By Zack Quaintance — Some of our favorite newly-launched books this month have been a long time coming, including new titles from Vault Comics and the Vertigo Rebirth-leading Border Town, among others. The important thing, though, is that they’re here now and the response has been fantastic. As you’ll also see in a second (I’ll wrap this up quick, promise), September also brought us some interesting repurposings of old and celebrated franchises, specifically Archie and Sandman. I (obviously) don’t know what the future holds, but this to me is starting to seem like an era we’ll all look back on one day, shaking our heads at how good we had it with so many good ideas coursing through comics. It’s almost overwhelming.
Anyway, enough chatter...let’s do this!
I thought Batman: Damned #1 was...fine. Obviously, the actual comic got lost in all the hoopla over Batman’s gear gear, but this comic was...fine. I’m not always into excessively dark Bat-takes, but this one’s supernatural angle is...fine.
Heroes in Crisis #1 was also…fine. It was well-done, both in art and scripting, if a little thin. I’m in favor of starting major events with double or oversized debuts (or quick second issues) to give monthly readers extra substance and clarity, fully acknowledging that stories these days demand to be written for trade.
Jody Houser writing Faith continues to be an absolute delight with Faith: Dreamside #1, drawn by M.J. Kim. Every iteration of this book has just been so optimistic without ever feeling saccharine. It’s also as a whip-smart pop/geek culture satire, with jokes grown from an endearingly deep love and understanding of this space.
I liked Mark Waid’s Archie reboot a few years back, especially the insight into Archie history he gave us via back matter in early issues. Archie 1941 #1 has some of that in its DNA, as it uses the WWII time period for a well-done and serious take on these characters.
Vertigo Rebirth kicked off in September with the release of writer Eric M. Esquivel and artist Ramon Villalobos’ Border Town #1, a story about monsters, teens, and the complex politics of the U.S.-Mexico Border. A promising start. Read our full Border Town #1 review!
Another debut off to a promising start, Man-Eaters #1 from Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk is a satirical take on gender politics told with incredible wit and detail. As I wrote in my Man-Eaters #1 review, this is a great setup for a book with important things to say.
DC’s Sandman revival launched in earnest this month. Confession time: I skipped Dreaming #1 because its so directly tied to the classic series, which I’m reading now for the first time. Basically, I don’t want to spoil anything. House of Whispers #1, however, was intriguing and fresh, a perfect entrance point, I’d wager, for readers old and new.
Competition is fierce, but I think Phillip Kennedy Johnson writes the best dystopian America in all of comics. His Warlords of Appalachia was an August 2018 New Discovery, and now he’s joined here by artist Flaviano for Low Road West #1, treading similar America is hella broken territory in all new ways.
Top 5 Best Comics of September 2018
Cemetery Beach #1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
As I wrote in my review for Cemetery Beach #1, I was a big fan of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s previous collaboration, Trees, and I’m pretty comfortable in saying that if you dug that book, you’ll likely dig this one too. I also think that if you didn’t quite connect with Trees, you might still find a lot to like about Cemetery Beach, which has all the deeply high-minded sci-fi supposing their first book did, with breakneck other-world action and a bit of a wink—or at least characters who are kind of funny.
This book reads to me like Warren Ellis writing a summer blockbuster, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. It’s a seven-part story, and my impression is that this narrative will largely be driven by twists. It’s also the type of comic that I’ve thought about often since finishing it early on in the month, doing that old-school periodical reader thing where I anxiously await the next installment. How quaint.
Cover #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack,
I’ve been enjoying the craft-heavy creator-owned books Brian Michael Bendis and his talented collaborators are putting out on his revived Jinxworld imprint, which is now at DC. Cover #1 by Bendis and David Mack, however, has easily been my favorite. As Bendis noted at Rose City Comic Con, there are plenty of movies about making movies or about rock music or about whatever other field of creativity. Comics, however, have largely not had the meta stories about what it’s like making comics.
This is, essentially, what Cover is setting out to do—along with telling a normal guy-becomes-a-spy story, based on experiences Bendis and Mack have had as attaches with the U.S. State Department. It’s a simple-yet-ambitious book, one that Mack brings to life with a beautiful watercolor palette that moves in and out of hazy focus as serves the clarity of the story. If this first issue is any indication, this is a series not to be missed. (Oh, and another Jinxworld debut, United States of Murder Inc. #1 by Bendis and Michael Oeming, is real strong, too).
Fearscape #1 by Ryan O’Sullivan and Andrea Mutti
It’s been a few years now since I’ve been a comic book fan whose reading choices are dictated by allegiance to character (okay, more than a few). I think this is a natural transition for readers who stick with comics into adulthood: we’re drawn in at young ages by appealing heroes who represent our aspirations, and we stay for love of the craft, paying more attention to the writers and artists than the long-standing often corporate-owned characters on the pages. I think this compulsive love of storytelling is a big part of what made Fearscape #1 resonate so strongly with me.
To put it in inelegant terms, Fearscape #1 is a writerly book about writing, about wanting to write, trying to write, failing to write...WRITING. It’s a send up of literary pretension that’s tonally-laden with that intangible drive that pushes artists to create. It’s a fantasy story with a beating heart rooted in a blowhard whose artistic skills are massively dwarfed by his need for validation. It’s deep and nuanced and unlike anything else in the industry. As I wrote in my Fearscape #1 review...I can’t recommend this book enough.
Friendo #1 by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds
Like Fearscape #1, Friendo #1 is a new comic from Vault Comics, one of my personal favorite publishers in the indie game right now, and also like Fearscape, this is a comic bent on exploring nuanced ideas. Rather than the plight of the frustrated (and disingenuous) artist, Friendo immerses itself in larger ideas about the intersections of commerce, government, society, technology, and daily life.
This is somehow a comic that feels at once prescient and very much of this scary moment, told with great expertise by writer Alex Paknadel and artist Martin Simmonds. The debut issue does a fantastic job of laying track (presumably) for twists to come, and I can’t wait to see where they take this story. The solicit copy, for example, promises heavily involvement by a personalized marketing VR (the titular Friendo, I’m guessing), and so far we’ve only gotten the tip of it. Check out our Friendo #1 review here!
Ahoy Comics’ High Heaven #1 & Wrong Earth #1
Wrong Earth #1 asks: what if a dark and gritty ‘80s/‘90s portrayal of a hero (think Batman in The Dark Knight Returns) swapped earths with a campy Silver Age equivalent (think Batman in ‘60s TV show, Batman). In Wrong Earth #1—debut of new publisher, Ahoy Comics—this concept is executed to clever perfection by veteran creators writer Tom Peyer and artist Jamal Igle. Wrong Earth is, simply put, superhero satire at its finest. There’s a bit of Venture Bros. and a bit of Grant Morrison (who provides related prose for the book’s back matter), and the result is an absolute treat for savvy fans, folks who enjoy heroes but can get far enough outside to appreciate the inherent absurdity of continuity-beholden corporate comics.
High Heaven #1, meanwhile, is the second Ahoy launch title, and it’s a book that basically depicts the afterlife as an institution as broken as everything is in real life. Food is free but awful, everyone gets a mansion...or rather a dorm room with a fancy name, and life is dictated by attitude. The premise isn’t as intriguing as Wrong Earth but the deeper literary aspirations at the heart of the company are once again present. This one is again written by Peyer with art by Greg Scott, plus another host of back matter contributors.
Overall, these are dense and fascinating comics for folks drawn to strong and experimental stories. It’s fascinating (and quite welcome) to me that three of Vertigo’s defining editors now preside over eclectic new lines: Karen Berger with Dark Horse’s Berger Books, Shelly Bond with IDW’s Black Crown, and now Peyer with Ahoy Comics. As I say often, we’re in a second golden age...and as fans we can sit back and enjoy the output while the finances sort themselves out.
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.