Best Comic Books Ever (This Week): New Releases For February 3 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.
Writers: Emma Rios and Hwei Lim
Artists: Hwei Lim and Emma Rios
Publisher: Image Comics
One of the biggest comics of the week comes from Image, as Emma Rios and Hwei Lim expand the 8House galaxy for a story of a science fiction that exists on a different plane to any other at the publisher. Their story is on the House of Healers, a noble magical guild based on flesh and body magic — and the various characters exploring their own sense of identity within and without it. The solicitation suggests that we'll be following a heroic lab rat, as well as an idealistic mage and terrorist dog as the main viewpoints for the series, making for an astonishingly fantastical and political piece of work. It's always been clear that Emma Rios may have more story in her than any other person in the industry, but this true collaboration with Hwei Lim seems exploratory, revelatory, and genuinely innovative. And no, the credits aren't wrong: the creative team swap roles at several points. [Steve Morris]
Writer: Mairghread Scott
Artist: Kelly & Nichole Matthews
Publisher: Boom Studios
It’s a human impulse to impose a story onto historical events, and that’s what Macbeth the play does. Macbeth also contains one of the clearest examples in English literature of how foreshadowing works, in the form of the prophecy of the three witches. What Toil & Trouble has done is married the two, by showing this selfsame human urge to impose narrative manifesting in the three witches and the fates they twist. They argue about what signs and portents mean the way we argue about subtext, they take sides much as we pick our favorite characters, and they are in turn shaped by the story as the tragedy of a Shakespearean play is mirrored by the downfall of their circle. Will this final issue in the series mirror the restoration of order that manifests at the denouement of so many of Shakespeare’s plays, or is the circle broken for good? I can’t wait to find out. I know Macbeth backwards and forwards, and it takes a lot to add to a story that timeless, but Scott, Matthews and Matthews have done it with flying colors. [Charlotte Finn]
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ed Brisson
Artists: Scott Eaton and Wayne Faucher
Publisher: DC Comics
Last week, when I read Batman & Robin Eternal and we finally got the explanation for that scene back in the first issue where Batman apparently gunned down some poor kid's parents outside of a movie theater, the thought that I had was that we had to be getting close to the end of the series, right? It wasn't out of tedium or the feeling that this book has overstayed its welcome, though — it's the opposite. Eternal has gone so big and so weird for so long without taking a break that it honestly feels like they have to end it because there's nowhere else to go. Just looking at the stuff that they're bringing back, we've got Azrael, the order of St. Dumas, Cassandra Cain, David Cain, and Tim Drake taking the spotlight in his best role in four years. But while all of that appeals directly to the nostalgia-driven comics-reader lizard brain, it's all just part of the stage being set for the conflict between Batman and Mother and her army of made-to-order supervillain sidekicks. There's something brilliant going on here that's exploring the relationships between the Batman Family in a fun, exciting way that I don't think anything else has before, and if you're not caught up, you ought to be. [Chris Sims]
Writer/Artist: Sammy Harkham
Sammy Harkham's best comics seem composed of opposing qualities. Elaborate but deceptively simple, lowbrow but literary, tight and meticulous but somehow blasting through the pages like a freight train. His page designs are ornate but economical, his lines loose but controlled, and his characters and their psychoses like a ten-car pile-up waiting to happen. In Crickets #5, Harkham continues "Blood of the Virgin," a long-form story about low-budget schlock films in the seventies, and the weird nexus of art, junk, sex, and commerce forming around the titular film and its writer Seymour, and it's an excellent venue for Harkham's unique talent at finding moments of true beauty and depth in a shallow, ugly, human mess. His comics are like little Chinese puzzle boxes, each one revealing a heretofore-unknown aspect of his constantly evolving craft, and a new issue of Crickets is always reason to celebrate the potential prizes inside. [John Parker]
Writer: Ryan Ferrier
Artists: Daniel Bayliss, Adam Metcalfe, Colin Bell
Publisher: Boom Studios
Let's try our hand at something different courtesy of Boom Studios this week, with the start of the four-part miniseries Kennel Block Blues. This is a prison drama of sorts, with talking animals sentenced to life imprisonment at Jackson Kennel. The only thing in their future is a lethal injection — a crushingly cruel prospect that leads protagonist Oliver, a dog, into constant breaks away from reality. Trapped in a dismal prison sentence, he fantasizes a brighter, happier, musical world, which contrasts terribly with the reality of his life. With each page, Bayliss swaps between worlds so easily that it's easy to fall in with Oliver as he seeks to rip joy from sadness, and the book boasts a cast of characters elegantly conceived by a creative team who've surely got huge things in their future. I look at the solicitation, the preview, the creative team, and I know this is going to end up breaking my heart. But what if Oliver makes it, though? [SM]
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Dan Mora
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Every day, there's a new reminder that we are living in a fallen world, but there is still beauty to be found. There's still something out there that makes it worth it, something pure, something that gives us hope. For me, that's the fact that Grant Morrison and Dan Mora are doing Rankin-Bass's Santa Claus Is Coming To Town as an action comic starring Santa Claus as the Batman of Christmas. Seriously, if you somehow missed the 20-page slice of perfection that was the second issue, it opened with Klaus sneaking into Somber Town — er, sorry, sneaking into Grimsvig to give toys to all the children by taking out the town guards one by one. And if that wasn't enough, he did it with the help of a giant snowball. This is seriously the Santa Claus comic I have been wanting for my entire life, and this issue is about him fighting his way out. I hope it runs for a thousand issues. [CS]
Writer: Heath Corson
Artist: Gustavo Duarte
Publisher: DC Comics
Some of the most fun and most adventurous of DC's 2015 "DC You" offerings came in the form of mini-series, and here's Exhibit A. Writer Heath Corson paired Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen with the Man of Steel's mirror opposite and sent them on a road trip from Metropolis to Bizarro America (AKA Canada). Along the way they and their friend Colin the Chupacabra encountered myriad guest-stars, including Zatanna, bounty hunter Chastity Hex (descendant of Jonah, who appears in ghost form), Deadman, The Riddler, The World's Finest, and all-manner of unexpected cameos. The premise may be road trip, but Corson seems to have written the book instead as a sort of tour of various characters and concepts he found comedic potential in. His specific take on Bizarro is naturally of the more buffoonish rather than scary version, but he gives the character real heart, and his emerging friendship with Olsen is actually kind of touching. It's also a joy to read the dialogue, as it usually is with Bizarro comics, as rather than just stick with straight backwards talks, Corson's invented his own set of "rules" for Bizarro-speak, complete with slang and grammar.Gustavo Duarte's art is unlike anything else DC is publishing, which further differentiated the book from the pack. Coming from a broad, cartooning tradition, Duarte's characters are more political cartoon or caricature than superhero comic, a fact that would get extra-emphasis when the one-per-issue guest-artists would arrive to contribute about half a page's worth of art. [Caleb Mozzocco]
Writer/Artist: Joshua Cotter
Full disclosure: Josh Cotter is a buddy of mine. We even "collaborated" years and years ago, on a short comic for which I "wrote" a terrible "story." Which he then transformed into something completely different and vastly more interesting with seemingly no effort, because that's just what he does. A lot. He's a uniquely natural storyteller whose entire body of work seems devoid of precedent, from the cancer-soaked absurdity of fun to the simultaneously sad and uplifting Skyscrapers of the Midwest to the scarily immersive trip into instability that is Driven By Lemons. In his new science fiction OGN Nod Away, which Cotter has been working and posting tantalizing pages of progress for years, the internet has become the "innernet," a telepathically-linked information superhighway. When it needs to be moved from one location — the brain of a child — to another, the corporeal recedes to the background, the real becomes abstract, and Cotter delves into an exploration of human consciousness. A good comic book is like a little window into another world. A Joshua Cotter comic is an immense, panoramic gate, like the arch of the Buland Darwaza, granting passage to a strange new reality where anything can happen. As long as it's stippled. [JP]
Writer: Nick Spencer and others
Artist: Steve Lieber and others
Boomerang! The Shocker! Speed Demon! Overdrive! The Beetle! Alone, they are the bottom of the barrel of Spider-Man villains, but together they are The Sinister Six! And yes, there are only five of them, but, The Sinister FIve doesn't sound quite right, does it? Sometimes alliteration is more important than accuracy with these sorts of things. Actually, each issue of this oddball crime comic had at least six villains in it, as our ensemble cast would find themselves in and out of trouble with the biggest names in New York's criminal underground, including The Chameleon, The Owl, Hammerhead and even what little remains of Silvermane. For a while there, Superior Foes — launched to ride the coattails of events in the main Spider-Man book — was one of the smartest, funniest, most character-driven comics Marvel was publishing, with an impressively complex plot. All 17 issues of the series were previously collected in three trades, but this new hardcover omnibus puts them all between two covers. The title was both a riff on the Spider-Man status quo and a joke about where these five villains belong in the supervillain pecking order, but it's adjective is an apt one: This was an all-around superior comic book series. [CM]