Top Comics to Buy for April 24, 2019: The Replacer, Criminal #4, and more

By Zack Quaintance — One of the things I’ve pushed against since creating this site is recency bias. All of us—fans and critics—have a shared tendency to praise and promote new #1 comics above mid-run installments or even finales. While there is a certain and acute level of brilliance required to create a strong debut, I think we as an industry tend to lose site of just how impressive and also difficult it is to sustain an interesting graphic sequential story for five, 10, or—as is the case with one of our...     

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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 of 2018, #6 - #15

By Zack Quaintance —  The most difficult thing about a strong year for comics (like this one) is doing a year-end Best Of list. Now, to be sure, no one mandates websites do rankings. That would be a clear violation of civil liberties. There is, however, a part of the pop culture blogger brain that goes wild for it, whispering all year long...where does this one rank...and if you don’t satisfy that beast—well, bad things happen.

So, here we our with ours, freshly formulated for 2018 by our committee of one. Before we dive into part 2, which features in descending order selections #15 to #6 (Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25 is up now, with the Top 5 due later today), let’s rehash our ground rules:

  • No trades or OGNs: Building out our OGN coverage is a priority for 2019. We’re just not there yet. So, while I absolutely loved work like Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Box Brown’s Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, and Ryan Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal, you won’t find them here. Ideally, next year’s we’ll have an entire post dedicated to OGNs.

  • No webcomics, manga, or newspaper strips: Again, our site is a bit deficient covering these (if you are into these things, we’d love to chat about you writing for us!). I should, of course, mention that in 2018 someone under the pen name Olivia James took over the long-running Nancy strip and did amazing things with it (Sluggo is lit), but, again, you won’t find it on our list.

  • Longevity matters: New this year, you will find what I consider a key stat—how many issues were published this year. Late debut series like Die, Electric Warriors, and Bitter Root have tons of promise. They just haven’t been around enough to be a definitive comic of 2018. Ditto for comics that ended in April or earlier.

There you have it: guiding principles of our Top Comics of 2018. Now, without further adieu, let’s keep this bad hombre going!

15. Seeds
Writer:
Ann Nocenti
Artist, Letterer: David Aja
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Issues in 2018: 2

The second issue of this series absolutely blew my mind. So much so it was enough to land this comic in our list, and at no. 15 too! I’m going to struggle to articulate why this is not only one of the best comics out today, but also the comic with the most potential to be an all-time great series. But here goes…

Writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja have clearly thought hard about the state of the world, dwelling on current trends, struggles, challenges, \and even a few victories to extrapolate a future the likes of which we’ve never seen. There are (as noted in yesterday’s list) many near-future disaster stories running through comics. Many of them do admirable jobs extending a fear or concern to logical places. Seeds encompasses much more with its predictions, in a way that feels impossibly novel yet so obvious you wonder why its ideas hadn’t previously occurred to you. If you start listing story elements—failing planet, media corruption, alien love story/menace—they sound a little rote, but the way these talented creators bring them together is nothing short of remarkable. Now, if only they could get a handle on the delays...  

14. Doomsday Clock
Writer:
Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of delays (hey! would you look at that transition), next we have Doomsday Clock. Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank were as good as their word this year, mostly sticking to the every-other-month schedule they promised following Doomsday Clock #3. We got six new issues in 2018, and the last three were straight up killer comics. This series has, to be blunt, massive ambitions.

Indeed, the intentions of this comic are starting to crystalize, and if Johns and Frank can pull this off, they could end up with a story that speaks to the current rise of authoritarian governments across the globe, the reactions of the media and the populous, and what it means to be a public hero today, to take a strong position. It’s heady stuff, with potential to shape DC’s line and maybe even the stories the aging company does for the next decade.

13. Ice Cream Man
Writer:
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

As I’ve noted throughout, ranking the many many many excellent comics this year has been no easy feat. There were a ton of tough choices, but as my friend Rob from Panel Patter noted, at a certain point you have to choose, otherwise there’s no purpose to the endeavor. For me, placing Ice Cream Man was the most difficult decision. An anthology horror comic linked only by the titular (and hella creepy) ice cream man, this book has been a tour de force.

The reason it lands at #13 is twofold. No. 1, 13 is creepy and it seemed fitting, because aside from one other selection (we’ll get into that later), this is the highest-ranking horror comic on our list. No. 2, I’m trying to rank series for holistic reading experience. Ice Cream Man being made of vignettes makes that trickier. This book is easily one of the best comics of 2018, and we’ll heap more praise on it in future posts, specifically the Best Single Issues of 2018, coming later this week. For now, I’ll just note everyone should read this comic, just pick up random issues (they’re all self-contained) and go. The rate of success is high enough I’m confident you’ll all find flavors (sorry) you like.

12. The Wild Storm
Writer:
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

It’s pretty amazing this far into a celebrated career, Warren Elllis is doing his best work, writing a slow-burning epic that strips down characters he’s handled for years before building them back into something searingly-relevant for 2018. This new The Wild Storm has a few familiar names, while remaining entirely accessible for first-time readers of this universe. And what Ellis is doing here is exploring the vast influence wielded by long-standing (and hard to comprehend) power structures.

He’s joined by Jon Davis-Hunt, one of (if not the) most underrated artists in comics. Davis-Hunt comes fresh from career work of his own on Gail Simone’s Clean Room, and as good as he was there, he’s hitting a new level, crafting graphic sequential storytelling both kinetic and real, capable of disrupting any visual laws of reality yet photorealistic and engrossing. As intellectual and nuanced a comic as we’ve seen, this is a must-read story.

11. The Mighty Thor / Thor
Writer:
Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Mike del Mundo, Christian Ward, Jen Bartel, Various
Colorists: Matthew Wilson, Marco D’Alfonso
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 4 / 12

Jason Aaron’s ongoing run on Thor is the best long-form story happening in superhero comics, and it’s really not even close. Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder #1, which essentially marked the start of this current run, hit stands in November 2012, a vastly different time in the world and industry. Marvel has no other run close, with Hickman and Bendis gone from the company and Dan Slott off Amazing Spider-Man. Invincible has also ended, and DC’s main challengers—Batman and Deathstroke, for my money—date back to summer 2016, which is hardly a challenge at all.

Thor, however, keeps going strong, landing this year’s 16 issues (and a Jane Foster one-shot) at #11 overall on our list. Our committee of one suspects it will be higher next year, what with the War of the Realms coming. The Jane Foster finale was certainly a high point his year, but it felt like more of a pause than a proper finish, setting the table for what is sure to be some damn fine comics to come. In summation, 2018 was another great year for Aaron’s Thor run, but we all but guarantee 2019 will be even better, possibly the high water mark for this story.

10. X-Men Red
Writer:
Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Carmen Carnero, Roge Antonio
Colorists: Ive Svorcina, Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 11

What a surprise this comic was. I’d tapped out on X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold, deciding to wait for whatever next big X-thing. Then comes an announcement of a third color, part of the Marvel Legacy line, which, let’s face it, was dead on arrival. But here’s the thing: Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar’s X-Men: Red was good. Like, really really really good. Taylor’s scripting understood the franchise better than any writer I’ve read in I don’t know how long, casting the team as equal parts superhero high-flyers and common defenders of the oppressed, all with a geopolitical angle.

It made Jean Gray the face of Xavier’s continuing dream, a brilliant move given her legacy (ahem) and similar skill set, and it faced the X-Men against threats essentially derived from the messages of hate coursing through the modern media landscape, be it reportage or social posting. It was a brilliant stretch of 11 issues that ended way too soon, and, in my opinion, it was the first real hint how the X-Men can be made relevant for 2018, 2019, etc., taking them out of their long-standing continuity mire. It will be missed, and I hope this new generation of X-writers draw from its example.

9. Vault Comics: Fearscape / Friendo / These Savage Shores
Writers:
Ryan O’Sullivan / Alex Paknadel / Ram V.
Artists: Andrea Mutti / Martin Simmonds / Sumit Kumar
Colorists: Vladimir Popov / Dee Cunnife / Vittorio Astone
Letterers: Andworld Design / Taylor Esposito / Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 3 / 3 / 2

Okay, so this one is cheating, but of the three new Vault Comics launched by British writers with clear literary roots in the fall, I couldn’t pick any one to elevate above the others. They’re all incredible, and so I built myself a loophole (it’s my website, afterall), and included all three on the list. I heard Vault editor Adrian Wassel on a podcast earlier this year, saying comics could swing to a literary place that incorporates both recent cinematic storytelling trends and their unique ability to synthesize words and pictures. All three of these titles reflect that viewpoint.

You can read more thoughts about each on our Reviews Page, but let me run through them quickly. Fearscape is a look at pretense, literary culture, and how the nature of creative writing often sees authors bouncing violently between bouts of outsized ego and crippling insecurity. The voice is pretentious and incredible. Friendo is a meditation on the decline of late-model capitalist countries, specifically the United States, casting apathy, ceiling-less corporate greed, and the marginalization of government checks as truly terrifying villains. These Savage Shores is a gorgeous and deep commentary on imperialism, using misdirection to to create an engaging and tone-heavy narrative. Basically, all three of these are well worth your time, and I highly recommend them all.

8. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Writer:
Mark Russell
Artist: Mike Feehan
Inker: Sean Parsons
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of literary comics, Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (improbably) falls in that bin as well. Last year we highlighted Russell’s work on Flintstones. Another year and another smart take on a Hanna-Barbera property, and here we are again. In Russell’s re-imagining of this mythos, Snagglepuss is a basically closeted playwright during McCarthy-ism, trying to stay true to his values without running afoul of the federal government and staid societal interests.

Russell uses this premise to tell a sophisticated story that dances with ideas about life, art, politics, group think, and conservatism. The emotional core to this thing is the Huckleberry Hound character, whose tragic story beats brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. If reading a comic about Snagglepuss doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry—you’re not alone in that thinking. But Russell also uses the legacy of the character to do work toward the satirical points he’s making, to help drive them home.  

7. Wasted Space
Writer:
Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 6 (counting the holiday special)

Phew, now we’re getting into the comics that I can’t imagine my 2018 without, the first being Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space. I have heaped my fair share of praise on this book over the past 12 months, and I’m not alone. In fact, Nerdist has called it “easily the best new series to hit comic shops so far this year.” For my money, it’s without question the best wholly new property of 2018, and I’m going to quote myself to elaborate on why...

Wasted Space to me feels like Star Wars by way of 2018, determined to honor the hi-jinx & high adventure of space opera while fearlessly exploring the central conflict of our times: where should one’s desire for comfort end and their obligation to combat oppression begin? I’ve compared Moreci’s absurdist, idea-heavy writing to the late David Foster Wallace and I stand by that, noting that Sherman’s chaotic high-energy art style brings the world to life in a special way. This is maybe the highest compliment I can give: in a day and age where i buy fewer paper comics than ever before, I still have a pull list and on it near the top is Wasted Space.

6. Thanos Wins
Writer:
Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Toward the end of 2017, Brian Michael Bendis left Marvel, dealing the publisher as significant of a writing void as I’ve seen in the past two decades, dating back to before Bendis established himself as the company’s prime writing voice. The thing about voids like that is they force publishers to take bigger risks and bring in younger, newer talent. For Marvel in 2018, that meant Donny Cates (among others).

One of Cates’ first charges at Marvel was to takeover Thanos in the wake of another essentially departing writer, Jeff Lemire, who seemed from the outside to be off to focus on the superhero universe he owned and created, Black Hammer. What Cates and past collaborator Geoff Shaw did with the final six issues of this run was absolutely remarkable, telling what is not only the best Thanos story of all-time, but the best end of the Marvel Universe tail this side of Jonathan Hickman. It’s called Thanos Wins, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Thanos Wins is as bold a statement as a young writer doing his first work at Marvel could have made. Aided by the out-of-this-world Geoff Shaw artwork and Antonio Fabela colors, Cates seemed to put all of comics on notice here, not being content to just decimate the very futures of these decades-old beloved characters, but insisting on doing so with wild grin viscerally affixed to his face. You might wonder, how do I know he was laughing and smiling as he wrote all of this. I think the better question, is how could anyone who’s read Thanos Wins doubt it?  

Read our analysis of Thanos Wins here!

Check back later today for our Best Comics of 2018, #1 - #5! Check out Best Comics of 2018, #16 - #25! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Best Single Issues and our Top Creators of 2018!

For the history-minded readers, you can find our Top Comics of 2017, Part 1, 2 and 3 online now!

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Cemetery Beach #2 Sees Warren Ellis at His Most Accessible

Cemetery Beach #2 is out 10/17.

By Zack Quaintance — In the first issue of this series, we got an adequate amount of backstory, enough to ground us in this world: in 1920, a group of industrialists and scientists invented space travel and sent colonizers to another planet...and we’ve had no communication with that planet in the years that followed. Civilization took hold and has since modernized, but, indeed, still looks anachronistic. Now, a scout has arrived to check things out, and what he’s found is chaos and barbarity, with no enthusiasm about reconnecting with home.

It’s an interesting premise, one writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Howard established briefly before launching their central character (the visitor from Earth) into a prison escape chase scene that set their plot in motion. This second issue gives us a bit more info, opening as it does with a scene that stars a powerful man from the new world, who notes in no uncertain terms that he will do whatever it takes to prevent the visitor from “old home” (as they call it) from escaping, lest he eventually return with an invading force.

The philosophical argument being made by the presumed leader of the colonized planet is, essentially, that it’s best to be defensive. It’s a paranoid knee-jerk move in which he casts himself as victim to justify whatever he will do next (sound familiar?). In the course of this leader elaborating, we see him portrayed as glutinous, uncaring, and obsessively concerned with upholding power structures that serve him. He orders the capture of our hero and the death of his companion (whom he aggressively brands a dissident), and then smiles as he notes that if capture becomes too difficult, death is also fine.

What Ellis’ script for Cemetery Beach #2 seems most interested in is showing the absurdity of assigning all conflicts a pair of equal sides, noting that we all see ourselves as the heroes of our stories but that alone doesn’t make it so. It’s a timely and interesting concept, and it’s also one that doesn’t really stand out as heavy handed. No, just as with the first issue, Cemetery Beach #2 is first and foremost an action story in which two people flee the state, blowing up flying motor bikes and running through underground tunnels in the middle of the night.

In terms of the artwork, Jason Howard continues to make the most of the idea that a space colony was built with the mechanical capabilities and design sensibilities of 1920. The machines, clothing, and weaponry here are all futuristic, yet clearly extrapolated from what was possible in that era rather than in our own. It adds an extra layer of immersiveness to an already entertaining story.

Indeed, this comic continues to be Warren Ellis at his most accessible, even if the ideas its built upon are, as per usual, heady and complex. This approach blew me away in the first issue, as I wrote in my Cemetery Beach #1 review, and I’m still enjoying it a great deal here. If I have a complaint about this second chapter, however, it’s that it didn’t move the narrative forward in any truly unexpected way. We got confirmation that the colony’s leader was the big bad and we learn from the hero’s new friend that there are layers of inequity a plenty at work here, but we could have mostly surmised that from the subtext in the first issue. I’m still very much in on this book, but here’s hoping the next issue will find some less predictable ground.

Overall: In Cemetery Beach #2, Ellis and Howard continue the high-minded adventure started in the debut issue, pulling the curtain back a bit on the political dynamics at work on this forgotten colony established a century ago on some far-flung planet. This continues to be Ellis at his most accessible, expertly crafted in a way that doesn’t sacrifice complexity. 8.0/10

Cemetary Beach #2
Writer:
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.


ADVANCED REVIEW: Cemetery Beach #1 by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Cemetery Beach #1 is due out Sept. 12.

By Zack Quaintance — Right from the start, Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard lets you know it’s a wild affair, very much unlike the team’s previous book, Trees. It does this with a set of instructions on the inside cover, starting with: 1. This book is valuable. Do not lose it. Whereas Trees was high concept sci-fi intermingled with commentary on social and cultural issues, Cemetery Beach is high concept sci-fi delivered via raucous adventure, steeped in shock, danger, and lunacy—you know, the good stuff.

The book’s front/inside cover starts establishing all that before readers hit the first panel. On top of that first instruction, there’s more plus also imagery that evokes escape, colonialism, Black Hawk helicopters, and early space travel. When the first panel does arrive, we launch straight into our exposition heavy yet very entertaining opening scene, in which Ellis pens some of his pithiest dialogue in recent memory. We learn in 1920 a group of industrialists and scientists found and operated a method to travel off-world. They built a colony, and our hero is on that colony now doing reconnaissance for Earth...that’s as far into the plot as I need to go here.

As you can see, this book is imaginative. It’s also light by recent Ellis standards, which feels like an odd way to describe a book with this much murder but here we are. The high-concept Ellis ideas are still here, as is the world-building. What sets Cemetery Beach apart from recent Ellis output (think Trees, Karnak, The Wild Storm, etc.) is a lighter energy and gripping plot from our start (more on that soon).

Howard’s artwork is also outstanding, a bit more kinetic than what we saw through much of trees, but just as clear and interesting. This first issue has a necessarily claustrophobic feel through most of it, seeing we start within a Mysterious Torture Shitbox, as our hero puts it. We do get a quick glimpse of the larger world, though, and I’m anxious to see more in future issues when the adventure presumably takes us to new corners of this colony.

The book’s clearest strength, however, is the mastery with which it takes a complex plot and gives us an absolutely perfect amount of information to engage with, to not feel disoriented, and to root for our protagonists. This balance, to me, is key to all great #1 issues. Creators must obviously avoid making readers feel like they’re having info forced on them, but they must also orient us within the story and make us care about characters, otherwise the cliffhanger at a first issue’s end won’t be compelling. Ellis and Howard nail all of that so hard with Cemetery Beach.

Overall: A masterful debut issue from a veteran creative team. Ellis and Howard’s Cemetery Beach #1 puts vast thematic and conceptual depth beneath a fast-paced and deceptively simple exterior, one loaded with quips and kinetically-drawn action scenes. BUY BUY BUY this comic and enjoy. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

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

The Eye of the Storm: WildStorm Past and Present

WildStorm is really 25 years old now. Really.

By Taylor Pechter — The 1990s was a consequential decade for comics, a decade of deaths and broken backs, of shoulder pads and huge guns. It was also the decade that gave us WildStorm Productions, an imprint created by then-rising star Jim Lee, who jumped ship from Marvel and DC along with other big-name artists following disputes over creators’ rights. When WildStorm began in 1992, it could have been dismissed as just more large guns, heavily-detailed art, and not much focus on story.

After the company grew in popularity, though, Lee sold it to DC. With this sale, DC editorial took the universe under its watch, ultimately overseeing great experimentation in storytelling spearheaded by writers such as Warren Ellis and Joe Casey and artists such as Bryan Hitch, whose worked helped redefine what comics look like.

Now get ready because today we’re jumping head first into the defining era of WildStorm, looking at the themes and visuals from the imprint that have had such a lasting impact on the comic book industry today.

StormWatch

StormWatch #37 brought Warren Ellis into the WildStorm Universe.

The year is 1997. The comics speculator market bubble has burst and sales of WildStorm books have stagnated. Enter Warren Ellis, a British writer who had done some work at but was not on many fans’ radars. With his run on Stormwatch starting at #37, however, that quickly changed.

Ellis would completely redefine the team, splitting it into three squadrons: Prime (defense against superhuman threats), Red (members with destructive powers for deterrent displays), and Black (undercover black ops). As the run started, Ellis introduced us to his thematic interests via the words of Frederick Nietzsche, I want to teach men the meaning of their existence; which is the Superman, the lightning from the dark cloud that is man.

Ellis’ run incorporated themes of corruption of power, the relationship between man and superhuman, and ultimately how supherhumans change a world. These themes are primarily conveyed through StormWatch leader Henry Bendix (alias The Weatherman), the StormWatch Black Team (Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift), and The High and his Changers. As the run progressed, StormWatch’s prominence grew while Bendix became madder with power, coming to view his team as the end-all, be-all of planetary surveillance and defense, akin to worldwide secret police. This eventually leads him down a path of murder and a removal from his position, with former field leader Jackson King (alias Battalion) taking over in his stead.

Meanwhile, the members of StormWatch Black personified rebellion, especially their leader, Jenny Sparks. As one of the proclaimed century babies, Sparks lived through the highs and lows of the 1900s, coming to be known as The Spirit of 20th Century. She’s also seen firsthand how superpowers changed society, with adventures through the decades as a solider in the wars and later a member of the shady Royal Space Program. This history also informs her relationship with John Cumberland (alias The High). The High is the main ideological lynchpin of the run, with his actions in the story Change or Die reflect the theme of the run, as The High actually says, We are Superhumans, just as your modern crimefighters and Covert Action teams. However, we feel a different responsibility than they do… They try to save the world, but make no effort to change it. This speaks to the somewhat hypocritical nature of the modern superhero. As time passed, StormWatch dissolved due to infighting, Bendix succumbing to insanity, and SkyWatch (the team’s satellite command center) being set upon by alien infestation. With most of the team dead, field commander Nikolas Kamarov (alias Winter) made the final decision to the throw the station into the sun. StormWatch was dead, but from its ashes rose a new force, an Authority that would either save the world, or rule it with an iron fist.

The Authority

Out of the ashes of StormWatch rose The Authority, a team formed by former StormWatch Black operatives Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift. It also included Apollo and Midnighter, The Engineer, and The Doctor. The Authority’s story is broken up into three four-issue arcs, which focus on innate fears with society: the fear of terrorism, the fear of foreign invasion, and the fear of the unknown. Through The Authority, Ellis wove a tale of a team of powerhouses trying to save the world and to also change it for the better. However, their goals came at a cost.

What Ellis also did was break down the glitz and glamour of a superhero team. The Authority is brash, arrogant, and—most of all—violent. Cities were leveled and an entire alternate Earth was destroyed. The Authority, however, considered it just part of the job, losses to make the world a better place. Toward the book’s end, the team eventually faced an alien entity that was blocking out the sun. Jenny Sparks shocked its brain and the day was won, but at a cost that shook the team to its core. As the century wound down, so did the life of Jenny Sparks. After 100 years of being a planetary defense mechanism, she died at the stroke of midnight January 1, 2000, in the arms of Jack Hawksmoor. With a new century, however, came a new generation of defenders.

The Art: While Ellis’ scripts were certainly groundbreaking, so too was the artwork of Bryan Hitch, inker Paul Neary, and colorist Laura Depuy (later Martin). With wide panels, splash pages galore, and cinematic action, Hitch was, and still is, the main purveyor of widescreen comics art. With Neary’s clean inks and Martin’s luscious colors, The Authority is still one of the most visually influential books in modern comics.

Wildcats

Casey and Phillips WildCats run was short but excellent.

What happens to covert teams that don’t have a war to fight? What happens when a teammate dies, splintering the rest of the team? Or, when a team’s leader wants to transcend to a higher level of living, one that requires he be killed?

In 1999, writer Joe Casey and artist Sean Phillips took over Wildcats and set out to answer these questions. After a mission gone wrong, Zealot is killed and Grifter is left reeling. Grifter has become a washed-up shell of his former self, trying to find answers about Zealot’s death. On the other end, Lord Emp (known to Earth as Jacob Marlowe, leader of the Wildcats), is asking his long-time rival Kenyan to kill him so he can ascend. Kenyan, however, instead kills himself, and Spartan is forced to kill Emp. In the aftermath, posing as Emp’s great-nephew Jack Marlowe, he is bequeathed HALO Industries and inherits Emp’s fortune. Meanwhile, Priscilla Kitaen (alias Voodoo) and Doctor Jeremy Stone (alias Maul) are living together. Jeremy has locked himself in his lab to to find a cure for a disease.

That’s a lot, to be sure, but overall Casey tells a story about destiny and legacy. Spartan has to deal with running HALO and guilt for killing Emp, which is easy enough because as a synthetic humanoid, he feels no emotion. This, however, conflicts with Grifter mourning the loss of his trainer and lover. Spartan also has to deal with having the Marlowe name, a target since Emp had many enemies. After Pris is nearly murdered by superhuman serial killer Samuel Slaughterhouse Smith, she is visited by a Daemonite, of which she is a half-breed. With that meeting she fully comes to terms with her heritage. Optimism reenergized, she then looks to a brighter future, alongside Jeremy.

The Art: Joining Casey on this book is noir art master Sean Phillips. With deep shadows, imposing figures, and brutal action, Phillips creates a foreboding tone to perfectly match Casey’s script. Sadly, the book only lasted two years before being cancelled but returning a year later as Wildcats Version 3.0. In a short time, however, Casey and Phillips crafted one of, if not the defining runs on Wildcats.

Planetary

It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way. This is the mantra for Warren Ellis’s magnum opus, Planetary. A decade in the making, Planetary revolves around a four-person team of mystery archaeologists who explore the world. This team consists of Elijah Snow, our ride along character Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and Ambrose Chase.

With Planetary, Ellis constructs a story that revolves around genre and—more importantly—pop culture. This journey through 20th century pop culture is seen through the eyes of Elijah, who like Jenny Sparks is one of the century babies. The series has one main through line, but each issue also tackles a certain genre, breaking it down and showing how it has changed the world. These stories included a ghost cop out for revenge in Hong Kong (Dead Gunfighter); the somber Vertigo-tinged To Be In England, In The Summertime; the hypocrisy of vigilantism in The Torture of William Leather, and the metaphysics of superheroes in Zero Point.

In them all, Ellis demonstrates how the aspects of various genres has affected society through use in pop culture. While the macro exploration of genre and pop culture is the book’s driving force, the heart of Planetary is the micro exploration of Elijah Snow as a character, as well as how he becomes more in tune with the world. Snow’s motives, while staying somewhat consistent throughout the first half of the series, shift as we approach the final act. As readers, we are Elijah, not just in terms of the world Ellis is crafting but also the world outside our window. There is so much to explore here, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.  

The Art: Not to be outdone by Ellis’ deft scripting are John Cassaday’s art and Laura Martin’s colors. Cassaday shifts his style throughout each chapter to capture the tone. This can mean changing panel sizes, borders, shadows, or expressions. It’s commendable how much work he put into each page, and it’s made even better by Martin’s amazing colors, with bright reds and blues making the art pop. This book was subject to many delays, attributed to both Ellis and Cassaday, but Planetary eventually ended with its 27th issue, becoming one of the most celebrated comic books of all time

The Wild Storm

Twenty years after he helped redefine the WildStorm Universe with StormWatch, Warren Ellis is doing it again with The Wild Storm, which just released issue #16 this week. This time, Ellis is writing a stripped down, no frills, corporate espionage tale focused on three organizations: tech giant HALO (run by Jacob Marlowe), black ops intelligence agency International Operations or IO (run by Miles Craven), and secret space program Skywatch (led by Henry Bendix). This is an entirely new story, rather than a continuation of past titles.

The main conflict in this series is rivalries between organizations, with the story asking how Earth would react if it was ruled by these power structures. There is, of course, a twist. While IO is interested in Earth and its resources, Skywach is more interested in ruling space, even going as far as colonizing other planets. After Bendix starts getting a vested interest in Earth’s resources, IO starts to retaliate. Caught in between this corporate battle is a team of rogue IO and Skwatch agents who have formed their own covert action team, a Wild CAT. Their objective is to stop this war, fearing it will tear the planet apart.

The Art: Joining Ellis on art duties is Jon Davis-Hunt, whose simple yet dynamic style lends to the gritty espionage themes and to the frenetic action that is wonderfully brutal. His linework combines with the gorgeous colors of Steve Buccellatto. With stripping down the universe and giving it a more modern feel, this creative team has given new life to characters Ellis made his name writing.

In conclusion, following its start in the ‘90s, WildStorm went grew from the typical extreme fare of the decade into one of the most fertile grounds for storytelling in all of superhero comics, doing everything from looking at how superheroes have changed the world to how a team can survive in a world that doesn’t accept them. WildStorm also has a history of art that has redefined the style of comics, from the widescreen destruction of The Authority by Hitch, to the noir stylings of Wildcats by Sean Phillips, or the versatility of John Cassaday in Planetary. These artists helped raise a new generation, also contributing to the creation of the modern comics event.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey—hopefully you too will now jump into the eye of the storm. 

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter @TheInspecter.  

Top Comics of July 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Maybe I’m suffering from recency bias, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a summer in my life (I’m 22 give or take...SEVERAL years) as good for comics as this. Seriously. There are top-notch stories being told at both major superhero publishers—with characters ranging from Mister Miracle to Captain America—while the creator-owned market hits unprecedented peaks for variety and quality.

Being in the midst of this wave is a blessing and challenge for writing lists like this. Obviously, I don’t lack titles, but it’s tough to narrow things down. I recently faced the same dilemma sorting the Best New #1 Comics of July. My answer is do it and spend the next month regretting choices. Act recklessly and then deal...that’s a strategy I’ve long employed.

Joking aside, I put a lot of thought into this month’s list, agonizing until I landed on the titles below. Sooooo—let’s do this!

Shout Outs

Batman #50 was a good comic with a messy release (the above variant cover is by Jae Lee).

Let’s start with a mess: Batman #50 and the spoiler fiasco. I didn’t get spoiled (thankfully), but I’m sympathetic to all who did. Regardless, this was a fine issue with a welcome twist, especially if as Tom King says, this is the run’s halfway point.

Have you all read IDW’s Black Crown imprint? You should. July saw the end of two early titles: Assassanistas and Punks Not Dead. Put simply, what a glorious wave of odd books, heavy on craft, humor, subversion. Can’t wait to see what Black Crown does next.

The darling of this year’s Eisners, Monstress, wrapped its third arc with a thundering crescendo and the most action in any single issue since the book’s debut. Perhaps most importantly, Monstress #18 also laid great track for future stories. Very well done.

Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen concluded their sci-book Descender, a beautiful watercolor epic about childhood friendship. This issue was great (like the entire series), but it was less a finale than a continuation, setting up a sequel called Ascender that launches this fall.

Al Ewing and Joe Bennett continue to make The Hulk terrifying.

In Immortal Hulk #2 and #3, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett continued to strike a horrifying tone, telling a story closer to prestige horror than standard superheroics, leading to half of comics Twitter saying I don’t usually like the Hulk but I like THIS.   

There’s a reason Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece is taught in schools: it’s a well-done historical mystery steeped in questions about race. Its sequel wrapped this month with Incognegro Renaissance #5, a worthy successor.

Sideways #6 gives its teen hero a defining tragedy, and ho man did it sting. Speaking of The New Age of DC Heroes, The Unexpected #2 and Terrifics #5 were both great too.

Apparently Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s phenomenal new take on old characters, The Wild Storm, is selling well (at least online), but not enough fans are talking about it. I wish that would change. It’s so good.

Finally, Flash #50 was an emotionally-satisfying conclusion to a long-simmering plot thread, one that also featured that page with the return of that character at the end.

Top 5 Comics of July 2018

Cates & Stegman seem bent on a character-defining run.

5. Venom #4 by Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman

I don’t want to go into the plot, except to note there’s an expert connection to Jason Aaron’s all-time great run on Thor, and that superhero comic fans love that type of thing. There’s also just a feeling of excitement around everything Cates is writing; he’s like an athlete having his first MVP season, entrenching himself as a lead voice at Marvel, even extending his exclusive with the publisher.

Which is all great, as is Venom #4. It’s still relatively early in this run, but Cates and Stegman have talked about doing a prolonged and character-defining stretch on this book. Also, like Immortal Hulk, this is another book that seems to have many fans reading a character they otherwise wouldn’t. No easy feat.

 

 

4. Wasted Space #3 by Michael Moreci & Hayden Sherman

Wasted Space, the frenetic space opera about addiction and cultism and 100 other things, just keeps getting better. People who write about comics often use that line, but in this case it’s true. Wasted Space is a complex comic with so many big ideas that the experience of reading it improves as more of its scope becomes visible. That’s been my experience, anyway.

I loved Wasted Space #3 (read my review of Wasted Space #3). The ideas and plotting that made the series so engrossing is still here, but this issue also (organically) ups the humor, especially when the big all-powerful gigantic enemy guy tells some rando he’d feel better about himself if he approached work with pride—hilarious. I don’t know if I can be clearer: you should all be reading this book.

Bold design choices elevate Gideon Falls to lofty creative levels.

3. Gideon Falls #5 by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Holy wow, the art in this comic is insane. I know that’s vague and non-descriptive, but if you’ve read it, you’re absolutely nodding along. The truth is it’s hard to to describe these visuals without using dude, did you see that language. The art is imaginative to the point one wonders exactly when Andrea Sorrentino disregarded conventions and straight up started doing whatever he wanted.

There are bold choices, to be sure, every one of which pays off, including red circles around details for emphasis, and arrows telling readers where to look. It could come off as proscriptive, but given how engrossing this story is, it instead feels helpful. I’ve liked this comic from the start (see my long-ago review of Gideon Falls #1), but Gideon Falls #5 somehow reaches new levels of creativity, storytelling, and absolutely bananas visual stimulation on every page. Absolutely bananas.

2. Wonder Woman #51 by Steve Orlando & Laura Braga

With Wonder Woman #51, Steve Orlando and Laura Braga tell a stand-alone story with a deep and nuanced understanding of this character, one that shows exactly why she’s been relevant all these years. It’s the type of small-scale story that plays to a hero’s essence, the type done ad nauseum with Batman and Superman but not nearly as much with Wonder Woman. This comic, however, helps to fix that.

It’s just so perfect. Aside from the adept characterization, it features an engaging and emotional narrative that speaks to Diana’s core values. It sounds cliche, but I teared up here at the drama and and smiled at the jokes. This is, to me, an issue we’ll be hearing new creators talk about on podcasts 10 years from now, citing it as an influence for the way they write/think about the character.

Read our review of Wonder Woman #51.

Just, ouch.

1. Saga #54 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Nothing will ever be the same. If you’ve read the issue, check out Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad. If you haven’t, please read the issue and then click that link. There’s just no good way to discuss this without spoilers. Simply put, though, we’ll just note that this is the most consequential issue yet in the best series in comics.

That does it for our July list. Please check back to the site tomorrow for our new feature, Five Questions With Creators, which is being kicked off with writer Zack Kaplan, of Eclipse, Port of Earth, and Lost City Explorers!

Check out our Best New #1 Comics of July 2018 here plus more of our monthly lists here .

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

Top Comics of June 2018

By Zack Quaintance — There were so many great comics in June that I cheated in the shoutouts section—where I limit myself to ten picks—by lumping several books together. I tried, really, but I just enjoyed this month’s comics way too much to put myself through some kind of self-imposed Sophie’s Choice.

In fact, there are so many comics this month I’ll cut my usual preamble short and get right to them. Tragic! I know. But worry not! This website is roughly 75 percent rambling (see Analysis or Reviews), so you can easily get a rambling fix elsewhere.

Ready? Let’s do this!

Shout Outs

Immortal Hulk #1 was one of many fantastic debut comics in June 2018.

There were A TON of great debut comics, all of which you can read about in our Best Debut Comics of June 2018, including books like Immortal Hulk, The Weatherman, and The Unexpected.

Against all odds, I liked The Batman Wedding Preludes. They seemed like a blatant cash grab (which, they were…), but Tim Seeley and crew still told nice character-driven stories with them.

Since Benjamin Percy and Chris Mooneyham took over, Nightwing has rocketed up my list of best DC books. In fact, I even wrote a piece called Why Nightwing’s New Run is Working: A Five-Panel Explainer.

Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s existential sci-fi epic Descender is ending after 30-plus issues, but as it does, the creators are using deep familiarity between readers and the book’s well-developed characters to hit truly moving emotional beats, all amid a high-action finale.

Flash #49 continued Flash War with consequential stakes for its lead—Barry Allen—and for his once-forgotten former protege, red-headed Wally West. This is the first story in years to use this much of the Flash family, and we love it.

New Super-Man, one of the best comics of DC's Rebirth era, came to an end this month after 24 issues.

A pair of our favorites ended in June: New Super-Man and the Justice League of China and Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. That’s bad news. The good news, however, is both series had wonderful conclusions that reminded us of why we loved them.

I became a nightmare. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have them...Bryan Hill hooked us with those opening lines of his five-issue run on Detective Comics. What followed was fantastic, too. We’re total marks for stories like this that question the state of modern fandom. Plus, Cassandra Cain!

A pair of new books hit their strides in June: Crude and Skyward, both of which are on #3. These books are very different, but they are unquestionably two of Image’s best new comics of 2018.

Another month, another pair of top-notch comics from the Warren Ellis-masterminded re-imagining of WildStorm. Simply put, Wild Storm #14 and Wildstorm: Michael Cray #8 were June’s two best comics that not enough fans talked about.

Last but not least, there’s ol’ reliable Valiant, who despite recent ownership changes continues producing awesome comics, with highlights including Harbinger Wars 2 #2 and Quantum and Woody! #7 (also, checkout our friends WMQ Comics preview of Harbinger Wars 2 #3!).

Top Comics of May 2018

Marcos Martin's work on Spider-Man has been described by better websites than this one as "ultra-modern nostalgia."

5. Amazing Spider-Man #801 by Dan Slott & Marcos Martin

Amazing Spider-Man #801 was the final issue of Dan Slott’s epic, decade-long run on Marvel’s flagship title. Slott has said he conceptualized this issue long ago and got Marcos Martin (who has essentially left superhero comics for creator-owned work via Panel Syndicate) to draw it, and it’s a good thing he did.

Slott’s plotting is sweet and poignant, examining how Peter Parker’s With great power comes great responsibility ethos changes lives. It’s a nice capper to a run with more highs than lows. What really makes #801 shine, however, is Martin’s art, which harkens back to the less-muscular Spider-Man as drawn by the character’s creator Steve Ditko, while giving the hero and the world a relatable, modern look. This comic, simply put, is a blissful pleasure to look at and a wonderful palette cleanser between Spider-Man eras.

4. Venom #3 by Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman

Donny Cates only has one mode: #@$%ING INTENSE, which is something I’d come to suspect via his creator-owned work throughout 2017 before having my theory verified recently by Death of the Inhumans #1. His work on Venom has been a slightly slower burn, by Cates standards, which still makes it one of the most recklessly intense books on the stands (seriously, do comic shops have stands? is racks a better word? gah!)

Venom #3 had all the hallmarks I’ve now come to expect from Cates’ best issues: a little terror, a lot of grandiose plotting, confident and clever guiding narration, and a steady expanding of character mythos and status quo. That’s all in here, of course, but what I found most compelling here was the terror of the villain, which all but cows Venom (who, we are reminded by a few panels of trauma via Miles Morales, is a terrifying villain in his own right). Ryan Stegman’s artwork is also a perfect fit for the otherworldly and upsetting rainy ambience in this issue. Basically, I can’t believe I’m saying this but a comic about Venom (Venom!) is one of my favorite books right now, and I can’t wait to see where this is all heading.

Jeff Lemire's Black Hammer is a rare superhero deconstruction steeped in homage and fantastic mystery.

3. Black Hammer Age of Doom #3 by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston

What Jeff Lemire is doing with Black Hammer and its auxiliary books is one of the most exciting things in comics. It feels like superhero deconstructions 2.0 have finally arrived. Since the 1-2 combo of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns in the ‘80s, grim and gritty realism has ruled as the most popular way to take an analytical lens to superheroes. This book is far from sunny, but what Lemire seems to be doing is superhero deconstruction via a mystery of anachronism and nostalgia, while paying gleeful homage to his favorite comics and creators.

This issue continues to push the unraveling of the plot that contains all these ideas while also sending our protagonist through a set of Ormston artwork that nods to such a cool range of comics, I couldn’t help but smile like an idiot as I read. Oh, and the story also incorporated capital B Big ideas about why stories matter so much. This book is getting closer to being one I send to non-comics readers in trade, kind of like Saga, speaking of which...

2. Saga #53 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

I knew we were in for it when the preview text for this issue read simply: uh oh. And man, did it go down in Saga #53. This was possibly the single most action-heavy episode of the best ongoing series in comics, both in terms of the sequences on the page and the lasting impact for its characters.

I’m not in the business of giving plot details away, but this issue felt to me like the penultimate episode of a good season of Game of Thrones, wherein a number of shocking moments of consequence take place to reshape and redirect the story. Brian K. Vaughan paces the action expertly, and Fiona Staples work is, as always, an absolute joy to behold, with the final panel in particular etching itself into my brain, possibly forever.

1. Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #1 by Chip Zdarsky & Declan Shalvey

Marvel 2-in-1 is one of the best superhero comics right now, and at its core are some of the oldest relationships in the Marvel Universe.

Marvel 2-in-1 seemed odd when it launched. It was part of Marvel’s Legacy publishing line, which returned many titles to original numbering. It’s name nodded to the original Marvel 2-in-1 book from 1974 that ran for a decade, teaming The Thing with different Marvel heroes. This new book, however, was a story about The Thing and his former Fantastic Four teammate The Human Torch, making it seem like a stopgap before the publisher launched a new Fantastic Four title proper.

What has emerged is one of Marvel’s best comics right now, and issues like the Marvel 2-and-1 Annual are why. At the heart of Marvel 2-in-1 are the oldest relationships in the Marvel Universe, specifically those between Thing, Torch, Doctor Doom (trying to be better), and the absent Richards family. This annual looks at the dynamic between Doom and Richards in a way that (no spoilers) creates tension and has readers begging for Victor to please, please, please do what’s right. It’s an incredible bit of storytelling for this surprising and excellent title. It’s almost a shame the full team is returning, presumably shaking up the magic found in this book.

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