knight; major players of the Blaxploitation era. Black Vulcan of the Super Friends TV cartoon, I think, was the first Black superhero to hit the mainstream beyond comic books.

Soon after, many more including the New Teen Titan’s Cyborg, where I jumped in. The 90s brought so many more Black superheroes of all types, including African princes to jump back in. Some would get an upgrade and felt more fitting to our modern era. Even Mandrake’s Lothar developed into more in his character reboot alongside Mandrake in the Defenders of Earth animated cartoon and comics. He was still a loyal bodyguard, but described not as an African prince. According to his action figure package lore, he is a “Ninja from the Caribbean.”

So yes, African American and Black superheroes in general share a strange yet developed tradition, which may not have had the best beginnings, but will remain and continue to represent, and be admired and inspire for centuries to come.

Captain Orion’s bestest comic book, graphic novel picks of 2020!

Oh 2020, what an unusual year for the comic book industry.

Sadly, there are less comic book stores, less retail book outlets, and those left are mostly now struggling to survive through the ongoing global pandemic. There’s also the freeze on comic cons, potential book signings, promotions. 2020 was a troublesome year for creators, merchants, publishers, and readers.

Yet, the sequential arts shall survive. Graphic novels sales are up by 29% since 2019! Also, there are many fresh reads throughout the year, and more time among the masses to catch up on these and past work with with the quarantines and lockdowns. Also, buying comics supports the industry, among the struggling creators, publishers, distributers, small business dealers.

So below, are my bestest picks released for 2020, based on what I have checked out.

BEST NEW SERIES of 2020

Inkblot

Writer: Emma Kubert Artist: Rusty Gadd
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

It’s a fun little series about a mischievous magical over-powerful cat. I love the worlds, characters, art, writing, and excited to see where it’s all going!

BEST ONGOING STORYLINE of 2020

Excellence

Writer: Brandom Thomas Artist: Emilio Lopez, Khary Randolph
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

This series keeps on surprising, with twists and turns while presenting a secret world of Black magic that feels more intricate and responsible than your typical Hogwarts melodrama.

BEST COMIC BOOK COVER of 2020

Amazing Spider-Man #55 (latest series)

Artist: Patrick Gleason
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I don’t know if the story is good, but the cover is just too awesome to ignore!

BEST COLORING of 2020

MTSYRY: Octobriana 1976

Writer/Artist: Jim Rugg
Publisher: AdHouse Books

The black light colors are truly eye-popping, with this modern take on an old Russian superhero from the early Bronze Age. To further the color even more, Jim Rugg also put out a 1970s style coloring issue, and colorless version as well. Masterful stuff!

BEST INSANITY of 2020

Dark Nights: Death Metal

Writer: Scott Snyder and others Artist: Greg Capullo and others
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly mini -eries and crossover one-shots)

Also the best guilty pleasure of 2020. As a big DC fan since the late 1980s, the is the most ridiculous and over-the top crossover event yet. Everything has gone wrong in the DCU as an army evil Batman from the Dark Multiverse take over, and things just get crazier from there.

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2020

Something is Killing the Children

Writer: James Tynion IV Artist: Werther Dell’Edera
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly series

If you enjoy horror, mystery, stronger and darker content than Stranger Things, than Something is Killing the Children is waiting for you to turn its pages. It’s different, not as spoon fed in pacing, full of mystery, and has a unique protagonist.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION of 2020

Planet Paradise

Writer/Artist: Jesse Lonergan
Publisher: Image Comics (Short graphic novel)

I love this story, which feels like a mix of old fashioned pulp, mixed with grit and light campy elements. Great survival story revolving around adventure, danger, friendship. Also love the alien landscapes, designs, and space tech – simple yet escapist pleasure for sure!

BEST CHARACTER STUDY of 2020

DARTH VADER Vol. 1 – Dark Heart Of The Sith

Writer/Artist: Greg Pack, Raffaele Ienco
Publisher: Marvel Comics (#1-5 of the latest series, collected in trade paperback form)

This is an interesting read as it delves deeper into the inner conflict of Darth Vader since the events of Empire Strikes Back (but before Return of the Jedi), searching his feelings. This leads to a startling revelation, that you should read to find out. The result, gives more sense to his transition and actions in Return of the Jedi, yet also plays upon his cruel, corrupted nature.

BEST WRITTEN SERIES in 2020

John Constantine: Hellblazer

Writer: Simon Spurrier Artist: Matias Bergara, Arron Campbell, Marcio Takara 
Publisher: DC Comics (Black Label) (monthly series)

I freakin love Simon Spurrier’s writing from past work and here, also with great respect back to the Vertigo socio-political days of Delano and Ennis!

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Under Earth

Writer/Artist: Chris Gooch
Publisher: Top Shelf (graphic novel)

This was really, really good, and fitting for a pandemic time for themes of lonliness and isolation turning to friendships and communications through restrictive times. In this case, a prison system in a surreal future or alternate present. The artwork is perfect, with a masterful use of blacks and whites…check it out!

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSIC COMICS of 2020

Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1

Writer/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz

Many fans of Rumiko Takahashi will know her best for the grander Inu-Yasha anime and manga series. But for me in my older days of when manga felt more fresh to comic books stores, Mermaid’s Saga captured my heart way more. Seeing it all complete, but this time better edited and and presented, is a treasure to behold.

BEST COMICS HISTORY BOOK of 2020

Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books

Writer: Ken Quatro
Publisher: Yoe Books

An large book full of lost history detailing the stories and lives of many obscure Black cartoonists and comic creators during comics Golden Age around the Second World War. Full of rare panels, pictures, fascinating facts on multiple genre contributions (some are very surprising!) what would have been lost if not for this book.

And, that’s all my favorites for the 2020 year. I probably missed or overlooked that might have been better. Please if so, let me know in the comments. I don’t want to feel left out on your best books.

Captain Orion’s bestest video games picks of 2020!

BESTEST

VIDEO GAMES

OF 2020!

2020 was a great year, for video games releases!

A lot of great games were released for this year. Many of them, I wish I got around to or had the consoles including Ghosts of Tsushima, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Doom: Eternal, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and more. We deserved fresh entertainment for this ongoing global pandemic crisis with the quarantines and social distancing shadowing much of 2020. Meanwhile, the interactive industry thrived with consistent sales, new consoles selling out, and plenty of new content for every player of all types.

Many of these fresh screen games set out to be enjoyed alone and/or socially online. We have more advanced gaming technology and means for online downloading, connecting, streaming, social discussing, cheering, and complaining. They all provide great distractions from the current time stresses as we may build upon new and renewed friendships with our shared love of gaming. Or, just pass the time and our best modern remedy for boredom with some single player escapism!

But for me, I’m a little bit of both types. I enjoy gaming alone, and with friends. Such depends on my mood and state of mind. Though, I steered more toward budgeting with big sales in games and freebies. There was plenty out there for those with the thinnest of wallets. I meanwhile, stayed mostly on my PC and Xbox One, no new consoles for me yet. I do want a Nintendo Switch, with time to play the many past games I missed for it.

Anyway, here are the games I personally present as the most important game awards to for 2020!

BEST NEW GAME OF 2020

HADES

Developer and published by Supergiant Games
System: PC, Nintendo Switch

This is the BEST game of 2020, for many reasons that go back decades in what I ask for in a a best-tier video game. Make it challenging, story-deep, visually awesome, sensible controls, gratifying, constant surprises, great music, unique style, and heart. Hades has all of this and more, with aspects reminiscent of other personal favorites – Disgaea, Diablo, Dark Souls, Smash TV. But with Hades, the more you die, the more the game is revealed with more story and gameplay elements. There is so much more I would like to say, but just go play it if you’re into something that feels both old-school but also super modern in its approach and complexity.

BEST COOPERATIVE?! GAME OF 2020

AMONG US

Developed and published by Innersloth
System: PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch

A surprise that was released in 2018, but earned a huge boost in popularity thanks to its fans, developers, its very affordable price, online streams, and all around fun this game holds; all perfect for this time of mass quarantines and social distancing. Among Us is that connects us, as each game has its own story creating tension on just who Among Us is sus.

BEST KICKASS GAME OF 2020

STREETS OF RAGE 4

Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush, Lizardcube  Published by Dotemu
System: All the current consoles and PC

HELL YES!!!! I freakin love the old Streets of Rage games for the Sega Genesis (and later mods, fan-made remakes). Streets of Rage 4 is THE damn great, official successor to all of that, including all that made the game great – action, complexity and variance to the button mashing, awesome musical tracks that your fists can dance to. The graphics are perfect with expressive visual style, vibrant colors, detailed backgrounds, and hella fun for co-op action too.

BEST PLAY AND CHILL GAME OF 2020

TOWNSCAPER

Developed and published by Oskar Stålberg
System: PC

It’s not really a game, but it should be someday. It’s hard to explain. Just watch the trailer, and from there, explore the crazy insane possibilities and let your imagination figure out the direction. The more you tinker and discover new aspects of the game, the more more awesome your wierd little world. I love the animation, sound effects, every little detail no matter how small; making Townscaper worth checking out.

BEST VISUAL NOVEL GAME OF 2020

QUANTUM SUICIDE

Developer and published by Cotton Candy Cyanide
System: PC

This particular Japanese anime style visual novel sets itself off apart with a very unique story, and choosy situations that center around mechanics that are very science fictiony, flirty. with deadly sub-games that take a bit more thinking than I would expect. I much enjoyed this all as I watched and chimed in for some very entertaining Twitch streams from a gamer friend that you should follow (twitch.tv/aechonex).

BEST PUZZLING PUZZLE GAME OF 2020

HELLTAKER

Developer and published by vanripper
System: PC

A fun puzzle-adventure with dating and cooking themes game? Helltaker is that and so much more. It’s very unique, with catchy beats, and a whole lot of fun. It’s also free!

BEST FINALLY GOT AROUND TO IT GAME OF 2020

FINAL FANTASY XV

Developed and published by Square Enix
System: All the current consoles and PC

Final Fantasy XV came out a little over 4 years ago and has been in constant development all the way until 2019 with tis final DLC. This open-world game is freakin massive, giving its players much homework into other media for a wider complete experience. I found the 19.99 price for the Royal Edition (main game plus mostly all the DLC) the best I can get for my single-player RPG Final Fantasy loving needs. I enjoyed this far more than expected, delve deep into worldbuilding, and will forever treasure what it brought in this tough pandemic time.

BEST DEMO GAME OF 2020

THE LIFE AND SUFFERING OF SIR BRANTE

Developer by Sever published by 101XP
System: PC for the demo

A surprise treat among I discovered among the PAX Online demos. It’s a visual novel that reads like a lifetime biography, but with choices that do indeed tell a story of about the life and suffering of (you can choose his name). It’s a series of very unfortunate events, where you do your best to make the best out of it, and find deeper meanings though it all. It’s different and worth checking out for visual novel fans, and something to watch out for when it’s fully released.

BEST GAME OF 2021, MAYBE..

CYBERPUNK 2077

Developer: Playstation, Xbox, and PC

The game I was most excited for its delayed release. And, I still am. But after seeing (and laughing) the glitches, problems, frustrations that seem to be a trend for these big, crazy games where play-testing continues with the player after its release…not playing or judging this until the final product is done with enough updates, patches, DLC, whatever it takes to experience as intended. Maybe it will be awesome as its hype. I will remain excited, and wait till the finished product.

That’s all the game awards for 2020 I got. If there was something else I should have played, please share in the comments below!

Give a graphic novel, big comics TP with our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide!

2020 Holiday Season is here!!

Tis season shall not to be stopped by the ongoing global pandemic. Many will shop, yet find ways to best stay safe and minimalize risks of infection. Online or local, there are ways to continue the joyous gift giving tradition of our Xmas and winter holiday season!

So, that’s where you come in reaching out to a local bookseller or comic shop, hopefully still open or have a pickup thing going on. Online also works, if local options are too inconvenient. Either way, The book-sellers, publishers, artists, writers, and creative souls that drive the sequential arts need your help! And they can help you in return, by helping to put something new in the hands of someone awesome in your life, most deserving!

But choosing can be tough, especially in this tough time of social distancing and quarantining So, I put together a shortlist of awesome, fresh current shelf reads that I know of, or heard of, or recommended by a respected peers. Much of this is fresh, creator-driven material. Some things are just fresh formats for older. more obscure material now reprinted.

These are mostly currently obtainable through major retail book chains, comic book stores, and wherever new books can be at least ordered. NOTE: Book info below is for the US and Canada retail shelves release.

So, dig in and consider perhaps gifting any of these for yourself as well.

The World of Black Hammer: Volume 1

Writer / Artist: Jeff Lemire / Dean Ormston (Illustrator), David RubÌn (Illustrator), Max Fiumara (Illustrator)
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
Format: 256-hardcover
ISBN: 978-1506719955

An expanded look at the world of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer universe, with two complete series drawn by David Rubín and Max Fiumara. Sherlock Frankenstein lies at the heart of the mystery of what happened to Black Hammer, Spiral City’s greatest hero, and Black Hammer’s daughter is determined to uncover his role. Doctor Andromeda, an aged crime fighter, desperately struggles to reconnect with his estranged son as he takes on personal demons and interstellar battles.

Collects Sherlock Frankenstein & the Legion of Evil: From the World of Black Hammer and Doctor Andromeda and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows in a deluxe, oversized hardcover format with a new cover, sketchbook extras, and more!

Get this for… Black Hammer fans of course, or someone who enjoys comics and perhaps super hero movies on a more intellectual level. The Black Hammer stories can often be enjoyed as self-contained, but also a celebration of the long-standing contributions of super-hero storytelling as literary, character building devices!

Under-Earth

Writer / Artist: Chris Gooch
Published by: Top Shelf Productions
Format: 560-page softcover paperback
ISBN: 9781603094771

The inmates of an extensive underground prison struggle to build meaningful lives in a broken system, in the most ambitious graphic novel to date from rising indie star Chris Gooch (Bottled and Deep Breaths).Under-Earth takes place in a subterranean landfill, hollowed out to serve as a massive improvised prison. Sunken into the trash and debris of the past — gameboys, iphones, coffee cups, old cars — we follow two parallel stories.

In the first, a new arrival struggles to adapt to the everyday violence, physical labour, and poverty of the prison city. Overwhelmed and alone, he finds a connection with a fellow inmate through an old, beat-up novel. While these two silent and uncommunicative men grow closer thanks to their book, the stress of their environment will test their new bond. Meanwhile, a pair of thieves pull off a risky job in exchange for the prisons’ schematics and the promise of escape — only to be betrayed by their employer. On the run with their hope for escape now gone, the two women set their minds to revenge. Yet as they lay their plans, their focus shifts from an obsession with the outside world to the life they have with each other.

Equal parts sincerity and violence, Under-Earth explores humanity’s inextinguishable drive to find meaning, connection, and even family — and how fragile such constructions can be.

Get this for… A good friend, someone looking for new positives in these tough times, and enjoys a good long read! Also, Chris Gooch’s art is awesome, with an modern tone that feels both expressive yet beautifully simple.

Accidents and Old Lace and Other Stories

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Writer / Artist:  A; Feldstein / Graham Ingels
Published by: Fantagraphics
Format: 232-page Hardcover
ISBN: 9781683963806

This volume collects short horror comics stories from Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, and Impact ― including a rare EC gem that hasn’t been seen since its original publication more than 65 years ago! These stories, which “Ghastly” Graham Ingels drew while he was at the pinnacle of his powers, include tales such as “Accidents and Old Lace.” Three sweet, little old ladies weave tapestries depicting the gruesome deaths of real people, but when an art dealer commits murder to get a tapestry of his own, he discovers just how closely art imitates … death. In “Marriage Vow,” a woman returns from the grave to fulfill her wifely duty to her murderous husband, until death does them … together; and in “The Sliceman Cometh,” an executioner during the French Revolution can’t escape the severed head of an innocent man.

Get this for… someone who loves good short horror stories from yesterday, lost but now found treasure in a book ol book. Some who loves scary movies, and needs to know where some of that stuff probably came from.

Lois Lane: Enemy of the People

Lois Lane Enemy of the People

Writer / Artist:  Greg Rucka / Mike Perkins
Published by: DC Comics
Format: 304-page softcover
ISBN: 1770463690

She uncovered the most dangerous secret in the DC Universe…now she just has to prove it! After a press briefing at the White House-and carrying a secret that could disrupt Superman’s life-Lois Lane embarks on a harrowing journey to uncover a threat to her husband and a plot that reaches the highest levels of international power brokers and world leaders. Bestselling writer Greg Rucka and acclaimed artist Mike Perkins team up for a tale of conspiracy, intrigue, and murder that tests the limits of tough-as-nails investigative journalist Lois Lane. As the mystery deepens, the Question hunts the people responsible for an attempt on the reporter’s life. But do they want her dead because of what she knows or to stop her from finding out more? Collects Lois Lane #1-12.

Get this for someone who loves journalism, or feels Lois Lane deserves better than how she is written in the movies. Someone who also enjoyed the Lois Lane comics in the 70s (daring reporter!) more than the 60s (Superman’s crazy girlfriend!).

Planet Paradise, Volume 1

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Writer / Artist:  Jesse Lonergan
Published by: Image Comics
Format: 128-page softcover
ISBN: 978-1534316980

To survive after crash landing on an alien planet, a vacationer must battle against a hostile environment, killer lizards, corporate bureaucracy, and the pessimism of her sole companion, the drug-addled captain of the ship.

Get this for… who loves a good hearted story filled with friendship and danger, with some surprise twists. Personal note: I absolutely loved this, and you should at least buy this for yourself.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

Writer / Artist:  Tom Scioli
Published by: Ten Speed Press
Format: 208-page hardcover
ISBN: 1984856901

Told in vivid graphic novel form by a groundbreaking Eisner-nominated comics creator, the long-overdue biography of the legend who co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and many more superhero favorites.

Get this for…someone who really loves comic books and loves the history that Jack Kirby has helped greatly shaped and influenced on. Tom Scioli brings a special storytelling style with his art, very detailed and stylized through each page!

Transformers/Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron

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Writer / Artist:  Erik Burnham / Dan Schoening
Published by: IDW
Format: 126-page softcover paperback
ISBN: 978-1684056200

Prime gets slimed! Crossing streams after 35 years, this action-packed graphic novel combines two of the most popular franchises in pop-culture history. After years of civil war, the Autobots fled Cybertron, leaving their home planet in the evil clutches of Megatron and his Decepticons. Years later and millions of miles away, the Autobots pick up a Cybertronian distress signal from a mysterious planet called Earth. The ghostly signal shouldn’t exist, and it’ll bring Optimus Prime and his team—including brand-new Autobot ECTOTRON—face-to-face with… the GHOSTBUSTERS!

Get this for…anyone who loves the golden age of 80s nostalgia through cartoons, movies, and toys.

Titan

Titan

Writer / Artist:  François Vigneault
Published by: Lion Forge Comics
Format: 208-page softcover paperback
ISBN: 1620107791

When MNGR First Class João da Silva arrives on the moon of Titan to take charge of Homestead Station, he finds the massive mining colony plagued by tensions between the giant, genetically-engineered Titan workers and the Terran management. As anger mounts, what began as a routine posting quickly turns into something far more dangerous.

Phoebe Mackintosh thought she left her fighting days behind her when she turned her back on the “mixing” circuit. Now, she finds herself caught between a past she’d rather forget and a future she can’t predict. Together, they must find a way to pull Homestead back from the brink of disaster… Or Titan might be the spark that sets the entire solar system ablaze.

Get this for… someone looking for something a little different in science fiction, probably watches Star Trek for the social commentary.

The Sacrifice of Darkness

Sacrifice of Darkness

Writer / Artist: Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne / Rebecca Kirby
Published by: Archaia (Imprint of BOOM!)
Format: 128-page hardcover
ISBN: 1684156246

New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay (World of Wakanda, Difficult Women) adapts her short story “We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness” as a full-length graphic novel with writer Tracy Lynne Oliver (This Weekend), and artist Rebecca Kirby (Biopsy.) Expanding an unforgettable world where a tragic event forever bathes the world in darkness, The Sacrifice of Darkness follows one woman’s powerful journey through this new landscape as she discovers love, family, and the true light in a world seemingly robbed of any. This young adult drama challenges notions of identity, guilt, and survival in a graphic novel for fans of On A Sunbeam and Are You Listening?

Get this for… someone who loves beautiful art mixed with thoughtful storytelling. Also, those into fresh young adult section finds!

Shuri: Wakanda Forever

Shuri

Writers:  Vita Ayala, Nnedi Okorafor
Artists: Leonardo Romero, Paul Davidson, Rachael Stott
Published by: Marvel Comics
Format: 224-page softcover paperback
ISBN: 1302923692

The Black Panther’s techno-genius sister stars in her own incredible adventures! T’Challa has disappeared, and Wakanda expects Shuri to lead their great nation in his absence! But she’s happiest in a lab surrounded by her inventions. She’d rather be testing gauntlets than throwing them down! So it’s time for Shuri to rescue her brother yet again — with a little help from Storm, Rocket Raccoon and Groot! But what happens when her outer-space adventure puts Africa at risk from an energy-sapping alien threat? Then, Shuri heads to America to investigate a lead, with Ms. Marvel and Miles “Spider-Man” Morales along for the ride! But with her people in peril, will Shuri embrace her reluctant destiny and become the Black Panther once more? Prepare for a hero like you’ve never seen before!

Collects Shuri (2018) monthly single issue comic series #1-10.

Get this for… for Black Panther fans and MCU of course, but further more, a fresh superhero journey that feels classic in its own way and stays with the reader longer after the last page.

Remina

Writer / Artist:  Junji Ito
Published by: Viz Media LLC
Format: 256-page Hardcover
ISBN: 197471747X

(note: due out on December 15th)

Another of Junji Ito’s classics, the sci-fi masterwork Remina tells the chilling tale of a hell star. An unknown planet emerges from inside a wormhole, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, christens the body “Remina” after his own daughter. His finding is met with great fanfare, and Remina herself rises to fame. However, the object picks up speed as it moves along in its curious course, eliminating planets and stars one after another, until finally Earth itself faces extinction… Is the girl Remina the true cause of the catastrophe? A masterwork of horror from Junji Ito, unfolding on a universal scale.

Get this forfans of Junji Ito! Also, someone who loves Japanese horror and science fiction on a much grander, cosmic scale. I haven’t check this one out, but the work of Junji Ito always breaks though and the imagination, and opens the reader to new and eerie dimensions.

Plutocracy

Writer / Artist: Abraham Martinez
Published by: NBM Graphic Novels
Format: 144-page hardcover
ISBN: 9781681122687

2051. The world’s largest company, The Company, has seized power on a planetary scale and runs the world as if it were a business. In a plutocracy, the richer one is, the more powerful one is. In this context, an anonymous citizen becomes compelled to uncover how the world came to this situation, without paying any attention to the official version. Several members of the government end up encouraging him to carry out this investigation by giving him access to all information. He decides to discover the true history of The Company and the various interests that are trying to influence his investigation.

Get this for someone who loves to talk about politics a bit too much.


That’s all for now. I tried for a wide variety, yet not beyond my own reading interests. After all, it’s my personal list. But, if you have something you would like to add to that list, post it in the comments below.

Gamers rally in Animal Crossing to support Black Lives

On Saturday 20th, the fight for racial equality will take place on an Animal Crossing island called Isle of Buns, owned by Adelle Lin.

“I was inspired to “say their names” and wanted to create a memorial space with the time I was spending in Animal Crossing. Coupled with not being able to be out to protest because of Covid, it made sense to try to protest from home,” explained rally organizer Adelle Lin. “There are many others who feel the same and this is an avenue for us to connect with the movement.”

At Adelle’s rally, players can donate directly to organizations and show receipts for unique artwork. For those unable to donate money, her rally uses a unique donation matching system using in-game Bells currency. “Bells are the animal crossing in game currency that you earn by doing a variety of things – picking fruit, making items, planting money trees, popping balloons and most lucratively selling turnips on the “stalk” market,” Adelle explained. “Players spend loads of time gathering these bells and are valuable to building your island. I’d like to offer a way for friends with variable income like artists to also participate in donating, which is rewarding in itself. By donating in game currency, I’ll personally exchange that at a rate of 99,000 bells to $100 cash donations.”

Within the game, an area for donations is split between different charities. The player walks over to the donation area for the charity they want, drop bells, and tells Adelle which charity and how much, they want donated on their behalf.

Anyone can come visit via an Animal Crossing turnip code link or tune in via twitch. Visit the livestream Saturday at 6P EST.

Animal Crossing Event Info