Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/03/2019 – 03/09/2019

Another week, another stack of first issues. It’s like it’s getting to be a pattern or something. Or maybe it has been for the last, I dunno, ten years or so —

The so-called “Black Hammer Universe” at Dark Horse keeps expanding, but Black Hammer ’45 #1 is its most radical “step out of the nest” yet, re-purposing the label to apply not to a solitary hero, but to a Blackhawk-esque WW II flying squadron, the members of which all hailed from diverse backgrounds — thus, sadly, ensuring they never really got their due. Split between the present day and the latter stages of the conflict in the European Theater, Ray Fawkes’ script (Jeff Lemire is on hand only as co-plotter) concerns a top-secret mission to rescue a family of scientists from Nazi captivity, but it looks like it’s probably gonna be another tale focused on Third Reich occult shenanigans. I’m all for that in this instance as it makes for an interesting, well-paced yarn with some serious mystery underpinning it (why do the surviving “Black Hammers” get together every year on the same day?), but it’s the wistful, inherently nostalgic art of Matt Kindt and colorist wife Sharlene that’s the major draw here, and that makes the $3.99 expenditure well worth it. Where these two go, I follow, this being no exception.

Also from Dark Horse we’ve got Astro Hustle #1 from writer Jai Nitz and artist Tom Reilly, a deliriously fun mash-up of  old-school 2000AD, kung fu movies, and swashbuckler tropes that I’m already wishing was slated to last longer than four issues. Fans of books like Wasted Space and Outer Darkness will find a lot to like here, as this tongue-in-cheek tale of old grudges, corporate overlordship, weird sex, and jailbreaks is right in that same sort of wheelhouse. Nitz’s characters are instantly memorable and quick with a comeback, Reilly’s art is dynamic and unique in equal measure, and the colors by Ursula Decay (I’m assuming their birth certificate reads differently) are vibrantly off-kilter and highly effective. Buckle in, this promises to be a blast.

Over at Boom! Studios, writer Greg Pak follows up his acclaimed Mech Cadet Yu with Ronin Island #1, a collaboration with artist Giannis Milonogiannis that sees the multi-cultural titular island facing invasion from a probably-illegitimate Samurai force, with two young martial arts prodigies/competitors having to joining forces to lead the defense of their home. The story for this one seems fairly basic — which I don’t mean as an insult, as it’s executed quite nicely — but, again, this is a comic where the art steals the show, all rich detail, lush composition, fluid action, and cinematic Ps OV. Great-looking stuff that guarantees I’ll be sticking around for the ride.

Finally, Oni Press serves up Morning In America #1 courtesy of writer Magdalene Visaggio and artist Claudia Aguirre, a 1980s-set YA supernatural mystery that’s maybe a bit on the “Stranger Things with a female cast” side, but might have a little splash of John Carpenter’s They Live and/or Larry Cohen’s The Stuff  bleeding in at the margins, as well. Local high school “bad girls” cracking the mystery of a rash of disappearances connected to the one and only new factory in their economically-depressed Ohio town sounds good enough to keep me interested for at least a couple of issues to see how things develop, and Visaggio’s characterization and dialogue are both strong, while Aguirre’s illustration is crisp, atmospheric, and rendered in just enough to detail to draw you in without belaboring the point. This is a really nice-looking work from a name I wasn’t, to my chagrin, familiar with before now. Solid stuff that’s not too taxing, and gives you four bucks’ worth of entertainment value for your money.

And that’s another Wrap-Up — well, wrapped up. We’re knee-deep in yet another “Snowpocalypse” here in Minneapolis (they seem to happen every week these days), but I’m sure I’ll make it to the comic shop on Wednesday to see what new wares are worthy of examination in our next column. Until then, we close with the now-customary plug for my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, film, television, literature, and politics. Joining is cheap and you get plenty of content for your money. Please take a moment to check it out at :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/18/2018 – 03/24/2018

Last week was all about first issues, but this week sees a mix of debuts and very notable finales —

Berlin #22 concludes Jason Lutes’ 20-year epic, and I think it’s going to take awhile for those of us who have been following this series from the beginning to fully comprehend the quietly gaping hole its absence will leave in our lives. This comic has spanned two publishers (Black Eye — remember them? — and Drawn + Quarterly), three decades, even two centuries, and the idea that it’s over is really only just beginning to sink in. You’d expect a suitably poignant finale, of course, and Lutes delivers : the final fates of all our principal characters during the waning days of the Weimar Republic are revealed — Silvia, David, Marthe, Kurt, Anna, we have loved you all — but more than that we are given a privileged glimpse at the fall, division, and eventual re-birth of the city itself in a breathtaking series of double-page spreads that sweeps us out of this world we have sporadically immersed ourselves in for so long. An overpowering but understated sense of life’s fragility is what we’re left with at the end of the day, as well as a profound sense of appreciation for all that’s been accomplished here. We’ve almost taken for granted, I think, how good this book is, and the fact that its quality never waned even once in all this time is an absolutely remarkable feat. You can’t even count how many “hot” cartoonists have seen their stars rise and fall during the time Lutes has been off in his self-made corner of the comics universe, toiling away on his magum opus, and if it feels strange for us readers to have this over and done with, shit — I can only imagine how it must feel for him to be waking up in the morning, the project that has taken up most of his entire adult life now complete. I salute you, good sir, and hope that the coming years see this work recognized as what it undoubtedly is — one of the great achievements in the history of the medium.

As a side note : the release of this comic also very probably marks the end of D + Q’s existence as a periodical publisher. Yeah, they’re pretty much (rightly) perceived as strictly a book publisher these days, anyway, and sure, Adrian Tomine may pop up here and there with a new issue of Optic Nerve, I suppose — but there wasn’t one last year and there’s nothing on the horizon for 2018, either, so he might just be working on a book, too, for all I know. Maybe I’m just a hopeless nostalgic at heart, but I think there’s something bittersweet about that — after all, this is the publisher that put out some of the finest comic books on the stands for decades, and the idea that their logo could very well never appear on a “floppy” single issue again is sort of a sad reality to consider, no matter how many superb graphic novels and collections they continue to release. Looked at from that perspective, then, Berlin #22 seems as though it may signify the end of conclusion of more than just one era.

Two years ain’t 20, by any means, but Dept. H #24 puts to bed Matt Kindt’s second long-running series from Dark Horse, and this comic will also be missed by its legion of loyal readers, myself among them. Kindt answered most of the burning “whodunnit?” questions in the previous issue, but the final fate of his protagonist — as well as that of the planet’s population itself — were still very much open questions coming into this one, and the pitch-perfect ambiguous note he leaves things on ensures that the resolution to at least one of these situations remains very much open to interpretation. Some folks might find that a bit frustrating, I suppose, but I think it works — in fact, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. I’ll be eager to see what Kindt and colorist wife Sharlene turn their attentions to next, but until we find out what that is, they’ve earned the right to take a bow for they’ve done here. This was a more hermetically-sealed and insular story than the sprawling, multi-layered Mind MGMT, but no less effective and enthralling.

Before any good story has to end, though, it has to start, so let’s balance our look at the “omegas” by having a gander at a couple of “alphas,” shall we?

Lucy Dreaming #1 comes our way from Boom! Studios way courtesy of writer Max Bemis and artist/colorist Michael Dialynas, and while it’s every bit as un-subtle as its title, genre fans will probably have a good time with this nifty little sci-fi/fantasy yarn. Bright but socially awkward middle-school girl (whose name you already know) prone to Walter Mitty-esque flights of fancy discovers that her Star Wars-style dreams are real, and that she’s the central figure in what’s most likely a struggle for the survival of the universe? Yeah, that’s a premise heavy on the “fan-service,” to be sure (sorry, but us comic book geeks are never going to find ourselves whisked away into these imaginary realms we read about, and we aren’t any more important than anyone else just because we consume this kind of escapist nonsense), but Bemis absolutely nails the mindset of his charming-if-contrived main character, the dialogue is spot-on hokey, and the book’s pacing is quick and smartly-constructed — while Dialynas, for his part, continues the artistic evolution so clearly in evidence over the course of his run on The Woods by delineating both the mundane and the fantastic with equal attention to detail, but adding a real sense of flourish when shit gets inter-galactic. This is hardly revolutionary stuff — and at $3.99 an issue you may be better-served by waiting for the trade if your comics budget is tight — but it is a fun and brisk romp elevated to a slightly higher “weight class” by the quality of its art. It’s slated to run five issues, and I’ll probably stick around for the duration.

Last up we come to Cave Carson Has An Interstellar Eye #1, the latest quasi-debut to hit comic store shelves as part of the “soft reboot” going on at DC’s Young Animal imprint. The same creative team of writer Jon Rivera, artist Michael Avon Oeming, and colorist Nick Filardi that handled the previous Cave run is in place here, minus co-plotter/YA head honcho Gerard Way, and frankly the book pretty much feels exactly the same even though it’s swapped its former subterranean setting for outer space. I don’t know that there’s anything especially great happening here from a story perspective — Cave and team pay a visit to a one-time rock music “god” who now might just be some sort of actual god (or close enough to it), then things go pear-shaped and it looks like they might be in way over their heads — but Rivera does a great job of giving his artist plenty to sink his teeth into and Oeming, as his is custom, makes the absolute most of it. Inventive page layouts, spectacularly “trippy” design work, and superbly fluid action have always been his trademarks, and if you’re one of those people — like me — who thinks that a comic can be worth four bucks for the art alone, then you’ll be more than pleased to shell out for this one. I guess I hold out some perhaps-vain hope that we’ll get a bit more from this latest iteration of the title than the frenetic and goofy run-around we got with the last, but even if that’s all it amounts to, shit — nobody breathes more life and excitement into frenetic and goofy run-arounds than Oeming does, and it’s an absolute pleasure to see a master of his craft operating at the peak of his creative powers. The brain may go a bit hungry here, but it’s a veritable feast for the eyes.

This week in our collective rear-view, then, we look ahead to next, which apepars to be a legit “blockbuster” week for DC, what with the final issue of Dark Nights : Metal and the latest installment of Doomsday Clock hitting on the same Wednesday — but for those of us who like good comics, the prospects appear slightly more dim. Join me back here in seven days to see if I was able to shove the slavering throngs of crossover-devouring fanboys aside and find anything good on the racks.


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!