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Review Round-Up: Ongoing Comic Essentials

Those that follow me on Goodreads* may be aware that I am reading a LOT of comics right now. I'm working on some reviews behind the scenes, as well as for Panel Mania, and press, but I've been intrigued by the very positive reaction to my short twitter reviews of what I'm reading on a weekly basis.

Here then is the first of... a few(?) review roundups of my ongoing comic reads!

Rules: I'm only including comics that have had at least 2 issues published, and I'm only including the comics that I think are four and five star reads, ie the comics that I can't wait to read each month.

(*where I am tracking every comic I read in 2015.)

Afterlife with ArchieAfterlife With Archie
(W) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, (A) Francesco Francavilla, (L) Jack Morelli
Archie Horror
October 2013-
#1-5 collected

In a tweet: Best zombie comic on the shelves, requires no prior Archie reading! Very fun, great characters, and nods to horror comics of old.

Aka the first Archie comic I ever read. I know, I know, it's not such a big title in the UK but I did at least know the basics of who each character was. This is a great comic to read and probably the best zombie comic on the market right now, kicking off with great gusto but keeping the character development going. As a non-Archie reader I had no trouble keeping up. The covers, courtesy of Francavilla, lovingly hark back to the horror comics of old, making them almost worth the price alone. Afterlife With Archie returns in May and I can't wait!

(Hit the jump for more!)

The AutumnlandsThe Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw
(W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Ben Dewey, (C) Jordie Bellaire, (L) John Roshell, Jimmy Betancourt
November 2014-

In a tweet: Fantastic fantasy that will hook you from the very first issue. Great characterisation, beautiful to behold, and nods to pulp hero stories.

As a child my first favourite series was The Animals of Farthing Wood, followed soon after by the far darker and more violent Deptford Mice and Histories series - the combination of fantasy, animals and dark magic is a potent mix indeed, and one that hadn't really been seen on that level in comics before.

This is one of those rare fantasy comics where I was utterly hooked from the first issue as a magical sky city comes crashing to the ground and the survivors scramble to make sense of what comes next. Each issue also has a painted page "excerpt" from fictional books about the legendary Great Hero who now steps among the characters of the comic - it's a neat touch and a hat tip to the pulp adventure stories of old.

(W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen, (L) Steve Wands
March 2015-

In a tweet: A stunning science fiction tale with beautiful watercolour painted pages throughout - reading without spoilers gives a massive impact!

In truth I will pick up any independent book Lemire does, he's never steered me wrong, but I still didn't expect to be quite so impressed by Descender - when very high expectations are surpassed, well, it's a rare achievement indeed. This is science fiction at its best, unravelling the larger story slowly, focusing in on the protagonist closely, and surprising the reader by subverting expectations.

Descender is also a beautiful comic to read and re-read, courtesy of Nguyen - the watercolour spreads are absolutely lush. I read the first issue without even reading the blurb which made for a terrific surprise when reading - if you're not aware of the spoilers I recommend trying the first issue post haste!

(W/A) Rafael Albuquerque, (W) Mike Johnson, (L) Nate Piekos
Dark Horse
February 2015-
5 issue series

In a tweet: Time travel with an innovative artistic twist - one of the stand out first issues of 2015. Beautiful, clever, and timey wimey.

This is a comic that started out with a very high and unique concept - the opening page of each issue lays bare the colour code used throughout the series, that different colours represent the story being told in the past, present, future or within the Meld, the space between time. It's a clever trick, nixing the need for captions or any other separation of time as the various cast members are spread throughout the fourth dimension. So far I've been impressed at how well Ei8ht has maintained momentum from that groundbreaking first issue, and Albuquerque's pages and panels within panels are, as ever, a delight to behold.

The EmptyThe Empty
(W/A) Jimmie Robinson
February 2015-

In a tweet: A blend of sci-fi and fantasy combine in this tale of an alien world - fab women characters, intrigue, and a pet foxalope. A FOXALOPE.

This is a rare case of a comic I bought purely because of the cover. The haunting image of what looked like some form of robot (it isn't!) and a strange animal wandering the desert with their shadows spilling long into the sands grabbed hold of my mind and wouldn't let go. The protagonists are both women, humanlike in appearance but with great differences between both themselves and from more familiar comic heroes.

Their world is being poisoned, and Tanoor - the warrior on the cover - is determined to change her fate. A naive stranger who washes into town may just be the key. Tanoor's companion is a foxalope. A foxalope! Robinson's art is made up of clean lines and soft colours which immediately renders the world as alien, and the lack of speech bubbles makes for a very immersive read.

Hit 1957Hit 1957
(W) Bryce Carlson, (A) Vanesa R. Del Rey, (C) Niko Guardia, (L) Ed Dukeshire
March 2015-
4 issue series

In a tweet: Hit is a crime comic I can't recommend highly enough. The writing is sublime and the stunning art captures the smoke & grit of '50s LA noir.

Breaking a rule straight away as of course only one issue is published thus far, but this four issue mini is a followup to 2013's Hit which was quite possibly my favourite crime comic of all time. So if you haven't read the first series that doesn't mean you should miss out on this one, just that you need to go order that first trade paperback first!

You won't regret it as Carlson's script is tight noir, while Del Rey's artwork is simply breathtaking. She'll be up next on Sinatoro with Grant Morrison and if that's even half as good as Hit it'll be a fantastic read. Bent coppers, '50s LA, and a broad who can take care of herself - Hit 1957 is off to a 5 star start.

Loki: Agent of AsgardLoki: Agent of Asgard
(W) Al Ewing, (A) Lee Garbett, (C) Nolan Woodard, (L) Clayton Cowles
February 2014-
#1-5 collected

In a tweet: A remarkably clever and original take on Loki, examining his ability to truly change, and his role as god of lies. The expressions are ace!

I don't read a lot of Marvel these days, or at least I don't find myself keeping up with more than a handful of series. I detest events and crossovers, and adore the quirky side-series that push the boundaries on what is expected of superhero comics. I enjoyed Young Avengers, mostly for Kid Loki's storyline, but the new all grown up sexy Loki announcement had me rolling my eyes a bit.

Until I saw that the writer was Al Ewing, filed under "writers who are clever buggers". Right enough this series has blasted its way into my unmissable favourites as tangled plots and storylines sneak around the edges, collide in the gutters, and lie in the margins.

This is perfect Loki - a trickster god who wants to change and shed the massive guilt he carries, up against his greatest enemy. Himself. Meanwhile Garbett has shot to the top of my favourite Marvel artists with playful panel work and some fantastic character expressions, and there's that unmistakeable fantastic lettering work that can only be the hand of Cowles.

(W) Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, (A) Brooke A. Allen, (C) Maarta Laiho, (L) Aubrey Aiese
April 2014-

In a tweet: IS GOOD PLZ BUY. Seriously though, this was my favourite comic of 2014 hands down.

I'm trying to keep these short but really, "IS GOOD PLZ BUY" while completely accurate for Lumberjanes may be a little much. It's a girls summer camp where things happen that may not be entirely explainable by science and also there is love and friendship and all different kinds of ladies and it is amazing. Is good plz buy. (Have you read Stevenson's Nimona webcomic which is equally good? Out in book form soon!)

Marceline Gone AdriftMarceline Gone Adrift
(W) Meredith Gran, (A) Carey Pietsch
January 2015-
6 issue series

In a tweet: Marceline & Bubblegum. Such feels ;___; A really emotional & gratifying look at the two friends, with Pietsch pulling out all the art stops.

I am a huge fan of everything Meredith Gran does, but while I enjoyed her previous Marceline and the Scream Queens, I was really blown away by this one. The story is really stripped down, a sudden and forced separation of Marceline and Bubblegum bleeds into stories of their past and how their friendship has been under strain.

There are still plenty of hijinks in the Land of Ooo, and some great new characters discovered by Marceline, but it's that core relationship that really underpins the whole story. I'm pretty convinced the two once dated, but even as a close friendship alone as the focus, this is a brilliant book.

(W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila Del Duca, (C) Owen Gieni, (L) Ed Brisson
April 2014-
#1-6 collected

In a tweet: The perfect comic.

I didn't read this for a long time as I had it confused with another comic, but when I did I read the first seven issues in one straight sitting. Not since Saga have I been so utterly blown away by an opening arc in a brand new world, and I really can't praise Shutter highly enough. The premise, a mix of fantasy and science fiction, is fantastic. The characters, from star Kate Kristopher to her brilliant Alarm Cat are heart stealing.

The opening page with a young Kate bounding across the moon is quite possibly the best first page of any comic I've ever read. And as the story and mysteries wind on I fall further and further in love. This is the perfect comic.

(W) Ash Maczko, (A) Ashley Witter
Devil's Due
December 2014-
4 issue series

In a tweet: Spectacular world building and characterisations, this is a hidden gem. Witter's art is phenomenal and well worth the wait between issues!

While Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw is set in a fantasy world filled with anthropomorphic animal characters, Squarriors shows a post-human world where the animals can communicate with each other and have formed cross-species tribes for survival, but the grit and drama is ensconced firmly within the natural kingdom that surrounds us.

I suspect there is a great deal of backstory already worked out here, as a diagram gives a quick overview of the various tribes and both their relationships and rivalries. This is violent stuff, spectacularly brought to bloody life by the relative newcomer Witter - an absolute revelation.

Unbeatable Squirrel GirlThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
(W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson, (C) Rico Renzi, (L) Clayton Cowles
January 2015-

In a tweet: If you like your superhero stories to be fun, funny, energetic and full of joy - not to mention a diverse cast - read this! Amazing work.

I like my Marvel comics to be fun and bouncy - Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, X-Men: Legacy, etc - but few have hit that mark quite as explosively as Squirrel Girl. It feels like an all ages title that doesn't talk down to its readers, and it's amazing to see a woman with a different body type rocking the covers.

North's writing is on point as always, including those bottom of page extras I love so much, while Henderson brings a really unique and fresh look to the comic - I could swear at some points I'm reading the next big thing in the world of webcomics, but from the Big Two. I look forward to this one every month which means I'm terrified it's going to get cancelled.

(W) Scott Snyder, (A) Jock, (C) Matt Hollingsworth, (L) Clem Robins
October 2014-

In a tweet: Don't read this before bed! A genuinely terrifying and slow burning venture into horrors unseen, this is very unsettling. And brilliant.

I'm no longer a big Batman reader but I loved Snyder's work in The Wake and I'm a huge sucker for horror comics. Blood and guts and goth and gore are to be found a plenty in the world of comics, but actually horrifying comics are a little thinner on the ground - great stories, but less of the actual scariness. Which is why I made the mistake of reading the first few issues of Wytches before bed... yeah, don't do that.

These wytches are the real deal, monsters in the woods who can steal you away from life and memory, and one girl has already seen it happen. I've always been a fan of Jock but here, and with the help of the immensely talented Hollingsworth, it's on a whole new level. Wytches reminds me of seeing The Blair Witch Project as a teenager in the cinema - this book is the level of fright I was expecting to see then. It's been well worth the wait.

The ZoohuntersThe ZooHunters
(W/A) Peter Steigerwald
Aspen Comics
November 2014-

In a tweet: Alien worlds, alien creatures, alien cultures - all with a very human story at the core. This comic is phenomenally beautiful. Wonderful.

I read this simply on the strength of the FCBD preview, which is available free on Comixology. 21 pages of incredibly lush art, pages I pored over again and again. That exceptional quality is maintained in the two full issues published so far, along with a rather surprisingly touching story of the relationship between a distant father and son as the latter learns to become a ZooHunter in the wake of tragedy. With the preview being free, you have to give it a try!

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