So I did some funnybook filing this weekend, organizing, bagging, and boxing what was probably the last six months’ worth of comics. And I made the decisions I always make when I’m doing that: what books go into the permanent collection, and what books get dumped off into the “maybe I can sell this” pile. Normally, the latter of those two groupings is pretty small. It’s generally for stuff I didn’t like, or stuff that I liked okay, but know that I’ll never read again. And I’ve been at this funnybook-reading thing long enough that I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the books I’ll enjoy. That “not a keeper” pile was bigger than usual this time, though, and that lead me to do another thing I sometimes do when I file: re-work The List.
Because we’ve all got The List, right? The list of books that we’re reading regularly? The list that we give to the nice folks down at our Local Funnybook Store to pull our books for us when they come out? Well, okay. Maybe that’s not everybody. Not every shop offers a subscription service like that. But most of them do, and a lot of us funnybook lifers take advantage of it.
Since I spent all that time this weekend compiling the damn thing, I thought I might share it with you, running down why I’m reading each book on it, and why more of them than usual are going into the “For Sale” pile right now…
A Walk Through Hell
Why Do I Read It? It’s Garth Ennis, doing existential horror and taking it seriously. It’s also a book that speaks to the horror of the present moment, dealing in issues of sex, race and gender, and the pushback as white men are being asked, more and more, to share the space at the top of the food chain. But it’s also about the things troubling white men, the pressure and fear involved in being at the top but not really being in control of anything. It’s about the anxiety of Trump and Brexit. But really, when you boil all those things down, it’s about the yawning void at the center of human existence, and the things we fill it with, and how we have fewer of those things in our modern “enlightened” society. And how the hell do we cope with that?
Is It a Keeper? Damn straight. This is the best Garth Ennis comic I’ve read in a very long time. Maybe the most mature work of his career. It’s cold and uncomfortable. Claustrophobic and unpleasant. And weird. Seriously messed up and weird. One of the better updatings of HP Lovecraft that I’ve seen, though it doesn’t reference Lovecraft in any way. He may not have even been an influence on it. But it deals in many of the same themes he dealt in, and (me being me) I can’t not think of him when I think about this book. So that’s not only a keeper, it’s a “Buy the trade so you’ve got it on your bookshelf” kind of comic.
Why Do I Read It? Because Brian Bendis is updating the strip for the 21st Century by hearkening back to many of its classic tropes. He’s placing the Daily Planet at the center of everything. He’s restored Lois Lane’s mischievous side while maintaining her credibility as a reporter. His Jimmy Olsen is a Millennial who’s perpetually getting into the weirdest kind of trouble. His Superman is stalwart, but relatable in his anxieties about being an icon. He saves people and fights actual crooks, who’ve found a clever way to work around him. It’s cool and fun and often quite funny. I like it a lot.
Is It a Keeper? Nope. As much fun as this book is, I read it once and I’m done. It’s funnybook candy. Not that there’s anything wrong with candy. But I don’t keep a lot of it around, because it makes my brain fat.
Hmm. I think I lost control of my metaphor a little there…
Why Do I Read It? Because “Monster Hunters in the Harlem Renaissance” is a hell of a premise. It gives the book a weird pulpy feel that I like, plus its emphasis on black culture and folklore means it’s covering ground I’m familiar with, but that I haven’t tread over a million times already. I also like that, while it’s doing some important cultural education, it’s not so impressed with itself that it forgets to have a good time.
Is It a Keeper? The jury’s still out on that one. I’m definitely keeping them for now. And Once the first story arc’s done, I’ll figure out if it’s something I want to keep… or maybe just give to somebody who I think would dig it.
The Black Badge
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s Matt Kindt, and his stuff’s almost always worth reading. The premise of “black ops Boy Scouts” is intriguing, too. That said, however…
Is It a Keeper? I’m thinking not. I like the series okay, but there’s a lot of untapped potential here that I don’t think the book is ever going to get around to tapping. The idea is inherently silly, and so Kindt isn’t treating it with the serious development he gave to books like Mind MGMT or Dept H. I think that’s what I want from Black Badge, and I don’t think I’m going to get it. So I’ll probably be dropping it off The List entirely.
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s always been a cool and very human alternate take on classic super heroes. Here lately, though, it’s crawled up its own ass with an exploration of its own meta-fictional underpinnings, and lost that basic humanity that made it worth reading in the first place. The recent Quantum Age side series was mildly interesting as a dystopian take on the Legion of Superheroes, but ultimately, it could have been just about any bog-standard super hero thing. I’ll give Jeff Lemire a chance to right the ship when the main series returns this year, but right now I’m not real happy with it.
Is It a Keeper? Not right now it ain’t. But my filing reminded me how good that Doctor Star mini-series was last year. So I remain hopeful that the book will return to form with the next season…
Black Monday Murders
Why Do I Read It? Considering how long it’s been since the last issue, I’m not sure I AM reading it anymore. But if Jonathan Hickman ever decides to write the next season of this book, I’ll be reading it because it’s a fascinating horror / dark fantasy take on high finance.
Is It a Keeper? Most definitely. In fact, the only reason I haven’t bought the first trade yet is because I figured there would eventually be a hardcover collection, and I dig this enough that I want that instead.
But while I’m talking about liking something enough to buy the trade… Often, once I’ve got the series for my bookshelf, I’ll sell off the original issues. Not always. I mean, I’m still working on a complete run of Cerebus, 30 years after I started reading it, and I’ve got the first 150 issues of that collected in the “phone book” omnibus editions. But that’s a special case. Usually, I don’t feel the need to own more than one copy of anything. But getting back to The List…
Why Do I Read It? Honestly, this one’s another “place holder” sort of book, because it’s been an awfully long time since we got a new issue. But hope springs eternal, and I continue to hope that Matt Fraction will free up enough time from his Hollywood responsibilities to at least finish the season he left half-done. With its combination of Sterankoesque spy-fi, noirish psychodrama, and whatever other pop-fantasy elements he can weld onto it, Casanova is one of my all-time favorite adventure comics.
Is It a Keeper? Considering what I just said, I’m not sure I even need to answer this question. So let’s move on…
Why Do I Read It? Because I will read anything that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips choose to release, and this new monthly Criminal series is their current project. They form a perfect partnership of story and art, Brubaker’s fascination with crime and depression in perfect sync with Phillips’ dark, brooding artwork. Of course, it helps that I dig on noir so much, too.
Is It a Keeper? Totally. I’ve got multiple Brubaker/Phillips volumes on my bookshelf, and this new series’ emphasis on shorter, punchier stories rather than things written for the trade may mean that it remains a longbox staple for a good long time to come.
(Okay, actually, I prefer short boxes to long. They fit better in my funnybook closet. But you know what I mean…)
East of West
Why Do I Read It? Because even though Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s Sci-fi Apocalypse Western is a very American sort of story, it still reads like epic manga. Like Katsuhiro Otomo meets Sergio Leone at John Ford’s house. And that deserves my attention.
Is It a Keeper? Yes. Though as the series has continued on (and slowed to something akin to a quarterly pace), I’ve become a bit less enchanted with it. One day, once it’s over and done with, I could maybe see myself selling it off. Unless Hickman really sticks the ending…
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s fun, imaginative, and very well-drawn. I can be a tough audience for fantasy, but what Matt Kindt and David Rubin are doing with this mix of urban fantasy and fairy tale whimsy hits my sweet spot.
Is It a Keeper? I think so. One day, I may do a purge and decide to get rid of it. But it’s solid and fun, with more depth than it would seem. I think it’ll have re-read value down the line, anyway, so I’ll at least hold on to it until I go back and see for sure.
Why Do I Read It? When Jeff Lemire is on, he’s usually VERY on. And with this book, I think he’s really got something. The small-town horror of the first year now seems to be giving way to some kind of inter-dimensional Tesla Coil sci-fi, as we discover the secrets of the Black Barn, and I’m afraid that the “Rural Weird” that’s endeared the book to me so much may fade. But I’m still curious to see where it heads next.
Is It a Keeper? Well. That’ll depend on whether Lemire can continue to successfully capture that Rural Weird feel, or if he’ll explain so much about what’s going on that it loses all its appeal. The former might very well keep it in the permanent stacks. The latter will probably see it sold off eventually. Hopefully after it’s over. But you never know. The stuff he’s been doing with Black Hammer lately has shaken my faith in him.
Why Do I– Okay, look. This is another of those Hope Springs Eternal books, but honestly… I don’t think we’ll ever see another issue again. Jason Aaron’s too busy making Avengers money to keep writing this nasty little Biblical fantasy. And more’s the pity. So let’s just move on.
Why Do I Read It? Well, right now I’m not. But Eric Powell is due to return to his signature creation soon, and when he does, I’ll be on board. Assuming that he’s drawing it as well as writing it, that is. He’s a true cartoonist, whose work is always better when he’s doing it all himself. But to answer the question… I read The Goon because it’s fun horror comedy, grotesque, profane and irreverent. I do dearly love it, and am looking forward to its return.
Is It a Keeper? Considering that I’ve got all of the previous series on my bookshelf… most of it in hardcover… I’d say yes.
The Green Lantern
Why Do I Read It? Because I’m a huge Grant Morrison fanboy, and I’ll give anything he does at least an issue or three. But I like the attitude he’s bringing to this venerable old super hero title. It’s an attitude he’s borrowing from 2000 AD, mind you, but Morrison wrote for them back when he was a young lad, so I’m not going to fault him for that.
Is It a Keeper? I honestly don’t know. It’s an awful lot of fun, but so far it feels a bit slight. I’ll definitely keep it as long as he’s on the book, but at some future point, once he’s gone and things have returned to corporate spandex normal… I could see myself parting with it.
Head Lopper Quarterly Adventure Comic
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s big noisy fun, a barbarian fantasy comic that owes as much debt to Hayao Miyazaki as it does to Robert E Howard. I’m also a big fan of creator Andrew Maclean’s cartoony, minimalist sort of art. I kind of get the sense that Maclean was a big Rob Liefield fan when he was a kid, but then he grew up and decided to make comics that were in that spirit, but a lot smarter. So it’s a fun ride, with long well-choreographed fight scenes, lots of character humor and physical comedy, and always always always a cool barbarian fantasy plot. It’s also an extra MEATY comic. Maclean may only release four issues a year, but every one of them is an extra-long gut buster.
Is It a Keeper? Maybe. I’ve got the first series collected on my bookshelf, anyway. But I also gave my original issues to a friend who I thought would enjoy them. I wouldn’t have let those go if I didn’t have that trade, though. And I wouldn’t have given them away for free if I didn’t want to create another fan for the book. That’s a different kind of love, right there.
Heroes in Crisis
Why Do I Read It? Holy crap, I ask myself that question every issue. I don’t like the story, I don’t like how several of the major characters are being written, and I don’t believe for even a minute that two or three of the biggest scenes in the series could have happened the way they did. But I very much DO like how Tom King is writing the super hero trauma sequences. And those are good enough to keep me on the hook.
Is It a Keeper? Oh, HELL no. I’ve already tossed the entire series to date into the “for sale” box. I probably won’t actually sell them until it’s over, just in case King pulls another one of those “final issue that redefines everything else that’s happened in the series” endings, and I want to go back and re-read. But once this thing’s done… I will sell it off for whatever I can get.
Why Do I Read It? Because it’s an interesting take on my first favorite super hero. It’s also inventive and fun and just a little bit scary. The just-concluded Hell storyline has tried my patience with it, though. Sure, there’s some awesomely grotesque body horror stuff going on in it…
…but the story dragged and went on entirely too long. And I don’t think I like the underlying idea here that the Hulk is ultimately some kind of demonic force. So we’ll see where Al Ewing takes things next.
Is It a Keeper? Sadly, no. It’s fun, and there have been some great moments (the vivisected Hulk split between various bell jars, for instance), but ultimately it’s not something I’ll ever read again.
Why Do I Read It? When this series started, it was part of a new wave of books that signaled a sort of renaissance for Warren Ellis. After a decade of comics with great premises but spotty execution, I was afraid that he was sinking into self-parody. And though later arcs of this book have slipped into “Ellis Standard” sorts of writing tricks, the combo of Artificial Intelligence Sci-Fi and 1970s British Pagan Horror has real appeal for me. So even though it’s currently on a rather long hiatus, I remain hopeful that it will continue.
Is It a Keeper? I think so. It may fizzle out like so many Ellis projects have over the years, and if it does, the promise of the early issues won’t be enough to keep it in the permanent collection. But if it gets back on track for a good finale, I can forgive some of the saggy middle bits in light of the greater whole.
Aaaannndd… I think that’s all we’ve got time for this week. We’re only halfway through The List, though, so that means we’ll be back to wrap it up next time.