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Comics/Graphic Novels

The Best Comics We Read in May 2016

Alice W. Castle

Staff Writer

Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, Alice W. Castle is a trans femme writing about comics. All things considered, it’s going surprisingly well. She can be found on various corners of the internet, but most frequently on Twitter: @FallOfThePoets.

omega men 12The Omega Men #12 by Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda, and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Thomas Maluck)

The grids. The William James closing quotes. The doctrine of no easy answers. The twelfth and final issue of The Omega Men came out this month, and as one character observes, “It’s been a hell of a year, Mr. Rayner.” White-But-Sometimes-Green Lantern Kyle Rayner slowly became the focus of the overall story of galactic terrorism and collateral damage, but here all the members of The Omega Men, including the ladies, are given final moments and epilogues to let us know who’s still raising hell across the galaxy. This series has consistently been a favorite from month to month, and now that I can confirm that it stuck the landing, I plan on broadcasting praise about it as the alpha and omega of Green Lantern stories, right up there with Mosaic.

oh joy sex toyOh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan (Heather Davidson) (All links NSFW)

Oh Joy Sex Toy has had a pretty good month, to say the least. The Kickstarter for its third printed volume was fully funded in under five hours, then just the next day Oni Press announced that the comic would be the first to be picked up for their new erotica and sex education imprint Limerence Press. Despite having been a fan of the weekly sex education & toy review webcomic since it began all the way back in 2013, I’d fallen months behind, and all the publicity gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up! As sexy as it is informative, the comic strives ‘to be relevant to all different genders, body types, and sexualities’; this year alone, it’s covered everything from menstrual sponges to etiquette at a dungeon party. Whether by Erika herself or one of the numerous guest artists, the art is always top notch, and I come away from every installment of Oh Joy Sex Toy feeling like I’ve learned something new – which is why I won’t feel guilty about the hours I spent binging it this month.

boxersBoxers by Gene Luen Yang (Latonya Pennington)

Boxers mixes historical fiction with myth and folklore for a magical twist on the Boxer Rebellion in China. It is a tragic, complex plot that not only taught me some Chinese history, but showed me how your humanity can be sacrificed for the greater good. The characters were memorable and I especially liked the Gods of The Opera. The artwork enhances the characters by being cartoonish and realistic with an equally balanced color palette. This was the most moving graphic novel I’ve read since Maus.


raven pirate princess 8Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #8 by Jeremy Whitley, Ted Brandt, and Rosy Higgins (Keri Crist-Wagner)

The storytelling in Raven has been strong from the beginning. It’s a bit more mature than the other Princeless books, but still a very all-ages comic. In this particular issue, half the crew has been kidnapped, and unfortunately that includes the majority of the fighters and Captain Raven herself. What follows is an awesome take on brains versus brawn, or how chemistry, engineering, and strategy can win the day. Other highlights include several panels told through American Sign Language, Katy wrestling an alligator, and a nice bit of snark between Ximena and Sunshine. With a cliffhanger ending, I’m even more anxious for issue #9 than usual.  

future questFuture Quest #1 by Jeff Parker, Evan “Doc” Shaner, Steve Rude & Jordie Bellaire (Brian McNamara)

I hadn’t thought about Jonny Quest in a long time. I remember scheduling out trying to catch Jonny Quest marathons on TNT in the early-to-mid-90s, but I can’t remember specific episodes or anything along the line. Despite that, when DC announced their Hanna-Barbera relaunch, the title that spoke to me the most was Future Quest, a Jonny Quest led adventure that brings together the various parts of the HB franchise – Space Ghost, Birdman, etc. Now, some of that is nostalgia for Jonny, Hadji, Race, and Bandit. But a lot of it has to do with the superlative creative team. Parker, Shane, and Bellaire delivered the wonderful Convergence: SHAZAM! last year, which was the perfect marriage of source material and creative. Future Quest looks like a return to that same marriage. Parker gets these characters, while at the same time telling a competent story that tries to make a 50 year old franchise more inclusive. Shaner has been one of my favorite artists for a while and his pencil work on this issue is nothing short of great. From small bits of comedy, to timeless figures, every page induces a smile or a “Whoa.” Bellaire’s colors stand out especially, grounded but bright, reflecting the animated nature of the source material but not cartoony. They’re joined for a few pages by veteran Steve Rude, whose distinct lines mesh well with Shaner’s. You’d almost not notice the change. It’s a fun book with a great team and I’m excited to see where they’ll take these characters. It’s a ray of sunshine in a more serious comics world.

Underfell by Kaitogirl (Priya Sridhar)

Some fan-comics know how to smash hearts and to poke questions at canon, to make us understand an imaginary world’s fabric better. Underfell is a loving homage to the game Undertale, “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die.” The main character is a human child that falls into a realm of monsters, following that bit of gameplay, but instead of a world where humans are the biggest threat to monsters, monsters are the biggest threat to humans. Flowey, the villain of the original game, becomes child Frisk’s most important ally and Toriel, aka “Goat-mom is best mom,” threatens to murder Frisk with her terrible cooking and smothering affection. You will laugh, and cry.

through hte woodsThrough the Woods
by Emily Carroll (Melody Schreiber)

I loved every second of this book. The images are stark and gorgeous, and the narrative is refined and thrilling. The words and art build on each other perfectly, creating a haunting story that finds a perfect home in the graphic novel. Magical.

A Drifting Life. Story & art by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn & Quarterly.A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Megan Cavitt)

This is a monster of a book (over 850 pages!), but Tatsumi doesn’t pad: he’s got a very full life to cover in this graphic memoir. With typical Japanese understatement, the title implies that he fumbled unfocused through the first decades of his life, while actually he was developing new styles of comic expression. What he’s arrived at after all those years is a deceptively simple style of linework, a lovely economy that differentiates characters in fewer than a dozen lines. Tatsumi is a manga legend, and the true story of how he became one is just as fascinating as his fiction.

ArchieVolume1-1Archie, Vol. 1 by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish (Emma Lawson)

I finally got around to reading Hot Archie this month and I loved it. I read a few Archie comics as a tween but it was never really my thing. Mark Waid does a great job of introducing the characters for new audiences while still holding true to who they are, and I really appreciated that Betty and Archie’s breakup had nothing to do with Veronica or anyone else. It felt very true to my experience of teenage girlhood. Fiona Staples did the art for the first three issues and it always amazes me how she can convey so much emotion with a character’s eyebrows. I did definitely prefer the Staples’ art, but Annie Wu and Veronica Fish both keep up the excellent work.

from now onFrom Now On by Malachi Ward (Jake Shapiro)

Malachi Ward has been blowing up the past couple years in the Brandon Graham corner of the comics world, drawing issues of Prophet and doing one of the absolute best ongoing stories in Island magazine–”Ancestor,” about a transhumanist cult. After nearly a year of delays, he’s finally putting out From Now On, a collection of a bunch of his dark sci-fi short stories. If you’re into existential philosophy in your science fiction, Malachi Ward is the dude for you.

midnighter 12Midnighter #12 by Steve Orlando, ACO, and Hugo Petrus (Jon Erik Christianson)

Was there really any other option? Don’t get me wrong, Space Battle Lunchtime #1 gave M a run for his money, but the finale to what might be my most-beloved comic series always had a head start—even if never wound up needing it. Orlando streamlines a frenetic, city-wide brawl with dozens of characters into succinct, resonating moments. Both ACO and Petrus articulate power and precision in every punch, panel, pose. I felt every THOOM, KRAKA-KRUNCH, and SPLORKK in my bone marrow. But, most of all, I felt every tender moment—from Apollo and M’s smooch to his celebratory moments with friends—even more.

black magick vol 1Black Magick, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (Sonja Palmer)

I enjoy Greg Rucka’s stuff-like Lazarus and Batwoman, and I somehow missed Black Magick in issues until now when I had the chance to catch up on it. I am super here for stuff about witches-and framing it as a witch by night/cop by day hunting down the supernatural threat that’s coming after her? This is so up my alley. The art by Scott is just beautiful, and different from a lot of what I’ve been reading lately. It is mostly black and white with splashes of color every now and then for big moments, which is perfect for the witchy elements. I’m really glad I happened to pick it up, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

chilling adventures of sabrina 5The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack, and Jack Morelli (Charles Paul Hoffman)

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may be the most frustrating comic currently being published. We’ve had a total of five issues since the series premiered in October 2014 (an average of about one issue every six months). It’s the sort of release schedule I might forgive in a genuine indie comic, but not from a publisher that has been making comics since the ‘40s. And yet… The book is so incredibly good, I am willing to mostly overlook its chronic delays. Robert Hack’s expressionist style—evocative of classic horror paperbacks and film posters (the source for many of his excellent variant covers)—is absolutely perfect for this series, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa may be the most underappreciated writer in comics (his Fantastic Four: Season One was a close #2 for my May pick). Sabrina #5 continues the trend, giving us the “Betty and Veronica as witches” story we never knew we needed. Aside from a questionable comparison of the plight of witches to racism, the issue was practically perfect. Just hoping to see the next one before November…

goldie vance 1Goldie Vance #1 by Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern, and Jim Campbell (Christine Hoxmeier)

Take several parts Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, mix it with an inclusive cast of characters, add a dash of teenage tropes, toss them in a 1960s Florida hotel, garnish with a pastel color palette and you get Goldie Vance #1. I was completely taken with the preview included at the end of Giant Days a few months ago, and by the end of the full issue I was clamoring for more Goldie and friends. Thankfully, Boom! has extended Goldie Vance from a four issue mini-series into an ongoing title, so we can look forward to more sleuthing and hot-rod racing in the upcoming months.

batman 51Batman #51 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, ECO Plascencia, and Steve Wands (Katie Schenkel)

I was behind on many of the final pre-Rebirth issues until this past week, when I finally sat down and read Batman #51 from April. This final Snyder/Capullo issue of the main Batman series highlights what made their long run work so well — the mix of seriousness, a little humor, and a thread of quiet optimism. I’m going to miss their run, but #51 works as a perfect one-shot. If you never got around to reading the Snyder/Capullo Batman issues, check out #51 … and then go back to #1 to read from the very beginning.

the sentryThe Sentry by Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Winslade, Rick Leonardi and Mark Texeira (Alice W. Castle)

This was not a great month for me with comics. Terrible news after terrible news after controversy after controversy just weighed me down and with the looming presence of DC’s Rebirth and Marvel’s Civil War II, I just didn’t have it in me to be excited about superhero comics. So I went back and I reread a comic that I feel is one of the best stories Marvel has ever told and features a character was unjustly maligned because another writer completely misunderstood the concept of the story.

The Sentry is a superhero story about self-care and psychology. It uses Robert Reynolds’ alter ego, The Sentry, as a metaphor for his life before he went on medication and sought help for his agoraphobia and other mental illnesses (that I am entirely sure includes bipolar disorder). Sure, things seem like the best times in his life… but that’s only because he’s actively repressing the bad times in the form of the Void. For every good time, there was a bad time. For every period of mania, there was an episode of depression. For every person he helped, someone got hurt. And maybe he didn’t meant to hurt them, maybe it wasn’t his fault because he wasn’t aware of his actions, but someone still got hurt and he had to take responsibility for his actions.

The Sentry is a comic that posits that seeking help for mental illness and making sure that you’re okay instead of sacrificing your mental health to help others is honestly the most heroic thing you can do.

Everything Is TeethEverything Is Teeth by Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner (Swapna)

Evie Wyld is a prose novelist, so I was curious as to why she chose comics in order to tell the story about her childhood obsession with sharks…until I opened the first pages of this gorgeous graphic memoir. This is a stark, dark, and somewhat disturbing book, as Wyld discusses her upbringing in Australia and the frequency of shark attacks (and her somewhat unhealthy obsession with the events themselves and the victims). Sumner’s art is really incredible here; he achieves a visceral response that would just not be possible with prose. It’s a great example of why the comic form works so well.

something newSomething New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley (Andi Miller)

I devour every book I read of Lucy Knisley’s, and her new one is no exception. Something New is not just a chronicle of Knisley’s wedding to her long-time boyfriend including the planning and excellent DIYs, but she also provides commentary on big issues like patriarchy, consumerism, wedding culture, and sexuality.