Required Reading: Comics for 6/7/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 6/7/2017

It’s June. The seasons have zipped past and summer is upon us. If you didn’t yet travel to Themyscira to take in the awe-inspiring triumph of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, jump in your invisible jet and zoom to the theater now—we’ll wait. If you have, DC has a one-shot focusing on hunky Steve Trevor, the breakout supporting character played by Chris Pine. Marvel doesn’t have an Amazonian to spotlight this week, but it is kicking off Pride Month with Iceman #1, a solo series for the chilly original X-Man that promises to finally address the coming-out that Brian Michael Bendis introduced at the tail-end of his run with mutantkind. Elsewhere in the comic world, Tarantula embraces full demonic pulp batshittery, the Dark Lord of the Sith returns, the Dark Knight of the terrible future world bows out, publisher AfterShock brings horror full-term and cartoonist Elise Gravel invites readers into her Technicolor notebooks. And while it’s not on the list below, shock-metal provocateurs GWAR have their first phallus-swinging, blood-spewing comic on stands this Wednesday—be sure to grab a tarp and check out our review.

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship

Writer: Philip Pullman
Artist: Fred Fordham
Publisher: Graphix

The jump from prose to comics never guarantees a smooth transition, as many writers have discovered. Modern fantasy icon Philip Pullman’s imagination and writing style are so visual that there’s reason to have high hopes for this new graphic novel. A caper starring a young man solving a mystery under dangerous circumstances, The Adventures of John Blake sounds right in line with both Pullman’s His Dark Materials series as well as the lesser-known Sally Lockhart books. Protagonist Blake not only contends with time-travelling puzzles, but also facing down a shadowy corporation—one of Pullman’s favorite tropes. Artist Fred Fordham is a relative newcomer, with some work published online and in Europe, but he has a clean style that’s well suited to ambitious YA work with heavy world building, including carefully laid out panels and distinct vignettes. Going too cartoony could diminish the punch of Pullman’s heavy emotional moments, and Fordham could do a great job of echoing the intensity and realism of Pullman’s novels. Caitlin Rosberg

All Time Comics: Atlas #1

Writers: Josh Bayer, Benjamin Marra
Artist: Benjamin Marra
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Paste released a preview of All Time Comics: Atlas a few months ago, exploring Josh Bayer and Benjamin Marra’s bizarre reflection of pre-Comics Code superheroes filtered through modern hyper-violence. Like its predecessors under the All Times Comics umbrella—Bull Whip and Crime Destroyer—expect a goofy sprint through the outdated flourishes that defined sequential art for decades. Redundant third-person narration, blunt monologues and two-dimensional characters populate each panel, and it all works beautifully. Marra transforms these anachronisms into fine, post-modern art, an homage that pushes its forbearers’ quirks into new territory. (Check out Bulletproof Coffin a few slots below for another take on retro adulation.) This issue adds an intriguing political bent, with solicitation copy citing a manipulated public and powerless media in the throes of an unnamed terror. Though Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may be the forefront defenders of liberty today, this comic cosmos has a flying strongman who can spout flames from his eyes. Sean Edgar

Babyteeth #1

Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Garry Brown
Publisher: AfterShock

Writer Donny Cates has spent his career injecting real-world gravity into high-concept genre comics. In his debut comic Buzz Kill, he juxtaposed the ravages of alcoholism against an escapist funny book, offering a sobering metaphor for addiction. He likewise forced superheroes to confront the economic disparity of the millennial generation in The Paybacks. Weeks after the debut of his vampire family ensemble, Redneck, released from Image Comics, he returns with Babyteeth alongside Garry Brown. The closest point of comparison to this comic may be the film The House of the Devil, director Ty West’s slow-burn horror opus about one college girl’s struggle against incubating the antichrist—let alone the obvious Rosemary’s Baby nods. But Babyteeth appears to tread in much more ambiguity, with a teenage mother struggling to empathize with, and possibly deny, her infant son’s destiny as the false messiah. The script’s adherence to that emotional core creates a pitchfork-sharp contrast that could summon hordes of readers interested in a new take on ‘80s Satanic-panic exploitation. Fresh off the dour historical epic Black Road, Garry Brown’s thick, textured lines lend a nostalgic, analogue texture to the maternal gauntlet that unfolds in this debut issue. Sean Edgar

Bulletproof Coffin: The 1,000 Yard Stare

Writer: David Hine
Artist: Shaky Kane
Publisher: Image Comics

David Hine and Shaky Kane continue to excavate layers of meta in a series about a forgotten comics imprint that was absorbed by “Big 2 Publishing,” neutering its golden-age excess and subversive edge. A glowing love letter to fallen institutions like Warren, EC and their stables of Cold-War monsters and vigilantes, Bulletproof Coffin stands as an incognito history lesson as well as an uninhibited, batshit good time. This one-shot continues to decimate the fourth wall as “indie publisher Image Nation hires Shaky Kane to write and draw his own comic book, the artist finally finds himself free from the tedium of visualizing the geriatric ramblings of washed-up hack, David Hine.” We have no clue what to expect from this acid-doused faux autobiography, but Kane’s thin, cracked art and pop-psychedelic colors render each page a time machine into a pulpier era, dinosaur-riding jungle queens included. And though Hine weaves a dizzying fever dream of false memories and escapism, this is a book that can be appreciated on aesthetic alone. Sean Edgar

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9

Writers: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
Artists: Andy Kubert, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Publisher: DC Comics

The final issue of Frank Miller’s latest foray into Gotham arrives this week, and though it doesn’t have nearly the fanfare of its predecessors, it holds enough appeal and potential to capture readers. The Bat-market is flooded with options these days, and Dark Knight III has largely been coasting under the radar, thanks in part to a stretched-thin and inconsistent publishing schedule. Fans were perhaps rightfully concerned after the differences in tone and quality between The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 and The Dark Knight Strikes Again in 2001, but contributing writer Brian Azzarello’s contributions to The Master Race have kept the narrative on track. Audience tastes and the industry have seen a lot of change in the 30 years since the first series, but Miller’s influence on Batman and comics is undeniable. Penciller Andy Kubert and inker Klaus Janson have been delivering skillful art, epic in scope and scale, and with Rebirth well underway, this might still be the biggest old-fashioned super-fight fans can get their hands on this summer. Caitlin Rosberg

Iceman #1

Writer: Sina Grace
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Iceman, like many gay men, has had a complicated coming out. A nosey, well-intentioned teen psychic pushed the younger Bobby Drake out of the closet, which forced the older Bobby Drake—always the class clown with a string of shallow, failed relationships with women behind him—to confront a part of himself from which he’d been ice-skating away at top speeds. In the time since Brian Michael Bendis departed the X-books, teen Bobby has landed a generically handsome Inhuman boyfriend, yet adult Bobby’s personal growth has been, err…frozen. Now the founding X-Men gets the spotlight (just in time for Pride month) to refrigerate bad guys and defrost his personal problems. Writer Sina Grace is a natural fit for the book, with years of editing genre stories and writing and drawing autobiographical comics about his personal gay experience. Artist Alessandro Vitti has contributed solid runs at both major publishers, and cover artist Kevin Wada is the go-to hot-guy illustrator in modern comics. Bobby—and an eager, under-represented gay audience—has been waiting for this book for a long time. Steve Foxe

If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel

Writer/Artist: Elise Gravel
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

One of the best parts of following comics creators, especially artists, online is that so many of them post work in progress and process shots, sharing a little glimpse of the way they work. Though finished work is remarkable, being able to see the effort and imagination required to get there is always fun and rewarding. If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel is a book that celebrates the sketches and practice that artists undergo in order to keep their skills sharp and growing. Gravel has illustrated a slew of kid-friendly, imaginative titles, mostly in her native French, but now readers have a chance to check out the woman behind the curtain. Warm-ups, cool-downs and random ideas litter pages, each packed with the same kind of creativity that fills her finished books, with bright marker drawings that are immersive, yet self-contained, and don’t need the kind of perceptual attention that a traditional graphic novel requires. It’s a great book to show budding artists of all kinds, a reminder that drawings aren’t meant to be perfect and polished every time, and that art should be just as fun as it is beautiful. Caitlin Rosberg

Star Wars: Darth Vader #1

Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Marvel’s Star Wars line has continued to perform well for the publisher at a time when their superhero titles seem to be faltering, with the Jason Aaron-scripted main series tying Deadpool for the current longest-running consecutive numbering (in the low 30s—yikes). While mini-series like Darth Maul have been welcome additions, the line has lacked a second flagship book since Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s stellar Darth Vader run reached its natural conclusion. Now the Dark Lord of the Sith is back in a chronologically earlier tale that charts his cruel tutelage under Darth Sidious. Writer Charles Soule is one of Marvel’s biggest guns, and has displayed a chameleonic ability to adapt to various projects. Artist Giuseppe Camuncoli is perhaps best known for his Amazing Spider-Man contributions and brings a more stylized line to Vader than Larroca’s photo-realistic take. The early period of Vader’s rise is fertile crossover territory for fans of the Prequel and Original Trilogies, as the man formerly known as Anakin shakes off his former life and finishes the extermination of the Jedi. Soule and Camuncoli may not match the surprising spark of Gillen and Larroca’s run, but odds are good they’ll do right by Lord Vader and his legions of fans. Steve Foxe


Writer: Fabian Rangel, Jr.
Artist: Alexis Ziritt
Publisher: Adhouse Books

Looking like a vintage pulp novel straight off the dollar racks at your local used book store, Tarantula promises “Satanic noir” from the same creative team that brought the world the psychedelic Space Riders. Artist Alexis Ziritt is a grindhouse force to be reckoned with, channeling Kirby and Dan Brereton in equal parts for this tale of supernatural agents of order standing strong against the forces of chaos. Writer Fabian Rangel, Jr., by now a staple of most non-Big Two publishers, knows how to set Ziritt up for a home run and get out of his way. Adhouse Books is a new home for these two, but the handsome throwback hardcover they’ve produced should sit nicely next to Black Mask’s Space Riders and Rangel and Logan Faerber’s Albatross Funnybooks Vietnam-era lycanthrope tale, ‘Namwolf. Steve Foxe

Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1

Writer: Tim Seeley
Artist: Christian Duce
Publisher: DC Comics

No one was clamoring for a one-shot focused on Wonder Woman’s male supporting character/on-again, off-again romantic interest…until Chris Pine embodied heroism and tasteful “above-average” nudity on the big screen this past weekend, contributing one-half to what may be the first genuine chemistry in a superhero movie. The current comic version of Trevor doesn’t have a WWI back story, but he does have hip facial hair—and a writer experienced with eye-candy male heroes thanks to his tenure with Dick Grayson. Tim Seeley understands how to make male characters appealing to all audiences, not just men looking for a power fantasy, and artist Christian Duce’s DC house style should be easy on the eyes for Wonder Woman readers used to the classic heroism of Nicola Scott and Bilquis Evely. Wonder Woman’s supporting cast has never been quite as established or as vital as Batman’s and Superman’s, but with the right angle—and a boost from the near-perfect screen iteration—characters like Trevor and Etta Candy might be primed for more in the DCU. Steve Foxe

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