Required Reading: Comics for 5/3/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 5/3/2017

The first week of May means two things to most comic nerds: May the 4th, a celebration of Star Wars (sound it out if you’re confused as to the date’s relevance) and Free Comic Book Day, the annual first-Saturday-in-May retailer event, during which comic shops order (at a small cost) sampler comics from dozens of publishers to attract new and younger customers. We’ll have a run-down of this year’s offerings later this week, but May’s first standard new comic book day has its own share of delights. Marvel trudges along with its highly contested Secret Empire event and launches the latest, movie-friendliest iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but solo titles for teen mutant Jean Grey and Inhuman king Black Bolt edge both of those titles off of our list. A noted erotica artist’s most heartfelt work reaches American shores for the first time. YA luminaries find a sequential-art home at First Second. And, in a mad swirl of ‘90s nostalgia, Bane’s creators reunite to break the Bat all over again, the Predator franchise gets a brutal new entry and a rebooted ‘90s Rob Liefeld title emerges as a promising superhero outing. Whether you’re celebrating May Day, cracking the same tired *NSYNC joke, biding your time for the nerdier events later this week or just lamenting the speedy, irreversible passage of time, May’s first slate of new comics has got your back.

Bane: Conquest #1

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Graham Nolan
Publisher: DC Comics

For years, one of Batman’s most (in)famous, powerful rogues took a backseat to more cerebral supervillains. Now, Bane is back in the main Batman title, with Gotham’s Caped Crusader recruiting a team of bad guys to steal from the man who once broke his spine. Capitalizing on the masked baddie’s higher profile, the character’s creators, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan, are revisiting the venom-fueled champion of Santa Prisca. Setting Bane opposite the Bat displays the tenacity and willpower that both men rely on, but Bane on his own is a fresh, interesting prospect. Without a singular goal to overcome, Bane is a force of nature descending on a world unequipped to deal with his domination. Dixon and Nolan can deliver an action-packed Bane bonanza, but a lot of writers have tackled the character in the year’s since his creation, making him both more sympathetic and more terrifying. Caitlin Rosberg

Black Bolt #1

Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Christian Ward
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Marvel’s recent prose transplants, like Mighty Captain Marvel’s Margaret Stohl, have shown shakiness in making the jump to comics, but novelist and Twitter personality Saladin Ahmed knows how to craft sweeping fantasy worldscapes. His debut novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, mined Muslim and Middle Eastern mythology for a fresh new take on the often Euro-centric fantasy epic—experience that should translate well to the high king of Attilan’s court, Black Bolt. For readers unfamiliar with Ahmed’s fantasy background, the draw here is ODY-C artist Christian Ward’s psychedelic, cosmic artwork, from the stunning cover of Black Bolt’s very first solo series through each and every interstellar page. This debut issue sees the often-silent king of the Inhumans imprisoned in an alien jail, and serves as both a cosmic epic and a jailbreak caper. For readers seeking less lofty—but no less gorgeous—outer-space adventures, Gerry Dugan and Aaron Kunder launch the most film-compatible take on the Guardians of the Galaxy yet, just in time for the blockbuster sequel to hit theaters. Steve Foxe

The Damned #1

damned cover.jpg
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Brian Hurtt
Publisher: Oni Press

Demons and organized crime go hand in hand across all sorts of media, especially when there’s liquor involved. Artist Brian Hurtt and writer Cullen Bunn are teaming up again to revisit characters from their 2006 project The Damned: Three Days Dead and the 2008’s The Damned: Prodigal Sons. Eddie, the protagonist from the previous books, returns with his own demon-free bar, trying to carve out a space for himself and contending both with prohibition-era restrictions and the peril of a world controlled by the forces of evil. Bunn and Hurtt have worked together on several titles, including multiple runs on The Sixth Gun, and have a smooth collaborative style. It doesn’t hurt that The Damned has a fully-realized world, and Eddie is an established character with heft and depth. If this arc is like the others, it will be short and self-contained—an asset to new readers. Bunn sometimes starts strong and derails after five or six issues, so working with a strong, established art team and sticking to a short run plays to his strengths. Caitlin Rosberg

Jean Grey #1

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Victor Ibáñez
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The outgoing X-Men era was marked by more Inhuman lows than mutant highs, but a few post-Secret Wars, pre-IvX successes floated to the top: Dennis Hopeless’ knack for balancing humor, heart and action in All-New X-Men; Victor Ibáñez’ appealing, well-acted linework; and teen Jean Grey’s dynamic among the larger X-cast. This solo “ResurrXion” launch combines these three components as Jean Grey—who, notably, was not part of Hopeless and Mark Bagley’s All-New cast—seeks to understand her relationship with the world-destroying Phoenix Force following a premonition that the big flamin’ bird has her in its fiery sights. One of the few criticisms lobbied at Ibáñez’ was his occasional over-sexualization of female characters like Storm, but Jean’s new, Jamie McKelvie-designed outfit seems more fitting for a teen character. Hopeless just gets teens faced with overwhelming odds—his Avengers Arena remains an overlooked gem of the recent Marvel back-catalogue—so despite Jean’s doomsaying prophecies, the future looks bright for this teen psychic. Steve Foxe

My Brother’s Husband

Writer/Artist: Gengoroh Tagame
Translator: Anne Ishii
Publisher: Pantheon

Though there is the potential for significant audience crossover, manga outside of the shonen action genre has never broken as far into the American comic market as it could, which leaves readers uninterested in 60-page fight sequences missing out on some real gems. My Brother’s Husband is the story of a suburban stay-at-home dad who is surprised by the arrival of his estranged—and deceased—brother’s Canadian husband. Like most manga, the book is the brainchild of a single creator, spread out over several volumes, and this is the first time that it’s being made available fully translated in English. My Brother’s Husband isn’t the first manga to tackle issues of sexuality and family, but it offers a particular insight into the cultural differences between Japan and North America and the way people talk about love. The book sits sweetly in the middle of a Venn diagram between LGBTQ-friendly manga and emotional memoir graphic novels; part Princess Jellyfish and part Fun Home. Tagame is a gay man writing about the gay experience, as opposed to the many women who contribute to the male/male manga field, and his background in bara artwork is felt in the wider range of male bodies on display. Hopefully western comic readers will use it as a launching pad into the ever-expanding world of manga, too. Caitlin Rosberg

Predator: Hunters #1

Writer: Chris Warner
Artist: Francisco Ruiz Velasco
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse is having a banner year with the Alien franchise, from James Stokoe’s masterful Dead Orbit mini-series to the Brian Wood-scripted Defiance ongoing and the just-concluded Life and Death series-of-mini-series, but it’s been a while since the publisher’s other monster-mouthed extraterrestrials have gotten their own outing. Predator: Hunters unites long-time Predator editor (say that five times fast) Chris Warner with artist Francisco Ruiz Velasco for a reunion of sorts between the survivors of previous Predator comic series (no Arnold or Danny Glover, sorry). The Hunters of the title refers not to the legendary alien trophy collectors, but to humans who have become aware of the Predators’ occasional Earth excursions and plot to isolate and exterminate any mandible’d visitors. Warner draws on years of experience with the franchise, and Velasco nails the lush jungle setting and harsh violence most associated with the dangerous, trophy-obsessed beings. Predator’s 30th anniversary may take backseat to the imminent release of Alien: Covenant, but DH is doing right by both of its beloved outer-space killers. Steve Foxe

Purgatory: (“A Rejects Story”)

Writer/Artist: Casanova Nobody Frankenstein
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Casanova Nobody Frankenstein, born Albert Melvin Frank III, did not have an ideal childhood. Yowei Shaw profiled the veteran indie cartoonist last year for a wonderful NPR feature, revealing a teenager who coped with bullying through a pair of magenta-tinted sunglasses. Those shades would remain a permanent fixture for the artist in the following decades, shielding his eyes and ego well into his 50s. This fact makes the cover of his latest project all the more intriguing; “Cass” renders himself without his uniform eyeware— alien, anxious and vulnerable. A crowd of sneering peers circle around him; lips engorged, noses elongated to mime a wake of vultures. On that image alone, it’s safe to say this book will address just how universally adolescence sucks. But under Frankenstein’s versatile pen, expect a careening, cool and inimitable dissection of the years that shape and torture us all. This isn’t the first time the cartoonist has addressed this pivotal phase—check out The Adventures of Tad Martin: Average American Teenager—but Frankenstein hasn’t run out of new, searing observations that will make us dread varsity jackets again. Sean Edgar

Real Friends

Writer: Shannon Hale
Artist: LeUyen Pham
Publisher: First Second

The sales narrative surrounding comics tends to focus on superheroes and nostalgic dudes in their 40s, but anyone who paid attention to the (unfortunately) disbanded New York Times graphic novel bestseller list would know that adolescent girls are keeping sequential art in business. Raina Telgemeier (Drama), Victoria Jamieson (Roller Girl), Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Lumberjanes) and many more have proven themselves as ambassadors to new generations of comicphiles. Real Friends will likely be an endearing addition to that legacy. Shannon Hale has written a bustling library of YA prose fantasy and comics (check out Ever After High) and artist LeUyen Pham similarly hosts a body of lush, captivating work. Real Friends lives up to its title, tackling the everyday tensions that pop up between best buds in grade school, but also peppers its narrative with flights of fancy including bears and Medieval daydream. We’d be surprised if this wasn’t the next middle-grade hit to storm bookshelves. Sean Edgar

Spill Zone

Writer: Scott Westerfeld
Artist: Alex Puvilland
Publisher: First Second

Scott Westerfeld, the YA fiction stalwart who helmed the Leviathan and Midnighters book series, creates a new batch of teens struggling through catastrophe in Spill Zone, illustrated with stylized verve by French-born cartoonist and Dreamworks animator Alex Puvilland. A print collection of the online comic, the story follows two sisters who survive the fallout of a mysterious, wet disaster that eradicates an upstate New York town. Publisher First Second has cultivated a stable of high-genre fiction designed for teen and middle-grade readers. Fortunately, characterization has constantly taken the fore in previous gems from Gene Luen Yang and Faith Erin Hicks. Westerfeld treads into the post-apocalyptic sandbox that’s served as the stage for many, many female-fronted YA narratives, but his world-building unfurls organically and doesn’t lack for cool twists. Puvilland casts his linework in evocative mood coloring, submersing the abandoned horizon in blues and greens invaded by artificial, psychedelic pinks and yellows. The approach nails the atmosphere of the natural world falling prey to the bizarre and chemical, rendered with style and intrigue. Sean Edgar

Youngblood #1

Writer: Chad Bowers
Artist: Jim Towe
Publisher: Image Comics

If the Brandon Graham-led Prophet series never existed, there’d be an open season on mocking a new Youngblood series in 2017, but we know better now than to underestimate a book just because it started as a ‘90s Rob Liefeld project. Whatever you may think of the man’s artwork or outsized personality, Liefeld has made excellent decisions about letting other creators run wild with his work, and this Chad Bowers/Jim Towe joint looks capable of channeling ‘90s superhero action for a modern audience. Bowers worked similar alchemy with co-writer Chris Sims on the X-Men ‘92 series for Marvel, folding decidedly contemporary elements like Cassandra Nova into the ‘90s hit animated universe. Towe seems to have, in part, gotten this gig by tweeting at Liefeld, but his incredibly tight linework and eye for slick design proves that 140 characters is all some artists need to make the right connection. This iteration of the volatile young super-group is all-new and seems self-aware of the infamous nature of the Youngblood name, so fear not: no ‘90s Liefeld comics need be read to enjoy it. Steve Foxe

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