January 3, 2020

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James' Favorites of the Decade, Part 2

Some of the comics included in my favorites
It was incredibly hard to limit my favorite books of the decade to only 35 books. So, I wanted to provide short profiles on 35 additional books I really loved from this past decade.  As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just some personal favorites (listed in alphabetical order).


Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, published by Image Comics
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.

All-New Wolverine by Tom Taylor, David Lopez, and more, published by Marvel Comics
I’ve been a huge fan of the push in recent years to make superheroes more diverse. Both because I think it’s a necessary corrective to decades of under-representation, but also because I think it unlocks the potential for interesting and different sorts of stories. One of the best examples of this has been the story of Laura Kinney, the All-New Wolverine. Laura Kinney is an interesting character - she was a female clone of Wolverine, with his same abilities and with claws, and trained to be a mindless killer. But, she broke free from her programming and has tried to become a hero, and in All-New Wolverine (written by Tom Taylor and illustrated by David Lopez and others), she succeeded.  Her Wolverine is just as brutal as Logan when she needs to be, but she’s also a legacy character, and she’s trying not to be the ruthless killer that she worries that she still is. She’s also trying to embody the best of Wolverine while not embracing his worst traits. She’s also a very likable, caring and compassionate character. In fact, in the course of the story, she meets other clones of herself, and she takes one in, a younger girl named Gabby. Gabby is a singularly great new character. She’s a tween who’s funny and enthusiastic and delightful, but also has the darkness of knowing that she too was a vicious killer. Laura and Gabby become a loving sibling pair, and throughout the series of All-New Wolverine, you see what a spectacular hero Laura really is. I actually like her better than I ever liked Logan as Wolverine. Taylor (along with some excellent artistic collaborators) really showed what a strong, nuanced, complex character she is.
 
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.

Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart, David Rubin and more, published by Dark Horse
Over the course of the last few years, prolific comics creator Jeff Lemire has built (in Black Hammer) a truly spectacular, complex world of heroes and villains and archetypes that serve as meta-commentary on superheroes and other genres, but they also do so much more than that. With Dean Ormston as main artist, Lemire is unfolding a spectacular mystery (full of darkness, sorrow and regret) has just been getting bigger and bigger. And there are other miniseries that flesh out different partis of the pas, present or future of the Black Hammer universe. For example, in Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, Lemire and artist Max Fiumara tell an absolutely heartbreaking story about the dream and the gut-wrenching cost of being a hero. In The Quantum Age, Lemire and artist Wilfredo Torres are unfolding a fun, engaging futuristic mystery that has terrific shades of classic “Legion of Super Heroes” stories. And Lemire and artist Rich Tommaso took a turn for the super weird and meta-textual by traveling into some sort of idea space full of insane, half formed ideas. All of the artists involved in this project have beautifully weird, unique artistic voices that are perfect for this level of imaginative storytelling. It’s a remarkable, varied, gorgeous collection of stories that succeed in building a broad universe as well as serving as deconstructions and explorations of superhero tropes.

Black Science by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, Moreno Dinisio and Dean White, published by Image Comics
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.

 
Dept. H by Matt and Sharlene Kindt, published by Dark Horse
Dept. H is a fascinating murder-mystery, a harrowing undersea rescue adventure story, and a deep psychological exploration of many flawed characters that have come together in being trapped at the bottom of the ocean. It's a consistently gorgeous book, with spectacular watercolor art from Matt and Sharlene Kindt.  Dept. H feels sort of like a play, in some ways, as much of the action is confined to one undersea base. It is also a very internal story, exploring the inner lives of the characters. Like any other projects the Kindt’s have worked on, the art is wonderful. Matt has a gorgeous, idiosyncratic watercolor style, and with lush, expressive colors from Sharlene, his work has never looked better. Matt Kindt is doing some of the best, most interesting work I've seen from him in the pages of Dept. H. Mind MGMT (a Matt Kindt favorite of mine) was weird and trippy and world-spanning; by contrast, Dept. H is intentionally close and claustrophobic. This is achieved in the detailed, cramped setting in which the story mostly takes places. It's also achieved by the incredible color work that Sharlene Kindt is doing on the book. She uses incredible blue color work to convey the sense that the characters trapped at the bottom of the ocean really have an entire world of water pushing them down, ready to break through the thin walls of their undersea station. Sharlene's gorgeous, vivid, colors also highlight the fundamentally alien nature of some of the geography and plant and animal life at the bottom of the ocean. She also does strong work in bringing a faded, more muted tone to the flashbacks to the past. It's gorgeous, haunting work.

Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, published by Image Comics
Descender is the story of a future humanity (along with many other species) spread throughout the stars, and the aftermath of a tragic attack against the worlds of the United Galactic Council by giant killer robots. Jeff Lemire is a consistently great teller of personal stories, and Nguyen has an emotionally astute, lovely watercolor style that he brings to the book. This is a story that's emotional, contemplative, sometimes action-packed, and always interesting. You will really come to care for many different characters in the story, and I can't overstate just how beautiful Nguyen's art is in this story. Descender is compelling and heartbreaking.
 
 
The Dying and the Dead by Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim and Michael Garland, published by Image Comics
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 6 or 7 issues s far, and I'm not sure when they're going to be picking it up again. However, those first 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.
 
Five Ghosts by Frank Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham, S.M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe
Five Ghosts 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 written by Frank Barbiere, 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. Barbiere writes an addictively fun, engaging story, with realistic but also sufficiently "pulpy" dialogue. The art (from Chris Mooneyham and colorist Lauren Affe) is beautiful; it feels modern, but yet it also captures a more old-fashioned sensibility. Affe uses a slightly faded color palate to portray a timeless, vintage story (something like discovering an artifact, but in a non-obvious way). Mooneyham skillfully depicts action (chase sequences, sword fights, gun battles), and provides big dramatic moments that feel appropriate for the story. It's terrific, swashbuckling adventure comics.

Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, published by Image Comics
Gideon Falls is a comic that delivers truly scary and creepy moments, a complex and intriguing world, and some absolutely jaw-dropping, terrifying and gorgeous art. Written by Jeff Lemire, it started as a "religious horror" series but it has quickly expanded into something bigger, weird and much more ambitious. It’s a story with mysteries and dark shadows lurking in the corners, which also has a religious bent to it, and it’s building a complex and interesting world. The art from Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart is some of my favorite art of the year. It's seriously jaw-dropping. I love Sorrentino’s flair and style as a visual storyteller, and with Stewart on colors, Sorrentino’s work has never looked better or creepier. This is a profound, insightful and empathetic look at lonely, scared people trying to understand an insane world. It’s also one of the best looking and freakiest comics that you can buy these days. So, not surprisingly, I highly recommend it.

God Country by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, and Jason Wordie, published by Image Comics
God Country is a story that's at once big and cosmic and also intensely personal. God Country is doing several things and all of them really well; its a story about fighting and ultimately coming to terms with aging and loss, and seeing those you love change and ultimately fade away from you, but all the while treasuring those moments you do have with them. Oh, and it's also an epic sci-fi/fantasy story featuring a talking sword and giant cosmic gods. The creative team behind God Country have done excellent work in setting the scale and scope of this story. It's an intimate story about one family's difficult times, but it's also imbued with the weight of Biblical presence. In the way that the story of Noah is just the story of a guy who builds a boat but is also a tale of the destruction and rebirth of humanity; God Country, from the very beginning, feels like it has the heft of a story that's at once intimate and vast. It's a haunting but also fun book, and one that will stay with you.  


Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and morepublished by Marvel Comics
If you haven't been reading Immortal Hulk, you're missing the very best Marvel Comics has to offer these days. The art from Joe Bennett (and a few guest contributors like the terrific Ryan Bodenheim) is scary and intense and with moments of dark humor. And when I say scary, I am saying there is some incredibly horrifying, freaky-ass stuff in these comics. Some very intense body horror that is appropriately horrifying. This comic has been a return to the Hulk's horror roots; it began as a story of Hulk as a dark avenging force in the night, righting wrongs with a malevolent grin, but as the story has unfolded it’s clear that writer Al Ewing is telling a much bigger story about evil, destiny, and the darkness within (full of obscure Biblical references for you Holy Scripture fans out there). This is an INCREDIBLY ambitious book, one that's telling a story about the nature of good and evil, and about inescapable darkness. It's a story that spans billions of years and is playing with huge ideas. This story has brought to life a whole new Hulk persona. This is a Hulk who sees through you, and can sees people’s lies and hypocrisy and secret desires laid bare. And he doesn’t just defeat foes physically, he’s smart in a calculating, cruel way. This is the definition of a must-read book.

Injection by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, published by Image Comics
There are certain things that writer Warren Ellis captures better than just about anyone. That looming sense of existential dread wrapped in a sci-fi story that's somewhat impenetrable but completely conveys the sense that "the world is completely f$@&ed"? Ellis (along with some very talented artists) is your guy. This is the world of Injection, brought to life by talented artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire (providing the gorgeous, weird colors), where some relatively well-meaning researchers take some actions that go to the heart of the question of the idea that "just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you should".  There's a lot of really interesting stry and weirdness in this comic. There's Celtic magic, ancient lore, high technology, maybe a little bit of cannibalism.  Injection is a smart, witty, everything-is-doomed kind of book

Invisible Republic by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko and Jordan Boyd, published by Image Comics
Invisible Republic is a compelling tale about present-day inequality in the guise of a dystopian future.  It's a very strong, thought-provoking comic created by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, which tells a political story about the rise of a dictator on a colony moon of Earth, but it's more than that.  It's also a story about journalism, memory, and the way history and truth are shaped and can be malleable. Frankly, it's even more timely than it even was 5 years ago when it was first released. Hardman and colorist Jordan Boyd's art really works well in this story. Hardman and Boyd combine for a dark, somewhat grimy, noir-influenced style (Hardman has a fantastic style that's very much his own but also would be appealing for fans of David Mazzuchelli, David Aja, or Paul Azaceta) that is compelling and realistic and sets a bleak tone (props to Boyd who is an incredibly versatile colorist given his *very* different work on Deadly Class). Invisible Republic is a smart, political story that feels very relevant.

Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich and Laura Allred, published by Dark Horse
Lady Killer is a stylish collection of miniseries (two thus far) which feels like Mad Men meets The Americans meets Kill Bill. It's got an charming housewife who looks like Jackie Kennedy and (unbeknownst to the rest of her family) kills like someone out of Goodfellas. It's a real treat to see Josie (the titular killer) balance domestic life and the mundane existence of the suburbs, with her dangerous underworld contact who commissions her on various hits. When she springs into action, she's ruthless and even seems to enjoy the killing.  This story is a smart commentary on women's roles and expectations, then and now. In addition to just being a really well-told, darkly funny story. With sharp writing from Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich (in the first volume, Jones writes the second volume by herself), gorgeous, expressive illustration from Jones, and bright, era-appropriate colors from Laura Allred, this is a definite pickup.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, published by First Second
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (or Laura Dean for short) is a spectacular story about teenage love, toxic relationships, the value of true friends, and the importance of learning to love and value yourself enough to remove yourself from bad situations. Laura Dean tells the story of Freddy, who's in love with (and in an unhealthy relationship) with Laura Dean, the most popular girl at school. It's at turns funny, sad, poignant, moving, anger-inducing, and is overall just such a wonderful story. You'll love the fantastic, emotional, insightful art from Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, who does incredibly detailed work in bringing this story to life. From big moments to the tiniest gestures, Valero-O'Connell is a talent to watch. And she brings to life such a moving, empathetic, insightful story from writer Mariko Tamaki, who really gets you to care about the characters. I totally hate Laura Dean, but I absolutely loved Laura Dean.

Manifest Destiny by Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni and Pat Brosseau, published by Image Comics
Manifest Destiny, like (another favorite of mine) 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.


Meet the Skrulls by Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon, published by Marvel Comics
Meet the Skrulls is kind of like American Beauty meets The Americans meets Mean Girls, but with your favorite green, shape-shifting aliens. That pitch should frankly be enough to sway anyone, but beyond just being a great idea, this is a truly wonderful story in its execution. Writer Robbie Thompson is telling an astute, timely story about alienation and assimilation, with sharp dialogue and dramatic twists. And the story is brought to life by the spectacular Niko Henrichon, artist on The Pride of Baghdad and Noah, both incredible visual feasts. He doesn't do a lot of comics work, and his artwork is both gorgeous and also beautiful storytelling. This is just one volume, and it's something you don't want to miss. 
 
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, published by Image Comics
Monstress a dense, fascinating, fully-realized fantasy world. From the first page of the book you will be overwhelmed by the incredibly detailed, lush art from Sana Takeda. There are pages of this book that you're just going to want to linger on, either because they're that beautiful, or terrifying, but in any event are detailed and memorable. And Takeda is working with Liu in telling a terrific story. It's a dense read that rewards careful reading and rereading, but even if you don't catch every detail, you'll still get the gist of it. This is a world full of magic, Chthlu-esque beasts, talking cats, fox-people, and all other manner of beings. It's a war story and an adventure story and just a remarkable experience.

Nailbiter by Joshua Williamson, Mike Henderson and more published by Image Comics 
Nailbiter is one of those stories for people (like me) that don't think they like horror. Actually, more to the point, it's the horror/crime/mystery/psychological thriller/buddy cop/comedy-drama that you've been waiting for. I love genre mashups, and Nailbiter is a great one. There's some gore (though not an excessive amount), and there are plenty of scares, but there's also a ton of human insight, genuinely funny moments, and terrific dialogue, courtesy of writer Joshua Williamson, and the art team of illustrator Mike Henderson (Henderson is a co-creator of the series) and colorist Adam Guzowski. The final arc was recently collected in a trade (the series was 30 issues, collected in 6 trades), and so the story is available from start to finish. Nailbiter is not for the squeamish, but I thought it was a terrific page-turner of a series with a strong ending that felt right for the book.

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 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.

Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour and Jared K. Fletche, published by Image Comics
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.

Spider-Woman by Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum, Javier Rodriguez and more, published by Marvel Comics
Spider-Woman is a story about Jessica Drew making it on her own as a private investigator instead of as a superhero...and then it turned into a story about her doing all of that while also being a single mother and sometimes being a superhero and also maybe having a love life. This book is consistently funny and entertaining, with a ton of heart. It' had several different artists (including the wonderful Javier Rodriguez and Veronica Fish), but it's been a consistently high quality book. If you're looking for something a little different in the category of superhero comics, I absolutely recommend this.

Spinning by Tillie Walden, published by First Second
In the past year and a half or so, Tillie Walden has become a "must-read" comic creator for me.  I adored are you listening?, and On a Sunbeam was the single best comic I read in 2018. Also on that list of amazing works is Spinning, Walden's autobiographical story of her experiences figure-skating as a child, first in New Jersey and then in Texas.  Spinning is a real deep dive into what it's like to be a competitive figure skater as a child.  But more than that, it's a story of loneliness, alienation, of the maturing of adolescence. It's also got sweet, romantic elements, and honest, emotional reckoning with sexuality. Walden's art is gorgeous, detailed, and emotionally astute. Spinning is a work of profound compassion and empathy, and I highly recommend it.

Tetris by Box Brown, published by First Second
I'm a big fan of Box Brown’s work; I think he brings compassion and humor and rigor to his fiction and nonfiction storytelling, combining that work with his engaging, deceptively simple art style. In Andre the Giant he examined the life of one extraordinary individual, But in Tetris: The Games People Play he looks more broadly, from the game’s creator to the origins of the Japanese video game industry to corporate intrigue. He even makes software licensing come to life as a fascinating game of cat-and-mouse. I was expecting the book to just be a biography of Tetris’ creator and was initially skeptical of the book’s broader scope, but then I realized that in order for Tetris to become the game that we know and love and have spent too much time playing (well, just speaking for myself), you need to know about the broader context. Brown brings his usual visual style and flair to this book; unlike Andre the Giant, this book uses color which works well when telling a story about something as vivid as video games. Brown's work here is inviting and accessible and he really brings the story to life, from drab Soviet offices to ancient civilization to the thoughts inside our heads, it's all illustrated with fun and insight and warmth.


These Savage Shores by Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault Comics
If you're looking for a remarkably thoughtful story about love, war, commerce, politics, colonization, and also vampires, then These Savage Shores is just the book for you. This story starts off as one thing, and then turns into something else entirely. But that's part of the story - as you initially think it's going to be told from the point of view of an English vampire in the 1700's, setting sail for India. But then you realize it's not a story told from the perspective of the colonizer, but the colonized. There's a lot of complex politics involved in the interactions of various Indian kingdoms, all the while with the East India Company looming. It's also a terrific supernatural story that's at its heart a love story. Ram V is a wonderful writer, as there are parts of the story that feel quite poetic. There's also sections of text mixed in that feel quite additive to the story. Ram V has incredible storytelling partners in Sumit Kumar (artist), Vittorio Astone (colors) and Aditya Bidikar (lettering). There's a ton of skill in every visual aspect of this comic. Kumar is a remarkably detailed, skilled illustrator, moving from the lush Indian setting to the streets of London and to supernatural monster fights, all with great skill. Astone's colors do an incredible highlighting the lush land of India where s very much alive and also something to be feared by colonizers (or vampires); the colors work perfectly with Kumar's lines to bring to life varied settings and emotions. Seriously - these two do incredible, haunting, gorgeous, alive work on the page. And Bidikar does terrific work lettering this story, using many different (but all perfectly chosen) fonts to bring to life the different voices and perspectives of the story. Seriously, read this book.


Transformers vs. GI Joe by Tom Scioli and John Barber, published by IDW
Transformers vs. GI Joe is an absolute blast. John Barber and Tom Scioli bring a lot of fun, silliness and humor to the story, while still respecting the source material. Robots and humans meet, and combat, hijinks and misunderstandings ensue. Also, rest assured, if you haven't read any other Transfomers or GI Joe comics, you'll be able to follow along, as this exists outside of regular continuity for either comic. The art in this book is (and should be) a huge draw for any reader. Scioli does incredibly detailed work in this comic, and each page conveys dynamic action and motion. The art has an overall stylized, retro look to it that is unlike most other books you'll read based on toys and cartoons; it's not specifically retro to the 80's, it just has this feeling like it's something you discovered from a long time ago. There are some pages where the Joes and the Transformers look (and are presumably intended to look) like action figures, and the line work, coloring and lettering all have a less-than-perfect, self-made quality to them which is surprising in the best possible way. For example, in one case the coloring of the words extends slightly outside the lines, but this works in that circumstance (a character gets shot) because it accentuates the shock of that character getting wounded. This books is just such a fun read.
  
Trillium by Jeff Lemire, published by DC/Vertigo
Trillium is a beautiful, heartbreaking series, and talented (and prolific) writer/artist Jeff Lemire is in great form here. He makes the reader work a little to understand what’s going on in the story, by using innovative and unusual layouts. It's got two star-crossed lovers, adrift in confusing worlds where they don’t belong. Each of them feels that sense of being out of place, and that feeling that they’ll do anything to get to where they’re supposed to be. It's a complex story that requires a number of rereadings, page flips, and careful reading, but it’s a heartbreaking series well worth the effort. Jeff Lemire handles the artwork himself here. He's got an idiosyncratic, uniquely angular style, and he does sad, lonely, adrift protagonists better than just about anyone.  He uses some really complex storytelling techniques here, to create a reading experience that feels innovative, and like you're solving a puzzle. This is a wonderfully heartbreaking, engaging, thoughtful series.
 
Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña and more, published by Marvel Comics
If you're looking for a really exceptional superhero team comic, you can't do much better than Uncanny X-Force from writer Rick Remender, and artists Jerome Opeña, Greg Tocchini, and more. Uncanny X-Force concerned a secret black-ops team of mutants who would take on the sorts of dirty work that the X-Men couldn't (or wouldn't) handle. There are fantastic stories of Apocalypse and his horsemen, along with the heartbreaking story of Kid Apocalypse, a really nice kid who may not be able to avoid his destiny. The series is imaginative, fun, and engaging. The darker tone feels earned and doesn't just fel like a cheap gimmick. Opeña is an incredible artist who brings action and drama to life in a detailed, dynamic way. I left this book thinking that I wished he could do every comic. This is an intense, engaging superhero story (that also has my favorite depiction of Deadpool ever).

Vandroid by Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith and Dan McDaid, published by Dark Horse
If you enjoyed the low-rent science fiction and action movies of the 1980's with tough guys, big guns, and bigger hair, then you will love Vandroid. Everything in this issue feels not just authentic to the 1980's, but authentic to the sub-"Terminator" level science fiction movies from the 1980's (think of something like "Trancers" or "The Wraith"). From the cheesy "fake science" dialogue at the beginning of the book, to the fact that the main protagonist (Taylor Grey) looks like the perfect 80's amoral character (he made me think of some combination of Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street" and Ellis from "Die Hard" but with hair courtesy of Van Halen and the computer genius of Steve Gutenberg's character from "Short Circuit"), to the vans and the cars and the hair and the clothes. The terrific art from Dan McDaid has a rough, stylized feel, and in certain panels had some kinetic action that reminded me a little of a gritty, slightly less loose Paul Pope. This comic feels like a love letter to a genre and a time gone by. So, put on your aviator glasses, comb out your mullet, pop in some Motley Crue, and take a ride in Vandroid.  
 
Velvet by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics
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.


Wasted Space by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie and Jim Campbell, published by Vault Comics
Wasted Space is an absolute blast. It’s a fun, raunchy, sometimes hilarious series with terrific art that also happens to be a compelling story and a sharp allegory for present-day American politics, along with having some insightful thoughts about religion and faith. A lot of crazy stuff happens in its first 2 volumes, and I strongly recommend you give this book a read. It is a story about a failed prophet traveling around space with a sex-bot (excuse me, a “Fuq Bot”) named Dust who serves as their sole earner of income, and something of a pragmatic, neurotic conscience. And there’s a new prophet, and a tyrannical dictator, and visions of god that looks like a robot.  As you can guess, this is a genuinely entertaining series with a real sense of personality, thanks to the fantastic team effort from writer Michael Moreci, artist Hayden Sherman, and the rest of the creative team. They’ve built what feels like an organic, lived-in world that’s messy and full of contradictions and complexity. This is a series that feels so smart that it’s not afraid to be dumb sometimes because the creative team knows that high and low art are arbitrary distinctions, and don’t need to be separate; this book is a really nice mix of smart social and religious satire and commentary (even in the future, radical and angry movements recruit vulnerable and awkward teens on message boards by making them feel special), trenchant political humor (the tyrannical leader has the last name of an orange vegetable), and the occasional dick joke. Wasted Space is also a perfect example of synthesis between story and art, as the stellar work of Sherman and colorist Jason Wordie perfectly executes (what feels like) the mission of the story. The art depicts a vivid vision of a grounded, lived-in universe. It’s a hugely entertaining book and I highly recommend it.

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson and Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics
We live in a celebrity obsessed, constantly connected culture, and if someone showed up claiming to be a god, there'd be those that doubted them, but there would also be those who embrace them (and maybe wanted to cosplay them). And what if those gods embraced their role as modern day celebrities, with the ubiquity of social media, constant news, and everything that entails? The result might look something like The Wicked + The Divine, the terrific series from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (and Matt Wilson on colors). The creative team have produced something interesting, promising and beautiful. McKelvie's style here involves consistent, clean lines, emotive (but not overdone) facial acting, and skillful design and layout, and Wilson's colors and distinct and meaningful and specific. This is visual art that's intended to be both expressive and accessible. The Wicked + The Divine is a story that skillfully (and beautifully) speaks to people now.

The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt, publised by DC Comics
I was a little late to the DC/Wildstorm party. I wasn't reading comics when books such as Stormwatch, The Authority, Gen13 and others were coming out, but I didn some catching up when I came back to comics around 2008 or so.  Planetary (also set in this universe) by Warren Ellis, John Cassaday and Laura Martin has become one of my top-3 all-time favorite comics. So, when I heard that Ellis was going to be spearheading a return to the Wildstorm characters I was excited. And it turns out that my enthusiasm was justified. Ellis and immensely talented artist Jon Davis-Hunt created The Wild Storm, which introduced classic characters in a brand new universe, but in a way that brought to life many ideas that were central to Ellis, and also central to the old Wildstorm universe. The Wild Storm tells a story of a cold war between two warring agencies, and the multiple factions, rogue operators, and other parties involved and related to these agencies. The book has a ton to say about our modern world, addiction to technology, and the surveillance state. It's also a smart, witty, entertaining superhero/espionage story. Davis-Hunt is an absolutely spectacular artist to bring this story to life. He's got a wonderfully expressive style that really brings to life facial expressions and emotions (vaguely in the Steve Dillon/Juan Jose Ryp milieu), and he's an extremely skilled and economical sequential storyteller. It's a style that feels both modern and timeless. The Wild Storm is a terrific, smart read.


Zero by Ales Kot, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles, Tom Muller, and many others, published by Image Comics
Zero (written by Ales Kot and illustrated by many talented people) 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 exceptional artists (Tradd Moore, Vanesa Del Rey, Michael Walsh, Tula Lotay, Alberto Ponticelli, and more) 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. But what also makes the book work is that the design and color are consistent throughout the series, thanks to the work of two of the very best in their field: designer Tom Muller and colorist Jordie Bellaire.  Muller gives each issue a highly appealing, stylish look, and Bellaire's colors are cersatile but also feel like they bring the book together in a consistent way. Zero is an engaging and challenging read.