As San Diego Comic-Con begins, the Escapist Comics and Cosplay crew continues dishing out recommendations for the best comics your bucks can buy.
San Diego Comic-Con is upon us. And while most everyone with nerdy predilections likely has their eyes turned firmly toward the year’s biggest comic convention, we here at The Escapist remain ever vigilant in our quest to make sure you know which comic books to pick up when next to you stumble into your local comic shop. This week Marla Desat offers her assessment of Walter Simonson’s new series Ragnarok and gives us her impressions of Archie’s demise in Life With Archie 37. The illustrious (and roguishly handsome) Stew Shearer meanwhile, pushes the merits of Conan the Avenger and sheds light on the latest developments in DC’s Wonder Woman and Batman.
Bringing you recommendations this week: Marla Desat and Stew Shearer. First up, it’s….
Life with Archie #37
The final issue in the grown-up series starring Archie and the gang from Riverdale is a touching epilogue. Set a year after Archie’s death in Life with Archie #36, Kevin Keller prepares a speech about Archie by asking the people of Riverdale about their memories of him, leading to short stories about the boy and the man that Archie was. The gunshot that killed Archie was meant for Keller, Archie Comics’ first openly gay character. The issue touches on some of the political themes surrounding Archie’s death, including gun control and equality, and it’s both a touching farewell to Archie and a celebration of his values. The stories deftly meld the two parallel worlds of Life with Archie, carefully sidestepping the dual storylines where Archie married either Veronica or Betty. Even if you haven’t been following Life with Archie, issues #36 and #37 are easy to pick up if you are at all familiar with Archie Comics. The art is solid, and the Alex Ross variant cover is a beautiful commemoration.
Favorite Moment: “Hey, those kids remind you of anybody?”
The Wicked + The Divine #1 and #2
Every 90 years, twelve gods return to life in the bodies of seventeen-year-olds, only to die within two years. These gods become idols, awe-inspiring pop stars with devoted followers. The first two issues introduce some of this dysfunctional pantheon of reinterpreted gods, and a world not quite like our own. The cycle of reincarnation has been happening for eons, long enough for college classes about the phenomenon to develop syllabi, and many believe that the whole thing is just a farce. When Lucifer (Luci for short) gets herself dragged into jail for popping some heads with the snap of her fingers, pantheon fan Laura steps in to help.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a Wikipedia-induced haze, clicking from theology page to theology page deep in the minutiae of bygone gods and goddess, or standing in the freezing cold in a line, warmed only by your excitement to see a band you love, this series is for you. The art does justice to the first-crush, loud-club, heart-pounding, world-spinning feeling that comes with the all-consuming worship we offer up to pop idols and lust-driven crushes. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have built a fascinating mythology all their own here, and I can’t wait to unravel it all.
Favorite Moment: I want everything you have.
Ragnarok #1 is a brilliant start to a new series from comic veteran Walter Simonson. Simonson, a writer and artist, is best known for his work on Marvel’s Thor. This new series is published by IDW, and is separate from Marvel’s versions of the Norse gods.
Ragnarok #1 pairs an expert grasp of Norse mythology with beautiful art and an action-packed story. In the world after Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, the black elf assassin Brynja sets out on a final misson, a job that will let her retire in safety with her husband Regn and daughter, Drifa. The vast, bleak world that remains after the death of the gods is cruel and hard, and Brynja is no different. She has served the Great Enemies of the gods since Ragnarok, but now she is tasked with killing a dead god. This book has all the flair you’d expect from an epic myth. Bloody fights, soaring fortresses, and bound gods awaiting release.
Favorite Moment: All about the traveler is deathly silence.
It’s hard to believe that Ororo Munroe, one of the most powerful members of the X-Men and master of the weather, has had to wait so long to get a solo ongoing series. The first issue introduces us to Storm in her current role as Headmistress of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. Writer Greg Pak quickly and effectively reveals Storm’s inner conflict, the struggle between her incredible power and fury, and her desires to be a force for good in the world. After saving a village from a tsunami, anti-mutant sentiment from the government and a local corporation force her away and back to the school, where a student calls her out as a hypocrite. Troubled, Storm chooses to return to the village she saved and help with repairs, only to end up escalating the conflict there.
Storm’s position as a leader forces her to choose between
the good that she can do immediately and the good she can do through political maneuvering. I found the pacing in this issue a little fast, leaving little time to explore Storm’s problems and decisions, but it does set up some interesting conflicts for Storm. It’s a decent first issue, but it will need to tell some longer, deeper stories to keep me reading.
Favorite Moment: I let the storm carry me all night.
Ms. Marvel #6
After taking up the mantle of Ms. Marvel, assembling a costume and completing a successful rescue in the first five issue arc, Kamala Khan has begun to settle into a heroic routine. The Inventor has sent out his robots to track down Kamala, and she has started to systematically take them out. Hearing bizarre sounds in the sewer, she investigates and discovers a cache of alligators under the bionic influence of the Inventor. Wolverine wanders into the same trap, on the trail of a missing student who may have joined the Inventor’s cult. The two team up to get out of the sewers and knock a few alligator skulls around.
This issue’s art is by Jake Wyatt, and it continues Adrian Alphona’s fantastic expressions from Ms. Marvel #1-5. I kept changing my mind about my favorite panel every few pages. From Kamala’s shape shifting into a sofa to Wolverine’s reluctant role as mentor, this series continues to satisfy.
Favorite Moment: “I totally put you first in my fantasy hero team-up bracket!”
Silver Sufer #4
This is an almost action-less comic book. And yet, despite the absence of cosmic battles or planet-sized intergalactic queens, I’d have to say that issue 4 of Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer series is probably my favorite entry in the book yet. Beginning with a brief cameo from the Guardians of the Galaxy, the book centers in on the Surfer returning Dawn Greenwood to Earth and his subsequent visit with her family who couldn’t be more uninterested in the fact that he used to be the herald to freaking Galactus. What ensues is some of the most delightful and witty dialogue that you’ll find in a comic from this past month, as well as great grounding moments for the Surfer who is about as big a fish out of water as you could possibly imagine. The issue ends, in turn, on a great cliffhanger to set up the next arc which, after this book, I couldn’t be more excited for. As young as it is, Silver Surfer is shaping up to be one of Marvel’s best new series and if you’re even remotely curious about it, this is the perfect issue to jump in on.
Favorite Moment: “Outer space, huh? So what was it like? Star Trek or Star Wars?”
So big surprise, Mark Waid’s Daredevil continues to be a fantastic read. In fact, if you haven’t yet discovered the recent wonders of Marvel’s premiere blind superhero, you owe it to yourself to go buy a trade or pick up a few issues and take it for a spin. It’s funny, exciting and, on more than few occasions, game changing for the character on the whole. That being the case, I’ll come right out and say that the first storyline following the series re-launch and the characters move to California didn’t really grab me all that strongly. It was still well written to be sure and a lot of fun while I was reading it, but the plot itself didn’t do much for me. Issue 6, however, had me from page one and looks as though it could be the start of a great new storyline exploring Matt Murdock’s past and his memories of his dead father whom he has idealized for most of his life. It also showcases Waid’s uncanny ability to use a simple visit to a church as an organic launching pad for plot lines that you would never have seen coming on page one. Illicit weapons research? Government conspiracies? The nation of Wakanda? Never underestimate what Mark Waid can do with Matt Murdock, a nun and a bit of imagination.
Favorite Moment: “I didn’t expect a fight. But I’ll give him one.”
I’ll admit to not be entirely on board with Scott Snyder’s Zero Year storyline and his new take on the origins of the Dark Knight. There were just elements of the whole “Riddler takes over Gotham” idea that struck as a bit too similar to the arguably lackluster Dark Knight Rises. That being the case, with issue 33 bringing Year Zero to its end and looking back over where Snyder went with it on the whole, I can safely say that I’m a happy camper. The final issue of the arc sees Batman going toe-to-toe with the Riddler in a battle of wits that will decide the fate of an already devastated Gotham. With everything riding on him, Batman does what he always does and sacrifices himself to keep his city safe. As well this plays out however, my favorite part of the issue is easily Alfred who has an emotional moment at the end leagues more powerful than the clumsy close of the Nolan trilogy. Alfred may be Bruce Wayne’s most stalwart supporter, but the cost of that’s too often glossed over. Year Zero makes it clear just how heavy Bruce’s path weighs on his heart and I loved the way it pulled that off.
Favorite Moment: “I’m so sorry miss, but I’m afraid he’s spoken for.”
Wonder Woman #33
I’d never paid Wonder Woman much attention in the past. Brian Azzarello’s run on the book though has made me an instant fan that looks forward each and every month to the latest chapter in the adventures of DC’s Amazonian princess. With issue 33 however, the end of Azzarello’s reign is nigh and he looks primed to go out with a bang. After several issue of build-up and world building, the forces of the increasingly grotesque First Son launch an assault on Themyscira. The Amazonians rise to the challenge but things don’t look good as the Earth’s most skilled warriors are pushed to the edge to defend themselves. All the while, Wonder Woman, now a prisoner of the First Son, is forced to watch the carnage, all the while being “courted” by the her captor who sees her as the only creature in the world worthy of his affections. Suffice it so say that the book doesn’t end well, with several prominent heroes dead or dying and Wonder Woman herself being left in sincerely dire straits. Suffice it to say the final series’ final three issues are looking good.
Favorite: “No surrender… We are Amazons.”
Conan the Avenger #4
While I initially liked Conan the Avenger when it first launched, issues 2 and 3 left me very much underwhelmed. Where Brian Woods’ preceding Conan the Barbarian had been almost perfectly on target and emotionally impactful, Fred Van Lente’s continuation of the story seemed content to meander between immediately forgettable action scenes. With issue 4, however, the Shadows Over Kush storyline seems to be taking off finally and even manages to recapture some of the wonderful grim thoughtfulness that defined Wood’s time with the character. It would seem the answer was just to put Conan back in a position of power. Whereas Van Lente had a tendency to over-emphasize Conan’s cocky aggressive side while running solo, he does a better job of portraying his intelligence and empathy now that the character has been promoted to captain of the guard. Moreover, the plots and conspiracies unfolding around Conan now seem to be catching their stride and help to elevate issue 4 up to the level of storytelling that Conan fans have come to expect from Dark Horse’s comics in recent years.
Favorite Moment: “I was born on the battlefield! War was my midwife, and she has never failed me!”