1. Saga (No. 21, July 2014, Image) – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Insert favorite adjective/noun here. Modify with superlative. End clause with “comic book of the year.” In my own efforts to convey the awesomeness of Vaughan’s series to friends, I have interchangeably used the phrase “most surreal” and “best non-drug induced acid trip.” No big surprise why Brian K. Vaughan won the best writer prize at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con: Think of your favorite sci-fi/fantasy television series in recent years (e.g., Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, etc) and multiply the surreality level by 10. Beyond the fact that Saga’s world is populated by talking sea horses and a race of royals with heads for television sets, what makes the books particularly addictive is the drama of Marko and Alana attempting to raise their newborn Hazel in a universe that seeks to desire nothing more than their utter and complete annihilation. At its core Saga is really about a young, star-crossed “mixed race” family fighting to maintain familial integrity in a rapidly changing, increasingly disintegrating brave new world; hence, why the series feels so grounded and familiar in spite of the giant grasshoppers and talking squirrels. A sample of the heartbreaking dialogue from Hazel’s retrospective perspective in last month’s issue:
From the moment it’s formed, a family is almost always under attack. / The trick is figuring out which threats to deal with first. / Long before I was old enough for “the talk,” Mom told me about sex. / She said she’d had lots of it in her life, but married sex was probably her favorite. / Still, Mom also warned me not to expect fireworks like the ones in Mister Heist’s romance novels every time. / Some nights, even two old friends deciding to get as close as humanly possible . . . / . . . could still be worlds apart.
2. Low (No. 1, Aug 2014, Image) – Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini
Similar to Saga, Low is the tale of a family that simply wants to survive in an alien universe that would rather see it torn apart and annihilated. By far the best single issue comic this week with the most potential to knock our socks off down the line; to wit, Tocchini’s gorgeous depiction of the underwater city of Salus will immediately have you intrigued. A cliffhanger of a first read, Remender leaves the Caine family in a most unforeseen state by the last few panels.
3. Justice League (No. 31, Aug 2014, DC) – Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne
If you were ever in doubt about the decisive role of luck in a writer’s career, Geoff Johns’ is an instructive example. After studying film theory at Michigan State, Johns moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s where he proceeded to cold call the office of director Richard Donner. While he was waiting to be transferred, Donner by a fluke picked up the phone by accident and gave Johns an internship. While working on Donner’s 1997 movie Conspiracy Theory in New York, Johns again by pure whim met up with DC Comics’ Eddie Berganza. Impressed partly by the fact that he worked for Donner, Johns was invited to pitch ideas in the DC Comics offices. The rest is history, as they say. Which leads us into this week’s DC’s pick: Justice League No. 31. Bruce Wayne’s luck has seemingly ran out as Lex Luthor corners Bruce in his mansion and accuses him of being Batman; Johns clearly understands the dynamic between these two genius billionaires and what makes the exchange especially delicious for comic geeks is the degree to which Johns employs subtext with each bated breath. If you’re at all on the fence about Justice League, try Johns’ version of the epic team up. He brings a humor and pathos to the property that one only hopes Warner Brothers will bring to their live-action franchise.
4. Storm (No. 1, Sept 2014, Marvel) – Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez & Ruth Redmond
Not unlike Geoff Johns, Greg Pak was originally a film student prior to his entering the comics realm. Pak’s NYU student film Fighting Grandpa, a study of his Korean grandparents, won the Gold Medal at the 25th Student Academy Awards. Though primarily known today as a writer on blown out Marvel and DC titles, his return to Storm with issue 1 may just remind readers why he’s considered so solid and dependable inside the industry. If the referencing of all of Storm’s aliases (e.g., Ororo Munroe, Windrider, Princess of N’Dare, former queen of Wakanda, headmistress of the Jean Grey School) in the introductory splash page is any indication, Pak will undoubtedly take advantage of the character’s rich mythology in future issues.
5. Strangers in Paradise (No. 44, Oct 2001, Abstract Studio) – Terry Moore
My dollar pick this week is Moore’s Strangers in Paradise No. 44. We tend to forget that for a time, Moore was the most interesting thing going on in comics; Strangers was one of the few titles that got me and my friends hyperventilating about underground comics in the 1990s. And rereading the back issues it has dawned on me how ahead of its time it really was: Strangers in Paradise was one of the few titles that authentically dealt with alternative sexuality – back when gay marriage and polyamory were still concepts. And, of course, to this day polyamory, loving relationships that involve more than two consensual adults, is still frowned upon. Written and drawn by the brilliant Terry Moore, don’t let the flag-waving patriotism of the cover turn you off. This particular issue was uncharacteristic in that it was published right after 9/11 and the red, white, and blue background was simply a gesture of national mourning.