Summer is nearly upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and it is, to say the least, an uncertain time. I don’t know what your plans are. Maybe a camping trip. Maybe the beach. Maybe you feel safe traveling for vacation. Maybe you’re just going to the park sometimes. Maybe you’re organizing protests or a wildcat strike. Whatever your plans this summer, I can recommend some comics you might enjoy whether it’s at the beach, in the woods, or between speakers at a demonstration.
Here are five comics covering everything from crime fiction to giant monster fights and young adult romance to mature space opera. And there’s even one relatable duck trapped in a world he never made!
(I hope our Southern Hemisphere readers will take these as recommendations as cozy winter reads!)
Destroy All Monsters (Image, 2021) Ed Brubaker, writing; Sean Phillips, art; Jacob Phillips, colors.
Destroy All Monsters is the third book in Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’ Reckless series. It features Ethan Reckless, a man who lives in Los Angeles, looks like 1980s Robert Redford, has the luck of 1970s private investigator Jim Rockford, but is doing most of his PI work on the side like Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard. It’s 1988 and Ethan runs the El Ricardo repertory theater and takes cases from clients from time to time. His best friend—possibly only real friend—and projectionist Anna helps him out. But in Destroy All Monsters, there’s trouble between Ethan and Anna as Anna moves across the 405 to live with her boyfriend, Dmitri–a man who talks over classic film. Ethan doesn’t handle it well. It might be why he’s so distracted when a city councilor hires him to destroy the life of a sleazy real estate developer involved in both criming and red-lining. Like all Brubaker and Phillips collaborations, Destroy All Monsters is just plain beautiful. And I especially liked the summery yellows and oranges Jacob Phillips used for Ethan’s surfing scenes. We all respect crime fiction that’s willing to go for some sun, or at least I do. If you’ve missed Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal, this might scratch that itch. Brubaker and Phillips do great crime comics.
Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (Dark Horse, 1995). David Chipps, writing; Mozart Couto, pencils; Mike Sellers, inking; Clem Robins, letters; Art Knight, colors.
Of course, you might be disappointed that Brubaker and Phillips’ Destroy All Monsters doesn’t involve kaiju, let alone kaiju solving crimes.* But if you want some giant monster comics in your summer, please enjoy, Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe. Personally, I prefer a monster comic that is more monster-focused than human story-focused. Thankfully, while Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe does have a story involving humans, it also gives you kaijutastic monster fights, glorious monster drawings, and explosions! Because it’s a 1990s comic it also gives you big hair, ponytails, denim vests, scrunched noses, and bared teeth.
I read these comics in Gamera: The Complete Collection (Arrow Video, 2020), a gorgeous oversized book accompanying Arrow Video’s Gamera: The Complete Collection blu ray set. I got my copy from a friend who bought the blu ray set and already has all the Gamera comics he needs. So I think it’s possibly you can find the book online without shelling out the insane price for the box set. The book includes issues 1-4 of Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe with a bonus comic, Matt Frank and Joshua Bugosh’s “The Last Hope” (Kadokawa, 2017). It’s fantastic seeing all the monster action in an oversized format, so if you can find this book I recommend it. But you can also find it much more cheaply in its original Dark Horse form. And individual issues are much more portable so you can take it camping, to the beach, or to an ancient site decorated with a mysterious flying turtle motif.
Heartstopper, Vol 1-4 (Graphix, 2019-2022). Alice Oseman, writing and art.
Heartstopper is a completely human-focused story as two boys meet and fall in love in a British boys’ school. And as a romance, it’s a classic summer read. Charlie starts to develop a crush on Nick when they are seated together in the same form classroom. Charlie’s friends are concerned. Nick is apparently straight and, as a rugby player, seems very much like the boys that bullied Charlie after he had been outed as gay. This crush seems like a recipe for heartbreak and cruelty. But it’s not. It’s a recipe for sweetness, some struggle, and more kisses than I think I’ve ever seen in a comic. Nick brings a straightforward, goodhearted energy to his attraction to the smaller, scholarly, musically inclined Charlie. Even when Nick struggles with his own identity, he’s as emotionally straightforward as he can be.
Oseman’s simple lines emphasize the vulnerability of falling in love and the particular vulnerability of sharing yourself in potentially hostile circumstances. I love the leaf and flower motifs and how they spill from panels to represent overflowing or overwhelming emotion. The little hearts and smiley faces Oseman uses to indicate mood are plain charming. Currently, there are 4 volumes and a Heartstopper coloring book for you to enjoy. Or you can read Heartstopper online at Webtoon.
(The Gutter’s own alex MacFadyen has written an excellent piece about the Netflix adaptation of Hearstopper here. Go read it!)
Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1. (Marvel, 2015). Steve Gerber, Frank Brunner, and Mary Skrenes, writing; Val Mayerik, Frank Brunner, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Migrom, Dick Giordano, and Mike Nasser, pencils; Sal Trapani, Steve Leialoha, Klaus Janson, Val Mayerik, Frank Brunner, Tom Palmer, Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Dave Cockrum, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin, inking; Stan Goldberg, Dave Hunt, Frank Brunner, Glynis Wein, Michele Wolfman, Marie Severin, Jan Cohen, Irene Vartanoff, Klaus Janson, and Doc Martin, colors; Art Simek, John Costanza, Tom Orzechowski, Annette Kawecki, Irv Watanabe, Jim Novak, and Joe Rosen, letters.
This isn’t the Chip Zdarsky & Joe Quinones comic, kid, though I do highly recommend that run. This is the original business. Howard the Duck blunders through a portal in the Nexus of All Realities, guarded by that muck-encrusted monstrosity Man-Thing. Howard leaves the civilized familiarity of Duckworld to become trapped among the hairless apes of our Earth. It’s 1976 and the world is suffering from inflation and high gas prices, reeling from revelations of presidential malfeasance, struggling to expand civil rights, and on the cusp ecological disaster. Which means maybe now is just the right time for 1970s Howard the Duck and his absurd and hilarious meta world. Part-Disney, part-Looney Tunes and all irascible, Howard the Duck is just doing his best to get by and get home in a world filled with superheroes, supervillains, sorcerers, mad scientists, and the hard rock supergroup, KISS. And that’s not counting the absurd threats bent on Howard’s destruction. Can’t a duck catch a break?
Saga #55-9 (Image, 2022) Brian K. Vaughan, writing; Fiona Staples, art; Fonografiks, letters.
Saga returns and I’m so glad it’s back. If you haven’t read Saga before, I have recommended it in the past and continue to recommend it. Saga‘s mix of space opera, romance**, melodrama and comedy is holding strong. There’s parenting and bad choices mixed in with space radness. And there is Lying Cat. Everybody loves Lying Cat. It is a fundamental truth in all our hearts.
If you have been reading Saga and are wondering whether to pick it up again this summer? The answer is yes. If you are wondering if [REDACTED] is really dead, I’m sorry to tell you that [REDACTED] is really dead. In fact, Vaughan and Staples and probably even Fonografiks are working hard to help you accept the fact that [REDACTED] is really dead as bounty hunter The Will delivers [REDACTED’S] head, adorable ram horns and all, to claim his reward. So you probably won’t be surprised that things continue to be rough. Alana and Bombazine are trying to go legit with an unexpectedly timely space infant formula. Alana and Marko’s daughter Hazel is 10 now and growing up with Prince Robot IV’s son Squire as her brother. Then there are the space pirates and their amazing skull and bones ship. And the space pirates are also in a band. Everybody loves punk space pirates. Plus, in case you missed it above, Lying Cat is back!
*Yeah, so one time I wrote a thing where a kaiju sorta solves crime. You can see part of it here…
**I like to think that if Alana and Marko weren’t influenced to pursue peace by D. Oswald Heist’s romance novel and anti-war treatise, A Night Time Smoke, they might’ve been by Heartstopper.
Things are rough, but Carol Borden is happy to be reading comics!