writer: Kurt Busiek, Mark Russell, Amanda Deibert artist: Benjamin Dewey, Bob Q, Cat Staggs covers: Lucio Parrillo (A), Emanuela Lupacchino (B), Phillip Tan (C), Gracie the Cosplay Lass Cosplay Variant (D), Phillip Tan (RI/Line Art), Emanuela Lupacchino (RI/Line Art), Phillip Tan (RI/BW), Gracie the Cosplay Lass Cosplay Variant (RI/Virgin), Emanuela Lupacchino (RI/BW), Lucio Parrillo (RI/BW) FC | 40 pages | Sword and Sorcery | $4.99 | Teen+
Dynamite proudly presents a prestige project by the world’s greatest storytellers! Red Sonja, like you’ve NEVER seen before…all presented in beautiful black, white, and red!
KURT BUSIEK (Astro City, Marvels) and BENJAMIN DEWEY (King In Black: Namor) take you to The Mountains Of Night, a foreboding haunt where the She-Devil With A Sword seeks a precious, priceless item…
AMANDA DEIBERT (Wonder Woman) and CAT STAGGS (Smallville) wind you through a mysterious adventure of crimson and ebony…
MARK RUSSELL (Red Sonja) and BOB Q (Red Sonja) return to put their final stamp on their classic Red Sonja series, with a coda that will leave you breathless…
The eight-time Eisner Award-winning comic book series blending fantasy and humor returns in a historical adventure blending Japanese and Western occult with Beasts of Burden: Occupied Territory #1!
An elder member of the occult-battling pack of Wise Dogs recalls a harrowing mission–in U.S-occupied Japan after World War II, a mysterious curse creates an army of crawling, disembodied heads which threatens to overwhelm the region. Emrys and a team of canine companions attempt to solve the mystery, bringing them into conflict with shape-changing tanuki, evil oni, and a horde of vengeful demons.
Beasts Of Burden is one of those series that I was introduced to via my LCS heavily promoting the Neighborhood Watch trade paperback, and the subsequent books. so it is, then, that Beasts Of Burden: Occupied Territory #1 is one of the few entries to the series that I’ve read in single issue form verses the collected edition. While this is a follow up to the previous miniseries, other than the first page or three you don’t need to have read that as Occupied Territory takes places during the Second World War in a flashback told by Emrys.
Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, with art by Benjamin Dewey and letters by Nate Piekos, the comic is absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of a painting in many ways and the style works incredibly well with the time period the comic is set in, with the art bringing to the fore the sense of dirt and grime and hopelessness you’d expect in a story that mixes World War Two and the occult. Being a flashback story, Emrys takes the time to frame his story for his audience, which has the added benefit of framing it for us, and especially for folks new to the series (which makes this a fairly good entry point to the world of Beasts Of Burden).
With this being the first issue, there’s a bit of a slow build to the inevitable occult madness, but Dorkin and Dyer set the pace of the comic really well – building slowly toward the following chapters where the shit (and probably blood) will surely hit the fan. Beasts Of Burden: Occupied Territory #1 is another fantastic entry into the series lore, and I cannot wait for the next issue.
Story: Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer Art Benjamin Dewey Letters: Nate Piekos Story: 8.6 Art: 9.4 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy
Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
The eight-time Eisner Award-winning comic series, Beasts of Burden, returns blending fantasy, horror, and humor in a historical adventure written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, illustrated by Benjamin Dewey, and lettered by Nate Pieko, with an issue #1 variant cover by John McCrea, that marries Japanese and Western occult in Beasts of Burden: Occupied Territory.
An elder member of the occult-battling pack of Wise Dogs recalls a harrowing mission—in U.S-occupied Japan after World War II, a mysterious curse creates an army of crawling, disembodied heads which threatens to overwhelm the region. Emrys and a team of canine companions attempt to solve the mystery, bringing them into conflict with shape-changing tanuki, evil oni, and a horde of vengeful demons.
Beasts of Burden: Occupied Territory #1(of four) will be in comic shops on April 7, 2021.
2020 definitely felt like a year where I embraced comics in all their different formats and genres from the convenient, satisfying graphic novella to the series of loosely connected and curated one shots and even the door stopper of an omnibus/hardcover or that charming webcomic that comes out one or twice a week on Instagram. This was partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down comics’ traditional direct market for a bit so I started reviewing webcomics, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and nonfiction even after this supply chain re-opened. I also co-hosted and edited two seasons of a podcast about indie comics where we basically read either a trade every week for discussion, and that definitely meant spending more time with that format. However, floppy fans should still be happy because I do have a traditional ongoing series on my list as well as some minis.
Without further ado, here are my favorite comics of 2020.
10. Marvels Snapshots (Marvel)
Curated by original Marvels writer Kurt Busiek and with cover art by original Marvels artist Alex Ross, Marvels Snapshots collects seven perspectives on on the “major” events of the Marvel Universe from the perspectives of ordinary people from The Golden Age of the 1940s to 2006’s Civil War. It’s cool to get a more character-driven and human POV on the ol’ corporate IP toy box from Alan Brennert and Jerry Ordway exploring Namor the Submariner’s PTSD to Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Benjamin Dewey showing the real reason behind Johnny Storm’s airhead celebrity act. There’s also Mark Russell and Ramon Perez’s take on the classic Captain America “Madbomb” storyline, Barbara Kesel’s and Staz Johnson’s sweet, Bronze Age-era romance between two first responders as the Avengers battle a threat against the city, and Saladin Ahmed and Ryan Kelly add nuance to the superhuman Civil War by showing how the Registration Act affects a Cape-Killer agent as well as a young elemental protector of Toledo, Ohio, who just wants to help his community and do things like purify water. However, the main reason Marvels Snapshots made my “favorite” list was Jay Edidin and Tom Reilly‘s character-defining work showing the pre-X-Men life of Cyclops as he struggles with orphan life, is inspired by heroes like Reed Richards, and lays the groundwork for the strategist, leader, and even revolutionary that appears in later comics.
Fangs is cartoonist Sarah Andersen’s entry into the Gothic romance genre and was a light, funny, and occasionally sexy series that got me through a difficult year. Simply put, it follows the relationship of a vampire named Elsie and a werewolf named Jimmy, both how they met and their life together. Andersen plays with vampire and werewolf fiction tropes and sets up humorous situations like a date night featuring a bloody rare steak and a glass of blood instead of wine, Jimmy having an unspoken animosity against mail carriers, and just generally working around things like lycanthropy every 28 days and an aversion to sunlight. As well as being hilarious and cute, Fangs shows Sarah Andersen leveling up as an artist as she works with deep blacks, different eye shapes and textures, and more detailed backgrounds to match the tone of her story while not skimping on the relatable content that made Sarah’s Scribbles an online phenomenon.
I really got into Vault Comics this year. (I retroactively make These Savage Shores my favorite comic of 2019.) As far as prose, I mainly read SF, and Vault nicely fills that niche in the comics landscape and features talented, idiosyncratic creative teams. Heavy is no exception as Max Bemis, Eryk Donovan, and Cris Peter tell the story of Bill, who was gunned down by some mobsters, and now is separated from his wife in a place called “The Wait” where he has to set right enough multiversal wrongs via violence to be reunited with her in Heaven. This series is a glorious grab bag of hyperviolence, psychological examinations of toxic masculinity, and moral philosophy. Heavy also has a filthy and non-heteronormative sense of humor. Donovan and Peter bring a high level of chaotic energy to the book’s visuals and are game for both tenderhearted flashbacks as well as brawls with literal cum monsters. In addition to all this, Bemis and Donovan aren’t afraid to play with and deconstruct their series’ premise, which is what makes Heavy my ongoing monthly comic.
Writer/artist Katie Skelly puts her own spin on the true crime genre inMaids, a highly stylized account of Christine and Lea Papin murdering their employers in France during the 1930s. Skelly’s linework and eye popping colors expertly convey the trauma and isolation that the Papins go through as they are at the beck and call of the family they work almost 24/7. Flashbacks add depth and context to Christine and Lea’s characters and provide fuel to the fire of the class warfare that they end up engaging in. Skelly’s simple, yet iconic approach character design really allowed me to connect with the Papins and empathize with them during the build-up from a new job to murder and mayhem. Maids is truly a showcase for a gifted cartoonist and not just a summary of historical events.
In her webcomic Grind Like A Girl, cartoonist Veronica Casson tells the story of growing up trans in 1990s New Jersey. The memoir recently came to a beautiful conclusion with Casson showing her first forays into New York, meeting other trans women, and finding a sense of community with them that was almost the polar opposite of her experiences in high school. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the evolution of Veronica Casson’s art style during different periods of her life from an almost Peanuts vibe for her childhood to using more flowing lines, bright colors, and ambitious panel layouts as an older teen and finally an adult. She also does a good job using the Instagram platform to give readers a true “guided view” experience and point out certain details before putting it all together in a single page so one can appreciate the comic at both a macro/micro levels. All in all, Grind Like A Girl is a personal and stylish coming of age memoir from Veronica Casson, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.
Thai/Italian cartoonist Elisa Macellari tells an unconventional World War II story in Papaya Salad, a recently translated history comic about her great uncle Sompong, who just wanted to see the world. However, he ended up serving with the Thai diplomatic corps in Italy, Germany, and Austria during World War II. Macellari uses a recipe for her great uncle’s favorite dish, papaya salad, to structure the comic, and her work has a warm, dreamlike quality to go with the reality of the places that Sampong visits and works at. Also, it’s very refreshing to get a non-American or British perspective on this time in history as Sampong grapples with the shifting status of Thailand during the war as well as the racism of American soldiers, who celebrate the atomic bomb and lump him and his colleagues with the Japanese officers, and are not shown in a very positive light. However, deep down, Papaya Salad is a love story filled with small human moments that make life worth living, like appetizing meals, jokes during dark times, and faith in something beyond ourselves. It’s a real showcase of the comics medium’s ability to tell stories from a unique point of view.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (with colorist Jacob Phillips) are two creators whose work has graced my “favorite comics” list many times. And this time they really outdid themselves with the graphic novella Pulpabout the final days of Max Winters, a gunslinger-turned-Western dime novelist. It’s a character study peppered with flashbacks as Phillips and Phillips use changes in body posture and color palette to show Max getting older while his passion for resisting those who would exploit others is still intact. Basically, he can shoot and rob fascists just like he shot and robbed cattle barons back in the day. Brubaker and Phillips understand that genre fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is informed by the historical context around it, which is what makes Pulp such a compelling read. If you like your explorations of the banality of evil and creeping specter of fascism with heists, gun battles, and plenty of introspection, then this is the comic for you.
Music is my next favorite interest after comics so My Riot was an easy pick for my favorite comics list. The book is a coming of age story filtered through 1990s riot girl music from writer Rick Spears and artist Emmett Helen. It follows the life of Valerie, who goes from doing ballet and living a fairly conservative suburban life to being the frontwoman and songwriter for a cult riot girl band. Much of this transformation happens through Helen’s art and colors as his palette comes to life just as Valerie does when she successfully calls out some audience members/her boyfriend for being sexist and patronizing. The comic itself also takes on a much more DIY quality with its layouts and storytelling design as well as how the characters look and act. My Riot is about the power of music to find one’s identify and true self and build a community like The Proper Ladies do throughout the book. Valerie’s arc is definitely empowering and relatable for any queer kid, who was forced to conform to way of life and thinking that wasn’t their own.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: slice of life is my all-time favorite comic book genre. So, I was overjoyed when writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi, artist Jenny D. Fine, and colorist Mx. Struble announced that they were doing a monthly slice of life comic about a brother, sister, and their best friend/ex-boyfriend (respectively) set in San Francisco that also touched on the gay and indie music scene. And Getting It Together definitely has lifted up to my pre-release hype as Grace and Spahi have fleshed out a complex web of relationships and drama with gorgeous and occasionally hilarious art by Fine and Struble. There are gay and bisexual characters all over the book with different personalities and approaches to life, dating, and relationships, which is refreshing too. Grace, Spahi, and Fine also take some time away from the drama to let us know about the ensemble cast’s passions and struggles like indie musician Lauren’s lifelong love for songwriting even if her band has a joke name (Nipslip), or her ex-boyfriend Sam’s issues with mental health. I would definitely love to spend more than four issues with these folks.
My favorite comic of 2020 was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott , a debut graphic novel by cartoonist Zoe Thorogood.The premise of the comic is that Billie is an artist who is going blind in two weeks, and she must come up with some paintings for her debut gallery show during that time period. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott boasts an adorably idiosyncratic cast of characters that Thorogood lovingly brings to life with warm visuals and naturalistic dialogue as Billie goes from making art alone in her room to making connections with the people around her, especially Rachel, a passionate folk punk musician. The book also acts as a powerful advocate for the inspirational quality of art and the act of creation. Zoe Thorogood even creates “art within the art” and concludes the story with the different portraits that Billie painted throughout her travels. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott was the hopeful comic that I needed in a dark year and one I will cherish for quite some time as I ooh and aah over Thorogood’s skill with everything from drawing different hair styles to crafting horrific dream sequences featuring eyeballs.
King in Black: Namor #1 is an interesting comic. If it were on its own, without being an event tie-in, it’d be a good start to a mini-series. But, as an event tie-in, its connection to the greater story going on feels tenuous at best. King in Black features Knull, the god of the symbiotes, marching across the universe enveloping it in darkness. This issue is about Namor’s past mostly and is supposed to tie in to current events but we currently don’t know how. It’s that lack of clear connection that makes things frustrating.
Writer Kurt Busiek weaves a story from Namor’s past as Kingdom’s attempt to unite during Namor’s childhood. That, and it’s impact on the present, would make for an interesting story on its own. But, we’re teased with a tie-in to an even that never materializes (yet). That left this reader frustrated.
So far, the tie-ins and main event have shown a world under siege where battles rage. That battle was expected to extend to Namor’s underwater world but we’re not presented with that at all. Instead, it’s a flashback mostly setting up future issues to come. Maybe the connection is there. But as far as King in Black: Namor #1 goes, there’s little to no indication it has anything to do with the current event. And that’s a bit frustrating.
The art by Benjamin Dewey and Jonas Scharf is hit and miss. Scharf’s “present day” artwork is top-notch with an almost Jae Lee quality about it. The few pages are solid to look at using the dark underwater world to its advantage. Dewey handles the majority of the issue taking place in the past. It’s a style that doesn’t quite work for me with some inconsistency in characters and a lack of detail at times. It’s a personal choice thing. But, the biggest issue is that Scharf and Dewey’s styles differ so greatly and the comic doesn’t feel like it takes advantage of those differences enough. One is a bit dourer and the other a bit more bright. Both feature the color of Tríona Farrell and there could have been something there in the storytelling.
King in Black: Namor #1 isn’t a bad comic but it also doesn’t feel like much of a tie-in. That will hopefully come later. As a mini-series on its own, it’s a good start with some interesting aspects to build off of. This will be an event mini-series that we’ll likely have to judge on the whole than individual parts. But, as a single issue it unfortunately falls a bit short.
Story: Kurt Busiek Art: Benjamin Dewey, Jonas Scharf Color: Tríona Farrell Letterer: Joe Caramagna Story: 6.75 Art: 6.75 Overall: 6.75 Recommendation: Read
Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way.
This week: I Was The Cat
I don’t know how I missed this book when it first came out, and after having a conversation with the owner of my LCS, it turns out she wasn’t entirely sure how she missed it either. I Was The Cat is an autobiographical tale about a cat who has, through his various lives, lived thousands of years through history trying (and failing) multiple times to take over the world.
Burma, the cat in question, can talk. And seems to be an incredibly wise and influential animal who wants the world to know his story. To that end he invites Allison Breaking to begin writing his memoirs so that he can reveal to the world just who he is… and that it’s totally normal that a can had been trying to take over the world across centuries, and failing every time because… well because he’s a bloody cat.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is how Paul Tobin structures so many different tales within Burma’s history, and never once explains how Burma can change his appearance with ease – it lends the character a mystical aspect that’s never really explored, and I think the story is strong for that because this book is what Burma wants to tell us, not a historical accounting of his accomplishments.
Yes, I am aware that Burma is fictional.
I Was The Cat is probably one of the most interesting comics/graphic novels I have read in some time; it’s an engaging and entirely light hearted affair with only a handful of gorier moments (in a story set across history, there’s a lot that’s alluded to, but only one real moment where you see an animal get injured, and it’s such an ordinary occurrence that you’re going to wonder what kind of person you are that it doesn’t really phase you.
Perhaps one of my favourite things about the book is how Tobin gently critiques our current society through the eyes of a cat. It’s amusing without being deeply hilarious, and yet just unsettling enough to make you really think when you close the final page. Burma is easily one of the most interesting feline characters in comics, and I’d love to read more, but at the same time, this is a complete story and it doesn’t need a sequel.
This came out in 2015 or so, and went far below my radar for several years. It’s a lot of fun – and that’s why it’s a great candidate for today’s Underrated column. Check it out if you ever get a chance.
Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.
(W) Evan Dorkin, More (A) Benjamin Dewey (CA) Alex Ross Rated T In Shops: Mar 25, 2020 SRP: $4.99
Our tour through Marvel history continues, showcasing Marvel’s greatest characters from the Golden Age to today, all through the eyes of ordinary people! This time, writers Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer (Beasts of Burden, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Superman: The Animated Series) and artist Benjamin Dewey (The Autumnlands, Beasts of Burden) tell the tale of the ten-year high-school reunion of the Fantastic Four’s own Human Torch. His hometown of Glenville, Long Island is going wild, and we see it all through the eyes of the Torch’s ex-girlfriend Dorrie Evans and reporter Marcia Hardesty – the preparations, the Torch’s long history in town, the festivities and more. But there’s a strange distance between Johnny Storm and his old schoolmates, one Dorrie knows all too well and Marcia is determined to get to the bottom of. Featuring ex-villains, strange souvenirs, a weenie roast on the beach and, of course, the hulking Inhuman hound known as Lockjaw! Don’t miss the festivities!
Publisher: Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios Writer: Adam Smith Artist: Alexandria Huntington Colorist: Laura Langston Letterer: Jim Campbell Cover Artist: Benjamin Dewey Price: $24.99
Kensho and Thurma are worlds apart and their hopes of being reunited begin to dim. Alongside her rival, Nita, Thurma studies under the tutelage of the legendary Fireling elder known simply as The Fire That Stays. As the two prospective queens compete against one another, their teacher reveals new abilities of the Firelings with dark and powerful potential that could change the throne forever. In Thra, Kensho’s quest takes him to a place of wonder long forgotten…the Valley of the Mystics. There, alongside his companions, Kensho will need to face his past and the future he so desperately flees.
Writer Adam Smith (Long Walk to Valhalla) and artist Alexandria Huntington continue Kensho and Thurma’s quests as the fate of two worlds hang in the balance.
Publisher: Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios Writer: Adam Smith Artist: Alexandria Huntington Letterer: Jim Campbell Cover Artist: Main Cover: Benjamin Dewey Preorder Cover: David Petersen Price: $3.99
The Glass Castle, home of the Firelings and their final protection, is under siege—and Thurma cannot defend it alone. But as her former rival, Nita, and the rest of her people come together, Thurma realizes that she has never been alone, and that working together is the only way to defeat The Fire That Stays.
Publisher: Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios Writer: Adam Smith Artist: Alexandria Huntington Letterer: Jim Campbell Cover Artist: Main Cover: Benjamin Dewey Preorder Cover: David Petersen Price: $3.99
Thurma and the other Firelings are under attack from an enemy more powerful than they could have imagined. With the ability to control water, The Fire That Stays could wipe out their entire race in a single attack, and only Thurma and her flame stand between the Firelings and total destruction.