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Our first Top 5 of the year! If the titles below are any indication, 2014 is already shaping up to be a great one for our beloved medium. To wit:

5. Afterlife With Archie #3 (Archie): Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla serve up another clinic on the art of the mash-up. Opening with a nightmare scene worthy of EC Comics, this issue also treats us to tragic teen romance (is there any other kind?), a new wrinkle on a classic rivalry, and a climactic set piece featuring teens in bathing suits engaging in the kind of logic that only makes sense in horror movies. Oh, and two more beloved characters acquire the taste for human flesh. Forget that other zombie book; this is the best undead comic on the stands, and a lot more fun besides. (DM)

Afterlife with Archie #3

4. Saga #18 (Image): Our #4 book of 2013 kicks off the year in feline fashion!

Saga #18

Saga #18

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples head into their well-deserved–and freakin’ fan-frustrating!–“Vacationanza” with another extraordinary chapter rife with expertly orchestrated peril and commensurate–in one case, winged–crescendos.  The issue bares its teeth–along with poor Lying Cat–on page one and from there hits the high notes that our hearts–which are wrenched and warmed by design–long to hear, that they recognize and react to, like a favorite song or a lover’s voice.  The final note, struck on the final splash, resounds, envelops us in pure joy.  “That a girl,” indeed.  OK, sure, the “TIME JUMP!” is a bit of a leap; but isn’t that what we love about these creators–these characters, even?  When they go, they go boldly.  And the result?  I mean, by now, “Isn’t it obvious?” (SC)

3. The Midas Flesh #2 (BOOM!): Ryan North made his name on the wise-assery of his clip art cult favorite Dinosaur Comics and his innovative, medium-bending work on the Eisner Award-winning Adventure Time comic book. Here he tries something a little different: a more or less straight up narrative. Forgoing the conceptual bells and whistles of his earlier work, North trusts instead in the fantastic nature of the story he’s telling. And so far it’s a doozy: a band of space explorers have discovered a planet shrouded in legend and frozen in time; encrusted in solid gold and instant death to any who descend upon it. The planet of course, is earth. Mixing science fiction, ancient mythology and talking dinosaurs (naturally) North is able to balance his trademark philosophical/slacker humor with high adventure and some genuine pathos. And then there is the ethereal beauty, recalling the ruins of Pompeii, and rendered lovingly by series artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, of the transitory everyday moments, gilded for all eternity, commemorated in catastrophe. (DM)

The Midas Flesh #2

The Midas Flesh #2

2. Fatale #19 (Image): I have to admit, this long-time favorite had fallen a bit on the old depth chart recently.  The noir/horror (noirror) tone established, if not invented, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips seemed to spring naturally from the early stories taking place in the 1950s and worked surprisingly well in such far-flung eras as the Middle Ages, the Wild West and the 1970s. But somehow, the Seattle grunge scene of the early ’90’s seemed a poor fit. All the shaggy hair and Doc Martens seemed to dull the edge of the knife Brubaker’s been wielding (or maybe it just brought back too many memories). But with this issue, they’ve once again reached Nirvana. Our unfortunate band of would-be rockers, the latest to fall under the spell of the title character, are dispatched in a pool of blood and flannel in an issue as cold and sleek as any in the series. And by the end, Brubaker has masterfully set up his players for the present-day finale. The femme fatale has found herself. Her enemies have found her. And you’ll find the sweet, foreboding sense of despair that has become this title’s stock in trade, especially in those last few unrelenting pages. And in the knowledge that the end of this book is nigh. Savor it while you can.  (DM)

Fatale #19

1. Mind MGMT #18 (Dark Horse): The following confession is being made under extreme coercion. Not physical or emotional, but artistic. You see, everything that’s appeared on this site about Matt Kindt’s superlative Mind MGMT has been written by our man Scott. That’s because until recently, I was not reading it. This is no fault of Scott’s; he’s been pushing it on me ever since I gave him my copy of issue one (gave it to him! like some philistine! some rube! some unmitigated yokel!). I rationalized that I wasn’t a fan of conspiracy fiction; after all, early on the book was garnering comparisons to Lost (with praise from Damon Lindelof yet) and I’ve generally found such fare queasily claustrophobic. So despite its quality, which was readily apparent from the get-go, I figured it simply wasn’t my cup of tea. The change came with issue 13, the first of a series of one-shots each focusing on a different character. But the selling point was really the cover:

Amidst all the slick sci-fi and sexy superheroes was a comic that looked like a 1950’s issue of Good Housekeeping? Talk about audacity! But that was only the beginning. Inside I found that Kindt was playing all sorts of games, unearthing his sordid, multi-layered drama from beneath a veneer of suburban bliss. As the one-shots continued, each gaining momentum from the last, so did Kindt’s lay-outs and design choices become ever more daring, until story and art finally exploded in a beautifully orchestrated climax of form and content in the epic #17 (which, not coincidentally, we named the top single issue of 2013). Claustrophobic? Anything but! Such wild experimentation happily continues in #18, from its Rousseau-inspired cover, to the subtextual juxtaposition of text and images, quite unlike anything I’ve seen (*impressed*). And so I’ve finally succumbed to Kindt’s persuasion: I’ve bought the trades (sadly, not printed on newsprint like the single issues), absorbed the stories and have surrendered my will to Mind MGMT. Because this is what comics can do. Book of the Month. (DM)

Mind MGMT #18

Mind MGMT #18

The Biggest Dis(appointment): All-New Invaders #1 (Marvel):

I know that you thought the same thing I thought when I first saw this advertised: James Robinson and Steve Pugh?  Yes, please.  Well, didn’t take very long for that to turn into No, thanks. Perhaps I should’ve paid more attention to the “All-New” designation, which, from recent experience, is wielded not unlike “delicious” on a box of gluten-free anything.  Once you get into it–once you take a bite–you find yourself thinking What was I thinking?  For Gods and Soldiers’ sakes, I’m still picking the clichés out of my teeth!  And if Robinson were shooting for hokey–as a bit of an homage, I suppose–with his dialogue, well, then he hit the mark.  Oh, he Imperius Wrecks the mark, all right!  Yeah, someone should’ve invaded the dialogue writing process to liberate the language from the atrocities of The Word Reich–to prevent the Hokeycaust!  I guess I should’ve seen it coming.  I guess I was blinded by my faith in Robinson.  I guess I was remembering fondly some of my early experiences with The Invaders.  (In fact, I have a few early copies, including #2 (1975), which I bought in 1983 around the same time I got into Wolfman’s Vigilante.  How’s that for a memory, eh?)  I guess, too, I was hoping that I’d finally get a version of Captain America–post-Brubaker–that I could be proud of.  In the end, guess what: it doesn’t take supreme intelligence to realize that the All-New Invaders is, disappointingly, old news.  So, when’s Fantastic Four #1 coming out, again? (SC)

All-New Invaders #1

All-New Invaders #1

Turning pages,

Derek and Scott

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