Where did the time go? May is drawing to a close and many of us are already feeling the heat of summer. In the world of comic books that means one thing – massive crisis events that shake each world to their core. DC Comics just wrapped its Convergence event this month, while Marvel rolls out an even bigger one with Secret Wars. Parallel dimensions are overlapping and crashing into each other and some won’t survive – and we’ve picked our favorites from the chaos.
Of course, just because worlds are ending among the Big Two doesn’t mean great things aren’t happening elsewhere. This month we also look at the webcomic Prince of Sartar and the latest Rat Queens collection. It’s also a great month for Lovecraft thanks to Alan Moore’s Providence and the Master Edition of Locke & Key. There’s a little something for everyone this week, so let’s get right to it with…
Secret Wars #1
Marvel has been building up to Secret Wars for months and now, it’s finally here. So what’s the first issue like, you ask? Death, destruction and explosions are the three words I would use to describe it. As all of Marvel’s prior teasing has indicated, the Marvel and Ultimate universe come to a dark and devastating end with their two Earth’s colliding and a metric butt-ton of civilians and superheroes biting the bullet.
I’m not going to say this is the deepest or most interesting comic I’ve read all month because it isn’t. That said, it’s easily one of the flashiest and if you’re at all intent on keeping up with Marvel’s latest universe defining saga, then Secret Wars 1 is an obvious must have comic. Pick it up and watch the world burn with us.
Favorite Moment: “Please join me for a most raucous celebration at that place where we met that time for the thing.”
Of all the mini-series emerging from Secret Wars, the most talked-about was A-Force – a book replacing the Avengers with an all-female team of superheroes. Now that the book is in our hands I’m happy to say it’s a good one, and by the time it’s finished you’ll probably wish the A-Force would stick around a little longer.
Arcadia is a tiny Battleworld island surrounded by hostile land masses, but it’s also one of the most peaceful, largely thanks to the all-female A-Force team. But the balance of power changes when America Chavez – Arcadia’s Ms. America – responds to a threat and accidentally breaches the Deadlands border. Now the powerful Thors have America in custody, and there’s only one thing A-Force leader She-Hulk can do: Find the nature of whatever invaded Arcadia in the first place and dispatch it once and for all.
As you can imagine from its cover, the A-Force roster is utterly immense, which doesn’t even get into the superpowered civilians you’ll see minding their business in Arcadia. But since the story focuses exclusively on She-Hulk and Ms. America’s patrol group, it never feels unwieldy or jam-packed. That makes it one of the more appealing Secret Wars tie-ins right now, where you can enjoy seeing 1970s Jean Grey and Runaway‘s Nico Minoru in the same panel but not feel overwhelmed with info dumps explaining it.
Throw in the fact that the powerful Captain Universe has chosen Arcadia to crash in? A-Force could easily be one of the most important Battleworld books to pick up.
Favorite Moment: “America, yes. Nobody tell P.E.T.A.”
Ultimate End #1
Well we’re finally here – after 15 years, the Ultimate Marvel universe is coming to an end amidst the spectacular chaos of Secret Wars. Whether you loved or hated it, that’s quite an achievement for any imprint, especially one that helped inspire the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley – the writer/artist team that started it all – will present the last Ultimate Marvel story and bring it all to a close.
After the events of Secret Wars, the Manhattans of Earth-616 and Earth-1610 have merged into a single landmass. The good news is this allows Earth’s Mightiest Heroes from two universes to put their heads together and restore reality. The bad news is the Avengers and Ultimates don’t trust each other – especially now that we know an Ultimate was responsible for the destruction of countless parallel universes. The worst news is that Battleworld’s police force – the Thors – also know that minor detail, and have sent an entire squad to make a formal arrest.
This is only the first chapter, but Ultimate End shows a glimpse of where we’re headed: A massive rip-roaring battle between the Ultimates and all of the Avengers. And in the meantime, we’re still getting some great character moments – like Tony Stark having an existential crisis with himself and Spider-Man despising that every Ultimate knows his secret identity. Even though I’m a little sad Ultimate Marvel is ending, I have to admit that I’m glad this creative team is doing it.
Favorite Moment: Emma Frost raising her hand.
Batman: Earth One Volume 2
The original Batman: Earth One was a wonderful graphic novel, easily the best of DC’s Earth One line and perhaps the top Batman origin since Year One. Now the anticipated sequel is finally here, and my love for this universe continues to grow. Between the reimagined Alfred, Bullock, and Killer Croc – not to mention the most optimistic Bruce Wayne we’ve seen in decades – this series is a breath of fresh air to the Batman mythos that should be on everyone’s reading list.
Following the events of Volume 1, Mayor Cobblepot is quickly becoming a hazy memory as Gotham moves away from a history of corruption. But when five Gotham citizens take control of Cobblepot’s criminal empire, Bruce Wayne is recruited by Mayor Jessica Dent and her brother Harvey to assist with the investigation. But before Batman can begin a manhunt of his own, a new threat arises – an intellectual terrorist who leaves bombs across the city with his unusual question mark calling card.
This book is packed to the brim with varied characters and story arcs – on top of what I mentioned, we see Bullock’s righteous descent into alcoholism, a growing partnership between Batman and Gordon, and the introduction of Killer Croc, and much more. But Geoff Johns impressively balances and interweaves everything in a single story that manages to hit every key beat.
But my favorite part of Batman: Earth One is the Batman who refuses to be as dark as his enemies. This is a man facing perhaps the vilest, most violent visions of Batman villains outside of the Arkham games, yet Batman never answers their methods in kind. Go read that quote from my favorite moment below – it perfectly sums up everything about this character. And unlike the emotionally unstable Batman we’re familiar with, this Bruce Wayne means it. He’s the symbol that inspires Gotham, not the monster that terrorizes it, a refreshing approach which influences every element of the book.
Volume 2 doesn’t have quite the same impact as the original book, and its ending feels uncomfortably similar to the latest Superman: Earth One. But if you’re looking for a unique take on Batman that’s a blast to read, Earth One is one of the best.
Favorite Moment: “It’s not them I care about, Alfred. They could have a family. Kids. And the last thing I want anyone to do is grow up thinking the Batman killed their father.”
Old Man Logan #1
Perhaps you heard comic fans fussing about Old Man Logan a few years back and wondered what all the fuss was about. Well, imagine Unforgiven starring Wolverine, set in a post-apocalyptic Marvel future where every major supervillain had carved the United States into their personal playgrounds. It’s perhaps the most popular alternate Earth story Marvel’s published in years – and now Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino are making a sequel against the backdrop of Marvel’s Secret Wars.
After the events of Old Man Logan and Secret Wars #1, Logan has spent his time wiping out remaining pockets of corruption in his corner of the Wasteland. After a less-than-satisfying “mission”, he returns home to see a lone Ultron head drop from the sky. For all he knows this is part of an invasion the Thors already took care of – but the only way to be sure is to climb the border wall and see what Ultron’s up to himself.
Presumably this adventure will take Logan across Battleworld in a search for answers, but for right now the post-apocalyptic Marvel wasteland remains compelling and unsettling at the same time. Whether we’re looking at ruined superhero memorabilia shops, or gangs wearing Daredevil and Punisher colors, or casually spotting a Savage Land T-Rex in the background, this world is starkly beautiful and a pleasure to revisit. Of course, the Western anti-hero version of Logan is as wonderful as ever, as he fights for justice in a world that isn’t capable of being saved.
Favorite Moment: “Hey. Hello? Anyone in there?”
I’m going to be honest and say that, in terms of the series as a whole, Raganorok 5 isn’t really all that extraordinary an issue. That said, as I read the latest chapter of Walter Simonson’s series, I found myself struck by just how cool the whole thing is. Following the adventures of a post-Ragnarok (aka: the apocalypse of Norse mythology) Thor, the book is pretty much the antithesis of other popular takes on the thunder god and Asgard.
The world is bleak, destroyed and ruined. Thor himself, in turn, is a decaying, jawless corpse that’s lost the bulk of his strength and is searching for answers and purpose more than someone to smite. He’s basically the exact opposite of the golden-haired Adonis that Marvel (with Simonson’s help) has established as the character’s current pop culture standard. To make a long story short, the series is only five issues in and keeps getting better the further it gets along. If you haven’t jumped on it yet, I’d definitely suggest giving it a try before the story runs on much longer.
Favorite Moment: “‘We have slain Gods.’ Let that be your epitaph.”
Alan Moore writing Lovecraft – there, I just gave you one big reason to check out Providence. Although truth be told this isn’t Moore’s first take on the Mythos, after creating The Courtyard and Neonomicon with Jacen Burrows earlier in his career. But where many Lovecraft scribes introduce some inhuman monster and call it a day, Providence goes a step further with horrors that reflect uncomfortable parts of human nature. More specifically, Providence is an exploration of racial and sexual intolerance in early 20th Century America – a time and place Lovecraft was intimately familiar with.
In the year 1919, reporter Robert Black is looking for a story to fill a remaining half-page for the New York Herald. At the suggestion of a co-worker, he starts investigating the history behind books like Robert Chambers’ The King In Yellow – stories that drove readers to insanity and suicide. His journey takes him to a mysterious doctor with unusual ideals of life, love, and extending human lifespan. Their conversation will have an incredibly profound effect on Black, who realizes the information applies to his own life in ways he never previously understood.
To say more would spoil the appeal, but Providence is a book you’ll have to re-read after finishing. Almost every single page alludes to a secret in Black’s life that doesn’t quite come together until reaching the final pages. Once that last puzzle piece is in place however, it completely changes the meaning of the every single conversation Black had – and feels far more powerful than any “Cthulhu did it” reveal these kind of stories offer.
That said, this is only the first issue, so I’m sure Lovecraftian terrors will arrive soon – but when they do, it will be after a slow burn that makes them far more satisfying to behold.
Favorite Moment: “I have my secret and you have yours, I think. Other people, also… Were it one day to rise and confront us all, what would you do, Mr. Black? What would any of us do?”
Prince of Sartar
The nearly fifty year old fantasy world of Glorantha started as a mythological thought exercise of sorts and morphed into a universe for tabletop gaming. Since the publication a few years ago of a massive guide to its intricacies, there’s been a bit of a renaissance around the universe of gods and heroes. Prince of Sartar is a wonderful webcomic set in Glorantha, and artist Kalin Kadiev has really started to knock the trippy, spirit-focused ritual magic of the world out of the park, seeding panels with odd references and strange moments to the greater Glorantha universe.
This month we saw the confrontation between weakening, aging God-King Belintar and Harrek the Berserk, an embodiment of destruction. However, with Belintar’s vision locked so firmly on one enemy, he doesn’t see Jar-Eel the razoress coming until it’s too late. The panels leading up to their confrontation are seeded with hidden bits and pieces pointing readers at what’s coming, but don’t do it too heavy-handedly until it’s more than obvious what’s coming.
Favorite Moment: Huh. That’s a big one.
Rat Queens Volume 2
It’s Girls meets Conan & Red Sonja in the best way: Rat Queens is undoubtedly the monarch of modern fantasy comics, and the second volume cements that place in my head. Combining goofy swords & sorcery conceits alongside clever Dungeons & Dragons jokes with a dramatic sex-and-violence storyling ripped from an HBO drama, there isn’t much to dislike about the series. Sure, the jokes are childish sometimes, but we need childish – and there’s something special about the way this childish is presented alongside the ultra-violent art. The second volume’s storyling focuses on Dee’s many-tentacled god N’Rygoth, a horror from beyond space and time we weren’t sure was real during the first volume. Spoilers: It’s real.
Favorite Moment: The extended flashback that leads to dwarven warrior Violet shaving her beard.
While Daredevil has been a consistently solid read since writer Mark Waid made the decision to move the character to San Francisco, it’s never quite risen to the transcendent heights it did back before Matt Murdock outed himself as a superhero and was forced to relocate. Issue 15 changes that by turning frenemy Shroud into a full-fledged villain and hitting Matt and his allies with one of the best gut-punches the series has delivered in a long time.
Taking control of the local information networks, Shroud is able to access every personal and professional moment that Matt’s had where a cell phone was present. He then broadcasts all of these, including client secrets, to the world. It’s basically the worst thing that could happen to a superhero who’s also a lawyer trying to rebuild his shattered practice.
What excites me most about this though is the potential promised by the comic’s final pages. The goals of Shroud’s plans are far more vast than simply embarrassing Daredevil. Left with few other viable allies, Matt finds himself forced to turnto one of his oldest and most hated enemies.
Side Note: This actually came out on April 29th. I didn’t get a copy until May however, and it simply beat out a lot of the other books I read this month. Hope you guys are okay with this exception.
Favorite Moment: “Every lawyer has secrets, Matt. What’s the sacred term you use? The ethic you all swear never to violate? Oh yes: attorney-client privilege.”
Ms. Marvel #15
G. Willow Wilson’s greatest accomplishment with Ms. Marvel is how intensely real the character of Kamala Khan feels. Whether you’re talking her response to her powers, her frustrations with her parents and culture or, most recently, her response to a boy she likes, she just genuinely comes across as a believable teenaged girl. Issue 15 was interesting to me because of the subtle way that it introduced elements of some similarly believable vulnerability.
The comic opens with Kamala having been abducted and taken to New Attilan by her new beau Kamran who just so happens to be an Inhuman. After she refuses to join the new regime taking power there, Kamran starts to get emotionally abusive, telling her that its her fault she’s in this predicament at all and that no one will believe her if she says he forced her to come here. “As far as anybody knows, you chose to be here. You put yourself in this situation.”
Kamala’s response to this is to momentarily kind of believe it. Logically she might know he’s completely wrong and being a bastard, but deep down she has a part of that’s worried he’s right and if she just hadn’t been so trusting none of this would be happening. To be sure, she bounces back from this pretty quickly, but the comic does so in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheap Lifetime movie. It manages to deliver perfectly executed moment of growth and development for her character born from a situation that’s likely all too familiar to many young women.
Favorite Moment: “Suddenly, I feel calm. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. Or guilty. I realize something very important. He might look like a handsome prince, but he’s actually a total buttwipe.”
After months of waiting, Marvel and Jason Aaron have finally done readers the service of revealing the identity of the new female Thor. Better yet, they did so in a fashion most fantastic: a battle royale between Asgard’s Destroyer and a dream team of female superheroes led by Freya and Thor. The group spends probably the first third of the comic duking it out with the unbeatable weapon until Odin finally decides to stop being a jerk and send it back to Asgard.
As fun as that is though, the really interesting stuff comes in the aftermath when Thor Odinson tries to confront Thor and confirm his suspicions about her identity. His assumption winds up being (amusingly) wrong, but helps lead up to a final reveal that both makes a lot of sense and has the potential to completely reshape and give depth to another character that originated as little more than an object of desire for Thor the dude.
Favorite Moment: “I will not stop being the mighty Thor. Even though it is killing me.”
The Complete Tragedy Series
An exercise in anachronistic victoriana and hysterically apropos-of-nothing jokes about lobster claws, The Tragedy Series is certainly one of the best webcomics to come out of the single-panel tumblr sketch style. Released just a while ago, I spent a prolonged period of time with the collected, complete, hardcover version of this comic recently and cannot recommend it enough. As either a thing to read a few of before bed, or an interesting book for your coffee or bedside table, this is one that will have you and guests laughing.
Favorite Moment: To keep your spirits up, the original creator included jovial, nonsensical happiness interludes. They are just as good as the tragic comics.
Infinity Gauntlet #1
Surprisingly colorful for a post-apocalyptic adventure, Infinity Gauntlet charms in both its art and its storyline. You wouldn’t really know it’s a marvel book if it didn’t say so on the cover – and if it didn’t have the ending it does – but this one has me ready for the coming issues. The wonderful new characters of Anwen and her family, trolling around in the ruins of human civilization, do very well to tell a story of heartbreak that seems worlds away form the stoic melodrama of most superhero comics that have come out of Secret Wars. The writing and art do well to bring us deep into the world, making it more than just a Nova + Star-Lord vs. Thanos book, instead giving us what we didn’t expect: Heart, family, and wonder.
Oh, and the action scenes are superbly laid out. Comics artists, take note.
Favorite Moment: Who doesn’t love a twist ending?
Locke & Key Master Edition
A beautiful edition of a modern classic, the definitive version of Locke & Key will take its place on my shelves alongside the library editions of Hellboy as books I’ll go back to again and again. If you haven’t read it yet, these books are the story of a family that moves into an old house full of mysterious, magical keys – and the malevolent spirit at the bottom of the house’s well that needs the keys to escape. The keys are a clever conceit, and the interactions between characters tend to segue perfectly into the horror elements of the story. For me, it’s the perfect example of taking something that’s beyond the scope for most readers – in this case, lovecraftian horror – and making its themes accessible, present, and urgent. Rereading the first two stories in the master edition has made me hungry for the series all over again.