Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

The 2018 ” Top 10″ train keeps rolling! This time out : my ten favorite ongoing series of the year. Open-ended or limited runs are fine, as long as the books in question adhere (however tenuously, in some cases) to a production schedule of some sort. Ongoings that release one issue a year (or less) are not eligible in this category, although many such series — like Sean Knickerbocker’s Rust Belt and Anders Nilsen’s Tongues, to name just a couple — were represented in my previously-posted “Top 10 Single Issues” list. And so, with all that out of the way —

10. Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles By Mark Russell And Mike Feehan (DC) – While never quite reaching the same heights as Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintsones, this re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon cat as, essentially, Tennessee Williams was still a superb take-down of McCarthyism, and was a topical, poignant, and fun read with obvious parallels to the Trump era. Feehan’s crisp art looks like a million bucks, and the flat-out superb coloring of Paul Mounts makes it look like two million.

9. Abbott By Saladin Ahmed And Sami Kivela (Boom! Studios) – Not since Sugar Hill have blaxploitation and the occult been paired this successfully, and besides featuring the breakout protagonist of the year, this 1970s-set series touched on a boatload of social problems that, you guessed it, still haven’t gone away. Both story and art were pitch-perfect for the material, and my sincere hope is that Ahmed and Kivela will be getting to work on a sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.

8. Shanghai Red By Christopher Sebela And Joshua Hixson (Image) – A thoroughly engrossing historical fable of crimping, piracy, and gender-bending that flew well below most folks’ collective radar for some reason, this five-parter made damn sure you’ll never look at the history of Portland, Oregon the same way again. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, this is one you absolutely need to seek out in trade if you took a pass on it in singles.

7. Daygloayhole Quarterly By Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – I’ll just come right out and say it : Passmore’s hilarious, absurd, and eminently relevant take on post-apocalyptic “life” probably deserves to be ranked as highly as second or third on this list, but — it’s a reprint series, and therefore I’m skirting my self-imposed ruled by even allowing it “through the door” in the first place. Still, it’s so damn good that I had to find a way to include it, even if it meant fudging things on the margins a bit. If you’re not reading this/haven’t already it, you’re missing out on something well and truly extarordinary. And yes, I use that term with precise intent.

6. Prism Stalker By Sloane Leong (Image) – Feminist sci-fi of the highest order and one of the most visually captivating comics of the year, Leong has created a work for the ages here, as well as a marvel simply to look at. An intoxicatingly beautiful marriage of form and function that defies easy categorization every bit as much as it defied the odds by getting published by one of the “major indie” outfits in the first place, this title knocks you back and leaves you reeling.

5. Black Hammer : Age Of Doom By Jeff Lemire And Dean Ormston (Dark Horse) – The second “season” of the last word in super-hero revisionism may not break new ground in the same way the first did, but even at 75% (roughly) of its initial glory, this is still absorbing, compelling stuff, that both creators are quite clearly pouring all kinds of heart and soul into. And when one of ’em needs a break, who the hell in their right mind is gonna argue about Rich Tommaso filling in on art for a couple of issues?

4. Hey Kids! Comics! By Howard Chaykin (Image) – Leave it to the biggest contrarian in comics to hit us from out of nowhere with his strongest work in decades hot on the heels of the most reviled book of his career. Chaykin pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in this warts-and-all look at comics’ decidedly sleazy ethical history, yet it’s all quite obviously coming from a place of absolute reverence for many of the masters of the medium that it’s taking entirely non-gratuitous “pot-shots” at. New Chaykin regular colorist Wil Quintana does a bang-up job providing stirring hues that make these pages absolutely sing, and goddamn if Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and “effects” still don’t look 20 years ahead of their time. Fuck all the naysayers — at his best, which this surely is, Chaykin still delivers a comics reading experience like no other.

3. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Middle age isn’t something to be endured in the hands of Los Bros., it’s something to be celebrated, and this series’ return to its classic “magazine” format somehow accentuates the point that both brothers are making about “the more things change —.” This book is the reason you love comics. Pray it runs forever.

2. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – The final comics project (or so we’re told) from both of these legendary creators is both a love letter and middle finger as they head for the exits. The love letter is to the art form itself, while the middle finger is stuck up high, proudly, and entirely justifiably to the industry. A new, all-female iteration of the League is a stroke of genius, as is the decision to up the “humor quotient” considerably after the rather dark turn taken in the last “volume.” How much do we all miss this comic before it’s even over?

1. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – 120-plus pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks an issue? How do you beat that? Answer : by infusing the title itself with a distinct sense of purpose that goes beyond such simple and easy anthology premises as specific themes or shared aesthetic sensibilities in favor of selecting work by cartoonists that not only exemplify, but in may ways define where comics is at — errmmm — now. Dash Shaw, Nathan Cowdry, Antoine Cosse, Daria Tessler, Roam Muradov, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth — just some of the “murder’s row” of talent to appear in the pages of what is, without question, the quintessential anthology of the decade. Everyone is bringing their “A game” to the party here so far, and the result is my favorite series of the year, as well as the most significant.

And so we reach the end of the second of our six lists! Next up : Top 10 Contemporary Collections, the category devoted to 2018 books that presented material originally serialized as single issues, anthology stories, etc., as well as English-language releases of international material such as Manga, Eurocomics, etc. I’m hoping to have that one ready in the next couple of days here, do stop by and check it out!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/15/2018 – 04/21/2018

One book understandably sucked all the oxygen out of the room this week, and we’ll dive right into it first, but fear not, there are a few others worth talking about, as well —

So, look, let’s just call it like it is : Action Comics  #1000 is an eight-dollar victory lap. A “double milestone” book celebrating both the fact that it’s the first American comic to hit the four-digit-issue-number mark, as well as the 80th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, you go in figuring you’re in for plenty of self-congratulation here, and yeah, it’s essentially 80 pages of DC’s top creators, past and present, paying tribute to the company’s number one character (sorry, Bat-fans). Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get the “80-Page Giant” dedicated to them, as well they should, but don’t come in for much mention anywhere else within its pages, which feels like a bit of a slight — although not nearly as big a one as when they were swindled out of any claim of ownership to their creation in exchange for the princely sum of $130. And yeah, as DC’s defenders are always quick to point out, the company did attempt to “make good” with the two guys from Cleveland in their dotage , but they were certainly owed a lot more than they ever got. Hell, their heirs are probably still owed a lot more than they ever got. But we’re not here to focus on that issue too specifically, we’re here talk about what we got in this comic —

“What Superman Means To Us All” is the connective tissue holding all the short-form strips in here together, and some address the subject more successfully than others — there’s a veritable “murder’s row” of talent on hand, with Dan Jurgens, Peter J. Tomasi, Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, Tom King, Brad Meltzer, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Louise Simonson, and Brian Michael Bendis on script duties and Jurgens, Patrick Gleason, Neal Adams, Curt Swan, Butch Guice, Jim Lee, Clay Mann, Rafael Albuquerque, John Cassaday, Olivier Coipel, John Romita Jr., Jerry Ordway, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on art, and while it’s nice to see that Jurgens, Tomasi, and Gleason were all allowed to say good-bye to the character before Bendis’ much-ballyhooed arrival next month (the Tomasi/Gleason story being a particularly effective “Superman Through The Years” yarn told entirely in single-panel “splash” pages), it’s really the “guest” creators who do the best job here, particularly Tom King and Clay Mann, who capture the essence of all that is special about the Man of Steel in just a handful of gorgeously-drawn, sparsely-worded pages.

Of the other offerings, I had a lot of fun with the “retro”-style Supes/Luthor confrontation by Levitz and Adams (available only in the digital preview copy I got and not the print edition, fair warning), and the Johns/Donner/Coipel “Golden Age” story is a blast, as well, but really the overall quality of everything is pretty consistent, barring one curious misfire, that being the Wolfman/Swan/Guice strip that takes a previously-extant story originally written by Cindy Goff and simply swaps out her original dialogue and captions for new stuff. Not sure what the point of that was, other than to make sure the greatest Superman artist of all time was represented in the book.

As for covers — there were nine to choose from, one for each decade Action Comics has been around in addition to the “main” one,  and I opted for the Dave Gibbons/Angus McKie 1950s variant, so that’s what’s atop the column here. All in all I felt like I got my money’s worth and then some out of this book, and while the intro to the new Bendis “era” that wraps things up was nowhere near interesting enough to convince me to give his forthcoming Man Of Steel mini-series a try (much less to continue on into the two monthly titles after that’s done), I’m glad to have bought this comic and recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in Superman —whether as a character, as a cultural icon, or both — do the same.

Sticking with DC, this week saw the release of the sixth and I-thought-final issue of Neal Adams’ Deadman mini-series, and if you thought things were incoherent before — you ain’t seen nothing yet. I swear that Adams is just making this shit up as he goes along and that no one’s really bothering to edit what he turns in — and that’s what makes his latter-period work so jaw-droppingly, singularly bizarre and interesting. Batman is on the cover here but isn’t in the book — the multitude of supernatural guest stars who are in the book aren’t on the cover — and everyone is shouting all the damn time, even when there’s no reason to. I’m certainly game for more of this kind of utterly alien type of storytelling, where the normal rules of what’s “good” and “bad,” what “works” and what “doesn’t,” simply do not apply — and whaddya know, as this issue comes to an end the story doesn’t, and it looks like a second six-part “arc” is in the offing for later this year. Yeah, at four bucks a pop buying all twelve is going to get pricey, but I have no complaints. Adams’ work may be an acquired taste at this point —but once you have acquired it, there’s nothing else remotely like it.

I was a little rough on Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson’s Come Into Me #1 a few weeks back (although I gave well-deserved “props” to artist Piotr Kowalsi), but I’m still down to give any of their creator-owned stuff a try, and the first issue of their new Aftershock series Her Infernal Descent is all the proof I need that sticking with these guys was the right call. An elderly woman who’s lost her family in an apparent (though, as yet, undefined) tragedy is escorted through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell — by William Blake? This is the sort of brash, ballsy mash-up that’s either going to really work or really miss the mark, and so far it’s really working.

I’ll grant you that some of Blake’s rhyming iambic pentameter dialogue seems both forced and far less intelligent than anything you’d expect him to actually say, but the overwhelming majority of it is highly successful, the sheer bravado of the imagination on display here is a sight to behold — and speaking of sights to behold, Kyle Charles’ rich, sumptuous, evocative artwork is worth the $3.99 price of admission on its own, and his page layouts are astonishingly imaginative. I think this one is slated to run six issues, although I could be wrong about that — one thing I’m not wrong about, though, is that you need to jump on this book now.

One more debut issue to wrap things up, even if it’s not a real debut issue, so to speak : Black Hammer : Age Of Doom #1 kicks off the second “arc” of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s revisionist super-hero series, and shows that my concerns about this “universe” being spread kinda thin through franchising and whatnot (see Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil and Doctor Star And The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows — with, apparently, more on the way) were ill-founded indeed. I know, I know — Dark Horse has always milked Hellboy for everything it’s worth and then some, and they seem to think they have a big enough hit on their hands to do the same here, but who can argue with results? I’ve enjoyed both spin-off series to date, and Lemire and Ormston haven’t missed a beat during the brief hiatus on the “main” title, either — this issue sees the new Black Hammer promise to reveal all, only to be whisked away to another kind of limbo that causes her to re-think all that she thought she had figured out, while the rest of our cast finally manage to get all their ships sailing in the same direction, and that direction is right the hell out of their own private Idaho and back to the “real” world. Somehow. Lemire’s script is fast-paced and bursting at the seams with energy and ideas, Ormston’s art is atmospheric, emotive, and creepy when it needs to be — and no less than the goddamn fucking Ramones themselves put in a guest appearance. What’s not to love? You need this comic more than you need four dollars.

Okay, that’s good enough for another column. I don’t see a whole lot in next week’s solicits that turns my crank, but I’m really looking forward to Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell’s The Pervert, so we’ll have that to talk about, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days.

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Series

Okay, let’s keep our best-of-2017 theme going here with a look at the Top 10 ongoing series of the year. A quick refresher on the rules : both ongoing and limited series are eligible in this category, as long as they meet a three-issue minimum. The idea here is to rank comics that are chained to a regular(-ish) production schedule, as opposed to those that come out whenever a cartoonist or creative team has the time and/or finances (in the case of self-publishers) to release them. Those books were all eligible (and, frankly, dominated) the “Top 10 Single Issues” list that I cranked out a couple days ago — and, as with that, this one won’t feature full reviews of each series, nor even ones that graduate to the “capsule” review level, just short summations of why I like ’em.

Sound good? I’m happy if you agree, and frankly could care less if you don’t. And so, with my “arrogant asshole” credentials out of the way, let’s get into it:

10. Doom Patrol (DC/Young Animal) – This book has seen numerous production delays, but whenever a new issue comes out, it’s worth it. Yeah, writer Gerard Way leans pretty heavily on Grant Morrison’s DP run for influence, but he’s not slavishly beholden to it, and Nick Derington’s art is equal parts classic and forward-thinking. The closest thing to an “art comic” you’re likely to get from either of the “Big Two” publishers.

9. Royal City (Image) – Jeff Lemire’s moody and slow-burning solo book is a little bit examination of a town that has seen better days, but mainly a compelling family drama about a dysfunctional clan that has definitely seen better days. A touch too mired in ’90s nostalgia for my tastes (news flash, that decade sucked — yes, even most of the music), but damn near pitch-perfect apart from that.

8. Dept. H (Dark Horse) – Matt Kindt’s underwater murder mystery is probably the most compulsively page-turning series going right now, and the watercolor-style hues provided by his wife Sharlene complement the atmosphere perfectly. I dunno how a book with a whole ocean to play in ends up being having such a claustrophobic feel, but damn if the walls don’t seem like they’re closing in on every member of the ensemble cast, all the time.

7. Black Magick (Image) – Writer Greg Rucka and artist extraordinaire Nicola Scott took a break from this one to work on Wonder Woman for awhile, but now they’re not only back, but back with a vengeance. Part police procedural, part Wiccan educational text (for the uninitiated, at any rate), this comic is like nothing else out there, and the rich, cinematic art will absolutely knock your socks off.

6. Mister Miracle (DC) – Yeah, this thing has been over-hyped to the hilt, and won’t seem anywhere near as “revolutionary” as advertised to anyone who’s seen a few David Lynch flicks (particularly Mulholland Drive), but Tom King and Mitch Gerads nevertheless deliver a smarter, more confounding, more complex, and more conceptually spot-on take on a Jack Kirby concept than we’ve seen to date — heck, I daresay The King himself would probably be proud of this one.

5. The Wild Storm (DC/WildStorm) – Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt have done the unthinkable with this series : turned Jim Lee’s gone-and-largely-forgotten relic of ’90s comic book excess into a thought-provoking, Philip K. Dick-esque, paranoid sci-fi political thriller. Crisply scripted, lavishly illustrated, and overflowing with key visual information in every panel, this is borderline-brilliant stuff.

4. Violent Love (Image) – Nobody bought this just-wrapped series and even fewer people are talking about it, but fuck it, that’s their loss. Frank J. Barbiere’s Badlands/Natural Born Killers/Bonnie And Clyde -style “criminals on the road” script is as fast and furious as they come, and Victor Santos’ art is the most stylish thing going in any “major independent” book, brimming over with ’70s exploitation grit and film noir cool.

3. The Flintstones (DC) – Truth be told, all of DC’s licensed Hanna-Barbera comics have been far better than any rational reader had probably assumed they would be, but this recently-concluded revisionist take on life in Bedrock from writer Mark Russell and criminally-underappreciated veteran artist Steve Pugh is clearly the best of the bunch — and, obviously, one of the best comics of the year. Spot-on social and political commentary that spares no sacred cows matched with wit and whimsy that’s downright charming, this wasn’t so much a Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty “re-launch” as it was a thematic and spiritual successor to Howie Post’s legendary Anthro. Utterly sublime, and hopefully a second “season” will be in the offing sooner rather than later.

2. Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. Hernandez have brought their series back to its original magazine format, and whenever a new issue hits the racks, all is temporarily right with the world again. Beto’s stuff is arguably at its most deeply self-referential right now, but rest assured it’s still great, and Jaime’s strips are aging so gracefully it’s almost painful to take in — seriously, Maggie, Hopey and co. are even more compelling at mid-life than they were in their twenties. By all rights this comic should have devolved into nostalgia and stagnation by now, but not only has that not happened, there are no signs that it ever will. Who are we kidding? This is one of the greatest comics not only of the year, but of all time. Always has been, always will be.

1. Black Hammer (Dark Horse) – Just when you thought super-hero revisionism was finally dead and buried, along comes Jeff Lemire and a majestically resurgent Dean Ormston (who had to re-train himself to draw after suffering a stroke) to show that you can move the most tired sub-genre of the most tired genre in the medium forward while writing a love letter to its past at the same time. This book consistently hits every note that long-time comics readers could possibly ask for, and somehow does so without a hint of either cynicism or irony. Capes and tights haven’t been done this sincerely since Alan Moore’s run on Supreme, and who knows? By the time all is said and done, this just might — I say again, might — prove to be almost as good.

Like my list? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Let me know! Certainly I had to leave a few solid contenders off, but as with the single issues, I’m really comfortable with my rankings — in fact, I had no hesitation about any of them, nor where they should fall. It all came almost disturbingly easy. Which, in theory, means I’m probably missing something really obvious — but I don’t think so.

Up next : the Top 10 Collected Editions (Contemporary) list, which will rank the best books presenting material from the beginning of the so-called “Modern Age” right up to the present day. TPB collections, comic strip collections, anthologies, webcomics collections, and the like are all eligible in this category, as long as their contents appeared somewhere else, either physically or digitally, first. I’ll hope to see you back here in a handful of days for that one!