I don’t know about you, but it’s too damn hot where I’ve been sitting. The air’s been thick with humidity for weeks, and it puts me in an mood to stay indoors (with air conditioning) to enjoy the otherwise nice view without sunburns. Thankfully, there were a ton of great comics this month to keep us company, and we’re sharing some of our favorites!
DC Comics finally released the collected “Lex Luthor Joins The Justice League” arc, which is a joy to read in full. But I was also really surprised by books outside the Big Two – including Brian K. Vaughn’s Canadian invasion story We Stand On Guard, and Ales Kot’s paranormal-film-noir Wolf. Meanwhile, Stew Shearer stepped up with the latest Star Wars and Lando books while checking in on Marvel superheroes like the Uncanny X-Men.
Which books were your favorites this month? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, let’s get started with…
We Stand On Guard #1
As a Canadian, let me share something with my fellow American readers: A lot of us think we can take you. Oh not unprovoked – we wouldn’t dream of starting anything. That would be rude. But we have all these textbooks saying we burned down the White House during the War of 1812. And some of us noticed that your military keeps using our training centers as though yours don’t quite cut it. And sure, maybe a lot of that is just hot air, and it’s certainly not anything personal. Yet I’ve met Canadians who are adamant we would win if push came to shove – or could at least give you a bloody nose in the process.
Of course, if you started reading We Stand On Guard, you’d probably root for Canada too. In this new series from Brian K. Vaughn and Steve Skroce, a futuristic America invades its northern neighbor following a new wave of terrorist attacks. Now giant robots patrol the wilderness while Uncle Sam harvests our precious natural resources, prompting an underdog team of civilians to take back the Great White North.
Imagine G.I. Joe if the Joes were Canadian, and Cobra was the United States Military – that’s the exact tone We Stand On Guard is going for. The result is a thrilling read filled with sci-fi Canadiana (and who doesn’t like underdog stories with giant robots!) but Vaughn also drops subtle hints that the war isn’t black-and-white. Did Canada attack America first? How do you handle capturing an “evil” American who killed your buddies? How far the book goes remains to be seen, but I for one will stand on guard to find out.
And don’t worry America. You’re still our buddy, guy. See you at the hockey rink, eh?
Favorite Moment: “You are not authorized to be here. Vous n’étes pas autorisé à ètre à l’intèrieur de ce lieu.”
Silver Surfer #13
Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer is easily one of the strangest, goofiest and most wonderful comic books that Marvel has on the market. The heart of its story, from the very first issue, has been the relationship between the Surfer and his human travelling companion Dawn Greenwood. Initially thrown together by circumstance, their natural chemistry led them into a friendship and romance that was just about as charming as it was unlikely.
Issue 13 takes place immediately after the Surfer and Dawn have confessed their feelings for each other and, for the most part, just entails the two revisiting all the people they met and places they explored while on their galactic adventures. It basically just carries on with the warm-hearted and easygoing tone that’s defined the series and that, in my book, is great all on its own. Everything falls apart, of course, when the Marvel Universe collapses to tie the book into Secret Wars, but even that feels kind of perfect and the book’s transition into the event is markedly more organic than a lot of the other books Marvel’s run through the same ringer recently.
Favorite Moment: “Why are they speaking French?” “It only sounds French to your translator, it’s actually space-French.”
A few months back, I mentioned how magical characters like Constantine and Nameless don’t always impress me anymore. That’s why I almost passed on Wolf. I read the description, which mentions a paranormal detective, the apocalypse, and name-drops Sandman, and it felt so derivative that I almost set it aside.
I am so freaking glad that I didn’t. Wolf is the real deal, and one of the hottest new takes of the genre. And I’m not just saying that because it opens with a man being lit on fire. While singing to himself.
Wolf is set in a universe where the supernatural exists, but doesn’t hold a powerful or privileged place in society. Vampires rent out apartments to the children of Old Ones, while street magicians use real magic to steal from unsuspecting victims. But the most legendary of supernatural of all is Antoine Wolf, a talented magician and immortal who’s lived just long enough to become accustomed to suicidal impulses. But Wolf’s long life might be changing when he meets an orphaned girl tied to the apocalypse, and is hired to kill a woman by an organization willing to return the favor.
Wolf was already unique just for making its protagonist a black man, instead of another white, witty Brit. But the whole book has a wildly unique energy, merging the supernaturally sacred and absurd that pull you in for every page. I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving anything away, but I strongly encourage you to read this book.
Favorite Moment: “Ain’t that something. Two of us in one spot, ready to have a cataclysmic fight that will render the Earth inhospitable for the next five hundred years. ‘There can be only one’ and all that.”
I’m going to go ahead and fess up that I’ve never been that huge a fan of Lando Calrissian. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a cool character and Billy Dee Williams is inarguably the smoothest actor in the original Star Wars trilogy. Even so, he’s never left the biggest impression on me and his presence has never elevated a product to a must-have status. None of that, of course, stops Lando #1 from being a great comic.
Opening with Lando using his charm to turn a potentially dangerous situation to his advantage, the bulk of the book is spent establishing his character’s current situation (bogged down with debt) and setting up a heist that will most likely be the centerpiece of the mini-series. The writing, overall, is very good, and does quite a bit to expand on Lobot who serves an excellent foil to counter Lando’s unyielding optimism. The art in this comic is also gorgeous; especially Paul Mounts’ color work. Flipping back through the comic after my initial read there were pages I would just stare at because of how lovely they were.
Probably the best compliment I can give this book is that it feels like genuine Star Wars while also not falling back on the sometimes tired subject of the Jedi. Put shortly, if your favorite parts of the franchise are the seedy cantinas, this is the Star Wars comic for you.
Favorite Moment: “My exalted Emperor Palpatine. I have some truly unfortunate news.”
Southern Bastards #10
Southern Bastards latest story arc, “Homecoming”, is quickly proving its book’s namesake true. Each chapter follows a day in the life of a secondary character, shedding light on how big a bastard everyone in this town can be. After visiting Craw County’s Sheriff last week, this issue introduces us to perhaps the most irredeemable bastard of the entire town: Esaw Goings, Coach Boss’ enforcer. Perhaps you think it will shed light on his horrible ways, much like previous story arcs have?
Nope. It turns out Goings is just an incalculably huge bastard, and a mean, stupid asshole to boot. If he were any more of an animal, he’d be that snarling dog we met in the first issue. But when he drafts the kindly Christian evangelist who arrives at his door to follow him for the day doing immoral tasks? Now things are getting really interesting.
In case you haven’t guessed, Goings is pretty much irredeemable in this particular story. He’s the character who knows he isn’t going anywhere in life, but instead of bettering himself, he just gets angry and destroys everything around him. But that doesn’t make his horrific actions any less compelling, especially to readers who might recognize his face from their own small towns.
In short: Southern Bastards is still great. So get to your reading.
Favorite Moment: “Jesus. Since when do you need so many fucking books to play football?”
Star Wars #7
This isn’t the best issue of Star Wars that Jason Aaron’s written but it nonetheless managed to strike a chord by exploring a period and subject matter that we haven’t seen much of. Focusing in on Obi-Wan in the years after the Clone Wars, it shows a side of him that feels authetnic but also different from the ones that fans know and love. This isn’t the sagely Alec Guinness or even the younger confident version portrayed in the prequels. This is Obi-Wan coming to terms with defeat and, to an extent, powerlessness.
Forced into hiding and tasked with a mission that requires he tolerate the evils of the world rather than fighting them; his character here is much more somber and full of doubt than I think I’ve ever seen him before. And it works. Even if there have been better overall issues of Star Wars in the past, this book presents us with subject matter that could easily serve as the foundation of a comic series all on its own and I sincerely hope we see more content like it in the future.
Favorite Moment: “You never trained me for this Master Qui-Gon. You never taught me how to fade away.”
Justice League Volume 6: Injustice League
Justice League makes me feel like the long wait between collected editions is absolutely criminal. Volume 5 – the Forever Evil tie-in – released last September, meaning you had a ten month break before finding out what happened next. The good news is Volume 6 is the series best, filled with intense action, great character moments, and the fantastic idea of making Lex Luthor a superhero.
After the events of Forever Evil, Luthor is a national hero who saved Earth when the Justice League fell. But unlike fellow villains who returned to their evil ways, Lex realizes he’s not only good at heroics: He thrives on it. Seemingly a changed man, Lex rebuilds the League Watchtower (without any bugs or traps) and offers his services as the latest member. The strange thing is the League might actually need him, especially as the threat which destroyed Earth 3 approaches their world.
Lex Luthor’s journey to becoming a superhero is wonderfully executed. While he’s genuinely trying to do the right thing (as he sees it), he’s still a egomaniacal sociopath. It’s pretty much impossible for Lex not to think like a villain even as he’s being heroic – exposing Batman’s identity to make a point, and finding horrifyingly practical solutions instead of humane ones. Yet somehow he’s still surprisingly sympathetic, especially when we learn more details about his past and family.
And Lex is only one tiny slice of what makes Volume 6 work. There’s the introduction of Shazam and Captain Cold as regular characters. There’s genuine foreshadowing for a massive crisis that isn’t the lackluster Trinity War. There’s even a clever twist with the new Power Ring, a hero powered by her own fears and social anxieties – prompting an amazing interaction with an understanding Batman. Volume 6 is a great reminder for why Justice League should be one of the best superhero books on the market – and does a great job of meeting those expectations.
Now let’s see if we can wait another ten months…
Favorite Moment: “Only criminals should be afraid of me. And you’re not a criminal. You’re a victim.”
Uncanny X-Men #35
One of the reasons that Uncanny X-Men is and has remained my favorite of Marvel’s recent X-books is the fact that it tends to hold much more closely to the overarching narrative of mutants trying to do good and be seen as equals in a world that hates them. Case in point: issue 35. Opening with Scott Summer’s former students embarking on their first adventure as an independent team, the comic focuses primarily on the character of Goldballs. Literally just a guy who can fire big golden balls from his chest, he’s probably one of the most preposterous mutants that Marvel’s come up with. When a video of him post-battle hits the internet however, he quickly becomes a viral celebrity, winding up on talks shows and largely beloved by everyone as the “it” superhero of the moment.
Then his parents let it slip in an interview that he’s a mutant.
I’m not going to say that the comic is subtle in the way it portrays the public turning on him, but damn if it isn’t effective. The goodwill Goldballs earned from his exploits evaporates overnight with many of his former followers accusing him of “lying” and basically just being angry at him for having the gall to be both a hero and a mutant. I’ll say that I found that the ending that followed this turn to be a bit anti-climatic. That said, the comic overall is really entertaining and a great example of the X-Men being used properly.
Favorite Moment: “Go Goldballs! Go Goldballs! Go Goldballs!”
Godzilla In Hell #1
Here’s the actual quote from Escapist editor Jon Bolding after he read Godzilla In Hell: “YEP.”
I….. really don’t know where else to start with this one. I’m in absolute awe. James Stokoe took the most powerful creature of Japanese pop culture and dropped him in the mythological land of torture and damnation, all with a simplicity that fuels children’s dreams. This is like a five-year old read Hellboy In Hell, asked why it was so slow-paced, and wrote a new version with Godzilla so the action scenes wouldn’t be messed up.
Godzilla In Hell is a book with no dialogue or plot explanations. It’s just a cold open where Godzilla plummets into Hell, and spends the next 20 pages wreaking havoc on anyone who dares attack him. Each issue will tackle a different circle of Hell – this one is Lust, where Godzilla meets what might be a member of his own species, but quickly proves to be a monster of Lovecraftian proportions.
If you are like those of us at The Escapist who read this book, you’ll probably be stunned into silence while internally cheering for Godzilla the whole time. Why couldn’t this be the Godzilla video game?
Favorite Moment: Godzilla’s fall.
Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite fantasy characters and, as such, I’ve been maintaining a subscription to Dark Horse’s Conan series basically since I started reading comics with any sort of regularity. I started at a good time; the beginning of Brian Wood’s excellent run with the series. The only problem with my starting point left is the fact that it set my bar for the series a bit too high. After Wood left it was rebranded and taken over by writer Fred Van Lente. Lente, to his credit, has never done anything with Conan the Avenger that I’d call bad. That said, I’ve also never really been quite as impressed with his work as I was with Wood’s.
That being the case, I really enjoyed Conan the Avenger 16. The first issue in the new Blood Oasis storyline, the plot is mostly just set-up. That said, there’s a bite to the dialogue in this issue that’s really fantastic. In past issues, Natala, Conan’s current travelling companion, has mostly just been a pretty face for Conan to rescue. In this issue however, she has great lines and serves as an excellent foil to Conan’s brand of blunt practicality. She does come close to being whiny in a few places, but it never becomes annoying and their interactions are a lot of fun.
Am I quite sold on the Blood Oasis story itself? Not quite yet. It hasn’t done anything extraordinarily interesting. That said, if the actual writing can remain this enjoyable, it should turn out to be an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Favorite Moment: “I have sand in parts where no lady have sand!”