Some of my best Christmas memories are finding a quiet spot by the Christmas tree to read my new comics while the rest of the family watched football or It’s A Wonderful Life for the millionth time. With that in mind, here are some ideas for the geeks in your life, or to buy for yourself if you’re a sad, lonely cartoon guy. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m leaving out a lot of the good stuff: Geoff Darrow’s reprints of Dark Horse, visually stunning and weirdly hilarious. Shaolin Cowboy; Mike Mignola’s new Hellboy comics; Wynonna Earp’s collection of IDWs, including some numbers written by the stars of the television series; and much more. But whatever you’re celebrating, here’s your chance to escape to a more colorful world while it’s cold and gray outside.
Perhaps the film’s reviews would have been better if they had moved closer to those of Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribić latest reinvention of the Eternals for Marvel Comics. For starters, Ikaris fights Thanos. A lot. But more than that, Gillen has a knack for grounding heroic myths in the present moment, and here he brings Jack Kirby’s ancient astronaut saga to life in a way that has never been done before.
The Eternals are a little terrifying and a little sad at the same time, anchored in existence for millions of years to fight a war they can never win. Told by Earth herself, a broken machine that the Eternals are required to mend, the book brings suspense and mystery to characters who by definition can never die. The art resembles Greek sculpture. And the final reveal of the opening story arc is a completely devastating blow, perfectly landed. The first collection is available now at Marvel.
THE DREAM: STANDING HOURS
DC Comics had a few tough years, with layoffs and executive turnover, which has led to some promising comics being abandoned or ignored. At one point there was a whole lineup of comics based on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which is still one of the best-selling and groundbreaking works in the medium. The fate of these books is uncertain now, which is unfortunate, for we could make much more use of G. Willow Wilson’s Waking Hours.
Wilson has created a true expansion of Gaiman’s original world, with new characters and stories that add to the myth rather than fake it. My favorite is Heather After, a modern day witch from a withered branch of the Burgess family tree. She fearlessly wanders the worlds of the Endless, finding companions and experiences along the way. The whole series is kind of like discovering new drawers in the cabinet that leads to Narnia, and I hope it will return after its first 12-issue edition. But if not, the Commercial Paperback is available now from DC Comics.
that of Al Ewing horror-tinged rendition of Bruce Banner and his inner demons ended with his 50eproblem this year, with Ewing managing to hit every iteration of the big green guy and include nearly all of his twisted backstory. (Do you remember Bruce’s wife, Betty, was turned into a horrible feathered harpy? Ewing did.) The series explores what it’s like to be turned into a monster through pain and hatred, and how anger is often confused with force.
It’s still a superhero book, however, and there are fun detours to other corners of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of the Hulk. You finally get the chance to see the Avengers Hulk-style, as the perfect, beautiful bunch of bullies who torment him for his failures. Ewing puts the Hulk’s trauma and rage at the service of the Devil himself, and the result is always on the verge of doubt. It’s one of the best comic book stories to come out of Marvel in years. Collected editions are available in Marvel paperback and bound omnibus books.
THE GOOD ASIAN
An impressive new black series by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi, this book tells the story of 1930s Chinatown from the perspective of the people who live there and of Detective Edison Hark, who grapples with its corruption and its own mysteries. The detective story is almost endlessly malleable and adaptable, and by flipping the script around, Pichetshote is able to breathe new life into the terrain smashed by Chandler and Hammett. Hark is a complex hero, carrying his share of pain and darkness, but he’s driven to find the truth as he grapples with what he owes the people around him. It’s a great launch for what will hopefully be a long series. The first four issues are now available as a collected edition of Image Comics.
Despite a buggy relaunch that made the search function almost unusable, Unlimited MarvelThe online comic book service is still the best way to read most of the company’s massive catalog without breaking the bank or dying under a spilled pile of old comics. The service, which is available for $ 60 with a vacation discount, gives you access to over 29,000 back issues on your tablet or phone, including complete sets of early classics. It beats the daylight of DC’s competitor service, DC Infinite Universe, which still has huge gaps in its library. For someone who wants a wider choice outside of the Big Two, there is Unlimited comixology, which features a new monthly list of comics from Marvel, DC, and other presses like Image, Dark Horse, and IDW.
ALL THE WONDERS: A JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE GREATEST STORY EVER TALE By Douglas Wolk
This book would be a good accompanying gift for Marvel Unlimited. While short on images, it’s chronicle of Douglas Wolk’s somewhat insane effort to read every Marvel comic ever released (with one or two exceptions). He’s more than just an obsessed fan, however; Wolk argues that the Marvel Universe is a piece of living mythology that changes and expands with each new reader. The book bounces between introductory material for people who might have seen a Marvel movie or two and deep dives into comic book lore. It’s entertaining and even inspiring for a completist like myself, who must know exactly what Dr. Strange did when he appeared in the pages of Alpha Flight # 6 in 1984. (Not much, TBH.) Available at Penguin Press.
DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH
A series hitting a bit too close to home these days, from James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds. Imagine all conspiracy theories are true – all of them, even those who contradict others. This is what FBI agent Cole Turner finds out when he stumbles upon two warring factions of Men In Black: one trying to keep reality as it is and the other trying to ignite the madness of all the nightmares of the Flat Earth, QAnon and Reptilians. Simmonds’ art, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, adds some very frightening imagery to the story. It’s undeniably compelling, even when it explores plots that have real human cost in the real world. The first two collections are available in pocket format from Image Comics.
John Ridley doesn’t have to write comics. He won an Oscar. He made about a billion dollars on television. But he clearly likes the medium. His knowledge and dedication is on every page of this alternate story of DC’s long, slow exploration into portraying non-white characters, as the characters themselves tell. Usually written by white men, these heroes were the first time children saw people who looked alike alongside Superman and Batman. Ridley takes the sometimes embarrassing and insulting moments and integrates them into a larger narrative, creating a world where the Teen Titans coexist with the riots of the late ’60s and Black Lightning won the decathalon at the 1972 Olympics. the parts that previous comics left out, filling in their gaps and deepening their meaning at the same time. Available in hardcover from DC Comics.
A project that picks up on some of the loose threads left by Alan Moore in his genre-defining work, Watchmen, and more recently, Damon Lindelof’s HBO series based on it. Tom King and Jorge Fornes create a political mystery steeped in the paranoia of a 70s conspiratorial thriller and executed with precision and craftsmanship. King shows his mastery of drip revelation, hidden in dialogues and panels, and Fornes’ art is a compositional masterpiece on almost every page.
There have been reviews that this shouldn’t be a Watchmen story, or even a superhero story. May be. (Moore has denied any attempt at any sequel or spinoff, which obviously doesn’t stop DC.) But it’s the setting that makes it intriguing. We see another fractured piece of the world shattered by Moore’s characters, and how its inhabitants still cling to the myth of the masked vigilante who will fix everything – despite how it has turned out on multiple occasions. The meaning will vary for different readers, but there is a message for our time for all who want to see it. Available in hardcover from DC Comics.