Best of 7 | BEA, 'The Star Wars' and more

Welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to something great fans are doing to an awesome comic that came out. So let’s get to it ...

Beautiful books at BEA

I spent some time Friday at Book Expo America, and while I wrote about it elsewhere, there was one thread that ran through everything I saw: The sheer beauty of so many of the books. Digital comics may be making inroads, but the publishers who were exhibiting at BEA are clearly paying attention to the physical aspects of the book.

NBM, for instance, just published a new edition of Nicolas De Crecy's Glacial Period. Their original 2007 edition was a 6" x 9" paperback; the new one is an 81Ž2" x 11" hardcover, a format that not only makes the comic more readable but is more appropriate to what is really an art book. The NBM booth also featured a mockup of Young Girl in Dior, a graphic novel that can stand up against any art book in any museum shop. Nobrow Press is another publisher that puts serious thought into production values, and their latest Luke Pearson book, Hilda and the Black Hound, is almost too nice to give to a child (although you wouldn't want to deny them the experience--but be sure to read it yourself first). Fantagraphics, of course, is the winner in this department, and it's amazing how they took the grubby, cheaply produced Zap Comics I used to read in college and turned them into a luxury archival edition, preserving the work of Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and the late Rick Griffin, among others, for generations to come. I'm going to have to sell off my collection of vintage Dan Hicks albums to buy it, but it will be worth it.

Even at the booths of publishers that put more emphasis on story than physical presence, I was impressed by the design and production quality of the work; BOOM! Studios had a whole array of trade paperbacks that I wanted to reach out and touch, especially their new Peanuts graphic novel, The Beagle Has Landed, and the first issue of Rebellion's Brass Sun also has a beautiful cover design, to match the contents. (Brigid Alverson)

Attack on Titan goes Colossal

I haven't actually seen Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition yet, but I have talked to the Kodansha Comics people about it, and I know it's going to be superb in terms of production quality and extras. What moves me to include it in a Best of 7 column, though, is the fact that it exists at all. Remember how manga was supposed to be dead? Well, not so much, as it turns out. Attack on Titan has been a, you should pardon the term, monster hit, and that's reflected not only in sales (multiple volumes regularly appear on all the best-seller lists that track comic and manga) but also in the number of people who show up at cons in Attack on Titan cosplay. I think it's a great series, with a story that really pulls you in despite the sometimes iffy art, but I also appreciate the fact that the success of this franchise allows Kodansha Comics a bit of freedom to take chances with some other interesting licenses as well. Go Titans! (Brigid Alverson)

Space: The Final Frontier

The two comics I enjoyed the most this week turned out to be a couple of offbeat takes on familiar space operas. Of course, I'm talking about Larfleeze #11 and The Star Wars #8.

Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Scott Kolins, Larfleeze stars the Orange Lantern who's powered by insatiable avarice. It's canceled as of issue #12, but this week's #11 is the middle of a three-part arc guest-starring G'Nort, the galaxy's most clueless Green Lantern. Larfleeze has been a pretty inconsistent series, rising and falling depending on how sympathetic the creative team can make the headliner -- and that's been a challenge. Naturally, G'Nort's presence has helped stabilize things. He gives the audience a clear rooting interest, and he plays well off both the selfish Larfleeze and the omnipotent misfits Larfleeze has been fighting for most of the series. Moreover, Giffen and DeMatteis just seem more comfortable writing G'Nort -- a character they created (with artist Kevin Maguire) in 1988 for Justice League International -- than they have so far in the series otherwise. G'Nort's goofiness helps bring the series' overall tone into sharper focus, and I wonder how much he'd appear if the series were continuing Kolins also has a good handle on the character, whose first few appearances were drawn by Maguire (with inker Al Gordon), Steve Leialoha, and I think Ty Templeton. Indeed, Kolins has been a good fit with Giffen and DeMatteis, giving Larfleeze a slightly-exaggerated cosmic aesthetic. Kolins' G'Nort punctures that aesthetic nicely. Call me a sucker, but I chuckled every single time a reference to "this gnat" was met with an offscreen "That's G'Nort!"

Meanwhile, The Star Wars (based on the first-draft script by George Lucas, written by J.W. Rinzler, drawn by Mike Mayhew) wrapped up this week at a breakneck pace. As someone who's read -- or, more accurately, tried to get through -- Lucas' dense early drafts, I appreciate this adaptation more for its historical value than its merits, and I applaud Rinzler and Mayhew's efforts in translating it to comics. (Mayhew's designs are an astonishingly effective blend of "existing" SW and the Ralph McQuarrie originals.) I'll be re-reading the whole thing pretty soon, but my initial impression is that much of it wanders around the prototypical Galaxy Far Far Away, introducing characters and concepts (and spouting a near-Trek level of technobabble) without moving the plot forward. That changes in this final issue, which takes place on and around a familiar moon-sized space station. There are lazer-sword duels, starfighter strafing runs, a familiar deathtrap, and a surprising character reversal. In fact, it feels like the last 45 minutes of the original Star Wars crammed into about 20 pages. This made for an enjoyable single issue, and I'm eager to revisit The Star Wars as a whole. (Tom Bondurant)

Cartoon + comics holidaze

Memorial Day Weekend is a time for binge viewing. My wife was in the mood for some superheroes. Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had wrapped up their seasons, leaving a significant void of men and women in masks and capes in her life. Thus, we launched on a perhaps obsessive week of viewing, starting with Justice League Unlimited Season 2 (the only DVDs I had on hand, since my other season was in the hands of relatives that failed to return it), then working back to the first season of Justice League (which we almost finished yesterday).

As geek of the household, I had to answer strange and uncomfortable questions, such as: who is this Shade guy? ("He's... a magician!") Who's the purple lady? ("That's the Huntress! You know.... Helena from the Arrow show!") Who's this cowboy and this knight with a Pegasus and what kind of team is this? ("They're ... DC's version of the Avengers! See, there's Iron Man fighting the Hulk!") Why is there a city of talking gorillas? ("I... uh...")

Season One of Justice League was fun for both of us since I hadn't actually seen the episodes before, either. I'd actually started with Justice League Unlimited and hadn't felt the need to go backwards. Superman apparently has a glass jaw, because he goes down way too easily in every single episode. (This was a never-ending source of consternation for my wife. Supes is her favorite superhero.) However, she did gain a new love for Martian Manhunter, especially after the fantastic "A Knight of Shadows" episode that portrays him has a man who is haunted by his long lost family but bears his pain with stoic nobility. Who knew that the most human character would be the Martian?

As for comics, Cyclops #1 is pretty great. I got it pretty much exclusively because I wanted to read about Corsair; I've always been amused how Cyclops' dad was clearly an awesome space pirate who was too cool to raise a kid. Cyclops #1 totally acknowledges that dynamic, with Cyclops realizing that he doesn't want to grow up to be a facist and that his dad had the job that he always dreamed of having. Corsair loves his son, too, but he has no idea what the first step of being a father. It's a fun dynamic, and a very enjoyable comic. (Larry Cruz)

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