Well, 2017 sucked. Trump’s an asshole (putting it lightly), Kim Jong-un is a bigger asshole, and every man in entertainment is a sack of shit. You know who didn’t suck in 2017? Me. I didn’t suck. And comics. Comics didn’t suck either and the industry ended on a high note with December’s releases.
December itself was a big month for Marvel who finally decided it was time to build off teases from Legacy all the way back in September—particularly the returns of the Fantastic Four, Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow, and Marvel Girl herself, Jean Grey. Marvel’s Two in One sent the Human Torch and The Thing on an adventure to find the lost first family, aka Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and their children. Meanwhile, comic book superstar Matthew Rosenberg penned both Tales of Suspense, featuring Clint Barton aka Hawkeye and Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier as they track down what appears to be an awkwardly not dead Black Widow, and Phoenix: Resurrection, which sees the long anticipated return of Jean Grey to the Marvel Universe.
DC Comics, on the other hand, had a quieter month but that is in no way a bad thing. Their books after the Rebirth launch in 2015 immediately built off of the mysteries presented in the Rebirth one-shot, so there wasn’t a long awaited splash for payoff like Marvel experienced. Instead, DC just steadily released good books for over two years, and in December saw a new issue released in both of their major events—Metal and Doomsday Clock.
Before I wade into my favorite books from the final month of the whirling dervish of terror that was 2017, I have a comic book-related goal for 2018—read more independent books. Independent books are not only comics that rarely feature superheroes, but they’re usually creator owned, meaning the writers and artists maintain complete creative control and keep all the rights to the universes they create. I actively read East of West, Calexit (release the second issue already!!!!), God Complex, and Seven to Eternity, and it’s always refreshing to read an adult comic that isn’t about spandex clad heroes while simultaneously financially supporting the artists themselves.
Now that we got a cliche resolution out of the way, let’s talk about the books from December that kicked ass.
Must-Buy Comics from December:
5. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #34
Written by Robert Venditti
Pencils & Inks by Jack Herbert
Colors by Jason Wright
Letters by Dave Sharpe
I’ve never been a huge Green Lantern fan; in fact I just added Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corp in November, partly due to the stain the 2011 film left on Ryan Reynolds’s otherwise impeccable acting career. After constant reassurance from my father that Ryan Reynolds’s likeness was not besmirched in the book (or used at all actually), I gave it a shot, and issue #34 is so entertaining that I almost forgot about the animated super-suit nightmare.
This book doesn’t subvert any comic book tropes nor is it particularly groundbreaking—it’s just so much damn fun. It reads with the breakneck pace of a summer blockbuster as the four Honor Guard Lanterns spread to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, each dead set on finding out who kidnapped their brethren by any means necessary
This issue showcases what makes each of the four Honor Guard Lanterns unique—Kyle Rayner’s ability to mentor a young Lantern through tragedy while gathering intel with the skill of a seasoned spy; Guy Gardner ruthlessly beating the information out of some scoundrel in a seedy bar; Hal Jordan getting answers through sheer intimidation without a single act of violence; all while John Stewart calls the shots and plans a daring rescue mission. Despite frantically jumping between four different points of view, the plot flows seamlessly as it builds toward a showdown between the Lanterns and the omnipotent Controllers that is sure to come in issues 35 and 36.
4. Star Wars: The Storms of Crait
Written by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art by Mike Mayhew
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
The Last Jedi was… divisive, as were my two screenings of the movie—first time I loved it; second time I thought it was merely average—but one thing my two polarized selves agree on is the deadly beauty of the planet Crait, billed as an abandoned mining planet once scouted as a possible Rebel base during the Galactic Civil War. In the special one-shot Star Wars: The Storms of Crait, readers witness the failed scouting of the dust-bleeding planet firsthand in a story that boasts the infamous SCAR Squadron, classic Han and Leia flirtations, and the most badass Wedge Antilles scene in the Star Wars canon.
This book is well paced, gorgeously drawn, and perfectly evokes the sense of adventure and righteousness that fans of the saga feel whenever they see the classic trio of heroes battle the Empire. By no means is this a must read for Star Wars fans nor does it add much to the lore of Crait, it’s simply an incredibly enjoyable story that captures the essence of Star Wars—something a lot of fans think The Last Jedi failed to do.
3. Tales of Suspense #100
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Travel Foreman
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
One of Secret Empire’s darkest moments came when Natasha Romanoff was murdered by evil Captain America during a botched assassination attempt in the seventh issue. Tales of Suspense #100 builds on the grief and denial the Black Widow’s two ex-boyfriends cope with in the closing chapters of Secret Empire. All signs pointed to this series being a dark study of how espionage professionals deal with the loss of a comrade and close friend.
This issue is anything but dark, shows you how much I know. It reminds readers why Clint Barton is the people’s Avenger- he’s really just a normal dude. He cracks bad jokes, is a sloppy fighter and a really bad spy. Like “accidentally burns down a funeral home after sneaking into a gangster’s funeral” bad. Tacked onto the hilarity of Clint Barton’s machinations is the start of a reluctant buddy cop-style relationship between Barton and Bucky Barnes that has me salivating for issue #101.
2. Doomsday Clock #2
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Gary Frank
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Rob Leigh
The release of Doomsday Clock #1 eased any worries that DC’s attempt to reintroduce the beloved Watchmen was going to be an insincere cash grab that insulted the iconic characters from Alan Moore’s 1986 classic. The initial issue brought readers back to the Cold War hysteria of the 80’s, but merely teased any connection to the DC Universe. Throwing a slow-burn approach out the window, Doomsday Clock #2 drops the characters in the midst of the DC Universe while simultaneously expanding the lore of the Watchmen universe.
Marionette and Mime were introduced as intriguing characters in Doomsday Clock #1, but their link to the lore or this new story wasn’t clear. Both connections are established with absolute clarity in the pages of the second issue, as we learn the couple were one of the Watchmen’s world’s most notorious criminals before being apprehended by Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan could have disintegrated the baddies on a molecular level, however when he identifies a third heartbeat pounding inside Marionette’s belly, he spares the two.
We didn’t see much of any of the villains in the original 1986 mini-series, so it’s a pretty rad fan moment to be fed this morsel of universe building. More importantly, their place in the present search for Dr. Manhattan that takes the couple, Rorschach, and Ozzymandias to the DC Universe is made clear in a way that humanizes Dr. Manhattan, who was void of all humanity by the end of Watchmen.
By giving us a deeper backstory between these two brand-new characters, Geoff Johns manages to humanize a famously indifferent character without even having that character present. Simultaneously, he shows that Ozzymandias hasn’t changed at all. Dr. Manhattan first disappeared because Ozzymandias leveraged what was left of his humanity to trick him into believing that he had infected everyone he loved with cancer. Now, Ozzymandias plans to exploit that humanity again—if there is any left- by reminding Manhattan of one of his moral triumphs to once again trick him, this time in returning from self-imposed exile. Put short, Ozzymandias is a dick.
This issue also introduces a completely foreign concept to the Watchmen characters—humor. Despite heavily involving a character named The Comedian, Watchmen lacked any lighthearted quips or laughable moments. While the opening illustration of Marionette and Mime’s bank robbery is humorous in the most uncomfortable of ways, the funniest moment comes from Rorschach and Batman. Yes, the two most brooding characters ever joined forces for a punchline. Humor in a book based on the one of the most complex comic book narratives ever conceived is not only a risk but completely unexpected.
What really lands this book as a must buy, however, is the incredibly detailed illustrations by Gary Frank combined with the strategically executed coloring by Brad Anderson, both presented in the classic nine panel format of 1980’s comics.
Gary Frank’s ability to capture human emotion and expressions allows his art to effectively convey meaning with exquisite precision. There are multiple sections in this issue with no words, yet you don’t need any narration to decipher the character’s intentions. Meanwhile, Anderson’s colors pop in all the right areas and help elevate the feeling of each scene. Dr. Manhattan’s blue aura drowns out surrounding colors giving him his godlike presence, riots are shaded mostly in red-orange hues to portray a sense of hellish chaos, and Batman blends into the shadows in all the right ways.
Whether you’re a diehard DC or Watchmen fan, or you’re looking for a way to jump into both universes, Doomsday Clock is a must read for the comic book medium.
1. The Punisher #219
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Guiu Vilanova
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
If you’ve read previous iterations of my alliterative little list of comics, you’d know that I am a huge fan of Becky Cloonan’s most recent run on The Punisher and was not particularly happy she was being removed from the book, even if one of the industry’s best writers, Matthew Rosenberg, was taking over. My trepidation turned into full despair when I heard that The Punisher #218 would launch a story arc that saw Frank Castle takeover the War Machine armor. It’s one of those ideas that sounds totally rad as hell on paper had it been applied to any other hyper-violent vigilante- but it just feels so unlike the Punisher.
The best Punisher stories are the one that focus on the man behind the skull, and putting him in the War Machine armor just sounded like a cheap ploy to make gratuitously violent books with little substance. Well, The Punisher #219 made me feel real dumb for doubting Mr. Rosenberg’s ability to feature immense violence while peering into the soul of Frank Castle.
Don’t get me wrong, this story starts with aforementioned violence—imagine Iron Man except he’s not afraid to use his suit to behead his opponents, because that’s what Frank does within the first four pages. The joyously gruesome nature of an Iron Man suit wielded by the Punisher is put on display throughout the issue, with artist Guiu Volanova and colorist Lee Loughridge inking plenty of blood-soaked panels as Frank decapitates and incinerates those who get in his way. Quite Frankly (ha!), it’s nothing short of awesome.
This issue truly shines in between the bloody skirmishes, when Frank steps out of the suit to interact with an Eastern European farmer who’s lands are in danger of being claimed by a fascist regime. We learn that this farmer is a soldier, like Frank, who has fought countless battles against countless enemies wearing countless flags as justifications for their atrocities. This is a man who fought his wars, tried to retire to a simpler life, and is sucked right back in. Vakha, as he is come to be known, is the embodiment of Frank’s warrior spirit—no matter what he does, his war will never end.
Vakha and Frank’s relationship is short lived, but it serves as a personification of Frank’s very spirit. There’s a touching moment where Vakha looks to Frank and coughs out, “I was never good at it, but I loved this farm. I loved pretending. I don’t want these soldiers to take my farm. You should take it, Frank. You can pretend.” In this moment, I got this sense that Vakha was a representation of what Frank could become if he gave up his war on crime, someone who would never be free, simply a pretender, unable to escape who he truly is. When you really dive into this issue, it’s really a book that defines exactly who Frank is—a never-stopping soldier of war. Perhaps a… War Machine?
Books You Should Buy if You're Not on a Five Book Budget:
Matthew Rosenberg continues his hot streak with Phoenix: Resurrection #1, which kicks of an intriguing mystery that sees the original Jean Gray return to life.
Royals #12 is an explosive end to a tumultuous series that sets up the Royal family for one helluva battle in 2018.
Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm aka the Thing take center stage in Marvel Two-in-One #1 as they uncover a secret that could lead them right to Reed Richards.
With only two issues remaining, Gwenpool #25 takes an unexpected serious route that sees Gwendolyn Poole actually have an existential meltdown-since her power allows her to see that her series is ending.
X-Men Gold is in the midst of it's most exciting and daring story arc since it's launch last spring, check out number 17 & 18. You won't be disappointed.