Welcome to the Short Box. Each month Russell picks his Top 5 comics from the previous month and tells you what makes them the best. Did you pick up the best books possible? Want to find out which comics made the biggest impression? Need to narrow down your pull list? Look no further! These are the books you’ll want to read again and again.
5. Nightcrawler #1 – Written by Chris Claremont
Art by Todd Nauck
Cover by Chris Samnee
Published by Marvel Comics
It can be tough trying to get back into X-Men comics after a long absence and Chris Claremont fully embraces this idea as a story point. Kurt Wagner has been dead for a little while and the world has drastically changed since he’s been gone. This serves as a great entry point for those who’ve been gone a while or even those who’ve never tried the comics before. Claremont, of course, is known for his historic X-Men run and his expert handling of NIghtcrawler’s characterization during that time. Even more so, his handling of the Nightcrawler/Wolverine dynamic. There’s not enough of it in this opening issue, but what is there is absolutely perfect. It’s like Claremont never left. And Todd Nauck gets exactly how to make Nightcrawler’s teleporting look cool without being confusing. The story does go in a bit of an unexpected direction at the half-way point, but things never lose focus on establishing Kurt as the most loveable member of the X-Men, bar none. For fans old and new, this is a chance to enjoy everyone’s favorite fuzzy blue elf again.
Boxed for fans of X2: X-Men United and Stardust
4. Detective Comics #30 – Written by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul
Art and cover by Francis Manapul
Published by DC Comics
When a book has the word ‘Detective’ in the title, there better be an actual mystery involved. This first issue from a new creative team doesn’t disappoint on that front. Icarus was a new, somewhat volatile, drug introduced in Flash #25, which tied into Batman: Zero Year. Now, the payoff from all that setup is starting to come into play. While this team used Flash’s powers to great visual effect, they’re taking a different approach to Batman. While there’s lots of great moments when Manapul’s art uses Gotham and Batman’s cape to great effect, he show’s off a lot of skill in those smaller moments with some amazing character development. If you think Bruce Wayne working on a motorcycle in the Batcave can’t be turned into something deeply emotional and deep, prepare to be proven wrong. Don’t think this one’s short on action, though. There’s plenty of fun to be had during a chase scene at the beginning which might be one of the best Batman moments since the beginning of the New 52. But, what makes this one is the larger mystery at hand. That last page sets up a deep amount of intrigue that’ll definitely leave you guessing. This is the time to jump on Detective Comics!
Boxed for fans of…seriously, it’s Batman. You know the drill by now.
3. Silver Surfer #2 – Written by Dan Slott
Art and cover by Michael Allred
Published by Marvel Comics
Talk about stepping your game up! The first issue of Silver Surfer suffered from the typical first-issue woes: too much exposition, slow-moving story, back-and-forth artwork…it was still a fun read, but it was hyped to be so much more. Issue #2, on the other hand, is exactly what most fans were hoping for. The pace picks up and jumps ahead, full-steam as the comic fully embraces the high-concept sci-fi roots of the character and the larger Marvel Cosmic Universe. It might feel a bit heady to the uninitiated, but if you’re familiar with the Surfer and some of Marvel’s deeper concepts, this’ll feel like old hat. This issue opens up the ideas of multiple universes and takes it a step further than just simple time travel concepts that might have been teased before. There are so many possibilities for this now, it’s become must-read comics! Even better is that Dawn Greenwood is the exact opposite of a damsel in distress. She’s written as a strong, capable character who is quickly becoming one of Dan Slott’s most likeable creations. And Michael Allred’s art is starting to hit its stride, too. While last issue things got a little unwieldy at times, this issue finds a great balance and Allred’s typical strengths start to shine through. Whether you missed last issue or were left wanting a little more, do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one!
Boxed for fans of Doctor Who (specifically, Matt Smith), Fringe and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
2. Justice League #29 – Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke
Cover by Ivan Reis
Published by DC Comics
And Geoff Johns continues making the case for a Cyborg and The Metal Men comic! Cyborg fans have been wondering when he’d get a big hero moment in Forever Evil and, well, this is most certainly it. Cyborg vs. Grid is portrayed in the best possible way it could be and when Cyborg gets what could be called his “Superman” moment, it’s glorious. The Metal Men continue to be endearing and witty throughout their somewhat prolonged introduction thus making it really hard to get tired of them. Johns and Mahnke have a great history together through Green Lantern so this collaboration is one of the stronger examples of how writers and artists should function as a team. It would have been nice if we could have seen a bit more of the Metal Men’s battle with the Secret Society members, but it looks like we’ll be seeing at least a bit of that in Forever Evil #7 anyway. Even if you’re one of those unfamiliar with the Metal Men characters or concepts, you’ll be right at home after this issue. You might even find yourself with a few new favorites, too. Johns has been known as the guy to see when trying to reinvigorate characters at DC Comics, and this is no exception. In fact, it’s exceptional, even by his already-high self-imposed standards. Good thing, too, considering the delays this and other books have experienced of late.
Boxed for fans of Almost Human, The Matrix and The Avengers (2012 film)
1. Southern Bastards #1 – Written by Jason Aaron
Art and cover by Jason Latour
Published by Image Comics
With a name like ‘Southern Bastards,’ you know it has to be good. Being southerners themselves, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour open up this comic in the only way it possibly could be: with a stray dog taking a dump near a bunch of church signs on the side of a lonely country road. From there we’re taken on a tour of both some of the most enduring and reprehensible parts of southern culture that, as a southerner, I can tell you is not far from accurate. Embellished a bit, but these things tend to be in every medium. This is a story about coming home again and realizing you’re not the same person who left…but everything around you is still exactly the same and maybe worse. The faces have changed, but the same old stains remain. Still, it feels like home. It feels strangely comforting despite how horrible some things are. It’s easy to see Aaron’s and Latour’s love of southern culture shining through their hatred of its attitudes and practices toward certain people. The lead character, Earl Tubb, didn’t move too far away from his boyhood home, but it might as well have been a different world as far as some of the small-town folk are concerned. Seeing his former home corrupted by the same poison he witnessed as a child when his father was the local sheriff sets him on a path that is likely to lead to lots and lots of blood being spilled. And we get to go along for the ride! Tubb brings quite a literal meaning to the phrase “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Even readers not familiar with southern culture should pick this book up for the sheer amount of character development in a single issue. For a standard-page comic, it packs in quite a lot. And Latour’s efforts are largely to thank for the atmosphere and pacing. He keeps things in sharp perspective, even at times of great exposition. This has “Image’s next big hit” written all over it!
Boxed for fans of Walking Tall, Justified and Friday Night Lights
Bonus short pick
Genesis – Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art and cover by Allison Sampson
Published by Image Comics
This graphic novella might be the most beautifully tragic comic published in a long time. What would you do if everything you imagined could become reality? At what point would you stop being able to tell the real world from your imagination? Would you be hero or monster? These themes are explored throughout this short story to both gorgeous and graphic results. Nathan Edmondson has been exploring his grittier, violent side at Marvel for the last few months, writing both Black Widow and The Punisher, but this is him flexing his true creative muscles. As this one moves forward, a man of faith is tested beyond any and all measure ultimately coming to an open-ended conclusion that Edmondson and (incredibly-talented) artist Allison Sampson leave up to the reader. Deeper themes of love and desire aren’t left alone, either. Sampson’s rendering of one particular love scene quickly become one of the most horrific moments of the story and it’s an image that’ll stick with you for a long time after the story is over. To call this “trippy” might be a bit of an understatement as Sampson’s artistic prowess truly shines in those moments when she shifts the architecture of buildings and even the entire world in just a few panels, but without leaving an obvious seam. Her layouts are nothing short of brilliant and easily stand to anything being created by J.H. Williams III or Francis Manapul. This is an instant classic you should run to your local comic shop and get right now!
Boxed for fans of What Dreams May Come and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman