Archer & Armstrong, Brian Wood, Buzzkill, Chris Dingess, ChrissCross, Dark Horse, Donny Cates, Fred Van Lente, Garry Brown, Geoff Shaw, Image, Jordie Bellaire, Khari Evans, Manifest Destiny, Mark Reznicek, Matt Kindt, Matthew Roberts, Mind MGMT, The Massive, Valiant
5. Archer & Armstrong #15 (Valiant): The first of our two alcohol-related picks this month (see below) – hey, never let it be said that we here at I&N don’t know how to have a good time. Fred Van Lente’s odd-couple-buddy-action-comedy-history-spanning-conspiracy-sci-fi-satire has long been a fave of ours, but oddly enough this is the first time it’s appeared on our Top 5. So why this issue? Well, I could go on and on about how whip-smart Van Lente’s writing is. Or how this comic makes me actually laugh out loud (seriously, my wife has to leave the room). Or how it’s been blessed by top notch artists, such as Khari Evans and ChrisCross this ish. But let’s be honest. The real reason this book finally cracked our hallowed list is that it features a pub crawl through time! Read that last bit again and imagine the possibilities! – or better yet don’t, ’cause Van Lente’s already done it for you: Renaissance brawling! Prohibition puking! And a town that literally drowns its sorrows! Maybe it’s the beer goggles talking but…is it possible to have a bro-mance with a comic book? I LOVE YOU GUYSSSHHH!….(DM)
4. Manifest Destiny #1 (Image): Re-imagining history is a tall order. The story’s voice must sound authentic enough to transport the modern reader back in time, while avoiding the kind of overwrought period-speak that could turn them off. Similarly, one must balance the prevailing mores of the given era with current sensibilities, without undercutting them. Finally, at its best, the prism of history should reveal something about our modern character. Well if this first issue is any indication, Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts succeed on all three counts. The premise: as the fabled Lewis and Clark lead their expedition through the New World, they’ve been covertly tasked with destroying any indigenous mythological beasts, or ‘monsters’ they come across. The addition of a fantasy element could have easily rendered this the latest iteration of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But Dingiss and Roberts seem to have (one hopes) something else in mind entirely. The tone is set right off: as Lewis, the more scientific of the two (and the narrator of the story), begins cataloguing the new species of fauna, he spies a beautiful, exotic bird soaring overhead. His journal entry states “Clark assisted in obtaining the bird.” This is, of course, juxtaposed with a panel of Clark blasting the poor thing out of the sky. The ironic interplay of text and picture continues as Lewis detachedly recounts their callous treatment of their own crew, doling out brutal punishment for minor infractions and brooking no argument from men who, capricious though they may be, have legitimate concerns about the safety of their own hides. By letting the nominal “heroes” of the book tell the tale of what promises to be their increasingly calamitous forays into nascent unspoiled America, Dingess and Roberts have set up a satirical critique of not only the assumptions of their main characters, but of our understanding of our own fraught history. One of the strongest debuts of the year. (DM)
3. Buzzkill #3 (Dark Horse): My name is ScottNerd and I’m a comicholic. And it’s because of books like this that I ain’t so ready to kick the habit. The intoxicating concept of this fascinating four-pack–from the plotting pair of Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek–had my head spinning from the first sip; and with the second, I developed a real taste for it. Ah, but this third party provided the real proof: yeah, there’s no doubt that Cates can craft a bitter pale tale with the very best of big name brewmasters. Oh, sure, he hits some familiar notes, and they all come to a wholly-expected head; but the trip, the drunken hop and skip, from the wall-bangin’ beginning to the hilarious Doctor Strange clone (“Dude, you slept with his girlfriend…”) to the big reveal at the end–the first step in Francis’s final waltz with his pissed-off papa–is absolutely terrific. Geoff Shaw’s art, a perfect pairing with Cates’ words, has us seeing double the urgency, double the energy, and double the comedy; and, like any loyal addict, I’m left fiending for the final issue so I can keep this killer buzz going. (SC)
2. The Massive #17 (Dark Horse): In this second chapter of the three-part “Longship” arc, Brian Wood delivers “a nasty, vicious piece of work,” and he does so in typical Brian Wood fashion: he sells this epic showdown between Callum Israel and Bors Bergsen without hyperbolic tricks; instead, he “[instills] terror” with one bastard of a backstory, some terrific table turning, and a violent twist, which remakes Israel, the peace-mongering protagonist who has discovered that mortality is maddening medicine, into a sniping son of a bitch. Artist Garry Brown and colorist Jordie Bellaire combine to keep it real, effectively allowing the spear-sharp story to stand on its own. And stand it does–as the most revealing and the most cleverly constructed issue of The Massive thus far. He even had me rooting for Bors, for goodness sake! Yeah, Wood makes it look easy; but if it were, everyone’d be doing it, right? (SC)
1. Mind MGMT #17 (Dark Horse): Yet another shot to the ol’ apricot from Master Sniper Matt Kindt–and it’s one to celebrate! Yeah, I know, I called #16 the best of the series back in last month’s Top 5; but with #17, Kindt reaches new heights, goes to greater lengths–particularly in page-busting panels of crisply-crafted and concurrent continuous narratives–to exploit the power of the medium. As promised by the clever cover–one awash in paranoia and paronomasia–the story moves at a breakneck pace: from a locked and loaded unhappy Home Maker to a veritable orgy of violent rivers running toward a simultaneous orgasm of double-page splashes–there goes the neighborhood, indeed!–to a crack shot Meru, who, with a twist of Lyme, is ready to take the reins and restore reason to the world one agent at a time. The whole damn thing’s a miracle, really. Hell, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kindt could turn his watercolors to wine; his work is that divine. (SC)
Biggest Dis(appointment): Sex Criminals #3 (Image) – The first issue was a fascinating coming of age tale, told largely through the lens of a young woman’s sexual awakening. The second issue, recounting a young man’s side of things, was a disappointing catalogue of wanking and porn. One wondered how or if the third issue (with beautiful visuals, as always, by Chip Zdarsky) would balance the two: would writer Matt Fraction be able to mix the libidinousness of the latter with the thoughtfulness of the former. What was the true voice of the book? Well it is now clear: Fraction has sidestepped the aforementioned story concerns and made the book primarily about himself. This is never more apparent than when Fraction, smack dab in the middle of the book, begins directly complaining to the reader that he was unable to get the rights to print lyrics to a Queen song. This would have been off-putting enough if it had only momentarily taken us out of the story. But it goes on for four pages. It not only brings the narrative to screeching halt; it heedlessly undermines the whole reading experience. Don’t believe the hype: the only thing Fraction’s masturbatory exercise is jerking around is you. (DM)
Up next: Our Top Ten Books of 2013!