Manfried Saves the Day, Absolute Batman: The Black Mirror, Clue: Candlestick & More in Required Reading: Comics for 5/22/2019

Comics Lists Required Reading
Manfried Saves the Day, Absolute Batman: The Black Mirror, Clue: Candlestick & More in Required Reading: Comics for 5/22/2019

Is May some sort of hardcover bonanza at various mainstream publishers? Last week, we ended up recommending a good number of collected editions, and this week we find ourselves in the same position. Perhaps publishers are saving new-series launches for the summer months—or maybe books like Absolute Batman: The Black Mirror are just too good to ignore, even if their contents first hit shelves almost a decade ago. If pricy hardcovers aren’t your style, worry not: we’ve still got notable launches running the gamut from Russian horror to autobiographical manga to board-game mystery in this week’s Required Reading.

STL097677.jpegAbsolute Batman: The Black Mirror
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Jock & Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: DC Comics
The cover to Absolute Batman: The Black Mirror is easily one of the most iconic Batman-related images of the modern era, and it represents a run that still reverberates through comics today. When Scott Snyder took over Detective Comics, Dick Grayson was Batman and Snyder was no one—at least to the mainstream, superhero-reading public. American Vampire was still gearing up, and Snyder’s credits included a literary short-story collection and a few brief Marvel gigs. Now he’s one of DC’s surest bets, with close to 100 issues of various Bat-adventures under his belt and more on the way. The Black Mirror is still one of Snyder’s best though, as it taps into his crime-noir sensibilities and keeps the scope more intimately framed on Grayson and Jim Gordon, whose son plays a key role in Snyder stories to this day. Providing alternating art are Jock and Francesco Francavilla, both modern-day titans who were still on the rise at the time of Black Mirror’s release. Jock and Francavilla’s styles couldn’t be more different, but Snyder tailors their chapters to their individual strengths, resulting in a surprisingly happy marriage. Sometimes a new gun gets it right straight out of the gate. Steve Foxe

STL074443.jpegBlack Magick HC Vol. 1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Nicola Scott
Publisher: Image Comics
Who could have guessed that one of the most reliable writers in comics, working in tandem with one of the most reliable artists in comics, would end up producing quality work? Greg Rucka bats as close to a perfect score as any writer with a career as long as his, especially when he stays in his wheelhouse of tough, complicated, often self-destructive women. Nicola Scott, meanwhile, built a reputation as one of DC Comics’ cleanest superhero artists. Black Magick has no capes or tights in sight, but it does find Scott expanding her repertoire with a gray-tone inkwash approach produced in tandem with colorist Chiara Arena. The resulting pages look miles away from saturated superheroics, and perfectly capture protagonist Rowan Black’s world of morally murky magic and policing. This handsomely designed hardcover collects the complete first storyline—with more hopefully on the way. Steve Foxe

STL112958.jpegBlank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey Vol. 1
Writer/Artist: Akiko Higashimura
Publisher: Seven Seas
Manga is still unfamiliar for a lot of mainstream American comics readers, but the audience overlap has never been higher, particularly with young female readers. And thanks in no small part to anime adaptations and more readily available English translations, there are a slew of readers who have never ventured into a comic shop or read a superhero comic but have volumes of manga on their shelves. Akiko Higashimura’s latest series is an autobiographical exploration of her high school years as an aspiring mangaka, or manga creator. The good news is Higashimura’s happy ending has already arrived: she’s the mind behind the popular Princess Jellyfish, a slice-of-life manga that tapped into the concerns many young people have about finding jobs and embracing found families, and also deals with gender presentation and identity. Both Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, her subsequent work, include wry observations and funny anecdotes from Higashimura, including insights into her life and creative process. But it’s something totally new to learn about what shaped Higashimura into the artist and writer that she is today, and what influenced her growing up. Fans of her fiction work and anyone who has ever wondered if they have what it takes to be a mangaka should definitely pick up Blank Canvas. Caitlin Rosberg

STL111537.jpegBlack Badge HC Vol. 1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Tyler Jenkins
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Comics about camping and scouting are increasingly popular, especially with younger readers, and thanks to titles like James Bond and The Prisoner, books about spies are enjoying a resurgence too. But combining the two isn’t immediately intuitive. Readers who get over that initial hump are richly rewarded by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ inventive world-building and intense characterizations, and the slow unfolding of danger and drama on a micro scale as groups of young scouts are pitched against each other and the rest of the world. Kindt and Jenkins worked together previously on Grass Kings, and both books are served well by Jenkins’ spare, intentional watercolor work. Though some elements aren’t as detailed as in other books, the large swaths of color and delicate lines create an intense dreamy quality, even as teens maim and murder their way through missions and mysteries. There are more than a few entries in the child assassin genre, but Kindt and Jenkin’s is by far one of the most emotional and restrained ones. This first collected hardcover volume is a great place to jump in. Caitlin Rosberg

STL118459.jpegClue: Candlestick #1
Writer/Artist: Dash Shaw
Publisher: IDW Publishing
As a beloved movie and the classic board game that doesn’t make most people start fights with friends and family, Clueis already a double threat. With the addition of a new comic series, it could very well become a triple deal. Cartoonist Dash Shaw is writing and drawing Clue: Candlestick, which promises mysteries and puzzles for fans familiar with the game and new readers alike. There was a six-issue run of Clueback in 2017, but Shaw’s work is independent from that well-received story. It may only be three issues long, but still the rare treat: most of Shaw’s previous work has been with Fantagraphics, with books like Bottomless Belly Buttonand Cosplayersearning him fans and accolades. His unique art style will likely be one of the biggest draws for Clue: Candlestick. It’s cartoony both in shape and color—inventive, imaginative and a great fit for a story that is campy and larger than life. Caitlin Rosberg

STL104623.jpegFriendo Vol. 1
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Publisher: Vault Comics
Alex Paknadel first crossed Paste’s radar for his writing on Arcadia, a bold sci-fi story from BOOM! Studios that imagined the next steps for a world in which everyone has uploaded their consciousness into digital form. Friendo aims a little closer to reality, but still one significantly changed by digital marketing run amok. We first come across protagonist Leo after he’s involved in a car crash that was actually an attempt at viral advertising, and we follow him as he meets Jerry, his new personalized virtual-reality friend. As with Arcadia and Turncoat, Paknadel is skilled at taking a somewhat familiar premise and pushing it to the next level, which is what gives Friendo its J.G. Ballard-for-the-21st-century edge. Joining Paknadel is Punks Not Dead artist Martin Simmonds, who digital artwork perfectly captures the ever-so-slightly dystopian tomorrow of Los Angeles’ already kinda-dystopian today. If you like your sci-fi with bite, Friendo is a must-read, now collected in convenient trade-paperback form. Steve Foxe

STL115871.jpegManfried Saves the Day
Writer: Caitlin Major
Artist: Kelly Bastow
Publisher: Quirk Books
Manfried Saves the Dayis the sequel to last year’s incredible Manfried the Man, and the creative team of Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow have returned with another funny and heartfelt tale. Set in a world where cats do human things and keep little men as pets, Manfried Saves the Day picks up right where the first book left off. Steve Catson is still overwhelmed, but it’s better than the melancholy and aimlessness he experienced during the first book. Struggling with work, Steve and his friends learn that the man shelter they’ve all worked so hard to keep afloat is in danger of being shut down and they must rally to save it. Their best hope is to compete in the Manflower Man Show and win enough money to save the shelter, but Steve is distracted and overextended, leaving all their hard work at risk and his own pet man neglected. Manfried Saves the Day is the perfect continuation of the story told in the first book, but is also strong enough to stand on its own as an emotional and hilarious read. Pet owners in particular will relate to Steve and his friends, even with the comedic dissonance of seeing humans as tiny, naked pets. The world that Bastow and Major have built together has a lot more story to offer, and readers will be eager for more once they dive in. Caitlin Rosberg

STL116825.jpegMeat & Bone
Writer/Artist: Kat Verhoeven
Publisher: Conundrum Press
Slice-of-life comics aren’t as popular as some other genres in printed monthly titles, but webcomics have always been a haven for small, intimate stories with broad appeal. Meat & Bone is one such webcomic, and this week it arrives in print format from publisher Conundrum press. Created by Kat Verhoeven, Meat & Bonegives readers a look into the lives of three roommates who are on different but inexorably linked paths. Each of the roommates struggles with universal concerns like romantic relationships and body image, but through an explicitly queer lens. All three women are confronting parts of themselves and their relationships with others, and Verhoeven approaches those struggles with kindness but honesty. If that wasn’t enough to draw people in, Verhoeven’s art is a bold and colorful joy to behold, with characters stylized and unique and interesting to look at from every angle. The sartorial choices alone make Meat & Bonefun to read, but it’s the characters and story that will keep people coming back for more. Caitlin Rosberg

STL110738.jpegMidnight Radio
Writer/Artist: Iolanda Zanfardino
Publisher: Lion Forge
Long before the internet and podcasts, radio was one of the best ways to spread underground messages and foment unrest. Midnight Radio is an exploration of just how influential the medium can be, with four separate but related stories about people whose lives were changed after they all heard the same late-night message over the airwaves. The book weaves between these characters as they begin to recognize that the world outside of their own lives is much larger than they all may have seen before. It purports to confront social issues like racism and LGBTQ+ rights, but also the struggle to decide between striving for dreams and settling for stability. Most of creator Iolanda Zanfardino’s previous credits have been on Doctor Who titles as an artist, so it will be interesting to see how this new foray into writing shakes out. Zanfardino’s style is sleek and colorful, attractive to the eye. With the Oni Press and Lion Forge merger moving ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if books like Midnight Radio continue to find a home at the newly combined publisher. Caitlin Rosberg

STL115956.jpegRoad of Bones #1
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Anyone with access to the news knows that horrors aren’t confined to the realm of monsters and ghosts and masked slashers—human beings are and always have been capable of great atrocities. Road of Bones opens in a Russian work camp in the year 1950, when a political joke cracked at a party can earn you 25 years hard labor—and getting caught stealing an extra piece of bread can get 10 years added to that sentence. But in the world writer Rich Douek and Alex Cormack have constructed, the horrors don’t begin and end with violent Russian prison guards—there is something lurking beyond the barbed wire, and escaping confinement might just send the protagonists of Road of Bones down darker paths. Cormack has honed his horror skills on books like Sink, while Douek has contributed to IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line in addition to original works like Wailing Blade and Gutter Magic. For more on Road of Bones, check back later this week as Douek explains his inspirations for the series in an exclusive feature. Steve Foxe

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