Best Comics of February 2019: Thor #10, The Wild Storm #20, and more

By Zack Quaintance — Holy cow, the debate over the final selections for the Best Comics of February 2019 got pretty heated within the committee (of one), raging for what felt like days. Some of our usual superhero favorites—Action Comics/Superman, Immortal Hulk, etc.—have maybe hit places in their runs where we take them just a tiny bit for granted. By the same token though, some of our other favorite long-form superhero narratives are hitting some pretty resonant emotional crescendos (see The Wild Storm, see Thor). But more on that below.

Let me just use this second paragraph of an intro most people scroll right past to address an ongoing narrative that comics are bad now and the industry is dying: stop it. I could go into the business (which is something that myself and roughly 99.9 percent of readers as well as most creators know absolutely squat about), but that’s been done ad nauseam. So instead I’ll point out how little we as fans of stories know about the economics that make them feasible, and wonder (not for the first time) why we waste mental energy on something we don’t understand.

Why did I waste such a long paragraph on it? Who knows! Onto the comics...

Shout Outs

The level of melancholic beauty Die #3 achieves is absurd. It’s just a beautifully-told graphic sequential story that uses the comic’s fantasy setting to tell a tale about WWI that speaks on a deeper level to the creation of the genre by J.R.R. Tolkien. It juuuuust missed this month’s top 5.

I’ll say this about Teen Titans #27: I can’t believe this, but I’ve found myself increasingly interested in the current run on this book by Adam Glass and Bernard Chang. Both creators are wildly exceeding my expectations at the moment.

Also surprising was The Terrifics #13. I’d left this book for dead somewhere around The Terrifics #7. The artists were inconsistent, and the initiative it led—the New Age of DC Heroes—died out of the gate. Yet, the creators have quietly put together one of DC’s best comics, ricocheting around the multiverse and hitting big emotional beats through Plastic Man and his son,. Read this!  

One more superhero surprise, and we’ll continue! Uncanny X-Men #11 caught me off guard. I didn’t like the bloated (and frankly lazy) X-Men: Disassembled that re-launched Uncanny X-Men. This comic, however, was the opposite of that: compressed and consequential, it now feels like a new era for the X-Men has started. I’m (cautiously) in.

I still maintain, however, that the best X-Men comic on the market is Livewire #3. Free of the bonds of corporate comics, it can up the stakes for its title character the ways the Big 2 can’t, and the creative team on this book is doing so monthly in such brilliant ways. Read this!

Another book I love for its mix of commentary with a sense of anything can happen is Vault Comics’ Wasted Space. We fortunately got both Wasted Space #6 and Wasted Space #7 this month, and I’m happy to say this comic remains amazing.Staying on the Vault Comics train, These Savage Shores #3 really stood out to me this month, so much so that I almost considered adding a sixth slot to our top 5 (but then, is it really a top 5 still?). Gorgeous and literary, These Savage Shores is a must-read.

This next comic on our list is here because it’s become underrated, which is maybe an odd thing to say about something written by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead. Oblivion Song #12, however, was a very good comic with an ending cliffhanger that seems likely to extend our story for years to come. I’m in on it.

Ice Cream Man #10 returned the best horror story in comics to its core concept a bit this month while pushing the background (foreground now?) narrative to new places. This is a must-read creator-owned book if ever there was one.

I really struggled with the last of our customary 10 shoutouts, so let me just note that this final spot could have gone to any of the following: Action Comics #1008, The Green Lantern #4, Guardians of the Galaxy #2, Hot Lunch Special #5, Naomi #2, the entire Batman/Flash crossover, Magic Order #6, or Tony Stark: Iron Man #8.

Best Comics of February 2019

5. Mars Attacks #5
Writer:
Kyle Starks
Artist: Chris Schweizer
Colorist: Liz Trice Schweizer
Publisher: Dynamite Comics

There’s just something about a perfectly-told five-issue miniseries that makes it in many ways the idea way to do a comicbook story. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say that, I’d highly recommend checking out Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer’s Mars Attacks. This could be the most emotionally-honest and overall satisfying contained comicbook story I’ve read in years.

It’s also wickedly funny, combining as it does a heartrending father-son survival story with the trademark mostly-irreverent humor that has made Starks such a fun creator to follow through past works such as Sex Castle or Rock Candy Mountain. I didn’t really know anything about the Mars Attacks franchise coming into this and mostly still don’t care, but this book is well worth reading.

4. Archie 1941 #5
Writers:
Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid
Artist: Peter Krause (read our interview!)
Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letterer: Jack Morelli
Publisher: Archie Comics

As friend of the site the great Will Nevin pointed out on Twitter as I was praising the bejeezus out of this book, the world could use more period comics in general, please. If those comics are anywhere near as good as this one, I’m all for it. In recent years, Archie Comics has experimented quite a bit with its classic characters, doing so in alternate reality scenarios and genres such as horror.

In the context of that experimentation, Archie 1945 comes across as a prestige title, a more dramatic and emotionally-taut story with the same sensibilities and dynamics that have helped the Riverdale gang endure for years. Our committee (of one) has picked Archie 1945 for a spot on this month’s list as a merit award for the entire series as a whole. It’s incredibly deserving, and I sincerely recommend picking it all up now in trade. I’m planning to for my bookshelf.

3. Criminal #2
Writer:
Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics

Our committee (of one) doesn’t often like to put comics this close to the debut of a run in our list, but Criminal #2 is more of a fresh vignette in a long-running story than it is an entirely new comic. This is, of course, now Criminal Vol. 8, and as good as the debut issue of this one was, the follow-up was even better.

This was, simply put, an incredibly well-done comic for people who love to read comics. It’s essentially set at San Diego Comic Con, following as it does an older celebrated artist who has turned to less savory ways of making money (see the title, please) and his former protege who gets swept up into whatever it is the aforementioned artist is tangled up in now. It’s a tense and well-told story (it’s Brubaker and Phillips, would you expect any less), and it works well both as a stand-alone issue and as a continuation of events in Criminal #1. Highly recommended.  

2. The Wild Storm #20
Writer:
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccelatto
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: DC Comics

The Wild Storm #20 is, in a word, @%$#-ing epic. Okay, that was two words, or, rather, one word and that weird set of characters people use to denote cussing (like you don’t know what I was trying to say). Anyway, our committee (of one) has loved The Wild Storm since it began, featuring as it does such a deliberate and smart narrative. This issue has a bit of that for the first two pages, and then it moves into all action.

What it also does is return one of the best couples in all of comics to our monthly pages: Midnighter and Apollo, appearing here in their most recent depictions. It’s incredibly satisfying, and it makes you realize just how great of a veteran writer Warren Ellis is and has been for a while (if you hadn’t already). He gives us big, fan-service moments within the context of a really smart long-form narrative. I think the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that issues like this one are what make me continue to love superhero comics.

1. Thor #10 (read our full review)
Writer:
Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike del Mundo
Colorists: Mike del Mundo & Marco D'Alfonso
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel

Speaking of long-form, there is no better (nor longer) story in superhero comics right now than Jason Aaron’s Thor, which has been literally happening for something wild like six years (probably longer). He’s done compact story arcs, big events, and largely contained stories. Thor #10 is maybe all of those things, or a little bit of each, anyway.

It definitely fits into the larger story arc right now, of everyone in the Thor world preparing for the upcoming War of the Realms, which is as big an event as Marvel has had in recent years (which is really saying something). Meanwhile, it’s also a largely self-contained story about a father (Odin) and a son (Thor), kept from being emotionally honest because of toxic masculinity...and the world is all the worse for it. I have a strong suspicion this comic will also end up on my Best Individual Issues of 2019 list. So stay tuned for that in 10 months, ahem.

Check out our monthly lists, plus all of our Best of 2018 coverage, 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 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — I spent this past weekend at Rose City Comic Con in Portland (which was pretty fantastic, as one might expect from a smaller-ish con in a cool city), and as a result I didn’t have as much time as usual to go over my advanced review copies for the week. Luckily, I’d had a chance to read some books in advance and some others while I’m there. That, plus the strength of previews, is what has given us our list.

You know what? For the second straight week I’m putting six comics in our Top Comics to Buy section (plus the new #1s and the 15 in the lower section). It’s my list, I make the rules, etc. I just find that dropping that last book down to others receiving votes is too thin a margin to really justify keeping it out. And, hey, what’s the hard in just one more tiny recommendation, right? Comics are too good right now.

Onward!

Top Comics to Buy for September 12, 2018

Archie 1941 #1 (of 5)
Writer:
Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn
Artist: Peter Krause
Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letterer: Jack Morelli
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $3.99
THE HISTORIC, GROUND-BREAKING MINI-SERIES STARTS HERE! Archie has been around for over 75 years and has been through many significant moments in time, but never before have we seen the characters take on real-world events as they unfold. WWII is looming and Archie and many young men from Riverdale are close to enlistment age. If you're a Riverdale teen, how would you cope with a looming world-changing event? Join the writing team of MARK WAID and BRIAN AUGUSTYN along with artist PETER KRAUSE for the all-new mini-series that is sure to have everyone talking!

Why It’s Cool: Mark Waid is a thoughtful writer with a vast respect for comics history...and this is a book steeped in thoughtful concepts and comics history. It seems like an ideal fit, a great way to look at the universality of being young and facing the churn of a tumultuous world.

Amazing Spider-Man #5
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Things look bad for Peter Parker......but GREAT for Spider-Man! The first arc of the epic new run on ASM comes to a climactic finish!

Why It’s Cool: We’ve been pretty effusive with our praise for this new Amazing Spider-Man creative team, which you can read about in this review of Amazing Spider-Man #4. Given that excitement, we are understandably psyched to see how they rap up their very first arc with Marvel’s flagship character. They've set up a pretty intriguing plot point, and we're excited to see how they pay it off and what kind of seeds they plant for the future in the process (ahem, more Mary Jane?)

Cemetery Beach #1 (of 7)
Writer:
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
From the creators of the acclaimed TREES graphic novels, which are currently being adapted for television, comes something completely different. A professional pathfinder, his only ally a disaffected young murderess, breaks out of a torture cell in pursuit of his worst extraction scenario ever: escaping on foot across a sprawling and secret off-world colony established a hundred years ago and filled with generations of lunatics. WARREN ELLIS & JASON HOWARD ignite a high-speed new action serial.

Why It’s Cool: This is a high-speed, high-concept action thriller with a ton of the usual big Warren Ellis ideas waiting just beneath the surface to be explored. Howard’s artwork is kinetic and crackling, and the team as a whole does a fantastic job, putting together one of the best debut issues all year. Read more here.

House of Whispers #1
Writer: Nalo Hopkinson
Artist: Dominike “Domo” Stanton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
An all-new corner has been added to Neil Gaiman's Sandman Universe! Welcome to the House of Dahomey, the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda, where the souls of Voodoo followers go when they sleep to beseech the flirtatious and tragic goddess to grant them their hearts' desires and counsel them on their futures and fortunes. When you arrive, you'll find a party is in full swing, filled with all kinds of fabulous and fierce folk, while fish fry and music blasts. From her bayou, Erzulie scries upon the mortal realm and sees four human girls open a mysterious and magical journal filled with whispers and rumors that, if they spread, could cause a pandemic unlike any the Earth has seen, with the power to release Sopona, the loa lord of infectious disease and cousin to Erzulie, who is currently banned from the human plane. But even the fearsome Erzulie cannot be of assistance when her dream river turns tumultuous, tossing her house from her realm and into another…

Why It’s Cool: This book had me at all-new corner has been added to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe...mostly because I’m a Sandman neophyte (who is very publically and shamefully making up for this on Twitter by reading an issue of that series every night). Not having a lengthy pre-existing relationship with the seminal series—but still wanting in on the fun—this book is perfect for me. I also heard Hopkinson and Stanton discuss their plans for the book at SDCC, and it sounds fantastic.   

Long Lost Book 2 #2
Writer: Matthew Erman
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Publisher: Scout Comics
Price: $3.99
Thought. Void. Space. Hazel Patch. Piper is lost and must work with an unlikely ally to find a way home while Frances is reunited with Jody as she sheds new light on everything that has happened. Piper and Frances are fast approaching the end and as questions are answered, they are forced to make game-changing decisions.

Why It’s Cool: Long Lost is a hazy and haunting dream of a comic, one that deals in nostalgia, regret, the lasting effects of childhood damage, and the ongoing fade of America’s small towns...it’s also one of my favorite new comics discoveries this year. This book is clearly headed to a massively intriguing climax, and I for one can’t wait.

Wicked + Divine #39
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Dee Cunniffee
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
END OF STORY ARC! A 2018 Eisner Award nominee for Best Continuing Series and Best Lettering by CLAYTON COWLES! "MOTHERING INVENTION": Conclusion-Well, it's the end of the arc, in just about every way you could define those particular words.

Why It’s Cool: Wicked + Divine is far into its end-game now, and so many plot points from its distant past are coming around to matter. The end of last arc was certainly heavy with revelations, and we expect the last issue of the penultimate arc of this fantastic ongoing title to be much the same. As always, here’s hoping for HBO or a similarly-prestige heavy network to tap this one for adaptation.

Recommended New #1 Comics for September 12, 2018

  • Iceman #1

  • Journey Into Mystery: Birth of Krakoa #1

  • Low Road West #1 (of 5)

  • MCMLXXV #1

  • Wrong Earth #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Champions #24

  • Crowded #2

  • Fantastic Four #2

  • Flash #54

  • Hawkman #4

  • Hot Lunch Special #2

  • Infinity Wars #3

  • Mech Cadet Yu #12

  • New World #3

  • Seeds #2

  • Supergirl #22

  • Wasted Space #5

  • Weatherman #4

  • Wildstorm: Michael Cray #11

  • Wonder Woman #54

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.

REVIEW: Vampironica #2 by Greg Smallwood & Meg Smallwood

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Vampironica No. 1 was essentially just a brief introduction to Archie Comics’ latest horror book. It was a fast and good-looking comic, one that got the horror started, laid on some heavily eerie ambiance, turned Veronica Lodge into the titular Vampironica, and gave all of us readers some of Greg Smallwood’s creeptacular imagery to feast our eyeballs on (much like Vampironica feasted on supple necks). But that first issue wasn’t a substantial read, and, truth be told, it didn’t really have to be. It was a hook and that was just fine.

Now, fast-forward a couple months (there have been delays), and here we are at Vampironica No. 2, which does a solid-to-very-good job of filling in any expository blanks left by its predecessor, questions like who turned Veronica, what's this story going to be about, and exactly what sort of vampire will she be? Vampironica No. 2, to put it simply, delivers missing context, while also upping the ante by throwing in usual Riverdale melodrama (of the Archie-Betty-Veronica variety, of course), plus an unexpected twist.

This issue strikes an excellent middle ground between horror and camp, the exact tone these Archie horror books need to hit in order to work best. Greg and Meg Smallwood (who joins her husband here for a story by credit) are clearly fans of both Archie and horror, and they seem to lean into what they're inner fans would like to see.

I won’t spoil it, but there is one particularly campy and grotesque dream sequence about midway through the book that let me know the Smallwoods were in full control, and that we as readers/Archie horror fans could just sit back and trust in the upcoming bloody fun.

Smallwood draws a great  OMG!  face.

Smallwood draws a great OMG! face.

Smallwood’s art is, of course, excellent throughout, but he especially excels with Veronica’s facial expressions, which run the usual Veronica gamut from OMG what am I even doing in Riverdale I’m a Lodge! to very charming and sweet. As far as the story goes, this is also a deceptively-dense script, one driven by three distinct types of storytelling: Riverdale, horror, and mythology.

By the time we reach our end, we’ve gotten key ingredients of our hero’s journey: Veronica has a mentor for the threshold she’s crossed, and we as an audience have a villain to watch machinate against her. This issue basically assures us that the book will go to some delightfully-dark places, made even livelier by Smallwood’s strong artwork.

Overall: Vampironica No. 2 delivers any and all missing context that the first issue that was withheld in favor of stylish brevity. Smallwood’s artwork is strong and creepy as ever, and the Smallwood’s story shows not just an excellent grasp of Riverdale, but that they might just have a bit more planned than Vampironica biting a bloody path through high school. 7.7/10

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