Comics Roundup XI: Remember the Spider

by Salvatore Pane

The last time I did a comics roundup was back in September. September! Oh, how the world has changed. O lost!

Basically, I’ve just been in a bit of a comics rut. I’m down to only a few superhero books a month (mostly from the Batman and Spider-Man families) and a ton of indies that I’ve ranted about too many times. Irredeemable. Sweet Tooth. The Walking Dead. American Vampire. And I only want to do these when I have new books to talk about.  But luckily, after five full months, I finally have enough new titles to get excited about to share with you people.

What you want me to do? Keep your shit the hardest.

1. Chew written by John Layman with art from Rob Guillory

This is the surprise of last year for me. Chew launched with a lot of hype, but the first issue (included in black and white in the back of an issue of The Walking Dead) didn’t capture my attention in the way I’d hoped. Recently, I picked up the first volume and realized just how stupid I’d been. For one thing, the coloring really adds a lot, and the way Layman has structured this series has to be seen to be believed.

Background: Chew‘s about a world where in the wake of a bird flu pandemic all chicken is banned. That leads to a hyper militant version of the FDA who cracks down on all black market chicken dealers. Our protagonist is Tony Chu, a mysterious FDA agent with the ability to see the past of anything he eats. For example, if he comes across a dead body, he can take a bite and learn how it died.

That’s a pretty wacky concept, but Layman just layers more and more with each new issue. Aliens. Vampires. Conspiracy. If you like longterm mysteries like Morning Glories but want something a little lighter, go with Chew. It’s only three volumes deep, so you can catch up fairly quickly. And the art by Guillory? Future Big 2 superstar.

2. Detective Comics #871 written by Scott Snyder with art from Jock

I think I’ve talked about how much I like Scott Snyder’s comics and prose work about a million times on this blog, BUT NOW HE HAS THE REIGNS TO MOTHERFUCKING DETECTIVE COMICS!!! This is huge, guys. Huge. A lit fiction guy handling Detective?! And it’s good! Really good.

Right now, the Batman franchise is in kind of an odd place. Living legend Grant Morrison is taking Bruce to all kinds of wacky heights in Batman Incorporated (which is also really great), but Scott Snyder’s taking the more grounded approach with his series about Dick Grayson (also Batman now; long story) in Gotham. This one’s gritty. This one’s dark. This one takes cues from Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. And Jock is delivering a master’s course in storytelling and panel construction.

Buy it. Love it.

3. Infinite Vacation written by Nick Spencer with art from Christian Ward

Nick Spencer is another rising star I’m keeping my eye on. Morning Glories is awesome. Thunder Agents is pretty good. I’m looking forward to his War Machine run. And Infinite Vacation is just utterly spectacular.

IV has one of the better indie concepts I’ve seen in some time. It follows Mark, an everyman cubicle monkey who lives in a world where people can buy into other realities through an app in their phones. Want to see what would have happened if you went to art school instead of business? Buy in. Want to see what happened if you went left instead of right? Buy in. But the central mystery involves a murderer who is killing all of the various Marks across the different realities. An intriguing first issue. Incredibly original.

Even if I didn’t love the story, Christian Ward’s pencils would be enough to lure me in each month. Seriously. This guy’s art is spectacular. The way he uses lines around characters is impressive and the coloring is just so vibrant and beautiful. And best of all? There’s only one issue out so far. So if you’re one of those people who can’t get into Spider-Man because there’s 600 issues (shame on you) go buy Infinite Vacation #1.

#4. Iron Man #500 written by Matt Fraction with art from Salvador Larocca, Kano, Nathan Fox and  Carmine Di Giandomenico

I love future issues in superhero comics. It frees up writers and artists to really push the boundaries when they know they don’t eventually have to return to the status quo after x however many issues. Iron Man #500 isn’t up there with Old Man Logan, but it’s a really good one-and-done tale that’s highly relevant to Matt Fraction’s ongoing Iron Man epic which has truly been great (if you haven’t read the 12 part World’s Most Wanted, what the fuck is wrong with you?).

So this issue, handled by an all-star lineup of artists, deals with Iron Man and Peter Parker trying to figure out why Tony built some type of super weapon during a period of time which has now been erased from his memory (don’t ask; move on). This storyline is interspersed with the future where the Mandarin has enslaved the world using Iron Man’s doomsday weapon. Meanwhile, the resistance is led by Tony’s son and daughter.

This is superhero comics at its biggest and brightest. Iron Man #500 is loud and brash and utterly budget-less. Fraction aims for the stars, and although this isn’t a perfect issue, it is a great jumping on point for Tony Stark fans.

#5. Fables vol. 4 written by Bill Willingham with art from Mark Buckingham, Craig Hamilton and P. Craig Russell

Ok. I’m totally cheating here. I know I wrote about Fables last time, but that’s when I had only read a few issues. That’s before I knew the truth: that Fables is a modern comics masterpiece.

I just finished the fifth volume last week, and I am stunned, utterly STUNNED by just how amazing this comic is. I don’t even like fairy tales, but Willingham has actually made me really care about the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and Little Boy Blue. I can’t even believe that’s possible, but this is a big, modern, urban fantasy epic that can stand toe-to-toe with any other beloved run in comics.

Fables kind of starts a little on the slow side, focusing on a murder mystery that’s a tad predictable, yet charming enough. But after volume one, it’s all balls to the wall awesomeness. You want World War II? You got it. Want an invasion of wooden gangsters on Manhattan? Done. How about a Marxist rebellion of non-humanoid creatures who overthrow the shackles of their Fable oppressors? Hell yeah (and it’s led by Goldilocks and the three bears).

Fables is fucking awesome. Case closed.

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