good this week

east of west #18 : as good as it gets in monthly comics right now.

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ant-man #3 : nick spencer hits all the right notes in this family-oriented, funny superhero romp. fans of the taskmaster, delight.

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star wars #3 : jason aaron and john cassaday are making star wars fans everywhere very, very happy.

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the surface #1 : to quote from ales kot’s own words here, i have no idea whether this book is going to actually work, but the spirit that he and artist langdon foss brought to this opening issue make it worth it to find out.

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howard the duck #1 : SEX CRIMINALS artist chip zdarsky turns out to be the perfect guy to bring the irascible duck into the 21st century. teamed with joe quinones on art, this is a book that any fan of the recent HAWKEYE, SHE-HULK, or SILVER SURFER series needs to check out.

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silver surfer #10 : wonderful wrap-up to this all-new galactus trilogy from michael & aura allred and dan slott.

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mouse guard: legends of the guard vol 3 #1 : devid petersen’s anthology featuring various creators playing in his mouse guard world is always a delight, and with stories from creators like mark buckingham and skottie young, this new series is off to a fine start.

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ragnarok #4 : walt simonson’s grim, energetic return to the ground he built his own legend on is heating up.

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tuki save the humans #3 : the same can be said for jeff smith’s new series, as this 3rd issue is the strongest one yet.

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spider-gwen #2 : spider-ham! the vulture! that costume! fun stuff.

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–chris

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good this week

darth vader #1 : marvel is 2 for 2 so far with their STAR WARS roll-out. this is a vader who is suffering the backlash of the death star’s destruction and feeling the first glimmers of awareness that a certain farm boy named luke might be more than he seems.

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southern bastards #7 : blood, guts, and heart. jason’s aaron and latour have quickly established this series as one of those books you gotta read as soon as you get your hands on it.

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the empty #1 : fantasy books are a tough road to hoe, but jimmie robinson won me over here with pleasing layouts and color work. i can’t think of another book right now that looks like this, and that’s a good thing.

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transformers vs gi joe #5 : now, i’m friends with the mastermind behind this book, tom scioli, and gi joe was the thing i loved most from those golden years of boyhood say 8-12. that said, this is still the most improbably good book since brandon graham relaunched PROPHET. it’s obvious on every page that tom is all in, and there’s a joyous, anything-goes quality that only the best comics have.

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fables complete covers by james jean : you need me to tell you why you need this? well, it is the first time all of james’ storied FABLES covers are in one place.

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ps. this is actually the cover to the original, incomplete volume of jj’s covers. i couldn’t find the new cover online for the life of me.

–chris

 

The Locust Moon Top 40: August 2014

40. FABLES vol. 20

Willingham & Buckingham’s seemingly-endless saga wends towards its conclusion, out of the darkness of its previous volume and back towards its heroic roots.

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39. REMAINDER by Farel Dalrymple

The tour-de-force cartooning in this WRENCHIES side story would make Moebius proud.

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38. KILL MY MOTHER

Jules Feiffer is one of the true architects of the comics medium — here, in his smoke-wreathed noir debut graphic novel, he shows that he’s still on top of his game.

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37. This D&D Audiobook

Let Ice-T and Dan Harmon (sadly, not doing his impression of Ice-T) and friends read Dungeons and Dragons to you. It’s…something special.

36. MEGAHEX

Simon Hanselmann’s weirdly sociopathic stoner gag strip MEGG, MOGG & OWL, collected here by Fantagraphics, is a stealth delivery system for some terrifyingly dark character studies.

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35. MULTIVERSITY #1

Bucking the shitty MOR trends of DC, shamanic comics mastermind Grant Morrison delivers a brain-blasting metacomic, with gorgeously detailed universes drawn by Ivan Reis. Surprising that the suits are letting the iconoclastic Morrison have this much fun with their precious continuity.

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good this week

saga #21 : things are getting slipperier for the families on both sides here. on another note, i want FRIENDO.

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ragnarok #1 : YES. walt simonson back in the saddle, with john workman bringing the BRAKKATHOOMs.

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avengers 100th anniversary #1 : james stokoe. need i say more?

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transformers vs gi joe #1 : tom scioli pulls off a perfect evocation of all that made generations of kids spend countless hours on kitchen floors playing out action figure battles & plots.

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batman ’66 #13 : the most enjoyable bat book of its day sees dean haspiel ride in and deliver pitch perfect storytelling chops and just the right amount of wink-wink this book thrives on.

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tuki: save the humans #1 : where jeff smith goes, we follow.

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mike mignola’s hellboy artist’s edition : seeing the master’s hand unadorned packs a punch.

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-chris stevens

Seconds : Bryan Lee O’Malley (with great help from Nathan Fairbairn) does it again with his new, beautiful, magical realist fable.

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Street Angel HC : AdHouse Books has brought Jim Rugg’s modern classic, bar-raising series back in perfect form. Street Angel changed the way I looked at comics 10 years ago, and this new, handsomely produced edition (which includes a few bits and pieces old fans might not have seen) is the one it’s always deserved. Everyone who missed it the first time around owes it to themselves to read it now.*

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-Andrew Carl

*Diamond didn’t actually ship us our order of Street Angel HCs this week, but we’ll be getting them in soon. Regardless, this roundup wouldn’t have been right without her.

good this week

silver surfer #1 : yee haw, a surfer book by mike allred! a match made in celestial heaven here, as allred and writer dan slott start off on the new adventures of the sentinel of the spaceways. matching cosmic goodness with homey, human elements, allred is smack dab in his wheelhouse here, and i couldn’t be happier to go along for the ride.

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star slammers #1 : walter simonson’s bad to the bone space opera gets rolled out for the 21st century. the art & storytelling are prime simonson. ’nuff said.

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metabarons genesis: castaka : more metabarons mythos in a handsome slip-cased hardcover.

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the adventures of nilson groundthumper and hermy : a delightful forerunner to stan sakai’s beloved USAGI YOJIMBO. great cartooning.

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the glorkian warrior delivers a pizza : james kochalka slings pies.

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sandman overture #2 : better late than never? oh yes. lush, gorgeous stuff.

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–chris stevens

LOCKE & KEY by Hill & Rodriguez

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I was worried, for a while there, that LOCKE & KEY had lost its way. The incredibly taut character drama with its ingeniously parceled out bits of mystery and revelation that kept us hungry, baffled and grasping had given way to some soap-opera plot lines and fun but extraneous formal experiments. Take its much-lauded CALVIN & HOBBES issue, for instance — while it was in and of itself a fine & charming piece of comic-craft, it seemed to have no legitimate reason for being. It didn’t serve the plot, or underline any of the larger themes of the story. It didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, and it could have been easily cut out with no real impact on the larger picture. It seemed to exist only because its authors wanted to pay tribute to Bill Watterson — a noble cause, to be certain, but also a sure sign of the diminishing returns of a series that used to be perhaps the most riveting, magnetic thing on the stands.

And now that they’ve proven me wrong, sticking a flawless landing with neither a bow nor flourish, I find myself wishing they had done a little more dicking around, just so I could have stayed in the beautiful, frightening, richly layered and realized world that they created for a little while longer.

LOCKE & KEY is a horror series from IDW with an elegantly simple if somewhat cliched premise: after the shocking & unexpected murder of Adrian Locke, his survivors — grieving wife Nina, surly eldest son Tyler, sensitive daughter Kinsey and six-year-old dynamo Bode — return to live in Keyhouse, the creepy old New England family manse. There’s a dark presence in the spooky manor, some spectral thing that wishes them harm. Their only weapons are the mysterious keys that they keep finding, which grant their users terrible & wondrous powers, with unpredictable consequences.

I am trying to keep all of this vague for the benefit of new readers, but there is one moment in particular when I fell in love with this book, when I realized that it was much more than merely the well-wrought horror series I had taken it for, and to describe it requires a minor spoiler: the Locke children discover a key that opens up the tops of people’s heads. But what you find inside isn’t a mass of grey tissue — it’s their thoughts, visually depicted. A nightmare might be a demon, or a mad dog. Hope, to echo Emily Dickinson, might literally be a thing with feathers.

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It takes an artist of the caliber of Gabriel Rodriguez to take a concept this preposterous and clever and make it work on the page. He has an enormous capacity for abstraction, for drawing demons in the bubbling thousand-eyed darkness of a Lovecraftian void, but he restrains himself admirably. His greatest strength is the matter-of-factness that sells the wild magic of Joe Hill’s story, the kids who grow to 100 feet tall and pop their skulls open, the shadows that grasp and bite. He establishes a rock-solid cinematic style, and finds just as much magic in the facial expressions of his characters as he does in the special effects of the keys. He repeatedly uses one of my least favorite tropes of modern comics: the static shot that is repeated, panel after panel, to create the beats of a film sequence. Usually it just seems lazy on behalf of artist and writer — the artist only has to draw one background, and the writer can think like a scriptwriter instead of engaging with his chosen medium. But in the hands of Rodriguez, it becomes a potent tool — it allows us to see the subtly variations of expression, to watch these richly layered characters while their faces move and they give themselves away.

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And that, really, is what makes LOCKE & KEY such a profoundly wonderful comic: its rich, generous humanity, its subtle & empathic treatment of its characters. Though the plot is executed with the ruthless, hypnotic efficiency of a John Grisham pot-boiler, the characters are treated with the sensitivity and psychological depth of a literary novel. Nina, for instance, is an alcoholic who we often find drunk and self-pitying when the horrors come for her children. That the book finds this a forgivably tragic character flaw, that your heart breaks for Nina as you watch her try and fail to get her shit together, that you understand the bottomlessness of the grief that has broken her and rendered her useless to the people that need her most, speaks to the huge hearts of the storytellers at work here.

Which I think is why you just want to stay in this world a little while longer, which is not something you normally say about a horror story. In its essence, this comic is about learning forgiveness, for yourself and others. It denies none of the darkness, the selfishness and hard-heartedness and grief of its characters, but it finds ways to redeem them all. The story itself is pure pulp, but the characters are shaded & complex, good souls shrouded in shadow and cold hearts woken by love. It portrays a world as contradictory, as hopeful and as fallen as the one we live in. For all the talk of demons and dark magic, nothing in LOCKE & KEY is black & white.

locke play– Josh O’Neill