I freaking love comics. So many comics. Too many to put in one single list. We all like different things. Some of us like big two comics. Other’s may prefer large publisher creator owned work while other’s dig the small press. I like all of that. I’ll cover my favorites from the different corners of comic book publishing over the month of December.
For this week I’ll be covering Intellectual Property from outside DC and Marvel
Being a publisher that doesn’t feature The Avengers or Batman is a tough sell. Engaging your audience with characters that exist outside of the mainline of traditional superhero’s can be an uphill battles. One way for companies to stay afloat or even thrive is to use intellectual property with a name recognition that keep’s the orders coming in and the lights on. It’s much easier to sell whoever your buyer is on a name with some kind of proven track record in pop culture then what can feel like a hit or miss investment on new creator owned properties. This list is an approximation for all the non Marvel or DC mainline intellectual property comics that transcend what can appear as a blatant cash grab for excellent comic book product. Honorable mention to Valliant titles Archer and Armstrong, Eternal Warrior XO Manawar and Unity that just barely missed the cut mostly because I just started reading a lot of that in the last six months, Brian Wood’s excellent Star Wars ongoing, Layman’s and Sam Keith’s Alien series that was orginally printed in Dark Horse Presents before being collected in hardcover format, Joe Hill’s new mini series The Wraith and Howard Chaykin’s super fun PoliSciFi take on Buck Rogers Now on to the list
The little indie Superhero comic that could came back to tell us stories on the lives of the everyday people living inside a world populated with being of extraordinary ability. At this point Astro City may just be neo golden age comfort food right down to the Alex Ross covers and so far hasn’t really covered any new ground in this current volume but it’s the exquisite detail of the setting combined with the fully formed rendering of it’s expansive cast of characters by Busiek and Anderson that makes it worth coming back to no matter how much time has passed. One of a handful of comic books that you could give to anybody and have them understand what makes it great. A must read for any comic book fan.
James Stokoe was able to fully realize the heavy influence that Manga and Japaneses culture had on his work with this excellent take on the story of Godzilla and his mark he left on the world. Stokoe follows a life lived in opposition to a monster and how that evolves over time in a shifting global landscape. Stokoe’s illustration haungtingly renders the urban destruction of Godzilla around the world in hyper rhythmic and detail distinct visual style that can only be his own. A worthy addition to an enduring legend.
Geoff Darrow brings back his Kung Fu/Western epic in full force with beautifully rendered illustrations based around it’s hilarious goofy narrative. I think everybody could use more zombies getting tore the fuck up by kung fu and chainsaws and even if the two issues of this comic is probably 3/4’s just that in and of itself it always leave’s you wanting more of it. For anybody that grew up on Tarintino and Wu-Tang this is the comic book you’ve waited your whole life for and didn’t even know it. The word rad was created for comics like this.
One thing I will say for IDW is that they do realize the talent they have in Joe Hill and they are utilizing that to it’s full capacity. I’m still waiting on the final issue of Locke and Key but in that time I’ll take this haunting adaptation of his short story murder mystery about and Iraqi War Veteran forced to make amends with decisions that haunt sub conscious. The story telling from Hill and Ciaramella combined with Malhorta’s gritty street level Maleevesque art style made for a fantastic placeholder for any Punisher fan fiending for the dark street level horror narrative that Thumbprint expertly creates.
This two issue miniseries was an incredibly touching introduction for the new character into the Hellboy Universe that centered on sacrifice, death and the consequence of out actions. Mignola and Acurdi’s mediation on the price on soldier must pay to save the world is masterfully illustrated with Jason Latours almost Doonsbury like artistic backdrop of WWII. Powerful and underrated does not even begin to describe my feelings on this book. Required reading for all WWII buff’s and fans of Brubaker’s seminal Captain America work.
This fucking comic man. I’ve always felt that comedy was the best way for pop art to comment on social issues by pointing out their absurdities. James Asmus, Tom Fowler and Ming Doyle’s Quantum and Woody run is an effective piece of racial/superhero satire that is up their in quality with TV like The Chapelle Show and Louis or stand up from Chris Rock and Aziz Ansari in it’s ability to subversively point to the stupidity and pervasiveness of everyday racism without beating the audience over the head with it’s message. The fact that it’s a superhero comic is almost besides the point although it uses those genre tropes to it’s advantage as opposed to carrying them like baggage. And we’ve only just begun with Vincent Van Goat. Feels like things can only get better from here.
From a guy that pretty much spent 90% of his career doing creator owned work Wood has shown a unique talent for writing Conan the Barbarian with a take that is surprising as it is refreshing. With an extensive run that’s included wonderfully rendered illustrations from the likes of Ricardo Burichielli, Declan Shalvy and Paul Azaceta this comic proved that there is always a new and interesting way to write character. You may have thought you read every Conan story as is possible but Wood and his collaborators adaption of Robert E Howards tale of the barbarian’s early life and love is a fresh new take on what’s been a well worn narrative.
This may be punting on some level. First of all I’m not sure if I consider Sandman creator owned because of it’s loose influence from the golden age superhero or Jack Kirby’s rendition, the way that the comic has always existed in a weird space in and out of DC’s main universe or how long it’s lasted in comic book culture where it’s become and institution which is why it’s here. And it’s hard to really judge the overall quality of a series against other comics with 12 months worth of comics when that series literally only had one issue released but JESUS TAP DANCING did you see that first issue? JH Willams stunning illustration’s of Gaiman’s return to the title is in-arguably the best single issue of the year. It’s stunningly beautiful piece of art that is as gratifying for long time fans of the titles as it is accessible for noob’s like myself. This is a comic book at it’s highest level of creation.
It’s been quite a busy year for comic book great Joe Casey but what’s been his best work is probably his most overlooked as well. Catalyst is Casey and his artistic collaborators Dan McCaid, Ulises Farinas and Paul Maybury have re-imagined a throwaway indie superhero relic from the 90’s into beautifully rendered bombastic Kirbyesque high minded modern superhero adventure. In a year when Darkhorse mounted a brilliant comeback with a combination of high quality third party intellectual property, new creator owned material and re-launching several of old titles from the companies large vault Catalyst maybe their crowning achievement of ambition and artistic vision realization. It’s much closer to the classic game changing Marvel comics of yesteryear from Kirby, Steranko or Starlin then anything the being done their or anywhere without ever being derivative of those classic stories. Catalyst is Casey as a master of his craft firing on all cylinders. The best pure superhero comic coming out of all the major publishers in the medium.
I really can’t think of a bigger miracle then what was running joke created by THE running joke in comics then the revitalization of Prophet from the creative team of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy and Giannis Milonogiannis. Prophet’s brilliant talent pool of writer/artists revitalized the title by re-imagining it’s world as a cold and dark space epic that illustrates the infinite universe as a savage hunt or be hunted reality where the name of the game is survival at all costs. In-spite of it’s dark and nihilistic mood Prophet ultimately succeeds due to it’s epic awe inspiring imagination of the many worlds and life forms in it’s universe. This comic fully realizes the promise of space based science fiction in a way that nothing else ever has in both comics and otherwise. A future classic.