The 2020 ComicBook.com Golden Issue Award for Best First Appearance

2020 was definitely a year unlike any other, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing some significant changes to much of our everyday life. That was especially true with regards to the entertainment industry, as a number of blockbusters films were delayed due to the virus's spread, pushing back the big-screen debuts of some fan-favorites in the process. Still, audiences were introduced to some memorable new characters over the past year, which we want to highlight as part of the ComicBook.com Golden Issue Awards, in which our staff votes on the best movies, TV, comics, gaming, anime, and wrestling from 2020.

In some cases, that meant the introduction of iconic characters from the DC and Marvel Comics universes, whose decades of origins and backstories were expertly brought into the modern era. In others, that meant new female characters tied to pop culture mainstays, who helped bring a feminist perspective to traditionally male-oriented franchises. While each of the nominees deserves praise - especially for bringing audiences so much joy in 2020 - only one individual or group was able to take home the trophy.

And the winner of the 2020 ComicBook.com Golden Issue Award for Best First Appearance is...

CB-Winner-Golden-Issue-2020-Best-First-Appearance
(Photo: ComicBook.com)

Jurnee Smollett, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rosie Perez for Birds of Prey!

Yes, Birds of Prey technically got its start as a Suicide Squad spinoff surrounding Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, but the film truly would not have worked without the DC heroines that got thrown into the Maiden of Mischief's orbit, and emerged from the film's off-the-wall events as a memorable and groundbreaking superhero team. Over the course of the neon-soaked, nonlinear film, audiences were introduced to Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Smollett), Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Winstead), and Renee Montoya (Perez) -- three characters who had appeared in various live-action TV adaptations before, but never with Birds of Prey's combination of reverence and inventiveness.

First was Renee, an openly-lesbian veteran cop frustrated by the misogynistic qualities of the Gotham City Police Department, her investigation into the criminal wrongdoings of Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and her increasingly-frequent run-ins with Harley Quinn. Through it all, Perez perfectly captured Renee's tenacity and moral code, while also telling a story that reflects the sexism that women - and particularly older women and women of color - can experience in the workplace.

Next was Black Canary, the star singer at Sionis' Black Mask Club whose role in the fight to save Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) helps her re-examine her destiny and legacy as a hero. Black Canary arguably has one of the most complex histories in DC Comics, and the weight of that could be felt in every second that Smollett was on screen, as she channeled the earnestness and inner strength that fans know and love. By the time the third act rolled around and Dinah was able to fully unleash her sonic Canary Cry, the end result was breathtaking to watch.

And finally, we have Huntress, a skilled assassin who was sent down a path of revenge after her family - one of the richest families in Gotham - was brutally murdered in front of her. Huntress's presence in the film as the elusive "Crossbow Killer" was felt almost from the jump, but once Winstead fully joined the film's ensemble cast, she proved to be a bonafide scene-stealer. Not only did Winstead's performance honor the determination and skillfulness that drives Helena in the comics, but it brought an endearing sense of humor and awkwardness that would come from such a sheltered set of circumstances.

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In addition to providing a new chapter in Harley Quinn's cinematic journey, Birds of Prey introduced moviegoers to three of the most underrated and complex heroines in DC Comics lore. The film's take on Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya - which was the perfect blend of reverential and trailblazing - was a joy to witness, both in their individual sequences and united as a group. While Warner Bros. has yet to confirm a Birds of Prey sequel or spinoff (although, let's be real -- they definitely need to), it's undeniable that Smollett, Winstead, and Perez introduced takes on their characters that are going to continue to resonate for years to come.

Nominees:

  • Barbara Ann Minerva/Cheetah (Kristen Wiig, Wonder Woman 1984)
  • The Birds of Prey (Jurnee Smollett, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rosie Perez, Birds of Prey) — WINNER
  • Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes)
  • The New Mutants (Anya Taylor-Joy, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, and Maisie Williams, The New Mutants)
  • Thea Preston and Billie Logan (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine, Bill & Ted Face the Music)