Required Reading: Comics for 12/28/2016

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Required Reading: Comics for 12/28/2016

The holidays are (mostly) over and the end of 2016 looms near, with one final New Comic Book Day standing between us and 2017. Since years are an arbitrary marker of time, it’s worth remembering that 2017 might be just as awful as 2016—if not worse! But that shouldn’t distract from the sequential offerings closing out the year. IDW Publishing and DC Comics team up to publish Love is Love, an anthology benefiting victims and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, while Marvel wraps up the mostly maligned Civil War II crossover and kicks off the promising new Rocket Raccoon and (She-)Hulk series. Elsewhere, Dark Horse builds on Alien: Covenant hype, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s oversized A.D.: After Death reaches the 66.666% mark, Seven to Eternity wraps its impressive first arc and Valiant continues its Soviet makeover. Gather up your holiday cash and head to the comic store one last time in 2016 to check out all this and the rest of this Wednesday’s Required Reading.

A.D. After Death #2

Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Image Comics

The second iteration of Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire's melancholic comic/prose hybrid releases this week, peeling back more layers of one man's search for identity in a reality where aging has been genetically eliminated. The first chapter hit the sublime intersection of character, concept and topicality that defines the best output of sci-fi luminaries William Gibson and Ray Bradbury. Immortal protagonist Jonah Cooke steals heirlooms—including self-destructive cows—to construct a bread-crumb trail of both his past and, potentially, the history of humanity that tends to dissipate as the centuries speed by. He also monitors a vast, uninhabitable wasteland, waiting for a sound to punctuate the toxic, lightning-laced ruins articulated through Lemire's emotive watercolors. Snyder's prose offers a parade of anecdotes and analogies stacked with deep metaphors, yet told directly. The larger commentary and twists loom in the final two chapters, but as is, A.D. has proven to be one of the most memorable, meditative projects from two voices who have continually added literary depth to genre comics. Sean Edgar

Aliens vs. Predator: Life and Death #1

Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Brian Thies
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Director Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox gave the world a bloody Christmas surprise by dropping the Alien: Covenant trailer just as Santa slid down chimneys the world over. For Xenomorph fans counting down the days until the next chestburster hatches, Dark Horse's ongoing franchise saga continues this week with the release of Aliens vs. Predator: Life or Death #1 from sci-fi stalwarts Dan Abnett and Brian Thies. This latest Life and Death entry mashes together the two iconic alien hunters in another brawl with humans stuck in the middle. For longtime readers, Ahab the Predator from the 2014 Fire and Stone crossover makes a bloody reappearance here—but on whose side? Steve Foxe

Civil War II #8

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, David Marquez, Esad Ribic, Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The long-overdue conclusion to Marvel's summer event has finally arrived, just under the 2016 wire. Civil War II wasn't the critical success or fan-favorite that writer Brian Michael Bendis probably wanted it to be, and after adding additional issues and delays, most of the major reveals for the core story have already been covered in tie-in issues on other titles. From a fan standpoint, the whole event has proven devastating in terms of character reputation, alliances shattered and fictional lives ruined in the out-of-character battles between Tony Stark and an almost unrecognizable Carol Danvers, leading a group of heroes who wish to arrest and persecute people for thought crimes in an unsettling echo of George Orwell's 1984. What's left of Carol's main squad, The Ultimates, has already moved on, and Civil War II #8 will allow readers to close this particular chapter, too. Regardless of individual opinions on CWII, the event has had a major impact on the Marvel landscape. What remains to be seen is if things will return to something approaching normal, with many of the most recognizable names in the Marvel U now dead or completely divorced from their previous selves. Caitlin Rosberg

Detective Comics #947

Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Alvaro Martinez
Publisher: DC Comics

Since taking over Detective Comics with issue #934, writer James Tynion IV has gradually resurrected a storytelling approach less prominent in today's comic climate. Like Chris Claremont and Chuck Dixon, Tynion isn't afraid to dive deep into the hydrothermal vents of his icons' winding history, fusing together characters and storylines from various eras. The run feels very '90s without the meandering soap operatics or esoterica that could prove isolating in decades past. Batman's core team of Clayface (!), Batwoman, Cassandra Cain (!!) and Nightwing also illuminates a communal optimism that can be overshadowed by the Dark Knight's grimdark legacy. This issue shows the climax of an arc that saw a footnote character come to the fore with aplomb and purpose, and while we won't spoil any specifics, Tynion's unabashed love for continuity and artist Alvaro Martinez' clear art have injected new intrigue into this Bat family reunion. Sean Edgar

G.I. Joe #1

Writer: Aubrey Sitterson
Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Aubrey Sitterson and Giannis Milonogiannis' Revolution one-shot announced a new approach to the G.I. Joe franchise the melds the fun goofiness of the Hasbro shared-universe concept with enough seriousness to offer suitable stakes. Now the duo kicks off their proper series run with another issue #1 that builds off the alien-and-robot-filled Hasbro crossover by introducing an honest-to-Cybertron Transformer to the core G.I. Joe squad. Even if you're lukewarm on the action-figure franchises that make up IDW's new publishing line, Prophet artist Milonogiannis' unmistakable '80s-anime-inspired redesigns and action sequences are more than worth the price of admission. Steve Foxe

Harley's Black Book #5

Writers: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Neal Adams
Publisher: DC Comics

In 1978, Dennis O'Neal and Neal Adams authored a glorious showdown between Muhammad Ali and Superman, presented on an oversized 10 by 13 1/2-inch comic canvas. Nearly 40 years later, Adams returns to the ring, this time substituting The Greatest with The Clown Princess of Crime. This issue offers Adams' second take on Harley Quinn after joining character creator Paul Dini for a yuletide yarn on Batman Annual #1 a few weeks ago. Adams' take is expressive, svelte and storied, a rare take on a modern character through the lens of a Silver Age icon. This issue pits Quinn against Krypton's last son in an intergalactic arena for a new take on sequential-art rope-a-dope in a fun, referential callback to one DC's coolest moments, enlivened by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's kinetic characterization. Bonus: Batman joins the first couple as spectators on the cover. Sean Edgar

Hulk #1

Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Nico Leon
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It's been a year of major upset in the world of Hulks. Bruce Banner lost his great green alter-ego, only to be killed in what was just one of several confusing deaths in this year's major summer event from Marvel. Boy genius Amadeus Cho gained similar powers as Banner's, but without the loss of mental precision—his mistakes are all born of hubris rather than blinding anger. Jen Walters, long the most competent and capable member of the Hulk family, was sidelined, isolated to other characters' titles and team books during a long period warming the bench after her fan-favorite solo run from Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ron Wimberly. Now, she's back and with an all-new title: Hulk. Without the "She" part of her former moniker, some people might be confused, but This One Summer writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Nico Leon are a near-perfect team to show that Jen deserves the attention her famous cousin has long enjoyed. Hopefully this new Hulk will go the direction of A-Force and Patsy Walker, giving Jen friends and foibles to prove her smarts and her tenacity. Caitlin Rosberg

Komandar Bloodshot #1

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Clayton Crain
Publisher: Valiant

Last week brought Divinity III: Stalinverse, the introduction to an alt-timeline in the Valiant universe where cosmonauts go all Fantastic Four with cosmic abilities and help the USSR seize control of the world. Now comes Komandar Bloodshot, the Stalinverse take on one of Valiant's most recognizable characters. Writer Jeff Lemire excels at this kind of story: raw male antihero bathed in violence and baptized in anger, with just enough ethical exploration to be interesting. Lemire already has a trail of Bloodshot Reborn issues behind him, so he's already firmly inside the head of the sort-of-Midnighter/not-quite-Jason Bourne character, and artist Clayton Crain has ample experience handling morally ambiguous pale people in dystopian futures thanks to his art on Rai. This is just the first part of a four-issue arc that traces the rise of the Stalinverse version of Valiant's superheroes. The entire event has gotten off to a great start, and it's still early enough to jump on as it continues to pick up steam. Caitlin Rosberg

Love Is Love

Writers: Mark Andreyko, Steve Orlando, Brian Michael Bendis, Kieron Gillen, Steve Foxe, Others
Artists: Jim Lee, Phil Jimenez, Cat Staggs, Ed Luce, Others
Publishers: DC Comics & IDW Publishing

In the face of violence and strife, art can feel like a final refuge. Even better, art plays an integral role in healing and pushing us to improve. After the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando earlier this year, writer Marc Andreyko organized more than 200 comics professionals (including Paste's own Steve Foxe) to donate their time and effort in creating over 100 short comics. Collected and published in a partnership between IDW Publishing and DC Comics, all of the proceeds from Love is Love will be donated to Equality Florida, a nonprofit organization that benefits LGBTQ+ people. Many of the creators involved in Love is Love identify as LGBTQ+ themselves, but regardless of their personal identity, it's a moving testament to just how much the industry has changed that so many organized so quickly to create a book that declares unequivocally that comics belong to everyone. Love is Love is the largest "cause" anthology available, with others seeking participants and funding online to benefit Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, SPLC and more. This is political art used to its fullest and best extent. Caitlin Rosberg

Rocket Raccoon #1

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Jorge Coelho
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Previous Rocket Raccoon outings leaned into the humor aspect of a rowdy, trigger-happy raccoon who's best friends with a tree, enlisting cartoonists like Skottie Young to tell stories only tangentially related to Rocket's ongoing Guardians of the Galaxy commitment. This new solo series from rising-star writer Matthew Rosenberg (4 Kids Walk Into a Bank) and increasingly prolific artist Jorge Coelho fits more firmly in the Guardians' new "Grounded" status quo, in which the intergalactic band of misfits find themselves stranded on the backwater planet of Earth. Coelho's heavy, angular inks and Rosenberg's adaptable sense of humor should match the pissed-off Procyon well, and at the perfect time to capitalize off of the Guardians' upcoming second cinematic outing. Steve Foxe

Seven to Eternity #4

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Jerome Opena
Publisher: Image Comics

Rick Remender and Jerome Opena's high-fantasy epic Seven to Eternity wasted little time bringing its apparent "Big Bad" to the forefront of the cast dynamic, upending expectations that the series might tease out protagonist Adam's confrontation with the insidious Mud King. Instead, the former Uncanny X-Force collaborators have slammed Adam, the Mud King and a ragtag band of "Mozak" resistance fighters into a tense road-trip saga, with the reader along for every gorgeous minute of the ride. Remender's world-building has been fast and furious, but Opena, with colorist Matt Hollingsworth, is pouring abundant creativity in designing a world where magic reigns and science is unheard of. This fourth issue wraps up the initial outing before Remender and Opena take the now-standard Image break between arcs. Steve Foxe