1. Civil War II (No. 4, Sept 2016, Marvel) – Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez & Justin Ponsor
If your favorite comic book movie this year was Captain America: Civil War, you’ll want to try Marvel’s ongoing big event series Civil War II. The drama thus far: Faith in an emerging superhero’s seeming ability to see into the future has sparked a division between two of Marvel’s most charismatic heavyweights – Tony Stark and Carol Danvers. For the former’s side, it’s a no-brainer: Don’t trust the human eightball who claims to see visions of future crimes and imminent threats. The very notion of an omniscient Ulysses attacks the core of who we are as subjective choice-making beings with freewill and intentions. For the latter’s side, it’s an equally obvious no-brainer: Humanity would be foolish not to preemptively act on Ulysses’ miraculous visions, especially if those visions have been proven mostly to be accurate. Even if his visions are not certainties, but overwhelming likelihoods, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to act and prevent the next world war or potential armageddon? An excerpt from Tony Stark’s soul searching rebuttal:
I am so lost. I need your help. / This– this Ulysses guy. I know you think I’m being overdramatic about him, I know some think I’m lashing out at Danvers because I can’t get over what happened to Rhodey . . . / or Banner . . . / . . . And maybe that’s true. But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. / If we’ve learned anything in our time in uniform, or as Avengers, it is that the future . . . it’s not written. It can’t be. And that was my original problem with this new inhuman. This future-reading, fortune-telling vision maker . . . You can’t see a future that hasn’t happened yet. Time is a construct. Time is a concept. Time might be an organism that lives and breathes around us. And this kid, who we still don’t know nearly enough about for my taste, he keeps having these visions of us. Visions of criminal activity, disaster and holocaust. He’s the conduit to the visions, but he doesn’t just see them– he experiences them. His words. He lives these disasters and horrors . . . How can that not be affecting him mentally? / So if these visions are affecting him, then he is affecting the visions. / He has to be. / The entire concept of the visions is impure.
2. The Totally Awesome Hulk (No. 9, Sept 2016, Marvel) – Greg Pak & Mike Del Mundo
Parallels to the MCU aside, what has made the unfolding of Civil War II particularly engaging is the way that Marvel Comics has been utilizing and incorporating peripheral, albeit beloved, characters from their ever-increasing roster of fan favorites (e.g., Kamala Khan, Amadeus Cho, Miles Morales, etc). Reading CWII, you’re reminded of how unique comic books as a medium is in the degree to which an event can have ripple effects across adjacent parallel titles. Case in point, the newest issue of writer Greg Pak’s The Totally Awesome Hulk ups the ante as Amadeus Cho (aka, the new Hulk) willfully defies the expressed wishes of Carol Danvers (aka, Captain Marvel). Not all that surprising given how close Bruce Banners (aka, the old Hulk) was to Amadeus. Had Carol not acted on Ulysses’ premonitions, Bruce Banners would still be alive. Writer Greg Pak & artist Mike Del Mundo do an unusually brilliant job of modulating the performances of both Danvers and Cho; sensitive to the fact that he’s still grieving over the death of Banners, Carol knows not to push too hard. An unexpectedly gorgeous and satisfying read, issue #9 is the one that will make you a believer – if you’re not already.
3. Giant Days (No. 17, Aug 2016, BOOM! Box) – John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming & Whitney Cogar
It’s that time of year again. Newly baptized high school seniors are contemplating their glamorous career paths and expectantly working on their college application essays. To wit, part of the great fun of the newest issue of Giant Days is pricking and deflating that balloon of optimism and naive sense of academic adventurism. As the cover art hints, our dear undergraduate Daisy will soon learn of the heartbreaking realization that the niche world of archaeology too is populated by posturing jerks and elitist douchebags. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of sharing the same air with an egotistical TA or a heartless professor, you’ll relish Daisy’s much deserved blow up. Professor Bradford: “Daisy, what are you doing?” Daisy: “What . . . am . . . I doing??? I’ll tell you what I’m doing! I’m doing literally nothing because every time I do something you tell me I’m doing it wrong! Maybe I’m not a very good archaeologist yet, but you’re not a very good teacher! And you’ve had years of practice.”
4. Batgirl (No. 1, Sept 2016, DC) – Hope Larson, Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
For longtime DC fans, 2016 has most likely been a hinge year of sorts. On the heels of Batman v Superman and the prospects of a DC cinematic universe, DC’s publishing arm relaunched its entire line of ongoing superhero titles – officially ending the mixed bag known as the New 52 initiative of 2011 (i.e., the revamp that controversially cancelled and renumbered flagship titles that had retained their original numbering since the 1930s). Of all the soft reboots, I for one am most looking forward to Batgirl. Though both the character and title were initially quite promising under New 52 writer Gail Simone, the series quickly lost its way with Fletcher and Stewart’s ill-conceived millennial version of Barbara Gordon as the Tinder-crazed hipster socialite of Burnside. Early indications of the new “rebirthed” Batgirl are promising: With Barbara Gordon in East Asia and itching to dip her toes into MMA, it appears that writer Hope Larson and artist Raphael Albuquerque, one of the best commercial artists working today, are thankfully deciding to exploit narrative territories that were not fully explored during Simone’s fantastic run.
5. Archie (No. 10, Sept 2016, Archie Comics) – Mark Waid & Veronica Fish
Never thought I’d say I’m an Archie fan, but writer Mark Waid and artist Veronica Fish have made me a believer. Yes, they’re that good. Timely and poignant, issue #10 follows Archie’s trail of unintended political consequences and hurt feelings as he attempts to undo the character assassination of Mr. Collier, a much respected Riverdale High teacher who is running for mayor. Needless to say, everybody ends up hating Archie – the more he tries to fix things, the worst it gets. Particularly heartbreaking and affecting is the climactic back and forth between him and Betty. BETTY: “He [Mr. Collier] called. Mom cried for an hour, Archie!” ARCHIE: “I tried to fix it! Don’t you get it? . . . That I’m a terrible fixer, Betty! / I once started a fire in an icecream freezer and I still don’t know how! Don’t let me do things!” BETTY: “You’re under some kind of spell.” ARCHIE: “Is this about Veronica again? Don’t pick on her!” BETTY: “I miss my best friend. You’re so different now. . . . She makes you different! Veronica makes you different! Why? Why do you let her?”