good this week

the midas flesh #2 : i missed the first issue of this charming little sci-fi series from the creators of the ADVENTURE TIME comic. with a solid gold concept, breezy dialogue, and pleasing, clean art, this book was a nice surprise and one i’ll be looking out for from now on.

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pretty deadly #4 : another magnetic issue from a sure-fire series of the year candidate–and we’re less than a month in. this issue sets things up for a walloping climax to the opening storyline.

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there’s also a killer brandon graham pin-up…

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judge dredd mega city two #1 : the venerable judge steps into a wacky west coast version of mega city that’s modern day L.A./hollywood to the max. but what really matters here is ulises farinas’ crazy-in-the-best-way artwork. i haven’t had so much fun poring over background details since zander cannon and gene ha delivered the goods in alan moore’s TOP 10. mixing insane detail with hyper-clean lines, ulises brings his A game and firmly announces himself on the scene.

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deadly class #1 : rick remender and wes craig kick up some dust in this elegantly designed & drawn entry into the teenage assassin club genre, with the twist being this feels kind of like an inverted real-ish world original x-men. let’s see where it goes.

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yearling masked detective #1 : rich tommaso’s super avenger crime series kinda reminds me of a straight-edge, non-team version of COPRA that’s more interested in dan clowes than jack kirby and frank miller. with a 1st issue that’s all set-up i’m curious to see where he takes it.

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unwritten apocalypse #1 : as one of the best modern day vertigo series looks into the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a good time to celebrate what mike carey, peter gross, and yuko shimizu have accomplished. get into it, whether you start here or with volume one.

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ff #16 : sad to see this book come to an end, but it’s a glorious end, with 15 extra pages of art from mike & laura allred and all the character moments and then some that you’ve come to expect from this first rate series. one of the more endearing marvel books of the last decade.

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–chris stevens

good this week

prophet #42 : ron wimberly jumps in and delivers one of the best issues of the entire turned-on-its-head relaunch led by brandon graham & co.

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afterlife with archie #3 : the most improbably awesome book of the year rolls on.

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alex + ada #3 : the romance heats up!

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miracleman #1 : one of the greatest and most influential superhero comics of all time is also one of the least read due to over 20 years worth of legal shenanigans. but starting here alan moore’s masterpiece rolls out monthly.

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black dynamite #1 : ron wimberly double dips this week, here providing the kinetic pencils that fuel this blaxploitation-era romp.

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amazing x-men #3 : bamf! more ed mcquinness goodness.

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–chris stevens

East of West, by Hickman & Dragotta

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East of West seems almost custom-designed to foil synopsis, but here’s me trying: it takes place in 2049 in an alternate America that was wracked by extensive civil wars, and has split into seven nations, including the Confederate States, a unified Endless Indian Nation, and New Shanghai. Somehow these seven nations, or at least a number of their highest-placed members, share a holy text — a pieced-together book of enigmatic apocrypha called The Message, which details (and immanentizes) Armageddon.

Jonathan Hickman’s richly layered story begins when, as foretold in The Message, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse awaken, embodied as children and eager to bring about the endgame, but surprised to discover that they are only three. Death, it seems, has broken off on his own.

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He’s riding a pale robot-horse across the seven nations, murdering acolytes of The Message in key positions. At first, his purposes are oblique, but soon become clear: Death is actually a little bit of a sap, and he’s trying to track down the woman he loves, who once loved him back.

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Like Emma Rios and Matteo Scalero, Nick Dragotta is a highly skilled and promising professional who’s done a fair amount of work for the big two and then taken a quantum leap into auteur cartooning with an astonishing new Image series. Books this vital bring new meaning to the phrase ‘creator-owned’ — not just the intellectual property but the voice itself, so fully developed and alive on the page, the world-building so immersive, so effortless and thorough, that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else drawing it. This is a cartoonist’s voice in perfect tune with the subject matter, the space where the stark lyricism of John Ford meets the hard, cold sheen of Ridley Scott. Dragotta can take something as silly as a cowboy riding that aforementioned robot-horse with a laser cannon for a face and render it so artfully, so matter-of-factly, that you don’t blink.

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East of West is a baffling book, and it demands rereading. It wants to be puzzled over and dissected like an esoteric text. Why, for instance, does a book set in a shattered and rejiggered United States never offer us a map of the new territory?* Because it wants to disorient us, is my guess. It doesn’t just want to tell a story about the wild west — it wants to BE the wild west, a mapless, trackless wilderness in which we have to find our own way. It’s the worst of both worlds, the lawless west and the sci-fi distopia — the desolate unsafety of the uncharted territory meets the tight social net in which we’re all pawns of forces beyond our control. The tension between security and freedom has been resolved by eliminating both.

So what we have on our hands at first appears to be some kind of retro-futurist hard-science gnostic political-intrigue western. But Death’s longing to be returned to his wife and child are the hook on which the wild digressions and house-of-cards world-building of the series are hung. Death is what passes in this book for a protagonist (if a story this huge in scope and this resistant to reader-identification can even be said to have one), and he has a formality, a slow, lanky, Gary Cooper courtliness at odds with the river of carnage he leaves in his wake.

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There is something appealing about him. The characters in East of West are motivated occasionally by lust, or greed, but mostly they are motivated by pure grievance and hatred. The only true cooperation in the book is an uneasy collaboration among sworn enemies in the interest of burning the world to the ground. It is never explained, at least thus far, why they want to bring about the end times — but in a world this dead-eyed, this calculating and vicious, it doesn’t seem totally counter-intuitive. Death, though just as violent and selfish as the rest of the characters in East of West, is motivated by devotion and ardor. So it turns out that East of West is a soul-sick romance, with a sense of strangled longing that pierces like an arrow through its huge, dark expanse. For all of its futuristic trappings and alternate past, it is about our modern world: irredeemable, possessed by hatred and avarice and resentment, seemingly on the verge of toppling into ruin, yet still, against all odds, animated by the capacity for love.

*As Rick and Justin pointed out in the comments, there IS in fact a map included in an early issue of East of West. I must have missed it the first time through, though, and didn’t see it in my recent re-read of the trade. I fully embrace the confusion that’s ensued!

– Josh O’Neill

good this week

the wake part one : this is a smart offering, collecting issues 1-5 of the much-buzzed-about sci-fi horror story from popular creators scott snyder and sean murphy. a creepy, claustrophobic yarn that will read better in chunks, this one is highly recommended.

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pretty deadly #3 : the strongest issue yet of this myth- & blood-drenched spaghetti western. one of the best single issues of the year.

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fables volume 19 : the newest collection of the beloved series.

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saga #17 : the most consistently entertaining book of the last two years, with no sign of slowing down.

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east of west #8 : this book gets my year-end vote for ‘BEST OF’.

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figma metroid action figure set : yep.

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–chris stevens

good this week

black science #1 : rick remender seems re-energized in this killer 1st issue. and the art, from matteo scalera and color wizard dean white, is gorgeous and nuanced. this book goes straight to the top of the list of books i’ll look forward to each month.

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saga #16 : things are ratcheting up in this consistently entertaining, surprising series.

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hip hop family tree vol. #1 : ed piskor throws down an encyclopedic account of the early days of an american art form. the telling of the tale is as fresh as the old-school treasury format, which ed recreates in loving, meticulous detail. good stuff.

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pretty deadly #2 : emma rios is hitting a whole new level in her art, and kelly sue deconnick’s poetic, dreamy script works with her to build a book that’s carved out its own unique place in just two issues.

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the sandman overture #1 special edition : the criterion collection version of the new sandman series is a vehicle for celebrating jh williams’ remarkable art in mostly black and white, going so far as to render the lettering translucent to unveil as much of jh3’s virtuosic work. along with process talk from todd klein and script annotations by williams, this is a fine way to experience the return of the dream king.

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afterlife with archie #2 : in 30+years of reading comics, i’d never read an archie comic cover to cover. and i am not into the zombie genre at all. and y’know what? i loved the first two issues of this new series. it’s just flat-out good comics from francesco francavilla and roberto aguirre-sacasa. looking forward to more.

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mister x eviction & other stories : one of the best worlds ever built in comics.

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the maxx maxximized #1 : a remastered rolling out of the seminal sam kieth series. YES.

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–chris stevens

good this week

samurai jack #2 : yee haw!

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sex criminals #3 : sex. crime. letter columns.

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daredevil #33 : looking good, jason copland. looking good.

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the fifth beatle : a handsome hardcover bio on brian epstein.

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delusional : gorgeous, odd, warm, dark, touching, withdrawn…the graphic & sequential work of farel dalrymple.

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–chris stevens

good this week

copra #11 : the snazziest issue yet of michel fiffe’s killer action book.

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manara erotica #3 : dark horse continues the hardcover collections of milo manara’s gorgeous guys & gals. no one’s ever drawn better women.

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good this week

saga #13 : the book everyone has been waiting for.

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east of west #5 : the last issue was one of the best single issues of the year. hickman & dragotta are killing it.

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the true lives of the fabulous killjoys #3 : this series is starting to take off.

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the outliers #1 : erik johnson has crafted an intriguing piece of cartooning, telling the tale of a speechless young boy who encounters a strange beast in the woods. check it out.

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thor god of thunder #11 : the god butcher/godbomb story comes to a rollicking close. aaron and ribic have put their stamp on the god of thunder.

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wolverine and the x-men #34 : nick bradshaw goes to town this issue, with monsters romping across double-page spreads and everything looking sharp & full of fun.

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march book one : congressman john lewis’ remarkable story told by one of the finest cartoonists alive, nate powell.

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–chris stevens

good this week

batman ’66 #1 : jonathan case nails the cornball aesthetic of the beloved/derided ’60s tv show with a flurry of clean lines, fake zip-a-tone, and wacky 3-d coloring.

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glory volume 2 : joe keatinge & ross campbell’s rob liefeld reinvention winds down right as it hits its peak, with keatinge’s characters having grown on you and campbell and colorist owen gieni becoming one of the best art teams in comics.

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kill all monsters volume 1 : what else do you need to know but this…

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the strange world of your dreams : a 1950s series produced by simon & kirby. i can’t help but wonder if the tagline ‘we will buy your dreams’ came to haunt kirby as he got older. this is a gorgeous book with top-notch production values and an opening essay on winsor mccay.

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good this week

prophet volume #2 & prophet #36 : a double dose of the out of this world series reinvention from brandon graham & company. this second collection has some of the finest art farel dalrymple has done to date.

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mouse guard: legends of the guard #1 : david petersen’s newest anthology series spinning off of the charming all-ages MOUSE GUARD starts off strong, with petersen providing a framing sequence around some wonderful watercolor pages from stan sakai, a bang-up job by philadelphia’s own alex eckman-lawn, and a superbly delightful turn by ben caldwell.

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