Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Donist World 2021 Year-End Roundup! (Part 1)

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

Gamma-ray greatness has reached its conclusion
Truthful departments sow so much confusion
A nice lakeside home and the doom portents it brings
These are a few of my favorite things

Beta Ray Bill is in need of a hammer 
Robots and magic collide in a clamour
Rot, Red, Green team-up it certainly stings
These are a few of my favorite things

Fantastic landscapes and wizards of terror
Ink blots and strangeness and targets you know are
Three super books from the mind that’s Tom King’s
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!

As some of you said just over a year ago, “Where the hell have you been, Donist?!”
Same ol’, same ol’ as last year, Denizens: being lazy. Well, that's not quite true. I guess most of 2021 was spent working myself (physically and mentally) into a state of anxiety and to such a degree of exhaustion that the very thought of doing anything that could be considered “normal”—washing dishes; going outside; exercising; seeing friends and family; engaging in artistic endeavors I normally enjoy, like writing; speaking to other human beings with, like, words and stuff—seemed like the most herculean of tasks. Seriously, it’s been to the point where if anyone tried to get me to do something, anything, my blood pressure would rise and I would become nervous/depressed/angry. Now, granted, some of my anger/irritation was justified—pressure to attend large indoor dining events in the midst of a pandemic, people trying to shift their drama my direction, etc.—but most of my lack of creative output can be attributed to exhaustion in the face of teeny-weenie little things like COVID-19, anti-mask/anti-vax cultists, watching teachers’ lives and safety be routinely disregarded, the higher level insurrectionists still not be brought to justice, assaults on our democracy, voting rights being decimated, and so on and so forth. Basically, all of the same crap from 2020 continued to bring this Donist down in 2021. There have been days where we are invited to go out to a very safe, outdoor beer garden for IPAs and Stouts, French fries, and burgers and my kneejerk reaction is “How DARE you try to get me to do something that I absolutely love?! How DARE you, sir!” But I’m getting through it. I've been trying to focus on all of the “mindfulness” and “self-care” stuff that I can, which for me means reading a metric ton of comics and graphic novels and journeying down epic re-reads of some tremendous series. This post, however, is about the comics I read in issue form that were released in 2021 and that made everything, somehow, a little bit better for a while
Let’s have a look at my favorites of 2021.

***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 2021 (In No Particular Order)


(Written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, published by Image Comics)
I have been singing the praises of Lemire and Nguyen’s Descender/Ascender sci-fi/fantasy series since the first issue and this will be the last Year-End Roundup that I feature the series as it came to its phenomenal conclusion. As with anything written by Lemire, there were emotional highs that soared and dang near made this Donist weep with joy and some heartbreaking lows that made me want to break out sobbing. Descender/Ascender has everything I want in a story: characters who I genuinely love and hold dear to my heart, action, adventure, drama, heartbreak, triumph, robots, dragons, witches, vampires, political intrigue, friendship…the list goes on and on. Every new issue of Ascender instantly went to the top of the reading stack and I often went back through each before moving on to the next fantastic-but-not-Ascender comic. My only gripe for this series, and it is a small and greedy gripe, is that it felt as if we needed one bridging story arc before this lovely conclusion, but that might just be me wanting to spend more time with Mila, TIM-21, Andy, Effie, Telsa, Bandit, Helda, Driller, and the rest. I don’t doubt that a compendium/omnibus sorta collection comes out at some point, but I’m hoping for an over-sized hardcover collection that I can feature prominently on the bookshelf to display what is one of the best comic series of all time. Get it. Buy it. Love it.

(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)
Maybe reading this amazing series centered around conspiracy theories made real by the collective unconsciousness (or consciously created in some instances) is not the healthiest option I could choose to read given just how prevalent these things are in the unwonderful world of make-believe that far too many individuals in the US currently exist. Thankfully, we have Cole Turner and his colleagues within the Department of Truth to stop these deliberate falsehoods from manifesting into reality…that is if his colleagues are to be trusted. DANG if I do not love everything about this all-too-relevant comic. It is one of the smartest, most compelling series I have read in some time and has been right up there with Ascender as one of my most anticipated reads every month or so. The ’80s Satanic Panic and the Sasquatch storylines are still my favorites, but everything about this smash hit deserves your attention and definitely warrants multiple readings to uncover all of the little bits and pieces you may have missed the first time through. This is currently one of the best comics on the stand.

(Written by Tom King, illustrated by Jorge Fornés, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
After his death 35 years ago, Rorschach (or someone dressed like him) is running around and attempting to assassinate a candidate running against President Robert Redford. A detective is hired to find the identities of this supposed Rorschach and the young woman with the six-shooters and the domino mask who accompanied him. Political intrigue and a deep mystery will pull you in for a tale that had me hanging on every page turn with Fornés’s art style and Stewart’s colors beautifully delivering the look and feel of a ’70s spy thriller. If it’s a limited series and Tom King is attached, just do yourself the favor and buy it. Fans of King’s fantastic The Omega MenThe Vision, and Mister Miracle should not miss this smart, complex series that is rapidly moving its way up my re-read stack so I can experience the glory in one grand sitting. I think I'm going to need the lovely hardcover for my favorite bookshelf.

(Written by Tom King, illustrated by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, lettered by Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
You will probably notice a theme for the 2021 Year-End Roundup in that Tom King’s name appears more than once and for dang good reason. This time, we have a shift to the more vibrant and more overtly superhero side of things with Adam Strange, hero of the distant planet Rann, vanquisher of the dreadful alien race known as the Pykkts. But there was a cost: the life of his daughter, Aleea. Now, living on Earth with his wife Alanna, Strange's life and his recounting of the Rann-Pykkt war are called into question after the death of an activist and the arrival of the hero Mr. Terrific who looks to uncover the truth of what really happened during Strange’s war. This wonderful, yet shocking mystery is brought to life via Shaner’s heroic segments that look at the events of the past and Gerads’s somewhat grittier look at the present. Much like Rorschach, this one will require a one-sitting re-read to pick up on all of the clues missed during its every-other-month(ish) release. Looks like I will be double-dipping on the hardcover collection for this one as well. So very, very good.

(Written by Tom King, illustrated by Greg Smallwood, lettered by Clayton Cowles, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
Sure, let’s just make almost all of the comics on the roundup by Tom King...don’t be delirious, Denizens, King didn’t write ten comics in 2021. If he had, then that could have been a possibility...I’m already painfully aware of a fourth miniseries that he wrote that somehow missed my pull, but I'm sure it will be rocking my world in 2022. Anyhow, The Human Target…holy moly, I love everything about this series. Christopher Chance hires himself out to impersonate his clients: high-profile individuals who are targeted for assassination. A fairly dangerous line of work, especially given that his recent gig posing as Lex Luthor will succeed in killing him in 12 days’ time. Now it’s up to Chance to solve his own impending murder and the list of suspects points to some rather prominent heroes. King brings a ’50s noir style of intrigue to the story and Smallwood’s oh-so-gorgeous art reminds me of a mix of the style of Robert E. McGinnis that had to have influenced the great Mad Men series. After falling in love with Smallwood’s art I now also have a crush on Ice. I cannot wait to see how this all plays out.

The Nice House on the Lake

(Written by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Álvaro Martínez Bueno, colored by Jordie Bellaire, lettered by Andworld Design, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
Tynion IV has also been rocking our socks off with his horror series, the captivatingly eerie, The Nice House on the Lake. In this 12-issue maxi-series, everyone who has had Walter in their life knew him to be one of their dearest friends and felt like they were the center of his universe. But, college ends, life paths change, and people move on. Then, after many years, each of Walter’s friends accepts an invite for a vacation in a luxurious home overlooking a gorgeous lake. With everyone in attendance, and no one really remembering how they arrived at the nice house on the lake, the news starts to play… One issue. That is all it took to completely pull me in for this haunting and mysterious ride that leaves so many questions with answers that are sure to not be what the characters hope to discover. A trade of the first half releases in March 2022, right before the second half of this phenomenal series kicks off.

Beta Ray Bill: Argent Star

(Everythinged by Daniel Warren Johnson, colored by Mike Spicer, lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino, published by Marvel Comics)
Beta Ray Bill’s life is not what it was now that he no longer has the might and power of Stormbreaker to help him transform back into his original form, instead of the monstrous one the Korbonite people, his people, gave him to save them. Now, Bill needs a new weapon, one that will make him whole, but to do so, he will need the help of Skurge the Executioner, Pip the Troll, and his sentient ship, Scuttlebutt. Now, Denizens, I would have been on board for this thrilling five-issue limited series, but with DWJ leading the charge, I would have fought with the fury of a million suns to snag the last copy at my local comic shop. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Beta Ray Bill is everything I hope and look for in a book by my favorite everythinger, and it does not miss a single mark. Action, adventure, heartbreak, and lovely art, even if you are not familiar with DWJ’s work, this is the perfect icebreaker before you scramble to acquire every single other glorious series he has ever done.

The Immortal Hulk

(Written by Al Ewing, illustrated by Joe Bennett, published by Marvel Comics)
Alright, not much I can do at this point if you have not already read the recently completed The Immortal Hulk series than to kindly request you right this grievous wrong as soon as possible. All while this series was coming out I remarked how I could not believe I was reading and loving a Hulk comic after not doing so for over 30 years. It was Ewing’s brilliant horror twist to the Green Goliath that hooked me all the way from issue 1 to the concluding issue 50 and the same was true for most of the one-shots that came along the way, whether by Ewing, Alan Davis, Jeff Lemire, Mike Del Mundo, or Declan Shalvey. The Immortal Hulk was NOT your average Marvel comic and not your average Hulk comic, but something special and weird in the best of ways. I will be rereading this from the beginning at some point later this year.

(Written by W. Haden Blackman and J. H. Williams III, art and design by J.H. Williams III, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Rod Klein, additional design by Drew Gill, published by Image Comics)
Anytime J.H. Williams III illustrates a comic it is cause for celebration and no better reason than with the tremendous Echolands series. Hope Redhood has stolen something from the world’s cruelest wizard who has unleashed his unstoppable “daughter” upon Hope and her friends in an effort to get it back. Williams III utilizes many different art styles—often on the same gorgeous double-page spread—that takes into account the era that influences each character: a gangster-like man looks like someone out of a Dick Tracy story, a gladatorial sci-fi demigod looks like a Jack Kirby creation, vampires and Frankenstein’s monster-type characters are in black and white, while Hope’s style fits a more modern look. Not only is the comic stunning to behold but Williams III and Blackman have a grand adventure that despite taking me a moment to fully understand sucked me in completely. Also worth mentioning is that this comic is in the landscape format and will also see a hardcover collection (June 2022) that I will definitely be picking up, especially if it is oversized.

Swamp Thing: Green Hell

(Written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Doug Mahnke, colored by David Baron, lettered by Steve Wands, published by DC Comics on their Black Label)
In the (depressingly…see the intro to this year’s post) not so distant future, climate change has decimated much of the world. Sea levels have risen to devastating heights and acquiring food is quite difficult. The Red, the Rot, and the Green have had enough and the Green creates a new avatar to wipe what remains of the human scourge from the planet. In a last act of desperation an old man and a young girl venture to an isolated lighthouse whose inhabitant might hold the key to saving what remains of the human race. This issue came out on 12/28/2021, just in time to make this year’s roundup and believe me when I say it left quite an impact. Lemire’s story left me wanting to shout “See what could happen?!” and had me nervously biting my nails as Mahnke’s beautifully harsh and gruesome-at-times art left me not wanting the book to ever end. I cannot recommend this one highly enough and I am counting the days until issue #2 is in my grubby mitts. I already anticipate picking up the hardcover collection, whenever it comes out.

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 2021. 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 2021 Year-End Roundup! (Part 2)”


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