The first New Comic Book Day of April has some pretty great books, ranging from hard-edged noir to dirty martini spying to Golden Age superheroics. But which book earned the number one ranking?
10) Miss Fury Vol. Two #1
Corinna Bechko and Jonathan Lau continue their revival of the Golden Age heroine who stepped in when the boys were overseas. Thanks to the setting, this is going to have something of a pulpy feel no matter what, but Bechko plays it to full advantage. This is a funny, fast-moving book that takes itself just seriously enough to have stakes.
What anchors it, though, is Jonathan Lau. Lau’s layouts and action scenes are some tight, entertaining stuff, and it gives the book a brisk, engaging feel that draws you in. This isn’t the most substantial comic you’ll read this week, but it has a strong bid to be the most fun.
9) Dark Corridor #7
Rich Tommaso wraps up his strange noir with a massive payoff and, of course, a lot of violence. Tommaso’s isometric style in this book can sometimes feel at odds with his writing, but here it works as he pays off the series with an extended action sequence that wouldn’t feel out of place in a big-budget ’80s action flick. It’s ridiculous, of course, but incredibly entertaining and a great finale to one of Image’s more entertaining, offbeat books.
8) Baltimore: Empty Graves #1
Lord Baltimore has spent decades hunting down a clan of vampires behind a worldwide plague. Along the way, despite himself, he’s found allies, even friends, even as he’s lost his humanity by inches. But what’s the cost, to them and to Baltimore, of being a friend to a man loathed by evil?
That’s what Mike Mignola and Christopher Golding linger on in their script, but as usual, Mignola’s books are written to be a showcase for the artist, and Peter Bergting has some moments of both beauty and horror here that elevate the book. There’s one flashback in particular that underscores what you see as part of Baltimore’s entourage that will stick with you, for good or ill, and horror fans will find this an understated, engaging scary story.
7) Black Widow #2
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, fresh from a champion run on Daredevil, follow up their killer first issue with a flashback that explores just how dangerous the Widow really is as she takes down an assassination attempt in a private SHIELD graveyard. Or so she thinks.
Waid is sparse here with both plot and dialogue, keeping almost everything under wraps, in sharp contrast to Samnee, who fills the book with gorgeous panels and understated violence. Samnee’s tense, carefully built action scenes would be worth reading even without Waid’s carefully doled out plot hints. The result is a spare, hard action book that shouldn’t be missed.
6) The Fix #1
Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber deliver a crime caper starring two crooks who open the issue by robbing a nursing home. This, it turns out, will be both the emotional and professional high point of their day.
Spencer is on familiar ground here; comedies about crooks litter his resume. So he layers in some twists, like the Whole Foods-loving gang boss, or the fact that the most dreaded force of morality that strikes fear in hearts of police everywhere is… well, we won’t ruin it. But suffice to say that there’s a wackiness to the whole thing that makes it funny, something Lieber’s grounded, realism-focused art just amplifies by playing it all with a straight face. Lieber never goes for the cheap joke in his art, and here he does a lot to build up the comedy while letting the characters drive the story. If you like your crooks with some laughs to go with them, this is a book to get on the ground floor with.
5) Vision #6
Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s book has been unusual from the beginning. Putting the Vision at the center of a modern suburban tragedy sounds odd on paper, but it’s worked not least because King and Walta have committed to the idea of the Vision being unable to grasp why building his own family and pretending to be human isn’t going to work. The brutal irony is in that trying to be more like humans, the Visions are falling prey to very human flaws. And that’s central to this issue, where secrets that have collected over the last five issues are finally revealed.
I don’t use “tragedy” idly, here. What’s overwhelming the Vision and his family, slowly, over a series of issues, are a series of decisions that you can’t fault them for making, but really are just going to make things worse. For example, the Vision’s solution to discovering a dead dog in his backyard, and the corpse of the supervillain his wife murdered in self-defense that killed it, is to turn the dog into a robot, as if getting a pet will fix everything. His wife’s solution to the neighbors seeing the aftermath of this discovery, a house utterly destroyed, is to pretend they’re remodeling. It’s strange that it takes robots to tell us so much about people, but that’s Vision‘s great strength.
4) Unfollow #6
Rob Williams has R.M. Guera over for an issue of his decidedly different thriller. Unfollow has been the kind of book that seems to be heading in one direction only to suddenly wheel around and sprint somewhere unexpected and often far more rewarding; you think you’re getting a battle royale, but instead almost everyone survives. You think there’s dark magic, but suddenly it’s ambiguous. And in this issue, you think Deacon, the gun nut introduced a few issues previously, is just a heavily armed religious lunatic.
Except he’s not really Deacon, he’s Eric Warner Riggins, veteran of two ugly wars. Deacon, it turns out, is a deeply broken man who’s done a lot of bad things and is trying, in his own flawed, wrong-headed way, to set them right. Guera really digs deep here; much of this issue visually refers to other panels within it, and even past events, in clever ways that helps tie together Williams’ intentionally complicated bundle of flashbacks, and his understated approach to violence gives Deacon’s actions more weight. When Guera depicts Deacon casually strolling naked into a camp and gunning down a bunch of kidnappers, it oddly has more weight than an elaborate action sequence.
Deacon barely has his marbles together and Williams wisely lets us piece together what went wrong in his life from the failures he mourns and how he tumbles from one screwup to another. By the end, you understand Deacon much better than the stereotype he would at first suggest, and that’s the mark of a great comic.
3) Last Sons of America #4
Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Andrew Dow Smith wrap up this excellent miniseries that strikes closer to the bone than you might at first think. The essential premise of this series is that the United States, twenty years ago, was hit with a contraceptive weapon that made having children an impossibility for the American population. So Americans have been adopting, and where there’s desire, there’s money to be made. And, as Johnson’s script points out, there are few things human monsters love more than money.
Johnson doesn’t go in for speeches here, but he draws heavily from genuine human trafficking problems to build on his script. Smith’s art is all darkness and lines and throughout has created a strong mood to go with the moral struggles that anchor this book. Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of this story; Johnson and Smith have created a genuinely intriguing setting with much to say about what happens when humanity is broken down to how much it’s worth on the open market.
2) Black Panther #1
After months of hype, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze deliver their take on the first major Black superhero and it’s… well, it’s interesting. One thing lost amid all the hype is that Coates hasn’t published much fiction to this point, so it was an open question of just what we were going to get.
Those expecting, or dreading, a political polemic will be disappointed: Coates has no interest in stuffing speeches into T’Challa’s mouth. Instead what we get is an odd mix of ’60s Marvel profundity and modern African concerns: Black Panther is a ruler struggling to keep his country together as a class war ferments and supervillains aim to exploit, and torn between duty to his country and duty to his family. Nor is he the only one, as the book’s theme of divided loyalties percolates throughout the entire cast. Stelfreeze, a longtime comics veteran, meanwhile works in Kirby-esque flourishes in some designs while delivering a sharp set of art decidedly different from his more painterly work elsewhere. The overall result has an epic feel and a fast pace, and if Coates and Stelfreeze are given this much latitude going forward, it promises to be something unlike what Marvel is used to publishing.
1) The Sheriff of Babylon #5
A comic book about two people getting drunk in a ruined bathhouse may not sound like a compelling time, but Tom King and Mitch Gerads make it work. Over the course of a long night, Fatima, the pragmatic Iraqi politician trying to salvage her country, and Christopher, the American trying to build a police force for a country torn in a dozen different directions at once, accidentally reveal more about themselves to each other, and to us, than you might expect. There’s one revelation in particular that we won’t spoil here, but will force you to re-evaluate everything Chris has done in the series.
Gerads, in particular, delivers a powerhouse performance in this issue. His immaculately detailed settings, his subtle use of facial expressions, and a careful hand with the coloring to slowly change the mood dovetails beautifully with King’s dialogue-driven script, half of which is carried by a woman for whom English is a second language.
The Sheriff of Babylon has always been focused on showing Iraq as far more complicated than a country that needs to be freed or a dictatorship that needs to be overthrown. King and Gerads often intentionally make the reader, who is most likely an American after all, an observer. There are political situations, blood feuds, and on-the-ground realities that we only dimly understand that are covered in this book with the absence of stereotypes and simplicity.