I’m a big fan of Valiant’s comics, rarely missing an issue that the publisher with the other other superhero universe puts out. I find their characters have a freedom of consequence a bit grander than the larger corporate-owned superheroes. By that I mean they have freedom to suffer real consequences, freedom to evolve and change, freedom to experience new status quos with the potential to last longer than a big line-wide event cycle or two with impacting sales.Read More
By Zack Quaintance — August 2018 was the month of Jeff Lemire, who wrapped up the 14th and final issue of Royal City, the first arc of creator-owned hit Gideon Falls, a multi-year run on Valiant’s Bloodshot, and a big reveal in mysterious superhero nostalgia trip Black Hammer (which, by the way, he’s using to build a generational superhero universe from scratch). Oh, and Lemire did all this while also writing Sentry, The Terrifics, and probably more books I’m forgetting.
That’s not all. Just when Lemire was cresting on the strength multiple impressive and prolific comics runs, he used the platform his profile affords him to castigate a rage movement that bullies and harrasses creators from marginalized groups, an action for which he’s surely gotten blowback. Still, that kind of speaking out sparked the most wide-spanning conversation yet about why it’s important to denounce such tactics and such groups.
So yeah, item of business no. 1: hats off to Lemire. Item no. 2? A look at this month’s top comics, which, unsurprisingly, will also merit further discussion of Lemire. Now that I’ve set a new record for mentions of one creator during my intro...let’s do this!
Shanghai Red #3 continues Christopher Sebela and Josh Hixson’s searing pioneer revenge epic. The colors in Hixson’s artwork are especially revelatory.
The penultimate issue of Steve Orlando and Garry Brown’s six-part father-son Russian revenge epic Crude took the book to new heights in both physical and emotional stakes.
Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space is now ongoing, which is very cool because every issue has been stellar, including this month’s Wasted Space #4.
Action Comics #1002 was the most complete Bendis Superman issue since Man of Steel #1. Bendis is slowly building his Superman status quo, pulling in vital elements and reconstructing Clark’s life with updates for 2018. Plus, art by Pat Gleason!
Meanwhile in Supergirl #21, Bendis passes a cosmic story thread left dangling in Man of Steel to the creative team of Marc Andreyko and Kevin Maguire. Excited to see where in the galaxy it goes.
I liked The Euthanuats #1, with its poeticism and blurry line between life and death, but I loved The Euthanauts #2, which declared that this comic is primed and ready for a lengthy run.
Batgirl has a new creative team: writer Mairghread Scott and artists Elena Casagrande and Paul Pelletier. So far I’ve liked all of their work, which this month alone included half of Batgirl #25, all of Batgirl #26, and Batgirl Annual #2.
Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are doing fantastic things in Venom, expanding their vision for a character that previously seemed outdated. Hell of a run taking shape here.
Another issue of Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, another spot on our monthly best of list. This book is just so good.
Finally, we got a two-issue Wonder Woman arc from Steve Orlando and Aco, high adventure that teamed Diana with Artemis and the new Aztek for mythology-meets-multiverse fun.
Top 5 Comics of August 2018
5. The Wild Storm #16 by Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt, & Brian Buccellato
The Wild Storm continues to be a wonderfully-complex slow burn of a comic, one with much to say about power structures, corporations, government, and the role of individuals within it all. Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt (with excellent Brian Buccellato colors) are really taking their time here, giving this comic a more weighty and realistic feel than past iterations of this universe.
It won’t be entirely clear until we get the final eight issues of this story, but I’m starting to suspect this book will land among Warren Ellis’ best work. In many ways, it’s the final form of so many ideas that he’s played with throughout his career, ideas that he’s able to explain through familiar character in a totally new universe that’s unburdened by past or present continuity. DC essentially told Ellis, You know those characters you’ve written on and off throughout your career...would you like to start from scratch and do whatever you want with them? He (obviously) said yes, and the end result is awesome comics.
4. Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin & Joe Caramagna
Cards on the table: Along with Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man is the first comic I subscribed to as a kid. I’ll always and forever have it on a pull list. That is to say, I was always giving Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s run on this book a shot, and, through the first three issues, I thought it was amusing, a light romp through all the qualities that make Spider-Man a beloved character, albeit a bit light on his central conflict: his guilt over passively enabling the death of his uncle.
Amazing Spider-Man #4, however, was the first issue to break through the shiny veneer of Ottley art and Spencer quips, showing that this creative team is interested in the core of the character and determined to get it right. This book broached Peter Parker’s central conflict and guiding philosophy in intriguing ways, while also continuing to double down on the strengths of earlier issues. As a result, I am one supremely satisfied long-time reader.
3. Batman #52 and #53 by Tom King, Lee Weeks, & Elizabeth Breitwesier
Batman #52 and #53 were part of the recently-concluded Cold Days arc, which is my favorite multi-part story that Tom King has told with Batman (I still like Batman Annual #2, Batman/Elmer Fudd, and Batman #37’s double date better as single issues, but I digress). The arc was drawn by Lee Weeks, who has emerged as maybe Tom King’s best collaborator on this run as well.
What makes the story work so well is how it speaks to comics collective obsession with Batman. In Cold Days, Bruce Wayne manipulates his way onto a jury of a Mr. Freeze murder trial because he worries he made a mistake as Batman, so shook was he after being left at the altar by Catwoman. He gives a 12 Angry Bat-Men kind of speech, wherein he questions the fallibility of his alter ego. Intentional or not, that speech had a meta context, raising questions about the way fandom venerates the character. Fantastic stuff.
2. Ice Cream Man #6 by W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, & Good Old Neon
This comic somehow tells three self-contained stories in a single issue, doing so with little to no dialogue in a way that not only makes sense but will almost certainly haunt the vast majority of readers for weeks (at least, that’s been my experience). Really, if it wasn’t for the monster month of the creator who took the no. 1 spot, Ice Cream Man #6 would have been an easy choice for August’s best.
This comic is one of my favorite single issues of 2018 so far. The craft here is so impressive that I don’t want to think about it too hard, lest I lose motivation to ever attempt anything creative of my own again. Moreover, I have a pretty strong predisposition against stories steeped in cynicism or bleakness—and this issue is most certainly that—yet this book is so well-done I was able to overlook all that. Ice Cream Man holistically is one of the best horror books today, as well as one of the best explorations of what’s possible with the medium, in terms of form and structure. I can’t recommend it enough.
1. Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire landed in the top spot for a few different reasons, many of which we touched on earlier: the conclusion of his Bloodshot epic, the quiet way Royal City’s ending issue made my eyes well, the outstanding reveal on the last panel of Black Hammer: Age of Doom #4, and, of course, the way he stood up to Comicsgate, contributing in no small part to a roiling wave of similarly-prominent creators who did the same.
We should also note that Gideon Falls first arc ended in August (in excellent fashion), and that that book’s entire first storyline has been extremely well-done. So yeah, most months are solid for Lemire output, but August felt like a statement on his part about who he is and what he wants his impact on the industry to be: a disciplined and prolific creator with no tolerance for harassment, rage, bullying, bigotry, or dumbassitude of all kinds. Not bad...not bad in the slightest.
Check out our Best New #1 Comics of August 2018 here plus more of our monthly lists here .
I’ve always thought of Harbinger as Valiant’s answer to X-Men, which is, admittedly, a fairly obvious comparison to draw. Harbinger Wars 2 #1, however, was actually a really nice reminder that this franchise’s significantly more under-the-radar status allows it a degree of agility the now-hulking X-Men behemoth no longer has, and it uses that degree expertly in this issue to play upon current societal woes and concerns. Essentially, the first part of this summer’s Harbinger Wars 2 event is a poignant and engaging story, involving nearly all of Valiant’s best characters (where’s the Eternal Warrior at these days, btw?).
As it should. The Harbinger concept to me is the center of Valiant’s universe (or was until Divinity showed up, anyway), and this event is poised to treat it as such. It’s yet another tale of superheros turning against each, and as common as that has become these days, doing it convincingly is still tricky business. Without giving anything away, I’ll say this book handles it better than most in recent memory, rich as it with solid and believable motivations for the involved heroes to take their respective sides. The action of the shadowy government types here are a little harder to fathom, as they almost always are, but I digress.
But let’s keep it abstract, seeing as this is an advanced review (this book drops May 30) and I don’t go in for spoilers. Let’s get away from details and talk about the commentary. In a sense, the themes in Matt Kindt’s script are nothing we haven’t seen done or attempted by X-Men several times over the years: an outcast population, children on the run because of who they are, a government acting out of fear, a debate over what constitutes proper methods of resistance.
Kindt, however, is an incredibly nuanced writer who doesn’t need to hit us over the end with any of that to make this story compelling. He puts all those questions and themes in here seemingly as a mechanism for understanding the reasons our characters have for fighting, then he gives them all plans that start to pull them together. Each page pulls our opposed characters closer, revealing more about their motivations as it does so and setting the stage for a massive rumble to come.
There’s a cinematic quality to this story, in both its structure and scope, as well as in the way characters from various Valiant franchises are introduced, presented in big splashy panels as if they were leaving room for an applause break. Tomas Giorello hits the artwork here out of the park, as he has during previous collaborations with Kindt in Valiant’s best ongoing right now, XO Manowar.
Overall: Come for the incredibly tense and entertaining story, stay for the subtle commentary on our times—exactly as a book about outcasts persecuted by vast governmental power structures should be. This issue is all rising action, bringing in power players and stopping just short of slamming together. I can’t wait for No. 2. 9.3/10
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.
Under the guidance of writer Jeff Lemire, Valiant’s Bloodshot franchise has grown in recent years from being a revival of another ‘90s heroes who carries big guns (plus also maybe a sword) and can heal from gruesome wounds, into a walking metaphor for the human toll of the military industrial complex. In Lemire's stories, our man Bloodshot has looked for love, found it, and become a dad—only to be dragged back into war and violence.
Lemire’s characterization of the principal Bloodshot—Ray Garrison—is top-tier, just like Lemire’s characterization in most books, but where his work on Bloodshot has really excelled has been in telling the story of the Bloodshot technology over time, bringing in past Bloodshots as metaphors for the military industrial complexes in bygone eras, including Vietnam and World War II. This issue focuses on another recent addition to Bloodshot’s supporting cast, his faithful dog Bloodhound, who we learn here is a veteran of WWI.
It’s a solid issue of Bloodshot, to be sure, and it’s the type of story Lemire, joined on writing duties here by Ray Fawkes, does well: one that fleshes out characters and is so entertaining that readers can forgive a one-month break from our plot (see his work on Descender for more great examples of this). The end result is an issue that both adds to the larger Bloodshot mythos but could also work as a poignant standalone for first-time Bloodshot readers.
All of that is a credit to the plot, which subverts expectations in terms of the roles the two main characters in the narrative seem poised to play at its start. The groundwork is laid for the sensitive doctor, who is seeing his first battle, to be our heart, our humanitarian, our entry point into a violent and savage world of war. Meanwhile, we also get a foil for our assumed protagonist, a seasoned military commander who barely tolerates the doctor’s presence, one I assumed would be a cynical roadblock, complicating the doctor’s efforts to save lives.
This issue, however, just isn’t that neat or simple, and, not to spoil anything, but there ends up being shades of gray throughout. There’s a particularly poignant bit where one character refers to “cost,” and it later becomes unclear if the true cost being referred to was lives or money. It’s a moment that puts the lens back on the reader and asks what are you as a civilian more concerned about: sending soldiers to die or finding more efficient ways to kill enemy soldiers at minimal taxpayer expense? Yikes.
My only gripe with the issue is a small one, in that some of the commentary is a bit on the nose, with soldiers randomly cursing the war, or describing it as a pointless meat grinder.
Overall: Bloodshot No. 9 is a well-done issue, one that sets out to create an emotional origin story for Bloodshot’s faithful companion Bloodhoud and succeeds, all while paying off one of the better commentaries about the military industrial complex and our role in it as civilians, which is what I’ve long seen as the overarching theme of Lemire’s Bloodshot work. 8.5/10
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.