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 : 09/29/2019 – 10/05/2019

And we’re back! After taking a month (-ish) off to finish some other writing projects (including my first-ever comic book story!) while still keeping my “regular” review schedule on track, the Round-Up is ready to get off the mat, dust itself off, and step back into the ring! As is Michel Fiffe, so let’s get to that first —

Copra (Vol. 2) #1 is the 32nd issue of the formerly-self-published series, as the cover signature makes clear, but what could be a lot more clear is just what the fuck is happening — for new readers, at any rate. And there should be plenty of those given that new publisher Image Comics has a much greater “reach” than a Brooklyn cartoonist toiling away on his own. Which isn’t to say that there’s not a nice recap of all that’s come before on offer in this 36-page debut issue (a real bargain at $3.99, especially given that it features a heavy cardstock cover), but it’s at the back of the book and late arrivals would probably be better served if it were at the front. That concern aside, though, this is another strong installment of this post-modern take on John Ostrander-era Suicide Squad comics, the characters are introduced/re-introduced on the fly so as not to slow down the pace, and one trademark ingenious Fiffe fight sequence should be all it takes to hook most newbies. A fun, smart, exceptionally fluid series that’s finally getting itself in front of as many pairs of eyes as it deserves? I can’t see any negatives to that new paradigm.

Also coming out of mothballs is Matt Wagner’s classic sorta-antihero in Dark Horse’s Grendel : Devil’s Odyssey  #1. The stoic Grendel Prime is our protagonist this time out, tasked with the old canard of finding a “replacement planet” for an Earth that’s headed down the tubes, and while Wagner’s art certainly is as crisp and distinctive as ever — much aided by his son Brennan’s fantastic color choices — the story might need an issue or two before the training wheels come back off. I’m not opposed to giving it that — few Grendel stories have ultimately let me down — however, eventually we’re gonna need more than just nostalgia value here. I dig the new and more obvious pulp influence, so that’s another plus, but the whole thing just isn’t quite clicking into place — yet.

One book that clicks into place right off the bat, though, is Ruby Falls #1, the latest debut offering from Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. A taut little mystery written by Karen Berger mainstay Ann Nocenti (by the way, aren’t there supposed to be two more issues of The Seeds — at some point?), this is a distinctively-scripted series featuring a distinctively-developed protagonist set against the backdrop of a distinctively-realized town. Oh, and Flavia Bondi’s art? That’s pretty darn distinctive, too — Eurocomics style meets the pragmatic storytelling concerns of the North American market, both elements accentuating rather than negating each other. After a shaky start to the imprint, Berger seems to have found her editorial footing again overseeing these four-part minis that have become her new mainstay, and this bears all the hallmarks of being the best one yet.

All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #4 lures you in with a terrific gouache painting by the always-astonishing Tara Booth featuring a generously-proportioned version of Bullwhip teeing off on arch-foe The Misogynist on the cover, and a chase-and-fight between the two penciled by Julia Gfrorer and inked by series co-writer Josh Simmons kicks things off before the other Josh — that being Bayer — and Simmons take us back into the story “proper” as illustrated by the still-super-after-all-these-years Trevor Von Eeden. I’m digging this pattern of having “alternative” cartoonists drawing the intro sequences, I’m digging the “gonzo” tone of the series as a whole, I’m digging the first new Von Eeden work in way too long — seriously, just jump on this book if you haven’t already. All the promise and potential hinted at (but only sporadically realized, it’s true) in the first ATC run is bearing fruit since making the jump over to Floating World Comics and Bayer bringing on all his new collaborators. Probably the most genuinely fun thing on your LCS new release racks these days.

And that’s our first week back on the books, in the books. Which just leaves the rote task of reminding you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week (again, promise!) 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. You can’t beat that deal, so please take a moment to give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/28/2019 – 08/03/2019

Sometimes, as a writer, you like to throw little challenges at yourself, just to make things more interesting — especially when it comes to long-running columns such as this. My self-appointed challenge this week : to see if I can crank out one of these Round-Ups in 30 minutes or less. Let’s see how that goes —

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang ride off into the sunset with Paper Girls #30, the conclusion to their long-running Spielbergian fan-favorite series from Image, and as far as finales go, this one’s a clinic : we start with a dream sequence, we then return to the “real world” much as our memory-wiped protagonists have, and how much they will or might remember is sorta the theme here. Lots of gorgeous double-page spreads give this extra-length issue a little extra “breathing room” to say a proper good-bye to the girls, and all in all these creators hit all the right notes on the way out the door. Oh, and I defy you to keep both eyes dry as you read it. This is calculated stuff, sure — it’s also pretty goddamn wonderful.

Once you get past Jason T, Miles’ amazingly bizarro cover for Floating World Comics’ All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #2, what awaits within is one of  the most bizarro issues to date of this always-unpredictable project. Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons introduce an utterly inexplicable villain in their script who’s a bit like McDonalds’ Grimace with a nihilistic philosophical bent, there are some truly eyeball-gouging battle scenes, and the “heroes” of this ostensible “universe” seem less heroic than ever. Benjamin Marra and Ken Landgraf kick things off with the first five pages of art, but it’s the main chunk of the book, as illustrated by the great Trevor Von Eeden, that’s the real draw here, and worth the price of admission. “Dynamic insanity” is, I believe, the term I’m straining for here — and now that I’ve found it, I need not say much else about this comic other than “buy it.”

Cullen Bunn and his fellow Sixth Gunn creator Brian Hurtt team up on writing duties for Manor Black #1 from Dark Horse, illustrated by Bunn’s creative partner on Harrow County, the magnificent Tyler Crook, and while the story’s a bit of a confused introduction to this world of magic and legacy, the whole “old-meets-new” dynamic works, and the art’s just straight-up gorgeous. This concept seems like it should have some legs, and even if the story doesn’t improve significantly, Crook is reason enough to hang around month-in and month-out — at least to see how this comic looks, if not where it goes.

Bunn’s got another debut to his credit this week with Aftershock’s Knights Temporal #1, a time-travel-meets-mystic-secret-society thing stunningly delineated by Fran Galan, who gives things a decidedly Eurocomics feel with his lush illustration. Again, the story’s a bit of a head-scratcher, certainly by intention I’d assume (although we all know what happens when you do that), but it’s reasonably intriguing, and the art hooks you quick and reels you into this world. I’m definitely planning on sticking around for more, even if how much more is a bit of an open question.

Okay, so 45 minutes. Not so bad, and just enough time before my day gets rolling to remind you all 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 the low price of as little as a dollar a month. Your support would be greatly appreciated, needless to say, so if you’d be so kind please give it a look (and hopefully a join) by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

“All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape” #1 : I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

We’ve certainly spent a lot of time dissecting Josh and Samuel Bayer’s All-Time Comics series on this site lately, and while I’m tempted to say something along the lines of “the beatings will continue until you buy this shit,” in truth I was doing some catch-up work in order to set the stage for the second “season” of this ever-evolving concept. The “zero issue” put out last month by Floating World Comics set the table, but now that All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1 has arrived, it’s time for the main course. So — just how tasty is it?

The first few pages — a flashback sequence illustrated by the always-sublime Gabrielle Bell that ties the events of the “prequel” comic in with the series “proper” — are one visually-delicious appetizer, that’s for sure, but for old-time readers, it’s the main 1980s-set portion of the story, drawn by trailblazing “Big Two” veteran Trevor Von Eeden, that’s going to be the main draw, and to say ol’ Trev hasn’t lost a step would be an understatement : his page layouts are as inventive as ever, his sense of dynamic flow remains unfettered, his Krigstein-esque “fine art” sensibilities still razor-sharp and employed for maximum effect.

Rising to meet the challenge thrown down by their artists, co-scripters Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons, both terrific cartoonists in their own right, go right for the jugular, imbuing this homage to the post-“Bronze Age” crossover “event” comic with deliriously OTT ultra-violence, strong broad-stroke characterization, plenty of laugh-out-loud “gallows humor,” and even a bit of logical consistency. Having introduced each of these heroes by means of their individual exploits in “season one,” here they bring them all together to take on a trio of disparate threats, and while it would be a stretch to say that the three-headed “rogues’ gallery” of The Beggar, the wonderfully-named Daylight Savings Time Killer, and the meddlesome Time Vampire Scientist represent a “unified front,” wondering just how they’ll all come together to challenge Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer is a big part of the fun here, and speaking of speculation — just where the hell is the mightiest hero in this makeshift “universe,” Atlas?

Das Pastoras’ brutally beautiful cover reflects the “grim and gritty” tone of the era in comics history this series takes place in, but don’t take that to mean there’s no contemporary sensibility at work here — blending the old and the new has been one of the project’s main goals since its inception, but there were many instances in the first six-issue run where the balance was just a bit off, resulting in a tongue-in-cheek tone that couldn’t decide if it was a tribute or a pastiche. That’s hardly an issue with this — errrmmm — issue, though, as the Joshes and their artists nail it from the outset, each individual creator lending their talents to a highly synergistic and energetic whole. These folks, in other words, are cooking with gas.

Arrrggh, again with the food metaphors. I should probably cut this short and eat dinner. But if you’re hungry for a smart, “retro”-flavored comic that knows what it’s doing — one that tips its hat to its influences without being overly beholden to them — then you’re seriously going to dig All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1.

Give it a read while I fire up the grill.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. It’s a great— and most welcome — way to help support my work, and given you can join up for as little as a dollar month, I believe invoking the term “what have you got to lose?” is in order here.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse