Required Reading: Comics for 7/12/17

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Required Reading: Comics for 7/12/17

Thwip! Did everyone manage to swing into theaters and catch Spider-Man: Homecoming this weekend? If so, Marvel has a new comic that addresses all of the webslingers currently in sequential art, Spider-Men II, lined up on Wednesday—and we’ll have further suggested reading for you later in the day. If webheads aren’t your style, Black Mask kicks off both a musical ode and brutal secessionist combat, Oni Press offers another installment of beastly prison drama, Vertigo resurrects a political cape comic, IDW plays home to a new full-blown fantasy world, First Second debuts all-ages anthropomorphic barnyard action and Dark Horse provides an art book that requires a magnifying glass to fully appreciate. Arachnid-themed heroism might dominate the conversation this week, but as always, comic shelves have a range of stories to offer intrepid sequential-art fans.


STL049956.jpeg The American Way: Those Above and Below #1
Writer: John Ridley
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Publisher: Vertigo/ DC Comics 

While fans wait for the long-promised return of Milestone Media at DC, founded by some of the most creative and influential black comic creators of the ‘90s, there have been a couple of titles to tide them over. The sequel to John Ridley and Georges Jeanty’s excellent The American Way —after a 10-year hiatus—is a welcome surprise, with the creators expanding on their alternate universe in which a black superhero joined the world’s greatest team during the turbulent, rapidly changing ‘60s. This new six-part miniseries builds on that foundation, but pushes it a decade into the future, with free-love counterculture giving way to political unrest and the war on drugs. Thankfully, the original run is being re-released in a collected edition, lowering the bar of entry for new fans who want to get into the series. Caitlin Rosberg


STL044512.jpeg Calexit #1
Writer: Matt Pizzolo
Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
Publisher: Black Mask

The real “Calexit” movement, which calls for the possible secession of California from the United States, may well be a Russia-backed plot to all but rule out a Democrat ever again winning the presidency. Despite real-world parallels, Calexit the comic centers around a fictional world in which mass protests spring up following the election of a fascist president who loses the popular vote along with most of California. Writer (and Black Mask head honcho) Matt Pizzolo and artist Amancay Nahuelpan are no strangers to firebrand political content, having worked together on the provocative Young Terrorists; changes in the political climate since that book’s launch make this new collaboration all the more caustically powerful. Nahuelpan has also further refined his style since Young Terrorists, writing and drawing the brutal Clandestino. There’s a good chance that Calexit will find success in succession. Steve Foxe


STL048646.jpeg Dread Gods #1
Writer: Ron Marz
Artists: Bart Sears & Tom Raney
Publisher: Ominous Press/ IDW Publishing

Gods and monsters have long been a well to which comic creators often return, trying to bring up new, interesting takes on familiar characters and tropes. What’s rarer is a comic that not only admits to being science-fiction and fantasy, but actively embraces the genres and all the liberties they afford. By never trying to pretend that there are normal people with normal lives, Dread Gods can push into different territories than most high-concept titles. The creators use the book to define what it means to be a god, and what happens when creatures who thought they were gods discover they’re actually monsters in a world that’s been blown apart. The team is solid, with writing by Ron Marz, whose work at CrossGen and on Dynamite books like John Carter: Warlord of Mars prove his capability with a grand sci-fi/fantasy tale. Bart Sears, who owns Ominous Press, provides a back-up story to accompany main artist Tom Raney’s work, and the results are bound to be interesting. Caitlin Rosberg


STL049263.jpeg Kaijumax Season 3 #1
Writer/Artist: Zander Cannon
Publisher: Oni Press

The most sobering, emotionally complex and often most heartfelt and hilarious prison drama in comics happens to focus on building-sized monsters—think the best seasons of Orange is the New Black, but with Godzilla, Gamera and King Kong. Kaijumax, written and drawn by Zander Cannon, follows the population of a South Pacific high-security lockup for monster ne’er-do-wells as they grapple with gang rivalries, drug trades and prison social hierarchy. Each “season” has offered a relatively accessible jumping-on point for new readers, and each new issue displays Cannon’s creative growth as he settles into his groove. Kaijumax won’t exactly scratch the giant-monster-terrorizes-the-city itch of Kaiju lovers—comics are surprisingly bad at capturing that scale and thrill—but it does subvert expectations to tell relatable human hard-luck tales with a cast of gargantuan city-gobblers while layering in an appropriate amount of humor to justify a prison drama with characters like “The Creature from Devil’s Creek.” Steve Foxe


STL043934.jpeg Last Song #1
Writer: Holly Interlandi
Artist: Sally Cantirino
Publisher: Black Mask

Though music and comics are media that mesh surprisingly well, many of the comics out right now that directly deal with music are happy, upbeat and focus on bands with at least moderate degrees of professional and interpersonal success. It’s easy to see why: at their best, band comics are a lot like team comics, with a cast of characters as diverse and conflict-ridden as you might see from the X-Men. What’s less explored, and perhaps even a better fit for graphic adaptation, is the deeply personal connections between people, music and memories, and how music helps shape and form emotions. With Last Song, writer Holly Interlandi and artist Sally Cantirino aim to expand on that fraught framework, and it’s promising that Black Mask is behind the title; though the publisher is relatively small, they’ve put out interesting and unique titles like Kim & Kim, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank and We Can Never Go Home. So long as they avoid the trap of putting too many context-free lyrics on the page, Interlandi and Cantirino could have an emotional, fascinating book on their hands. Caitlin Rosberg


leadpoisoning.jpg Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art of Geof Darrow
Writers: Various
Art: Geof Darrow
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Geof Darrow wields the imagination of a bored 13-year-old and the technical finesses of a legendary draftsman, crafting dense, gorgeous, disturbing portraits of sci-fi and fantasy excess. He’s the master of embellishment, packing appendages, creases, wrinkles and shitting dogs into every lacuna, warping overdevelopment into a fine art. The Lead Poisoning hardcover collection articulates that marriage of the wondrous and profane in a series of unadorned pencil pieces. A host of creators offers commentary, including Chuck Palahniuk, Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Skroce, Dave Stewart, John Arcudi, Richard Corben, Steve Purcell, Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Mike Mignola, David Mack and more. They comment on Darrow’s meticulous eye and hands; how he spends equal time on all detail, no matter if its foreground or background. Every element receives the same love; the hero and chorus are just as important, even if they’re rat-skeleton-goblin monstrosities. The creators also comment on what philosophies could inform these bizarre masterworks—is Darrow venting his disgust at humanity, layering his canvas with skulls, chainsaws, guns and faux advertisements to exorcise the cancer of pop culture? The most shocking piece within features a man standing by a tree with his dog—no transhuman spectacle present. It’s demanding, engrossing and exhausting work, glorious in its originality and confounding in its meaning. Sean Edgar


pigsmayfly.jpg Pigs Might Fly
Writer: Nick Abadzis
Art: Jerel Dye
Publisher: First Second

Release after release, publisher First Second has remained a positive force for change in sequential art, a fact made all the more impressive as they’re owned by massive publishing corporation Macmillan. The comics umbrella has a series of offbeat adult gems in the pipeline, including The Hunting Accident by David Carlson and Landis Blair and Is This Guy For Real by Box Brown, but the heart of First Second remains its winning, bright kid-friendly works by cartoonists including Ben Hatke, Gene Luen Yang, James Kochalka and Maris Wicks. Pigs Might Fly follows that legacy, with Nick Abadzis’ first project since releasing his gorgeous graphic novel Laika. And like that narrative of a dog thrust into the heavens, this book chronicles domestic critters and their attempt to leave the ground. Jerel Dye illustrates the adventures of Lily, a young anthropomorphic pig who schemes with her father to create airborne vehicles, preparing to combat an incoming invasion from diabolical warthogs. Dye offers a thick, textured line that lends itself well to inventive designs that apply a steampunk spin to early WWI fighter planes. Works like this speak to First Second’s editorial mission of creating comics that address all age brackets and tastes, bolstered by refreshingly original concepts. Sean Edgar


ShadeChangingGirl.jpg Shade, The Changing Girl Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy
Writer: Cecil Castellucci, Various
Artists: Marley Zarcone, Various
Publisher: Young Animal/DC Comics

Former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way established the pop-up imprint Young Animal roughly a year ago to bring the strange and uninhibited back to comics—a clear homage to surrealist author Grant Morrison and Vertigo’s mature readers books of the early ‘90s. The imprint’s first wave of releases—Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye and Shade, The Changing Girl—have wrapped their first arcs, embracing a zany, post-modern devotion to unhinged sci-fi weird and pulpy melodrama. But Shade has evolved into an outlier among outliers, a work that merges intergalactic intrigue with an unbowdlerized portrait of what it means to be a teenager in 2017. Or, in other words, what it means to be an alien squared. The titular protagonist is an avian extraterrestrial who steals a madness coat, travels to earth and inhabits the body of a coma victim. Castellucci is already an expert of the female teen bildungsroman, charting the trials of youth in such novels as Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool and Rose Sees Red. Her nuanced characterization melds with illustrator Marley Zarcone and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick’s surrealist sequences for a touching, passionate experiment that should resonate with readers who grew up on Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson and are ready to venture further down the comics rabbit hole. Sean Edgar


STL050311.jpeg Spider-Men II #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

The original Spider-Men gave us the first meeting of Miles Morales, the second Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe, and Peter Parker, “our” Spider-Man from the Marvel Universe, and it ended with a cliffhanger: Parker Googling the Marvel Universe version of Miles Morales. In the years since, Miles has made the jump to the main Marvel U.—best known as the 616—and become an Avenger and key part of events like Civil War II. Brian Michael Bendis has done some of the best work of his long career establishing Miles as his own Spider-Man, but, while his prominence is welcome, the shift to the core Marvel U. has created a host of headaches for fans who have followed Miles’ solo adventures. Which parts of Miles’ origin “count” in the new continuity, and how much does he remember? The introduction of another Miles Morales stands to further complicate the character’s multiversal shenanigans. Thankfully, original Miles artist Sara Pichelli is back for this sequel miniseries, which ensures that any resulting continuity confusion will be gorgeously rendered. Pichelli’s acrobatic figure work is an ideal fit for the webslingers, and her eye for design complements everything from teen-girl fashion to hell-spawned demons. “Who is the other Miles Morales?” isn’t a pressing concern for many readers post-Secret Wars, but it’s difficult to doubt this particular creative team’s ability to answer that question. Steve Foxe


STL049939.jpeg Wonder Woman #26
Writer: Shea Fontana
Artist: Mirka Andolfo
Publisher: DC Comics 

It’s bittersweet suggesting Shea Fontana and Mirka Adolfo’s inaugural issue of Wonder Woman knowing that their run is finite, to be followed by inconsistent writer James Robinson (high: Starman, low: Cry for Justice) and a story about…Wonder Woman’s brother and Darkseid’s daughter. Still, Fontana, a regular contributor to DC’s successful DC Super Hero Girls stories, and Adolfo, a fan-favorite DC Bombshells artist, are one of the few all-women teams to take over the core Wonder Woman title, a shocking rarity 76 years after the female icon’s creation. Fontana and Adolfo’s six-issue arc seems designed to be self-contained following the grand saga orchestrated by Greg Rucka and preceding Robinson’s crossover tidy-up, which is a boon to any new readers inspired by the film’s runaway global success. If you enjoy this story but dread the thought of the next arc, may we suggest some other WW outings? Steve Foxe

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