Here’s a little secret: we, the mighty gate-keepers here at I&N, don’t always agree on who makes the cut on our monthly purview of comics excellence. But, through a complex process of behind-the-scenes negotiation, diplomacy, arm-twisting and, if need be, feats of manliness, we have always been able to whittle down the monthly title wave to our hallowed Top 5. That is, until now. And so, recklessly abandoning all sense of tradition and decorum, we present for the first time: our Top 6 Books of the Month.
#5 (tie). Mind MGMT #23 (Dark Horse): Matt Kindt–winner of the 2014 Innie for Best Artist–delivers a real punch to the gut with this well composed hit-single issue, which sees the Dusty-deadicated side notes harmonizing heroically with the cacophony of the nihilistic narrative–with the darkness Dusty so deeply despised and hoped to one day change with his music. With the in memoriam to Dusty as the lead vocal of the book, Kindt further develops the memory motif by making the Eraser play “memory games” with an incredulous Meru, using blacked out panels to indicate the missing moments; and by putting petal to the metal in a series of flowering flashbacks featuring Bill and Meru that fan out to form a stunning centerpiece for this death-marred installment and ultimately fall from the stem, foreshadowing poor Bill’s demise and Meru’s heartbreak. In the end, Kindt cleverly ties the margin matter to the story proper by having Meru’s falling tears look just like the music rising from the headphones that are taken from Dusty’s dead body. That alone would’ve been enough to tattoo this issue on our Top 5! But as a final note–or a last grain of hourglass sand–Kindt calls upon the aforementioned memory motif one last time and offers up an intimate Mad Magazine fold-in that’ll rattle around in your skull well after reading. (SC)
Mind MGMT #23
#5 (tie). The Massive #24 (Dark Horse): As Brian Wood’s near-future socioeconomic/environmental dystopia comes to a head, the enigmatic Mary stands revealed as the lynchpin. Some kind of goddess-figure, Mary’s been witness to centuries of manmade degradation of every kind: against nature, against each other, against our own history (part of the brilliance of Wood’s argument is that, throughout the series, he’s presented these as one and the same). Well now she sits in judgement, speaking in biblical terms that portend even greater disaster (or, perhaps, wrath). Even more damning, she stares out directly at the reader as she does so (indelibly rendered, as is the entire arc, by Danijel Zezelj and Jordie Bellaire). If this seems a bit heavy-handed, this particular sequence, all of two pages, stands in stark relief to twenty-three previous issues of breathtaking, world-spanning incident remarkable for the sheer depth of knowledge displayed, as well as their understated, plot-driven delivery. It also thrusts us headlong into the mysteries to be revealed in the final arc, and adds one more: could Mary have played a role in The Crash, the event that laid the world low to begin with? And, having found mankind wanting, is the worst yet to come? (DM)
The Massive #24
#4. The Last Broadcast #2 (Archaia): Great magicians never reveal their secrets; and those secrets, for the compulsively curious, inevitably become the seeds of great mysteries. Writer André Sirangelo and artist Gabriel Iumazark plant plenty of seductive seeds here in the second installment of The Last Broadcast, which puts our main man Ivan–himself a magician–on a crooked path of discovery. His frantic search for his pal Dmitri is an off-kilter crusade–one amplified by Iumazark’s irregular panel pattern that keeps us likewise off balance as we move from page to page–that finds him courting odd characters, including an enigmatic bookshop owner and an eye-biting barfly who pleasingly smack of Polanski stock, and that leads him to a couple of urban explorers–the Backbone of the story–who themselves are missing a mate. (I, too, am compulsively curious, and I wonder: Could Dmitri and Damon be one in the same?) Making the story–and the story to come–even more exciting is the prospect of a very-much-alive Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s having a hand in scripting the outcome. Believe your eyes, folks: this magic–The Last Broadcast–is for real. (SC)
The Last Broadcast #2
#3. Ordinary #2 (Titan): A determined father intrepidly braves a gauntlet of nefarious characters and death-defying situations with only one thought on his mind: to find his son! This may sound like the latest Liam Neeson revenge flick, until you realize that a) the determined father is Michael, a balding, bespectacled schlub with a dead-end job; b) the nefarious characters are everyone else on the planet, who have suddenly and inexplicably been granted ridiculous super powers; and c) the death-defying situations include show-stopping Broadway musical numbers (especially frightening that). Rob Williams and D’Israeli serve up thrill-ride absurdity that at once takes the gas out of the sort of adolescent power fantasies that so many comics fans (many of whom bear more than a passing resemblance to Michael) still faithfully devour, while also slyly celebrating them. After all, if the biggest loser in the world can overcome odds like this, there’s hope for everyone. (DM)
#2. Archer & Armstrong #21 (Valiant): Our fascination with celebrities in many ways defines us as a culture. Funny enough, our fascination with dead celebrities even more so. Fred Van Lente knows that, and he’s clearly having a blast bringing back some long–and some freshly–dead famous folks for his satirical tour de farce “American Wasteland.” Artist Pere Pérez brings the late lot to life around Archer and Armstrong, kicking off a game of “How many dead celebs can you name?”; and it’s a game where we’re all winners for playing along. I was slayed by the inclusion of Jeff Hanneman and then was all “Already?” upon seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman. The next three page turns may very well be as unforgettable as the featured figures themselves: first, it’s a father and child reunion as Bruce and Brandon Lee attack our heroes in a sole-touching moment! (Do they win? Of course they Jeet Kune Don’t–thanks to Archer’s, umm, stun ram.) And, after meeting a distraught Jackie Kennedy, who isn’t long for even this world (I was like, “No he di’int!”), A & A come across more Oswalds than you can shake a Zapruder film at! Throw in some East and West disorderly action with phat boys Biggie and Tupac, and you’ve got yourself a book where a clever contrivance becomes more the thing than the story itself–well, initially, anyway. Because after the excitement of recognition and the well-earned laughter fall to necessary contemplation, there’s Van Lente himself laughing, “Gotcha.” (SC)
Archer & Armstrong #21
#1. Silver Surfer #3 (Marvel): There was a recent internet controversy which involved, among other things, the notion that certain aspects of super heroes were just too “goofy” and needed to be jettisoned in order for today’s audiences to take the characters seriously. The thinking behind this seems to be that the colorful, larger-than-life paragons of heroism that have populated comics since their inception need to be brought back down to earth, their vibrancy toned down to reflect our own muddled reality. One could make the case that this view, in its cynicism, utterly misses the point of what super heroes are supposed to be. But why do that when you could just read Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael and Laura Allred instead? It makes the case better than any argument ever could.
The current issue is particularly apt, as it deals with a cosmic struggle not so much of good versus evil, but of reality versus possibility. In it, a double-talking alien named the Incredulous Zed seeks to strike down an entity known as the Never Queen to ensure that the future will only ever have one possible outcome. Standing against him are the Silver Surfer and his new partner Dawn Greenwood, an especially winning creation, who runs a nice bed-and-breakfast in Anchor Bay, Mass. Slott’s wild, expansive approach to story is matched by Allred’s art, which, as always, is teeming with fantastic weirdness. There are monkey toys and stolen hearts. Space freaks and childhood memories. True love and The Three Stooges. And in Slott’s and Allred’s vision these live comfortably side-by-side. They suggest, in the sheer vitality of their storytelling, that one need not discard absurdity in the pursuit of profundity. Rather, whatever it is that is profound in these types of stories, whatever is truly wonderful, is inextricably tied to the fact that they’re so damn much FUN. (DM)
Silver Surfer #3
The Biggest Dis(appointment): Trees #2 (Image) – It has been a storytelling trope the last twenty years or so to juggle multiple, seemingly disparate narratives within an overall framework, and then slowly draw the separate strands together so that they all collide by the end, revealing a larger picture. It is perhaps perfectly legitimate in today’s hyper-connected world to seek meaning in the seemingly infinite byways that cyberspace allows, especially as it has simultaneously caused the world to get ever smaller. This narrative approach, depending on how it’s handled, can be insightful and profound or obtuse and annoying (Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life [no relation] for example, falls into either one or the other categories depending on your point of view). But it works best when the individual stories are compelling (as in say, Pulp Fiction). Unfortunately Trees manages to be both obtuse and uninteresting. Warren Ellis’ story, involving a bunch of giant alien trees that suddenly appear on earth (nicely rendered by Jason Howard), apparently indifferent to human activity, unwittingly provides an apt metaphor for the experience of reading it. When the various narratives are as soporific as those presented, one can’t blame the title characters for ignoring them. The back inside cover, presumably reinforcing the trees ambivalence, ends the issue with the sentence “It doesn’t care.
Neither do I. (DM)
Derek & Scott