JLA/Doom Patrol Special, Silencer, Hungry Ghosts & More in Required Reading: Comics for 1/31/2018

Comics Lists Required Reading
JLA/Doom Patrol Special, Silencer, Hungry Ghosts & More in Required Reading: Comics for 1/31/2018

What do Andy Kaufman, Anthony Bourdain, a dairy-themed alternate-reality Superman and a confusing Star Wars cameo have in common? Zilch—other than anchoring a comic hitting shelves this Wednesday. The final New Comic Book Day of January also offers up DC’s second New Age of DC Heroes title (this time starring a stay-at-home-mom Punisher), a double whammy of impressive Black Mask original graphic novels, Vertigo’s latest sci-fi series, a one-shot starring two instant-fan-favorite Last Jedi stars and the second entry in DC’s magical-academy mystery Mystik U. It looks like 2018 may be priming itself to zoom past as quickly as 2017 did—make sure you take time to savor the sequential-art delights.

STL064636.jpegBlack AF: America’s Sweetheart
Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Artist: Jennifer Johnson
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Black Mask is one of a handful of smaller publishers putting out comics both excellent and unexpected, filling niches that haven’t been explored by more traditional superhero stories and supporting talent from marginalized communities that have been long ignored by traditional publishers. Though the first Black book was crowd-funded, Black Mask got in (almost) on the ground floor to help support writer Kwanza Osajyefo, co-creator Tim Smith 3 and artist Jamal Igle spread the book to the masses. Osajyefo proved to be an imaginative and skillful writer, creating a world that both reflects reality and pushes beyond it. In Black, the team asked the question of what the world would look like if the only people with superpowers were all Black; a young Black man discovers his powers when he survives police violence, and struggles to evade both the police and people who want to control superpowered Black men and women. On the heels of that success, Osajyefo has expanded the world to include a new character and a new perspective on that same premise.

Black AF: America’s Sweetheart centers around a young Black girl, just 15 years old, thrust into a world that’s slowly acclimating to what’s happening, as she must contend with everyday threats on top of the rejection she faces from the people around her—and a supervillain to boot. It’s a smart, sharp metaphor and it expands the universe that Osajyefo and Smith created in important ways, but the surprise draw here is Jennifer Johnson’s art. It’s rich with bright color and texture, a big departure from Black’s raw black and white pages. Johnson’s style could easily fit into a Little Golden Book, which helps make America’s Sweetheart accessible to a wide audience, easing the reader into ethical quandaries and unsettling nuance. Osajyefo is building a new superhero world that’s as compelling as it is unique, leaning on familiar tropes but reinvigorating them with metaphors that have weight and impact. It definitely helps that the book is over 80 pages and priced at $10 or less in most formats and locations, making it the perfect entry point for new readers and a contender for best value this week. Caitlin Rosberg

Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Like his collaborators Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, artist Eric Zawadzki made an impressive entrance with his work on The Dregs last year, and this week, readers will get a chance to see Zawadzki’s creative vision writ large in this original graphic novel from Black Mask Studios. Written by Beautiful Canvas and Negative Space creator Ryan K. Lindsay and stunningly colored by Dee Cunniffe, Eternal tells the story of an isolated band of shieldmaidens who refuse to cede their land to invading men. Zawadzki is already an expert at violence, and Lindsay has repeatedly displayed a talent for wringing emotions out of killer situations. Eternal, along with Black AF: America’s Sweetheart, mark Black Mask’s first entries in the original graphic novel market—potentially a fruitful new format for the upstart publisher. Steve Foxe

HungryGhostsRR.jpgHungry Ghosts #1
Writers: Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose
Artists: Alberto Ponticelli & Vanessa Del Ray
Publisher: Berger Books/ Dark Horse Comics
Hungry Ghosts is the first of four inaugural titles for Berger Books, the Dark Horse imprint run by famed editor Karen Berger, whose tenure at Vertigo helped to shape modern comics in ways that cannot be understated. Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, who also teamed up for Get Jiro! back in 2016, Hungry Ghosts feels like many of the best episodes of television that Bourdain has starred in: informative, more than a little weird, sometimes unexpected and often only tangentially related to food. The book is framed as an anthology published in multiple issues, with each installment telling several stories. Each story has a different artist, but they’re linked by the central conceit of a dinner party that wraps up with the guests and chefs all telling each other ghost stories. Alberto Ponticelli provides the visuals not only for the dinner party framing device, but also the first of the spooky tales. It’s Vanesa Del Ray that sells the book though, with a tale of pirates and sexual violence that’s horrifying and cathartic at once. Fans of Del Ray’s book Redlands, created with Jordie Bellaire, will feel right at home with her contribution to the issue, and here’s hoping that folks who may not have otherwise picked up Redlands will do so after seeing these pages. Some readers might be put off by Paul Pope’s borderline stereotypical cover art and the unfortunate lettering choices on it, but in true comic book fashion, the cover has little to do with the interiors. Caitlin Rosberg

STL070395.jpegIs This Guy For Real?
Writer/Artist: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second
Cartoonist Box Brown sure knows how to pick his subjects. Following on the heels of his Andre the Giant biography and his deep dive into the history of Tetris, Brown takes a look at the controversial, confusing, contradictory life of comedian Andy Kaufman. Best known for his role on Taxi, Kaufman excelled as an offbeat stand-up comedian and had a surprisingly successful stint in wrestling before his early death from cancer at age 35, but his various public personas rarely matched his private life. Brown, who employs an appealing simplified cartooning style throughout, takes care to explore why Kaufman constructed these personalities, and what they said about the man behind Latka Gravas and Tony Clifton. Steve Foxe

STL073300.jpegJLA/Doom Patrol Special #1
Writers: Steve Orlando & Gerard Way, Magdalene Visaggio
Artists: ACO/ Sonny Liew
Publisher: Young Animal/ DC Comics
Gerard Way, Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain’s Doom Patrol has been a revelation, a burst of pure weirdness and enthusiasm in comic-book form. It’s also been hella delayed, but fear not: the Way-curated Young Animal line celebrates its first “un-event” this week with JLA/Doom Patrol Special #1, the inaugural chapter of the “Milk Wars” storyline. Joining Way is JLA writer Steve Orlando and Orlando’s Midnighter collaborator ACO, whose bone-breaking style and inventive panel layouts make for the perfect marriage between Orlando’s eclectic JLA cast and the strange denizens of the Doom Patrol. As Frank Quitely’s stunning, gloriously odd cover illustration of Milkman Man announces, “Milk Wars” involves bizarre faux-wholesome versions of DC icons, like a Clark Kent raised by evil dairy farmers. If that somehow isn’t enough to justify your $4.99, JLA/Doom Patrol Special #1 also contains a four-page introduction to Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s upcoming Eternity Girl limited series. Steve Foxe

STL070224.jpegMotherlands #1
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Rachael Stott
Publisher: Vertigo/ DC Comics
Despite the wellspring of Vertigo inspiration across the comics industry, from IDW’s Black Crown to many Image titles to DC’s own Young Animal imprint, the storied mature readers line has kept a modest title count in recent years. This week, The Spire auteur Simon Spurrier and Sex Criminals and The Wicked + The Divine contributor Rachael Stott kick off Motherlands, a six-issue mini-series set in a future awash with alternate realities, where the biggest celebrities are bounty hunters capable of tracking science criminals across different timelines and worlds. Protagonist Tab finds herself chasing a bounty so big she’ll need help from her greatest foil: her own mother, once the most feared (and arousing) bounty hunter in the business. With a mix of mother/daughter comedy, offbeat designs from Stott and world-hopping action, Motherlands bodes well for Vertigo. Steve Foxe

STL070174.jpegMystik U #2
Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artist: Mike Norton
Publisher: DC Comics
After a lot of hard work world-building and establishing characters in the first issue of Alisa Kwitney and Mike Norton’s magical-boarding-school story, Mystik U #2 hits the ground running. The premise has a healthy serving of Harry Potter, a lot of Justice League Dark and a pinch of Young Justice for flavor, making it perfect for fans of Gotham Academy as well as the slew of supernatural shows on the CW and MTV. Revolving around a young, uncertain Zatanna and a gaggle of teen DC characters with magical, rather than super-powered, abilities, Mystik U walks the fine line between nostalgia and something brand new, with a cast that includes Mister E, Doctor Occult and Rose Psychic. Like Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, it’s set to be three oversized issues, entirely self-contained (and only loosely related to the core DCU continuity). As with his work on Battlepug and Archer & Armstrong, Norton’s art is graceful and detailed, giving the characters and the school itself a sense of space and personality that doesn’t require dialog. It’s to Kwitney’s credit that the book has given so much real estate to female friendships and the very normal concerns of young women and men while also crafting a solid mystery. Mystik U is an ideal gateway comic, an introduction to classic mature-readers titles like Books of Magic, Hellblazer (or Constantine), The Trenchcoat Brigade, and even Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Sandman. Caitlin Rosberg

STL066968.jpegThe Silencer #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: John Romita, Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics
There are no shortage of assassins in the DC universe, but between the draw of writer Dan Abnett and artist John Romita, Jr.’s history of work—and the push behind this “New Age of DC Heroes”—DC is banking on readers embracing one more: The Silencer. Honor Guest is a former killer for hire who left her previous life behind in favor of something quieter—more cookie-cutter suburbia than arsenal-toting. As these things often go, her past interrupts her present as Talia al Ghul makes an appearance and demands her cooperation. Abnett knows how to deliver on this kind of vengeance-and-violence-soaked story, and will hopefully avoid the trope of killing Guest’s family to drive her emotional arc. Romita, Jr. has a knack for the fluid fight scenes that make a book like this fun to read, though there’s likely to be a bit of a problem with his well-documented “same-face syndrome” and the odd impossible pose. The Silencer is set up to be a summer blockbuster story, an action movie in comic book form that has the added benefit of injecting new life into the DC roster. Caitlin Rosberg

STL068724.jpegStar Wars Adventures: Forces of Destiny: Rose & Paige
Writer: Delilah Dawson
Artist: Nicoletta Baldari
Publisher: IDW Publishing
IDW Publishing’s Forces of Destiny weekly one-shot series wraps up this week by celebrating The Last Jedi’s best new non-porg characters, Rose and Paige Tico. While one was only featured in a single scene and the other was saddled with perhaps the worst single line of dialogue out of the Prequel Trilogy, Rose and Paige instantly caught the hearts of Star Wars fandom, especially Asian and Asian-American fans who rarely get a chance to see themselves on-screen throughout the series. YA author Delilah Dawson, a fan-favorite frequent contributor to Disney’s new lore, joins artist Nicoletta Baldari for this tale, and Baldari’s animation-storyboard-reminiscent style should prove delightful for the legions of new fans eager to find out more about the Tico sisters. Steve Foxe

STL069196.jpegStar Wars: The Last Jedi: DJ: Most Wanted
Writers: Ben Blacker & Ben Acker
Artist: Kev Walker
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ah good, a Star Wars book with even more colons in its title. The Last Jedi was—understatement incoming—a divisive film for Star Wars fans, but even the staunchest defenders of Rian Johnson’s take on the franchise (myself included) have to admit that Benecio Del Toro’s space libertarian was infuriating. Never named on screen, “DJ” seemed designed to progress a B-plot and teach Rose and Finn that some people are just assholes, no matter their ideologies (or lack thereof). Improbably named writing duo Ben Blacker and Ben Acker have the unenviable task of fleshing out this codebreaker with an odd vocal tic, with Doctor Aphra artist Kev Walker joining the duo to make sure that the result will look great, if nothing else. Despite some very high highs from Marvel’s Star Wars comics, Disney hasn’t allowed for the introduction of too many new canonical elements related to their era of films—check out the disappointing Cassian & K-2SO for evidence of that—so fingers crossed that the creative team can surprise us with a decent DJ set. Steve Foxe

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