One of the things that crosses people is expectation versus reality. We believe in things that we’re told to believe in, and doubt our own experiences in favor of expectations that may or may not have any reality to them. I’ve seen this destroy friendships, relationships, marriages… and I’ve rarely seen this conflict so well illustrated as it is here. We finally delve into the very heart of the lipstick incident, the moment that crushed Archie and Betty and drove them apart, and it’s entirely tied into preconceived notions of gender, identity, and popularity. Archie overhears some girls making fun of Betty and tries to come to her aid; the girls respond by trying to remake Betty into someone she isn’t, but it’s fun to experiment and kind of necessary to do so. We learn who we are as much by figuring out why we aren’t. The girls make changes to Betty and Betty goes along with it because it’s fun, it’s a game of make believe, but it’s Archie’s reactions to the change that hurt her and drive them apart. Excellent tragedy that resonates because it’s real.
Black Magick #2
Combing the writering of Greg Rucka with the art of Nicola Scott isn’t fair to the other comics. You’re pretty much guaranteed to come up with something that will be, at the very least, exceptional. Rucka has a talent for sifting out some really interesting history and crafting lore with it whenever he delves into fantasy, and Black Magick is no exception. A cop who happens to be an actual witch is nearly set on fire by a group of people that hunt witches because they use magic, but the hunters are now using magic themselves. There’s a lot of politicking and double-speak going on here and there has to be; the witches are trying to live among the rest of humanity, and very few really believe in magic any more. Humans, that is. Animals know better. So does the thing lurking behind you right now. Nicola Scott’s art, as always, is the perfect sort of haunting for this tale, all soft shades with few edges. The sum is a comic that reads like a gentle dream, one of those strange overlays where everything feels real. This is beautiful stuff.
Darth Vader #13
And this is about as far from the previous two comics as you’re likely to get while still keeping the same level of quality. Vader got sick of the Rebel Alliance being a thing and decided to take them out on his own, which is an unfair fight. Vader proves this quickly, even after Luke crashes into Vader’s ship. If the Alliance was smart, they’d destroy everything, pack up, and leave – instead, they try to fight Vader en masse and then they die en masse. There’s some clever moments around Vader as the people he’s cultivated from the beginning of this comic quickly find themselves in a bind and go to his rescue, even going so far as to capture Luke so that Vader will hopefully not obliterate them. There is nothing – nothing – that has given Vader back the dread and dignity he had before the prequel movies like these comics. This Vader is a force of nature, and everything around him reflects that, from the facial expressions and body language of everyone around him. This is the best of the Star Wars comics, and you need to be reading this.
Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur #1
I’m not sure when intelligence became vilified in popular culture, or why. Perhaps it’s an idea of enslaving those gifted with a high intellect, to keep them subservient to the status quo. Regardless of the origin, there is an ideological war going on in our modern world, where conservatism goes out of its way to punish intelligence, curiosity, and passion. Witness the blatant lies, the blind adherence to staid dogma over question and seeking. And, yes, there’s a matter of representation: there are some intelligent heroes that are allowed to be, but they’re usually white and male. There’s exceptions, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone whose superpower is intelligence and curiosity who is also a young black girl, and that’s fucking awesome. Her world reacts poorly in its groping stupidity, but she’s made friends with a giant red Tyrannosaurus Rex, so I think she’s going to be okay. This comic is a puzzle of time travel, of the joy in discovery and the escape from a gray mundanity that sucks all life from the world. As great and important as Ms. Marvel, and for the same reasons.
X-O Manowar #42
Oh, look, X-O Manowar makes the Top Five again. It’s not like this isn’t earned; Valiant goes out of it’s way to make certain that this comic is one of their best, and the strain of quality this forces on all other comics is tremendous. Aric of Dacia has come a long way spiritually from the violent maniac he once was, having learned that all of his actions have consequences and that the god-like power that he now wields comes with a price. Aric is a warrior who has seen and become disillusioned with war while still acknowledging the occasional necessity of it. Here, he drives a hard peace among the factions he has sworn himself to while recognizing that there are other powers at play that are manipulating them all. There’s complexity here, philosophy and meditations on faith, violence, and real-politick all set against a sci-fi superhero backdrop that is unique for the sheer weight of everything that happens. We have called this the best of all comics time and again, and Valiant continues to prove us right. Thanks, guys. Please keep this up.
Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.
Right from the start, this book is gorgeous. We described Black Magick, above, as having very soft shades with few edges, but this is very much the opposite: hard lines, stark colors, this book resembles a stone relief that is trapped somewhere between a church wall and a viking campfire. The story follows suite, standing firmly on an epic playing field, and starts building towards the means by which Angela will be able to overthrow Hel.
Stjepan Sejic’s art is in a class by itself. There is no one who is better able to convey emotion through facial expression and body language like he can, and it makes anything he works on incredibly distinct. His writing style is also very much different than anything else you’re going to find on the stands. English is very much his second language, and there’s a weird flow to his narrative because of it. Oddly charming, like all his works. Definitely worth checking out.
It’s weird how all the Guardians of the Galaxy – except Gamorra, and now the Thing – have gotten their own series, and each series has been stronger than the book they all share. Groot, Rocket, Drax, and Star-Lord have all ended up being fantastic reads, but I had my doubts when it came to this. I really shouldn’t have: this is both weird and excellent, with Venom becoming something like a Jedi by way of symbiote. Weird and excellent.