By Jarred A. Luján — Thanos has a special place in my weird, comicbook nerd heart. When I was 13, a friend lent me an Infinity Gauntlet trade...and it blew me away. That comic was the first one I remember that showed superheroes losing—definitively. While that doesn’t exactly keep by the end of the book, watching so many iconic heroes fall to this ambitious, lovestruck purple alien was really a shock to me, and I was…Read More
By Allison Senecal — Superhero comic art has evolved at a really impressive rate in recent years...so much so that sometimes it can be a lot to handle. First there’s excitement, obviously, but then that excitement turns into something else...which is why today we’re introducing a new feature, a different way to look at our favorite comic art. Welcome to Thirsty Thursdays, a sporadic examination of (as the kids say) the month’s thirstiest comics.
The Thirstiest Comics of September 2018
Captain America #3 – A Steve and T’challa team-up? *Eyebrow waggle* What do you mean “not like that”? Thanks a lot, Marvel. Still a 💦💦💦💦 out of 5 especially with Yu’s excellent Sad Steve.
Catwoman #3 – The saying is madder than a wet cat, but this month nothing is hotter than a wet cat, and any given month nothing is sexier than Joëlle Jones’s Catwoman. A perfect 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Sleepless #7 – SLEEPLESS IS BACK AND SO ARE ALL THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE. Easy decision. 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Wonder Woman #54 & #55 – Atalanta has freckles. Diana, Artemis, and all the Amazons of Bana-Mighdall are drawn thick, muscled, and GORGEOUS. The art was juicy in September and this is a peak example. Everyone looks alive and beautiful, and also like they could kick my ass. 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Thor #5 – Christian Ward drawing the Goddesses of Thunder. Christian. Ward. Drawing. The. Goddesses. Of. Thunder. If you don’t know what that means GO BUY AARON’S WHOLE RUN. NOW. 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
West Coast Avengers #2 – Another juicy one. Bless Caselli and Farrell for making the whole team magnetic. Only content we’re getting for either America or Clint so go write letters to these creators and tell them you love it. 💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Justice League Odyssey #1 -- Sejic doing Jessica Cruz and Starfire equals the most breathtaking comic book experience this month. And if you don’t ship them, don’t speak to me. 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Extermination #3 – Extermination has ended up being my sleeper thirst comic every month. Both Jeans. Both Warrens. Classic X-Force. Brisson remembered Cannonball’s Kentucky accent. We’re truly blessed. Larraz and Gracia make everything pop. Hot and dynamic. eXXXtermination. Don’t @ me. 💦💦💦💦💦 out of 5.
Oh and I guess there was Bat-Penis or something this month. Call me when we’re back to full frontal Constantine.
Prep yourselves for October, when I become a walking, talking “Un-Follow Me Now” meme over Shatterstar.
Allison buys books professionally and comics unprofessionally. You can find her chaotic neutral Twitter feed at @maliciousglee.
The new comics fireworks started July 4th and just kept coming. Groan, I know. But anyway, the most impressive thing about this month’s new #1 was the wide variety of stories they told. So many boxes got checked by these books: New Orleans plus horror and drugs? CHECK. Encouraging new direction for Amazing Spider-Man? CHECK. Ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Somehow also CHECK.
July’s variety of #1 comics speaks to a major change in the industry: a broader and expanding audience is fostering broader and expanding demand. You know what that means? That’s right—broader and expanding supply. Or, more and weirder comics. With this in mind, it’s easy to be bullish on comics right now, and the entries on our list today re-enforce why.
Let’s do it!
The Long Con #1 came out the Wednesday after SDCC, telling a story about a never-ending apocalyptic con. Its timing was perfect and its concept sharp. Read our full review.
Cliche alert! Catwoman #1 was a (fancy?) feast for the eyes. The story and art—both by Joelle Jones—were phenomenal. Most importantly, though, Jones gets Selina...the aesthetic, narration, villain...nigh-perfect.
I saw Donny Cates at SDCC on a panel about Image Comics. Someone was late...so Cates, obviously, put Pantera on his phone and growled into his mic, WELCOME TO IMAGE. This is also the aesthetic of his latest Marvel #1s: Cosmic Ghost Rider and Death of Inhumans, which are both madcap and grandiose.
Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal had to follow Tom Taylor’s excellent 3-year run on All New Wolverine. Tough challenge. In X-23 #1, however, the team meets it, preserving the best of Taylor’s work (the heart) while also heading in a horror-tinged new direction.
Everyone said read Bone Parish #1 by Cullen Bunn Jonas Sharf. They said it was excellent, frightening in a way I wouldn’t expect. Everyone was right. Bunn’s latest horror book (of an estimated 19) is frightening in a way you won’t expect, either. Now I’m the one urging you to read it.
Speaking of horror, check out Clankillers #1, a gritty story about gaelic mythology. Read our full review.
Ever think to yourself: I’d love to read Miami Vice meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Of course not, few probably have, but someone is writing it as a comic and it’s a winner. The Mall by Don Handfield, James Haick, and Rafael Loureiro is a solid debut, rich with ‘80s camp. Recommended.
James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez nailed Justice League Dark #1. In a summer of strong new directions for DC, this is one of the strongest, with stellar art and gleeful depictions of the publishers oft-underused bench.
Vault Comics (one of our favorites) has had a great year, and Submerged #1 is the latest book to become a part of it. Vita Ayala and Lisa Sterle craft a story with intriguing family dynamics, a natural disaster, and a potpourri of mythos.
It’s tough to evaluate Brian Michael Bendis’ debuts via Superman #1 and Action Comics #1001. Bendis is a prolific and veteran writer, a student of superhero history who thinks in eras, not in single issues. So far, he’s established tones and started unveiling his the vanguard of his plans. The full scope of his aspirations, however, largely remain to be seen.
Top Five Best #1 Comics of July 2018
Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo
This book lives in an intriguing world of dystopian reproductive laws, one that has enabled Italian comic auteur Mirka Andolfo to craft a story that is at once poignant, tantalizing, and horrific. This issue is the first of 12 parts, and I knew about halfway through reading it that I was onboard for the long haul.
To quote our Unnatural #1 Review: Andolfo clearly has strong thoughts about the intersection of sex and government, but she is also well-aware that those thoughts are best served by first and foremost telling an entertaining story. As a result, Unnatural #1 is not to be missed. And we very much stand by that.
Captain America #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu
This debut fittingly dropped on July 4, and it’s the best single-issue Captain America story I’ve read since Ed Brubaker’s all-time great run ended. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer I first became aware of via his articles in The Atlantic, before then reading his non-fiction works, specifically Between the World and Me. When he came to comics in the spring of 2016 to write Black Panther, I enthusiastically added the comic to my pulllist.
And Black Panther has been decent enough, a little wordy and dull in parts as Coates struggled to reconcile the new medium with his writerly instincts. With Captain America #1, any and all growing pains are clearly behind him. Coates and collaborator Leinil Francis Yu have made a declarative statement with this book...this is going to be a dark and action-heavy take on Cap, one that will test Steve Rogers with problems that grow out of his past continuity as well as the modern state of the U.S. It won’t be heavy handed, no, on the contrary the book seems bent on making its thematic intent slow-burning and subtle. Come along if you dare. Read our full review.
Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer & Ryan Ottley
I think it was in one of those retailer columns on Bleeding Cool that I read about someone saying a back-to-basics well-done Amazing Spider-Man book could be the industry’s top seller. Well, we’re about to find out if that’s true. Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s debut on Marvel’s flagship title is almost indisputably those two things: well-done and back-to-basics.
We here at Batman’s Bookcase, however, have now written two full pieces about why we like it, so rather than trying to find a facet of the comic we haven’t explored, we’ll just wrap up quickly here by pointing you toward our Amazing Spider-Man #1 Review and our 5-Panel Amazing Spider-Man Explainer.
Euthanauts #1 by Tini Howard & Nick Robles
Remember way back at the start of this piece when I mentioned an ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Well, here we are. The Euthanauts #1 is a unique comic, as self-assured as any debut issue in recent memory. It does understated and deliberate work familiarizing you with a relatable character, one who is maybe even a bit on the mundane side, before fitfully plunging you into a world where life and death intermingle.
Someone on Twitter asked me recently if this comic was good, and I told them yes, very good, but pretty abstract and best consumed in a way where it just sort of washes over you—read twice for good measure. That’s how I read it, and it has been haunting me ever since. I can’t wait to see what this creative team has in store for this story. Oh, and I should also note that as mesmerizing as Tini Howard’s ideas are, this without question seems to be one of those ideal books wherein her and artist Nick Robles lift each other, both seemingly poised to do career best work. Read our full review.
Relay #1 by Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, Donny Cates, & Andy Clarke
While reading Relay #1, I got a feeling I’ve maybe only previously had while emerging from a classic sci-fi novel. Basically, this comic reads like layered and complex sci-fi being doled out by an engaging plot line, one with evident shades of the masters of its genre, namely Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.
I really dug Relay #1, to the point when someone recently asked me what books I was reading (always a difficult question to answer on the spot), I stumbled around for a moment before just blurting out: Relay. For more on why I enjoyed the first issue of this book so much...that’s right...read our full review here.
Thanks as always for reading, and make sure to come back this week for our Best Comics of July 2018, period.
Check out more of our monthly lists here.
By Zack Quaintance — Ta-Nehisi Coates is most well-known for Between the World and Me, a heartrending book about racist violence in America, written as a letter from Coates’ to his teenage son. It came out in July 2015, raising Coates literary profile to nigh-mainstream levels and giving the author his pick of follow up projects...which he used to start writing comics.
A lifelong comics fan, Coates launched a new Black Panther book for Marvel in March 2016, even going so far as to answer letters and construct maps of Wakanda for the book’s back matter. There were hiccups in his first arc, times when Coates mishandled T’Challa’s characterization, overwrote captions, didn’t consider visuals, etc. Eventually though, Coates grew into the work, learning quickly, and ultimately combining his love of the medium with his abilities as a writer. And this week Coates has written his best comic yet: Captain America #1, illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu, with Gerry Alanguilan and Sunny Cho.
Captain America #1’s art shines, starting with an action-heavy intro that returns an old villain for Cap to presumably later battle. Throughout, the book features large panels allowing its artists to play up Cap’s iconic visage, winged cowl, flag shield, and grave focus. We see Cap charge into battle on a full page, stand over a foe who subverted his values, and carry a first responder, the two of them laid over Americans working together following an outbreak of random violence (an all too common real world image these days).
Coates plotting is expert, building on ideas left dangling after Nick Spencer’s recent event Secret Empire, in which a Steve Rogers imposter joins Hydra and torments the planet. I’ve complained elsewhere that Marvel glazed over that fallout, but I was too hasty—we get it here from Coates, who uses those threads, making this comic relevant to our national climate without feeling too heavy-handed (a complaint I had with Spencer’s recently-concluded run). Make no mistake, this comic is foremost an entertaining read.
Take the intro, for example: a convoy of Hydra henchmen transport a woman and are ambushed by Russian partisans as said woman cooly remarks This is Russia. Graveyard of Hitler’s horde. Bane of Napoleon and his imperial French. You can read deeply into that, or you can hurry to the next panel and watch a Hydra henchman's skeletal corpse crack the windshield of the prison truck. This is a layered story that gives its readers both options.
And that’s a challenge at the heart of all narrative writing: how to share intriguing nuanced ideas while also telling a well-paced and entertaining story. Whereas Coates may have leaned too far toward the former on his early Black Panther run, he’s obviously learned and improved. The result is a new Captain America arc that has me excited about the character in a way I haven’t been since Ed Brubaker concluded the most recent all-time great Cap run a few years back.
Overall: This is Ta-Nehisi Coates' best comic yet, layered and nuanced, but also well-paced and entertaining. This book plays up Captain America as a former icon while addressing his tarnished status following Secret Empire. It’s so good that one issue in, this run already has must-read status. 9.5/10
SPECIAL NOTE: Listen to our friends WMQ Comics discuss all things Cap on this week's WMQ&A Podcast!
By Alex Wedderien — The Avengers may be a massive name in comics and entertainment now, but that wasn’t always the case. Created in the early ‘60s as a way to fill a slot left by a late issue of Daredevil, The Avengers are a product of Stan Lee smashing together some of Marvel’s most popular heroes to form the company’s first super team. From those humble beginnings, the team grew from plucky upstarts to comic book icons.
Now the basis for a multi-billion dollar movie franchise and a major part of Marvel’s most-recent publishing initiative under comic scribe Jason Aaron, The Avengers look to be in good hands for years to come.
In looking ahead, though, it’s important to also remember comics are a unique medium, and along with their headstrong march into the future, they always keep an eye on the past. With that bright future for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in mind, I'm taking a look today at The Avengers of the past, specifically at the best lineups of years gone by. These are the five best—in my humble opinion of course.
5. The Late '80s Avengers
By the late 80s, The Avengers team was in flux. Taking over for a beloved run which featured what many people feel is the definitive Avengers lineup, Roger Stern and John Buscema decided to mix in some lesser-known heroes to give their book a new dynamic.
Boasting a lineup that featured Monica Rambeau, Black Knight, Dr. Druid, and Namor among the likes of veteran Avengers Captain America and Thor, the run also includes classic storylines like Avengers Under Siege, which sees a Helmut Zemo-led Masters of Evil destroy Avengers Mansion.
4. The West Coast Avengers
If Avengers is the cooler older brother, West Coast Avengers was definitely the scrappier younger brother. Born in the early ‘80s, West Coast Avengers became the first ever spinoff of The Avengers, as well as an answer to the question, Why are all superheroes in New York City?
Based in Los Angeles and featuring a unique roster, the West Coast team was lead by Hawkeye and comprised of Wonder Man, Tigra, Mockingbird, Jim Rhodes’ Iron Man, and eventually even Moon Knight. West Coast Avengers served as a breath of fresh air alongside an Avengers lineup that had remained pretty consistent for the past decade, but by no means were they an inferior version of the main team.
Throughout their 10-year run, the West Coast team battled important Avengers foes like Ultron before it was eventually folded back into the main lineup.
3. The Late '60s/Early '70s Avengers
Being the follow-up to a beloved debut run can be daunting, but when the duo you’re following is Jack Kirby and Stan Lee it might as well be an impossible task. That’s just what Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal and John Buscema walked into with their late ‘60s/early ‘70s run on Avengers.
When it was all said and done, however, they would create one of the best Avengers eras of all-time, their greatest villain in Ultron, iconic stories like The Kree/Skrull War and the debut of one of the team's most beloved heroes, the android Vision.
Along the way Thomas and crew would add a returning Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, as well as the debuts of Hercules, Vision, and Black Panther to the team, leading the small core of heroes to some of their most classic storylines.
2. Captain America Returns
It was clear in the first three issues of The Avengers that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would need a leader to rally its members. More of a ragtag group than an inspirational team of heroes, the original Avengers were a loose alliance who seemed like they could turn on each other at a moment's notice.
That all changed with the discovery of the long frozen Captain America, who would shape not only the history of The Avengers, but superhero comics themselves. Almost immediately the team became a unified force under Cap’s tutelage and would go on to become the juggernaut it is today. Simply put, it all started here.
1. New Avengers Vol. 1
New Avengers came directly after the disbandment of the original team in Avengers: Disassembled, and it explored the idea of having a group of characters who had largely never been Avengers previously. Fan Favorites like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, Iron First, and Ms. Marvel bolstered the popular lineup that quickly became known for its strong characters and frenetic action.
Bringing the team back to the forefront in a big way after The Avengers had slipped out of mainstream comics consciousness, New Avengers was the start of The Avengers renaissance that continues to this day.
Alex Wedderien is a writer and pop culture journalist. Find him on Twitter @criticismandwit.
On Wednesday, Marvel Comics ushered in a new era for its flagship team book The Avengers, releasing a new No. 1 issue from writer Jason Aaron, artist Ed McGuinness, inker Mark Morales, and colorist David Curiel. The book built on plot points Aaron originally dropped in the massive Marvel Legacy one-shot last fall, and it marked the debut of this year’s new Marvel season, Fresh Start (although, no mention of Fresh Start was made by the book’s marketing, which I found interesting...).
Most importantly, however, this comic book was actually really very good. For real. The art team was cohesive and precise, giving the over-sized debut a polished feel, an almost high-budget aesthetic that seemed to declare this is THE Marvel book of the hour. What I found most engaging, however, was that Aaron’s plot and script seem to understand the enduring appeal of The Avengers in a way recent incarnations of the team have at times missed.
And that’s what we’re talking about here today. This book is not a throwback, not exactly—despite the traditional core of the team returning—but it does pay homage to some the most beloved and enduring aspects of The Avengers, without at all feeling dated in the process. Here are four of the major elements Aaron and the team simply get right about The Avengers...
1. The Threat
The Avengers were formed originally because there was a threat that demanded they exist. In recent years, however, I think the concept has become a bit perfunctory, taking a wink-and-nod attitude that the team exists because the publisher, the fans, or whoever else expects/demands it. This book immediately gets away from that, establishing a convincing and compelling threat that spans millennia and brings our team together, even if some of them would rather not (more on that in a second).
This galvanizing threat is what made Avengers #1 work so well for me as a reader. I enjoyed Mark Waid’s preceding run on the franchise. I mean, he’s Mark Waid, and he just gets superheroes, but under Waid the book always seemed like an auxiliary title, rather than the publisher’s flagship, as that honor seemed to go to whatever event was beginning, middling, or ending (usually middling—boom, roasted!). In summation, Aaron’s run seems to be at the forefront of the publisher, giving it an exciting and dynamic sort of energy.
2. The Reluctance
Reluctance has been part of The Avengers DNA since the early years, when the original lineup minus Steve Rogers quit, leaving Cap to marshal a group that included Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, all of whom were at that time villains. We get that reluctance here early and often, starting with a great buddy-buddy-buddy scene where Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor Odinson meet in a bar for a beer, a shirley temple, and roughly three giant flagons of mead, respectively.
Not only is this reluctance foundational to The Avengers, it is in many ways the heart of Marvel superheroes all together, the main thing separating them from DC, whose heroes mostly run, fly, or grapple-hook eagerly into battle. Marvel heroes by comparison are more real and more flawed, like all of us, and they don’t always rise immediately to the occasion, like all of us again, with, of course, a few exceptions—thinking here of Carol Danvers. Aaron gets that right throughout, and his debut issue of The Avengers is better for it.
3. The Relationships
All great teams have iconic relationships, be it the antagonistic banter between The Thing and Human Torch in Fantastic Four or the love story between Midnighter and Apollo in The Authority. I think it’s fair to say, however, that The Avengers have slightly more characters with special connections to their teammates, characters like Giant Man and The Wasp, or The Vision and Scarlet Witch, or Wonder Man and The Beast.
Right off in this debut issue, Aaron makes great use of existing bonds, specifically those between Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, while also laying groundwork for some new ones. My favorite scene in this entire book was actually when T’Challa and Doctor Strange used their individual expertise together to investigate a shared concern. It’s a somewhat odd pairing, I suppose, but it yielded surprising chemistry. I’m really hoping for more of that kind of interaction.
4. The Rotation
My all-time favorite run on The Avengers was by Kurt Busiek and George Perez in the late ‘90s, and part of what I liked about it so much was the feeling that week-to-week the team’s roster was dynamic, that new members could be incoming and existing heroes could be on their way out of the mansion. Mark Waid did a bit of this in his run, although it really amounted to just one big splinter when the younger heroes departed to form The Champions.
Going into this book, however, Aaron has said in interviews that one slot on the team will be essentially reserved for a rotating member, and for this first arc that slot goes to Doctor Strange. I like that idea, although my hope is that the rotating concept is a wider one, not limited to a neat one-in, one-out setup that takes place like clockwork each time we start a new arc. I’d rather see roster churn happen organically (and maybe even surprisingly) as a result of our plot.
Plus, One Minor Complaint
So, I guess everyone—characters, writers, publisher, fans—is just fine now about the whole Hydra Steve business? I know this is comics and change is the only constant and HUGE events one month have little impact the next, but this man was seething with evil to the point he oversaw the destruction of a major American city, like as recently as last year, which is even shorter in comic book time.
Obviously, we have to get this behind us, and Secret Empire did the heavy narrative lifting after its climax to explain what happened and get us moving in a better direction. Plus, we got a brief and rehabilitative Captain America run from Waid and superstar artist Chris Samnee. Still, all I’m saying is a bit more of a grudge held by other heroes might feel cathartic for us all, regardless of what our feelings were toward Secret Empire as a concept. The good news is this is just one issue, and there’s still time to dive deeper into that idea, plus other dynamics. I know I, for one, am looking forward to Aaron unpacking the presumably large baggage between Tony and Carol following the second superhero Civil War.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.
There is no easy way to review Avengers: Infinity War, because there has never been a movie quite like Avengers: Infinity War. Here we have a film that plays out narrative threads from 18 movies and 10 cinema franchises. It’s not a sequel, hell, it’s not even a season finale. It’s the culmination of a decade of disparate storytelling. It’s something new that we don’t have a word for yet. And how do you review a work of art without another comparable work of art to measure it against? That’s the conundrum.
But review we must, because we are results-driven as a culture and simply looking at Infinity War’s record-breaking domestic box office in its first weekend is unsatisfying. Money is one thing, vital for sustaining blockbusters of this magnitude, but it doesn’t answer a key question: is this movie actually good?
It’s certainly groundbreaking and unprecedented. There’s simply no denying that. You have to look to comic books to find something of comparable scale, and even then it’s a shoddy comparison because no comic book event has ever sprung from a continuity as clean and straightforward as this one.
This first panel comes from What to Get From the Man Who Takes Everything by Chris Hastings, Flaviano, & Federico Blee. This is the story of a regular guy who Thanos comes back to harass annually on his birthday. It's a funny panel, and I also like the imagery of Thanos in an office, where you know he would without question be that one co-worker who drums on his desk.
It’s also a risky film (HERE COME SPOILERS!). The bad guy wins. He has to give up a cherished loved one—his only cherished loved one—but when the film ends he has everything he said he wanted. He heaves a sigh of contentment, and there’s nothing around to suggest it’s not a sincere one. Oh yeah, and half the heroes fade away and die. Now, if we’re being real, we know none that died in the fade out are going to stay dead. We have the advantages of knowing the source material and that the film was originally part one of two (more on that in a sec).
But the sheer volume of viewers who watch these movies certainly means there are thousands of fans who don’t know any of that, who simply know that many of their favorite characters faded away to ash. That’s risky, that’s bold, that’s downright innovative for a blockbuster film. So, with all that in mind, let’s get to my verdict…
Overall: Avengers: Infinity War is a new type of film I’m calling the uber blockbuster, the culmination of an expertly-played long game that has done so much right it’s easy to forgive anything done wrong. It’s a risky, bold, unprecedented, and groundbreaking film. For those of us along for the ride (and box office records for many of these films would suggest we are legion) it is indeed a very good film, one destined to influence both studio choices and fledgling filmmakers alike. 9.5/10
For more thoughts on the movie, you can hear me on the WMQ&A Podcast here!
Thanos Keeps Winning
This is, of course, a comics site first and foremost, so let’s cleanse our pallets after all that film talk with some good ol’ fashioned comics. Folks, I now present to you my favorite panels from last week’s Thanos Annual #1. I choose one from each of the six stories inside.
This panel is from My Little Thanks by Katie Cook and Heather Brickle, which is adorable but also one of the more interesting takes on what makes a villain tick. In this story, Thanos is put off by a race of little cuties who ascertain he enjoys maiming and death, so they pull out every stop to supplicate themselves and deliver that to him. The effect is...off putting.
Panel numero tres here today is from That Time Thanos Helped an Old Lady Across the Street by Ryan North, Will Robson, & Rachelle Rosenberg. This story is a meditation on human potential, specifically on the way so much has to transpire for it to be fully released. It's a lesson Thanos teaches in a saccharine way.
Kieron Gillen, Andre Arujo, & Chris O'Halloran's story Exhibition is basically a series of poems relating to the high concepts of various planets, every one of which ends prematurely when Thanos obliterates said plant. It's this ending panel of every planet exploding at once, however, that really delivers the crux of the story.
The Comfort of the Good by Al Ewing and Frazer Irving is the story I found the most disturbing from this bunch of uniformly disturbing stories. It has to do with religion and morality, and whether people only act decent to each other to reap an eventual reward. There were so many panels to choose from here, some of which showed characters beginning to weep as they realized the blissful afterlife they'd been promised would never come to pass. This silent panel of Thanos cracking a knowing grin, however, is easily the most sinister.
And this last panel reunites the team from Thanos Wins, the best Marvel villain story in ages. It's Titan's Greatest Dad by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, & Antonio Fabela. This panel is from the back half of that story's two bookends, and I choose it because I'm looking forward to Cates forthcoming Cosmic Ghost Rider mini series and I think you should be too.
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.
Going back to an office or wherever you happen to work is never fun after the holidays, but this January wasn’t as bad as usual, mostly on account of all the great comics that came out. So many great comics, in fact, we struggled to fit them all on our list.
This is why, as you're about to see, we found creative ways to include extra books. Plus, we figured if you didn’t want to read about more comics, you wouldn’t be on a website called Batman’s Bookcase, right?
Enough explaining, though. Let’s get to the top comics of January 2018!
A new feature! Our rankings heavily account for longevity, rewarding creative teams for the entirety of stories as well as for the quality of a given month’s issue, but everyone loves new #1s and so we've decided to highlight those too.
Behold! We’ve chosen our first firsts.
Abbott #1 by Saladin Ahmed / Sami Kivela: This debut does everything well, from setting (hardboiled 1970s Detroit) to protagonist (equally hardboiled journalist-cum-ghosthunter) to art (wow!). The supernatural dread reminds me of Ahmed’s excellent fantasy novel The Throne of the Crescent Moon, and this book is also set in his native Detroit. Both of these things seem to make this story all the more personal. Overall: Signs point to a hit that matches (if not exceeds) what Ahmed has accomplished with his great and surprising run on Marvel’s Black Bolt.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 by Mark Russell / Mike Feehan: There’s something deeply appropriate about Mark Russell taking The Flintstones, a repurposed corporate property, and telling stories about post-capitalist society, about everything from the military industrial complex to theology to gentrification. I expected more of this from Snagglepuss, just reoriented toward art and discrimination. Issue #1, however, builds on Flintstones while taking a subtler approach to commentary. It’s also relentlessly stylish, thanks to Mike Feehan. Overall: Can’t believe I’m typing this, but the spiritual successor to Mad Men is a comic about Snagglepuss, and I love it.
Another new feature! A section for books that didn’t quite make the Top 5 but were close, starting with Captain America #697, a nigh-perfect Marvel story and another fantastic entry in this young, back-to-basics run from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, one of comics’ best teams.
Last week, we celebrated the end of an all-time great Green Arrow run, but maybe that celebration was premature, as the book won’t officially end until April. Good thing, because with issues as funny and gorgeous as Green Arrow #36, we want to savor every moment.
News broke that Christopher Priest’s Justice League and Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America would end in April, replaced by Scott Snyder’s mega event, No Justice. This is exciting, but also sad because the current Justice League line is telling its best stories in years. Orlando’s character dynamics are intricate and compelling, while Priest is putting a fascinating real-world spin on the League. The good news? We'll still get six more issues of both books.
Superman #39, meanwhile, was a sweet and inspiring story right from the heart of the character. One of the best standalone issues of a run that has had many great standalone issues.
Finally, Sean Murphy’s ongoing Joker-centric epic Batman White Knight has been our favorite non-continuity in as long as we can remember. Murphy clearly has a real creative vision here, one that is taking him to corners of the character’s mythos that have never before been explored.
Top 5 (ish) Comics of January 2018
5. Monstress #13 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Monstress has been one of my favorite books since it started in 2015, and, despite a nearly eight-month hiatus, this issue immediately reminded me of why. It’s just so good. Around the time this book started, I read an interview in which Marjorie Liu discussed the difficulty of world-building for an entirely original concept such as this one.
The effort she’s put into this really shows, resulting in a world that is among the best in comics. It feels like an edgier, politically-charged setting for a classic Final Fantasy, rendered more exquisitely than those pixelated realms by Sana Takeda, one of the most underrated artists in comics. Monstress #13 is largely a table-setting issue, but that doesn’t make it less worthy. This, quite simply, is a book that should be on everyone’s pull list, and I foresee it climbing higher on our charts in future months as the new arc continues.
4. Southern Bastards #19 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
I almost didn’t put Southern Bastards #19 on this list, even though the book was as tense and bastardly as always. I almost skipped it because #20 seems to be the issue to bring a major climax, possibly even a turning point for the book, much the way the end of the first arc did way back when. I just couldn’t resist, though; this issue was too good.
It was delayed, as always, yet the plot felt as if Jasons Aaron and Latour had a new creative momentum, so much so I think we may see the next issue in March (an optimistic timeline for this book). Southern Bastards is rife with political commentary about smalltown cronyism, corruption, and the dark side of sports, which is all compelling, but moreover the script and art here is just on a higher level.
3. Walking Dead #175 by Robert Kirkman / Charlie Adlard
This was the first issue that felt like it had real stakes in a while, definitely since *SPOILER* Andrea’s death, maybe even since before The Whisper War. And when it was finished, Walking Dead #175 brought us yet another new status quo, one Kirkman planted the seeds for sometime back.
The last page here was a literal tear jerker for me, bringing a major revelation for a long-time character who, like all long-time characters in this book, has been through so much. My only complaint is the new character, Princess, feels too forced, to the point the script emphasizes her eccentricity by having her say aloud, “I’m kind of weird.” It’s all good, though. Subtly isn’t what’s for sale here; good-old fashioned survivalist apocalypse is.
2. Mister Miracle #6 by Tom King / Mitch Gerads
Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is getting progressively harder to write about, because A. it’s been on our lists four times now, and B. it’s a complex and building masterpiece. Previously, I’ve gushed about King and Gerads’ other modern classic, The Sheriff of Babylon, and I’ve talked about how the beauty of this story, as in Kings’ other work, is how it uses superheroes as a lens pointed back on us, forcing evaluation of our own lives.
This time around, I’ll just note that Mister Miracle #6 has some of the trappings of mundanity that made King’s work on The Vision so special, but there’s also a deeper, meta layer here playing with dual ideas: the first being that as an escape artist and comic book character, Scott Free is a showman, a celebrity, and the second being that the nature of wanting to escape, be it a traumatic childhood or a literal hell planet, is one born of stress or depression, and it doesn't go away once you're out. The true beauty of the story will eventually be in how those notions intersect.
T-1. Doctor Strange #384 - Redneck #9 - Thanos #15 by Donny Cates / Various
Donny Cates is a man on fire. Not literally, at least I hope not, but in terms of his writing. I’d been a fan of Cates’ Paybacks, which he wrote with writing partner Eliot Rahal, but hadn’t realized his massive potential until he burst back onto my radar a year ago this month with God Country, Image’s best new book last year.
He’s now Marvel exclusive, and the publisher looks mighty wise for it. This month emphasized that. Cates' other Image book, Redneck, is putting its characters through awful travails at breakneck speed while also doing a great job of simultaneously unspooling their secrets. And his Doctor Strange is a tour-de-force of humor, action, and ideas built upon the excellent Jason Aaron run that preceded it.
The best Cates book this January, however, was Thanos #15. Controversy about Jim Starlin aside, because it wasn’t Cates’ fault at all, Thanos is the best Marvel book going. Cates writes with a joyous and dark sensibility that reminds me of the Coen brothers' movie Blood Simple, and it fits perfectly with big bad Thanos. Geoff Shaw, who has teamed with Cates on much of his best work, seems to be having just as much fun, rendering young Thanos’ smugness and older Thanos’ condescending wisdom exquisitely, especially during the flame sword scene. This book ends on a cliffhanger involving one of my favorite characters, and I’m dying...DYING...for the next issue.
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.