By: The Geekly Grind Staff
While 2021 brought us a few more silver linings compared to 2020, we wanted to start off our year-end wrap up with an acknowledgment of the difficulty the past year has brought. Whether COVID has affected you in a big way, or not, we hope that the new year brings a much needed reprieve.
With that being said, there was some pretty awesome stuff that came out this year, and we wanted to take a minute to recognize how the world of geekdom was made better! From comics and tabletop modules, to video games, anime, manga and more…let’s look back on the last year with some fond memories!
Oddtaxi: Man oh man, what a ride this show was! Don’t let the cutesy animal setting fool you: there is some serious drama, top-tier comedy, and wild narrative twists in this series that pulled me in for one of the more intense binge-watching sessions I’ve had in some time. As a warning, don’t go into the final 4 episodes unless you’re ready to commit the time – you won’t be able to walk away! With a recap film coming in April of 2022, you’ve got plenty of time to catch up, so check it out!
While board games were a bit harder to nail down (still observing COVID restrictions and distancing for the better part of the year, after all), there was something I wanted to spotlight from the past year –
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight [Module]: Wizards has been busy this Fall, with three books that came in rapid succession from September through November, kicking off with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. This module, centered around a mystical carnival and a trio of hags that have disrupted the balance of magical power, stood out as my pick from the year due to its enchanting plot and encouragement for DMs to really lean into roleplaying. Its Alice in Wonderland aesthetic also made it a unique and fun playground for younger players, which also added to its appeal. As a whole, I found this module to be one of the best releases of the year, and it helps to make D&D that much more fun!
Spy X Family – Interested in a fun alternative world full of spies and psychics, family and love? Time to get on board the Spy X Family hype train! With a highly anticipated anime series coming in the new year, this manga has set an amazing foundation. Check it out!
Moriarty The Patriot – Interested in something a little different? Moriarty the Patriot is a unique retelling of Sherlock Holmes, and how Moriarty became the consulting criminal of the legends. Definitely seek it out if you enjoy Sherlock, or just good mystery manga!
My comic hobby started properly in 2020, so this was my first full year staying close to new releases weekly, expanding (and trimming!) my omnibus collection, and acquiring more graded books. Below are my 5 favorite comics from this year, in alphabetical order –
Beta Ray Bill: It’s difficult to stand out when you’re in the shadow of a God. Daniel Warren Johnson wrote and illustrated a masterful mini-arc this year centering on the Korbinite, with a deep respect and appreciation for the character that dripped off of every page. Complemented by his trademark, bombastic art style (complete with cosmic-level suplexes) Beta Ray Bill told a story that was equal parts heart and over-the-top action.
The Department of Truth: A pitch-perfect and highly intelligent series that perfectly highlights the disadvantages of living in an age of information, but very little knowledge. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the Bigfoot arc that occupied a good chunk of this year’s narrative, issue 7’s focus on UFOs and Aliens, as well as the more recent revelations around the Woman in Red, continue to keep The Department of Truth near the top of my list of the best comics out there.
The Nice House on the Lake: I know, I know – having Tynion take up 2 spots on my top 5 might seem like a bit of overkill, but I eagerly sought out this series when I knew Tynion was launching another title, and since the opening issue it has continued to clear the already very high watermark that I’ve come to expect from his work. This series does horror and suspense in a brilliant way, and particularly the most recent issue (before the series went on a hiatus) was a masterclass in narrative twists and character development. So excited to see where things go in 2022 for this series, but it definitely stood out in 2021 for me.
Rorschach: Tom King’s 12-issue series spun out a wonderful whodunit narrative in the broken remains of the post-Watchmen world. With some tremendous dialogue and a high-level mystery that zooms in on just the right places, King’s Rorschach ramps up to a pitch-perfect conclusion. The collected hardcover edition is a must-have!
Ultramega: James Harren brought us a harrowing, cosmic-horror infused Kaiju series this year with Ultramega, and it was some of the best stuff I read all year. With superb art and a grim narrative that hardly comes up for air, I was enthralled, and I know many others were too. A real winner.
Honorable Mentions: Wonder Woman: Historia, Barbaric, Static
Barbaric – Barbaric is a masterclass in how to fully immerse a reader in a creator’s envisioned world. Upon opening the cover, Nathan C. Gooden’s brilliant art draws you in while Michael Moreci’s writing makes you never want to leave. Barbaric is the perfect blend of vicious action and dark humor. Owen and Axe’s relationship is perfection. Only 3 issues released and Barbaric has cemented itself as a must read.
Static: Season One – Virgil Hawkins aka Static has been one of the most underutilized comic book characters for years… until now. Static: Season One is a return to form for the teenage hero while expanding on the character mythos. Nikolas Draper-Ivey’s art is absolutely breathtaking with clear inspiration from anime/manga. The unique panel layouts and artistic style make for a comic experience unlike anything else on the market. I am constantly left in awe from this visual buffet. The crux of the series is Virgil’s dynamic with family and friends written to absolute perfection by Ayala Vita. I could read panels for days between Virgil and his father. Static is a beautiful blend of action and heart.
Superman: Son of Kal-El – Tom Taylor is an absolute genius. I will openly admit I have never been one to buy Superman comics. Son of Kal-El has completely turned me around on the character with the purest of characters, Jon Kent, taking up the mantle as Man of Steel. The hope and love the excuses from this comic is breathtaking. Issue one is easily one of my favorites from the entire year. This is the Superman I always dreamed of and I can not wait to read about Jon’s adventures for years to come.
Venom (King in Black) – Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have revitalized Venom and the entire symbiote mythology for the better in recent years. King in Black serves as the culmination of YEARS developing characters while serving as the ultimate payoff for readers. As a lifelong Venom and Spider-Man fan, I could not be any happier with this series. (Yes, it’s started in December of 2020 but the majority came out in 2021 so it counts!)
Thor – More Donny Cates greatness! Cates is a master of taking plot points and concepts from a character’s history and bringing them back in new, interesting ways. Thor has a vast history to play with, and Cates is the perfect person to continue the incredible legacy of the legendary Asgardian.
Evil Superman has been done to death, yet Invincible still manages to feel fresh today. This amazing show manages to be both a love letter to superhero stories while turning all the tropes on their head.
Spider-Man: No Way Home – With Loki, Black Widow, Eternals, Captain Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Shang-Chi in the rearview mirror, Tom Holland’s 3rd Spider-Man film arrived with a level of hype not seen since Endgame. Even with sky-high expectations and wild fan hopes (No Mephisto cameos?!), No Way Home cleared those expectations with room to spare, wowing both critics and fans alike. With a superb script, fantastic cinematography and a fast-paced narrative that knew when to pump the brakes, No Way Home brought the first MCU Spider-Man trilogy to an explosive conclusion, and Peter Parker became the Spider-Man we all knew he could be.
Dune – Outside of No Way Home, Dune really stood out to me this year. The legend of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic meant that there were some mighty big shoes to fill, but Dune did so handily. With a spectacular score, excellent characterizations, and writing that didn’t take the easy way out with cheap comedy, it was an impressive cinematic experience that had me returning to the theater twice just to make sure I got my fill.
Halo Infinite: Halo Infinite had a rocky development, but the multiplayer has been worth the wait. 343 really nailed it, making it feel like the Halo that fans have remembered and love, and it’s just a lot of fun. While it’s not perfect, the devs have been open to feedback from the community and implementing changes. This is by far and away the best new multiplayer experience of 2021.
Unpacking: Unpacking is a relaxing, fun little game. You basically unpack items as the main character moves from one place to another. While that sounds tedious, the magic is in what you begin to infer as you take things out of their boxes and place them in the environment. There are so many “Whoa, this means…” moments throughout. The music also does a great job of adding to the relaxed vibes. This is one ended up being of the more surprising, small joys of 2021.
Psychonauts 2 – Coming out 16 years out of the original, the sequel to the cult classic somehow exceeds almost all expectations. Improved platforming, incredible music, a fantastic story, and making great use of modern hardware to bring the cartoony style to HD make this as close to a perfect game as I’ve ever played in years.
Forza Horizon 5 – Before I tried this game, I cared very little for racing games. However, the beautiful world, more intuitive controls, and mix of different kinds of races sold me on this.
Bravely Default II (Nintendo Switch) – As a sucker for traditional turn-based RPGs, Bravely Default spoke to me on a fundamental level. With tons of jobs to explore, a fresh cast of characters, and surprisingly sharp writing, Bravely Default II has been a blast so far, and I’m looking forward to peeling back more of the story in the coming weeks and months.
Metroid Dread (Nintendo Switch) – While we anxiously await the arrival of Metroid Prime 4, Metroid Dread provided an amazing side-scrolling experience that scratched the itch that only Metroid games can. While the gameplay took some getting used to (felt like playing Twister with my fingers at times), the aesthetic and narrative were compelling, setting the stage for the next phase in Samus Aran’s continuing saga.
Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart (PS5) – 13 months after the PS5 launched and people are still struggling to get their hands on Sony’s latest console, but thankfully the library has been growing rather slowly during that time. One of the bigger exclusive titles to land this summer was Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. The classic 3rd person shooter showcased some impressive graphics and leaned into the new hardware that the PS5 had to offer, including the solid state drive for lightning-fast loading times and expansive levels. With fantastic music, great dialogue and a heartfelt story, Ratchet & Clank delivered one of the best video game experiences of the year.
Returnal (PS5) – I know a lot of people will not agree with this assessment, but I really enjoyed Returnal. The 3rd person shooter with a supernatural/sci-fi twist, it offered staggering challenge in a large and interesting world. When you conquered these challenges, the sense of accomplishment offered a genuine thrill. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I picked it up, but Returnal delivered some of the best entertainment I had this year in gaming.
The Year Ahead…
With 2021 behind us, we can move into 2022 with eager anticipation – particularly when it comes to new arrivals in the world of geek culture!
The MCU will be bringing a handful of highly anticipated films, including the next Dr. Strange movie: Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and a new generation of The Black Panther. Disney+ will be expanding the TV presence of the MCU with She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel and Secret Invasion, though the exact timelines are yet to be hammered out.
In video games, Horizon Zero Dawn: Forbidden West is rapidly approaching, along with Elden Ring, Stranger of Paradise – Final Fantasy Origin, Breath of the Wild 2 and many others.
Anime’s standout in 2022, for me, would have to be the conclusion of Attack on Titan, though Made in Abyss season 2, the new Dragon Ball Super film, and Spy X Family will all take their cut from the pie of hype.
And of course there will be countless new comics, D&D modules, Critical Role merchandise and programming, conventions and much, much more. Whatever the new year brings, all we can do is be appreciative of each and every one of you who come by to see what we’re up to – and we hope to bring some great news and reviews in the months to come.
Let’s have a great 2022, geeks!