This melancholic song excerpt is what closes out the story Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, collected in Hellblazer #41 - #46. Dangerous Habits is also the debut story written by now-comics legend Garth Ennis with art by William Simpson. In it, John Constantine is dying. Having just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer thanks to his addiction to cigarettes, how will he spend his last moments in the land of living?Read More
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
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
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
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
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.
Writer & Letterer: John Layman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colorist: Michael Garland
Publisher: Image Comics
"'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.
Writer: Zac Thompson
Story By: Zac Thompson & Donny Cates
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
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.
Writer: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Artist: Leslie Hung
Colorist: Rachael Cohen
Letterer: Mare Odomo
Publisher: Image Comics
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
By Zack Quaintance — Border Town #1 is the first new comic launching as part of DC’s reinvigorated Vertigo imprint, the main idea of which seems to be let’s run headlong through polarizing and important societal issues with some of the most exciting creators in comics leading the way (Bryan Edward Hill, Mark Russell, and Mirka Andolfo, among others).
The ultimate goal, of course, is engaging readers with stories equal parts entertaining and personal (that magic narrative combo), and Border Town #1 certainly does that. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age drama about a new kid in school. That school, however, is located in fictional Devil’s Fork, Arizona on the U.S. border with Mexico. This setting is vital for a comic called Border Town, which examines how borders divide us, and not just borders between countries but also between perception, opinions, reality and mythos...even the two sides of multicultural households.
It’s poignant and relevant territory. Not to make this about me, but after college I spent five years as a reporter in a border town (McAllen, Texas); I’m also from Chicago. Through my disparate lenses, I saw that the U.S.-Mexico border is massively misunderstood, especially by those who’ve never visited, yet it’s a region many have strong opinions about. What writer Eric M. Esquivel—who grew up in Tucson—does so well is draw from personal experience to depict real border life, stuff like cliques at school, family dynamics, etc.
This is just one of Border Town’s strengths. Another is, simply put, monsters. Border Town is a horror story that in the tradition of the genre blends teen drama with dark and scary violence. I can think of no better team to bring this to life than artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. Their work is uniformly excellent (as it was in the tragically-cancelled Nighthawk), and the monster designs here are intricate and grotesque (perfect). Villalobos is also a great choice to draw teenagers, given his vocal appreciation of things like Degrassi and sneakers. The art is killer, but that's expected.
What caught me a bit off guard was how well Esquivel grasps the genre. I haven’t read his other work, but I could tell he has a deep knowledge of horror movies, comics, and TV. You can also tell Mexican/Chicano folklore is an interest. Essentially, Esquivel’s script expertly takes the usual horror conventions and creates something new by infusing fresh monster mythology many readers haven’t been terrified by...yet.
Overall: 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 while also finding new ground by adding Mexican/Chicano folklore and mythos. 9.0/10
Border Town #1 is available Sept. 05, 2018.
For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.
By Zack Quaintance — Last week marked the 24th and final issue of Gene Luen Yang’s New Super-Man. The book was a standout of DC Rebirth, a publishing initiative that returned most of the company’s superheroes to familiar status quos. New Super-Man, however, was an exception, featuring an entirely new cast and situation.
Put simply, the comic was a story of a Chinese teenager indoctrinated into a government-run superhero program. It dealt with teen superhero tropes (while also subverting them—our hero actually starts out as the bully) as well as with current Chinese politics and ancient mythology, telling stories at the intersection of all three. Add Luen Yang’s writing—moving from poignant to funny from panel-to-panel—and the result was both unique and refreshing.
This is, of course, coming from me, a seasoned superhero fan, and when writers like me call Big 2 books unique or refreshing, they’re often bound for poor sales and swift cancellations. New Super-Man was certainly no commercial hit. Launching a new character, even one blatantly capitalizing on the popularity of Old Superman, is difficult. Volunteer critics react positively but the comic-buying public is generally unaware or, even worse, unimpressed.
With that in mind, it’s amazing New Super-Man lasted long as it did, especially since it was slated to end at #18 before getting a generous extension. This, sadly, is rare. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: recently cancelled books that ended too soon. Ranging from gritty to whimsical, these books date back to 2015 and share one thing in common: they were all—to borrow from Twin Peaks’ Special Agent Dale Cooper—damned good comics.
Let’s do this!
5. Unfollow (2015) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling
Unfollow, which was part of a wave of new Vertigo titles in fall 2015, reminded me of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, with its modern noir concept built to span triple digit issues. In Unfollow, an eccentric tech billionaire dies and picks 140 users of his social media network to compete for his fortune. The last alive wins. The book started out methodical, removing a competitor or two per issue and tracking how many remained with a counter on its cover.
It became apparent (to me, at least) the narrative was being rushed when competitors started dying en mass or off panel. It’s a shame. There was a sharp literary quality to both the ideas and writing in Unfollow, especially the character that was so clearly a re-imagined Murakami. I’d have liked to have seen more of this vision. Ran For: 18 Issues
4. Spider-Woman (2015) by Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, & Alvaro Lopez
I suppose technically this book dates back to before Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic’s reality-ending Secret Wars (2015) event to when Dennis Hopeless started writing the character, but the incarnation I’m bemoaning began when it welcomed the incredibly versatile, frenetic art team of Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez (and later Veronica Fish). Together, they told a wonderful story about a superhero who decided to have a baby on her own.
In Marvel’s All New, All Different (2015) line (which followed Secret Wars), the publisher tried many slice-of-life comics, combining everyday problems and superheroics, ala Matt Fraction and David Aja’s all-time run on Hawkeye. Spider-Woman was the best of the bunch, and it’s a shame it ended with 17 issues. Although, unlike others on our list, it did get a neat and satisfying ending. Ran For: 17 Issues
3. Clean Room (2015) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt
Clean Room was another title launched on Vertigo in fall 2015, and it was absolutely killer, with writer Gail Simone laying down an incredible depth of original ideas and Jon Davis-Hunt establishing himself as a Frank Quietly-esque star artist. This book had so much going for it. The one thing it lacked, however, was timing.
After this book ended (Gail Simone has said on Twitter she’ll do more someday), I read a rumor that DC had come to view its once-vaunted Vertigo imprint as a sales liability. This has maybe changed, with an even newer wave of Vertigo titles announced this week. Even so, Clean Room was a nigh-perfect body horror book that explored saviors, trauma, and belonging. If it had come during Vertigo’s heyday, it would have run 50 issues, easy. It was that good. Ran For: 18 Issues
2. The Ultimates (2015) & The Ultimates 2 (2016) by Al Ewing, Kenneth Rocafort, & Travel Foreman
The Ultimates showed up in the wake of Secret Wars (2015) and did my favorite thing comics teams can do: state a mission and work toward it. The team was America Chavez, Black Panther, Blue Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Monica Rambeau; and their mission was to solve the biggest problems in the universe—starting with Galactus in #1.
Ewing is a writer who for some reason (low sales) can’t seem to sustain a title, despite having done strong work on books like Contest of Champions, New Avengers, and the Inhumans book Royals. Sigh. In a different world, this could have been the flagship title of All New, All Different Marvel, but it got lost in the shuffle and ended up doing 22 issues (just shy of New Super-Man) over two volumes. Ran For: 22 Issues
1. Nighthawk by David F. Walker, Ramon Villalobos, & Tamra Bonvillain
Nighthawk isn't just one of the best cancelled titles in recent years, but one of the best period. It’s a seeringly-relevant story starring a Batman analog who is a black magnate in Chicago. Racial politics factor heavily into it, but the book also contextualizes race with how society is under assault by corporate agendas, corruption, and segments of the public acting against their interests because change is scary.
Also, Villalobos and Bonvillain's art is incredible (side note, they’re re-teaming on the first of the aforementioned new Vertigo titles this fall, Border Town), and Walker’s script is just as good, with expert pacing, character motives, and straight-up action. As someone on Twitter said, this loss would be harder to bear if it wasn’t for the perfect final panel. No spoilers, though...go read this trade for yourself! Ran For: 6 Issues
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.
Tini Howard and Nick Robles’ Euthanuats #1 first caught my attention weeks ago with its title and cover. In tandem, the two evoke thoughts of a woman journeying through death, body withered to bones as her head and mind are protected by a glass bauble, one that glows with life and attracts insects like a light bulb. My interest was bolstered further by the books presence on IDW’s imprint, Black Crown, from former long-time Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. I’ve enjoyed all Black Crown offerings (more here), but it was another book by Howard that really stood out to me: Assassinistas, a collaboration with the legendary Gilbert Hernandez that applies complex modern family dynamics to an archetypal femme fatale death squad.
Whereas Assassinistas is more of a character study, one laced with appropriate bits of humor and modest bouts of action, Euthanuats is better-described as an abstract and surreal walk through our fears, expectations and attitudes around death. Our protagonist is an alienated receptionist who works in a funeral home and is dissatisfied with her life and friendships. For the first two-thirds of the book, the story grounds us in this struggle, functioning well as a slice-of-life comic.
Howard’s characterization is strong, with effective interior monologue lines like, “I was thinking about how weird it is that I don’t like my friends and they don’t really like me—when I first saw her…”, as well as snappy character banter, such as, “It’s like, communism works just fine, you just have to really, really likeable.” Robles art is also wonderful, detailed and realistic, glazed over with a fitting color palette that manages to be forlorn without tipping into morbid or noir.
It is, however, the plot point that catapults us into the third act that really establishes this book as something special. Not to give too much away, but reality blurs into a world of ethereal surrealism, seemingly a realm of death, or near death. It's unclear, and the book makes a wise decision to keep readers disoriented. I’ve been reading comics for two decades and change, and as such I’ve seen an excessive number of visual depictions of death, limbo, the afterlife, etc. I’ve rarely seen one as intriguing as in Euthanuats, which I take as a testament to both the imagination and research that went into this story.
This has already been a fantastic year for comics as unfettered explorations of nigh-universal fears, concerns, or hang ups (see Eternity Girl, Mister Miracle, and several inward-facing horror books), but Euthanauts charges headlong at the most towering concern of all—death—and emerges with a fascinating and beautifully-told story. I barely have a guess for where this book is headed next, and I love that.
Overall: Engrossing and complex, Euthanauts is the best book yet from former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, Black Crown. Howard’s script dives confidentiality into a universal concern—death—as Robles' ethereal visuals blur reality. An intriguing and gorgeous comic, this one is highly recommended. 9.0/10
Euthanauts #1 is out July 18. Learn more about it here!
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.