October was a crazy month for the two juggernaut comic book publishers, DC and Marvel. You’d think that after the divisive response to Marvel’s Secret Empire that comic book readers would avoid universe-wide events like Facebook avoids corporate responsibility, but DC’s Metal has been such a homerun that even the grouchiest of comic book fans are all twitterpated with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman-centric mega-event.
That’s not to say Marvel has crawled into an adamantium shell since the conclusion of Secret Empire, as over 30 Marvel Legacy titles released in October. With Marvel Legacy, the publishing giant hopes to regain the adoration and trust of longtime readers after many felt betrayed following the events of both Civil War Two (which I hated) and Secret Empire (which I loved) by focusing on what made their characters so beloved in the first place alongside a return to each title’s original series numbering.
Frankly, Marvel still has a lot of catching up to do if they’re going to come close to the grand epic that is Metal and all of its equally incredible tie-ins. Legacy has been good, but I have yet to find a title that has blown me away the way that DC’s recent stories have.
On top of the releases themselves, DC made the bombshell announcement this week that Marvel mainstay and creator of both Jessica Jones and Miles Morales, Brian Michael Bendis, has been signed to an exclusive publishing contract. Meanwhile, Netflix announced their first foray into comic publishing with modern legend Mark Millar’s The Magic Order. With Millar at the helm of their publishing, I will keenly watch Netflix’s comic releases as they’re sure to be hidden gems.
October was a great month to be a comic reader, which made trying to whittle all my favorite books down to five choices not so great. My initial stack of must-buy books was at 17, which is close to half the books I read a month. Some great titles got left off this list, so if you’re interested in hearing more about some of the series I am stoked on, chirp me on Twitter or slide in my dm’s!
Must-Buy Comics from October:
5. The Unbelievable Gwenpool #21 (Marvel Legacy tie-in)
Written by Christopher Hastings
Inks by Irene Strychalski
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Much like peanut butter on a hamburger or Michael Cera’s acting career, The Unbelievable Gwenpool’s success seemed like a long shot that somehow came to fruition. She’s a blatant rip-off of Deadpool and her “superpower” is that she is actually from the real world and has read all the Marvel comics meaning she knows everything about everyone. The last arc of the series expanded those powers, allowing Gwen Poole (yeah, that’s her alter ego; real creative girl) to physically see the borders of comic books, and this issue finds Gwenpool putting those powers to more heroic use.
It’s ironic that this is a Legacy issue because Gwenpool has barely been around two years so there’s not many steps to retrace to return the character to her roots. Regardless, The Unbelievable Gwenpool #21 is a refreshing return to the lighthearted, fourth wall shattering, comically meta style that made Gwenpool so popular in the first place. The previous issues were fantastic in their own right in the way they proved Gwenpool could be a somewhat serious character, however writer Christopher Hastings had taken Gwenpool away from the laugh-out-loud, totally unpredictable stories she had become known for.
This issue had me laughing from page one thanks to Irene Strychalski’s great art, Clayton Cowle’s emphatic lettering during an encounter with Massster (a sssnake man), and Hastings’ unrelenting lambasting of the comic book medium, even roasting his own lack of knowledge in police procedure. Although overall this issue’s buoyant tone recalls previous arcs, especially with the return of the absurd villain Paste Pot Pete, we still see Gwen’s border-breaking powers take a serious turn as she discovers she can simply knock villains out of frame to defeat them--out of frame and out of existence.
It’s a dark turn on her powers that makes her one of the most dynamic fighters in the Marvel Universe. This issue teases a showdown with Victor Von Doom, so it’ll be interesting to see what the genius Latverian despot makes of her reality-bending powers.
4. Star Wars #37
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Salvador Larroca
Colors by Edgar Delgado
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
My excitement for The Last Jedi grows at an exponential rate with each passing hour, so I’ve been biding my time by digesting as much Star Wars media as humanly possible. Although Marvel’s monthly Star Wars series has been a welcome addition to the franchise canon it has seen a slump in the last few issues as the publisher prepares to put the book in the hands of a new creative team. In his swansong issue, writer Jason Aaron crafts a disturbing firsthand account of the ruthlessness of the Galactic Empire that will change the way you view the white-armored soldiers in the films.
It may be cliche, but you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, especially a comic book cover.. Unless the infamous SCAR Squadron is on the cover. Star Wars #21's introduction of SCAR Squadron gave the reader insight into the inner workings of the special forces group as well as a glimpse of their brutality while #37 takes an intimate look at the lightsaber-wielding Sergeant Kreel’s unyielding support for the Galactic Empire and the perceived order it provides.
He encounters the Emperor for the first time in his career where we learn that he reveres the sith lord with profound zealotry despite the Emperor’s indifference toward Stormtroopers. Although other SCAR Squad members have revealed more laid back approaches to their careers, Kreel’s fanatical commitment to the cause in this scene gives the Sergeant a cult-leader villain vibe.
His genuine villain status is cemented as his run-in with the Emperor propels him to extreme self-righteousness in his war against the Rebels. Kreel discovers a Rebel encampment after liberating a local village from a maniacal enforcer. The gut-wrenching slaughter of the Rebel forces plays out in fiery detail from artist Salvador Larroca as Kreel delivers a chilling, fascist monologue to the recently emancipated visitors, explaining that the Empire represents rightful order, order it has written in “blood into the dirt of every planet of the galaxy,” an order that will never die because of the unrelenting force of the Empire.
As a reader, I was so taken aback by Kreel’s speech that it took me a moment to realize that he also brutally murdered eight Rebels single-handedly when his squad finds him wiping blood off his armor as the massacre concludes. Kreel provides an unprecedented insight into Stormtroopers, that some truly believe in the fascist rule of the Empire and will stop at nothing to maintain the illusion of order in “their” galaxy.
As a bonus, this issue also includes a welcome exploration of Tusken Raider culture with a cameo from everyone’s favorite creepy old Jedi, Ben Kenobi. It also features art from Andrea Sorrentino--that alone makes the extra 10-page story worthwhile.
3. The Punisher #17
Written by Becky Cloonan
Art by Matt Horak
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
The Punisher is being taken over by bona fide comics all-star Matthew Rosenberg as the series heads to Legacy numbering next month, but I’d actually love to see Becky Cloonan continue her unapologetically brutal take on Frank Castle. This issue brings finality to the 17-issue battle between the titular Punisher and Face, a drug-riddled villain created specifically for this series by Cloonan.
Cloonan and Co. set a literal stage for the final battle between the two as Face takes a NYC Broadway theater hostage. What follows is a cat-and-mouse battle not fought between hunter and prey, but two hunters who both seem like they were ripped right out of a slasher flick.
Just as in the rest of Cloonan’s run, there’s no attempt to paint Frank Castle as a hero in any sense of the word; it’s made this series quite refreshing. This point is driven home toward the end of this issue as Face, beginning to get the upper hand on Frank, says, “You cause just as much pain and death as I do. I’m just honest about it. You love to kill just as much as any of us.” For most antihero characters, this would be the point where Frank breaks free and delivers a cliché-ridden explanation of why his murderous ways are justified as he dispatches the villain over a few “Wam!” “Bam!” “Pow!” panels. Thankfully Cloonan completely subverts this trope, writing Frank’s reply as “You’re right. I love to kill shits like you!”
The art goes on to further distance the Punisher from the antihero trope as the villain is, in fact, dispatched in three panels--but not with a series of well-placed punches. Rather Frank kicks Face in between two massive mechanical cogs, flips a switch, and watches as Face is ground into a bloody pulp.
Cloonan ended her run with a story that truly exemplified the Punisher--he’s not a hero, not an antihero, not a villain. He is the Punisher, an unbiased, unstoppable force of punishment. Face has been a thorn in Frank’s side since his unsettling introduction in the first issue, and this issue concludes their war with a sentiment that sums up Frank Castle’s entire existence--you can’t escape punishment.
2. Dark Nights Metal #3
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Greg Capullo
Inks by Jonathan Glapion
Colors by FCO Plascencia
Letters by Steve Wands
There is so much to love about Snyder and Capullo’s Metal mega-event. Each issue delivers more fan service, “holy shit” moments, and absolute insanity than any comic event in recent memory. Metal #3 continues melting fans’ faces off as the event takes a brutally hopeless turn that raises the stakes for any comic event in the future.
This issue is the most dreary, dark, and unrelentingly desperate comic I’ve read in a long time. Although there are a couple jokes and few chuckle-worthy moments—including a sweet opening sequence of Damian Wayne and Jon Kent playing the Batman theme song—this issue rarely eases on the utter despair brought on by Barbatos, ruler of the Dark Multiverse, and the cadre of Dark Knights he released on the world.
Readers get a vague sense that maybe the Dark Knights aren’t Bruce’s worst fears come to life, but rather represent his unfound desire to assume true power that leads him down a path to complete darkness. This idea is explored deeper in each Dark Knight solo issue (see below for Books You Should Buy if You’re Not on a Five Book Budget).
It seems to have become a trope of comic book events to keep a consistent sense of hope—a key character is revealed to have survived or a mystical object is discovered that could turn the tide. This issue does include one of these moments as the heroes, huddled in the last safe place in the universe (aka Oblivion Bar), realize the mysterious Nth metal is the key to defeating the Dark Knights. Although this is a formulaic tide-turning moment in most events, the looming threat of the Dark Knights who are moments away from discovering the heroes combined with the absolute look of defeat of each character wipes away any true sense of hope and makes it feel more like a desperate effort that is better than nothing.
This issue fast forwards to the execution of this newfound plan despite only being the third issue, heightening the sense that this plan is not what it seems. Superman is the last to enact his portion of the plan: he is swallowed by the darkness and revealed to be the conduit between the two universes, opening the door for Barbatos to completely drag our entire universe into darkness.
Barbatos is Batman's most formidable and terrifying opponent yet.
This jolting turn from a tiny shred of hope to complete defeat is jarring to say the least and is a refreshing change in direction for a line-wide event. It sets up Batman for his greatest battle yet, for the first time in his career he is not only defeated but absolutely terrified with no one to turn to for help. I cannot wait to see what Snyder and company have cooked up for the rest of this series and how they plan to pull the universe out of darkness.
1. All Star Batman #14
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Steve Wands
All Star Batman has been a tumultuous series. It opened with an incredible five-story arc examining the relationship between Batman, Two-Face, and Gotham followed by an overly convoluted five-issue arc that, despite boasting the Bat’s greatest villains, ultimately left me frustrated about the ambiguity of it all.
With #14 being announced as the final issue earlier this year, the closing chapter to an arc focused more on Alfred than Bruce Wayne, I thought it may have been time to cancel my subscription to the book. But, like fantasy football owners who clung to Ezekiel Elliot all season, I stuck with the series till its end and was rewarded handsomely. All Star Batman concludes with a tear-inducing issue that personifies the bond between Bruce Wayne and the ever-faithful Alfred Pennyworth.
The entirety of this arc plays out under the comparison to a pirates tale—a young boy runs off to adventure, becomes enchanted by the lifestyle, is taken under the wing by the captain, slowly becomes disillusioned with the captain who is not what he seems, leading to a final showdown between the sullied boy and the captain whose villainy has been revealed. Alfred has struggled with his role in the pirate’s narrative of Bruce’s life and he explores that struggle to its end in this issue—Is Alfred the worried parent wishing his boy to return from sea every night? Or is he the captain, enabling the boy and plunging him deeper into a life of despair?
Watching Alfred wrestle over this identity all while trying to save Bruce from his own former mentor/figurative pirate captain and an evil Alfred clone (I promise it is not as cliché as it sounds) really elevates the issue as you have Alfred’s internal philosophical fight between parental guidance and violent enabler overlapping with a physical battle between the two personified ideologies.
Longtime Batman readers may need a tissue at the conclusion, as Alfred comes to peace with the man he is, the man he has raised, and his role in Bruce Wayne’s war against crime. He eloquently breaks down the true nature of the pirate story arc—that they’re truly stories about finding your way home. He realizes that even when the captain has been revealed as heinous and corrupt, he’s still essential to the hero’s journey home.
This revelation of Alfred’s plays out through heart-melting artwork of a young Bruce meeting Alfred for the first time followed by the two locked in embrace as they head toward the Batcave once again. Enabler or not, concerned father or short-sighted captain, Alfred will always be there to get Bruce home.
I'll be honest, this panel made my eyes a bit moist
Like I mentioned in my long-winded introduction, October boasted such a staggering number of good books that putting this roundup together was harder than trying to figure out the Ezekiel Elliot appeal process (seriously, what the fuck is even going on there?). Check out a couple additional books worth your time below with much shorter summations of why they kick ass!
Books You Should Buy if You’re Not on a Five Book Budget:
God Complex #1 is a futuristic take on the noir genre that tackles increasing concerns over cybersecurity, class struggle, and mental health—to wit, the Deckard-like monologue from the protagonist is not his inner thoughts, but an actual voice in his head he can’t ignore.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #13 continues the adventures of the rogue archaeologist as she narrowly escapes Vader’s clutches again. This issue reinforces that Aphra is one of the more dynamic characters in the Star Wars comics- sometimes heroic, sometimes coldhearted.
Michael Cray #1, the first spin-off from Warren Ellis’s Wild Storm imprint, is a solid start to what should be an action-packed series following a good man who has come to realize he was constantly fighting for the wrong side.
All of the Dark Knights solo books from this month—Batman The Merciless, Batman The Drowned, and Batman The Dawnbreaker—were incredible works that not only provided backstory to the terrifying renditions of the Dark Knight found in Metal, but also told wonderful stories that explained plausible “what if” scenarios surrounding Batman.
Punisher: The Platoon #2 is not much better than the first, the writing is not as strong as readers have come to expect from Garth Ennis, but the art is gut wrenching. It depicts the Vietnam War with unflinching brutality.