Here’s the criteria that I’m using to rank these books: The first is how accessible they are for new and casual readers, and a close second is overall quality. A really good book that requires 300 issues of backstory is going to be ranked lower just because most people don’t have that 300-issue experience. I’m aware that’s somewhat arbitrary, and if you’ve got tweaks, let me know in the comments; I’m happy to consider them. And now, the top three!
1) Howard The Duck #2
Last issue, Howard got stranded on the Collector’s homeworld. This issue, he breaks out, with the help… well, OK, it’s pretty much entirely thanks to Rocket Raccoon, but Howard at least makes an effort. Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones probably deserve all the Eisners for making a comic book this dense with jokes while also being snarky about its own form. And that ending splash panel… if you’re on the fence about buying the book, just flip to the last page of the main story. Trust me, you’ll buy it after you see that. Highly recommended.
2) Big Man Plans #2
I freely admit, opening a comic book with a little person kneecapping somebody in the parking lot of a Tennessee dive bar is a great way to get attention. This book, following a man who was an unofficial Vietnam tunnel rat and will happily blow up a bar for making fun of his height, is fairly bleak this issue — which is about what you’d expect from Eric Powell as he makes his version of a ’70s revenge/exploitation movie. It’s also something fresh, unexpected, and even a little tearjerking in places. I only rank it second because Howard made me laugh harder.
3) Astro City #22
“Legacy” heroes are a pretty common concept in comic books; one guy puts down the mantle, the next one picks it up. Usually, when you stop being a superhero, it means going out in a blaze of glory. But in the case of Duncan, it’s more about accepting that maybe you’ve done your time and deserve a few sweet moments. Once again, this book’s warmth and humanity make it a superb read, and the fact that it’s a one-and-done story makes it a great place to get a sense of this series. Highly recommended, and highly ranked as a result.
4) Rebels #1
Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti take on what it was like to fight the Revolutionary War in the hinterlands of New England, specifically the New Hampshire Grants. Wood takes a few historical liberties: Seth Warner is Seth Abbott, for his purposes, and Ethan Allen is a noble patriot instead of the terrible person he was in real life. But it’s well-researched beyond such liberties, right down to using the old names for modern Vermont towns, and Mutti’s art manages to be both grounded and vivid. Jordie Bellaire does her usual superb job with colors, giving the book an almost watercolor effect in some places. A fascinating take on history, and highly recommended.
5) Imperium #3
Joshua Dysart and Doug Braithwaite continue their take on Valiant’s supervillians, and their quest to control the world. But the cracks are already appearing, thanks to Sunlight on Snow, the sentient robot who, it turns out, has far more emotional depth, and need, than anyone will give him credit for. What’s a nice touch here is that Dysart uses his sharp characterization to drive the plot. Toyo Harada, the main bad guy, is a manipulative dick, and the key revelation for the protagonist, an AI Harada has chained into a robot, is that his manipulations are much deeper than he first realized. It’s a complex, rich read, and highly recommended.
6) Re-Animator #1
Doctor Herbert West is back, settled in New Orleans, and has taken on Susan, a protege and assistant… oh, and he’s also selling zombie fluid as the hot new illegal drug, which means he’s got houngans, Chtulhu worshippers, and organized crime all about to fall on him like coyotes. Although the opening feels a bit rushed and brusque, this issue moves quickly enough, and has enough dark comedy, to make it an engaging horror comic.
7) Sundowners #8
Tim Seeley and Jim Terry launch a new arc in their book about insane people who think they’re superheroes… and might just, to some degree, be right. Or, at least, they’re pretty good at hitting people. After the first arc got a little strange and metaphysical, this arc settles back into the central gag, namely that our heroes are suffering from “Sundown Syndrome” and the psychiatrist on the team is trying to cure them of it (and line his pockets in the process). It’s an extremely fun read, and you can pick it up without needing to read the previous seven issues, but it’s a little disappointing that the book isn’t exploring its central mystery more.
8) Deep State #5
I confess, I haven’t been following this X-Files-esque riff on the paranormal thriller very closely, but this new arc has a killer hook: An assassin has discovered how to fire bullets through time. Justin Jordan’s got his trademark snappy dialogue, and it’s a briskly plotted issue that doesn’t waste time introducing the concept. That said, I’ve got to dock this a few levels because Ariela Kristantina’s art is a little too loose. When it works, it builds atmosphere, but when it doesn’t, the lack of detail and scribbly style of some panels can be distracting. Still worth a read, however.