Did the non-denominational gift rabbit bring everyone shiny new comics this weekend? If not, don’t cry into your melting chocolate egg—this week is stuffed full of sequential goodness in the lead-up to C2E2, the Midwest’s premiere comic convention. Whether you’re heading to Chicago or merely plan to follow along from the comfort of your computer, nab some of the fine offerings below to tide you over. Dark Horse drops work from a trio of living legends (Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni on a Hellboy OGN and Geof Darrow back in the Shaolin Cowboy saddle), Image offers southern-fried bloodsuckers and sex-doll-obsessed serial killers, Jeff Lemire helps initiate a brand-new comic imprint and Marvel releases several debuts, including a Steranko’d Nick Fury series. Finish those taxes and get lost in the panel gutters.
Writers: Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni
Artists: Gary Gianni, Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Mike Mignola’s monumental Hellboy cosmos has recently invited new creators to cherrypick storyline nooks for further exploration. Following Chris Roberson and Paul Grist’s deep take on aliens in The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, cartoonist Garry Gianni charts course on the infernal seas as the titular red paranormal investigator boards an ominous ghost ship. For chronological diehards, the tale nestles between “The Island” and “Makoma,” but for more general readers, Gianni will exercise the same high-pulp adventure here as he did in his eight-year Prince Valiant run. The comic offers gorgeously intricate and absorbing inks, enlivened with Dave Stewart’s electric crimsons and subtle palate of decay and rot. It’s also a chance to witness the comic icon embrace his inner Errol Flynn (ask your grandparents, millennials) in a gorgeous, atmospheric dose of maritime goth fun. Sean Edgar
Writer/Artist: Kristen Radtke
Pantheon’s graphic novel output isn’t excessive, but it is monumental, including works by Charles Burns, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Marjane Satrapi and Craig Thompson. When they release a debut, you know the cartoonist in question is something special. Imagine Wanting Only This, a memoir from Kristen Radtke, investigates tragedies and ruins both personal and public, as the death of a beloved uncle pushes Radtke toward a fascination with desolate, abandoned spaces across the world. In the vein of Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird…, Imagine Wanting Only This also reflects the rare genetic heart disease that passes through Radtke’s family, lending a much more intimate scale to the idea of ruined places. Radtke’s straightforward, heavily photo-referenced style meshes well with the dual travelogue/personal diary thrust of the book, making Imagine Wanting Only This one of the first notable “literary” comic achievements of 2017. Steve Foxe
Writer: James Robinson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Marvel’s got a pretty stacked week: the highly criticized Secret Empire event officially kicks off with a zero issue, the now-infamous second volume of Mockingbird hits stands in a collected volume and, for all five of you who asked for it, the Monsters Unleashed ongoing series arrives with its cadre of kaiju. We’re ignoring all of those in favor of James Robinson and ACO channeling psychedelic comic legend Jim Steranko for Nick Fury, the first ongoing solo series to focus on the clumsily introduced son of the original Nick Fury. Robinson has had an uneven last few years—it’s hard to reconcile disasters like Cry for Justice with modern classics like Starman and The Golden Age—but his unconventional approach to scripting recent Marvel projects like The All-New Invaders works as a neo-retro homage.
Paired with ACO, who made a name for himself with inventive panel layouts in Midnighter over at DC, Nick Fury becomes a worthy oddity of a book. Steranko’s run on Fury, Sr. was marked by mind-melt layouts and heightened color schemes, something Robinson and ACO seem keen to replicate for Fury, Jr. The character has rarely felt like his own man, so following closely in the footsteps of his more popular father’s defining work risks further diluting his individuality, but let’s be real: this Nick Fury exists so the comic Nick Fury looks more familiar to fans of the movies and television shows. If he’s not going to break any molds, he might as well fit into the most interesting space his father ever occupied. Steve Foxe
Writer: Doug Wagner
Artist: Daniel Hillyard
Publisher: Image Comics
What if John Wick was inspired to commit great bodily harm in honor of an inflatable sex doll instead of a murdered puppy? You’d get Plastic, Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard’s bonkers, bloody revenge saga. Without spoiling too much of what makes Plastic’s borderline-offensive premise work in this debut issue, protagonist Edwyn Stoffgruppen just wants to be left alone with Virginia, the vinyl object of his love and lust, but a crime family has other plans for his unique skill set. Wagner convincingly sells Edwyn’s devotion to his mute, inanimate partner, but it’s Hillyard who breathes gory life into Plastic. From Edwyn’s first tussle with a group of hard-asses who unwisely insult the doll, Hillyard makes it known that this book about a woman without internal organs is eager to showcases everyone else’s dripping entrails. Hillyard’s hyper-violent cartooning brings to mind Invincible artist Ryan Ottley’s skill with viscera. If you’ve got a high tolerance for outrageous violence and…unconventional…love stories, slip into Plastic. Steve Foxe
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Lisandro Estherren
Publisher: Skybound/ Image Comics
The Deep South and the thirsty undead have gone hand in hand for a long time, from Interview with the Vampire to True Blood. Redneck features a family of vampires living in a small Texas town, living off slaughter stock blood runoff to make their restaurant’s barbecue. Combining the quintessential Texas meal with the nearly universal fear of monsters who survive off plasma is a new take on an old trope—less gothic romance and more King of the Hill meets Dracula. Writer Donny Cates has done a slew of work with Dark Horse, most notably The Paybacks, which proved that the writer is more than capable of a funny, action-packed book that smashes genres together in interesting ways. Lisandro Estherren is a relative newcomer to big publishers, but his style focuses on people and movement, which seems like a good fit for this book. With coloring assist from Dee Cunniffe, who’s worked on ODY-C and The Wicked + The Divine, the team has the talent and promise to back up the intriguing core premise. Caitlin Rosberg
Writer/Artist: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Gallery 13
Two headlines lie inside Jeff Lemire’s original graphic novel, Roughneck.
A) The master cartoonist of dysfunctional families and melancholic, rural stillness is back with a new project that—let’s be honest—will probably be on Paste’s year-end list of best comics. B) Book publishing giant Simon & Schuster has a new comic book imprint, Gallery 13, and their debut work is this 272-page tome. Not. Bad. The general din from Gallery 13 has mostly been soft; they’re possibly using works like this to dip their toes into a market that’s often unpredictable and unforgiving. But with a Stephen King/Bernie Wrightson reprint around the corner along with a release from French cartoonist Chabouté, we are desperately curious to see what happens when a company with these resources applies its formula to sequential art.
And if any trailblazer in the comics sphere deserves this approach, it’s Lemire. Though he’s dabbled in mainstream properties, the cartoonist has cultivated a resonant library of deeply personal work, unmistakable in its themes and sketchy, emaciated lines. Roughneck revolves around a former hockey player who takes refuge in an abandoned hunting lodge with his sister, pursued by an abusive ex. With a book this thick, Lemire has room to dig his scalpel even deeper into these characters while submerging them into the haunting wooded atmosphere that stands as his most frequent character. Sean Edgar
Writer/Artist: Geof Darrow
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Living legend Geof Darrow could publish Shaolin Cowboy without a single line of dialogue and it would still be required reading. The master artist’s hyper-detailed style and obsessive imagination is unmatched among modern comic artists, channeling his mentor, Moebius, and a scatological humor all his own to pack every panel full of visual gags and triumphs of linework. Although perhaps best known for his collaborations with Frank Miller and concept art for films like The Matrix, Darrow’s signature solo creation is a potbellied, near-mute monk in western garb who endures endless indignities and responds with a doubled-ended chainsaw staff. Darrow’s dialogue, often provided by obnoxious sidekicks and villains, regularly borders on the juvenile, but no one reads Shaolin Cowboy for the words: it’s all about the pictures, baby. It’s rare to be able to say this without hyperbole, but no one—no one—does what Darrow does, and every new release from him is an event unto itself. Steve Foxe
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artist: Jose Pimienta
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cecil Castellucci has already made a name for herself with interesting, YA-friendly books and graphic novels. Before her acclaimed work on Shade, the Changing Girl , she wrote several prose projects and graphic novels that cut to the heart of the often weird and usually difficult time people spend in high school. With Soupy Leaves Home, Castellucci returns to her words-with-pictures roots, telling a coming-of-age story of a young woman who doesn’t belong in her stifling home. Set in the Depression era, Soupy Leaves Home sounds like Steinbeck for a new generation, dealing with issues like abuse and gender identity in the context of a largely unfamiliar America. Artist Jose Pimienta has contributed to several crowdfunded books and has a sketchy style that stretches and distorts perspective, using limited color palettes that keep the reader’s attention on shape and motion. He excels at imbuing pages with a sense of isolation and removal, which comes in handy for a book like Soupy Leaves Home. If past work is any indication, Castellucci and Pimienta will deliver a story full of heart and imagination, and there’s not much more to ask for in a YA title. Caitlin Rosberg
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Publisher: DC Comics
Warren Ellis’ major publisher work of late hasn’t quite scaled the grandiosity of his previous touchstones. Karnak at Marvel was hampered by long delays and an inelegant artist switch, and his Moon Knight run felt like the seed of something greater and weirder. DC Comics found a fantastic solution: give one of the most celebrated scribes in comics direct control over the entire superhero universe he cultivated in the aughties. And judging from his first two issues on The Wild Storm, the most interesting superhero comics no longer feature folks in leotards and capes. Ellis and artist Jon Davis-Hunt meld future-forward technology with paranoia and corporate violence for fiction that feels a mere ten years ahead of reality.
The cover of issue #3 hints at the return of one of Ellis’ most high-concept ideas: characters who embody entire centuries. Jenny Sparks was the punky, chain-smoking spirit of an era when political barriers broke and globalization infested the market. Successor Jenny Quantum only poked up as a baby and small child in various Authority books. Straight up, we want to read Ellis’ take on a character who personifies the century of Brexit, ISIS, Trump and The Chainsmokers. We’ll be shockingly surprised if she’s not a villain. Sean Edgar
Writer: Jeff Loveness
Artist: Juan Doe
Worlds are constantly dying in comic books. Krypton might be the most famous, but there are plenty of planets and entire multiverses that are disposable in the eyes of your average comic book creator. Jeff Loveness and Juan Doe have created a new title that follows a woman as she travels and communicates with those dead worlds, attempting to reveal the cause of their obliteration. An cosmic adventure with an exploratory, if morbid, bent seems like exactly the kind of sci-fi readers could use more of, if Southern Cross, Mirror and various Star Wars titles are any indication.
Loveness is best known for his work on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, but he’s written for Marvel, including the Guardians of the Galaxy spin-off title, Groot. Doe has contributed several times to AfterShock projects, including last year’s remarkable Animosity: The Rise one-shot. He plays with interesting perspectives and panel spreads that should work well in an interstellar setting. If Loveness can balance comedy with serious emotion, World Reader could shape up to be one of the more fascinating entries in the publisher’s catalogue. Caitlin Rosberg