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By Derek Mainhart

There’s something thrilling about serialized storytelling. Sure, a work of art that arrives fully realized, complete, of a piece, can provide an immersive envelopment; a meal satisfying in its soup to nuts wholeness. But there’s a special excitement about the delayed gratification, the suspense of awaiting the next installment, of dissecting and discussing the latest episode/installment/issue of an ongoing narrative that pulls a continuous tug on the soul. It’s how Dickens captivated his audiences. How movie theatres of old ensured repeat business.  It’s why we watch TV the way we do now. And it’s something comics have always had.

So this is not a list of graphic novels. Those auteur-driven pieces of art undoubtedly deserve praise and parsing. Elsewhere. Here you will find the best of the installments, the cliffhangers, the roguish improvisations whose most sacred credo is  “To be continued…”

1. The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (BOOM! Studios):

Death takes a forced holiday, as some upstart mortal has discovered the secret to immortality. When unleashed, this will render the (not so) grim reaper obsolescent. Here, Death takes the form of the titular character, and meets her would-be adversary at various points in his life. Each of these meetings ends in her demise, though not at his hands. What could have been a game of cat and mouse, with death trying to thwart her nemesis at every turn, becomes, in Ram V’s hands, something far more lyrical; a meditation on choices made, the nature of purpose, and the beauty of being present in the moment.  This is aided immeasurably by Filipe Andrade’s style (with notes of Gabriel Ba’s visual poetry, mixed with Marc Hempel’s cartoony expressionism, perhaps). The joy comes less from the plot than from the audacity of the storytelling, as profound observations can come from such unlikely sources as an abandoned temple, or a discarded cigarette.

2. 6 Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton (Image Comics):

A kick to the jaw. A slap to the face. A withering put-down. All of these grab your attention, as delivered by one of the most low-down, irredeemably caustic S.O.B.’s in recent memory, Trigger Keaton. A peripatetic star of the small screen, he abuses all around him like a Chuck Norris written by Charles Bukowski. Good thing he’s fucking dead. And lo, it’s up to his hapless assortment of onscreen sidekicks (each an object of his abuse) to find out who killed him. Kyle Starks takes this bonkers concept and careens it through a pop cultural landscape dotted with the B-list detritus of yesteryear. And it is flat-out hilarious. Chris Schweizer’s kinetic, madcap art seamlessly mixes the comedy and the action, with the sequencing chops of a Chris Samnee, flowing through the loopy inventiveness of a Sergio Aragones. He has, among other things, playfully advanced the sequential depiction of martial arts  (no small distinction), as well as accomplished the herculean feat of depicting a breathtaking car chase in comics. This is sublime bad-assery in a bottle and your life is incomplete without it.

3. Eat the Rich (BOOM! Studios):

Jesus. So, it’s like Get Out, except focusing on issues of class instead of race. Plus with cannibalism. It answers the question: What’s the reward for a lifetime of service to the one-percent? No surprise, it’s brutal desecration. Grindhouse exploitation you say? Well there’s enough of that, via Pius Bak’s evocative art (shades of Phil Hester), to satisfy the promise of the title (special shout-out to letterer Cardinal Rae, whose design wittily adds to the shock value). But mostly it’s couched in Sarah Gailey’s trenchant, bleakly reasonable explanation as to why this horrific world works the way it does. And we realize it’s unsettlingly close to our reality. A Modest Proposal for the 21st century.

But wait, you should also read these:

The Me You Love in the Dark (slow burn Gothic horror)

The Good Asian (classic noir with something to say)

Dark Blood (for fans of HBO’s Watchmen)

Maw (uncompromising feminist horror)

Two Moons (western / horror mash-up with an Indigenous American antihero)

Ginseng Roots (a fascinating exploration of the intersection of autobiography, local history, agriculture and cultural diffusion)

Sandman / Locke & Key (a rarified treat for the sophisticated comics nerd)

Happy 202To Be Continued…