We’re all very excited about Brian Wood and Oliver Coipel’s X-Men debuting in April, but until then, I wanted to talk about some fantastic female-led comics you should already be reading. Like the last “8 Great” post I did, I’m going to focus on ongoing books, rather than mini-series, since I do believe that longevity of titles like this is part of winning this battle over time - i.e. good books that have a sustainable audience and can maintain quality consistently. It’s something I feel we struggle with (as evidenced by the fact that only one -- sorta two -- titles from my list in 2011 made it back onto the 2013 list).
08. GHOST. Kelly Sue DeConnick (story), Phil Noto (art, covers). Dark Horse.
It’s hard to resist a book drawn by Phil Noto. When you add Kelly Sue DeConnick (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite comics writers) and a mysterious female lead, reading Ghost is a no-brainer. With a solid mystery at its center, DeConnick is parsing out the story perfectly. In fact, just as I was reading and getting irritated about where/how/why the outfit comes from, she reveals it. Effortlessly. DeConnick and Noto are also proving to be a great team more generally, DeConnick understanding when the story is stronger without wors, relying on Noto’s uncanny ability to convey anything necessary with the most subtle of expressions.
07. STAR WARS. Brian Wood (story), Carlos D’Anda (art), Gabe Eltaeb (colors), Alex Ross (covers). Dark Horse.
If the first issue of Star Wars is any indication, then Princess Leia will be a force to be reckoned with (if not the technical lead). Positioned as both the leader of the rebellion and a talented fighter pilot in her own right it’s exciting to see Leia at the center of everything. While I would never change the original trilogy (okay, maybe not never) and Leia was always a great character, I admit it’s really wonderful to see another side of her. I confess to a giddy almost childlike excitement at reading Brian Wood’s vision for these characters. Though the art is not my exact cup of tea (and of course the Alex Ross covers set that standard pretty damn high) it's a decent blend of comic book style that also looks enough like the heroic faces we all know so intimately, to work well.
06. FF. Matt Fraction (story), Mike Allred (art, cover), Laura Allred (colors, art). Marvel.
This book is such an unexpected delight. Offbeat and filled with characters that rarely (never!) get the spotlight it’s inventive and super fun reading. The entire concept is that She-Hulk, Medusa, Ant Man, and "Ms. Thing," have been chosen by The Fantastic Four to take their place for four minutes (or longer in the worst case scenario). Cut to worst case scenario and this is our new FF...and it's an FF I find myself crazy interested in. Mike Allred's style is a perfect fit for the tone of this book. It's light but bold. Unapologetic and brash. Matt Fraction is proving to be a writer that not only excels at humor in his books (this and Hawkeye are making him into one of my favorite writers - not to mention he and DeConnick into an unbelievable comics writing power couple!) - but he's also proving himself to be the kind of writer that can work in amazing sync with very different artists. On Hawkeye he feels perfectly paired with Aja and here he feels perfectly paired with Allred. It's impressive.
05. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. Kathryn Immonen (story), Valerio Schiti (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors), Jeff Dekal (covers). Marvel.
What a fun and beautiful book. Sif is a powerful and charming lead, tough as nails but with that typically Asgardian fish out of water sense of humor that makes you want to cuddle her while she cuts you to shreds. Valerio Schiti is a fantastic advertisement for ignoring the whole “A-List Artist” thing. I’d never heard of him and given his relatively small experience in US comics, I’m betting a bunch of you hadn’t either. And yet he is easily the best thing about this book (which is saying a lot since Immonen is killing it at well). Able to capture both the slightest nuance of expression in Sif’s face and yet unafraid of the most epic, bloody, balls to the wall battles, he brings such fierce energy to the book it’s marvelous. This is a dream team for a dream book...It’s only 3 issues into the change (start reading at Journey Into Mystery #646) there’s plenty of time to catch up.
04. CAPTAIN MARVEL. Kelly Sue DeConnick (story), Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, and Felipe Andrade (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors). Marvel.
Though I’ve always been pulling for this book, in truth it was only in the last three issues where I feel it has REALLY hit its stride. Dexter Soy’s art was, in my opinion, not a great fit for the book. That said, he really got a good handle (or just had more time after Emma Rios subbed in?) and delivered two beautiful issues in #7 and #8. When you add to that the chemistry between Carol Danvers (current Captain Marvel) and Monica Rambeau (former Captain Marvel) as they pair up for an adventure and the book was pure magic. DeConnick has a perfectly marvelous (no pun!) way of writing Carol and with innovative new artist Filipe Andrande on board as the new series artist (beginning with issue #9) I have renewed hope that this book has finally discovered who it is, or perhaps more importantly, who it wants to be. I recommend trying this book again if you want to like it but didn’t find it was for you initially. Grab issues #7 and #8 to read about Carol and Monica, and then issue #9 to prepare yourself for the next chapter in Carol’s life. It’s really great stuff, perhaps not what you expected, but sometimes that can be a great thing.
03. HAWKEYE. Matt Fraction (story), David Aja (art), Javier Pulido (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors). Marvel.
So this one is a bit of a cheat. Technically Clint Barton as Hawkeye is the lead of this book. However, Kate Bishop as Hawkeye has been getting some serious play, enough so that in the recent issue #7 there were two short stories, each one starring a different Hawkeye (and for my money the Kate Bishop story was actually better). Still, this is clearly set up with Clint Barton as the lead and Kate Bishop in a strong supporting role and you know what? I don’t care. I love this book and its portrayal of Kate Bishop so much that I’ll do anything to talk about it, even put it on a list called it “female-led”…just try and stop me. I've written so much about Hawkeye already that I won't repeat myself, but the first trade will be out in March, and the book is simply good enough to buy in paperback/digital AND as a trade (that's what I'll be doing).
02. SAGA. Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art). Image
While you could argue that Alana and Marko are technically co-leads in Saga, the REAL lead is actually their daughter Hazel who narrates the entire story. Regardless, there’s no way this book doesn’t belong on this list. It’s chock full of interesting, complicated women from Alana and Hazel to The Stalk and Gwendolyn, and Klara, and Izabel, the list goes on an on. And I love them all. This book has been written up just about everywhere (including by me) so I won’t bore you with the details. If for some reason you’ve missed out (I hope the excuse is that you’ve been trapped somewhere in a cave) you can pick up the first trade (collecting issues #1-6) now. And then all you’ve got to do is pick up four single issues and you’ll know what everyone is talking about, and why.
01. RACHEL RISING. Terry Moore (story, art, letters). Abstract Studios
Rachel Rising gets the number one spot for a very simple reason...not because it’s necessarily "the best" book on this list, but because it’s the only one that I thought was strong enough 15 months later to still earn a spot on this list. Rachel Rising has consistently been an incredibly powerful horror story with some complicated (and beautifully drawn) ladies at its center. Extremely well paced, and dolling out bits of mystery (frequently each more horrific than the last) with expert precision, this may be Moore's best work to date. Though Strangers In Paradise will perhaps always be people's first love for Moore (and that is well-deserved love) Rachel Rising is tighter in many ways from a storytelling standpoint and has a more cohesive vision so far.
MINI-SERIES YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: Brian Wood and Ming Doyle’s Mara from Image - currently on issue #2. It’s simply awesome. Greg Rucka and Matt Southworth's Stumptown Volume 2 from Oni just finished and like Volume 1 it’s worth every penny. Also of note is Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless from Action Lab, which is beginning again this month as a new mini-series. You can grab the trade for the first series here, and I’ve read the first issue of the new mini-series and can assure you it’s great. Also worth a peek when it comes to YA fare is Emily & The Strangers, a three-issue full color mini-series from Dark Horse, written by creator Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner, and with absolutely stunningly adorable art by Emily Ivie, the first issue, out now, is great fun.
ONGOING HONORABLE MENTIONS: If Glory wasn’t ending, it would certainly be on this list. Young Avengers is also absolutely deserving of mentions for “female positive” books, but since I called this “female-led” I think it can’t qualify since it’s got more gents than ladies on the team. Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries and Ron Garney only has one issue out so far, but I liked what I saw, especially the fact that the team is filled with a lot of interesting ladies. Angel & Faith (which was also on 2011’s list) is still running strong with lovely art by Rebekah Isaacs -- if you enjoy the Whedonverse in comics form, it’s definitely worth a read.
THE BOOK I’D MOST LIKE TO PUT ON THIS LIST: Fearless Defenders. I honestly think, if you like these characters (Misty Knight and Valkyrie) as much as I do (which is A LOT) that you should be reading it anyway, I hope that supporting it will give it a chance to get things right. However, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it as I felt the first issue was weak.
Though the writing and storyline in this first issue was not as powerful as I’d hoped, ultimately I do have a lot of faith in Cullen Bunn as a writer so I’m optimistic that given time he can deliver something wonderful. Unfortunately (and perhaps more importantly) I think Will Sliney is ill chosen as the artist for this book. Based on this first issue he relies far too heavily on exceedingly cheesecake poses and too much painful male gaze for this book to be taken seriously. I also just don’t think he’s quite at the level he needs to be to be drawing a major book. We've all learned the hard way that you have to give female team books/female led books every advantage in order to give them the best shot at survival, I hope Fearless Defenders will both get better and be given the chance it deserves to find an audience.
WE’LL SEE: This week we’ll get a first look at Katana #1 and see if it has potential to be a book that should be on this list, but I admit to skepticism given the bizarre creative team musical chairs at DC of late.
CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE:
Batwoman – while Batwoman is still the best looking book around when J.H. Williams III illustrates it, the quality in other ways has been really inconsistent. I want to love it, but I generally don’t. I still buy it because I hope it will get better and because I love the characters, but I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly to everyone.
Red She-Hulk – this is a book I’m dying to love, but in these first four issues it just hasn’t impressed me. There are things I like (like the fact that She-Hulk seriously “hulked out” in a recent issue in a way She-Hulks generally do not get to) but so far the art has been a disappointment and She-Hulk doesn’t have much agency in her own story. I’m going to keep buying because I like Jeff Parker as a writer and I want this book to work, but it’s just not getting there for me.
Both Wolverine & The X-Men and Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9 were on my 2011 list, but didn’t make the cut here. They haven’t done anything egregiously wrong for me (see below for those offenders) but they just don’t sing as they did initially. In WATX’s case it’s partially the double shipping. It’s killing my pocketbook (pocketbook? What am I 70?) and when every issue isn’t a home run I find myself grumbling that I wish they’d take more time on each issue and release them more slowly. As for Buffy, I still buy it, I still love it, but that’s largely because of my attachment to the characters. But it just doesn’t have the boldness that initially impressed me and since Spike left the book and the storyline took a decidedly less significant feeling turn, I find I don’t rush to read it as I once did.
NOT EVEN CLOSE, MUCH TO MY DISMAY:
Wonder Woman – A heavy hitter on the list last time I made it, Wonder Woman started out as easily my favorite book of the “New 52” Re-launch, but by issue #7 I was out. You all know why, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself.
Birds of Prey - Editorial machinations killed all the enthusiasm I had for this book – which was a lot. Pulling Jesus Saiz from the book as artist, when he was the perfect fit for the book was borderline unforgivable. The new run with Christy Marx is certainly worth a look when it comes out (issue #18), but I admit my trust with DC on this book is broken with all the creative shuffling and the art just hasn’t worked for me since Saiz left.
Catwoman didn't make the list in 2011 (not even close) and though the changes in art and writing have made the book far less offensive, it's still not good. I will have to wait until something more in line with the Brubaker/Cooke run comes back...so maybe forever? LE SIGH.
While this list would have been boring if it repeated those same books I featured 15 months ago, I certainly wish more of them had made the cut a second time. While it’s fantastic to have so many great new options, it’s disheartening to see that so few ongoing books have the legs to be featured less than a year and a half later. So is the problem lack of interest/readers? Lack of quality? Lack of commitment from publishers? Probably all of the above, but I admit to disappointment. I guess it’s a great sign that nearly all of DC’s female-led books (Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Supergirl, and Batgirl) are all still breathing a year and a half later, but considering that I should be an easy audience for all of them and that I'm reading only one of them, seems like a huge red flag. Voodoo was cancelled (and rightly so) and Sword Of Sorcery - a replacement series - has now been cancelled as well, but another female-led book has risen to take its place – Katana – and it’s a book about a woman of color – so that feels like a win. But it worries me that there’s so little consistent quality on these books. Many of them weren't for me from the beginning, it's upsetting to see that even those I did really like haven't been able to hold my interest (or not offend me) for more than a year.
It's also interesting to compare DC and Marvel from 2011 and now. In 2011 I had three DC titles on the list and only one Marvel. Now, there are FOUR Marvel titles on this list (and four more in the honorable mention type categories) while DC has nothing on the list and only two titles in the honorable mention type categories. More than just saying that one company is better than the other, I fear it points out that neither of them has figured out how to do this yet. The "New 52" has been a huge failure for me as a reader but I find myself quite excited about a lot of the "Marvel NOW!" books...but will it be a failure for me too in a year and a half? I certainly hope not.
Still, let's focus o the positive. Check these books out. If you like what you see, support them as best you can. Demand that they remain awesome. :)