Required Reading: Comics for 4/12/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 4/12/2017

Did someone at Marvel recently pilfer a cursed artifact, or run afoul of a powerful witch? The House of Ideas had yet another troubled weekend, this time the result of X-Men Gold artist Ardian Syaf hiding offensive political references in what should have been a major flagship relaunch for the long-beleaguered mutant franchise. In a word: Yikes. Marvel swiftly apologized, though, and has a trio of notable new releases this week to, hopefully, cleanse the palate. In less controversial news, Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña return with their epic-in-the-making Seven to Eternity, cartoonist Asaf Hanuka releases his second collection of trippy autobio comics and trade collections drop for a surprisingly successful niche multiplayer game and a love-it-or-hate-it Batman run. Now let’s all focus our good energy in Marvel’s direction and wish them a fudge-up-free week.

The Artist HC

Writer/Artist: Anna Haifisch
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Toss a stone into indie publisher Fantagraphic’s library and it’ll hit at least three books about cartoonists cartooning about how hard it is to make a living producing cartoons. But bless German artist Anna Haifisch for immortalizing the starving artist as an emaciated, pathetic humanoid bird—forever awaiting feathers to fly into success that may or may not manifest. Known for her work in Vice, Haifisch pivots from thin, sterile lines to messy, runny brush strokes of ink, conveying the inconsistency and chaos of the trade. The only word that can describe this book is malnourished. That approach is complemented by thick fills of salmon, yellow, violet and white—a color spectrum pacifying on first glance and suspiciously anxious with repeat exposures. This hardcover will either be therapy to peers who can commiserate, black comedy for familiar onlookers or confusing to anyone else. Or, more appropriately, it will be an inspired, intentional clusterfuck of all three. Sean Edgar

Batman Vol. 2: I Am Suicide

Writer: Tom King
Artists: Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics

Tom King has proven himself as one of the most introspective (and controversial) authors to take a scalpel to the superhero psyche. After acclaimed runs on The Vision and The Omega Men, there were few choices of who could follow Scott Snyder’s cerebral take on comic’s most beloved character. King’s initial arc felt anemic and indirect, but I Am Suicide, collecting issues 9-15, is gloriously confrontational. The writer addresses the looming question behind a man who fights the mentally ill in response to childhood trauma: does a vulnerable human being exist behind the male escapist power fantasy? His conclusion: of course. Bruce Wayne harbors a jumbo jet full of emotional baggage and unmet needs. How could he not? Does that acknowledgement create a tighter relationship between reader and archetype or contradict the absolutism made possible in fiction? Who cares: King, with able assistance from artist Mikel Janin, is creating his own definitive take on the character that can be retconned or rewoven by whomever follows him. And issue #15, guest penciled by The Sheriff of Babylon artist Mitch Gerads, is one of the most touching erotic romances in recent memory, especially from a mainstream superhero publisher. Sean Edgar

Black Panther & The Crew #1

Writers: Ta-Nehisi Coates & Yona Harvey
Artist: Butch Guice
Publisher: Marvel Comics

New York Times bestselling essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates and poet Yona Harvey quietly end their time on Black Panther spinoff World of Wakanda to bring T’Challa much closer to the heart of the MCU: Harlem. Coates and Harvey, joined by industry veteran Butch Guice, unite some of the publisher’s biggest black heroes, including Storm and Netflix breakout Misty Knight, to investigate the death of a prominent black activist. This isn’t the first time Marvel has employed The Crew title to tackle tough societal topics: famed Black Panther writer Christopher Priest and artist Joe Bennett released seven issues under the banner in 2003 and 2004, largely on the topic of gentrification in a black immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn. That Crew got disbanded before it could get beyond its introductory arc, but with Coates at the helm and a high-profile cast of characters, this timely take has a better outlook. Steve Foxe

Godshaper #1

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Jonas Goonface
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

On the heels of his success with Cry Havoc and The Spire , Simon Spurrier dives into another story full of mystery and contradiction, pushing at what belief makes of humans and the deities they worship. Godshaper sounds like a mix of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials with a little bit of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, featuring a world where gods are real and deeply personal, woven into the mundane facets of daily life. Spurrier’s work tends towards ambitious stories better suited to limited runs, so it’s heartening to see this one is planned for six issues; if dragged out, comics like this can quickly become diluted. Artist Jonas Goonface has mostly worked on his own material in the past, but his style seems like a great fit for the way Spurrier’s work oscillates between the realistic and the cartoonish, integrating dreamy, psychedelic elements into panels full of very human violence. Caitlin Rosberg

Guardians of the Galaxy #19

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Valerio Schiti & Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Yes, you read that cover blurb right: this is “Bendis’ big-time bye-bye blowout,” as he finally bids adieu to the interstellar team he stewarded prior to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2014. Bendis’ run is most notable for shifting the cast’s existing characterization more in line with their cinematic portrayals, and your appreciation of that change likely determined how much you cared for his tenure overall. What can’t be denied is the strength of his collaborators, including Valerio Schiti, whose work helps send Bendis off here alongside guest pages from other GotG-related artists. Deadpool scribe Gerry Duggan joins Death of X artist Aaron Kuder for the upcoming relaunch, timed for the second feature film, so expect the banter-heavy interpretation of these space heroes to stick around for the foreseeable future. Steve Foxe

Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artists: Cary Nord & Clayton Henry
Publisher: Valiant

One of Valiant’s strengths is choosing the best format for a story, rather than launching ongoings willy-nilly. This oversized one-shot relays a historical tale featuring three of the publisher’s marquee characters: tipsy immortal Armstrong, his self-serious brother the Eternal Warrior and their time-walking sibling, Ivar. Former Archer & Armstrong writer Fred Van Lente, X-O Manowar launch artist Cary Nord and Valiant standby Clayton Henry thrust the trio into the origin of the menacing Green Knight, who made a devil’s bargain with a brave member of Sir Arthur’s court—one he intends to collect upon with a decapitation. This 48-page issue is a perfect sampler for Valiant’s immortal brothers, and a solid standalone option for fans of Nord’s brawny work on books like Conan. Steve Foxe

The Complete Phonogram

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Publisher: Image Comics

Conveying music through illustration, caption and dialogue is no easy feat. Trust us. But Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie assumed the roles of trans-sensorial, pop-culture anthropologists with their Phonogram trilogy, diving into the notes and lyrics that define generations before tackling similar themes in The Wicked + The Divine. In this mythos—split between story arcs “Rue Britannia,” “The Singles Club” and “The Immaterial Girl” —music is magic, genres are gods and their mages are phonomancers. Gillen uses that D&D-meets-A&R ecosystem to spin tales of love, loss and nostalgia with an expertise that rivals Nick Hornby for obsessive esoterica. Music may be impossible to define—how and why a collection of tones trigger chemicals and emotions, and why the people who create that phenomena wield incomparable social influence. But these characters come as close to finding that truth as anyone ever will, even if you can’t tell Jarvis Cocker from Brett Anderson. At $30 for 500-plus pages of ambitious, scholarly music-journalism fantasy, Phonogram is one of the coolest achievements the comics medium can call its own. Sean Edgar

The Realist Volume 2: Plug and Play

Writer/Artist: Asaf Hanuka
Publisher: Archaia

The graphic memoir category can feel dominated by female creators. It seems to be one of the few genres where women are all but expected to go and where it’s acceptable for them to succeed, especially when you see shelves filled with names like Alison Bechdel, Lucy Knisley and Marjane Satrapi. Israeli illustrator Asaf Hanuka is one of the few recent men to buck that trend, perhaps because his memoirs are collections of daily comic strips originally published in a newspaper. The vignettes featured in the first volume of The Realist began in 2010, and in the interim Hanuka worked with his twin brother Tomer and writer Boaz Lavie on The Divine, a brutal story of war and childhood that was featured on a slew of best-of-lists in 2015. It will be interesting to see if that experience had any perceivable impact on Hanuka’s output, and how the topics of his comics have changed in the past half decade. Either way, with a beautiful visual style and a penchant for funny, honest writing, Hanuka is a relatable, enjoyable look into a life that is at once familiar and very different. Politics are never far under the surface, and as a native Israeli he gives a glimpse into what it can be like to live in a country that’s often discussed but rarely understood by Americans. Caitlin Rosberg

Seven to Eternity #5

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

We liked the first arc of Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña high-fantasy Image epic. In fact, we really liked it. Whether the Mud King is a direct parallel to our current political climate or not, Remender and Opeña are crafting a magic-infused resistance saga for the ages, with career-best imaginative design work from Opeña and colorist Matt Hollingsworth. Issue #5 promises to pick up where #4 left off, with protagonist Adam Osidis journeying with a caravan of rebels and the imprisoned God of Whispers, this realm’s all-seeing despot. Opeña isn’t know for his speed—great art takes time—and it looks like he needs more catch-up time than the last pause afforded him. Luckily, the upcoming guest artist, Rumble’s James Harren, is just as much of a visual draw. Remender has a full slate at Image, but Seven to Eternity might just establish itself as his premiere work for the publisher if it continues apace. Steve Foxe

Weapon X #1

Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Greg Land
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Greg Pak: Yay! Greg Land: Oh… Yes, the latest iteration of the black-ops X-Men concept comes via Gregs from opposite ends of the spectrum, as Pak’s skill with characterization is hampered by Land’s now-infamous static tracings. To Land’s credit, his actual figure and panel work has been solid in recent outings, but his faces still seem pulled from the same four or five—err—adult sources, particularly his swimsuit-model female forms. Weapon X gathers a grab-bag of former X-Force-related characters, including the long-benched Warpath, for what seems to be an unwilling weaponization of stab-happy mutants against other mutants. If you can tolerate Land’s aesthetic, Pak is likely to deliver the most interesting twist on the mutant wetworks concept since Remender departed Uncanny X-Force. Steve Foxe

World of Tanks #1

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Publisher: Dark Horse

Translating a tale from one medium to another can be a fraught experience under the best of circumstances, but particularly when there’s no distinct story to begin with. World of Tanks is an online game with upwards of 110-million players worldwide, but there’s no clear plot to take characters from one point to the next. Players are pitted against one another in tanks and tank-like vehicles from across several decades, with no clear time frame or national battle lines to be drawn. With this amorphous starting point, writer Garth Ennis and artist Carlos Ezquerra teamed up to create a comic tie-in. Ennis and Ezquerra are both well-known for gritty, wartime work, so any book with both of their names on the cover will likely draw attention, and with so few specifics to reign them in, they can go as wild as they want. And the results are pretty wild indeed: imagine the love child of Preacher, Judge Dredd and Band of Brothers warped into one trade collection. Caitlin Rosberg

X-Men Blue #1

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artists: Jorge Molina, Matteo Buffagni
Publisher: Marvel Comics

At least Cullen Bunn, Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni can’t get off to a worse start than X-Men Gold’s Marc Guggenheim and Ardian Syaf, right? Bunn continues his uninterrupted run on the Master of Magnetism following his solo Magneto title and the Magneto-led Uncanny X-Men by making the X-Men “arch-frenemy” the new mentor of the original five time-displaced mutants. If you didn’t follow Dennis Hopeless and Mark Bagley’s fun All-New run, it concluded with the X-teens discovering that the timeline from which they were ripped self-corrected somehow, leaving them no option for a return ticket. Jean Grey has now returned to—and stepped up to lead—the squad, and has opted to leave the mansion and make a name for the OG X-Men out in the world. She starts by butting heads with the Juggernaut. Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni both offer slick, fluid linework, but hopefully their joint credit on this issue was planned in advance and not a bad sign for the book’s visual cohesion in issues to come because, love it or hate it, these five chronologically challenged kids are here to stay. Steve Foxe

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