It’s an amazing time in comics right now. There are too many good ones for me to even read them all. Comics are like a hydra, but without the decapitation or even really the fighting. (So maybe not all that much like a hydra except I find one comic and then there are 3-6 more I become interested in).
Here are ten comics I haven’t written about. They include the following things: Weird Westerns, the undead, women who bring death, a dog who loves pizza, bros, the Nineties, Jordie Bellaire, Kieron Gillen, queer representation, non-human apes, Sparta, legendary heroes, robots, barbarians, swords, spears, dancing aliens, and many, many ladies.
American Vampire (Vertigo) Scott Snyder, writer; Stephen King, co-writer, Vol. 1; Rafael Albuquerque, art; Jose Villarrubia, J.H. Williams, III, Brad Anderson, Dave McCaig, colors; Jared K. Fletcher, letters.
Scott Snyder is probably best known for his current work on Batman. Part of the reason that Snyder has been such a good fit for Batman is that Batman isn’t far from horror, and Snyder has a knack for intriguing horror. In American Vampire a group of European vampires who have plans to keep the New World to themselves accidentally create a new kind of vampire when they try to kill hired killer and outlaw, Skinner Sweet. The book starts out as a weird western, then follows characters through different historical periods. There isn’t a plague of American vampires–the new vampires are very much alone and hunted. Skinner enjoys terrorizing the older breed. His offspring, Pearl, created in 1920s Los Angeles, wants to be left alone. It lends itself to as much metaphorical interpretation about America as you’d like.
Blue Is The Warmest Color (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013) Julie Maroh
If you have watched enough Lesbian cinema or read enough Lesbian novels, you have seen some of this before. I don’t mean the recent film, I just mean some of the story elements: the crying, the angst, the biphobia, the death (which I swear is not a spoiler). If you remember Naiad Press, the story will seem familiar. But Maroh’s characters feel real, real enough that I am incredibly impatient with them. And while it is Lesbian melodrama, it is beautiful Lesbian melodrama. The art is gorgeous and displays lovely lines and an amazing use of color. The past is in black and white, with only particular objects colored. Gradually, the comic moves into color and the present. Maroh started Blue Is The Warmest Color when she was 19 and not far from the smoking, confusion and crying of adolescence. She also captures the Queer Nineties remarkably well.
Hawkeye (Marvel, 2013) Matt Fraction, writer; David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Annie Wu, artists; Matt Hollingsworth, Francesco Francavilla, colors; Chris Eliopoulos, letters.
Hawkeye follows Clint Barton, aka, Hawkeye, in his life away from the Avengers as he pisses off his Russian mobster landlord, saves a dog (who is the subject of one spectacular issue), tries to mentor Kate Bishop, aka, also Hawkeye, and generally screws up his life. The panel outlay is intriguing and Matt Hollingsworth’s limited color palette reminds me of more alternative/independent work—and has gotten people to talk about colorists. It’s fun narratively and artistically. If you don’t like superhero comics, you might like this one. If you like shows about nothing, but want more fights with masked mystery women in them, you will probably like this.
Legends of Zita The Spacegirl (First Second, 2013) Ben Hatke
I highly recommend reading Legends of Zita The Spacegirl with Blue Is The Warmest Color. I did, and it helped me imagine a future where Queer stories are more spaceships and robots and less crying and tragic death. In Zita The Spacegirl, a human girl lost in an alien world becomes a galactic hero. In Legends, Zita installs a robot who looks like her at an event so Zita can sneak off and enjoy herself. Unfortunately, the robot really enjoys being a hero and no one seems to know the robot isn’t Zita at all. Worse, everyone believes Zita and her companion, Pizzicato the Mouse, (a giant mouse who communicates via slips of paper) are criminals. In fact, she’s now known as “Zita the Crimegirl.” It’s a great time for children’s and young adult comics and I really love this book.
Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm (Boom, 2013) Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman, writers; Carlos Magno, Damian Couceiro, art.
I’m cheating a little here. I already wrote a piece on Boom’s Planet of the Apes comics and how much I like Bechko and Hardman’s books in particular. But Cataclysm starts with a nuclear warhead shot into the moon by an apparently insane orangutan scientist. How can I resist that? It’s the first time I’ve read a disaster movie in comics form and it is remarkably effective. And it moves beyond the disaster as Dr. Zaius tries to discover why it occurred. Unfortunately, the ending is rough because the book was canceled. Boom’s Planet of the Apes comics–and Bechko and Hardman’s stories in particular–haven’t gotten the attention they deserve as smart, interesting, well-made comics.
Pretty Deadly (Image) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer; Emma Rios, art; Jordie Bellaire, colors; Clayton Cowles, letters.
In Pretty Deadly, Butterfly and Bunny spin a tale of death and Death’s daughter, Ginny. Ginny rides on the wind and when she is summoned, she avenges a wrong. The Butterfly is a Monarch, one of the souls of the dead in Aztec tradition, and Bunny is the skeleton of a rabbit that still moves around just fine. They start their story with a little girl in a vulture cape named Sissy travels and performs in towns with a blind man named Fox. She’s stolen something Big Alice wants and Big Alice and her men hunt them. I usually like to wait until there are more than three issues of a comic out before I put it on this list. But Pretty Deadly is just so promising in so many ways. It’s a weird western and I have long ago proven that I am a sucker for such. The story is creepy. Rios’ very fine linework gives an excellent sense of motion and a nervous feeling that something is about to go very, very wrong. I like the skull lines on Ginny’s face. The colors are gorgeous. Like everyone else, I look forward to the day when that is not a big deal that main characters are diverse and a creative team predominantly female, but until then, it makes me happy.
Red Sonja (Dynamite) Gail Simone, writer; Walter Geovani, art; Adriano Lucas, colors; Simon Bowland, letters.
I never thought I would be buy a Red Sonja comic, but then I never expected Gail Simone to be write one. I have respected the tradition of boobular ladies in metal or fur twin-sets in comics providing exactly what they advertize without shame or prevarication. I have respected the talent of Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta. And I have saluted all this as I passed them by in search of more Carol-friendly comics. But I do really like barbarians. And I really enjoyed Simone’s Wonder Woman-as-Barbarian in Wonder Woman: Ends Of The Earth (DC, 2009), so when I saw she was doing Red Sonja, I was really excited. Her Red Sonja does not disappoint the barbarian story-loving girl in me. Even better, it doesn’t make me sigh at its sexism. Instead, the first arc shows the fall-out of Red Sonja and her sister-in-arms Black Annisia’s time fighting in an arena for the pleasure of a villainous king. Each issue has a choice of covers by artists Fiona Staples, Nicola Scott, Colleen Doran, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison. If you like barbarians, sisters doing it for themselves, and have been hoping for decent female characters in barbarian stories, this is a good book for you.
Three (Image) Kieron Gillen, writer; Ryan Kelly, art; Jordie Bellaire, colors.
Though Gillen goes to great pains to explain in an afterword how much he likes Frank Miller’s 300, Three reads like a refutation of 300. Gillen also explains that Three is in no way a refutation of 300, despite the name, Three; its visual references to 300; its use of historical sources; and its total inversion of Miller’s idealized view of “free” Sparta. That’s fine, despite my appreciation of it as a good poke at Miller, Three is far more. It’s told from the perspective of three helots (state-owned serfs/slaves) who not only avoid being killed by Spartan soliders, but kill the soldiers and flee. The magistrates of Sparta find this intolerable and send three hundred Spartans against them. Gillen captures his characters well, grounds them in history without being pedantic and provides Classical/sword and sandals action. Also, the covers are fantastic.
Young Avengers (Marvel) Kieron Gillen, writer; Jamie McKelvie, art; Matthew Wilson, colorist.
Young Avengers is a very different book than Three and is far more typical of the work that Gillen has been doing so far in comics. Groovy, playful and often prominently displaying the importance of music. He works again with his frequent collaborator, Jamie McKelvie, and in a way, Young Avengers feels very much like Phonogram if Phonogram were set in the Marvel universe and the Phonogram kids had superpowers instead of magical ones—and they could never actually get to the club because they were dealing with situations. There’s nice, clean modern-looking lines. In fact, if figurative art could be san-serif, McKelvie’s art would be. Fun dialog. Nice characters. Good representation of gay and bi characters—aka, they’re treated like characters with more than one trait. And Kid Loki, who is always fun interacts with characters who are far more impatient and distrustful of him, like America Chavez / Miss America and Kate Bishop / also Hawkeye.
Also, even though I’ve written about these before, I can’t help mentioning that you might want to pick up The March, vol. 1, and Boxers & Saints. Saga and Bandette are still going strong. Neil Gaiman is writing more Sandman and J.H. Williams III is illustrating it. Astro City has returned. Locke & Key is finishing/finished depending on whether you’re following in single issues or collections. In comics I’m waiting to read in their entirety in collection form, Batman ’66 is amazing. Itty Bitty Hellboy & Lil’ Gotham couldn’t be more fun.
“If you done been wronged / Say her name, sing this song, / Sound the bell’s knell that calls her from hell. / Carol Borden rides for you on the wind, my child. / Death rides on the wind.”
(This essay was originally published by The Cultural Gutter on Jan. 2, 2013)