Lots of good comics this week, so let’s break them down by company — starting with Image, who’s offered literally dozens of cool debuts this year, making themselves the destination publisher for creators who want to stretch their storytelling skills with minimum editorial interference, and maximum retention of the rights to their work:
Bitch Planet #1 — Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick; Art: Valentine de Landro; Colors: Cris Peter
Deconnick’s been having a breakout 2014 — her Pretty Deadly, a hallucinatory occult Western, was great, and she’s been making Captain Marvel a smart, galaxy-spanning romp for Marvel. Here, she enters creator-owned waters again, with a women-in-space-prison tale that’s equal parts B-movie exploitation fun and sly feminist critique (the planet in question has Earth prisoners — all women — who’ve murdered and committed other crimes, but others who’ve merely been accused of “non-compliance” with the male-dominated culture). Valentine de Landro offers some nice facial and figure work, and also delivers on the action scenes (two prison riots just in this first issue). I know every reviewer’s going to say the same thing here, but if you like Orange is the New Black — but set in space — then you’ll love this comic.
Supreme: Blue Rose #5 — Writer: Warren Ellis; Art/Colors: Tula Lotay
There’s a story in here somewhere (a meta-story, actually), about a small town where something terrible involving Supreme happened, and broke time and scrambled the world’s memories, so now there are no superheroes anywhere and no one remembers them. A reporter’s been hired to figure out what happened, and as she slowly pieces together the puzzle she keeps encountering extra-dimensional echoes of the people involved, and various odd occurrences. This is typical Ellis, opaque but with a high-tech science-babble plan that will eventually become clear, and it’s raised to another level by Tula Lotay’s beautiful art: she has a precise, confident way of drawing fully-realized people, and then surrounding them with striking, dreamlike imagery, coloring and backgrounds, and I could look at it all day.
Sex Criminals #9 — Writer: Matt Fraction; Art/Colors: Chip Zdarsky
It’s been a while since one of these came out, but it’s always worth the wait: this issue, like #7, mostly introduces a new character — well, one we’ve seen before, a former porn star, but, as always with Fraction and this book, she’s anything but what we might expect, with a background/origin that treats her as an individual, not a cautionary tale for or against sex workers. Also, Suzie and Jon get back together, put a plan into motion, and find a possible ally; on an unrelated note, there’s a sex parody of Gillen/McKelvie’s The Wicked and the Divine (called, unsurprisingly, The Lick-ed and the Divine) that’s a good example of the sly, knowing, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pleasures of this book.
Southern Bastards #6 — Writer: Jason Aaron; Art/Colors: Jason Latour
Aaron and Latour’s gleefully grim, cornpone-infused noir continues; it turns out that each arc is focusing on one character, with the eventual story coming together out of that (which led to a big surprise for readers who assumed that the initial lead character was untouchable…). It’s really the setting — Craw County, Alabama — that’s the focus here, with its football-obsessed redneck inhabitants, a few good but mostly just dim and roughscrabble and bad. Wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s sure entertaining checking in with them once a month….
East of West: The World #1 (of 1) — Writer: Jonathan Hickman; Art: Nick Dragotta; Colors: Frank Martin
This isn’t a regular episode of this comic, but (as the cover notes) a sourcebook/timeline/atlas encyclopedia of Hickman and Dragotta’s apocalyptic alternate-future America, with a six-page story leading off for good measure. Hickman being Hickman, he’s got a very full, complicated world going on here, so the material should be useful to fans; if you’re not reading this book anyway, I can’t imagine that you’d care about it — although it might intrigue you enough to start.
Savage Dragon #200 — Writer/Artist: Erik Larson
The last Image book this week (yes, everything so far has been from that company; told you they’d had a good year) is also the oldest: along with Spawn, it’s the only original title still going, as this anniversary issue attests. You have to admire Larson for sustaining such a straight-ahead superhero book for so long, with both enthusiasm, skill, and care for his characters; it’s aimed squarely at adolescent males, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and anybody who can channel Jack Kirby this effectively is just fine by me.
The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #4 (of 4) — Writer/Artist: Eric Powell
Afterlife With Archie #7 — Writer: Roberto Saguirre-Sacasa; Art: Francesco Francavilla
The last two of the smaller publishers this week — Goon concludes the current mini-series with a small resolution, but not the big one we were expecting; there’s a larger battle to come, in another mini-series starting in a few months. Not too big a fan of that kind of story spillover — if you’re going to label something as a self-contained story, then give it a solid ending — but Powell’s cheap-hootch horror and broad emotional strokes mean we’ll all keep reading it anyway. So too with Afterlife With Archie, beginning a new arc as the small band of survivors is out on the road during the book’s zombie apocalypse, and almost more dangerous to each other than the monsters (fatally so, in one case). This is the very definition of an irresistable high-concept book: if you aren’t intrigued by a world where Jughead is the Patient Zero zombie and most of Riverdale is either dead or undead, (and Sabrina is the bride of C’Thulhu), then you have no comics soul.
Batgirl #37 — Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher; Art: Babs Tarr; Breakdowns: Cameron Stewart; Colors: Maris Wicks
Justice League United #7 — Writer: Jeff Lemire; Pencils: Neil Edwards; Inks: Jay Leisten with Keith Champagne; Colors: Jeromy Cox
Green Lantern Corps #37 — Writer: Van Jensen; Art: Bernard Chang and Mirko Colak; Colors: Mercelo Maiolo and Tony Avina
These DC comics are all here courtesy of their Darwyn Cooke alternate covers — which, as I said when these started appearing last week, is reason enough to spend $3.99 on them (as with all the covers here, click on them to see larger versions in all their glory). Batgirl has the best story inside (It’s the only one of these I’d have bought without a Cooke cover), as Stewart and Fletcher continue to make her a very modern, smart and relatable heroine, while the Tarrs art strikes just the right tone: light, pretty and very solidly constructed. Justice League United has the advantage of the Lemire script, but it’s a middle chapter of a long space story with dozens of characters, including the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Edwards is OK with the pinup pages but a little too posed and gritted-teeth with everything else. Green Lantern Corps is, similarly, in the middle of a big ol’ crossover involving the New Gods being jerks, and is readable because it gives John Stewart an opportunity to be a no-nonsense, badass hardcase.
Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 (of 1) — Writers: Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti; Art: Mauricet; Colors: Dave McCaig
Astro City #18 — Writer: Kurt Busiek; Art: Brent Eric Anderson; Colors: Alex Sinclair
The other DCs: Harley Quinn is just about what we’ve come to expect from these specials, with Connor and Palmiotti’s writing keeping everything snarkily and satirically on-model, and while there are no scratch-and-sniff gimmicks, there’s some nice art in the backup stories, including eight pages of Brandt Peters working an almost-painted Goth chibi style and, as the dessert at the end, a nine-page Darwyn Cooke story. If his covers are worth $3.99, then a whole story ought to cover the $4.99 here. Astro City, published under DC’s Vertigo imprint, offers the first part of a look at a longtime superhero couple who’ve now hit their fifties and are starting to lose a step; it’s just exactly as smooth and well-built as it always is.
Axis #7 (of 9) — Writer: Rick Remender; Art: Adam Kubert; Colors: Edgar Delgado and Jesus Aburtov
Amazing Spider-Man #11 — Writer: Dan Slott; Pencils: Olivier Coipel; Inks: Wade von Grawbadger and diverse hands; Colors: Justin Ponsor
And now the Marvels, starting with their two current crossover events: Axis has been surprisingly readable, maybe because it’s really just a long Uncanny Avengers story, by that book’s longtime writer, and so feels like an organic extension of everything the characters have experienced in the last few years instead of some imposed editorial command. So too with Amazing Spider-Man’s “Spider-verse,” which sounds like the ultimate fannish plot: let’s figure out every single version of Spidey that ever saw print (plus a couple of others we’ll dream up on the fly), and get them all together against a family of energy vampires that loves to snack on spider avatars, and has been spending decades traveling through the alternate universes and picking them off one by one. That just has to be fun; watching “our” Spidey battle to be the leader over the Doc Ock-brained one from a year ago makes this issue even better, as does playing “name the debut issue” for all the Spider-Alternates here.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 — Writer: Sean Ryan; Art: Brandon Peterson; Colors: Antonio Febela
Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Andrea Sorrentino; Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Frank Cho; Colors: Jason Keith
Marvel’s offering a number of annuals of its titles this week (these “extra” issues used to come out in the summer; it would be interesting to hear why they think the holidays are now the best time to get readers to buy them). The Amazing Spider-Man is just OK, with a 20-page main story that’s kind of a typical Parker day, showcasing his stubborn sense of responsibility; the two backups are trivial, and don’t add much for the extra dollar this costs. Uncanny X-Men is better, featuring the time-stopping (and, here, time-lost) rookie X-Man Eva; it spends its 30 pages all on the main story, and then adds a “to be continued” for an All-New X-Men annual to be published later. It’s fine, reading like a typical Bendis issue, and the Sorrentino art has a lush painted style that handles the different time periods well. Guardians offers another full-issue, 32-page story involving the team, with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, running into a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier out in distant space, complete with Nick Fury and the ’60s version of that spy agency (Jasper Sitwell, Dum Dum Dugan, etc.) and getting into a battle with a bunch of Skrulls. The Bendis script goes through a couple of effective twists and turns in explaining how this is possible, and turns out to be solid and entertaining; the Frank Cho art makes it even better, as he gets to channel a bunch of impressive ’60s Jim Steranko Fury tributes, and throw in small in-jokes like the page where he draws Rocket Raccoon like one of his Liberty Meadows animals, making this book the best of the trio.
Thor #3 — Writer: Jason Aaron; Art: Russell Dauterman; Colors: Matthew Wilson
Avengers #39 — Writer: Jonathan Hickman; Art: Mike Deodato; Colors: Frank Martin
Hey, that’s a lot of comics this week, and I’m almost out of time, so let’s just point out these last two: Thor has the just-launched female version of that character continuing to battle Ice Giants and the Dark Elf Malekith, and a last-page cliffhanger guaranteed to bring readers back for the next issue, while Avengers is another chapter of Hickman’s massive sage, with most of the Avengers chasing after Reed Richards and the now-fugitive Illuminati; both issues are solid and addictive, in that super-hero soap-opera serial way that Marvel does so well.