The Best Comics We Read in August 2015
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles (Ali Colluccio)
Emily Aster would not be caught dead in a pair of well-broken in jeans. But reading The Immaterial Girl #1 was like slipping on your favorite pair old jeans that got buried in the back of your closet for a while. It’s the world and characters you’re used to if you’ve read Phonogram, with an added bonus of 80s pop music videos. For as meta and referential and weird as these comics get, there’s a comfort in how they’re grounded. I know these people; I’ve had these discussions. More than that, I would have definitely sold my darker half to the MTV gods to be a magical demi-goddess… or to look like I was drawn by Jamie McKelvie.
The Wicked + The Divine #13 by Kieron Gillen, Tula Lotay, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson (Michael Chasin)
A couple of months after The Wicked + The Divine brought the house down in a truly shocking series of twists, you could be forgiven for thinking the guest artist-driven Commercial Suicide arc might lighten things up for a few issues. Boy would you be wrong. This harrowing spotlight on the oft joked about, so far unseen goddess Tara provides a harrowing glimpse into the misery of what it’s like to be a loathed, famous woman in a time where internet harassment is reaching new heights of destructive potential. Gillen (fittingly a former games journalist, to point to one of many clear influences on the material here) and featured artist Tula Lotay hold little back in this condemnation of mass, anonymous abuse, while rising above gimmickry or exploitation to create a tangible, empathetic character suffering at the center of the maelstrom. The most gut-wrenching effect is a two page spread of the seemingly infinite vitriol of the swarm, a banal evil more dangerous than any of the magic-wielding gods the series usually deals with. With this many knockout issues in this brief a time, WicDiv is giving the distinct impression of a classic in the making. Get onboard…if you can stomach the ride.
Welcome Back #1 by Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Carlos Zamundio, and Shawn Aldridge (Katie Schenkel)
Welcome Back might have the best first issue of any comic series I’ve read all year. The set-up — two souls who have spent multiple lifetimes battling and killing each other over and over now meet in the year 2015 — has such potential. This issue gets into some of that, but we’re mostly introduced to Mali, one of the two reincarnated “sequels.” Even before she fully remembers her past lives, her current life of being the semi-famous step-daughter to a now dead serial killer is frustratingly weird enough that I could read a whole book on that alone. I’m excited to see how that will all fit into the context of the larger world building going on.
In terms of visuals, the expressive lineart by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer stood out to me, as did the colors by Carlos Zamundio — the use of red in this issue is stunning and effective. While Welcome Back #1 leaves us with a surprise reveal and lots of questions, I’m amazed by how much story they were able to fit into just 22 pages and I’m eager to read #2 next month.
New Suicide Squad #11 #11 by Sean Ryan, Philippe Briones, Blond, Tom Napolitano and Juan Ferreyra (Mart Gray)
The Suicide Squad is taking on Islamic State. OK, it’s not the real-world Isis/Isil, it’s the DCU version, a League of Assassins breakaway using supervillains and hi-tech weapons to ‘cleanse’ the Middle East. It’s obvious, though, what’s in writer Sean Ryan’s mind as he has Deadshot, Black Manta and Captain Boomerang infiltrate self-proclaimed world saviours The League. With his control of character dynamics, flair for explosive action and seamless seeding of subplots – something sadly rare in superhero comics these days – Ryan finally gives DC a Suicide Squad comic that can stand proudly alongside John Ostrander’s Eighties classic. Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Manta and ‘Boomerbutt’ remain the compelling mainstays, but Reverse Flash’s surprising transformation into team conscience makes him worth watching, and the putrid, purple Parasite is always fun. And with Poison Ivy, Black Hand and Cheetah on the horizon, the mayhem can only get better. New artist Philippe Briones’ animation background ensures fluidity on the pages, a huge plus in this issue’s battle between The League and guards at an oil refinery repurposed to produce Lazarus Pit waters. The pace is breathless but there’s always room for sharp character moments as Ryan, Briones and co – that’s colorist Blond, letterer Tom Napolitano and cover artist Juan Ferreyra – make Suicide Squad unmissable in time for next year’s movie.
Velvet #11 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and Clayton Cowles (Caroline Pruett)
This Image series is back from a short hiatus, just in time to remind us how great it is. The previous arc took a tour through the adventures of various supporting characters, and at first this looks like more of the same, with an opening page supposedly from the memoirs of Secret Agent Maximillion Dark. After a teaser worthy of an old school Bond film, though, lead character Velvet Templeton re-asserts her centrality, literally knocking the gun from Max’s hand. It’s satisfying to be back with Velvet, the secret agent turned office worker turned rogue agent (who’s not above going undercover as an innocuous office worker, when it helps her plan.) If you’re aching for a Black Widow movie, if you wish Melinda May were always the lead character on Agents of SHIELD, or if you just want a stylish spy caper from a proven creative team, find the first trade of this series, or just jump on with issue 11.
Fresh Romance #1-4, by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, and many others (Melody Schreiber)
Fresh Romance is one of my favorite comics right now. It’s got everything I love – humor, magic, Victorian dresses – led by strong female characters. And it’s diverse and inclusive. I gobble each issue up!
The Wicked + The Divine, Vol 1: Faust Act by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Clayton Cowels, and Matt Wilson (Amy Diegelman)
Do you ever have that thing that you are sure you will love, so you put it off because no moment ever feels just right? That’s what I did here. I read the first issue when it came out and adored it, but put off the rest over and over. I was so right, and so wrong. This book lived up to all my expectations, and I only regret I waited so long.
Silk #6 by Robbie Thompson, Stacey Lee, Ian Herring, Travis Lanham, and Dave Johnson (Jon Erik)
The word I’d use to describe Silk #6 (and the series overall) is “considerate.” Every panel and every page of the past six issues has worked to further and expand upon her story, identity, mission, and mental health. Tragedies happen to superheroes all the time, and all too often it’s glossed over in an effort to reach the next crossover or event. Cindy was trapped in a bunker for thirteen years, and has since totally lost her family in the literal sense—she can’t find them.
Her anxiety and PTSD have been carefully handled both by Thompson’s script and Lee’s personal, expressive artwork; in this issue, her emotional strife comes to a head and, in the opening page, she finds herself trapped—again. This time, she claws her way out through a series of brutal fight scenes fueled by rightful resentment and rage. The issue ends on a bittersweet note, with Cindy doing what I wish more superheroes would do: getting help.
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Jess Pryde)
I know. I KNOW. But I finally read it, right? And I have Book Two ready to go, I just…it’s a lot. Book One ended with such a moment of hope, but we all know what’s coming.
Blankets by Craig Thompson (Emily Wenstrom)
This book has been on my list ever since I ready Craig Thompson’s other graphic novel Habibi. Like Habibi, Blankets has a rich soulfulness and raw honesty to it, as it delves into questions of growing up, religion, and coping with a world where we don’t feel we fit. It’s heavy, but not quite in the gut-wrenching way Habibi was. But what I love most is the strong sense I get that the main characters in these two books are great kindred spirits.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol 1 by Naoko Takeuchi (Ardo Omer)
I’ve been getting into manga thanks to some friends and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol 1 by Naoko Takeuchi became my first. It was a great suggestion since I grew up loving the anime. I realized how little I actually remembered from the show even though it’s not a straight adaptation of the manga but it was fun rediscovering an old property in a new format. The art still holds up (breathtaking!) and the story is so much fun especially as a comic for young women (shoujo manga). The best part was training myself to read from right to left as opposed to left to right but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I highly recommend it for those who are new to manga.
Ultraman, Vol. 1 by Tomohiro Shimoguchi, Eiichi Shimizu (Paul Montgomery)
I’ve always thrilled to pavement-splitting kaiju battles, though up until recently I’ve had little experience with Ultraman. A half dozen sofubi Ultra Monster figures displayed on a bookshelf are my only real connection to the iconic franchise. Up until this month anyway. This new manga series serves as a continuation to previous adventures and a perfect jumping on point for new fans like me. With this first volume, the Ultraman mantle is passed from middle-aged father to teenage son. Though compelled to finally investigate the 50-year old superhero/kaiju saga, I was initially drawn in by an aesthetic far more reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion or Yoshiki Takaya’s Bio Booster Armor Guyver manga and live action films. The new enemy and even Ultraman himself appear like feral, sinister mecha far removed from the acrobatic super sentai of old. Still, plenty of pluck and heart here, even for all the jagged edges and shadowy figures. Perfect popcorn bravado for the waning days of summer.
Battleworld: Master of Kung Fu #4 by Haden Blackman, Dalibor Talajić, Goran Sudžuka, Miroslav Mrva & Travis Lanham (Brian McNamara)
My foot was in the door for the really great Francesco Francavilla covers, but I’m glad I stayed for the main event. In just four issues, Haden Blackman has crafted a fully-realized realm full of competing martial arts schools, intrigue and double dealing. The series deftly combines key elements of classic Kung Fu films, the melodrama of Star Wars and reimagines parts the Marvel Universe to produce a really fun tale that all but ignores the larger trappings of Secret Wars/Battleworld. Shang-Chi, the exiled and perennially drunk son of Emperor Zheng Zu, has bested 11 of the 13 house champions on his path to claim vengeance against his tyrannical father. Poised to fight both The Red Sai – a dangerous masked assassin – and Iron Fist Danny Rand, Shang-Chi realizes he could never beat them, so he takes a different path – negotiation. Encouraged by his new and loyal student Kitty Pryde, Shang-Chi goes on to combine all he’s learned in a knock-down drag-out war with this father for dominion over K’un L’un. Dalibor Talajić works some impressive magic of his own with the pencils in depicting limb-morphing kung-fu battles and ornate, mythological prologues to each issue. Indeed, the designs for each school are really novel and play into the idea of this slice of Battleworld being a thousands year old world centered only on marital arts. Segments of the Marvel universe are transformed into schools of karate and judo; Sub Mariner has his own brand of aquatic battle, the Inhumans rely on Karnak to discover the weakness in the other schools, the X-Men are a houseless band of outcasts struggling to survive under Zhen Zu’s iron fist. I grooved to everything about this loving tribute to 70s Kung Fu classics and I hope we’ll see this team back for more.
Saga #30 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, and Fonografiks (Chris Arnone)
The last issue of Saga before another planned hiatus is always bittersweet. It’s one of my favorite series currently in print and is thoroughly unafraid to shake up its own status quo, kill off key characters, and leave readers guessing. The end of this arc is no exception. It featured a key reunion of two characters, but also another long-term separation of others. The drama is intense, the action is high-caliber, and I still have no clue where this story will end up. And I love every panel of it.
Groot #2 by Jeff Loveness, Brian Kesinger, Jordie Bellaire, Declan Shalvey (Swapna)
I love this series. The first issue was hilarious, with Rocket cracking jokes right and left, but it’s in the second issue that the series finds its heart. As Groot finds himself alone, with his best friend kidnapped (and Groot feeling responsible), he remembers their first meeting and. Well. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s even more adorable than Kamala and cats in Ms Marvel #17 (which was my runner up).
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marcy Cook)
Squirrel Girl #8 is the last before the reboot, it’s also the most Squirrel Girl of Squirrel Girl comics yet. I can prove this seemingly odd statement by saying the best thing about this issue is Cat Thor. We get a one page Cat Thor adventure before the comic picks up from where issue 7 left off. Squirrel Girl and friends are fighting Ratatoskr, a creature from the World Tree that Loki helped escape from Odin’s prison. Ratatoskr has the power to turn people against one another and chaos ensues. Various twists and turns happen before Loki turns into Cat Thor to mock his brother for the rest of the story. It’s a fun visual gag, the dialogue is as sharp as ever and keep an eye open for everyone’s self-repairing clothes! Luckily the full Squirrel Girl team returns for the issue one reboot because this has been a great run of eight comics.