Required Reading: Comics for 1/18/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 1/18/2017

As American readers know all too well, this Wednesday marks the final new comic book day under noted Spider-Man ally President Barack Obama. Over the previous year, comics gave us a peak at what could have been and what’s going to be, and let’s just say most of us will welcome a weekly dose of escapism more and more as the next few years roll on. Political forecasting aside, it’s a busy Wednesday for new comics, with the high-profile Image debut of Charles Soule and Ryan Browne’s Curse Words, as well as potential sleeper hit The Few from the writer of last year’s Saints. Marvel stomps on shelves with the kickoff of Monsters Unleashed, their palate-cleansing crossover that steer clear of the exhausting gravitas of books like Civil War II. Dark Horse returns to Gail Simone and J. Calafiore’s Megalopolis, Paste favorites Black Hammer and Dept. H debut, respectively, an annual and a trade paperback and 2016 gems like Snowblind and Horizon get collected. Enjoy what you can before Inauguration Day descends like a ghoul in the night.

Angel Season 11 #1

Writer: Corinna Bechko
Artist: Geraldo Borges
Publisher: Dark Horse

Buffy Season 11 got off to a rollicking start last fall as the Slayer faced off against threats both draconian and political, and now the Whedonverse's other flagship title arrives to take a look back at Angel's demonic history. The new creative team of Corinna Bechko and Geraldo Borges has ample experience with both horror and period pieces, and tossing Buffy's first boo into time-travel shenanigans is an interesting way to differentiate the two ongoing titles. At this point, the Buffy and Angel books aren't for the uninitiated, but thankfully for Dark Horse, Joss Whedon's world of vampires and ass-kicking has no shortage of dedicated fans eager for more. Steve Foxe

Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Dustin Nguyen, Emi Lenox, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Ray Fawkes, Mike Allred, Dave Stewart, Sharlene Kindt
Publisher: Dark Horse

Jeff Lemire opens up the stables of his melancholic superhero homage this week with the Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual. This 44-page slab of sequential art rotates through vignettes illustrated by past and present Lemire collaborators including Dustin Nguyen (Descender), Emi Lenox (Plutona), Matt Kindt and Nate Powell (both on Sweet Tooth). The resulting art jam offers a one-stop deluge of auteurs devoted to moving the comics medium forward, even when playing in the Silver Age confines of capes and cowls. The overarching tale dissects a family of powered crimefighters inexplicably trapped in a rural town, affording Lemire the opportunity to show how fictional interpretations of American optimism and morality have evolved over the decades. The prolific creator has also hinted that this book is the first step in a potential line of comics based on the property. In other words, prepare yourselves for the Lemireverse. Sean Edgar

Curse Words #1

Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Ryan Browne
Publisher: Image Comics

If anything, Charles Soule is known for maintaining a high level of consistency across a wide slate of titles, and making books like Death of Wolverine and Uncanny Inhumans work much better than they should. But he's not the first name that comes to mind when compiling a list of gonzo humorists. Ryan Browne, on the other hand, clearly has a mind that perceives life on a different wavelength, as evidenced by his batshit-insane God Hates Astronauts. Combine the two and you get Curse Words, this week's high-profile Image debut about a (secretly evil) wizard running amok in New York City. It's too soon to tell if the new series will reveal unknown narrative complexity or be a monthly dose of madness, but either outcome is welcome when dealing with talents like Soule and Browne. Steve Foxe

Dept. H Vol. 1: Pressure

Writer: Matt Kindt
Artists: Matt Kindt, Sharlene Kindt
Publisher: Dark Horse

Matt Kindt's spiritual successor to Mind MGMT cultivates just as much intrigue, characterization and impact as its predecessor in this white-knuckle oceanic epic. Submerged in Sharlene Kindt's ethereal watercolors, the comic is a 7 x 10.5-inch porthole to wonder—the Kindts are just as devoted to exploring the alien vistas of the sea as to the drama disrupting it. And what drama it is. The concussive pressure of one woman searching for her father's murderer in a sabotaged research center keeps the pages flipping at a heart-attack pace. We'd recommend any single issue of Dept. H, but Kindt is a long-form master, and these handsome hardback collections are the perfect format to watch him and Sharlene meticulously erect a host of domino pieces only to watch them fall in spectacular patterns. Sean Edgar

Divinity III: Aric #1

Writer: Joe Harris
Artist: CAFU
Publisher: Valiant

Hot on the heels of announcing incoming writer Matt Kindt's long-range plans for the looming X-O Manowar relaunch, Valiant delivers this Divinity III title highlighting Aric's role in the Soviet-themed alternate reality crossover. Not unlike perennial DC favorite Superman: Red Son, Aric casts Valiant's flagship hero as an '80s communist champion, serving as both a folk hero and an effective nuclear deterrent. Snowfall writer Joe Harris and Valiant regular CAFU predictably have a twist on the concept up their sleeves, though, and Aric should prove to be another compelling installment of Valiant's latest—and uncomfortably timely—event. Steve Foxe

The Few #1

Writer: Sean Lewis
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Publisher: Image Comics

One of the longest-running problems for comics has been the struggle to keep readers engaged through never-ending continuities and provide new audiences with reasonable places to jump into decades of narrative. More frequently, creative teams and publishers are turning to intentionally limited stories with concrete endings. Saints writer Sean Lewis and artist Hayden Sherman are taking the latter approach with The Few, billed as a "maxi-series" with the first issue serving 56 robust pages. The premise centers around a pair of brothers who encounter a woman and infant in need of help in an American dystopian wasteland. The description holds hints of DMZ and Y the Last Man, and maybe even a serious take onTank Girl, but also addresses the Navajo creation myth of the Monster Slayer Twins. Sherman's art is intentionally, thoughtfully sketchy, with sharp angles and an interesting use of lines. Caitlin Rosberg

The Flash Rebirth Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artists: Carmine Di Giandomenico, Neil Googe
Publisher: DC Comics

Barry Allen played a key role in the rise and fall of the New 52, so it should come as no surprise that DC wanted the Flash Rebirth series to be a big deal. Luckily, writer Joshua Williamson and artists Carmine Di Giandomenico and Neil Googe were up to the task of capturing the kinetic scientist's appeal. Rather than attempt to ape the Grant Gustin television interpretation, Williamson leans immediately into the unlimited budget of his artists' imaginations to introduce a whole host of new speedsters, including the malicious Godspeed. DC recently announced "The Button," a crossover between The Flash and Batman that sees the two heroes investigating the Watchmen-related clue discovered in the Rebirth special. If you had any doubt that Flash would remain a central part of DC's plan, that should put the matter to rest—and if you haven't been keeping pace with the series, this trade is your best bet to catch up before things take off. Steve Foxe

Horizon Vol. 1

Writer: Brandon Thomas
Artist: Juan Gedeon
Publisher: Skybound/ Image Comics

Brandon Thomas and Juan Gedeon's Skybound sci-fi series may not burn up the charts like the imprint's other high-profile, high-concept outings, but the series is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing genre offerings on the shelves. In Horizon, humans are the bad guys (which isn't much of a stretch, these days) in the eyes of a small band of aliens seeking revenge on humanity for our colonization of their homeworld. Thomas' twisting plot benefits from binge-reading, but Gedeon's shadowy work is a visual delight each and every installment, especially with Frank Martin's otherworldly color choices. Without drawing too direct of a metaphor to our tumultuous times, Horizon is shaping up to be a standout sci-fi exploration of the line between terrorist and hero. Steve Foxe

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1

Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Stephen Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics

The latest JLA Rebirth one-shot marks one of the (depressingly) few times a queer-identified creative team has tackled a queer character at the Big Two of Marvel and DC, which is a promising start to the Ray's return to DCU prominence. Ray Terrill has been a longstanding C-list favorite, but his revamp as an openly gay man in the expanded CW-verse places new importance on the character's profile at a time when calls for representation have finally hit publishers' ears. Orlando is experienced at portraying complex queer characters thanks to books like Virgil and Midnighter, and Byrne's bright cartooning is as at home here as it was in last week's Justice League/Power Rangers. These JLA one-shots have crammed a lot of story into their 20-page outings, but each has made a good case for why Orlando and Ivan Reis' JLA ongoing may well be the superhero series to beat in 2017. Steve Foxe

Leaving Megalopolis Vol 2: Surviving Megalopolis

Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: J. Calafiore
Publisher: Dark Horse

Five years ago, when Gail Simone and J. Calafiore launched a Kickstarter for Leaving Megalopolis Vol. 1 and absolutely blew their funding goal out of the water, they proved yet again that there's more than enough demand for creative teams offering new, innovative work. Simone has never been one to shy away from confrontational plots, and Leaving Megalopolis, much like her short-lived DC series The Movement, is the perfect example of that. Taking the very best parts of The Boys and the good intentions of Watchmen and rejecting the idea that cape and cowl comics can't be serious and political, Simone and Calafiore create a world where superheroes have become killing machines. Publisher Dark Horse stepped in to release this second volume, reuniting the creative team to craft a rescue mission that returns survivors to the heart of the city they left behind. Struggling with super-powerful, narcissistic, hyper-violent megalomaniacs is a particular skill of Simone's, and we could all do worse than to learn from her example. Caitlin Rosberg