Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/02/2020 – 02/08/2020

What’ve we got this week? A one-shot, a first issue, the start of a new story arc, and the prelude to the prelude to a new story arc. It’s about as mixed a bag as it sounds, to be honest, but every one of these books has at least something going for it, and you can’t always say that. And so, with that in mind —

Never one to pass on the chance to squeeze as much blood from a rock as they can (and then some), Marvel is cashing in on the resurgent popularity of the Hulk with a series of one-offs from their main series, the first of which is The Immortal Hulk : Great Power #1, which sees Bruce Banner’s gamma powers temporarily take up residence in Peter Parker — and if one guest star’s not enough for you, the entirety of the Fantastic Four is on hand, to boot. On the one hand I wanted to hate this one, because it’s such an obviously cynical cash-grab and it’s priced at five bucks, but Tom Taylor’s script is actually pretty fun, and the art by penciler Jorge Molina and inkers Adriano Di Benedetto and Roberto Poggi is certainly more than serviceable. Yeah, nothing here is gonna make you forget about Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, and it’s far from an essential purchase, but if you’re looking for a nice little side-step, this provides it. I read it twice, so what the hell? I don’t even feel particularly ripped off by it — even though, logically speaking, who are we kidding? I was.

Our debut issue for the week is writer John Layman’s latest project for Aftershock, The Man Who Effed Up Time #1. Again, this is no re-invention of the wheel or anything, but for a predictable-enough genre yarn it’s not bad at all. Playing right into the standard time-travel trope of “if  you change even one thing, you’ll screw up everything,” this one’s about a schmuck lab assistant whose former best friend stole his work, stole his girl, and now treats him like shit, so when he invents a time machine, he goes back to try and “fix” all that — and ends up creating an alternate reality where Abraham Lincoln became an emperor (or king, or something), and his distant heir now sits on the throne. The script is light-hearted, heavy on the humor, and features smartly-written (if painfully obvious) characters, while the art by Karl Mostert is clean, simple, and almost admirable in its eschewing of the slick in favor of the effective. It is, however, another one that checks in with a five dollar cover price, so I dunno — you might be better off waiting for the whole thing to be collected in trade.

Moving on over to Dynamite, Red Sonja #13 kicks off the second year of this latest iteration of the series, and while interior artist Bob Q and cover artist Jae Lee (who’s done better work than he turns in with this one, that’s for sure) are both new faces, writer Mark Russell is still around, and let’s just be honest — he’s the engine driving this thing, and the reason everyone’s picking it up. That being said — Mirko Colak’s art was a lot better-suited to this sword-and-sandals stuff than Q’s rather workmanlike illustration, but for people just concerned with a continuation of the narrative, this shouldn’t disappoint. The new arc kicks off with Sonja having won the war that took up the title’s first year, but at a pretty steep cost — her people are now starving to death. What to do? Well, how about venturing into the territory of your sworn enemies to see if they’ll give you a hand? Hey, it’s comics — crazier shit than that has worked before. I’m still enjoying the heck out of this book, so I’ll probably stick out this storyline, even if it doesn’t look as period-appropriate visually, but it’s all riding on Russell from here on out — which is probably not anywhere near as dire as it sounds, given that he has yet to let me down on anything he’s worked on.

Finally, over at Image we’ve got Copra #5, which is the first of two issues that set the stage for the big confrontation with the villainous Ochizon that writer/artist Michel Fiffe has been building up towards since the start of this title’s first incarnation. Next issue is billed as the “prelude” proper, so yeah, this one is the “prelude to the prelude” that I mentioned at the outset of this column. It’s a fun ride with some great foreshadowing, even-more-creative-than-usual page layouts, and eye-popping colors — and I really gig the texturing effect that Fiffe is playing with in his art here. Of course, I’m always ready to follow this book wherever it goes, and even though this issue was pure set-up, it was good set-up, so if you’re enjoying this comic, it’s safe to say that you’ll be well-pleased with this most recent installment. I know I sure was.

And that’ll do it for this time around, apart from my 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 for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

With my top ten single issues of 2019 in the rear view mirror, let’s move on to the top ten ongoing series. Any comic that saw two or more issues released in the past calendar year is eligible in this category and so, as you’d no doubt expect, the mainstream is represented much more on this list than it was in the last, given that most of their titles are still, theoretically, on a regular production schedule. There are a couple of elephants in the room that I’ll address at the very end, but let’s worry about that after you’ve read the “countdown,” shall we?

10. Wasted Space By Michael Moreci And Hayden Sherman (Vault Comics) – The first of two ensemble cast sci-fi series where every member of said ensemble is an asshole to make the “best of” cut this year, Moreci’s scripts for this book are heavy on the humor and class-conscious political messaging, while Sherman, who’s one of the busiest artists around these days, seems to bring an extra level inspiration and creativity to this title. Fun and smart in equal measure.

9. Go-Bots By Tom Scioli (IDW) – Perhaps the most surprising entry on the list simply because no one expected that a good comic about some third-rate Transformers knock-offs was even possible, but leave it to the great Scioli to make these robots seem more human than — well, humans, while cramming more ideas and visual “hooks” into any given page than most cartoonists can manage in an entire issue. IDW is onto something with this whole “give an indie guy a crack at a licensed property” idea, as we shall see as things go on.

8. All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape By Josh Bayer, Josh Simmons, Trevor Von Eeden, et. al. (Floating World Comics) – After an up-and-down first “season,” the aesthetic and thematic goals of the brothers Bayer (the other being Samuel)  are coming into pretty sharp focus in this late-Bronze Age homage. Some of that might be down to the addition of  Simmons as co-writer, and some of it is certainly down to the monumentally-underappreciated Von Eeden coming aboard as main artist and proving he certainly hasn’t lost a step, but whatever the case may be, this amalgamation of the over-and undergrounds is firing on all cylinders now.

7. Clue : Candlestick By Dash Shaw (IDW) – I told you we’d be getting back to IDW licensed books, and what a beauty this one was : the endlessly-inventive Shaw littered each of the three issues of this mini with clever puzzles and crafted one of the more compelling characters in comics this year with his iteration of Miss Scarlet. Innovative, engrossing, and consistently surprising, we’re talking about a legit gem here.

6. Outer Darkness By John Layman And Afu Chan (Image/Skybound) – Our second ensemble-cast-of-assholes science fiction series serves up at least one “pinch me, did I really just read that?” moment in each issue, as Layman crafts an epic that’s equal parts William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, while Chan delivers the visually-arresting goods in a style that demonstrates some strong anime influence yet remains utterly unique. You may not like anyone in this book, but you’ll love the book itself.

5. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et. al. (Marvel) – The first time a Marvel book has made my year-end list, but anyone who doubts my judgment clearly hasn’t been reading this comic. Ewing is doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, and Bennett blends Bernie Wrightson and Kelly Jones with early-era Image and jaw-dropping character designs, ably abetted by Jose’s faithful, non-flashy inks . The best super-hero book in a decade or more.

4. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Every bit as self-indulgent and self-congratulatory as its detractors claim, this extended “farewell tour” by Moore and O’Neill is nevertheless a heartfelt love letter to the characters and the medium they’re leaving behind as well as (crucially) the creators who came before them, who gave voice to the dreams and imaginings of countless generations — and were, of course, unconscionably ripped off for their troubles. One of the funniest and angriest comics of the year, and prima facie evidence that the comics landscape will be a far poorer place with these two, dare I say it, extraordinary gentlemen no longer part of it.

3. Love And Rockets By Jaime And Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. have been reaching new plateaus since switching back to their original magazine format with this, the fourth “volume” of their justly-legendary series, and while I hate to pick favorites, Jamie’s Maggie and Hopey stories are perhaps the best they have ever been right now. Which doesn’t mean Beto isn’t on a real creative “high” right now himself — he surely is. So let’s just admit what we all know : as readers of this tile, we’re not just spoiled — we’re spoiled to an embarrassing degree.

2. This Never Happened By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Probably the most divisive title on this list, but also the bravest. Anyone who mines the worst period of their life for a creative “battery charge” is entering into combustible territory, and while Graham doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her portrayal of other folks, her sharpest barbs are aimed at herself and the crucial part she played in her own personal downward spiral. And the only thing bolder than the script is the art, which is Graham’s most emotive and self-assured to date. I won’t kid you, after reading the first issue I was a little worried if the cartoonist was mentally and emotionally okay, but after two installments it really hit me : the work itself is proof that she emerged from her crisis not just relatively intact, but flat-out inspired.

1. From Hell : Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Anyone who has a problem with me choosing a reprint series as the year’s best ongoing, have at it — because while you can criticize me all you want, the work in question is pretty well above reproach. I was as skeptical as anyone else that adding color to the proceedings would massively detract from the look and flavor of Moore and Campbell’s grimy (and no doubt accurate) interpretation of the Victorian era, but with the artist himself in charge of the palette, the results have ranged from “unobtrusive” to “amazing,” and the absurd levels of income inequality in today’s world, as well as the return of leaders who seem to believe they come from the “divine right of kings” school of “thought,” make this conspiratorial examination of the Jack The Ripper murders more relevant than ever. Even if it’s all bullshit, it’s still true.

And now for those elephants in the room —

Astute readers may have noticed that two perennial favorites didn’t make the cut this year, those being Jeff Lemire and Dean Haspiel’s Black Hammer and Eric Reynolds’ avant-garde anthology series Now. The reason for that is simple : while Black Hammer : Age Of Doom ended in very satisfactory fashion, the issue leading up to it felt hopelessly padded and derivative, and while Now rebounded nicely with its seventh and most recent issue, volumes five and six didn’t come close to meeting the standard set by the title early on. I’d be shocked if that comic in particular didn’t find its was back onto the list next year, but we don’t deal in speculation around these parts. You wanna make the cut in any given 12-month period, you gotta earn it.

Next — the top ten vintage collections of 2019. See you for that in a couple of days! In the meantime, if you’d like to support my ongoing work, please consider subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Do a jobbing freelancer a favor and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse