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Summer is in full swing! As you lather up the sunscreen, fill the cooler with your beverage of choice (Ommegang Abbey Ale for me, thanks) and break out your thongs (sandals or otherwise, hey, we don’t judge) we present a list of recent comics that are well worth tracking down for your seaside, margarita-sipping, swimsuit-watching summer reading. Enjoy!

Top 5 Books of March

5. Giant Days #1 (BOOM!): OK, so, about 25 years or so ago, I made my way to The Pennsylvania State University, University Park campus; got settled in on the 4th floor of Pinchot Hall, a 10-storey sausage factory; cycled through a few roommates–smokers, snorers, and  psychopaths–during my two years on campus; fell in with a group of dorks who’d be my best buds for four blurry years; and all together, as fun as I think it was–as I remember it was–it was nothing like John Allison and Lissa Treiman’s irrepressibly jocular Giant Days #1.  Maybe that’s why I loved it so much.  Co-ed Musketeers–Daisy, Esther, and Susan–are the hyperbolically dramatic center of this university; and hilarity revolves around them in effortless ellipses, much to our benefit.  So good that I can confidently quote McGraw, the mustachioed hate interest, as I consider what the future holds for Giant Days and, fearing a sophomore slump, threaten the creators of this tasty treat: “Nothing you can do can spoil gravy for me.” (SC)

Giant Days #1

Giant Days #1

4. Autumnlands #5 (Image): Fantasy books are all about world-building. No comic in recent memory has presented a realm so fully realized as Autumnlands. Credit goes equally to writer Kurt Busiek (no stranger to this kind of thing – see Astro City) and artist Benjamin Dewey, whose lush style seems to belong to another era (it doesn’t hurt, of course, that it’s being colored by the omnipresent Jordie Bellaire, who I’m convinced at this point must be some sort of collective of robot artists). Floating cities, magical lore, calcified social strata, layer upon layer intertwine into a cohesive whole. Impressively, one doesn’t hear the awkard, behind-the-scenes clanging of this universe’s construction; rather, it’s as if it has always been there. It is merely our happy fortune to discover it, and get lost in it. Higher praise for a fantasy tale I can scarcely think of. (DM)

The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw #5

The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw #5

3. Ant-Man #3 (Marvel): I can’t even with this book. It is just too funny. I literally (and I mean that in the literal sense) have to keep putting it down because I’m laughing so hard. Literally! Nick Spencer is a comic (and I mean that in the comic sense) genius. Here’s your blurb: “The hero may be small, but the laughs are BIG!” (DM)

Ant-Man #3

Ant-Man #3

2. Silver Surfer #10 (Marvel): Dan Slott and Mike Allred are producing the definitive run of this classic character. They spent most of the first year bringing the fun, with story after story teeming with imagination and wit. But with the Silver Surfer, the piper must always be payed. They tackle the central pathos of the character head on: how can a being who played a role in the deaths of untold millions ever be redeemed? The story they come up with is so simple, so perfectly elegant, that I almost can’t believe no one’s thought of it before. Everyone knows that superhero stories from the Big Two are ‘never-ending’. That’s a shame, because this issue would serve as the perfect coda not just for this series, but for the journey that Norrin Radd has been on since Fantastic Four #48, all those decades ago. Beautiful. (DM)

Silver Surfer #10

Silver Surfer #10

1. Zero #15 (Image): The Jeff Lemire variant queries innocently enough, “What is Zero?” Answers inspired by fourteen issues of Ales Kot’s crazy, crazy calculus: Soldier.  Spy.  Hero.  Killer.  Storyteller.  Everything.  Nothing.  Open up the book, open mind, as always, as necessary with this schizophrenic series, ask again: Who is Zero?  Answer inspired by page one, panel one: I have no effing idea! <–I borrowed an exclamation point; don’t think it’ll be missed.  Kot unexpectedly offers up a figure who’s furiously fingering a typewriter and, in doing so, adds a literary layer, making the book more than Zero.  He’s gone meta, forging unforeseen relationships, crafting, out of the story thus far, a psych-session confession and a catharsis-in-progress.  This stunning thing with its wild spirit sees Kot exploiting his poetic proclivities: his words build images that build upon artist Ian Bertram’s images and affecting layouts: it’s a conscious stream of Ginsberg and guns, fathers and sons, drugs and drugs–all of it burrowing into the brain like a drunk bullet.  Stories don’t get more tragic than William S. Burroughs’, and Kot’s made magic by borrowing it–as if you couldn’t tell.

Zero #15

Zero #15

The Biggest Dis(appointment): Descender  #1 (Image)

Descender is the perfect title for this highly anticipated offering from the frustratingly inconsistent Jeff Lemire: the book, which starts off well enough, descends quickly–and dizzyingly so–to robotic schmaltz, lowlighted by the insultingly saccharine introduction of Tim-21, which bored a hole nerve-deep in my otherwise pretty resilient sweet tooth.  Anyone know a good dentist?  (SC)

Descender #1

Descender #1

 

Top 5 Books of April

5. the unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4 (Marvel): There’s a long-overdue resurgence taking place in monthly comics that are putting the ‘funny’ back in ‘funny books’. We’ve been trumpeting the aforementioned Ant-Man for a while now; add to that the likes of God Hates Astronauts, Kaptara, and East of West (ok, maybe not that last one). Enter: Squirrel Girl. Ryan North (fresh of his excellent, award-winning run on Adventure Time) and artist Erica Henderson have already established a quirky charmer through three issues. Well the fourth installment is, simply put, the funniest single comic I’ve read all year. Most books are lucky to get a chuckle; this one had me laughing out loud five times before I was even that many number of pages in (I’m laughing now, just remembering them). Or maybe I should just put it this way: Squirrel Girl Vs. Galactus. Nuts Said. (DM)

the unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

the unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

4. Mayday #1 (Black Mask): Curt Pires pops for real with this frenetic filet o’ film–one that drops some noms de cinéma (Kaufman, Lynch, and Bay) and goes to effing guerre with them.  Oh, yeah, man: it’s a wild ride that reads like a regiment of lines on a mirror meant to be snorted with the eyes and sorted out with a muddied mind.  Re: minds: Pires, paired with the more than competent Chris Peterson, sells a story that, in terms of comics, is “sort of like” Matt Fraction channeled through Ales Kot with Tyler Jenkins and Michael Walsh trying to one-up one another from one panel to the next.  Mayday #1 will leave you questioning your life choices–especially if most of them have sucked.  But you will not question your choice to pick it up–even if it is “just one big blur”; nor will you question whether or not you should pick up #2.  I mean, Kleio and Terrence have “just murdered two dudes.”  You totally don’t want them to come after you. (SC)

Mayday #1

Mayday #1

3. War Stories #8 (Avatar): Sounds like a given: Part 2 of “The Last German Winter” hits the mark with this icy mid-arc march through moral relativism; but let’s be honest: there’s nothing easy–nothing safe–about it.  I mean, who can take a Nazi, humanize his ass, then make you wonder all along when hell will come to pass?  Only Garth Ennis can.  Only Garth Ennis can.  (No, you’re not imagining things: go back and hum the tune as you read–heck, sing it out loud, you Sammy wannabe!)  He crafts a German hero–Gerhard the Gallant–who, considering the situation, is easy to root for; but we know better, don’t we?  Don’t we?  Just in case, Ennis reminds us, elbows us to make sure we’re paying attention; oh, but then he nudges us–so vulnerable to his charms–right back to where he wants us–seeing the man, not seeing the monster–thanks mostly to his narrative voice, the vulnerable Rachel Kohler, and to the portrayal of the even more monstrous Russians, their evil punctuated by an horrific splash from Tomas Aira.  The execution is near Nabokovian!  (No, you’re not imagining things: go back and Hum.)  Now that, dear reader, is a war story! (SC)

War Stories #8

War Stories #8

2. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2 (Archie Horror): Was a long time coming–so long that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa offered up an apology to kick off the letter page!–but this second issue of Sabrina, which introduces with verve the vengeful and irredeemably evil Madam Satan, was well worth the wait.  The aforementioned writer–who not only sets a scene, he sets it on fire with his precise imagery–and artist Robert Hack, whose retro style is equal parts pillowy soft and boldly bloody, own the tone of this witches’ brew, which is bubbling over with literary allusions.  It’s campy; it’s creepy; it’s killer, kids! (SC)

 

Sabrina #2

Sabrina #2

1. Silver Surfer #11 (Marvel): Dan Slott and Mike Allred follow up the powerhouse of issue 10 with a comic that is as formalistically daring as it is emotionally satisfying. Surfer and Co. are trapped in a time loop and the question becomes not only whether they’ll escape, but whether they’ll even realize it at all. A graphic illustration of Free Will versus Determinism, a metaphor for the repetitive cycle of our everyday experience, a tale of love, forgiveness and redemption; this issue delivers all three in a thrilling marriage of form and content. I maintain that issue 10 would have provided an excellent ending to this wonderful series. But I’m glad it didn’t. (DM)

Silver Surfer #11

Silver Surfer #11

 

Top 5 Books of May

5. Zero #16 (Image): Collective unconscious, the inevitability of change, the destiny of DNA, the life sentence that is guilt–Zero‘s certainly much more than its title insists.  It’s a proving ground, of sorts; it’s Ales Kot’s firing range of ideas: it’s rhyme-free reason; it’s a game of William Tell: Kot himself is the tortured William S. Burroughs, and we’re the trusting Joan Burroughs, with an apple of expectations balanced precariously on our head.  Too.  Tempting.  BANG!  Somehow this experimental spy story became an experiment in layers deep meta-fiction; and, despite the jarring shift, the result is nothing short of spore-born brilliance.  Wherever this crazy thing ends up, rest assured, Ales Kot will not fail us–but he’ll sure as hell phallus, as evidenced by Tom Muller and Stathis Tsemberlidis’s cocky cover, which, in turn, is further proof of an air of youthful arrogance in Kot’s work, especially here in Zero.  I’m more than happy to breathe it in for as long as it lasts.  (SC)

Zero #16

Zero #16

4. Afterlife with Archie #8 (Archie Horror): Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla continue to add to their modern horror mash-up by seamlessly incorporating elements that you didn’t even know you wanted; everything from The Shining to The Crucible, even A Christmas Carol. The result is rich tapestry that continues to add texture to the story, a mix that acknowledges the high-points in the history of horror through the unlikeliest of lenses. (DM)

Afterlife With Archie #8

Afterlife With Archie #8

3. Mind MGMT #33 (Image): The ultimate showdown’s coming, but there’s no sign of a slowdown–even as Matt Kindt slows things down to foster a touching family reunion, one that frames Team Meru’s Soldiers of Fortune Cookies and their receiving and executing–with stunning efficiency–their munching–er, marching orders.  The decidedly deliberate issue ends with a Dalicious splash that promises a wild time.  With the end of the series so near, I’m excited, I’m anxious; but, no, Pipe Kid, I’m not ready–and I’m as not ready as I’m ever going to be.  (SC)

Mind MGMT #33

Mind MGMT #33

2. Providence #1 (Avatar): Avatar’s publicity department has been describing this new series by Alan Moore as “The Watchmen of horror”. But the story from Moore’s oeuvre that it more readily calls to mind is From Hell (an even more impressive achievement to this reviewer’s mind). FH brilliantly examined the underlying brutality of patriarchal hegemony through the lens of Victorian England, using the Whitechapel murders as a vehicle. Providence promises to delve into the repressed corners of American society of the past century using the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (a passion of Moore’s for some time now) as a framework. Moore explores the Jungian implications of Lovecraft’s mythos (underlying realities masked by our limited human perception) by using them as a metaphor for aspects of the American experience that needed to remain hidden, given the times (in this case, “the love that dare not speak its name”). Yes, there is much to unpack here. Yet for all that,  this first issue is a master’s class in restrained, subtle storytelling. The deliberate pacing, the seemingly minor details that gain importance as the issue progresses, the symmetry of the opening and closing segments; Moore’s assured control of the material, when he’s on, has never been matched by another comic book writer. To say nothing of the insane amount of research that is woven throughout. Which brings us to the art. Here another comparison to FH is apt: Eddie Campbell’s nonpareil art in that tome had a scratchy looseness, a sketchy immediacy that pulled the modern reader with its irrepressible energy, despite the period setting. Here, Jacen Burrows takes the opposite approach: meticulously rendered, exhaustive research evident in every carefully placed line. The effect is polished, subdued and certainly visually impressive, but with a formal stiffness akin to watching an episode of Downton Abbey. And yet this is reflective of Moore’s otherworldly precision. Ultimately, the hyperbole of comparing this new series to the well-known Watchmen is needless. This first issue promises an epic Alan Moore tale to match or exceed, in scope, ambition and execution, anything he’s previously produced. That alone should suffice. (DM)

Providence #1

Providence #1

1. Material #1 (Image): With Material, Ales Kot’s has found his forum, the perfect space for him to keep pace with the injustices of the world.  No matter how desperate or disparate, they have a home here; and God knows he’ll never want for material as long as he never casts off the lenses–the perspective-altering critical approaches to analyzing, well, everything so relied upon by campus comrades, the arrogant academicians and their lecture-hall spawn–that help him to see the Ugly Spirit* in, well, everything.  Despite the pessimism that pervades the four narratives, which may or may not Crash into each other at some point, what Kot’s come up with–in tandem with the ironically-named Will Tempest–is beautiful.  He asserts that there’s hope in moments, in connections, and what better way to convey that point than with a comic book!  Holding its pages open is like holding hands with Kot himself as he leads the march toward enlightenment–toward Utopia.  And even if that march is born of naÏveté, it’s fueled by honesty, by brashness; and in the context of this comic, it’s something I want to follow.

*See Zero to see Burroughs to see that Kot’s got the Spirit–yes he does! (SC)

 

Material #1

Material #1

Biggest Dis(appointment)(April/May): Convergence/Secret Wars (DC/Marvel) – A bunch of heroes and villains from various alternate universes battle it out on a patchwork planet in a Secret Crisis of Ultimate Infinite blahblahblah. Yes, I’ve just described the plot of both summer blockbuster crossovers from the Big Two. In the cynical cycle of endless Events, this has to be a new low. I don’t know who’s guiltier: the company that seemingly pilfered the other’s concept, or the company that came up with such an awful idea to begin with. (DM)

Convergeance #1

Convergeance #1

Secret Wars #1

Secret Wars #1

Turning pages,

Derek & Scott

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