Required Reading: Comics for 6/21/17

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Required Reading: Comics for 6/21/17

Temperatures are rising in the Required Reading world, and it’ll soon be hot enough to make a person doff their shirt and wrestle a bear—or that might just be the birthday-suit-wearing protagonist of the aptly named Shirtless Bear-Fighter. If you’ve wisely chosen to avoid hand-to-claw conflict with alpha predators, this Wednesday offers other opportunities to beat the heat, including a Fleetwood Mac-inspired getaway to Canada, a return to your friendly neighborhood wallcrawler’s hapless luck, satanic stock manipulation, a desert dash between a cartoon bird and an invincible bounty hunter and the latest depravity from singular cartoonist Johnny Ryan. Grab a cool drink and turn the page.

NEW-LOW-Cover.png A New Low
Writer/Artist: Johnny Ryan
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Johnny Ryan has served as comics’ prophet of the profane for a long, long time. Though he’s recently dabbled in co-creating quirky, all-age cartoons, he’s held the baton for sacred-cow-slaughtering hilarity, like a Tex Avery-inspired cartooning antichrist. The Fantagraphics hardcover A New Low collects Ryan’s comics that lined the back page of Vice for more than 10 years, taking aim at pop culture fixtures ranging from Bill Cosby to Ted Nugent to Wall Street. Aside from serving as a master class in zero-fucks-given excess, it’s also a filtered survey of the vacuous personalities and anti-news that dominate our collective headspace. And yes, Ryan even takes aim at the magazine that originally published the comic and all of its dumb, manchild faux-provocation. Denigration this pure is beautiful, imploding with bodily fluids and naughty words that are far more intelligent than they have any right to be—triple-A gutter art that belongs in a museum that mocks other museums. Sean Edgar

STL046230.jpeg Aquaman #25
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Stjepan Šejic
Publisher: DC Comics 

Switching up members of an ongoing creative team isn’t uncommon, especially from large publishers. What’s less common is for it to become an event unto itself. Stjepan Šejic, best known for his lovely and lusty Sunstone, joins Aquaman this week and makes some serious waves. Not only does issue #25 mark the beginning of a new story, it’s also the Rebirth anniversary issue and oversized to boot. Writer Dan Abnett sticks around as the writer for this new arc, and he’s been doing a decent job, but Šejic is the real draw here: his art style is deeply textured and rich with detail, and he displays a handle on both the power fantasy that Aquaman fills and the thirst-trap gaze the character can prompt. Šejic draws characters that are emotional and evocative, powerful and seductive, and that’s absolutely perfect for Arthur and Mera. The only wrinkle is whether DC wants readers to connect Šejic’s long-haired, tattooed take on Aquaman to Jason Momoa’s portrayal of the character in the upcoming Justice League film; although Šeji?’s art is excellent, the character on the cover is still decidedly paler and blonder than Momoa, and linking the two is enough of a reach to prompt concern. Caitlin Rosberg

bigbadfox.jpg The Big Bad Fox
Writer/Artist: Benjamin Renner
Publisher: First Second

In the far future when binary algorithms write and draw comics, filled with tacky gradients and Photoshop lens flares, we’ll collectively look back at Bill Watterson, Charles Schultz, Gary Trudeau, Gary Larson and a handful of others as masters from a better, more artful era. The best strip cartoonists convey pages of personality within a few strokes: tics, curves and lines fluctuating with honed muscle memory that will never be replicated by a simulation. French cartoonist Benjamin Renner wields that same skill, filling strands of ink with soul. After being nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for his direction on Ernest & Celestine, Renner and publisher First Second return with the English translation of The Big Bad Fox, an utterly charming book about an alpha predator who nobody treats like an alpha predator. The titular carnivore begs chickens for a nibble and gets short shrift from the entire barnyard. Character models and poses are hilarious and flowing, marking each “panel” (note: there are no technical panels, only floating panels surrounded by white) as an integral storytelling domino in a cascade of story, not unlike Jeff Smith’s Bone. The earthen watercolors infuse an organic tone to match the rural setting, with all of these factors equating to another fine import for kids and adults alike. Sean Edgar

blackmondaymurders6.png The Black Monday Murders #6
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Tomm Coker
Publisher: Image Comics 

Dan Carlin once noted in his Hardcore History podcast that the leaders of humankind will inevitably be responsible for thousands, if not millions, of deaths by default. Each decision involving war, defense and the social safety net either invites destruction or allocates resources from one population to another. Each leader is damned if they do, damned if they don’t. In Jonathan Hickman’s comics, that damnation is pursued. The author continues his Venn diagram of power, religion and condescendingly clever dialogue in The Black Monday Murders. Hickman, artist Tomm Coker and letterer Rus Wooton evocatively nail soulless WASP Americana with an art direction built around Xerox copy artifacts and courier type. It’s grunge corporate chic. In this collection of weaving vignettes, various uber-wealthy parties, an economics professor and hapless detective brace for the coming of Mammon—the Christian New Testament demon associated with wealth and (probably) pomade comb-overs and ridiculous watches. Bridging the supernatural with the financial may seem fictional, but Evangelical Christian figureheads including Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland have used higher powers to procure mansions and planes for years. This comic reverses that relationship, as an infernal deity lords over the marketplace with mysterious intent. The comic is slick, stylized and cruelly cool, and deserves our capital as much as any ninth-circle demon king. Sean Edgar

STL046935.jpeg Crosswind #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Cat Staggs
Publisher: Image Comics 

Body-swap stories are deceptively difficult to pull off. It’s an easy way to signal comic-book hijinks, and can quickly become bogged down in shenanigans. When done correctly, however, they can be deeply harrowing, and if there’s anyone readers can trust for unexpectedly emotional action, it’s Gail Simone. Teaming up with artist Cat Staggs, Simone pivots from the psychological and supernatural horror of Clean Room to a body-swap story that sounds like a romance novel pitch gone wrong. A hitman and an unhappy housewife, rather than having a meet-cute and falling in love, find themselves in the awkward position of having their minds switched and dealing with the fallout. Since focusing on her own projects, Simone has proven to be even more inventive and imaginative than on DC titles like Batgirl and Secret Six, and Staggs’ art style is an interesting mix of photo-realism and soft texture that’s a great fit for something as introspective and meaty as Crosswind promises. Publisher Image suggests the book is “Freaky Friday meets Goodfellas” and that sounds like a lot of fun in Simone and Staggs’ capable hands. Caitlin Rosberg

STL045717.jpeg Heartthrob Season Two #1
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Robert Wilson IV
Publisher: Oni Press

Writer Chris Sebela may be best known for spending a month in a clown motel and surviving to tell the tale, but the DC workshop graduate has a string of clown-free creator-owned successes behind him, including the Eisner-nominated High Crimes with artist Ibrahim Moustafa, the time-traveling queer action-romance We(l)come Back and Heartthrob, his Fleetwood Mac-inspired crime caper with artist Robert Wilson IV, which returns this week for a highly anticipated reunion tour. The titular heart is part of this Oni title’s high-concept, but coronary complications aside, Sebela and Wilson IV are having a blast with this period-piece heist tale, as protagonist Callie escapes to Canada following the successful robbery of a Fleetwood Mac concert. Wilson IV nails the feathered hair and stylish wardrobe of the era, and Sebela, who recently scripted a Harley Quinn series set in the Injustice universe, again proves his Rucka-esque knack for writing complicated, relatable, fully fleshed-out women. Steve Foxe

STL046488.jpeg Lobo/Road Runner Special
Writer: Bill Morrison
Artists: Kelley Jones, Bill Morrison
Publisher: DC Comics 

When it comes to wacky and zany in the DC universe, there’s a slew of options that are shenanigan-adjacent, but not many characters who are weird just for the sake of being weird. Lobo is near the top of that very short list, and after a weird foray into a new “sexy” design and attitude for the New 52, he’s back to his crass, smelly self, much to the joy of many fans. The experiment of the Warner Brothers cartoon characters invading DC’s comic-book universe has been interesting and fun so far, and the idea of thrusting the most evasive animated prey into the world of the universe’s most dogged bounty hunter is near-perfect. Artist Kelley Jones has mostly worked on Batman and other horror-influenced books in the past, and writer Bill Morrison (who also draws a backup) is probably better known for his art than his writing, but his work on Captain Carrot and the Final Ark proves he’s got a handle on comedic beats, an absolute necessity for this title. If nothing else, the issue will provide readers with a laugh and a chance to figure out if the Road Runner’s constant escape is more a result of Wile E. Coyote’s incompetence or his own smarts. Also out this week: Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil, one of the more unexpected pairings in this line-up. Caitlin Rosberg

shirtlessbearfightercovera.jpeg Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1
Writers: Jody LeHeup, Sebastian Girner
Artist: Nil Vendrell
Publisher: Image Comics 

No one can accuse Shirtless Bear-Fighter of misrepresenting itself. Former Marvel and Valiant editors Sebastian Girner and Jody LeHeup and artist Nil Vendrell have named their Image creative debut as accurately as any book on the stands, with the clothes-free ursine-brawler standing beneath the title in all his bearded glory. Shirtless, who spends most of the issue pants-less and pixelated, too, has a lifelong vendetta against the bears of this world—bears who appear to be supernaturally strong and supported by a shadowy corporation with hyper-capitalist goals. Shirtless lives away from humanity, sequestered away in a cabin covered in bear belts, existing nude and free in the woods, until a Nick Fury-esque character calls on Shirtless’ specific expertise to stop the bearish rampage. Girner and LeHeup load the script with the kind of madcap, un-self-conscious humor missing from the shelf since Chew concluded, and Vendrell’s clean linework leans into the ridiculous premise. If you thought Wonder Woman’s invisible jet was confounding, wait until you see what this dude pilots. Steve Foxe

STL047341.jpeg Spectacular Spider-Man #1
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Adam Kubert
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

While modern-day Marvel is struggling to sell such should-be-marquee titles as Avengers and Captain America, Peter Parker is one of the publisher’s few safe bets, with stable sales on his core title, Amazing Spider-Man, and enough character goodwill to support a rotating array of secondary series. Now that the dirt has settled on the grave of evergreen series Spidey, cartoonist Chip Zdarsky and Marvel heavyweight Adam Kubert have revived the Spectacular banner to focus on a more relatable Spider-Man, hindered in his good intentions by his classic “Parker luck”—a.k.a. responsibility for his actions and for attempting to balance his arachnid-powered life. Zdarsky is most beloved as a humorist, and his knack for wordplay and dead-faced puns should stick to the wallcrawler like webbing on, well, anything, but his turn writing Howard the Duck and his creator-owned Kaptara demonstrate his ability to hit genuine emotional beats. Adam Kubert, like his DC-exclusive brother Andy, has a tendency to get looser (and sloppier) as his schedule tightens, but presumably was given ample lead time to complete at least one spectacular Spectacular arc. With the Tom Holland-starring third cinematic series kickoff on the way, a series that returns to Spidey’s more relatable heroism is a welcome redundancy. Steve Foxe

STL047066.jpeg Swordquest #1
Writers: Chad Bowers, Chris Sims
Artist: Ghostwriter X
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

The writing team of Chad Bowers and Chris Sims has staked its budding career on ‘90s nostalgia with projects like X-Men ‘92 and the recent Rob Liefeld-drawn Deadpool: Bad Blood OGN, but Swordquest takes the pair even further down the retro rabbit hole. Atari was, even among Dynamite’s ample licensing deals, a surprising acquisition when first announced: these simple arcade games were largely pre-narrative, constrained by limited technology to short story pitches and brief text boxes. Bowers, Sims, the ominously (and confusingly) named artist Ghostwriter X and the rest of Dynamite’s Atari creators thus have extra leeway in crafting compelling modern-day takes on these everlasting arcade sagas. Ghostwriter X (and no, it’s not easy to Google them) employs a cartooning style that should please fans of David Aja and Tyler Boss, and Bowers and Sims lean further into the self-aware story angle they introduced in Swordquest #0. Like a modern-day The Wizard starring Fred Savage, Swordquest is a surprisingly compelling commercial for outdated technology. Steve Foxe