Required Reading: Comics for 1/4/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 1/4/2017

It doesn’t really feel like 2016 is over, does it? Like a slasher-movie antagonist, there’s a foreboding sense that the specter of the departed year is just out of sight, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce one final time. Anyway, happy New Years! The holiday season typically offers a reduced comic haul, and the first Wednesday of the year is no exception, with a handful of debuts and some noteworthy trade collections rounding out the week. An all-new Wasp takes flight, two contenders for “Most Improved” among DC’s Rebirth lineup see their first collections hit stands (too late for holiday gifting but perfect for holiday gift cards), one of Marvel’s best recent titles gets the Artist’s Edition treatment, the Avengers double down on patriotism and favorites like WicDiv and Moon Knight return with new installments. So while we don’t encourage anyone to let their guard down just because it’s 2017, it’s probably safe to relax long enough to enjoy this week’s Required Reading.

Batman #14

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics

Tom King had a major 2016 with the conclusions of his cross-company thematic trilogy of The Vision, The Omega Men and The Sheriff of Babylon, which helped set expectations sky-high for his run on Batman following 51 straight issues of Scott Snyder scripts. Unsurprisingly given the elevated hopes, King's work on the Caped Crusader alongside artists Mikel Janin and David Finch has met with mixed responses, especially following the controversial "I Am Suicide" twist that revealed unexpected vulnerability in Bruce Wayne's past. This issue offers a breather after that heavy storyline, with guest artist Mitch Gerads—King's Sheriff collaborator—stepping in to offer his sequential talents as Batman decides "once and for all" (yikes) what to do with on-again/off-again moral conundrum Catwoman. King may still be finding his voice on the Dark Knight, but few things can help persuade on-the-fence readers to stick around like a Gerads team-up and a Selina Kyle guest spot—especially wrapped in that sensuous Stephanie Hans cover. Steve Foxe

Chris Samnee's Daredevil Artist's Edition

Artist: Chris Samnee
Writer: Mark Waid
Publisher: IDW Publishing/ Marvel Comics

Chris Samnee's stellar storytelling on Daredevil with Mark Waid helped propel him to the rank of modern master—and helped save Ol' Hornhead from publishing limbo following the lackluster preceding series. Now, thanks to Marvel's ongoing agreement with IDW Publishing, readers and art aficionados can appreciate Samnee's process in deep detail. This slipcased volume reprints Daredevil issues 23 through 27 as Samnee's original inks, without digital lettering, as well as his layouts and—in an Artist's Edition first—a second, softcover book containing Waid's scripts marked up with Samnee's thumbnail doodles in the margins. For process nuts and Samnee diehards, this deluxe hardcover is the perfect way to kick off 2017. Steve Foxe

Eden's Fall Vol. 1

Writers: Bryan Hill & Matt Hawkins
Artist: Atilio Rojo
Publisher: Top Cow/ Image Comics

Under the best circumstances, crossover events can inject life into the participating individual titles while creating something entirely new and exciting. Most comics fans can easily name events that didn't meet that bar, but Top Cow's recent Eden's Fall has two things going for it: excellent source material and the same writing team that created the individual series. Combining characters and plots from Postal, Think Tank and The Tithe and capably illustrated by Atilio Rojo, Eden's Fall is Twin Peaks meets Hannibal, with an FBI agent tracking an unrepentant super-genius-slash-villain to a town founded on crime. Writers Bryan Hill and Matt Hawkins have been working on the three founding titles long enough that the characters in Eden's Fall are fully formed, and this first trade is a great jumping on point not only for this crossover story, but also the three ongoing titles. Caitlin Rosberg

The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1

Writers: Cary Bates & Greg Weisman
Artist: Will Conrad
Publisher: DC Comics

Captain Atom's messianic New 52 series failed to return the longtime supporting character to leading-man status, so why not call up the writers who accomplished that feat across nearly 60 issues in the '80s? Writers Cary Bates and Greg Weisman guided Captain Atom's inaugural solo run, exploring myriad themes for the military hero before the poorly executed Armageddon 2001 crossover shelved him for a period. In this new mini-series, which seems to follow the niche audience-testing grounds of similar limited series like Death of Hawkman and Apollo & Midnighter, industry veteran Will Conrad joins Bates and Weisman to reveal what "really" happened to Captain Atom in the last few years. If nothing else, Fall and Rise will hopefully bump the silver-skinned Dr. Manhattan inspiration back into recurring guest star status just in time for Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis' new JLA series. Steve Foxe

The Flintstones #7

Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Rick Leonardi
Publisher: DC Comics

Paste is still mourning the loss of Mark Russell and artist Ben Caldwell's Prez—could there be a better time for a spunky political palate cleanser?—but at least Russell still has The Flintstones to broadcast his subversive, socially skewed wit. Alongside artist Steve Pugh, Russell has tackled commercialism, monogamy and race in this comic continuation of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon. In its seventh issue, Russell returns to another favorite controversy: religion. The comic introduces goofy green alien The Great Gazoo as he grades humanity an "F" while the town of Bedrock grapples with the local church's use of indulgences. Russell addressed similar territory in his hilarious prose Bible remix, God Is Disappointed in You, so expect plenty of scholar-grade vitriol. All of this stone age heresy also benefits from the guest pencils of classic artist Rick Leonardi. Sean Edgar

Green Arrow Vol. 1: The Death & Life of Oliver Queen

Writer: Ben Percy
Artists: Otto Schmidt & Juan Ferreyra
Publisher: DC Comics

Green Arrow may not have been the DC hero who benefited most from Rebirth (more on that a few slides over), but the initiative helped course-correct Ollie Queen's inconsistent last few years. Writer Benjamin Percy, who also scripted the book at the end of the New 52, is clearly at home with a more classic Green Arrow, one who rocks a goatee and a strong—if occasionally flawed—sense of social justice, and isn't hobbled by a mandate to match the television show. Artists Otto Schmidt and Juan Ferreyra are both revelations working with more traditional superhero action; while Ferreyra has been chilling readers on books like Colder and Gotham by Midnight for a few years, Schmidt is a newer name, and his sharp cartooning and sense of color recalls Fiona Staples and Annie Wu to impressive effect. New readers should find few hurdles to Ollie's Rebirth, and longtime GA fans will be thrilled to have a recognizable archer behind the bow once more. Steve Foxe

Justice League of America: The Atom Rebirth #1

Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Publisher: DC Comics

Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis' JLA looms tall among our most-anticipated series of 2017. More than almost any other writer working at DC today, Orlando clearly exudes affection for the publisher's pre-New 52 heyday and knows how to integrate characters and elements from that era into the current universe. The Atom, the first one-shot designed to lead into JLA's eclectic line-up, reintroduces readers to Ryan Choi, the Atom who took over from Ray Palmer following the events of 2005's Infinite Crisis. Before the New 52, Choi was a victim of the Silver Age nostalgia wave that downgraded or, in his case, assassinated, legacy heroes—often characters of color—in favor of older white dudes. Having Choi back in the red and blue for JLA sends a clear message that DC is attempting a better balance of old and new during Rebirth, with artist Andy MacDonald fitting the "new" label to a tee with his loose, vibrant art. Steve Foxe

Moon Knight #10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Greg Smallwood
Publisher: Marvel Comics

In ten issues, Jeff Lemire and a small army of artists have accomplished a feat of art as much as economy: they've condensed one of the most winding, amorphous superhero histories into a coherent treatise on mental health and fantasy. Since his creation in 1975, Marc Spector has continually posed the question of whether he was blessed with divine power or suffering from an array of mental health conditions. Without abandoning Moon Knight's mythological notes, writer Jeff Lemire has hewn closer to a psychiatric answer with the lunar vigilante directly addressing his "split" personalities in the previous arc. This new narrative invites Greg Smallwood's sand-swept art back as the vigilante further explores his personal history and confronts the Egyptian totems, whether they exist solely in his head or in grandiose space-time pyramids. Sean Edgar

Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman

Writers: Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Artists: Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez
Publisher: DC Comics

No character better captured the struggle of the New 52 era than Superman, DC's ostensible premiere hero. From day one, the New 52 Superman was both inconsistent and just plain off, with most writers opting to portray an inexperienced, cocksure interpretation of Kal even as his peers matured into capable heroes. The result was a bizarre downgrade for the Big Blue Boy Scout, locking Superman as an angsty, nigh-invulnerable young adult among more even-headed elders. By the time DC had an escape hatch in sight, multiversal shenanigans had brought the "real" Superman back into play, along with his wife, Lois Lane, and the Kryptonian child they adopted not long before Flashpoint hit the reset button on the DCU. Now it's this much more mature—and heroic—Superman who leads Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason's flagship solo title. It wasn't long ago that DC editorial infamously forbid all marriages, but Superman could just as easily be called Superdad these days, with the creative team tapping into a strong familial storyline not unlike what Tomasi and Gleason mined in Batman & Robin. Both Gleason and Mahnke bring a sense of weight to the most powerful hero in the DCU, making Superman a must-read title for the first time in much, much too long. Steve Foxe

The Unstoppable Wasp #1

Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Publisher: Marvel Comics

For being one of the founding Avengers, Wasp tends to slip out of Marvel's canon on a frequent basis. While this new iteration isn't the original, Janet Van Dyne, it's great to see the mantle passed on and earning some much-needed attention. The challenge for creators Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier is that The Unstoppable Wasp overlaps with so many other Marvel titles that it'll be hard to break away from the pack. Not only is Nadia Pym a girl genius like Lunella (Moon Girl) and Riri (Ironheart), she was trapped in the Red Room for years, like Natasha (Black Widow) and is trying to find her place in the world as a superhero and a young woman, like Cindy (Silk). Even being the daughter of Ant-Man puts her in good company with Cassie (Stature). Artist Charretier exudes a bright, fun style that suits this kind of story very well, with shades of Darwyn Cooke and a great handle on action. Whitley's a great talent too, and his series Princeless proves he knows how to write young women, even if he's part of a frustrating trend at Marvel to hire men to launch books about girl heroes. Caitlin Rosberg