Five Great Comics from the Past Few Months

My Box of Comics posts usually arrive fashionably late, but in this instance, the party ended weeks ago and the Box of Comics is still picking out a tie. So let's give a quick look at the really good stuff, the comics worth praising from the past few lunar cycles. I suspect many of you have overlooked some (or all) of these gems. (And again, thanks to the Discount Comic Book Service, and also HeavyInk, for providing me with my regular comics fix.)

Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension and the Erroneous Subtitle #3 by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattisoner, and Jeff Poweller (Red 5 Comics)

Why I bought this: Because it's Atomic Robo. Duh!

I don't know what it is with Clev and Weg and company, but they really know how to make issue threes. I mean, the third issue is always the best one, though I probably can't prove that with science because I can't exactly remember what transpired in the first two Atomic Robo #3's, but the last #3 (the one what had Carl Sagan) was the best comic of last year, and possibly the decade, and this issue is just as good, but in a different way. I would say this is the only comic (and it most likely isn't, but shut up, I am speaking in hyperbolic definitive statements here) that is gut-bustingly hilarious from the art alone. This is a comic about a dinosaur and a robot talking to each other, but Wegener draws the hell out of it, not just playing a game to hide as much of Dr. Dinosaur's body as possible in each panel, but also to increase the hilarity of the crazy raptor's facial expressions with each passing frame. Dr. Dinosaur's face appears in about 40 panels over the course of the book, and I'd wager at least 30 of them are flippin' hysterical. Kevin Maguire is praised for his ability to depict a wide range of character expressions; Wegener, in this issue, tops that by giving more character to a velociraptor and a robot with no face than perhaps any other artist could. Here are some samples that cracked me up:

Let us not discount the rest of our peerless Robo team, however, who all once again turn in fantastic work. Wordsmith Brian Clevinger, especially, manages to top the ridiculous wonder of the 2009 Free Comic Book Day special for which this issue is an immediate sequel by crafting even smarter, sillier dialogue, as Robo and Dino debate scientific plausibility, proper bad guy names, and other fun bits of banter. We're just about halfway through 2010, and this is currently my favorite comic of the year.

Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield? #1 by a bunch of dudes, most of them bearded, I'm sure (Marvel Comics)

Why I bought this: The names "Aaron," "Fraction," and most importantly, "McCarthy," are on the cover. As is Forbush Man. I'm not made of stone.

The Mindless Ones actually gave this a pretty negative review a while back, but since I loved it to pieces, I must therefore write this review as some kind of karmic counterpart. So let's do it. Firstly, the Aaron-written bits with the unfrozen Forbush Man running amok on Marvel comics writers is pretty funny and the art has some great coloring techniques from artist Mirco Pierfederici. The Golden Age Deadpool bit by Stuart Moore and Joe Quinones is less awesome, but has some cute gags.

The bit everyone's really talking about, though, is the Matt Fraction/Brendan McCarthy team-up in the middle of the book, which is even better than you can possibly imagine. Finally, Fraction lives up to all that post-Casanova hype in a Marvel comic, throwing in a dozen non-sequitir ideas that all reinforce one's love of the comics medium as a place where anything you can think of can exist, so long as a madman is drawing it. That madman is Brendan McCarthy, whose artwork is as mind-bendingly fun here as it has been anywhere else. The short involves Doctor America,  occult operative of liberty, and his goat boy sidekick, who battle Richard Milhous Manson, a Red Skull analogue that speaks only in Nixon quotes, more or less (with editor's notes telling us where the quote originates from!). There's metafictional jokes involving jump cuts between panels and phone numbers to call into, day-glo coloring, and kooky comic book mysticism only found in McCarthy comics. It was the most fun six pages of the month-- and Atomic Robo came out that month!

The Curse: A 24 Hour Comic by Mike Norton

Why I bought this: I ordered this for a few reasons: firstly, it was on sale; secondly, Mike Norton is a pretty cool dude; and thirdly, it came with free swag (a Battlepug print). I can't resist that kind of trifecta.

It also helps that this comic, a self-published edition of Norton's 24 hour comic foray from 2009, is pretty great. The premise-- about a slacker who is bitten by a pirate in the park and succumbs to the curse of the were-pirates-- is inspired, but Norton doesn't stop there, tossing in a few other neat gags along the way, my favorite of which is the appearance of a character that is totally Popeye the Sailor-Man. The characters, however, are fairly unlikable (but that's clearly on purpose), and the dialogue gives the story a feel of an R-rated comedy, so if that's not your thing, you may not enjoy it. The art actually appears aided by the dreaded one-day deadline doom, carrying a rougher, cartooned edge to it, a looseness that still leaves (or perhaps frees up) room for some excellent expressiveness. The lack of hesitation provides a greater, visceral immediacy to the work itself.

Turns out, the entire thing is online, and you can read it for free! Do so, and enjoy.

Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker, Tom Fowler, Dave McCaig, and Saida Temofonte (DC/Wildstorm)

Why I bought this: Jeff Parker described it as an ode to Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently novels, the first of which happens to be one of my all-time favorite books. Also, I'd been waiting for the trade, and it also came with a gorgeous signed print.

You don't often see a graphic novel that comes across as particularly novelistic, especially one originally serialized in single issue form, but this one does. I'm not just talking about having it all be one story, but about how everything ties together, how every scene is important to character or plot development, how bits that seem episodic and standalone are, in fact, not. You know, like "real" books. Jeff Parker gets it, and he's right, in those ways, it does feel like Dirk Gently, in which Douglas Adams carefully revealed his incredibly articulate plot structure by book's end. Another Gentlyism is the fact that the title character is a bit of an unrepentant jerk, one who seems like a joke but is, in fact, highly competent. There's a bit of Doctor Who in there as well (and since the original Dirk Gently novel was semi-self-plagiarized from a couple of Adams' Doctor Who scripts, this feels right).

The eponymous Mysterius is a magician, and also something of an investigator, whose career spans a very long lifetime. He recruits a new assistant, whom he dubs Delfi, and together the duo explore other dimensions, run into rival magicians, get entangled with cults, and have lots of neat adventures. Parker fills the story with some really cool ideas, giving us nefarious, sorcerous takes on Dr. Seuss and Burning Man. He also throws in a lot of characters, all of whom get to have their own plots, all of which tie together in the end. It's quite a feat of storytelling. Even greater feats, however, are accomplished by artist Tom Fowler, whose cartooning in this book is phenomenal. Characters of all sizes and shapes appear, each given a distinctive appearance, and the really weird stuff, like the Ape in a Cape and his otherworldly accomplices, are torn from a visual imagination much more inventive than most.

Every aspect of this book, from the plotting, dialogue, artwork, and coloring, to the layout and appearance of the book itself, to the smell, even, is exquisitely crafted. I imagine this didn't sell very well, which is a damned shame, because it's truly fantastic, and I would love to see a sequel. Go out and buy the collection, and then demand more Mysterius.

The Sixth Gun #1 (Free Comic Book Day Edition) by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

Why I bought this: It was free.

I read nine (!) of the Free Comic Book Day offerings this year, and The Sixth Gun #1 was definitely the best. It does everything a FCBD comic should do: it's (1) a full issue of a (2) new, reader-friendly series that (3) features cool ideas, (4) beautiful art, and (5) great production values, for the (6) low, low price of zero American dollars. This is how you make a gateway drug-- it's so great, you feel bad for not paying for it.

Bunn's story includes haunted guns, Old West magics, the ghosts of hung killers, and what looks like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. We get a fleeting glimpse of the tapestry here, enough to suck us into the world Bunn's created. It's a work of ideas, throwing new characters and concepts at us fast and hard, getting the most out of them in a few scant pages or panels, and then moving onto the next cool thing. Hurtt's art looks slick and smooth, and his lettering is the best mixed-case comic book lettering I've ever seen. The cover design is gorgeous, the paper is slick, the staples are firm and in the right spot. Not bad for no dollars. Greg Hatcher is right, of course-- there are some great Westerns out there, if you know where to look. So look at The Sixth Gun. It's about a girl, a gun, and a world of bastards.

Don't take my word(s) for it, though-- the first issue is available online in its entirety, thanks to Robot 6! Now, me, I've got to go track down this creative duo's previous work, The Damned, which I assume is as damned good as this one is.


Do Anything by Warren Ellis (Avatar Press)

Why I bought this: Because I felt like it.

I read Warren Ellis' Do Anything column as it went "live" on Bleeding Cool, but just as he does with his comics, Ellis writes his internet columns for the trade. Here, bound within a blazing white cover, is a short dissertation on modern day culture, entirely extrapolated from the work of Jack Kirby. In separate episodes, the column seemed scattered and unkempt, but in printed form its congealed into a whole, the spidery, nicotine-stained branches of Ellis' thought processes more easily graspable, now that they're all in one place. As Kirby proved, with comics, one could do anything; Ellis shows us all the various connections into every corner of 20th century culture and beyond, drawing a map of the anything, and everything, that was done. Kirby's legacy doesn't just include comics, but film, music, New York, David Bowie, Gil Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Philip K. Dick, Superman's head, the Internet, and a million other people and things. As someone else wrote, Jack Kirby was the twentieth century. Ellis does the math for us.

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