“Where do I start?” This is a question you get asked a lot when you tell people you review comic books as part of your job. And it’s easy to get why. The biggest comics, the heroes you can name, the ones with film franchises and pajamas at Target, have publishing histories stretching back decades. But there’s no franchise more convoluted, more complicated, than the X-Men. And now, finally, there’s a place to start with them: X-Men: Grand Design.
Ed Piskor, the cartoonist at the center of all this, seems, at first, to be an unlikely choice to sum up five decades plus of continuity. Best known for his work Hip-Hop Family Tree and a graphic history of the Beat movement, Piskor’s built a career well outside the big two publishers and superheroes. But he also loves them, and it shines through in his carefully designed work.
When we say he goes back to the beginning, we mean it. It starts well before Charles Xavier is even born, delving into bits and pieces of Marvel’s past only the most crusading No-Prize hunter would even remember, let alone have read. What really stands out, though, is how this all flows. The title is no accident: Piskor turns years of details into a grand design, both in the writing and in the art, a vast story not unlike the Plantagenets or Medicis, pulling design elements and visual ideas from the series’ vast roll call of artists and designers.
We have more about Piskor’s work in our interview with him, but safe to say, if you’ve ever looked at X-Men comics and wondered where to start? This is where.
Batman #37, DC Comics
Tom King and Mikel Janin put Lois and Clark out on a date with Bruce and Selina as they do couple things, share their emotions, and memorably get hammered behind a carnival booth. Yeah, it’s not exactly an action-heavy issue, but it is an absolutely hilarious and deeply human one, where we learn just why people so diametrically opposite, whether they’re married or whether they’re working together, can bond and become close.
Backways #1, Aftershock Comics
Justin Jordan and Eleonora Carlini start a new fantasy comic about a teenager girl chasing after her vanished friend. She quickly discovers that her dabbling in magic has led her into the Backways, forgotten spaces knitted together by magicians to form a fantasy world in the niches and crevasses we don’t bother to look. Jordan’s quite good with fantasy, but it’s Carlini’s riotous imagination that stands out here, and makes for an interesting first issue we’re looking forward to seeing more of.
Quantum and Woody #1, Valiant
Daniel Kibblesmith and Kano bring the superhero duo back. Well, sort of. A lot’s unsurprisingly gone wrong for both Quantum and Woody in the intervening year and change, but that’s about par for the course. What isn’t is that Woody’s run up a lot of debts with shady characters, and somebody who can hire a walking hedge as a legbreaker just bought them up. Kibblesmith keeps the tone of the original book while putting his own stamp on it, and Kano, who’s worked on these two before, maintains his beautiful, crisp layouts and straightfaced absurdity. Welcome back, guys. You were missed.
Marvel Two In One #1, Marvel
Despite the title, this is rising Marvel star Chip Zdarsky and artist Jim Cheung starting Marvel’s quest to reunite the Fantastic Four. Ben Grimm, after a stint with the Guardians of the Galaxy, is back on Earth and largely stuck managing Reed Richards’ affairs, while the Human Torch, working with the Inhumans, seems to be depressed. Zdarsky humanism and warmth drives this, in part because he delivers on the idea of the Four as a family by focusing on the one guy who isn’t technically related to them by blood. It brings the Fantastic Four back to what makes them stand out.
Betty And Veronica: Vixens #2, Archie Comics: Perhaps the most impressive bit from Jamie Lee Rotante and Eva Cabrera’s story of the women of Archie starting a motorcycle gang is they build a credible case for Betty, Veronica and the like doing it.
The Wild Storm #10, DC Comics: Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt make their hilarious, weird action book even more so with this issue.
Curse Words Holiday Special #1, Image Comics: Charles Soule, Ryan Browne, and guest artist Mike Norton explore how magical supervillains enjoy Christmas: By creating a horrible monster, siccing it on the general populace, and then killing and eating it. Hey, they are bad guys.
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Fairies #1, BOOM! Studios: Matt Smith wittily retells an ancient legend about a fairy queen and a gruff shepherd in this delightful comic.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #298, Marvel: Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert and Juan Frigeri amp up their plot as Spidey tries to protect his sister, who really doesn’t need protecting, and beats up a lot of villains.
This Week’s Best Collections
Black Hammer Vol. 2: The Event, Dark Horse ($20, Softcover): Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston and David Rubin continue the story of a team of Golden Age heroes trapped on our world, and the unlikely moment they’re given hope of escape.
Teen Titans: The Silver Age Vol. 1, DC Comics ($30, Softcover): The Titans are everywhere, now, but it wasn’t so long ago they were just a bunch of kids hanging out, and these Silver Age stories are a good reminder of how far they’ve come.
Blood Bowl: More Guts More Glory, Titan ($17, Softcover): This satire of both sports-movie and fantasy tropes, based on the board game, is a throwback to the great sports comedies of the movies. Just, you know, with more dead orcs.