Welcome, then, to the Panel Discussion Dozen. Each installment, I'll be picking out twelve just-released or out-soon comics that I think are worth paying attention to. Ready? Now let's play the dozens.
Dark Horse Presents#9
Anthology comics can be a mixed bag. Often they're places where new talent gets tried out or weird experiments happen. But this issue of Dark Horse Presents boasts work from the amazing Paul Pope, an artist who seemingly knows how to transmit fuse and transmit entire cultures onto the printed page. Whether he's doing superheroes or Vikings, Brian Wood writes comics with incredible emotional impact and believable naturalism. His newest work The Massive gets excerpted in this issue with beautiful art from Kristian Donaldson. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola also contributes a story featuring his pulp avenger Lobster Johnson, a character as terse and grim as Hellboy is flippant. Also in this issue, art by master of detail Geoff Darrow. This one's going to be pretty all around.
J.H. Williams' genius-level layouts and art have made Batwoman a holistic experience like no other in superhero comics, where your eyes do incredibly nimble dances across the pages. Focus on a panel and get fine linework and surprising splashes of color. Pull out to the whole page and drink in sharp tapestries of mood and rhythm. But all that takes time to do and Batwoman was designed to have rotating artists from the get-go. The book's co-written by Williams and Haden Blackman, known to gamers for working on The Force Unleashed games.
I'm highlighting this issue because it begins the first story arc drawn by Amy Reeder. She wields a more lush line than Williams, but preserves the gothic romanticism in the title's ethos. This issue kicks off a new storyline after Batwoman's been blackmailed into working for the government's Department of Extranormal Operations, which tracks superheroes and keeps them in line. The character work in this comic has been incredible, with family tension, untempered ambition and creepy evil all clashing against each other. There might not be a more passionate, hot-blooded superhero book on the stands today. Worth your time.
I, Vampire #6
When DC Comics announced this title as part of the New 52 re-launch, I rolled my eyes hard. I mean, they were stuck that way. I figured reviving this 1970s old horror comic was their stab at the Twilight fan base. I expected it would suck.
I was only partially right. Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino combine for a grounded, gory take on vampire lore that will feel familiar but also viscerally desperate for even the most seasonsed bloodsucker fan. In this issue, lead character Andrew Bennett teams up with Batman to help free Gotham City from his former lover's nosferatu takeover of Gotham City. Sorrentino delivers an inky ominous vibe that shows a great skill at knowing what to show and how to light it for maximum impact. Batman? Really doesn't like vampires, barely even believes they exist. Imagine that.
Dead Rising: Road to Fortune #4
The final issue of this comic series written by Tom Waltz and Kenneth Loh features the two protagonists from Capcom's zombie-pocalypse series. You can get your Frank West and Chuck Greene all at the same time in the final issue of this series that happens between Dead Rising 1 and Dead Rising 2. Loh's art looks like it shares the same gory, slightly distorted aesthetic of the games. Here's hoping we'll see some crazy duct-taped weapons in there, too.
Morning Glories #16
This is the creator-owned, slightly-below-the-radar from one of the best new writing talents to hit mainstream comics in the last decade. In his tale of a mysterious elite boarding school with lethal cliques and sadistic teachers, Nick Spencer travels over cliché-ridden territory—awkward adolescence intersecting with larger-than-life destiny—but makes Morning Glories' plots sing thanks to great charactization and pacing. Spencer's particular knack is for portraying how personalities move through and rub up against social systems. You'll get hooked by the shadowy conspiracy stuff but stay for the students.
I laughed at the previous version of this Rob Liefeld creation back in the 1990s and laughed some more when I heard that Prophet—along with the other characters from Liefeld's Extreme imprint were getting reboots for the modern-day. I'm not laughing any more.
Brandon Graham and artist Simon Roy re-invent John Prophet into a lonely warrior in a far-future milieu where humanity's apparently not running the planet anymore. It's a slow but atmospheric build so far—with #22 being the second issue—one that recalls the trippy sex-and-gore sci-fi of od Heavy Metal magazines but with some of the seedier elements boiled away. Liefeld's Prophet was a ‘roided-up never-was. I can already tell that this leaner iteration holds the seeds of something special.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #7
Every time I read an issue featuring Miles Morales—the kid who's the new Spider-Man in Marvel's Ultimate line—in his crimefigthting costumeI'm struck by how writer Brian Michael Bendis finds ways to remind us that this is a 13-year-old kid.
Miles knows nothing about, like, anything. Other heroes condescend to him. He barely understands his own powers. Maintaining eye contact seems like a major challenge for Miles. All this makes his uneasy steps into superheroing incredibly charming. That Bendis-driven charm's aiding by a new artist in this issue as the ultra-talented Samnee brings his wry, understated pencils to this tale. #7 sees the Morales family's checkered past comes back to haunt an unsuspecting Spidey, just as the public learns he exists.
Wolverine and the X-Men #6
In retrospect, it seems kind of brilliantly obvious. How does one re-invent the gritty, feral mutant who's been the most overexposed member of the Marvel stable? Make him a principal. Give him tons of heart and problems—school problems, angry students—that he can't slice hi way through. Bury him in a deep ensemble cast.
Logan's not the main attraction here; he's only part of the remarkable chemistry that Jason Aaron's working in this book. The students and the veteran X-Men who are their teachers are all learning how to play their parts as they go along, making this a fun unpredictable homage to the X-Men comics of old.
Quasar Classic Vol. 1
This collection puts the early 90s adventures of Wendell Vaughn into one place and that pleases me greatly. I read this series when it first came out—which cast Vaughn was an Earthman who became Protector of the Universe—and remember thinking that here was a hero who was an angst-free everyman. The late Mark Gruenwald gave readers a hero in the classic mold but who didn't seem dated at the time. Quasar's been back in action as part of Marvel's revamped cosmic line-up so it might be worth seeing if these older stories hold up.
Strikeforce Morituri Vol. 2
Another collection, this time of an experimental sci-fi series where the humans fighting against an alien invasion gained powers that could kill them inside of a year. In an era where the biggest problems most comics protagonists had was an exposed secret identity—which is still big—throwing metahuman action against a backdrop of life and death added an extra tension that serves Strikeforce well. Some of the art here's by Brent Anderson, who later went on to illustrate the excellent Astro City books.
Athos in America
Single-name cartoonist Jason draws bendy, animal-headed characters that seem all too human despite the way they look. Those big eyes hold longing stares emerging underneath brows that teem with unspoken I haven't seen tis collection yet but I've been blown away by Jason's previous work. This one will probably be just as good.
Daredevil, Vol. 1
Yes, I know that this book's a month old. But if there's some silly reason you didn't, you need to get this collection.
What I love most about Mark Waid's run on this book is that Matt Murdock's practicing a pay-it-forward kind of heroism, helping everyday people defend themselves in court and being a living example of rising above the traumas that beset us all. The visual language that Marcos Martin and the other artists use here bring Daredevil's super-senses to joyous life. It's great to see a hero who's been self-destructive and depressed for twenty years or so enjoy himself. You will, too.