2021 was an incredible year of comic book releases. Marvel, DC Comics, IDW, Image, and all other comic book companies were on their game as we got a lot of great stories being told throughout the year. Now as 2021 is coming to a close it is time to take a look back at the things that stood out above the rest. To kick off our look back at the year that 2021 in the comic book industry I have put together the 5 best comic book storylines that I read this year. Like with any type of “Best of…” list
BLACK WIDOW: I AM BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow #6 to Black Widow #10
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist: Rafael De Latorre and Elena Casagrande
Inker: Elena Casagrande and Elisabetta D’Amico
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Kelly Thompson’s Black Widow series has been one of the most consistently enjoyable every month of 2021. And it is really the “I Am Black Widow” arc that solidified the series as one of the top titles Marvel published. Because after several creative decisions placed Natasha Romanoff in a tough spot we finally got a strong direction that pushes Black Widow forward into the future. That direction that Thompson gave Natasha was all established in the “I Am Black Widow” arc. With this story arc Thompson established how Natasha was going to create her own organization that will actually be a positive force for good in the world as she looks to train next generation heroes and super spies.
That sense of direction that “I Am Black Widow” is only one of the many reasons it was great. The other stand out of this arc is the relationship it builds back up between Natasha and Yelena Belova. The timing of this worked well with how Yelena is becoming more well known thanks to the MCU. “I Am Black Widow” showcased how Natasha and Yelena are complete equals as they balance each other out. There is a sister bond between them that makes them the ultimate partners. Which helps add to the direction of the organization they are building together.
In addition to Yelena we see Thompson grow Black Widow’s supporting cast. Not only are Bucky Barnes and Clint Barton’s constants in this story but we see Spider-Girl Anya Corazón into the fold. Having Natasha mentor younger heroes like Anya is a great way to get over the impact on the Marvel Universe she has. Which also made the new character Lucy (aka Marygold) and Craig as new characters also part of what Natasha is building add to that aspect of this Black Widow series.
As great as Thompson’s is in this arc, what takes “I Am Black Widow” to the next level was the artwork by both Rafael De Latorre and Elena Casagrande. Black Widow is easily one of the best looking comic books on the market. And that is thanks to the amazing work by both Latorre and Casagrande. There artwork in “I Am Black Widow” also was all great. From the big action set pieces having beautiful double page spreads that showcased Natasha in action to the way panels are framed for dialogue heavy scenes. It all worked to make this story arc one complete story.
KING IN BLACK
Issues: King In Black #1 to King In Black #5
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Inkers: JP Mayer and Ryan Stegman
Colorists: Frank Martin and Jason Keith
King In Black is a great example of how you handle a big event from beginning to end. While this event was directly tied into everything Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman built during their Venom run that series is not necessary to read King In Black. Everything you need to know about how big of a deal Knull is as a villain and how he was able to take on all the heroes of the Marvel Universe is shown in the first issue alone. It really did have a Crisis level feel and you were never taken out of the story even when continuity heavy developments took place.
Best thing about the King In Black is that every issue had a big moment. From how Knull demolished Venom in their first fight in King In Black #1 to Jean Grey using her powers to lead heroes to the Thor vs Knull fight, things just kept escalating. For as many big moments that we did get nothing ended up becoming just noice. Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman understood how to make each character moment stand on its own so you could take highlights from every issue to fill out the top comic book moments of 2021.
That all helped in making sure that the end of King In Black further elevated Venom as he continued to break away from just being a Spider-Man related character and a franchise on his own. The ending of King In Black in particular elevated Eddie Brock’s character to a whole new level. Now he is up there with the top heroes of the Marvel Universe. Adding in the cosmic elements to the symbiotes has helped with that being firmly part of the Venom franchise.
NIGHTWING: LEAPING INTO THE LIGHT
Issues: Nightwing #78 to Nightwing #83
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Bruno Redondo, Rick Leonardi, and Neil Edwards
Inker: Bruno Redondo, Andy Lanning, and Scott Hanna
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo did not waste anytime establishing their mission statement with their run on Nightwing. Dick Grayson had been through a lot over the years and was just coming off the mixed, at best, reception that the Ric Grayson Saga got. Right away Taylor and Redondo repaired Dick Grayson’s character with their first story arc in Nightwing “Leaping Into The Light.” This story arc was all about reestablishing who Dick Grayson is in and out of the Nightwing costume. All of that fed into how Dick Grayson was trying to figure out what he should do next in his life.
That next step got a big push from beyond the grave with Alfred Pennyworth leaving Dick Grayson a big fortune. Rather than just using that fortune to fund his work as Nightwing Dick Grayson decided to use all the money to invest in the future of the people of Bludhaven. This ultimate decision Dick Grayson makes at the end of “Leaping Into The Light” established how he is not going down Bruce Wayne’s path and creating a whole new path that benefits the entire city he is protecting, Bludhaven. In the process, as Superman told him, it is setting the example for other DCU heroes to follow.
Along the way to that conclusion of “Leaping Into The Light” Taylor and Redondo also established how important the Batman Family are to Dick Grayson’s life. In particular we saw Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake factor in a big way in this story as they helped him against the new villain Heartless and his plans for how to use his new fortune. Obviously the relationship with Barbara took the biggest spotlight as we continue to see how as both Dick and Barbara have grown older they are bonding much more.
The other big development that happened in “Leaping Into The Light” was the revelation that Dick Grayson’s father had a daughter with Meili Lin, who he dated before Mary Grayson. This unknown older sister, Melinda Zucco, could have been a sub-plot that did not work. But it ended up working because of how the story of John and Mary Grayson’s story was told to make this a story that works into the character’s history. And given the fact that she is currently known as Melinda Zucco it’ll be interesting to see how her character develops over time.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TIME AFTER TIME
Issues: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #111 to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #118
Story Consultants: Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz
Writer: Sophie Campbell
Artists: Jodi Nishijima, Sophie Campbell, and Nelson Daniel
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
2020 was sort of a reset year for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as we entered into an era for the IDW comic where Splinter was no longer around. Now in 2021 with the storyline “Time After Time” the honeymoon period that the Turtles got with getting comfortable in Mutant Town was done. Sophie Campbell really challenged our heroes, specifically Jennika as she got her first experience with how complicated continuity is with the franchise.
Having a Future Lita appear in the present to attempt to change how things went for her mentors in the present was well done. You got a sense that while Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are used to dealing with how continuity works this is all new to Jennika. Because of that when they are all confronted with what their futures are from Future Lita Jennika is the one to battle against what is recommended she do to avoid going down a dark path. That opened the door to dive more into Jennika’s character as she is still new to this world and gets her to get out of her comfort zone to broaden her horizon’s while still being part of the Turtles.
While Jennika was a big focus in this arc we continued to see how Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are growing to go from being teenagers with their father, Splinter, watching their backs to full grown adults. Each of them have been through enough that they understand this is the time for them to step up as leaders in their own way. Campbell really does a great job showing the growth of the four brothers through the way they interact with Jennika, April, and others. It’s a lot of subtle storytelling with their character arcs that I really appreciate seeing Campbell continue to do.
It also leads into how with “Time After Time” we really see an emphasis on the growing supporting cast of this series. The creation of Mutant Town is an opportunity to find new characters who haven’t gone through the same experiences as the Turtles yet. But as they all get used to living in this community together they are able to develop relationships with the Turtles that help their futures all be still unknown even if Future Lita came with all the information of her future.
Issues: Thor #9 to Thor #14
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Nic Klein
Colorist: Matt Wilson
When it comes to unexpected stories in 2021 Thor’s “Prey” arc was at the top for me. I never thought we would see Donald Blake brought back. And I certainly didn’t expect that Donald Blake would return as the biggest threat to the Marvel Universe. But that is exactly what happened with “Prey” as Thor Odinson’s decision to spend some alone time ended up leading to Donald Blake using this as opportunity to take his revenge out on everyone with a connection to Thor.
Donny Cates and Nic Klein did not hold back in the brutality that Donald Blake showed. Right from the moment he returned Donald showed Loki who is boss. From there he just reigned terror on everyone from Jane Foster to Throg. It was incredible to see develop because its not something you would think you see from the once meek Donald Blake. Klein keeping Donald’s design to be how you remember him made the fact that he was such a big challenge as a villain even better.
Thor’s journey as Donald was causing so much havoc did a great job continuing his overall character arc since becoming All-Father of Asgard. The entire decision to turn back into Donald was about getting a break. That break leading him into getting to really know the ramification of not transforming back into Donald Blake for so many years added to the weight of his decision. This feeds into the greater story of Thor trying to create an aura that he can take on these responsibilities while mentally knowing the future of Asgard and himself is taking a toll on him. This also created greater investment into all the storylines that followed “Prey.”
Loki was also a quiet breakout star in “Prey.” Loki wasn’t a constant presence in this story but his scenes always stole the show. The story of how both Thor and Loki have grown in their brother relationship is really something that has stood out in Cates run. And seeing how Loki started “Prey” getting demolished by Donald only to turn things around by the end with what Donald Blake’s fate was an excellent cap on the entire arc.
To comment on this article and other Comic Book Revolution content visit our Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram. You can catch up with all of Kevin’s thoughts about comics, anime, TV shows, movies and more over on Twitter. You can also watch the fun and silly videos Kevin is making over on his TikTok.