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.

My favorite video games of 2018

Captain Spirit

2018 was a year of many small, yet very shiny gaming gems.

Which, I think is something the industry needs, for just being good games without a ton of DLC, loot boxes, virtual currency, adware, and other deceptive practices disguised within what would appear to be a good game. For me, such as a big turn off. I just want to play a good, challenging game with maybe a story or some visual element I can get deeply involved in.

Still, I did play some games in 2018, but also avoided the popular overly large-world games like the Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, God of War. I hear those are good, but I didn’t time to get deeply involved. And, much of that involving additional currency to enhance the game, ended in a huge turn-off.  I also avoided the newer mobile games and multi-player out there for much of the above reason.

Meanwhile, I did have time for some especially great games that made its debut this year. So, here are my favorites for 2018, and the special awards I give them…

BEST ART DIRECTION IN GAME OF 2018

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GRIS

Developer: Nomada Studio    Published by Devolver Digital
System: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Mac

I played this at PAX West and was instantly captivated. Not just with the gorgeous hand-drawn, animated visuals but with the fluid poetic gameplay. It feels like every moment is a work of art, backed an amazing soundtrack. Gris made its recent release debut, and I now find myself falling into its allure all over again.

BEST ROLE PLAYING GAME, and BEST SHOOT-EM-UP of 2018

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CROSSCODE

Developer: Radical Fish Games    Published by Deck13
System: Linux, Microsoft Windows, MAC

It’s a role-playing game, and a shooter, and a puzzler sometimes. It’s a beautiful game with old-era graphic done with heavy care and attention, and a fun story added in. While much of it feels like a throwback to the RPG games of the early 90s with anime influences and a large cast of characters, its approach of being a fast-paced shooter throughout gives the style a fresh approach.

BEST RETRO STYLE THROWBACK of 2018

2018-12-25

THE MESSENGER

Developer: Sabotage    Published by Devolver Digital
System: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Here is a little throwback to the classic Ninja Gaiden run and slash games. The pixellated graphics remind me of the later NES games which really pushed what it could do back in the day, making it feel timeless, and lost for a time (tired of some “retro games” looking to retro). The Messenger brings that back with some classic gameplay and 8-bit music as well, but with the more solid challenge for aged game players.

BEST NARRATIVE GAME OF 2018

Captain Spirit

THE AWESOME ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN SPIRIT

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment    Published by Square Enix
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Cool little free game with no strings attached, set in the Life is Strange universe. You play the role of a young boy living out his superhero fantasy while dealing with real-life problems. Lots of decisions and some moral questions are raised. There is no need to familiarize oneself with the Life is Strange games, which is nice. I will get around to eventually.

BEST EXPLORATION GAME OF 2018

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SUBNAUTICA

Developed and published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

I played a little bit of this and fell in love with its gameplay, story, deep world that feels like an awesome dream, mixed with tense moments. The underwater feel, playful colors, and use of deep ocean physics has me coming back, looking for more and discovering interesting things at a pace I can control.

BEST REBOOT OF A CLASSIC HERO in 2018

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MEGA MAN 11

Developed and published by CAPCOM
System: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

It’s the comeback we long-time Mega Man fans deserve. With fluid animations and modern designs without losing all the best parts about the classic games. I love the bosses, silly voice acting, the Double Gear gimmick. It’s awesome, the game is way too short in its final stages. Still, it did well and I hope this will be the standard for more Megaman games to follow.

BEST FIGHTING GAME OF 2018

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SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE

Developed and published by Nintendo
System: Nintendo Switch

Of course! It’s almost cheating with a roster and winning formula updated with the power of the Nintendo Switch.

THE OTHER BEST FIGHTING GAME OF 2018

2018-12-25 (1)

Lethal League Blaze

Developed and published by Team Reptile
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Wow, what a crazy reinvention of the fighting game genre, where much of it revolves around dodgeball like physics. Add some crazy music beats, wacky character designs, and wickedly fast, unexpected gameplay and this is a game that will gain more notice and respect in time.

BEST RESTORATION OF A CLASSIC GAME

Zone of the Enders 2nd Runner: M∀RS

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ZONE OF THE ENDERS, THE 2nd RUNNER: M∀RS

Developer: Cygames   Published by: Konami
System: Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows

A beautiful re-render of Hideo Kojima’s awesome PS2 game that doesn’t have Metal Gear in the title, and far more polished than the HD Ps3 version, and also formatted for virtual reality. The story, characters, mech-designs, physics is full of originality and brings out a special uniqueness for those looking for more than great gameplay. The original I feel still isn’t appreciated enough, and now it’s built better for a new generation to enjoy, while fans can enjoy it further.

That’s all the freshness for 2018 from me. If there was something else I should have played, please share in the comments below!

Fresh, exciting graphic novel gifts for the 2018 holiday season!

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Hey gift shopper, here’s a cool idea…buy a graphic novel or trade paperback volume for that special person this holiday season.

Give the gift of lengthy sequential art that can be put on a shelf, or opened to reveal a new world away from the screens and work stress. You can give, but also take a risk in finding out later if hated or loved. Any thoughtful literature and art are worthwhile, for heavy time and love was put into its composition. And if enjoyed, then the book will be treasured far longer than a boring gift card.

However, there is a risk for those who appreciate such large comic book forms. There is a chance they either read or know enough of the most popular work out there to have read it already or no interest at all. Such can be a tough decision when works including Watchman, Saga, Ghost World, Batman: Killing Joke, Sandman, etc, are on the many top graphic novels lists out there.

So instead, be fresh and daring. Reach out for something less likely to have, yet may find stimulating. And maybe, get something interesting enough to borrow later.

Below, here are my nine gift picks for graphic novels and trade paperback volumes published in 2018. These still obtainable at major retail book chains, comic book stores, and wherever new books can be gained or ordered. I also have provided an Amazon link for those lacking the proximity or time to visit such wonderful places.

Take a look!

Devilman: The Classic Collection Vol. 1

Devilman

Devilman: The Classic Collection Vol. 1
Writer / Artist:  Go Nagai
Published by: Seven Seas
Format: 680-page Hardcover
ISBN: 162692757X

Hordes of demons, once thought entombed forever in the underworld, have now returned to Earth. Evil and corruption begin to seep into our world, as demons seize human hosts. Mankind’s only hope for salvation is to use the demons’ power against them–-and only a pure-hearted man like Fudo Akira can do so without losing his humanity. Once little more than a crybaby, Akira now wields the terrible power of a devil, yet holds the innocent soul of a man–-Devilman!

Get this forSomeone who appreciates horror and manga/anime in diverse forms. It’s not for kids, but also not meant to be taken too seriously. It’s light-hearted fun but with some violence and nudity at times.  Go Nagai’s art and storytelling style has a childlike innocence that shifts toward unrestrictive awesome horror, subversive for its time (originally published in 1973).  Also, very high-quality hardcover and page quality.

Amazon.com page link

 

Eleanor & the Egret

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Eleanor and the Egret
Writer / Artist:  John Layman / Sam Keith
Published by: Aftershock Comics
Format: 120-page softcover
ISBN: 1935002767

The most daring art thief in Paris has struck again, and the police have assigned their best detective to the case. His only clue? A single white feather left at the scene. Could this feather belong to the thief? To the thief’s accomplice, an oversized talking egret? Or will his investigation lead him to somewhere even stranger? (Answer: all of the above.)

Presenting a peculiar and unforgettable tale of birds and banditry, paintings and pets, larceny, love and…lamprey-wielding assassins? From the legendary creator of The MAXX and co-creator of Sandman, Sam Kieth, and the considerably less-legendary creator of Chew, John Layman!

Get this forFor someone who loves art, humor, with really strange and surrealness to the comics storytelling. Also, for those who enjoyed either the classic The MAXX comics and MTV series for its art and weirdness, also by the artist Sam Keith. The story itself is an awesome unraveling mystery, deeply involving a small cast of bizarre players. There are great unexpected concepts and twists throughout,  Overall, just a fun book that’s very different from the others.

Amazon.com page link

Sleepless, Volume 1

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Sleepless, Volume 1
Writer / Artist:  Sarah Vaughn / Leila del Duca, Alissa Sallah
Published by: Image Comics
Format: 168-page softcover
ISBN: 1935002767

Lady “Poppy” Pyppenia is guarded by Cyrenic, her faithful Sleepless Knight. But when a new king is crowned, an assassin threatens her life, ushering in a new and dangerous time. As Poppy and Cyrenic work to discover who wants her dead, they must navigate the dangers of life at court—and of their growing feelings for one another. Collects Sleepless #1-6

Get this forSomeone who loves fantasy and romance, but more focused on the drama, intrigue, and relationships. All here, with renaissance elements, rich environmental detail, detailed diverse characters, beautiful coloring with an immersive art style a reader can really fall into. The story is ongoing, giving the reader more to follow in later volumes. Personally, I feel this is a very underrated gem.

Amazon.com page link

DC Meets Looney Tunes

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DC Meets Looney Tunes
Writer / Artist:  various
Published by: DC Comics
Format: 248-page softcover
ISBN: 1401277578

DC’s iconic superheroes meet the wacky characters of Looney Tunes in some of the most surprising stories in comics in DC MEETS LOONEY TUNES! When Elmer Fudd sets his sights on Bruce Wayne, it’s a “wabbit hunt” you’d never imagine! Prospector Yosemite Sam strikes it rich, but can circus performer Foghorn Leghorn and bounty hunter Jonah Hex keep him alive long enough to enjoy it? Plus, Wonder Woman enlists the help of the Tasmanian Devil to save the Amazons; Lobo gets caught in the war between a mutated Road Runner and a wily super-genius of a coyote; and the last survivors of Mars fight over the fate of planet Earth! Finally, when the Legion of Super-Heroes needs help, a wrong turn at Albuquerque means the future’s survival depends on…“Super” Bugs Bunny! Worlds collide, courtesy of some of comics’ greatest talents, among them Tom King, Lee Weeks, Jimmy Palmiotti, Mark Texeira, Tony Bedard, Bill Morrison, Kelley Jones, Steve Orlando, Sam Humphries and more!

Get this forSomeone who loves DC Comics, but hasn’t stepped foot in a comic store in a long time, or at all. Also, anyone who looks really hard at old cartoons, for deeper meaning and philosophy. And wow, do these short stories deliver in a mix of madness, light and dark humor, and crossover insanity that will leave the reader speechless at times. As a hardcore DC Comics fan and somewhat Looney Tunes fan, I found this among the biggest surprise of both, leaving me laughing and amazed.

Amazon.com page link

The Book of Ballads and Sagas

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The Book of Ballads and Sagas
Writer / Artist:  Charles Vess
Published by: Titan Comics
Format: 240-page softcover
ISBN: 1782763325

This award-winning compendium of English and Scottish fairy tales and folklore returns to print in a sumptuous new collection! Beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess and featuring adaptations by Neil Gaiman – Vess’ collaborator on the hugely successful Stardust – and a host of famous fantasy writers, this new edition also boasts never-before-seen art and an amazing gallery of sketches!

Includes contributions from World Fantasy Award winner Charles de Lint (Moonheart; The Cats of Tanglewood Forest [illustrated by Charles Vess]); acclaimed fantasy writer Emma Bull (War for the Oaks; Bone Dance) and New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb (The Ballad of Frankie Silver; St. Dale; She Walks These Hills). 

Get this for Any fan of fairy tales and folklore, in the more unrestricted and less watered down forms. Also, fans of the movie Stardust, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and other work. The painted and extremely detailed art of Charles Vess is stunning, grabbing appreciating eyes and pulling them to these fantastic other worlds of magic and creatures.

Amazon.com page link

On a Sunbeam

On a sunbeam

On a Sunbeam
Writer / Artist:  Tillie Walden
Published by: First Second Comics
Format: 544-page hardcover
ISBN: 9781250178138

Two timelines. Second chances. One love. A ragtag crew travels to the deepest reaches of space, rebuilding beautiful, broken structures to piece the past together. Two girls meet in boarding school and fall deeply in love—only to learn the pain of loss. With interwoven timelines and stunning art, award-winning graphic novelist Tillie Walden creates an inventive world, breathtaking romance, and an epic quest for love.

Get this for Anyone cool with young adult books and an open mind for abstract science fiction, queer relationships, stunning art through a lot of pages. Also, someone who likes to travel or enjoys adventure, and interested in meeting new people. It’s an epic tale that takes the reader through space, time, and the heart.

Amazon.com page link

Star Wars Lost Stars, Volume 1 (manga)

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Star Wars Lost Stars, Vol. 1 (manga)
Writer / Artist:  Claudia Gray / Yusaku Komiyama
Published by: Yen Press
Format: 256-page softcover paperback
ISBN: 1975326539

The Empire can be seductive, particularly if you’re an aspiring young pilot…Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree both know this very well when they enroll Imperial Academy, eager to pursue their dreams. When Thane discovers the darker side of the Empire, though, and defects to the Rebellion, the pair’s lifelong friendship will be put to the ultimate test. Will Thane and Ciena’s relationship — or even they themselves — survive this galactic conflict…?

Get this for Someone who loves Star Wars, but not the recent movies bearing its franchise (or, maybe they do). Also, for someone who likes manga with the usual black and white art, visual styles, and techniques. But more so, are the intertwining new characters set in the time of the classic Star Wars movies, with a few surprise appearances and events thrown in. There are fresh perspectives from the military and civilian lives of the overall space opera melodrama, leading to a new space opera within the space opera. Very engaging!

Amazon.com page link

Isola, Volume 1

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Isola, Vol. 1
Writer / Artist:  Brendon Fletcher / Karl Kershcl
Published by: Image Comics
Format: 141-page softcover
ISBN: 1534309225

An evil spell has been cast on the Queen of Maar and her Captain of the Guard will do anything to reverse it. Their only hope lies on an island half a world away—a place known in myth as Isola, land of the dead. Gotham Academy creators Brendon Fletcher and Karl Kershcl reunite with series colorist Msassyk and letterer Aditya Bidikar for a breathtaking fantasy adventure two decades in the making. Collects Isola #1-5

Get this for Someone who loves the Studio Gibli/Miyasaki films for its complex themes and world-building. Also, for those into nature fantasy, and camping. The art is vibrant, moody, with excellent use of colors and inking to set the mood. The storytelling is mystical, daring and fresh. It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to step into strange new worlds and accept complexity…this is a real treat.

Amazon.com page link

Quantum Mechanics

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Quantum Mechanics
Writer / Artist:  Jeff Weigel
Published by: Lionforge Comics
Format: 208-page softcover
ISBN: 1941302661

On a nowhere asteroid on the far rim of the galaxy, two young alien girls—Rox and Zam—spend their days tearing apart and repairing clunkers in a spaceship junkyard. These aspiring gearheads yearn for the chance to test their skills on something besides rusted old rockets and broken-down planet-hoppers. Their big chance finally comes when the captain of a mysterious ship called the Quasar Torrent enlists the kids for some repair work. But what initially looks like a golden opportunity quickly becomes a nightmare when the young friends find they’ve been kidnapped by what turns out to be a band of space pirates! Rox and Zam find themselves swept up in the astro-buccaneers’ vendetta against a huge intergalactic corporation that’s forced this motley band of working stiffs from across space into a life of crime. Now the girls must choose: do they want the comforts of home and family, or the glamorous adventure of a lifetime—to be part of a crew of colorful misfits intent on plunder, revenge, and excitement? Their lives, friendship . . . and maybe even the fate of a galaxy . . . hangs in the balance!

Get this for Someone who loves campy, light-hearted science fiction surrounding young friendships and space adventure fantasy. It’s escapism in the purest form, with all the tropes and thrills from the days of pulp novels to Firefly, and beyond. Yet still fresh and different, and cheerful. The art and sequential art form are rich in detail and traditional form, adding to the awesome story and thrill ride for readers of all ages.

Amazon.com page link

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.