Best Comic Books Ever (This Week): New Releases For February 10 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.
AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #9
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Ben Dewey
Publisher: Image Comics
Back in the Silver Age, comics would promise us animals that think they’re people and doing people things, such as a gorilla fighting in the armed forces. This tradition continues with this cover of Autumnlands, which promises a drunk sheep. This is 100% normal for Autumnlands, the fantasy series about a world that is both post-apocalyptic and pre-apocalyptic, populated with various human-like animals and the last human alive. The events of the last issue have led Dusty the terrier-boy and the human Champion away from civilization and into the wilds, and have made the story more layered and complex than expected as the Champion wonders if there may not be other humans out there after all. Writer Kurt Busiek has written his share of fantasy stories, but this is shaping up to be his best, and Ben Dewey’s artwork compliments it perfectly, with a world that has an incredible amount of design put into it, and the shape of nothing is taken for granted. If you’re not reading Autumnlands, you’re missing out on a great fantasy story, in the mold of Game of Thrones (but better, since it has drunk sheep.) [Charlotte Finn]
GI JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #225
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: SL Gallant
I think we can all agree that Cobra Commander is at his best when his plans are just ludicrously complex. Like, making a Terrordrome and using it to attack the forces of good is okay, but mass producing Terrordromes and selling them as pre-fab structures to terrorists around the world in order to fund larger operations, and then using the fact that they’re installed on fault lines to create a massive chain reaction that ends up creating a new island that he can claim as a sovereign nation? That, my friends, is Cobra Commander at his peak, with villainy that requires the intervention of America’s Daring, Highly Trained Special Missions Force.
Admittedly, the events of “Cobra World Order” haven’t quite gotten to the heights of Cobra Island just yet — and in all honesty, it’s not even half as bonkers as the Death of Snake Eyes, which involved giant robots, an alien intelligence, Serpentor and a new guy who just happened to have his face burned off right after becoming a ninja — but it’s still pretty great. It’s hitting those same over-the-top, complex notes that you get from the best of Hama’s thirty-plus years on the Joes, with Cobra Commander seemingly sabotaging his greatest attack on America in order to gain an entirely new advantage, and sacrificing all of his former allies in the process. I mean, really: I’ve read a lot of GI Joe comics in my time, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one where Cobra Commander was quite this ruthless, quite this unpredictable, and quite this entertaining all at the same time. And now that we’ve got the final chapter, I can’t wait to see what new heights it’s going to hit. [Chris Sims]
Writer/Artist: Kevin Huizenga
New Glenn Ganges stories are appearing with dwindling frequency, but they typically contain enough whimsy to fill you up for a couple of years. While journaling the quotidian travails of the everyman and suburban life, Kevin Huizenga’s musings venture into history, myth, quantum physics, geography, insomnia, and the random drifting thoughts make up the day. He actually translates some very ethereal phenomena, feelings, and ideas into pictographs that seem to make perfect sense every time, traveling from the eye to the brain without hitting any seams in the highway. The end result is a book that delivers both the mundane and the fantastic with regularity. Philosophical, inquisitive, and clever to no end, Huizenga is fluent in the language of sequential art, and every new issue of Ganges, as rare as it is, is visually stimulating and intellectually engaging. It’s like an educational comic that teaches you how to live a life of curiosity and wonderment. [John Parker]
THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #2
Writer: Renae de Liz
Artists: Renae de Liz, Ray Dillon
Publisher: DC Comics
For all that Wonder Woman has floundered in the central-universe comics over the years, the Wonder Woman we’ve seen in DC’s digital-first comics has been a complete revelation. Sensation Comics started things off, before leading us to Wonder Woman ’77, showing the range and tone that the character can adapt to. She’s long been considered iconic only by context, with no particularly standout stories in her canon, and the last few years have seen the digital-first team working to dispel that image. Having seen all kinds of takes on Diana, though, it’s this one that has floored me most: an honest, simple, powerful origin story for the character, which stands her alongside Batman and Superman as a character with strength, dignity… but mostly wonder. I love how this series pushes at that aspect of the character, which makes her unique among her fellow Justice Leaguers. She’s curious, an explorer who sees what nobody else is sensitive to, and instinctively protects everyone around her. This comic makes Wonder Woman iconic once more, and it could be her “Year One.” I don’t say that lightly! [Steve Morris]
TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #49
Writer: James Roberts
Artist: Hayato Sakamoto
Publisher: IDW Publishing
The cover to this comic promises us “Tailgate unleashed!” (Okay, it doesn’t actually say that, so it’s only mostly perfect.) A casual Transformers fan will not know who that is, and even a Transformers diehard would be hard-pressed to come up with something more substantive than a “oh, that guy” — unless they read Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. A cast comprised mostly of second-most-favorites and also-rans means less of the accumulated weight of history and lets the creators imbue the lesser lights of Transformers history with personality and gravitas beyond “good at this one thing.” Tailgate is the perfect example; not the strongest Transformer, not the fastest, and definitely not the wisest. But definitely the most endearing and innocent, which makes the reversal of this cover — Tailgate protecting the Autobot hero Thunderclash from a serial killer that rips robot memories out through their eyes — just about perfect. Tailgate is only one of a huge cast of delightful characters I look forward to catching up with every time this comic drops. [CF]
SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE #1
Writer: David F. Walker
Artist: Dietrich Smith
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Dynamite’s first Shaft series, from Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, was one of my favorite comics of the past year. It was the prequel that I never thought I wanted, a stroll through the twists and turns of the private eye genre where every step was accompanied by brutal violence, an ice cold line or, more often, both of them combined. Now, Walker is picking up where he left off, taking John Shaft into another case, and it has the single most brilliant premise that I think it’s possible to bring to the character. See, in this story, Shaft has been hired as a consultant for a low-budget movie based on his own life. It’s a fantastic idea, and it’s one that allows Walker to distance his take on the character from the movie that made him a household name while still letting him pay homage to the fact that there are a lot of fans (myself included) who only really knew Shaft as Richard Roundtree’s bad mother in the movies.
Also, as an added bonus, Walker’s Shaft novel, Shaft’s Revenge, is also hitting shelves this week from Dynamite after originally being a downloadable bonus feature to the miniseries. If you enjoyed the miniseries at all — or if you’re just curious to see how Shaft fares in comics — then both are well worth picking up. [CS]
ALL-NEW WOLVERINE #5
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: David Lopez, David Navarrot, Nathan Fairbairn, Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
From Injustice right through to All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor has demonstrated a sure hand and confidence in his superhero comics, which transforms any premise into a winning formula. When the premise is a little shaky, he turns it round, and when the premise is as incredible as X-23 becoming the best Wolverine the world has ever seen and teaming up with heroic legend Janet Van Dyne to do so, he smashes it. The two characters pair up this month in what may well be a swansong for Janet before she’s packed off and replaced by the Wasp from the movies; but I’m confident that the bananas-good creative team here will send her off in style, which is really what Janet would want. David Lopez and Nathan Fairbairn work wonders alongside one another, and Lopez really ought to be considered one of the best working superhero artists today. It’s been a fun, fraught series so far, adding tremendous depth to Wolverine. Logan who? [SM]
APAMA: THE UNDISCOVERED ANIMAL VOL. 1
Writers: Milo Miller and Ted Sikora
Artist: Benito Gallego
Publisher: Hero Tomorrow Comics
Cleveland has given us Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, Harvey Pekar, Brian Michael Bendis, and Brian K. Vaughan, and here comes the city’s latest cinucs export: Strange superhero comic Apama. Co-creators and writers Milo MIller and Ted Sikora, who originally created the character for their indie film Hero Tomorrow (in which Apama was the creation of the comic book artist protagonist) have presented a pretty neat twist on the animal-themed superhero motif. Unlike your Batman, Spider-Man, Hawkman or Ant-Man types, this one is based on an animal that doesn’t actually exist — or at least one no one’s ever heard of.
Well, almost no one. Hungarian ice cream truck driver Ilyia Zharsky is the guy in the Apama costume, and it is he that discovers the animal and becomes the title character in this rather weird comic that bears the trappings and focus of 1970s Marvel, but with the tone and approach to genre of the ’80s indie comics boom. Not sold? Hey, it’s Cleveland! We may not be able to play professional football or baseball all that well, but we’ve got a pretty good record when it comes to comics-making. [Caleb Mozzocco]
HIGH COST OF DYING AND OTHER STORIES BY REED CRANDALL
Artist: Reed Crandall
Writer: Al Feldstein et al
With a name like Reed Crandall, he sounds like a lost Mad Men character, but he’s actually a legendary comic book artist whose legend is partially predicated upon just how underappreciated he is. His name isn’t thrown around as much as fellow EC luminaries Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and so on, but there are many who would suggest that Crandall was the very best of them. At minimum, he was a highly-skilled draftsman with an exceptional understanding of lighting and negative space, a prodigious talent for the type of heightened representationalism that suited most of the material at EC, and feather-thin lines that printing processes at the time simply couldn’t do any justice. This collection includes comics for several EC titles (mostly Shock SuspenStories) that range from crime to horror to science fiction, including “Silent Towns,” an official adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story from The Martian Chronicles (after EC had done some not-so-official adaptations and Bradbury called them on it), the haunting “The High Cost of Dying,” and “Space Suitors,” which contains the single most grotesque panel in comics history. Enjoy! [JP]
THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB
Writer/artist: Evan Dorkin
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Make some room on your bookshelf and feel free to recycle some of your single-issue floppies (if you can bear to do so), as Dark Horse is collecting every single Eltingville Club comic of Evan Dorkin’s in a massive, comprehensive 150-page hardcover from the pages of Dork, House of Fun and, of course, The Eltingville Club.
For the uninitiated — who would do well to take this opportunity to get initiated — the Eltingville stories feature four… friends?… who are all older teenagers and life-long fans of various elements of geek culture, and they embody many of the worst stereotypes of that culture, both individually and collectively (“fandom and it’s fan-dumbest,” as Dark Horse’s solicitation put it). If you’ve never read any of Dorkin’s Eltingville, a few stories of which have won Eisners, rest assured that will definitely laugh, and likely even cry, for the exact same reason: Chances are you’ll see yourself, your peers and your culture reflected back at you. [CM]