This year’s comic book news was dominated by which DC and Marvel main characters died, who turned evil, and which did one and then the other. Big events are a lot of fun and give us the chance to see iconic characters in new ways, but it’s also worth taking a look at the smaller, but still great things going on in comics. Here are some of the one-shots, the less widely promoted series, and the just-just-weird comics you may have missed over the past year.
Redlands, Florida, is a small town without lack of darkness. Whether more of that darkness comes from the witch ring trying to take over the community or from the behavior of the commoner is up to you to decide. This horror comic begins with a siege of the city’s police station, leaving the reader unsure who is the most terrifying, but with little sympathy for either side. And from there it gets scarier. The writing, by Jordie Bellaire, does not give us easy answers. The art, by Vanessa Del Rey, with its muddy dark and surprising colors is reminiscent of 30 days night. It gives us the impression that every scene is incompletely lit by flashlight and everything can jump out of the darkness. You can pick up the floppy disks — issue five comes out December 20 — or you can make a note to get the first transaction in March.
2. Punisher: the peloton
Punisher: the peloton is Garth Ennis’ return to the character he made famous. He did this in part by using the Marvel Max imprint to separate the Punisher from most of the rest of the DCU and adding the kind of explicit content that anyone living in the Punisher’s world would encounter. He also did it by giving Frank Castle a history that included more than just his family being shot.
Ennis, an avid war comic writer, used fellow Marines, other soldiers, and an author of a book about the Punisher to explore Frank Castle’s military career. In the peloton, he introduces two new point-of-view characters. While his platoon slowly comes to see Frank Castle as a hero, General Letrong Giap and the deeply wounded Sister Ly Vietcong fighters with a very different perspective. Unlike the usual opponents of the Punisher, they, like the American fighters, are the main protagonists. This book is not about ideology. It’s about how war is captivating and exciting and at the same time a wasteful slaughter of good people on both sides. The next issue will be released on December 27.
3. Super Sons Annual #1
The title is great sons, but it’s actually the Super pets. No, that is not true. It’s basically an excuse for writer Peter Tomasi and artist Paul Pelletier to be as stupid as they want to be. Pets are missing and it’s up to Krypto, Superboy’s dog, and Titus, Robin’s dog, to find them. That means a few pages of action and lots of pages of Streaky, Detective Chimp, Batcow and dog saliva on all of them. It is now on the shelves. Lots of fun.
4. Secret Weapons
This series is directly about a running joke. What happens to all the “gifted” superheroes with worthless powers? It’s something mainstream comics ignore (practically speaking, how useless is Wolverine?) and other media usually treat it as comedy. Secret Weapons finds the humor in these kinds of forces but takes them seriously. The series is self-contained enough to be read on its own, but picks up where the previous series left off. A scientist had created a “superhero factory,” and while some of the people he created are legitimately powerful, there are a handful of kids who, say, try to materialize a shotgun, but instead make a new umbrella or know how to communicate with birds.
Amanda Knee is Livewire, a veteran hero who can take control of machines, and she sees ways these new moves can be useful. Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplay for Arrival, deserves credit for thinking through these forces, but artist Raul Allen and colorist Patricia Martin set a perfect tone. Given the subject matter, overly shaded panels would make this strip about endangered teens part of the grim brigade, while caricatures would make it a joke. Sharp lines with vibrant, yet non-cartoonish colors give it just the right feel. All four songs are out.
5. Betty and Veronica: Vixens
Betty and Veronica of Archie Comics get together and form a biker gang. This means lots of panels of them on motorcycles, hairs swishing in the wind, helmets firmly in place. It means crop tops and tank tops and partially unzipped tops. It means fist punches and perfectly lined eyes and Veronica stranglehold on a dude stupid enough to harass a group of motorcycle chicks. And it means that, when the gang considers going to battle with a rival biker gang, Betty reaches into her bag for “protection” and… pulls out brass knuckles. It’s a hoot. It combines feminine solidarity with frenzied aggression with the unshakable benevolence of Archie Comics. The first issue hit comic stores on November 22.
Guy Delisle’s graphic novel about the kidnapping of Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André is light on action scenes and heavy on the kind of mental work it takes to get through months alone in a room, terrified and bored. The trick is to let us go through what André went through without also getting bored. Like André, we have little to occupy ourselves with. There is a mattress on the floor. There is a radiator to which André is chained. There’s a window boarded up, and there’s a light bulb that won’t turn on. At least we have Andre.
André is hard on himself and hates being “controlled” by his captors, but DeLisle’s book, based on André’s memories, leaves the reader to admire him. With nothing to do but turn his mind around his situation, he quickly comes to remarkable conclusions – in one scene, we see him making his way to a conclusion that his captors might even be attempting to make contact with a negotiator. and that all his time up to that point had been wasted. But soon his need to understand things becomes self-evident. André has no information, so his questions only frustrate him. Living through the situation means finding a way to keep it together mentally. And then do it over and over, day in and day out, with no end in sight. DeLisle’s book is difficult, but it will stay with you. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, it’s now on the shelves.
7. Nick Fury
After a look at what real problems look like, there’s no shame in diving into pure fantasy. The adventures of gadget-laden super spy Nick Fury Jr. will give you a sugar rush. A shameless James Bond riff, Nick Fury Jr., son of the gray warhorse Nick Fury, spies on it on the French Riviera. The comic is purely merry play. The flavor that writer James Robinson and artist Alejandro Cal Oliveira give to the character and the images is palpable. Story? I gave you the words ‘Nick Fury’, ‘James Bond’ and ‘French Riviera’. You know the story. Now on the shelves.
Every year there is a comic that is better than it should be. Last year it was The flints. This year it’s from Dynamite Entertainment centipede. Yes, the one based on the Atari game. Dale Trell is the last man on Sty-Rek, his planet, and he sets out to kill the monster that killed his world. The funny thing is, he didn’t like his world that much. In a twist that might feel a little too direct to some, Dale loved myths and heroic stories (including earthly memorabilia) in a way that isolated him from the rest of his planet. Dale was in a civilization that would be in comic books, but within that civilization he was a comic-reading geek, now in a comic book adventure. The premise begins to flow into itself, but the theme remains strong. Do you cut yourself off from the here and now when you isolate yourself by burying your head in an alternate reality or the past? Or does cultivating a different mindset come in handy? Dale is alive after all. He has a plan. No one else on his planet can say the same.
9. Demon: Part 4
Jason Shiga, the creator of the Demon series, has a degree in math and has found a way to bring his expertise to both his characters and the rest of the world. His character, Jimmy Yee, is drawn with a childish reliance on solid colors and basic shapes, hangs himself, shoots himself, slits his wrists and will not die. Why not? That’s the question of part one, which you can read online in its entirety. The series has just concluded with part four, which came out in November. The cover shows Jimmy standing on a mountain of corpses and is a fitting reflection of the contents of the book. The series is a quick read, if you have the guts to see cute little Jimmy Yee commit the most grotesque deeds, both on himself and on others in an attempt to find the solution to his variation problems.
When you look at comics this year, you see themes: anger, ridicule and dystopia. The stories portraying these themes are for the most part allegorical. Calexit, from Black Mask Studios, is explicit. Writer Matteo Pizzolo imagines a world in which California secedes from the United States and the United States goes to war with California. The characters are Zora, an immigrant turned refugee and resistance leader, and Jamil, a smuggler who looks to his own advantage, as he is convinced that no one else will. Artist Amancay Nahuelpan alternately makes the world dark, dingy and gaudy.
The variations in the art will likely reflect the way people see the comic. Some readers will see it as a satire. Others may see it as inspiration. Others as horror. Some will see it as a comedy, albeit unintentionally. There is a reason why people in theaters burst out laughing during gruesome action or tragic death scenes. If you don’t share the perspective of the characters, high drama is ridiculous. Depending on your political position, Calexit can give you goosebumps or a good laugh. The first issue hit the stands in July 2017. The second will be released in January 2018. Whatever your political leanings, this is one of the few comics that can end up as a historical document. You may want to check it out.