5. Southern Bastards (Image)
Southern Bastards #7-8
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
From masterminds Jason Aaron and Jason Latour comes Southern Bastards, a tale about a man, living with regret, battling the demons from his past, and facing them in his hometown. The writing is so good that Bastards has the feel of a great novel that’s rooted deep in American soil – in a place where the hero’s morality, regardless of the laws of country and state, is the last hope for a positive change. Set in the fictional Craw County, Alabama, the first story arc features a man on a mission to clean up his town with nothing but a stick locking horns with a crime boss who happens to be the local high-school football coach. The second story arc shifts perspectives and shows how the worst football player rose to power, and the sacrifices he made along the way. The bleak, nihilistic ending of the series’s first arc left you gasping for breath. The cold lawless ending of the second arc leaves you wanting more. Here is a book by a creative team operating on a higher level than the norm. It’s a perfectly realized combination of narrative and art, and a series that raises the bar with each issue. With such an impressive resume, it goes a long way to say that Southern Bastards is Aaron and Latour’s best work yet. We can’t recommend it enough.
– Ricky D
Bitch Planet #2-4
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro (2,4), Robert Wilson IV (3)
Colors by Cris Peter
As comic book readership becomes ever more aware of problems within popular media, it’s been harder and harder to find a book that isn’t problematic. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ongoing independent book,Bitch Planet, is a gem in the slowly improving realm of comic books and geek culture.
Taking place in the undetermined future, Bitch Planet presents a dystopia that isn’t as dystopian as it first seems. In this futuristic world, women considered “non-compliant” are banished to an off-planet prison where they are subject to the cruel whims of the guards, and, of course,the suited men who control the guards. DeConnick’s intriguing hero, Kamau Kogo, finds herself falsely accused of murder, and readers are introduced to women with a variety of shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, who must work together to succeed at the violent sport of Megaton and possibly win their freedom.
It is impossible to talk about Bitch Planet without mentioning the stupendous art of Valentine De Landro. His cover wastes no time in setting the tone of the book by setting itself up as a sort of advertisement, like an old exploitation movie posters playing into the world of the comic. The art within the panels themselves is similar using both an older, Bronze Age look as well as new styles. Expert shadowing, along with contrasts between the prison and earthbound settings play right along with the script, and help the reader to situate themselves into each scene. Cris Peter’s colors also show these contrasts, and establish the futuristic world of Bitch Planet.
Both the artistic and writing aspects of Bitch Planet are bold and fit well with the equally bold characters within the story. This creates a very rare comic book that is not afraid to make the necessary commentary without holding back.
The Fade Out #4-6
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser
DEATH STRIKES HOLLYWOOD!
While working on a noir picture, a young Hollywood writer is caught up in the depths of intrigue surrounding the suspicious death of a young starlet. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips team up in The Fade Out to bring an incredible tale of Golden Age Hollywood mystery. More impressive than the mystery, or the real life stars that occasionally pop up in-panel, is the incredible depth that each character seems to have. From Brubaker’s leading man, Charlie Parish, to the most seemingly innocent, everyone seems to be living a double life. Some are hiding from the House Un-American Activities Committee, but others may be hiding a murder.
Brubaker and Phillips pile graft on top of conspiracy making the tension almost palpable to the reader. The whole story feels like something penned by Dashiell Hammett. (If you don’t know who that is, you’re missing out.) The keen reader can pick out the allusions to celebrities of the 40’s and 50’s (making them feel superior to their less keen friends, and isn’t that what we all really want?). Each issue also comes complete with its own true tale of Golden Age cinema, packed with interesting facts. If you’re a noir fan at all, The Fade Out is the comic you should be reading.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1-5
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson (1-5), Maris Wicks (1), Kyle Starks (3), Chris Giarusso (4)
Colors by Rico Renzi
In a word, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is adorable. It is also well as wacky, clever, simultaneously surreal and relatable, and filled to the brim with verbal and visual jokes from writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson. The comics follows the misadventures of Doreen Green aka Squirrel Girl as she starts college while fighting A (Galactus!) and B (Whiplash. Remember him from Iron Man 2) level villains. Artist Erica Henderson brings a Saturday morning cartoon sensibility to the comic while giving Doreen, her friends, and random people she runs into regular human proportions.
The most recent issue, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #5, is the comic at its finest as Henderson parodies several eras of Spider-Man comics (including the unforgettable “Clone Saga”) through her art. North crafts laugh out loud hilarious vignettes as hostages at the bank in Doreen’s town keeping getting her mixed up with Spider-Man. (Speaking of Spider-Man, North really got the ball rolling in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 by giving Squirrel Girl her own 60s Spider-Man inspired theme song.) This stand-alone issue has all of the series’ strengths, including its offbeat humor, digs at Marvel continuity, and a hero who saves the day in the weirdest day possible because she cares about the people around her.
Doreen’s friendship with her roommate Nancy (who finds out her not so secret identity) makes the series relatable because they are both new to the world of college and adult life. Squirrel Girl might defeat major supervillains with the help of her legions of squirrels and some Deadpool trading cards, but she is also a down to Earth hero, who appeals to all ages and readers from new Marvel fans to those who can navigate the nuances of Great Lakes Avengers continuity. Above all, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a shining example of superhero comedy at its quirkiest and most energetic.
The Wicked + the Divine #7-10
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie
Colors by Matthew Wilson
WicDiv continues its run as the best comic into 2015 with a deeper look into the dark side of celebrity and fandom as writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie flesh out returning members of the Pantheon (especially Ananke, Inanna, Baphomet), introduce two new ones, and even throw in a few plot twists. Matthew Wilson does the colorists’ equivalent of a mic drop in WicDiv #8 when he utilizes the entire electromagnetic spectrum to bring a rave to life on the comics page. This issue is turning point for Laura, the protagonist who is struggling with her new power and relationship to the Pantheon and its fandom. It also includes excellent panel rhythm from McKelvie and some insights into why the people having the most fun might be the saddest people. (Also, Woden is a total creep and not really like Daft Punk despite the design similarity.)
Kieron Gillen does a fair bit of worldbuilding in WicDiv #9, involving the Pantheon’s background and fans, but it serves the story and characters first. He uses the devices of world mythology and contemporary music festivals and comics conventions to further his and Jamie McKelvie’s story of power, death, and obsession. McKelvie’s design sense has never been sharper in this year’s issues of WicDiv from the look and clothes of final Pantheon member Urdr to Baal’s smoking hot sports car. He also continues his use of close-ups for the more emotionally charged moments with details, like Dionysus’ bloodshot eyes and Laura’s tears.
The Wicked + the Divine is pop star infused mythology that explores the fan/critic/creator relationship through larger than life, yet incredibly human characters in a way unique to the comic book medium.