by Wayne Markley
I thought I would take some time to look at recent books I have been reading and really enjoying and I thought you might also like. Instead of my traditional reviews of collections or graphic novels, I am going to only discuss monthly comics. Most of these are ongoing titles and some of them I have discussed in the past, so please forgive any duplication. But I do think it is a ringing endorsement if I liked a book six months ago, or a year ago or longer, and I still would recommend it. There is even a title or two I am going to withdraw my recommendations for as the books have taken a turn for the worse since I last discussed them. I am going to write short reviews and not go into too much depth about the various stories because I do not want to ruin your reading pleasure. There are sure to be titles I have skipped or overlooked due to space or stupidity on my part. I welcome and encourage people to make suggestions about titles they would recommend that I may not be reading and would enjoy.
First off, I have really enjoyed an Image title called Epic Kill. There have only been two issues so far but I have really enjoyed both of them. I have heard the complaint that this is just a copy of Elektra, but I find this to be different enough that I do not see it as a knock off. The art is very clean and the story and action are non-stop from the first page to the last. I am not sure how far this title will go or where the story is headed, but based on the first two issues I am in for a while.
Another Image title I really enjoyed is Secret. Again there are only two issues so far but it is written by Jonathan Hickman whose work I traditionally really enjoy. The story has mostly been set up, but what is being set up really caught my attention. Hickman tells very complex stories so I have no doubt this will have a great payoff at the end. It is an entertaining and fascinating mix of industrial espionage and crime.
Near Death is yet a third title published by Image that I greatly enjoy. It is written by Jay Faeber and it is a crime comic on par with the best of Ed Brubaker’s work (who I consider the greatest crime writer in comic books). It tells the story of an ex-professional killer who has a near death experience and decides to change his life and help people. Most of the stories so far have involved people tied to, or affected by, his past crimes. The storytelling is top notch and the art is clean and perfect for the title. Reading this book is like watching the best Charles Bronson film. Filled with action and strong moral dilemmas.
Moving away from Image there is a book from Avatar I really enjoy (which are words I never thought I would write) called Dan the Unharmable. It is written by David Lapham and tells the story of a slacker named Dan who, like the title says, cannot be harmed. He is a “hero” for hire of sorts, but in no way is this a superhero book. It is extremely violent but has a very funny black sense of humor. I was a huge fan of Lapham’s Stray Bullets, and he has done a number of books over the years that are very hard to read due to content (Caligula and Crossed, for example) but Dan is a very entertaining book for mature readers.
Also for mature readers is Marvel’s Max title, Untold Tales of Punisher Max. This is a miniseries written by crime novelist Jason Starr and it features a cold hearted Punisher that reminds me a lot of Garth Ennis’ run on the title. The first issue is out and it alone is enough to make me recommend it. It is an unforgiving story of a schmuck who digs a hole too deep until the Punisher steps in to resolve it. A great standalone story.
On the other side of the above titles is IDWs new ongoing Godzilla book. This is a new take on the famous reptile and it is super fun. Once again only two issues are out but they have really grabbed me and made me want to read more. It is written by Duane Swierczynski and it tells the tale of a gang of misfits out to save the world from Godzilla and all of his monster cohorts, both good and bad. This is the best take of Godzilla I have read in many years.
Planet of the Apes from BOOM! is another licensed title I really think is underrated. This is an ongoing monthly book which pre-dates the famous movies from the 70s. It is very well done and tells the story of Ape politics and how it affects the humans they rule. You can see how this would eventually lead into the first Planet of the Apes movie down the line. It is obviously a labor of love as the creators have a true passion for the material. I also really enjoyed the miniseries Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes, which I thought was the best Apes book since the early days of the Marvel Planet of the Apes magazine (and a trade collection of this miniseries is due out this fall).
Speaking of licensed titles, one that has really surprised me is Dark Shadows from Dynamite. This book, written by Stuart Manning, really captures the feel and sensibilities of the 1960s soap opera. Reading this book is like watching the old TV show, which makes it really enjoyable. I did not have high hopes for this title but I was wrong; it is an excellent read.
To break up all this praise, I want to mention this newest issue of Batman, issue 10. I have really been enjoying this book month after month but I found the whole Night of the Owls story to be sort of a letdown. When I read issue #10, which has major changes to the Batman mythos (and admittedly may be reversed by the time the story is done), I was so disgusted I am ready to stop reading the book. Of course, I will continue to see how the story turns out, but for shock value I thought this was way over the top and just poor storytelling.
Marvel has hit a home run in my book with Avengers vs. X-Men. I have not enjoyed Marvel’s recent crossovers, but I find this story to be fast paced, well written, filled with surprises, and a joy to read. So far we are half way through the series and every issue has been filled with action and a fast moving story without padding. How this whole thing ends will be the true test, but I am hopeful the payoff is worth it as the first half has been great.
Unlike Batman, I really have enjoyed Nightwing. This is a book filled with twists and turns and great storytelling. Nightwing has always been a tough character to write as he is Batman but not quite Batman light. Kyle Higgins has done a great job of fleshing out Dick Grayson’s background without going over the top like they have in Batman. He has taken the long-established mythos and tweaked it into a fascinating group of characters with a rich history.
One last superhero book I really enjoy, even though it is more a spy book than superhero, is Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker. While yes, this is the former Bucky from Captain America, Brubaker has managed to take him in a completely different direction. He has created the closest thing to a spy comic that I can remember. Non-stop action and creative storytelling.
While I have only read the first issue of the Brian Wood’s new title, The Massive, I would recommend it without a second thought. This first issue draws you in and leaves you wanting more. I would also highly recommend Brian Wood’s DMZ. The final volume has recently been released and I cannot recommend the entire series highly enough. It is a tale of an America which may not be that far off in the future. A great read for anyone, not just comic fans.
A title I really enjoy but gets little attention is The Sixth Gun from Oni. This is a mystical tale set in the old west about six guns with special powers (shocking, huh?). The storytelling is top notch and very complex with a rich cast of characters that, over time, I have grown to know and really care about. There are tons of twists and turns and the art is perfect for this story. It is well worth your time to check out.
Finally I want to return to Image comics and just quickly recommend three more titles. First is the Walking Dead, as they build to issue #100. The recent issues have been some of the best of the series in terms of building suspense and great storytelling. Next is Fatale, another Ed Brubaker title that is a mix of the best of noir crime with a healthy dose of Lovecraft thrown in. It is very original due to Brubaker’s storytelling and his mixing of styles. Finally there is Thief of Thieves. This is another book from Robert (Walking Dead) Kirkman. It is far from the Walking Dead in terms of content, but just as good in terms of quality.
As always, everything I have written here is my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. I welcome and encourage suggestions or disagreements about my recommendations. As always, thank you for reading.
Any thoughts, disagreements, suggestions or hate mail can be sent to MFBWAY@AOL.COM.