Summer is almost here, and I can’t tell you how glad I am. So smear yourself up with sunscreen and bug repellent, find your kickiest sandals, put the finishing touches on your Wicker Man and don’t forget to wear a hat because I have some comics to make your summer just a little more fun whether it’s by the pool, on your porch, holed up in your bedroom with a box fan set on high or dancing and singing “Sumer is Icumen In” as you sacrifice a virgin representative of a king to the Old Gods to ensure a good harvest in the fall.
I like to think I’ve provided a Variety Pak so no matter what your flavor of comics is you might find something you like: Pop superheroics; dark fantasy; horror; clever short stories set in Edo; Fifties pulp; Mod secret agents; Weird Westerns; comic but still graphic fantasy; graphic novel mystery; YA science fiction fun!
Batman ’66 / Batman ’66: Vol. 1 (DC) Jeff Parker, writer; Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Reuben Procopio and Colleen Coover art; Mike Allred, covers.
Batman’ 66 recounts the continuing adventures of 1960s tv show Batman. The stories are short doses of fun, using Jeff Parker’s fine blend of fun and action. The art is perfect, popping with color and halftone. And it features three of my favorite creators, Mike Allred, Jonathan Case and Colleen Coover. In the digital issues, Case and Coover in particular make great use of the medium—layering dialog and sound effects. I particularly enjoyed Coover’s take on Batgirl and Catwoman as played by Eartha Kitt. And it turns out that recommending Jonathan Case’s work is now a Summer Fun Time Reading tradition. Last year, I recommended The Green River Killer (Dark Horse, 2011) and the year before, Dear Creature (Tor, 2011). Batman ’66 was originally only published in digital format, but DC has wised up and brought one of the best, most innovative comics they’re doing into the print world. Charming! Fun! Pop-art-tacular!
Becky Cloonan is another of my favorite artists and now she is one of my favorite writers. In this comic trilogy, she shares stories about tragic love and curses. They are connected not by plot, but by tone and style. They are fairytales in the darkest form. Blood debts, werewolves, the haunting deep and just a little of 1960s and 1970s horror comics like Creepy and Eerie. And, if The Twilight Zone were set in the Middle Ages, some of that, too. In Wolves, a man hunts a beast and in killing it, curses himself. In The Mire, a squire travels through a swamp to deliver a letter to a seemingly abandoned castle. And in Demeter, a woman’s beloved is returned to her, but she is consumed with dread. I want Cloonan to do all the barbarian, viking and fantasy stories now. I read these comics as individual issues, but they have just been released in the collection, By Chance Or Providence (Lounak Books, 2014)
Dark Shadows: The Complete Series, Vol. 3 (Hermes, 2009) Donald Arneson and Arnold Drake, writers; Joe Certa, artist.
There’s something about summer that makes me turn to classic, or if not classic, older horror. Maybe it’s balancing out the light with some darkness. I don’t know. However it works, these Dark Shadows comics published between August, 1972 and August, 1973 expand on the world of one of the most intriguing soap operas ever aired. Vampire Barnabas Collins has adventures in other realms, becomes (once again) unmoored from time, meets a mummy–completing Dark Shadows’ set of classic monsters–encounters gangsters, salty Seventeenth Century sea dogs and even an evil carnival. The art tends towards Romance comic or newspaper melodramas, which makes me happy. And I was happy to see Arnold Drake, who wrote one of my favorite all-time comics, Doom Patrol, after getting his start in Romance comics—a fantastic pedigree for Dark Shadows.
Fallen Words (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012) by Tatsumi Yoshihiro
I am far more familiar with Tatsumi’s dark, naturalistic short stories, but it is refreshing to see him work in comedy. Fallen Words is a collection of stories of urban cons and cleverness in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Edo (now Tokyo). Tatsumi uses the traditional comic storytelling tradition of rakugo and combines it with gekiga, a darker, harder edged school of manga he founded with creators like Takao Saito (Golgo 13) and Sanpei Shirato (Kamui-den). The results are fascinating and fantastic and in a short afterward Tatsumi himself seems pleased with the parallels between building tension in humorous stories and the harsher, realistic short stories he told in The Pushman (2005), Abandon The Old In Tokyo (2006) and Good-Bye (2008). As an admirer of Tatsumi’s work, it’s exciting to see him continuing to innovate within the form.
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books The Government Didn’t Want You To Read (Harry N. Abrams, 2010) by Jim Trombetta with an introduction by R. L. Stine
Bringing a Cold War vibe to cool you off, The Horror! The Horror! is a thick, well-bound book mixing comics history and comic reprints. The history is slight with frequent guest appearances by literary critic Northrop Frye, but it’s hard to mind when the book reprints amazing comics in a variety of genres that have bee out of print since the Fifties. (My current favorite sub-genre: space Western with Army guys). For those of you who like a multimedia summer, and preferably one that is indoors, the book also comes with a DVD.
The Mysterious Strangers: Vol 1: Strange Ways (Oni Press, 2014) Chris Roberson, writer; Scott Kowalchuk, art.
More groovy and even sometimes ginchy fun. In a way, The Mysterious Strangers is an Ur-comic for me. Sure, it’s new, but it’s brightly colored, Mod and very Pop Art. Absolom Quince and his Strangers, Verity, Sandoval, and Michael, agents of a super secret organization, use their mysterious powers to battle global threats, whether interstellar terrors, ancient cults or a man known only as “Capricorn.” Part Man From U.N.C.L.E, part Doom Patrol, if you like your comics as Pop as possible, you’ll like The Mysterious Strangers.
Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike (Image, 2014) Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer; Emma Rios, art; Jordie Bellaire, colors.
I recommended Pretty Deadly in January based on one issue. Now there’s a whole collection and I’m recommending it as the finest Weird Western on the shelves. Death has a daughter named Ginny, who’s filled with the desire for vengeance. If you call her and ask for her help, she will avenge you. But Death’s also raised Ginny to kill the Beast from the river of blood. And the Beast might not be a beast after all. The book’s a a wonderfully drawn and and colored Weird Western fairytale of the grimmest sort. The delicate lines and gorgeous colors work well both atmospherically and in conveying in some of the best action scenes out there.
Rat Queens (Image, 2014–ongoing) Kurtis J Wiebe, writers; Roc Upchurch, art; Fiona Staples, cover.
This is, hands down, the comic I’d most like to see adapted as an animated series, preferably for Adult Swim. Rat Queens reminds me of the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, but if it were more subversive, mundane and followed the exploits of women who swore a lot and talked about food and their sex lives. Rat Queens is a fantasy comic about a trouble-making all-female, multi-race, multi-species band of adventurers. I suspect it is very much how people who play table top role-playing games like to think of their own adventures and characters. I suspect there is a whole slew of readers thinking, “Hey, they’re writing down our adventures and illustrating them!” Come for the fantasy adventure and stay for the sassy, Elder God talk.
Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second, 2012) by Mark Siegel
It’s nice to sit by the pool, on the patio or porch with lemonade (or Pimm’s Cup, whatever your poison might be is fine with me) and read a nice long book. Sailor Twain is a nice long book thick with mystery. Captain Twain, no relation to Mark Twain, is the captain of the Lorelei, the tightest run steam boat on the Hudson River. But there is madness and a mysterious death on board, perhaps to due to an overindulgence of absinthe or opium, perhaps due to something else. The engineers are keeping secrets. And two boys inspired by Huckleberry Finn keep stowing away. A fine sense of story and history wrought with lovely graphite strokes. Sailor Twain is a love letter to the Hudson, which deserves many.
The final volume of the Zita The Spacegirl trilogy, Return of Zita The Spacegirl, just came out and it is more fun that thirty space cats driving space bumper cars. (Always bet on the one-eyed space cat, she’s mean enough to win). There’s adventure, cute alien creatures, robots and a swell costume design for Zita the Spacegirl herself. The whole series is available and great fun for readers of all ages. Zita’s best friend Charles is pulled into another universe when Zita pushes a red button she really shouldn’t have. Zita follows, hoping to rescue Charles, but arrives on an alien planet. Zita befriends a giant mouse who communicates using a baroque printer, a giant creature named Strong-Strong, a grumpy robot, a piper and a mysterious woman. Zita adventures across worlds, braves a dungeon planet and saves the day again and again in this charming series with swell and expressive art.
Carol Borden received review copies of Sailor Twain; Zita The Spacegirl; The Legend Of Zita The Spacegirl; The Return Of Zita The Spacegirl and a review copy of Dark Shadows: The Complete Series: Vol. 3 .
Now if you’ll excuse her, she must practice her Solstice capering and find where she left her Helmet of Bees.