Summer might be coming to its close but, as always, the march of comics continues on. August saw the continuation of Marvel’s Secret Wars along with a whole slew of new comic releases exploring the realms of fantasy, horror or cancelled cartoon shows. Whether you’re interested in anthropomorphized ducks or epic reinterpretations of classic fairy-tales, this month has had a little something for everyone. On the off-chance you a need a little help finding suitable reading material amidst all of this variety, The Escapist‘s Marshall Lemon and Stew Shearer have compiled a few suggestions to help you decide.
Ms. Marvel #17
One of the biggest questions people like to ponder is what they’d do if they woke up one day and found out the world was going to end. In the case of Ms. Marvel, her final days on Earth-616 are spent doing pretty much the same thing she was doing before: geeking out over superheroes and saving the day.
With the Incursion destroying the world and bringing on Secret Wars, Kamala Khan finds herself on the receiving end of an unexpected team-up with her hero, Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers. With Kamala struggling to stave off chaos and save her recently kidnapped brother, Danvers agrees to help the young heroine. What ensues is an issue that’s less action heavy than what we’ve seen in some of Marvel’s other pre-Secret Wars “Last Days of” books, but makes up for it with wonderful dialogue that touchingly explores some of the biggest issues that any hero-in-training has to face. Namely, the fact that you can’t save everyone. There’s a scene in this comic with an apartment full of kittens that will leave you teary-eyed. It’s worth the price of the comic all on its own.
Favorite Moment: “Can we… take them with us? Somehow?”
Howard the Duck #5
Wow. That was quick.
We’ve shared laughs and shed some tears, but now Howard the Duck is drawing to a close after five issues, thanks to the universal reset of Secret Wars. The good news is we can have an explosive finale that ties up Howard‘s (only) storyline, complete with massive superhero battles, a cosmic boss fight, and more jokes at Spider-Man’s expense. This book certainly ended far too soon, but at least it was a great chance to revisit this classic character and…
What’s that? Howard the Duck is being rebooted for All-New All-Different Marvel? After five freaking issues? Waughhhh!!!
That’s right: Howard‘s long-running meta joke about our confusing, yet beloved comic industry has come full circle. The only way it could be more on the nose is iif Howard died, only to be resurrected in the Secret Wars reboot. Thankfully, the final issue still pushes the limit, especially with Editor’s Notes referencing obscure Marvel lore multiple times each page. (Some of which are made-up, but not nearly as many as you’d think.) And it even does a great job of concluding the story which began in Issue #1, along with resolving Howard and Tara’s character arcs.
Here’s hoping Howard’s new series will elevate him to even grander heights. Or at least not get cancelled again so quickly.
Favorite Moment: “We always win against Skrulls! Give yourself up now and I’ll just turn you into a c—-Argh!”
Star Wars: Kanan-The Last Padawan #5
Out of all of the Star Wars comics Marvel’s publishing, Kanan- The Last Padawan has consistently been the weakest. It hasn’t been bad by any means, but it’s never reached the heights that series like Jason Aaron’s Star Wars and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader has. That said, I really enjoyed issue 5.
The fifth chapter in the comic’s look back at Kanan’s Clone War origins, the book opens with the title character in the custody of a squad of clones that have been hunting him since he escaped Order 66 and the genocide of the Jedi. Have previously fought alongside these clones, he tries to reason with them and make them think about how obviously little sense it would make for the Jedi to be traitors to the Republic. What I liked about this is the fact that one of them actually listens. He sees the truth in what Kanan says and, realizing his role and guilt in the murder of the Jedi, does what he can to make things right.
On the one hand, I could see some people not really seeing this as being grounds to love a comic this much. The thing is, I really hate how much the prequel trilogy wasted the potential drama of the clones and can’t help but love anything that puts in the effort of further exploring their plight. Kanan might not be the best Star Wars book Marvel has running right now, but it got this right and I think it deserves a bit of credit for that.
Favorite Moment: “People died anyway! Master Billaba died at my hands!”
Hank Johnson: Agent of Hydra #1
The sad part of Secret Wars ending is the metric ton of fantastic series concepts that will end with it. I thought Thors would be the hardest blow, but it’s going to come second to Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra. Created by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s David Mandel, this one-shot is a hilarious glimpse into the ordinary life of a Marvel henchmen – complete with taking the kids to baseball games and informing Hydra’s HR about inappropriate workplace interactions.
Parodying the classic Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD series, this book centers on Hank, a rank-and-file Hydra soldier. Believe it or not, working for an organization committed to ruling and/or destroying the world has benefits – constant employee deaths means there’s always room for promotion. But Hank also has to deal with the ordinary concerns of daily life, like making sure peanuts aren’t in his kids school lunches. Or asking the SHIELD agent parent at Little League if he’ll also attend the school fundraiser.
Hank Johnson is basically a prolonged Robot Chicken sketch, but the concept works is so well executed I was sad to learn Hank wouldn’t be returning for a second issue. Howard the Duck already proved the Marvel Universe has room for meta-humor, making Hank Johnson an ideal place to do the same from a villain’s perspective. Still, the single issue makes for a great read, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get to see more of Hank and his family following the reboot.
Favorite Moment: “I’m so sorry for your loss. Hail Hydra.”
The further Birthright goes, the more I like it.
Continuing with its act of twisting the old “child transported to a magical world” trope, the story has ended its latest plot arc by further exposing the details of Mikey’s past as the “hero” of the fantasy world of Terrenos. More specifically, the book reveals that Mikey, despite being raised to be an almighty Conan stand-in, might never have been too keen on his role in the prophecy that led him there. Granted, it’s a small twist, but it’s also one that’s kind of brilliant when you think about it.
In so many other stories like this, the child protagonists are usually portrayed as being in turmoil. They’re trying to escape bad families, social hardship or schoolyard bullies. Mikey, as portrayed in earlier issues, was never a cliché misunderstood child trying to escape some cruel reality. He was a happy kid with a family that loved him. The rebels that brought him to Terrenos basically kidnapped him to serve their own goals. The revelation that he might have joined the enemy willingly, in turn, makes a lot of sense. He was never on some overblown hero’s journey. The only thing he ever wanted was to go home. What will be interesting to see, going forward, is how far he’ll go to keep some of the promises he’s made to get there.
Favorite Moment: “I was never forced. I wanted to join Lore.”
We Stand on Guard #2
Let me just reiterate what Marshall Lemon told you all last month with We Stand on Guard‘s debut. This is an awesome comic.
Issues 2 doesn’t have any big action moments like the opener, but it does a great job of deepening its world and showing the reader just how bad the American occupation of Canada was and remains. The flashbacks that do this also give us a slightly deeper look at the comic’s protagonist Amber and the root of her righteous hatred of all things U.S. and A. Suffice it to say that the land of the free is decidedly less so in this comic’s vision of the future.
If I have any gripe about this comic, it’s that it doesn’t include more giant robot action. That said, its absence is, in this case, understandable and for the betterment of the book. I’m still an ardent believe in the idea that giant robots make everything better, but I can still wait.
Favorite Moment: “I told you fucking nucks to keep your hands where I can see them!”
Invader Zim #2
Invader Zim belongs on every “series cancelled before its time” list you could imagine. This Nickelodeon series gave us action-packed adventures, cutting social satire, and insane non-sequiturs in one of the most memorable cartoons ever produced. Thankfully, just like Firefly and Angel, Invader Zim has made a triumphant return under comic books co-written by creator Jhonen Vasquez. So far, the end result is everything fans would want short of Vasquez and Nickelodeon producing another season.
After emerging from hiding, Zim and Gir have traveled into space to find the Gargantis Array, a mysterious alien technology which will assure Zim’s ultimate victory. But first, they need to find it – by traveling from one space vendor to another buying junk food and useless merchandise. Meanwhile, Dib follows close behind in Tak’s ship for an epic showdown that’s (a) wonderfully satisfying and (b) will not end the way you expect.
For Invader Zim fans, this book is a joy to read, actually adding to Zim’s universe instead of simply parroting our favorite parts from the show. At the same time, it’s also willing to have some fun at the expense of fans – in particular by having a hyperactive Zim fan handle story recaps. Throw in some great dialogue, random silliness from Gir, and a surprising character arc about Dib’s deep-seated anxiety, and Invader Zim is clearly the follow-up we’ve craved for years.
Favorite Moment: “Now, roll down the window that I may vomit into space!”
Providence‘s Lovecraftian horror story is running dangerously close to being a comedy. Each issue, Robert Black continues his research into a Mythos cult that developed in secret alongside American immigration. But there’s a twist: Black has no idea the people he’s interviewing are Lovecraft’s iconic villains and monsters. For issues one and two, this was unsettling – the reader was picking up on monstrous background details which our unfortunate protagonist was clueless about. But now Black has arrived in Salem, which in our world is recognized by a very different name – Innsmouth.
The end result is a wonderful treasure trove for Lovecraft fans. There’s a reason fans can generate an entire website of Providence annotations – this series treats the Mythos like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen handled Victorian literature, weaving every element into a truly shared universe. But it’s also remarkably silly to watch Black navigate figures clearly transforming into Deep Ones, and he passes it off as a quirk of foreign immigration.
Of course, there are darker implications here, especially if you’re familiar with Moore’s prior series Neonomicon. It’s heavily implied that Black’s research exposes Salem’s Deep One population to the American government, who will happily purge undesirable elements from the coast. That’s where the horror comes in – sure Salem/Innsmouth might be terrifying, but no more so than the “normal” human society that will rise up to oppose them.
Favorite Moment: “Yuh. They’re seals all right.”
Fables Vol. 22- Farewell
I’m going to go ahead and say that Fables‘ closing chapter somewhat underwhelmed me. Mind you, the comic arguably peaked back toward its halfway point and has kind of always had a knack for anti-climax in moments that other comics might make utterly bombastic. That said, the feeling that was most prominently on my mind when I finished reading its final trade collection was sadness.
Whatever flaws and low points the series might have experienced over the course of its 150-issue run, there’s no denying that Bill Willingham’s Fables is, overall, one of the greatest to come out of the comic book industry in a good long time. Filled with nuanced and evolving characters, it took readers on a journey that, while sometimes uneven, was always interesting and entertaining. Coming to the closing pages of Farewell, I immediately wanted to read it all again. I’d be surprised if I was the only one who felt that way.
Favorite Moment: Pinocchio for President
The Walking Dead Vol. 24
The earliest volumes of The Walking Dead were among the bleakest and most shocking storylines you’d find in mainstream comics at the time. Today the series is still great, but rarely unsettling. What The Walking Dead absolutely excels at instead is the slow burn – carefully building up plotlines for years to unleash them at just the right moment. Now The Walking Dead has pulled off both traits – executing a perfect climax after 18 months, and delivering the darkest blow to our sensibilities in years.
After 2014’s “All Out War” storyline, The Walking Dead jumped forward a year, to a period when human colonies thrive in a zombie-infested world. But current events are suggesting that life won’t stay so pristine for long. First: Maggie has to decide how to handle the first attempted murder to happen in her community since Negan’s days. Second: Rick lets it slip that his “no killing” policy doesn’t mean he’s completely changed from his old violent self.
But the real shock comes from seeing the Whisperers – survivors who wear zombie skins and hide among the undead – on their home turf. These are the figures Rick and his team could have become if they’d completely lost their humanity, but this book shows they’re not all one-dimensional monsters either. But that doesn’t change the horrific outcome of its final pages, setting up a conflict that will likely rage for years – and which Rick’s new civilization might not be able to survive.
Favorite Moment: “I can’t offer my daughter the life she needs. Not here. Not safely. But you can.”