Rumble, Judas, Giants & More in Required Reading: Comics for 12/13/2017

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<i>Rumble</i>, <i>Judas</i>, <i>Giants</i> & More in Required Reading: Comics for 12/13/2017

Ho ho ho—where did this year go? We’re halfway through the high-holiday month December, and the Christmas specials are flowing. In addition to the WicDiv one-shot below, Archie Comics releases a feel-good spectacular this week (we just opted to feature the company’s team-up with Chvrches instead). Marvel drops one of their biggest stocking stuffers of the year with Defenders Vol. 1, a gift made bittersweet by writer Brian Michael Bendis’ departure for the distinguished competition. Dark Horse has a particularly full spread under their tree this week, with the first issue of the gorgeous new Giants, the latest installment of Harrow Country and the long-awaited conclusion to James Stokoe’s Aliens: Dead Orbit mini-series. Not to be outdone, Image Comics plays home to the second volume of cult-favorite Rumble, BOOM! Studios gets biblical with Judas and DC Comics releases another issue of smash-hit Mister Miracle. Whether you’re gearing up for a gift-giving bonanza or just minding your own business this winter, Wednesdays remain a December delight.

The Archies #3

Writers: Matthew Rosenberg, Alex Segura
Artist: Joe Eisma
Publisher: Archie Comics
The Archies have been on tour for two issues, packing the Riverdale gang into a tiny van, broke and hungry—for both fame and a few of Pop’s burgers. This third issue introduces a new harmony to Matthew Rosenberg, Alex Segura and Joe Eisma’s new series: guest bands. While previous announcements like a Monkees cameo dovetail beautifully with the brand’s ‘60s goofball legacy, this third issue hints at a far more progressive direction. Chvrches, Scotland’s infectious electro-pop staple, will step in this Wednesday to lend Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Reggie some advice on collaboration and creativity. Chvrches vocalist Lauren Mayberry has remained a vital voice in shaping the discourse of gender dynamics and misogyny in music, and fits the mold of mentor perfectly. Joe Eisma continues to channel the blissful energy of the stage and rock-god poses with ease, creating one of the few comic experiences you can hear with your eyes. Sean Edgar

Aliens: Dead Orbit #4

Writer/Artist: James Stokoe
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
It took Orc Stain and Wonton Soup creator James Stokoe the better part of 2017 to finish his take on Ridley Scott’s iconic Xenomorphs, but who can complain when it looks like it does? We felt confident enough in Stokoe’s compulsively detailed style and claustrophobic terror to add it to our Best Horror Comics before the Dark Horse Comics mini-series even concluded, and now readers can find out how lone engineer Wascylewski’s battle with two hungry Xenomorphs wraps up. Surprising no one, Stokoe sticks the landing ably enough that we also named Dead Orbit one of our 25 favorite comics of the year. If you’re a fan of the franchise or of sci-fi/horror, you need this one like a chestburster needs a warm ribcage. Steve Foxe

Defenders Vol. 1: Diamonds Are Forever

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Who knew the release of Marvel’s first Defenders collection would be so bittersweet? Not only did the long-anticipated Netflix series land with a whimper earlier this year, saddled with too much Iron Fist and yet another hallway fight, but series scribe and Jessica Jones co-creator Brian Michael Bendis has announced a surprise move to DC Comics since wrapping his first arc on the book. What should have been a sales slam-dunk for Marvel failed to break the publisher’s worrying recent trends and is now in need of a new guiding voice. Hopefully artist David Marquez will stick around; the frequent Bendis collaborator is as equally adept at throwing weight behind every Luke Cage smackdown as he is at depicting Daredevil’s acrobatic flourishes. His Jessica Jones captures the lovable attitude of Krysten Ritter’s live-action portrayal, and his Danny Rand is infinitely cooler and less obnoxious than the Netflix version. Fans let down by the screen version of the Defenders could do much worse than this introductory volume. Steve Foxe

Giants #1

Writer: Carlos Valderrama
Artist: Miguel Valderrama
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
This first American work from the Valderrama Bros. feels special. After a disaster of unknown origins, massive monsters have taken over the Earth and driven humanity underground. Two orphans have ambitions beyond subterranean living and venture out to see the beasts for themselves. The Valderramas, who color and letter the book themselves, create a world that looks like Pacific Rim meets Tekkonkinkreet, with colorful and eclectic gangs vying for power in the shadows of towering creatures. Their barefoot orphan leads are wide-eyed and expressive, the monsters possess a truly impressive scale and the coloring shifts meaningfully from setting to setting in a way that recalls fellow Dark Horse great Dave Stewart. The year is coming to a close, but Giants may sneak in under the wire as one of the great launches of 2017. Steve Foxe

Harrow County #28

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Tyler Crook
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s southern-fried witch saga is nearing its epic end, and the last few issues have conjured a delicious brew of enchanted showdowns and escalating stakes. The story began with one witch—Hester Beck—dying at the hands of a mob, only for a mysterious infant and her malicious twin to emerge from the ground. Dozens of issues later, Bunn has spun a folklore tapestry via Mark Twain, big and foreboding without ever losing the charming sensibilities of a childhood campfire tale. After the last chapter saw witch-fighter Bernice hold her own against evil twin Kammi, protagonist Emmy will finally face down her flesh and blood in a dual with one likely survivor. This series has thrilled on the sheer weight of its lore—skinless familiars, mud people—but the story of a fractured family is proving far more enchanting than any spell. Crook’s subtle water colors continue to endear and terrorize with equal grace, and he’s been more than up to visualizing the visceral creativity Bunn’s lobbed at him recently. Sean Edgar

Judas #1

Writer: Jeff Loveness
Artist: Jakub Rebelka
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Former Jimmy Kimmel and Onion scribe Jeff Loveness bypasses the funny bone to aim straight for the theological heart in Judas, a brutally introspective spotlight on the Christian Gospel’s misunderstood antihero. Phone books of scholarly conjecture have been woven around the man who betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans, but few works present a direct sequel after he’s banished to hell. Kudos to publisher BOOM! and Loveness for playing with a potential controversy that’s singed everyone from The Last Temptation of Christ novelist Nikos Kazantzakis to Monty Python; weaving fiction from a book 1/3rd of the earth’s population considers dogmatic truth isn’t without risk. But Loveness’ somber—and studied—reflection of the source material adds a depth that’s more respectful than inflammatory. And Jakub Rebelka’s art is simply stunning, his jagged-rock hellscapes, contorted angels and intricate garb paint an intoxicating update of a Renaissance mural. Judas is a fascinating comic that doesn’t fit neatly into a consumer Venn diagram—it’s demanding and inventive, which is exactly the reason you should pick it up. Sean Edgar

Mister Miracle #5

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics
Can we begin to assemble the puzzle pieces of one of the best “superhero” comics on stands? Maybe. A cosmic Jesus Christ analogy created by Jack Kirby in the early ‘70s, this updated Mister Miracle attempted suicide in his first issue, and his ensuing travails have been a bewildering domino cascade of ambiguity and death. Major characters perish without the pomp and publicity often afforded sequential art fatalities; a cynical logic of betrayal and insecurity permeates every panel; and glitchy panel effects make us doubt whether this is reality as we know it or a cruel facsimile. Or do these questions even matter? If the philosophy-obsessed King is evoking the global misery porn of 2017, proposing an alternate reality implies that a sensible one still exists.

At the very least, good still exists in the union between Miracle and his wife, Big Barda, and this issue is a sweeping love letter to the pair’s bond. (King is also high on romance in his Batman run, which recently saw the Dark Night get engaged to Selina Kyle.) This chapter narrates 24 hours of forced happiness before the titular character is executed by his brother. It’s heartbreakingly vivid; Mitch Gerads uses nine-panel grids to convey a spectrum of emotion that words could never encapsulate. (Many of the aforementioned “glitches” also occur in moments of pure happiness.) If Barda does happen to be an incognito jailer inside a cosmic purgatory, we don’t want to know; she deserves her own series just for the final page of this issue. Sean Edgar

Rumble #1

Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: David Rubín
Publisher: Image Comics
Although you won’t find a “volume 2” emblazoned on the cover of Rumble #1, this is the second series outing for Rathraq, the scarecrow warrior-god. Co-creator and writer John Arcudi returns, with prolific Spanish artist David Rubín stepping in to fill original artist James Harren’s impressive boots. For all of Arcudi’s strengths, the disorienting, entrancing first volume of Rumble was defined by Harren’s chiseled-rock art, from his unusual demon designs to Rathraq’s lanky form, and Rubín is one of the few artists working today with a style distinct and inventive enough to step up to the plate. His madcap imagination and more Kirby-esque take on Paul Pope’s aesthetic should help Rumble maintain its spot as one of Image’s weirdest—and best—monthly offerings. Steve Foxe

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #27

Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Few could argue that the biggest direct market publisher in comics isn’t going through a rough patch. Sales are down, leadership is in flux and few new creators have raised the bar recently. But as long as Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to perch at the House of Ideas, the publisher will warrant our $3.99 at least once a month. As with his online strip Dinosaur Comics, North goes for broke with twists so clever they ignite outrage, articulated with elastic verve by Henderson. Issue #27 is proof perfect: the rodent-powered heroine is jettisoned into space and must find a way to the other side of the cosmos to rescue an alien planet. Her only aid? The new Sorcerer Supreme, a.k.a. Thor villain Loki. If this was simply 20-odd pages of Squirrel Girl making fun of a Norse god-turned-magician, we’d be down, but North blends quippy one-liners with grand set pieces rendered by Henderson. And is that a Beta Ray Bill cameo? Sean Edgar

The Wicked + The Divine: Christmas Annual #1

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Kris Anka, Chynna Clugston Flores, Carla Speed McNeil, Rachael Stott, Emma Vieceli
Publisher: Image Comics
Of course Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie would drop a Christmas special primarily about their cast of reincarnated bad-decision-makers getting it on. To craft this gift of fan service, the duo (and colorist Matt Wilson) have invited a host of their talented friends, include beefcake connoisseur Kris Anka and Blue Monday’s Chynna Clugston Flores, to illustrate stories of Baal and Inanna’s good old days, Lucifer and Sakhmet’s sure-to-be-unnerving hookup and…Baphomet bumming a ride from Dionysus. Hey, being a god isn’t all fun and games. Knowing WicDiv, there will be, at minimum, some bittersweet emotions to cut the feel-good slant of this holiday surprise, but we’d be lying if we said this book didn’t hurt us just right. Steve Foxe

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