Incredibly, today is the last day of June, which means we are almost precisely halfway through the year. That simultaneously feels impossible – there is no way 2020 is only six months deep, as it’s clearly 500 years long at this point – but also…how is July tomorrow? 2020 is without a doubt the year time stopped working, alongside everything else.
Given that we’re halfway through the year, though, I thought it was the perfect time to look at the year so far in comics. While it’s been a year ravaged by the pandemic, economic crisis, unexpected closures and openings, revelations of bad behavior, and nearly anything else in the world that could potentially be thrown our way, comics, like life, have found a way.
So I wanted to look back on the year in comics so far – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it – but because the year itself has not been terribly fun, I decided to create a mechanic that would make it enjoyable for me to compile. The good news is I’ve married it with something I genuinely enjoy: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In my time inside, revisiting old favorites from that decade plus of movies has been a blessing, as it has brought escape and entertainment to a year that has had very little of either, unfortunately.
How am I marrying the two? By exploring the year so far in comics via my favorite MCU quotes, pairing the moments and corresponding gifs with the comic, creator, or moment that helped define this very weird year in comics for me. 1 The Marvel Cinematic Universe, while polarizing amongst contrarians, film enthusiasts, and Martin Scorcese, is very quotable, and it was shockingly easy to find fits for every subject I could think of, not all of which made the cut. Let’s get to that laundry list of topics and related quotes.
Luis: So, uh, he tells me that she’s working as a housekeeper now, right? And she’s dating this dude Carlos who’s a shot caller from across the bay and she tells him about the dude that she’s cleaning for. Right? That he’s, like, this big-shot CEO that is all retired now but he’s loaded. And so, Carlos and Ernesto are on the same softball team and they get to talking, right? And here comes the good part. Carlos says: “Yo, man. This guy’s got a big-ass safe just sitting in the basement, just chillin’.” Of course Ernesto comes to me cause he knows I’ve got mad thieving skills. Of course I ask him: “Did Emily tell Carlos to tell you to get to me what kind of safe it was? And he says: “Nah, dog. All she said is that it’s, like, super legit, and whatever’s in it has gotta be good!From Ant-Man (2015)
Scott Lang: What?
Kurt: Old man. Have. Safe.
To: Incoming! leading into Empyre, sort of 2
Do you remember Incoming!? Incoming! was a monster one-shot from a slew of writers and a cast of thousands on the art side that cost $9.99 and was designed to set the stage for Empyre, 2020’s big event at Marvel. It was 91 pages long, contained a metric ton of one page story beats from varying corners of Marvel’s comic universe, and if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I could confidently tell you more than one thing that happened within that gigantic story. 3
Like Michael Pena’s Luis over-explaining the tips he receives in 2015’s Ant-Man, Incoming! is a flavor of recent Marvel lead-ins that mistakes volume for drama and telling for showing. It lost me well before Empyre even fully came to be, and certainly before it became delayed by the pandemic. Marvel is big on that Luis type of storytelling – which can be very entertaining, if used properly! – but give me Kurt’s direct nature any day of the week when you’re trying to set up an event. I don’t need to check in on every part of the Marvel universe to get excited for a big story. I just need to know the important parts of the story, like whether or not the old man has a safe (or, more specifically to Incoming!, that Hulkling is leading a united Kree/Skrull army to Earth). Less filler, more killer, Marvel! Come on now!
Security Guard: Are you an alien?From The Avengers (2012)
Bruce Banner: What?
Security Guard: From outer space, an alien.
Bruce Banner: No.
Security Guard: Well then, son, you’ve got a condition.
To: Daniel Warren Johnson, operating on a different level from everyone else in Wonder Woman: Dead Earth and his commissions
Sometimes when I look at Daniel Warren Johnson’s work – whether you’re talking about his DC Black Label series Wonder Woman: Dead Earth or his unreal commissions – I wonder what exactly separates the way he’s thinking about comics versus everyone else. When you see his work, it can seem DWJ is just operating on a different plane. Like my guy Harry Dean Stanton meeting Bruce Banner, post fall from a Helicarrier, I look at Johnson’s art and I wonder to myself, “Is this guy an alien? What’s his deal?”
The level of detail. How he thinks out images to depict so much story in one vision. The unique angles and mindsets he takes. The explosive small moments and the devastating small ones. Like Banner, Daniel Warren Johnson has a condition: it’s called being one of the best there is. He’s had his full skillset on display in 2020, and it has been mighty impressive.
Howard Stark: Fondue is just cheese and bread, my friend.From Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
To: X-Men, killing it, simply, softly, and every way
Fondue can sound like an electric thing if you don’t know any better, or it can sound super basic if you know it’s just cheese and bread. But like fondue itself, a delicious thing that is also rather simple, Jonathan Hickman and friends have been killing it every time they show up in X-Men with a stripped down formula – one-shot stories focused on character and world-building through them – much to the delight of myself.
That basic structure, the series of one-shots, is the bread, while Hickman and others like Leinil Yu and RB Silva are the cheese. Individually, they’re solid enough, but together? That’s when magic happens, and one of the most exciting and endlessly fascinating superhero comics is formed.
Thor: I NEED A HORSE!From Thor (2011)
To: Pandemic era collectibles, being in the wrong time and wrong place
A time where millions of people contract a virus and at least half a million die from it is not exactly a period asking for commemoration. And yet, there were Steve Geppi and Diamond Comic Distributors, announcing that in their efforts to “Back the Comeback” for comic shops – which it in of itself was a very ridiculous thing 4 – they would be creating “pandemic era collectibles” for comic shops to sell, doing just that: commemorating a stretch of time that will almost certainly be one of – if not the – worst time in many people’s lives. It was one of the most absurd things in the history of Diamond, which is saying something.
It was the comic book equivalent of walking into a pet store and demanding a horse to ride, as both were just complete misunderstandings of the situation. It was hilarious and adorable when Thor did it. When Diamond did it? It earned derision, and deservedly so.
Groot: I am Groot.From Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Rocket Raccoon: Four of us? Asleep for the danger, awake for the money as for friggin’ usual.
To: Steve Geppi, disappearing and then reappearing
Speaking of Diamond, to its fearless leader goes this gem of a quote from Guardians of the Galaxy. I long wondered why Geppi didn’t appear in the spotlight more often, as he seemed like a crucial part of one of the core pillars of the direct market. I even tried to get him on Off Panel once to no avail, with no response coming, presumably just because he didn’t do interviews, really.
But when things spiraled during the pandemic, Geppi reappeared, hitting the interview circuit 5 and becoming the frontman for Diamond in a way I had never seen him take on. He was everywhere, on YouTube, on podcasts, in (digital) print. Some were excited, but to me, it rang false. I described Geppi as the direct market’s absentee father, ghosting shops when Diamond earned hate but showing up when they liked him again.
But like Groot, staying quiet during the bad and piping up for the good is just a tough look. It makes it seem like you’re just there because you see opportunity and the chance to seem like hero, not because you’re actually trying to help, which is probably exactly what we were seeing there. That’s not how it should work.
Hawkeye: The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.From Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
To: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, one of the craziest and most entertaining comics I’ve ever read.
One of my favorite random quotes in the MCU comes from probably the most disliked Avenger during the worst Avengers movie. But hey, if the shoe fits. Tell me that Hawkeye quote doesn’t sound like something Matt Fraction might have written for Jimmy Olsen to do in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Tell me you can’t imagine Steve Lieber drawing that scene with Nathan Fairbairn beautifully, perfectly coloring it. Tell me you can’t imagine Clayton Cowles emphasizing “the city is flying” in the letters to underline the absurdity of the situation. I dare you.
You can’t. Because there’s nothing crazier in Big Two comics right now than Jimmy Olsen. That’s why this Hawkeye quote – the most meta of Avengers lines because it really is crazy that Clint was out there dueling big robots on a flying city – is a perfect match for that wonderful and insane miracle of a comic. Nothing makes sense, but dang is it fun to read.
Peter Quill: How the hell is this dude still alive?From Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Drax: He is not a dude. You’re a dude. This… this is a man. A handsome, muscular man.
To: Mike Huddleston, my artist of the half year, lighting the world on fire in Decorum
When you look at Decorum, Mike Huddleston’s Image series with Jonathan Hickman, it’s hard not to think, “Well, this is clearly at least four different artists, all of whom are amongst the best in the business,” as you dissect each issue. It’s outrageous. When you’re reading it – or at least when I am reading it – I can hardly believe what I’m seeing, as Huddleston is clearly cheating in some way. It can’t be possible what he’s doing, as he switches styles, nailing each look that’s perfectly tailored to the story at hand.
This is clearly no regular comic artist. This is a different breed, someone who has figured things out and is showcasing how he is operating on a completely different level than everyone else right now. He is not a dude. Everyone else is a dude, and they’re all playing catch up.
Steve Rogers: I can do this all day.From…like…all of the movies Captain America is in
To: Retailers, stepping up and figuring things out in the pandemic
One of the most oft repeated phrases in the MCU – Captain America’s iconic “I can do this all day” – goes to the indomitable spirit of retailers during the pandemic, as shops like Books with Pictures, Cape & Cowl Comics, Challengers Comics + Conversation, Third Eye Comics, Big Bang Comics and more managed to not just survive during an unbelievably difficult time, but discover new efficiencies and ways to do what they do. It was a thrill to see so many shops reinvent themselves in exciting ways, showing that no matter what the challenge was, they too would pick themselves off the ground and fight back against what they were facing.
I truly loved to see it.
Black Widow: Just like Budapest all over again!
Hawkeye: You and I remember Budapest very differently!From Avengers (2011)
To: Other retailers, occasionally being ridiculous and not helpful
While some shops played with the hands they were dealt, others resisted change with everything they had. Whether it was publishers trying to find solutions or even their own peers coming up with ideas, it seemed at times as if some shops were operating from a completely different memory of the of the past and present than other retailers. That kind of thing will happen, just like with Black Widow and Hawkeye. But as amusing as it was in The Avengers, it was equally frustrating to watch shops label varying entities with dramatic phrases like “war profiteers” and suggestions that specific actions were “declarations of war” rather than efforts to survive.
It was a difficult time, and people were trying to find solutions. Instead of working with people, some dug their heels in and refused to try and make things work. I hated to see this, and I don’t mean it in an ironic way.
Captain America: On your left.From Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
To: Ngozi Ukazu, storming past everyone else with Check, Please!
The most joyous comic reading experience of the year for yours truly was devouring Ngozi Ukazu’s two volumes of Check, Please! When the second book was released earlier this year and First Second offered me the chance to speak with Ukazu, I was eager to jump in, and it did not disappoint at all. Check, Please! showcases a gift for cartooning and character that few could match, as Ukazu turned a palate cleanser of a project into an all-timer over her seven years with it.
It’s honestly one of the most fun, heartwarming comics I’ve ever read, and sure, I’m biased because it’s both a sports comic and a food one, but still. Seeing what she brought to the table within Check, Please! was like seeing Cap blow by Sam Wilson in his morning jog: she’s just operating at a different level than many of her peers. I can’t wait to read what’s next from her, as I have no doubt it will be just as good.
Peter Parker: When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.From Captain America: Civil War (2016)
To: Robert Kirkman, stepping up with Negan Lives and Fire Power
With great power comes great responsibility. That is an idea very few business owners live by, as we’ve seen throughout the years but perhaps especially in 2020. But it is an ideal we’ve seen Skybound’s Robert Kirkman – also known as one of the biggest comic writers in the world – live by this year. While not all of it worked out because of things that were outside of his control, 6 Kirkman has still attempted to be a positive force within the direct market by making his new series Fire Power’s first issue free and giving all shops Negan Lives – an original Walking Dead one-shot from him and Charlie Adlard – for free to sell, with all of the proceeds going to the shops themselves. That’s a 100% good guy from a pretty dang good guy.
I love it. Comics could use more people with the generosity of Kirkman, because these efforts can make a big difference.
Extending this a little further, though: shouts to everyone who stepped up with auctions for Comics4Creators this year, as that was a massive success and a brilliant way to mobilize an industry to help comic shops in need. That was a wonderful instance of those in comics helping the people around them, showcasing great responsibility in the process.
King T’Chaka: You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.From Black Panther (2018)
To: Dial H for Hero, brilliant but slept on
Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones’ Dial H for Hero ended this year, and within this wild comic filled with experimentation and constantly switching styles was a throwback comic in a way. It was a title about the power of hope, and how important it is to believe even in times of great despair. It was completely wonderful in a way few comics are these days.
At the same time, it was unfortunately slept on. Perhaps that was due to its throwback nature. Maybe it was because it was a Dial H comic, one of the most permanently slept on properties in comics. Or it might have been because in a line built on darkness, it dared to be a good comic with a good heart, just like T’Challa in Black Panther. Whatever the reason, I wish more comics were like Dial H for Hero, and I wish more people would read them when they were around.
Nick Fury: You need to keep both eyes open.From Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
To: The harassment situation, women standing up, and everyone needing to watch out for bad actors at conventions
If you told me in April that the biggest story of the year in comics wasn’t going to be the pandemic – something with an area of effect that touches on retailers, publishers, distributors, and creators, potentially shifting the future of the direct market forever – I wouldn’t have believed you. Now, it doesn’t even feel like that big of a deal anymore because of all of the women standing up about the experiences they’ve had in comics, from Aviva Maï Artzy, Katie West, and Lauren Tracy to Shawna Gore, Taki Soma and beyond. It has been absolutely heartbreaking to read all of these women’s experiences – and the list of women affected is far greater than just those five – and sickening to think about how this has all been happening right in front of all of us in a way.
At the same time, change only happens when the brave stand up, and like Black Lives Matter protesters across the country, these women did what they can to make things better for those who will follow them. That’s incredible. While it’s horrible that it happened to them, it has been astonishing to see each of them do what they can to make comics and its industry a little bit safer, any way they can.
And yet, we all still could stand to listen to Nick Fury a little bit better, as he wasn’t wrong: we do need to keep both eyes open. Whether that means paying attention to what women are saying, keeping an eye out on those who might need help at cons, or stopping those who need stopping in the same situation, this isn’t just a great Samuel L. Jackson line read, it’s a crucial directive about how we should all behave going forward.
Also, a quick sub quote. To those thinking of writing a missive about your bad behavior, remember what The Ancient One said in Doctor Strange: it’s not about you. It’s about those you affected.
Korath: Star-Lord!From Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Peter Quill: Finally!
To: Julian Totino Tedesco, being recognized as an art god
For years – years! – I’ve been raving about the outrageous talents of Julian Totino Tedesco, one of the very best in the business at this whole art thing. I’d look at his work and just gesture wildly, saying, “Look at this! Everyone! This guy is clearly the best cover artist around!” as people foolishly ignored me. But you know what? Now everyone recognizes, with Tedesco earning his second consecutive Eisner Award for best cover artist along with a whole lot more recognition on social media, I feel.
Finally! It’s well deserved recognition for one of the greats.
Erik Killmonger: I’ve waited my whole life for this. The world’s going to start over. I’MA BURN IT ALL!From Black Panther (2018)
To: DC, for leaving Diamond and going renegade with its plans
The response to everything DC has done during 2020 has been decidedly mixed, whether you’re talking about announcing 5G and letting go of Dan DiDio or leaving Diamond, rolling deeper with digital first or…seemingly quietly killing 5G. Basically, everything they’ve done has flown in the face of convention, choosing to go a different direction with everything from distribution to content plans in a section of comics that’s obsessed with maintaining the status quo.
And you know what? Why shouldn’t they do that?! Nothing was working anymore for DC, effectively. If what you’re doing isn’t working, why not burn it all down and start over? I know what you might say: it didn’t exactly work out for Killmonger in Black Panther. But, crucially, T’Challa did learn that there was truth to what Killmonger had to say, and that there was value to moving away from the status quo. Maybe everything DC has done so far in this half year won’t work out perfectly. But if it is the first step towards rethinking how the direct market and direct market related companies should operate, then it’s a win in the long run. I respect the desire to tear it all down and try something different. Good job by you, DC.
Banner: That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.From The Avengers (2012)
To: Immortal Hulk, the best ongoing of 2020 (so far)
My favorite ongoing series gets my favorite MCU quote, as spoken by the lead character from that very comic. Immortal Hulk has not slowed in the slightest as it enters the home stretch, with Al Ewing, Joe Bennett and friends continuing to absolutely slay at a point in its run titles rarely make it to these days. I don’t know what else there is to say about Immortal Hulk at this point, as it started strong, became more impressive, and then has only found more and more ways to burst through theoretical ceilings. And that latest issue with The Leader’s story? My god. Masterpiece. Completely brilliant, but in a new way than what we saw before. That’s how they do it in Immortal Hulk, though. Making greatness in ways we never expect, as few Big Two titles ever do.
Thor: ANOTHER!From Thor (2011)
To: Mike Carey and Peter Gross, making Dollhouse Family, my single issue comic series of the year (so far)
The first Thor movie gets a lot of hate – or at least yawns – but it low key has some of the funniest parts of any MCU movie. Case in point: when Thor smashes his coffee mug out of a desire to have a second cup sent his way, shouting “ANOTHER!” in the process. That is extremely relatable content, as they say. Who amongst us hasn’t finished a cup of coffee and immediately wanted another one? I know that happens to me nearly every time.
That’s what happens when I finish another Mike Carey and Peter Gross collaboration, as well, like this year’s DC Black Label/Hill House six issue mini-series The Dollhouse Family. This was my favorite single issue comic series of 2020 so far, 7 and as soon as I finished it, I considered slamming my copy of the issue down and demanding a new series from the pair immediately.
This horror mini-series was that good, marrying the personal and ugly sides of family with wild, terrifying, thrilling fantasy ideas, all of it forming into something better than even I – a Carey/Gross fanboy – expected. This was the best collaboration the team has had to date, which is saying something because these dudes are amongst the best in the business. I loved it, but I want more from Carey and Gross, stat. DC, write a blank check and tell them to do their thing. I’m down with anything. I’ll take whatever I can get.
Yondu Udonta: Sorry, boy. But a captain’s gotta teach his men what happens to those what cross him.
Kraglin: Captain’s gotta teach stuff!From Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
To: Gene Luen Yang, making the comic of the year (so far) in Dragon Hoops
The last time we saw a new graphic novel that Gene Luen Yang both wrote and illustrated, it was 2013, aka, one million years ago. It was Boxers & Saints, the two part graphic novel set that effectively combined to form one larger story, and it was completely exceptional. That story was so good it was a National Book Awards Finalist for Young People’s Literature, amongst other awards, earning acclaim from everyone who read it.
And then…silence. He wrote some comics, but writing and drawing? That would take a while, as his next solo project was a doozy. We saw it come to life this year, and in Dragon Hoops – his graphic novel about the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, the men’s basketball team at the high school he taught at – Yang put everyone on notice once again. Like Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy, sometimes a great cartoonist has to remind everyone that they are still the boss. That’s exactly what he did here. 448 pages of utter brilliance, taking everyone to school, reminding them why he’s one of the best of the best.
It’s the comic of the year for me, at least so far. I’ll tell you, though: it’s going to be tough to beat. It is one heck of a comic.
Yes, this is a Bill Simmons mechanic. I am nothing if not inspired by my influences.↩
I know Incoming! came out at the end of 2019, but I’m counting it because a) I read it in 2020, b) it was after the SKTCHD AWRDS and c) its thought was continued into 2020.↩
Crucially, the thing I do remember is the last thing, which seemingly was the most important part.↩
In actuality, not necessarily in theory.↩
Quick note: I almost went with Black Widow’s line from The Avengers when she was being interrogated and she said, “I’m in the middle of an interrogation and this moron is giving me everything.” to Coulson because of how absurd Geppi’s interviews were.↩
See: Free Comic Book Day being canceled (or, rather, postponed into Free Comic Book Summer, a much worse idea) which limited the value of Kirkman and Chris Samnee launching their new series as a free issue.↩
It isn’t an ongoing, thus why Immortal Hulk takes its spot above.↩