Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/30/2019 – 07/06/2019

For awhile there, it seemed like all we covered in this column was first issues. Then we got back into looking at minis and other self-published stuff. And now we’re whiplashing back to looking at a whole bunch of first issues again. Because I really do have this over-arching need to keep you folks off-balance, I guess. Anyway, we’ve got for of ’em to check out this week, so here we go :

Sea Of Stars #1 comes to us courtesy of Image Comics, writers Jason Aaron and Dennis (Hopeless) Hallum, and artist Stephen Green. Anybody with half a brain probably steers clear of Aaron’s creator-owned stuff at this point (what happened to Southern Bastards? Or The Goddamned?), but I have a full  brain, and so I picked this up — and walked away from it pretty glad that I did. An “all-ages” sort of thing about a father-son interstellar salvage crew that becomes as physically separated as they are mentally and emotionally following the untimely passing of their wife/mother and a subsequent catastrophe that befalls their ship, this was a brisk read loaded with fun and energetic art, cool concepts, and plenty of, as the kids say, “feels.” If it sticks to a regular publication schedule, that’d be nice, as this reasonably refreshing twist on being, quite literally, “lost in space” was a nice enough way to spend 20 minutes and four dollars.

Postal : Deliverance #1 from Image and Top Cow brings us back to the so-called “Edenverse” for the first time in far too long, with creator Matt Hawkins sitting on the sidelines and handing full reins over to writer Bryan Hill and artist Raffaele Ienco. A fair amount of time appears to have passed since last we saw our principal players, but “deposed” mayor Laura looks to be having trouble keeping a low profile while on the lam, her Asperger’s-afflicted son Mark doesn’t seem to be taking too much to either assuming her former job or to marriage and fatherhood, and there’s a new bad-ass come to his “off-the-grid” colony for ex-cons determined to make his presence felt by any means necessary. Ienco’s art is stunning, the story keeps you turning the pages, and while there’s pretty much zero on offer here to entice new readers, grizzled vets such as myself are sure to have a blast with this one.

Lois Lane #1 wasn’t a comic I was expecting to pick up, much less like, but Greg Rucka can spin an espionage yarn/crime thriller like no one else not named Brubaker, and this turned out to be a timely, topical read. “Superman’s Girlfriend” is, of course, now his wife, and while she’s taking on the Trump administration (not that it’s ever explicitly named as such) over running privatized border “detention facilities” for a profit, she’s got the Rene Montoya iteration of The Question out hunting down on an even bigger lead. Artist Mike Perkins does a nice job invoking the aesthetic of Lee Bermejo with his own twist, the characterization is solid across the board, the suspense is fairly palpable — hell, this is just a really good comic. Can’t say that about too many DC titles these days.

Doom Patrol : Weight Of The Worlds, which arrives in our hands courtesy of their Young Animal imprint, is another one you can say it about, though. I thought the last run of this series devolved into utter nonsense pretty quickly, but maybe Gerard Way taking on Jeremy Lambert as co-writer helps here, since this comic has a solid core premise (the team is tooling around the cosmos in Danny the Ambulance looking to help/for trouble), a well-defined core cast of characters (with Jane running the show!), and some intriguing subplots (humanity isn’t agreeing with Cliff all that well, as it turns out). I miss Nick Derington on art, sure, but he’s still doing the covers, and James Harvey isn’t just an adequate replacement, he’s plenty awesome in his own right — just check out his multi-page homage to the famous “this would be a good death” scene from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns if you require any proof of that assertion. I wasn’t counting on this being all that great, but great it was, and I can’t wait to see where this “season” goes.

And that should about do it, apart from the customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can join up for as little as a buck a month, so let’s be real here — what have you got to lose? Take moment to check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/25/2018 – 03/03/2018

Looming nuclear war with North Korea! Looming cold war with Russia! Looming trade war with every other country on the planet! What have we got to take our minds off all this potential conflict? Why, comics, of course! And this week offered plenty of distraction — some good, some decidedly less so.

The Beef #1 is the opening salvo in a four-parter from Image that has apparently been in the works for quite some time. Co-writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline, of Elephantmen and Liberty Justice, respectively, join forces with living legend (as far as I’m concerned) Shaky Kane to serve up this story that appears to be part character-study of a lonely middle-aged “nobody,” part examination of small-town generational entrapment, part super-hero parody, and part polemic on the merits of vegetarianism. Kane’s art and colors are, needless to say, absolutely magnificent — larger than life and twice as bold, he’s the nearest thing in style and spirit to Kirby these days — and I’ll be damned if the narrative isn’t instantly involving, as well. It’s all done up in OTT broad strokes — alienated protagonist trapped in the same cattle-slaughtering gig as his old man before him, still tormented by the same bullies (one of whom is the Mayberry equivalent of Donald Trump Jr., given that his daddy owns the meat-processing plant and the fast food joynt while he plays “dudebro” at age 40) that have been making his life hell since high school — and laced with plenty of entirely un-subtle commentary on the evils of anti-immigrant prejudice and carnivorous eating. Yes, they really did make a label out of Kane’s cover art and stick it on a can of SPAM-type meat “product;” yes, our ostensible “hero” appears to turn into a freaky super-human “meat man” at the end; yes, the asshole bad guys really do set a charging bull on a shapely young lady who wisely won’t give either of them the time of day; and yes, this book is every kind of awesomely deranged fun you can imagine. Highest possible recommendation ain’t high enough — buy this comic and remind yourself why you still, stubbornly, love this beleaguered medium.

The One #1 kicks off IDW’s year-long run of Rick Veitch reprints (Brat Pack will be following suit), and offers prima facie evidence that, once upon a time, super-hero deconstructionism wasn’t such a bad thing at all. Originally published under Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, this has been (correctly, in my view) heralded as a thematic precursor of sorts to later, more-celebrated works such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight returns, but without the self-seriousness of either/both. Veitch is positively brimming over with ideas here, the comic is lavishly illustrated and beautifully colored, and consumer excess comes in for just as much scrutiny within its pages as does the notion of the super-powered vigilante. It’s been a hell of a long time since I read my B&W trade collection of this series, but I’m more than pleasantly surprised by how utterly relevant it remains — shit, I won’t even say that it’s “aged well,” as it’s more a case that the capes n’ tights scene is even more desperately in need of Veitch’s thorough-going, critical examination than it was 30-plus years ago. All the tropes that he wryly dissects are more entrenched — and frankly more nauseating — now than they were in the early 1980s, and even though “revisionism” has been done to death over the past few decades, this book still feels like a breath of unbelievably fresh air. $4.99 may be a little steep for what is essentially a standard-length comic, but for material this smart, incisive, and respectful of its own targets? Shit, it’s an absolute bargain. We’ve seen the problems inherent in this genre laid bare by any number of folks who have disdain for it — Veitch’s deconstruction comes from a place of, dare I say it, love, and he’s much more concerned with elevating costumed crime-fighters to where he thinks they should be rather than taking them down another peg or two. If you’re looking for a story with heart and humor that examines super-hero comics without making you feel like an asshole for still reading them, this is (insert audible groan here) the one.

Doom Patrol/Justice League Of America Special #1 wraps up Steve Orlando and Gerard Way’s “Milk Wars” DCU/Young Animal cross-over series in confusing and faux-“transgressive” fashion by turning the DP’s Rita Farr/Elasti-Girl into a kind of Christ-like figure who died for comics fans’ sins, only to be resurrected here as the very same sort of living plot device that the narrative ostensibly takes aim at. Orlando and Way more-than-imply that she’s a character who’s always deserved better than what she got — then cynically use her “rebirth” as a sort of deckchair-shuffling device to set the stage for the various soon-to-be-relaunched (just over a year into their existence) Young Animal titles. Some forced caption-box narration about the inherent value of being “weird” and “different” is apparently meant to make us forget what a naked cash-grab this entire venture was (seriously, the three “specials” in the middle of this series weren’t necessary to the proceedings at all — if you want to know what “Milk Wars” is all about, the first and final books are, strictly speaking, all you need) because we’ll all be too busy patting ourselves on our backs for our supposed “coolness.” I guess Dale Eaglesham’s art on the main story is okay if the standard “super-hero look” is your thing, and certainly Nick Derington’s work on the epilogue is every bit as fun and fantastic as his illustration in the main Doom Patrol series, but this whole friggin’ thing left me feeling decidedly unimpressed by the time it was over. Cliff Steele/Robotman is human again, Mother Panic has been thrust into the future, Shade’s got a new body, Cave Carson and crew are now in outer space, a character called Eternity Girl has something to do with something or other (we’ll find out in her own book, I guess) and Elasti-Girl is back. That’s where things stand now. Did it take five comics, each costing five bucks, to get us to this point? Not really, since all the events just mentioned take place on the final five or six pages of this one. Young Animal may pride itself on being some sort of “alternative” DC imprint, but the hustle is exactly the same. Oh, and is it just me, or is the stylized lettering on the Rita Farr “cosmic crucifixion” pages way too small? Mind you, I say this as a guy with 20/20 vision — I can only imagine the strain bespectacled readers went through trying to read that shit.

The Terrifics #1 is the latest book to launch as part of the self-described “New Age Of DC Heroes,” and it occcurs to me that, in addition to these titles being constructed according to the “Marvel Method” (writer hacks out a quick synopsis, artist then turns it into a 20-page story, writer comes back and fills in the word balloons and caption boxes), these are all Marvel comics. Which is fine, I suppose, since Marvel itself doesn’t seem interested in publishing them anymore, but seriously — Damage is pretty clearly DC’s take on the Hulk, The Silencer is a Punisher analogue, Sideways is Spider-Man with a different name and set of powers, and this new team consisting of Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and Phantom Girl doing the dimension-hopping bears more than a passing similarity, premise-wise, to the Fantastic Four. Jeff Lemire is scripting this one with Ivan Reis on art, and I was having a reasonably fun enough time shutting my brain off and going with the flow — until the last page, when Tom Strong shows up for the cliffhanger and DC proves, once again, that they’re more than happy to keep strip-mining Alan Moore’s imagination for all its (apostrophe omitted with specific intent) worth just to piss the guy off. Come on, any number of dormant space-faring adventurers would have worked just as well in Strong’s place — Adam Strange, anyone? — but it seems like the Dan DiDio/Jim Lee regime simply can’t resist rubbing The Bearded One’s face in their excrement. At first it was just sad and pathetic that they’d actually prove Moore’s points about how creatively and ethically bankrupt they are for him, but between this and Promethea’s recent appearance in Justice League Of America, it’s actually starting to feel more than a bit mean-spirited. I refuse to play along, and you should to. Drop this title from your pull now or suffer through the V/Batman and Top 10/Titans team-ups to follow. You’ve been warned.

And so we arrive at the end of yet another weekly wrap column, and reluctantly turn our attention back to the real world. At least until Wednesday, when a new batch of floppy, four-color escape valves arrives to take us away from the madness once again—

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/28/2018 – 02/03/2018

Would’ja believe — there wasn’t too much that came in my mailbox this week and it was my LCS that kept me busy with new stuff to read? I swear, it’s true, so let’s have a look at some items of note that I picked up —

For a series/line that prides itself on being “old-school,” Josh Bayer’s All-Time Comics seems in some ways to hew pretty closely to modern publishing norms. Issues frequently ship late, for instance, and their latest release, the bumper-sized (and subsequently more expensive than usual) All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2, marks the end of the first “season” of the range, with an Image-style gap of three or four months now on deck as they get their ducks in a row for their next not-exactly-an-arc. The script this time out is a Bayer solo endeavor, and frankly not the greatest — the last half of the comic essentially being an extended “bad guy rant” — but it’s still kinda “warts and all”-style fun that will appeal to most Bronze Age babies like myself by hitting all the right nostalgic notes. It’s really down to the art to essentially carry most of the weight here, though, and weird as it sounds to even say things like “Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgrom” and “Sammy Harkham variant cover,” that’s precisely what you get here, and it’s every bit as awesome to look at as said phrases would lead you to expect. I have no doubt that the overall ATC project will continue to confound readers looking for some over-arching unifying grand purpose, as it appears that Bayer and co. really don’t seem to have one, but for my money that’s a large part of the appeal of what they’re doing, and even though I’m sure admitting as much will brand me an intellectual simpleton in the minds of many in the critical community, I’m seriously looking forward to seeing where this whole thing goes next, as regulars like Benjamin Marra return to the fold and newcomers like Gabrielle Bell (yes, you read that right!) join in the four-color carnage. Operating in a previously-unexplored middle ground that exists between the polarities of “homage” and “spoof,” these comics are hitting a “sweet spot” for me — even when they run six bucks, as this one did.

It’ll cost you seven, though, to pick up the second issue of Shelly Bond’s Black Crown Quarterly, and to be honest, I think I’ve seen enough at this point. The format’s nice, with heavy cardstock covers and high-quality glossy paper, and to be honest, most of the individual strips range in quality from “pretty decent” (Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub,” Jamie Coe’s “Bandtwits,” Leah Moore and Nanna Venter’s “Hey, Amateur! How To Be A Badass Goth In Nine Panels”) to “actually quite good” (“Cannonball Comics” by Christopher Sebela and Shawn McManus, who illustrates in a very engaging and eye-popping style quite unlike anything he’s ever done), but the “Cud : Rich and Strange” ongoing by Will Potter, Carl Puttnam and Philip Bond continues to be a dud, the inclusion of more preview pages for David Barnett and Martin Simmonds’ forthcoming Punks Not Dead make me wonder if we’re not going to end up seeing the entire first issue before it even comes out, and the text pieces are either essentially extended promo blurbs for other Black Crown titles like Kid Lobotomy, or else self-consciously “hip” music and travel recommendations. What frustrates most about BCQ, though, is that Bond’s hopelessly dated tastes and aesthetic sensibilities end up making the overall package less than the sum of its parts, and at the end of the day it almost feels like she’s assembling a comic for an audience of one — herself. Unless you, too, are an anglophile whose musical knowledge doesn’t extend beyond the borders of late-’70s UK punk, it’s hard to see the appeal in an anthology this specifically — and rigidly — constructed. Gotta love the pull-out poster featuring the Bill Sienkiewicz cover variant for Punks Not Dead #1, though.

In what passes for a “bargain” this week, five bucks will get you in the door of Justice League Of America/Doom Patrol Special #1, and while it’s not a spectacular read or anything of the sort, I did have fun with this first part of “Milk Wars,” a five-part weekly crossover that sees Gerard Way’s Young Animal line clashing head-on with the “proper” DC Universe. Way and Steve Orlando wrote the script for this book, and thematically and tonally it seems pretty well right in line with what the My Chemical Romance lead singer is doing with his main Doom Patrol series, in that it borrows equally from Grant Morrison’s run on the book and Larry Cohen’s cult-favorite horror/comedy hybrid The Stuff. I don’t know much about the current Justice League Of America line-up, but it appears to be a bunch of B-and C-list characters like Lobo and Vixen, so I guess re-casting them all as a 1950s neighborhood decency brigade is no particular skin off DC editorial’s back, and for the purposes of this story the conceit works — as does ACO’s frenetic, mildly psychedelic art. Perhaps even better than the main feature, though, is the two-page backup strip, which begins what I’m assuming will be an extended introduction to the character of Eternity Girl, who will soon be featuring in her own series courtesy of this story’s creators, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew. I’m as shocked as anyone to see a cartoonist of Liew’s caliber taking on an assignment for DC, and equally shocked that he wouldn’t just write it himself since that’s how he’s made his bread and butter previously, but if this brief Silver Age-style yarn is any indication, he and Visaggio should make a good team. Anyway, all in all, this comic stood head, shoulders, and udders (read it and you’ll get what that reference is all about) above most “Big Two” fare.

Lastly, we come to Motehrlands #1, the first of a new Vertigo six-parter from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Rachael Stott that proudly wears its 2000AD influence on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to plunge you in at the deep end from the get-go and trust that you’ll catch up — at some point. The action’s pretty breakneck in this one, though, and absolutely absurd, so don’t expect much hand-holding in this wild mash-up of badass-bounty-hunter, “reality” TV, and dysfunctional family tropes, our main protagonist being an inter-dimensional mercenary skip-tracer who lures her mother, a sort of washed-up female version of that “Dawg” guy, out of retirement in order to help track down the third member of the clan, the good-for-nothing brother/son. It’s a fast-paced and — here’s that word again — fun read, and Stott’s art is a nice mix of the conventional and the far-out, so I’m probably gonna stick it out in single issues, but if you missed the first installment, “trade-waiting” probably wouldn’t do you any harm, and will more than likely save you a few dollars.

Okay, I think that’s good enough for now — the small-press stuff was in short supply this week, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve got a box on the way from Retrofit any day now of some comics I missed out on from the tail end of 2017, so hopefully I’ll have read enough of those books by this time next week to talk about at least some of them in my next round-up column. Hope to see you again in seven short 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!