2020 has affected the comics industry in a number of critical ways, and the ripple effects will be felt not just in 2020 but also moving into 2021. Despite all of those challenges though the industry has managed to keep moving forward, pivoting and adapting to the changing times and pushing out the books you've come to love as well as launching new properties and stories that fans quickly fell in love with. Whether you're a fan of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or superheroes there's likely been something released this year that's right up your alley, and the team here at ComicBook has brought together some of our biggest recommendations for your holiday shopping, and you can check out all the recommendations starting on the next slide!
Superheroes were well represented in 2020, and across all age groups. DC Black Label kept things lively with several hyped up and critically loved books, though their regular line also featured some beloved books. On the new readers side of things, DC and Marvel both had several delightful offerings, and it was hard to narrow that down to just a few.
If you're an adventure and fantasy fan, there was a lot to be grateful for, and we could've made that section twice as large, though fans of those genres won't have anything to complain about with any of the choices that made the cut. The same goes for the licensed category, which had a lot to offer this year, and again, could've been twice as big.
We round things out with each of our personal favorites, and since there's a lot we each get two picks each. If you end up checking these books out make sure to reach out on Twitter and let us know! We're always up for talking comics. Without further ado, hit the next slide to check out our full comics holiday guide!
Matt Aguilar: Far Sector
Green Lantern hasn't been this good since the era of Rebirth and the Sinestro Corp War, though it excels because it goes in a completely opposite direction compared to those beloved stories. This takes the series back to its space cops roots but with considerably more depth regarding societal structures, where Lanterns fit into that, abuse of power, and the power of emotions. Jo is at the center of all of it, and she's quickly becoming one of my favorite Lanterns ever. Whether you're looking to read a Green Lantern book for the first time or you're a longtime fan looking for something fresh, Far Sector's got you covered across the board.
Chase: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen
The complete collection of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen has already entered my shelf of evergreen, essentially perfect superhero reads joining the likes of Nextwave and All-Star Superman. Like those series it embraces the entirety of the superhero genre—indulging the absurd, reveling in the hysterical, and speaking with an intensely human heart. It's the sort of story that guarantees a smile with some of the cleverest visual gags in comics today, and it builds upon the long, convoluted nature of DC Comics to make those gags land. Rather than asserting any "correct" version of what superhero comics can or should be, it allows for every tone and style to exist as it applies Silver Age antics to modern themes. Whether readers are looking for something that is simply fun or an enjoyably challenging meditation on what superheroes reveal in our society today, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen is the best imaginable read for a holiday break.
Jenna: Martian Manhunter
Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo's Martian Manhunter is one of the best comics I've read in recent years, and this holiday season is a perfect time to check it out in its entirety. The twelve-issue maxiseries follows the familiar story of J'onn J'onnz's journey from Martian refugee to the protector of Earth -- but told in a way that you've definitely never seen before. The run is equal parts True Detective, a heartwrenching immigrant story, and an epic superhero tale, one with an aesthetic that's too weird and wonderful to put to words. This series will absolutely give you your money's worth and then some.
Jamie Lovett: Wonder Woman: Dead Earth
It's easy for any corporate character to begin to feel stale after decades of stories. This fact applies especially to corporate superheroes, who are always fighting evil forces but — to perpetuate their value as IP — can never actually achieve anything too momentous. But every once in a while, we get statement pieces featuring one of those characters, and Daniel Warren Johnson's Wonder Woman: Death Earth is such a story. Johnson writes and illustrates this post-apocalyptic story that tests Diana physically while also asking questions about whom she fights for and why. Give this volume to anyone on your list with an eye for stunning art, and they'll be a happy camper.
Nicole Drum: Batman: Three Jokers
Perhaps a bit divisive among some comic fans, Batman: Three Jokers is one of only two "superhero" comics that even cracked my consideration as a gift suggestion for 2020 (the other is the absolutely impeccable Wonder Woman: Dead Earth which is also mentioned in this guide). The series serves as a sort of "spiritual sequel" to the iconic "The Killing Joke" and examines, as the title suggests, three separate takes on the Joker, each corresponding to major parts of Batman history (broken down into The Criminal, The Clown, and The Comedian.) Given the complex history of the Joker with Batman, the series is an interesting read and a thought-provoking examination of not just the villain, but some of the characters most impacted by the villain's actions over the years -- specifically Jaston Todd and Barbara Gordon. If you want to gift a comic that will provoke thought and plenty of debate, this one is it.prevnext
Matt: Once & Future
If you happen to be a lover of Arthurian lore like I am and enjoy dazzling art, look no further than Once & Future. The newest sensation from BOOM! Studios continues to find creative new spins on King Arthur, Merlin, Beowulf, and more, and writer Kieron Gillen also introduces fans to a lovable but complex cast of characters, including the always delightful (and lethal) Gran. Artist Dan Mora and colorist Tamra Bonvillain are doing some of the best work of their careers in this book as well, so if you've been on the fence it's time to just jump on in, because you won't regret it.
Chase: Lost Soldiers
Fair warning: Lost Soldiers is a war story in the truest sense of that term. It does not glorify or romanticize what war is and is one of the most harrowing comics published in 2020. However, if you or someone you know is looking for a piece of art that speaks to the immense weight and ideas that can be carried in the comics form, there are few better examples in 2020 either. With only one issue remaining, now is the time to track down back issues and catch up on one of the most impressive accomplishments from this year. The atrocities on the page are made bearable through the impressive artistic skill sets on display, including genuinely transformative coloring from Heather Moore. So if you're looking for what Tim O'Brien might refer to as a "true war story," then look no further than Lost Soldiers.
Admittedly, the more fantastical corners of the Marvel universe have been a bit of a blind spot for me, but the recent run of Excalibur has welcomed me with open arms anyway. The new iteration of the title follows an ensemble of X-Men characters, including Betsy Braddock/Captain Britain, Rogue, Gambit, and Apocalypse, tasked with protecting the mutant nation of Krakoa from mystical threats. Tini Howard's narrative is both a significant fantasy epic and a heartfelt series of character studies, and the art from Marcus To is an absolute joy to behold. Even if you haven't been keeping up with the overall X-Men line, this is a book that deserves your attention.
Jamie Lovett: Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku and Other Stories/Usagi Yojimbo Origins, Vol. 1: Samurai
This year marks the beginning of a new era for Stan Sakai's phenomenal, long-running samurai series Usagi Yojimbo as it made the jump to IDW Publishing, which is releasing Usagi's adventures, past and present, in full-color for the first time. Usagi's stories are refreshingly tense but straightforward, thrilling, and poignant. Remarkably, Sakai has kept up this incredible quality for 35 years. One of the beautiful things about Usagi Yojimbo is that its simplicity means you jump in with any story and get a sense of what's so great about the series. Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku and Other Stories is the first collection of new Usagi stories from IDW and is a stellar jumping-on point that will have new readers hooked. For those that always want to start at the very beginning, Usagi Yojimbo Origins, Vol. 1: Samurai collects Uusagi's earliest adventures in color for the first time. Both make fantastic gifts.
Nicole Drum: Ascender, Vols. 1 & 2
I came to Ascender without having read its predecessor, Descender, and while there is nuance to the first series that is helpful when coming to Ascender, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's fantasy adventure series is one that doesn't need the first to captivate. While technically this is a series that isn't "new" in 2020, it makes for an essential 2020 read as it follows its heroes -- specifically a young girl named Mila -- as she embarks on something of a quest to avoid the evil of the all-powerful dictator, a vampire witch called Mother, while also potentially saving world as she knows it the oppression of her regime. Filled with magic, mystery, and richly human characters, Ascender is an incredible read that will delight any comics fan. Currently, volumes 1 and 2 are available, with volume 3 set to be released on December 23rd.prevnext
Matt: Something Is Killing The Children
Those looking for Horror stories have quite a few offerings to choose from these days, but for those who prefer tension over jump scares and a shadowy organization that spices things up around every corner, Something Is Killing The Children might just be the book for you. Writer James Tynion shines throughout this series with the focus on monster hunter named Erica Slaughter who tries to keep the horrific creatures that hunt children at bay, and artist Werther Dell'Edera and colorist Miguel Muerto create a one of a kind visual style that helps the series stand from, well, pretty much everything. As the intrigue around Erica and who she works for builds, so will your hype for the next issue, and as a result this is an easy recommend.
Chase: John Constantine: Hellblazer
The final issue of John Constantine: Hellblazer has confirmed the series' place as the best Constantine story told since Hellblazer was cancelled. Over the course of 13 issues it examined how ideas change reality by focusing on some of the ugliest ideas plaguing society today. Examinations of race, class, and xenophobia in modern Britain made for some truly terrifying tales, all from the still engaging perspective of London's consummate con man and cynic. Each story is presented with an inimitable sense of style and some truly nightmarish visions. Whether readers are seeking more Constantine comics, an entrypoint from his appearances on television, or simply a great horror comic, John Constantine: Hellblazer will not disappoint.
Chase: The Plot
Only one issue remains in The Plot, which makes now the perfect time to dive into the first half of this century-spanning haunted house tale. The series remains a highlight for Vault Comics showcasing some of the best talent at the publisher in a comic that exudes a deeply unsettling tone. There is a monster at the heart of this story, but it's the mood and sense of place that make it one of the most effective horror comics of 2020. Each shadow carries a sense of weight and the family those shadows threaten to consume become three-dimensional on the comics page with real fears, hopes, and concerns. Even the familiar form of a New England haunting is made to feel fresh with an approach and ideas that feel genuinely timeless. Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel are two names that should be on any horror comic reader's radar. As they bring The Plot to a close, the most pressing question that remains is what will these creators do next (and will we be able to shut off the lights afterward)?
Nicole Drum: Red Mother
Red Mother is the horror comic for fans who want to explore the horror genre, but do so without a lot of gore and prefer a slow psychological burn to the big scares. The series follows the story of Daisy McDonough whose life is shattered when she loses both her eye and the man she loves in a brutal mugging. However, as Daisy begins to put her life back together, it slowly becomes apparent that there is far more at play here than just dealing with a trauma as an entity called The Red Mother seeks to break through into our world through Daisy. It's complex, human, and chilling without being overly terrifying or gore-filled making it a great read for any comic fan, but especially good for those who like just a little horror.
Jenna: Coffin Bound
Coffin Bound is one of those books I have wanted to shove into everybody's hands since the moment it first debuted, and I definitely could not recommend it more as a holiday purchase. The Image series opens with Izzy, a young woman who learns of her impending murder at the hands of an unstoppable killer and proceeds to embark on an exhilarating road trip to erase all memory of herself from existence. While not necessarily a horror book in the traditional sense, the way Coffin Bound approaches its body horror - with the help of some gorgeous art from Dani - isn't for the faint of heart, and Dan Watters' narrative has the perfect blend of wonder and dread. The second volume of the series is set to be released in early December, but the first volume is absolutely the place to start.prevnext
Matt: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
If one series completely embodied the joy and love many feel towards their favorite franchises, it was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. You could just envision writer Ryan Parrott smiling from ear to ear as he wrote it, as all of the things fans love about each franchise is here in spades, from sprawling action sequences filled with sarcastic quips to meta moments that have some fun each franchise's history, it's all here, and it all looks gorgeous thanks to the work of artist Simone di Meo and colorist Walter Baiamonte. Seriously, this book is stunning and stylish in equal measure, and I couldn't recommend it more.
Jenna: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren
The past year has undoubtedly been a significant one for Star Wars fans, between the debut of The Rise of Skywalker, the final season of Clone Wars, and the second season of The Mandalorian. Regardless of whatever your stance is on parts of the franchise, there's probably something for you to glean from The Rise of Kylo Ren. The four-issue miniseries chronicles Ben Solo's origin story to the Dark Side, with a nuance that is both incredibly tragic and illuminating, and an approach to canon and Easter eggs that is only proving to be more and more relevant. While you wait for the next The Mandalorian episode (or the launch of the High Republic publishing titles in the coming months), you absolutely should add The Rise of Kylo Ren to your collection.
Jamie Lovett: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn, Vol. 1 - From The Ashes
IDW Publishing's Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles series has quietly been one of the best ongoing series in mainstream comics since it debuted in 2012, and in 2019 it became the long-sunning TMNT comic of all time. With its 100th issue, the writer behind the series, Tom Walz, decided to step back, and Sophie Campbell took over. Campbell illustrates her run's first arc, collected here as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn, Vol. 1 - From The Ashes. The "Vol. 1" designation is let readers know that they can jump into the TMNT game with this volume. The story has the Turtles healing from the wounds they've accumulated over past issues, mourning their losses, and adjusting to a new status quo where there's an entire community of mutants living in New York City. There's surprising emotional resonance in these comics that are nominally about martial artists who are also turtle-people. Anyone who grew up with the Turtles should be pleasantly surprised to find that they also grew up with them. From here, they can continue reading Campbell's excellent take on the Turtles and check out the wonderful stories that came in the issues prior.
Jamie Lovett: Star Trek: Year Five - Odyssey's End
Every Star Trek fan knows about Captain Kirk's five-year mission commanding the USS Enterprise. But there's long been a gap in Star Trek canon between where the network canceled The Original Series and where the Enterprise crew returned to action on the big screen. Star Trek: Year Five looks to fill that gap. IDW Publishing assembled a full writers room, like a television series, to come up with Kirk and crew's adventures during their journey home and even after that. The results have surpassed expectations for a Star Trek comic, giving overlooked supporting characters time to shine, bringing back classics allies and foes, and maintaining the modern-day relevance that always made Star Trek worthwhile. This collection will enthrall any fan of classic Star Trek.prevnext
Matt: We Live
AfterShock is known for pushing the bounds of what readers expect from comic stories, and their newest original world is easily one of their best. We Live is only on its second issue, but it is one of the best new books of 2020 hands down, so if you're wanting to try a new series this is the absolute perfect time to hop on. Writers Inaki and Roy Miranda have created an intriguing tale that is heartbreaking and hopeful in equal measure, and you'll be on the edge of your seat as Hototo, his sister Tala, and their small group of friends attempt to make their way to the only point of survival, which itself is still surrounded in mystery. Visually Miranda and colorist Eva De La Cruz create a rich, lush, and dangerous world that doesn't feel like anything else out there. If you pick up one new comic, make it this one.
Chase: Protector (a.k.a. First Knife)
Whether you pick up the collected edition of First Knife or track down the individual issues titled Protector, you're bound to discover one of the most impressive pieces of science-fiction published in 2020. This story set in the far flung future of a North America ravaged by climate change presents a recognizable Earth with barely recognizable cultures and calls into question how permanent or stable the notion of America really is. It provides a back to basics approach on the human condition and in doing so delves into fundamental elements of nobility, justice, and sacrifice. That sweeping vision is only made possible through Artyom Trakhanov's art and design work, which imbues every sequence with layers of meaning—whether it's developing lore about the fall of the modern world or clarifying how nature has reclaimed lands that were once familiar. First Knife will be a joyful discovery for sci-fi readers seeking to explore how time upends all things.
Jenna: The Terrifics
I can (and probably will) wax poetic about The Terrifics at any chance I get, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to recommend it for your holiday shopping. The series, which follows a ragtag alliance between Mr. Terrific, Plastic Man, Phantom Girl, and Metamorpho, initially set out to be DC's tongue-in-cheek answer to Marvel's First Family -- but it quickly became something unique and wonderful all its own. The Terrifics' approach to science fiction storytelling feels like Silver Age storytelling mixed with being at Epcot -- it's genuinely aspirational and celebratory of our weird world, without sacrificing stakes and major character beats. While you can (and should) read The Terrifics in its entirety, Gene Luen Yang's first arc - which pits the gang against a digital version of the ten plagues of the Old Testament - is the perfect jumping-off point.
Jamie Lovett: Sentient
TKO Studios is a relatively young comics publisher that refuses to follow established protocol for releasing mainstream comics. Instead of putting out issues in a monthly, serialized format, they release full stories as either collected editions and boxed sets. Sentient, a sci-fi tale from acclaimed creators Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta, earned the publisher its first awards recognition with a nomination for the Eisner Awards for Best Limited Series. It's a human tale set in space as children on a colony ship try to get by without their parents. Anyone who enjoys good sci-fi novels or shot stories will want to read Sentient.
Nicole Drum: Planet Paradise
I don't have nearly enough good things to say about Planet Paradise -- though I certainly did try in my recent review of the title. The story of a woman whose trip to an intergalactic vacation doesn't exactly go as planned when the ship she's a passenger on crashes in a hostile world forcing her to not only step up to save herself but also to ultimately save everyone else and learn a lot about who she is in the process, the book uses the vastness of space to explore the complexities of human life. Engaging on both a functional level as a survivor story but also deeply introspective at the same time, it's not only a great read but a beauty to look at. And it's just a bit hopeful, something we all need right now.prevnext
Matt: Teen Titans: Beast Boy
DC's YA series of graphic novels has been a consistent bright spot in DC's publishing this year, so it's hard to go wrong with any of them. That said, one of my favorites is the Teen Titans series by writer Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo, specifically Teen Titans: Beast Boy. Garcia delivers a Gar Logan that is incredibly relatable, and that is only amplified by his excellent supporting cast, especially his two best friends Stella and Tank. Beast Boy is one of Picolo's favorite characters and it shows, as the book finds stylish and novel ways to illustrate Gar's powers and abilities, though the art is just as impressive even when things are flying off the rails. If you've wanted to give the Teen Titans a chance and don't know where to start, this is a perfect starting point.
Teen Titans: Beast Boy can be found here.
Chase: Superman Smashes the Klan
Superman Smashes the Klan provides an incredible entrypoint to superhero comics for readers of all ages. It's the rare example of an all-ages text that will actually delight young readers and their guardians as they read it together. Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru are creators familiar with that approach and together they've produced another comics classic. The story itself is an update to a classic radio serial that actually helped to expose and demoralize the actual KKK, and it updates that story to address modern variants of racist and hateful ideas in American society today. By centering young children confronting a dangerous and difficult world, it tells a genuinely inspiring Superman story that speaks to a definition of heroism that doesn't require super strength or X-ray vision. A perfect tale to read with young family members over the holiday season.
If you or someone you know has fallen in love with Marvel's weirder web-slingers thanks to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (or if you just love genuinely fun storytelling), I absolutely recommend Marvel's recent Spider-Ham miniseries. The five-issue run tells an entirely new story for Peter Porker, the anthropomorphized pig version of Spider-Man, as he realizes he might be the only one who can save all of time and space. Zeb Wells' narrative is chock full of pop culture references, animal puns, and a whole lot of heart, and Will Robson's art is an adorable complement to it all. Spider-Ham is a series that both the young and young at heart will love.prevnext
Matt: Excellence and Captain Marvel
If I said that there's a series that combined societal commentary, complicated family dynamics, and the magic chaos of Harry Potter, you would be instantly in, right? Well good because there is, and it's called Excellence. Writer Brandon Thomas introduces fans to Spencer Dales, who has struggled his entire life with the expectations of his father and the oppressive society that guards all magic, but now he's doing something about it, and trust me, you won't be able to put this down. Artist Khary Randolph and colorist Emilio Lopez ensure this magical adventure is as visually sleek as the title implies, so if you haven't jumped into the world of Excellence yet, you should fix that ASAP, and you can even read the first issue free right here.
As for Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers has found herself in some very strange places this year, and it's resulted in some wonderful adventures that any Cap fan is going to love. Whether it's Carol's evolution into the Supreme Accuser (complete with her own team of fan favorites) or her most recent adventure into an alternate world where she died powering the sun and is now helping to save the world and meeting her friends' future children along the way, this has been a surreal year for Carol thanks to the creative team of writer Kelly Thompson, artist Francesco Manna, Cory Smith, and Lee Garbett, but one that no Cap fan should miss in the slightest.
Chase: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist and Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
Adrian Tomine has been a big name in comics for my entire adult life and his most recent work, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, makes it clear why that will remain true for many years to come. This collection of vignettes spanning most of Tomine's life offer some of the sharpest self-deprecating humor imaginable. While comics fans are bound to get an extra few laughs for recognizing names and scenarios, these stories can appeal to anyone who's lived long enough to question what exactly is the point of their existence. Tomine evidences universal appeal through the specificity of his work and the honesty with which he regularly roasts himself before readers. This volume is one of the funniest publications from 2020, but what makes it truly remarkable is how it rises above its deft sense of humor to approach the sublime in discussing careers and family in modern America.
Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio also interrogates modern America, but uses the lens of history to do so. Derf Backderf's careful retelling of the days that led to the infamous Kent State Shooting in 1970 defines a shocking number of parallels between protests and authoritarian governance without ever editorializing. Backderf makes both the backdrop of this era and the specific lives that defined this moment accessible to readers with intense research and the same humanistic cartooning that characterizes all of his work. In spite of the difficult nature of this topic, he provides a sense of urgency and significance in the reading experience assisting readers in both understanding the past and applying it to the present. Kent State is one of the best new comics of 2020 and an endorsement for Backderf's skill as a popular historian.
Nicole Drum: Yasmeen
Yasmeen is a bit of an unconventional pick for this list. It's a newer series, which means there's not yet a trade for it so you'd have to get single issues, but more than that Yasmeen is a heart-wrenching and at times difficult to read story that follows a young Iraqi woman, Yasmeen, and her family as they deal with the horrors of war even after they've come to the United States. Central do this are the two years Yasmeen spent as a prisoner of ISIS and how her captivity has impacted every person in her life. Divided between flashbacks to her experiences as well as the story in the present, the book sheds light not only on the horrors of war and fanaticsm, but also holds up a mirror to humanity as well. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Yasmeen is an incredible, essential comic.
Jenna: Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed and Gwenpool Strikes Back
No graphic novel has continued to resonate with me this year as much as Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. One of the latest entries into DC's young adult line, Tempest Tossed reimagines the story of a sixteen-year-old Diana Prince into the modern era, after a failed rescue mission on Themyscira leads to her becoming a refugee in New York's immigrant community. With a narrative from young adult fiction icon Laurie Halse Anderson, and gorgeous art from Leila del Duca, the graphic novel is a poignant and perfect take on what makes Diana such a significant hero. It's the perfect companion to firing up HBO Max on Christmas Day to watch Wonder Woman 1984 (which I assume a lot of us will be doing).
On the flip side is Gwenpool Strikes Back, an equally-memorable miniseries about a young superhero finding her place in the world -- albeit in a wildly different way. This five-issue miniseries sees Gwen Poole fighting for relevancy in the Marvel universe by some very unconventional means, which get more absurd and oddly poignant as the series stretches on. Leah Williams' narrative gets to the heart of what makes Gwen a great character (with the help of a lot of memes and hilarious jokes) and David Baldeon's art perfectly matches the genre-bending world of the series. Granted, this collection of Gwenpool Strikes Back came out in March of this year (which, given 2020, feels like a lifetime ago), but it still is something I can't recommend enough.
Jamie Lovett: Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams and The Pull: Naoki Urasawa is one of the greatest manga creators working today. He is typically known for his long-running, dense sci-fi thrillers. Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams is a departure, a light-hearted, self-contained, fantasy heist about family and second chances. It should delight most readers. The Pull from TKO Studios, by Steve Orlando and Ricardo López Ortiz, is a western comic with manga energy infused into it. It's a darker story about living in perilous times when the world's problems seem insurmountable. If the person you're buying for likes tales with an edge of darkness to them, The Pull will serve them well.0commentsprev