Conan the Barbarian, Man Without Fear, Low & More in Required Reading: Comics for 1/2/2019

Comics Lists Required Reading
Conan the Barbarian, Man Without Fear, Low & More in Required Reading: Comics for 1/2/2019

Don’t worry, we’re not making a habit of shortened lists with a bias toward Marvel Comics. Both last week’s New Comic Book Day and the first drop of 2019 fall awkwardly around major holidays, with most publishers opting to either sit out the weeks entirely or to at least avoid any major new releases. Marvel Comics, always eager to keep the shelves stuffed, has done neither. January’s kickoff includes the much-anticipated beginning of Marvel’s Conan license, which sees Robert E. Howard’s iconic barbarian return to the publisher after 15 years with Dark Horse Comics. Champions also gets a new #1 and mission statement, while dearly departed Daredevil gets eulogized in the first of five weekly Man Without Fear installments. If you’re not a Marvel Zombie…we honestly don’t have much to recommend this week. Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s Low returns with a new story arc, a Brian Michael Bendis classic gets a new edition and P. Craig Russell’s criminally under-read Ring of the Nibelung adaptation finds a new audience. Welcome to 2019, faithful readers—now get reading!

STL106248.jpegChampions #1
Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Steven Cummings
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Marvel’s relaunch of the Champions brand with a new focus on teen heroes didn’t really find its footing until writer Jim Zub took over from Mark Waid, and this week Zub gets rewarded with a new #1, an expanded mission statement and a new artist in the form of his longtime Wayward collaborator Steven Cummings. Champions still pushes recent Marvel breakthroughs Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, Riri Williams and Amadeus Cho to the forefront, but now the team is taking on a more explicitly international focus, with new characters joining the roster to represent countries beyond America’s borders. Cummings has ample experience depicting teens in a supernatural version of Japan, and his long partnership with Zub bodes well for productive collaborative storytelling under the Marvel umbrella. Large casts can get unwieldy, but Zub’s time on Thunderbolts—and the sheer charm of Marvel’s teen heroes—should elevate Champions above the pack. Steve Foxe

STL106249.jpegConan the Barbarian #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Do people still care about Conan the Barbarian? Does it even matter when Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar are at the helm? Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian warrior has persisted far beyond most of his pulp peers, with a storied Marvel Comics run decades ago and a full 15 years of adventures at Dark Horse Comics, and now two of Marvel’s biggest creators are starting the saga all over again. It’s impressive that Aaron even has barbarian stories left to tell, after an era-defining run on Thor and an all-too-brief sojourn to The Goddamned, but early peeks have described Conan as Aaron unchained. Asrar, already a major force following runs on All-New X-Men and All-New Avengers, seemed to hit a new plateau in 2018 with the launch of X-Men Red, and is one of the few interior artists who could stand up against the sheer awe of Esad Ribic’s painted covers. Marvel has a lot riding on Conan the Barbarian #1—we already know Savage Sword of Conan and Bêlit are in the pipeline to expand this newly reacquired world—but it’s hard to imagine this launch being anything but 2019’s first great smash-hit. Steve Foxe

STL103843.jpegInfinity Wars: Infinity #1
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
We were huge fans of Gerry Duggan’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy, including the Infinity Countdown event that bridged the main series and Infinity Wars, but it’s hard to feel like Infinity Wars was a fitting conclusion to the Duggan era. While everything before it did a shockingly great job of blending the charm of the GotG films with the characters’ more authentic comic personas, Infinity Wars suffered from nearly unreadable Mike Deodato, Jr. art and a messy plot that hinged on a harsh personality shift for Gamora and a plan to reduce the universe’s population by creating goofy amalgam characters like Arachknight and Hex-23. The final issue of Infinity Wars included the kinda-sorta death of a longtime Guardian, but any possible gravitas were out the window by that point. Infinity Wars: Infinity is the second epilogue issue for Infinity Wars, and also serves as Duggan’s swan song before Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw relaunch the series with a huge new cast. Duggan’s run may have ended on a sour note, but the rest of his tenure was excellent, which makes Infinity Wars: Infinity a worthwhile use of $3.99 this week. Steve Foxe

Writer/Artist: Brian Michael Bendis
Publisher: Jinxworld/ DC Comics
Brian Michael Bendis’ creator-owned imprint at DC Comics is called “Jinxworld” for a reason, and now readers have no excuse not to rediscover the comic that helped launch one of the industry’s biggest names. Written and drawn by Bendis, Jinx is a proto-Jessica Jones tale of bounty hunter Jinx Alameda and con man David “Goldfish” Gold, and an informative look at the early influences that blossomed throughout much of Bendis’ Marvel career. The dialogue patter and noir/crime edge are here, as is Bendis’ photo-reliant art style, still favored among his collaborators on his current Jinxworld series. This new reissue collects both volumes of Jinx along with a special one-shot, and helps unite Bendis’ non-Marvel work under a single banner at his new publishing home. Steve Foxe

STL100492.jpegLow #20
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Greg Tocchini
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer Rick Remender has worked out an expert juggling act between Black Science, Deadly Class, Low, Seven to Eternity and most recently Death or Glory, with hiatuses that allow his artistic partners time to catch up and bank issues between story arcs. Delays and unexpected gaps on creator-owned titles can massively kill reader enthusiasm, but planned downtime can relax reader wallets and give stories time to sink in. Low #20 launches a seven-part storyline from Remender and Greg Tocchini’s underwater post-apocalypse, which the solicit text ominously describes as “a battle between desperate hope and certain oblivion.” Remender’s Image Comics empire seems to have no end in sight, and part of his work week now goes toward the Deadly Class TV show, so we wouldn’t be surprised if “Last Embers” was setting up a finale for the Caine family. If Low is on the way out, expect Remender and Tocchini to hit each crashing wave as hard as possible along the way. Steve Foxe

STL106252.jpegMan Without Fear #1
Writer: Jed MacKay
Artist: Danilo Beyrouth
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Some of the most interesting superhero stories of all time don’t focus on the heroes themselves, but rather the friends, allies and enemies who have been shaped by the titular character. Comics like Gotham Central give readers a peek not just into the lives of characters they know and love, but also what it’s like to live in a city that’s defined at least in part by its relationship to a person in a costume. The Man Without Fear is a five-issue miniseries that follows the most important people in Matt Murdock’s life in the wake of Daredevil’s…departure. Each issue focuses on a particular character (although, in the case of Matt’s love interests, they’re frustratingly all lumped together in one), and it should be interesting to see how Foggy Nelson and Kingpin respond to a world without Daredevil. Written by Jed MacKay of Daughters of the Dragon and Infinity Wars: Ghost Panther, Man Without Fear features art by All-New Ghost Rider contributor Danilo Beyrouth and a cover from Kyle Hotz. Any Daredevil fan still reeling from the end of Charles Soule’s long run should nab this transition series. Caitlin Rosberg

STL097027.jpegThe Ring of Nibelung
Writer/Artist: P. Craig Russell
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
This omnibus collects both volumes of P. Craig Russell’s Eisner-winning The Ring of Nibelung, an epic story based on Germanic folklore and Richard Wagner’s operatic cycles. With the popularity of superhero deities like Thor at an all-time high, it’s not difficult to see the similarities between superhero stories and mythology, particularly Nordic-related sagas. Russell’s ambitious storytelling and the massive visual scope of Nibelung take that connection to a new level, pushing narrative storytelling in interesting, intricate ways. Russell’s prolific and frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman, as well as his work on titles like Elric and Hellboy, have well defined the sort of readers who should check out Nibelung, and it could act as a great entry point for readers who love folklore and epics but are hesitant to give graphic novels a try. Given that earlier editions are hard to find—and the sheer size of the book—the price of this new omnibus is more than reasonable, and it would make a great belated holiday gift. Caitlin Rosberg

STL106262.jpegWolverine: The Long Night #1
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Marcio Takara
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The relationship between comics and radio dramas is almost as long as both mediums are old, and for the most part it’s been a fruitful one, which makes Wolverine: The Long Night the latest in a long legacy. The five-issue miniseries written by Benjamin Percy with art by Marcio Takara is based on the scripted podcast by the same name that Marvel created and made available on Stitcher earlier this year. Though some readers know Percy best for his novels and short fiction, he’s worked on a slew of titles for DC in the past, and Takara has earned fans with his crisp inks at both major superhero publishers. Wolverine: The Long Night is another story that skirts around the central character, using Logan as a catalyst and pivot for two FBI agents sent to investigate a series of mysterious deaths in a remote part of Alaska. Paired with the audio drama, which Percy also wrote, The Long Night could serve as a great gateway for readers familiar with Wolverine but new to comics. Caitlin Rosberg

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