Usually, when I share my “10 Comics I Liked” lists, I try to write about comics I haven’t written about before or at least haven’t written about during the year. This time, I come back to a couple titles I have written about before. I guess I can’t live by my rules. But I also wanted to emphasize the importance of the books and, in one case, talk a little about how the ending affects the whole story. Which seems like a good thing to write about in 2019.
But for now, try to stretch the holidays out and battle the darkness with fairy lights, a nice blanket, hot chocolate and: more and less professional superheroes, detectives of both the canine and human variety, meddling kids, villainous adults, apocalyptic cultists, scooters and motorcycles, a crossover so crazy it works or maybe several team-ups so crazy they work, Los Angeles, struggling with feelings about family, women figuring out their lives, queerness, magic, cats and little dragons, Kelly Thompson and two comics colored by Triona Farrell.
Archie Meets Batman ’66 #1-5 (Archie, 2018) Jeff Parker, writer; Dan Parent, pencils; J. Bone, inks; Kelly Fitzpatrick, colors; Jack Morell, letters.
Archie Meets Batman ’66 fills my heart with comics joy. It is a perfect crossover perfectly done. When Gotham’s villains decide to take over Riverdale creating a whole city as their own headquarters for world domination, only Archie and his friends can stop them. With a little help from transfer students Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson– and Batman himself! The Bat-chosen family and the Bat-villains are well Bat-integrated into the Archie style by Dan Parent and J. Bone. It’s not all that easy a trick for them to maintain their 1960s Batman tv show identity and still fit in to Riverdale, but they do it. Nearly every page has something I wanted to share here, but it would be wrong (and laborious) to do that.
Just look at that and let your heart fill with comic joy!
Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men (Dark Horse, 2018) Evan Dorkin, writer; Benjamin Dewey, art; Nate Piekos, lettering.
Beasts of Burden consistently offers a different kind of comic joy. A more gruesome one that is definitely not all ages. That said–Do you like dogs? Do you like horror and occult mysteries? Beasts of Burden has dogs–and a couple cats–investigating occult mysteries and the results are often gory. Jill Thompson has done the art for most of the series. She has left for now. I assume she is off doing something awesome. But Benjamin Dewey does a nice job of continuing the series’ picture book quality the series has while bringing in his own style featuring heavier outlines and highlighting. He draws an amazing freaked out salamander.
And even though Evan Dorkin continues as writer, Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men feels like a bit a of a shift from previous storylines. Where before we had seen human cultists’ handiwork in deeply wrong creatures and mysterious symbols, we see them and their many dangerous weapons and bad idea. Also more of their deeply wrong creatures. The cult is attempting to raise an ancient, sleeping god, ’cause that’s what cultists do in New England.* I can’t say that this is my favorite Beasts of Burden storyline, but Beasts of Burden is always worthwhile. Also, there are goblins and a horror straight out of Fletcher Hanks, though it’s a raccoon with a human face rather than a rat with a human face. But still, it’s creepy as hell and Fletcher Hanks would approve.
My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 2 (Pantheon, 2018) Gengoroh Tagami
I’ve written about the first volume, but you don’t need to read it to appreciate this one. Single father Yaichi is grieving the death of his estranged brother Ryо̄ji. Ryо̄ji had left his family and Japan, looking for a life where he could be himself and be an out gay man. He moved to Canada and married Mike Flanagan. In volume 1, Mike arrives on Yaichi’s doorstep to meet Yaichi and Yaichi’s daughter Kana. He wants to see the places Ryо̄ji had always mentioned. While Kana is overjoyed at the prospect of having an uncle, Yaichi struggles with his ideas of what love and family are and what people around him think of his brother’s marriage. Volume 2 concludes the story, for now, as Yaichi grows closer to his brother, his brother-in-law and they all become family, even as it causes trouble for Kana with her friends’ parents and her school. Tagami’s background in gay erotica comes through in his rendering of the men here and there, but My Brother’s Husband is a sweet book and family friendly in all senses of the word “family.”
My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 1: The Sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (Seven Seas, 2018) Kabi Nagata
I wrote about Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness last summer. In My Solo Exchange Diary, Nagata continues to try to understand her feelings and work toward loving herself. Having come out to the world–and her parents in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness–Nagata struggles with her newfound success, relative fame and understanding her depression. She fears that nothing she’ll do will ever be as good as that book. And she moves out of her parents’ house, despite her father’s complete non-helpfulness, and starts to understand independence not as not needing anyone else at all, but recognizing her own limits and asking for help when she needs it. Which is a great way of understanding it. This all makes it sound very serious, and that subject matter is, but Nagata illustrates her experience so well and with an engaging style.
Nancy Drew: The Case of the Cold Case (Dynamite, 2018) Kelly Thompson, writer; Jenn St-Onge, art; Triona Farrell, colors; Ariana Maher, letters.
That’s right, more meddling kids. And that’s right, there is a Nancy Drew comic and Kelly Thompson is writing it. Nancy is a full time high school student and a full time professional detective, which I don’t know how she even does it but that doesn’t matter because she is goddamn Nancy Drew. Though I doubt she’d ever say that in this all-ages comic. Nancy has moved away from her old pals, Bess and George, to River Heights. But, as so often happens to detectives, something from her past pulls her back in. Mamcu receives a threatening letter in the mail. And it is written using letters from cut up magazine, keeping with the theme of rad and also sweet typography art in the comic itself. Did I mention I love the typographic art? Because I do. It makes my zine / book art heart sing. Jenn St-Onge’s art in the comic is nice and clean and fits well with the story–from Nancy hanging from a fraying rope while holding a hungry goat to just showing the gang figuring out directions to the cave.** She does a lot with a few lines. And Triona Farrell’s colors are just plain dreamy. (She also does the colors for West Coast Avengers).
The Case of the Cold Case is action packed when it needs to be and expressively sassy when the dialog calls for it. Kelly Thompson writes sass and friendship so well. And the sass and friendship in Nancy Drew is outstanding so far. Plus, she’s writing another detective, including her run on Hawkeye with Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye Investigations though Kate’s not doing as well as Nancy in the gumshoe biz. And Nancy Drew celebrates the power of the library.
By the way, do you like the Hardy Boys, too? Why? No reason…
Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 9 (Kodansha USA, 2018) Akiko Higashimura
I’m including this because I really appreciated how the whole story ended. I’m not recommending readers start from volume 9, but at the beginning with the knowledge that Princess Jellyfish ends well. Tsukimi, a nerdy girl / fujoshi obsessed with jellyfish, a talent for fashion design, happy living with her fellow geeky women and unsure about love figure out how she wants to live her life. I’m still annoyed that this series is presented as a good “manga for beginners.” What that really means is that it’s excellent and accessible in its own right and that effortlessness, openness and accessibility is not easy to accomplish. All nine volumes are now available in English.
Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home (Marvel, 2018) Rainbow Rowell, writer; Kris Anka, art.
The Runaways thought they had escaped their past, but the past is never past–especially for the children of supervillains. Someone–maybe even several someones–think Nico, Katarina, Chase and even Molly have a debt to pay. And just when they might have all started to find a sense of home. When REDACTED is back and they might all start to feel whole again–once REDACTED gets a body. It’s hard to write about without spoilers, but Runaways has relied on twists and surprises since it’s first run back in the Aughts. It’s how Rowell and Anka handle these surprises that got me back into the series. Well, really, what I enjoy is the interactions between the characters, as always, and she gets their voices just right. It’s nice to see Nico and Katarina sit in a diner together. Plus, Old Lace the dinosaur!
The Tea Dragon Society (Oni Press , 2017) Katie O’Neill
The Tea Dragon Society is a lovely fairy tale told in four seasons. Greta, a girl learning to be a blacksmith, encounters a tiny dragon one day. Her mother recognizes the dragon and sends her to take the dragon to Hesekiel, the owner of a fancy tea shop. It turns out that the dragon is a tea dragon, one of several species. She learns to care for tea dragons and appreciate the ethically harvested tea brewed. It is light, magical and charming.
Vampirella, Vol. 1: Forbidden Fruit and Vampirella: The God You Know (Dynamite, 2017) Paul Cornell and Jeremy Whitley, writers; Jimmy Broxton, Andy Belanger, Creees Lee, Paulo Barrios, Matt Gaudio, Alex Sanchez, and Rapha Lobosco, art; Jimmy Broxton and Lee Loughridge, colors; Travis Lanham, Jimmy Broxton letters.
Vampirella: Forbidden Fruit has a 2000 AD feel to it. It’s set a thousand years from now in a Los Angeles patrolled with clown police, a population with no sense of history, and people who refuse to have “fun” sent to secret concentration camps. It’s an earth where Vampirella decides that wearing something relatively modest is a good way to disrupt the Huxleyan dystopia. Broxton’s art particularly appealed to me. I love his layering and his brief medieval stained glass window section. There is also excellent kitty art.
Rebels attempting to disrupt a very janky social system wake Vampirella from a thousand year slumber. Unfortunately, it takes all their blood to do it and they don’t have time to explain what they need from her before they die. They leave her with a book of prophecy that they hope will explain what they want her to do. Fortunately for them, Vampirella doesn’t take direction well, but she whole-heartedly agrees that something has got to be done about the weird, perhaps hellish, incursion into the earth. In the meantime, she buys a new outfit from a store and ends up teaming up with the salesclerk, Vicki Vincent, and Vicki’s cat, Grit.
The God You Know starts with some metafictional shenanigans, enjoyment of which varies, but it really gets going when Vicki and “Ellie” ride the post-apocalyptic wasteland on a stolen motorcycle. Where Forbidden Fruit feels like a very British 2000 AD dystopia, The God You Know goes full throttle George Miller post-apocalypse, with some added infernal elements. And Vampirella starts to have some strange feelings about Vicki. Especially strange feelings for an immortal, possibly alien, vampire queen. It’s possibly the the Catwoman that Vampirella has ever been, but on a post-apocalyptic earth and she might have kind of caused the apocalypse. So what’s not to love? This part reminds me a bit of Hex, the comic where Western antihero Jonah Hex is in a post-apocalyptic future and biker gangs have parties where they barbecue giant fuschia grasshoppers. Except this kinda 1980s post-apocalypse is appropriately roller derby.
West Coast Avengers (Marvel, 2018) Kelly Thompson, writer; Stefano Caselli art; Triona Farrell, colors; Joe Caramagna, letters.
Did I mention that Kelly Thompson is one of my favorite writers? Did I mention that she does friendship and sass and sassy friendship so well? Well, she is and she does. West Coast Avengers is my current go-to superhero comic because there is so much room from friendship, sassy and sassy friendship as Hawkeye Kate Bishop becomes the leader of a superhero team. I was sad that Thompson’s run on Hawkeye was ending just as Kate was teaming up with Jessica Jones, but now so many people have teamed up with Kate to both help her and make her life hard.
Los Angeles is swarming with land-sharks and supervillains with pretty much only Kate to foil their schemes. Until Kate calls up a Hawkeye Clint Barton, her best friend America Chavez and holds auditions for her new West Coast Avengers, only she doesn’t call them that. (Please don’t tell Captain America she calls them that. It was probably Jimmy Kimmel who came up with it). Anyway, gear up for fun, sassery, land-sharks, giant monsters, and B.R.O.D.O.K.–Bio-Robotic Organism Designed Overwhelmingly for Kissing.
Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s The Mighty Thor #705, aka, “The Death of the Mighty Thor” (2018), was an intense and perfect single issue. Heroic, heartbreaking, sensitive and beautiful as a terminally ill Jane Foster sacrifices her life to save all of us.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Panther made me feel good about superhero movies again in different ways, but one thing they shared was that I cared about the stakes and I ended up on the good guys’ side, which hasn’t always been the case. I appreciated Into the Spider-Verse‘s use of the conventions of superhero comics. The use of text boxes and halftone shading were nice touches.
My two favorite Christmas specials this year were The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale (2018) and Aggretsuko; We Wish You A Metal Christmas (2018). I really enjoyed Netflix’ adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. While I am very fond of the comic and respect its faithfulness to its influences in 1970s Eurohorror, I really appreciate the tweaks the series makes–especially the ones giving Sabrina more agency and making Madame Satan’s character more complex. Aggretsuko isn’t as intense as the regular series, but it’s longer and give Retsuko a break, it’s Christmas. And share We Bare Bears’ “Christmas Movies” with the old movie weirdos in your life.
*And you’d think the gods would get so tired of us pestering them that they’d have gone somewhere else by now to get some uninterrupted eternal slumber.
**Does this make you think of the Buddha’s story about a man hanging from a cliff with a tiger menacing him from below? And there’s a bunch of berries right in front of them? So he eats them because that’s the zen thing to do? No? It’s just me?
Some people have suggested that Carol Borden is an immortal, possibly alien, vampire queen. She is, however, a perfectly normal human being.