Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 20th, 2020

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

James' Picks:

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

I reread all 54 issues, and "great" doesn't actually do the series justice. I think it's an extraordinary series.  It’s about a number of different issues. It’s a romance of two people from different cultures at war, trying to live their lives. Reductively, I used to refer to it as an R-rated Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars. But really, that doesn’t do the series justice. It’s a story about love and family (biological family or found family), and the story about the endless cycle and cost of warfare. It’s a story about proxy war, and it’s a story about how sometimes the most radical thing two people can do in a world of hatred is love each other.

But it’s also a story full of absurd and disgusting biological and scatological humor. And it’s a story full of tons of heart and some brilliant dialogue. But it’s also (maybe most importantly) one of the most stunning-looking series you can read. Fiona Staples does beyond stellar work in Saga. She’s done so much incredible character and world design. It’s all flawless. And she’s at skilled at displaying small emotions and nuance as she is at showing horrific warfare or passionate sex. She starts great and gets even better every issue. Saga is full of gut-punches but it’s really worth it. It’s an absolute must-read.

Green Lantern: Earth One vol. 1 by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko, and Jordan Boyd, published by DC Comics
Green Lantern: Earth One was one of those books that went under the radar for me. I've read some of the Earth One books and they're kind of a mixed bag (the idea is that they're updated, more modern retellings of the origins of DC's most iconic superheroes, i.e., sort of like The Ultimates but for DC). But I'm so glad I read this one, and I'd highly recommend it for fans of Green Lantern, or science fiction comics generally. This definitely feels much more grounded than typical DC Comics superheroes, and takes place in what feels like a slightly more plausible near-future. It's got multiple alien civilizations, and fascinating new interpretations of iconic Green Lantern characters. But it's all done with a more grounded feel, that makes this feel more like a terrific sci-fi comic about people who happen to gain special abilities through rings, rather than a "superhero comic" per se.

The book has an absolutely stellar creative team - written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, with art by Gabriel Hardman and colors by Jordan Boyd. Hardman, Bechko and Boyd are the creative team that brought us Invisible Republic, a fantastic political sci-fi series and one of my favorite comics of the decade.This is a smart, engaging story and Hardman and Boyd combine to make a fantastic artistic team. Hardman has a terrifically realistic style that makes even the weirdest aliens seem plausible (sort of like a cross between Mazzucheli and Steve Epting). He's also a highly gifted sequential storyteller for both action and more intimate moments (no surprise to learn that Hardman works as a storyboard artist in Hollywood). And Boyd's muted colors work really well in this story. It's an origin story and sure, you've read lots of those, but this is a really creative and original spin on the origin story.

Rob's Pick:
Turning Japanese by Marinaomi, published by 2DCloud
Marinaomi's autobiographical comics are amazing, and each one, covering different aspects of her life, are well worth reading. This one just happened to be the one I picked up first off my shelves. In this memoir, Mari talks about her attempts to try to reconcile not knowing much about her Japanese roots by immersing herself in the culture of hostess bars. It's an imperfect fit (especially for such a free spirit), but the journey, with its ups and downs is a really compelling story that feels like Mari is a close friend, because she (like the best autobio workers) never flinches. We see the positive moments and also the bad ones, along with Mari's evolving sense of self. Drawn in a very minimalist style that fits her pacing and can shift as needed, from abstract pages to more traditional panel grids, this is a wonderful book for anyone who's been asked to fit specific boxes while knowing the truth isn't that simple.