Best Comic Books Ever (This Week): New Releases for June 23 2016
The question most often asked of the ComicsAlliance staff is a variation of, “Which comic books should I be reading?” or, “I’m new to comics, what’s a good place to start?” The Wednesday deluge of new comic books, graphic novels and collected editions can be daunting even for the longtime reader, much less for those totally unfamiliar with creators, characters and publishers, and the dark mysteries of comic book shopping like variants, pre-ordering, and formats.
It’s with these challenges in mind that we’ve created Best Comic Books Ever (This Week), an ongoing guide curated by the ComicsAlliance staff. This is where new comics readers and seasoned Wednesday shoppers alike can find our picks of the best books the medium has to offer.
NEW SINGLE ISSUES
Single issues are periodicals, usually around 20 pages in length and priced from $2.99 to $4.99, and published in print and digitally. Single issues are typically published monthly, but some titles ship twice a month or even weekly. Single issues are the preferred format for many longtime comic book readers, and ideal if you enjoy serialized stories with cliffhangers.
TRADES & GRAPHIC NOVELS
Trades: Colloquial term for paperback or hardcover compilations of comic book stories originally published as single issues. The preferred format for readers who enjoy comic book narratives in substantial chunks.
Graphic Novels: Typically any comic book that is a complete story in a more-or-less novel-length format. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with trades.
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine de Landro
Publisher: Image Comics
It’s been a little while since the last Bitch Planet, but that can be a good thing; the world of non-compliance is a tough one to take. When last we saw the crew, there was a death amongst the inmates, and one of the female guards had been stuck on the hook for it, joining the ranks of the non-compliant and making a tense situation even more tense. The plot of Bitch Planet is a slow burn, punctuated by sudden bursts of violence and change — much like any good prison drama. It’s always welcome whenever it returns to shelves. [Charlotte Finn]
Writer/Artist: Rich Tommaso
Like many comics Rich Tommaso produces, his new project looks weird, intense, surreal, and several other words that essentially mean the same thing. She Wolf features a teenage girl whose horrifying dreams of a boyfriend-turned-werewolf seem to bleed over into her waking life and she becomes convinced that she's transforming as well. As Gabrielle wrestles with her torment, Tommaso produces some ridiculously intoxicating visuals with his evocative and beautifully-designed watercolor palette (remember, this is the guy who re-colored Carl Barks) and a style that looks like a mashup between slick '80s Art Deco and stark German Expressionism. Tommaso's work is consistently captivating, and the preview is made up of the most psychologically taut comics pages I've seen this year. Looks like a can't-miss. [John Parker]
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
A second ago, I wrote the phrase “you know it’s going to be a good issue of Usagi Yojimbo when Inspector Ishida shows up,” but I ended up deleting it. Really, when you get right down to it, you know it’s going to be a good issue of Usagi Yojimbo because it says “Usagi Yojimbo” on the cover — as I’ve pointed out before, there’s never been a bad one. I’m pretty sure that the only way there could be is if Stan Sakai decided he’d try doing bad comics on purpose just to change things up after 30 years of near perfection.
But that said, any time Inspector Ishida makes an appearance is something pretty special. If you still haven’t jumped on after all my nagging, he’s a recurring character whose life weaves in and out of Usagi’s in pretty interesting ways. He was inspired by real-life Honolulu detective Chang Apana, but mixed with Peter Falk as Columbo and set in Samurai times, and he makes such a great counterpoint to Usagi’s wandering ways that their dynamic can’t help but provide the groundwork for an interesting story.
Oh, and also they’re teaming up to fight “a mysterious, massive, and potentially sentient painting depicting the torments of Hell.” So, you know. It’s probably going to be pretty great. [Chris Sims]
Writer: Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare
Artist: Flaviano Armentaro
Publisher: Marvel Comics
If you’re behind on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (or if you somehow haven’t read it at all), now’s a really good time to catch up! The scope of the series is expanding rapidly, and things are getting more exciting the bigger it gets. For one thing, Moon Girl has a new rival: a young Kree named Mel Varr, who has infiltrated her science class. For another thing, she finally figured out what super power the Terrigen Mists gave her, but she hasn’t figured out how to control it yet. Currently that’s a really big problem for her and for Devil Dinosaur too. There’s a lot going on in this book, and it continues to be unlike anything else Marvel is publishing, in the best possible way. [Elle Collins]
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Masters
The second arc of Warren Ellis and Jason Masters' James Bond begins with issue #7, telling a new story disconnected from the last arc, far as I can tell. The story this time round is "Eidolon," which is a fancy word and a cool title which means" ghost" or "phantom." And it looks as though that's almost exactly what we'll be seeing in the story, as this new arc will focus on a time when SPECTRE has fallen apart — all but a few ghosts, who remain loyal and are waiting to be woken up.
The run so far has been unflinching in a depiction of a broken agent who is nasty, cold, and cruel as he pursues threats to Queen and Country, and it's fascinating that it's Dynamite who have been the ones to put such a careful dissection of the character onto the stands. Masters has been doing a fantastic job with the book so far, and I've rather enjoyed this cynical spy thriller. It's not the Bond from the movies, which is what gives it a real sense of edge and danger. [Steve Morris]
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Ben Dewey
Publisher: Image Comics
This issue promises us golem-women, now that we’re all used to owl-men and a dog-boy that prays to U.S. government bureaucracies. This arc of Autumnlands is not resting on its world-building laurels in any way, having sketched out the world as it appears to be and now delving deeper into what the world actually is — and unlike some fantasy epics one could name, it’s not stringing out the revelations longer than necessary. If you’re not reading Autumnlands you’re missing out on the kind of immaculate world-building you’d expect of Kurt Busiek and the gorgeous art of Ben Dewey, creating a lush world and a sprawling yet compelling plot. [CF]
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Hendry Prasetya
Publisher: Boom Studios
As weird as it might be to see a version of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that plays up teen angst and conflicts within the team, I think what really makes it work is how much Rita Repulsa’s sinister plot feels like something from the show. The idea of using a Putty Patroller’s clay body to take an impression of Tommy’s Dragon Dagger so that she can make a fake and control the Dragonzord? That’s a plot that fits Power Rangers so well that it’s hard to believe it didn’t happen on the show — at least until you remember that it would’ve involved actual shape-shifting special effects and Jason David Frank trying to stab a stuntman.
Still, as dark as it might get, and as angsty as Tommy’s unsure relationship is with the rest of the team, it fits. More than that, it fits in a very clever way that does something we haven’t seen with Power Rangers before — and for a show that thrives on formula, breaking away from it is highly entertaining. [CS]
Writer/artist: Tony Millionaire
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
This latest collection of Tony Millionaire's incomparable comic strip Maakies contains over 200 installments from the last five years, plus several gorgeous and/or grotesque, page-sized illustrations that would be suitable for framing... were they not bound into the book.
If you're unfamiliar with Maakies, I would hesitate to suggest you familiarize yourself, as I don't know you personally, and the sense of humor is something of an acquired taste. I can tell you that what makes the strip so remarkable is its near constant juxtaposition of Millionaire's usually low-brow gags, many of which are so politically incorrect as to be nihilistic rather than simply misanthropic, with his gorgeous line-work. His main characters may be a disgusting monkey man in a top hat and a drunken crow, but the world they inhabit is a pristinely illustrated one more evocative of turn of the (last) century periodical illustration than any of the classic cartoonist he is most regularly compared to.
That tension is only heightened by this fancy-schmancy oversized hardcover with gold ink on the covers. Maybe the greatest thing about Millionaire's Maakies, however, is that because he is willing to go to the lowest, occasionally even unspeakable places for jokes (or "jokes," as the case may be), that frees him to do pretty much anything with the strip, including running four panels of beautifully illustrated poetry, recipes, autobiographical strips and even touching, real talk about suicide. I guess the lesson is if you're willing to go there, you can go anywhere. [Caleb Mozzocco]
Writer: Dan Jurgens - Various
Artist: Dan Jurgens - Brett Breeding
Publisher: DC Comics
Panic in the Sky is a time capsule of the 1992 DC Universe. It was originally a crossover than ran through all the Superman titles, and featured a ton of superhero guest stars. It features Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman of course, but it also includes Agent Liberty, Matrix Supergirl, Guy Gardner, and Nightwing in his classic high-collared outfit. It also features more Jack Kirby characters than you can shake a Mega-Rod at. The threat is a big one: Brainiac has taken over Mongul’s Warworld, and he’s headed for Earth.
At the time, Superman had been a little bit aloof from the superhero community ever since the mid-'80s reboot, and this was the story that ended that streak, positioning him as a hero among heroes and a great leader. Whether you have fond memories from this era of comics, or you just enjoy a solid superhero sci-fi epic, this book is a ton of fun. [EC]
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics
The Golden Age ends and a new age begins in Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, collected in trade this week. Cited as one of the most important comics DC ever put out, this is a break from their standard depiction of an uncaring, harsh world where the heroes have to scrape with Godly claws to show us what heroism really is — and instead ushers the reader into a brighter, pastel-toned vision of a superhero universe where cynicism doesn't have to rule supreme.
I was looking for a collected edition of this story earlier this year, before Cooke sadly passed away, and now finally comes the chance to read through and remember the characters, the moments, and the iconic images. Darwyn Cooke looked at DC's superheroes in a way nobody else could ever recreate — his world is full of expression and wonder, rather than grit and gargoyles. When he draws a character, he fills them with heart and soul. It's perhaps going to be viewed as the definitive work from an artist who brought heroism into full flight. [SM]
Writer/Artist: Emma Rios
As with any anthology there's a little dross to cut through, but since the since its inaugural issue Island — co-edited and curated by Emma Rios and Brandon Graham — has been home to some very daring, impressive comics, and at the top of that list is Rios' own I.D. A science fiction piece about three people considering body transplants, I.D. explores the nature of identity and its link to the physical in an unsettling dystopia that seems chillingly resonant in the self-obsessed entropy of the 2010s.
If one didn't already know that Rios used to be an architect, I.D. would provide compelling evidence. Her sense of space is in the driver's seat throughout, leading the reader through layouts that are simultaneously complex and effortlessly easy to follow; beginning the narrative up-close on the minute and incidental before pulling back and revealing the scope of her two-toned world. If you missed out on I.D. in Island, check out the collected edition for subtle and challenging sci-fi at the highest level. [JP]