Die #19 featured Columns 

This Month in Comics: August 2021

By | September 7th, 2021
Posted in Columns | % Comments

You know one of the best things about comics? The escapism. Because while half the world is on fire and the other half is drowning, it’s the perfect time to read stories about a dread being from another realm inhabit a living planet and unleash a war of galactic conquest. It’s either nice to see a problem that can be punched in the face, or see it and think “at least we’re not there yet.” But August gave us a great slew of comics (in addition to being my birth month) so let’s see what were some of the best ways to escape during the hottest days of summer.

Best Comic and Best Art: Die #19

Normally we’d have two separate categories for “Best Comic” and “Best Artist,” but in this case, they’re the same. “Die” is a master piece of a comic, and a major part of that is due to Stephanie Hans’ incredible artwork. So “Die” gets a double crown this month.

Let’s start with the issue itself. In August, “Die” #19 brought us the penultimate issue, wherein Ash (the central character and narrator) has to face an internal struggle made physical. It touches on issues of identity, gender, queerness, repression, acceptance, and sacrifice, all naturally within the context of the story and characters as we know them.

The stakes are high, big decisions are made, and characters come to terms with themselves in many different ways. It’s all carried with master-class pacing and dialogue from Kieron Gillen. Add in a healthy sprinkle of self-aware fantasy tropes and allusions (particularly to “Lord of the Rings”), and you’ve got a damn good comic.

But what makes it even better is the amazing artwork by Stephanie Hans. I’ve praised it before in past reviews, but issue #19 really shows the extent of her abilities.

The first thing you notice about Stephanie’s artwork is the use of colors. There’s a very intentional choice in every page, relying almost entirely on shades of blue and red. This intentionally limited scheme creates amazing effects, with each color’s contrast bringing out the other more and turning each image into a watercolor-like work of art. There’s a softness to the designs and imagery that makes everything either flow or smolder, depending on the intent (and often times I say “smolder” in terms of “literally on fire”), yet a strong clarity to the designs.

Honestly, each page of “Die” is such a visual treat that you have to take your time on each page to absorb the full excellence of the artistry. Then when you’re done, you have to go back and read it all again to see how well it works with the story and atmosphere.

So for August, “Die” #19 gets the distinct honor of being recognized as the top of its class twice.

Best Cover Artist: Alex Ross (Iron Man #11)

Is there any artist whose name carries as much weight as Alex Ross? The man is a legend, and for good reason. We can see that in every cover he draws, most recently “Iron Man” #11. The cover shows Iron Man in battle against old foes who have reappeared in the comic in a new context, harkening back to the older days of “Iron Man.”

Ross’ ability to bring artistic photorealism to a comic book world remains unparalleled, as we can see in every aspect of the image. We can see the way light bounces off different curves of the iron man armor, and how the shadows fall across Stilt-Man with the punch. We can see the reflection of the cityscape in Tony’s helmet, and the shocked reactions of the civilians watching from the buildings nearby.

The use of color makes the characters stand out even more, putting their red, gold, and silver shades against a gray city backdrop. This lets us appreciate the character designs even more, as the cover perfectly captures a moment in their fight.

Honestly, each issue of “Iron Man” has been worth it for the Alex Ross covers alone.

Best Comic Based on a Tabletop Game: Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins III #3

Surprisingly, there were quite a few contenders for this spot. There was a new “Warhammer 40,000” comic and a new issue of “Magic: The Gathering” – we could even count “Die,” but the comic came out before Kieron Gillen started working on a “Die” TTRPG. But “Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins” makes the grade this month by virtue of being just plain fun.

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The characterizations are solid all around, whether through Jody Houser’s script or as portrayed through the artwork by Olivia Samson. This issue remembers that some of the best times in tabletop games come from the player characters just having a good time, before quickly kicking it into plot territory, complete with action, exploration, and strong storytelling. In other words: the three pillars of a good RPG session.

This issue kicks off a new story arc, featuring an icy cold threat of immense power, so it’s a good jumping on point for new readers. Longtime fans of “Critical Role” will also appreciate how well it keeps the characters’ voices, personalities, and flaws intact, creating a blend of character drama and comedy that people love to see in their RPGs (and the live-streamed RPG sessions they watch).

You don’t even have to be a fan of “Critical Role” to enjoy the comic, since this is the characters’ origins. (Personally, I’ve never seen a single episode, but I could still pick up the comic and enjoy it without needing to know anything from the show.) So if you’re looking to get your RPG fix in comic form, “Vox Machina Origins” is a good way to go.

Best Crossover: Groo Meets Tarzan #2

Who doesn’t love a crossover? Sometimes, the crossovers just feel like they were always meant to be, like the “Star Trek/Doctor Who” crossover. Others feel like they shouldn’t work but somehow do, like every “Batman/TeenAge Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic and “Transformers/Ghost Busters.” And then we get those comics that are somehow both at once: “Groo Meets Tarzan.”

What makes “Groo Meets Tarzan” work so well is how absolutely different these characters are. That difference is highlighted in the artwork, with Sergio Aragonés providing the Groo pages and Thomas Yeates illustrating Tarzan’s scenes. Heck, they even have different letterers for each one, matching their respective styles.

So when they finally come face-to-face in issue 2, we can see how their two story paths have brought them together, and the contrasting art styles manage to make each one work even better. Groo seems more cartoonish and Tarzan feels more detailed, with neither sacrificing their uniqueness or style to match the other. And it works.

All the while, the story is framed as we see the writers have put themselves into their own comic. That’s right, it gets meta, as half of the “Groo Meets Tarzan” comic focuses on Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier getting into hijinks as they try to figure out how to write the “Groo Meets Tarzan” comic. The two have a blast making fun of themselves in-between the respective adventures of Groo and Tarzan. Plus, as their scenes are often set at comic conventions, there’s no shortage of little easter eggs to notice in the backgrounds.

Comics are fun. Crossovers are fun. “Groo Meets Tarzan” embraces that completely, and it’s this month’s best crossover as a result.

Best Nostalgia: Transformers: Beast Wars #7

This is another category with a few contenders. After all, there are plenty of “Power Rangers” comics that have been providing no small amount of entertainment. But “Transformers: Beast Wars” takes it this month, as issue #7 brings us new artwork by Winston Chan and the introduction of Blackarachnia.

Winston Chan’s art is a great fit for the comic, bringing a nice blend of detail and depth to the series while still maintaining a distinctly “Transformers” style to it; every page reminds me of when I would watch the Beast Wars animated show in my younger days (and helps me forget the Beast Machines sequel).

All the while, Erik Burnham’s script brings new life to the old series. The characters maintain their personalities and drives, while the story hits the right classic beats, but in an entirely new way. Even with all the story elements in place, everything is still built up from scratch, giving us a brand new story. The classic characters are all there, but so are new ones made for the comic, adding in new dynamics and potential directions for the comic to go.

For instance, Dinobot still leaves the Predacons to join the Maximals. But in this case, it’s driven not just by his frustration with Megatron, but also disgust at the dishonorable way the Predacons were behaving and treating Nyx, a new Maximal who was captured as a prisoner. So while we still get from Point A to Point B, the way it gets there is completely different. Now, starting with issue 7, we’ll get to see how Blackarachnia’s story plays out, and it’s off to a great start.

//TAGS | This Month In Comics

Robbie Pleasant


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