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 count to 11+1.
Usagi Yojimbo #144
Stan Sakai's decades-long series about a rabbit samurai wandering feudal Japan remains one of comics' most perfectly realized yet under-the-radar gems. Sakai's cartooning skill makes Usagi's whole world feel alive with its creator's wry, thoughtful and broadly entertaining philosophy. Characters die in the tightly drawn sword duels, but the action's safe for younger kids and never feels neutered.
Gears of War #22
Novelist Karen Traviss penned the story for Epic Games' sci-fi threequel and has been on the tie-on comics for a good chunk of time now. This issue's description reads like it's mirroring the plot of Gears of War 3 pretty closely. Hopefully, there's enough new material to satisfy gamers who got Gears 3's emo-bro ending many months ago.
Justice League #6
The flagship team title of the DC Universe finishes its first story arc after being rebooted, as the most recognizable characters in the publisher's stable face off with cosmic archvillain Darkseid. Even though these issues have felt slowly plotted at times, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have combined to give each character revealing spotlights and a counter-intuitive look at how team chemistry happens with a bunch of alpha personas.
The Shade #5
James Robinson's strength as a writer is in shaping stories where things happen to characters because of who they are, not because they need a new plot point for a crossover. So, in this maxi-series about a rougish, shadow-wielding immortal being made to face up to a checkered past, every battle tells you something about the reluctant hero and his world. In a superhero landscape where event-driven editorial sucks up all the oxygen, The Shade's a breath of fresh air.
Tiny Titans #49
Art Balthazaar's scaled-down take on the sidekicks and younger heroes of DC Comics is the perfect antidote for superhero comics that take themselves too seriously. It's cute and clever for the lucky kids that get an issue in their hands but also holds sly nods at the grown-up versions of these characters from the mainline DCU.
Who knows when Naughty Dog's going to get around to a fourth Nathan Drake adventure? But this comic's sharp take on the snarky derring-do of the PS3 franchise puts much of what makes Uncharted work on the printed page. The comics Drake still gets to pull off impossible stunts, flirt with Chloe and walk a fine line between being a thief and a hero.
Superstar writer Jason Aaron begins his final arc on the book that made people sit up and pay attention to him. The thing that always grabs me about Aaron's work—and Scalped, in particular—is that he always shows how violence comes at a cost. The people surrounding Dash Red Horse's life all pay steep prices for inciting physical or emotional aggression, even if their vendettas are righteous. The volatility of Aaron's gritty series really leaves me wondering if there'll be any pieces left to pick up once it's all said and done.
Some series soar on the strength of their core concept, others on their execution. Pigs manages to do both. The central idea involves the children of a Cold War sleeper cell hiding in Cuba and how they respond to orders to launch terrorist attacks in the U.S. Ben McCool and Nate Cosby deliver a cast where the psych profiles range from conflicted to true believer against a foreign backdrop where their mission might not matter to anyone but them. Good stuff.
The Walking Dead #94
The post-zombie apocalypse hit that spawned the AMC series looks like it's introducing the only thing worse than the undead. Other humans.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates Vol. 1 and Ultimate Comics Ultimates #7
Jonathan Hickman writes like the graphics designer he used to be. The shapes of his stories all interlock and find ways to be intriguing on the macro and micro levels. In the Ultimates universe that he's helping re-launch, Hickman posits that America's days of dominance may be over. But more interestingly he shows how Nick Fury and crew are themselves falling apart.
Ultimate Comics X-Men #8
Hickman's partner-in-crime Nick Spencer turns up the heat on Marvel's re-invention of Ultimate Universe's mutant mythos. It's another book where the personalities demand your attention as much as the plot does.
Ralph Wiggum Comics #1
The lovable dorky police chief's son get his own comic at last? With legendary Mad Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones contributing? What took so long?