12th Mar2018

Panel Discussion #49: February 2018′s Top 30 Comics (Part 2)

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 two, a countdown of books 15-1… 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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15. Babyteeth #8

Writer: Donny Cates | Artist: Garry Brown | Publisher: Aftershock Comics

Every time I think I have this series pegged a new element is dropped to change the game. From the start, we all knew this was a story about an AntiChrist baby that would bring with it the destruction of the world. What I did not expect is to think I would be partially rooting for them to succeed. From the start what I have adored about this book was how it would set up a classic trope character only to sharply go against our expected expectations. This issue shows us those who wish for this world to end to do for a just cause, or at least in the eyes of some. Sure they are crazy and clearly have hypocritical morals. Still, they have a point. Also, major points when your book includes a purple demon dragon cat that breathes fire. Why every book does not have one of those I do not know. Horror comics are as strong as ever and this has vaulted itself to the top of teh genre.

14. Quantum & Woody #3

Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith | Artist: Francis Portela | Publisher: Valiant Comics

In order for the characters of Quantum and Woody to work you need a writer who does not take himself or herself too seriously. Based on the buildup of this relaunch and the actual book Daniel Kibblesmith is such a writer. He has great wit and a strong sense of humor that bleeds onto the pages of this series. With this issue we also get some emotional moments as well that were well earned. When your book opens with a goat giving birth to the father of our heroes you know right away what type of story you are in for. Added to that is knowing their father has only one day to live. What we see is how each character deals with that situation differently. Francis Portela has been doing some innovative things with the panel design. Here I loved a montage sequence where panels were shaped like actual polaroids. I had high hopes for this relaunch and everything so far has proven my anticipation was warranted.

13. Slots #5

Writer/Artist: Dan Panosian | Publisher: Image Comics

If you were to ask what great current series is not talked about nearly enough that answer is simple. It is Slots by Dan Panosian. An industry veteran showcasing he still has a lot to offer this medium. Every issue is a joy for the eyes to witness. Specifically in this issue was a two-page splash page showcasing a major boxing bout between two key characters. He told as much story in that one page as all the Rocky movies combined. I could see it being one of those pages that teaches other comic artists how to use the page to its fullest effect. This a book full of shady characters who make no qualms regarding their questionable morals. Vegas is the type of town that can be tiredly glamorized. Slots is not that by any stretch of the imagination. It shows us what life looks like when those bright lights are dimmed to show the sliminess that hides in the shadows. Old school and new school go head to head inside the pages an out.

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12. Grass Kings #12

Writer: Matt Kindt | Artist: Tyler Jenkins | Publisher: Boom! Studios

If you are looking for a comic that has genuine human drama where there are no superheroes, no supernatural elements, and nothing outside of what we can see in our actual world. Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkin’s Grass King’s is exactly that. This is a series that has found its strengths by building character and the world they are living in. Sadly this is the beginning of the end. Issue twelve is the start of the final story arc. The Grass Kingdom is still healing from it wounds as enemies begin to circulate for one final kill. Before the final battle can begin we go back to learn more about how we got here and the serial killer that got away. All this is building up to a major showdown that will leave the town changed forever.

11. Doctor Strange #385

Writer: Donny Cates | Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta | Publisher: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange #385 marks the end of Donny Cates first arc on this title. One thing is for certain seeing what Cates has done with Marvel so far is that he is not afraid to go for it. Within his first arc he has dethroned Doctor Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme and brought back one character that has been a lightning rod of internet hate. Yet so far he has been able to make it all work. It is sad to know this is Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s last issue on this book and maybe for Marvel for some time. He style and the world of Doctor Strange compliment each other well. Also loved the way he drew Loki. Loki is a character of extreme emotion that can change from scene to scene. Walta made ever change work. We also know now Coates will be leaving soon as well. Knowing that he appears destined to put his stamp on the character as quickly and loudly as possible.

10. Abbott #2

Writer: Saladin Ahmed | Artist: Sami Kivela | Publisher: Boom! Studios

When I finished the first issue of Abbot I left it disappointed for one key reason. I was loving everything I was reading. This throwback story of a journalist living in Detroit in the 1970’s during a very trying time. It was unlike anything I could remember reading in some time until I got to the final page when we learned there is an element of the supernatural behind much of the stories mystery. Much initial excitement disapparated to a major concern. My concern was that what I loved about the book so far would be pushed to the side to focus more on the more fantastical elements. If issue number two is any indication that is not the case. This book has so much amazing atmosphere. Even the colors have a natural age quality to them as if this was just unearthed from a time capsule buried in the 70’s. It’s dingy, gritty, and if you focus strongly enough you can smell the smoke that permeates each panel.

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9. Kill or Be Killed #16

Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Sean Phillips | Publisher: Image Comics

Last year I named Kill or Be Killed as my favorite series of 2017 so it is no surprise an issue would make this list. I cannot think of a better creative team currently in comics than Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. They work together so well and can highlight each other’s strengths and minimize any major weakness. This current arc Dylan has been placed in a mental hospital and been forced to deal with his demon problem straight on. Somehow this series can keep its major mystery going without ever feeling redundant. What is real and what is not is still not entirely clear. That could be frustrating if not handled correctly. Here it works in large part due to Brubaker’s use of first-person narration. It gives us just enough to hang onto when what is in front of us cannot be fully believed.

8. Thanos #16

Writer: Donny Cates | Artist: Geoff Shaw | Publisher: Marvel Comics

When Marvel announced the team behind one of 2017’s best comics God Country would be taking over Thanos I had high hopes. They were clearly capable of telling an effective story on a massive scale. Exactly what you need for a book like Thanos. Now four issues in and this is much better than I could have anticipated. The best way to describe the ‘Thanos Wins’ arc so far would be as if you took a bunch of What If storylines from the past, blended them all together, and then painstakingly plotting out an effective story. If you are someone who has yet to start enjoying the epic crazy fun this book has consistently provided this issue works as a great jumping on point. One where we find out how exactly Thanos won and the origin of the Cosmic Ghostrider. Right when you think this story has hit its peak it end with a final image that immediately raises the stakes to another level.

7. Royal City #10

Writer/Artist: Jeff Lemire | Publisher: Image Comics

Since it first debuted Royal City has consistently been one of the best series on the shelves. Jeff Lemire is a master at telling human stories full of melancholic emotion and a meditating atmosphere. With Royal City he added a spice of the supernatural to examine the different ways we work through grief. With this current story arc, we took a trip back to the nineties to better understand how we got to where we are. In order to understand where we are we have to see what life was life for these characters before tragedy occurred. With this series so far we have seen how broken these people have become and what we are gradually learning is how those fractures that exist were there long before the untimely passing of Tommy. It’s been an emotional journey that hooks you in with Lemire’s uncanny ability to depict humanity.

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6. Batman: White Knight #5

Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy | Publisher: DC Comics

When Batman: White Knight came out I thought it was going to be this story about The Joker becoming the hero and Batman turning evil. Clearly, that is part of what is occurring here.The key word being part. What Sean Murphy is doing is taking the norms we have come to accept with the world of Batman and break them down piece by piece. Questioning the morality of a character like Batman and what we would cost on a literal and symbolic level. Honestly, if this was just general images of Murphy drawing Batman and the city of Gotham I would be fine with it. He was born to draw this world and gives Gotham that gothic feel it has been missing. It feels like a city born in the old world. In this , ssue some intriguing bits of information were also revealed. Ones that show a secret history of the Waynes that is shocking yet uncomfortably feels right. If you are someone who love the 90’s animated series this is a must read. It is as if Murphy took that universe and matured it for a more grown up audience. When this series is all over it has the chance to be among some of the best Batman stories ever told. Considering the long history of the character that is an impressive feat.

5. The Punisher: The Platoon #6

Writer: Garth Ennis | Artist: Goran Parlov | Publisher: Marvel Comics

Garth Ennis can write a great Punisher story. I know water is wet, sky blue, and the Punisher kills. All pretty obvious statements. ‘The Platoon’ mini series has barely been a Punisher story and it’s a stretch to say it is even a Frank Castle story. You could remove all of those ties and this story is relatively unchanged. If putting the Punisher moniker on it gets more people to buy it I am all for it because it’s been one incredible story. Taking place in Vietnam a writer we never see has been interviewing members of Castle’s first Platoon along with the enemy he was fighting against. Kudos to Goran Parlov for being able to construct characters that exist in two different time periods. It is no small task to age characters we have never met before in a way where you always know who is who. This was the final issue of this run and gave a lot of insight into the war on Vietnam and the mindset of the people who fought it. Ennis showed us fully designed characters on both sides and how no one left that war innocent.

4. Judas #3

Writer: Jeff Loveness | Artist: Jakub Rebelka | Publisher: Boom! Studios

When religion is tackled in comics it is typically done in a cynical or speculative manner. Often attempting to deconstruct the artifice of theology in a more practical process. That is partially what makes Judas such a unique experience. It is looking at the more human side of the bible that is respectful without being overly devout. The questions it raises are not about the reality of religion but the complications of faith and everlasting love. Even those that never attended a church service know the story of Judas, and what this series has done is look at what happened to him after his soul was doomed to hell. What does eternity look like for history’s most famous traitor? What this series dares to ask is if Judas was simply a pawn in a much greater game he was destined to lose. Add to that what happens when he has to face the man or God he betrayed. Or was it really him that was one that was betrayed? This is delicate material that takes a fine hand to craft right and so far it’s been an amazing series that brings with it something not seen in comics or most artistic mediums for that matter.

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3. The Mighty Thor #704

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Russell Dauterman | Publisher: Marvel Comics

Jason’s Aaron’s epic run continues in an emotionally packed issue that gives Jane Foster the ultimate question. Does she risk her life to save others or allow herself to live dooming Asgard? A question that seems obvious to answer for a hero. What Aaron does it show why heroics have their downside. Jason Aaron knows how to build up a character and let them fall in epic fashion. We see the history of tragedy Jane has suffered throughout her life. How even being friends with a god does not mean you will not suffer unexpected major loss. This could have easily been tragedy porn where you have nothing but unrelenting sadness. One way it avoids that is by placing in some well-timed humor. (Seeing a demon dog chase anything that looks like a hammer was an effective running gag). Moreso those moments were used to show the spirit of Jane and how despite having every reason to give up she persisted. It’s inspiration, its relatable, and mostly it’s just a great comic. Aaron’s run on Thor keeps being a thing of beauty.

2. Rock Candy Mountain #8

Writer/Artist: Kyle Starks | Publisher: Image Comics

They say a hobo’s life is measured by his friends. That makes you wonder what a comic book’s life is measured by. If it’s the ability to entertain and provide impactful emotional moments Rock Candy Mountain has lived a long life in its eight issues. Kyle Starks crafted a silly story with great heart and memorable characters that is sadly coming to its end. One that operates as a modern fable rooted in a past American culture that is fascinating in its own right. Inside this fantastic story has been this tale about the importance of friends and family. Why it works is the complete lack of cynicism. Considering the state of the world comics need a creator like Kyle Starks. He can create stories unlike anyone else that have a clear vision and that vision is executed with a high level of creativity. Seeing this series end is somewhat bittersweet. This story has been fully told, but cannot help but what to see more from these characters. Although if you are going to end the final panel of this issue is how you do it. It was the one image this entire book was leading up t1.o and it was worth the enjoyable wait.

1. Swamp Thing Winter Special

Writer: Tom King, Len Wein | Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Jason Fabok, Kelley Jones | Publisher: DC Comics

It all starts with the work of Jason Fabok. On a purely aesthetic level, he can fill a page with some truly pristine images. The detail is massively impressive from the minutia of the vines that cover Swamp Thing’s body to the frozen breath that slowly seeps out of mouths. Each bit makes you feel the cold deep down in the fiber of your being. He was born to drawn Swamp Thing as he can capture his monstrous design but leave just enough room for his humanity to slip through. As the story progresses we get some close-ups of Swamp Thing’s face that portray a level of emotion I would not think possible for a creature of his ilk. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Makes me wonder what is the sincerest form of respect. Whatever it may be both are represented in this issue. An homage to comic legends done by some of today’s best comic creators. It is more than just a great comic because the level of care makes it apparent the admiration these creators had for Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein goes beyond their work and to who there were as people. We may be only two months into the year but I find it unlikely we will get a better single issue than this…

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