San Diego Comic-Con, the great nerd pilgrimage, dominated the comic and entertainment news cycle this July, as it does every year. And yet, even with the glut of news about all things comic related, everybody still managed to be some brand-new comics published this month. And, turns out, a lot of them were pretty good. Read on for a look at some of our favorite books from this past month, but be careful, as there are definitely going to be some spoilers.
I had a really hard time picking the best issue of July. Part of that is because I’m very indecisive, and part of it was because there were a ton of really great comics that came out last month. But, when I sat down to think about which comic had the greatest affect on me, the one that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I put it down, it had to be “Runaways” #11.
Rainbow Rowell has captured the voices of the Runaways in a way that no author since Brian K. Vaughn has even come close to, and in some ways, has maybe even surpassed him. The way that she understands these character’s personalities, the way that she is able to make them feel like real people, all with their own hang ups and problems, come together in a way that make this book work so amazingly well. And on top of that, Kris Anka’s art brings these characters to life. The character acting that Anka draws is as vital to making these characters feel real as Rowell’s words. Portraying young people in a way that sounds real is a problem that comics have struggled with since almost their inception, and it’s very rarely done right even to this day. But, the clothing designs that Anka creates for these characters, the body language, along with Rowell’s words and narration, all come together to make a book that feels like a story about actual teenagers
Now, all those things would be true of any issue of this series so far, and while I do think that most of the series has been really fantastic, this issue in particular did something that put it a cut above the rest. While we’ve had arcs in this book focusing on the other characters, this issue focused in a bit more on the time displaced Gert. I don’t often get emotional reading comic books, or with media in general, but this issue was able to bring more pathos out of a girl deciding to re-dye her hair than most comics are able to bring from world ending catastrophes, and I think that’s really something special. “Runaways” #11 is one of the best issues of a series that, so far, has been really wonderful, and I can’t wait to spend more time with these characters as it progresses.
Best Writer: Al Ewing – “The Immortal Hulk” #3
Both of the issues of “The Immortal Hulk” that Al Ewing wrote this month were very good, but “The Immortal Hulk” #3 was something really special. The name of the story, ‘Point of View,’ basically says everything you need to know about the issue. Ewing takes a basic story, of the Hulk saving a priest in his church from a young, gamma irradiated criminal, and turns in into one of the most stylistically interesting comic stories told this month.
The story is reconstructed, Rashomon like from the stories of a number of different characters. Each of these points of view is illustrated by a different artist, all with extremely different, contrasting styles, from a different era and types of comics. A cop’s version of events is rendered as a silver age tale of super heroics, whereas an old woman who was in the church sees things as a romance comic that is being invaded by some terrible creature. For each of these stories, Ewing perfectly captures the voice and style of the story they’re aping. Even more than that, he is able to take these pastiches and weave them together in such a way that they are more than the sum of their parts, bringing it all together to make a fantastic issue.Continued below
Best Artist: Tradd Moore, “The New World” #1
The sheer amount of detail that Tradd Moore is able to pack into every single inch of “The New World” #1 is, itself, a bit amazing. What’s even more amazing than that is how he is able to take all of those highly detailed, cramped pages, and still make them entirely understandable to a reader. It seems impossible for art that is as busy and detailed as Moore’s not to end up illegible, yet Moore pulls of the feat of making it not only understandable, but very clean and clear what is happening on every page of “The New World” #1.
On top of the overload of visual detail that he packs into every page, there is also the way that this issue is laid out. Following the two main characters of this story, most of the opposite facing pages in this issue a laid out in parallel. While this is a shtick that could very quickly grow old, these pages have enough visual inventiveness that they are able to keep the parallels between the stories consistently interesting.
All of this, the layouts of the pages, overloaded yet clean artwork of the issue, along with the designs for all of the characters ridiculously over the top outfits, which by all means should feel over designed yet don’t, make “The New World” #1 one of the most visually exciting books of July.
Best (Worst) Cliffhanger: “Saga” #54
It doesn’t feel fair that “Saga” is allowed to be as consistently good as it is. Fiona Staples is one of the best artists working today, and Brian K. Vaughn is a masochist that just likes to put his readers through the kind of pain that most people only get to experience when a family member dies. Okay, maybe that last part isn’t entirely true, but this is a series that has allowed readers to watch character change and grow, watch Marko and Alana grow into parents and watch Hazel grow up. All of that growth and all those relationships are done so masterfully, and then these characters are taken away from us, just like that.
There have been many significant deaths throughout the run of “Saga,” but the end of issue #54 is a step farther than the series has ever gone before. It was heart wrenching, and even worse, the back of the issue announced that the series would be going on hiatus for an entire year. It’s important that creative teams have the time to rest and recharge, that they don’t work so hard that they burn out. But, at the same time, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to wait an entire year to see what happens next for Hazel and the entire cast of “Saga.”
Best Graphic Novel Adaption of an Actual Play Podcast: “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins”
So, if you put enough qualifiers in front of something, I guess anything can count as the best. But I think this graphic novel deserves praise for being exactly what it is. If you’re a person that listens to podcasts, you probably know who the McElroy Brothers are. Three brothers who have created an entire empire of comedy podcasts. One of the main pillars of this empire is The Adventure Zone, an actual play podcast where the three brothers, Griffin, Travis and Justin, along with their dad Clint, play Dungeons and Dragons together.
The podcast, like all McElroy content, is funny, good natured, and heartfelt. But it’s also a very particular to the audio medium. Most of the jokes, the structure of the show itself, felt like, when you listen to them for the first time, they would only ever work as an audio broadcast. Which is why it is so amazing that “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” is not only a good adaption of their podcast, but a pretty entertaining graphic novel in its own right.
Much of this is due to the work of Cary Piestch, the artist on “The Adventure Zone” who takes a series that barely had physical descriptions of its characters, and creates and entire lush world for them to operate in. Piestch turns many goofs that seem like they would only work as audio and gives them a physicality that makes them work just as well on the printed page. As podcasters, the McElroys have seemed completely unstoppable, but “The Adventure Zone” shows that their talents can extend beyond just the audio medium.Continued below
Best Surprise Release: “Die!Die!Die!”
There are lots of words that can and have been written about how Diamond distribution effects the comic book industry, and the wealth of problems that it has caused have been explored in depth by people far more knowledgeable than I am. But, one of the (not especially pressing) issues with the way comics are distributed is that it is almost impossible for there to be any real surprises.
Sure, there are twist endings to issues, but as we saw in July of this month, many times those will leak out early, especially if someone decides to do a New York Times interview before a comic is even released. And while there are some attempts at keeping things a secret, “Die!Die!Die!” #1 managed to be an actual surprise when it showed up in comic books shops. While the issue itself was a bit too needlessly gruesome for my tastes, I think the surprise and excitement that was generated by this issue’s reveal is something that the comic industry could stand to have a little bit more of.
Best Returning Romance: “Amazing Spider-Man” #1
I don’t have much to add here, except that it’s probably a bit silly how happy this made me.