Analog, Isola, Xerxes & More in Required Reading: Comics for 4/4/2018

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<i>Analog</i>, <i>Isola</i>, <i>Xerxes</i> & More in Required Reading: Comics for 4/4/2018

A new month is upon us, and with April Fools’ Day falling on a Sunday this year, we’ve been mercifully spared the worst in transparent corporate attempts to joke about on the internet. That means that every one of the suggestions below, from the speculative noir of Analog to the slice-of-life of Life Between Panels, the flaming vengeance of The Curse of Brimstone to the speedy heroism of Sonic the Hedgehog, are all genuine recommendations covering the best—or most noteworthy—new releases of the week. So crack open a well-researched dive into the X-Men or a bloody, embellished history lesson on pre-Spartan warfare and enjoy the dawn of a new month for sequential art.


STL077671.jpeg Analog #1
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: David O’Sullivan
Publisher: Image Comics 
As the Internet becomes a more indispensable part of modern life, it’s no surprise that stories about the invasive nature of technology have also become more common. From Neal Stephenson’s oeuvre to Warren Ellis’ Normal to Private Eye, the Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente comic that launched Panel Syndicate, all sorts of ideas exist about the future of information security and privacy in the era of social media and cloud computing. Gerry Duggan and David O’Sullivan tackle exactly that subject in Analog, imagining a world just five years in the future when in order to be truly secure, data has to be delivered by hand, its safety guaranteed by armed couriers called Ledger Men. Duggan has worked on a slew of titles, mostly for Marvel, while O’Sullivan is a newcomer to American comics. O’Sullivan is joined on colors by Jordie Bellaire, one of the very best in the business, and the result looks more noir than cyberpunk, which should help Analog find its own niche among its subject matter. Caitlin Rosberg


STL076876.jpeg Black Bolt #12
Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Christian Ward
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Over the course of 11 issues, Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward pulled off something of a miracle with Black Bolt. The title character has never been particularly known for driving books on his own, and despite efforts to make the Inhumans more central both to Marvel’s 616 print universe and to the television side of the company’s life-action world, the Inhumans remained controversial—or simply disliked—among many fans. Black Bolt feels less like an Inhumans story and more like the kind of speculative fiction that Ahmed is best known for, with characters tangled up in lineage, duty and cosmic madness. Ward’s art is just as intense, vibrant and psychedelic as it is in Ody-C, but more structured, better contained and without excess objectification and hyper-sexualization. It’s a great, deeply human and intimate story that happens to be about Blackagar Boltagon, in a similar vein to Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s run on Vision. For people who prefer their superhero stories to be largely self-contained and on the introspective side, Black Bolt is a good bet. This final issue of the series is set to bring the story to a sharp, intelligent end before Marvel launches The Death of the Inhumans later this year. Caitlin Rosberg


STL075471.jpeg The Curse of Brimstone #1
Writer: Justin Jordan
Artist: Philip Tan
Publisher: DC Comics 
Marvel’s Ghost Rider has historically featured a downtrodden everyman angle, whether that means a struggling biker-cum-circus performer or a Latino kid trying to juggle school, work, taking care of his brother and a demonic possession, so it makes sense that DC Comics’ analogue would tap the same fiery vein. It’s impossible to read Justin Jordan and Philip Tan’s The Curse of Brimstone #1 and not feel like this is Ghost Rider for the MAGA age, as protagonist Joe Chamberlain makes a deal with the devil to maintain his small-town way of life instead of, I don’t know, learning a new trade. (If you think I’m projecting, here’s a direct quote: “I wish there was something to make this place good again. Make it great.”) As with the other New Age of DC Heroes books, The Curse of Brimstone feels less like a bold new era and more like an enjoyably simple take on an established Marvel concept air-lifted into the world of Batman and Superman. Philip Tan’s shadowy art can often become overly murky, but works here layering smoke and flames to devilish effect. If you keep your expectations low, Brimstone and its sibling titles can scratch that early-‘90s-Marvel-derivative itch nicely. Steve Foxe


STL075494.jpeg Global Frequency: Deluxe Edition
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry, Steve Dillon, Roy Allen Martinez, Jon J. Muth, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Lee Bermejo, Tomm Coker, Jason Pearson, Gene Ha, Liam Sharp
Publisher: DC Comics 
Long before he resurrected the done-in-one format at Marvel with Secret Avengers and Moon Knight, Warren Ellis created Global Frequency at WildStorm, a 12-issue paramilitary sci-fi thriller about a covert international organization that calls upon 1,001 specialized independent operatives across the world to handle situations that major governments won’t—or can’t. Drawn by 12 different artists including the late, great Steve Dillon and V for Vendetta’s David Lloyd, Global Frequency features only two recurring characters, head spook Miranda Zero and dispatcher Aleph. Ellis casts high uncertainty whether his activated specialists would survive any given mission, with threats ranging from the transhuman to the nuclear. The book also helped introduce the comic world to writer Brian Wood, who provided cover art for the series. Ellis continued to use WildStorm as a home for shorter sci-fi and military projects like the unflinching Red with Cully Hamner and tripped-out Desolation Jones with J. H. Williams III, but Global Frequency shows him at his most mile-a-minute creatively fertile, pivoting to a new, accessible concept each issue—more than deserving of this handsome deluxe collection of the entire run from DC Comics. Steve Foxe


STL077673.jpeg Isola #1
Writers: Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl
Artist: Karl Kerschl
Publisher: Image Comics 
The much anticipated reunion of three-quarters of the Gotham Academy team arrives this week as Isola finally hits shelves. Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl and Msassyk (Michele Assarasakorn) have reunited for an adventure story set in an entirely new world. Fans have been teased with images of a blue tiger and a young woman for several months, and readers will now be able to learn more about the odd pair. Isola tells the story of a queen in exile and the captain of her royal guard intent on restoring her to the throne and saving the world as they know it. It’s high fantasy with a colorful twist, imaginative and fresh in the way Saga felt when readers first discovered that book. The team definitely proved their skill both together on Gotham Academy and on separate projects; compelling characterization and slowly unfolding mystery balances action-packed. Fletcher in particular has shown a knack for forging strong collaborative relationships with other creators that have resulted in some of the most fun and beautiful stories of the last couple years, with Batgirl, Black Canary and Motor Crush. Isola has a lot of hype to live up to, but this team can definitely do it. Caitlin Rosberg


STL071406.jpeg Life Between Panels: The Complete Tails Omnibus
Writer/Artist: Ethan Young
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The past few years at Dark Horse have seen success for Ethan Young, creator of the historical graphic novel Nanjing: The Burning City and the science-fiction adventure The Battles of Bridget Lee. But these were hardly the first comics that Young worked on. His webcomic Tails ran for six years starting in 2009, serializing a semi-autobiographical depiction of his own life in New York City, surrounded by cats and trying to make it as a comic book creator. Life Between Panels collects the entirety of the webcomic for the first time. In black and white like Nanjing, Tails shows a previous version of Young’s recognizable style, a little more cartoony and less detailed than Nanjing and Bridget Lee. It’s a slice-of-life story, a peek behind the drawing board to see what life as an independent creator really can be like, especially in the days before Patreon and Kickstarter opened up other options. Tails also displays Young’s fondness for cape-and-cowl comics, as Ethan the character writes and illustrates his comic-within-a-comic, Crusader Cat!, in which a superhero cat saves the day and slowly invades Ethan’s real life. Like his other work, Tails has moments of vulnerability and emotion as the story gets introspective, but it also allows more of Young’s sense of humor to shine through. Caitlin Rosberg


STL076582.jpeg Rugrats: R is for Reptar 2018 Special #1
Writer: Nicole Andelfinger
Artists: Esdras Cristobal, Laura Langston, Sarah Webb, Ilaria Catalani, Brittney Williams
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
The storytelling issue or episode, in which characters gather around to tell tales to one another, can be one of the most useful formats for writers to lean on, particularly in kids’ programming. It’s a great way to reinforce characterizations and delve deeper into a specific topic, and to showcase different perspectives on a theme or subject. Having an entire oversized issue dedicated to everyone’s favorite dinosaur cartoon-within-a-cartoon is exactly the kind of thing anthology issues were meant for, and in the R is for Reptar 2018 Special, the whole gang get a chance to tell each other about Reptar, with even Grandpa Lou gets in on the action. Writer Nicole Andelfinger has contributed to the core Rugrats title and Adventure Time comics, and the issue features a slew of different artists, including Brittney Williams of Goldie Vance and Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! fame, and Laura Langston, who worked on Over the Garden Wall and Adventure Time. Caitlin Rosberg


STL076378.jpeg Sonic the Hedgehog #1
Writer: Ian Flynn
Artist: Tracy Yardley
Publisher: IDW Publishing
One of the biggest—yet least-covered—shake-ups to comics licensing last year was the conclusion of Archie Comics/SEGA partnership that yielded years of successful, fan-beloved Sonic the Hedgehog comics. Luckily, new publisher IDW, no stranger to licenses themselves, immediately reassured the passionate Sonic fanbase that they’d be taking an “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach to Sonic comics. Writer Ian Flynn and artist Tracy Yardley are both veterans from Sonic’s Archie days, and their first storyline, which involves a worldwide plot from the evil Dr. Eggman that can only be stopped by Sonic and his best friend Tails, is the franchise at its purest. Fans of the speedy blue Erinaceinae should rest easy knowing their sequential-art needs are in caring hands. Steve Foxe


XerxesRR.jpeg Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1
Writer/Artist:   Frank Miller  
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Living legend Frank Miller first published 300 at Dark Horse in 1998, spinning a tale of brave, doomed Spartan warriors in epic, two-page spreads. The series won three Eisner awards (Best Writer/Artist for Miller, Best Colorist for Lynn Varley and Best Limited Series) and went on to inspire the hit 2006 film directed by Zack Snyder, in which actor Rodrigo Santoro memorably portrayed King Xerxes, the towering, gilded, god-like invading ruler of Persia. Soon after, Miller announced his intent to write and draw a companion to 300 that focused on Xerxes, and that series finally hits stands this week as Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander. Joining Miller on interior artwork is colorist Alex Sinclair, who worked with Miller on the latest installment of the Dark Knight Returns trilogy at DC Comics. The series, which arrives in a deluxe collector’s format and contains 30 story pages per issue, follows Persian King Xerxes as he sets out to conquer the world as revenge for his father Darius’ defeat. Xerxes seeks to create an empire unlike anything the world has ever seen…until the Greeks produce a god king of their own: Alexander the Great. Miller’s modern output is…an acquired taste, to many, but few fans of 300 will be able to resist Miller’s return to that brutal historical fantasty. Steve Foxe


STL072074.jpeg X-Men Grand Design Vol. 1
Writer/Artist: Ed Piskor
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Ed Piskor is as much an obsessive historian as a celebrated cartoonist, as seen in his breakout (and breakbeat) opus, Hip Hop Family Tree. From the mind of a man who only goes to concerts if he knows every lyric to every song, the oversized graphic novels narrate an entire music genre with period-inspired art and exhaustive research. In X-Men Grand Design, Piskor flexes his biographical smarts in a two-part project that streamlines decades of Marvel’s most interesting property (sorry Avengers). Starting with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s origins through Chris Claremont’s sprawling run, this comic condenses the biggest events in the merry mutants’ chronology into a digestible volume devoid of ret-conned confusion. Ever wonder how Professor Xavier (definitively) lost the use of his legs, or what Magento’s wife was up to before she was an anthropomorphic cow? The work also serves as a distilled look at the era when the comic began and the authors’ inspirations: WWII veterans Lee and Kirby channel the atrocities of the Nazis through anti-mutant bigotry and nuclear science’s impact looms large. Piskor answers those questions, but this volume also works as an engaging piece on its own terms, buoyed by the same expressive, Ben-Day-dot art of the period. This “Treasury Edition” collects the first two oversized issues of Piskor’s projects, with the next volume set to kick off this fall. Sean Edgar & Steve Foxe

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