September’s Best Comic Books

I know it’s November…. better late than never!

Best Graphic Novel/Collected Edition

Fairlady vol 1Fairlady vol. 1 [Image] – writer Brian Schirmer, artist Claudia Balboni; cover by Claudia Balboni

Jenner is a “Fairlady”, formerly an elite soldier during the war who now works as a private eye in peacetime. She’s also the only Fairlady in a world of Fairmen. Each chapter of this high fantasy series offers a complete stand-alone mystery for Jenner to solve, and each one is an engrossing read, populated with believable, compelling, flawed characters. Beware, though – the end of this collection will make it hard to wait for the next chapter, which won’t hit the shelves until next year.

 

Best First Issue

Pretty Deadly the Rat 1Pretty Deadly: The Rat #1 [Image] – writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Emma Rios; Cover by Emma Rios

This was a foregone conclusion when I saw it on the new releases list: DeConnick and Rios set the standard for storytelling artistry in the medium with the first two volumes of their creator owned comic and I had no doubt that would continue. The Rat is set in Hollywood in the 1930s, where a spiritual medium investigates the murder of his beloved niece. And he knows just who he needs to conjure for help. Rios’ approach in this volume recalls the classic crime comics of the period as well as the formalist/expressionist cinema of the 20s and 30s.

Runners Up

The Plot 1The Plot #1 [Vault] – writers Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci, artist Joshua Hixson; cover by Joshua Hixson

September turned out to be a great month for new dark fantasy and horror comics: The Plot would have easily taken the top spot in this category if Pretty Deadly had not arrived to debut its new arc. Chase Blaine becomes guardian to his young nephew and niece after the grisly murder of their parents. His tiny studio apartment is no place for the three of them, so he takes them to their long abandoned family home, a place haunted by deadly secrets. This first issue suggests there is a lot of backstory to unpack, though thankfully the authors and artist don’t labor over it here. Intriguing hints are dropped, but this issue puts the focus squarely on bone-chilling terror. Hixson’s grimy, EC-style art (aided by Jordan Boyd’s high-contrast coloring) is near perfect.

Something is Killing 1Something is Killing the Children #1 [Boom! Studios] – writer James Tynion IV, artist Werther Dell’edera; cover by Werther Dell’edera

Another great horror comic debut, this one is a little more creepypasta than EC, but no less effective. James is already a social outcast in high school when his small circle of friends are brutally slaughtered and mutilated during a nighttime excursion in the woods. He may have a shot at retribution when the mysterious Erica Slaughter – a woman whose mere presence is almost as terrifying as the thing that murdered his mates – comes to town to join the hunt. Great characters and foreshadowing, and Dell’edera’s sharp, sleek style cuts deep. And Erica’s eyes… oh those eyes have seen some shit….

My Top 10 Current Series (Ongoing or Limited)

(Minimum of four issues and at least one issue published in September)

1

Black Hammer AOD 12Black Hammer: Age of Doom [Dark Horse] – writer Jeff Lemire, artist Dean Ormston; cover by Dean Ormston (issue #12)

Lemire and Ormston bring the main storyline of the Black Hammer universe to its bittersweet conclusion, as our heroes learn the final price for banishing Anti-God from reality. We readers have known the answer for some time, but this final chapter was always going to be about the team learning to accept the inevitable.  Hopefully this is not also a farewell to one of the best writer/artist team-ups in comics.

2

Immortal Hulk 23The Immortal Hulk [Marvel] – writer Al Ewing, artist Joe Bennett; cover by Alex Ross (issue #23)

This one’s just a straight up Monster Mash, with the Hulk’s alliance of gamma freaks launching their final assault on Shadow Base. Bennett’s pencils kill it, of course, but I feel the need to call out the whole art team – inkers Ruy José and Belardino Brabo, colorists Paul Mounts and Matt Milla, letterer Cory Petit – for nailing every skull-crushing, flesh-melting panel, especially the last one.

3

test 4Test [Vault] – writer Christopher Sebela, artist Jen Hickman; cover by Jen Hickman (issue #4)

The reality-bending journey of career medical test subject Aleph approaches the climax of its first story arc, as they finally uncover what’s brewing behind Laurelwood’s façade. Sometimes the story lays the weirdness on a little too thick, but Hickman is one of the most interesting and daring artists working in comics and Test is worth reading for her trippy layouts and eerie, angular compositions.

4

Sabrina 5Sabrina the Teenage Witch [Archie] – writer Kelly Thompson, artists Veronica Fish and Andy Fish; cover by Veronica Fish and Andy Fish (issue #5)

It was no big surprise that Thompson and Veronica and Andy Fish were the perfect team to reboot Archie Comics’ most famous spinoff title. I didn’t know it was going to be this good, however. They leave things in a good spot before a hopefully brief hiatus.

5

Die 7Die [Image] – writer Kieron Gillen, artist Stephanie Hans; cover by Stephanie Hans (issue #7)

I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I realized this second chapter of the “Split the Party” story arc was going to follow my least favorite of the Die players, Chuck and Isabelle. True to form, though, Gillen and Hans dug deeper into these characters and succeded in drawing me in.

6

House of X 5House of X/Powers of X [Marvel] – writer Jonathan Hickman, artists Pepe Larraz (House of X) and R.B. Silva (Powers of X); cover by Pepe Larraz (House of X #5)

As the intertwined series – the kickoff to Marvel’s massive reboot of its entire X line – reach their conclusion, the twists and surprises and intricately justified retcons keep piling up. The penultimate issues of both Powers and House feature the kind of earthshaking reversals and revelations (Cerebro can do WHAT!?!?!) that make one worry if Hickman has anything left in the tank for the main ongoing title he and Leinil Francis Yu are launching in October. (Spoiler: He does.)

7

Queen of bad dreams 4Queen of Bad Dreams [Vault] – writer Danny Lore, artist Jordi Pérez; cover by Jordi Pérez (issue #4)

Another Top 10 debut, this urban fantasy procedural is the story of Inspector Judge Daher, who tracks down escaped dream figments and determine if they can be granted agency, returned to the mind of their dreamer, or eliminated. This five part arc sees Daher hunting for Ava, a figment escaped from the twisted mind of a powerful politician’s son. A well-paced, action-packed story in a great setting; Pérez can draw some crazy monsters, too.

8

miles morales 10Miles Morales: Spider-Man [Marvel] – writer Saladin Ahmed, artist Javier Garrón; cover by Mahmud A. Asrar (issue #10)

A fine “birthday” issue finds Miles doing the balancing-being-a-teenager-with-being-a-superhero thing that has always been essential to the Spider-Man formula. Plus the return of Tiana Toomes a.k.a. Starling! Ahmed and Garrón are great at maintaining that cycle of tension and release that is so important in serialized storytelling, and also at plying the reader with old-fashioned comic book fun.

9

Green Lantern 11The Green Lantern [DC] – writer Grant Morrison, artist Liam Sharp; cover by Liam Sharp (issue #11)

Morrison and Sharp get to the heart of all the multiversal madness they been peddling the last few issues, and even throw in an alternate earth Star Sapphire for kicks. Very continuity-dense, but rewarding.

 

10

fallen world 5Fallen World [Valiant] – writer Dan Abnett, artist Adam Pollina; cover by Adam Pollina (issue #5)

In other reboot news, Valiant’s latest mini-series in its 41st century A.D. timeline reaches its exciting climax, before Abnett and Juan José Ryp relaunch Rai in November. Can’t wait!

The Best Short SFF of August 2019

Featured Image from “Fare” by Francesco Giani.

I apologize for the brevity and lack of depth in the write-ups, or any mistakes abound. I’m finishing this up late at night from a hospital bed so braining is hard: this month’s list brought to you by oxycodone!

As always if you like what you read, consider paying for an issue or subscription. Even though many of these zines make their publications available to read for free on the internet, they still have writers and staff to pay and rely on income to do so. Please enjoy these great stories!

Must Read

The Skin of a Teenage Boy is Not Alive“, by Senaa Ahmad (Nightmare Magazine Issue 83, August 2019) Short Story

Parveen’s best friend Aisha falls in with “Benny and his dumb demon cult” who want to get possessed for kicks, but Parveen doesn’t quite fit in with that crowd. The tone of the story is like one long teenage shrug, but gliding under the surface is a desperate adult awareness of time skipping past all our youthful idealism.

Still Water“, by Ian Muneshwar (Anathema Issue 8, August 2019) Short Story

Miles and Trent are on a couples counselor-inspired jaunt to the wilderness, where their fraying relationship is further tested when their surroundings get a little off-real. A great character study and relationship drama, but what really distinguishes “Still Water” is the slow transgression from its natural setting to a not-quite natural one.

Your Face“, by Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld Issue 155, August 2019) Short Story

Swirsky excels at presenting the reader with a deceptively simple setup, before sneaking up on you with a shiv to the gut. In “Your Face”, a mother talks to a computer scan of her late daughter, wanting to know how much she remembers before she died.

More Recommended Stories

Elegy of a Lanthornist” by M.E. Bronstein (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #284, August 15, 2019) Short Story

An astute portrait of an academic studying the obsessive writings of a long dead poet from lost culture, and the object of his unrequited affections. The ending is sudden, and shocking.

Henrietta and the End of the Line“, by Andi C. Buchanan (Translunar Travelers Lounge Issue 1, August 2019) Short Story

A colorful and powerful story about refugees searching for a new home on a train that is also a squid.

No Matter“, by Kendra Fortmeyer (Lightspeed Issue 111, August 2019) Short Story

A time traveler drops in on a young married couple, claiming to be his future daughter, but not hers. What could have been nothing more than a one joke premise turns into quite an emotional storm.

Getaway“, by Jennifer Hudak (Podcastle #585, July 30, 2019) [narrator Jen R. Albert] Short Story

A gut-twisting body horror fantasia about Leena, who swallows some bad lake water while on vacation, and the ensuing illness becomes a blessing in disguise when she discovers she can now escape from her body. Heed the content warnings.

“Verum”, by Storm Humbert (Interzone #282, July/August 2019) Novelette

Rev is losing business to a new verum designer, Gina, whose doses offer users a more immersive experience. Great world-building and characters, and a nice reversal at the end.

Fare“, by Danny Lore (Fireside Magazine Issue 70, August 2019) Short Story

Deshaun really needs to get to the public kennel, more than his distracted cab driver knows. The “real time” feel of the narrative guides the rising tension.

More Real Than Him“, by Silvia Park (Tor.com, August 7, 2019) Short Story

Morgan steals another designer’s robot, only to strike up a bond with the other woman as she designs it to look and behave like her favorite Korean actor. Oh, that poor robot.

Copies Without Originals“, by Morgan Swim (Translunar Travelers Lounge Issue 1, August 2019) Short Story

A wonderfully drawn character study of a robot who keeps following its programming to maintain an art museum long after the human race has gone extinct (or has it?).