Required Reading: Comics for 3/8/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 3/8/2017

It’s a quiet week on comic shelves, and likely a quiet morning for most folks in the industry as hordes of Emerald City Comicon attendees recover from jet lag and hangovers. This Wednesday offers a bit more of a spotlight for indie releases like the Mama Cass biography California Dreamin’, Lorena Alvarez’ gorgeous comic/picture book Nightlights and Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ Grass Kings, with a few attractive collections and new-arc kickoffs to round us out. Marvel also sneaks in a Giant-Size surprise with the long-delayed debut of Goosebumps auteur R. L. Stine’s take on the menacing Man-Thing—which, it should be noted for maximum Hot Topic appeal, is available with a variant cover from Good Charlotte’s Billy Martin. Hey, we told you it was a quiet week.


CaliforniaDreamin.jpg California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas
Writer/Artist: Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second

First Second has nailed the niche of epic comic biographies. Under the publisher, Box Brown has released Tetris: The Games We Play and Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, joined by Andy Kaufman spotlight Is This Guy For Real? next year. Laika by Nick Abadzis; The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frederic Lemercier; Lewis and Clark by Nick Bertozzi; Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myric and many, many others have shown how panels can perfectly frame a human life. This week, French cartoonist Penelope Bagieu applies a metric ton of charm and research to The Mamas & the Papas vocalist Mama Cass Elliot, who filled her all-too-brief 32 years with music, drugs and adventure. The dense hardback peels back her major accomplishments to reveal the musician’s drives, including a tumultuous relationship with body image. Aside from being a sculpted view into an under-appreciated voice, Bagieu raises questions of art, self-worth and commercialism applicable to any decade. Sean Edgar


cloakanddagger.jpg Cloak and Dagger: Lost and Found
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Arthur Adams, Bret Blevins, June Brigman, Rick Leonardi, Mike Mignola, Terry Shoemaker, Marc Silvestri, Larry Stroman
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

Cloak and Dagger: Lost and Found collects 11 issues of the titular characters’ solo title from 1985, as well as spotlights from a 1987 Strange Tales spotlight. Featuring the writing of Bill Mantlo and art from talents like Art Adams and Mike Mignola, Lost and Found isn’t an origin story for the characters, but includes some of the pair’s defining moments. Fighting major Marvel supervillains and working against drug dealing and street-level violence, Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen rely on their abilities—both a blessing and curse—to fight those who would prey on the disenfranchised. With the main cast just announced for a TV adaptation, this collection is a great starting point for people interested in the characters’ roots, and gives a good glimpse into the Marvel Comics of the ‘80s, a very different company with a very different character lineup than today. At the time, Mantlo was a staple of some of the publisher’s more character-driven, introspective and philosophical books, and hopefully this reprint signals that renewed interest and a new Cloak and Dagger outing. Caitlin Rosberg


STL028622.jpeg Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Joe Bennett, Mark Morales, Belardino Brabo, Larry Hama
Publisher: DC Comics 

Rebirth has been a boon to DC Comics, offering enough appeal for fans both old and new to keep many of the publisher’s titles near the top of the charts despite an aggressive twice-monthly schedule. Deathstroke, a character who twice struggled to keep an ongoing alive during the New 52 era, seemed a risky choice for the double-shipping slate, but the return of famed Black Panther and Quantum & Woody writer Christopher Priest has turned the Terminator’s solo series into a sleeper hit. Bolstered by clean linework from artists like Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett, Deathstroke is a worthy read for the DCU’s premiere fan-favorite assassin-with-a-moral-code, and a welcome return to form for a pioneering writer too long out of the game. This volume collects the Rebirth kickoff issue and the first five issues of the ongoing, which should help dawdling readers get up to speed before the looming crossover with Titans and Teen Titans. Steve Foxe


GrassKings1.jpg Grass Kings #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Tyler Jenkins
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Like his artistic soulmate Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt wields the ability to instill a meditative awe into genre comics. Whether he’s conjuring immense maritime leviathans in Dept. H or the global wanderlust of Mind MGMT, the creator knows when to expand his panels and let them breathe with silence and majesty. Lemire joins artist Tyler Jenkins for new venture, Grass Kings, which applies that introspection to much more domestic realms. The new BOOM! series follows three “rulers of a trailer park kingdom” who provide refuge for a strange woman. Working-class fantasy aside, Jenkins transforms rust and overgrowth into arresting topiaries of rural decay. The much-anticipated story promises a collage of visuals and storytelling that haven’t been explored in the medium before—the closest comparison may be Terry Gilliam’s controversial Tideland. Prepare to be delighted by a Kindt production once again. Sean Edgar


STL037505.jpeg Guardians of the Galaxy #1.MU
Writers: Chad Bowers & Chris Sims
Artist: David Baldeon
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

Monsters Unleashed hasn’t felt much like a capital-E Event. With readers still recovering from the long-delayed Civil War II and anticipating the looming, controversial Secret Empire, a short kaiju-packed romp just doesn’t seem likely to hold too many lasting consequences—an expectation for books billed as Events. Even if the biggest fallout from Monsters Unleashed is… Monsters Unleashed, the upcoming ongoing focusing on new character Kid Kaiju, at least the mini-series will have inspired additional affection for the Marvel U.’s stable of oversized beasts. This one-shot from X-Men ‘92 writing team Chad Bowers and Chris Sims and artist David Baldeon pits the Guardians of the Galaxy against a “Leviathon,” a conflict made more dynamic thanks to fan-favorite tree monster Groot’s origin as a classic Marvel monster-of-the-week. Bowers and Sims clearly have an affection for deep-cut lore, and Baldeon will soon lend his crisp, animated art to the MU ongoing, so expect this to be another fun entry in the low-stakes filler event. Steve Foxe


STL037488.jpeg Low #16
Writer:   Rick Remender  
Artist: Greg Tocchini
Publisher: Image Comics 

Image announced a slew of new titles this weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, most of them from rising or brand-new talent rather than acclaimed Marvel and DC alums. But veteran Rick Remender is still thriving in his corner of the creator-owned publisher’s catalogue, and Low, his underwater dystopian tale with artist Greg Tocchini, returns this week with a new storyline. Tocchini sets Low apart from Remender’s other Image titles with a nearly impressionistic, abstracted style—albeit a tighter, easier-to-follow approach than the pair’s previous collaboration on Uncanny X-Force’s Otherworld arc. This issue, which should be celebrated for its awesome shark cover alone, showcases the rise of a new undersea gladiator. Steve Foxe


STL037512.jpeg Man-Thing #1
Writer: R. L. Stine
Artist: German Peralta, Daniel Warren Johnson
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

A pattern has emerged at Marvel in the past few years: well-known prose writers help relaunch titles to fanfare and media attention. This time, master of all-ages horror and fear R. L. Stine works alongside artists German Peralta and Daniel Warren Johnson to bring the long-neglected Man-Thing back to the page. Peralta, a relative newcomer to comics, illustrates the core story, while Extremity creator Johnson tackles the first of several horror shorts written by Stine as backmatter for each issue. Casual readers would be forgiven for confusing Man-Thing with DC’s Swamp Thing, as they’re both plant monsters with scientific backgrounds who eschew human contact and live in marshlands, but so long as they’re willing to accept the similarities, they’re absolutely in for a treat. Goosebumps creator Stine’s career is based on creating scary, atmospheric stories with heart and humor that don’t condescend and aren’t needlessly cruel or exclusionary. If his skill translates to comics, Man-Thing will be incredibly readable and fun. Caitlin Rosberg


STL037356.jpeg Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie #1
Writer: Anthony Del Col
Artist: Werther Dell’Edera
Publisher: Dynamite

Comic books are already notorious for recycling themes and stories, and with decades of continuity behind many titles, that’s no surprise. But the recent resurgence of noir books and mysteries with a deeply nostalgic bent is remarkable for how pervasive it’s becoming. Not exactly the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys most readers think of from their grade school libraries, The Big Lie stars teenage Hardy brothers accused of murder who turn to femme fatale Nancy Drew to clear their names. It’s as if the creative team put Supernatural and Fatale in a blender with the description “hard-boiled.” Writer Anthony Del Col proved himself capable of both crossover stories and winding plots in IDW’s Kill Shakespeare, and Werther Dell’Adera’s artwork on books like House of Mystery has shown that he’s capable of atmospheric pages that suit noir mystery. Dynamite follows in the path of Afterlife with Archie by putting a dark twist on wholesome, beloved characters, and it’ll be fascinating to see how it turns out. Caitlin Rosberg


STL031537.jpeg Nightlights
Writer/Artist: Lorena Alvarez
Publisher: Nobrow

The line between children’s book and graphic novel isn’t always clear. At their heart, both are books with words and illustrations, usually paired inseparably. Though it may confuse booksellers, this isn’t a bad thing: it allows creators to oscillate between the two media, take different risks and explore new ideas. Lorena Alvarez has illustrated children’s books by other writers for several years, but Nightlights is her first foray into writing and illustrating her own story. The premise sounds like Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Coraline, as a young girl with magical drawing abilities gets caught up in a potentially unwelcome adventure when a new classmate meddles with her abilities. Peer pressures, insecurities and doubt are important subjects for younger readers, and with good reason. It doesn’t hurt that Alvarez’ art is gorgeous, too. Caitlin Rosberg


Secret-Coders-Book-3-Art-by-Mike-Holmes.jpg Secret Coders Vol. 3: Secrets and Sequences
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Mike Holmes
Publisher: First Second

Gene Luen Yang was an excellent diplomat for comics before he was designated the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He has merged history, identity and academia into standout works like American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints. But to make an engaging comic about ones and zeros and the language of software? That’s a mic drop. This week witnesses the third entry in Secret Coders, a book that’s way more fun than it has any right to be. No—really. Yang and illustrator Mike Holmes follow the trio of adventuring middle schoolers Hopper, Eni and Josh while giving the lowdown on all the 21st-century tech skills there’s no excuse not to learn. It’s a ridiculously difficult line to straddle, and the creative team pull off educational magic by streamlining STEM lessons into confectionary comic fun. Sean Edgar

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