Each month, Abraham Riesman offers recommendations of comics, including book-length graphic novels, comics-format nonfiction, and ongoing series. With any luck, at least one of them will be a match for you.
Godshaper by Simon Spurrier, and Jonas Goonface (BOOM!)
Simon Spurrier is easily one of the most inventive scribes in English-language comics today, and his capacious imagination has never been more apparent than in his latest for BOOM! Studios, Godshaper. It’s a story about … well, it’s actually very difficult to describe what it’s about without sounding completely cuckoo, but suffice it to say that it takes place in a world where nearly everyone has their own personal god. Our protagonist, however, has no god, and instead wanders the land, performing the uncanny act of manipulating and fixing other people’s gods. The whole thing wouldn’t work unless it had an artist just as creatively crazy as Spurrier, and Jonas Goonface is more than up to the challenge. Oh, and there’s a human-free god named Bud, and he’s adorable, and I would very much like to have him as a pet.
Iceman by Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, and Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel)
Even if Iceman weren’t good, it’d still be a significant and rare achievement: a solo series starring a queer character at Marvel Comics. What’s that? You didn’t know Iceman was gay now? Oh, yeah, he totally is. Through some complicated time-travel and telepathy shenanigans, that revelation was made recently, and thanks to Sina Grace (a queer man whose graphic memoir Nothing Lasts Forever is one of the best comics works of the year), Alessandro Vitti, and Rachelle Rosenberg (not to mention Kevin Wada, the astoundingly talented cover artist), the chillest of the X-Men has found a prominent seat at the table. Luckily, the comic isn’t just significant and rare — it’s also very, very good, and doesn’t shy away from directly and frankly talking about being a gay man circa 2017. Long may you toss snowballs, Bobby Drake.
The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish (Papercutz)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Veronica Fish is one of the finest up-and-coming artists in comics today. She has a versatile hand, capable of offering up hard-edged action in Marvel’s Spider-Woman (RIP), but just as adept at the flowing, impressionistic visions of her collaboration with Melissa Jane Osborne, The Wendy Project. Initially released in hard-to-find individual issues, Papercutz has helpfully combined this tale of childhood, loss, and creativity into a single volume, and it’s well worth a purchase. You’ll thrill to Fish’s linework and facial acting and you’ll swoon for Osborne’s vivid characterization of a girl struggling to separate fact from fiction while navigating trauma. Plus, it has one of the best covers of any comic book this year. I mean come on, look at that thing! It’s hypnotic!
Calexit by Matteo Pizzolo, Amancay Nahuelpan, and Tyler Boss (Black Mask)
Okay, okay, the exposition of Calexit may sound a bit on the nose. After all, it’s a tale about the establishment of a breakaway Californian republic in the wake of a presidency not too dissimilar from our current one. But trust me, it works. There are no easy gags about Californians, no silly jabs at Trumpism, and no over-the-top satire of our current state of decline. Instead, the creators have opted to tell a terrifyingly straightforward suspense story about the intrigues and crackdowns that ensue when governments decay and societies rot. The scariest thing about Calexit is how lived-in it feels — after all, every dystopia is just an accurate description of how things are for other people somewhere in the world, and this story just reminds us that we’re always a hair’s breadth away from the very bad things that we assume only happen in failed states.
Mother Panic Vol. 1: A Work in Progress by Jody Houser, Tommy Lee Edwards, Shawn Crystal, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu (DC)
DC’s Young Animal imprint has been one of the most positive developments for mainstream comics art in recent years. My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way — a longtime comics geek and sometimes comics writer — prompted the creation of a small set of ongoing series that either highlight underused DC characters or outright create new ones, and Mother Panic is firmly and passionately in the latter camp. Along with artists Tommy Lee Edwards, Shawn Crystal, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, writer Jody Houser has constructed a kind of warped-mirror Batman: A notoriously disastrous rich girl in Gotham City leads a double life as a brutal enforcer of justice in a completely badass white suit and helmet. Although most Young Animal books have felt contained in their little worlds (and delightfully so!), Mother Panic feels like the beginning of a long career for its protagonist — and its writer.
Kim & Kim: Love Is a Battlefield by Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre (Black Mask)
Queer screwup bounty hunters in a pastiche future world where necromancy is commonplace? What else do you even need to know? Okay, fine, I’ll give you some more: Kim & Kim is consistently one of the most charming and sexy comics in the hustle, and its next arc, Love Is a Battlefield, gets off to a great start. One thing it isn’t, is filled to the brim with action. Indeed, many action sequences are merely referred to as having happened, after the fact. This is a feature, not a bug — the creators are more interested in giving us vivid characterization and intriguing world-building than wall-to-wall shootouts. But trust me, when you do get to see the shit go down? The waiting is very much worth it.
Shirtless Bear Fighter! by Jody LeHeup, Sebastian Girner, Nil Vendrell, and Mike Spicer (Image)
As the Brits say: It does what it says on the tin. Shirtless Bear Fighter is the riotous little tale about the beast-battling adventures of a … well, you do the math. Though it’s only one issue in, the comic already has me giggling as much as I have at anything all year. We get fresh-feeling send-ups of tired action tropes, like the reluctant hero called in out of retirement and the complicated history between protagonist and antagonist, and the artwork is just cartoony enough to be hilarious while still being dynamically constructed for maximum thrills.
Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser (Image)
You know what? Grim and gritty comics get a bad rap these days. There’s a cult of niceness that surrounds mainstream sequential art, one that praises all things quirky and goofy, and that tosses under the bus the stuff that smells like cynicism. That all makes sense, and there certainly was a period not long ago when “dark” comics were all too prominent, but have we overcorrected? If so, then let Kill or Be Killed act as a correction to the overcorrection. It’s a fantastically sinister series about a kid who, for reasons I won’t spoil, finds himself getting into the killing business. Ed Brubaker is, of course, one of the best writers in the medium, and he and Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser already teamed up on the incredible The Fade Out, so it’s no surprise that their latest is both thrilling and gorgeous. What is surprising is just how much glee they can wring out of one of the least gleeful premises in comics today.