It’s that time again. The UV, both A and B, is high. The pollen’s flying. The sun is shining. And everywhere the summer lists are in bloom. So I have a list of comics that might go well with that public radio-recommended salad or be just the thing to complete your effortless but beautiful look. Kick back on the beach, patio or the fire escape you’ve desperately retreated to in search of moving air and enjoy some crime, Blaxploitation, horror, romance, kung fu, werewolves, sexploitation, science fiction and just a touch of superheroics.
Richard Stark’s Parker: Vol. 4: Slayground (IDW Publishing, 2013) Darwyn Cooke (RIP)
I like Darwyn Cook’s adapations of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels more than the novels themselves. And I might like them more than the film adaptations, Point Blank (1967) and Prime Cut (1972). And it turns out that Cooke’s final Parker book, Slayground, is my favorite. It’s an exquisitely minimalist depiction of what happens after an armored car heist goes bad. Parker’s colleagues are injured in a car crash and Parker escapes the police. He hides out in a Buffalo amusement park closed for the winter. And a gangster, his men and a pair of crooked cops plan to go in after Parker and the bag of money he has with him. Slayground is a wonder of visual storytelling and a convenient size for reading on patios, poolside or even the beach.
Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel. (Icon, 1999) Brian Michael Bendis & Marc Andreyko
If true crime is your thing, I recommend Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel. Between 1934 and 1938, the Torso Killer terrorized Cleveland. Well before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and about the time Frances Glessner Lee was endowing the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine, the Cleveland police were frustrated by their inability to identify the victims or catch the murderer. Enter Eliot Ness, hot off his Prohibition raids and battle against corruption in Chicago. He was brought in to become Cleveland’s new Safety Director, in charge of both the Cleveland police and fire departments. Ness started working on rooting out bad cops, but ended up trying catch the killer. Torso makes remarkable use of archival photos and news clippings in the art.
Shaft: Imitation of Life (Dynamite, 2016) David Walker, writing; Dietrich Smith, art; Alex Guimarães, colors.
Shaft has a reputation after rescuing a Harlem crime lord’s daughter. So many people want a piece of John Shaft that he’s befriended the operator at his answering service. But he’s tired of “bullshit cases”–cases that gets him or someone else hurt and are never worth the money. That’s if he gets paid at all. After taking a case to find a teenage boy who’s disappeared into New York’s underground porn industry and helping another young man find his boyfriend for free and both lead to the mafia, Shaft decides he wants easy money. Cases that don’t get him or someone else hurt. So he takes up an offer to work as a consultant on a Blaxploitation film, The Black Dick. But, as you already know, and John Shaft certainly already knows, there’s no such thing as easy money. It’s neat to see Shaft in the 1970s New York Gay scene. And I enjoyed the portrayal of Rick Rockman, star of The Black Dick, and, like so many Blaxploitation actors, a Shakespearean thespian.
Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special (Image, 2016) Ed Brubaker, writing; Sean Phillips, art; Elizabeth Breitweiser, colors.
Sure, I admit the comic within the comic in Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special was a huge draw for me. It was. Who among us could resist the Seventies comics wonder of “Fang, The Kung Fu Werewolf?” But Criminal is always excellent, kung fu werewolf or no. The Tenth Anniversary Special can be read alone or as part of Criminal‘s overarching continuity. Teeg Lawless is a thief and a killer. He takes his twelve-year-old son Tracy on a road trip. Teeg alternately treats it like a father-son bonding time and a job Tracy is helping him pull off by driving, keeping his mouth shut and not attracting notice. Teeg is, in short, all fucked up. Tracy is a very lonely. After his father gives him a stolen copy of Fang, Tracy decides he wants more and tries a local used book store. He befriends a local girl–or, more accurately, she befriends him. And for a little while, Tracy plays at being a normal kid, while Teeg takes care of his business.
Beasts of Burden: What The Cat Dragged In (Dark Horse, 2016) Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, writing; Jill Thompson, art.
First up, despite the lovely, illustrative art, this is not a good all ages comic. If you’d like some excellent Jill Thompson all-ages work, I recommend, Scary Godmother. Beasts of Burden is always disturbing. Why do I always stay up too late reading Beasts Of Burden, whether in a collection or one-shots? I mean, they are really good, but there’s always something in each issue that makes me wish that maybe I had read it a little earlier in the day. The animals of Burden Hill keep an eye out for occult shenanigans, and there have been plenty. You can read their adventures in a graphic novel and a series of one shot stories. In the latest single issue story, “What The Cat Dragged In,” we catch up with witch-cat, Dymphna, and find out what’s what with her. It’s a very disturbing what’s what, but really good. Plus, there’s a raccoon!
Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine. (Image, 2015) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writing; Valentine De Landro, art.
Do you like women in prison films? With future-style gladiatorial games? Set in space? With diverse characters? And Feminism? Bitch Planet is a women in prison film set in space with diverse characters playing a game to save their lives and overthrow the Man and it’s Feminist.
Fresh Romance (Rosy Press, 2015–ongoing) edited by Janelle Assellin. Various writers and authors. (Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, Taylor Esposito, Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, Ryan Ferrier, Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau, Steve Wands, Marguerite Bennett, Trungles, Rachel Deering, Marcy Cook, Maya Kern, Maddi Gonzalez, Jen Van Meter, Kyle Latino, Marissa Louise, Taneka Stotts, Genue Revuelta, Cecil Castellucci, Irene Koh, Jeremy Holt, and Elizabeth Beals).
Fresh Romance has everything you could want in a romance comic.There are the continuing stories of love and angst. There is an ongoing advice column. And there are neat articles about the history of fashion in romance comics. And the stories and art are diverse in genre, style, race, gender and sexual orientation. There’s a magical being grudgingly working in a cafe until she causes enough couples to find true love. There’s a Regency romance between a mysterious gentleman and a fallen woman. There’s a girl who is in love with an mortal and her not-at-all mortal dads do not approve. And there’s your so far more mundane high school romance about two girls secretly in love. Fresh Romance is just plain romance fun and conveniently available in a portable, digital format.
Haunted Love (Yoe Comics/IDW Publishing, 2016-ongoing) edited by Steve Banes, Clizzia Gussoni, and Craig Yoe. Various artists and writers.
Haunted Love is a lot more harrowing than Fresh Romance, and much less fresh, in the sense that there are a lot of dead people in bad situations. And there are many living people about to be dead and in much worse situations. The stank of the grave is on this love. Haunted Love is much more chilling, too, but who doesn’t enjoy a chill on a hot summer night? As with Weird Love, IDW Publishing’s Yoe Comics imprint had unearthed creepy stories of love, jealousy, murder and haunting from 1950s comics. Love goes really, really wrong in Haunted Love, much more so than falling for a boy you think is a Communist or a girl who turns out to be a lion-tamer.Haunted Love includes tales of murderous love, supernatural hate and mysterious ladies in white who might be tigresses, literally.
Black Panther (Marvel, 2016—ongoing) Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing; Brian Stelfreeze, art; Laura Martin, colors.
Sure, we’re only two issues in, but things are already interesting in Wakanda. T’Challa, the Black Panther and ruler of Wakanda is feeling separated from his people. He feels guilty that his sister is trapped between life and death. His people are feeling abandoned to corrupt authorities and warlords. And someone is harnessing these feelings of resentment and anger, the sense that justice is not being done. It gets worse when the Black Panther attempts to calm a miner’s strike and ends up fighting his own people. Meanwhile, two of Black Panther’s all-female royal guard, the Dora Milaje, have fled the capital after one of them was sentenced to death. She killed a chieftain who was abusing the girls of his village. And so with Ta-Nehisi Coates we ponder the nature of justice and the relationship of rulers and the people. But with amazing high tech coolness and beautiful designs drawn by Brian Stelfreeze.
The Shadow Hero (First Second Books, 2014) Gene Luen Yang, writer; Sonny Liew, artist.
The Green Turtle battled Japanese Imperialism in China and Southeast Asia in five issues of Blazing Comics (1944). He was created by an early Chinese-American comics creator, Chu F. Hing, but his own race was obscured. Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew imagine an origin story for the Green Turtle. In The Shadow Hero, he’s Hank, a young man raised in the city of San Incendio’s Chinatown. He works as a grocer with his father, while his mother does domestic work. One day, she has an encounter with a superhero, the Anchor of Justice, and decided then and there that her son will be a superhero himself. The Shadow Hero mixes Chinese-American history with Golden Age comics. There are superheroes and secret societies. There are Chinese spirits and corrupt, white city officials, each with their own agenda. And there are nice visual references to Milton “Terry and the Pirates” Canniff, Frank Miller and Yuen Siu-Tien’s Beggar So. And all in Sonny Liew’s charming style. As in Yang’s previous books, American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, Yang confronts anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism, this time in the form of Golden Age comics representations. But there is a twist on a Yellow Peril character that makes me so happy I’m so tempted to share it right now. But I won’t.
Carol Borden reminds you to make sure the Kung Fu Werewolf in your life has taken their heart worm medication and is protected from fleas and ticks this summer. Not even a werewolf’s kung fu can defeat ticks!
This piece was originally published by The Cultural Gutter on June 16, 2016.