March 3, 2017

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25 Great Image Comics on their 25th Anniversary

I've been thinking about the Image Comics 25th anniversary and what it actually means to me as a comics reader.  To start, I wasn't reading comics 25 years ago.  I stopped reading comics in the late 1980's and didn't really pick them up again in earnest until 2007 or so.  So Image Comics and the "Image Revolution" meant very little to me, and when people joked about "90's comics" I didn't really know what they meant (I get it now - pouches, cybernetic arms, bikinis, etc.).  While those books didn't (and still don't) particularly appeal to me, respect must be given. What the Image founders did was a game-changer for the comics industry (for a history of Image Comics, read David Harper's great article here) that goes so far beyond any particular comic that they published.

By the time I came back to reading comics, it was a very different comics world than the high-flying days of 1992.  I did a ton of catching up on comics I'd missed in my years away and was also on the lookout for new things.  A few books by Robert Kirkman (Invincible and The Walking Dead, you might have heard of them) caught my eye and had me on the lookout for more interesting books that weren't just the usual Marvel/DC superhero books.  While I don't read Invincible or The Walking Dead anymore, I very much enjoyed them as I was getting back into comics. I appreciate them and the incredibly important role that Kirkman himself has played as a modern trailblazer in making the statement that if you want to tell your story, the story you're dying to tell, Image Comics is the place to do it.

For me, Image has been an incredibly important part of getting me back into comics and reading all kinds of stories.  With that in mind, I wanted to highlight 25 Image Comics books (series, miniseries, etc.) that are meaningful to me, and I think are worth a look.  Some of them are very well known (have you heard of this "Saga" book?), others less so, but they're all books I love that are worth a look.  Note that this is NOT (I repeat, NOT) intended to be some sort of "best of Image" list, these are just books I love.


Alex + Ada Vol. 1 

Alex + Ada 
Written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Illustrated by Jonathan Luna

Alex + Ada is a science fiction story set in a near future where artificial intelligence is a reality, but a controversial one.  Alex + Ada tells a compelling story of love in the age of androids.  As written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn (and illustrated by Luna), this is a recognizable world, where Luna's clean style of artwork suits the story perfectly.  It's something of a "slow-burn" of a book (to use an overused phrase), but while the plot of the story is very engaging, it's the characters that really stay with you. Everyone in the story is drawn with such compassion, and such humanity, you can't help but care for them. Jonathan Luna does double duty here as artist (with an appealing, clean style) and as co-writer with Sarah Vaughn.  Alex + Ada does what great science fiction does (and ought to do), which is to use futuristic ideas to shine a light on the present while telling an interesting, believable story. Everything the characters experience regarding futuristic technology is an astute commentary on the technology we have now, the ways people lose themselves in it, and the (perhaps unrealistic) expectations we have about the way technology (and material possessions generally) can make us happy. If you like movies such as "Her" or "Gattaca", then this book is definitely worth a look.

The Black Monday Murders Vol. 1 


 The Black Monday Murders
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Tomm Coker
Colored by Michael Garland
Lettered by Rus Wooton

So, here's the first of a number of entries where I will praise a comic written and/or illustrated by Jonathan Hickman.  Why do I love his work so much?  In part, because he's a master at the long game, better at telling big, complex stories than pretty much anyone.  Hickman's stories have something of a thematic consistency.  While the subject matter may differ (the apocalypse, multiversal collapse, secret Cold War conspiracies, dark forces controlling the media, science gone wrong), he is clearly interested in certain themes, including (i) complex social settings and systems, (ii) the powerful and secret elite that are the hidden hands moving the chess pieces of society, (iii) the ultimate failure of that elite to focus on those goals and to maintain (or protect) society, and (iv) the inevitable descent into selfishness, fighting, and betrayal.  All of these themes show up richly in The Black Monday Murders, one of my favorite series of the past few years. It's a story about how dark magic is actually what fuels money and finance in the world, and the alliances, betrayals and bizarre rituals behind the power of Wall Street. The Black Monday Murders is telling a big, intricate story with a lot of moving pieces; it's got a whole lot of morally gray protagonists, which you'd expect in a story about the secret history and powers of the world. All the while, it's wonderfully illustrated by Tomm Coker with terrific, thoughtful colors from Michael Garland.  Their artwork is great at conveying moments of stillness along with moments of action and violence, and really sets the dark, ominous mood of the book.  The Black Monday Murders is great, complex, comic book storytelling for grownups. 

Black Science Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever


Black Science
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Matteo Scalera
Colored by Dean White, Mike Spicer and Moreno Dinisio
Lettered by Rus Wooton


If the idea of Sliders meets Lost in Space meets Fantastic Four meets Apocalypse Now appeals to you, you're in luck (and if it doesn't, seek medical attention). If Black Science was only an exploration of amazing, fantastical worlds with stunning, pulpy art from Matteo Scalera it would still be a great book. However, there's more to it, as it's a moving exploration of people coming to grips with themselves and their own limitations, mistakes, and regrets, all done with an engaging, rebellious vibe. Plus there are technologically advanced Native Americans conquering Europe, and giant insect-people, among many other fantastical ideas.  Even more than that, though? It's a profound story of one man's struggles with his own regrets and limitation, along with monsters and weird alternate worlds. Scalera (along with a few talented colorists) does incredible work in bringing these many different worlds to life.

Copperhead Vol. 1: A New Sheriff In Town


Copperhead
Written by Jay Faerber
Illustrated by Thomas Godlewski
Colored by Ron Riley
Lettered by Thomas Mauer

Copperhead is the sci-fi western crime procedural sociopolitical story that's been missing from your life.  The first  2 volumes of the story (collecting issues 1-5 and 6-10) are available now, and I strongly recommend picking it up.  Copperhead is the story of Sheriff Clara Bronson and her son Zeke who come to live in the small mining town of Copperhead (on a distant world). They're looking for a fresh start. Clara is met with a deputy who resents her, corrupt local businessmen, complex political and social dynamics, and a murder mystery.  The art from Scott Godlewski (with striking, varied colors from Ron Riley) is detailed and highly expressive (Godlewski excels at facial expressions and social interactions between characters, whether they be human, alien or artificial intelligence).  The setting ( a small town on a distant moon) is alien, but the characters and the issues the story explores are very real and close to home. Writer Jay Faerber also looks at the way society treats veterans, as artificial intelligence (or "arties") play an important role in the story, along with issues of race and class.  This is smart, fun comic storytelling that succeeds in a lot of ways. 

Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth


Deadly Class
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Wes Craig
Colored by Lee Loughridge and Jordan Boyd
Lettered by Rus Wooton


Deadly Class is so many things, all of them great. It's a period piece set in late 1980s San Francisco, about teenage punks, rebels, criminals and misfits (all the most awesome people). It's a story about a teenager without hope getting a second chance (at a tremendous cost), as he's taken into a secret high school for training assassins (like Breakfast Club meets Fight Club). It's also one of the most honest, brutal explorations of depression, loneliness, and the anxieties and fears of being a teenager that I've read in a long time. Plus the art from Wes Craig (with colors by Lee Loughridge, and then Jordan Boyd) is staggeringly good. The layout, design, sequential storytelling, all of what Craig and Loughridge/Boyd do in this book will blow your mind (and not just the issues where the main character is high on acid). This is a punk rock book, done at a virtuoso level.



The Dying & The Dead
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
Colored by Michael Garland
Lettered by Rus Wooton


When Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim, and Michael Garland collaborate, the results are big and gritty and action-packed and dramatic and intense. In The Dying & The Dead, the creative team sets their sights on a big story, one that looks to encompass war heroes, the battle against death, world domination, clones (maybe?), and ancient humanoid civilizations (or maybe angels or demons).  Now, this is a slightly qualified recommendation because this series only has published 3 issues s far, and I'm not sure when they're going to be picking it up again. However, those first 3 issues are really that good. This is a gorgeous book. Bodenheim knows how to set a scene, and he and Hickman engage in some masterful decompressed storytelling here. Coupled with Hickman's ominous (but not overly intrusive) narration, this builds a real sense of dread and weight, which conveys that there are big things at stake.  Michael Garland's coloring is one of the real stars of the show in this book. He washes over each panel (or series of panels) with certain colors. A change in color panel conveys a threat (such as a wedding about to get very messy) or conveys a change in location (such as a movement from the Greek islands to the mountains of Germany).  The Dying &The Dead is shaping up to be a fun, epic tale of heroism, and is well worth a look.


East of West Vol. 1: The Promise
East of West
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Nick Dragotta
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by Rus Wooton

The scope of East of West is almost too big to explain. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta (with colors by Frank Martin) do some very ambitious storytelling here. East of West is (like many Jonathan Hickman stories) a story about systems (in this case, an alternate history of a divided America, and the complex status quo that holds it in place), and the breakdown of those systems. It's a story about the inevitability of death and destruction. It's a story about conflicts, with multiple moving pieces, shifting alliances, and plans within plans. It's also an alternate history telling of America with a Civil War that ended very differently, and it's at once a futuristic science fiction, Western, religious apocalyptic, magical fantasy story.  It's also a love story and a story about family and loss. Each one of these elements is blended together into something hard to describe, but which is not to be missed.  Dragotta and Martin (with design by Hickman) give the book a sense of dynamic action, high tension and emotion, and skillful world-building (along with some creepy, nightmarish imagery). There's fantastic attention to detail in all aspects of the storytelling here, as each character, each nation and every aspect of the book (from world building to character design) has been given the utmost care and thoughtfulness. East of West is a big, sprawling, complex, and utterly engaging read.


The Fade Out Vol. 1
The Fade Out
Written by Ed Brubaker
 Illustrated by Sean Phillips
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser


Few writer/artist teams inspire as much confidence as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale, Sleeper, Incognito), and in The Fade Out, that confidence is completely justified. Unlike Fatale, there are no supernatural concepts here. Instead, it's a compelling murder mystery, and a broader look at late 1940’s Hollywood, and the way in which something tragic (like being a soldier and seeing battle) doesn't really leave you. The lead character (a screenwriter) clearly has some secrets of his own, and there’s a great supporting cast of characters in this story. Brubaker and Phillips bring a lot of credibility to the world they've created; the atmosphere feels very authentic to the time period.  This is a great, emotional story, beyond just being a murder mystery.  If you liked L.A. Confidential, you'd enjoy this comic. If you didn't like L.A. Confidential, wow, I really don't know what to say.


Five Ghosts Vol. 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray
Five Ghosts
Written by Frank Barbiere
Illustrated by Chris Mooneyham
Colored by Lauren Affe and S.M. Vidaurri
Design by Dylan Todd

Five Ghosts (from Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham) is something like a cross between Indiana Jones and The Unwritten, but even that doesn't really do it justice. I'll just say it's doing multiple things, and it does all of those things well. It's a gorgeous, pulpy adventure story set in the 1930s with an appealing "reluctant hero" of the main character (he's a thief and a scoundrel, but he loves his sister and his friends and has something of a moral compass). The book has supernatural elements that draw on a number of different familiar literary characters (the detective, the archer, the samurai, the wizard and the vampire), and it pulls from multiple sources (the second arc of the series felt like Casablanca meets The Tempest) to combine into a highly appealing, fun adventure series.  The art is beautiful; it feels modern, but yet it also captures a more old-fashioned sensibility. Chris Mooneyham skillfully depicts action (chase sequences, sword fights, gun battles), and if some of the big, dramatic moments are rendered with a little bit of extra drama in the art, it feels appropriate for the story. It's terrific, swashbuckling adventure comics.


Halcyon #1 (of 5)

Halcyon
Written by Tara Butters and Marc Guggenheim
Illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
Colored by Mark Englert
Lettered by Dave Sharpe


Halcyon is terrific, dark story about superheroes, written by the accomplished show running team of Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters, with art from Ryan Bodenheim and colors from Mark Englert. The central premise of the story here is "what happens when the eternal fight for truth and peace and justice is over?" Let's just say this transition doesn't exactly go well for the superheroes of this world. It's an extremely compelling story. There are analogs for a number of prominent superheroes (Superman, Batman, The Flash, Beast, Captain America), but there are enough differences so it doesn't feel too on-the-nose. Ryan Bodenheim does spectacular work in this book.  He's got a gritty, kinetic, detailed style that works well for both action and quieter scenes. He's complemented with strong coloring from Mark Englert who shows a great range in this series, from the desert to undersea to weird prisons, all vividly colored. I'm not sure whether the creative team here will ever revisit these characters and this world; the way the story ends it's well set up to tell more stories. Regardless, Halcyon is a fun, exciting, compelling read and one of my favorites. 


Infinite Horizon: Collected Edition

The Infinite Horizon
Written by Gerry Duggan
Illustrated and Colored by Phil Noto
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire


The Infinite Horizon is a terrific, accessible, modern retelling of The Odyssey.  It's set in a near-future version of our world where things have gotten worse.  It tells the story of a soldier on his long journey home, and the struggles of the family waiting for him to rejoin them.  All of the classic elements of The Odyssey story are there, updated to a 21st-century setting. It's a really gorgeous-looking book, thanks to art and colors by Phil Noto. Noto draws some of the most beautiful-looking people you'll ever see in a comic. But he does a lot more than just draw pretty people; the art in The Infinite Horizon is dramatic, emotional, and yes, hauntingly beautiful. Regardless of whether you've read The Odyssey, this is a great read.


Lazarus Vol. 1

Lazarus
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated and Lettered by Michael Lark
Colored by Santi Arcas


Lazarus could (like many of my other favorite series) be fairly described as a slow-burn, but once you start this book you're not going to want to stop. The scope of this book can go from the very personal, to the big-picture global view, all in one issue. This is less a book about high-flying or intense action (those the team of Rucka and Lark are highly skilled at capturing those moments), but more a book about simmering tensions, subtle alliances, small gestures, wheels within wheels, and some of the best, most meticulous world building you'll read (in a comic book or otherwise).  It's also a depressingly realistic dystopian vision of the future that's an astute commentary on right now.  All of this is accomplished with tremendous skill by the art team of Michael Lark and Santi Arcas. Lark's noir-tinged style isn't the obvious choice for futuristic science fiction, but it suits the somewhat dystopian nature of the book perfectly. Lark is a master at human emotion, complex interactions, and subtle gestures. At the same time, he depicts brutal and intense violence more effectively than just about anyone. This book looks at a future where the rich got richer, and the rest of us are "waste".  It also has a fantastic female lead protagonist in Forever Carlyle (this should not be a surprise to anyone, given it's Greg Rucka).  She's smart, capable, impulsive, imperfect, loyal, inquisitive, and still very much a teenager. It's a book you need to be reading. 

The Manhattan Projects Vol. 1

The Manhattan Projects
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Nick Pitarra
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Rus Wooton


If you want to know the real truth behind American history from the middle of WWII to the beginning of the Vietnam War, you're not going to get it in a PBS documentary, nor are you going to get the true nitty-gritty from reading a history textbook. No, you need to be reading The Manhattan Projects, one of the most inventive, perfectly crazy series you'll ever read. From creative interpretations of well-known historical figures (Cannibal Oppenheimer! Einstein wielding a chainsaw, killing aliens! Harry Truman at the center of a gigantic, murderous orgy ritual! Robot FDR!), to twisted takes on significant historical events such as the dropping of the atomic bomb and the assassination of a certain beloved president, no topic is off-limits or safe from the view of the creators of The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.  The colors from Jordie Bellaire in this book are bright, big and also a very important part of the storytelling in this book.  This story continues Jonathan Hickman's exploration of the idea of a powerful secret elite, and the ways in which they can try and fail to advance scientific goals (and shape the world). An amazing, frequently hilarious, sometimes shocking and disgusting book that also happens to read better in collected editions.


Manifest Destiny Vol. 1
Manifest Destiny
Written by Chris Dingess
Illustrated by Matthew Roberts
Colored by Owen Gieni
Lettered by Pat Brosseau


Manifest Destiny, like The Manhattan Projects, looks at the secret history of America. In this case, we learn that the real motivation for the excursion by Lewis and Clark to the west was to hunt and destroy monsters. This is a beautifully illustrated, very entertaining book with a high degree of verisimilitude (which is a funny thing to say about a book featuring giant killer frogs and monsters, but it's true). The book succeeds on the level of the political allegory, in addition to being a well told, beautifully illustrated (courtesy of art by Matthew Roberts and colors by Owen Gieni) book. If you're a fan of history, zombies, monsters and fun generally, this is a comic you should absolutely be reading.  The art here is a big reason to take a look at this book.  Everything detail feels authentic both in the line work and in the color (the coloring is extremely effective at creating that sense of reality, and it conveys both openness and dread).  This story can be read as a loose allegory for the way in which early Americans viewed the Native population (strange, alien, other) and went about expanding and destroying whatever was in its way. Or, it can be read as an entertaining, well-crafted story involving strange creatures, strange afflictions and a journey into the unknown. Either way, if you enjoy history (secret or otherwise), horror, monsters and gorgeously illustrated, well-detailed comics, Manifest Destiny is worth a look.


Nameless
Nameless
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Chris Burnham
Colored by Nathan Fairbairn
Lettered by Simon Bowland


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 it's epic science fiction, all done with Morrison's dark wit and vivid imagination.  Burnham and Fairbairn provide some spectacular art in this series. 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.  Nameless is a book where the horror is existential and I'm not generally a huge horror fan, but I love this book.  It will scare the hell out of you. 

Noah
Noah
Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Illustrated and Colored by Niko Henrichon
Lettered by Nicolas Senegas


Noah (the graphic novel), is neither a faithful adaptation of the Biblical story nor is it a children's tale. Strictly speaking, it is an adaptation of the first draft of the screenplay of Noah (the movie), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, based (loosely) on the Biblical story of Noah. This is a creative and ambitious book, which attempts to fill in a number of the gaps in and expand upon the Biblical story (which is pretty bare-bones) and wrestle with what the decisions undertook in that story would have meant (and felt like) to the people living around Noah and his family.  The look and feel of this story are visually striking, starting with the sky, all the way down to the ground. Niko Henrichon and Nicolas Senegas make everything in the sky far larger than in a "real" sky; it feels like this takes place in a time that is much closer to the time of creation when all the heavenly bodies were still bunched together, before everything settled into what is our world.  You also really feel, through the art, that the whole world is being destroyed and everyone other than those on the Ark has been condemned to die.  Much like in scripture, there's a lot to wrestle with in this story. Regardless of whether you enjoyed the movie, or have an interest in the Bible generally (though some religious people may find much of the story objectionable), Noah is well worth a look.



Nowhere Men Vol. 1: Fates Worse Than Death

Nowhere Men
Written by Eric Stephenson
Illustrated by Nate Bellegarde, Dave Taylor and Emi Lenox
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Fonografiks


Nowhere Men is one of the coolest, most inventive, stylish comics I've read in recent years. I described it recently as what happens when you get a super-team together (in any context, not specifically superheroes) and felt like the history (and decline and fall) of the Beatles, meets the Fantastic Four (except, imagine it's a team of four Reed Richards types)meets Watchmen.  In the world of Nowhere Men, "Science is the new Rock & Roll" and the lives and careers of scientists are followed with the same passion and enthusiasm with which we follow pop singers or reality TV stars (yeah, their world does sound better).  The story shows the disastrous consequences of the failure of these geniuses to work together, along with demonstrating the consequences of science without morality. It's also got teleportation, mutants, conspiracies, clashing personalities, and wit to spare. It also has some of the most engaging back-matter and supplementary materials I've seen in a comic.  The art on Vol. 1 of this book (including spectacular design work on covers and in the presentation of the supplemental materials) is first rate. Illustration is by Nate Bellegarde (the current volume is being illustrated by Dave Taylor, also an excellent artist), who provides a detailed, expressive, exaggerated style and brings to vivid life both small moments and out-of-this-world crazy science fiction action. Nowhere Men is an excellent, engaging, clever, terrifically rendered book.


Paper Girls Vol. 1
Paper Girls
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Colored by Matt Wilson
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher


Paper Girls is one of my favorite books of the past few years. While I was initially pulled in by the nostalgia factor (it's set in the suburbs in 1988 and is about a bunch of 13-year olds, so they're the exact same age as me) it isn't a story that's about nostalgia. What is it about? It's about 4 fast friends thrown into a crazy science fiction adventure across time and (maybe parallel universes)? I think the true nature and scope of the story still have yet to be fully revealed. What I can tell you is that each issue is an incredibly satisfying read, and typically ends on a cliffhanger of some sort. It's written by Brian K. Vaughan so you can trust that there will be fun dialogue and real, relatable characters. Moreover, it's one of the very best looking books on the stands today, with an A+ art team, in artist Cliff Chiang, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer/designer Jared Fletcher. These 3 makes this book feel like a unified visual experience. Chiang's art is emotional and authentic, Wilson's colors are an integral art of the storytelling, and Fletcher proves fantastic design along with great, weird futuristic lettering. Paper Girls is a fantastic, engaging read whenever it comes out.

Pax Romana Vol. 1


Pax Romana

Written and Illustrated by Jonathan Hickman


Jonathan Hickman is such a good writer that you might be tempted to forget that he's an incredibly talented illustrator and graphic designer in his own right.  He's a multi-talented threat, and all of his skills are on display in Pax Romana, one of my all-time favorite comics.  It's the mid-21st century and the Catholic Church has declined in influence. They decide that the only rational thing to do is to go back in time and strengthen the historical origins of the Church, thereby changing history. Most of the story takes place in the past as you see future-men and women change history and make some pretty interesting decisions on how they're going to do that. This is a dense, somewhat wordy read (a few pages are just text of a meeting). Don't let that dissuade you, though.  Hickman's illustration and panel design are so innovative and engaging that it doesn't feel dense, though. You'll be fascinated by the story, and appreciate all of the helpful graphs, charts, and timelines.  Pax Romana is a smart, fun read for those who love complex time-travel stories.



Saga Vol. 1

Saga
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated and Colored by Fiona Staples
Lettered by Fonografiks


It's hard to say too much about Saga that hasn't already been written. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to be pretty much peerless in their ability to craft stories full of exciting and weird science fiction concepts, moving, complex and real characters, engaging, dramatic, intense and heartbreaking plot, all presented visually by one of the best in the business.  This book is raunchy, intelligent, and fearless.  The introductory pitch on this book is that it's like an R-rated Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet.  That doesn't do it justice, but you should also know that while the scope of this book is big, the focus is always squarely on the characters. Vaughan is as good as anyone at creating characters you'll come to care about.  Vaughan has an incredible partner on this book in artist Fiona Staples.  I've been engaged more by certain story arcs and less by others, but my enthusiasm for Staples' art has never waned. She continues to produce, on a regular basis, some of the finest art in any comic. Her absolute mastery of emotion and expression is something to behold (just look at the raccoon-type people on the right-hand panel above), and she makes every character seem interesting and important and alive.  As absurd as characters can be (such as robots that have televisions as heads, or some of the even more absurd or disgusting characters she's depicted), Staples' art makes you take them seriously.  She also has a great, varied color palate in illustrating her work, and along with great skill and care in depicting backgrounds and locations, she makes the world of Saga one that feels truly real.


Southern Bastards Vol. 1: Here Was A Man

Southern Bastards
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated and Colored by Jason Latour
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher


Southern Bastards is a story (written by Jason Aaron) about a town, football, crime, and the South, and a story about how you can't escape your past. It's pulpy and raunchy and violent and compelling and scarily good. It's also a story that doesn't let you off the hook easily, as it's a book that can take the most despicable character and show you that he's a person too and that there are no cheap villains or easy answers. It's also a funny book at times, with the occasional absurd detail, and some of the humor that's earned from astute observations of life. Aaron has a perfect partner in Jason Latour, whose grimy, gritty artistic style and earth tones suit the tone of the story just right (it's almost impossible to imagine it looking any other way). The art displays a deliberate ugliness, as the ugliness of the characters on the outside matches their ugliness on the inside. It's a story that feels authentic, and it's complex, layered, and you don't know where it's going to go next.

Starlight Vol. 1
Starlight
Written by Mark Millar
Illustrated by Goran Parlov
Colored by Ive Svorcina
Lettered by Marko Sunjic


Starlight was a delightful surprise when it was published (as it's not a book you expect from Mark Millar). It's a moving, earnest, funny, heartfelt adventure story which embodies themes of regret and getting older but never giving up on your ideals.  It's the story of Duke McQueen, a Flash Gordon type figure who fought evil on another world decades before and returned to his regular life, and his chance to have one last great adventure. Millar has a fantastic partner in Goran Parlov, who provides the stunningly beautiful, detailed, joy-inducing artwork, with bright, gorgeous colors from Ive Svorcina. The visual storytelling in Starlight is engaging and clear, and the details on geography and cityscapes, remarkable. This'll bring a tear to your eye, and a smile to your face. A great read for fans of old-school sci-fi and adventure stories, and anyone looking for an uplifting, action-packed read.

Supreme: Blue Rose
Supreme: Blue Rose
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated and Colored by Tula Lotay
Lettered by Richard Starkings
Design by John Roshell


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.  With his usual wit and skill, Ellis brings to Supreme: Blue Rose some of the ideas that concern him most; he's using an old superhero character as a jumping-off point to build a remarkable world involving mathematics, alternate realities, time travel, and the hidden nature of reality.  This story has a highly intriguing, dream-like, stream-of-consciousness quality, and the reason for this appeal is the artist, Tula Lotay. She is a serious talent. Her work here is like some combination of Fiona Staples, Sean Murphy, Mike Allred and some sort of psychedelic fever dream. Lotay's work has a soft, watercolor appearance to it which also adds to the dreamlike feeling. What you first notice about Lotay's art in this book is the women. She draws some of the most beautiful, striking women I've ever seen in a comic book; faces you can't look away from.  For a light-hearted, easy-to-follow superhero romp, don't pick up Supreme: Blue Rose!  However, do pick it up if you're intrigued by a stunningly gorgeous, complex mystery involving superheroes, mathematics, alternate realities, the future and maybe the entire universe.


Velvet Vol. 1
Velvet
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Steve Epting
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos


Velvet feels like the story the Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting were born to tell. It's a spy thriller set in the 1970s, and most stated basically, proposes the question, "what if Miss Moneypenny was actually secretly an incredible badass spy?" Velvet Templeton (the Moneypenny analog) is one of the best, most interesting, capable, sexy, mature, intelligent characters I've read in the recent years, in any book. Thankfully for Brubaker, he has an artist as skilled as Steve Epting to tell the story visually. Epting's work has never been better than it is here, and the colors from Elizabeth Breitweiser are stunning to behold, whether they accompany lush scenes from the past or more gray and dour scenes from the present. The book has a highly realistic style, but it doesn't look stiff or posed. The action is dynamic, the facial acting first rate.  Every page, every detail, everything is thoughtfully designed. Velvet is a wonderful, complex, interesting mystery and a must-read for any fan of the classic spy genre. 


Zero Vol. 1: An Emergency
Zero
Written by Ales Kot
Illustrated by Various
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Designed by Tom Muller


Zero is an espionage story. Zero is a commentary on war, terror, the surveillance state and the military industrial complex. Zero is a continuing demonstration of some of the most interesting artists you'll see in comics. Zero is a mystery about a man who is a cipher, and a story where you can trust no one. Also, full disclosure, Zero is also a book that takes a big left turn in its final arc and gets pretty weird. Notwithstanding (and maybe in part because of) the weirdness, the book is intelligent, brutal, thought-provoking, complex and utterly entertaining.  Each issue of Zero feels like it is intended to make the reader uncomfortable in the best possible way, by challenging assumptions. It also feels like a thoughtful response to spy stories generally and to people's fascination with and romanticism regarding that genre.  One of the huge treats of Zero is the wide range of artists to which a reader will be introduced; each issue is illustrated by a different artist, and each choice of illustrator feels like the precisely correct artist for that issue. Zero is an engaging and challenging read.