Required Reading: Comics for 2/8/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 2/8/2017

Next week’s Required Reading column drops right before Valentine’s Day, so we’re going to avoid getting too romantic today. After all, what is there to love about a lustful botanist with green-hued skin rendered by master artist Tula Lotay, or the ongoing debut of one of Marvel’s most complex, deeply human antagonists, with a creative team comprised of a breakout talent and a noir-tinged Frank Miller disciple? Where’s the romance in a Steven Universe comic that boasts creators worthy of the show’s high quality, a JLA premiere from two of DC’s brightest talents or a visually stunning adaptation of one of literature’s surest classics? That’s right, folks—keep your hearts to yourself this week, nothing to see here, just business as usual.

AllStarBatman7.jpg All-Star Batman #7
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Tula Lotay, Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: DC Comics

Tula Lotay creates lines that sing. Her visual “voice” is immediately recognizable, a mix of high fashion, cinematic cool, graceful sensuality and light psychedelia. She could easily cross over into film or editorial, but Lotay makes comics her predominant home (with a few amazing Mondo prints) and it’s all the better for it. As stylized as her work is, the English artist tends to collaborate with exposition and dialogue-heavy scribes, including Warren Ellis (Supreme: Blue Rose) and Brian Wood (covers on Rebels and Briggs Land). That trend continues as she partners with Scott Snyder on All-Star Batman #7, a one-shot featuring herbaceous femme fatale Poison Ivy. As in previous issues, expect the book to paint metaphors into scientific formulas and sly science fiction, but the main draw will be watching Lotay’s ambient color and Warholian figures infiltrate mainstream comics. Sean Edgar

STL032949.jpeg Death be Damned #1
Writers: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Artist: Hannah Christenson
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker have, until now, largely staked their combined writing reputations on humor, from Deadpool v. Gambit to The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Death be Damned may break that trend: pitched to fans of Pretty Deadly and The Sixth Gun, Death be Damned has shades of a supernatural, Wild West Kill Bill, with a protagonist seeking revenge on the seven outlaws who slaughtered her family. The twist is that, while Miranda Coler can’t die until she succeeds, she loses portions of her memory every time she’s “killed.” Hannah Christenson, a contributor to the gorgeous Jim Henson’s The Storyteller anthology series, lends Death be Damned an appropriate air of the fantastic that should solidify positive comparisons to Emma Rios’ flowing linework in Pretty Deadly. Steve Foxe

Demon2-covRGB.jpg Demon Vol. 2
Writer/Artist: Jason Shiga
Publisher: First Second

Jason Shiga’s irreverent, bloody tale of an actuary and his failed suicide wrapped up recently on the web, but publisher First Second has promised to put every strip on the printed page through four handsome volumes. Without spoiling the narrative twists and turns of Demon, know that the comic is consecutively hilarious, profane, gory and stylized. Shiga employs a haplessly blunt (or sociopathic) worldview where morality is a construct and decisions boil down to binary paths of success and failure. The result is a calculated, evil binge into the basement levels of integrity, choreographed through hyper-violent action. Sean Edgar

STL031942.jpeg Empowered and the Soldier of Love #1
Writer: Adam Warren
Artist: Karla Diaz
Publisher: Dark Horse

Adam Warren’s Empowered is a comics oddity: a series about a woman whose powers frequently leave her all-but-nude, written and drawn by a dude, but largely accepted as good fun and not pseudo-porn. Much of Empowered’s success rests on Warren’s manga-influenced style and devotion to building his titular hero as an endearing character, not just eye candy. For this Valentine’s-themed one-shot, artist Karla Diaz joins Warren to pit Empowered against a gun-toting Magical Girl with a pink pet pangolin. Diaz melds Warren’s style with an extra shot of attitude, perfect for the so-called Soldier of Love. Empowered shouldn’t work, but, much like love itself, it somehow does. Plus: Pink. Pet. Pangolin. Steve Foxe

InvisiblesBookOne.jpg The Invisibles Book One Deluxe Edition
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Jill Thompson, Steve Yeowell
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Following gorgeous, gorgeous collections reintroducing Sweet Tooth and The Unwritten among many others, DC’s Vertigo imprint will release one of its most dense, impenetrable and important works in its new Deluxe Edition hardback series. Grant Morrison has baked onion-layer realities and psychedelic magic throughout the bulk of his work (it’s his truth), but The Invisibles resembles an inverted autobiography. Morrison wrote himself into the mind-fuck epic via the character King Mob, and, according to the writer, the fictions he constructed were reflected in the “real” world, including new romance and improving health. The comic is a challenging descent into one man’s interior cosmos, and though it requires more patience than an average capes-and-fists comic, its rewards are far more potent. Also: those Brian Bolland covers. Sean Edgar

STL034238.jpeg John Carter: The End #1
Writers: Alex Cox & Brian Wood
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Publisher: Dynamite

Terrible movies aside, it’s a surprise that stories of John Carter have never hit the same level of popularity as his colleague Conan the Barbarian or even Dune. Edgar Rice Burroughs created the template for space-opera protagonists, and Dynamite has lived up to that legacy over the last few years. In a story structure that will ring familiar to many sci-fi and fantasy fans, this new adventure centers on an aging Dejah Thoris and John Carter, tired of war and mourning in private. In order to prevent the end of their planet, they emerge from their isolation for one final fight. Alex Cox is a relative unknown quantity as a writer, but a longtime industry insider as the deputy director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and Brian Wood packs a long library of intelligent genre. Hayden Sherman’s sketchy, kinetic style looks great in recent Image debut The Few, and should fit this book equally well. Caitlin Rosberg

STL034340.jpeg Justice League of America #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Ivan Reis
Publisher: DC Comics 

Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis taking the reins of DC’s biggest team book was cause for celebration before the swath of preview one-shots introduced the lower-profile members of the team, but getting a peek at how the eclectic bunch fits together only added to the high anticipation. Orlando, more than perhaps any other writer in DC’s current stable, has a proven affection for the company’s pre-New 52 heydays, as seen in Midnighter and its sequel, Midnighter and Apollo: characters as obscure or left behind as Prometheus, Freedom Beast and even Extraño have received new leases on life via Orlando’s reverent pen. Reis, meanwhile, has remained DC’s go-to indicator of “big deal” for nearly a decade, and represents DC’s house style at its finest. The Rebirth era has so far been a welcome return to form for DC after the rockiness of the New 52, and a JLA that follows the tradition of a non-“Big Seven” team (already covered in Bryan Hitch and Tony Daniel’s underwhelming Justice League), from creators adept at juggling the DCU’s extensive lore, bodes well for the initiative’s second year and JLA’s chance to become the publisher’s flagship team book. Steve Foxe

STL032821.jpeg Kingpin #1
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Ben Torres
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Kingpin has long been an antagonist with meat on his bones (both literally and figuratively), even before Vincent D’Onofrio’s inspired Netflix portrayal of the Hell’s Kitchen crime lord. Whether menacing Spider-Man or serving as Daredevil’s most compelling foil during the Brubaker years, Kingpin rose above simple villainous motivations, which gives rising writer Matthew Rosenberg fertile ground to kick off the character’s first ongoing series. We already know from Rosenberg’s short Civil War II tie-in outing that the 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank scribe has a handle on the oversized mob boss, which makes new artist Ben Torres the sole variable here. Torres has lied on the fringes of the industry for decades, most notable drawing Batman pastiche Knight Watchmen in a style heavily reminiscent of Frank Miller’s post-DKR prime—a.k.a. a damn-near perfect fit for Kingpin’s crime-noir stylings. Rosenberg and Torres have teased a Kingpin aiming to reshape himself as a “legitimate” businessman—we’ll see how many bodies he has to bury in the process. Steve Foxe

STL021768.jpeg A Land Called Tarot
Writer/Artist: Gael Bertrand
Publisher: Image Comics 

With its understated cover, brief solicit text and unfamiliar creator, A Land Called Tarot seems fated to be the best book too few people pick up this week. First published as a serial in Image’s premiere cutting-edge anthology, Island, A Land Called Tarot is a lush fantasy full of frog wizards, serpentine dragons and some of the most stunning full-color art on stands. Creator Gael Bertrand previously contributed to Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s run on Prophet, and a quick Google image search should prove his must-buy status. With epic, euro-style worldbuilding and bright, animated character work, Bertrand’s style in A Land Called Tarot promises a long, stunning career ahead. Steve Foxe

STL027701.jpeg Moby Dick
Writer: Herman Melville
Artist: Christophe Chabouté
Publisher: Dark Horse

Moby Dick is one of the most analyzed and picked-over texts in English literature, studied and codified within an inch of its life. Interestingly, Dark Horse chose to retain the original text from Melville and let an artist visualize the iconic tale visual without otherwise interfering. To American readers, the name Christophe Chabouté likely isn’t familiar, since the vast majority of his work is in his native French, but he’s a master of black and white, with evocative panels and a skill using swaths of darkness to create a sense of place without excessive detail. Chabouté has largely worked alone throughout his career, providing both the script and art for his books, so this project offers new insight into the well-worn tale of the great white whale. Caitlin Rosberg

suongoing.jpeg Steven Universe #1
Writer: Melanie Gillman
Artist: Katy Farina
Publisher: KaBOOM!

The partnership between BOOM! Studios and Cartoon Network has been a fruitful one, launching careers and carrying beloved shows into a new medium. The second round of ongoing Steven Universe comics promises to be just as exciting as the first, which were published in late 2014 and early 2015. Artist Katy Farina has already displayed her skill on another Cartoon Network and BOOM! collaboration, The Amazing World of Gumball, and writer Melanie Gillman has been working on their own successful webcomic, As The Crow Flies, long enough to make it clear they have the chops to lead Steven and the Gems into new adventures. (Side note: as fans work through this new arc, they should also check out As The Crow Flies—it’s Lumberjanes meets Saved!, a sweet and honest portrayal of how hard it can be to be an outsider in a world you hardly recognize, rendered in Gillman’s lush colored pencils.) Caitlin Rosberg

sgprose.jpeg The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World
Writers: Shannon & Dean Hale
Publisher: Marvel Press

Okay, so we’re cheating—The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World is a middle-grade prose novel, not another welcome installment of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s breakout Marvel ongoing comic, but anyone with proximity to the world of children’s literature can assure you that Shannon and Dean Hale come with bonafides to spare. On her own, Shannon Hale is responsible for Austenland, the Ever After High series and an installment of Scholastic’s smash-hit Spirit Animals series. Together, Shannon and Dean created the Eisner-nominated Rapunzel’s Revenge and the popular Princess in Black books. This isn’t Marvel’s first step into the teen world, either—current Captain Marvel scribe Margaret Stohl wrote two well-received Black Widow novels, and middle-grade luminary Eoin Colfer produced a largely overlooked Iron Man tale. Squirrel Girl is poised to capitalize on the format best of all: rather than create a brand-new teen for readers to use as a surrogate, a 14-year-old SG herself takes center stage as she debates taking the full superhero plunge. A lot has gone wrong over the last few years, but the surprising rise of Squirrel Girl is solidly in the win column. Steve Foxe

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