Hey shut up, listen: Hi! I guess I’m doing this now? Unclear. But I wanna write about comics and evidence indicates that you, for unknowable reasons of your own, can be persuaded to read what I write, so let’s see if this is something that works, let’s steam these hams, buckle up.
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Alien (2021), Vol. 2: Revival,
By Phillip K. Johnson, Marc Aspinall,
And Salvador Larroca
Alien, Vol. 1: Bloodlines was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year given how mad I was at it before it even dropped; it pulled some nomenclature bait-and-switch shenanigans and was briefly listed as a series actually called Alien Bloodlines, and for some reason I absolutely would not have read that.
But thank goodness I read this, because it finally gives us the good time the series has been threatening us with its entire life: a straight-up Xenomorph Religious Horror story, with our favorite chitinous abominations playing the ‘Dogs of Perdition’ in the belief system of an agrarian community on the Jovian moon Eurydice. There’s obviously more to it than that: how did yonder alium come to be on the ship that crashed on Eurydice in the first place? How does a neo-luddite cult justify their presence on a moon that had to be terraformed for them to survive there? And then there’s THIS fuckin’ guy:
Listen: I don’t wanna come off as some sort of anti-synthetic bigot here. Bishop saved Ripley and Newt’s lives! Call hooked herself into the Auriga‘s mainframe for reasons I don’t remember, but she definitely didn’t wanna do it! I’m just saying: synths that hide that they’re synths usually aren’t being honest about other things, like how valuable they think human life is compared to retrieving xenomorph samples for the Weyland-Yutani Bioweapons Research Division.
Anyway this rules, Eurydice feels like a real place inhabited by a living people (due in large part to their agrarian cult and the lifestyle it informs), and that means I actually care about whether the’yre all going to get littlemouthed to death, a mainstay of the Alien films but a relative rarity in the spinoff media, which usually ups the bodycount and so reduces the characterization of its cast.
Definitely read this, it kicks ass, and you don’t need to have read Vol. 1 to enjoy it because apparently it’s either an anthology-series comprised of separate miniseries or it’s playing some long game in connecting them; either way this is a great standalone story.
Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates Collection, Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet,
By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, And Chris Sprouse
Generally speaking ‘funny’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of T’Challa & The Pantherpals, but citizens: Ta-Nehisi had other ideas.
It’s not a comedic book, but this team saw their chance and took it, and I salute them.
It’s not a great title to start your Black Panther collection with (like I did) because it drops us square into a complex situation already in progress, but if you can catch up it’s a gripping story of a king losing his grasp on his country and a man losing his grasp on himself:
Me, Reading At Midnight And Hoping For My Friend Chadwick Boseman:
Now that’s not to say I don’t like this or don’t think it’s a good Black Panther story; in the intro (which was actually well worth reading) to these complete collections, Seth Meyers calls Coates’ T’Challa “a good man who doesn’t always make good decisions”, and I think it’s obvious that this storyline and characterization would’ve been a great direction for the MCU T’Challa had he not left us too soon, but compared to the version we saw fight Smeagol and car-surf in Seoul, yeah, this darkness is a little jarring. But it’s a jar filled with tasty and important peanut butter, whose chunks attempt to address some actually pretty serious problems, such as the fact that we’re supposed to root for T’Challa and the Royal Family but uh, y’know, monarchy is inherently bad? Needless to say, the book doesn’t always agree with the character, and it’s a great conversation to be part of.
Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker,
By Kieron Gillen And Stephanie Hines
So, on the surface Die is a pretty simple story: when something goes terribly wrong at a birthday party, a bunch of kids somehow got Narnia’d into a tabletop RPG world (which the gentle reader may recall is an entire genre of manga).
Die could easily have been a fun book if it had stopped there; Birthright got ten great volumes out of it even without the RPG angle, which American markets apparently have no taste for.
But no, Kieron gonna Kieron, and being Kieron, these kids come back two years later with…problems, and also fewer limbs, and one of them doesn’t come back at all. They struggle to readjust and grow up and live human lives, but never deal with what they went through or what happened to their lost friend, until the year they gather in remembrance of him, and find…a message, indicating that he might not be as gone as they thought, and as a result, they are now fucked.
And OOPS wouldn’t you just know it, that big bad icosahedron zoops them back into the place that, in their hearts and nightmares, they never really left, and their friend has no intention of letting them leave until they finish the game they started all those years ago.
The series ended some time ago, but the omnibus edition just came out and I got my brother in law a copy for his birthday, so it seemed like the perfect time to both re-read and actually finish it, since I still haven’t read the final volume. As a series it’s got just about everything you could ask: fucked-up monstros both new and classic (though changed), deeply damaged protagonists (one of whom is literally powered by his grief) bound by shared trauma and forced to work together, a villain whoh may not be as blameworthy as you think, and some truly fantastic worldbuilding that takes the most ridiculous aspects of tabletop storytelling and makes them terrifyingly realistic no matter how many of their bones it has to break in the process.
Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City,
By Guy Delisle
I was a big fan of Delisle’s Factory Summers earlier this year and decided to explore the rest of his catalogue, which appears to largely consist not of more Québécois paper-making memoirs, but travelogues like this one, The Burma Chronicle, and Pyongyang: A Journey Into North Korea. I’m a big ol’ suckerfish for religious and cultural whatnot so I thought I’d give this a try to see what the deal is re: actually living in a place this…complicated, and I was NOT disappointed:
Aw yeah, that’s the stuff, and it’s a large part of what the book is, just the day-to-day slice-of-life of Guy and his family’s year in the city, and how strange it is to live in a place that is quite literally segregated and absolutely soaked in the possibility and reality of violence on a daily basis:
It’s especially interesting because being Canadian and non-religious, Guy has ZERO personal context for so much of what defines the philosophical and practical bones of the place: he’s not American so seeing guns everywhere is weird for him (weird for us too, honestly!), he’s not Jewish so to him it really just looks like Israel kicked somebody out of their own apartment and moved in (it’s more like the crooked landlord kicked Palestine out because they think having Israel live there is going to raise their property values), he’s not Christian so he doesn’t get Israel’s place in Evangelical Christianity’s plan to trigger the apocalypse, and he’s not Muslim so he can drink and draw cartoons. That’s not a joke, and not only because it wasn’t funny; he teaches several comics workshops while living there and he and one of his students have to find a way to tell the story of her being forced to marry at 14 without depicting the human form, which is a major sin in many branches of Islam, and it’s a testament to the human creative drive and power of art that they figure out how to do it, I believe using anthropomorphized plants? It’s SO good, and I wanna read that comic, but it wasn’t for me, it was for her, and also it was probably in Arabic.
My only caveat for Jerusalem is that there isn’t really a narrative through-line; he’s not there for a job like he was in Pyongyang, he’s not telling a polished version of a meaningful time in his youth like in Factory Summers, it’s just a year in the life of a family in a place that is strange, but surrounded by people who are, for all their strangeness, fundamentally people, and if that kind of thing is your shit you’ll love it as much as I did.
My Hero Academia, Vol. 5:
Shoto Todoroki: Origins,
By Kohei Horikoshi And Caleb Cook
MHA, the story of a boy with no powers in a world full of superheroes, continues to be some of the most fun I’ve had reading comics this year, due in large part to the fact that this creator has ENORMOUS technical skill but mostly turns it toward characterization and the joke, often letting the quality of the work speak for itself instead of putting it on display:
Another thing I really love is that the title consistently plays with the nature and limits of the format, what Dan Harmon paraphrased someone else as calling “the creative’s prerogative to use the frame as part of the painting”, which in this case means the most elegant way I’ve ever seen to express that several people are saying “Deku” and “Midoriya” at the same time:
Or turning word-balloons into visual sound effects somehow???
Or just dumb gags that I love because they made the creator laugh and nobody is in a position to tell him ‘no’:
And just in case you were worried that, like me, he gets by on cuteness and clever tricks, rest assured: we got a little somethin’ for the sickos:
It’s just so much fun gang, and ALSO actually a great story about power, social stratification and nepotism, what it means to be a protector, and punching. It also does something REALLY smart, elegant, and considerate to the reader in folding storylines like this one (‘Shoto Todoroki: Origin’) into the main title instead of doing what Western comics do, which is give every character that gets any amount of reader-traction their own title, which you will then have to buy and read or else never know what Shoto’s deal is, and I regret to say that his deal is actually pretty compelling, so I’m glad I don’t have to do that, because I wouldn’t.
So that’s what I’m reading! What about you goons? How did you keep your schedule straight in Jerusalem, like, one of those planners they give you at the bank? What would your speech-bubbles be made of? What’s Weyland-Yutani offering you for a live specimen, and are you willing to cut a brother in? Lemme know in the comments and maybe I’ll do some more of these!
Until then, be good to yourselves, be good to each other, I am begging you to wear your masks, and roll for initiative!