Sunday, January 10, 2016

Massive comic book review for 2015

So, following this year's ruckus over the Hugo Awards, I resolved to put in some nominations for next year's awards instead of just waiting for the shortlist like I normally would.  Me and everybody else, I suspect.  However, I was determined not to simply fall back on creators whose work I already know and who happened to have done something eligible in 2015, but to sample widely and make some properly informed nominations.  As I've previously remarked, this is a costly undertaking in terms of both time and money.  So I decided to pick one category and focus my efforts on that.

Folks, I picked the Best Graphic Story category.

I realise that as a response to the 2015 Hugos hijack this is completely rubbish, since this was the category the slate-makers showed the least interest in, but you know what, stuff it.  It's a category I'm interested in, which is more than I can say for any of the short fiction categories.  The pool of available material is less dauntingly large than for the other fiction categories, and consequently even at the prices most retailers charge for comic book trade paperbacks (TPBs) I can survey this category more cheaply than Best Novel, and find and acquire the material more easily than I could a lot of short fiction.  (And in fact, thanks to the import mark-up New Zealand retailers put on books, a new TPB typically costs me less than a new novel, which was never true back in the UK.)  It takes me a fraction of the time to read a TPB that it would take me to read a novel or watch a TV series or film.  Basically, I'm better able to assess this category for nomination purposes than any of the others.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The Hugo rules specify that a serialised work is eligible for the year in which the final part is made available - in the case of ongoing comic books, this applies to story arcs within the series, and comics creators nowadays tend to tailor their story arcs to about the size of a TPB, which is convenient for all concerned.  I can wait for a couple of months after the completion of a series or story arc within a series and pick up the eligible work in a single, durable volume, which suits me better than wrangling individual comics issues.  (For self-contained graphic novels, of course, it isn't a concern.  Nearly said "issue" there, ho ho.)  In a couple of cases, however, that does mean I haven't yet been able to catch up with a promising work whose final part came out late in the year.  I'm waiting on at least one TPB that isn't due out until the end of January, which I should be able to squeeze in in time to assess it for nomination purposes, but which therefore isn't listed below.

I've made an effort to track down comics with a specifically science fiction or fantasy theme - granted, all superhero comics are arguably fantasy, but beyond that there's a surprising wealth of genre comic books that I think are overshadowed by the multiple flavours of Batman and Spider-Man and the rest that get churned out each month.  I'm not mad fussed about conventional superhero comics anyway, although one or two more unusual items did catch my eye.

Readers may note a preponderance of items published by Image Comics in the list below.  This isn't down to any bias on my part in favour of the publisher, but simply reflects the fact that Image publish a lot of non-superhero SF/F comic books, bless 'em.  Naturally representation of DC and Marvel below is going to be extremely poor because they publish nothing but superhero titles.  Anyway, there it is.  I certainly don't claim that this round-up is definitive.

Finally, I'm not going to list out the (maximum of) five comics I intend to nominate, but I do offer opinions on all of these books.  It's a review post on a personal blog, and there wouldn't be a lot of point in it if I withheld my opinions.  Readers may be able to spot one or two likely candidates for my nomination ballot based on my comments, but that's life.  Readers are urged to support their local library and/or comics shop by tracking down any items that sound interesting to them and to make up their own minds.

Here, then, is the massive write-up of comics I've read that are eligible for the 2016 Hugo Awards.

Publisher: Legendary Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison - Artist: Frazer Irving
Graphic novel/miniseries originally serialised in 6 parts.
Premise: Ray Spass, a decadent screenwriter struggling with his latest project, is diagnosed with a brain tumour.  Then Max Nomax, the Jerry Cornelius-esque protagonist of his new screenplay, shows up at his house to tell him that the "tumour" is a data packet Nomax fired into Spass' reality in order to escape from his own, but that he needs Spass to keep writing the script to help him remember its contents.
Blather: Fooling around with notions of reality and fiction and characters talking directly to their creators is something Morrison has a lot of experience with, but I don't think this book matches up to his previous work in that area.  None of the characters are particularly likeable or relatable.  The story - at least, Nomax's story - has a kind of pulp mythic feel to it which may appeal.  The artwork is OK, with occasional expressionistic bursts when appropriate to the story.

The Autumnlands vol 1 ("Tooth and Claw")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kurt Busiek - Artist: Benjamin Dewey
Collects issues 1-6 of an ongoing series.
Premise: A future-fantasy world of Grandvillean animal-people faces social collapse as its reserves of magic start to run out.  Gharta the Seeker, a maverick warthog-headed sorceress, tries to save the day by reaching back through time and retrieving the Champion, the almost mythic figure who supposedly introduced magic into the world in the first place.  What she actually retrieves is Master Sergeant Steven Learoyd, a foul-mouthed human soldier with no obvious magical abilities whatsoever.
Blather: A book with artwork you can really luxuriate in, and you'll have time to, because the pacing of the story is rather leisurely.  A lot of this first volume is spent adding definition to the world of Keneil, the floating city on which Gharta stages her magical feat and which is sent crashing into the heart of bison-headed raider territory when the project backfires.  A lot is spent too on setting up the antagonism between Gharta and Sandorst, a preening owl-headed sorceror who causes the project to blow out by bungling the one small contribution he was asked to make, and who succeeds in shifting blame onto Gharta in order to further his own political ambition.  Meanwhile the Champion and a young dog-headed citizen he befriends try to move the people of Keneil on to safety, but at this early stage they feel secondary to the overall story - in fact, it already feels by the end of issue 6 as though the whole question of somehow getting the Champion to bring magic back to the world has been dropped in order to focus on the smaller scale political bickering instead.  A richly textured but somewhat frustrating volume.

Batman '66 vol 3
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Jeff Parker - Artist: Jonathan Case et al
Collects issues 11-16 of an ongoing series.
Premise: A Batman comic book based specifically on the '60s TV show.  Popular villains return, drawn to resemble the actors who played them (or, where a villain was played by more than one actor, to resemble the one who played the part around the time the particular story is set).  A few other villains, familiar from other comics but who weren't used in the TV series, are introduced and given appropriately goofy origin stories.
Blather: The '60s TV series is my preferred iteration of Batman, so I was at least interested by the idea of this.  My particular interest in vol 3 is that it includes a story in which False-Face tries to discredit Batman in the public eye by running a TV series about his adventures, only here the "real" Batman is the wholesome Adam West version and the TV Batman is transparently meant to be Frank Miller's hypergrim Dark Knight.  So that was a delicious dig at other leading brands of Batman and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Other stories are pretty straightforward riffs on the TV show itself.

Birthright vol 1 ("Homecoming")
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound
Writer: Joshua Williamson - Artist: Andrei Bressan
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series (unusually, presented here as a single continuous piece without issue breaks).
Premise: A year after his disappearance, little Mikey Rhodes reappears, only he's several years older and armed with dozens of medieval weapons.  He claims he was chosen by destiny to save the magical world of Terrenos from the evil God King Lore, and has returned to Earth in pursuit of five war criminal wizards.  His family and the police have a hard time believing this - in a twist revealed to the reader in the first issue, it turns out Mikey actually is deceiving them, but not in the way they think.
Blather: A good story well told, and nicely drawn.  Flashbacks to Mikey's time in Terrenos are distributed artfully through the story, and the growing disparity between what Mikey tells his family and what those flashbacks reveal is handled well.  I'll be interested to see whether subsequent volumes can live up to the promise of this first one.

Bitch Planet vol 1 ("Extraordinary Machine")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick - Artist: Valentine De Landro
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series.
Premise: In a "five minutes into the future" dystopia, any women who fail to conform to the expectations set for them by a patriarchal society are arrested and shipped off to the Auxilliary Compliance Outpost, also familiarly known as Bitch Planet.  A group of inmates are offered the chance to put forward a team to compete in the popular spectator sport known as Megaton - for the authorities, it's a cynical PR exercise, but for the women, it's an opportunity to get out and strike a blow against the Fathers.  This first volume sees them begin to formulate their plan and suffer their first major setback.
Blather: So, y'know, casual readers may perhaps have missed the subtle critique being offered of the ways in which modern society harms women.  The first page offers only a glancing blow, with nearly adjacent panels showing a minor character being spammed by conflicting holographic ads reading "You're Hungry" and "You're Fat"; the rest of the book goes much deeper and much angrier than this.  The creative team make much use of the exploitation film technique of overplaying common cultural tropes in order to subvert them (most obviously here, scenes that expose and sexualise female bodies for the gratification of male viewers, represented here by the voyeuristic wardens).  Issue 3 is stand-out good - the backstory of an unashamedly overweight woman is presented in the grand ol' comic book tradition as a "secret origin", complete with visual pastiche of old four-colour printing techniques in the flashback sequences, thus granting her the status of a hero - although issue 1 with its sucker-punch twist might be my favourite.  Anyway, the overall story looks like it's going somewhere interesting.  More thought-provoking than the average comic, and recommended for readers who enjoy that.

Chew vol 9 ("Chicken Tenders") & vol 10 ("Blood Puddin'")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: John Layman - Artist: Rob Guillory
Collects issues 41-45 (vol 9) & 46-50 (vol 10) of an ongoing series (issue 60 is currently expected to be the last one).
Premise: Detective Tony Chu works for the FDA, which is the most powerful federal agency in America following a food scare involving chickens and an as-yet unexplained plague.  He's also one of a large number of people who have food-based superpowers - in Chu's case, he can tell the history of any organic substance if he puts it in his mouth.  These two TPBs bring to an end the story arc of Chu hunting down the Collector, a serial killer with the same superpower who's been absorbing other people's weird abilities by eating bits of them.  Vol 9 sees a disastrous attempt by several other characters to take down the Collector, and vol 10 is the Collector's final showdown with Chu.
Blather: This is a very silly, very colourful series with a sick sense of humour, and I'm still enjoying it after ten TPBs.  It's not without its problems, but just in terms of the art and all the little throwaway details it packs in, it's refreshingly different from most other comic books.  I've particularly loved seeing Poyo - a vicious cybernetic luchador rooster - grow from being a minor character to nearly taking over the series, and these two volumes are almost as much about him as they are about the Collector.  Vol 9 sees Poyo get a ridiculously indulgent double-page spread in every issue, but vol 10 seems to mark the end of his story.

Copperhead vol 1
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jay Faerber - Artist: Scott Godlewski
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Single mother Clara Bronson arrives in the mining town of Copperhead to take up her post as sheriff.  Her first week sees her dealing with the rowdy Sewell clan, the corrupt owner of the mine, a mysterious wandering gunslinger and a group of natives who want to retrieve their stolen religious artefact.  The twist: Copperhead is sited on the frontier planet Jasper, and the majority of the characters - including the natives, the Sewells and Bronson's deputy - are various species of alien.
Blather: So, this is a Western comic in which some of the characters have been drawn as aliens, and only somewhat tenuously a SF comic.  But what the hell?  It's a lively read, the art's good, the writing's good.  Bronson presents a good, solid arsekicking heroine around whom the supporting characters can revolve.  Said supporting characters start out in broad strokes, but by the end of this book there are already nuances starting to show.  The backmatter shows the creative team are completely unashamed about the fact that they're just redressing the cliches of Western fiction, and, well, fair enough I suppose.

Descender vol 1 ("Tin Stars")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire - Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Collects issues 1-6 of an ongoing series.
Premise: A futuristic multi-species community of nine worlds is ravaged by gigantic robots that the survivors refer to as "the Harvesters".  A destructive backlash against all robots ensues.  It's subsequently discovered that the Harvesters had the same base code as the man-made TIM series of robots, designed to act as child companions for human families.  Ten years after the apocalypse, the robot TIM-21 wakes up on a distant mining outpost; various parties take an interest in his call for help.
Blather: "Perilous journey of the all-important child" is a story Lemire's had some success with before; here's a rather promising space opera variation on that theme.  The plot is painted in broad strokes, but there's a more complex back story unfolding behind it.  I'm strongly reminded of The Metabarons, an association reinforced by the "painted sketch" European style of art Nguyen provides.  A strong first volume in a series that looks like it's going places.

The Divine
Publisher: First Second
Writer: Boaz Lavie - Artists: Asaf Hanuka & Tomer Hanuka
Graphic novel, c.150 pages.
Premise: Two American ex-military explosives experts take on a contract job "lava tube denuding" a mountain in a South East Asian country.  They run up against a group of child soldiers who believe the mountain is the home of the dragon spirit that gives their leader's brother magical powers.
Blather: Contemporary political comment blended with magic and mythology.  Apparently this book was inspired by a photograph of a pair of East Burmese child soldiers, on whose likeness the twin brothers leading the group in this book are clearly based.  The artwork is beautifully done; the story actually feels a bit thin, as if after a well-paced first half it then rushes through to the finish.  Another hundred pages or so might not have gone amiss.

The Infinite Loop
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Pierrick Colinet - Artist: Elsa Charretier
Graphic novel/miniseries originally serialised in 6 parts.
Premise: A story of forbidden love between two women.  Their love is forbidden because one of them is a member of an organisation that polices linear time and eradicates anomalies, and the other is an anomaly.
Blather: This book overplays its equal rights message with sledgehammer force, but it's beautifully drawn.  It actually feels as if it's been translated into English, even though I believe Colinet wrote it in English rather than French - the dialogue has that slight clunkiness to it.  Still and all, the message continues to be relevant and bears repeating.  It's the art that really carries this book, though.

Injection vol 1
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Warren Ellis - Artists: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Once upon a time, a think tank of five people with unusual skills and interests created an AI and let it loose on the Internet.  Now they're called in as consultants to investigate a series of weird events that sound a lot like Celtic myths come true.  Is Fairyland breaking through into the real world, or is their AI trying to get their attention?
Blather: Some interesting ideas and Ellis' customary bitchy dialogue here, but the idea of an AI that can warp reality is one that needs more setup and/or elaboration than is allowed in this volume.  Ellis is apparently now in the habit of playing the long game with his readers, drawing out scenarios and withholding explanations in order to sustain intrigue across multiple collected volumes - whether or not this is a good thing will depend on the individual reader.  Given my comics reading habits, I imagine I'm more inclined to put up with this than other readers.

Low vol 1 ("The Delirium of Hope")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Rick Remender - Artist: Greg Tocchini
Collects issues 1-6 of an ongoing series.
Premise: It's the far future and humanity now lives in habitats at the bottom of the ocean, the only place safe from the radiation from a bloated sun.  After millennia, a deep space probe has returned to Earth with possible details of a new world for everyone to escape to, but it's crashed on the deserted surface, and human society on the ocean floor has become so decadent (having long since given up hope of any of those probes returning) that hardly anyone is interested in travelling up to retrieve it.  Only Stel Caine, widow of the last Helmsman, is ready to make the journey, which will also bring her into contact with her estranged daughters and the pirates who stole them.
Blather: Point 1, the art on this is very, very gluggy, to the point that I could often hardly tell what I was looking at, and that's a bad thing.  Point 2, although this is nominally Stel's story I can't help but notice how completely sidelined (and incompletely dressed!) she is while her son does all the heroic business later in the book, so here's a female hero lacking all agency in her own story, and that's another bad thing.  Point 3, they couldn't even bother to write an accurate back cover blurb for this book.  I mean, for crying out loud.  On a positive note, the story (at a high summary level) is interesting, and the relentless godawfulness of Stel's life is an unusual line for Remender to take, but I'm not sticking around to find out if it will pay off in the long term.

Lumberjanes vol 1 & vol 2
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Writers: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis - Artist: Brooke Allen
Collects issues 1-4 (vol 1) & 5-8 (vol 2) of a series originally planned for 8 issues, but subsequently picked up as an ongoing series.
Premise: Five friends at a summer camp for adventurous young women investigate spooky goings-on in the surrounding forest.
Blather: The overall feel and style of this book owes much to the Hanna Barbera cartoons of yore - the writers admit in an afterword that Scooby-Doo was a significant influence.  Readers may find themselves spontaneously humming songs by The Monkees over the action scenes; alternatively, anyone who picks up the hardback omnibus edition (as I did, for sound economic reasons) has the alternative of looking up the suggested playlists at the back of the book.  The script and art are both anarchic, bordering on slapdash; I found this a little jarring at first, but once I made the Hanna Barbera connection it quickly grew on me.  There's a lot of fun and a lot of charm to be found here.

The Multiversity
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison - Artists: Various
Collects all 9 issues of a limited series originally published under several titles.
Premise: It's A Very Grant Morrison Crisis.  Sinister forces from outside normal reality plan to invade all the worlds of the DC multiverse - including yours, dear reader! - using a self-aware comic book called "Ultra Comics" as their bridgehead.  ("Ultra Comics" is, of course, a part of the series and included in this volume.)  The heroes of multiple parallel Earths band together to save reality itself from the invaders.
Blather: Unlike a lot of "Crisis" event/books, this one doesn't seem to have been designed to kill off or reset any of DC's current range of titles, and it doesn't depend on the reader knowing decades of back history (although I imagine it would help).  So that's nice.  But I'm not here for the apocalyptic crossover event stuff, I'm here to see Grant Morrison doing his fiction vs reality schtick, and on that score this book delivers very well.  The "Ultra Comics" issue is possibly the single purest example that Morrison has produced to date, and it's wickedly funny.  The book overall is kind of disjointed - I'm not quite sure what part some of the middle issues play in the larger story, and at times this comes across more as a prospectus of possible ongoing titles Morrison is pitching to DC.  Still, it's all enjoyable.  The artwork is very good but less varied than I would have expected given the large number of artists credited - presumably DC has a particular standard of artwork that they're all used to working to.

The Private Eye
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Brian K Vaughan - Artists: Marcos Martin & Muntsa Vicente
Graphic novel, c.300 pages, originally serialised online at in 10 parts from August 2013 to March 2015.
Premise: A noir detective story set in the 2070s, in a world where the press are responsible for law enforcement, where the Internet was abandoned decades ago after everybody's personal information was leaked and anonymity is so highly valued that everyone wears masks in public.  The hero, an unlicensed detective who trades under the name of P.I., investigates the murder of his latest client and uncovers a world-shaking conspiracy.
Blather: A terrific combination of the form of a noir thriller with a colourful vision of the near future.  The art is bold and stylish, the dialogue sharp, the story solid and engaging.  The print edition is very lovely, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that the whole thing is still available digitally from on an "honesty box" basis, allowing even the cheapest of my readers to sample it for themselves.

Roche Limit vol 1 ("Anomalous")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Michael Moreci - Artist: Vic Malhotra
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Two people investigate the disappearance of a young woman in Roche Limit, a decaying human colony built inside the distant planet Dispater.  The disappearance may be connected to a drug called Recall whose production process is a closely guarded secret, to an apocalyptic phenomenon known as the Black Sun, or to a trio of husk-like figures haunting the colony.
Blather: A kind of noir space opera.  I found the artwork in this book to be rough, bordering on just plain bad, and the story didn't entirely grab me.  The writing's pulpy, which I suppose is a fit for the noir aesthetic.  Still, there's going to be a second (post-apocalyptic) volume, so clearly somebody liked it.

The Sculptor
Publisher: SelfMadeHero Books
Writer/Artist: Scott McCloud
Graphic novel, c.500 pages.
Premise: Struggling sculptor David makes a deal with Death - he gains the fantastic ability to shape any material however he wants using just his bare hands, but he only has 200 days to use it, after which he's going to die.  Then he falls in love.
Blather: A beautiful rumination on art, love, death and all that big human stuff.  McCloud is every bit as good at walking the walk as he was at talking the talk in his famous non-fiction book Understanding Comics.  A couple of experimental moments, but by and large the art is used conventionally in service to the story, and very nice art it is too.  The fantastic premise provides some visual spectacle in its own right, as well as driving a story that's more heavily focused on the characters and the relationships between them.  A satisfying read that packs a solid emotional punch.

Sex Criminals vol 2 ("Two Worlds, One Cop")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Matt Fraction - Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Collects issues 6-10 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Jon and Suzie independently discover that when they orgasm, time freezes around them and only unfreezes when they're "ready for round two".  They meet each other, realise they share this bizarre superpower and decide to use it to rob the bank Jon works at so that they can bail out the library Suzie works at.  It's at that point that they learn there are others with similar abilities who've formed a kind of "sex police" to stop people like them drawing attention by doing things like robbing banks.  And that was vol 1.  Vol 2 sees Jon and Suzie finding out more about the "sex police", being victimised by them and trying to build a resistance movement among their fellow sex criminals, as well as developing their relationship past the honeymoon period.
Blather: This second book continues to do the interesting things with subjective presentation and comical background details that I liked in vol 1 (although it'll be hard for Fraction and Zdarsky to equal the "Fat Bottomed Girls" scene in vol 1, and I don't think they do in vol 2).  The story itself continues to be funny, honest, smirkingly filthy and, well, charming in a way that I probably wouldn't have expected a sexually explicit comic book to be if you'd asked me hypothetically about it 2 years ago.

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive
Publisher: IDW Publishing/BOOM! Studios
Writers: Scott Tipton & David Tipton - Artist: Rachael Stott
Graphic novel/miniseries originally serialised in 5 parts.
Premise: Don't the words "Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover" cover it?  Well...  The Klingons, led by the one who was played on TV by John Colicos, are looking to expand their empire into parallel universes since their treaty with the Federation prevents them from conquering worlds in their own universe.  The Enterprise follows a Klingon ship through their dimensional portal and discovers an old enemy selling machine guns to the gorillas on the Planet of the Apes.
Blather: I bought this book expecting some big dumb fun, and I would have been happy enough with that.  In fact it goes a little further in using the crossover to retcon a couple of the otherwise mysterious developments between the first three Apes films - the shift in power towards the gorilla Ursus in film #2 and the appearance out of nowhere of a chimpanzee space program in film #3.  The writers do a good job of mixing all this together, and the artist provides convincing likenesses of all the major characters, so I guess that's mission accomplished.  Throwing together the optimistic Trek and pessimistic Apes universes could have provided some interesting philosophical material, but that clearly isn't a direction the writers were interested in and it isn't dwelt on.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Publisher: Penguin Books
Writer/Artist: Sydney Padua
Collects several items previously published online at, all of them redrawn and/or expanded to some extent, as well as a large quantity of new material.
Premise: Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage succeed in building a working analytical engine, and the two of them go on to have a succession of comical misadventures.
Blather: The proportion of new to pre-existing material alone would make this volume eligible for the 2016 Hugo Awards, but I was pleasantly surprised to note that Padua has given the old material a makeover too.  It's all meticulously annotated, and even the endnotes are a delight.  Fun is the focus of this volume, which the author even "justifies" with an origin story for her comic book parallel universe and a faux-scientific explanation of how it works.  The old material can still be found at, so interested readers should go there first for a taste.

Trees vol 1 ("In Shadow")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Warren Ellis - Artist: Jason Howard
Collects issues 1-8 of an ongoing series (by cracky, you get your money's worth by weight with this one).
Premise: One day, without fanfare, a number of oil-rig-like tripodal edifices appear around the world.  They stand there and do nothing, beyond occasionally spilling horribly corrosive goo down their legs and all over any human settlements nearby.  People dub them "Trees".  Ten years after their materialisation, they've become just a part of the scenery, something that people live with, like the weather.  By the end of this book, a research team on a remote Norwegian island will have discovered that the apparently inert Trees are doing something alarming to the ecosystem...
Blather: ...but stone me, it takes a long time to get there.  Warren Ellis is a remarkable comics writer and I feel I ought to trust that he's taking all of this somewhere, but he's being extremely leisurely about the set-up.  Vol 1 is spread across half a dozen different sets of characters, most of which are just concerned with going about their lives in the shadow of a Tree, so that's a valid comment on the way in which people normalise things that they probably shouldn't normalise, but it doesn't really seem to contribute much to the ongoing story.  Doesn't make for a lively read, either.  It's interesting, but I imagine it'll look better in retrospect when the rest of the series is out and it can be considered as a complete story.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1 ("Squirrel Power")
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Ryan North - Artist: Erica Henderson
Collects issues 1-4 of an ongoing series, plus the 1990 issue of Marvel Super-Heroes that first introduced the character of Squirrel Girl.
Premise: Squirrel Girl, formerly of the parody super-team the Great Lakes Avengers, goes to college and gets her own title.  She has "the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel" and commands an army of actual squirrels, but is more likely to defeat villains by finding out what they want and talking them round.  This first story arc pits her against Galactus, the well-known devourer of worlds.
Blather: The cartoonish art and perky tone make this an obvious choice of entry-level superhero comic for young readers, but it has broad appeal beyond that.  The analysis of Galactus' modus operandi is well-observed and very funny, as is much of this series' take on superhero storytelling.  Readers with extremely good eyesight will also be able to enjoy the tiny comments at the bottom of each page.  The shamelessly over-the-top choice of Galactus as the antagonist for the first story arc suggests the creative team are getting all of the usual superheroic stuff out of the way now so that they can take future story arcs in different directions, which bodes well for this title in the long term.

Wayward vol 1 ("String Theory")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jim Zub - Artist: Steve Cummings et al
Collects issues 1-5 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Half-Irish teenager Rori migrates to Tokyo to move in with her Japanese mother.  She discovers a previously latent ability to perceive magic, falls in with a small team of assorted magical beings and runs up against the unpleasant yokai her mother was working for.
Blather: Notable for the fact that line artist Cummings actually lives in Japan, and Zub certainly knows his yokai, so the Japanese fantasy on display here is probably as authentic as it can be without actually being created by Japanese writers/artists.  I suppose if Studio Ghibli branched out into American-style comics, the result might look a bit like this ("Japanese Buffy" seems to be another popular verdict).  Hard to judge the quality of the story as this first volume is largely set-up for the series, but the art is pretty.

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 ("Fandemonium")
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen - Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Collects issues 6-11 of an ongoing series.
Premise: Every 90 years a dozen teenagers are gifted the powers and identities of classical gods.  They get two years of divinity, to use as they see fit, then they all die - at least, those of them who haven't already been killed.  This happens in the present day, and naturally the new gods all choose to become celebrities - spoofing pop culture is a part of what this book is about, but not the whole story.  Laura is a fan who gets invited to one of the gods' after-show parties, gets close to several of them and discovers that there's a shadowy figure behind them (the manager?) who may be manipulating them for some other purpose.
Blather: YES.  MORE, PLEASE.  It's hip, it's beautiful and it does innovative things with its presentation and layout.  Although vol 1 is copyrighted 2015, the final issue of that volume appeared in 2014, so only vol 2 is eligible, but that's fine by me.  Vol 2 includes issue 8, a rave centred around the first appearance of Dionysus, "the dancefloor that walks like a man", possibly the single best comics issue I've read this year for both style and content.

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