We can all agree that 2021 had plenty of great stuff for DC fans. From the growth of DC on HBO Max, the emergence of spectacular new characters and a sophomore DC FanDome that was even more spectacular than the first, the DC Multiverse is now bigger than ever. But with so many great comics, movies and TV series in 2021, what we won’t all agree on is what we liked best.
We all have our own unique tastes as fans, even here at DCComics.com, so we asked members of our writing team to share their personal three favorites. Look for a different top three every day this week, starting with our man of questions and answers, Alex Jaffe!
Batman: Soul of the Dragon
Don’t let the title deceive you. Batman: Soul of the Dragon is not a movie about Batman. In fact, Batman is, at best, the fourth-most important character in this animated film, essentially playing sidekick to the movie’s true stars. This is not a fault. In fact, it’s part of what makes this movie so unique among DC’s animated films. The audience of Soul of the Dragon already knows going in how big a badass Batman is. With that well in mind, this movie shows us the people who Batman himself thinks twice about messing with. Enter Richard Dragon, Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva, Denny O’Neil’s kung fu action heroes of the 1970s, here recontextualized as Bruce’s classmates from his own journey to become a master martial artist, reunited on unfinished business.
Written as a ’70s period piece tribute to the golden age of martial arts films, Soul of the Dragon takes the same inspiration as the comics which preceded it—namely, the often-overlooked Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter comic series. But what made Soul of the Dragon special is that it never turns into pastiche or parody. Like the best modern genre films, Soul of the Dragon built on its inspirations to tell a story which feels like a welcome addition to the previously existing canon of classics, without feeling out of place as too metatextual or reflective. Soul of the Dragon wasn’t just a tribute to kung fu movies. With its inventive choreography and exciting set-pieces, it was a kung fu movie.
Personally, Soul of the Dragon was a big moment for me just for how right it does by Lady Shiva. I make no secret of the fact that Shiva is one of my two favorite characters, alongside the Question. Many DC fans will say that Lady Shiva is one of the greatest martial artists in the DC Universe. This is incorrect. Lady Shiva is THE greatest martial artist in the DC Universe. Shiva’s role, as defined by creator Denny O’Neil in both Richard Dragon and The Question, is to humble her opponents. To teach them that some opponents are like a force of nature and cannot be vanquished—only learned from. For all the work that Soul of the Dragon does in its championship of pure action and the widening of Batman’s world, its greatest virtue was how it reminded viewers of one unassailable truth: Lady Shiva is the weapon.
Every year, the stunt gets more tired and more predictable. Corporations break out the rainbow flags for Pride Month, celebrating “love in all forms” for the nationally recognized thirty-day allotment. And then, for the next eleven months, it’s back to virtual invisibility for any orientation that falls outside the scope of heteronormativity. This year, one of the best things DC did was refuse to let that happen here.
This June’s DC Pride anthology special featured a parade of queer creators sharing powerful narratives for some of DC’s most prominent queer characters, including Batwoman, Alan Scott, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, the nonbinary Jess Quick, and even the comic debut of the Supergirl TV show’s trans superhero Dreamer. And while the entire affair was a joyous celebration representing a multitude of queer identities, that’s where most people expected the front-facing representation to end until the next year.
This was not the case. The second half of 2021 brought us new queer-led titles like Crush & Lobo and Aquaman: The Becoming. Tim Drake, the third Robin, and Jon Kent, the new Superman, each found themselves exploring their identities in new romances with boyfriends of their own. And after decades of beating around the bush, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy finally embraced their love for each other in unqualified, unhedged canonical continuity, right in the main Batman title. Flying a DC Pride banner month after month through their titles since that June, 2021 was the year DC committed to the fact that true romance—always an essential component of comics’ DNA—has no limits.
Jeremy Adams’ The Flash
Let’s be honest: it’s been a hard, demoralizing decade for Wally West fans. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West spent the years 1986 to 2009 as the definitive Flash, leaving the sidekick role behind him and embarking on the long, uphill road to claiming his place as the Fastest Man Alive. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Barry Allen returned from the dead. And in 2011, Flashpoint all but erased Wally from the universal timeline. In comics, in television, in movies, Barry Allen benefitted from a generation of character building done with Wally. Wally’s enemies became Barry’s. His story arcs became Barry’s. Even, some would argue, large portions of his personality became Barry’s. It seemed that the Barry Allen of the 21st century was destined to be an amalgam of Wally’s best traits with Barry’s backstory, leaving the hero those stories were told for relegated to back issues.
In 2016, there was a Rebirth. Wally West returned, and shared a hug with his mentor that would melt even Captain Cold’s icy heart. But that wasn’t the end of his troubles. He was killed and un-killed multiple times. He was made into the villain of a major crossover event. He got strapped to a god-chair and became Doctor Manhattan for a second. Wally West may have been back in body, but his spirit was broken.
All until this year’s newest run on The Flash, starring Wally as the title speedster once more. With the ten-year anniversary of Flashpoint, writer Jeremy Adams—who also gave us Soul of the Dragon this year, by the way—has been putting in the work showing us just why Wally West fans love him so. After a wildly entertaining, breakneck arc quantum leaping Wally through speedsters over all of time and space, Adams masterfully restored Wally West’s heroism, his family, and his soul. And that was just the test drive. As any Flash writer should, Adams has started this run on the fast track and still shows zero signs of slowing. Just as it was a generation ago, there are few heroes who have endured more trials than the Flash, and who shine all the brighter for it.
Visit DCComics.com tomorrow for another 2021 Top Three list!
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.