REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy #3, balancing character with the grandiose

Guardians of the Galaxy #3 is out 3/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — With the third issue in their run of Guardians of the Galaxy, writer Donny Cates, artist Geoff Shaw, colorist Marte Garcia, and letterer Cory Petit have come pretty close to cementing this as my second favorite comic at Marvel (Immortal Hulk being first, and Thor being the main contender for second). As I noted in my review of Guardians of the Galaxy #1, this comic felt like an extension of two recent comics I’d enjoyed quite a bit, both of which were by Cates and Shaw. The first was their absolutely fantastic Thanos Wins story, and the second was their earlier creator-owned collaboration, God Country.

That first issue of Guardians of the Galaxy had all the outsized cosmic moralizing that had built such a rewarding emotional foundation for God Country, along with the same bombastic pacing and unflinching overturning of the status quo from Thanos. I loved it. I also liked Guardians of the Galaxy #2 quite a bit, albeit for different reasons. The second chapter of this book felt like a stepback, a quieter issue aimed at fostering relationships between the members of the all new all different Guardians team. It came as a surprise to me following the tone set by the debut, but it was a great read nonetheless.

In Guardians of the Galaxy #3, the creative team seems to have struck an absolutely perfect balance between those two tones and approaches. The epic plotting and rapid pace of revelation is there, especially as it applies to the larger galactical happenings not taking place on Peter Quill’s ship, The Ryder. We see Thanos scarred brother StarFox grappling with his own new status quo (and some familial baggage) in the wake of his more famous and more feared brothers death, and we see Hela sowing death and discord among Annihilus and his minions, in a segment that gives Shaw and Garcia a chance to really impress with their linework and colors, respectively. Most interestingly, though, we see the newly-dubbed Dark Guardians (see the end of last issue) on the hunt for the whereabouts of Gamora, chasing Richard Rider Nova at a breakneck speed across the cosmos.

Then when we snap back to the ship, Cates picks up right where he left off last issue building team dynamics and giving our protagonists and authentic and believable sense of urgency for their mission. They are the good guys and—while obviously imperfect and in some cases (Peter) massively reluctant—they are going to spend this run guarding the damned galaxy. That’s all just good comic book-ing, generally speaking. What really makes this run feel compelling to me is the idea of a new Thanos rising. In the hands of a lesser writer, I’d be relatively ambivalent to this development, withholding judgement to see what they do with what’s mostly a solid idea. Cates, however, has proven himself to be a master of surprise twists during his short-time at Marvel, generally landing bits of misdirection that feel organic, earned, and impossible to predict. There’s every reason to believe he’ll do the same, which in addition to the stellar storytelling is all the reason I need to have this book near the top of my stack every month.  

Overall: This third chapter of our story blends the grandiosity from the debut issue with the character-driven storytelling of the second to elevate this run to absolute must-read status. One of the best books at Marvel this side of Immortal Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy is a must-read. 9.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy #3
Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

Read our reviews of Guardians of the Galaxy #1 and Guardians of the Galaxy #2!

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Monstress #21 is the best issue yet of one of comics’ top series

Monstress #21 is out 3/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Since it first launched in the fall of 2015, Monstress has established itself as one of the best and most interesting things happening in American monthly comics. The book’s debut issue—Monstress #1—was a fully-realized and extended affair that seemed to promise complex thematic interests and vast storytelling potential. It delivered to us an angry and compelling protagonist, a world in which nearly everything works against her, and a hybrid of science-fiction/fantasy/mythological potpourri rendered in exquisite detail by Sana Takeda.

Monstress #1 played like an action movie, a revenge story in which the oppressed discovers a deep and violent power within her and wields it in the service of violent and angry survival. It could have maybe been a one-shot and still left a major impression. It, of course, wasn’t, and the story went on to plunge protagonist Maika Halfwolf into a traditional fantasy journey, replete with challenges, new friends that might also be enemies, triumphs, setbacks, revelations, and more.

The book has been a powerhouse ever since, going on to win industry-wide recognition at this past year’s Eisner Awards held at San Diego Comic Con. What I, for one, didn’t realize when I watched it finally get part of its due was that this comic was yet to peak, that the narrative was, perhaps, just then preparing to ramp up into its endgame and take readers to a more dramatic, entertaining and immersive place than any of its nearly 20 issues had in the past. What we get in Monstress #21, essentially, is a clear statement that we as an audience—to be a bit crass—haven’t seen shit yet.

Simply put, this most recent issue of Monstress is absolutely packed with graphic sequential storytelling goodness. It starts on the first page with a steamy dream-like sequence in a decadent bed chamber that segues into a frenemy’s machinations against our hero. It’s a tantalizing scene in more ways than one that seems to promise future interesting complications. From there I could single out any number of other scenes to praise and describe, but instead I’ll focus on some of the broader strokes that make this issue feel so packed and consequential.

From the start of this story Maika’s relationship to her deceased mother has loomed large, influencing her actions as well as the world around her. What we get in this chapter now is the arrival of her other parent, her father, whom she doubts and questions from the start. The man is steeped in shades of gray, which serves the plot and the character’s feelings toward him quite well. He works to exert control over her while acting crass and a bit removed throughout. Writer Marjorie Liu absolutely nails this sequence, writing some of the best dialogue in comics all year, dialogue that hints at a well of complexity behind all that’s happening.

The comic then bounces to the grandiose, giving Takeda the chance to render a vast force making preparations for way, as well as a host of new characters that show up fully-formed, at once giving Maika an opportunity to learn more about her father and his forces, while also laying down a swaggering display of her own knowledge and power. I am absolutely in awe of the narrative structure of this comic, the way it packs so many high quality and disparate beats into these 20 or so pages. It’s really stunning stuff, a nice reminder of why we read monthly comics.   

Overall: One of the best issues of Monstress yet, this is the type of comic that at once reminds why you fell in love with this series while also stoking excitement for events that are to come. Just fantastic work all around. 9.8/10

Monstress #21
Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics asBatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Criminal #3, a comic for people really into comics

Criminal #3 is out 3/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — This new run of Criminal is, without question, a comics fan’s comic. The book’s writer, Ed Brubaker, was recently on John Siuntres Word Balloon podcast discussing how part of his goal with it is to create a series that begs to be read monthly. Through three issues, Brubaker and long-time collaborator artist Sean Phillips have certainly done that. Criminal #1 was a tour de force in graphic serial storytelling, with an extended length that enabled the team to tell a rewarding and complete story, while at the same time seeding ideas for subsequent issues to follow up.

Criminal #2 subsequently saw an abrupt shift to a different time and a different set of characters than the first issue (though the protagonist should be well familiar to readers of previous volumes of this anthology comic). Criminal #3 is now the second part of an arc started in the preceding issue. This structure for the trio of opening issues firmly bucks the recent trend throughout comics of writing distinct four-five-six-issue arcs that are perfectly suited to be compiled in a trade paperback. Bucking that trend does exactly what Brubaker discussed on that podcast: it gives comics buyers a pressing reason to pick up the book each month. I know I have been.

The second reason that Criminal #3 firmly entrenches this book as a comics fan’s comic is that it occupies the same thematic ground as Criminal #2. In this two-part arc, a surly and deeply unpleasant veteran/semi-legendary comicbook artist is bent on recovering some artwork he tells his apprentice has wrongly been taken from him. There are twists, to be sure, and I won’t go into them here, but I will say that there are a plentiful number of nods to industry insiders, long-time fans, and comicbook historians. It all adds up to an immersive and quisi meta reading experience.

This issue is also a bold one. Brubaker and Phillips have an all-time great writer-artist alchemy, and they’ve had it for years. They don’t rock that boat here by trying anything structurally experimental or thematically edgy. What they do, however, is take a read of the current comics landscape and come back with somewhat of a defiant statement within the context of an expertly-told and very organic story. What I mean is that like all of us who way way waaaay into the world of comics, they’ve been hearing the gloom and doom of mercurial sales numbers and voices predicting the end of everything from paper comics to the direct market to superhero stories that span eight continuous decades.

They’ve clearly heard it all, and rather than writing an opinion column or going on a podcast—things we’ve seen and heard veteran creators, retailers and industry watchers do ad nauseum—they have an actual story stand as a refutation. Hell, at one point the curmudgeonly artist who’s seen it all even comes out and says Comics have been dying since 1954, kid...don’t let that stop you...  

Hearing that reassurance related to the medium I love in the context of a story that shows what it’s capable of had a different and much more poignant impact on me. It seemed to be encouraging, not only for me as a review/aspiring creator, but for the continuing existence of stories of any type in the face of a changing economic reality. It seemed to say that the security in exchange for stories has never been a given, has never been an easy thing to achieve, and yet art has been made anway. If you want to do this, do it. The rest will figure itself out, for better or worse.

Overall: Criminal #3, like the rest of Brubaker and Phillips’ latest series, is a real comics fan’s comic, filled with insider touches and meta commentary, all encased within the duo’s all-time great creative chemistry. This book is a must-read, every damn month. 9.6/10

Criminal #3
Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

Get a refresher on the other volumes of Criminal!

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.  

REVIEW: Lazarus Risen #1, same fantastic comic, new deeper format

Lazarus Risen #1 is out 3/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — I really don’t think it’s possible to heap enough praise atop writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark’s immersive dystopian near-future comic epic, Lazarus. I recently re-read the entire series, and once I got about mid-way through the second volume, I almost literally could not put it down. The world is so well-built, the characters compelling and complex, the dilemmas they face suspenseful. All in all, this is one of the smartest and most compulsively readable comics on the market, a must-read for any fan of the medium.

To date, there have been 28 issues of Lazarus in the main series, plus a six-issue auxiliary series titled Lazarus: X+66, which fills in the gaps of side characters and the story’s broader world over the course of a 12-month period. All told, that’s about 34 incredible issues of content, plus some other supplemental material with more information that help support a Lazarus RPG. This is all a means of saying that even though Lazarus: Risen #1 is a a new #1 issue, it’s set in a thoroughly explored world during what seems like not-quite the midway point of a long story.

The reason this issue gets the new #1 treatment is that the book is back with a new format: quarterly releases that clock in at an extended length. Let me start this review (three paragraphs in, streamlined I am not) by noting that the story, artwork, plot, and characters are just as strong as ever. The quality in Lazarus never wavers, not even a little bit. Rucka and Lark are a skilled and veteran team that have worked together for years, and it shows. This is the most fully-formed comic on the market—bar none—and as a result it often feels like the creative team is a conduit for the truth of this plot. Nothing is ever contrived, not even a bit, and Lazarus Risen #1 is no exception. It’s as compulsive readable and utterly immersive as all that’s come before it.

So, what then of the new format? Surely, it must have changed something. I suppose it did. Rucka and Lark being such a veteran creative team means each issue of Lazarus to date has tread that rarefied ground in which the individual chapters feel both episodic and part of a larger narrative. Each issue has story beats and damn near close to a three-act structure. Extending the length allows the team to pace the story just a tiny bit differently, opening up a few pages for quieter and more subtle character work and plotting. Rucka points this out in publication, but in this issue that means we get a very telling moment between Bethany Carlyle and and her husband. It’s the type of scene that maybe didn’t fit into any of the tighter issues of the past.

This issue hums along, and Lazarus remains the type of comic you start, blink, and realize you’ve devoured...before going back to pour over every page again. Few comics feel as real as this one, and Lazarus Risen #1 does a number of interesting things with the ongoing plot and characters, moving pieces into place that speak of a larger coming battle, at home and with the forces abroad. It’s not really a jumping on point for new readers—indeed, the previous five volumes at minimum are necessary here—before for those who have followed this journey in recent time or come to it lately, this comic is everything they could hope for from a return.   

Overall: Lazarus Risen #1 with its new extended format feels like a natural evolution of one of the best comics on the market today. At this point, the world is so well-realized and the plot so compelling, nothing is lost with a longer wait and much is gained with more space for additional complexity. 9.8/10

Lazarus Risen #1
Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark w/Tyler Boss
Colorist: Santi Arcas
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $7.99

Get caught up on the book with our Lazarus Retrospective!

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Comic of the Week: The Life and Death of Toyo Harada #1

By d. emerson eddy — Since Valiant Entertainment was acquired fully by DMG last year, the comics have been undergoing a bit of a change. Movement, change, and progress had been one of the themes that outgoing Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons instilled in the publisher since it began operation in 2012, but there's been a bit of uncertainty with Valiant's future direction as editorial has switched about. This current “Breakthrough” initiative appears to be a melting pot of old and new ideas. Outside of Punk Mambo, the series seem to be taking the next steps in a number of ongoing narratives, like Ninjak's story in Killers, the future of 4002 AD in Fallen World, and Toyo Harada's next stage of trying to save the world from itself in this series, The Life and Death of Toyo Harada.

After guiding us through the spark of creation in the universe and a tour of some of Toyo Harada's history from birth through his genesis as a psiot, Joshua Dysart picks up on threads from Imperium and X-O Manowar, as if there's not been a missed beat in the past almost three years. The explosion of cast members, motivations, and such may seem a bit overwhelming to new readers, but, personally, I think it adds a bit of a feeling of chaos and confusion that helps add atmosphere to the story. I've read those previous stories, and though they do give more context to who the characters are, what Harada's motivation has been, and why exactly that debris ring is out there, it doesn't necessarily inform anything for the story that isn't present here in this script. Everything you really need to enjoy it is already here. Toyo Harada sees himself largely as a savior of mankind, who will do anything to essentially save it from itself, redistributing knowledge and power to ensure equality and survival, and those ideas are fascinating.

The story is beautifully brought to life by Mico Suayan, Cafu, and Andrew Dalhouse, with Suayan handling the flashbacks, Cafu the modern sequences, and Dalhouse providing colors atop. The opening spread of creation, from darkness to the spark of light and formation of stars and galaxies is breathtaking. The beauty of the artwork helps ground us through the existential narration. And adds an extra layer of horror when we see Hiroshima at ground level.

Overall, The Life and Death of Toyo Harada #1 gives us a bit more insight into one of Valiant's major players, raising an important question of what kind of monster do you possibly have to become in order to save mankind and what kind of monster you would have to be in order to stop him. It's an interesting moral quandary that Dysart, Cafu, Suayan, Dalhouse, and Sharpe set us down the road toward.

The Life and Death of Toyo Harada #1
Joshua Dysart
Artists: Cafu & Mico Suayan
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant
Price: $4.99

Check out more of d. emerson eddy’s Comic of the Week feature on our Lists Page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.

REVIEW: Ascender #1 is a fascinating realignment of the world from Descender

Ascender #1 is slated for release 4/24/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Ascender #1 is an odd comic, in that it feels like both a vague continuation of a previous story (Descender, to be exact), and a wholly new beginning that’s not beholden to anything that’s come before. I don’t mean any of that as a criticism. To the contrary, I think it’s all to the book’s credit. Allow me to the current market, it’s not at all uncommon for books to cease for a few months, giving the trade time to come out and the artist a time buffer with which to get ahead. Sometimes, these books come back following time jumps or new status quos or major cliffhangers.

What we get in Ascender, however, is a total aesthetic realignment. Whereas Descender (which wrapped up with Descender #32 in July) was a hard sci-fi book with a focus on robotics and an almost-believable bend, Ascender is a foray into dragons and magic and all things fantasy. It’s still firmly within the genre fiction category, but in many ways its gone to the complete other side of the spectrum, trading its science for whimsy.

And the effect is a freeing one! At least as it applies to series artist Dustin Nguyen, who in this book is drawing his 33rd issue within the Descender/Ascender world. Nguyen’s artwork in Descender was forlorn and moody set of visuals, using its dull watercolor palette to often blur the lines between where reality ended and the existential fever dream began. His visuals—as much as Jeff Lemire’s plotting—often begged the question about where the robotic intelligence stopped and where the human soul began. It was a highly philosophical story stowed within the trappings of a space opera, one as likely to ask what makes an individual distinct as it was to throw a robot with drills for hands into a coliseum fight for its survival.   

Ascender #1 doesn’t really pick up on the question of humanity versus simulated humanity that so thoroughly drove the previous volume of this story, at least it doesn’t seem to yet. That’s not to say it will never return to that issue. There are certainly hints of it. First and foremost though, what’s happening in this new world (10 years past the events of the previous story) is a technological purge driven by monsters and magic. There are new powers, new villains, new status quos. I won’t go into them—this is an advanced review and we’re nothing here if not wary of spoilers—but I will again return to the idea of freedom. Both Lemire’s script and Nguyen’s visual execution feel liberated, and that’s a very good thing for our story.

If I had to guess, I’d wager this ends up being a story of extremes and balance. With Descender, a case was maybe made against extreme reliance upon robots and AI and the trappings of technology. It’s still very early—in the interest of symmetry, I’m guessing Ascender may also run for #32 issues)—but I could see this book as a warning against turning entirely away from tech to embrace folklore, mythology, and ideas rooted in the sensational. I’m just guessing, but there’s maybe a larger point there—shifting the genre within this story has opened a wide range of new possibilities.  

Overall: As Descender was to hard sci-fi, Ascender is to high fantasy, although traces of the past story remain. Most importantly, though, this realignment seems to have instilled writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen with a new sense of creative freedom, and I’m excited to see what they do with it. 8.5/10

Ascender #1
Jeff Lemire
Dustin Nguyen
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Release Date: April 24, 2019

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics to Buy for March 20, 2019 - Lazarus, Criminal, Wild Storm, and more

By Zack Quaintance — Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming...this week’s comics seem like they were precisely custom-tailored to my tastes. Indeed, many of the books that I gush about on the regular (which is admittedly a long wish) have new issues coming this week. That includes a long-awaited return of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus Risen, the steady drumbeat of horrifying excellence that is Immortal Hulk, and top-tier creator-owned books from Image, be it Monstress or Criminal.

There’s a lot of my old favorites among the Top Comics to Buy for March 20. There are also some notable new books arriving too. I’m thinking specifically here of Dark Red #1 from AfterShock Comics (a rapidly rising indie publisher) and Invisible Kingdom #1 from Dark Horse. The latter is a trippy visual tour de force laced with complex ideas about everything from commerce to religion (see our Invisible Kingdom #1 review) while the former follows a vampire who works at a rural gas station in Trump’s red state America (see our Dark Red #1 review too). It’s all good stuff.

So, without further adieu, on to this week’s comics!

Top Comics to Buy for March 20, 2019

Lazarus Risen #1
(read our review!)
Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark w/Tyler Boss
Colorist: Santi Arcas
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $7.99
NEW STORY ARC! "FRACTURE I," Part One LAZARUS returns in an all-new prestige format! New series, new story arc, new size, and a new quarterly schedule!
Introducing a new ongoing LAZARUS series-at 64 pages, perfect bound, LAZARUS: RISEN continues the story of Forever and the Carlyle Family... featuring an oversized, 44-page story by Eisner winners GREG RUCKA and MICHAEL LARK, an all-new short story exploring the larger world of LAZARUS by Eisner-nominated writer LILAH STURGES, an all-new supplement to the Modern Age: World of Lazarus Roleplaying Game by Green Ronin, original design artifacts and art supplements, and more! Two years have passed since the Carlyle Family was betrayed in battle, and the Conclave War encroaches on every side. As a new era dawns, Johanna Carlyle goes on the attack to ensure the survival of her Family, relying on the loyalty and support of the Carlyle Lazarus-her sister, Forever-remaining at her side. And while their united front may be enough to turn the tide, the cracks are beginning to show…
Why It’s Cool: Lazarus is one of the best creator-owned comics of the modern era. It’s complex, suspenseful, immersive, and compulsively readable. Now, the book is transitioning to a prestige quarterly format, which means fewer issues per year but just as much content (hopefully). In this first issue back, the comic hasn’t lost a step at all. In fact, I’d argue that it’s actually better than it used to be in monthly installments. Rucka and Lark are veteran creators who make compressed comics that are rewarding to read both in installments and trade. As such, this book hits certain story beats within each issue. Having the extra pages of the quarterly format allows them to do much more, like a TV show expanding from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s really something, and this series gets my full recommendation. Simply put, if you love comics you really ought to be reading Lazarus.
Read our Lazarus Retrospective!

Criminal #3 (read our review!)
Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"THE LONGEST WEEKEND," Part Two-Jacob's weekend taking care of his old mentor takes a turn for the worse.  As always, CRIMINAL contains back page art and articles only found in the single issues.
Why It’s Cool: In this new volume of Criminal, you can practically feel writer Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips fighting to change the narrative that monthly comics are dead. They do so in a couple of ways in this issue. First of all, they wrap up an incredible two-part story that they started last month, making it so it fits into the larger arc of this comic while also standing on its own as a satisfying bit of graphic sequential storytelling. Second, they make it a meta story in the best way, one steeped in comics history and culture that literally reminds the reader that comics have been dying since 1954. In the hands of lesser creators, this could feel preachy, forced, or even self-indulgent. But a master team like Brubaker and Phillips pulls it off flawlessly.
Read about Criminal’s previous volumes!

Immortal Hulk #15
Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Dr. Leonard Samson is a gamma mutate and part-time superhero who recently came back from the dead. He's been wanting to discuss that with an old patient of his... But he's not here to see Bruce Banner. Take a seat on the couch, IMMORTAL HULK. It's going to be quite a session.
Why It’s Cool: Phew, that last issue of Immortal Hulk was a doozy. But, really, I could probably say that after every issue of Immortal Hulk. This is, simply put, Marvel’s best comic in years. The concept and creative team from the start have been sound, but you can say that about a lot of Marvel’s books. What really sets Immortal Hulk apart is that it hasn’t ceeded any quality in the service of deadlines or events or anything. It’s been as unmovable in that regard as the Hulk himself. At the same time, it’s pushed into increasingly new and horrifying plot territories, keeping the feeling of unpredictable storytelling tension that powered its earliest issues. One way the story has done that is withholding much of the Hulk’s ample supporting cast before bringing them in slowly one by one. This issue looks to be the one in which Doc Sampson enters the fray. So, hurray for that. One last note: I only read this book after dark and strongly suggest you do the same.

Monstress #21
Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
It's a turning point in Maika's life when she comes face-to-face with a stranger from her deep past.
Why It’s Cool: Love! War! Family! It’s all here in the latest issue of what has fast-become the most grandiose arc of Monstress to date, which is really saying something when you think back to the opener. Monstress #21 really has an overload of the things that make a single installment of a long-running story pop: new revelations, new characters, the promise of action to come soon, a clear push toward the climax, and a set of artwork as varied as it is stunning. I’m constantly impressed with the work Sana Takeda has done with this book, yet I’ve rarely seen her hit such a versatile range of visuals as she does in this issue, be it the adorable renderings of Maika as a child to the intricate character and equipment designs we get in the modern day. Writer Marjorie Liu also writes some of the best and pithiest dialogue for her heroine yet, bantering as she does with a key figure in her life (no spoilers). From start to finish, just a stunning issue.

The Wild Storm #21
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: DC Comics - WildStorm
Price: $3.99
The experimental subjects code-named Apollo and Midnighter have broken cover. Combat-optimized superhumans are now loose on the Earth.
Why It’s Cool: Last month’s The Wild Storm #20 was the best issue of this series to date. After 19 issues of slow burn, the creators finally unleashed Apollo and The Midnighter, giving nearly the entire issue to a prolonged action sequence followed by a bit of romance. Was it fan service? Perhaps a little, but it was earned and also executed in the best possible way. This issue brings the focus back to some of the other characters, but make no mistake—the march to the assembling of The Authority continues, and oh what a thing that will be when it happens. There’s only three issues left. Two years ago I’d have guaranteed that this was building into the launch of a new The Authority comic, but with DC scaling back publishing plans under its new corporate owners, I’m inclined to estimate these three issues will be the last we see of these characters for some time. But, hell if I’m not going to savor every page of it. With a writer like Warren Ellis collaborating with an artist like Jon Davis-Hunt, this comic is just too good.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Dark Red #1 (read our review!)

  • Dungeons and Dragons: A Darkened Wish #1

  • Invisible Kingdom #1 (read our review!)

  • Life and Death of Toyo Harada #1

  • Monstrous European Getaway #1

  • Rise #1

  • Spider-Man: City at War #1

  • Spider-Man: Life Story #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Aquaman #46

  • Archie #703

  • Avengers #17

  • Batman #67

  • Bitter Root #5

  • Black Badge #8

  • Electric Warriors #5

  • Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4

  • Guardians of the Galaxy #3

  • Justice League #20

  • Middlewest #5

  • Naomi #3

  • Stronghold #2

  • Thor #11

  • Uncanny X-Men #14

Check back to the site later this week for reviews of Lazarus Risen #1, Criminal #3, and more!

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

TRADE RATING: Out of the Blue expertly captures the British spirit during WWII

Out of the Blue, Volume 1 is out 3/27/2019.

By Jarred A. Luján — Out of the Blue Volume 1, the second original graphic novel from AfterShock Comics,  is the co-creation of famed war story writer Garth Ennis and the incredibly talented artist Keith Burns. It marks a reunion for the duo, which last team on another WWII aviation story called Johnny Red. Out of the Blue follows protagonist Jamie McKenzie towards the end of World War II, as he performs bombing runs on German supply lines in the worst possible plane with the worst possible commanding officer.

The story has so much to unpack, but I want to jump into the artwork first. Burns is a member of the RAF Guild of Aviation Artists, a group that describes itself as the globally-recognized premier society for the promotion of aviation art. Burns is a testament to that statement. It almost feels like planes were designed for this man to draw them. The opening page of the book—a De Havilland Mosquito Fighter-Bomber flying over the remnants of a burning German ship—is in and of itself an amazing piece, and it sets the tone for the book. The battle sequences in this story are also more than just big and explosive; they’re dramatic and intense. Burns styles these pages in a way that showcases what a feat of machinery these little planes are, also capturing the depth and destruction of warfare. It’s all thrilling to look at, and this art alone could sell me on the book.

This story has one of my favorite casts of characters from any Ennis book in a while. Joseph Ranjaram, an Indian soldier in the British military, is the calm and eloquent balance to another character, Jamie. Jamie, in his own right, is a fun character, but it becomes clear early in the story that Jamie…well, Jamie is sort of an unlucky guy. His constant stumbles bridge upon heartbreaking turn after turn, which, ironically enough, is what introduces him to Joseph in the first place. Jamie getting partnered with Joseph is meant to be a punishment due to his race, and I loved that touch. Any WWII book that doesn’t shy away from the ugly shadow of racism, particularly and openly cast by Broome here, is one that adds an immersive edge of realism to its work. It should come as no surprise that Ennis, a man who happily introduces the harsh realities of war on the regular, is willing to address that unflinchingly as well.

Now, bear with me as I give a brief history lesson, one that I promise is relevant to this book. For those who maybe missed a history class or two, England suffered a pretty brutal time in WWII. From the May 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk to the intense bombing that occurred from July to October 1940, times were rather dark for the country during the war. Now, one of the things that I love about this time period in particular is the war propaganda that came out of it. I know, that seems like a particularly dorky thing to find interesting, but the differences in experiences of the war come out so clearly in the way nations represented it to their own countries. For example, American propaganda is vengeful, it’s angry. Reasonably so, something like Pearl Harbor is certain to bring out those feelings in a nation. England’s went another way, though. While there were certainly feelings of anger and frustration and vengeance, much of England’s propaganda was hopeful, because for quite some time it seemed like the end was nigh for Britain. There’s been plenty of time spent dissecting Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, given at the beginning of the intensive bombing, but it captures so well the British approach to their situation: Don’t lose hope, fight on.

That spirit is so wonderfully captured in this story. It’s a story of Jamie, who can’t seem to do a damn thing right at times, and who is given every reason to give up but refuses to do so.

He just seems to find himself in the plane, in the midst of battle, fighting for something worth fighting for. The book feels lighter than some of Ennis’ prior work, and I say that as someone who loved Punisher: Born and Sara (which I also reviewed), but that lightness is perfect for this story. It has dark edges, to be sure, including racism and Broome’s nastier intentions later in the book, but you can see the central vein of hope throughout Jamie’s story. The last few pages of this book are so great and so beautiful, and they capture the theme so well that I spent a very long time soaking them in.

If there is one thing I find frustrating about the book, it’s that the release is split in half. Volume 1 isn’t a cohesive story, it’s part of a much larger story that will obviously conclude in Volume 2. Yet, it feels like we’re really just kicking off by the time we get to the end. It feels a little disappointing that we can’t dive into it next month, like a monthly serial, or continue going through it, like a regular graphic novel. That’s a minor thing, and maybe that being my biggest issue is only another indicator of how much I enjoyed reading this.

Ennis and Burns make fantastic comics together.

Out of the Blue Vol. 1 (of 2)
Garth Ennis
Artist: Keith Burns
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $19.99
Release Date: March 27, 2019

Read more graphic novel reviews with Trade Rating.

Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #32 gives us more Marko and Alana

Saga #32 first debuted on 12/23/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — They’re back! After an issue without the story’s central couple, Saga #32 is almost all Marko and Alana, with a brief Prince Robot IV chaser at the very end. It’s also one of the better issues in terms of capturing the beauty of their dynamic, of being romantic in the way that only stories about long-term relationships can. Oh, plus there’s a heist!

Maybe it’s because we’re now firmly into the stretch of issues that I actively remember reading as they came out, but I find myself thinking of this arc as the one in which Saga as we’ve known it in recent years really hit its stride, really found a comfortable cruising altitude. The relationships are mature, we know our central characters, and Fiona Staples artwork has become nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. It’s a beautiful thing, and for may the hundredth time I’m finding myself really grateful to be undertaking this re-read project. I will also, it should be noted, be sad once it’s over...although I may jump right into Paper Girls at that point.

Anyway, onto the other parts of this feature!

Saga #32

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #32, which was first released back on December 23, 2015, on one of those really fun new comic book days that happen during the height of the holiday shopping season and (hopefully) don’t inconvenience the staff at shops all that much…

Marko and Alana learn something.

Welp, once again we know pretty much nothing. Although, I suppose after an issue of not seeing them at all, we do find out here that we will in fact be getting a storied centered on Marko and Alana, who were reunited in Saga #30...before being separated from Hazel by a DRAMATIC TIME JUMP in Saga #31. Let’s do the thing and take a look at the individual elements.

The Cover: This marks two in a row that I’ve really liked. Again, the composition and colors here are pretty fantastic, as is the casual romance with the even more casual fantasy/sci-fi touches, the wins on Alana and the sword/shield on’s all very cool.

The First Page: Hey hey! For the first time in six or seven issues, we get one of (what I consider to be) the trademark sensational Saga opening pages, this one being Alana accosted and choked by a disguised Marko who’s (presumably) pretending to be holding her hostage. As we learn shortly, they’re actually running a scam and working to fool a security guard. It’s a nice way for the book to let us know that during the DRAMATIC TIME JUMP, Marko and Alana have become a cohesive team once again, as cohesive as they were before, anyway.

The Summary: The story opens with Marko and Alana trying to lie there way past a security guard in a building where there is information about where Hazel is being kept, before that goes sideways and they knock him out instead. They’re in the midst of a full-blown heist. As they go about executing it, they hash out what happened between them in a way that almost feels organic and not intended to mostly remind the audience about stuff.

They eventually get caught, and it looks pretty much as bad as it could get for Marko and Alana. That is, until a missile appears in the air. Security flees before we see that the “missile” is actually the family’s spaceship/treehouse. The excitement of it all pulls them into coitus, and they decide afterward that they’re going to need (presumably) Prince Robot IV for the next phase of the plan, which involves a rescue operation on the Wings homeworld of Landfall. The issue ends with Ghus and a surly Prince Robot IV seeing their ship approach.

The Subtext: I don’t know if this counts as subtext or not, but I found this to be a very romantic issue, at least as it pertains to the conversation between Marko and Alana as they perpetrate the heist. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing here does a wonderful job of teasing out the dynamic between them, showing how complementary they are to each other, and, ultimately, why their love really truly works. We see Marko being his overzealous self when it comes to making a mense about throwing a bag of groceries at Alana, and we see her admitting her own culpability in the frayed relations between them. We see Marko’s peacefulness and practicality paying off as Alana’s spontaneous risky thinking teases him out of his uptight shell. It’s all really sweet, and one of the best recent examples in any fiction of what it feels like to be in a happy marriage (which I maintain is part of the reason this book works so well, because it so often perfectly captures both the very good and the sometimes bad of marriage, or long-term romantic entanglements).

The Art: There wasn’t all that much of a unifying thread to be found in the artwork this week, so instead I just pulled together some of my favorite segments and panels. Gallery is below...

The Foreshadowing: There are maybe a handful of minor and inconsequential instances of foreshadowing dotted here and there in this issue, but I think far and away the most interesting is when Prince Robot IV correctly tells Ghus that everyone who gets tangled up with Marko and Alana finds themselves dead eventually, essentially predicting part of his own storyline as well as that of many of the other side characters, too. It’s also funny in how Ghus very lightly sticks up for them.

Join us next week as we get within striking distance of the 20-issues-to-go mark!

Saga #32
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past installments of our Saga Re-Read.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

A Lazarus Retrospective: Family Above All

Lazarus Risen #1— the launch of the series new, quarterly super-sized format—is out 3/20/2019.

Lazarus Risen #1—the launch of the series new, quarterly super-sized format—is out 3/20/2019.

By Taylor Pechter — What family truly means can be complicated. Is it just the people that are closest to you? Or is it something greater? It’s a complex question, and in many ways the answer is a core focus of Image Comics’ soon-to-return series, Lazarus. Written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Michael Lark (with inking assists from Tyler Boss), and colored by Santi Arcas, the world of Lazarus is one rooted in dystopia. After an economic collapse and a war that led to an event known as the Macau Accords, the globe has been sectioned off into regions run by certain wealthy and powerful families. Each family has a specially engineered being called a Lazarus, which acts as both a liaison and the leader of its military force. Forever Carlyle is the Carlyle family Lazarus. This comic is her story.

Who is Forever Carlyle?

Staring in the year X+64 (which means 64 years after the Macau Accords divided the planet), we are introduced to Forever. In this introductory scene, she is shot, killed and subsequently self-revived. She is being monitored from afar by her family members Johanna, James, and Bethany Carlyle, who watch everything from her actions to her vitals.

As James goes over her trauma report, the audience slowly becomes familiar with the unforgiving world of the series. This is a world where the ruling families are in constant conflict over land, where they preside too over civilians separated into a quasi-caste system. The civilians who work directly for the families are their Serfs. Everyone else is Waste, treated as second class. Occasionally, they have a chance to be Lifted to become Serfs. It’s all very frightening.

In the story of Lazarus, the two factions spearheading the conflict are the Carlyle Bloc and the Hock Coalition. Caryle rules most of the Western United States while Hock oversees the Eastern regions. Both of them have allies in conflict across the world. Forever is the pride of the Carlyle Family. She is the commander of their elite strike force called the Daggers. However, Forever gets a mysterious message in the middle of the night that sows seeds of doubt about her role in the family.

The message reads “He is not your father. This is not your family.” As Forever ponders her place in the world, Hock and his allies start to move on Carlyle territory while Carlyle moves on Hock. This conflict comes to a head at the Conclave, driving the plot forward.

The Conclave that Rules the World

Not all of Forever Carlyle’s battles in Lazarus are physical.

The Conclave is a meeting of the families where they discuss terms regarding territory, and—if worse comes to worse—war plans. The meeting takes place on Triton 1, the floating base of the Armitage family, who is officially neutral in the ongoing conflict but has heavy ties to Carlyle. As tensions rise, Forever confronts her brother, Jonah. Jonah was kidnapped by the Hock’s while planning treason to his family. This is the first betrayal that Forever is subjected to and it won’t be the last as she helps Jonah escape custody. She is then thrust into a fight with Sonja Bittner, Lazarus of the Bittner Family, which is then a member of the Hock Coalition. Forever fights to prove her family’s innocence. She prevails in the contest but her father and patriarch of the family, Malcolm Carlyle, is subsequently poisoned and left in a coma. Little does Forever know, Malcolm has been secretly training a younger version of her to possibly be a replacement should she falter.

As the Conclave War rages on, the forces of Carlyle, Hock, and their allied families are in all-out conflict. In the middle of this, Forever’s crisis of conscience reaches its zenith. Not only has Jonah’s betrayal hit her hard, she also starts to forgo her normal regimen of medication, which keeps her stamina in top condition and also allows her family to control her. This does not go over well with her sisters Johanna and Bethany. Johanna breaks and tells the truth to Forever, about her development and her potential replacement, thinking it would build trust with her again. It has an opposite effect.

Forever denounces Johanna, not only for her personal actions, but for the overall way the family has treated her. Forever has been betrayed by the people she holds closest to her. It is then she sets out with her allies on a final push. Along with the forces of Morray and Bittner, they start a Lazarus hunt, targeting first the Rausling family in Central Europe.

The Conclave War

The gritty, photo-realistic artwork in Lazarus makes for one of the most immersive reading experiences in comics.

After a decisive victory over the Rausling Lazarus, Sonja Bittner along with Forever and the Morray Lazarus Joaquim (who is romantically engaged with Forever), set their sights on the most dangerous and secretive Lazarus of them all, the Vassalovka Lazarus, simply known as the Zmey, or the Dragon. As the name implies, Vassalovka’s seat of power is in Russia, and they remain a question mark until at last entering the war against Caryle and its allies. The fight against the Vassalovka Lazarus is brutal, with yet another betrayal, with Forever’s paramour Joaquim being forced to turn on her by the chemical control maintained over him by his family.

Meanwhile, after his escape from the Conclave, Jonah Caryle washes up in the Danish town of Agger in disputed Bittner territory. It is there where he creates a new life and eventually falls in love with a local and have a baby. However, a tragic event cuts that relationship short as we move into the Fracture storyline in the upcoming Lazarus: Risen #1, which is due out next week (stay tuned for our review!).

With Lazarus, Greg Rucka weaves a tale of intrigue that is predicated on the concept of family. Forever is a woman trying to find her place. Who she really is as a person is tested not only through her psychological inwardness but also her interactions, not only with her immediate family, but also their allies and enemies. Joining Rucka is his collaborator from his classic work for DC Comics, Gotham Central, Michael Lark. Lark adds a layer of reality with his rough and textured style. The pages are perfectly paneled, whether they are dynamic action scenes or emotional character beats. Adding hues is colorist Santi Arcas whose colors are mood driven, including  moody blues, stingy greens, warm oranges, abrasive reds, or even drab tans and browns.

All together, these creators have made a lived-in world that has both its light and dark sides. Overall, Lazarus is an achievement in world building and storytelling with a deeply thought out setting and relatable characters with resonant themes. As a parting gift, I leave you with the Carlyle family motto: Oderint Dum Metuant...which means, Let them hate, so long as they fear.

Read more of Taylor’s writing on our comics analysis page.

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter@TheInspecter.