Superheroes, mutants, robots, and monsters? The Escapist‘s Comics and Cosplay Team presents its Thanksgiving comic book recommendations.
Happy Thanksgiving! We here at The Escapist‘s Comics and Cosplay Team all hope you’re enjoying the holiday. Which, when you’re not spending time with family and clearing the meal table, is a great time to catch up on the latest comic books!
We’ve got a good selection to look at this week, starting with a new collection of 2006’s Casanova and Grant Morrison’s Watchmen-inspired Pax Americana. From there, I round things off with Arkham Manor, Gotham by Midnight, and Sinergy, but the rest of the team has their own suggestions!
Stew Shearer, for example, offers his thoughts on the new Wonder Woman creative team before turning to the latest Daredevil, Amazing X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men. Finally, Marla Desat brings it home with Princess Ugg, Harley Quinn, Lumberjanes, and the Greek mythology sci-fi series ODY-C.
But first, let’s take a look at:
Casanova Vol. 1: Luxuria
When a spy series runs for long enough, it’s inevitably going to turn into over-the-top technological silliness at some point. So what happens when your first issue opens with parallel dimensions, psychic duels, and artificially intelligent sex dolls?
Welcome to Casanova, a creator-owned comic series created by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon, now being collected in deluxe hardcover editions. The series centers around the adventures of Casanova Quinn, an expert thief whose family happens to run E.M.P.I.R.E., the elite international spy agency. But when Casanova is abducted by the evil W.A.S.T.E., he is thrust into a parallel dimension and forced to work for that world’s E.M.P.I.R.E. as a double agent. But why bother with another universe? Because the other Casanova was killed on assignment… and happened to still be on good terms with his family.
Casanova takes the trope of morally ambiguous spies to absolutely ludicrous extremes, but that doesn’t make the book less compelling. With a history stretching back to 2006, this first collection helps lay the foundation for an in-development fourth volume of the series. So if the premise interests you at all, Vol. 1 is a great chance to start read reading Casanova from the very beginning.
The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1
Grant Morrison has already established The Multiversity as an exploration of the unusual parallel dimensions of the New 52. But Pax Americana takes us into strangely familiar territory with the modern-day Watchmen, portraying them in a way that’s more unique than anything Before Watchmen had to offer.
When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created Watchmen, they based its characters on recently acquired Charlton Comics superheroes (The Question because Rorschach, Blue Beetle became Nite Owl, etc). Pax Americana does the reverse, presenting the original Charlton heroes with Watchmen personalities, moving the timeline forward to post-9/11 America. That gives this issue a strange deja vu quality (helped in no small part by Watchmen‘s panel structure) that leads the story in interesting new directions.
The best part though? In many ways, Pax Americana is as dense as Watchmen‘s issues, encouraging multiple read-throughs to pick out hidden details. At first glance, it seems like a disorganized mess of plot points, but that’s only because most scenes move backwards in time from 2015 to the 1970s. After a while, you’ll notice an alternate history emerging that sets Pax Americana well apart from previous Multiversity books. It almost makes me hope that DC’s Convergence event will preserve this universe beyond Multiversity, but for the time being, this is a fantastic standalone chapter.
Favorite Moment: “This is why they kicked you out of the Pax!”
Arkham Manor #2
Batman suspected that he would have solved Arkham Manor’s first murder in a few hours before getting back to the streets. But as he realizes, there are all kinds of reasons to stick around, and not just because he’s in his renovated childhood home again. That’s because Arkham Manor actually helps you feel a little sympathetic for the inmates, showing them in ways we’ve never quite seen before.
Outside of Batman’s villainous rogue’s gallery, there’s also highly disturbed characters here for legitimate psychiatric care. That includes newcomer Seth, an occasionally violent but otherwise childlike man who was the last to be pulled from Arkham’s ruins, creating new neuroses as a result. Other returning villains have their own struggles, like Victor Fries, restricted to the Manor freezer since the Wayne’s never planned for an especially chilly guest. But everyone is concerned about the murders and who will be next, especially Batman, who is beginning to realize the killer is far more capable than he first appeared.
How this will extend into a full series still remains to be seen, but it remains a promising continuation of one of today’s more unique Batman books.
Favorite Moment: “”New Fish” is hiding a great Batman story! We’ll find out, yes, yes we will!”
Gotham by Midnight #1
Gotham’s a major city in the DC Universe, so it should have lots going on beyond Batman. And I’m not talking about spin-off series addressing his various sidekicks and wards, but books showing what characters deal with when Batman isn’t around. Gotham Central was one such book, and now Gotham by Midnight introduces an intriguing alternate angle: a police squad dedicated to supernatural cases no one else is equipped to handle.
Authorized in a semi-official capacity by Commissioner Gordon, Gotham by Midnight focuses squarely on the GCPD Detailed Case Task Force, nicknamed “The Midnight Shift”. Led by Detective Jim Corrigan (who keeps his connection to the Specter on a need-to-know basis), this task force digs into supernatural phenomenon that needs to be stopped but most Gotham officials refuse to believe in. Sure enough, when the first issue opens the Midnight Shift has come under investigation from a skeptical Internal Affairs agent, but Corrigan isn’t worried. He fully knows that once their latest case is completed, this agent will have become a full believer in all manner of things that go bump in the night.
The first chapter briefly introduces the central cast, including a disconcerting forensics specialist, a supernaturally-trained Catholic nun, and some otherwise ordinary-looking detectives. These characters alone would make for an interesting police procedural, but their cases really stand out: Children harboring telepathic infections, corpses transformed into salt, and that’s not even starting to get into Corrigan’s unique magical abilities. While clearly set in the New 52 (Batman and the infamous Slaughter Swamp both make appearances), it’s portrayed in a way that allows newcomers to dive in without understanding the broader DC lore. The police angle also provides a vastly different tone from Constantine or the superheroics of Justice League Dark, helped in no small part by Ben Templesmith’s distinctly impressionist art style. All told, this should be a worthy study of the DCU’s dark underbelly, one accessible to horror fans of any stripe.
Favorite Moment: “This one’s not natural. I’ll take it. The rest are just crimes.”
Jess thinks that she’s just an ordinary young girl, about to start a new chapter in her life thanks to an athletic scholarship. But that all changes the day she loses her virginity. It turns out Jess is a Seer, people with the ability to see the demonic, pan-dimensional beings that roam the Earth feeding on sin. Unfortunately, that not only means that having sex awakened her latent powers, it’s how Jess learned her boyfriend was one of the monsters.
Sinergy plays off of the awkwardness of teenage sexual encounters, turning the whole affair in a Buffyesque supernatural mythology. At the very least, she’s not alone in her journey; her father (who she’d rather not talk about sex with, thank you very much) is also a Seer turned monster hunter trying to prevent the end of the world. Then there’s the family “dog”, a creatures who willingly opted to abstain from human sin and turn on his own kind. It’s a campy-but-fun story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, using its sinful premise as a hook for bigger things.
Even this early in the series, Sinergy is setting up some interesting twists and turns. Her father, despite being a heroic monster slayer, goes to uncomfortable lengths to keep secrets from his family. Meanwhile, Jess’s boyfriend may be some kind of demonic monster, but he genuinely does seem to love her, and is terrified of what might happen now that her father knows about him. Combined, it’s more than enough to help get this series off the ground, and is well worth checking out.
Favorite Moment: “Yeah, wait till she finds out you can talk.”
Wonder Woman #36
Last month saw the end of Brian Azzarello’s epic and magnificent run on Wonder Woman. Taking the reins of the book following the launch of DC’s New 52, he brought new dimensions to the character, reimagining her not just as an Amazon princess but as a straight-up demigod locked in conflict with the deities of Olympus itself. I’ll admit to being a tad apprehensive, in turn, about where the series would be going with its new creative team headed by the husband and wife team of Meredith and David Finch.
All of that said, issue 36 is a good book. I wouldn’t go so far as to it’s spectacular. Not much really happens here and a lot of space is used to catch up potential new readers on what’s been going on for the past three years. That said, it’s still a really solid read that looks nice and left me wanting more when I hit the final pages. Time may have to tell if the Finch’s will do as fantastic a job as Azzarello. If their debut issue is any indicator though, they can at least do a good one.
Favorite Moment: “No matter what I choose. I will always be letting someone down.”
Daredevil is a superhero that’s had some gloomy moments. In fact, one of the best things about Mark Waid’s time writing him has been the way that the author’s managed to balance the character’s darker tendencies with more lighthearted stories that allowed him to actually have some fun. Daredevil 10, in turn, is a perfect example of Waid on his game.
Following a failed battle with the psychic minions of the Purple Man, issue 10 opens with Daredevil lost in an abyss of negative emotions that he thought he’d left behind. Struggling to find the will to event want to get back on his feet, the rest of the issue follows him as he overcomes not just his enemies but his fear of falling back into the darkness and depression that once dominated his life. I tend not to recommend Daredevil as much these days just because the book’s already well known for being consistently excellent. That said, issue 10 (especially its ending) stuck with me and I think you’d do well to read it too.
Favorite Moment: “Do you figure his parents just assumed he’d grow up to be evil when they named him ‘Zebediah Killgrave?'”
Amazing X-Men #13
I’m going to go ahead and say that Amazing X-Men‘s recent World War Wendigo plot line was pretty danged mediocre. I kept waiting for the comic to make me care about the story, but it just never happened. By the time it came to an end I was primed and ready for the book to move onto something different. Something like issue 13.
A single issue, self-contained story, issue 13 focuses in on Nightcrawler and Northstar as they try to help one of their students come to terms with the fact that his mutation prevents him from passing for human. Now granted, the whole book does have something of a “love yourself and people will love you” PSA feeling to it. That said, this is still the kind of subject matter the X-Men are best at tackling and the book impressed me just how relatable and emotionally resonant it managed to be. The ending is predictable and cheesy, but it also brought smile to face.
Favorite Moment: “I want someone to want to kiss me… I fall for people every day, and I can see it in their eyes. I can see what they think of me.”
Uncanny X-Men #28
Part of what I love about Uncanny X-Men is just how different the philosophy driving its narrative is when compared to other X-books. Most every other X-book has at least some overarching theme of mutants working toward acceptance or fighting for a world where they can co-exist with normal humans. Uncanny X-Men though just kind of tosses that out and runs on the assumption that the fight for equal rights might be a losing one and that complete and utter revolution might be necessary before mutants are ever able to feel safe and equal in their own world.
Uncanny 28 digs deep into a lot of themes and does in a way that’s markedly unflashy but still incredibly interesting. Per the final request of Charles Xavier, Cyclops has rejoined with the X-Men at the Jean Grey School to connect with and potentially neutralize a mutant with intensely destructive powers that he doesn’t know how to control. S.H.I.E.D. and the rest of the world only want the problem to disappear. The only person willing to actually talk to him is Scott who wants to help the young man but is also clearly hoping to add a powerful new mutant to his roster of freedom fighters. It’s a good issue and I’d recommend it to any fans of Marvel’s mutans.
Favorite Moment: “They are choosing not to respond. Not one government. Not the United Nations. No one will help us.”
Princess Ugg #5
Writer and illustrator Ted Naifeh’s Princess Ugg series takes a big step forward in this issue. Committed to learning diplomacy, Ülga is making every effort to become friends with her judgmental and abrasive roommate. In this issue, the princesses sneak out for a night at the tavern, and the flirting and dating customs of the lowlands puzzle Ülga, particularly matters of status and how romance should be pursued. Later, when the princesses travel to visit the Queen, she discovers the vast difference between friendship and diplomacy.
This issue feels like a turning point for Ülga. She’s put in so much effort to be what the lowlands expect of a princess, but she’s still considered an outsider. As she realizes that, she’s also beginning to learn a lot about political maneuvering and the value of information. It’s a really honest and interesting look at being a ruler that I haven’t seen in a lot of other princess-themed stories. Naifeh’s illustrations are lovely, though this issue lacks any of large watercolor spreads that stunned me when I first picked up the series. However, with a big conflict coming next issue, I think we’ll see another of Naifeh’s gorgeous painted pages soon.
Favorite Moment: “It’s arm wrestling. If I push your arm to the table, I win.”
Harley Quinn #12
Sportsmaster and Clock King send Power Girl and Harley Quinn through a one-way portal generated by a ring. The duo arrive on a strange world where Clock King has been regularly tossing things he doesn’t want, including a whole town’s Christmas decorations and an accountant. Power Girl and Harley must negotiate with the rulers of the planet – a large dog creature and his humanoid queen – to find a way back to their own universe. The adventure soon takes them to space, revealing a surreal universe that will be familiar to Marvel fans, as it makes not-so-subtle references to Thanos and the Infinity Gems.
Power Girl and Harley Quinn are a delightfully wacky pair, with Harley’s grey morality and wild curiosity getting them into as many problems as it gets them out of. As usual, Harley Quinn delivers both off-the-wall comedy and meta commentary. It’s the kind of book that makes me laugh out loud and pull my friends over to laugh at panel together. It’s accessible enough that new readers can enjoy it, but you’ll catch a lot more of the in-jokes if you’re a longtime comics reader.
Favorite Moment: “… Are you part of a circus on your home world?”
The war with Troiia is over, and Odyssia is victorious. Her swiftship, piloted by the mind of Captain Odyssia in harmony with the thoughts of her shiftcaptains, begins its long journey back to Ithicaa. The goddesses will not make it an easy one.
Mat Fraction and Christian Ward’s gender bent, sci fi retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey gets started with an epic 8-page fold-out. It describes the timeline of the world, and all the things that came before this story, including Odyssia’s march to war against Troiia to free He, the man kidnapped by Paris. This psychedelic issue moves from huge, sweeping panels of spaceflight to staccato action, colored brilliant red as Odyssia bathes her enemies in their own blood. Besides making changes to the genders of The Odyssey’s heroes, ODY-C also plays with gender roles in ways that go beyond just a simple gender swap. Moving the setting to space adds even greater scale to Odyssia’s journey, and the cosmic re-imagining of the Greek pantheon had me grinning from ear to ear. If you’re a fan of Matt Fraction’s work (like Hawkeye and Sex Criminals), or classic Greek literature and myths, or if you’re just looking for a fresh take on science fiction in your monthly comics pull-list, ODY-C is worth your time.
You can check out the free prologue, showing the events of this universe’s siege of Troy, on Ward’s Tumblr. This prologue is not included in the first issue.
Favorite Moment: “Dire mechanica strain hard to course correct.”
The supernatural mystery that has been slowly building since the first issue of Lumberjanes comes to an end this issue, as the struggle between Apollo and Artemis reaches its peak. The Lumberjanes must save their friend Jo and stop the two petty immortal gods from obtaining ultimate power over the world. Friendship, and astronomy, is instrumental.
This series, by writers Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson and artist Brooke Allen, have built an incredible summer camp world with Lumberjanes. It’s everything summer camp should be, and each time I pick up a new issue of this series I wish it was around when I was growing up, so it could have sat on my shelf beside Animorphs and kept me company while waiting for new episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re looking for something fun and magical, particularly as a gift to introduce a younger reader to comic books, you can’t go wrong with Lumberjanes. The vibrant art, diverse cast, and themes of friendship and perseverance make this series a joy to read.
Favorite Moment: “‘Sorrowful Niobe, they rudely fire.’ OH. It’s GOTTA be that one.”