Top Comics to Buy for October 17, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — It’s a rare week that has a hands down winner for our most exciting book. We are, admittedly, quite pleased with what’s happening in comics right now, and that tends to show via indecision over which series ranks as a weekly favorite. This Wednesday, however, our choice is clearly Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6, which pairs writer Jeff Lemire and his frazzled, acid flashback of a character Colonel Weird with artist Rich Tommaso, who has been teasing some of the artwork from the comic for months. It looks—in a word—fantastic.  

Close behind Black Hammer: Age of Doom, however, are a number of other enticing books, including the Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack creator-owned collaboration, Cover, which is quickly rising to the ranks of our favorite titles, as well. This is also just two Wednesdays out from Halloween, a holiday comics folk tend to bring their A games for, and this year that’s taken the form of some really great novelty comics, including this week’s Marvel Zombie one-shot from sinister Ice Cream Man mastermind creator W. Maxwell Prince. There is, of course, more info on all these books below.

Let’s take a look!

Top Comics to Buy for October 17, 2018

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6
Writer:
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Rich Tommaso
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.99
After the shocking revelations in the last issue, Colonel Weird finds himself as a stranger in a strange land, where reality is ever changing!
Why It’s Cool: Black Hammer is easily one of our favorite ongoing things in comics, and recent issues have really pushed its plot forward, bringing some new light to some of the series long-running mysteries. This book features a guest artist as well as a plot that’s presumably a bit of a diversion. Still, with artist Rich Tommaso coming aboard for a quick arc, we’re super excited to see the results.

Cover #2
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist:
David Mack
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Nazi-hunters? Escape artists? Some M.I.A. for decades? Exactly how long have comics creators been part of the intelligence community? Follow the latest recruit from the Comic-Con circuit as he falls in with this mysterious crowd. The secrets he uncovers about its legacy will shock and delight, well, just about everyone.
Why It’s Cool: The books in Brian Michael Bendis’ creator-owned Jinxworld imprint are all love letters to craft that pair the veteran writers with uber talented artists he’s been collaborating with for years. The standout of the bunch so far, however, has been Cover, which sees an A List comics pro being recruited as a cultural attache for the CIA, which turns out to be a bit more dangerous than he expected. There have, of course, been comics about making comics in the past, but this one seems to have the greatest potential to become an iconic work. The second issue makes good on the promise of the debut, too.

Gideon Falls #7
Writer:
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"ORIGINAL SINS," Part One...After the mind-blowing events of the first arc, Norton digs deeper into the mystery of the Black Barn, and secrets of his past begin to come to light. Meanwhile, Father Fred does some digging of his own and learns the hard way that some secrets should just stay buried.
Why It’s Cool: Of all the top-tier new horror comics launched in 2018—and, indeed, there have been more than a few—Gideon Falls is easily the most fully-formed. Credit that to Lemire and Sorrentino having worked together so well on past projects with the Big 2, including Green Arrow and Old Man Logan. Anyway, the point is this book is back for a second arc, and you better believe we’re excited about it.  

Marvel Zombie #1
Writer:
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Stefano Raffaele
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $4.99
Years after an incurable zombie virus ravaged the world, a small colony of survivors is protected by the Marvel U's few remaining heroes, including Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Falcon. But when their last chance at salvation arrives, will they be willing to sacrifice their own humanity in the process? From the twisted minds of ICE CREAM MAN writer W. Maxwell Prince and Stefano Raffaele (Generations: Hawkeye) comes the next macabre obsession for fans of The Walking Dead and The Road!
Why It’s Cool: W. Maxwell Prince has been writing one of our favorite creator-owned comics for some time, that being Ice Cream Man over at Image. Ice Cream Man is a varied and excellent horror anthology, one just as adept at focusing one month on body horror as it is on existential crisis the next. As such, it seems like this one-shot return of Marvel Zombie will most certainly be something to pick up.

Skyward #7
Writer:
Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"HERE THERE BE DRAGONFLIES," Part Two...Willa's alone in the middle of the forest, surrounded by giant insects that want to make her dinner. But here to the rescue comes a badass group of sword-wielding... farmers?
Why It’s Cool: Come to watch humans in a minimal gravity world do battle with giant over-evolved insects, stay to enjoy the world-building and the slow evolution of this story into an odyssey that also looks at issues of extreme capitalism and inequality. This is a seriously great book, one I can’t keep recommending highly enough.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Captain Ginger #1

  • Exorsisters #1

  • Lucifer #1

  • Shuri #1

  • Venom Annual #1

  • What If? Ghost Rider #1

  • X-Men: Black - Mystique #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Archie 1941 #2

  • Aquaman #41

  • Batman #57

  • Black Badge #3

  • Cemetery Beach #2

  • Daredevil #609

  • Justice League #10

  • Justice League Dark #4

  • Low Road West #2

  • New World #4

  • Patience Conviction Revenge #2

  • Pearl #3

  • Quantum and Woody! #11

  • Submerged #3

  • Thor #6

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.

Top Comics to Buy for September 5, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Phew, this week is packed tighter with great books than the shoebox where I used to keep my comics as a kid back before I shelled out the little bit of cash to get my first short box. That probably wasn’t as clever as I hoped it would be, but you get what I’m saying all the same. This? This is a good week for comics. In fact, we even had to write up six books instead of the usual five, and even then we were still force to make some tough choices.

In fact, it’s so good that it was a real challenge to pair down my list. I can usually confidently pick out the five comics I recommend most just by looking at what titles are coming out in a given week. This week, however, I had a near-crippling amount of indecision. Anyway, Leviathan, Relay, and Snotgirl all muscled their ways onto this week’s list just by virtue of being amazing comics.

Let’s take a look!

Top Comics to Buy for September 5, 2018

Batman #54
Writer: 
Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Dick Grayson-the original Robin-gets to spend some quality time fighting crime with his mentor for the first time since Batman popped the question to Catwoman. It's a walk down memory lane as Bruce Wayne helps Dick get over the loss of his high-flying acrobat parents, which in turn led to his crime-fighting career. Guest artist Matt Wagner (Mage, TRINITY) jumps on board for this special issue!
Why It's Cool: Cool is probably the wrong word for a book that seems like it's going to be a modern classic, a touching yet never saccharine examination of the father-son dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Batman's recent Cold Days arc was a near-masterpiece, but it's heartfelt and honest single issues like this seems to be \that keep Tom King's Batman among my favorite recent runs on the character. 

Border Town #1
Writer:
Eric M. Esquivel
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: Vertigo
Price: $3.99
When a crack in the border between worlds releases an army of monsters from Mexican folklore, the residents of Devil's Fork, AZ, blame the ensuing weirdness-the shared nightmares, the otherworldly radio transmissions, the mysterious goat mutilations-on "God-dang illegals." With racial tensions supernaturally charged, it's up to new kid in town Frank Dominguez and a motley crew of high school misfits to discover what's really going on in this town torn between worlds. 

Why It’s Cool: To quote our Border Town #1 ADVANCED REVIEW, Border Town #1 is a strong start for a reinvigorated Vertigo imprint, a relatable coming-of-age teen drama in one of the least understood yet most argued about parts of the country. The art is terrifyingly detailed, and the story leans enthusiastically into time-tested horror tropes, also finding new ground by adding Mexican/Chicano folklore and mythos.

Cover #1 (of 6)
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Mack
Publisher: Jinxworld
Cost: $3.99
Years in the making, from the award-winning team of Brian Michael Bendis and multimedia sensation David Mack, comes a brand-new graphic novel experience. And it's all kind of based on a true story. Sort of... Deep in the American intelligence community, someone realizes that comic book creators, who travel all over the world to sell their wares, might make the perfect cover for operatives in the dangerous, topsy-turvy world of intelligence and counterintelligence...and that's when all hell breaks loose. This is the story of the time the world of comics and the world of international spy work smashed together-with unexpected results!

Why It’s Cool: The creative team for this book have both worked with the government at various times, I believe, in consulting capacities, bringing their unique knowledge about narrative threats and the like to bear on real-world problems. It's poised to give this book—which is shaped by an excellent concept already—an added layer of honesty and truth. I really enjoyed Pearl #1 last month, the first fresh title from Bendis' reborn Jinxworld imprint, but Cover #1 looks like it's on another level. It stands to be such an honest look at life for comics pros, intermingled with an espionage story and stunning David Mack artwork. All indications are that this six-part series is going to be one to remember.

Leviathan #2
Writer & Letterer:
John Layman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colorist: Michael Garland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"'TIL DEATH DO US PART," Part Two...While Ryan DeLuca tries to piece together exactly how his friends summoned a giant monster, government defense forces take the fight to the depths of the Earth, where monsters dwell. Then, of course, they piss off the wrong monster.

Why It’s Cool: The second issue of the new book from Layman and Pitarra (who are an unbelievably complimentary team, btw) really hints at a much different book than I was expecting. I won’t go into detail about a comic that’s not out yet, other than to say that if you liked issue #1 you’ll love this one, and, even if you didn’t like #1, I’d still recommend giving this a chance, because it’s quite possible this book is up to more than you think.

Relay #3
Writer: Zac Thompson
Story By: Zac Thompson & Donny Cates
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
In the future, the galaxy is united under a monolith known as the Galactic Relay. Although the towering monument is meant to inspire conformity of ideas, technology, and progress, it is not without its enemies and many have begun to resent the foreign structure. And now, Jad Carter, a Relay employee, has found the Relay’s mythological creator. An interstellar mug causes a complete breakdown of reality. Jad travels inside the Monolith but it raises more questions than answers.

Why It’s Cool: The most complex and intricate sci-fi book on the shelves today...in market that is booming with great entries in the genre. Relay #3 expertly builds on the themes and complexity of its first two issues, while giving artist Andy Clarke some space to blow readers minds the way the story by Zac Thompson and Donny Cates has so far. This entire creativity team is firing on all cylinders. This book is a slow burn, but I’m starting to suspect it might end up being a mega hit. If you haven’t been reading this, I’d highly recommend grabbing all three issues this Wednesday, setting aside roughly 90 minutes of very quiet time, and diving all the way in.

Snotgirl #11
Writer:
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Artist: Leslie Hung
Colorist: Rachael Cohen
Letterer: Mare Odomo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
NEW STORY ARC! Chapter 11: "MY SECOND DATE.” While her friends have some concerns, Lottie just wants to take her relationship with Caroline to the next level-which is why she's keeping it a complete secret!

Why It’s Cool: I mean, it just is (that’s a joke from the issue). As I Tweeted immediately after finishing this issue, there's a lot of comics that comment on our times, but Snotgirl does so in a really unique and refreshing way. Its interests are seemingly innocuous, but look closer and this book is often just as scary as comics about war or fascism. Content deals heavily in social media, vanity, modern priorities and values, and the price of appearances, all through an incredibly relatable and terrifying prism of neurosis.

Recommended New #1 Comics for September 5, 2018

  • Bully Wars #1
  • Dreaming #1
  • Jinxworld Sampler #1
  • Old Man Logan Annual #1
  • Silver Surfer Annual #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Captain America #3
  • Cosmic Ghost Rider #3
  • Dead Hand #6
  • Death of Inhumans #3
  • Deathstroke #35
  • Eclipse #10
  • Giant Days #42
  • Immortal Hulk #5
  • Justice League #7
  • Paper Girls #24
  • Seeds #2
  • Thanos Legacy #1
  • Unexpected #4
  • Unnatural #3
  • Walking Dead #183

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

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Best Debut Comics of June 2018

By Zack Quaintance — This was a great month for #1 comics, and not just in quantity but in variety too. The summer superhero relaunches carried on, while what seems like an increasingly strong wave of new indie books continued to arrive rapidfire.

And that’s fine by me. If there’s a time I associate with reading comics en masse, it’s summer. I remember being a kid in a humid part of the Midwest, camped under a fan because my folks had some kind of deep-seeded lower middle class aversion to running their AC, and reading stacks of comics over and over. Thunderbolts, Warren Ellis’ The Authority, Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics, and Kurt Busiek’s Astro City/Avengers/Thunderbolts among them.

For whatever reason, to this day I’m more likely to carve out excessive comic reading time in the hot summer months. Luckily, I’m doing well enough these days to run my AC (just barely), and so things are generally more comfortable.

Anyway, you aren’t here to read about me! You’re here about new comics, and we’ve got plenty of those. So, let’s move on to that...

One of the strengths of Justice League so far has been the characterization of Lex Luthor. 

Quick Hits

Justice League #1 by Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung felt like the DC equivalent of the start of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers, which spanned years and eventually ended the Marvel Universe. Seeds were planted, many seeds, and Snyder’s vision seems as all-encompassing as Hickman’s. Exciting stuff. I’m especially a fan of his Lex Luthor, a favorite villain of mine.

In a month of cool new indie comics, one that stood out was Lost City Explorers #1 by Zack Kaplan and Alvaro Sarraseca, which blends the harsh realities of 2018 with fantastic adventure stories of bygone eras.

Shanghai Red #1 by Christopher Sebela and Joshua Hixson throws readers into some of the best action in comics all year. Gritty and sharp, this a good debut that lays solid groundwork for the future, and I love that I don’t have a guess at where it's going.

Valerio Schiti draws a good-looking Iron Man.

As a fan of Dan Slott on Amazing Spider-Man, Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 didn’t disappoint me. Slott did as I expected, writing with lots of voice, looking back while looking forward, going big but relatable, etc. What caught me by surprise, however, was how well Valerio Schiti’s art fit the character. Very nice.

Last, I’m still catching up with Jason Aaron’s excellent Thor, currently reading the last Jane trade, so I’ll just say that barring a steep and unlikely drop in quality, Thor #1 by Aaron and Mike del Mundo would have made my list had I caught up in time to read it.

 

Best Debut Comics of June 2018

Hawkman by Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch

Hawkman #1 is an accessible Hawkman book. Let that sink in. It’s true, the creative team of Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch have reinvented a character with one of the most convoluted histories of any Big 2 hero, making him something akin to Indiana Jones with wings and a mace. The sticking point for me with Hawkman has always been the whole ancient reincarnated legend guy versus alien conundrum thing.

Now, I know if you’re a DC continuity expert you understand it all and are thinking, What a dunce, but that’s just where I’m at. This book, however, cleared that up! In the story! Also, Hitch’s signature splashy panels are a great fit for a hero who soars. Moreover, I’m just excited to see DC playing with its many, many toys, especially after Rebirth, which strong as it was felt intentionally limited to the publisher’s most popular heroes.

Plastic Man #1 variant by Amanda Conners.

Plastic Man by Gail Simone and Adriana Melo

Speaking of relatively obscure DC heroes, the next book on our list is Plastic Man #1 by Gail Simone and newcomer (to me, anyway) Adriana Melo. The first of a six-part mini-series, this book blew us away. It had Plastic Man’s signature zaniness, but it also had a layer of depth that we wrote about at length in our review.

To sum up our feelings: this could be one of the best superhero comics about trauma in ages, but if that sounds tiresome, no worries! The creators are well aware a significant part of their audience is here for an exciting crime story about a super stretchy man, and they are determined to do a great job telling that as well.

 

 

 

The Unexpected by Steve Orlando, Ryan Sook, & Cary Nord

Next is another book we lavished praise upon in a review: The Unexpected #1 by Steve Orlando with character designs by Ryan Sook and interior art by Cary Nord (it’s weird, I know, New Age of DC Heroes reasons). This is the final (and best) book in that line, and it’s incredibly well-done, from the characters to the swagger in the dialogue.

The only thing that gives us pause about this title is it’s association with the clumsy New Age of Heroes line, which some fans have criticized for being marketed as artist-centric before then dumping said artists after an average of roughly three issues. Odd branding aside, this is still a great comic.

The Weatherman #1 by Jody LeHeup and Nathan Fox

After I wrote about the Top New Image Comics of 2018, one of my Twitter friends interjected that he had enjoyed The Weatherman #1 quite a bit. The Weatherman had gotten lost amid the weekly new comics deluge for me, likely because I was unfamiliar with its creative team.

I took this advice, caught up, and absolutely loved The Weatherman. It has a high-minded sci-fi concept (something destroyed Earth and now humans live on Mars) but is self-aware in a way hard sci-fi rarely manages. Really, this is a tough book to confine to one genre, showing shades of sci-fi, action, espionage, and humor. In its third act, the creative team also makes some choices to show just how much they are not—ahem—$@%*ing around. And the last page is a stunner.

Immortal Hulk #1 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett

Al Ewing is writing one fearsome Hulk.

I’ve been a fan of Al Ewing’s since his Contest of Champions book during All New, All Different Marvel. Ewing is my favorite type of comic writer: one who gives every script a vast significance, as if it’s the most important thing ever to happen in the Marvel Universe. I followed Ewing to The Ultimates and New/U.S. Avengers.

All the while, I kept thinking, If Al Ewing gets the right book, he’s a breakout star waiting to happen. Well friends, that time has come. Ewing has taken the newly-resurrected Hulk (he died during Civil War II, I know, nobody liked it), and written a horror comic for the ages. In the back matter, Ewing discusses having loved The Hulk since he was a child. This shows. His new book has a deep understanding and appreciation for the character, a well-worn contemplation of Hulk that has led to him crafting one of the best #1 superhero issues of the year. Fantastic stuff.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Best Debut Comics of May 2018

I could Tweet right now: “Marvel had four new No. 1s this month…” and the response from my followers (most of whom are passionate comic fans) would be a mix of “Ugh, stop it!” and “Let runs continue!” plus one guy who DMs to ask if I’ll send him Marvel digital codes (I won’t). Those first two reactions speak to an ongoing shift in superhero comics, one very much evident in May 2018’s debuts.

This month brought new No. 1s for The Avengers, Black Panther, The Justice League, Superman, and Venom. In June, there’s another new No. 1 for Justice League, and in July another still for Superman. Also this summer there are No. 1s for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The West Coast Avengers, Fantastic Four, and so on and so on forever. So then, what does this all mean? Nothing. It’s just how the business of comics (which you probably don’t understand and neither do I) functions. Several years ago, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso told Entertainment Weekly they were “slowly working into a season model that’s not too unlike what we see in our favorite cable TV shows: a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers and is respectful of long-term fans.”

It doesn’t mean early ends of runs. If runs sell, they live to the next season with the same writer (see Jason Aaron on Thor, Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther, Charles Soule on Daredevil, etc.). It just means there’s a clear entry point for new readers (plus a hassle for you when you organize you books). And this month the list of best debuts was pretty thoroughly dominated by new superhero seasons, seasons that just like Alonso promised, build upon what was happening while also clearing the way for some new viewers—er, readers.

Let’s get to the lists!

Quick Hits

Death or Glory #1  is a beautiful-looking comic book.

Death or Glory #1 is a beautiful-looking comic book.

Barrier #1 would have without question made our list, but it’s hard in good conscience to call this book a debut issue, as it’s been available online via Panel Syndicate since 2015. Still, the first print issue hit retailers this month, and so we think this excellent comic from Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Munsta Vincente bears mention.

Rick Remender is one of those creators with a real knack for working with the best in the business, including Jerome Opena and Sean Gordon Murphy. His collaboration with Bengal for Death or Glory #1 is no exception, ranking as one of the best-looking debuts this month. The story, however, didn’t grab me right off. I felt like I’d been thrown into the action without yet having a strong affinity for the protagonist. Still, I’ll be back for the next issue.

Mark Russell is one of my favorite writers in comics, thanks to his work on The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and recent backup stories in Superman specials. And now he’s tackling another character ripe for commentary in his new book, Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1, the first of a four-part story that I will read in its entirety.

Justice League: No Justice #1 of 4 was a very good comic (as was No Justice #4), but unlike some of the other superhero books this month, it felt more like a continuation of DC’s recently-concluded Metal than the debut of something new. That’s not a bad thing, not all. I really liked how Metal directly gave way to this and I’m excited to see the next iteration with June’s relaunched Justice League #1, but in a month with so many strong debuts, our committee of one puts this book here.

Quicksilver: No Surrender #1 from Saladin Ahmed and Eric Nguyen and Venom #1 from Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman were both close to making our list. Quicksilver picks up where Avengers: No Surrender ended, with fascinating art and a deep script, while Donny Cates, Marvel’s most bombastic new voice, takes over Venom. These debuts were strong, but I feel like both books have major jumps in their futures.

In a month heavy on fresh starts and new directions for the muscles and tights crowd, I for one was glad to also read a refreshing book like We Are The Danger #1 from writer/artist Fabian Lelay, which as I said in my review is a stylish slice-of-life comic that does a great job of making both teen life and live music visceral.

Best Debut Comics of May 2018

Jason Aaron's  Avengers #1  story spans history.

Jason Aaron's Avengers #1 story spans history.

Avengers #1 by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, & Mark Morales

I didn’t care much for last year’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, with its odd-timing a full six months or so before its content would be relevant. After reading Jason Aaron’s first issue on The Avengers, however, I’ve changed my tune, seeing as that book planted seeds that grew into this one.

For more on why I liked this book so much, check out this piece from earlier in the month. It’s reductive and simplistic, sure, but I think Jason Aaron just gets The Avengers. Also, Ed McGuinness art has been a wonderful surprise. I’ve always thought he was fine, but he’s really elevated his work to the occasion, although I suspect Mark Morales has really helped, too.

 

 

Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Daniel Acuna

I was a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates writing before he came to comics in March 2016, as poignant and thought-provoking as it has long been. When he started on the All New, All Different Marvel Black Panther iteration, I had high hopes, and, while I wasn’t exactly disappointed, Coates' first arc made it evident he was new to the medium. His issues were idea-heavy with little (or no) action.

Those concerns, however, are long gone. This issue was a mysterious and visual tour de force filled with characters we know in an odd situation—space, and while I’m not a fan of gimmicky outings to the stars, this doesn't seem to be one of those. Coates expertly teases deeper meaning within this intriguing script, which brings out the best in Daneil Acuna's art. This book was so good it reaffirmed my excitement to continue Black Panther, as well as for Coates' forthcoming run on Captain America, slated to start July 4….I know, right?!

Ether: Copper Golems #1 by Matt Kindt & David Rubin

The first volume of Ether was one of my favorite comics in ages, and I’m thrilled to see the series from writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin return to the narrative with Ether: Copper Golems #1, which picks up exactly where the story left off, a la Black Hammer last month.

This book may reappear on my forthcoming Top Comics of May 2018 (although I don’t normally like to double up). The point is, you should each and every one of you be reading this book. It’s so freaking good. Also, it shares some thematic ground with Black Hammer.  

Harbinger Wars 2 #1 by Matt Kindt & Tomas Giorello

Although far from most talked about, Harbinger Wars 2 #1 was the best start to a superhero event I’ve read in some time. I love that Livewire, a fantastic character, is at the heart of this thing, but more than that Kindt and other Valiant writers in recent months have done a great job developing their books in a way that gives all the publisher’s best characters real and believable stakes for being involved. This is refreshing, given that some other superhero conflicts in recent years have felt a bit contrived (cough...Civil War II...cough).

Read our review of Harbinger Wars 2 #1 here.

Man of Steel #1  marks the beginning of Brian Michael Bendis at DC.

Man of Steel #1 marks the beginning of Brian Michael Bendis at DC.

Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, & Alex Sinclair

A lot of really smart folks who write about comics have weighed in on Man of Steel #1 (Alex Lu at Comics Beat, Jarrod Jones at Doom Rocket, and GeekDad/GeekMom), rendering my own hot take sort of lukewarm. Still, this is a great comic, one that also represents Brian Michael Bendis’ officially move from Marvel (where he’s been nearly two decades) to DC, launching a new era for Superman as he does. In this issue Bendis makes a lot of really strong, really Bendis-y decisions, from the funny-but-not-too-funny banter to how a pair of hapless toughs discuss Big Blue in hushed tones.

Bendis' experience as a creator shines, especially when he lays track for a coming fight between Superman and his new villain, Rogol Zarr. On top of his experience, though, Bendis also shows himself to be an enthusiastic fan, a kid who grew up in Cleveland where Superman’s creators were from, and who has watched DC from afar, wondering what if. My only note is that he continues to make the curious choice of sidelining Lois Lane, which strikes me as odd. Like Jarrod Jones pointed out at Doom Rocket, this is a “pairing of creator and character that feels like a grand-slam.”

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: The Unexpected #1 by Steve Orlando, Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, & Team

The Unexpected #1  cover by Ryan Sook.

The Unexpected #1 cover by Ryan Sook.

The Unexpected by Steve Orlando, Ryan Sook, and Cary Nord is the eighth and final book of the New Age of DC Heroes line, and—to be direct—it is also the best.

More on New Age of Heroes later, but first let’s talk about what works for this debut. Strength one is the seamless efficiency with which the book familiarizes readers with an entirely new hero, one whose meta-human situation is (improbably) a somewhat fresh concept. Without giving too much away, our protagonist has a condition in which she must physically fight every 24 hours, lest her heart shut down. Our protagonist also happens to be a fearless nurse, one who has treated bystanders in a number of recent DCU mega events (Darkseid Wars, Black Lanterns, Crime Syndicate, etc.). This creates an interesting dichotomy between her meta-human self—who must be violent to live—and her alter-ego, who is dedicated to healing.

This is all made clear within three pages via an intro and killer two-page spread. With questions answered about who the hero is and why readers should care, the creative team then goes full bore into putting its hero to the test with challenges and twists, and ho man are there ever twists. In fact, The Unexpected’s second major strength is how quickly and confidently it subverts reader expectations, going to an—ahem—unexpected and darker place than previews suggested.

And that’s the third major strength: pacing. There is a confidence to this Orlando, Sook, and Nord story that keeps the pages turning like an action movie with well-realized stakes, freeing Orlando to dispense killer, quintessential anti-hero lines like, “I fight to live and I’m undefeated,” lines he honed during his run on Midnighter (2015) and seems thrilled to be writing again. Sook and Nord’s art, brought to life by inkers Mike Gray and Wade von Grawbadger and colorist FCO Plascencia, is also top tier. Sook’s character designs are especially impressive, creating original aesthetics for a previously-unseen batch of superheroes, all of which are unique while also fitting into the DC Universe...which brings us back to discussing the New Age of DC Heroes.

I’m reading and enjoying many of the line's titles (shout outs to Sideways and The Terrifics). One knock, however, has been that the books were marketed as driven by big name artists, yet many of the biggest names left after early issues. As it applies to The Unexpected, Sook seemingly departed at the start to draw Man of Steel #3 (perhaps contributing to this book’s tardy debut), but Cord’s work is strong. Essentially, it remains to be seen if artist turnover will be a problem here, given that this first issue was such a collaboration.

All the character designs in  The Unexpected  are good, but the Bad Samaritan stands above.

All the character designs in The Unexpected are good, but the Bad Samaritan stands above.

Spare Thoughts: The Bad Samaritan has one of the best villain designs I’ve ever seen, and whoever came up with that name for the bad guy should be proud.

This book ties into Metal in multiple interesting ways, giving it the most direct connection to the event of any in the line.

Overall: Unexpected #1 is the best debut of the New Age of DC Heroes line, delivering a compelling protagonist with conflicting priorities that pit her needs versus her desires. Add a confident, intriguing twist that subverts expectations, and The Unexpected could very well be DC’s best new original book since New Super-Man. 9.3/10

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

May 2018 New Comic Discoveries: Funny Books

Humor in any medium is delicate, but especially so in novels or comics, where a joke must literally be spelled out. These mediums provide precious little help from timing, delivery, or any other human connection to help audiences sympathize with a joke’s teller. Also, as with any narrative, one bad joke early might sour a reader to all that follows. Humor, simply put, is risky.

For those reasons, I don’t often read humor comics. No Deadpool or Harley Quinn for me, and I often shrug when well-meaning friends recommend the genre. My track record with being glad that I read a humor comic is not great. I do, however, fancy myself a relentless optimist (as it pertains to comics, anyway), and so here I am with a trio of new comics discoveries for May that all have to do with humor.

If I were a funnier writer, I might try a joke here, but I know my limitations so I will instead end while still slightly ahead...onward!

Rock Candy Mountain #1 - #4 by Kyle Starks & Chris Schweizer

This book (which was recommended to me by Dan Grotes of WMQ Comics, by way of Will Nevin) is nothing short of a revelation, one of the funniest and most straight-up entertaining comics I’ve read in some time. Set in 1948, Rock Candy Mountain is a story of a devils and hobos and one-on-one combat, and it’s absolutely hilarious.

Rock Candy Mountain.

Rock Candy Mountain.

The story opens on a guy who is clearly the devil (we can tell because he has horns and is also red) literally shredding a ring of hobos. Satan is in search of a man named Jackson. When he’s done with the shredding, he realizes he’s left none alive to interrogate, remarking to himself, “I certainly goofed that one.” We eventually meet Jackson, as well as his new friend Pomona Slim, a failed actor trying to get home from Hollywood (by way of Pomona), who becomes the readers' window into 1948 hobo-dom. And we’re off to the absurd races from there. The thing I like most about Rock Candy Mountain, however, is how if you stripped the humor away, there would still be a compelling story at the core.

Jackson, what a guy.

Jackson, what a guy.

You can tell that Kyle Starks, the auteur who both writes and draws here, has put a substantial amount of both research and thought into this work. The world of post-war train jumping and drifting is well realized, and the driving plot of a man who sold his soul to the devil and is trying to find paradise for his family before it comes due is relatable, to be sure. The real heart of this story, though, is the buddy dynamic between hirsute, inscrutable Jackson and kind-but-unlucky Pomona.

 

 

Overall: Rock Candy Mountain's clever wit comes from a big-hearted place, one that reminds us of how at its best this medium can be fun and poignant. This book’s sensibilities could be described as grown up Calvin and Hobbes with way more hobos (plus some tramps, because as Starks points out, there’s a difference).

Punks Not Dead #1 - #4 by David Barnett & Martin Simmonds

Punks Not Dead, one of the vanguard of ex-Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint Black Crown—is a supernatural coming-of-age story that’s brimming with dry British wit. The concept itself is amusing: schlubby teen Fergie finds himself tethered to the ghost of deceased Sex Pistol’s bass player/vocalist Sid Vicious. Hijinx ensue.

Full disclosure: I went through high school lost in punk rock and comics (and later skating and hip hop), so I’m predisposed to like this book, although it’s been a couple decades since I was proudly into punk rocking. This, however, is a smartly-written book that thrives when it hits its greatest heights of bizarre, such as any scene involving Britain’s Department of Extra-Usual Affairs, or when the ghost and Fergie try to separate from each other.

From  Punks Not Dead #4

From Punks Not Dead #4

Writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds embrace the dynamics in this book with a reckless abandon, interlacing them with the aforementioned witty remarks, which makes a concept that could come off as cliched read incredibly charming (side note, I seriously considered putting Tini Howard and the legendary Gilbert Hernandez’s Assassinistas on this list, which expertly blends femme fatale badassery with a decades-long family drama, but I may write in greater length about that book in the future, so I kept that in my pocket).

Overall: There’s an odd universality to this ghost story, one that anyone who has turned to music during times of loneliness and alienation will surely relate to.

Great line: “This smells of something a bit more than Teen Spirit.”

Galactic Junk Squad #1 by David Moses LeNoir

GJS.png

Galactic Junk Squad has an old school, Stan Lee enthusiasm to it, embracing the high science fiction concepts of the far cosmos as well as alliterative exclamations in equal part. This is evident from the early pages, wherein the artist’s gaze pulls us through interstellar landscapes as we slowly become aware of two voices arguing, two bumbling brothers, as it were.

Their tone soon becomes meta, as they debate their own character names and an editor’s note lets us know time in this world is measured by how long it takes between issues. Galactic Junk Squad soon reveals itself to be a family drama in which the members of the family look like Kirby-esque celestial beings. The family has been tasked with collecting artifacts of the past by a so-far-unseen power.

More importantly, though it’s a high-minded and hilarious story, one rich with sitcom tropes on top of a grittier version of Kirby’s New Gods.

Overall: Galactic Junk Squad is one of those rare and fantastic comics wherein you can almost feel writer/artist David Moses LeNoir having fun, the sort of fun that you can’t help joining as a reader. This is a witty book with a true reverence for the comic tradition that it is apart of, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.