Merry X-Men Holiday Special, Die, Killmonger & More in Required Reading: Comics for 12/5/2018

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<i>Merry X-Men Holiday Special</i>, <i>Die</i>, <i>Killmonger</i> & More in Required Reading: Comics for 12/5/2018

Like Santa’s sleigh on the evening of the 24th, this week’s New Comic Book Day is full to bursting, prompting some difficult omissions. Power Rangers fans should know that there’s a Tommy-centric original graphic novel hitting shelves this week, while espionage fans and Stucky shippers alike should put Winter Soldier on their radar. Wizard Beach got an early preview on Paste and finally hits the burning sands this week, alongside Cable-centric one-shot X-Men: Exterminated, new Image launch Self Made and an Australia-set Giant Days tale. If all of those worthy series didn’t make our list, you know you’re in for one heck of a Required Reading. What are you waiting for—scroll on down!


STL102854.jpeg Die #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Publisher: Image Comics 
Kieron Gillen And Jamie McKelvie’s ever-shocking pop masterpiece The Wicked + The Divine begins its final arc this week, after years of tightly wound plotting and hip-AF emotional manipulation, so it’s something of a mercy that Gillen’s next series launches alongside WicDiv’s finale, softening the blow. Die, in classic Gillen fashion, refers to both the 20-sided tabletop-gaming necessity and the very real risk of mortality one might face if one were suddenly transported into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for real. Fully digitally painted by former Journey into Mystery and WicDiv contributor Stephanie Hans, Die #1 is an oversized introductory issue that sets up the irresistible premise: decades ago, a group of nerdy teenage friends were transported into a fantasy gaming world. All but one returned, but none of them could physically say a word about what they had been through. Now, as middle-aged adults, they’ve each received signs that their campaign is far from over. Like Stephen King’s It via Gary Gygax, Die feels poised to carry on WicDiv’s must-read legacy, especially with page after page of sumptuous fantasy art from Hans. Steve Foxe


STL102868.jpeg The Freeze #1
Writer: Dan Wickline
Artist: Phil Sevy
Publisher: Top Cow/ Image Comics 
Under the stewardship of publisher Matt Hawkins, Image Comics imprint Top Cow has shifted its reputation from “just” the home of legacy characters Witchblade, The Darkness and The Magdalena to one of the most frequent publishers of cutting-edge sci-fi and 15-minutes-in-the-future speculative genre work. Following hot (no pun intended) on the heels of fellow Top Cow debut Infinite Dark, The Freeze imagines a world where a mysterious illness freezes every living human in place, except for Ray, who has the power to unfreeze his peers…but does the entire human race deserved to be saved? Writer Dan Wickline has infrequently contributed to Top Cow and Zenescope in the past, and is joined by Tomb Raider artist (and The House writer) Phil Sevy, whose clean line work hits a new level depicting some of the horrific consequences of The Freeze’s particular apocalypse. Fans of Black Mirror and similar thought experiments should find plenty to enjoy from this and other contemporary Top Cow offerings. Steve Foxe


STL098661.jpeg Grumble #1
Writer: Rafer Roberts
Artist: Mike Norton
Publisher: Albatross Funnybooks
In this week’s first issue of Grumble, Mike Norton returns to his natural habitat: drawing pugs. While Norton’s work on titles like A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong and Mystik U is great, it’s his webcomic Battle Pug that reveals what’s closest to his heart. Written by Rafer Roberts, Norton’s collaborator on Archer and Armstrong, Grumble is about a con man who gets turned into a pug when a job goes wrong, only to be sought out by his estranged daughter Tala for help saving the universe. It’s a bonkers premise with a rockstar creative team and all but promises some serious shenanigans. Eddie looks like the kind of character who would be voiced by Danny DeVito or the late, great Bob Hoskins—the sort of guy you like to watch talk to other people but want to avoid yourself, lest you end up with a suddenly empty wallet. Roberts and Norton have put out a weird and wild universe-saving buddy comedy before, but Grumble turns up the dial and hopefully will deliver even more insanity and hilarity. Caitlin Rosberg


STL102998.jpeg Killmonger #1
Writer: Bryan Edward Hill
Artist: Juan Ferreyra
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the few characters from this year’s Black Panther film who hasn’t been featured at least a little in the modern comics. There’s no shortage of new Black Panther content for fans, but Killmonger’s story clearly spoke to a lot of people and giving N’Jadaka a more detailed history (and potentially retconning elements of the old Killmonger’s origin story) is definitely a welcome effort. Writer Bryan Edward Hill and artist Juan Ferreyra only have five issues with which to work, but that also means that the barrier of entry for readers is relatively low. Hill is fresh off the end of The Wild Storm: Michael Cray, and his work on that title as well as Postal has shown that he knows how to handle stories like Killmonger’s, with violence and emotion in equal turns. Ferreyra, a DC Comics and Dark Horse veteran, has an art style that feels textured and three-dimensional in a unique way, more painterly and traditional than a lot of superhero comic art, which could lend Killmonger a dreamy quality while also really emphasizing some of the horrific things the character has done in pursuit of noble goals. Caitlin Rosberg


STL102782.jpeg LaGuardia #1
Writer: Nnedi Okorafor
Artist: Tana Ford
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor was widely respected before she set foot within the comics realm, winning praise and awards for sci-fi and fantasy prose work including Binti, the Akata series and Who Fears Death, which is now in development for an HBO television series. She has won the World Fantasy Award, the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, and is currently writing Shuri for Marvel Comics, starring Black Panther’s genius sister. LaGuardia, published by Karen Berger’s eponymous imprint at Dark Horse Comics and drawn by frequent Marvel contributor Tana Ford, is Okorafor’s first original comic series. It centers around a pregnant Nigerian-American doctor, Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka, who has just returned to Earth with a smuggled alien plant in tow. In the world of LaGuardia, aliens coexist on Earth, but face many of the same challenges current human immigrants do in establishing themselves in their frequently inhospitable new homes. For extra insight into the series, check out Paste’s exclusive early look at Okorafor’s deeply personal afterword for the first issue. Steve Foxe


STL102729.jpeg Martian Manhunter #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Publisher: DC Comics 
Positioned in the prestigious footsteps of DC’s recently concluded Mister Miracle maxi-series, Martian Manhunter is set to examine the longtime Justice League standby and supporting character in what writer Steve Orlando has described as his “dream project.” In initial announcements and via Twitter, Orlando has teased a deeper look at Martian culture than fans have previously seen, as well as a focus on J’onn J’onzz’ double life as John Jones, police detective, in an almost Twin Peaks-ian off-kilter murder mystery. Artist Riley Rossmo, who collaborated with Orlando on Batman/The Shadow, brings his unrestrained style to one of his most fitting subjects yet, as J’onn’s shape-changing abilities and Martian heritage give Rossmo license to go (green) balls to the wall with Dr. Seuss-meets-David Cronenberg designs. Mister Miracle proved there was a healthy market for bold, relatively standalone takes on DC’s perennial B-list, and Martian Manhunter has both the leading man and creative team best poised to carry on that banner. Steve Foxe


STL103001.jpeg The Merry X-Men Holiday Special #1
Writers/Artists: Chris Claremont, Kelly Thompson, Kris Anka, Chip Zdarsky, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
There are ample “more serious” comics hitting stands this week, and the presence of celebrity writers is always a red flag, but anyone who knows me knows that combining the X-Men and the Christmas season is utterly irresistible in every way. Marvel’s Merry Mutants have a long tradition of holiday downtime (even when it means being chased through the mansion by a murderous alien), and the soap-opera antics of the franchise make it a perfect fit for this advent-calendar-style one-shot, which features 25 one-page stories highlighting different characters and their Christmas (mis)adventures. The Merry X-Men Holiday Special is a welcome mix of current X-standbys like Kelly Thompson and Matt Rosenberg, Marvel rising stars like Leah Williams and Tini Howard and, yes, musicians who don’t ring a bell to this unhip under-30—but who knows if one of them might turn out to be the next Gerard Way? If you love the holiday spirit and enjoy seeing the X-Men outside of nonstop species-ending situations, this is a perfect gift to give yourself this mistletoe season. Steve Foxe


STL102857.jpeg Prodigy #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: Image Comics 
Four years after their last collaboration came to an end, Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque team up once again for a new comic about a man who can’t be beat. Rather than preternatural strength and stamina like Huck, the titular Prodigy Edison Crane has skills and intelligence to lead him to the top of the heap. Like Huck, Prodigy is a six-issue miniseries, and the creative team’s previous collaboration mean it’s a safe bet it will be worth picking up for fans who accept Millar’s “Millarisms.” Millar has a penchant for writing superhero stories that twist away from familiar tropes in unexpected ways, or investigate what’s taken for granted as common sense in cape-and-cowl universes. Prodigy feels like it may be Millar’s take on James Bond and similar stories of hyper-competence and -ability, which should make for interesting reading. That said, Albuquerque’s beautiful, painterly art alone would make it work checking out the first issue; Huck felt like a nod to both to Superman and Norman Rockwell, and perhaps Prodigy has similar in mind for Bruce Wayne. Caitlin Rosberg


STL099780.jpeg Shazam #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Dale Eaglesham
Publisher: DC Comics 
Between the name change from Captain Marvel and the fact that he’s often been relegated to the sidelines in monthly titles, Shazam isn’t nearly as well known as some other DC staples. But with a movie premiering next year, it’s a good time for DC Comics to remind people what Billy Batson and his magic superhero powers are all about. Many of Shazam’s most powerful and poignant moments have come only with the presence of other tentpole characters, particularly Superman, so seeing that Geoff Johns is writing this new solo title is a good sign. Saying that Johns has helped to guide a lot of DC canon is an understatement, which is exactly the sort of experience from which Shazam and Billy could both benefit. It’s particularly exciting to see Johns reuniting with his Justice Society of America collaborator Dale Eaglesham, who has a big and bright take on DC house style. Shazam stories are often at their best when they lean into the tension between Billy Batson’s life as an orphaned teen and his off-hours work as a supremely powerful superhero, giving him a chance for a story that’s adventurous and poignant at once, and Johns and Eaglesham know how to deliver that. Though the issue is expensive at five bucks, it’s almost double the length of the average monthly book and comes with a backup story illustrated by Mayo “SEN” Naito. Caitlin Rosberg


STL103006.jpeg Star Wars—Age of the Republic: Qui-Gon Jinn #1
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Cory Smith
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
We’re big fans of Marvel’s Star Wars titles around these parts, but even we have to admit it’s a strange time for a galaxy far, far away’s sequential-art adventures. Kieron Gillen’s work on the core Star Wars title has been reinvigorating, but it’s unclear how much more material there is to be mined from the period between Episode IV and Episode V. Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s excellent Darth Vader series has but a single issue left. Doctor Aphra continues to delight, but Marvel never seemed to capitalize on the potential for similarly original series. And do we really need a simultaneous Solo adaptation and spin-off? The publisher’s next big initiative for its Star Wars license is the Age of… series, three sets of one-shots set during the three eras of cinematic Star Wars, with each issue focusing on a different hero or villain from the saga. It’s not a bad idea—there are certainly characters who warrant more exploration, if not full series—but it feels less forward-moving than a new ongoing or limited series might. Up first is the Age of the Republic, written by Jody Houser, which kicks off with Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn illustrated by former Weapon H artist Cory Smith. Future installments in the Age of the Republic block will follow Jango Fett, Darth Maul, Padme Amidala, Asajj Ventress and more, with Age of the Rebellion and Age of the Resistance arriving next year ahead of Episode IX. Steve Foxe

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