Things in Print Thursday :: 5 comics that you should check out

19 Feb

Written entirely by my drift partner, because I very nearly know nothing about comics and I want to, and she knows a lot and I admire it.

I started reading comic books in fall 2007, about six months before the first Iron Man was released to theaters. This was, in retrospect, a terrible mistake, because I have spent literally hundreds of dollars on comic books in the past six years. But I’ve also read a lot of really beautiful, touching, hilarious, well-written stories, and that’s why I keep going back for more, no matter much how I curse them for being a financial and emotional drain. At the moment, I’m buying more ongoing series than I ever have in my entire reading history, which I think is a testament to how many good books are out there right now. This is a list of five books that I think are some of the best out there, although of course I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of that (I hear Gotham Academy from DC and Lumberjanes from Image are also great, and will get around to reading those in trade).

5. Jason Aaron’s Thor
This book got a lot of buzz months before its release, for the simple fact that it featured a female Thor. Why? They didn’t explain the reason behind fem!Thor in the initial press release. But damn was it funny to watch entitled fanboys whinge about it. They were so angry at the idea that Thor might not be a giant muscley man. Come to find out, when the book came out, Thor the male character is still himself, minus one arm and his hammer. Our mysterious Lady Thor has simply taken on a title, like Captain America or Hawkeye, which is bestowed on the person worthy enough to possess Mjolnir. Why does she have the hammer? We don’t really know, as of issue #5. Who is she? We don’t know that either, yet. (We know who she isn’t.) What we do know: Mjolnir has been performing differently (better?) for her than it did for Thor, and it is irrevocably hers now. And the mystery of who she is is intriguing enough to me that I’m in this for the long haul (I’m rooting for Annabelle Chase, which is such a goddamn obscure reference that you’re going to have to google it to know who she is, and the chances of it being her are almost nonexistent, but I can’t help but hope). Jason Aaron also gets major points for replying to every letter in the letter column with respect and humility – I’m less wary about men writing female-led comics than I should be, but I really think he’s one of the good ones.

4.  Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel
I have been fond of Carol Danvers for years, for no particular reason – I read one trade of an old Ms. Marvel run in high school by chance and ever since I’ve just had a soft spot for her. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself part of the Carol Corps (the name of Carol’s RL fanclub, which has meetups at various cons) but I do think her stint as Captain Marvel has been one of the most consistently enjoyable things in the Marvel Universe. Carol got her new title in 2010 from the former Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell, who sacrificed himself to the Phoenix Force for a reason which doesn’t really matter, frankly; the important thing to know is that she is the next in a line of Captain Marvels. DeConnick had to reboot the series when Marvel started its campaign of All New #1s in 2014, after having already released two trades’ worth of comics (In Pursuit of Flight and then Down, which are both excellent reads), which fortunately didn’t affect the quality of the comic at all. Carol Danvers’ most admirable quality is that she takes no shit from anyone, ever, and that is just a delight to read about. (Also one issue featured a planet where everyone had to speak in rhyming couplets and it was hilarious.) At the moment she’s traveling around the galaxy righting wrongs and punching bad guys in the face, and that’s just something everyone should have in their life, really.

3.  Nathan Edmonson’s Black Widow
This is only higher than Captain Marvel because Natasha is one of my special girls. This series takes a look at a Natasha who has a deeper and more sordid history than the one from MCU, but is accessible enough for MCU viewers to jump in with no prior knowledge of her comics backstory (although if you’re going to read any of her other comics, definitely track down The Name of the Rose by Marjorie Liu). The overarching question is, if she’s got such a terrible past and she does such terrible things, does she deserve to call herself a hero and an Avenger? And does she deserve to have the loyal network of friends and associates that she does? (That’s one of the best things about this series: in the majority of the issues, there have been amazing guest stars like Daredevil and Punisher and Winter Soldier.) This comic is one of the ones I most look forward to every month, and a nice bonus is that Phil Noto, he of the gorgeous digital Buffy painting, does the art, so your eyes are getting just as much of a treat as your brain.

2.  G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan is one of my favorite new characters in a long time. She is a Muslim teen living in Jersey City, who’s doing her best to juggle her culture with what she, as an American-born teenager, wants to do. Then, as happens in superhero comics, she discovers that she has Inhuman blood and develops the power to “embiggen” or shrink herself as needed, along with shapeshifting and a healing factor. She styles herself as Ms. Marvel, after her hero Captain Marvel (yes, that one!), and sets about stopping petty crime in Jersey City – which of course doesn’t stay petty crime for long, because that would be boring. Kamala is an incredible character: she’s passionate and brave, but also does an awful lot of dumb things and makes mistakes and has to face consequences. She’s completely believable as a teenage girl, but she also says a lot of really powerful, true things (the most recent arc culminated in her chewing out the villain for calling her generation “worthless”). Her unflappable hope and belief in people is inspiring. Also, it refuses to succumb to the dark and edgy tropes that tend to plague comics starring teenagers (hi, Avengers Arena). It’s one of the most joyful books in print right now and I can’t recommend it enough.

1.  Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga
If there’s one comic I want everyone in the world to read, it’s this one. I’ve been a fan of Brian K. Vaughan’s work for years, and in my opinion this is the single best thing he’s ever written. Saga is the story of a fugitive family who fears capture because the wife is a deserter, the husband is an escaped war prisoner, and the child is an illegal hybrid – or it is the story of the bounty hunter hired to find them and his animal companion, a giant cat called Lying Cat who knows when people are lying? Or is it the story of the prisoner’s scorned fiancee, hunting them on a mission of revenge? Or of a privileged, spoiled prince who acts more as a figurehead than a true ruler, particularly when his newborn son is kidnapped? Saga is an epic space opera in the truest sense, and it is probably the best ongoing comic that I have ever read. (One caution, however: it is an adult comic and should not be read in public areas, such as the bus, because there are graphic panels of naked people having sex in many of the issues. But usually the sex is for a reason, and never feels like exploitation to me.) Please, even if you’ve never picked up a comic before in your life, give this one a try. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read before and you won’t regret it. (Alternatively, it’s a little bit of Star Wars and a little bit of A Song of Ice and Fire, if the aliens in Star Wars were even weirder and if ASOIAF took place in space and had a more explicitly diverse cast.)

i'm the nice one

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