12th Jun2018

Panel Discussion #52: Top 50 Comics of April 2018 (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 50 comics released in April 2018. This is part two, a countdown of books 25 – 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 April. 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

Warning: I did touch on some plot details so if you prefer knowing nothing about an issue you may not want to read the finer details. I do try to stay away from the major surprises.

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25. The Dead Hand #1

Writer: Kyle Higgins | Artist: Stephen Mooney | Publisher: Image
Previous Ranks: No Previous Issues

Like many, I enjoy a great twist ending. Of course, not all twist endings work and sometimes the need to artificially construct a twist ending leads to some pretty silly story choices. If I never see a final reveal that it was a dream the whole time or that they are actually in purgatory I would be perfectly content. When an organic twist occurs that enhances an already solid level of enjoyment a twist is working correctly. That is what happened with Death Head #1.

Now a big benefit of a twist occurring in the first issue of a comic series is that the story keeps going. Certain writers like Bryan K. Vaughn have perfected the craft of creating a first issue that leaves off on a breathtaking cliffhanger. What worked about this issue is how it slightly adjusted its genre as the story went on. At first seeming like a Cold War-era spy thriller, then a different take on something akin to A History of Violence, to eventually turning into something much more. Now the question becomes if this can follow up on that twist without writing itself into a corner.

24. Astro City #51

Writer: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Brent Anderson | Publisher: Vertigo
Previous Ranks: None

Knowing that Astro City was nearing its end of coming out in issue form I was curious about how Kurt Busiek would approach this final arc. Although this is the second part of a three-part series it works as a prime jumping on point. Even if you never read an Astro City book before (and there are a lot of them) this gives you everything you need to understand. It centers on characters that are typically collateral damage in most comic stories. It centers on this group of individuals who have lost loved ones in superhero-related tragedies share their stories.

The cold open gave me an emotional impact that I rarely get with an entire comic let alone just an intro. A woman shares her story about that day that forever changed her and her family. When the page turned and we learn about her fate the image burn itself into my memory and I still think about it until this day. It then shifts focus to the main plot where we learn the leader of this group is hiding a secret about his own loss. Some begin to question the honesty of his words and wonder if he was simply there to exploit the grief of others. Without giving much away Busiek approaches the idea of if it is better to love and loss than ever love at all. Personally, I am enjoying his answer to that question.

23. Black Hammer: Age of Doom #1

Writer: Jeff Lemire | Artist: Dean Ormston | Publisher: Dark Horse
Previous Ranks: None

Jeff Lemire is doing some tremendous work in building the universe of Black Hammer. Although there has not been an issue released of the main book in some time the scope of that universe has rapidly expanded with the spinoff series. Considering where the last issue of volume two left off I assumed going into this we would have some major revelations that would forever change this series moving forward. I should have known better because has Lemire has taught us time and time again he is not in a hurry and neither are his characters.

What I have found fascinating about this series that involves magic powers, cosmic level beings, and alien robots is how the dramatic tension tends to get boiled down to small moments like simply trying to have a dinner together. Here a large bulk of the story is just this group of characters sitting around a kitchen table talking to one another. However, this comic has built up these characters in such a way so that simple conversation carries a lot of weight.

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22. Oblivion Song #2

Writer: Robert Kirkman | Artist: Lorenzo De Felici | Publisher: Image Comics
Previous Ranks: None

One of the series I got the most flak for not including in last month’s list was Oblivion Song. I expected that would be the case as Robert Kirkman’s name carries a lot of weight and I too did enjoy the first issue. There was something holding me back though as I felt the ending that was designed to be a major cliffhanger made me concerned it was undercutting the potential of its premise far too early. (Full Review Here)

Issue two showed my concerns may, in fact, be unfounded. In a way, this issue should not work nearly as much as it does. Most of it is made up of exposition as these characters travel around a museum highlighting the day when oblivion occurred. Why it worked though is because how much of that exposition was tied to the viewpoint of our main character. How in one way we were seeing the images of the actual event unfold while at the same time tieing in the personal stakes of this massive story. That is one of Kirkman’s greatest strengths as a writer. No matter how big or brutal a story may be his characters are always at the center of it all.

21. Incognegro: Renaissance #3

Writer: Mat Johnson | Artist: Warren Pleece | Publisher: Berger Books
Previous Ranks: February – #30, March – #21

What I love about comics is that at any given time you can look back at the month that was in comics and see such a large variety of titles covering every genre, subject matter, and topics you could think of or dream about. Incognegro: Renaissance is an example of that as it covers race relations in Harlem during the 1920’s. It’s more than that of course as that is the subtext to this mystery around a possible murder.

The main character Zane Pinchback is a reporter during that time and although he is African America has a lighter complexion so with the help of some makeup and keen acting ability is able to pass as caucasian thus allowing him to get into places he otherwise would not be allowed. In this issue, he discovers he may not be the only person utilizing this tactic and it leads to a deep conversation about societal expectations of race and gender that are born from a time gone by but also inform us in how we got to where we are today.

20. Batman #45

Writer: Tom King | Artist: Tony S. Daniel | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: None

Tom King’s run has been polarizing with comic book fans. Many, like myself, have been enamored with his work while I know others find the direction he has taken this story is not what they want from a Batman title. For me what I have enjoyed about his run is that on a rare occasion Batman/Bruce Wayne is the main part of his own story. It’s not about what evil plan Joker has created or stopping a massive bomb from destroying Gotham. It is about what drives Bruce to keep that cowl on for all these years and what would happen if being Batman was no longer the most important thing in his life.
With that said this issue has little Batman actually in it as we see Booster Gold try to get him the ultimate Wedding present. King gets to demonstrate his twisted humor and dark sensibilities from the way he writes Booster Gold to some of the offshoot moments like a car commercial involving Jason Todd. Sure he may be milking this wedding story for everything he can but if it leads to issues like this I’m all for it.

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19. Descender #29

Writer: Jeff Lemire | Artist: Dustin Nguyen | Publisher: Image Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #12

As Descender nears its end some major developments have been occurring with these last major arc. Rise of the Robots has rapidly expanded the scope of this comic but this issue brought it back to a more personal story with the boy android Tim-21 at the center. Lemire doing what he does best. Having a narrative with a scope that feels never-ending yet keeping in grounded to a relatable personal level.
What has made Descender such an effective story throughout these twenty-nine issues is how there is no true hero or villain of this story as of yet. Sure they are characters you sympathize with and those that are more morally compromised than others but the motivations for every character no matter how small are sound. When this comic finally comes to an end it will no doubt go down as one of the best of this decade.

18. The Amazing Spider-Man #799

Writer: Dan Slott | Artist: Stuart Immonen | Publisher: Marvel
Previous Ranks: None

I know many are extremely happy that Dan Slott is leaving Spider-Man after all these years. It does feel like the right time as an idea Slott has had in his back pocket is now coming out. The idea of Norman Osborn taking the Carnage symbiote and becoming the Red Goblin sounds like the worst of the 90’s coming back to haunt us. Slott has shown he can take ideas that should not work, like Doc Ock becoming Spider-Man, and make great books out of them.

Within this issue, some of Slott’s best attributes are demonstrated. One is how he has built this family of characters around Spider-Man/Peter Parker and how he can use them against him. As comic creators often do he will give Parker everything he thinks he wants only to take it away from him in the most brutal fashion. Red Goblin becomes this major threat so despite the fact he is kind of ridiculous as he works as a character.

17. Grass Kings #14

Writer: Matt Kindt | Artist: Tyler Jenkins | Publisher: Boom! Studios
Previous Ranks: March – #12, April – #14

Last month also saw this series nominated for an Eisner and I believe it is well deserved. Considering the lack of discussion of this series I was somewhat surprised it got nominated for best new series. As cliche as it may sound the biggest success of this book has been the building of the Grass Kingdom to the main characters of this story. It is a setting that has meant different things to its different citizens but ultimately been this beacon of freedom that has slowly been chipped away.

The last issue of Grass Kings was this action-packed invasion that was so different than any other so far. Knowing that the question became how exactly would they follow that up. Things took a step back as we learned more about this secret killer that has been in the shadows of this comic since its early beginnings. Despite the drastic shift, it felt like a natural transition before the final bit comes next month.

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16. X-O Manowar #14

Writer: Matt Kindt | Artist: Ariel Olivetti | Publisher: Valiant
Previous Ranks: March – #23, April – #27

X-O Manowar #14 marks a transition issue as Aric travels back to Earth after spending the last calendar year off planet. The arc Matt Kindt constructed saw him start off as a local farmhand looking to find peace to the eventual leader of the planet due to his sense of duty and desire to overthrow those that would cruelty subjugate others. It is the classic case of trying to find peace yet seeing that no matter where you go peace does not exist.

Plot-wise you cannot get much simpler than this. It literally is about getting from point A to point B. By limiting the plot it opens the door for personal reflection on how Aric got to this point. Going back to his childhood to what drove him off the planet in the first place. All that makes this issue a good starting point especially as it is a prelude to the Harbinger War 2 event happening this summer.

15. Antar the Black Knight #1

Writer: NNedi Okorafor | Artist: Eric Battle | Publisher: IDW
Previous Ranks: No Previous Issues

Sometimes it can be hugely beneficial to just pick up a new series without knowing anything about it or who the creators are. That happened to me when I picked up Antar the Black Knight #1 and become majorly impressed with everything I saw. Quickly into this book, I knew this was a series I would be sticking with until the end.

What impressed me the most was how much story was packed into this first issue without feeling overloaded. It has that feel of the sand and sword epics like Ben-Hur but one that is much more aware of the culture and society of that time period. Where the people of that world are the heroes of their own stories. Eric Battle has been doing art for some time and this is some of his best work. Expanding outside the world of superheroes has opened up his work with a welcome level of creativity.

14. Thanos #18

Writer: Donny Cates | Artist: Geoff Shaw | Publisher: Marvel
Previous Ranks: March – #8, April – #7

Thanos #18 brought the inevitable end of the Thanos Wins storyline, which was one of the most fun and twisted things to happen in Marvel comics in some time. As a writer, Donny Cates as this notion of just going for it and so far it has worked brilliantly. The success of this series brought his name to the same ranks of the biggest comic writers.

One of the more stranger things was how this issue depicted Death. She felt more like the Vertigo version of the character rather than the person who led Thanos to nearly destroy the universe on many occasions. Those who require consistency may not be able to get over that fact but for me, it was not a big deal. Geoff Shaw also deserves a lot of credit as his work was a big reason this series worked as well as it did. Thanos is a tough character to depict right on the page and he gave him the epic level scale he needs to make his presence have an impact. I would have loved to see this team continue on this series but have to give them credit for ending because the story they wanted to tell is now over.

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13. Batman: White Knight #7

Writer: Sean Murphy | Artist: Sean Murphy | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #6, April – #13

Sean Murphy was born to draw Batman especially in the world of Gotham. I find myself just sitting back absorbing his art. Especially love how he draws vehicles and this issue provided a major abundance of cars depict. If you are a fan of the Batmobile chases are your favorite one is represented here in a major way.

With one issue left in this series, this sets up major pieces in motion. Finally going back to the opening pages of issue one where see what finally brought Jack Napier to seek the assistance of an imprisoned Batman. For the majority of this series, Murphy approached Batman in a slightly more unhinged manner. Making it seem like he was setting up a complete 180-degree switch from the normal Batman mythos. As it has progressed it has evolved to be something a tad more subtle picking apart the problematic nature of a character like Batman but also underlying the benefit. A specific moment that stood out with this issue was when he spoke with Dick and Barbara over the true reason he does what he does. Sure we know why Bruce became the Bat but we see the reason he stayed focused on his mission is less about what happened to him in his past and more on what could happen in their future.

12. Abbott #4

Writer: Saladin Ahmed | Artist: Sami Kivela | Publisher: Boom! Studios
Previous Ranks: March – #10, April – #16

There is not a book currently on the shelves that oozes more style than Abbott. From its overall design, use of color, character creation, and panel layout every piece goes into maintaining an aesthetic of the 1960’s. It gets to the point that I forget this book was made today and not over forty years ago.

Although it feels of the time it does not feel dated because the character of Abbott is so strong. In this issue, Abbott is up against the wall recently being fired from her job as a reporter. She does not get overly down on herself and continues to do her job despite those obstacles. There is a take charge aspect to her that makes it so easy to route for her. This series has been able to utilize the more supernatural elements without taking around from the more grounded issues. I was at first concerned about the more magical pieces but they have fit in so well they have not detracted in any
way.

11. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4

Writer: Mark Russell | Artist: Mike Feehan | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #18, April – #23

What has made Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles work so well as a series is that it never takes a second to reflect on the fact it is a book about a giant pink cat who wears no paint. It takes itself seriously which would normally be a detriment to a series like this but when you are as smartly written as this is you can get away with it. For those who enjoyed The Flintstones series if you are not reading this book as well, you need to correct it. It may not be as humorous but find the overall narrative actually deeper as Snagglepuss has morphed into this rather complex character.

I recently got the opportunity to talk to Mark Russell (listen to the interview here) about this book and his overall career. It was a treat being able to pick his brain about his process for creating his stories. Comics are better when writers like Russell are writing them. Providing an intellectual exploration into some complex ideas through unexpected means. He did so with The Flinstones and is developing something even deeper with Exit Stage Left.

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10. Deadly Class #33

Writer: Rick Remender | Artist: Wes Craig | Publisher: Image Comics
Previous Ranks: April – #5

With the Deadly Class TV show close to its debut it feels like this series could explode even more in the world of pop culture. If that TV show is done right and in the spirit of the comic it could easily reach near the popularity of something like The Walking Dead or at least demonstrate to the world how comics can cover a varied ground outside of just superheroes and zombies.

The last issue was this love letter to Frank Miller and ended up being one of the best issues of the series thus far. This issue keeps the momentum going as Marcus and Maria return to the world they previously left behind. Threads that have been building from the very first issue hit their boiling point showing that this series has no intention of slowing down.

9. The Mighty Thor #706

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Russell Dauterman | Publisher: Marvel Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #3, April – #1

The Mighty Thor has come to its end. An ending we all knew was coming but wondered what exactly that meant for the character of Jane Foster and her Asgardian alter ego. I could see why some may not be a fan of how this eventually ended. Wondering if it should not have gone further with its premise. For me why it worked was by the end of this issue the entire character of Jane Foster came full circle which was evident through the way Odin gained a level of respect for her that is matched by nearly no one.

However, Odin’s respect did not validate her as a hero as she never needed validation. Despite complaints of many Jane Foster/Might Thor has grown into one of Marvel’s best characters. Aaron has been putting together one massive epic of a tale since he took over Thor. Now as we enter the third act it is a good time to reflect on what he has put together thus far. The amount of story he has build up is awe inspiring and if he nails the landing will go down as perhaps the greatest Thor run ever.

8. Kill or Be Killed #18

Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Sean Phillips | Publisher: Image Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #9, April – #8

With issue twenty being the last of this series there is a lot of room to cover before this story finally concludes. Personally sad to see this end as it felt like a book that could go on for much longer. I would rather see it end too soon than not at all which is often the case with indie titles. The story is in a weird spot where it feels like it is coming to its logical conclusion but at the same time could easily see a few things change and the series goes on for another twenty issues. If you are a person who loves procedural crime stories this was like crime story catnip as we followed Detective Lily Sharpe throughout her process to track down who the real vigilante killer is. Ed Brubaker is the master of telling stories like this. Gradually progressing the narrative bringing us into the mindset of a great detective. Not many would not have their main character appear once with only a few issues left, but clearly, this is a creative team that feels confident about the story they want to tell.

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7. Captain America #700

Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Chris Samnee | Publisher: Marvel
Previous Ranks: March – #22

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run on Captain America was everything the character needed. One that brought the character back to basics and told stories that reminded the world what makes Steve Rogers works best as a character. Add to that the magic of Chris Samnee’s artwork and you have one of the best runs on the character in years.

Outside of the fact this was the 700th issue of Cap it was also Samnee’s last issue on the run and last issue with Marvel for the foreseeable future. Sad to see him leave but glad he was able to team up with Waid once again to produce such a quality run. This was also the end of the ‘Out of Time’ arc that got better with each issue. This also included some great Jack Kirby art with Waid adding his own script. It was an interesting experiment to take classic pieces of art, stitch them together, and add in new dialog like the most delayed version ever of the Marvel method ever. I am unsure how successful the experiment was as a hole but showcasing Kirby’s art was the right choice to make.

6. The Highest House #3

Writer: Mike Carey | Artist: Peter Gross | Publisher: IDW
Previous Ranks: March – #6

If you were going to ask me what is the most beautiful book on the shelves is right now that answer would be quite easy. It is The Highest House. With its larger book size, it has this gorgeous spacious look. Despite being physically larger than most books not no space is wasted. You can quickly see why they decided to construct the book the way they did as it is as important to establishing the atmosphere of the book as anything. This will make for the perfect oversized hardcover once it finally comes out. This issue saw the development of the character of Moth continue to grow as he deals with the shocking conclusion of the second issue. It is also becoming more and more clear that Obsidian has some devious plans of his own. Overall this is as well structure as you can get when it comes to comics. One of this year’s best surprises for sure.

5. Action Comics #1000

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi, Tom King, Scott Snyder, Geof Johns, Brian Michael Bendis & more… | Artist: John Cassaday, Clay Mann, Olivier Coipel, Patrick Gleason, and more | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: None

I struggled a great deal of where exactly to place this on the list. Easily the most hyped comic book issue of the year and a major milestone for the industry. It would be wrong for it to not show up somewhere. Have to also commend DC for how they handled this release. Having as many Variant covers as they did and charging normal cover price when they easily could have charged more and probably sold the same number of copies.

Now all that is moot if the issue is not good. When you combine some of DC’s best writers and artists you hope your return will be some quality stories. For me there was and even if I did not love every story I felt that issue as a whole did a great job representing the character of Superman and his legacy. My only major gripe with the book was that they could have done more to honor the legacy of the creators as well. I know there has been a long legal battle regarding the character of Superman but this felt like the ideal time to put that aside and recognize the unmatched impact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had on the industry.

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4. Isola #1

Writer: Brenden Fletcher | Artist: Karl Kerschl | Publisher: Image Comics
Previous Ranks: No Previous Issue

Reading the first issue of Isola was a revelation. It was one of those moments where you feel like you are at the beginning of something special. The last time I was this blown away by the art of a book was when I first picked up Saga. Will this series have the same level of notoriety as Saga or been nearly as good? Time will tell. For now, I am just excited about the promise this first issue provided.

In regards to actual storytelling, this felt similar to the way Hayao Miyazaki tells his stories. Where you get dropped into a magical world with little to no explanation. You find your way eventually but at first, you feel like you missed something. As if you are jumping into the sequel to a story that was never made. This could be off-putting to some but if done right allowing the reader to learn through osmosis can give you an even greater sense of where the characters are coming from.

3. Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #2

Writer: Jeff Lemire | Artist: Max Fiumara | Publisher: Dark Horse
Previous Ranks: March – #9

When Jeff Lemire announced he was going to make spin-off series of his much acclaimed Black Hammer series it made a lot of sense. He was creating a world that was rife with possibilities and the potential to tell classic superhero stories the way Lemire would want to tell them. Taking what Kurt Busiek did with his Astro City series and putting a new spin on it. Some may ask if there is still room to revisit archetypes of yesteryear. Can we continue to deconstruct what has been ripped apart and rebuilt time and time already? Well, when you get books as good as Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows the answer is an emphatic yes.

It also helps that I am a sucker for father and son stories. Especially when they revolve around the price of sacrifice and how our own selfish dreams can have longing effects we failed to prepare for. What makes Lemire’s take on the downfalls of superherodom unique is that although his characters make mistakes and cause others pain they are not inherently bad people. They may make wrong choices and act selfishly at times but their overall sense of being is much more nuanced than someone from the world of Watchmen. It is not necessarily saying one way is better than the other simply that there are still ways to reexamine the genre of superheroes.

2. Mister Miracle #8

Writer: Tom King | Artist: Mitch Gerads | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: March – #2

Although Mister Miracle has many people who adore it, myself included, I know it may have just as many detractors–or at least they are twice as loud. Those who claim its abstract storytelling style is a crutch to make up for a loosely tied together narrative that lacks basic sense and cohesion. As if this series is an ‘Emperor has no clothes’ situation where people are putting much more into it there is actually there.

While I can somewhat understand where a point of view can come from as different comics will work with different people, I feel that dismissive mindset is at best a tad short-sighted and at worst just plain lazy. Can I tell you everything this series is about and exactly what it is trying to say? No, but just because there are no exact answers does not mean there are no answers. I do feel each issue has a clear theme that is brilliantly plaid out. On a basic standpoint, you have the idea of taking the surreal and subjecting it to the mundane. Here where actual combat is juxtaposed with the everyday conversations of raising a child. Clearly, King’s own personal background of being a former CIA Agent gives us some clues to where this story is going. Do I expect there to be a gigantic aha moment where everything is explained by the time the series ends? No, and it would be better for it. Great stories do not have to provide exact answers. Allegorical implications tend to die the moments a story starts to do just that. Great craft should be respected for how well it is constructed and you do not get much better constructed than Mister Miracle.

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1. Batman: Creature of the Night #3

Writer: Kurt Busiek | Artist: John Paul Leon | Publisher: DC Comics
Previous Ranks: None

When it came to naming the best comic of this past month it was quite the challenge. In all honesty, if I were to do this list again in a few weeks I could see myself completely reshuffling the top 3. Ultimately the most important thing is that these are great comics that deserve a lot of major attention. Kurt Busiek is a comic legend that has created some of the greatest comics over the last few decades, yet he is still finding new ways to approach the concept of heroes.

With Batman: Creature of the Night he is taking a similar idea to what he did with Secret Identity that blends the lines of reality and fiction. Where the act of fandom can work as a coping mechanism to overcome the greatest of tragedies, but also how that same avoidance can lead to unintended consequences. John Paul Leon’s work also needs to be called out for how he is doing things from a creative standpoint. He uses a more realistic construct that separates it from most superhero stories. Making you feel like you are witnessing a world that is much more like ours. This also feels more cynical than what I am used to with Busiek. Where every piece of hope is not only diminished but destroyed in a way that is utterly devastating. With the way this issue ended, there is an inkling not all is lost. By the end, the emotional journey is worth it even if it leaves you wallowing in sorrow.

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