Best Comic Books Ever (This Week): New Releases for May 18 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: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Brian Hurtt
Publisher: Oni Press
There have been a few really good Westerns about the end of the world in the last few years, but my pound-for-pound is still Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's Sixth Gun. The bang-on killer concept, the seamless blending of genteel cowboy antiquity and satanic horror, and the constantly-building myth of the six weapons that control the fate of creation have made this one of my favorites for a while, usually the first thing to be read the week that it comes out, and rarely topped by anything that follows. And as the series has ratcheted up the intensity for its final arc — this is, after all, the penultimate issue of the thrilling epic — it has gotten even better. Pay some extra special attention to these last couple of issues, cowpokes, 'cuz there ain't gonna be nothin' like Sixth Gun for quite a spell, and you gotta enjoy the snake-demons and cowboy talk while ya can. [John Parker]
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Evan “Doc” Shaner & Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: DC Comics
Of all of the new Hanna-Barbera line, Future Quest looks like it’s going to be the best one by far. It unites classic characters like Johnny Quest, Space Ghost and the Herculoids into one massive adventure that works in pretty much everyone under that umbrella. Parker, Shaner and Bellaire are a dynamite team and if it’s half as good as their Convergence: Shazam two-parter last year, then it’s going to be the best comic of the week.
I’m not sure why I have so much affection and excitement for this book, because I have no nostalgia for anyone involved. My Space Ghost hosted a talk show and my Birdman was called Harvey, and even then I was a bit too young to watch those shows. However, the creative team is so incredibly strong and the outpouring of enthusiasm from everyone involved is enough to get me excited to check this book out. [Kieran Shiach]
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Archie Comics
Of all the exciting books Archie has done in the last few years, Jughead is by far my favorite. It’s a perfect balance of the modern setting established in the Archie reboot with the outright silliness that a successful Jughead comic demands. Zdarsky and Henderson are the perfect team, and the device of doing a dream or fantasy sequence in every issue really gives the book that classic Archie Comics “anything can happen” flavor while allowing for ongoing stories. And this issue brings the book’s first ongoing storyline to a close, as Jughead faces off against the nefarious Principal Stanger. It’s the ultimate authoritarian vs the guy who doesn’t care about anything except his food and his friends. And based on the title of the series, I’m pretty sure I know who’s going to win. [Elle Collins]
Writer: David Baillie
Artists: Steve Pugh, Steve Oliff, Todd Klein
I've been keeping an eye on the Vertigo line-up recently, because it feels like everybody else has disregarded a lot of it — or are waiting for Gerard Way to come in later this year and shift things about. That's a shame, really, because there are some solid titles out through the imprint right now, and Red Thorn is certainly one of those. With the opening arc out the way, Steve Pugh is temporarily stepping in for artistic duties on this occult tale set in Glasgow, as things detour into the year 1991. If the first arc was about setting up the concept and standard for what Scottish occultism is, then this arc is going to step back and explore the origins and depths of everything we've seen over the last few months. Whilst it's a shame not to have regular artist Meghan Hetrick on board here, Pugh's return to Vertigo is at least a welcome one, and writer David Baillie has quietly put together a confident and smart story which feels contemporary even whilst exploring roots which delve far back into the past. Vertigo still lives, and it's because of series like this. [Steve Morris]
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Ron Randall
Publisher: DC/Vertigo Comics
A running theme in the relaunched Astro City — coming up soon on its third anniversary — is legacy, with older heroes slowly but surely making the way for new ones. This issue looks to be a perfect example of it, with one of the first heroes to be replaced by a legacy successor — Jack-in-the-Box — now finds his own time starting to pass and his own legacy needing to be secured. Astro City can do this because it’s been around for 20 years and it takes place more or less in real-time, and it has prospered under the care of one writer and a very small selection of artists (including this month’s guest artist, Ron Randall.) This makes it the rare book that can comment on the superheroic legacy of stories its current writer actually wrote the first time around. Astro City is a miracle for a lot of reasons, and that’s just one of them. [Charlotte Finn]
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Robert Hack
Publisher: Archie Comics
Considering that it’s been almost a full year since the last issue — and that we only got three issues in the entirety of 2015 — I think we’re almost at the point where (Chilling Adventures of) Sabrina is itself the kind of ancient, nigh-forgotten tome full of forbidden knowledge that you’d see in the pages of the comic. But that said, it’s worth the wait.
Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack’s re-imagining of Sabrina as a supernatural teen horror set in the ‘50s has been has been incredible every time an issue has hit shelves, and part of that comes from the fact that its unique brand of horror is everything its sister title, Afterlife With Archie, is not. Afterlife is a contemporary story built on the gory scares of zombie hordes (and the sheer terror of having to endure the apocalypse alongside Reggie Mantle), but Sabrina’s a period piece with its own distinct aesthetic, and the horror — while pretty frequently bloody — is the kind of creeping, lingering fear that you get from the fact that your life is being controlled by decisions that were made long before you were even aware that there could be something else determining your fate. In other words, it’s fantastic, and hopefully, this week’s issue is the first step in getting it back on a regular schedule. [Chris Sims]
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Olivier Coipel
Publisher: Marvel Comics
It is the time to get excited about Civil War II, like it or not, because it’s set to take over your pull-list for the summer. I’m at least intrigued enough to check out what’s going on, because the premise of “preductive justice” is a bit more vague that the original Civil War, and the conflict seems less cut and dry than its predecessor.
The main reason to buy this book is to see some beautiful Olivier Coipel art, who hasn’t done anything major in a while now. As the saying goes, I’d pay to see him illustrate the phone book, so getting him on a story which focuses on She-Hulk and War Machine is more than good enough for me.
I feel like by the end of Civil War II #0, we’ll know how much attention is worth devoting to the series, so while not a 100% recommendation, I think it’s worth a punt if you’ve got the money burning a hole in your pocket. [KS]
Writer: William Gibson
Artists: Butch Guice and Tula Lotay
It should go without saying that William Gibson is one of our greatest living writers, but in case it doesn't: William Gibson is one of our greatest living writers, and I don't just mean science fiction. As the foremost originator of cyberpunk and internet seer, Gibson gets plenty of dap as a sci-fi visionary for his ideas, but I don't think enough credit comes his way for his actual craft: his nuanced characters, unassuming but remarkable voice, and conflicts that read like machine code from the zeitgeist. So it's about time that the poet laureate of the Now really put his talents to use and made some comics.
In Archangel, Gibson is joined by the formidable Butch Guice on interiors, with covers by Tula Lotay (whose art is as amazing as her pen-name) for a four-issue story featuring time-travel, World War II, apocalypse, and a machine that builds reality. Those are literally four of my favorite things. [JP]
Writer: D.J. Kirkbride
Artist: Vassilis Gogtzilas
I loved the opening mini-series from this team. Ostensibly the story of an overwhelmingly powerful cosmic god who just appears out of an almighty explosion deep in the drift of the greater universe, the series was really simply an opportunity for Kirkbride to set Gogtzilas loose on the comics world, one page at a time. Gogtzilas is a breathtaking artist, who represents form as a jagged series of shapes and color which, although scattered, cohere together into some kind of otherworldly form. I've never seen an artist who quite constructs this kind of impression of what outer space is like — and throughout the first volume he experimented, and experimented, and experimented. This is a thought process give life on the comics page, and it's wonderful stuff. The artwork certainly isn't something everybody will like; streaks of brightness and impression amongst a heavy background; but those who like it will adore it. And with the experienced hand of Kirkbride steering the story — but never shutting down Gogtzilas as a primal artistic force — this is bravura stuff for IDW. [SM]
Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Last week on Free Comic Book Day, I took the plunge and bought the first and second volumes of the complete Dark Horse run of Usagi Yojimbo. Spoiler for a comic that’s been around for decades and has won armful of awards: it’s great!
All the usual acclaim is there — the clear, elegant storytelling, the beautiful art, characters that you can define in a sentence but that continue to surprise you — but what stood out for me was that despite the collection picking up partway through the series, I could keep up just fine. All the exposition is handled elegantly and on-panel; you’re not expected to know a Wikipedia page to get into it. Among Stan Sakai’s many storytelling skills, this is one I appreciate the most — the lost art of keeping it new reader friendly.
All this is to say: if you have never picked up Usagi Yojimbo, every issue is a perfect first issue, and I have faith that this one will be no exception. [CF]
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Raul Allen
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
I love deathtraps. I love them, I love them so much. They are the best, and despite the fact that you occasionally see crushing walls and ever-so-slowly retracting floors in the occasional James Bond movie, they’re something that you only really see done well in comics. They’re a signature of the superhero genre, a way to use the page in an interesting way and provide a threat that simply does not exist in nature to challenge characters who have skills that go way past supreme.
The thing is, from an in-universe standpoint, they tend to be pretty cobbled together. I mean, even the Riddler’s most complicated trap can only have taken, what, two weeks to build? A month? With the kind of immortality that you have in a book like Eternal Warrior, though, you can make things way bigger, way more complicated, and way, way deadlier. That’s the premise here, that Gilad’s going to be facing a trap that’s taken literally thousands of years to put in motion, and since “Labyrinth” is being billed as a brand-new jumping on point, there’s no real reason to pass up on getting into it. [CS]
Writer/Artist: Walt Kelly
Publisher: Dark Horse
Cartoonist Walt Kelly is unquestionably one of the medium's all-time greats, and his masterwork is just as unquestionably the newspaper comic strip version of Pogo, which ran for a little more than a quarter of a century. The comics collected in this hefty, 280-page hardcover predate Pogo, and could therefore be seen as comics from Kelly's formative years, albeit towards the end of his formative years — and Kelly was so good an artist that even if he hadn't yet reached the height of his powers, the work in this book is gorgeous.
After his time working for Walt Disney Studios as an animator and later cartoonist adapting some of the same films he worked on, but before devoting himself to his newspaper strip, Kelly worked at comics publisher Dell, and the comics herein are culled from that time period. They include stories from Fairy Tale Parade, Raggedy Ann and Andy and Santa Claus Funnies.
The audience they were created for (little kids) was obviously very different than the audience of Kelly's Pogo comics (everyone else), but that was in the middle of the last century. Here in the early 21st century, the audience for both is the same: Fans of impeccably drawn and paced comics by an influential master of sequential art. [Caleb Mozzocco]
Writer: Kevin Panetta
Artist: Paulina Ganucheau
Publisher: Dark Horse
If you didn’t read Zodiac Starforce in individual issues, now’s your chance to pick it up. Or if, like me, you bought the book digitally and enjoyed it so much that you want it on your bookshelf, you’re in luck too. This is a Magical Girl story (think Sailor Moon) created for American comics, which hasn’t happened as much as you’d think. It’s about four teenagers, empowered by a mysterious cosmic deity to fight other-dimensional invaders. But it’s the relationships between the characters, and the way their relatable teenage lives intersect with the cosmic of the story that make Zodiac Starforce truly unique. This was the first thing I’d read by Ganucheau or Panetta, and they both won me over enough that I’m following them to other projects. [EC]