Required Reading: Comics for 2/15/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 2/15/2017

Whoa—Required Reading on a Monday? That’s right, loyal readers: our weekly roundup of the best comics has inched forward a day, so you can start each and every week with the knowledge of what you’ll be reading come Wednesday. Consider it our early holiday treat to you. Whether you’re loading up on original graphic novels like Angel Catbird Vol. 2 and Decelerate Blue or gathering the latest stack of floppies topped off by Batwoman: Rebirth and The Wild Storm, it’s a lovely week to get romantic with sequential art. We even threw in a novel for any non-comic readers who stumbled onto this page by accident. Happy Valentine’s Day, nerds.

Angel Catbird Vol. 2: Castle Catula

Writer: Margaret Atwood
Artist: Johnnie Christmas
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Literary luminary Margaret Atwood bucked expectations with her first graphic novel: rather than craft another stunning piece of dystopian fiction or subtle genre critique, Atwood teamed up with artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain for an unselfconscious ode to Golden Age comics. Angel Catbird, as its zany title makes perfectly clear, is about a half-man, half-cat, half-bird (yes, the extra half is intentional) thrust into an underground society of animal/human hybrids at war with Angel’s former employee, a rat fink in the most literal sense of the term. Atwood and her collaborators seem to be having great fun with the concept, and this middle volume spends much of its time with one of the book’s most enjoyable mash-ups: Count Catula, the vampire feline. With bonus conservation facts sprinkled throughout, Angel Catbird is a delightfully nostalgic nod to the comics of Atwood’s youth, and to the medium’s all-too-often ignored ability to educate and entertain without pretentious aspirations. Steve Foxe

Batwoman: Rebirth #1

Writers: Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV
Artists: Steve Epting
Publisher: DC Comics

Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III still stands tall among queer superhero stories, but this Rebirth series, arriving a full 11 years after the character’s modern debut, is the first time a queer-identified woman is scripting Kate Kane in a solo series. Writer Marguerite Bennett is no stranger to the lesbian caped crusader, having made Kate’s ‘40s counterpart a central figure in the consistently great DC Bombshells series. Bennett is joined by co-writer James Tynion IV, who’s been guiding the character in the pages of Detective Comics, and by artist Steve Epting and Ben Oliver, whose gritty, smokey style is the perfect fit for the pale, leather-clad hero. DC’s continued commitment to queer heroes is admirable enough—that they find such talented creative teams to bring the characters to life makes the representation all the more important. Steve Foxe

Black History in Its Own Words

Writer/Artist: Ronald Wimberly
Publisher: Image Comics

Full disclosure: we missed this last week, but couldn’t forgo mentioning it at all. Black History in Its Own Words may not even fit the definition of a graphic novel, but like all of Ronald Wimberly’s work, it’s a combination of sharp art and stirring words that call attention to social injustice. The book could best be described as a series of one-page graphic biographies, combining a portrait with famous—or infamous—words from the subject. Wimberly’s trademark pop-art colors and deep blacks outline the faces of African American artists, writers, musicians and thinkers from all periods, men and women defining what it means to be black, the experience of marginalization and the specifics of identity. Individually, the portraits are powerful. Taken as a whole, understood as a single statement made by many voices, they accomplish what the title posits: describing what people can (or perhaps should) take away from Black History Month. It’s a confrontational and unapologetic book, which is no surprise coming from Wimberly. Caitlin Rosberg

Decelerate Blue

Writer: Adam Rapp
Artist: Mike Cavallaro
Publisher: First Second

In this (largely) black-and-white original graphic novel, Adam Rapp and artist Mike Cavallaro take on the modern world’s obsession with distraction and hyper-activity via a near-future dystopia best summed up by the credo “Go. Guarantee. Go.” Teenager Angela feels stifled by her society’s focus on optimizing time, and finds herself lured into a rebellion centered on simply slowing down and enjoying life’s little pleasures. Decelerate Blue’s pitch may seem a little hokey, but consider the last time you were in a public space without everyone around you checking their smartphones—Rapp and Cavallaro might just be onto something. Steve Foxe

Forever War #1

Writer: Joe Haldeman
Artist: Marvano
Publisher: Titan Comics

Titan Comics has carved out a specific and successful niche in the past few years by focusing on adaptations of (mostly British) novels and TV shows. From the Rivers of London to Doctor Who and Torchwood, its content is heavily weighted toward built-in audiences. The Forever War comic is a reprint of the original 1988 adaptation, first published in Dutch under the title De Eeuwige Oorlog. Joe Haldeman, author of the novel, wrote the adaptation, and the book features art from the immensely talented Mark van Oppen, better known as Marvano. The Forever War has been a favorite of sci-fi fans for years, and for good reason: along the lines of Starship Troopers and All You Need is Kill (the basis of the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow, re-titled Live. Die. Repeat. upon home release), The Forever War tells the story of a long war between humanity and aliens, but focuses on the ways war changes people. An English language re-release is particularly well timed given the political climate. Caitlin Rosberg

How to Train Your Dragon: The Serpent’s Heir

Writers: Dean DeBlois, Richard A. Hamilton
Artist: Doug Wheatley
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Last month, Paste brought you an exclusive first look at artist Doug Wheatley’s gorgeous pencils for this official How to Train Your Dragon entry, and now readers can check out the full-blown serpentine action in print. Wheatley is joined by HTTYD writer/director/producer Dean DeBlois and scripter Richard A. Hamilton, and the pair have put together an earth-shaking adventure for Hiccup, Astrid, Toothless and the gang as a seismic disturbance on a neighboring Viking island pits them against a villain and a dragon that even they may be unable to control. Dreamworks’ two cinematic entries are among the best non-Disney animated films in recent memory, and the pairing of franchise vets with a detailed artist like Wheatley bodes well for this standalone addition to the lore. Steve Foxe

My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Writer/Artist: Emil Ferris
Publisher: Fantagraphics

It’s been a long wait for My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Cartoonist Emil Ferris started work on the project 15 years ago, overcame a paralyzing bout of West Nile Virus and, just as the printer shipped the books overseas, the Panamanian government ceased them. By the grace of uncanny persistence, this door-stop, 386-page graphic novel arrives in stores, and it is fan-fucking-tastic. Ferris frames her tale through the perspective of a 10-year-old girl solving the murder of a resident—a holocaust survivor—in her apartment building. The protagonist relates through vivid, b-movie esoterica gloriously splayed throughout sprial-bound notebook pages. Heartfelt, unique and elaborate, this defines required reading for comics in 2017. Sean Edgar

Norse Mythology

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

In the last two decades, Neil Gaiman has assumed a wider role as the international ambassador of fiction, sounding off in The Guardian on the importance of libraries and how made-up stories keep wonder alive in a very real way. And the guy behind The Sandman, The Graveyard Book and Coraline has earned every syllable of praise.

Gaiman houses a mind palace of stories, and his work wouldn’t remain so evocative if it didn’t build on the scaffolding of past historical raconteurs. That scholarly devotion can be seen in his short story entries; read “Snow, Glass Apples” for a horrific reinterpretation of Snow White or “The Sleeper and the Spindle” for his sweeping take on Sleeping Beauty—not to mention his sobering iteration of Hansel and Gretel. Gaiman doesn’t so much innovate on the foundations as contextualize them, dousing his yarns in historical realities that echo original lessons lost through time. This new short story collection fits immaculately into that headspace, and should also provide the juiciest divine drama. Aside from the Greeks, no gods fucked, quarreled or stirred the shit like those praised in the colder north climates of Europe. Raise your glass of mead and prepare for a rollicking primer on mythology’s most colorful corner. Sean Edgar

Second Sight Vol. 1

Writer: David Hine
Artist: Alberto Ponticelli
Publisher: AfterShock Comics

Both writer David Hine and artist Alberto Ponticelli thrive in the genre best described as “horror-adjacent”: Hine with the disturbing Strange Embrace and a run on The Darkness and Ponticelli with the eternally underrated 2006 Unknown Soldier and the retro-fun New 52 Frankenstein. Second Sight pairs the two for the story of Ray Pilgrim, a psychic with the ability to enter the minds of serial killers—an ability that backfires when he is accused of similar crimes.With his daughter investigating a massive child-abuse conspiracy perpetrated by dangerous, well-connected elites, Pilgrim must once again tap into his “second sight.” While publisher AfterShock continues to offer a medley of genres, their horror-ish titles, particularly InSeXts and Animosity, have gained the most traction on crowded comic shelves. If you missed Second Sight in floppies, consider this your Second Chance. Steve Foxe

Seven to Eternity Vol. 1

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Jerome Opeña
Publisher: Image Comics

One reason the work of Rick Remender flourishes at Image (aside from his stellar artistic collaborators) is that none of his ongoing series offers remotely the same hook. From ‘80s hardcore teen assassins to multiversal sci-fi family drama to underwater dystopia, every Remender title shows off a different side of his talents. Seven to Eternity, the first arc of which hits shelves in paperback this week, is no different. Along with his Uncanny X-Force partner Jerome Opeña and superstar colorist Matt Hollingsworth, Remender has crafted a fantasy world where science doesn’t exist and magic permeates every facet of life, from the bullets in protagonist Adam Osidis’ gun to the overwhelming influence of the sinister God of Whispers. While Remender continues to show a knack for introducing large casts of compelling oddities, Opeña steals the show yet again with his expansive, Euro-influenced world-building and stunning visual imagination. As has become the Image norm, Seven to Eternity is taking a brief break to allow its artistic team time to catch up; get onboard now before the Mud King makes you regret it. Steve Foxe

Super Sons #1

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Publisher: DC Comics

Another book in the long (and welcome) list of Rebirth titles that are embracing family and teams, Super Sons promises a fun ride full of feelings. The powerhouse team of Peter Tomasi, Jorge Jimenez and colorist Alejandro Sanchez has already nailed down its rhythms on Superman, making Super Sons a logical extension of that flagship title. Tomasi also helped set the tone for Damian Wayne during the New 52 years as the writer of Batman and Robin, establishing Bruce’s son as a deeply feeling but often recalcitrant boy who’s had an immense impact on his father’s life. This isn’t the first time that Batman and Superman legacy heroes have ended up in a book together, but the dynamic between this particular Robin and Superboy is worlds apart from the relationships between Dick or Tim and Kara or Kon. With younger leads, the humor should be intact, but the beats and particular jokes will be different—a welcome shot in the arm for a familial relationship that’s already the better part of a century old. Jimenez’ art sets the right mood for Super Sons, fun and elastic without being too cartoonish, and Tomasi’s ability to mix action, emotion and joy should serve the preteen heroes well. Caitlin Rosberg

The Wild Storm #1

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Publisher: DC Comics

For a very long time, Jim Lee’s WildStorm productions offered the most progressive superhero comics the medium could call its own. Ex Machina, Stormwatch, Wildcats 3.0 and many other series (check back for a full list of our favorites) ushered capes into an era of politics and technology with brazen intellect. Lee’s imprint only dulled when its best writers—Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker and Brian K. Vaughan—fled to Marvel and applied the same formula of unilateral war and ugly science. The true success of a creative idea can be gauged on how quickly the mainstream assimilates it.

Ironically, DC Comics is reinvigorating those original characters and titles in a new “pop-up” imprint, similar to Gerard Way’s recent Young Animal editorial umbrella. Paste would raise an eyebrow if not for one simple fact; Warren Ellis, the defining innovator behind the original initiative, is both writing the titular, headlining book and overseeing the other unannounced satellite series. What to expect? A never-ending stream of black-ops antis, disturbing transhumanism and scathing insults. And, hopefully, a return to comics’ most intriguing laboratory. Sean Edgar

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