In lieu of focusing on a specific issue this week, we thought it would be neat to do a year-end write-up on this year in Marvel, to take a look at what worked and what necessarily didn’t, and to maybe take a look ahead at what 2022 might look like for the House of Ideas.

To me, this was more of a year for endings than it was for worthwhile beginnings. Some notable series that began during 2018’s “Fresh Start” era, otherwise known as the beginning of C.B. Cebulski’s tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel, came to an end this year. Nick Spencer’s twice monthly — very twice monthly — Amazing Spider-Man run came to a close in September this year with… more of a whimper than a bang. An over-sized issue ending his run ended up confusing those who didn’t have intimate knowledge of a particular story in the history of the character that muddled the Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn relationship. So much for a fresh start, am I right? A spider-adjacent title featuring a underutilised character named Venom had a run that also finished up this year, from Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman. I’m not a Venom person, never have been and never will be (given how quickly I’ve personally soured on the current run by a team I love), but this was a pretty bonkers story that I mostly enjoyed. I’m down on the event interludes it went on instead of providing a clean, numbered story that people can read without having to resort to reading orders, but I had a good time reading a truly transformative take on a character like that.

From Amazing Spider-Man #49

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ five-year run on Black Panther also came to an end, providing a somewhat game-changing ending for T’Challa that has extended into the current run. Much has been written and said about this run, which I definitely believe is already a classic, but I mostly admire how open Coates was about the run, especially more towards the beginning, as he admitted any mistakes he may have made in plotting the story out since he was new to the form of comics. It most assuredly got better as it went along — shockingly so — as the recent twenty-five issue volume was a pretty epic and cosmic take on the character that I won’t soon forget. Another of Coates’ series, his and others’ Captain America, also ended this year on a note similar to Spencer’s Spider-Man; more of a whimper than a bang. Captain America seemed like such an unusual choice for Coates but made sense the more you thought about it; however, I found that it didn’t have the artistic consistency and excitement that his Black Panther story had.

From Black Panther #2

Al Ewing, who may be my writer of the year, concluded some very beloved and critically acclaimed series. Immortal Hulk is quite possibly the most well-received Marvel series of the past few years, one so infused with innovation and cerebral terror that it made a Hulk fan of this humble writer. Similar to Spider-Man, it tackled a character with such a storied history but did so in a way that was very accessible despite my lack of history with the Hulk. It frankly transcended all of that and gave me a fifty-issue long story that I was simply happy to be there for. Guardians of the Galaxy was a great series that ended prematurely but gave Ewing the chance to further hone his version of the cosmic, one with an identifiable political structure that he also expanded upon in his S.W.O.R.D. series over at the X-office. Speaking of S.W.O.R.D.; in a series that very recently concluded and ran for only eleven issues, it ranks as one of the best Krakoa-era books and one of the freshest takes on the cosmic in years.

While we’re on the X-Men train… shall we? It was, safe to say, a pretty big year for those merry mutants on Bang Island… or at least that’s what it was called, the whole orgy thing has certainly fizzled out recently. In terms of beginnings, Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ run on New Mutants hit its stride this year, which has been pretty unique as far as these Krakoan stories have gone, while also telling what has been a pretty definitive Shadow King story that ended pretty explosively this month. Ayala’s run reaches a new phase with the upcoming relaunch of some X-books in April, which I’m genuinely excited for! Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu passed the X-Men baton to the stellar team of Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz, who have been telling a great X-Men story featuring some cosmic shenanigans, while also throwing in some street-level Ben Urich stuff that’s reminiscent of those Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller issues of Daredevil where Urich figured out that Matthew Murdock was Daredevil (spoiler!).

While on the topic of Hickman… yeah, he’s exiting the X-office soon but the future of mutantdom looks so bright with all these established creators taking the reins while also welcoming new writers like Victor LaValle to plug in some gaps that House of X/Powers of X opened up back in 2019. Krakoa also saw the arrival for a few miniseries that told smaller-scale stories with obvious far-reaching implications, them being Way of XX-Corp, and The Trial of Magneto. Each of these tackle a particular element of Krakoa and all of them, save for X-Corp I suppose, opens the door to a whole bunch of new and interesting stories that I’m sure we’ll see come to fruition very soon. It’s hard to call these endings per sé since they’re continuing into other books or other volumes, but ExcaliburMarauders, and S.W.O.R.D. all came to an end or are ending very soon. And… Inferno. That book rocks, and with only one issue left to tie-up the current era of X-Men, I’m curious to see how Hickman settles things before he departs to whatever Marvel project is next. My theory? It’s either Spider-Man or Captain America.

From X-Men #1

As for beginnings? Marvel had a great year for debuts if you like the Eternals. The current run by Kieran Gillen and Esad Ribic continues to blow me away with every issue, and the pair of side issues they’ve done while Ribic catches up on the art side of things have been simply stellar. It has the makings of a classic, a story that defies the expectations that previous stories set while blazing a path forward, opening up new avenues of storytelling as well. It’s wholly unique and original among Marvel’s output, and I just adore it. I was excited for the relaunches of both Hulk and Black Panther but so far they haven’t impressed me. I’m looking forward to reading more of the former than the latter because despite my criticisms it’s definitely something I haven’t seen before.

As has been the case since its debut three years ago, Avengers is occasionally good? But mostly bad? Heroes Reborn was a surprising story, allowing Jason Aaron to unleash his seemingly dormant awesomeness that erupts every so often. The recent anniversary issue was also a high point, yet another eruption from Mt. Aaron. Who knows when the magma will flow again? The issues he’s done since #750 have been another sort of fizzled-out, technically fun story but clearly don’t have the excitement or passion that some of his other Marvel work has.

In terms of newer Marvel writers that certainly have my attention, the award would go to Canadian Jed MacKay (He’s Canadian, like me, which is why I point this out). His work on Black Cat alone has been stellar, fleshing out a character I’ve only ever experienced in Spider-Man stories by providing her with her own supporting cast and set of villains, and most importantly, shifting her away from Peter Parker’s shadow. He’s also writing a pretty great Moon Knight, and is heading the status quo-changing event The Death of Doctor Strange, where he kills Doctor Strange and he dies. The Kang-centric Timeless #1 hits shelves today, also written by MacKay, which for my money is an instant classic Kang story.

From Black Cat #1

Marvel’s overall creative health is something I think about a lot. Despite how I feel about Cebulski’s past and how he got into this very powerful position at the company, he did help shepherd an initially very creative time at Marvel back in 2018, giving a lot of creators chances to tell great stories with great characters. And it paid off! Venom and Hulk alone now have a series of trade paperbacks that tell one story that have shaped and will continue to shape the character for years to come. Hell, Cates and Ryan Ottley are already ripping up the Hulk’s body in shockingly gross ways. I do think creator corners, or specifically character corners, are becoming more and more commonplace. Basically, I think a reader could get by reading a particular group of close-knit books and get the picture. Read the Krakoan books, which occasionally delve into the machinations of the Marvel Universe, and you basically get the idea of what’s happening throughout the line. The Spider-Man books are expansive and expensive with a double shipping schedule for the main title, now shipped four times monthly to rush the series to its 900th anniversary issue. An issue exasperated by this is the all-too-frequent event. Heroes Reborn. King in Black. Sinister War. War of the Bounty Hunters. Devil’s Reign. All of these spring out of existing titles and, in the case of Spider-Man and Daredevil, certainly expand the story but also leave you wanting by focusing less on the ramifications for the title character and more for the event’s influence on the line.

Marvel are becoming quite adept at the “holdover”, where the story simply stalls in place while things move behind the scenes to set up the next phase of any particular story. Most notable would be the Krakoan books, which were such in a creative glut following the Hellfire Gala that I was even considering dropping them. It turns out, Hickman was leaving and the books found themselves on their last legs. Some books like X-Force and New Mutants persevered, weathering the storm by wrapping up some neglected story elements, but books like Marauders were just dead books walking, offering drawn-out and honestly very boring stories to wait out the relaunch. I’m really liking this “Beyond” era of Spider-Man but let’s call it what it is, like I mentioned earlier: they’re going to relaunch the title soon, probably want that to start with the #900 anniversary issue, and are going weekly to accommodate this. At least the story is good, they’ve got Zeb Wells headlining it!

And lastly, there’s been some interesting MCU synergy at play here. It’s not as direct and in-your-face as it has been in the past, but it’s more subtle. There’s a renewed focus on the multiverse following the success of Loki on Disney+, as well as a Kang resurgence. A Kangaissance? Characters in Avengers stories now talk about “variants” of other characters, and What If stories are back in full swing with more on the way soon.

So, that was Marvel’s 2021! It definitely lacked in a few places but comics are cool and something awesome will eventually squeeze through. I’m looking forward to the upcoming X-Men relaunches which are sure to be exciting and fun like the first wave was, and I’m also looking forward to experiencing the same problems next year as I did this year.

Rapid Rundown! 

  • Devil’s Reign #2
    • In the second issue of the crossover event that focuses on Kingpin’s ultimate takeover, we get a storyline that’s centered on the heroic element of the cast… who aren’t quite as engaging as the villainous Wilson Fisk, who gets fewer panels in this issue than he did in the preceding one. Particularly disappointing is the fact that this story doesn’t foreground Fisk’s newly announced Presidential run. However, this issue does some expositional heavy lifting, and sets up plenty of engaging potential conflict for the next leg of the event: both the role Stark will play moving forward and the seizure of the incarcerated Mr. Fantastic’s laboratory by an Otto Octavius who can’t keep the word “Superior” out of his mouth provide some tantalizing setup. Plus, we finally get to find out what Danny Rand is up to. Admit it, you were wondering, too. —AJK
  • Timeless #1
    • Fresh off the conclusion of his miniseries, Kang the Conquerer takes center stage again for a one-shot that teases the future of the Marvel Universe. Kang here is presented by writer Jed MacKay and artists Kev Walker, Greg Land & Jay Leisten, Mark Bagley & Andrew Hennessy, Marte Gracia, and Ariana Maher as a sort of anti-Doctor Who, plucking a human from the time stream to accompany him not as a friend but more as a witness to his great deeds. The threat of the ‘rogue timeline’ is an interesting one, and the story plays out in an entertaining and surprising way. What will really have fans talking is the final page tease, though, which comes somewhat out of nowhere but is nonetheless extremely exciting for people who recognize what the symbols mean. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the new year. — JG

Next week… err, year? The conclusion of Inferno!