I’m a little chilly after a strangely, even eerily warm Yuletide writing my annual list of comics I liked in 2015 suddenly snowed in in Montreal and then subjected to what I can only call, “Frost Giant Snot” on the long road home. As always, I try to choose comics I haven’t written about much before. But sometimes, as you undoubtedly know, things happen, whether frost giants blowing their slushy noses on the world from their mead halls in the sky or another mention of swell comics I have mentioned before.
Say for instance, Bandette: Vol. 2: Stealers, Keepers! (Dark Horse, 2015) Paul Tobin, writing; Colleen Coover, art.
It is always swell when Chris Roberson’s Monkeybrain Comics teams up with Dark Horse to bring out another swank and very portable collection of Bandette’s adventures. Bandette is a daring teenage thief in the most fun of fictional Parises. Her life is pastries, ballet flats, love and stealing rare and valuable artifacts. And she especially enjoys if she can combine them all in frustrating the sinister schemes of the nefarious Absinthe, who does not appreciate the art of love or the art of thievery. In Stealers, Keepers, Absinthe has hired the deadly but well-dressed assassin, Thirteen, to protect his interests while Bandette and her friendly rival, Monsieur, compete to steal items and foil Absinthe’s plan. Plus, Matador master of the sword returns. The writing is fun. The art is fun. Bandette is just plain fun.
Black Magick (Image, ongoing) Greg Rucka, writing; Nicola Scott, art; Jodi Wynne, letters; Chiara Arena, color assists.
I’m very excited about Rucka teaming up with Scott. And even if it’s true that I’ll read nearly anything Rucka works on, which it is, I am especially excited about a book about a Wiccan detective. There have been a lot of other witches in comics lately, and while books like The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina and Wytches are spooky updates of 1960s and 1970s witchy horror, Black Magick is something different. It still has a secret cult, but it’s grounded in contemporary Wicca.
Det. Rowan Black is interrupted by a call during a sabbat ritual. A man has taken hostages and demands to speak to her. But it turns out he’s speaking for someone—or something–else, someone who knows about her and her power, someone who wants to renew an ancient conflict. Two issues in, the writing is primo Rucka and Scott’s art gives an expressionist edge to a story that is just perfect. Also perfect, Scott’s Noir color palette. There’s also a pretty swell essay by editor Jeanine Schaefer in the book, so it’s worth getting the books in single issues just to get the extras.
(I like to imagine that Det. Rowan Black is somehow related to the Rowan of The Wicker Man (1973)).
Cursed Pirate Girl Annual (Archaia, 2015) Jeremy Bastian
Jeremy Bastian recreates the look and feel of Eighteenth Century engravings using brushes as fine as a single hair and created at actual print size. So it’s a little understandable that after the first Cursed Pirate Girl collection came out a few years ago, we’ve been waiting a while for the second. This Annual helps make the wait a little easier. Bastian’s art is astounding and the story would buckle anyone’s swash. An orphaned girl searches for her lost pirate father on ships above and beneath the Omerta Seas. She’s helped by a parrot in disguise, PepperDice, and two knightly swordfish, Sir Haftu and Sir Halek. She becomes Cursed Pirate Girl and even wears an eyepatch. And in this issue she learns more secrets about her past and her father. Cursed Pirate Girl is clever, cunning and straight out amazing. I wrote a little about her in my 2013 piece, “Strong Female Character.”
Flash Gordon Omnibus (Dynamite, 2015) Jeff Parker, writing; Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire, art / King: Flash Gordon (Dynamite) Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, writing; Lee Ferguson, art.
I’m kind of cheating by squishing two books together and making another general argument for the neat and interesting things going on at Dynamite Comics. Again. Jeff Parker, Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire’s 8-issue Flash Gordon miniseries is now available in collection and if you like space opera or just plain fun comics, you should probably read it. It’s tremendously engaging. Dale Arden is a journalist on the science beat. Dr. Hans Zarkov is a scientist whose career is as damaged by his heavy-drinking as it is by his brilliance. Zarkov finds a swell drinking partner in Vultan, King of the Hawkmen). And, as I’ve said before, Flash starts his storyline bungee-jumping and I don’t hate it. Shaner’s art is sharp and clean, but really recalls Alex Raymond‘s original Flash Gordon work. And he brings in entertaining references to the 1982 Flash Gordon movie.
Ben Acker and Ben Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour) keep up the good work in Dynamite’s follow-up series, King: Flash Gordon. Some of this good work includes losing Zarkov’s pants and shoes.
Monstress (Image, ongoing) Marjorie Liu, writing; Sana Takeda, art.
I used to have a zine called, Monstress. I like monsters and so every issue would be organized around a particular monster. I got the name from a shadow puppet play I had seen years ago, an adaptation of the 11th Century Arjunawiwaha. In this adaptation, puppeteer I Wayan Widja used Matrix-esque bullet time when Arjuna shoots his arrows and has a character woo a lady by telling him all about the Italian restaurant he’ll build in heaven. The hero Arjuna woos Krishna’s sister Supraba (short for “super-beautiful,” as I Wayan Widja told us). As Arjuna makes his move, all of creation starts to pair off, including “the monster and the monstress.” So I am attached to the title, “Monstress.” I like Marjorie Liu’s work and Sana Takeda’s art is always beautiful. I’m still sad about the cancellation of their book, X-23. So between monsters and Marjorie Liu, I was well-disposed to Monstress from the get-go.
Monstress is part of the current resurgence of quality fantasy comics, with titles like The Autumnlands, arguably Saga, Rat Queens, Red Sonja, The Spire and Through The Woods, which I write a bit about later. It’s another comic that I’m writing about only two issues in because, man, is it good. Maika is a young Arcanic, a supernatural person/creature/woman depending on who you ask. And she has a dangerous link to an ancient being, possibly a god, possibly a monster, very likely both. She has come to the human part of the world to discover what happened to her mother. Maika allows herself to be captured by an order of female scholars who study and vivisect Arcanics as part of their creepy, awful research in their very fancy cloister. There has been a terrible war and the peace is threatened by the monster who might be passing through Maika. When I read the first issue of Monstress, all I wanted to do was read the second immediately.
(Monstress also has an excellent cat, up there with Saga‘s Lying Cat and Apocalyptigirl‘s Jelly Beans).
The New Deal (Dark Horse, 2015) Jonathan Case
Jonathan Case is one of my favorite comics creators. I love everything he does. Whether it’s his art duties on Batman ’66 (DC) and The Green River Killer or handling both art and writing in his own books, Dear Creature and now The New Deal. No sea mutants this time, no murderers, either, but there is a 1930s heist caper set in New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Bellhop Frank O’Malley’s in trouble. He owes big money to a fancy citizen who has just checked in to the hotel. He’s kinda sweet on Theresa, an African-American woman who works as a maid at the hotel and who has landed a role in Orson Welles’ all African-American production of MacBeth. So yeah, as in Dear Creature, there’s Shakespeare, but not nearly as much, because after Welles gives her notes about iambic pentameter and her “natural rhythm,” she quits his “Voodoo Shakespeare.”
At the hotel, valuables go missing and Theresa is blamed by a racist patron. But Theresa suspects Frank and it puts quite a strain on their friendship. I always enjoy Case’s clean linework. And I enjoyed how Case writes at story influenced by 1930s screwball comedy and addresses race, which screwball comedy has rarely addressed well (if much at all). Theresa is a swell character who is very smart, even when her smarts get her into trouble. The glamor of the era is filtered through the perspective of the bellhops, maids, house detectives and regular detectives rather than the wealthy patrons, except for one very fancy lady who takes a shine to Theresa.
Through The Woods (Magaret K. McEldery, 2015) Emily Carroll
Horror, dark fantasy or fairy tale, whatever genre you want to call it, Through The Woods is gorgeously and gloriously creepy. Carroll includes five tales of people wandering into the unknown—the woods, marriage with a king, a country retreat, a neighbor’s house—and being changed by it. Some never return. The stories remind me of Victorian ghost stories and Richard Sala, Guy De Maupassant and Angela Carter, Grimm’s Fairytales and Becky Cloonan’s solo fairy tales like Wolves and Demeter. though the style is very different. Carroll’s tales are so beautifully drawn, laid out and colored.
Star Trek / Planet Of The Apes: The Primate Directive (IDW Publishing / BOOM!, 2015) Scott and David Tipton; Rachael Stott, art.
I am a sucker for licensed property crossovers lately. Or more like for the past 5 years or so. In so many ways, it’s something that comics can do so well. In this case, Scott and David Tipton team up with Rachael Stott for a crossover of classic 1960s science fiction and make it work. The disparate worlds of Star Trek and Planet of the Apes are blended thoughtfully and skilfully, despite the radical differences in tone and attitude towards the then present and the then future.
In an attempt to circumvent the Organian peace treaty that prevents the Klingons or the Federation from intruding on each other’s territory, or even having a good, old-fashioned brawl, the Klingons have discovered an alternate earth in which apes rule men. The Klingons give more advanced rifles to a gorilla general to foment discord among the apes and get themselves a new client state. Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise decide to stop them. Will the Prime Directive be overthrown? Will ape kill ape? Will Kirk display his fancy fighting skills? Will George Taylor wear pants? Will Dr. Zaius be impressed by James T. Kirk’s almost civilized middle name, “Tiberius?” And as a swell extra, every issue includes an essay by comedian and Dr. Zaius impersonator Dana Gould about Star Trek and The Planet of the Apes.
Weird Love (IDW Publishing, ongoing). Various.
Weird Love is not only the source of the scariest comic I read in 2015, “Lip Service,” Weird Love is also my most gleeful comics discovery of 2015. The series reprints old romance comics from the 1950s through the 1970s with an emphasis on the strange choices of the original writers and editors. I would not be surprised to discover a Fletcher Hanks romance comic somewhere in the pages of a Weird Love collection. It almost has a Twilight Zone feel, if the Twilight Zone were romance. Though I think “To Serve Man” could cross over easily. These are not just stories of women who fall in love with cult leaders, teenage swingers, Communists, deeply misogynist men or even ventriloquists. These are also tales of women who go too far. A lion-tamer’s sister sets the woman up to get her out of the way… permanently. (Incidentally, there is more than one female lion-tamer in this collection, making it appear that lion-taming was a viable career path for women in the 1950s. In retrospect, lion-taming is the clear solution to Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name”). Some women even choose to advance their own careers instead of their chances of romance–by black-marketeering or gaslighting the boss. Of course, it’s possible that these women’s true love is their work and no one chooses who–or what–they love.
Carol Borden divides her time between writing and lion-taming in pursuit of true love. She also recommends Saga, The Lumberjanes, The Wicked + The Divine, Pretty Deadly (which just started up again), Apocalyptigirl, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel and Howard the Duck, but there’s only so far she can stretch her list’s conceit.
This essay was originally published by The Cultural Gutter on Dec. 31, 2015.