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

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/14/2019 – 07/20/2019

What better place to start this week than with the end of an era?

Or three of ’em, to be precise, as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #6 marks not only the final installment of the long-running, if sporadic, series (or should that be “series of series”?), but also the much-publicized last comic ever written by Alan Moore and the less-well-publicized last comic ever drawn by Kevin O’Neill. Both (extraordinary, let’s be honest) gentlemen are off to greener pastures than this beleaguered medium has to offer, and they finish their epic in fun, smart, surprisingly understated style, having a go at just about everything on their way out the door, most notably themselves. This concluding arc, co-published by Top Shelf and Knockabout, has divided some — funny how these things always do — but for my part it was everything I’d been hoping it would be and then some, with obscure pop culture references flying at readers a mile a minute but never distracting from the crisp action, sharp storyline, and packed-to-the-gills-with-greatness artwork. It’s a bittersweet things to see these guys go — assuming either retirement actually sticks — but they’ve certainly more than earned a curtain call should they ever wish to take one, and they even manage to get a welcome dig in at the right-wing incel horde known as “comicsgate” on their way out the door via the letters page. More celebration than eulogy, this was the perfect way to wrap up a story over two decades in the making, as well as the careers of a pair of genuinely visionary and transformational talents. Yeah, I cried (wanna make something of it?) — but I laughed a lot, too. Effing sublime stuff, in addition to being an instant piece of comic book history.

And speaking of comic book history, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillps’ latest Image graphic novel, Bad Weekend, is positively steeped in it, relating as it does the story (originally serialized in their monthly Criminal series) of a composite character (with a good 75% of said “composite” apparently being based more or less directly on Gil Kane) who used to be a big shot artist in the funnybook game, but is now reduced to petty crime in order to make ends meet and settle old scores. The last couple Brubaker/Phillips projects came up short in my estimation, but this book — expanded to include something like eight new pages not included in the “floppies” — is proof positive that they’re still pretty well untouchable as a mainstream creative team when firing on all cylinders, and that those cylinders are far from burned out. Maybe not the one of the “best” book of the year as some are claiming, but I’ll happily go out on a limb and declare it to be one of the most enjoyable. Work for hire makes desperate fools of all who toil under its remorseless regime.

Also from Image comes Little Bird #5, the concluding act in Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram’s five-part tale of resistance to a theocratic dystopia, and it’s a pretty solid send-off, loaded with cinematic battle scenes, smartly-executed characterization, and of course breathtaking, Moebius-esque artwork. I dunno, I guess it’s fair to say that some things come up a bit flat story-wise and not everything gets wrapped up with a bow, but these two are apparently working on a second series set in the same fictional world, and I’m ready to get in line for that already. Bertram is one of the most exciting artists in the mainstream right now, and as long as Van Poelgeest serves up scripts that give his collaborator plenty to sink his teeth into, that’s really all that matters. Decent enough to read, absolutely glorious to look at.

Lastly, DC serves up a thoroughly modern “throwback” comic with Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1. Fraction seems to be making a play for the title of Grant Morrison’s heir apparent with this one, brimming over as it is with a kind of deliberately nostalgic “high weirdness” that feels awfully calculated but nevertheless makes for fun storytelling, while Lieber, for his part, brings a lot more personality to the part than most “Big Two” comics artists these days could ever conceive of, much less get past editorial. This comic didn’t blow me away or anything, but I had a good time with it, there are surprises aplenty, and it’s determined to give readers value for their four bucks, which is a lot more than you can say for most things coming from the house Siegel and Shuster built — and had stolen from them.

And that was, as Walter Cronkite used to say, the week that was. Which means our only remaining order of business here is to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon page, where I serve up three original and exclusive pieces of writing (bet you thought I was going to say “shit,” didn’t you?) on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics weekly in exchange for as little as a buck a month from you good readers. Any support I get helps ensure a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please take a moment to check it out and consider joining at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

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 : 07/08/2018 – 07/14/2018

It’s a veritable cavalcade of first issues this week, so let’s skip the stage-setting and get right down to the business of telling you which of these new series are worth your time (and, more importantly, money) to follow —

The major “event” book of the week is, of course, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #1, which marks the beginning of the end not only for this two-plus-decade-old franchise, but for the legendary comics careers of the two creators behind it (although, at least in Moore’s case, we’ve heard that before). “Going out with a bang” seems to be the operative philosophy behind this six-parter, as well as settling every possible score on the way out the door, but this is, as you’d  no doubt expect, far more than simply a combination vanity project/victory lap — although elements of both are certainly present and accounted for. Roll call, then, of undeniably  positive attributes :  the latest all-female iteration of the League is certainly more than timely, one could even argue necessary, for the #MeToo era; nods to Shakespeare’s final work (from which, of course, the series takes its name) abound, particularly structurally; and our Bearded Wizard seems to want to use his last hurrah to, admirably, shed some light on the plights of various ripped-off cartoonists of years gone by. Throw in some heavy Silver Age references that look and read like a British version of 1963, a delicious deconstruction of the James Bond archetype, and Woody Allen getting shot through the head and what have you got? A comic as visually- and narratively-jam-packed as we’ve become accustomed to from this tandem, sure, but also something of a love letter both celebratory and somber to the medium they’re leaving behind. O’Neill’s art is deliriously good, of course, especially on the B&W comic-strip-style pages, where the detailed intricacy of his linework really shines through. Do you need this more than you need the $4.99 Top Shelf/IDW is asking for it? Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes.

Meanwhile, Moore’s former editor, Karen Berger, kicks off what’s being touted as the “second wave” of her Berger Books imprint at Dark Horse with writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Martin Morazzo’s She Could Fly #1, a four-part mini-series not so much about the flying female in question as it is about a teenage girl with an acute case of debilitating OCD who is the ostensible super-heroine’s biggest fan — and maybe even, somehow, connected to her in ways as yet to be determined. Or is that all in her head? The Berger Books output has been decidedly up-and-down to this point, but this is as “up” as it gets : a heartfelt rumination on adolescence and the pain of trying to “fit in,” a gripping and authentic family drama, and an honest exploration of mental illness, all prepared and persented with obvious care. Cantwell’s script is brisk and clutter-free, cutting right to the bone of every character and situation on hand, while Morazzo, whose work on Ice Cream Man over at Image has been blowing me away, delineates the proceedings with such a clean, polished, precise style that it’s honestly hard not to be taken aback by the leaps and bounds his art is making right before our eyes. This one, again, retails at $4.99 and is, again, more than worth every penny.

Speaking of Image (even if, fair enough, I mentioned it only in passing), our final two debuts for the week come our way via their publishing auspices, the first being Farmhand #1, written and drawn by former Chew artist Rob Guillory. I really wanted to like this one given my appreciation for Guillory’s bright, expressive, and decidedly tongue-in-cheek style of illustration, but it seems like he’s not entirely comfortable yet with his own admittedly creepy and inventive premise, that being some unethical corporate skullduggery taking place at a “factory farm” that organically grows human body parts and organs. Maybe layering a family estrangement subplot on top of it is too much, too fast, or maybe he’s just not sure how to translate a nifty (God, did I just say that?) idea into an actual story yet, but I found the plot here decidedly lacking, the characters less than involving, and the overall trajectory of the narrative haphazard at best. The art’s great, don’t get me wrong — Guillory is bound and determined to pull out all the stops on that score and manages to do so with considerable aplomb. But whatever chance I may have been willing to give this book going forward (I was thinking another issue, at least, before deciding whether or not to drop if from my “pull”) flew right out the window when this comic’s “climactic” three-page epilogue landed with a resounding thud. If I hear good things about future installments I may give the inevitable first-volume trade a go (from the library, mind you), but this marks the first and last time I fork over $3.99 of  my own cash for this series.

And, not to give away the game right at the outset, but — I felt much the same about Die! Die! Die! #1, a new Skybound/Image co-venture from writer Robert Kirkman (with a co-plotting credit going to Scott M. Gimple, former “show-runner” on The Walking Dead) and artist Chris Burnham better known at this point for its unorthodox marketing strategy (it was a “surprise” release unannounced until literally the day before it hit shops) than anything going on between its covers. Burnham’s a terrific choice to illustrate a bloody ultra-violent yarn about purportedly “strategic” assassins who work behind the scenes to murder key individuals in order to either set about or curtail key series of socio-political events, but Kirkman seems to have no real grasp on what he wants to do here story-wise other than his best Garth Ennis impersonation — which, as it turns out, is actually a really lousy Garth Ennis impersonation, given that this comic carries none of the philosophical heft or knowing self-deprecation of Ennis’ best works. It’s not that it takes itself seriously, mind you — it’s just that there’s no real brain or heart behind the OTT absurdity it wallows in, just forced pseudo-cleverness, and the fact that the Skybound titles have finally joined their other Image stable-mates at a $3.99 price point means that there’s absolutely no reason to pick this thing up, despite some pretty stellar artwork.

And, with that, we come to the end of another Round-Up column. Next week we’ll either talk about some new-ish minis that have come my way in recent days, or we’ll take a look at a book or two I’ve been looking forward to with a reasonable amount of anticipation that’s scheduled to hit shops this coming Wednesday (I’m looking at you in particular, Euthanauts). Maybe both? Join me back here in seven days and we’ll see.