As with any art form, the best comic books are those that offer an immersive experience. Favorite paintings or films, for example, provide visual worlds for contemplation, while listeners can lose themselves within an album’s aural landscapes. All these mediums share the ability to craft a compelling ambiance. The same is true of Monstress which continues its excellent run this week with another stunning issue.
Much of the appeal of Monstress is related to its elaborate world building. The narrative unfolds in the aftermath of a long brutal war waged between magical/semi-magical beings. This extended conflict, which continues to simmer not far below the surface, has left the environment ravaged. A general sense of gloom hangs over the proceedings, a visual reminder of writer Marjorie Liu’s motif of war’s deep, ill-healing scars. Issue #10 however, achieves a heightened level of dread as protagonist Maika and her companions reach the Isle of Bones.
Last week DC commenced their celebration of Jack Kirby’s Centennial by launching a new Kamandi series featuring a star-studded rooster of talent. This week Dynamite shifts the focus to Will Eisner, who like The King of Comics, would have turned 100 this year. Both Kirby and Eisner were profoundly talented writer/artists who left an indelible mark on the medium. In Eisner’s case, his signature creation was a masked crime fighter, The Spirit. Dynamite debuted the latest Spirit tale today, The Corpse-Makers. Based on its initial installment, the series promises to be a fitting tribute to Eisner.
How does the saying go? Once your good name is lost, there is nothing that can bring it back? Coach Euless Boss has long been a man to be reckoned with in Craw County, an imposing figure unwilling to shy away from violence. Indeed, he has been more than willing to bloody his hands in a very vicious and public manner, as readers discovered at the conclusion of Southern Bastards’ initial arc. Such brutal demonstrations, though, did little to soil his public image. Coach Boss was a man to be feared and respected both in and outside the county. As the head of Craw County’s Runnin’ Rebs high school football team, he was a living legend. His name stood for something noble. The problem with such glory is that it can be intoxicating and quite blinding. Under its influence, judgements have been known to cloud. From there it only takes a single poor decision to irreparably tarnish your stature, as Jason Aaron and Jason Latour compelling illustrate in the latest installment of Southern Bastards.
Shutter began its 2016 with an issue spotlighting the relationship between lead protagonist Kate and Huckleberry. #18 was an emotionally powerful portrait of the crests, crashes and aftermath of a love affair which set the tone for a stellar year from Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca’s creator owned series. Hence, it is only appropriate for its penultimate chapter of the year, Shutter focuses once again on Huckleberry. And once again, her story proves to be a poignant lesson in not only the pain of the past but how growth may emerge from it.
There is something to be said for the subtle art of defying expectations. When New Super-Man was first announced as part of DC’s Rebirth initiative, reaction was mixed. On the one hand, it was positive news that acclaimed creator Gene Luen Yang would be able to branch out with a series more independent from the larger DC Universe. On the negative side of the ledger, the concept sounded a little derivative. A Chinese Super-Man joining a Chinese Justice League? Did the DCU really need yet another iteration of Batman? Luckily these fears proved to be ungrounded. In the first four issues, Yang did a fabulous job of developing the cast, so the principles do in fact feel like original characters instead of superficial riffs. The series quickly settled into an appealing mix of humor and adventure, as Kenan (i.e. the titular new Super-Man) tried to negotiate his powers and the responsibilities that came with them. This week Yang bring to the fore a couple subplots which complicate the narrative in a surprising and intriguing manner.
Superhero teams, like many a professional association, at times resemble families. There is the same jockeying for prominence and dread of disappointment. There is the long-term proximity which produces that awkward mixture of friendship and annoyance. Yet, in the best cases, all the members are there for each other in their times of need. From the beginning, this interrelation between heroes and family has been an undercurrent of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s recent Dark Horse series Black Hammer. For #4, however, writer Lemire shifts the subtext to the foreground using the mundane details surrounding a seemingly modest dinner party to illuminate the bonds amongst some rather extraordinary individuals. In doing so, Lemire and artist Ormston craft a poignant portrait of human relations.
Another night in The Big Apple, another gang of hapless crooks driving off with their ill-gotten loot. Good thing that New York has Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage & Iron Fist, whoever is house sitting Avengers Mansion at the moment to protect it. So, wait, who is protecting the city this fine evening? Is it, Doreen Green, aka The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl? That seems to be heroine the crooks are expecting. Instead, though, they are apprehended by Brain Drain, a brain in a jar affixed to a hulking robotic body. Brain Drain’s entry onto the scene is a wacky, off-kilter moment which also contains multiple types of meta (Erica Henderson’s art homages Action Comics #1’s iconic cover, while Ryan North’s footnotes continue his ongoing tutorial on computer programing). As wonky as this might sound, it all blends seamlessly together, demonstrating right off the bat that this will be another fantastic installment of this outstanding series.
By Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Some weeks the choice is easy. This is not to say that there were not several great comics released today, because there were; in fact, there was not a dud in my stack. However, despite all the quality, sometimes there is a single issue which simply seizes your attention from the first page, immediately drawing you into the richness of its story, the lushness of its art. By about page five, you know it already: this most likely is the finest book of the week. Such was the case this week with Kill or Be Killed #2.
By this point, it should not surprise anyone that Jonathan Hickman has a bit of an apocalyptic streak in him. The most obvious examples of this tendency would be East of West or Secret Wars (a series which both began and ended with the literal sundering of all reality). However, this strain of pessimism can be found in many of his other works, such as Red Wing or Manhattan Projects. Even arguably his most idealistic writing, Fantastic Four/FF, often felt the poignant weight of regret for past actions, especially in regards to the character of Nathaniel Richards. Father figures often fail in Hickman’s worldview and not merely on a personal level. Usually the entire system meant to keep society running smoothly is in danger of collapsing. And why not? “You have earned what is coming to you” East of West continually reminds its readers. Today Hickman revisits these themes once again with the debut issue of a new Image series The Black Monday Murders. Yet, skillfully written within a fresh context, these ideas never feel like old hat. Instead, aided by talented artistic collaborators, Hickman produces an excellent first issue for the series.
The holidays are a time of bustle and confusion. It may sound cliché that we often lose track of what really matters, but, you know what? There is a fair amount of truth behind such clichés. So, it seems rather appropriate that for this final Finest of 2015, I selected a book centered on an exploration of family.
Last month, Saga returned from its intra-arc sabbatical with an update on Hazel. The issue focused on how well (or not) the child was adapting to life in a refugee detention center. This week, the series shifts the focus to her parents, asking how well they are handling their daughter’s absence. The answer is not too bad, under the circumstances. Continue reading This Week’s Finest: Saga #32→