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 : 08/05/2018 – 08/11/2018

Our foray into the wonders of Elijah Brubaker’s Reich these past few weeks has put paid to the idea that these Weekly Reading Round-Ups are all about looking at new stuff that was actually released during the seven-day span in question, but I don’t think we missed much. We would, however, be missing out on a smattering of noteworthy first issues this time out if we set our view-finders backwards, so let’s not do that this time, shall we? Stuff worth talking about new on comic book shelves this past Wednesday, then, listed in order of how well I liked ’em —

Who better than a delightfully cantankerous old man to weave a tale of the decidedly un-delightful, but definitely cantankerous, old men, as well as the constantly put-upon young men whose labors they exploited, that built this benighted comic book industry we all know, love, and loathe in probably-equal measure? He pissed off a lot of well-meaning folks I respect about this same time last year with The Divided States Of Hysteria, but fuck it : I still love Howard Chaykin’s work, and Hey Kids! Comics! #1 is a perfect example in microcosm of why — shithead characters with shitty attitudes mired in ethically shitty situations with nowhere to go but down. This issue runs $3.99, like pretty much all Image books these days, but it’s probably worth twice that if you’re as finely attuned to the “Chaykin wavelength” as yours truly. We jump timelines a lot in this opening installment and get to meet a character who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Siegel and Shuster both, another who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Flo Steinberg plus a requisite amount of adolescent male fantasy, several chronologically-appropriate versions of someone who’s pretty clearly a Kirby stand-in, only one chronologically-appropriate version of a guy who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Chaykin’s mentor, Gil Kane, and at the end of the book the “Big Bad” making everyone’s lives miserable is revealed to be a seedy, smooth-talking huckster who’s pretty clearly a Stan Lee stand-in. It’s all more than a bit obvious, sure, but it’s just as obviously all kinds of fun and I’m truly curious to see whether or not this project turns out to be an homage of sorts to the business its creator has made his living at for getting on five decades now, a giant middle-finger to everyone in said business that said creator never could stand, or a little of both. Throw in some truly eye-catching color work by Chaykin’s regular huesman of recent vintage, Wil Quintana, and the usual superb lettering and effects work of the perpetually-a-couple-decades-ahead-of-his-time Ken Bruzenak and oh yeah, we’ve got a winner here. Let’s just hope releasing this on a monthly basis in the short-term (what is this slated to run? Five or six issues?) doesn’t further delay the long-anticipated third volume of Time Squared  too terribly much longer.

One thing I’m truly baffled by is the fact that comics haven’t tried to do “the Fargo thing” before, but writer Eliot Rahal, artist Jorge Fornes (who also does the coloring), and Aftershock Comics are determined to make up for lost time, at least if the evidence presented by Hot Lunch Special #1 is anything to go by. An Arab-American family that runs a veritable empire centered around those disgusting microwaveable sandwiches you get (assuming you do, in fact, get them — which you shouldn’t) in vending machines and at gas stations from the frozen hinterland of Ely, Minnesota, finds themselves on the receiving end of some fairly typical mafia intimidation schemes when they grow too big for their britches and decide they don’t want to cut the Italians in for a piece of the action. Nothing supremely original or anything, but certainly perversely charming, side-splittingly funny, and even damn dramatic when it needs to be, with killer modern-noir illustration by the astoundingly talented Fornes, this is unquestionably a series worth keeping an eye on. Hell, both eyes. As is ever the case. $3.99 ain’t cheap, but count me in for the duration on this one, barring some unforeseen turn toward the cataclysmic.

The popular and successful team behind the just-concluded Grass Kings is back at Boom! Studios with something entirely different in Black Badge #1, a tale of “Top Tier” Boy Scouts who so impress the old-timers that they’re sent behind enemy lines into North Korea for the purpose of carrying out an entirely-undisclosed assassination.  Kindt keeps things moving along at a very pleasing clip in this one after making all necessary character introductions, Jenkins’ art is just a bit tighter and more formalized than previous efforts, and his colorist/wife, Hilary, adds the final touch by swapping out watercolors for what I take to be some sort of digitally-approximated gouache effect. The final result? A comic that looks and reads really effing well, even if it’s a bit of a mess tonally, unable to decide whether or not it wants to be “appropriate for all ages” or “suggested for mature readers.” I’m cool with that, though, because at least it means I don’t know what to expect on the next page throughout. This one’s getting a bit of a shorter leash than the two previously-mentioned publications, but not by much : I’m more than happy to give Kindt and and Jekins at least two more issue — and eight more dollars — before deciding whether or not I’m on this one for the long haul. Given the track records of the principal creators, both separately and together, it seems a fairly safe bet that this’ll just get better as it goes along, and in point of fact it actually stars out of the gate remarkably well, which is always a good sign.

Lastly, we set out sights on DC/Vertigo’s $4.99 one-shot, The Sandman Universe #1, which basically employs the same conceit as the DC Rebirth Special of using a character that’s been getting pretty dusty to act as our “eyes and ears” as we get ourselves up to snuff on everything that’s been happening in our (or, in a pinch, his) absence. This time it’s Matthew The Raven as opposed to Wally West, but it’s still an effective storytelling technique, if an over-utilized one.  This is sheer set-up material all the way, clearly designed to get readers interested in the forthcoming quartet of Sandman  spin-offs coming out over the next few months (really? Another new Lucifer series?), all “curated” (whatever that even means) by Neil Gaiman himself, who’s credited with same here. I’m not normally a fan of the “committee approach” to crafting comics, but writers Simon Spurrier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters do what they can in the face of a truly cumbersome editorial remit, and ditto for artists Bilquis Evely, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumana and Sebastian Fiumara, as well as cover artist Jae Lee (although the landscpape is littered with variants), who all have their own unique looks that they bush aside in their pursuit of something akin to a “house style,”  Okay, good enough, as long as it’s done with an eye toward quality as well as unifornity, and colorist Mat Lopes also gives the book more of  a consistent visual ethos, given that he’s aboard for all 40-some pages. This was by no means an Earth-shattering debut, but it was a plenty good for— well, what it was , as is also true of the “writer’s room”-crated story. I’m sufficiently intrigued to give all four of these new books a month, at least, to see where they’re headed, so that’s at least something.

And that’ll do it for the Round-Up this week. Next time out we’ll turn our attention to — whatever we turn it to. Join us here in seven as we reveal what the heck that even means!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/05/2017 – 11/11/2017

A varied and disparate selection of books came my way this week, some easy enough to find, others decidedly less so —

And on the “decidedly less so” front, we’ve got legendary auto-didact Mark Beyer’s Ne’er-Do-Wellers, a limited-as-hell (as in 200 signed and numbered copies) new publication that comes to us by way of Trapset Zines and was issued in conjunction with the opening of a new gallery show of Beyer’s work. Not so much a “comic” per se as a series of illustrations accompanying reports of particularly strange and sometimes brutal crimes that took place in recent years in Beyer’s hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., this is as stark a distillation of absurdity, deadpan humor, and pessimism for humanity as a whole as you’re probably expecting, and certainly Beyer’s unique-unto-himself style of illustration is every bit as much a dark joy for the eyes as it’s always been, but — and it’s a big “but” —

28 bucks for this thing? Seriously? It’s advertised as being 25 pages long, but it’s not, and while the three postcards and greeting card it comes with are definitely terrific, they’re all older illustrations, and the cover is just a colorized version of one of the interior drawings. The economics of scarcity is the only thing that can in any way justify the price of this thing, and by “scarcity” I don’t just mean its low print run, I mean that new Beyer work is (very) few and (very) far between.

For that reason alone, then, I’m pleased to have Ne’er-do-Wellers as part of my library. I really do love it and have spent several hours poring over every detail of every drawing. But that doesn’t mean that the whole package should, in a perfect world, have cost about ten bucks less.

Plastic People is a fascinating little ongoing mini-comic by Brian Canini published by Drunken Cat Comics that just saw its third issue roll off the presses. Set in a future world where plastic surgery has reduced everyone (or, at least, everyone in L.A.) to a kind of bland sameness, this seems to be a bit of a “slow-burn” storyline (we don’t even find out what our protagonists do for a living until the second installment) for a mini-comic, but I dig Canini’s minimalist style and his characters seem more “people” than they do “plastic.” $1.99 for eight tiny pages is a little bit steep, I’ll grant you, but not out of line with what small-press readers are used to paying for similarly-formatted publications, and so I have no qualms about recommending this one to anybody with a little extra spending money who’s looking for an immersive new story to get hooked on.

The Divided States Of Hysteria #6 sees Howard Chaykin wrapping up the first arc of this apparently-now-ongoing series (it’ll be back at some point in 2018), and while this comic has been a strangely-paced-and-plotted affair even by Chaykin standards and he pulls the (temporary, as it turns out) ending out of his ass, I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t work anyway, and if protagonist Frank Villa doesn’t turn out to be marginally less of an asshole than he’s seemed to be (or, for that matter, than Chaykin’s deeply-flawed “heroes” almost always are). And all the folks leveling (largely sincere, in my view, but nevertheless misplaced) charges of transphobia against this book will certainly be surprised to see who Villa rides off into the sunset with — or rather, they would be if they were still reading. Chaykin’s art on this issue seems a bit crisper and tighter than the last few installments, Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and effects still look a good couple of decades ahead of their time, and there’s something very near to moral redemption offered up by the time all is said and (again, not exactly) done here — but for my money, the best thing of all about this book comes our way via the three-page “house ad” at the very back. I’ll say no more, beyond : it’s about time, Howard. In fact, it’s about time — squared. Anybody else as excited as I am?

Lastly, knowing full well that I risk whatever meager reputation I have by admitting this, I’ll just ‘fess up to the fact that Moon Knight has always been my favorite Marvel super-hero, and the character has been in the midst of something of a creative renaissance since the Warren Ellis/Declan Shalvey re-launch a few years back. Writer Max Bemis (whose work I’m not terribly familiar with, but who apparently fronts a band of some sort) and artist Jacen (CrossedProvidence) Burrows are the latest to take a crack at everyone’s favorite multiple-personality vigilante with Moon Knight #188 (once again, I won’t even attempt to begin to explain Marvel’s new “Legacy” numbering), and while the story’s only a middling affair that centers on a psychologist and her patient (neither of whom, as far as I know, readers have ever been introduced to previously) rather than our ostensible protagonist (who only appears in a brief dream sequence),  Burrows absolutely nails it on the art, and that’s more than enough to keep me around for at least a few issues to see how things progress. His style is remarkably different to that of the other top-flight artists who have worked on the character in the past — from Sienkiewicz to Shalvey to, most recently, Smallwood — but his eye for detail and expression really shines through, and his figure drawing is becoming far more fluid and less “posed” than it sometimes was on previous projects. It’s well past time that wider audiences than Avatar projects (even Alan Moore-scripted Avatar projects) have going for them were exposed to this guy’s work, so here’s your chance.

Okay, that’s enough, I should think, for this week — I’ve got (yet another) package from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half on the way, as well as a bunch of Aaron Lange comics, so there should definitely be some interesting stuff to talk about when we meet here again in seven days.