Comics Update 2018, Part 5 of 5: And the Rest

Comics Finale!

Hey, kids! There’s more to comics life than Marvel or DC! Art by (clockwise from top left) Joe Quinones; David Aja,; Andy Clarke and Dan Brown; Jock; Geoff Shaw and Gabe Eltaeb; and Scott Wegener and Anthony Clark.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. Over the course of the next four entries…I’ll be sharing what I’m currently buying every Wednesday at my local comic shop — series and miniseries alike, budget permitting, broken down by publisher as of the very end of February 2019, including lists of 2018 works that are either done or dead to me.

The miniseries concludes at last! I’m happier when my weekly reading pile covers a gamut of publishers, genres, and voices, not just Big Two superheroes. In some respects I wish this section were a little longer, but for now this’ll do.

Ongoing series and miniseries in progress:

Firefly (BOOM! Publishing) – 2018 saw the Joss Whedon portfolio transferred from Dark Horse to BOOM!, which doesn’t offend me but also didn’t convince me I needed a Buffy cold reboot this soon. The crew of the Serenity, on the other hand, sound better than ever to me under Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Incredible Hercules), who admits he came to the party later than us twelve Fox viewers. He’s caught up in no time and happily throwing our not-heroes into another fine mess involving a corrupted pilgrimage and a dark secret from the War. Without relying on other writers’ catchphrases, and minus the Chinese bon mots that peppered the show but maybe weren’t everyone’s favorite bits, the characters sound right (and funny!) and the stakes feel real. Part of me wishes this picked up after the movie instead of settling for prequel determinism, but with a show that ran so briefly there’s much more room for expansion between the lines.

James Bond: Origin (Dynamite Entertainment) – Jeff Parker proved with Batman ’66 retro comics can be great entertainment without clubbing readers over the head with nostalgia prompts. The adventures of Bond’s pre-espionage era has him learning to navigate WWII and his own inexperience, developing his code of honor, and showing his peers what winning looks like. I can take or leave the Bond films — I’ve seen less than half of them — but his origin prequels are a solid jumping-on point.

LaGuardia (Dark Horse Comics/Berger Books) – In a previous life, Karen Berger was the DC editor who birthed the Vertigo line and made possible dozens of the most literate, mind-blowing comics of our generation from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman onward. I was wildly excited when Dark Horse announced they’d hired her to shepherd her own imprint, another chance to take risks and show us things we’ve never seen before. Among this year’s early entrants were this SF miniseries from Nnedi Okorafor (Marvel’s Shuri) and Tana Ford about a future Earth facing immigration issues on an interplanetary scale, sometimes involving alien plant life. I’d love to write more about this, but I couldn’t find a copy of #2 anywhere in town. #3-4 are sitting on my end table as I write this, waiting for my attention till I can complete the set at a con soon. Fingers crossed.

Lone Ranger (Dynamite) – As with The Flintstones, Prez, and Wonder Twins (whose recent second issue takes sniper-aimed potshots at for-profit prisons) writer Mark Russell enjoys pitting halcyon heroes against 21st-century problems cleverly disguised as old news. Here the Old West’s fabled cowboy avenger and his smarter partner Tonto take on 19th-century fatcats gleefully and illegally divvying up frontier lands and securing their squatting with their latest, nastiest invention: barbed-wire fences. Somehow artist Bob Q is pulling down double-duty on this as well as James Bond: Origin, both with eye-catching results. I’m not sure if this is a series or miniseries, but I’m hoping for more.

Monstro Mechanica (Aftershock Comics) – What if Da Vinci invented a robot using the materials at hand? And had a diverse supporting cast doing all the heavy lifting without worrying about whether or not they’re anachronisms? It might be primitive, but adventure would ensue anyway. 16th-century lo-fi sci-fi courtesy of Paul Allor (Tet) and Chris Evenhuis (Wynonna Earp) spend a lot of the first five issues with da Vinci in denial about his creation’s burgeoning free will, but if further arcs are imminent, maybe he can get out of the way and let this thing really move.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Dark Horse) – I remember a Comics Buyer’s Guide article from thirty years ago that announced Joel/Mike and the Bots would be taking their shtick to the funny pages courtesy of Valiant Comics. That never happened, but that deferred dream has manifested at last, now with Jonah Ray’s face accompanying Crow and Tom Servo on misadventures through public-domain antiquities. Artist/superfan Todd Nauck, plus a few others, aid and abet some of the show’s own writers who’ve figured out a system for squeezing quips and entire characters into fading reprints for giggles. As with the show itself, not every gag sticks, and the squeezing gets seriously claustrophobic at times, but MSTies who dig the Netflix revival (which I’ve loved) should check out its offshoot here.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt (Dynamite) – This generally undistinguished extra-smart super-athlete was among the Charlton Comics superheroes who leaped from the bankruptcy abyss to DC Comics in the mid-’80s. When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were denied permission to destroy them all in Watchmen and had to settle for doppelgängers, Mr. Cannon was transformed into Ozymandias the too-perfect millionaire. Thunderbolt joined the post-Crisis DCU proper, but no one cared. When the rights came up for grabs decades later, Dynamite snagged him and gave Kieron Gillen and Casper Wijngaard permission to do anything with him. Apparently anything. Two issues in, Cannon and several other heroes are now faced with a horrifying, bewildering menace: an evil(?) Peter Cannon from an alternate Earth who’s a straight-up doppelgänger of Ozymandias from Watchmen. The hero fighting an homage to his own homage is just the tip of the meta iceberg, one that’s been plowing through the fourth wall like it’s cheap Titanic plating. The audacity is at once ludicrous and immensely compelling.

Relay (Aftershock) – After a strong Free Comic Book Day 2018 launch, this one has been a challenge to keep up with, as our local shops order zero to one copy apiece. In a universe overseen by an ostensibly benevolent but possibly fake religion based around 2001 monoliths, one law enforcer suffers a worldview mindquake as he discovers the religion’s founder may not be as mythical or as dead as they thought, and that he may be far more sincere than what his perverted vision became. Or perhaps there’s something doubly more to the Something More. I still can’t quite tell if co-creators Zac Thompson and Donny Cates are leading us toward a staid “religion sucks” Moral of the Story or if we’ll see some sharper curveballs in later innings. I was also quite jarred by #4’s switch in artists from the hyper-detailed Andy Clarke (DC’s long-ago R.E.B.E.L.S.) to Marvel pinch-hitter Dalibor Talajic, whose style is fine but very different. The striking colors of Jose Villarrubia provided some consistency through the transition. I’m still wondering how much more effort to expend in chasing down future issues.

The Seeds (Dark Horse/Berger Books) – Another inspired pickup by Karen Berger, Ann Nocenti returns to monthly comics after a long absence since the days of Daredevil and Longshot. Or at least, it was supposed to be monthly. As with his run on Matt Fraction’s Hawkguy, artist David Aja turns in impressive work but needs increasingly longer time frames for accomplishing it. Since August we’ve only seen two issues to date, and, as of a month ago when a fan asked, Nocenti has indicated we may have to wait until June 2019 for the release of #3. I’d love to tell you more about this book, but #2 came out back in September and I don’t remember a single moment from it. Wait, I remember there were bees. And lots of 9-panel grids. Does that help?

Atomic Robo: The Dawn of a New Era (IDW Publishing) – More fun with the science adventure heroes and his crack team of scientists, who’ve this time gotten themselves a dedicated base and a bevy of concurrent missions involving a psychotropic cave, a sentient robot-in-training, plucky science interns, and probably more meddling from men who just don’t get Robo. It’s busier than ever, and yet more streamlined than the earlier miniseries that kept hopping from era to era.

Series that were canceled or ended as planned:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 12 (Dark Horse) – Christos Gage and Georges Jeanty, both vital contributors to previous comics seasons, wrap up The Buffy Expanded Universe as well as the long-running story of Whedon’s future-slayer Fray with more than enough closure for me to feel satisfied rather than sad. Now that BOOM! is moving forward with the equivalent of New Canon Buffy, I’ve made peace with bidding the Scoobies a fond, final farewell.

Miniseries completed in 2018/winter 2019:

Atomic Robo and the Spectre of Tomorrow (IDW) – The miniseries before the current one. More evil robots, more quality all-ages science adventure.

Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men (Dark Horse) – Another name on my short list of must-buy writers is Evan Dorkin, who usually collaborates with artist Jill Thompson on this project, in which stray pets with magic powers band together to save the world from eldritch threats, like Charmed meets Watership Down, with the same violence level as the latter. This time Dorkin’s partner in awesomeness is Benjamin Dewey, on loan from The Autumnlands (presently on extended hiatus), who has his own take on the mystical mutts and has the pleasure of bringing in humans as the Big Bads this time. More, please.

Blackwood (Dark Horse) – More Evan Dorkin, more must-buy even if it’s simply Dark Harry Potter, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The enemies are a bit more Lovecraftian and the teachers seem more battle-damaged, but artists Veronica and Andy Fish match Dorkin’s energy level. I don’t know if Dark Horse is actively marketing this at YA audiences, but any newer fantasy readers who think the JK Rowling bandwagon is passé would do well to give this a try.

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive (IDW) – I’ve sampled various versions of the famed comic strip detective over the years (least among them being the Warren Beatty film) but wouldn’t call myself a fan. Nothing against him — I just never found a reason to get attached. But I was curious to know what Michael, Lee, and Laura Allred would do with him. As with the family’s past projects (Batman ’66; Silver Surfer; Bug: the Adventures of Forager), they do their darnedest to deliver on old-fashioned Technicolor action, teamed up this time with penciler Rich Tommaso, who integrates well with the clan. I still kinda don’t care about Dick Tracy himself, but I respect that their new criminal Yesterday Knewes honors the Chester Gould tradition of goofy gangster-naming.

Giles: Season 11 (Dark Horse) – The last Buffy spinoff under the Dark Horse banner, in which his Season 10-11 de-aged teen self cracks a case of high-school monsteritis with the help of a vampiric young black lady who might or might not be a romantic interest, was also the last project I touched that gave Joss Whedon a prominent co-writing credit, as opposed to the hollow “Executive Producer” title affixed to their other books that was easy to ignore. That should’ve bothered me a lot more at the time in light of his ex-wife’s tell-all essay last year, but I stuck around anyway and found myself less enthusiastic with each successive issue. On the other hand, I’m deeply annoyed with myself that I didn’t recognize the name of co-writer Erika Alexander, the actual actress from such TV series as The Cosby Show, Living Single, and this past season of Black Lightning, in which she played daughter Jen’s mind-palace superpower therapist. I’ll just assume the strengths of the first two issues were all on her, praise those, and move on.

John Wick (Dynamite) – It’s prequel time! Greg Pak and artists Giovanni Valletta and Matt Gaudio don’t delve too deeply into our favorite assassin’s early days. Props to kthem for keeping it simple with a sortie against other assassins, with light double-crossing, some shooting and whatnot. Comics have extremely rarely captured martial arts on paper with any real accuracy or with a palpable furor (The Badger, The Question, maybe some manga I haven’t read?), and it’s cool to see someone try, but this didn’t quite stick the landings.

Resident Alien: An Alien in New York (Dark Horse) – Soon to be a TV series! Which you quite depressingly could not tell judging by the shelves of every single comic shop in Indianapolis. I’ve yet to see copies of #3 or #4 of the latest miniseries anywhere and will have to shell out money for the trade. I mean, more money for Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse

She Could Fly!

Comics like this are why we need Berger Books now more than ever. Art by Martin Morazzo and Miroslav Mrva.

She Could Fly (Dark Horse/Berger Books) – Berger Books strikes again, this time with a grand slam. One day a young lady grappling with OCD and paranoia looks toward the sky and sees a girl soaring like a bird. Then the girl explodes. The ensuing quest to check her reality veers sharply and rapidly at every crossroad in a tale of imbalanced scientists, deep conspiracies, hallucinations, teen alienation, and women sick of men pushing them around. Christopher Cantwell, creator of the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire, based his heroine’s issues on his own experiences, which he discusses candidly in the back pages, and makes a bold, head-turning debut in the comics medium. He’s abetted by artist Martin Morazzo (Great Pacific, Snowfall) doing some of the best, scariest, bloodiest work of his career.

True story: because my shop didn’t carry this miniseries I had to chase this one down to keep up with it. I bought #1 from Brave New Worlds in Philadelphia on our road trip last July. I had to drive to shops on other sides of Indianapolis to locate #2 and #3. And I didn’t catch #4 till we traveled to Chicago last October for Ace Comic Con Midwest and walked all the way over to the Loop, where the fine folks at Graham Crackers Comics hooked me up. That’s a four-issue miniseries bought from four different stores in three different states. And that’s the story of my favorite book of 2018.

Star Wars: Tales from Vader’s Castle (IDW) – Not a Marvel release, but from the IDW Publishing line of Star Wars comics for kids. We’ve been skipping those, but I couldn’t resist a Halloween-themed treat of holiday stories with all these beloved toys. Best moments include de facto zombie Ewoks and a stroke of genius in the form of Count Dooku, Vampire! It’s two! Two! TWO Christopher Lee characters in one! And fittingly drawn by spooky artist Kelley Jones, whose resumé includes those two times Batman was a vampire.

Swashbucklers: The Saga Continues (Dynamite) – I’d be stunned if more than ten comics fans remember Bill Mantlo and Jackson Guice’s old Marvel/Epic series Swords of the Swashbucklers, which was about space pirates. I had the original Marvel Graphic Novel (back when that was the official product name), but never read the series that followed. Mantlo’s Marvel superhero work is lovingly remembered by fans my exact age and has garnered press in recent years thanks to co-creating Rocket Raccoon, but I believe Swashbucklers may have been Mantlo’s only creator-owned property before his life-changing accident. For Bill’s sake I figured I’d try this revival, even though Guice only contributed covers. It picks up where the Epic series left off, with most of the cast dead or otherwise indisposed, and cobbles them back together through comic-book space-pirate magic. For Bill’s sake, it should’ve been much wordier.

Titles I dropped, or tried once but failed to get hooked:

Alien3: The Unproduced Screenplay (Dark Horse) – William Gibson’s name above the title absolutely grabbed my attention. Writer/artist Johnnie Christmas shoulders the daunting task of adapting Gibson’s thoroughly unused 1987 script into a more visual and less bootlegged form, this time with all the survivors of Aliens not cruelly murdered offscreen. You’d think this would blow my mind with fanboy wish fulfillment, and yet I learned Gibson’s dense verbiage works far better in his novels than it does crammed into word balloons, where its thirty-year-old vintage grows staler within colorful, asphyxiating confinement, and the first two issues were virtually nothing but that.

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor (Titan Comics) – My wife and I have been on board with the TV series for a good while now, thought Jodie Whittaker was amazing in Broadchurch, and enjoyed her as well as her supporting cast in their debut season. I hoped to climb aboard the comics bandwagon as well, but the performances didn’t quite come alive, a common problem with media tie-in books based on properties where the live acting and emoting are the best things about them.

Quantum & Woody (Valiant Comics) – I promised I’d never buy a single issue of this book that wasn’t by creators Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, because why bother? I confess I compromised my hardliner stance when they brought in writer Daniel Kibblesmith, whose talents were noted in our previous Marvel chapter. I knew at the very least he could make them funny, which was more than I could say of the free samples I’d skimmed of preceding issues. Thankfully Kibblesmith treated them with the right amount of irreverent reverence. Our non-buddy hero-duo still hates each other, still refuses to admit their massive flaws, and still gets the job done eventually when they aren’t sabotaging each other. I still chuckle at the idea of a villain named Negative-One, and I’m glad I paid a one-time visit, but then the next arc with the next writer immediately promised a crossover, which is the only kind of comic Valiant publishes nowadays, which is why I haven’t been a regular Valiant customer for a couple of years now.

…and that’s me and comics in 2018, mostly. If this five-part 13,000-word blog-bomb wasn’t enough for someone out there, please feel free to check out coverage of my 2018 reading pile in graphic novels as a two-parter right here and then over here and then finally here.

See you next year assuming I’m still collecting by then. Cheers!

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