Monday, September 01, 2014

My comics reading list

One of my friend’s on Twitter thanked me the other day for recommending Hawkeye a Marvel Comics series to him earlier the year. It’s won a ton of critical praise and the current creative team is getting ready to wrap things up and the series is going to be cancelled. That’s one thing that’s changed from when I was a kid. A series used to keep on going, no matter if a creative team left or not.

Now, it’s just as likely after a dozen issues the series will be cancelled and restarted with a fresh #1. But it did get me thinking…I think I have pretty good taste in comics. I do have friends who ask for recommendations from time to time. So I thought I would do a master list of what I’m currently collecting.

A couple of caveats…I’m just including series where the books are still in print and are ongoing. I love, love, loved Amelia Rules but there are no more books coming out in that series. I’m currently on a fool’s quest to try and find all the trade paperbacks of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey run.

While I won’t do full reviews, I will include a few words about why I’m collecting them.

And yeah, it seems like a lot. Even I was surprised by how many. But these are regular series and not stand-alone graphic novels like RASL or This One Summer. Also, most of them put out one, maybe two books a year. It’s a lot, but believe it or not I collected a lot more when I was living in Newfoundland.

Finally, if you have to pick just one publisher to take a chance on, Image Comics is it. For years it was a hole of really unremarkable super hero crap like Spawn, but has since reinvented itself as a top creator-owned publisher working in westerns, sci-fi, mystery, horror, spies, and yes, sometimes super-heroes. They also do the nice/evil thing of collecting the first trade paperbacks at a very low price.

So via Amazon you can easily get a book like Greg Rucka/Michael Lark’s brilliant Lazarus for $10. Which is an absolute steal.

Anyway, by publisher, what I collect that’s being published regularly.

All-New X-Men/Uncanny X-Men – There are about a dozen X-titles. I stick with these two as they’re both written by Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s best writers. Solid dialogue, good character development and Bendis gets the soap opera aspect that always works well with the X-Men.

Avengers/New Avengers/Uncanny Avengers – The first two titles are written by Jonathan Hickman, who loves ridiculous complex multi-year sagas involving cosmic disasters of some kind. I am, apparently, a sucker for this kind of thing. Uncanny Avengers is written by Rick Reminder who does something similar, but focuses a bit more on character rather than story than Hickman. Both have blown up the Earth multiple times in their runs. Don’t worry, it got better. Mostly.

Black Widow – Nathan Edmondson tells a nice spy thriller about Natasha Rominov seeking redemption for all her past sins (nicely tying into the movie), but Phil Noto’s art is the star. Some of the best on the stands right now.

Daredevil – For decades now, courtesy of Frank Miller, Daredevil has been a dark, pretty screwed up noir-like character. Mercifully Mark Waid remembers when he used to be more a swashbuckling one. Sure, there are dark moments, but this is such fun. Waid also remembers when Marvel characters would drop into books just because it was fun (Daredevil vs. the Silver Surfer. Sure, why not), not because it was a 30 part event. Chris Samnee’s joyful and creative art helps a lot.

Hawkeye – As the tagline goes, this is what Hawkeye does when he’s not an Avenger. Which is? Well, being a schmuck and just making bad decision after bad decision. And that’s before you get into his love life. It’s fun, creative and David Aja’s is unlike anything you’ve seen in comic books before. There’s an issue told from the point of view of a dog. And it’s one of the best things you’ll read this year.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man – Some of Spider-Man’s d-list villains plot the next big score. Except they’re idiots. Awesomely fun and stupid.

Thor: God of Thunder – Writer Jason Aaron also like the big, convoluted story. The first year involved Thor from three different time periods (1000 AD, now, far future) fighting a villain determined to kill every god in the universe. Ludicrous. Fun.

Batgirl – Writer Gail Simone tells the story of a Barbara Gordon is going through PTSD after being crippled by the Joker. It’s a good book, but you get the feeling Simone was frustrated not being able to tell lighter stories.  That doesn’t mean she can’t bring the drama when she wants.

Batman – In the middle of a classic run with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. He’s rebuilding the Batman myth with new villains (the Court of Owls) takes on old ones (Joker) and retelling his origin (Year Zero). Lesser writers would botch this. Snyder is not one of those.

Fables/Fairest – I’m collecting these two titles on momentum more than anything else at this point. It’s good, but it’s a good thing it’s wrapping up soon. It’s time.

The Spectre – DC is reprinting the classic 90s run by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. What happens when God’s Angel of Vengeance is tied to a human with a mission to comprehend and confront evil? What happens when they misunderstand the mission? More spiritual than you might think and Mandrake’s art is unreal. It’s some of the moodiest and scariest art in a comic I’ve ever seen. A little dated, but still good stuff.

Wonder Woman – I’ve always been conflicted by Brian Azzarello’s story. He’s done a lot of things I don’t like and I’m not fond of his interpretation of Diana’s character. But I can’t deny it’s well written. I might have dropped it already if not for Cliff Chang’s spectacular art. I like will drop it when they leave the book later this year.

Alex + Ada – In the near future androids are common. But an AI revolt leads people to restrict just how smart androids can be. After Alex gets a female android companion from his eccentric grandmother, he struggles with the idea of repressing the android and takes steps that will cause…challenges. Jonathan Luna is a well-known artist, but his style always feels a little soulless to me. But the story is intriguing. First tpb is just out; I’ll be trying the second.

Black Science – Rick Reminder and Matteo Scalera put together a sort of inter-dimensional Lost in Space/Fantastic Four book, except the main character is an asshole who is risking friends, family and possibly the structure of the multiverse. It’s a little over-the-top at times (some creators do better when they have a major publisher/editor reining in their excesses. Reminder is one of them), but a ton of raw potential. First trade out now. I’ll get the second.

Deadly Class – More Rick Reminder. A kid is plucked from the streets in the 80s and plunked in a school of assassins. His goal – to assassinate Ronald Regan who he blames for killing his parents. See above. A ton of potential, but not kept on track. Half the book is spent on a road trip in Vegas with the lead character on acid. Debating the second book.

East of West – My favourite book of 2013. In an alternative, future Earth where America’s Civil War went deeply weird, Death of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse hunts for his missing son. And that doesn’t even cover a fraction of it. Jonathan Hickman firing on all cylinders.

Fatale – Last issue just came out. The fifth and final tpb will be out this fall. It’s by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Rule #1 of Comics. Always buy any book these two are working on. A Lovecraftian Noir tale.

Five Ghosts – Thanks to a dream stone implanted in his chest adventurer Fabian Gray can summon the skills of five “fictional” ghosts. Plus conspiracies, grand adventure and Nazis. Good 30s-style pulp.

Lazarus – In the future the world is not divided by political boundaries, but by families with financial interests. Each family has a protector – A Lazarus. This is the story of one, who begins to realize there’s more to her than she thought. Greg Rucka is pretty much an automatic buy for me. Michael Lark on art seals the deal.

The Manhattan Projects – Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra on what I assume is a staggering amount of drugs. An alternate version at what the 1940s Manhattan Project might have been up to when not building boring things like an atomic bomb. It’s good. Deeply, deeply weird, but good. Hickman probably needs to wrap this up soon, though…

Nowhere Men – What if four scientists were the Beatles of science? At $10 this is a steal. A nice slab of entertainment, weird science and conspiracy. I think the book is on hiatus, however.

Pretty Deadly – A weird little magical western book. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing isn’t for everyone. She’s going more for lyrical than plot, but Emma Rios art makes it all go down smoothly.

Rat Queens – If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or loved Lord of the Rings, you need to own this book. It’s just so much fun. Four warrior women (thief, warrior, healer, wizard) who drink, curse, have sex and get in lots of trouble.

Revival – I normally have no time for zombie comics (there is no Walking Dead on this list), but this is “rural noir”. In a small town in Wisconsin the recent dead return to life. The town is immediately quarantined, but there’s still plenty of other weird things happening to trapped residents…

Rocket Girl – In the future (now) the only cops you can trust are teenagers. But when one suspects a conspiracy and travel back to the past (1985 New York) to try and stop it. Her and her rocket pack. The story is honestly a touch shaky, but Amy Reeder’s artwork is an absolute joy.

Saga – The most beloved sci-fi comic on the market. A star-crossed couple defies their warring races, get married and have a little girl. And if that sounds simple, what comes next is not. Filled with mad ideas and Fiona Staples magical art. It will thrill you just as often as it will break your heart.

Sex Criminals – The darling of 2013. A couple discover they can stop time when they orgasm. So they decide to rob banks so they can save a beloved library. Then the sex cops get involved. More touching and funny than sexual, it’s weird and enjoyable regardless.

Velvet – What if Ms. Moneypenny was actually the most dangerous person in MI-6. Close, but not quite what is happening here. But a great Bond-ian spy thriller set in the 70s. Velvet Templeton (great name) is on the run after being framed for murdering a top agent. Ed Brubaker rule in effect here, although Steve Epting’s stunning art helps.

Zero – A deeply weird science fiction/spy/thriller. I haven’t decided if I’m getting the second book yet, but writer Alex Kot is making it quite tempting.

Afterlife with Archie – When Hot Dog dies in a car accident, Jughead begs Sabrina the friendly neighbourhood witch, to bring him back. Which she does. With drastic, horrific consequences. I kid you not, one of the best, scariest comics on the market, courtesy of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s clever story and Francesco Francavilla’s spectacular, atmospheric and horrific art.

Atomic Robo/Real Science Adventures – I think the last few books have been a little too serious and not enough fun, but it’s still enjoyable. Basically Tesela in the 1920 invents a sentient atomic robot. There are many weird adventures. Part Indiana Jones, part Hellboy, all fun.

Conan – A little Conan goes a long way with me. In this case it’s been the last three trades written by Brian Wood with one more to come. Conan hooks up with a pirate queen. I’ll probably go 10 more years before needing to read him again, but this is entertaining enough.

Letter 44 – When the new president of the United States arrives in the White House after the previous incompetent and corrupt president leaves in disgrace, he finds a letter that explains why his predecessor behaved so erratically. The story and conspiracy are good, but the art is deeply shaky. I’ll probably give the second tpb a try. The first just came out.

Parker – Darwyn Cooke adapting Richard Stark’s Parker novels. It’s all you need to know. One of the best artists in the business adapting some of the best crime fiction ever written.

Rachel Rising – Written and drawn by Terry Moore. Honestly, an acquired taste involving the dead returning, witches, conspiracies and other weirdness. But Moore’s b/w art is beautiful.

Red Sonja – Never a title I collected. Then Gail Simone took over. Then the character became fun. The whole chainmail bikini even works. A character who was often portrayed as a male nerd cheesecake fantasy becomes one the scariest, most empowering women characters in comics.

The Sixth Gun – A horror/mystery/western. There are six guns, each with magical properties. Each cursed. An evil, and dead, Southern General wants his gun. The sixth. The most powerful of them, which is currently held by a young woman who wants nothing to do with it, but has no choice. A nice mix of all the elements.

Star Wars – A little Star Wars goes a long way for me. Brian Wood tells the story of what happened between the first two movies. Worth it just for a very interesting take on Leia.

Stumptown – PI Dex Parios is a good detective, but a shitty gambler. Set in Portland, it’s a fun detective story, equal parts mystery, fun, action and drama. Greg Rucka is there, so I’m on board.

Bandette – A young woman in Paris who is a thief, but also helps out the police when she’s not busy protecting the people of Paris. Colleen Coover’s art is the draw here. It’s adorable and filled with more energy per page than 10 regular comics.

Cleopatra in Space – No kidding. A teenage Cleo is transported into the future where she has to save the galaxy. And finish school. Mike Maihack’s art is brilliant (I own some of it, although not from this book) and the story is a ton of fun.

Usagi Yojimbo – The most important, consistent and admired comic of the last 25 years. A ronin wanders feudal Japan  getting into adventures. Except he’s a rabbit. Stan Sakai gives a master class in storytelling, folklore and art. He’s so good that what he does looks simple, yet 99% of comic creators can’t do it and freely admit it.

Waiting on
Because that’s not enough, there are several books that haven’t come out yet in tpb format that I’m going to buy. They are:
She-Hulk - Marvel
Captain Marvel - Marvel
Ms. Marvel – Marvel
Rocket Raccoon – Marvel
Magneto – Marvel
Moon Knight – Marvel
Harley Quinn - DC
The Fade-Out – Image
Shutter – Image
Southern Bastards – Image
Fuse – Image
Veil – Dark Horse
Tomb Raider – Dark Horse

Last Five
1. Real long distance - Josh Ritter
2. Praise you - Flatboy Slim
3. Out of touch - Hall & Oates
4. Old Dan Tucker - Bruce Springsteen
5. Ah, me - Amelia Curran

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