The absurdity of an authoritarian bureaucracy is fertile ground for comedy. At least in a democratically elected country, nobody’s afraid of getting shot for stamping the wrong document. Under a strongman (a.k.a., a dictator), you often wind up with a bunch of venal backstabbing weasels. The Death Of Stalin (Titan) deals with what happens when a strongman falls, and the weasels start running riot in the henhouse.
Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin admit, up front, that their story is a work of fiction, in part because nothing could be quite as insane as what actually happened when Stalin proved evil does die after all. But that degree of license with actual historical figures like Beria and Khrushchev leads to a much funnier story. Robin in particular gleefully cartoons these guys even as he and Lorien Aureyre color the whole thing in somber blues and blacks that just make the political backstabbing and bureaucratic carping all the funnier as they jockey for position.
This may not be historically accurate, of course, but it’s deeply entertaining, and underneath it all, it’s a smart political critique. “Strong” men don’t make for strong governments, and how those governments fall apart in their wake tends to be instructive. The book ends with another key historical point that tartly notes that when you try to backstab your way to the top for power, you often don’t find yourself at the top of the heap, but rather against a wall.
The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina #7, Archie Comics
Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack return with their horror comic starring the teenage witch. This issue, though, focuses instead on Sabrina’s father, Edward Spellman, newly revived as Harvey Kinkle, and in something of a nostalgic mood now that he’s back in someone else’s body. It’s a classic EC Comics tale of fraud, pride, and the fall that comes with both, and a delicious little summer chill with more to come.
Zodiac Star Force: Cries Of The Fire Prince #1, Dark Horse
This affectionate parody/mashup of magical girl anime and high school drama returns with Kevin Panetta on script, and Paulina Ganucheau on art. This time around they add just a touch of Lovecraft to the mix as the girls trying to pick up the pieces after the events of the last series, and dealing with crappy parents, bad relationships and, uh, washing machine monsters. It could easily lose the tone with all it attempts, but Panetta and Ganucheau work well together to keep it just blended enough to zip along smoothly.
Rick And Morty: Pocket Like You Stole It #1, Oni Press
Oni’s take on Adult Swim’s dark comedy has always been much like the show itself, but it’s never been quite as intense as this. For those unfamiliar, this comic is riffing on the Pokemon parody Pocket Mortys, wherein you, as Rick, capture all the different Mortys from all the different realities. Let’s just say Morty is not a fan of this particular idea, and the show’s taste for grim satire takes the lead from there. If you’re eagerly awaiting the series’ return at the end of the month, this will tide you over quite nicely.
Batman #26, DC Comics
The War Of Jokes and Riddles continues apace, and Tom King and Mikel Janin have revealed that it’s an origin story, of sorts, not for Batman, but his complex world of villains. Over the years, writers have revealed that Gotham has a rich underground of supervillains with their own stories, lives, rivalries, and problems, and King and Janin are asking how it all got started. It’s fascinating stuff, not least for how King and Janin play with various supervillains and their origins, including a witty nod to a classic villain start of darkness, with a twist.
Nick Fury #4, Marvel: Marvel’s goofy superspy comic isn’t profound, but James Robinson and Aco deliver bright, colorful fun, with Aco’s complex layouts giving the book a joyous ’60s feel, something particularly useful in this goof on Marvel’s Silver Age.
Redline #5, Oni Press: Neal Holman’s brilliantly, grimly funny Mars-set noir ends with exactly the kind of payoff you’d expect.
Bloodshot’s Day Off, Valiant: What happens when a soldier who’s been fighting for decades without end finally gets to come home? Eliot Rahal and Khari Evans explore that question with some real sensitivity in this one-shot.
Giant Days #28, BOOM! Studios: Max Sarin’s playful art is the highlight of this issue, as he uses visual distortion to explore John Allison’s story of a lack of sleep reflecting a lack of coping tools in relationships.
Ash Vs. The Army Of Darkness #1, Dynamite: Ash faces high school, as well as the undead, in a story we’re surprised the comics beat the movies to. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun, especially with Mauro Vargas’ kinetic, stretchy artwork.
This Week’s Best Collections
It’s A Bird, DC Comics ($17, Softcover): Steven T. Seagle’s thoughtful look at Superman is the rare form of comics criticism told in comics, published by the company that owns the character Seagle is often critical of. It’s also an uncomfortably intimate look at Huntington’s Disease, and Seagle’s thoughtful blend of musings on Superman and his family’s struggles with Huntington’s make for a must-read that’s finally back on shelves in a new edition.
Angel Catbird Vol. 3: The Catbird Roars, Dark Horse ($15, Hardcover): Margaret Atwood’s unusual, joyful throwback to the Golden Age continues an installment that takes an even stranger turn than previous volumes.
The Darkness 20th Anniversary Crossover Collection, Image Comics ($20, Image Comics): The Darkness is the epitome of grimdarkety dark dark anti-heroic ’90s grimdarkness, but it’s leavened considerably by both crossing him over with more traditional superheroes, and involving writers like Garth Ennis, who hates superheroes.