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!

August’s Best Comic Books

Featured Image from the cover of Doctor Mirage #1 by Philip Tan

Best Graphic Novel/Collected Edition

SparrowhawkSparrowhawk [Boom! Studios] – writer Delilah S. Dawson, artist Matias Basla; cover by Miguel Mercado

Dawson’s pitch black Victorian-era fairy tale is the story of Artemesia, the illegitimate daughter of a British Naval captain, unwittingly pulled into Faerie so the evil Faerie Queen can switch places with her and wreak havoc on the human world. Sparrowhawk drips with fatalism from the moment Artemesia finds herself on the wrong side of the mirror. Dawson understands the first rule of tragedy – that the hero must make all the wrong choices for perfectly understandable reasons.

Best Single Issue

House of x 002.jpgHouse of X #2 “The Uncanny Life of Moira X” [Marvel] – writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Pepe Larraz; Cover by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia

A much discussed issue that lives up to the hype. Jonathan Hickman’s re-invention of Moira MacTaggart’s origin and timeline might be the most audacious retcon in the history of comics, with implications that stretch far beyond the already massive story he and Pepe Larraz are telling. But there’s more to this chapter than the lives and timelines of the newly-dubbed Moira X: this is also one of the most gratifying accounts of the Magneto/Professor X rivalry we’ve had to date. And with Hickman now taking the reigns of the X books for the foreseeable future, it means he’s only just getting started.

Runners Up

Die 006Die #6 “Grind” [Image] – writer Kieron Gillen, artist Stephanie Hans; cover by Stephanie Hans

After a brief hiatus, Gillen’s and Hans’s take on the LitRPG genre returns with its best issue yet, with Gillen’s furious, high-concept plotting and Hans’s widescreen, dust-blown layouts perhaps the most perfect pairing in comics right now. This chapter finally gives us some background on Ash’s cyberpunk little sister Angela, who makes a heart-wrenching choice at the end.

BR 2019 002Blade Runner 2019 #2 [Titan] – writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, artist Andres Guinaldo; cover by Christian Ward

I don’t usually go for movie tie-ins, but in all honesty, so far this is turning into the Blade Runner sequel I wish we had gotten on the big screen. Set around the same time frame as the original film but with a completely different set of characters, Blade Runner 2019 feels like period piece set in an imagined future’s past. In this issue, Aahna Ashina’s search for a tech tycoon’s missing family leads her to a “skin doctor” deploying some radical new strategies for hiding replicants on Earth.

Best First Issue

Dr Mirage 1Doctor Mirage #1 [Valiant] – writer Magdalene Visaggio, artist Nick Robles; cover by Philip Tan

Shan Fong Mirage has always been one of the most interesting characters in Valiant’s stable, and Visaggio’s approach, illuminated by Nick Robles’s sleek and trippy art, looks ready to deliver the goods. When the story begins, Shan’s husband Hwen is dead, their TV show cancelled, and her ability to communicate with ghosts is gone. Then a teenager named Grace shows up at her door and turns everything upside down, claiming that they are the ones who are dead and living in hell. The last panel left me wanting more.

Runner Up

Tommy Gun 1Tommy Gun Wizards #1 [Dark Horse] – writer Christian Ward, artist Sami Kivelä; cover by Christian Ward

A retelling of the prohibition-era Untouchables saga, where Capone’s main racket is dealing magic, not booze. Nice retro art stylings, distinctive characters, great world-building, and a touch of goofy humor thrown in just for the hell of it.

 

My Top 10 Current Series (Ongoing or Limited)

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

1 

Im Hulk 22The Immortal Hulk [Marvel] – writer Al Ewing, artists Joe Bennett and Ryan Bodenheim (guest, issue #21); cover by Alex Ross (issue #22)

With an unhinged Banner cycling through his various alter egos by day, and the unchained “Devil” Hulk ruling the night, Ewing and Bennett are still twisting and shaping the Hulk mythos into the flat-out best comic of any genre on the stands today.

2

Die 006Die [Image] – writer Kieron Gillen, artist Stephanie Hans; cover by Stephanie Hans (issue #6)

The first couple of issues of this Lit-RPG extravaganza were a bit too feverish in their pacing, but the story has since settled into a steady rhythm, and the deeper Gillen and Hans dig into the inner lives of the characters and their world, the better this series gets.

3

Fairlady 5Fairlady [Image] – writer Brian Schirmer, artist Claudia Balboni; cover by Jeremy Saliba (issue #5)

Getting a “Complete Fairlady Mystery” every month has been a joy – but the latest (issue #5) comes with a cliffhanger(!!!) and word that the series is on hiatus until next year.

4

Green Lantern 10The Green Lantern [DC] – writer Grant Morrison, artist Liam Sharp; cover by Liam Sharp (issue #10)

The Myrwhydden issue (#7) is the highlight of the Morrison/Sharp run on Hal Jordan’s Lantern, and following it with a Green Arrow team-up and some multiversal madness shows that the emphasis of the book continues to be pure, dorky fun.

5

House of x 3House 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 and Marte Gracia (House of X #3)

Yes, Hickman’s plotting can be convoluted, and the unusual intertwining of the two ostensibly separate series doesn’t help at all, and the info-dumpy text pages muck up the pacing, but goddamn if this isn’t an exhilarating ride.

6

Sabrina 4Sabrina the Teenage Witch [Archie] – writer Kelly Thompson, artists Veronica Fish and Andy Fish; Cover by Veronica Fish (Issue #4)

“My life needs to pick a genre already”, Sabrina laments. She may be overwhelmed by the three way tug-of-war of horror, romance and teen comedy, but Thompson and the Fishes have found a sweet spot between the teen melodrama and supernatural shenanigans that makes me wish this was an ongoing, rather than a soon-to-be-concluded mini-series.

7

miles 9Miles Morales: Spider-Man [Marvel] – writer Saladin Ahmed, artist Javier Garrón; cover by Patrick O’Keefe (issue#9)

Ahmed and Garrón have been killing it lately, taking Miles’s life/superhero balance in a fun new direction while conjuring up a terrifying new nemesis in the Assessor.

8

Mary Shelley 5Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter [Aftershock] – writers Adam Glass and Olivia Cuartero-Briggs, artist Hayden Sherman; cover by Hayden Sherman (issue #5)

Sherman’s art is still the star of the show, though Glass and Cuartero-Briggs have built a deliciously macabre sandbox for him to play in. The latest issue rounds off the first arc in horrific, viscera-drenched fashion and sets up a new direction for the series, whenever it may resume.

9

Captain America 13Captain America [Marvel] – writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, artists Adam Kubert, Jason Masters, Sean Izaakse; cover by Alex Ross (issue #13)

Coates’s long-game saga of the Captain-without-his-America transitions from Kubert’s roving multi-angle layouts in the prison break arc “Captain of Nothing” to Masters’s more traditional three-quarter straight shots. The story doesn’t miss a beat, but man I really loved having Kubert on this book.

10

Fallen World 4Fallen World [Valiant] – writer Dan Abnett, artist Adam Pollina; cover by Rick Leonardi (issue #4)

Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain are irreplaceable, but this long awaited follow up to the Rai/4001 A.D. storyline holds its own. One year after the fall of New Japan, Rai has sworn off violence while he tries to help humans and positronics build a new world together. That all changes when the authoritarian AI known as Father resurrects in the body of unstoppable nanotech super-soldier Bloodshot.