It’s the end of December, that time of year when I share ten comics I like and haven’t written about (much) and think you might like, too. Once again, my list is full of Dynamite and Image comics. But this year, I didn’t notice till I was making my list just how much science fiction would be on it. There are also two crazy crossovers, subversiveness and some film adaptations. So get yourself a hot chocolate, snuggle up in a blanket and read some fine comics.
Bitch Planet (Image, 2015-ongoing) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer; Valentine De Landro, art.
Bitch Planet was always going to be relevant, but with the way things are now it’s especially relevant. So even though I try really hard to write about comics I haven’t written about before In a patriarchal future, women labeled “non-compliant” are set to a prison in space, the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, aka, “Bitch Planet.” There’s love for grindhouse and women in prison movies all over the book, but it is feminist as fuck. And it makes a lot of sense. So much Feminist science fiction is dystopian. The old Women’s Science Fiction Press seemed to be almost 1000% dystopian futures for women.
Bitch Planet is certainly in that tradition, but it has a lot more humor than, say, The Holdfast Chronicles. And it has more 1970s film exploitation fun. Like a feminist Rollerball (1974). On Bitch Planet, the women in prison work together—and tear at each other—to survive. Some have been chosen to compete in Megaton/duemila, the game that the world’s “fathers” believe holds the world together while they profit. The women have been told that they might earn parole if they win, and though they know it is likely a lie, the play the game for their own reasons. I love De Landro’s exploitation, half-tone-ish covers. And I love that the comic is just subversive as hell. It’s worth getting in single issue. The essays and extra material (see an example below) in the back of each issue are excellent and they are not printed in the collections.
Darth Vader (Marvel, 2015-2016) Kieron Gillen, writer; Salvador Larroca, art; Adi Granov, cover.
Gillen and Larroca’s Darth Vader happens after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and just before many of the events of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Like all people who like Star Wars, I have very specific Star Wars preferences and this is the sweet spot for me. After the first Death Star blows up—and I’m fairly certain the galactic economy is entirely dependant on Death Star construction—Vader is in trouble with Emperor Palpatine and Palpatine seems to be considering other options than giant battle moons and even his only surviving Sith apprentice. Vader is placed under Grand General Tagge, Palpatine’s new favorite.
To restore his position, Vader begins advancing his agenda in secret dealings with bounty hunters and one Dr. Aphra. In another comic, Dr. Aphra would be another spunky, scrappy, morally ambivalent young woman just trying to survive. In Darth Vader, Aphra is scrappy and appealing indeed, but she is also far from morally ambivalent. She’s an archaeologist who raids ancient alien ruins and Imperial installations alike looking for ancient weapons, not for collection, but for use. When Vader contacts her, she is working on reactivating Triple Zero, a protocol droid with a penchant for draining the blood of hominids. (I particularly enjoy Larocca’s renderings of Triple Zero). BeeTee, another droid, appears to be a regular astro-mech, but is a killer R2-D2. Using only the sound effect, “Bleep,” BT has some entertaining and disturbing murderous conversations with Triple Zero*.
Dr. Aphra knows Vader will kill her when he’s done with her, but she that’s not the only reason she helps him with his personal business. She’s entranced by power, not the seduction of the Dark Side of of the force, but by the ability to do anything by whatever means and the willingness to do it. She’s kind of like an Indiana Jones or a Han Solo who skews evil. Ultimately, Vader’s schemes with Dr. Aphra come to the attention of the Empire, though they don’t know it is Vader who’s scheming. And Vader is saddled with adjutants, one incompetent, but one, Inspector Thanoth, dangerously competent and committed to his work catching criminals and rebels. The cameos by established characters—for instance, everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Bossk—don’t seem forced, as they often can in the movies. And the new characters don’t seem out of place.
Flash Gordon: Kings Cross (Dynamite, 2016) Jeff Parker, writer; Jesse Hamm, art; Grace Allison, colors; Simon Bowland, letters.
Flash Gordon: Kings Cross is much more light-hearted space opera than Darth Vader. And yeah, I wrote about Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner’s Flash Gordon Omnibus in “10 Comics I Liked In 2015,” I can’t live by my own end of year list rules. I love these Flash Gordon comics; they’re so fun. While I miss Doc Shaner’s style, Jesse Hamm and Grace Allan do a great job of drawing fun action and fun action is a large part of what I am here for. And as in the previous Flash Gordon storyline, Dale Arden, science reporter, keeps her Han Solo duds, which also makes me happy. Fun space adventure and a non-evil, scientastic female character who takes after Han Solo is really all I could want, except there is still excellent Dr. Hans Zarkov humor, fights and giant monsters.
After Ming’s forces were driven off Earth and Ming killed, it turns out that the answer to, “The End?” is an emphatic “No!” Ming is back and this time he’s just going to plop part of Mongo—giant monsters and all—onto the Earth. Now it’s time for a team-up between King Syndicate heroes, Flash, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician to get those giant monsters under control, take back the Earth and stop Ming.
Invisible Republic (Image, 2015-ongoing) Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, writing; Gabriel Hardman, art; Jordan Boyd, colors.
There is even more science fiction with Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s Invisible Republic. And Invisible Republic is damn fine science fiction. Forty years ago, Arthur McBride had led an independence movement and revolution on the moon of Maidenstone. After overthrowing a colonial regime, he dubbed the moon Avalon and became its dictator. Forty years later, after McBride’s death, journalist Croger Babbs comes looking for a story and finds the journals of a Maia, who claims to be McBride’s cousin. Her journals reveal the secret history of the revolution and of its hero. As is so often the case, as soon as word of the journals get out, powerful people want them and will do anything to get them.
Because it’s a story about the relationship between Maia and Arthur and how Arthur’s ambitions changed the nature of Avalon’s independence movement, it flashes between the past and the present. The art creates a clear distinction between what could easily become very confusing—especially in a complex story where a little bit is revealed at a time and the reader is trusted to figure things out on their own. Also, Invisible Republic is just nice to look at. And there are essays at the end of each issue, which I appreciate.
Lady Killer 2 (Image, 2016-ongoing) Joëlle Jones, writing and art; Michelle Madsen, colors.
It’s 1960s Cocoa Beach, Josie Schuller has found a balance in her life as an wife, mother, active member of her community and master assassin. Sure, the women in her tupperware circle don’t exactly respect her, and she has a dated one-piece bathing suit instead of a chic bikini, but she’s doing pretty well. She’s negotiated a truce with her mother-in-law who lives with Josie, her husband and their twin girls. In fact, Josie’s getting offers to stop her freelance work as an assassin and work exclusively for a shadowy but extremely professional consortium. And, of course, because as Betty Draper knows, the life of a housewife / assassin is never easy, it starts to go to hell when she gets another offer to team up. Lady Killer is sometimes brutal but always intriguing. And I love Jones’ art. The style and Madsen’s colors remind me of fashion and design sketching, but in a new and fascinating context.
Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain (Marvel, 2016) Chelsea Cain, writer; Kate Niemczyk, art
Bobbi Morse, aka, Mockingbird, is spending a lot of time in the waiting room S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret, underground health care center. Ever since Nick Fury brought her back to life with a mix of the Super Soldier Serum and the Infinity Formula, Bobbi’s been repeatedly paged–once even with an actual old pager from back in the day–to come back in for testing. There is plenty of derring-do and Bobbi even takes on the Hellfire Club, but what really makes this comic for me is the portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D as a weird healthcare provider with Howard the Duck and Tony Stark in the waiting room.
I can only assume Nick Fury’s brother Scorpio and his BFF the Schlitz-swilling Nick Fury Life Model Decoy run this HMO. Howard is filled with existential dread, which turns out to be an appropriate response when he teams up with Mockingbird and Spider-Man Miles Morales for more derring-do. Miles fights while suffering from what appears to be the chicken pox.
It’s smart and fun and there are even paper dolls of not only Bobbi but Hawkeye Clint Barton on the back. I really appreciate that.
Shaft: Imitation of Life (Dynamite, 2016) David F. Walker, writing; Dietrich Smith, art.
David F. Walker returns to Shaft after Shaft: A Complicated Man (Dynamite, 2015), which is also good and you should certainly read if you like crime books. Sure, it seems like John Shaft’s life would be pretty sweet, what with the cool thread and all the ladies digging him, but his life has become complicated since his name got in the papers for solving a case. John Shaft thought that working as a consultant on a Blaxploitation film would be uncomplicated compared to working a case. But it becomes complicated and Shaft just can’t stop himself from trying to help out a kid in trouble. I can find metafiction annoying. It’s hard to do well and it’s everywhere lately, but Walker and Smith handle the Shaft movie within the Shaft comic well.
Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes (Dynamite, 2016) David Walker and Tim Seeley, writing; Fernando Dagnino, art; Sandra Molina, colors
So this comic was a total surprise to me. I mean, I am not surprised by the crossover–and I have a soft-spot for comics crossovers that are so insane that they just might work. But it was the combination of Tarzan, Planet of the Apes and writer David F. Walker. That combination was so fascinating to me that I finally picked up the first couple of issues and I’m pleased to report that it does work. Walker uses Tarzan and the Planet of the Apes to talk about racism, slavery, colonialism and liberation–with dinosaurs, talking gorilla butlers, Tarzan, Zira and Cornelius, Caesar, fan favorite Dr. Milo**. I am pretty sure ape leader Caesar has been reading some Frantz Fanon. And Walker and Dagnino bring in another Edgar Rice Burroughs story that I did not expect at all, but it works so well.
Wonder Woman: True Amazon (DC, 2016) Jill Thompson
Jill Thompson’s work is always gorgeous and it’s gorgeous once again in Wonder Woman: True Amazon. Thompson tells the story of young Princess Diana, the only child on Themiscyra, the island of the Amazons. Diana is indulged by the Amazons who haven’t seen a child since they fled a genocidal Hercules and were saved by Hera and Poseidon. Diana excels at sports and hunting monsters, and she becomes too used to the accolades of her older Sisters. As you might expect, it leads to tragedy. It’s an interesting take on Wonder Woman’s life and origin story. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I like thinking about it. While it has the feel of a story book, it is definitly not all ages. Did I mention it is gorgeous?
Black Panther: World of Wakanda (Marvel, 2016) Roxanne Gay, Yona Harvey and Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing; Alitha Martinez, art.
One of my favorite parts of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther was the two soldiers of Black Panther’s all-female royal guard, the Dora Milaje, Ayo and Aneka. They love the people of Wakanda and each other. World of Wakanda explores how the two women joined the Dora Milaje, how they fell in love and why they would ultimately begin to question their mission and their king. I was really happy to see Ayo and Aneka get their own book because while I love T’Challa and have for a long time, Ayo and Aneka ended up stealing Black Panther for me. They are the best. I hope they get an animated series.
*I look forward to any future Triple Zero and BeeTee comics written by Gail Simone.
** For “fan favorite,” read one of my favorites. I especially enjoyed Hardman and Bechko’s Dr. Milo in their Planet of the Apes books.
Carol Borden is thinking about adding a Han Solo outfit to her collection of Space Lady outfits.