06th Mar2018

Panel Discussion #48: February 2018′s Top 30 Comics (Part 1)

by Dan Clark

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Welcome back to another installment of Panel Discussion – this time featuring a rundown of my picks of the Top 30 comics released in February 2018. This is part one, a countdown of books 30-16… But first the caveats:

First and foremost this is simply my list and with that comes a great deal of subjectivity. Any art form is a subjective medium and taste plays a major role. So if you feel my rankings are way off you probably have a legitimate point. My hope is to simply to highlight great books that deserve attention. We too often focus on the negative so why not take some time to celebrate the positive. Since this is my list that also means I can only rank issues I have actually read. There may be a book that is in your top five that does not make the cut. Please let me know. I try to read as much as I could but I do not read everything. I am open though to learn about titles I am missing out on reading.

In order to be eligible for this list an issue simply needs to be a single issue that was released in the month of February. Reprints do not count. Also for series that had more than one issue that came out this past month I tried to only pick the best one for diversity purposes. With that said, now onto the list!

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30. Incognegro: Renaissance #1

Writer: Mat Johnson | Artist: Warren Pleece | Publisher: Berger Books

What I love about this art form is how many types of storytelling that no longer exist in film or television can still be found in the pages of comic books. If you are someone who enjoys the classic crime stories of the fifties that were full of Russian doll type mystery this comic will give you what you have been missing. One that depicts Harlem in the 1920’s and the larger than lifestyles of the time, but the dichotomy that existed between haves and have-nots. Although this is the start of another volume so far there is no need to go back and read the previous arc to grasp what occurred in this issue. Warren Pleece’s black and white art tells a great story. The pages read well with great acting and figure designs that make each person feel unique and their own. It is odd to say but murder is not the exciting plot device it once was. Considering that a story that has the potential murder as the main story piece may make one think this narrative is passe’. Why it works is everything else that surrounds that story. From the social and political issues to the clear indication a much more complex mystery lies underneath.

29. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #39

Writer: Robert Venditti | Artist: Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona | Publisher: DC Comics

When you look at the characters that have benefited the most since DC had their Rebirth Hal Jordan is on the top of that list. He’s gone from being apart of one of DC’s most disappointing titles to one of their most consistent. This current arc showcases how much he has grown as a character since he regained the will he once lost. Personally, I enjoy comics when different villains battle it out with heroes outside their norm. Seeing Magento take on The Avengers or Joker try to outlast The Flash, and here we have Zod and his family fighting with the Green Lanterns. Hal has a level of swagger that has been missed, and Venditti writes a great Zod. He is not this one-note character bent on world domination. Here he has a point. Where were the Green Lanterns when Krypton was being destroyed? Creating a narrative when the protagonist has some moral high ground leads to a much better story.

28. Mata Hari #1

Writer: Emma Beeby | Artist: Ariela Kristantina | Publisher: Berger Books

I may be uncultured swine because I never heard of the story of Mata Hari before reading this comic. In fact, I had no idea it was even based on any form of reality until reading the ‘Behind the Veil’ letter at the end of the issue. Considering all the facets of this story I find it so surprising it is not talked about more.Sometimes you read the first issue of a comic and there is something about it that makes you feel you about to read something special. That happened with this book and a big reason why was the narrative structure. It bounces around through a number of different time periods as the trial of Mata Hari is set to begin. With that as the centerpiece, we get to see the incredible life she has lived up to that point. Being a spy that used her sexual prowess to find the information she needs. For some, they could not decide what morally repulsed them more. Her willingness to work with the enemy or utilize her body in ways that were strictly forbidden. Overall this does very much what a first issue should. Selling you on the main character and majorly wetting the appetite for the story that is about to be told.

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27. Lockjaw #1

Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith | Artist: Carlos Villa | Publisher: Marvel

Lockjaw is a good boy. Yes, he is, oh yes he is… Sorry got lost in thought there for a moment. Everyone’s favorite oversized teleporting dog now has his own series and surprise, surprise it is a lot of fun. Great art can be made with limited tools. When the titular character of your series is a giant dog that doesn’t talk or play basketball one wonders how can someone make this work. Daniel Kibblesmith and Carlos Villa showed it is possible. It also helps when you bring in everyone’s favorite D list hero D-Man. Personally, I love comics that focus on those forgotten and oddball characters. Still getting over the fact that the Great Lake Avengers once again saw their title canceled. This made for an endearing read full of gigantic heart. I have no idea how long a story like this could possibly work so, for now, I am just going to enjoy it.

26. Flash #40

Writer: Joshua Williamson | Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico | Publisher: DC Comics

Overall I enjoy the bi-weekly release schedule for DC and Marvel’s major titles. If there is one major downside is the lack of consistency with artists. For some series, the change is not that drastic. My enjoyment of The Flash drastically goes up when it is being penciled by Carmine Di Giandomenico. He has an energy to his designs and movement that is needed for making a character like Flash work. That is not to diminish the scripts done by Joshua Williamson. He has found his voice with this book and has been progressively getting better and better over these last few months. With Flash Wars on the horizon, Williamson has been building momentum to make that it an event to be excited about. Bringing in Grodd is a great way to accomplish just that.

25. Luke Cage #170

Writer: David F. Walker | Artist: Guillermo Sanna | Publisher: Marvel Comics

Over the last few years, Marvel has had a number of great series that got canceled far too soon due to lack of sales and attention. David F. Walker has had two by himself. Previously his Iron Man and Powerfist story and now Luke Cage. At least he is leaving the title on a high note with one of his best issues since joining Marvel. As Walker indicates in his letter at the end of this issue one of the best things about Luke Cage is the fact that he is a great dad, however, we do not get to see him being a father nearly enough. To remedy that you have this issue with is Cage simply attempting to tell his daughter a story. It’s a low stakes issue that showcases was it so great about the dynamic between Cage, Jessica Jones, and their child. Not many would choose to end their run on a character with a low key story like this one. I commend Walker for making that choice and look forward to whatever his future awaits him.

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24. Calexit #2

Writer: Matt Pizzolo | Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan | Publisher: Black Mask Studios

Everyone has their process for how long they stay with a new series. For some, if the first issue does not grab them enough it is an instant drop. Personally, I try to give any new series that I have interest in at least three issues. By three issues you can get a full sense of the direction of the comic and the overall quality of the characters. Sometimes that process leads to staying with a book for too long, but sometimes it leads to experiencing how much a book can improve with only a few issues. In some cases like Calexit, a couple of panels can quickly recontextualize many of my previous issues. The first issue of Calexit provided an intriguing concept but felt the general execution left a lot to be desired. Much of that came down to one specific character that felt extremely one-note and over the top. By the end of this issue, my concern morphed into a promise for what this book can turn into. Obviously, this book is capitalizing on the fractured nature of our current society. What was at first being at risk of being exploitive is turning into something full of nuanced commentary.

23. X-O Manowar #12

Writer: Matt Kindt | Artist: Ryan Bodenheim | Publisher: Valiant Comics

Now a year into Matt Kindt’s relaunch of X-0 Manowar and his vision is as strong as ever. The soldier that has led the massive rebellion is tasked with controlling the chaos that has been unleashed. Showcasing how taking down the figurehead of a dictatorship does not lead immediate peace and prosperity. Aric is now finding those he once trusted now fear he has become the very thing he fought against. There are not many writers that would be as critical of their main character as Kindt. Taking the normal actions we have come to expect from up capped super figures and showing the folly of that type of hubris. How pure action is not enough to solve real problems. Kindt has given Aric room to grow to become a better character and this issue we are seeing that growth being realized. Being placed into a deadly conflict where is armor may not be enough to save him.

22. Ice Cream Man #2

Writer: W. Maxwell Prince | Artist: Martin Morazzo | Publisher: Image Comics

The first issue of Ice Cream Man was an enjoyable read that showed some potential. There was a lack of clarity regarding some major plot events so one would assume the next issue would work to explain those moments. What we instead saw is that Ice Cream Man may not be that type of series. Rather bringing back more serialized storytelling like Tales from the Crypt or The Twilight Zone popularized. What that means is if you skipped the first issue this works as a great jumping on point. It is this story of two junkies and the downward spiral that type of lifestyle can lead you down. Telling a complete story in one issue is not easy. Setting up characters to be invested in, a conflict that is concise but engaging, and a resolution that is satisfying enough to make it all worth it. If future issues work as well as this one did this could end up being one of this year’s best series.

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21. The Punisher #221

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg | Artist: Guiu Vilanova | Publisher: Marvel Comics

Writing great comic books is not necessarily rocket science. Sometimes it is simple as taking a born bad ass and putting him in a fully loaded metal suit and letting him roam free in a country full of people who deserve justice. That is exactly what Matthew Rosenberg has done with the character of the Punisher and it has been a tremendous success so far. Whether it is hiding underneath a frozen lake or lurking in the shadows as his next victim carelessly walks through their door, Castle is there to bring his brand of justice. There is something darkly humorous about the extremes Castle is going to complete his mission. Anything you would think the Punisher would do in this situation he is basically been doing. He will just nonchalantly pick someone up and fly them miles into the air and let them go as if he was just conducting an elementary school science project on the dangerous of gravity.

20. Fu Jitsu #5

Writer: Jai Nitz | Artist: Wesley St. Claire | Publisher: Aftershock Comics

Fu Jitsu is the type of comic that so utterly ridiculous it can make you overlook how it is actually pretty smart. It is a comic that enjoys being a comic. There are not many other mediums that would have a story focused on a time-traveling Kung Fu Master battling against the world’s tallest man with Giant Robots and an assortment of fantastic tools. The phrase, “You do not know what to expect next!” is overused but fitting for this book. Issue number five brings the end of this first arc and possibly the end of this comic. Comics are better with this series in it so my hope is we get to see more. This added a nice little wrinkle to everything that got into how we tend to always be the heroes of our own stories. Even if we are trying to take over the world. If fate is unkind and this is the end it is at least one hell of a way to go out.

19. Mech Cadet Yu #6

Writer: Greg Pak | Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa | Publisher: Boom! Studios

The world of comics is better having Mech Cadet U in it. It is this consistent light and enjoyable read that never feels empty or disposable. Sure giant robots fighting giant aliens is pretty much automatically fun. Where Mech Cadet U excels is adding a lot of heart to that idea to make all the large than life action means something. If you know anyone at any age that is looking for a new series to get into this is the ideal comic to point them towards. It shows you can have a story with a large group of kids and you do not need a love story to drive your drama. Friendships can blossom and provide deeper intrigue than who is dating who. I feel like this is one of the few series where anyone who picks it up can feel a piece of them is being represented. For those who think this series is nothing without its robots, this arc has pushed them aside to make the kids the major focal point.

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18. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2

Writer: Mark Russell, Brandee Stilwell | Artist: Gus Vazquez | Publisher: DC Comics

Never would I have anticipated that one of my most anticipated comic series of the year would be focused on the character of Snagglepuss. A character I do not know anything about outside of the fact that he likes to say the word ‘even’, and that it is impossible to talk about this book without trying to do a Snagglepuss impression. The reason I was looking forward to this was that it is coming from the team who gave us the outstanding Flintstones comic. Also helps that Snagglepuss is staged as a Tennessee William styles playwright during the ‘Red Scare’ period in America. This issue sees Snagglepuss go face to pink cat face with the US government. They want to use his talent to construct some propaganda for their benefit where Snagglepuss has no desire to be used as such a tool. Two issues in an this is already separated itself from The Flintstones book. For one it is much more dramatic dealing with some truly heady material, and it is playing it much more straight with the world of Snagglepuss. Humor is more natural and never overly calls attention to itself. I could see many not nearly enjoying this as much, but when it comes to the overall craft it is pretty masterful.

17. Jazz Maynard #1

Writer: Raule | Artist: Roger Ibanez Ugena | Publisher: Magnetic Press

Calling this issue Jazz Maynard #1 is a little misleading as it is the start of a brand new volume. A fact I was unaware of until researching this book more. Although I missed the previous volume I never felt lost or confused. If anything the world felt more lived in and alive. Where you are dropped into it and get to understand how everything works through osmosis. If you want to build a hero and a villain in one issue this is how you do it. We see Jazz Maynard the life he lives and the many gifts endowed to him. On the other side, we see his potential new rival come into play. His actions towards his own son are ones that will haunt me for some time. After picking up this issue not only do I want to stick with this book but now I have to go back and find out what I missed. Nothing is greater than enjoying a comic and finding out so much of it already exists to enjoy.

16. James Bond: The Body #2

Writer: Ales Kot | Artist: Luca Casalanguida | Publisher: Dynamite

Dynamite has been doing a lot of great things with their James Bond line these past few years. Warren Ellis’s run on the character showed it was possible to write a great James Bond comic. Now Ales Kot has taken over and I am loving his approach to this current run. Each issue focuses on a specific element of James Bond and how he uses it to be the world’s best secret agent. The first issue he used his body and now he is using his mind. Every panel in this book takes place in one room with Bond interrogating a suspect linked to a potential terrorist attack. This is not any normal suspect as she is one of the smartest people in the world. Bond has to rely on his own wits to see if he can convince or trick her into giving him what he needs. I love how the art was used to showcase Bond’s mental process. Focusing in on different body language tells to see if he can cut through all the lies to find the necessary truth.
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Well that’s 30-16 done, join me next time for part two of this list and the final 15…

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