It’s New Year’s Day, and that means it’s time to look back on my favorite Indie comics of the year. I mean, I just assume that’s what everyone else does with their free time too, right?
Now a couple of quick caveats before I dive into this list. Number one, I am not claiming that these were hands down the best comics of the year (all though many of them are). Instead, this is my personal list of my favourite reads, the books I couldn’t wait to get home and read through on NCBD.
Secondly, I tried to keep this list to titles with shorter runs or mini-series. I love reading “best-of” comic lists, but hate when I find out that the comic is on issues 323 and I’ll have to dedicate months to catching up. This is one of the reasons I never got into Saga or Invincible. I read the first trade of both, realized what an investment of time they would be, and passed for something more contained.
Sorry, I have a small amount of time and a heck of a lot to read, so while I know I will probably go back one day and invest in those titles, for now I have to keep things light and moving.
So, all that being said, let’s dive into my favourite books of the year!
You had to know I was starting with this, so I might as well get this one out of the way right from the start:
#1 The Department of Truth
Here’s the blurb:
Vol 1: COLE TURNER has studied conspiracy theories all his life, but he isn’t prepared for what happens when he discovers that all of them are true, from the JFK Assassination to Flat Earth Theory and Reptilian Shapeshifters. One organization has been covering them up for generations. What is the deep, dark secret behind the Department of Truth?
Vol 2: Cole Turner thought he joined the right side of the war for the Truth. But now that he’s learning more about Lee Harvey Oswald’s tenure leading the Department, he’s not so sure. And as Tulpas start to gain a stronger foothold in the real world, Cole’s time to decide where he stands is running out…
From bestselling writer JAMES TYNION IV (BATMAN, SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN) and breakout artist MARTIN SIMMONDS (DYING IS EASY)!
Let’s be honest, if you have been reading my columns for a while you know I love The Department of Truth. It’s in my top five for greatest comics of all time, and if you have not been reading it you seriously are missing out on the best book on the shelves right now. The Department of Truth has amazing art, and expansive and interesting lore, and a plot that gets more and more complicated, yet fascinating with each issue. It’s just honestly the best. Do yourself a favour and go pick up both volumes, and even hunt down issues six and seven that are not in those collections. Each chapter is a blast, and well worth your time.
Here’s the blurb: Owen the Barbarian is under a witches’ curse to make amends for his murderous past. His bloodthirsty talking Axe is his moral compass. And he’ll do whatever it takes to do good, even it if it means cleaving a few skulls. Even if it means helping a witch.
OWEN THE BARBARIAN HAS AN AXE. AND HE’S GONNA DO GOOD WITH IT IF HE HAS TO KILL SOMEONE.
Owen the Barbarian has been cursed to do good with what remains of his life. His bloodthirsty weapon, Axe, has become his moral compass with a drinking problem. Together they wander the realm, foredoomed to help any who seek assistance. But there is one thing Owen hates more than a life with rules: Witches.
Welcome to the skull-cracking, blood-splattering, mayhem-loving comic brave enough to ask: How can a man sworn to do good do so much violence? Hah! F***ing with you. It’s just…BARBARIC.
Written by by Michael Moreci and illustrated by Nathan C. Gooden, Barbaric was one of the most refreshing and unexpected comics I read all year. Honestly, all I was expecting was some good old fashioned sex and violence, and instead I discovered one of the most interesting meditations on morality I have read in comics in quite some time (and also copious amounts of sex and violence).
Owen is cursed to only fight for the cause of good, and always help those in need, but the actual morality that goes along with that is pretty grey. What makes a cause actually noble? Who truly deserves salvation? When is violence truly justified? There is a lot more going on in this book than it might seem from first glance, and I for one am really excited for this title to return.
If you slept on Barbaric, you need to pick it up now. Try grabbing the actual issues if you can (there are only three oversized issues so far) or the trade if you can’t. Either way, this is one of the best of the year and deserves to be on everyone’s pull list.
#3 The Good Asian
Here’s the blurb: Writer PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE’s long-awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed INFIDEL with stunning art by ALEXANDRE TEFENKGI (OUTPOST ZERO)! Following Edison Harkï, a haunted, self-loathing Chinese-American detective on the trail of a killer in 1936 Chinatown, THE GOOD ASIAN is Chinatown noir starring the first generation of Americans to come of age under an immigration ban, the Chinese, as they’re besieged by rampant murders, abusive police, and a world that seemingly never changes.
You know, I really wish that this book was completely irrelevant in today’s world. I wish we could read it and laugh about how stupid racism was, or be horrified by how terribly people in the past acted.
Sadly, that is not the case, and books like The Good Asian are more relevant today than ever before. This was a dark time in America’s past, and one that is often downplayed, or ignored entirely, and it’s important to shine a light on it with books like this.
The Good Asian is also a darn good mystery thriller in its own right on top of this. Fans of classic noir will find a lot to love here, as will fans of mystery and drama.
All in all a great read, and an important one.
#4 That Texas Blood Volumes 1 & 2
Here are the blurbs:
Volume 1: After an explosive confrontation over a casserole dish, Joe Bob Coates begins to question his effectiveness as Sheriff of Ambrose County, Texas. Matters only get worse as Los Angeles-based writer Randy Terrill returns home following the sudden and mysterious death of his brother, causing a spiral down into a past filled with treachery and blood.
Volume 2: A recent string of violent events leads Sheriff Joe Bob Coates down the long and winding road of memory to a dark night in September 1981 that saw a boy killed, a girl missing, and a dangerous cult on the loose in Ambrose County, Texas.
Hands down one of the best dramas published right now, That Texas Blood is a series that a lot of people I know are not reading, but everyone I know that is raves about it. It’s flown under a lot of people’s radars for a long time, and we need to change that right away.
Volume 1 is some good old fashioned, small town sheriff story telling, and is a very solid read, but Volume 2 is where this story really shines. There, the horror, mystery, and tension are all cranked up to the max and managed to make me feel genuine fear for the safety of a character even though I know they’ll be ok because they’re the one telling the story! That’s a mark of quality storytelling. That Texas Blood is what we need in modern comics, and if you’re one of the people that has been sleeping on this book, you need to go out and pick yourself up a copy.
Trust me, you won’t regret it.
#5 The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
Here’s the blurb:
Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality, which means the avatar of Death is out of a job… or is she?
Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality. As a result, the avatar of Death is cast down to Earth to live a mortal life in Mumbai as twenty-something Laila Starr. Struggling with her newfound mortality, Laila has found a way to be placed in the time and place where the creator of immortality will be born. Will Laila take her chance to stop mankind from permanently altering the cycle of life, or will death really become a thing of the past? A powerful new graphic novel from award-winning writer Ram V (These Savage Shores, Swamp Thing) and Filipe Andrade (Captain Marvel) that explores the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
There are a lot of comic reviewers that I have a great deal of admiration for, and almost all of them have placed The Many Deaths of Laila Starr towards the top of their lists for best book of the year, and with good reason. Ram V has really crafted a masterpiece of magical realism that manages to succeed in not only telling a fantastic tale, while also managing to do something very few books on the market today do: tell a new story.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is one of the most interesting and creative stories I have ever read. Ram V weaves an intensely personal narrative that uses the Hindu Pantheon, reincarnation, and serious meditations on the meaning of life and the value of Death. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more unique title this year, and you owe it to yourself to check this story out.
Here’s the blurb:
It’s been ten years since Val Riggs saw the sun swallowed up by darkness. Ten years since nearly everyone she knew was infected and changed into hideous ‘shades’. Now a ‘ferryman’ providing transport for people and goods, she traverses the deadly unlit roads in her eighteen-wheeler, taking on whatever evils the night provides. When the promise of an illuminated sanctuary crosses her path, Val must undergo a journey far beyond the limits of any ferryman before her. But with a loved one in the throes of infection, time is running short…
Legendary creators Scott Snyder (Dark Knights: Death Metal, Wytches) and Tony S. Daniel (Batman, Deathstroke) unveil horrors beyond any shade in this pulse-pounding new ongoing series.
Nocterra was a refreshing surprise. I thought it would be another generic, Mad Max style post- apocalyptic story, but instead what I found was one of the best action comics out there. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, since this work is helmed by one of my all time favourite Batman authors, Scott Snyder, and drawn by one of the best in the business, Tony S. Daniel. That means that the book not only has all the amazing twists and turns that Snyder is known for, but it’s also one of the most beautiful books available.
If you love Scott Snyder, you’re going to love Nocterra. And if you love some pulse pounding, post-apocalyptic, road warrior style action/ adventure, this book needs to be on your pull today!
Here’s the blurb:
The highly lauded, mouthwateringly illustrated miniseries Decorum from the bestselling, comics titan Jonathan Hickman (House of X, Powers of X, East of West) and acclaimed artist Mike Huddleston (Middlewest, House of X) now collected in its entirety in a stunning hardcover edition for the first time.
Decorum blends the high impact, event level storytelling of Hickman’s recent re-envisioning of X-Men with the sprawling, addictive worldbuilding of the recently concluded East of West. In the world of Decorum, there are many assassins in the known universe. Decorum is the story of the most well-mannered one.
The perfect standalone story for fans of epics like Star Wars and assassin action tales like John Wick-but set in a lush science fiction world where the stakes are even higher.
A few weeks back I wrote about why I love Decorum so much, so I won’t get too in the weeds here today, but I just wanted to remind everyone that this epic run by Hickman just finished, and the complete trade is coming out soon, and dear lord if you didn’t read this book you missed out on the best sci-fi series on the shelves. Aside from the amazing story that twists and turns in ways only Hickman can write, the art, my god, the art. Huddleston’s work is jaw dropping and breath taking.
One of the best, hands down.
#8 Maniac of New York
Here’s the blurb:
Four years ago, a masked slasher began stalking the streets of New York City.
Maniac Harry is inhuman, unkillable and unstoppable. Which is why the authorities’ solution has been to ignore him, and let New Yorkers adapt to a world where death can strike at any moment. When Maniac Harry starts killing his way through the subway system, trauma-haunted political aide Gina Greene and disgraced NYPD detective Zelda Pettibone become determined to go rogue and destroy him. But how can they fight a monster when they can’t fight City Hall?
From Emmy Award-winning writer Elliott Kalan (The Daily Show, MST3K, Spider-Man & The X-Men) and artist Andrea Mutti (Port of Earth, Hellblazer) comes the horrifying story of what happens when terror becomes the new normal. A frightening, thought-provoking, sometimes funny, always timely tale of murder, obsession and urban living.
I’ve never seen a Friday the 13th movie. I’ve barely watched a single slasher pic all the way through. I’m not a huge fan of horror, and yet this book made my list of best books of the year. If you need a stronger recommendation than that, then I don’t know what to tell you.
So there you go friends, my favourites of the year. There were a lot of great contenders in 2021, and hopefully 2022 will come out just as strong!
Wishing you and yours all the best this year, and let’s hope 2022 is the year life finally starts to return to normal. Until then, stay safe!