Every Wednesday, I travel to my local comic book shop to pick up nearly a dozen books, most coming from Marvel and DC. I’m a big fan of the classic superhero formula, and have been reading about capes and masks every week since I was eight years old. My first ongoing series was Captain America, which was soon followed by Batman, and then I got my hands on everything. I wanted to read as much as I could, and I haven’t stopped doing that in the decades that followed.
Like most things happening in 2020, the comic book industry had a strange year. When the pandemic took hold, comics ceased to be. New release racks had nothing on them. For a few months, physical comic books were no longer being released, and digital distribution hardly had a footprint. The industry just shut down, and there was a fear that it wouldn’t come back the same.
Not getting my weekly fix of stories was one of the hardest things for me to adapt to during the pandemic. I can shelter in place with the best of them, but not having a book on hand to read during lunch or any time gap was a habit I struggled to alter. I didn’t realize how huge of a role comics played in my life until they were stripped from me.
When the wheels of most entertainment industries started spinning again, comic stores reopened, and new books slowly trickled back onto shelves, making Wednesdays important and fun again.
Given how many comics release each week, it’s impossible to get an accurate read on everything, but for the superhero books from DC and Marvel, I think the year was ruled by one person: Donny Cates. His writing has been inspired and has given the Marvel universe an exciting pulse that isn’t predictable.
Along with Cates’ outstanding work, here are the 2020 books I recommend every comic fan or aspiring reader checks out:
Now 10 issues deep, Cates’ handling of the God of Thunder has been nothing short of extraordinary. His run begins with Thor as Galactus’ herald in “The Devourer King.” This means he gets a new look and powers to go with it. Thor isn’t as accepting of his duties as Silver Surfer, and what happens next shapes one of the year’s best comic book stories, which also doubles as one of Thor’s all-time great arcs. Cates’ next big Thor story, “Prey,” is now two issues old, and is proving to be every bit as clever, twisted, and unexpected. Thor is easily my favorite comic of the year, and takes this age-old hero into new territory that also adheres to his rich history.
This is another Cates book that has been on fire. Yes, “Venom Island” was a silly read, but with Eddie Brock away playing Rambo, his son Dylan came into his own as a important character who is linked to Knull, the big bad in the Marvel universe both this year and next. Knull’s arrival on Earth was teased most of the year in brilliant ways that showed just how big of a threat he is. His arrival in King in Black is living up to the wait, and has touched almost every major Marvel hero. It reminds me of Thanos showing us what he’s truly capable of in The Infinity Gauntlet. Venom also just concluded a fun alternate-reality arc that opens the universe up to new possibilities. Keep going, Mr. Cates. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s brilliant stuff!
For most of the year, James Tynion IV had some fun with with the Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery, and rounded most of them up for the long arc “Their Dark Designs.” Riddler and Joker were excellently penned, but they didn’t crowd the spotlight. New villains emerged from Gotham’s shadows, and could have staying power in the Batman universe. The artwork from Jorge Jimenez is also outstanding. This is one of the best core Batbooks in quite some time.
Unapologetic and bloody as hell, Tom Taylor’s take on Suicide Squad is a real page-turner, and it’s sadly over. This Suicide Squad imprint only lasted 11 issues, but it rarely had a lull, and Taylor was given a surprising amount of freedom in being able to off heroes and villains. As the body bags line up, Taylor also tells a wild story of revenge that sets the stage nicely for a new team with a new name.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Peter Parker is having a terrible week in a story called “Last Remains.” Kindred, Sin-Eater and other old threats beat him bloody. The entire Spider-Gang is in the crosshairs in this sprawling story that bounces between two different ongoing Amazing Spider-Man books. With each passing issue, the story becomes more personal to Peter and the conflict at hand all the more gasp worthy. We still don’t know how “Last Remains” concludes, but it would appear this chapter in Peter’s life won’t be forgotten quickly.