May 20, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 20th, 2020

When new books went on hiatus, the Panel Patter team dug into our bookshelves and longboxes for great comics that you might have missed that we hoped were still available in your favorite local bookstore or comic shop. Well, new comics are back (yay!) but there's still a ton of great older books to finish, so we'll be keeping Catch Up as a recurring feature for the foreseeable future. Enjoy and maybe find your next favorite book!

James' Picks:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, published by Image Comics
Here's something you may not have heard previously - Saga is a really great comic. In other news, the Beatles are good and ice cream is delicious. But seriously, Saga is one of those comics that is so good I think it's actually become underrated as one of those things people take for granted. I read every issue of Saga as it was being published, but I have never really returned to it until this past week. In part, I was inspired by the terrific podcast Binge Mode and their deep dive into Saga (great podcast, give it a listen).

May 19, 2020

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Catch It at the Comic Shop May 20th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

May 13, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 13th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for a while. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail-ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of May, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

James' Picks:

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, published by Dark Horse Comics
I've read thousands of comics, in many different comics. So, I have a decent frame of reference to say this: Blacksad is one of the most stunningly beautiful comics that I have ever read, and I am willing to bet that it will be one of the most beautiful comics you will ever read. Blacksad is created by Spanish writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido, and originally published in France. It's a crime noir story about a detective named John Blacksad. The thing to know about this story is that John Blacksad is a cat. Everyone in Blacksad is an anthropomorphic animal. Cats, dogs, bears, lizards, etc. When I first started reading the book, I found that a little weird. It made me think I was reading a funny or silly comic. And, to be clear, Blacksad is full of moments of humor. But the emotions feel very real and grounded, and these are very much detective noir stories, they just happen to take place in a world of anthropomorphic animals.  Be aware, this is an adult comic with adult themes (and some sex and nudity)

About that art and those animals. Juanjo Guarnido was previously an animator for Disney, and it shows. In Blacksad (and there are two additional volumes) he is cartooning at the absolute highest possible level. The world of the story is completely believable and immersive (it very much evokes a post-war New York City). Guarnido is a master sequential storyteller, but you're just going to want to linger on some of the art on every page just because it's so stunning. The facial and body-language acting in this comic is just stunning (among other stunning parts of the artwork). Blacksad is an absolute joy. Go read it.

The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt, published by DC Comics

The Wild Storm is a story about the Cold War that engulfs our world, and the disastrous possible consequences if these two warring powers don't exercise some wisdom and judgment. I'm speaking, of course, about the cold war between International Operations ("IO") and Skywatch. Who, you might be asking, are IO and Skywatch?  Both were originally government organizations that basically went rogue. IO essentially controls everything on Earth, and Skywatch controls everything off of Earth, through an enormous (cloaked) space station. They have achieved detente through a complex series of treaties. But...if there wasn't conflict, there wouldn't be a very interesting story.

Each organization is itching to get the upper hand and destroy the other. Oh also, there are aliens. And alien technology has been used to enhance humans, so each side has their own enhanced humans In addition to there being aliens walking around in human form. But things begin to go awry when an IO employee steals some stolen Skywatch tech and puts an experimental flight suit inside of herself.  From there, things get wilder and weirder. This is a big, complex, incredibly engaging comic. There are definitely a lot of characters involved, but this is a comic that rewards careful reading. While it's a story about aliens and people with amazing abilities, this is ultimately an espionage thriller, where there are lots of parties playing 5-dimensional chess against multiple opponents. 

The Wild Storm is also an amazing-looking comic, thanks to the terrific artwork of Jon Davis-Hunt.Davis-Hunt has a style that's detailed, but very clear. Much of the comic is quiet moments, and Davis-Hunt is great at those. But when the action cranks up, he's absolutely able to bring exciting action to the reader. His style is very appealing and readable, and feels very modern to me. I also really like Davis-Hunt's character designs in this story. The Wild Storm is a reboot of characters originally created in the 90's, and this reboot feels very modern. This is an incredibly fun, dense, engaging series.

Rob's Picks:

Keiler Roberts' Autobio Comics: Rat Time/Chlorine Gardens/Sunburning, published by Koyama Press
The freedom of the autobiographical comic is that it's the most catholic form of comic--anyone can create one, and all it takes is a drawing implement and some paper or an electronic tablet. The only problem with this freedom is that there are so many out there that it's easy to overlook any particular creator in the genre, and it's even easier to get burned out on them entirely. One of the things that sets Roberts apart from the pack--and likely why she got a deal with the high-quality publisher Koyama--is that she's honest with her reader. That's what made Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka so good back in the day, and why Liz Prince and Gabrielle Bell are names to follow from book to book.

In these works, Roberts deals with being a mother, a partner, a person dealing with mental illness, and just trying to lead her daily life. It's the kinds of things, both in her past and present, that any reader can relate to. And best of all, there's a nice layer of humor to the whole thing, not in a broad farce but seeing the absurdities in living in the 21st Century. Roberts' linework matches the tone perfectly--she's more advanced in terms of drawing figures and backgrounds than a lot of other autobio creators, but it doesn't overwhelm the page. The focus is still on the actions, not in the details of a particular panel unless it's essential for us to understand her life story.  These are great comics that will remind you that no matter what happens, we all have to keep living--an important message right now, I'd say.

May 12, 2020

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The Weatherman (Series Review)

The Weatherman
Created by Jody LeHeup and Nathan Fox
Written by Jody LeHeup
Art by Nathan Fox
Colors by Dave Stewart and Moreno Dinisio
Letters by Steve Wands
Design by Tom Muller
Edited by Sebastian Girner
Published by Image Comics

The Weatherman is an absolute blast of a story from a fantastic creative team that excels at the weird and chaotic. It’s also an incredibly profound story about coping with tragedy, the ultimately futile quest for vengeance or justice, and an in-depth exploration of ideas of memory and identity. And The Weatherman is brought to life by an exceptional artistic team that knows how to balance chaos and introspection and provide an overwhelming entertaining visual experience.

May 6, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 6th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of May, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

James' Picks:

Nameless by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn, and Simon Bowland, published by Image Comics
Few writers are more skilled than Grant Morrison at creating a detailed, richly imagined world in a short amount of time. With detailed, vibrantly weird and unsettling art from Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn, Nameless creates a scary world where the apocalypse is coming soon, and the line between nightmares and reality is breaking down. It's psychological horror, and a great entrant in the "horror in pace" genre, and it's epic science fiction, all done with Morrison's dark wit and vivid imagination.

Burnham and Fairbairn provide some spectacular art in Nameless. Burnham's style is dynamic, visceral and detailed; he does some really virtuoso work, particularly in a sequence where Nameless has been captured by the weird, existential threats. The panel design echoes the structure of the weird, nightmarish box where the characters are located, framing them in a location that doesn't seem possible and could only exist in a dream (or in the mind of talented artists). Fairbairn colors this all with a great variety of styles, from the drab gray of an afternoon in England to the sunny colors of-o a lush jungle, to the weird, boxlike dreamworld full of a disorienting variety of colors. The entire comic is incredibly well-illustrated, with every panel getting tons of great detail. There's a lot of thought put into the world-building here.  Fair warning - Nameless is not a book that you should read on a full stomach. There is a lot of art that's legit terrifying and disgusting (seriously, so gross). Nameless is a book where the horror is existential and visceral and horrifying and just so engaging  This is one of the best times you'll have reading a story where the world is completely f&%ked. Nameless will scare the hell out of you.

May 4, 2020

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COSMIC DETECTIVE is now live on Kickstarter

As soon as I saw there was a Kickstarter from Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and David Rubín I was like "shut up and take my money!" I love all of these creators, and together? That's an uneatable creative team. Kindt and Rubín have been working together on Ether, and once you add Jeff Lemire into the mix? Sign me up.

Many folks clearly feel as I do, since the Kickstarter is already fully funded! But check it out, it seems like a fantastic project. Press release below. 
(May 4, 2020) For over two years bestselling writers Jeff Lemire (BLACK HAMMER; DESCENDER), Matt Kindt (BANG!; MIND MGMT), and internationally acclaimed artist David Rubín (ETHER; BEOWULF) have worked in secret on an all new, original graphic novel. The book, titled COSMIC DETECTIVE, is an epic science fiction mystery that asks: when a God is murdered, who solves the crime?

In COSMIC DETECTIVE, a God is found dead. Foul play is suspected. But who investigates the murder of a god? Not just anyone, that’s for damn sure. Enter our Detective. He’s got a wife, a kid, and a seemingly normal day job as a private eye. But for years, he’s been working for a secret underground cabal of shadowy figures, an organization committed to an uneasy alliance with cosmic forces beyond our imagining.

April 30, 2020

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A Rigged Game — thoughts on Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume IV: The Tempest

Have you ever taken the time to read Alan Moore’s proposed Twilight of the Superheroes? It’s basically his take on Kingdom Come before there ever was a Kingdom Come. It’s interesting because Moore ended up never really doing one of those big Crisis-type stories, at least not within the mainstream Marvel or DC characters. Moore’s ABC Comics line, particularly Tom Strong and Promethea, ended with that kind of universe redefining event so we got to see how he could have done it. Of course, we’ve also seen how Moore’s approach could have been done in nearly every Geoff Johns-penned mega event at DC. Johns never read an Alan Moore story where he didn’t think that it could have used more capes and arms being ripped off (look for Geoff Johns’ From Hell, with Rob Liefeld and coming from Dynamite next Spring.). Johns used to try to hide it but beneath his Marv Wolfman schtick but just whole-heartedly embraced it with Doomsday Clock, a unneccessary cape-and-cowl sequel to Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Moore did get to play around with the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, using the Marv Wolfman/George Perez series as a springboard in his Swamp Thing to launch into its own kind of supernatural Crisis. So even when he did his official tie into the original “Crisis” story, Moore still worked within a defined structure, following its rules even as he pushed it to see what he could do with it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume IV: The Tempest is Alan Moore doing a Crisis story and not really giving two fucks about it.

When Marv Wolfman and Geoff Johns write their grand superhero stories, you can tell that they honestly believe in the nobility and righteousness of their characters. In Crisis of Infinite Earths, it’s all about the heroic sacrifices, the drive and persistence of Supergirl and the Flash, and even the most obscure DC characters. It’s a might-makes-right story where everything is solved by punching your way through life’s problems. Doomsday Clock is pretty much Johns bearing his soul about his gosh-darn honest belief in Superman. But those stories (and admittedly every huge DC and Marvel story from Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars) are told at the pleasure of DC and Marvel Comics and, ultimately, their corporate overlords AT&T and Disney. They’re stories for stockholders, for the bottom line. And that has to be said of pretty much every writer and artist at Marvel and DC, no matter how pure we may want to believe that Grant Morrison, Jonathan Hickman, or Russell Dauterman’s motives are. We may hope for the best but eventually, these stories end up being Research and Development for television cartoons and big-screen movies. And as we’ve seen in the last ten years, they make stockholders their money when the stories are translated into other mediums.

If we’re being completely honest, Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s original The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series was as much R&D for the Warner Brothers machine as The Infinity Gauntlet ever was for Disney. But so far, none of the Marvel or DC movies have driven Sean Connery into retirement the way that Stephen Norrington’s big-screen adaptation of The League movie did. They can’t all be winners.

Even with the bloody stain of that movie hanging over their work, Moore and O’Neill have kept at it (which is more than we can say for Sean Connery,) continuing to semi-regularly create League stories over the years but those stories have reached their end with The Tempest and what better way to go out than with a good-old-fashioned end of the world story? The first two League stories were their own things, explorations of genre and characters but remained largely self-contained. In hindsight, they were positively restrained compared to everything that came after them. Starting with The Black Dossier, Moore and O’Neill tried to create this large meta mythology around these classical characters. Mina Murray and Alan Quarterman were still the center of these stories but The Black Dossier established that this was a world made up of fiction. It was made up of all fiction. Nothing was safe from being absorbed into Moore and O’Neill’s meta-narrative. Superspy James Bond and genderfluid Orlando could exist in the same fiction and suddenly anything and everything was fair game to these creators. So why not use the final League story to explore (among other things) superheroes from the silver age to the modern age. So many recent comics have stolen from Moore so why shouldn’t he steal them back while having his last word on the subject.

For as much as Moore and O’Neill may love the old pulpy stories like Dracula and King Solomon’s Mines, The Tempest is their love letter to the comics that they read and enjoyed as kids. You can see this in each individual issue’s covers and in some fascinating side trips their story takes over the course of its path, including an old-fashioned backup serial about a group of Silver-Age superheroes. As much as this is Moore trying to bury his involvement with superheroes once and for all, it reads like he’s trying to remind himself one last time why he was originally drawn to these kinds of stories. You don’t throw in 3-D glasses for the second time into a book (the first being The Black Dossier (and countless reprints)) if there’s not a bit of love behind the work.

As each cover pays homage to a particular old comic (Classic Illustrated, Beano, 2000 AD, Justice League just to name a few,) Moore and O’Neill also pay homage to the history and variety of comics within the pages of the story, telling it through different historical lenses and takes on comics. The Tempest is a romance comic that’s in love with comics. Moore is earnest in his love for stories even as he tries to be scathing in his judgment of the bad ones. It almost feels like poor Kevin O’Neill is being pulled along with the writer on whatever windmills Moore feels like tilting at.

As the “silent” partner here, O’Neill is as boisterous here as possible. Sure Moore can write a story that fits a silver age template or a military/spy one but this book wouldn’t be the work of conjuring that it is without his ability to adapt to these changing environments and styles. If this is truly O’Neill’s storied career’s swan song from comics, he is schooling everyone on his way out the door. His aggressive and blunt artwork remains a defiant challenge to his readers. He’s not a pretty artist or even a particularly fluid storyteller but there’s nothing pretty or fluid about these stories. They’re presented on two levels; the plot that takes us from point A to point B and the meta-narrative, the picking at the threads of the history of storytelling to try to see what is real and what is just a flash-in-the-pan blip in our collective consciousnesses.

And that’s what they’ve been attempting to do with the series from the beginning, exploring these fictions beginning with those from the late 1800s and going all the way up to Harry Potter. These are the fictions of our time, the myths and legends that we’ve all grown up on, and, for a lot of us, still live in. If we’re going to keep living in them, shouldn’t we be a bit critical of them to see if they really warrant the love and affection that we have for them? Somehow Alan Moore has appointed himself judge and jury in this 20+ year critical exercise and maybe, just possibly, he’s not the most impartial judicial body we could have here. To say that his judgment may be clouded by his grievances with both Marvel and DC is probably barely scratching the list of charges Moore has against comics.

Of course, I don’t know if anyone made Alan Moore write Spawn/Wildcats. That’s probably all on him. They all can’t be 1963.

As his final word on comics and particularly superhero comics, The Tempest demonstrates that Moore lost touch with his targets ages ago. There’s nothing new here that his contemporaries or those that came after him haven’t covered. Rick Veitch has been on this beat for at least 30 years, chronicling the failings of so-called superheroes. As Moore and O’Neill try to burn their creation to the ground to leave nothing that could be resurrected by some hack following them, it’s great to see that this writer and this artist can still have fun with these stories. Honestly, if they continued well into their old age churning out these stories, we’d have a lot of fun and great comics to enjoy. It almost feels like it would be better for everyone if we had these adventures but somehow didn’t have the subtext that’s buried in them. But it’s hard to tell if they would add anything to any discussion of these stories and that seems to be Moore’s whole issue with superheroes. The conversation stopped whenever we were 12 years old; that’s our own personal golden age so that everything else that comes after that is obviously inferior and will never be as good as the old stuff was. But Moore and O’Neill seem to be as guilty of this as everyone else is.

The outcome is The Tempest is rigged from the start and the verdict is nothing other than guilty. The only question that remains is what will the sentence be so let’s go back to the idea that this is a Crisis-type story. Moore and O’Neill take their time in this book, waiting to reveal the endgame of their long term plan. When Moore wrapped up the ABC books, essentially the apocalypse there was more of a Ragnarok, revealing a cycle and creating a new reality for Promethea and Tom Strong. Those stories ended on a note of optimism for the future. We could go through the end times and come out better on the other side. And that’s really how a lot of these large mega-events end. The heroes come out of the eye of the storm better and stronger than they were at the beginning of it. For Promethea and Tom Strong, Moore gave them an ultimately happy ending.

And then in the last few years, DC Comics realized that, like the Watchmen characters, they owned most of the ABC characters and revived Promethea and Tom Strong during their Rebirth initiative. In the last 15 years, DC has taken all of these Alan Moore concepts whose stories were told and over with and made them like nearly every other comic character in their library, just more fodder to feed the hungry Wednesday crowds. And whether justly or unjustly, DC was perfectly within their rights to do that because they own all of those characters. After whatever made them special in their original stories, they’re now just the cold intellectual property of DC. Think about this— there have now been far more Watchmen stories written by other writers than were ever written by Alan Moore. Does that seem right?

Somehow even though they debuted at DC/Wildstorm at the same time as Promethea and Tom Strong, Moore and O’Neill have managed to hold onto the rights for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is really a funny statement when The League is really Moore and O’Neill doing to Bram Stoker and so many other storytellers what DC is doing to him over and over. It’s just when Geoff Johns does it, it’s crass; when Moore does it, he never seems to recognize the irony or contradictions of his actions. So are the stories of Orlando, Mina Murray, and the descendants of Captain Nemo over and done with forever, or are we just waiting for someone else to come along and change just enough of these characters so that we call it a Moore/O’Neill homage instead of a ripoff?

Finally getting to a plot summary, there are two stories running concurrently in The Tempest, one featuring our regular characters on the run from James Bond (yes, that James Bond) and another featuring a Silver-Agey group of superheroes teaming up one last time to save the world. Moore and O’Neill dig into all of these different modes for telling superhero and action stories, diving into what they love about the comics and stories they grew up on and what they think is everything wrong with comics today. They deliver one of the most just straight out fun editions of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen even if it is not quite as challenging or insightful as past ones have been. For a final story, they hit the points they want to and no one can deny them that whim. The Tempest is a rip-roaring tale.

In its end, The Tempest, like LOEG: Century before it, devolves into satire but it’s probably much more obvious this time. People melted down when they figured out that Harry Potter was the big bad of Century. But here, the world-ending bad guy is just a character who has been part of the background story that no one had any particular sentimental attachment to. The Tempest has come and gone with a collective shrug of the shoulders from those who have in the past proclaimed that Moore is the G.O.A.T. But other then, there’s nothing substantial at stake other than our own feelings about our favorite superhero stories that Moore and O’Neill are picking apart here. And even with that, there’s not that much new ground left for Moore and O’Neill to dig up that hasn’t already been excavated over and over by other post-Moore and post-Watchmen writers and artists. In the final moments of this book, you can see a love for these stories but also a belief that these stories should be left behind as unrealistic childhood fantasies. Which, when you think about it, is a weird way to cap off the career of the man who wrote “This is an imaginary story. But aren’t they all?”

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume IV: The Temptest
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn by Kevin O’Neill
Colored by Ben Dimagmaliw
Lettered by Todd Klein
Co-Published by Top Shelf Productions and Knockabout

April 29, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop April 29th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of April, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

And now, let's get to the comics!

James' Picks:

Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay, published by Image Comics
There are comics that ease you into a new world, comics that drop you right into that world, and then there's Supreme: Blue Rose (the sense of disorientation and placement into a weird and different world is part of what I love about the book so much). By way of background, Supreme was originally created by Rob Liefeld in the early 1990's as a Superman analog, and subsequently written by others (including Alan Moore!). However, not having read any of those issues should not be a deterrent to picking this comic up. This is a complex, dense story, with all sorts of layers and clues and mysteries.

April 28, 2020

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Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nathan Fox, with contributions by Jim Rugg, Ulises Farinas, Michel Fiffe, Farel Dalrymple, Nick Dragotta, Jim Mahfood, Benjamin Marra, Dan McDaid, Grant Morrison, and Connor Willumsen
Colors by Brad Simpson
Letters by Simon Bowland 
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Having just revisited Zero, I was further in the mood for comics that deliberately involve lots of different, great artists. For that, I can't think of anything better and more fun than the Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers (Captain Victory for short) miniseries from 2014-2015. Captain Victory is the mind-blowing, crazy science fiction, creative reinterpretation of a late-era Jack Kirby comic that you didn't know you needed. Joe Casey and a spectacular (and huge) artistic team have crafted a weird, visually stunning, highly compelling story.  Without hewing too close to Kirby's style, this book is a great homage to Kirby's big, adventurous spirit. If you're looking for fantastic art and a comic that feels like it's constantly dialed up to at least 11, then you should read Captain Victory

April 27, 2020

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Scud: Just a Murderbot Trying to Make Ends Meet.

Scud: The Disposable Assassin -  The Whole Shebang
Written and Drawn by Rob Schrab
Published by Image Comics

In the most absurdist of times I can only recommend something even more absurd. Scud: the Disposable Assassin is the comic that we need today more than ever.

Written and drawn by Rob Schrab, Scud (voiced by John Malkovich. Just go with it) is an assassin droid that you can hire to take out your 4th period history teacher to avoid Friday’s test straight out of an everyday vending machine off the street. Once hired for a hit, the too-self-aware bot discovers that he self-destructs once his target has been killed and fulfilled. In this case the target is Jeff, a monolith female mutant voltroned together with knees that scream iconic tv dialog like war cries with mousetraps for hands (no, I’m not making this up). To circumvent his timely self-detonate ending, Scud maims Jeff enough to land her on life-support where the hospital bills rack up and Scud has to take freelance merc jobs to keep Jeff alive in order to avoid a fireball termination.
Scud is the relatable, blue-collared working man’s suicide droid with Joe Strummer catch phrases. Jumping from one menial job to the next to pay bills, while finding love in Sussudio (a closet robosexual voiced by Gweneth Paltrow. We’ll get to that), and going toe to toe with regal statesman, founding father, and leader of the underground’s zombie legion, Benjamin Franklin. Waging war between Heaven and Hell where both God and the Devil have been taken hostage by even more nefarious beings on both sides that want to push the apocalypse agenda to it's final end. Again, I am not making this up.

April 22, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop April 22nd, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of April, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

And now, let's get to the comics!

Sean's Picks:

Hulk: Visionaries Vol. 1 by Peter David, Todd McFarlane, John Ridgeway, Jim Sanders III, Kim DeMulder, Fred Fredericks, Pablo Marcos, & Petra Scotese, published by Marvel
Comics of the mid-to-late 80s are stuck in a strange middle. Immediately before them were the emerging origins of the stories we know and love today. Followed soon thereafter are the rise of indie comics and the normalization of masked vigilantes. We even went as far as turning those stories into massive blockbuster films here in present day. Somewhere in the middle of all that we have the comics I initially mentioned alongside the the notorious comic books of the 90s. While most 90s comics needn't be on anyone's radar who's looking for an eager recommend, the ones just prior to them are those that should not be overlooked. Hulk in particular is a character that, during the 80s, surmounted incredible amounts of development driven mainly by the story building style of Peter David and the penciling technique of Todd McFarlane.

April 21, 2020

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The Warning by Edward LaRoche

The Warning
Written and Illustrated by Edward LaRoche
Colors by Brad Simpson
Letters by Jaymes Reed
Published by Image Comics

The Warning is an excellent "slow burn" of a series that, through 10 issues, tracks an alien incursion on Earth and the military response to that incursion. It's a story that somehow feels both distant and personal, and both contemplative and technical. It's also a fantastic-looking, immersive book with terrifically-paced action. It's absolutely a great read for military/sci-fi comic fans.

It’s a stressful time. Aliens have invaded America. There’s an enormous object in Burbank, California of alien origin. No one knows what it is and it’s difficult to approach due to electrical interference. It also appears to just be a harbinger of more terrible things to come. But not to worry, our government has a plan, called Operation All-Weather. For an unconventional situation they’ve come up with an unconventional solution; creating chemically and physically enhanced super-soldiers that are also linked to certain military technology, whether it’s a machine gun, a sniper rifle, a fighter jet or a motorcycle. Through ten issues of The Warning, we move back and forth in time and see both the climactic engagements with the aliens, and all of the various events leading up to those battles. The story focuses on the four super-soldiers, but also spends some time with the scientists behind the modifications, and with the aliens themselves. We don't learn a lot about these aliens, but they really don't seem to like us (I can't say I blame them).
The Warning is full of fantastic art, design, and narrative choices. It’s an amazing and unique-looking book. And, combined with the narrative choices, it all adds up to a very specific, immersive sense of atmosphere. I wasn’t familiar with Edward LaRoche’s work prior to first picking up The Warning. But learning that LaRoche is also a storyboard artist was not at all surprising. I’m not a fan of the term “cinematic” because it’s overused, but I think it makes as much sense as any here.

April 20, 2020

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Zero Revisited

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Michael Walsh, Tradd Moore, Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Will Tempest, Vanesa Del Rey, Matt Taylor, Jorge Coelho, Tonci Zonjic, Michael Gaydos, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Adam Gorham, Alberto Ponticelli, Marek Oleksicki, Ian Bertram, Stathis Tsemberlidis, Robert Sammelin, and Tula Lotay
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Image Comics


Zero tells the story of the life of Edward Zero, a man born and raised by "The Agency" to be a perfect spying and killing machine. Through the first three arcs of the series, I came to really love Zero, for its blend of cynicism, espionage, and realpolitik. Not to mention, the stunning and varied art (as each issue is drawn by a different talented artist). Then the fourth and final arc came along, and we (the reader) were spending time with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. And Edward was exploring alternate dimensions with a collective fungal consciousness.

Basically, the book took a real left turn, and I wasn't prepared for it, and I was unhappy with it. I'd come to think of Zero as one thing, and it became something else. I've reread it a few times since the series concluded in 2015, each time hoping that I would *get* the story. And it's not necessarily that I didn't understand what was happening in the story, I just didn't understand why it was happening and why it was the story that Kot was telling. But I can see in retrospect that this was a case of me being attached to what I thought the story was and should be, rather than just trusting the author to take the reader where they thought the story should go. I don't feel great about that, but that's life sometimes.

April 16, 2020

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The World of Super Spy by Matt Kindt

Super Spy and Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by Top Shelf/IDW 

2 Sisters: A Super Spy Graphic Novel
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by Dark Horse

In Super Spy (and the related books I'll discuss), Matt Kindt brings you into the paranoid orbit of spies during World War II. These are fantastic stories that work as both (a) cool, fun tales of stealth, secrets and gadgets, and (b) poignant, lonely, and sometimes tragic explorations of what it means to lose yourself in a job that is entirely based upon deception. Kindt has a gorgeous, unique style, and weaves complex tales of intrigue and deception.

My initial plan was to just talk about Super Spy, the great graphic novel by Kindt. But to get a fuller experience of this story, I highly recommend (and will be discussing) 2 Sisters: A Super Spy Graphic Novel (2 Sisters for short) and Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (The Lost Dossiers for short). I also have related bonus movie recommendations at the end. I'd also say that as much as love these stories for themselves, they're also interesting as a fan of Matt Kindt's work. Subsequent to all of the Super Stories, Kindt went on to tell the story of Mind MGMT over the course of 36 issues. Mind MGMT takes a lot of these themes and pushes them to the next level, exploring the world of espionage and intrigue, but then adding in a whole other layer with individuals with super-powered abilities, mind control, propaganda and more. Once you've explored the world of Super Spy, I highly recommend reading Mind MGMT (my in-depth review here). 

April 15, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop April 15th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of April, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

And now, let's get to the comics!

Scott's Pick:

April 14, 2020

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At Least the Pictures are Pretty— thoughts on Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s Conan The Barbarian: The Life and Death of Conan Books One and Two

Art by Mahmud Asrar

The first story in Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s Conan the Barbarian climaxes with a near-killing blow as two daggers are plunged into King Conan’s back (that’s right, KING Conan.) This initial chapter spans a period of time from when Conan was a wandering adventurer to his days as the king, foreshadowing the time-hopping structure of this Conan story. The Life and Death of Conan is one large story about Conan’s last days, as a threat that he encountered years ago has waited in the shadows, alleyways, and battlefields for the ultimate moment to strike and take Conan’s life. But within that story of this ageless evil waiting to be unleashed with Conan’s death, Aaron, Asrar and occasional Geraldo Zaffino show what Conan’s life was like, telling tales of the warrior at different stages in his constant and unending battles. You could almost imagine that with those two daggers are stuck in his back, Conan’s life flashes before his eyes, remembering the battles, the victories and the women who got him to this deadly point.

But here’s the thing about Conan: if you’ve read one Conan story, you’ve pretty much read them all. Sure, the locations can change; Cimmeria, Hyperborea, Aquilonia, Argos, Stygia and other more ominous Tolkienesque-sounding names. The adventure can change. The enemies of Conan are numberless and the women are plentiful. The richness to the world that Robert E. Howard created has only grown in small steps over the years as the different characters, particularly the female characters, are allowed to be at least a bit more than arm candy for Conan but that richness is completely lost in this incarnation of Conan The Barbarian. The Conan that Aaron is writing isn’t that different than the character that Kurt Busiek did for Dark Horse or the character that Roy Thomas spent a better part of the 1970s and 1980s writing during Marvel’s first tenure with the character.

Ultimately, Conan just isn’t much of a character. He functionally acts as a plot device, creating an environment for these sword & sorcery stories to exist. He’s the gravitational center that holds these stories together. And that’s good because he’s a fun vehicle for these kinds of stories. He’s a simple character who gives us and the creators a solid footing in this world. This “hero” gives Aaron a hook to craft these stories around and provides a foundation for Asrar to apply his skills to. But there’s no narrative here; there’s no development in what Conan thinks or feels. There’s no expansion of this world beyond what the likes of Windsor-Smith, Buscema, or (more recently) Nord or Cloonan have done and accomplished. The sensation of what a Conan comic is was written in stone decades ago and nothing that Aaron or Asrar accomplish make any great or meaningful changes to that stone.

Art by Mahmud Asrar

What Asrar does bring to this world is a modern polish that’s contrasted by Esad Ribic’s Frazetta-inspired covers or the rough and aged stories drawn by Gerardo Zaffino. Zaffino created depth in his drawings; Asrar created barbarian style. As witches are getting their head lopped off, blood vividly spraying everywhere (which we’ve got Matthew Wilson to thank for) and monstrous creatures attack Conan, Asrar makes it look just so damn handsome and manly. He takes the physicality that John Buscema gave the character and makes it something worth the female and even the male gaze. His Conan, bare-breasted and dripping in blood and sweat, is also a sex object, even when there’s no sign of a female around him. We’ve moved far past the Conan who was a warrior to a Conan who is a barbarian sex object.

The most character-revealing chapter of this cycle of Conan stories comes in the eleventh chapter (found in Book Two,) after Conan dies (well, it’s a comic book death so you know what that means) and meets his god Crom. Most people would be humbled and worshipful when meeting their idea of the supreme being but this is Conan we’re talking about here. As Crom is about to turn his back on the world that Conan recently departed, Conan fights for something other than himself. Throughout Aaron’s stories, it’s tough to find the motivation for Conan’s constant battles other than Conan himself is just a fighter. It’s what he does. This is shown in the first Zaffino drawn issue (a fantastic story of a restless king) and it re-emphasized in the eleventh part of these books. Conan is a fighter and he will not accept that his god isn’t.

Where that restless king meets his deity, Aaron, Zaffino, and Asrar define Conan as a man who needs to fight. It’s his nature but it’s also his calling. And they show that over and over in these books, without the subtext of those two superior stories to define what it is that Conan is fighting for or about. For Conan, it’s not even really a moral drive; there’s no sense of right and wrong. If Conan fights an evil force or a corrupt politician, there’s an air of non-judgment in these stories because he isn’t fighting in terms of right or wrong. He’s fighting in terms of “Conan” and “not Conan.” You’re either helping him or your not. It’s as simple as that.

So motivation is largely not a real factor when it comes to these comics and stakes barely matter either. The comics, like Conan, exist in the moment and don’t stretch out much beyond that. Aaron and his artists create some fun issues, have the occasional poignant moment (maybe about three or four in total in these two books) and occasionally nod wistfully at the history and backdrop of Howard’s original stories. It’s the appearance of having something to say about Conan and these types of stories without ever having to commit to ever really doing anything with these stories. That’s the trap of this kind of mainstream characters; they’re trapped in the amber of their original stories, forever preserved in those moments and kinds of stories.

But Conan and his stories were never those kinds of character-driven and motivated stories. They’re about swords, women, and fighting, which are the things that Aaron and Asrar seem to be grooving on here. It’s easy to just get lost in the pulpy nature of these stories. Asrar and colorist Matthew Wilson bring this visceral violence to life in a way that’s both shocking and also completely appropriate and exciting for these stories. The brutality of these kinds of fantasy stories (see almost any episode of Game of Thrones; it’s basically the same thing violence wise) turns into a colorful dance of movement and blood. These are fun stories to look at thanks to Asrar and Wilson. They’re doing the fun work while Aaron is largely sticking to a formula that was established a long time ago. Are we not entertained?
After having told some incredibly character-driven stories in Thor and (to a lesser state of completion) Southern Bastards (reviewed here and here), Aaron seems to be working in a story-for-stories’ sake right now. That’s evident in his Avengers works as much as it is here in Conan as the surface-level plots of these books seem to be as far into the characters and their thoughts as he’s able to dive right now. In this recent work, his writing is driven more by story beats than by character development and part of that maybe because he’s dealing with these long and deeply established characters who have to serve their corporate masters a tad bit more than his more personal work does. Conan is a vehicle to be driven much more than a character to be explored and plumbed.

This lack of heart makes these not much more than pretty drawings and flowery words. In between those drawings and speeches, there are hints of a great love and of a legacy for Conan but that’s all they are— hints of a deeper and grander story. This isn’t so much a judgment of Aaron and Asrar’s work as it is an indictment of Robert E. Howard’s Conan himself. Here’s a character that practically defies any real depth of being. Of course, if there was any depth here, the character probably wouldn’t be Conan at that point but more of a Conan-like character. Instead of a fleshed-out, human-like character, Conan is a plot device that lives each moment panel by panel (it is a comic after all) as if there’s no moment before the current panel or after it.

And frankly, that is why the two Zaffino stories work so much better than almost anything else in these books. There’s a fading past in those stories as well as a bloody current and an uncertain future. There are actions that happened and consequences that were paid or are still owed. Zaffino captures that painful past in his drawings of Conan that Asrar can never really tap into. If Asrar’s Conan lives in the present moment, Zaffino’s lives in the memory of the past. Aaron gives Zaffino these stories that demand Conan to be more introspective and self-aware. Conan has a responsibility here that’s absent in the Asrar drawn stories. There’s an ethos that Zaffino can pull out of Aaron’s story, a richness to them where Asrar’s version of this world is incapable of tapping into any kind of true pain, either physical or spiritual.

So, what does this character who’s been appearing in comics since the 1970s mean to us today? Maybe that’s an unfair burden to place on these stories, that they have to have some kind of relevance in 2020. But if they don’t, then what’s the point? Is this just Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar simply playing with Marvel’s newly found toys? It feels like Conan comics exist now because why shouldn’t they? Marvel seems to be doing everything it can to make the character relevant in terms of the Marvel Universe such as being part of an Avengers team or crossing over with Moon Knight. That’s one approach to the character, trying to make him a superhero but Aaron, Asrar and Zaffino take a much more traditional approach to the character that manages to show what makes this character endearing but also what makes him a character out of time and context.

Conan The Barbarian: The Life and Death of Conan Books One and Book 2
Written by Jason Aaron
Drawn by Mahmud Asrar and Geraldo Zaffino
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Travis Lanham 
Published by Marvel Comics

April 13, 2020

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Essex County: The Origin Story of Jeff Lemire

The Collected Essex County

by Jeff Lemire
published by Top Shelf

Who needs a superhero when you already have one?

This is the story of a man, a man and his origin. Well, not really... let me start over. This is a modestly long-winded deep dive into a recommendation to read the graphic novel series that became the origin story to the Jeff Lemire that we all know today. The accidental classic in graphic literature, Essex County, is the quintessential reason why Lemire has been able to spread his branches into so many directions within comics. That story was one of his first published works and soon became an oft-referred to moment when Lemire became the creator who once was into the one we know now. That published work, written as a three-part graphic novel series, quickly became a ripple in an industry unbeknownst to it without knowledge of it's need to be shaken. Today, it is widely acclaimed as one of the finest pieces of graphic literature, all while he continues inking pages to more stories, and often handfuls at a time. So again I say: who needs a superhero when you already have one?

Jeff Lemire is known for many things, and oftentimes those many things are done simultaneously or back-to-back. He has gone from small-town hopeful to comic creator superstar, and he'd be the first to say that it's his persistent work ethic that got him there. He literally has done damn near everything that can be done with comics. Going from illustrating story's of his own published by small independent companies, to writing for Marvel and DC then back to creating his own stories for smaller companies. He even has created his own universe of characters while somehow also finding time for the multiple projects he has that are headed toward various versions of the screen. If tasked with giving a single recommendation of what of his to read I'd be hard-pressed to even narrow it down to a simple few. How can one man write the perfect story over and over again in so many ways and in so many facets? He simply cannot write a story that misses the mark; he is incapable.

Every story has a beginning. Lemire's began with Essex County. It is a delicate and quiet story with a small cast of characters. Introduced throughout the graphic series, they all carry personal burdens of isolation and share a largely unknown (until the final act) common existence. Originally published in three different paperbacks, the story of Essex County can easily be enjoyed separately, but, like any good season of a Netflix Original, is best consumed all at once and with modest introspection. Lemire's ability to tell a story with pictures colored only by the black of his ink and the white of the paper is at a level most just cannot. While many of his comics are referred to as must-reads, the ones where he is the author and illustrator in smaller formats such as this one is where he shines the brightest.

The first of the three stories, Tales From the Farm, is a story about a boy. The boy, Lester, having a vivid imagination (as most kids do), escapes his unfortunate life circumstance in episodic daydreams. Established at the very beginning, and taking on it's own form of metaphor, Lester adores the life of a cape and cowl as he transforms himself into his own superhero. The instant giveaway is the costume he wears and persistently refuses to take off, even as his perpetually angry but secretly sad uncle demands he removes them. Lester lives with that uncle on a farm in Essex County and his solitary reason for getting up each day is so that he can drift off into that daydream, imagining himself to fly. Also keeping Lester company, in addition to the credulous flying, are frequent visits to a bridge where he befriends a man resembling the one owning and operating the gas station. As previously mentioned, the tone in the story is soft, quaint, and desolate as we drift through a series of moments in the life of Lester. This first act of Essex County, in particular, has a period of sentiment that will touch the hearts of many when moment comes for Lester to finally hang his hat.

Sometimes things are hopeless and seemingly unending. Book number two in the Essex County collection, Ghost Stories, continues the trend of discovering solace and companionship in an emotion so often compared with solitude. Those feelings of isolation can be bold and powerful as they make the strongest person left broken. In these moments, sometimes the last saving grace is hope, the hope that someone else might feel, understand, and relate. No better time than now to respond with stories as comfort food necessary for our collective sanity. Ghost Stories follows two brothers, Vince and Lou, largely told as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of an old Lou. The brothers grow up on a farm in Essex County (a theme that seems to be a familiar place for Lemire to falter to), and they end up following their dream of playing competitive hockey - one more so than the other. Eventually, the one who follows through with the dream (Lou) becomes increasingly more consumed in his own isolation while the other finds peace in the farm they grew up on with a wife who unknowingly becomes the catalyst to a memory Lou kept forgetting he remembered. This second act of the series reads as a stand-alone after the first but exists as a necessary passageway connecting all three together once the journey is complete. Lemire continues to flex his muscle here as a prolific cartoonist telling parts to the story through illustration that others cannot. Vivid full-page layouts of Lou looking back on himself are some of the most powerful pages of the collection. One spread, in particular, shows an entire hockey team tapping the ice surrounding poor old Lou holding Vince in a desperate moment of forgiveness and goodbye.

The third part of the book, The Country Nurse, does with Essex County what we have come to see from Lemire with stories he's since told. He has a unique way to tell a story; picking up pieces left along the way he plants throughout and then surprises readers with new and unexpected ways to connect dots previously only seen as obvious. Centering mostly around a character introduced in the second book, this county nurse becomes not only our first real glimpse of how everything relates but also gives the third act its name. The book began with a story that felt isolated and rigid ends yet with a collected sense of fellowship. The characters, all serving their own existence rely on one another for the support necessary to make tomorrow become today.

As this story finds you in whatever capacity that may be, have patience and let the pictures come to life as Jeff Lemire tells you a story about no matter how broken or how lost we may feel there are still tomorrows worth being here for. With a perspective of self from a vantage point of others, we need not assume meddling in the lives of others to be a bother or without purpose. Instead, we can and should see it as the necessary act of kindness to assist the most isolated person of today gets to their own place of tomorrow in content.

April 9, 2020

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"Where is My Mind?" - Moon Knight by Lemire, Smallwood, Bellaire and More

 Moon Knight
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood, James Stokoe, Francesco Francavilla, and Wilfredo Torres
Color Art by Jordie Bellaire and Michael Garland
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

“With your feet on the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
If there's nothing in it”
          - Where is my mind, The Pixies

Like many people (including me), you might not have read many (or any) Moon Knight stories. So, here's what you need to know going into this particular story. Moon Knight is a character with kind of a weird history. He's clearly something of a Batman knockoff, but with this other element of the supernatural and Egyptian mythology thrown in.  He's a mercenary named Marc Spector who's on a mission gone bad and left for dead in the desert. His life is saved by the Egyptian god of vengeance Khonshu, and he becomes Khonshu's aspect on Earth, taking on Khonshu's mandate to protect travelers of the night.

April 8, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop April 8th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of April, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

And now, let's get to the comics!

Scott's Pick:

The Seventh Voyage by Jon J. Muth, adapted from a book by Stanislaw Lem, published by Graphix
It’s always worth it to check out anything by Jon J. Muth, from his and J.M. DeMatteis’s Moonshadow (another great book to catch up on sometime) to his Zen Panda picture books. His latest is an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage, the story of an astronaut trapped in a time loop aboard his spaceship. It’s a fantastically claustrophobic book, maybe even more appropriate for our time of social distancing, as Tichy tries to repair his ship and is constantly interfered with by an ever-increasing number of his future selves. It’s a great story about the madness of isolation and quite literally being trapped with yourself. Muth was there in the early days of painted comics and still remains one of the masters of it. The looseness and warmth of his watercolors take this time-bending story and displays its heart with Tichy and his growing state of confusion as he has to figure out how he or some version of him can save his life and repair the ship.

Grafity’s Wall by Ram V, Anand Radhakrishnan and Aditya Bidikar, published by Dark Horese Comics 
Creating a lived-in city, Radhakrishnan conveys the spirit of Mumbai on every page. It’s a cliche to say that the city becomes a character in a story but Radhakrishnan’s Mumbai is a lot like Grafity and his friends in this story. There’s a sense from the story that everyone knows this city and that what it is now is all it’s ever going to be. Even Grafity is guilty of thinking what the city is now is all it is ever destined to be. After his father tosses his sketchbook out the window, Grafity meets Jayesh, the drug delivery boy, at a still-standing chunk of wall at a demolished building site. Still dealing with a run in with the cops and his own father’s negligence and having learned their lessons, Grafity begins his latest work by spraying “No One Gives a Fuck” on the wall. That’s the Mumbai that Ram V. and Radhakrishnan are showing Grafity, Jay and the other live in or at least how they experience it. It’s a city that doesn’t care for its children and its dreamers. But there’s also the possibility that Grafity and his friends are failing to see the potential that the city has to offer just as everyone else fails to see the potential in them.  (See full review here.)

Rob's Picks:

Fantagraphics' Peanuts by Charles Schulz Collections, published by Fantagraphics
Good Grief! If there's ever a time for comics comfort food, it's right now. Thankfully, Fantagraphics has you covered by having every single Peanuts Comic strip ever published put together in bi-yearly collections. It's fascinating to watch the characters evolve, especially Charlie Brown moving from being almost Calvin-like to the neurotic loser most people recognize. Similarly, some characters fade in and out. And then there's the explosion of Snoopy, who is always a bit weird, but really becomes something else over time. This cast of kids who never grow up but think very adult thoughts may not be the best drawn, and some of the gags start to get really old somewhere in the middle, but it's still one of the most well-known comics of all time, and in times of trouble, it's always good to sit down and spend some time with Good Old Charlie Brown. How I love him!

Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror, written and illustrated by Various Creators, published by Ahoy Comics
Ironically, Poe is back in the spotlight, in a way, as people actually are imitating his classic story, The Masque of the Red Death. People are idiots. But that's not why this series is on the list. It's because Ahoy's loving parody of Poe and horror anthology series is an absolute delight from start to finish. Combining Poe-as-Cynical Crypt Keeper with short, punchy stories that (usually) have some attachment to a Poe tale alongside short text pieces and single-page art is part of what makes Ahoy books a little different from their peers. What's impressive is the quality of the pieces. A lot of times something like this would be done quickly and for the cheapest joke possible. Not here, and that's because of Tom Peyer, who guides this drunken ship of misfits, including Mark Russell, Hunt Emerson, Ryan Kelly, Rick Geary, Ann Nocenti, Richard Case, and Peter Milligan, just to name a few. This is like a slightly more refined Mad Magazine take on horror tropes and one of the best authors to ever live, and if you enjoy the Corman Poe Comedies, this is a must-read.

Sean's Pick:

Hellboy Vol.1 by Mike Mignola, John Byrne, Mark Chiarello, amd Dave Stewart, published by Dark Horse
Being rather late to the party I feel slightly ineligible to recommend this book as a must-read during a period with no new comics coming out. Nevertheless, I insisted. This book is everything. This book deserves all the hype and praise that it gets. It looks awesome, it reads awesome, and it is awesome. I came to Hellboy by a recommendation, and now so will you.

There are a lot of corners in the world of comics I have missed due to one circumstance or another, and Mignola is one I should have uncovered a lot sooner than now. Here I am, sitting here telling all of you reading this to go out and pick up this book in the format of your liking. It is a large universe, and if you are like me then it may find you a bit of panic as you unpack all of the volumes. My advice: just as we are doing in real life right now — take one day, one volume at a time.

The first volume of Hellboy, Seed of Destruction, introduces you to the world and to the character while it summons your craving for more stories (but pace yourself). The wit, the angst, the piece of his brain that is still able to work all come together and tell a vivid story about how a spawn of the devil himself is able to choose his own path for the greater good. I urge you to seek out this series, do as I have, and start from the very beginning.

James' Picks:
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, Claire Dezutti, Courtney Menard, and Thomas Mauer, published by Black Mask Studios
 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is one of the coolest, most stylish, clever books I've read in years. Think Stand by Me meets Goodfellas with a healthy dose of Wes Anderson thrown in.  It's a story of 4 kids who decide that the only way to prevent one of their dads from robbing a bank is to...rob a bank. Needless to say, writer Matthew Rosenberg, artist Tyler Boss, and the entire talented creative team do a phenomenal job of telling a story of some messed up kids trying to prevent some messed-up grown-ups from doing a terrible thing. Rosenberg is such a great writer of funny, believable dialogue. There are some incredible discussions between the various kids in the story.  But he's not just funny. The relationship between the main protagonist and her dad is warm and real and understandable. And Boss is a serious talent to watch. This book is loaded with incredible visual humor, along with fantastic and inventive visual storytelling.  4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is hilarious and poignant and memorable.

Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward, published by Marvel Comics
The Black Bolt 12-issue maxi series is one of the very best books of the past few years. It should absolutely be up there with The Vision, Mister Miracle and any other complex, deep, thoughtful explorations of a superhero. I’ve always liked the character of Black Bolt, but I found him more badass than actually interesting. But that changed with the Black Bolt series, written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Christian Ward. This series takes Black Bolt out of his element as the king of the Inhumans, and places him on a strange, nightmarish prison full of various aliens. Even in this horrific place, he finds unlikely friendship with Carl “Crusher” Creel (the absorbing man), Raava, a powerful Skrull warrior, and Blinky, a telepathic alien.  This story chronicles their harrowing attempts to free themselves from captivity, and to eventually make things right (things have gone terribly wrong). Not only did this book do a ton to humanize Black Bolt, but it also made me really love Crusher Creel, a character to whom I’d previously never really given much thought. But Ahmed really shows the decency and humanity in all of these characters. And Ward does absolutely spectacular work here. His psychedelic, weird visions are perfect for this otherworldly prison, and he is capable of bringing truly psychologically nightmarish visions to life. This is a truly spectacular book.

April 7, 2020

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Turning Spider-Man Into Spider-Men

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli
Colors by Justin Ponsor
Letter by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

It’s fairly well established that I gush over everything Spidey, and rarely do I make room for exceptions. As a child, I lost many afternoons daydreaming myself as the wall-crawler with all the best one-liners. He was awkward, sarcastic and an outcast (all of which I found easy access for relation), and very accessible as a childhood hero. This childlike infatuation followed me into my adolescent years while certain relatives insisted on gifting me Spider-Man toys instead of the typical gift a normal 20-something would get.

Fast-forward. I grow up, made a few mistakes, started a career, and had a family. So as did Peter (to a certain extent), and then, along came another spider: Miles Morales, a new Spider-Man to represent a new generation. This new version of a character I had grown up with came out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise. A much-welcomed surprise, no less. I don’t think anyone saw this little hero coming, but why would we have because Earth-616 isn't able to see Earth-1610 with ease (confused? Read a comic). Thirteen-year-old Miles became the hero we never knew we needed, but here we are with a new perspective on an old idea to excite a new generation of kids as they bear witness to the Spider-Man wearing the cooler costume.