Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 6th, 2020

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

James' Picks:

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

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

Bad Machinery by John Allison, published by Oni Press and available online
Given my first pick this week (Nameless), I needed to pick something else that went as far in the other direction as possible. Happily I arrived at the wonderful Bad Machinery, by John Allison. Bad Machinery was originally published as a web comic from 2009-2017, but it has also been collected into a number of volumes by Oni Press.

I first came to the work of John Allison courtesy of the wonderful Giant Days (one of my favorite comics of the past decade) but only more recently learned that Giant Days was itself just part of a larger world of related comics by Allison (called the Bobbins-verse). I can't say why it took me as long as it did to get around to reading Bad Machinery, but I'm so glad I've finally started reading it.It's delightful! Bad Machinery is ostensibly about teens who solve mysteries in their hometown, but it's more just about their friendships and their day-to-day activities. Allison's art style is very appealing and his storytelling is pretty straightforward and flows very nicely. I mean that as a compliment - Bad Machinery is a comic I'd absolutely recommend for the non-comics readers in your life. There's a lot of English-isms, and very clever, thoughtful dialogue.  The mysteries are fun - they have real stakes, but it doesn't get too serious. And this comic quickly takes a turn into the supernatural, giving the stories an added element of fun. But really you'll want to just spend time with theis excellent group of kids as they make their way through school.I've read the first two stories, and I can't wait to read more.

Rob's Picks:

Gotham by Midnight Vol 1 by Ray Fawkes, Ben Templesmith, Dezi Sienty, and Saida Temofonte, published by DC Comics
Though Batman will always dominate, one of the cool things about Gotham is that it has a very strong supernatural side that has its own rich world, linked to the Dark Knight and his usual gallery of villains, but not entirely attached to it. When done right, as it is here, Batman is barely needed at all to keep the reader engaged, because the horror works on its own. Ray Fawkes puts together a special branch of the GCPD just to handle the weird shit, and of course Jim Corrigan is a part of it. Starting with some creepy, but low-level horror, Fawkes ramps things up until we get a powerful monster with a strong justification, who wants the Spectre to kill everyone in Gotham. The Wrath of God might just do it, too--if Corrigan's strange group of partners can't figure out a way to stop him.

Ben Templesmith's distinctive art style that's both abstract and yet structured in a very specific way is always fun to pore over, even when the story is mediocre. Fortunately, he's working with a great script that plays to his strengths. His facial features on these characters is amazing, as is the use of color, such as the off-putting green used in the Spectre scenes, which are all absolutely brilliant and worth staring at to catch missed details. There's also an amazing use of sound-effects as art here, which I'm not sure is Templesmith, the letterers, or both.

Filled with great creepy imagery, an interesting take on Bats and his ability to handle the weirder shit, and a story that's nice and self-contained, this is a little hidden gem.

Mike's Picks:

Batman: Last Knight on Earth by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascencia, published by DC Comics
Is this cheating? It might be. Last Knight on Earth was originally slated to be released to comic stores April 1. Since book distributors haven’t shut down completely, it seems like this book was still available to comic stores willing to order from a book distributor. I don’t know for certain, but I assume my LCS, Third Eye Comics, went this route because their weekly newsletter touted their new stock of Last Knight on Earth. If Third Eye was able to acquire a set of these books, I have to assume other stores are doing the same thing. If you can order this through a local store, please do. If you’d like to support my friends at Third Eye, you can also mail order the book from them.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have created a fantastic Batman epic through their run on the New 52 series and topped it off with the massive crossover hit, Dark Nights: Metal. The beauty of Last Knight on Earth is that it can fit either as a stand-alone tale or as the far-flung final chapter of the Snyder/Capullo Batman.

Joined by frequent collaborators, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo craft a wacky, futuristic take on Batman that’s indebted to hallmarks of their run, but also the silver-age iteration of the Caped Crusader, assisted by a heavy dose of Old Man Logan. For the team that shepherded Batman through the New 52, very grounded, “real world” iteration of Batman, it’s a treat to see them delved into a more-science-fiction inspired story for the Dark Knight. Thus, Batman: Last Knight on Earth reads more like Metal than it does the New 52 run.

Old Man Logan by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hollowell, and Cory Petit, published by Marvel Comics 
Ok, I admit a general lack of creativity, but as I was writing the first portion, I decided that to take the easy route and recommend the book that’s a spiritual ancestor to Last Knight on Earth – Wolverine: Old Man Logan. Unlike Last Knight on Earth, this story arc occurred in what one can only assume to be mainstream Marvel continuity. It wasn’t a special event or a prestige format miniseries. It was just seven issues of the current Wolverine series. Not even special issues either – it ran through issue numbers 66 through 72. Yes, ok, it did include a one-shot. But still. It’s almost unthinkable now, to have a major team like Millar and McNiven hop onto a book for a somewhat random arc before Wolverine would be replaced by Daken for the Dark Reign storyline. Ah, but 2008 was a different world.

Millar and McNiven’s Old Man Logan occupied an interesting portion of Marvel lore, a What If story without the branding, left to its own corner of the Marvel Universe for almost eight years before the Old Man Logan character was brought into mainstream continuity thanks to Secret Wars. This was also prior to Marvel realizing some sort of franchise potential, tapping Hawkeye and Peter Quill for the “Old Man” treatment. And, frankly, that’s the beauty of this book. It functions entirely as a self-contained narrative. Yes, a working knowledge of the Marvel Universe and a general familiarity with Wolverine are fairly necessary. But that’s about it. As such, Old Man Logan has long been one of my go to recommendations for new readers looking to dip their toes into the comics pool.

If you’re the kind of person who finds themselves on the fence with Millar, Old Man Logan is one of his stronger works. It captures the creativity of the better parts of his creator-owned material, but it is more refined and, likely a result of Marvel oversight, restrained. On full display is the clever storyline, one that feels like a classic Marvel What-If injected with just enough DC Elseworld vibes.

Scott’s Picks:

Poppy! And The Lost Lagoon, by Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt, published by Dark Horse.
Around here, Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt are a couple of our favorite comic creators but somehow this 2016 book has slipped under our radar. Kindt and Hurtt tackle and all ages adventure as Poppy follows in the adventurous footsteps of her grandfather Pappy (maybe you see what kind of book this turns out to be.). Given a mysterious riddle by a shrunken mummy head, Poppy and her sidekick Colt Winchester begin tracing the steps of a mystery that her grandfather and Colt were tangled up in years ago, trying to find an exotic fish that disappeared decades ago. This fantasy story imagines a Nancy Drew detective in a Hogwarts world.

Kindt has shown himself to be one of the most intricate plotters of stories and Poppy! sees him applying his skill to a story that’s more open and welcoming than something like his own Super Spy, Dept H or Mind MGMT. Collaborating on the story with Hurtt, Kindt still writes a very Kindtian story but frames it as a kid’s adventure. Poppy and Colt are fun characters, very much emblematic of the kid-friendly genre that Kindt and Hurtt are working in. There’s an ease to reading these characters because their relationship is defined by the genre; the ingenue kid and the wise older adult who has to guide them to maturity. It’s a classic formula, showing the kid being a better adventurer/explorer but lacking the wisdom that comes with age. This first story establishes their relationship but doesn’t sugar coat it. It’s a sweet student/mentor bond these two have, where each knows the other inside out and understands who they are.

I’m so used to Hurtt’s style from The Sixth Gun or The Damned that it’s great to see him working in a thin-lined style here. This book allows him to try different things and inject a bit of humor into his work. His looser style gives this a more improvised feel, the contour-like drawings highlighting the expressiveness and details of his images. Combined with Kindt’s watercolors, the artwork creates a light yet magical environment for all of these characters to explore. The looseness of the artwork gives Hurtt and the readers the room to wander around these pages and drawings, to discover Poppy’s world and all the wonders that make it up. This isn’t a tight, controlled, and planned out world; it’s full of whimsy, imagination, and wonder.