Sunday, January 10, 2021

Donist World 2020 Year-End Roundup! (Part 1)

 (Sung to the tune of The Sound of Music's “My Favorite Things”)

Gamma-ray monsters brawlin’ enthrallin’
Conspiracies turned real is kinda appallin’
Dig Wonder Woman and the hope that she brings
These are a few of my favorite things

Evil god glowers bring the Plague of flowers 
Worst candidate Scumbag gains superpowers
Strange mystic academies with magical beings
These are a few of my favorite things

A costumed crusader and a blot-masked vigilante
Robots and magic combine beautifully, not too shabby
Adventures so strange for the fences it swings
These are a few of my favorite things

Diamond misships
Then my beer spills
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Slice of Heaven For the Year!

“Where the hell have you been, Donist?!”
Yup, that is a fair question, Denizens. For most of Donist World’s existence, I have published something weekly. Then, in 2019 I relaxed a little on that because of work stuff, moving, and a host of other things happening in my life, but I was still putting up posts on the somewhat regular; then came 2020. Well, 2020 was awful on a scale that no one other than any sane, rational, non-cultist human being could have ever predicted: We were besieged by a pandemic that continues to worsen, sicken, and kill people; we had “leadership” that ignored COVID-19, profited off of it, denied its existence, politicized it, and called upon its cult members to shun masks; science was under attack (like always); education was under attack (like always); big-bad SOCIALISM was thrown around (like always); Trump lost the election legitimately and substantially both electorally and popularly (one of the few beacons of hope in 2020) only to see the results continuously questioned and denied by the predictable bands of deplorable scum within the GOP; John Lewis died; Ruth Bader Ginsberg died; Chadwick Boseman died; Kobe Bryant died; Eddie Van Halen died; Kenny Rogers died; Neil Peart died; anti-maskers flouted concerns (at times aggressively) for themselves, their loved ones, or the public at large; predominantly-peaceful Black Lives Matter protests were vilified and tear-gassed so Trump could have a photo op while holding a bible upside down; the inaction of social media to take down or moderate the deluge of damaging lies that have led us to where we are in 2021 (not going into that today); and so very, very, very much more.
So, where was I? I was at home. My job took the coronavirus very seriously and we went fully remote which is commendable and one I know many simply cannot do, but this shift created a ton of work and priority adjustments that has kept me dreadfully busy. So, where did I find the time for creativity? The truth is that I didn’t. I let that go. I just couldn’t manage the brainpower or energy to squeeze in an hour or two here or there to write as the world fell to pieces around me. I did far too much “doomscrolling” as Amy the Intern (my wife) and I frantically tried to find additional safety measures for her to take in the event the schools foolishly reopened. It was all so very exhausting. One thing I did do, however, was read and I read a ton of fantastic comics. Let’s have a look at my favorites of 2020.

***Probably NOT spoilers below***

If you have a moment, check out our past Slice of Heaven Year-End Roundups to see what’s stayed the same and what’s changed over the years. I had quite a few pleasant surprises this year, so let’s get to it!

Donist World Top 10 Favorite Comic Series of 2020 (In No Particular Order)


(Written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, published by Image Comics)
Ever since the first half of this two-part epic, Descender, launched so many years ago, this heavenly series has held the top spot of every Year-End Roundup. Descender is a series that follows TIM-21, a boy robot who awakens after the Harvesters (monstrous robots) suddenly appeared, laid waste to the nine planets of the UGC (United Galactic Council), and vanished once they had completed their grim mission. It is a sci-fi story bursting with characters you immediately fall in love with and one that is mysterious, thrilling, heartbreaking, and one I reread often over the course of its six trade paperbacks. Then, as the ending occurred and I was left wanting to shout, “What?! What?! What?!,” I saw the ad for Ascender.
Ascender picks up ten years after the devastating events of the first part but this time, robots are no more and Lemire and Nguyen have exchanged sci-fi for fantasy. Here, we have a universe where magic flourishes…at least it would if not for the tyrannical grip that “Mother” and her deadly vampiric army holds over everyone. Two of the main characters from Descender have had a child since the War of the Robots and that child and everyone’s lives take a dramatic turn when a much-loved robot from the first series appears in a universe that is now void of such things. Nguyen’s stunning, watercolored art is as striking as ever and Lemire continues to have me actively cheering at moments, cringing at others, and gasping at the shock of what happens to some of these characters along the way. (I still hold out hope for one character thought lost from Descender, but we will see.) Now, you could read Ascender without having read Descender but it is the opinion of this humble Donist that you would do yourself an immense disservice of missing out on the amazing events of the first part of the story and the deep love you will develop for most of the characters within. Sadly, Ascender is said to be ending with issue 18 and I would not bet against this heavenly Donist World darling showing up on 2021’s Year-End Roundup. Get it. Buy it. Love it.

The Immortal Hulk

(Written by Al Ewing, illustrated by Joe Bennett, published by Marvel Comics)
The Immortal Hulk continues to be my favorite comic from Marvel Comics. Gone are the days of the childlike Hulk smashing the villain-of-the-month (not knocking those days, I actually love that Bronze Age stuff) and in its place is a series that focuses on the psychological, the mysterious, and, best of all, the horror that surrounds this being that cannot die. Events set in motion 10 or 20 issues ago surface and playout over the course of this series in complex and shocking ways as Ewing deftly navigates Bruce Banner’s fractured mind and the schemings of his most terrible foes (the Leader currently, and trust me, he is bone-chilling) as Bennet delivers the usual flawless storytelling combined with some of the most truly unnerving body horror imagery of the Hulk’s transformations. The Immortal Hulk has been outstanding since its debut and I have to commend Marvel for allowing the creators to do their thing and for not miring the series in any sort of “Event” books and instead opting to release one-shots to tell stories outside of the norm (some of which are amazing, btw). Ten years ago, I would have said you were crazy if you told me I would be reading and loving a Hulk comic. Now, I would say you are crazy for not reading The Immortal Hulk.

(Everythinged by Daniel Warren Johnson, colored by Mike Spicer, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
This dark, apocalyptic Wonder Woman tale is everythinged by Daniel Warren Johnson, so there was absolutely no way I could pass it up. I also had no doubt that I would love not just his amazing art with his heartrate-increasing speed lines and terrifying beasties but that the story would also grab hold and keep me desperate to snatch up each of the oversized issues in this spectacular four-issue series. When some youths are pursued by a grotesque creature seeking to end their lives, they stumble across a cave where they find a woman cryogenically frozen who they free and who defeats the monster…with some effort. Wonder Woman walks out of the cave to find the world ravaged, her friends gone or dead, and her once immense powers greatly diminished. Now she looks to be humanity’s only hope in a world that seeks to make humans extinct. What happened over the scores of years she was locked away, why are Diana’s powers fading, and how can the Princess of Power bring light to a dead Earth filled with monstrosities? You will just have to read to find out.

(Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, illustrated by Ricardo Federici, colored by Sunny Gho, lettered by Tom Napolitano, cartography by Jared Blando, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
I’m going to flat out say that this high fantasy series is one that is probably best read from beginning to end, which I fully intend to do once this first chapter completes in the next few weeks. Despite starting each issue with a “Wait a minute…what happened last time?” question, I quickly settle in to enjoy the oh-so-lovely painted artwork and immerse myself within this world where the Plague of Flowers brings back the dead and perverts their forms as their master, the evil god Mol Uhltep, unleashes them upon the denizens of this rich world…for the second time. The series tells two tales: one from 30 years in the past when a group of heroes ventured to the Black Stairs to sop Mol Uhltep, and the present when a new group of heroes (including some from the original group) seeks to put an end the Flowering Dead once and for all. Unfortunately, some of the actions of the past dictate the tragedies of the present and each character will have to come to terms with what “victory” will entail. The Last God fills a much-needed fantasy void that has existed in the Big Two for far too long and is one you absolutely need to catch up on. A hardcover collection looks to release in August.

(Written by Rick Remender, illustrated by various, colored by Moreno Dinisio, lettered by Rus Wooton, designed by Erika Schnatz, edited by Will Dennis, published by Image Comics)
The tagline on this fairly recent release states, “The World’s Fate Rests with the Worst Person on it” and that is the best way to describe this crude, offensive, and ultimately glorious series. Ernie Ray Clementine is absolutely the worst. He’s a drug-abusing, alcohol-guzzling, womanizing, barely-literate…well, scumbag. He offends everyone around him with his filthy behavior, but when he stumbles across a superhero fighting a supervillain and “accidentally” shoots up with a special chemical lost in the fray, he gains tremendous abilities and might just be the only person who can save the world from Armageddon at the hands of extremist fascists. As of today, only three issues have released, but I am all in as I laugh and cringe, laugh and cringe some more at Ernie’s antics as his handlers struggle in their attempts to get this selfish a_hole to do what’s right. The Scumbag is the perfect temporary antidote to the very real ills happening in the world today. You definitely do not want to sleep on this one, especially if you are a Remender fan. Plus, every issue features a different mega artist to feast your peepers upon.

(Written by James Tynion IV, art by Martin Simmonds, lettered by Aditya Bidikar, designed by Dylan Todd, edited by Steve Foxe, published by Image Comics)
By the time I had set down Tynion IV and Simmond’s The Department of Truth I felt as if a glass of water had been thrown in my face. Even prior to the past four years—and especially 2020—I have wondered why the dumbest, most asinine beliefs come to exist and start to take hold with seemingly rational people: flat Earth, birtherism, anti-vaccinations, climate change denial, Pizzagate, election fraud, etc. ad nauseam. The Department of Truth explains it all. In this world, if enough people believe a conspiracy theory, then that garbled bunch of nonsense begins to become a reality. Cole Turner, an FBI agent who teaches about the conspiracy theories that dominate the avenues we are all too familiar with is targeted by the Department of Truth to stop these deliberate falsehoods from becoming a reality. This is not the book I needed to read to help diminish my anxiety of the past five years, but it is 100% the book I needed to read for these troubling times. Even outside of the current deluge of “alternative facts” and the horror show that was 2020, this must-read series is one that would have still been at the top of my favorites list. ’80s Satanic Panic, anyone? Look for a collection of the first five issues in March.

(Written by Scottie Young, illustrated by Humberto Ramos, colored by Edgar Delgado, lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles, published by Marvel Comics)
I just realized that Strange Academy is the only non-cynical bright spot on the 2020 Year-End Roundup. Everything else is murder, despots, fascists, scumbags, apocalyptic straits, death, horror, etc., but I guess those topics are just my sort of thing. Looking at all of the other titles, it’s pretty clear that ol’ Donist needed to smile on occasion and to maybe, just maybe try out that thing called laughter. Strange Academy gave me what I needed in droves. Imagine Hogwarts only with Marvel characters where the magical beings you are already familiar with (Doctor Strange, Doctor Voodoo, Magik, and others) teach a wide array of magical kids covering the range of gods, demons, giants, Weird World denizens, and even a child of Dormammu and you have a fun-filled adventure that will leave you smiling the whole way through. Now, this isn’t to say there are no stakes or dire situations that the students find themselves thrust into, it’s just that you feel uplifted each time you set an issue down. If you are looking for a fantastic story, with gorgeous art, then look no further than Strange Academy. The first trade arrives in February.

(Written by Tom King, illustrated by Jorge Fornés, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
As I often say, “I have very little to no idea as to what the hell is going on...but I love this comic.” At three issues in, this sentiment still holds true. What I do know: The book takes place 35 years after the events of Watchmen, Rorschach is impossibly running around and trying to assassinate a candidate running against President Robert Redford, he had a masked accomplice (?). A detective is tasked with finding out the identity of this supposed Rorschach but in doing so he is led along a downward spiral of conspiracies and corruption. Of course, this is not going to be a happy-go-lucky gigglefest of a comic but King has me for the long haul on what I believe will be 12 issues once all is said and done. Fornés art is wonderful in its storytelling and a perfect style for this noirish tale and I especially love his imagery and the design of the retro-inspired covers. If you are a fan of King’s other 12-issue masterpieces (The Omega Men, The Vision, and Mister Miracle) then this is one you do not want to sleep on. Speaking of great 12-issue series by Tom King…

(Written by Tom King, illustrated by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, lettered by Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
Here we go again…, “I have very little to no idea as to what the hell is going on...but I love this comic.” In this series, Adam Strange is the hero of the distant planet Rann where he led the defeat of the alien menace known as the Pykkts. Now, Strange has returned to Earth with his wife Alanna of Rann to a life of retirement, but Strange might have brought the troubles of Rann to his home planet. When an activist winds up dead, Strange is believed to have been involved and his Rann war record is called into question, which brings Mr. Terrific to the scene to investigate. Strange Adventures is a compelling story where I don’t yet know what to believe and is one that is beautifully illustrated by Gerads for the scenes set in the present with a more realistic art style and by Shaner for the sequences set in the past with a more traditional comic style that makes the remembrances seem more like a comic book and possibly hinting at embellishment by Strange, but time will tell as we head into the remaining five issues in this phenomenal series.

(Written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino, colored by Jordie Bellaire, lettered by Steve Wands, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
No, Denizens, I am not cheating (although, I can cheat all I want on my own site, by golly!) but rather the three-issue Joker: Killer Smile and the one-shot Batman: The Smile Killer are intricately woven tales meant to be a whole. Don’t believe me? Well, then feast los ojos on the gorgeous, large form factor, hardcover collection of this chilling series that definitely falls more in the psychological horror genre than that of superheroes. Here, Dr. Ben Arnell knows in his bones that he is the one who can finally crack what it is that makes the Joker tick. Arnell has studied, he has prepared, he is ready, or so he thinks. But when Arnell begins to see that the Joker seems to know more about him than he does about the Joker, his steadfast belief in himself and his methodologies begins to crumble around him. The powerhouse team behind the recently concluded Gideon Falls (almost made it on the list and nearly a tie with this series) brings a disturbing, bone-chilling look into a force of nature that is best left undisturbed. This is one series that will leave you reluctant to turn those lights off before you go to sleep. So very creepy and good.

But wait, I’m sure there's more...

I'm sure there are plenty of other comics I somehow forgot to mention or have not yet bought or read in 2020. If there are any glaring omissions, please let me know. There's plenty of room at the Donist World corporate offices for more comics and...hold on a sec...actually, Amy the intern (my wife) has corrected me and said that "No, there is not plenty of room here." <psssttt...hey denizens, let me know anyways. I can totally sneak more comics in on the down-low. Just let me know. We can do this…>

Stay tuned next week for the “Donist World 2019 Year-End Roundup! (Part 2)”


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