Comic book news this year was dominated by which major characters from DC and Marvel died, which turned evil, and which did one and then the other. Big events are a lot of fun and give us a chance to see iconic characters in new ways, but it’s also worth taking a look at the smaller-but-still-awesome stuff going on in comics. Here are some of the one-shots, the less widely promoted series, and the just-plain-weird comics that you might have missed during the last year.
Redlands, Florida, is a small town with no shortage of darkness. Whether more of that darkness comes from the coven of witches trying to take control of the community or the conduct of the ordinary citizenry is for you to decide. This horror comic starts out with a siege on the town’s police station that leaves the reader unsure of who is more frightening but with little sympathy for either side. And things get scarier from there. The writing, by Jordie Bellaire, doesn’t give us any easy answers. The art, by Vanessa Del Rey, is reminiscent, with its muddy murk and startling colors, of 30 Days of Night. It gives us the impression that every scene is lit incompletely by flashlight and that anything could jump out of the darkness. You can pick up the floppies—issue five comes out on December 20—or make a note to get the first trade in March.
2. Punisher: The Platoon
Punisher: The Platoon is Garth Ennis’ return to the character he made famous. He did this in part by using the Marvel Max imprint to separate the Punisher from most of the rest of the DCU and add the kind of explicit content that anyone living in the Punisher’s world would come across. He also did it by giving Frank Castle a history that included more than just his family getting shot.
An enthusiastic writer of war comics, Ennis used fellow marines, other soldiers, and an author of a book about the Punisher to explore Frank Castle’s military career. In The Platoon, he introduces two new point-of-view characters. While those in his platoon slowly come to view Frank Castle as a hero, General Letrong Giap and the deeply wounded Sister Ly are Viet Cong fighters who have a very different perspective. Unlike the Punisher’s usual opponents, they, as much as the American fighters, are the protagonists. This book isn’t about ideology. It’s about how war is engaging and exhilarating and, at the same time, a wasteful slaughter of good people on both sides. The next issue is out on December 27.
3. Super Sons Annual #1
The title is Super Sons, but it’s actually the Super Pets. No, that’s not true. It’s actually an excuse for writer Peter Tomasi and artist Paul Pelletier to be as silly as they want to be. Pets are going missing, and it’s up to Krypto, Superboy’s dog, and Titus, Robin’s dog, to find them. That means a few pages of action and many pages of Streaky, Detective Chimp, Batcow, and doggy slobber on all of them. It’s on the shelves now. Have fun.
4. Secret Weapons
This series deals directly with a running joke. What happens to all the "gifted" superheroes with crap powers? It’s something that mainstream comics ignore (practically speaking, how useless is Wolverine?) and other media treat mostly as comedy. Secret Weapons finds the humor in these kinds of powers but takes them seriously. The series is self-contained enough to read alone, but it takes over where the previous series left off. A scientist had created a "superhero factory," and while some of the people he created are legitimately powerful, there are a handful of kids who, for example, try to materialize a shotgun but instead make a novelty umbrella or know how to communicate with birds.
Amanda Knee is Livewire, an experienced hero who can take control of machinery, and she sees ways that these novelty acts could become useful. Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplay for Arrival, deserves credit for thinking these powers through, but artist Raul Allen and colorer Patricia Martin set a perfect tone. Given the subject, overly shadowed panels would make this comic about endangered teens part of the grim-n-gritty brigade, while caricatures would make it a joke. Crisp lines with vivid-but-not-cartoonish color give it just the right feel. All four issues are out.
5. Betty and Veronica: Vixens
Archie Comics’ Betty and Veronica get together and form a biker gang. This means plenty of panels of them on motorcycles, hair whipping in the wind, helmets securely in place. It means crop tops and tank tops and partially unzipped tops. It means fist bumps and perfectly lined eyes and Veronica putting a choke hold on a guy stupid enough to harass a group of biker chicks. And it means, when the gang is contemplating going to war with a rival biker gang, Betty reaches into her purse for “protection” and brings out… brass knuckles. It’s a hoot. It blends female solidarity with mad-at-the-world aggression with Archie Comics’ unshakeable wholesomeness. The first issue hit comic shops November 22.
Guy Delisle’s graphic novel about the kidnapping of Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André is light on action scenes and heavy on the kind of mental work it takes to make it through months alone in a room, terrified and bored. The trick is to put us through what André went through without boring us as well. Like André, we have little to keep us occupied. There’s a mattress on the floor. There’s a radiator, to which André is chained. There’s a window that’s boarded up, and there’s a light bulb that doesn’t get turned on. At least we have André.
André is hard on himself, hating that he “allows” himself to be controlled by his captors, but DeLisle’s book, based on André’s recollections, leaves the reader admiring him. With nothing to do but turn his situation over in his mind, he comes to remarkable conclusions quickly—in one scene, we see him reason his way through to a conclusion that his captors may well have bungled the attempt to even make contact with a negotiator and that all his time up to that moment was wasted. Soon, though, his need to make sense of things turns in on itself. André has no information, so his questions do nothing but frustrate him. Living through the situation means finding a way to keep it together mentally. And then doing it again and again, day after day, with no end in sight. DeLisle’s book is a tough one, but it will stay with you. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, it’s on the shelves now.
7. Nick Fury
After a look at what real trouble looks like, there’s no shame in diving into pure fantasy. The adventures of Nick Fury Jr., gadget-laden superspy, will give you a sugar rush. A shameless James Bond riff, this has Nick Fury Jr., son of grizzled warhorse Nick Fury, spying it up on the French Riviera. The comic is pure joyful play. The relish that writer James Robinson and artist Alejandro Cal Oliveira bring to the character and the visuals is palpable. Story? I gave you the words “Nick Fury,” “James Bond,” and “French Riviera.” You know the story. On the shelves now.
Every year there’s a comic that is better than it should be. Last year it was The Flintstones. This year it’s Dynamite Entertainment’s Centipede. Yes, the one based on the Atari game. Dale Trell is the last man on Sty-Rek, his planet, and he’s going to go out and murder the monster that killed his world. The funny thing is, he didn’t much like his world. In a twist that might feel a little too on-the-nose for some, Dale liked myths and heroic stories (including Earth memorabilia) in a way that isolated him from the rest of his planet. Dale was in a civilization that would be featured in comic books, but within that civilization he was a comic-book-reading nerd, who is now in a comic-book adventure. The premise begins to loop in on itself, but the theme stays strong. Does isolating yourself by burying your head in an alternate reality or in the past cut you off from the here and now? Or does cultivating a different mindset come in handy? Dale is alive, after all. He has a plan. No one else on his planet can say the same.
9. Demon: Volume 4
Jason Shiga, the creator of the Demon series, has a degree in mathematics and has found a way to inflict his expertise on both his characters and the rest of the world. His character, Jimmy Yee, is drawn with a childlike reliance on solid colors and basic shapes, hangs himself, shoots himself, slits his wrists, and will not die. Why not? That is the question of volume one, which you can read in its entirety online. The series has just concluded with volume four, which came out in November. Its cover shows Jimmy standing on a mountain of dead bodies and is an appropriate reflection of the book’s contents. The series is a quick read, if you have the stomach to see cute little Jimmy Yee commit the most grotesque acts on both himself and others in an attempt to find the solution to his variation problems.
If you look at comics this year, you’ll see themes: rage, ridicule, and dystopia. For the most part, the stories enacting these themes have been allegorical. Calexit, from Black Mask Studios, is explicit. Writer Matteo Pizzolo imagines a world in which California secedes from the United States, and the United States goes to war with California. The point-of-view characters are Zora, an immigrant-turned-fugitive-turned-resistance-leader, and Jamil, a smuggler who looks to his own advantage, given that he’s convinced that no one else will. Artist Amancay Nahuelpan makes the world by turns dark, grubby, and garish.
The variations in the art will probably reflect the way in which people see the comic. Some readers will see it as a satire. Others might see it as inspiration. Others as horror. A few will see it as a comedy, albeit an unintentional one. There’s a reason people in theaters break into laughter during horrific action or tragic death scenes. If you don’t share the characters’ perspective, high drama is ridiculous. Depending on your political viewpoint, Calexit might give you goosebumps or a good laugh. The first issue hit the stands in July of 2017. The second will come out in January 2018. Whatever your political affiliation, this is one of the few comics that may end up as a historical document. You might want to check it out.
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