The Summer Solstice is nearly upon us, and I’m sure you all have your wicker men (or factionalist bee helmets) nearly done and your bonfire safely planned. (Remember, Lord Summerisle recommends nude leaping as the crucial component in bonfire safety). And just in time for the arrival of summer, I have a short selection of comics summer reading. So cut your capers, leap safely, make sure to re-apply your sunscreen, always wear a hat in the woods, and consider these ten comics for your porch-sitting or poolside reading. Or, for our friends, in the southern hemisphere, here are some comics to curl up with and enjoy a hot beverage in a comfortable chair or reclining on a divan with a blanket.
Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Book 1 (DC, 2014) Jiro Kuwata
In 1966, Mangaka Jiro Kuwata was commissioned to write original Batman stories for Shonen King Magazine to capitalize. Kuwata didn’t have much access to the Batman stories DC was producing, so he sort of created his own simultaneously swinging and phantasmagoric world. Bruce Wayne is a swinging, fun-loving millionaire reminiscent of the handsome and adventurous heroes of Sixties Japanese science fiction and secret agent films. In fact, Kuwata’s Wayne should be played by Akira Takarada. Batman fights mysterious and almost supernatural foes, including Lord Death Man who appears to him in dreams and terrifies a room of wealthy people with his ghastly laugh before robbing them. In 2008, Pantheon Books released a Chip Kidd’s Bat-manga!: The Secret History Of Batman In Japan (which I wrote about here). It featured Kidd’s signature design sensibility, with pictures of toys and merchandise, and a few of Kuwata’s Batman stories. Kidd’s Bat-manga! is a gorgeous book, but it is heavy, delicate in softcover, hard to find and awkward to read. Not only is DC republishing Kuwata’s entire run, but it’s in much easier to read formats. DC started reprinting Kuwata’s amazing stories in their Digital First line, which has featured some of DC’s most interesting recent books, including: Batman ’66, Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman ’77 and Li’l Gotham. And DC is reprinting it in tangible single issues and as a three-volume set.
Cats Are Weird And More Observations (Chronicle, 2010) Jeffrey Brown
A lovely little book of cat comics. Really, more observations of cats than storylines. Jeffrey Brown got his start in comics with his autobiographical comics focusing on his life and relationships, like Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me. In the last ten years or so, he’s been making swell genre comics (Incredible Changebots, say) and a bunch of new adorable all ages Star Wars comics, most recently Darth Vader & Friends (2015). And I have to say, I like it. Cats Are Weird is a quick read, almost wordless and filled with everyday cats doing everyday cat things. Brown’s marker work remains amazing and he really captures the crazed eyes of a cat about to explode into kitty action.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Archie Horror, ongoing) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writing; Robert Hack; art.
Sure, I already wrote a little bit about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but there was only one issue out then. There are two more out since. Summer is a great time to enjoy horror, and Sabrina has an excellent mid-century horror feel to it. Hack’s art reminds me quite a bit of the horror comics and even just some of the looser, more relaxed illustration styles of the Seventies. The story itself is reminiscent of Sixties and Seventies horror, particularly movies about the devil and witchcraft. The daughter of a human woman and a powerful warlock, Sabrina and her two aunts moved to Riverdale in order to hide from those who might wish her harm and to give her some semblance of choice in determining her own future. See, Sabrina’s sixteenth birthday coming up and she must decide if she wants to sign her soul over to the devil and get her witchy powers soon. Meanwhile, a vengeful spirit, wronged by Sabrina’s father, has returned from Hell to take revenge. Each issue also includes a reprint of an old Sabrina story or the story of a character related to Sabrina. Issue #3’s Madame Satan story was fascinating as a kind of Christian noir.
Essential Defenders, vol. 3 & vol. 4 (Marvel, 2007; 2008) So many people. All of them, maybe.
These books collect about thirty issues each of Defenders stories. I am particularyl partial to the Steve Gerber years, and so I have been reading volumes three and four, covering comics between 1976 and 1981. The Defenders are Marvel’s “non-team”—a loose association of heroes who theoretically come together only to fight specific threats only when summoned by Dr. Strange. These threats are usually deeply weird in every sense of the term, including the fragmented self of a cosmic dictator; trying to get team leader Kyle Richmond / Nighthawk’s brain back in the right cranium; a self-help movement that transforms every member into Bozo the Clown; Shield Director Nick Fury’s jerk brother, Jake “Scorpio” Fury, who sends Nick out for beer that he offers the superheroes he plans to kill. But despite their best efforts to be a non-team and to keep focused on the threats, in fact the Hulk, Valkyrie, Hellcat Patsy Walker, Red Guardian Dr. Tania Belinsky, even Luke Cage spend a lot of time together for a non-team. Really, there’s nothing better than seeing the Hulk carrying cocoa or trying to understand friendship. And these books are thick and lightweight—convenient for traveling or for reading on the beach or porch or balcony.
Harley Quinn: Vol. 1: Hot In The City (DC, 2015) Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, writers; a million artists including Amanda Conner.
Harley Quinn inherits a building in Coney Island and moves in to landlord for a spell. She has a tenant who looks like Glenn Danzig right out of Henry And Glenn and a good friend who’s a taxidermed beaver. Since she’s not Suicide Squadding or henching for the Joker, she takes a job as a therapist at a nursing home and another on the local roller derby team. Because, yes, Harley’s dream job must always have been roller derby and the Joker just crushed those dreams for his own jerky desires to get Batman to press an electrocution-inducing joy buzzer or smell his flower. I’ve always liked Harley because she is a a complicated character, not completely villainous, but not really capable of being a hero. And I felt sad about her initial presentation when DC re-did its whole comics universe. In Hot In The City. Harley tries to track down who has put a hit out on her while defending her building, trying to help her patients, playing to win with her rollerderby team, taking in animals (and resolving the resulting waste problem) and trying to make a Christmas wish come true, but all in the most cheerfully psychokiller ways. So yeah, a light beach read perhaps, but gory and gross and wrong in the nicest possible way. (Please enjoy these Harley Quinn, Black Canary, Green Arrow shenanigans from Injustice Gods Among Us, too).
Heathentown (Image, 2008) Corinna Sara Bechko, writing; Gabriel Hardman, art
Anna and Kit are American fieldworkers in Chad. When Kit is killed when a militia attacks the town they are staying in, Anna accompanies Kit’s body back to Florida. She meets Kit’s mom and attends the funeral, but Anna starts to get the sense that something is wrong. So wrong that she digs up the body and finds a skull in the place of Kit’s body. Anna’s arrested for grave robbery, though that grave robbery is not the worst thing happening in Kit’s old home town by a long shot. Heathentown Bechko’s story and Hardman’s work in black and white evoke the feel of horror comics like House of Mystery and Eerie. But unlike a lot of older horror comics, Heathentown presents a real understanding of the logic of a possibly more sinister faith and how that logic motivates people to do what they do. Heathentown makes the lover of horror comics in me happy, and the anthropologist, too.
Howard The Duck (DC) Chip Zdarsky, writing; Joe Quinones, art; Rico Renzi, colors; Travis Lanham, lettering.
Howard the Duck’s first appearance was in a 1973 horror comic set in the Everglades, Man-Thing. And I made a point of picking up Marvel’s Essential Man-Thing, Vol. 1 to read the storyline that brought Howard the Duck through the Nexus of All Realities and into our world, or Marvel’s world. (Because I like Steve Gerber. The redoubtable and excellent Colin Smith likes him, too, okay?) Essential Man-Thing‘s very enjoyable, as all Gerber’s work including his KISS comics for Marvel—and I recommend it if you you like comics that are about interdimensional talking ducks, swamp monsters, people getting lost in the swamp, Man-Things who burn whatever “Knows Fear,” and ladies with mysterious powers. Howard was a wise-cracking duck from another dimension where funny animals ruled the earth. He blundered through a portal and, bam, there he was in the swamp with Man-Thing and many an evil dude who knew fear at the Man-Thing’s touch and so burned. In the new run of Howard The Duck, Howard has gotten the hell out of the swamp and moved to Brooklyn, where he’s making a go of being a private detective. He shares a building with the law offices of Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk, and for him, that’s enough to make her his attorney. There’s only been three issues, but so far Howard’s been in space with Rocket Raccoon, run a sting with Aunt May, caused Spider-Man two existential crises and made two friends!
Jem and the Holograms (IDW Publishing, ongoing) Kelly Thompson, writing; Ross Campbell, art; M. Victoria Robado, colors; Robbie Robbins, letters.
Jem and the Holograms is shimmery summer time fun like pop songs and paper dolls. Kelly Thompson’s comic adaptation of the beloved 1980s cartoon is fun and does a fine job of capturing teen girlhood. Jerrica, her sister Kimber, and their friends Shana and Aja are in a band, The Holograms. But Jerrica chokes whenever she performs for an audience, even if that audience is crew taping a video for their entry in a band contest that could make the Holograms. Could the mysterious artificial intelligence that appears to Jerrica help them? What about the hologram generator Jerrica and Kimber’s dad left them? Ross Campbell’s art is elegant and clean—and I always do enjoy a visual reference to the Fabulous Stains. Robado’s color palette is perfect. Jem and the Holograms is a comic that deserves flashy foil, holographic and even lenticular covers ever month. I always appreciate a visual reference to the Fabulous Stains. I’d like to see the Holograms take on not only the Misfits (and Glenn Danzig) but 2NE1, who clearly signaled their plans for world domination in 2011.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 (Boom! Box, 2015) Noelle Stevenson & Shannon Watters, writing; Brooke Allen, art; Maarta Laijo, colors; Aubrey Aiese, lettering.
Lumberjanes has to be here. Like Jem and the Holograms, Lumberjanes is summer. Where Jem and the Holograms is all Eighties hot pink triangles and driving around listening to your favorite pop mix, Lumberjanes is s’mores and friendship in an endless summer. The good kind of camp with mysteries, yetis, possibly gods and a bear woman. The Lumberjanes have the best merit badges: “Jail Break”; “Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fondant”; and “If You Got It, Haunt It” among others. And some of the issues have a mix tape at at the end. (Or at least a listing and a cover so you can make your own).
Swords Of Sorrow (Dynamite, ongoing) Gail Simone, writing; Sergio Fernandez Davila, art.
Forget DC’s Convergence and Marvel’s Secret Wars, as far as I’m concerned Dynamite’s Swords of Sorrow is the comics event of the summer with a super spectacular pulp character cross-over including: Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dejah Thoris, Kato, Lady Zorro, Irene Adler, Jennifer Blood, Jana the Jungle Girl and Jane Porter. These heroes are chosen to fight an evil that menaces all times and all places. And they’ll all need swords to do it because the best and most interesting menaces in pulp comics are solves with swords and science and sorcery and slyness. I haven’t read the tie-in comics, but for the first time in forever I am tempted to try to navigate the confusion that always brings. Meanwhile, in the first two issues of Swords of Sorrow, you get the Green Martian Tars Tarkas on earth! Red Sonja on Mars! Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja fighting back to back! And Vampirella fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex. What more do you want from a big event comic?
Carol Borden considers it a pretty good list article when she gets to write aboutSeventies horror comics, pulp adventure, and Glenn Danzig (twice!)
The Cultural Gutter published this piece on June 18, 2015