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.
There are several collected volumes of Hulk from all of the eras. This first Visionaries volume takes place over the course of the nine issues immediately following events that turned Rick Jones into the Savage (Green) Hulk while Bruce Banner is left with being the Gray Hulk. McFarlane's iconic style to the character and David's corny but decade appropriate dialogue makes this a very fun read. There are some amazing visuals of Banner transforming into the Hulk here as well as also some appropriately tasteful horror scenes during the issue where Hulk battles the villain Half-Life. Those pages between them are totally fantastic and the battle sequences are timeless and classic. If you haven't read a Hulk comic before and are unsure where to begin, this book might not be the best choice.. but it won't be the wrong choice either. Have some fun. Take a chance. Read some Hulk by PAD & McFarlane.

I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason (John Arne Sæterøy), published by Fantagraphics
Norwegian cartoonist, Jason, has a long list of quiet picture books that always tell a large story. His books always feature animal characters with a simple design but that also deliver a larger message than you'd probably expect. His simplistic animation style allows reader to relax and enjoy plot as it presents itself. In this book we are immediately introduced to a character who's profession is to be a contract killer in a world where it is acceptable to be one. If reading too casually you may mistake some panels of him as being sessions between a therapist and his client. Nonetheless, the strictly eight panel per page format quickly moves story along until we find our man faced with a proposition to time travel back to Nazi Germany with purpose to kill none other than Adolf Hitler.

I'm not gonna lie, the title of this book was the main reason for me picking it up at all since I hadn't really been familiar with any work of Jason's before. Upon reading it I admit that I'll be back for more of his others. The story in this one was concise with a well-driven purpose. The pages turned and the story had mature flow and vivid detail, even when there was none. The ending of I Killed Adolf Hitler was what had me in my most adoration of it when things turned it from a good book into a great one. It's final pages provide one of the more shocking and twisted endings of a comic that I've read in awhile. It is violent and shocking while also sweet and sentimental. Seek this one out. You'll become a fan of Jason's in no time.

Rob's Picks:

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivela, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell, published by Boom! Studios
If trying to survive as a black woman in racist, sexist 1970s Detroit wasn't hard enough, Abbott has the distinct displeasure of the supernatural going against her, too, in this awesome mini-series from Boom! While the occult elements themselves are not exactly unique (light versus darkness, a reluctant champion, a vague magical guide who's into drugs and speaks in riddles), and the characters are very much archetypes--an outsider hero, her cop friend, an ex-lover with criminal ties, the hardass but good-hearted boss, etc.), Ahmed uses the tropes of both detective and horror stories extremely well. The originality here comes in the portrayal, not the parts themselves. It helps that Sami Kivela's layouts are innovative and take advantage of comics as a medium, using borders and other tricks along with great line art and creepy creatures. Abbott is a great addition to Boom!'s line of horror books, going back to the days of their Cthulhu anthologies and carrying on right up to the Woods another books. Saladin Ahmed has firmly established himself as one of the best writers in comics. It's a horror comics lover's dream.

Dark Nights: Metal by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascencia, published by DC Comics
It's both good and bad that DC seems to have no rhyme or reason to their comics anymore, with things being rebooted almost to the point of parody. The advantage to this is that means Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo get to let loose and tell an insane story about how there are multiverse worlds where everything went wrong for Bruce and he ends up somehow being a twisted version of another hero, whether it's stealing the Speed Force or having to mutate into a Doomsday-like creature in a desperate attempt to stop Superman. Add onto it Bats being pursued by other heroes while he rides a dinosaur, an appearance by Dream of all people, and Hal Jordan actually being likable for a change, and you have a time-traveling, multiverse-spanning, absolutely bizarre comic that's entertaining as hell, with Capullo's lines capturing every moment of the insanity from start to finish. It's Silver Age silliness meeting modern epic scale and mass death, and it's glorious to behold.

James' Picks:

Blackbird vol.1 by Sam Humphries, Jen Bartel, Paul Reinwand, Triona Farrell, Jody Wynne, and Dylan Todd, published by Image Comics
Blackbird is fun, stylish, gorgeously illustrated, and a great read for anyone who's sad about the end of The Wicked + The Divine. I'm sure that comparison gets made a lot, and it's probably not entirely fair, but I think it's at least a little applicable. This story is a little more like Harry Potter, if Harry was in L.A. and was a much more fashionable person. In short, Blackbird is the story of people who have magical abilities living in L.A. (called paragons), and the story of a woman named Nina Rodriguez who is obsessed with the rumors and stories about paragons and wishes that she could be one.  But Nina has some mysterious connections to these paragons, and there's a lot more going on than she initially understands. Humphries is a very strong writer here, conveying equal parts wonder, humor, sadness, and anger in the story.

This book is a very fun read. The first thing you should know about this book is that it's absolutely gorgeous and incredibly well put-together. Jen Bartel is the artist, with colors by Triona Farrell, and they're a fantastic pair. Bartel is an incredibly talented artist, whose gorgeous work I am mostly familiar with from various covers she's done, and also just from following her on social media. I believe Blackbird is some of her first sequential comics work (as opposed to covers and her other illustration work) and I think she does an excellent job. I understand she has some layout asists from talented artist Paul Reinwand. What Bartel is known for (and this has a connection to The Wicked + The Dinive's artist Jamie McKelvie) is drawing absolutely gorgeous people, and that continues here in Blackbird. All of these people seem gorgeous and fabulous, and like they would in fact be powerful, fashionable paragons in L.A. And Farrell's colors are amazing in this book. They're bright and fantastical and larger-than-life. Farrell really creates the sense of the hidden magical places of Los Angeles as being really special and different than our mundane reality. Also, at least to a non-Angeleno, Blackbird feels very authentically L.A. I say this as someone who's never been there, but there's a lot of in-jokes about people being in certain areas or not wanting to go to certain areas. I enjoy that level of detail, and whether you're in L.A. or not, or have magical powers or not, I recommend Blackbird as a very fun read.  

Infinite Dark by Ryan Cady, Andrea Mutti and K. Michael Russell, published by Image Comics
Infinite Dark is in the "horror in space" genre, which is an excellent genre that makes for great storytelling. This is a space station containing the very last life in the entire universe. Seriously, everything else in the universe is gone, they're experiencing the heat death of the universe and the people aboard this station are all that's left. Not just of humanity, but of anything. No more planets, no more stars. Just the...Infinite dark! There's a murder aboard the station, and things are weird and getting weirder. And if literally nothing outside of the space station exists...what are people seeing?

This is a very cool series (8 issues, collected in 2 trades); and I appreciate that author Ryan Cady is playing with some high-level ideas (existence, death, staring into nothingness) while also telling an effectively creepy story with great twists and turns. Andrea Mutti is an excellent artist and a strong pick for this sort of story.  Mutti's scratchy linework conveys great detail and a lot of verisimilitude (the station feels convincing, and lived-in) but also has a slightly unsettling quality that gives the story a weird vibe.  This is also due to the strong color work from K. Michael Russell. This is a sad situation - these two thousand people are literally all that's left of humanity, and there on a space station that was meant to hold far more people. The faded color choices help convey the sadness and beakness of the situation. The colors and linework come together to bring things to creep life. If you're a fan of spooky stories or the "horror in space" genre, you'll want to give Infinite Dark a read.

Scott's Pick:

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition Volume 1: Written by Greg Rucka, Drawn by Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Christine Norrie, and Leandro Fernandez, published by Oni Press. 
A series that I keep thinking of revisiting during this self-isolating time is Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country, still probably one of my favorite of his series (and he’s got a lot of stuff that I consider pretty dang spiffy.). If you’re not familiar with Q&C, think of it as a more realistic James Bond, with its main character Tara Chase being a female version of the man himself. Only where Bond comes through everything fairly intact physically and emotionally at the end of each movie, Tara is damaged goods from the start and only gets more damaged with each mission. Rucka explores the life of a British spy who is good at her job but not too good at life in general.

This Definitive Edition (the first out of four- collect them all) covers three different operations, each drawn by a different artist. When you think hard spy tales in the spirit of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Steve Rolston may not be the first name that comes to mind. If anything, his art is more cartoony in a humor or slice-of-life comic kind of way. When this series first came out in the mid-Aughts, his work seemed counterintuitive to these kinds of hard-boiled stories but looking at it now, you can see how he establishes the humanity of Tara as well as the cast around her. This is more than a Bond film; you need to feel for these characters and to understand the duress that the job puts them through. For the second mission, Hurtt’s artwork becomes a slight bit more graphically designed and cinematic as he plays with light and shadow to express some moral ambiguity to this world. After Rolston and Hurtt, Fernandez (still working all these years later with Rucka on Old Guard) is someone right out of the Eduardo Russo school of art, who takes the stylization of these stories to a completely different place than the first two artists. Between these three artists in the first book, they visually move from a spying-as-a-job approach to spying-as-a-lifestyle sensibility to their drawing.

Over the whole course of this series, as well as two novels that are part of Tara Chase’s story, Rucka creates a character who is anything but a super-spy. She’s good at her job but also self-destructive. This is probably where Rucka got the reputation as writing “strong women” which he does but that’s too much of a simplification of it. He writes strong characters, well-defined characters with a focus on them being women. Tara is someone that you grow to feel protective of over the course of her story, not because you think she’s not strong enough to endure everything but because she’s endured so much and you just don’t want to see anything more happen to her. Over a few short years in the early 2000s, her career sees a changing world due to terrorism and she has to be that eyewitness to history, that guard who suffers so that the rest of us don’t have to.