From Swamp Thing to Nightwing, here are our favorite superhero stories from the past month.

EW already celebrated our favorite comics of last year, but we wanted to give additional props to a few books that were published over the course of December, at the same time end-of-year lists were all over the place.

This month's column is entirely focused on superhero comics. See our picks below, and be sure to check out any you might have missed!

The best comics of December 2021
'Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit' #1, by Mashal Ahmed
| Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit #1 (Marvel)
Samira Ahmed (writer), Andrés Genolet (artist)

As Kamala Khan comes ever closer to the 10th anniversary of her 2014 debut, she's clearly doing a speedrun of Marvel stardom. She's already starred in a video game and become a pop culture icon; later this year she'll headline her own Disney+ series. Now she has her first Ms. Marvel comic from a South Asian writer, Samira Ahmed (Internment).

But the first issue of Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit marks another landmark for Kamala: her first time dealing with other versions of herself from parallel realities. That's something her fellow Marvel superhero Spider-Man has been experiencing a lot lately. Kamala obviously has less publication history to mine for such a story than Spider-Man does, but this issue leaves her in a very interesting place — it'll be fun to see where Ahmed and artist Andrés Genolet take her from here.

Best new collections

The best comics of December 2021
'Rorschach,' by Tom King, Jorge Fornés, and Dave Stewart
| Credit: DC Black Label

Rorschach (DC Comics)
Tom King (writer), Jorge Fornés (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist)

Watchmen is in the air again. For decades the seminal superhero comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was considered sacrosanct and untouchable, but in recent years prequels, sequels, and remixes have been proliferating like spring flowers. The nice thing is, each one is pretty different from the others. Doomsday Clock introduced the Watchmen characters to mainstream DC superheroes like Superman and Batman, while HBO's Watchmen series overseen by Damon Lindelof brought in new characters and focused more on race in America.

The recent Rorschach solo comic by celebrated writer Tom King, now available in a collected edition, is more in line with The Multiversity: Pax Americana, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (an incredible single-issue story that re-enacted the thematic beats of Watchmen with the Charlton Comics characters that Moore and Gibbons' creations were directly based on), in that it hinges on political assassination. In particular, Fornes' art (and the intriguing way he overlays the protagonist's investigation of crime scenes over depictions of the crimes themselves) is reminiscent of Quitely's work in Pax Americana — a high compliment for any comic artist. 

Rorschach invokes stories of conspiracy and mystery like The Parallax View and Columbo (the comic's protagonist investigating a failed assassination attempt by someone dressed as Rorschach bears a strong resemblance to Peter Falk's iconic detective, though King has credited Dana Andrews' character in the 1944 noir Laura as another inspiration), but it's also definitely interested in the superhero comic history of which Watchmen is a major element. Alongside exploring contemporary ideas like the rise of right-wing populism and how conspiracy theories can inspire seemingly normal people to believe and do crazy things, Rorschach isn't afraid to go deep with meta-commentary about comics.

Moore has often voiced frustration with how readers interpreted Rorschach differently than he intended, and often this Rorschach appears to be grappling with that same phenomenon. Plus, one of the major characters comes off like a facsimile of Steve Ditko (who created the Question, the Charlton hero that inspired Rorschach), while Dark Knight Returns writer-artist Frank Miller appears as himself. How or why does he fit in? You'll have to read yourself to find out. Even if it's not your favorite work by King, it's still a rich text that's worth grappling with — and like the original Watchmen, it will probably reward rereads.

The best comics of December 2021
'The Swamp Thing' volume 1, by Ram V and Mike Perkins
| Credit: DC Comics

The Swamp Thing Volume 1: Becoming (DC Comics)
Ram V (writer), Mike Perkins (artist), June Chung and Mike Spicer (colorists)

Speaking of modern takes on classic Alan Moore comics! Before Watchmen, Moore made his name writing Swamp Thing, and his run still stands as a high-water mark for dark fantasy comics. Pretty much every Swamp Thing comic since then has lived in Moore's shadow, but rising star Ram V (who also wrote The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, one of EW's favorite comics of last year) makes the character his own.

DC made a concerted effort to diversify its superhero lineup this year, with Yara Flor taking over as Wonder Girl and Jon Kent, the new Superman, coming out as bisexual. Indian protagonist Levi Kamei becoming the new Swamp Thing is part of that shift, and also makes total sense since the Swamp Thing has been established as a mantle that passes from one generation to the next. In this volume, Ram V demonstrates his ability to spin gothic horror stories of the type Swamp Thing comics are famous for, while also giving Levi some unique challenges that his predecessor Alec Holland didn't have to face.

The series has been so successful that DC has upgraded it from what was originally planned as a 10-issue miniseries to include at least six more issues this year. Start catching up with this new collection! 

Other highlights

The best comics of December 2021
'Defenders' #4, by Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez
| Credit: Marvel Comics

Defenders #4 (Marvel)
Al Ewing and Javier Rodríguez (storytellers)

Some of us will never stop being sad that Al Ewing's series The Ultimates ended after only 20 issues, but thankfully the writer has continued his exploration of the super-size cosmic aspects of the Marvel Universe in this Defenders miniseries.

Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, was one of the primary characters in The Ultimates, where Ewing transformed him into the Lifebringer to show how archetypes can evolve. Unfortunately, in the current Marvel continuity he's just plain dead. But in the pages of Defenders, a superteam hastily assembled by Doctor Strange is chasing a mysterious villain backward through time into previous iterations of the universe, which allows Ewing to bring in other Galactus-esque figures to continue his cosmic saga. The Defenders already inducted Galactus' mother, Taaia, into their ranks, and she continues to delight by exclusively speaking in bombastic dialogue worthy of Galactus creator Jack Kirby. In this issue, the team also meets the personification of the Fourth Cosmos — the only such being who was absent from The Ultimates' epic final issue. Through this powerful presence, we are reminded of the promise of the Lifebringer: "Everything lives." Plus, Cloud (a shapeshifting member of the Defenders) finally figured out how to move beyond restrictive binaries of gender and identity into their own fully realized self, and that aspect of the story is just heartwarming to read (on top of being visually mind-blowing thanks to Rodríguez's art).

The stage is set for an incredible finale to this five-part miniseries next month, and wherever Ewing takes readers after that.

The best comics of December 2021
'Nightwing' #87, by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo
| Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing #87 (DC Comics)
Tom Taylor (writer), Bruno Redondo (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist)

In the latest issue of Nightwing, Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo pull off a remarkable feat: The issue consists entirely of double-page spreads following Dick Grayson's movement across Bludhaven in search of his kidnapped canine. He's chasing leads, beating up criminals, catching up with old friends, and observing the citizens of the city going about their lives.

Reading this issue feels like going through one fluid motion, as if the comic was one flowing image. In addition to the unique reading experience, this is an incredible example of form matching content in storytelling. As a former circus acrobat, Dick brings passion and kinetic energy to his crime-fighting, and as a reader you really feel that in this issue. 

Nightwing was already one of EW's favorite comics of 2021, and if the team keeps trying creative experiments like this (and pulling them off this successfully), it could very well end up on next year's list too.

Related content: