Required Reading: Comics for 4/5/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 4/5/2017

April showers are here, and with them come a brand-new batch of comics. Sure, this weekend was quite the industry rollercoaster if you followed along online, from the highs of DC officially announcing Metal by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, to the lows of Marvel VPs informing a retailer summit that the feedback they’ve been hearing is that “diverse” books don’t sell and artist reputation can’t move units as well as writer buzz (we’ll let you imagine what kind of response that got on Twitter). But if you can bury your fury for a bit, we’ve got quite the week of spring chickens. Debuts include adorable queer specters of death, chatty avian thieves, and a world where dreams (and nightmares) come true. Both Dynamite and Marvel get stately, and the X-Men attempt to recapture their heroic origins. All that plus the second volume of Faith Erin Hicks’ YA hit The Nameless City make for a major first Wednesday in April.


blackcloudcover.jpeg Black Cloud #1
Writer: Ivan Brandon, Jason Latour
Artist: Greg Hinkle
Publisher: Image Comics 

The rise of creator-owned comic books has reached the point where dream teams are coming together from creators who have enough clout to carry a book all on their own. Jason Latour has earned a reputation as both writer and artist thanks to work like Spider-Gwen and Southern Bastards; though Ivan Brandon’s name might not be as immediately recognizable, his writing on Drifter has attracted praise from sci-fi fans. The two of them working together on a speculative-fiction book is absolutely enough to sell a title alone, even without the story’s compelling hook. Black Cloud sounds like the perfect mix of fantasy and sci-fi, with a protagonist caught in our world after growing up in an alternate dimension where dreams are far more tangible. Though artist Greg Hinkle is a relative unknown quantity outside of the controversy magnet that was James Robinson’s Airboy, he’s got a sharp, character-focused style that’s enhanced by Matt Wilson’s incredible coloring skill. Caitlin Rosberg


STL039212.jpeg Eleanor & The Egret #1
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Sam Keith
Publisher: Aftershock

For audiences who believe Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is perfect aside from a marked lack of talking animals, Eleanor & The Egret may be the ideal comic. Set in what appears to be a slightly twisted version of Paris in the 1910s, the story revolves around the city’s most famous art thief, the titular Eleanor, and her talking waterfowl. With John Layman and Sam Keith behind the wheel, it promises to be a surreal and visually interesting mystery, loaded with detail and animal companions. Layman has a handle on what makes a good supernatural procedural, from Chew to Detective Comics, and The Maxx legend Keith is a master at rendering strange and wonderful things—although they could both run into trouble if they treat Eleanor as something exotic and untouchable instead of providing her agency and heft. Ronda Pattinson’s colors for this first issue are stunning and the costume design alone is enough to attract attention: refined and delicate in a sea of bright hues and harsh lines. Caitlin Rosberg


Extremity_2.jpg

Extremity #2
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Publisher: Skybound/Image Comics

We’re still reeling from the suckerpunch that is Extremity #1, Daniel Warren Johnson’s meditative sci-fi reflection on violence and art. The issue introduced Thea, a young artist whose right hand is amputated by an invading army of elitists called the Paznina. The art pulls from manga and Franco-Belgian influences for hyper-detailed visions of intergalactic warfare, and inspired, grizzly designs. Example: the insidious curves of the hand-mouth wielded by Thea’s oppressors. The second issue promises more world-building, with a cover that hints at fauna just as dangerous as any cosmic warlord. Johnson’s vision is equal parts harrowing but hopeful, a brutally efficient action dirge driven by character and bittersweet sentiment. Sean Edgar


STL031945.jpeg I Am A Hero Vol. 3
Writer/Artist: Kengo Hanazawa
Publisher: Dark Horse

How many ways can we recommend Kengo Hanazawa’s horror magnum opus? Dark Horse is making fans wait a bit between releases, but each omnibus collects two Japanese volumes in one hefty brick of violence and terror—which isn’t a bad idea, given Hanazawa’s tense pacing, which often draws out brief scenes to a great many anxiety-inducing pages. Vol. 3 sees awkward manga-ka and gun enthusiast Hideo depart the infamous suicide forest area with his new friend, Hiromi, in tow, as the ill-prepared pair make their way back toward more populated (and more dangerous) areas. Hanazawa’s art continues to chill with its mix of photo-realism, extreme framing choices and lingering pace. No self-respecting horror fan, no matter how jaded on the zombie genre, can afford to skip this. Steve Foxe


STL039902.jpeg Kim Reaper #1
Writer/Artist: Sarah Graley
Publisher: Oni Press

Following in the footsteps of The Devil is a Part-Timer, Reaper, Bleach and Cupid, Kim Reaper is the latest in a long line of part-time supernatural entities struggling to balance immense powers with things like work, dinner and dating. Written and drawn by Sarah Graley, cartoonist of the Rick and Morty spinoff Little Poopy Superstar, Kim Reaper follows the life of college student and reaper Kim, who reaps to keep herself in ramen and tuition. Kim is also the object of totally normal human Becka’s attention, and Becka’s about to get into a lot more trouble than she realizes as she takes her affection from crush to relationship. Kim Reaper fits right in with books like Jonesy and Coady and the Creepies, as badass young women with supernatural powers figure things out as they go. Caitlin Rosberg


STL040748.jpeg Rock Candy Mountain #1
Writer/Artist: Kyle Starks
Publisher: Image Comics 

The name of Rock Candy Mountain writer/artist Kyle Starks’ previous project, Sexcastle, should tell you a good deal about the Eisner-nominated cartoonist’s brand of humor. This new Image series follows an old-timey drifter on his quest for the titular (and typically fictional) utopian rock range. As with Sexcastle, Rock Candy Mountain promises action aplenty (“so many hobo fights,” reads the solicitation text) and, like any good Americana road story, a run-in with the literal devil himself. We can only hope he brings his fiddle. Along with laughs and bareknuckle brawls, expect Starks’ bold lines and fluid figures to bring to mind fellow Image creators J. Bone and Greg Hinkle. Check back later this week for our train-jumping review of the first issue. Steve Foxe


STL041043.jpeg Royals #1
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Jonboy Meyers
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

It seems like just last week that the Inhumans and their frenemies, the X-Men, got the oversized relaunch treatment…because it was. With their respective Prime issues out of the way, Ultimates scribe Al Ewing and Jonboy Meyers rocket Black Bolt, Medusa, former Avenger Crystal, Gorgon, two “NuHumans” and fan-favorite Marvel Boy to the stars to seek out the Kree origins of the Inhumans species—and find a new source for their community-defining Terrigenesis process now that Earth’s supply has been destroyed. The added hook? Seven Inhumans leave for this mission, and only six will return. Marvel has tried to make the Inhumans “happen” for a while now, but Ewing has proven time and again his knack for all things cosmic and b-list, making him ideal Royalty for this project. Artist Meyers’ exaggerated style seems like an odd fit, but does recall Joe Madureira‘s Inhuman kickoff arc in 2014. Steve Foxe


STL040687.jpeg Shade, the Changing Girl #7
Writers: Cecil Castellucci, Dan Parent
Artists: Marguerite Sauvage, Dan Parent
Publisher: Young Animal/DC Comics

Gerard Way recently confirmed the unfortunate news that Doom Patrol will face a brief catch-up hiatus soon, but thankfully the rest of his Young Animal pop-up imprint is going strong. Both Cave Carson and Shade, the Changing Girl capture the magic of Vertigo’s golden days, in which under-used DC properties were available for thoughtful, mature-readers revamps. Shade, from writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone, blends the best of Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo’s mind-tripping Shade, the Changing Man epic with an ever-relatable teenage identity quest. This standalone issue pairs Castellucci with guest artist Marguerite Sauvage, who has previously lent her stunning artwork to DC Bombshells and Valiant’s Faith. If you’re curious about Shade, this self-contained tale should prove a good barometer for whether or not it’s worth nabbing the first trade and catching up on the book before the second arc. Spoiler alert: it is, and a bonus backup from Kevin Keller creator Dan Parent doesn’t hurt. Steve Foxe


STL039896.jpeg The Sovereigns #0
Writers: Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins, Aubrey Sitterson, Chuck Wendig
Artists: Johnny Desjardins, Jorge Fornes, Alvaro Sarreseca, Dylan Burnett
Publisher: Dynamite Comics

The Sovereigns #0—which clocks in at 48 pages for an introductory $1.00 price tag—marks Dynamite’s latest attempt to reposition its Gold Key line of heroes for modern readers. Despite solid creators on their first run with Turok, Solar and the like, Gold Key didn’t seem to capture the same mix of fan nostalgia and fresh appeal as, say, modern Valiant. This new attempt assigns fresh writers like Aubrey Sitterson and Ray Fawkes with a grab-bag of Dynamite house artists and rising indie talents like Dylan Burnett. Not much is known about the The Sovereigns beyond a “one last time” angle to these heroes gathering. But at just a buck for double story content, it’s hard to discourage checking this one out, even if names like Magnus and Dr. Spektor ring no bells. Steve Foxe


NamelessCityStoneHeart.jpg The Stone Heart: The Nameless City
Writer: Faith Erin Hicks
Artists: Faith Erin Hicks, Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: First Second

Almost exactly one year ago, Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire released The Nameless City, a historical fantasy about a metropolis whose identity shifts with each new invading army and politician. The story balanced both sides of that dynamic by introducing Rat—a denizen of the land whose family has remained for decades—and Kai, a member of the society currently occupying its borders. Hicks offered sweeping visions of Asian architecture stretching to the hazy, sand-swept horizon before zooming in on vertical, roof-top action. Bellaire employed rich ambers to emphasize soil and sun, imbuing each page with gritty warmth.

This week witnesses the next chapter of a planned trilogy with The Stone Heart. The narrative deepens the looming fissures within the city, exploring the fallout from assassination attempts and pre-history weapons of mass destruction. It’s an example of grand fantasy with poignant struggles that tend to plague society no matter the era. Sean Edgar


WeStandGuard.jpg We Stand On Guard TPB
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Steve Skroce
Publisher: Image Comics 

Canadian artist Steve Skroce may have ignited his career on titles like Amazing Spider-Man in the ‘90s, but soon transitioned to storyboarding summer blockbusters—mostly for Wachowski projects—including the Matrix trilogy and V For Vendetta. Roughly two years ago, Saga scribe Brian K. Vaughan recruited the artist and his chiseled, future-forward designs to show a sci-fi battle between Canada and the United States. And as this trade collection can attest, the results look magnificent. Skroce eschewed realism in favor of mechs and automatons that had heft—a reflection on Cold War Kaiju more than on the modernism and minimalism that would more realistically occupy future combat. The Canadian heroes, conversely, rely on scrappy guerrilla warfare that oddly mirrors the tactics of the colonies during the Revolutionary War. It’s a frighteningly cool and visually gratifying glimpse into a terribly plausible war, filtering mech staples like Appleseed and Robotron through the politics and aesthetic of North America. Also: robot wolves vs. real wolves. Sean Edgar


STL041037.jpeg X-Men Gold #1
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Ardian Syaf
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

Is the classic hero angle of X-Men Gold a case of too little, too late? Writer Marc Guggenheim, best known for his CW TV work but already an X-Men alum, and former Batgirl artist Ardian Syaf, aim to recenter Xavier’s legacy on heroism as embodied by Kitty Pryde, returned from space to lead her fellow mutants. Unfortunately, Guggenheim, Syaf and Pryde have to reckon with the fallout from the misguided IvX crossover, in which nearly every mutant seemed overly eager to declare race war on the Inhumans rather than find a more “heroic” solution to their conflicting issues. The mutant corner of the Marvel U. has been mired in mediocre creative teams and seemingly unending Inhumans-related drama for years. While Guggenheim’s former X-tales were merely serviceable, and Syaf’s art reminiscent of the DC house style, any attempt to rehabilitate the sorry state of the X-Men is a welcome one. Also available this week is the jumbo X-Men Legacy omnibus, collecting the Si Spurrier-scripted David Haller solo series that defied all conventional wisdom about what does and does not work at Marvel, and paved the way for the Legion television show. Steve Foxe

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