Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, this week I read new comics by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman, and I added a new section at the bottom for books that are inexcusably late.

I SAY I read a new book by Neil Gaiman. I actually read a reprint of a Neil Gaiman issue of MIRACLEMAN that uses an old JG Ballard story as a template for a kind of lateral superhero story in a very effective way. Gaiman now has a style of his own but I like him a little better as a mimic, frankly. Bitter Grounds is basically a Gene Wolfe story, Stardust reads like a long-lost Diana Wynne Jones novel, and the ghost of RA Lafferty haunts The Sunbird, probably my favorite of his short fiction. (There’s a minor character, referred to but never seen, in the Miracleman story – “Spy Story” – named Ballard).

Mark Buckingham’s art is just stunningly beautiful as always (the Tim Bradstreet variant cover is quite nice, too). Visually speaking the whole first Buckingham arc is really off-kilter and experimental and collage-y; “Spy Story” looks like every panel was photocopied and photostatted at different sizes a different number of times and the smeary, uncertain quality of the art complements the Cold War-era paranoia of the writing just perfectly.


The Ellis is the final issue of his Project Superpowers miniseries, BLACKCROSS, which Dynamite is publishing. It’s pretty good; I have to say I am totally in love with this phase of Ellis’s career, which has gotten so totally off-the-charts weird I can’t understand how the books keep selling. Maybe I give people too little credit, but this and Supreme: Blue Rose and Karnak are so, so strange, which is one reason I like the much more conventional Ellis James Bond book less the more I think about it.

Colton Worley’s art is solid; I suspect him of being very young but his style is developing nicely and he took a little extra time with this last issue, which paid off. The Project Superpowers world is unique among comics publishers: a few midcentury superhero publishers that couldn’t compete with DC/Fawcett/Timely (later Marvel) and so on and went out of business without selling off their IP assets because for some reason they didn’t foresee the billion-dollar boom in superhero movies, so their characters have been determined to be in public domain. Dynamite has picked them up — Standard/Nedor is a big treasure trove of abandoned intellectual property, as is Fox Comics — and started publishing them again, despite their having made a guest appearance in Tom Strong over at DC/Wildstorm a few years ago. They have the power to transcend corporate bookkeeping, which is perhaps the greatest superpower of them all.


Yes all right fine, I read DK III: THE MASTER RACE, about the plot of which God only knows. I have never found Brian Azzarello’s writing to be even remotely compelling and the notion that he was “helping” Miller on this book seemed really worrying. But I actually love Frank Miller. His Daredevil stuff is so raw and cool even now, thirtysomething years later, especially the big arcs — Born Again, Man Without Fear, Elektra, all the crazy-ass ninja stuff.

Which brings me to my next point: his execrable politics have caused many comics readers to underrate Miller as a writer, which is frankly their loss. With the exception of the main sequence Miller didn’t draw any of the Daredevil stuff he’s famous for and far more people read Elektra: Assassin and Born Again than leap in midstream to his journeyman stuff on the main title. Also Martha Washington Goes to War and Hard Boiled didn’t write themselves.

And of course as an artist he’s totally unparalleled and given how hinky his Batman writing has been in the last ten years or so I kind of didn’t want to pick it up until I heard there was a 16-page minicomic insert penciled by Miller himself and inked by his longtime partner Klaus Janson (who is good, but not as good as Miller himself, who wields inkwells like hand grenades and thickens his lines with a paint roller), so I figured I’d pick it up anyway.

It’s fine. It’s not Sin City. It treats Miller’s old Batman stuff, The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (or DK2 as the DC marketing men would have it), as worldbuilding, and if you couldn’t tell from the title, the latter is kind of a goof, so pretending it’s The Lord of the Rings is a little silly.

I’ve been shocked and horrified to find a soft spot for DK2 as I’ve gone back to it. Sure, it’s eye-rolling bullshit but given the state of DC’s superhero lineup, thank God for eye-rolling bullshit. Superheroes are kind of stupid, guys. They’re loads of fun and I have boxes of superhero comics all over my apartment to my saintly wife’s quiet chagrin but they do not make any sense at all, not even a little bit no they don’t no they don’t get a job, and pretending that the nonsense of the whole exercise isn’t part of the fun and proclaiming that everyone should be extra serious about people in bat costumes after the age of about 9 stops being cute and becomes worrying.

Miller’s contributions to DKIII are great. He’s clearly got some fun stuff planned for Superman, and the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman is a character here; she’s very interesting. The Atom, who was the best thing about DK2, is back. Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be seen in the first issue, and I just desperately hope that he’s dead, because Miller is nothing if not a vicious iconoclast and superhero comics need somebody to set stuff on fire. You used to be able to count on Grant Morrison for that sort of thing, but when he last wrote Batman at the very last minute he turned chicken. Bawk bawk.

Oh and Andy Kubert is just fantastic. DC put out a big anthology of his stuff with the coloring and inking stripped out out so you could see his bare pencils and it did not disappoint. If you love Neal Adams’ stuff for its energy and movement, anything Kubert puts together will scratch that same itch. It’s kind of a shame that he’s drawing for Miller, who is terrific but whose style could not be less fluid and graceful. Miller’s pages look like he stomped on them and the footprint happened to look like a beautiful drawing; Kubert’s look like they’re about to grow wings and fly away. So it’s a real mismatch in that sense, which is a bit disappointing, like they put the team together using sales figures rather than their eyeballs.

Here’s my suspicion about this book: Bat, tentatively, man and Superman will continue to be World’s Finest-style frenemies and they will go on and have adventures together. They will also both be roles assigned to women by the end of the eight issue series, I bet. Which I could not be happier about.


I’ve pulled my post about Providence out of this, because the issue was really disturbing and I want to talk about it at greater length.


Other stuff:

—Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s oddball manga-style fantasy series MONSTRESS is fun. The first issue is so heavy on the exposition it’s hard to know whether or not Liu has any idea about character yet, but it’s a very interesting, gothy, steampunkoid book with some great monsters in it and I approve of Takeda’s artwork a great deal. There are a lot of good writers and illustrators at Image but I think this is the only one with two women of color working on it? Anyway, check it out if for no other reason than that the first issue is gigantic and good for a long train ride or visit to the doctor’s waiting room.

HOWARD THE DUCK remains excellent. Joe Quinones didn’t draw the latest issue but he’s back for the next one; Veronica Fish did a great job on the fill-in, which takes place in a gender-bent alternate universe, so her issue is thematically appropriate!

—I still don’t hate PAPER GIRLS! It’s coming out super fast, which I also don’t hate. Also it owes a lot to Stephen King’s The Langoliers, which, again: approval from me.

—Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s DOCTOR STRANGE is the funnest. Feels like it will stay fun for a bit, too, as long as it doesn’t get messy and crossovery.

—We finally learn about the Lipstick Incident in ARCHIE #4, and it’s surprisingly touching. And it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be at all. Bravo, guys.



New section! Artists don’t like to be rushed, which I understand, so to make people feel better, I am putting some of the tardiest books I ever wanted to read FIRST on this list, and then list the books in descending order of lateness. The trick is that books will not go OFF this list until I have them in my hands. Feel the scorn of my admittedly single-digit but fantastically influential readership. I’ll put more on here as I think of them and as they go AWOL.

Issue #2, Aug. 1990— I’ve wanted to read this book since 1990, when Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz published two issues of what looked set to be one of the coolest series ever written. Then it died on the vine, with no explanation. Rumors abounded: Moore’s marriage had collapsed, Sienkiewicz’s assistant, Al Columbia, had taken over the book, then been so disappointed in his own work that he set fire to it. It sounds like a joke, but some of it is actually out there; it showed up in an old issue of Sub Pop magazine I have in a box somewhere. I propose somebody print it.

Issue #24, June 1993 — Yeah, the publisher went bankrupt and it got stalled in legal limbo for 25 years. Excuses, excuses. This book ended mid-arc during one of the most promising runs in comics. I want it. It’s been revived and is solicited for April of 2016, which will make it the latest comic ever published.

: Issue #9 January 2008 — Warren Ellis and watercolor painter Ben Templesmith’s crazy-ass one-and-done crime comic set in an unnamed city is one of my favorite comics by anybody. It ran for 9 of 16 issues and Templesmith said in an interview that he had a full script for a tenth that Image won’t run until Ellis has a few more scripts in the can. Ellis is currently writing two other books for Image at the moment. Templesmith told me personally at NYCC last year that he wishes he could finish it. Hey, me too.

Issue #8, May 2015 — This book is SO GOOD and it’s had fully eight issues since Oct. 2013. The problem here is less perfectionism and more that the two guys who do it just blew up as soon as it started coming out; Francesco Francavilla, blessed be he, does like five Marvel variant covers a month and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is now trying to run the entire company and the new CW show. BUT I WANT IT. I WANT IT NOW.

Issue #5, Sept. 2015 — I really like this book. It’s an outer space Lovecraft thing by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham and every issue has just been crazy and great. I want to read the last one. It has been months upon months. I get that it’s an Image book and thus irregularly scheduled but even by those standards it’s been too long. It’s on the docket for Dec. 23, which I hope turns out to be accurate. Excited to read it.

Issue #1 Oct. 2015 — Warren Ellis, I love you, but you are late all the damn time. By all means finish it and make it good but this is the second issue of a Marvel comic the publisher expected to put out every three weeks. Issue #5 is solicited for January. It’s December already. Knock it off. I’m still mad about Desolation Jones.


After a few weeks of listless, desultory superhero comics I wasn’t sure what to do with this space; write about Jughead (still excellent) and Paper Girls (still okay) again? Pretend to be excited about the new Frank Miller co-scripted Batman book, which apparently retails for fully six dollars an issue? Just get super angry about unreadable bullshit like The Darkseid War and Secret Wars?

So rather than do any of that, which all felt kind of depressing, I decided I’d cast my net a little wider, and return to some older stuff I’d been meaning to read, and see what happened. It was a good idea.

Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez’s LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND is one of the purely prettiest comics I’ve read in a few years; it feels a lot like the old Greyshirt strips Rick Veitch used to draw in Alan Moore’s weird, doomed anthology book Tomorrow Stories – cursory plots (Nemo falls asleep, has an adventure) accompanied by stunningly beautiful, crazily inventive layouts and finishes. One chapter has Nemo running through three different MC Escher paintings and several eye-popping two-page spreads with rotational symmetry – the top left corner turned upside down matches the bottom right corner and the dialogue in between explains how the characters get from one to the other. Added to that, it’s kind of a sweet story about a little boy who learns that little girls don’t have cooties, perfect for kids but as carefully crafted as a Tintin comic.

I’d actually never read anything by Michael DeForge until this week, when I picked up the latest issue of LOSE, #7. I can understand what the fuss is about; the longest story in the book is a really carefully observed investigation of how one woman’s relationship with her father falls apart under very strange circumstances. DeForge’s drawing style is interesting; I’m not sure where he’s going with it. It’s a lot like Chris Ware’s work in the sense that it uses its own intentional flatness against the clear depth of the characters, but DeForge’s layouts are inventive in a very different way. Big flat blocks of color and expressionless (or underexpressive) faces are quite trendy at the moment, which isn’t really something I like very much as a reader. It’s reasonably effective but Ware in particular is capital-G Great because he’s so good at finding other means to express emotion. DeForge is in this same category, but he’s clearly still finding himself, stylistically. I hope he evolves in a different direction from Ware; we only need one of that guy.

The editor of Kramers Ergot, essentially the Paris Review of comics, is a guy named Sammy Harkham, whose own cartooning work is some of my very favorite material anywhere. Harkham’s style, like DeForge’s, is simple, but his stuff is gorgeously expressive. Anyway, CRICKETS #5 is out and it’s very good; if you’d like to be at ground zero of a terrific graphic novel currently being in progress I highly recommend picking this up. It’s thrilling to read it as it’s being completed.

I’d been meaning to read Roz Chast’s CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? for a year or so; this week I picked it up at a used bookstore while I was out on assignment, because while the subject matter made me itchy, I’ve always admired Chast’s cartoons and liked the way she didn’t look like anyone else working. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read, full stop. It is fucking astonishing. It’s so good I’m actually not going to tell you what it’s about, because that will make you not want to read it. I’m just going to say that it’s hilariously funny, it’s drawn with a level of skill, especially in the last dozen pages, that is beyond anything I’ve seen in recent indie comics, and that it’s about 60/40 comics/prose (if you know Chast’s New Yorker cartoons, you know what I’m talking about). It was shortlisted for the National Book Award. It’s on my shelf next to Watchmen, Ice Haven, Black Hole and Fun Home now.


One of the ugliest and frankly worst things to happen to comics in the last few years has been DC Comics’ most recent once-a-decade intra-company continuity jerk-around, currently called The New 52. The problem seems to sit mostly with upper management at the publisher, which has enforced fabulous top-down ideas like editing stories after the art is finished and changing Superman’s costume. The results have been unattractive and stupid and have driven away loyal readers by the ton as Marvel continues to sprint in the opposite direction, abandoning its house style and isolating individual books from crossovers so that a large minority of their fans don’t get pissed off and leave.

It’s taken me years to realize that I’m in that minority; I was in the comic book shop the other day chatting with one of the guys about what was new and good and I mentioned that I was annoyed all my favorite books were on hiatus during Marvel’s own big crossover, Secret Wars. “They’re not on haitus,” he said. “Iron Man and Spider-Man are both back.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “I guess I was just waiting for Howard the Duck and the Silver Surfer.”

“Yeah, I don’t really like Howard the Duck,” he said, and then explained why: not because he thought the book was badly written or drawn, but because it didn’t add anything to the larger story of the Marvel Universe. It was extraneous, like Deadpool.

“Deadpool is dumb,” I agreed.

“He’s good in X-Force,” said the guy. “He doesn’t act retarded there.”

Let me first say that this guy, also, does not act retarded. He obviously understands that comic books are written and drawn by sentient adults with free will and their own ideas. But those things, from his perspective, are handicaps – this very nice man who also reads Optic Nerve and Kramers Ergot and so on likes Marvel Comics because the publisher is dedicated to acting as though the characters in its books have individual lives and desires of their very own that transcend the printed page.

That is sort of a nice idea, come to think of it, and it’s the reason that one of the very, very, very few books worth spending any time with from DC in the last few years is MULTIVERSITY, the big, wonky, parallel-universe-filled crossover series by Grant Morrison.

Morrison has tried often to make something new and cool out of the crossover series; in so doing, he’s probably pissed off the guy from Midtown Comics and all of his friends, because his gigantic, sweeping stories almost never have any direct effect on the rest of the DC Universe. It’s not that he doesn’t try to – Final Crisis gave it a solid shot – it’s that Morrison is A) a really individual, unusual writer with an anarchist streak a mile wide and B) a guy who takes forever to write and throws his creative weight around not to gain control over the widest possible swath of editorial decisionmaking, but (but all accounts) to avoid notes.

The result of this unusual behavior is that Morrison writes huge, personal stories that span universes and frustrate anybody who wants to tag in after he’s done; the best example of this prior to Multiversity was his Seven Soldiers of Victory, in which he took an extremely obscure set of Silver Age characters and made them even more obscure, with the help of several stunningly gifted young artists. The artists (Cameron Stewart, Simone Bianchi and Frazer Irving among them) went on to great things but the characters returned to the shelves.

Morrison has had, as per usual, a really great idea for a crossover format with Multiversity, and one designed for maximum usability by anyone who wants to come after him and try to play in his sandbox(es): Every issue of Multiversity is set in a different universe with a different set of DC-owned characters newly redesigned by a different artist, including the company’s publisher, Jim Lee, who draws a horrifying Nazi fantasia for Superman. The others – a pulp world for a team called the Society of Superheroes, starring Dr. Fate and the Blackhawks, a lengthy ultrapolitical Alan Moore-style take on the Charlton Comics characters (for whom Watchmen was originally pitched), a universe of teen heroes not much dissimilar from the company’s CW shows – all work beautifully, and differently. And this will of course be anathema to DC, which now hates everything new and different, so it, too, will fail in corporate terms.

The big collected edition of Multiversity costs an arm and two legs and looks like Victor Frankenstein’s annual report to shareholders. It’s also a participant in one of my favorite contemporary comic book trends, which is to say that it’s oversized and nicely bound and the art is even prettier than in its solo issues. The ersatz Watchmen chapter, illustrated by Frank Quitely, is probably its visual apex, but it’s a close contest.

The moral of the story seems to be that ‘eighties and ‘nineties-style grimdark superhero books are stupid-seeming bullshit and that there’s a plethora of options out there for people who still want to play in the genre without all that faux-psychological baggage. In aggregate, the standalone stories come together a lot like Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics series, which took largely the same tack. In fact it’s so close to those stories that Chris Sprouse, the artist who illustrated Moore’s own slick modernization of turn-of-the-century pulp (Tom Strong), also illustrates the Society of Superheroes chapter. It feels intentional, frankly, like a series of potshots at Moore himself, who exerts a weird kind of gravity on Morrison and seems to invade his stories pretty regularly, to the extent that, in a certain light, he was literally the villain of Morrison’s last continuity wonk, Final Crisis.

The other thing I read this week was Sammy Harkham’s EVERYTHING TOGETHER, a book of marvelously observed short stories so close to perfect it’s hard to describe without giving away things you really ought to read and experience on your own. Harkham, an offensively young power player in indie comics, is probably better known for publishing the gigantic, eccentric, expensive anthology series Kramers Ergot, which comes out every few years and changes formats each time. It’s a little harder to find, but worth tracking down for pretty much every story. Harkham has gifts for composition and color surpassing most of the field and his self-published periodical Crickets is serializing what I suspect will be the next great graphic novel, a closely observed portrait of a guy in a troubled marriage and a crummy job working on Hammer-style horror films in the 1970′s

The best two stories in Everything Together are Somersaulting, a truly beautiful, quotidian look at a teenage girl’s summer in Australia that I’ve read half a dozen times to half a dozen different effects, and Poor Sailor, a wordless adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s short story At Sea. 

And, like the story itself, I have no words for it.


1. There’s a level on which I take comfort in comics that is probably unhealthy and harmful. Take this week’s issue of Doctor Strange, for example: there’s an untightening in the chest I can directly associate with the experience of opening the book and leafing through it, irrespective of relative merit. By which I mean it has to pass muster in some sense, but it doesn’t have to be Maus for me to uncouple from my anxieties and just read without worrying.

Less personal: The new DOCTOR STRANGE is an effort by Marvel to pre-establish a solid base of contemporary and accessible stories as the parent company, Disney, ramps up production on the forthcoming film starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and as such they have assigned a competent writer, Jason Aaron, and a gloriously talented artist, Chris Bachalo, to the book in anticipation of greater interest on casting and studio news. It’s a tactic the company piloted with Guardians of the Galaxy, a series with little–okay, absolutely nothing–in common with its original iteration but reworked with a more contemporary sensibility. The original Guardians comics were perhaps less impressive than the Steve Ditko Doctor Strange series (or for that matter P Craig Russell’s gorgeous “What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen?” which draws heavily on Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories) but the new edition is geared specifically toward contemporary comics readers. I wish I could resent being so relentlessly marketed to, but I can’t; Bachalo’s art is perfect and Aaron’s story seems fun. I’m in. I’ll probably see the movie, too.

2. Warren Ellis is consistently one of my favorite comics writers; he’s funny and clever and his new series with a guy I’ve never heard of, called Gerardo Zaffino (there’s a solid Batman artist named Jorge Zaffino; any relation, one wonders?), KARNAK, about one of the more interesting Eternals, it’s already reasonably fun in a dour sort of way. I can’t quite tell what Zaffino has been hired to do, but I suspect it will become clear.

3. GODZILLA IN HELL has consistently been one of my favorite comics for the last four months. It’s quite hard to do licensed comics well; they tend to attract the dregs of the creative community and suffer under the thumb of the rights holder. No such trouble here: the series is largely wordless and thus a showcase for a number of brilliant artists. This month’s is merely okay; the one you want is the first issue, the one by Orc Stain writer/artist James Stokoe, who has also done a surprisingly beautiful Godzilla miniseries called The Hundred-Year War.

4. UZUMAKI (“Spiral”) is a collection of linked short stories by Japanese cartoonist Junji Ito It’s about life in a town where the citizens develop disgusting and fatal obsessions with spirals. It’s also a surprisingly insightful examination of small-town life and people generally, most of them doomed.

5. This column is about comics, but Gary Gianni has done comics. Specifically, he’s done a beautiful version of Prince Valiant, notable for being roughly as gorgeous as Hal Foster’s work on the same strip, and that is a high compliment. This is all from a bygone era, of course, which is probably why George R R Martin asked him to illustrate his A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS, as uncomplicated and straightforward a collection of heroic stories from a bygone, which is to say taking place before the main sequence of A Song of Ice and Fire, era as Martin is capable of writing. The stories recall both Fritz Leiber’s nearly-forgotten Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books and the days of yore when an established author could pass of a collection of previously published linked stories–a “fixup,” if you’ll pardon the anachronism–equally well. Also it recalls Prince Valiant, thanks in large part to Gianni’s spot illos, and relieves chronic tightening in the chest.


1. At the end of the most recent season of RICK AND MORTY, Rick, the cranky absentee dad author-surrogate mad scientist who seems to know what’s best for everyone in the show, overhears his family talking about whether or not to turn him in to the authorities for crimes he’s committed as a member of the show’s morally murky equivalent of Star Wars’ Rebel Alliance.

“Let me get this straight,” says his son-in-law Jerry: “For the rest of your lives, no matter how much it hurts you, no matter how much it destroys our children’s futures, we’re gonna do whatever Rick wants, whenever he wants?” 

“Yes,” the rest of the family replies. Why?

Rick’s daughter, Jerry’s husband, has the answer: “Because I don’t want him to leave again, you dumb asshole!”

Rick turns himself in and the last we see of him, he’s shackled spread-eagled to a prison cell. “What are ya in for?” a fellow inmate asks him as Trent Reznor’s industrial ballad “Hurt” washes over them. 

Rick stares straight ahead: “Everything.”

It’s become painfully obvious in hindsight that the creator of the show, Dan Harmon, who announced on his podcast that he and his wife Erin are divorcing, has been mining his own imploding relationship for material during the current season, which features a brutally funny episode about a couple going to counseling on an alien planet and basically wrecking the place with their fatally unhealthy marriage. I was going to write about the comic, which is fine, but the show is such a triumph, and at such obvious cost to the artist. Attention must be paid.

2. Adrian Tomine is a fascinating cartoonist. He started working in the form as a teenager and Drawn & Quarterly started publishing his Optic Nerve when he was 21; since then he’s been able to make a living as a cover artist for various magazines and with other illustration work. He’s deft and witty about young urbanites and so his stuff fits in perfectly and, by now, regularly at The New Yorker (in fact, if you know his work for the publication it’s likely this cover), but it wouldn’t quite be strong enough to say that Tomine’s work has changed radically since the beginning of Optic Nerve. It has rather transformed completely into something nearly unrecognizable as the work of the same guy who self-published minicomics about his troubles with girls in the early ‘90′s, but it’s clearly produced by someone who has been honing his craft since at least then.

Tomine’s best work before KILLING AND DYING was his next most recent book, Shortcomings, a graphic novel about a young man’s dissolving relationship; it was drawn in a style he’d been been working in for the last several issues of Optic Nerve and the book, he has said, was such a chore to put together and for reasons so impossible for the reader to appreciate (each of it settings is drawn from life, and to scale) that he wanted to do literally anything except revisit the style of Shortcomings. Killing and Dying isn’t distinct from Tomine’s other work because of the quality of the writing – that has been on a steady uphill slope for years – but because he’s made a huge leap forward in the quality of his drawing. One of the stories in this book is done in the style of a Sunday newspaper strip; another is done with the same level of detail as his New Yorker covers, a third (my favorite), “Go Owls” uses color theory to show transition, sometimes emotional, sometimes from place to place.

It’s a beautiful story, about a guy who’s a total asshole and also kind of wonderful, and the girl who loves him, and where their relationship goes.

3. Richard McGuire’s HERE, a six-page strip from Raw #1 (vol. 2) is out as a full-blown graphic novel after 25 years. It samples family relationships over the course of billions of years in a single place, usually a single room, always depicted from the same angle. In terms of pure virtuosity, it’s one of the most impressive pieces of graphic literature I’ve ever read.

4. Other stuff: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s BITCH PLANET is out in paperback; I don’t care for it. It’s fine, but it’s contrived and hokey and its sci-fi feminist schtick was old before it started. Yay, it’s a sexploitation jail movie set in space. It would be better with characters. The art is fun. STRANGE FRUIT #2 is finally on shelves; it’s still very good and looks like a really crazy issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which I love.

*So, for the one-month anniversary of this column I am giving them TITLES from now on. Rejoice. 

Welcome to the hobby-horse edition of my now apparently weekly comics column, in which I get mad about censorship, revisit and expand on a couple of books I’ve already told you I love and discuss another I’m hugely enamored of. 

We’ll start with that last one. Groo, most recently GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES, is the utterly unique work of Sergio Aragones and his artistic partner, Mark Evanier. From what I can tell, Sergio plots and draws and Mark writes dialogue and captions and contributes to the general thrust of the series; the latter is very happy to give all credit to his partner, a modest Spanish-born, Mexican-raised, California-based guy who still, after decades working in English, becomes embarrassed and uncommunicative in his adopted tongue when called upon to do so in public. I’ve seen him do it at conventions; he has what I can only describe as benign graphomania and is almost never not drawing, so he tends to compensate for the shortfall only he can perceive with a hilariously funny picture. There’s a whole panel at Comic Con devoted to him drawing gag cartoons on the spot, in fact. 

He’ll probably be best-remembered for his margin doodles in Mad Magazine, but he’s secretly a truly remarkable draftsman. Groo began life in 1982, in a benefit book called Destroyer Duck published to fund Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber’s quixotic IP lawsuit against Marvel Comics (Marvel settled). The advent of computer coloring has made it possible to appreciate Aragones’ work to a much greater degree – in early issues of Groo, there were so many characters in the big double-page spreads and splash panels that you could practically hear the raw-fingered colorist screaming into a pile of spent rolls of Rubylith, “FUCK IT! EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE PAGE IS YELLOW!”

Aragones’ hero, Groo the Wanderer, is an itinerant warrior along the Conan the Barbarian model, except that in addition to being pure of heart and the greatest swordsman in the land, he is also the stupidest person alive. His dog, Rufferto, admires him tremendously, despite generally having far better judgment than his master because, you know, dog.

What I actually didn’t understand until Aragones told me so himself a year or two ago while I was bothering him at Comic Con is that the guy absolutely worships the Japanese movie director Akira Kurosawa and thus the setting for Groo is so interestingly distinct from Conan’s Cimmeria or Arthurian England because it’s modeled very carefully on Edo-period Japan.

The Groo series, with its squat, big-nosed men and its silly-sexy women, is a comic in a fundamentally old-fashioned European mode, largely unreconstructed in contemporary intersectional terms but still concerned primarily with justice and fairness. There’s often an evil ruler doing something cruel to his subjects and eventually making the reliably tragic error of trying to get Groo on his side. It’s been in the wilderness over the last few years because either Evanier or Aragones – I suspect the former, for some reason – decided to get really politically specific and started making the book’s various miniseries (the regular monthly title gave up the ghost in the mid-’90′s) transparently about the housing crisis and greedy banks and so on. Groo is a humor book, so it was kind of weird to have to try to take it seriously, but there have always been some subversive undercurrents to the it and sometimes they’re really wonderful (there’s an unexpectedly devastating story where Groo learns to read). Less so recently, though.

After Groo #100 (the learn-to-read issue), way back in 1993, Aragones said he was sick of his supporting cast and wanted to try to find greater meaning among different funny-looking little dudes, so he sent Groo away from one-joke characters like Captain Ahax, whose ships Groo is forever sinking, Pal & Drumm (a pair of con men), and Grooella (Groo’s sister, who looks like him but with boobs). Friends and Foes reintroduces all of these characters, and it’s such a relief to read. It’s a bit like starting over, but better – the book is still very funny and while the moralizing of the last few episodes had gotten tiresome, Aragones’ art was always so unbelievably good I kept buying them anyway. Now it’s funny again, too.

There’s a horrifyingly bad piece on Vox in which the author, who must be all of seventeen years old, lauds Bryan K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga as “one of the defining tomes [???] of the last decade thanks to its… fidelity to quality storytelling” and “a medium-shattering book” which may be the wrongest thing ever written in English. I must have missed the issue of The Comics Journal in which Art Spiegelman, Charles Burns and Gary Panter gather before a shrine to Saga and chant “we’re not worthy.” (Also I like Ex Machina in particular just fine but y’all know Vaughn wrote for Lost, right?)

But I digress. The ostensible topic of that article is that Vaughn has a new book out, called PAPER GIRLS, this one with art by the excellent Cliff Chiang, who has been working on Wonder Woman with the popular DC Comics writer Brian Azzarello, whose work, full disclosure, I cannot stand. I understand many people love him and apparently his plot structure is often quite good but his dialogue is so godawfulbad I just can’t do it. Someday I’ll crush up Spaceman or 100 Bullets in a spoonful of honey and see if I can get it down and I’m sure I’ll find stuff to like but probably not this week. 

Anyway, I’m grateful for a chance to read something written competently, I’m sorry, by William Shakespeare himself, and illustrated by Chiang. Paper Girls is set in Cleveland in the 1980′s in a way best described by this Clickhole article, but it’s clear from the first issue that there will likely be some time travel involved. It’s about a gang of girls who mmmmmight have gotten superpowers while on their paper route one morning, during which time they also encounter ninjas, and it’s very fun, extremely slick and seems likely to pair up Vaughn’s gifts for teen drama (his series Runaways was consistently one of the best books at Marvel for several years) with some self-consciously retro action. I’ll give it a chance.

Here’s an uncomfortable topic: the words “nigger” and “faggot,” which are not very nice words, have been excised from Marvel’s otherwise totally unimpeachable reprints of MIRACLEMAN. In the first case, they were used pretty hamfistedly by Alan Moore and then redacted in the clumsiest possible manner (the word just reads “n——” in the series now, which, as Louis CK points out, is making me say the word because you find it offensive irrespective of context). This happened twice over the Moore issues and in the second instance, oddly, it was the only offensive thing censored in an issue of the comic absolutely legendary for its violence. Screaming civilians are literally rent asunder by a crazy supervillain and it’s all rendered pretty unflichingly, including in a gigantic two-page spread reminiscent of a Bosch painting that closes the issue. In the earlier story, an African-American character describes himself using the slur, and while it’s not the best moment in Moore’s writing, it is an effort on the part of the author to deepen the inner life of that self-doubting character (who is coincidentally pretty compelling, actually) and it’s obviously not hate speech. In that second instance it is indeed used by an evil character as hate speech; a supervillain uses the word to describe a different black character, who calmly replies, “Actually, we prefer the term ‘black person’” and attacks him in a pretty cool fight sequence while the book’s white heroes are incapacitated. Both these characters are problematic, but Moore obviously likes them; he’s just not totally sure what to do with them. That’s an interesting problem; picking and choosing specific words to edit out does not solve it.

The other example, in this week’s Miracleman, which might actually be my single favorite issue of any superhero comic, replaces the epithet in question with “fairy,” which doesn’t have the same impact at all, and frankly this story is by contrast very well-written indeed and the whole point of using a mean word in the narrative is to show how hurtful it can be; the main character overhears another character using the slur to describe him and it devastates him. 

This isn’t to say that we should only censor clumsy art, merely that high quality makes censorship that much more intolerable.

I’m actually quite angry to have my enjoyment of the book hijacked like this, because Miracleman #3 is just astonishingly beautiful. It’s a Neil Gaiman story about one of the 17 robot Andy Warhols living under the palace of the superhero who rules the world, and how he befriends a mad scientist. The whole issue is done in collages and photostats of other comics and chalky-looking crayon and artist Mark Buckingham oversaw the recoloring process, which has made it even more beautiful. Why does Marvel do this? Who do they think is buying these issues at $5 a pop and looking at the scans of the pre-colored art lovingly mounted with commentary by the artist in the backs of each one, or celebrating because a strip featuring a minor character from the Moore run has been reprinted in the correct chronological order for the first time ever? Not people who aren’t going to notice that the captions have been changed, that’s for damn sure.

Disney’s purchase of Marvel has been half-heartening, half-infuriating. On the one hand, the company clearly has huge wads of cash to lob at its talent now, and it’s doing so in a way that makes business sense – just look at Dan Slott and Michael Allred on Silver Surfer: those guys are happy at work. On the other hand, Disney loves to squeeze consumers (that would be me) for as much money as they possibly can, so the prices of every single book have gone up to an inexcusable height and I just don’t buy as many as I used to as a result. 

They’re also institutionally opposed to controversy. Around this time last year they let prudes and scolds hound Milo Manara out of the incentive cover business (which is to say, drawing comics covers that you will never see unless you really want to, because they ship at a ratio of 1:50 so retailers can sell them at a markup) because his drawings of women were too sexy – and then they just got a less famous and talented artist to do the same thing. The only good thing to come out of all that bullshit was Manara’s response, which was to point out that superheroines are always drawn naked, just usually not by people who know what a naked woman looks like. You can think that Milo Manara is a bad artist and that this hacky crap is better, but Federico Fellini and I disagree with you.

I see in the bowdlerization of what is supposed to be a loving reprint project basically the same impulses; hypocrisy and prudery that I can just barely excuse because I’ve wanted to find out how the story ends for 20 years. 

Other stuff of note this week: Chip Zdarsky’s JUGHEAD #1, which is every bit as fun as I’d hoped it would be and further makes the case for Jughead Jones as the coolest guy in Riverdale (he has a dream sequence set in a medieval fantasy land entitled Game of Jones, you guys!), George Perez’s SIRENS #4, which is both visually astonishing and written so, so, so terribly, SECRET WARS #6, a book so wonky about Marvel continuity I honestly can’t tell whether it’s good or not (Esad Ribic’s art is really nice, though), and the 2015 LIBERTY ANNUAL, a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is always worth picking up for reasons of supporting a good cause, but this year particularly worthwhile because it has the Art Spiegelman op-ed that was supposed to run in the New Statesman. Good stuff from The Goon artist Eric Powell and fake ads by Ed Luce’s, creator of the hilarious Wuvable Oaf. I recommend it.

Oh yeah, and Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s INJECTION is out in a collection of the first five issues and it’s immediately clear that this and no other way is how you’re supposed to read it. It’s funny – the same team did a great run on Moon Knight that was a set of six one-and-done stories you could read in any order; this is obviously “written for the trade,” as they say, in the style of a lot of contemporary Image comics. Which is good because it makes almost no sense in single issues and I’m a little relieved to discover that there was significantly more “there” there than I’d thought. I’ll say it again: Image is doing really great stuff these days; most of the concepts would work great as TV shows but they’re allowing the guys who do it to make some extremely inventive visual choices throughout. Shalvey is rapidly becoming one of my very favorite artists; his sense of design is tremendous and he works fast enough to sustain a monthly book.

Thanks to Isaac Butler for editing help

Comics as I knew them growing up are more or less over. This isn’t a particularly bad thing, although it makes me a little sad – there’s a good if in some places very, very wrong entry from Warren Ellis’s gonzo CBR column Come In Alone in which he frustratedly berates the industry for having devoted itself almost entirely to a single genre. “Fuck superheroes, frankly,” he wrote 16 years ago, back when he himself was writing half a dozen superhero books (”I am part of the problem,” he writes further down) and we didn’t yet understand that The Matrix was a terrible film. “The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It’s like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels. Imagine that. You want a new novel, but you have to wade through three hundred new books about romances in the wards before you can get at any other genre. A medium where the relationship of fiction about nurses outweighs mainstream literary fiction by a ratio of one hundred to one. Superhero comics are like bloody creeping fungus, and they smother everything else.”

Good news, 31-year-old Warren: the nurses have been defeated. I can’t remember the last time I was in a comic book store and it was domianated by superheroes; I’m sure they still exist in the same way I’m sure there are still soda fountains somewhere but by and large they’re of roughly the same importance. You’re still writing about them, though.

What’s funny is that no one seems to have noticed that superheroes are dying off, largely because of the movies. Marvel Comics dominates the movie theaters but it sells perhaps a third of the wares at a given comics store and a sizable chunk of even that modest inventory is given over to Star Wars, its next entertainment venture and one that looks like it will probably supplant the Marvel Universe by design as the premier cinema franchise machine. Indeed, Disney (which now owns both properties) appears to be pulling the Marvel properties away from the comics company’s legendarily poisonous intramural politics, a project it may not survive. The company’s executive committee, the one that helped write and coordinate the last dozen Marvel movies, has been dissolved and every time it signs an auteur (Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright) it gets rid of him fairly quickly. Granted, evil cartoon billionaire Isaac Perlmutter was its driving force, but what is Marvel without a villain?

None of that spells disaster for the medium–quite the opposite, to be honest. I’d have gotten exercised about it ten years ago but now I just look at the landscape and it seems to me that movies have been able to do to superhero comics what the comics themselves never quite managed: write an ending and stick to it. I’ve also realized that finale-writing was the primary mode of superhero comics during the period when I was reading and loving them. The British Invasion of the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s was of writers – Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis – who either developed obscure superheroes like Animal Man and The Sandman into stories they could tell to completion themselves, or went around with the weird mix of iconoclasm and reverence that characterized Moore’s stuff on Superman and Swamp Thing and Morrison’s on the X-Men.

And now, oddly, the aspect of those books that looks a little silly is the reverence, not the mudslinging. I remember being scandalized by the death of Pete Ross in Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow – not Pete! Not Lana Lang! Please, leave Jimmy Olsen be! Who could pick Pete Ross out of a lineup today? Hell, who under 30 could pick out Jimmy Olsen? At least Superman retiring was a story I’d never read before, and it was told cleverly and with a kind of odd sweetness because the writer had so much affection for the character.

One of the effects of public attention on superhero comics has been a hardening of the canon, to the detriment of a number of wonderful artists and writers. People still talk about Jack Kirby and several of the living Marvel pencilers (who are a younger crew by and large) but Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, Gil Kane and anybody who didn’t work primarily on Batman are fading from memory along with, ironically, a number of people from the comics industry’s last attempt to shake off the fights-and-tights set during the counter-superhero pulp explosion at Dark Horse about 25 years ago. Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer demonstrates too much unreconstructed affection for cheesecake and unironic whiteboy heroism for these troubled times, I guess.

In its twilight, we still have some very fun books by the masters of the medium’s rapidly concluding preoccupation with superheroes. Neil Gaiman is something of a literary jack of all trades, but he might never write anything better than The Sandman, and its coda, THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE, has finally come to a satisfying close. Overture is very good; perhaps it’s not as sweeping and awesome as The Kindly Ones or as adroit as A Game of You or Brief Lives, but it has several excellent tricks up its sleeve – Gaiman remains practiced at misdirection – and one of the least-remarked virtues of the original series, namely the author’s ability to write to the strength of any artist, is better here than it’s ever been. Much of that is credit due that artist, J. H. Williams III, arguably the single most interesting penciler working in action comics and a perfect example of why I’ll miss them: Gaiman is good at intuiting what an artist illustrating one of his scripts will do well, and Williams can render nearly anything. The florid, art-nouveau-inspired style is terrifically over the top and totally foreign to the industrially-minded design wonks who populate the non-superhero sector of the industry. There’s something incredibly generous about Williams’ work; it’s literal and colorful, like all action comics, but there’s a lingering sense of the surreal underneath it and it serves the dream-world of The Sandman spectacularly well. One of the frustrating things about contemporary lit-comics artists is that they’re all so fucking careful about who influences them and who they pay homage to – God forbid they betray an affection for Toulouse-Lautrec and Gustave Moreau and Dali over, I don’t know, Herge and David Hockney.

The other guy who’s doing now basically what I spent my entire childhood reading over and over again is Alan Moore, who has at this very late date returned to horror, if not quite to form. His second year on Saga of the Swamp Thing, Moore wrote a 12-issue-long arc about the title character’s journey across the United States, over the course of which he met ‘eighties takes on all the Universal Movies monsters (Frankenstein, The Mummy, the Wolfman, etc.) It was really silly and took itself extremely seriously but it was also a lot of fun; his new book, PROVIDENCE is thus far just flat-out good in a way nothing he’s written for years has been and it takes roughly the same premise, except instead of Swamp Thing exploring the South meeting movie monsters, a troubled, closeted Jewish reporter is exploring the rural Northeast meeting horrors out of H.P. Lovecraft, and instead of being occasionally a little silly and not caring that it comes off as mildly pretentious, it’s just relentlessly grim. I love Moore and I particularly love him in this mode, despite his obviously having never visited rural America in any wise. I’ll read pretty much anything he writes just to see what he’s able to do with it and this is a narrative experiment on a level with Watchmen – part of each issue is a brief diary entry by our hero who has usually convinced himself that he can’t be seeing the impossible things we know he’s just seen… but it also contains reminiscences on events that predate the beginning of the story and descriptions of encounters that take place off the page. Gaiman has become a little squishy with age; I still really enjoy his work but he’s lost most of that undercurrent of menace he was so good at writing into The Sandman and American Gods and some of his short stories (Feeders and Eaters, Keepsakes & Treasures: A Love Story, Bitter Grounds). Moore, by contrast, has lost nearly all the warmth from his writing. It’s one of the reasons Crossed +100 was such a pleasant surprise; he really wrote interesting, layered characters with deep and fulfilling relationships. Providence is more schematic, though its protagonist has a lot to him. Interestingly, both this and Overture are Prequels, Overture to the main sequence of The Sandman and Providence to Moore’s very nasty miniseries Neonomicon, which is set in a fascinating version of the present day that he never quite gets around to explaining. Here, he begins to to do that. The artist is the same guy from Neonomicon, Jacen Burrows; like everybody who works with Moore you can actually see his work improving from issue to issue as he works his way up from simply getting the perspective right to developing his own quasi-ligne claire style. I dearly wish the coloring wasn’t so awful.

There’s also ARCHIE, which I’m throwing in here purely because it’s great and came out this week and is scripted by a guy who has almost exclusively written superhero comics. Mark Waid is a wonderful writer and Fiona Staples deserves all the awards; the series is now a teen dramedy of the kind I don’t think I’ve read since I was twelve years old and in Mark Pauly’s guest bedroom reading, yes, bullet-stopper-thick Archie digest omnibuses. Chip Zdarsky, one of the funniest writers out there, is doing a Jughead comic and Archie Comics’ creative director, the playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is writing THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA very firmly in a Moore-on-Swamp-Thing style. The art in Sabrina is really reminiscent of Alfredo Alcala or Bruce Jones in the old Harris and Warren sexy horror comics and sometimes Archie will put out issues of Sabrina or Aguirre-Sacasa’s other contribution (he’s the Chief Creative Officer at Archie, and long may he reign), AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE in the form of a big ‘seventies-style horror mag with Jones et al among the contributors. It’s wonderful. In many ways it’s a window on the post-superhero world, and I have to say I like it.

The other comics genre–form, you could even argue–that has gone almost completely extinct was even more popular than superheroes: newspaper strips, which are in the midst of a mini-boom thanks to a huge preponderance of gag strips online that now include a few of the form’s dead-tree-era practitioners. Scott Dunbier’s magnificent IDW book KING OF THE COMICS: 100 YEARS OF KING FEATURES is, perhaps of inadvertently, a chronicle of its subject’s decline from the glory days of Krazy Kat and Flash Gordon to the embarrassment of Baby Blues and Curtis, but it’s probably the single most enjoyable way to take in art history. And King’s standouts really did stand out: Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, Prince Valiant, Popeye – it’s an incredible CV for any company. It’s too bad the form is dead.

Wait, it’s not dead. Berkeley Breathed puts BLOOM COUNTY on Facebook three times a week and it’s as funny and necessary as it ever was during the Reagan administration. That much is right with the world, at least.

Thanks to Dave Hughes for helping me with some of the intricacies of the Marvel/Disney tangle.

It’s… I guess if there’s a theme, it’s folklore this week. Folklore and obscure reprints. Also there are only two primary creators in this entry, despite their being four books.

FREE COUNTRY: A TALE OF THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE So I really like Neil Gaiman. I’ve reviewed his last several books for Newsday and I just generally think he’s a terrific writer of narrative and while some of his recent stuff has been less tight than his truly entertaining novels, I’ve always had a soft spot for his ridiculous boondoggle of a crossover story written for Vertigo at a time when nobody good was writing five or six of the best books at the imprint. As planned about 20 years ago, the annuals of Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid and The Books of Magic were all supposed to tie into each other. As executed, they did no such thing and this very carefully plotted proposal ended up with a really fun intro, a reasonably cool payoff and a middle that just didn’t make any damn sense at all. So the current Vertigo editors got Toby Litt, the guy who wrote Dead Boy Detectives (tertiary Sandman characters who got their own book when you could just print SANDMAN on something and sell it for too much money) to write a middle section that actually contained the planned plot points, and to flesh out the finale so it’s not rushed, and it’s a fun little graphic novel, especially the first section, which is still the best, and has truly terrific Chris Bachalo art. And seriously the less said about the tie-in annuals the better. It was the post-Alan Moore Swamp Thing, the post-Grant Morrison Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and the post-Gaiman Books of Magic and Black Orchid (well, the BoM ongoing hadn’t really started yet, but still: not great). This, however, is really fun.

MIRACLEMAN I am capable of – indeed, prone to – yammering on at punishing length on the topic of Miracleman, the best of Alan Moore’s juvenalia and the only strip to survive Warrior Magazine with its dignity intact (I don’t honestly like the story of V for Vendetta very much, though I love the art). Its second life as a collection of Gaiman’s short stories is maybe the only elegant passing of the torch in comics; can you think of another writer who created a wonderful, satisfying run on a superhero title and then handed the reins to somebody just as good? Maybe Morrison handing off to Mark Waid on JLA or Warren Ellis turning The Authority over to Mark Millar, but those are the only two I can think of. Anyway, Marvel is finally reprinting Miracleman frustratingly slowly, but they’ve graduated to the good stuff, and Gaiman’s stories are just as clever as I remember them being and Mark Buckingham’s art is gorgeous. The third issue of the Gaiman run comes out next month; it’s my single favorite comic book. The last issue was fun, the weakest of the bunch in my humble opinion; Gaiman, early in his career, wrote a worrying number of stories about shallow young men who are extremely cynical about sex and get cured of said cynicism through a transcendent (and weird) sexual experience – that’s Miracleman #2. But it is interesting and Buckingham does good work.

ALIENS: SALVATION A forgotten gem from the licensing bonanza of the mid-1990′s written by Dave Gibbons and drawn – for real – by Mike Mignola. Dark Horse put it back in print; I believe it was a serial in the company’s UK-only Aliens Magazine that they issued in the US as a one-shot in 1993. It’s kind of Clive Barker-y, which makes sense, since the grandaddy of horror-movie comics merchandising is the surprisingly high-wattage Hellraiser anthology series that came out around the same time. Man, that one’s great – stories by Mignola, Dave McKean, Mark Hempel, Marc Chiarello, etc. Anyway, Salvation is a fairly standard 2000AD-style space story about a missionary saved by his insane captain from evil monsters, written by Gibbons with incredible Kirby-does-some-bad-acid art by Mignola. Its aspirations toward deeper meaning are kind of embarrassing but Mignola rules.

HELLBOY: THE HOUNDS OF PLUTO This is the best Hellboy story I’ve read in years. It’s a perfect blend of folklore and monster-bashing and it suggests some interesting stuff in the future for the series. I have to say, of all the comics artists still working, Mignola is really doing almost exactly the same thing he started out doing, except he’s much more assured, has deeper research and takes longer to put the books out, and it is fucking awesome and no one is doing anything like it. I reread the whole series, Seed of Destruction through Hellboy in Hell, a few months ago and it is nearly perfect – it manages to be pulpy and have some real emotional heft to it at the same time and nobody uses black the way he uses black. He’s completely unafraid to fill up half a page with india ink in the service of one powerful panel and man, is it effective. I can’t think of a page I wouldn’t mount on my wall.

So this week (who knows if this will be a weekly thing? I just like doing it because I like comics) I’m focusing on a couple of great books entirely by women and one that has a woman as its primary creative force. Comics are verrrrry verrrrry slowly becoming a more welcoming place for women (and man, have I heard some ugly stories about the way male editors treat their female staffers and are then protected from discipline), so I figured I’d take a little time out to explore the comics of a few folks who are doing it especially well and whose work is relatively fresh on the shelves.

LADY KILLER I wondered where I’d first heard of Joelle Jones after I picked up her (and cowriter Jamie S. Rich’s) Lady Killer on the strength of a really enthusiastic recommendation from the woman staffing the counter at Fantom Comics in Washington, D.C., and then I realized she’d produced a surprisingly solid adaptation of Janet Evanovich’s ubiquitous, numerical crime series (Jones’ young adult-marketed comics version of One for the Money came out around the same time as the misbegotten Kathryn Heigl movie). To give you an idea of how hard that is, I have read I believe a total of one interesting novel-to-comics adaptations, namely David Mazzucchelli’s version of the Paul Auster novel City of Glass, and at least ten dreadful ones.

Anyway, Jones is just a total delight. The series could be a USA dramedy in that it’s fun but a little lightweight (which I enjoy), but holy cow, the artwork. I mean you can find some fun pinups on her website but there’s just this whole incredible subterranean level of detail that you really have to read the book to appreciate. Everything is rendered within an inch of its life in a style that’s a few tones away from full-on cartoonishness – which is quite difficult! most artists that opt for a high level of detail tend to express their styles in composition rather than rendering – and it’s such a pleasure to read. It’s a period action comic, first and foremost – no sci-fi elements, no superheroes, no ghosts or goblins – and it’s just incredible fun for everyone, especially me.

STEP ASIDE, POPS Kate Beaton, the best possible form of carbon-based life, is back on the shelves with a gorgeous collection of new cartoons that includes her hilarious Straw Feminist strips, her Strong Female Characters (who are all scantily clad dork-loving babes) and a bunch of weirdness from free-associated Nancy Drew synopses based on the covers of the books (which are all totally ridiculous) to to Edward Gorey stuff. Anyway, she’s great.

I did a feature interview with Beaton a few days ago and she just could not possibly have been smarter or more charming so I’m probably biased here, but i also only did the interview because I read the book and went, “Holy cow, this is great.” Anyway rather than go on and on about this I’m going to excerpt a bit of the interview that I cut because it felt to comics-insidery and nerdy but hey if you read my blog you deserve it and it sort of comes to bear on the next entry…

RED SONJA Okay here’s where I diverge slightly from public taste: I only kind of love Red Sonja. I WANT to completely love it, because I am firmly in Gail Simone’s corner and think she’s a really gifted hero comics writer and her Deadpool is one of the funniest things anybody’s ever written for superhero comics, but it leaves me a little cold. I think what people are responding to in this book – and my goodness, folks adore Red Sonja – is that Simone (the writer) has redeemed this ultra-campy tits-and-ass character by making a super-tough, hard-drinking, merciless sword-warrior, the lady equivalent of Conan the Barbarian. Walter Geovani handles the art chores here and a lot of it is pretty obviously photo-referenced in a way that’s a little annoying but he delivers the goods a few times over the course of the volume. The covers are totally gorgeous and Dynamite had a great crew of women artists do the variants. Red Sonja’s origin story is kind of cool and there are some plot points you legitimately don’t see coming that I really, really enjoyed, but I sorta can’t shake the feeling that if Simone had a better artist, she’d be at the head of a vastly improved book. I mean, what’s Joelle Jones doing? Her women are sexy and she has an incredible flair for action.

Anyway. Wanted to love, only liked, will try to get deeper into the spirit of the thing soon. ANYWAY. More Kate Beaton:

ST Are you a superhero comics fan? You have Wonder Woman in this and Sexy Batman in the last book and of course the Strong Female Characters.

Kate Beaton: Yeah! It’s super fascinating to me. I didn’t know that much about it but when you start doing comics they’re kind of inescapable. When you start paying attention to the storylines you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool! That’s interesting. I never would have thought of this.” And coming into it as an adult with not a lot of background information sometimes people will tell you about this or that storyline and you’ll be like, “What? That’s crazy!” Because you’re not acclimatised to it at all, and these characters may be regularly established to people who read superhero comics but I’m like, “Wow, the Enchantress!” I’d never heard of her, but she’s hilarious! I love her! She could be a character, because her power is seduction, you’d think a lot of modern women readers would be like, “She sucks and we don’t like her,” but they do! They love her. They sort of take what they can get as far as the women in comics go. If you read stuff online, people will say, “I love how persistent she is,” and all these other qualities beyond just the outfits she’s drawn in, which are always hilarious. So they find things to like about them and I find that really charming. I find it really endearing that those audiences have these favorite characters and not always for reasons they’re going to think. You can’t always say, “Women aren’t going to like this, because she’s sexy!” That’s also a giant lie.

It always seems to me that there’s so much disagreement among women about how to approach those characters as a reader.

Oh yeah. Well, you know, women aren’t a monolith. I love reading all sides of it – I love reading people who say, “Let’s get rid of Red Sonja forever” and I love reading people who say “Let’s keep her and make her our queen!” Both are really fascinating reads – all the perspectives are great.

We live, perhaps improbably, in a golden age of science fiction comics, in which there are so many wonderful and strange ideas about the universe promulgated by so many different writers and artists that it becomes gloriously difficult to keep up.

I don’t write about comics as much as I wish I did anymore; I did an interview with Dan Clowes a few months ago and have a forthcoming interview with Kate Beaton that were both wonderful career highlights for someone who admires both artists tremendously, but I remain (as a reader) as deep in the scrum as ever and sometimes my cup runneth over and I have to at least briefly run down what’s good at the moment, so here are a few of my favorites for your perusal, disagreement and (one hopes) pleasure.

1. DESCENDER Jeff Lemire is a name I’ve known for years, since his Essex County series was anthologized by Top Shelf and turned into a graphic novel the size of a doorstop that I never quite got around to reading. I wish I had, now, and I’ll probably go find it at some point; after years writing and drawing a number of well-regarded series (Sweet Tooth and Trillium are the other two he’s best known for), Lemire has settled into his gifts as a writer and, here, is leaving the art chores to the wonderful Dustin Nguyen, an artist I’ve liked since he was drawing WildC.A.T.S. for Joe Kelly lo these many years ago. Descender follows a little boy who is also a robot and the vestiges of humanity whose lives have been forever altered by another robot, a great big one, who seems to be at least partly the responsibility of the little boy. Along the way the child robot has a kind of near-death experience that shunts him into the robo-afterlife, a totally weird and unexpected twist of the kind I’d never seen before. It’s brilliant. Nguyen is better here than he’s ever been; the whole series is done in watercolor, a medium I’d have said was an odd, emotionalist choice for a science fiction comic this serious about its mechanics, but it’s actual a perfect counterpoint to the Arthur C. Clarke-ish mix of mysticism and brass tacks.

2. SAGA I’m afraid I’ve always found Bryan K. Vaughn mildly annoying – his work is 90% fanservice and 10% planning, and his series tend to go on long enough that the inattention to detail for the sake of big, splashy one-liners (”I’m going to find the man who ripped my family away from me. And I’m going to cut his fucking head off.”) becomes less an irritating tic than his writing’s primary mode. He was a writer for Lost, if that gives you any indication of his narrative priorities. Here, for some reason, it works better than it ought to (his best book is still the Aaron Sorkin-does-Batman series Ex Machina), thanks in no small part to collaborator Fiona Staples, whose artwork is completely stunning and wonderful. And credit where credit is due: Vaughn does come up with some odd and uncanny images in this series, in which his fantasy world deliberately makes no sense whatsoever, and Staples’ rendering thereof is gorgeous. I almost always crack open a new volume of this series under mild duress, spurred on by an interesting cover, and I always close it wishing I had the next one in front of me already.

3. CROSSED +100 Alan Moore has a new horror comic set in Tennessee, ranging across the state from Chattanooga to Memphis and back again and ending up, briefly, in the Appalachian mountains where I grew up. It’s a very strange, disturbing, inventive book and it’s from a little publisher called Avatar, which flies so far under the radar I know literally no one else who regularly picks up their books, so it strikes me as something most people won’t have heard of.

Crossed +100 is strange in a lot of ways. For one thing the Crossed series has become a creator-owned franchise, something few publishers in the industry would tolerate (most companies that traffic in franchise series – Superman, Batman, The Fantastic Four – want the IP rights for themselves and most creators-owned projects are one-writer affairs), and for another Moore is simply stopping by to cast his usual  weird spell on it, taking the series to its logical conclusion and suggesting new permutations for the future. He said in an interview that he wanted to approach it not as a horror comic but as “a science fiction comic with a very high horror quotient,” and so that’s exactly what he’s done here, ostentatiously worldbuilding and inventing a mildly exasperating patois for his characters to speak in 2108, 100 years after “The Surprise,” in which (during the events of the original Crossed series) a zombie plagued turned most of the human race not into mindless cannibals but into giggling sadists who try to outdo each other for grossest violation of the Geneva convention. The zombies are all marked physically by a rash in the shape of a red cross on their faces (subtle!).

The original series, by outspoken atheist Garth Ennis, who tends to wallow in violence but is a first-rate writer of complex men (women, not so much), was gross but effective: his zombies went around raping and looting and torturing and speaking in jagged red letters where everyone else spoke in black and white, but Ennis still managed to fit in some interesting human drama, mostly between overrealized cowboy types. Moore has jumped forward ten decades and worked out how people might adapt to a world filled with would-be spree killers, and vice versa, and it’s very clever and quite sad, ultimately. True to his word, it’s also very smart SF and Moore has told the story entirely from a woman’s perspective. One funny thing here: Moore gets dinged pretty regularly (oftentimes by people with a score to settle) for featuring rape in his comics too often and it finally got back to him (he’s an awful Luddite). I’m not totally sure but I think this is a story about horrible violence and bloodshed and warfare in which nobody actually gets raped; there’s a lot of horrific stuff and the zombies themselves have utterly disgusting sex but it’s interesting that Moore has apparently A) taken to heart a criticism that he viciously lashed back at when it was put to him in an interview a few years ago and B) left rape out of what is by far the rapiest mainstream comic on the market and gently rebuked its creator by telling the story from the perspective of a bookish woman in a healthy relationship with a Muslim.

4. INJECTION Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey wrote and drew respectively one of my favorite comics of the last four or five years, a six-issue run on Moon Knight in which each story is done in 22 pages and each one is told in a totally different visual style. It’s a truly gorgeous book and Shalvey is a wonderful, inventive artist with a style I’ve never quite seen before. Usually I can pick out an artist’s influences pretty quickly, but not here. The story is fun; an Ellis-y band of surly scientists have to reckon with an experiment gone wrong, and he’s good at writing interesting women, as distinct from Vaughn, whose main female character should just be called Main Female Character (she’s spunky, sexually aggressive, and has sexy hair boys! But watch out, because this firecracker has a self-destructive streak!). The twist – similarly to Wytches, further down – is that the sci-fi twist gives the story the feel of a fantasy book and incorporates a bunch of folklore in really interesting and unusual ways.

5. SEX CRIMINALS I know and I’m sorry, but it’s really, really, really funny. A couple discover that they both have the same superpower: when either of them has an orgasm, time literally stands still for that person. They discover this by having really great sex and coming simultaneously. Then they decide to team up to rob banks. It should be, like, five movies. It’s by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, the latter of whom has made Howard the Duck the best book at Marvel Comics (and it’s on hiatus until November! damn you, intracompany crossovers!), and the art by Zdarksy is excellent.

6. WYTCHES YES IT IS A SCI FI COMIC YOU SHUT UP. Scott Snyder is the hottest superhero writer on the docket at DC right now and the twist to this crazy, crazy, CRAZY horror book he’s put together with Jock makes it SF and not pure supernatural horror. It’s extremely clever, but much more importantly it’s an astoundingly well-put-together tale of human greed and frailty and the way it all comes together at the end of the first volume is worthy of Stephen King.

7. STRANGE FRUIT This book just started, but it is already one of the coolest things I’ve ever read. It’s basically a black Superman book set in the Jim Crow South with painted art by J.G. Jones and a script by Mark Waid, one of the best writers in the business. I have no idea what made these two middle-aged white boys decide to launch a book about a superpowered black man fighting the Klan in 1927 but it’s terrific. It’s from another very small press, Dynamite, which mostly puts out comics based on old-fashioned IP like The Shadow and The Green Hornet and Zorro. It’s just great.