Lab Raider #1 returns us to the world crafted by writer Matt Miner. It’s a world that blends real-world animal activism with an over the top sense of storytelling comics can deliver.
Lab Raider picks up on the world that started in Liberator and followed up in Critical Hit. Jeanette and Sarah are still working together to liberate animals and free them from experimentation. This volume has a bit of a twist though bringing in a horror element to it all.
Lab Raider #1 continues the tense nature of previous volumes. But, unlike those, Miner uses some of the tricks he deployed in his horror series Poser. Throughout the issue, there’s a build up until the eventual reveal at the end. It creates a ride that you both want to see where it goes and don’t at the same time. The series has never shied away from violence and here that continues. Both seen and implied, this is a debut issue that has more in common with slasher horror films than it does with the message focused previous volumes.
The art by Creees Lee with color by Josh Jensen and lettering by Matt Krotzer helps build all of that tension. The art and design are fantastic but there’s still unease about it all. It doesn’t have a line heavy “dirt” look but everything is just slightly muted in a way that adds a dour look to it. The art helps create an atmosphere that builds up to the horror that awaits at the end.
While the series still has a focus on animal rights and activism, this latest volume feels a bit different. It’s not quite as in your face with its message. Instead, it focuses on its main to protagonists. We see the impact from the previous volumes on them. And, their mission this time while still political in nature results in a twist that’s much more in line with what you’d expect in a horror film. This feels like a new direction for the series and Miner is showing some massive growth in his writing bringing in previous success here. Whether you agree with animal activism or not Lab Raider #1 is a solid start and has me wanting to see where it goes next.
Story: Matt Miner Art: Creees Lee Color: Josh Jensen Letters: Matt Krotzer Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy
Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Written by: Matt Miner Illustrated by: Creees Lee Colored by: Josh Jensen Lettered by: Matt Krotzer $3.99 | full color | 32 pages | mature On Sale 6.19.19
A pair of young vigilantes break into a black market laboratory where illegal tests are being run on animals. What at first seems like a simple rescue mission becomes more dangerous when they stumble on secret military experiments, discovering to their horror that the animals they sought to help have been turned into something different, something monstrous… and, once the cages are opened, the rescuers quickly become the prey of these weaponized beasts. This high-octane action comic blends vigilante heroics with sci-fi horror for a wildly new adventure.
Written by: Patrick Kindlon Illustrated by: Paul Tucker Hand Lettered by: Wallace Ryan $3.99 | full color | 32 pages | mature On Sale 5.1.19
When Richard sees a man run through his yard, he follows him out of concern. This deep in the woods, he must be lost… must be in trouble. But soon it’s Richard in peril, as this stranger drags him into a deep, twisted web of conspiracy going back hundreds of years.
A strange, paranoid new thriller from writer Patrick Kindlon (Survival Fetish, We Can Never Go Home, S.H.I.E.L.D.: Quake), illustrated by bold newcomer Paul Tucker, hand lettered by Wallace Ryan.
How does America react when only black people have superpowers? In the sure-to-be-controversial six-part comic book series White, co-creators Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3, Inkpot-Award winning artist Jamal Igle, and cover artist Khary Randolph reunite for the sequel to their acclaimed graphic novel and Kickstarter sensation, Black.
How does a nation struggling with a history of racial inequality cope in a world where only black people have superpowers? Our story asks: In a time of supposed inclusion and diversity, how far will those in charge push back to retain the status quo?
In White, Theodore Mann, whose family exploited empowered blacks for centuries, is now President of the United States. Mann’s administration has exacted controversial measures to deal with the empowered he’s deemed terrorists and is stoking national tensions to win public support for Mann First, a cybernetically-augmented soldier program. The main person standing in the President’s way is X – once known as Kareem Jenkins – who has become a symbol of resistance against the Mann Administration.
For White, the original Black creative team―Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph, Sarah Litt, Derwin Roberson, and Dave Sharpe―will return for the second part of a planned trilogy, and will be joined by inker Juan Castro. If funded by Kickstarter, White will be a 6-part, ad-free periodical comic book series. The first printing – with variant covers – will be exclusive to Kickstarter backers. Comic book retailers will be able to order standard editions directly from Black Mask Studios after rewards are shipped.
The number of backers of White will unlock Kickstarter exclusive variants by comic book industry legends: Ashley A. Woods, Jamal Igle, Jeremy Love, ChrisCross, Sanford Greene, and Denys Cowan.
Issue one of White is estimated to be delivered to backers October 2019. The limited edition variant of the graphic novel and comic book shop retailer bundles will ship to backers in early 2020.
Magdalene Visaggio, Kasia Witerscheim, and Harry Saxon get pretty damn personal in Sex Death Revolution #3 as our protagonist, Esperanza continues to use magic, rituals, and just talking to people to figure out how her memories are being screwed up with, especially a big one about her meeting her ex, Shannon. After last issue’s focus on our bastion of white male toxicity, Marcus, this one narrows in on how Esperanza is feeling and is pain and vulnerability in a single slice of comic book.
Sex Death Revolution #3 deals with some pretty weighty topics, including the conflict and anxiety of transitioning (Which Visaggio explored in an excellent 2018 Twitter thread) and the overall nature of gaslighting. It’s emotional powerful stuff that is conveyed through impressive character acting by Witerscheim and ever changing colors from Saxon that depend on what state in the ritual that Esperanza, Shannon, and later Annie are at. They use the famous “No, I am your father.” sequence from Empire Strikes Back as a pop cultural metaphor for gaslighting and maybe the amazing life you used to live and how people feel about you is all wrong.
It’s scary and leads to plenty of awkward questions as Esperanza and Shannon go door to door basically and try to figure out where Esperanza “changed” for the first half of Sex Death Revolution #3. Some of the responses are downright heartbreaking (Especially when Esperanza is dead named.), and it makes you realize how little people follow or care about your own personal journey, your character arc. Thank goodness for people like Shannon that chase you through the park and remind you of better times even though the darkness still lingers because this is a middle chapter.
Sex Death Revolution #3 is proof that it’s sometimes okay to spend a chapter of a comic book miniseries away from plot twists and that nonsense and really hone in on your protagonist. Openly asking people how they feel about you is a spicy kind of taboo, but it’s something that Esperanza gets to do in this issue with not the best results. And this is mirrored in Kasia Witerscheim’s art as she goes from grid layouts to something more fluid when Esperanza does a ritual with Annie before the utterly screwed up ending. And along the way, she and Magdalene Visaggio take potshots at the kind of arrogant, monologuing liberal arts major (I was one, myself, oops.) that is Marcus, and what he is trying to make Esperanza remembered even though she is trying to change.
Sex Death Revolution #3 is an empathy inducing read about dysphoria and gaslighting through the lens of magic as Magdalene Visaggio, Kasia Witerscheim, and the trippy when he needs to be, silent grey at other times Harry Saxon craft a fantastic personal narrative in the midst of an apocalyptic occult thriller.
Story: Magdalene Visaggio Art: Kasia Witerscheim Colors: Harry Saxon Letters: Zakk Saam Story: 7.9 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy
Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Writer: VITA AYALA (The Wilds, Livewire, Marvel Knights) Artist: LIANA KANGAS Letterer: DAVE SHARPE Cover: MAIKA SOZO Editor: SARAH LITT BLACK Created by: KWANZA OSAJYEFO & TIM SMITH 3
Indigo, Waters, and X have traced the supply of VANTA to a single source – an old nemesis, SAVAGE, who has re-branded himself a businessman and is running the drug from his nightclub. The trio arrive in style and get to work, managing to get to Savage and getting the name of his supplier. That name triggers a reaction in Indigo that is more dangerous that VANTA ever could be, and her partners may not be able to keep her from going past the point of no return…
Writer: PAT SHAND (Breathless) Artist: EMILY PEARSON (The Wilds) Letterer: JIM CAMPBELL (Calexit)
As Haley navigates the pitfalls of her new job as an alt-model / middleman, Coral sees a chance to earn a promotion… and all it takes is one dead rival to get her to the top. The subversive hit series from Pat Shand (Breathless) and Emily Pearson (The Wilds) heats up every issue!
Without further ado, these are my favorite comics of 2018. This was the year I fell back on series that I had been checking out for years and found some new faves in the worlds of newspaper comics, symbiotes, gamma irradiated beasts, and maybe even a choose your own adventure game. Marvel seriously did a 180 this year, and I went from picking zero of their comics on my last year end list to three so well done on their part, and Donny Cates and Al Ewing should receive hefty bonus checks. But, honestly, this list should show you that visual humor, character driven narratives, and weirdness are my things, and I can’t wait to read more comics in that vein in 2019.
Honorable Mentions:Sex Death Revolution (Black Mask), Runaways (Marvel), Assassinistas (IDW/Black Crown), Punks Not Dead (IDW/Black Crown), That one really good issue of Peter Parker, Spider-Man that Chip Zdarsky wrote and drew (Marvel), Gideon Falls (Image)
10.Modern Fantasy (Dark Horse)
Modern Fantasy is a miniseries about a data entry worker named Sage of the Riverlands, who secretly wants to epic hero or maybe just a curator at a cool museum, and has a penchant for smooching handsome elves. Did Rafer Roberts and Kristen Gudsnuk have access to my most secret thoughts while writing this book? In all seriousness, this comic marries millennial angst and struggles (Dead end jobs, mooching friends, annoying co-workers) with all kinds of fantasy tropes, including urban, high, and good ol’ Lovecraftian. Gudsnuk’s art is both humorous and touching and filled with background details and jokes that reward a close reading. But what makes Modern Fantasy a great comic is the awkward friend group dynamic that Roberts and Gudsnuk craft filled with drama, jokes, a touch of romance, and a final showdown with a fire demon.
9.The Wicked + the Divine (Image)
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson’s story of young gods and fandom hit some dark bits in 2018 and had plenty of surprises to go with the formalism and “glimpse behind the curtain” of the “Mothering Invention” arc. However, at its best, WicDiv is the story of the girl, who thought she wanted something, and then painfully realized that she didn’t really want it. That girl, of course, is Persephone whose personal journey along with McKelvie’s amazing facial expressions, Gillen’s clever quips, and Wilson’s majestic color palette keeps me returning to this series as it is about to hit its fifth year. Also, the specials were spectacularly glorious in 2018 from the illustrated prose story/murder mystery in 1923to 1373’s dark piety. Then, there was the absolute bonkers nature of The Funnies where we find out the origin of Laura’s cracked phone and the Pantheon gets to solve a Scooby Doo mystery courtesy of Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris.
8. Nancy (Go Comics)
I’ve been doing year end comics lists for five years, and this is the first time I’ve put a newspaper strip on one. However, Olivia Jaimes’ work on Nancy is one of the most hilarious things to come out of 2018. There are her “millennial” gags (Even though Nancy and Sluggo are definitely Generation Z.) about Nancy’s overuse of the Internet or swapping streaming service passwords with Sluggo, who is also “lit”. But she also has a firm grasp on meta-gags and the uniqueness of the comics medium like playing with panel layouts, lettering styles, reusing panels, and then having Nancy make a joke about it. Nancy is truly a ray of sunshine in a dark landscape while still being sarcastic and self-deprecating as hell and shows that even the proverbial old dog of the newspaper comic can learn some new tricks.
7. “Milk Wars” (DC Comics/Young Animal)
“Milk Wars” really brought the best of DC Rebirth and Young Animal together and was the only Big Two crossover I kept up with in 2018. The series brings together the Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Shade the Changing Girl, and Cave Carson to fight warped versions of DC Comics heroes, who are under the control of the Retconn corporation. The story is a literal metaphor for how corporations sanitize characters and go for the retread instead of taking risks with iconic characters as Wonder Woman becomes a submissive housewife in her tie-in story from Cecil Castelluci and Mirka Andolfo. “Milk Wars” shows that it’s okay to be a little weird as milk goes bad if it’s left in the bridge past its expiration day. It also features some gorgeous layouts from Aco in the crossover’s first chapter, which was co-written by Gerard Way and Steve Orlando, and he and the artists did an excellent job of melding an indie and mainstream sensibility throughout “Milk Wars”. Also, the story had a real effect on Mother Panic, Cave Carson, and Shade in their solo titles and introduced Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s wonderful, yet depressed Eternity Girl character.
Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, and Iban Coello’s Venom ongoing series is filled with all the fun excesses of the 1990s (Especially in the Venom Annual where James Stokoe shows him going toe to toe with Juggernaut.) and none of its toxicity. The first arc of the series is about Eddie Brock and his symbiote going to war against Knull, god of the symbiotes and a symbiote dragon. This has a terrible effect on him, and Cates carefully uses the symbiote as a metaphor for PTSD while freeing Stegman to draw unhinged heavy metal battles. And this series wasn’t just a one arc wonder as Cates, Coello, and Stegman explore the after effects of the battle with Knull on Eddie’s symbiote and have him confront his father. Plus one of the most underrated Marvel villains, Ultimate Reed Richards aka the Maker pops up for a little bit. This series work because it explores the psychological effects of the symbiote as well as the oozy, shoot-y violent bits.
Crowded is a wicked bit of satire with a side of mismatched buddy adventure from the beautiful minds of Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, and Triona Farrell. It is about an obnoxious woman named Charlie, who has a $2 million price on her head on an app called Reapr that is basically crowdfunded murder. Luckily, there’s an app called Defendr where Charlie hires a badass, meticulous, and noble woman named Vita to protect her. Stein and Brandt fill each page with oodles of panels, but you are able to follow every action scene, conversation, or Charlie ending up at the club or a bachelorette party even if she has a price on her head. The bounty hunting drives the plot while Sebela uses the quieter moments to develop the personality and relationships of Charlie and Vita as well as some of the “professionals” hunting them. Crowded is a thrill ride, but also looks at the dark, not so altruistic side of human nature through the Internet and constant connectivity.
4. You Are Deadpool (Marvel)
Al Ewing and Salva Espin’s You Are Deadpool was some of the most fun I had reading a comic book in 2018 beginning with Kieron Gillen showing up in the “tutorial” brandishing a sandwich as a weapon. It’s a combination spoof of different eras of Marvel Comics along with a pretty damn fun and addictive Choose Your Own Adventure Game. In some cases, you don’t even read the issues in order. Ewing and Espin also take cues from some not so table top RPGs and have the moral choices that Deadpool makes effect your reading and playing experience. Having Deadpool interact with both heroes and innocent passerbies during the Silver Age, horror/kung fu/blaxploitation, the edgy 80s, and of course, the good ol’ 90s is hilarious and shows Espin’s versatility as a cartoonist.
3. Archival Quality (Oni)
Archival Quality is a spooky graphic novel by Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz about a young woman named Cel, who gets a job as an archivist at a medical museum. The comic tenderly explores Cel’s anxiety and depression and unexpected connection with a woman named Celine, who was a patient at the sanatorium that preceded the museum. It isn’t caught up in a fast paced thriller plot, but slowly unveils the mystery while focusing on Cel’s interactions with her boss Abayomi, super rad co-worker Holly, and her declining relationship with her boyfriend Kyle. Archival Quality has real atmosphere, and Steenz creates some fantastic spaces as Cel begins to explore her workplace with its skulls and lack of cellphone service. It is a fantastic story about mental health and relationships through the mystery genre.
2. Giant Days (BOOM! Studios)
Giant Days continues to be one of life’s true blessings thanks to John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Julia Madrigal, and Whitney Cogar. At this point, we know the characters and their quirks are on fully display, especially when Sarin draws the title because she is a real pro at expressive eyes and touches of surrealism to break up the slice of life. 2018 was full of drama to go with the Giant Days’ comedy as Daisy broke up with her a little too footloose and fancy free girlfriend Ingrid, and Esther missed her shot at being in a relationship with Ed when he begins a romance with Nina, a girl he met while recuperating from a pub related injury. Nina being Australian is the subject of this year holiday’s special, which was a special treat drawn and written by Allison as Ed fends for himself Down Under. Giant Days shows that it’s one of the pre-eminent slice of life comics as it enters its fourth year, and Esther, Daisy, and Susan’s relationships continue to ebb and flow.
1. Immortal Hulk (Marvel)
I will preface this by saying that the Hulk is one of my least favorite Marvel characters because he’s often used as a simplistic Jekyll/Hyde metaphor. Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Lee Garbett, Martin Simmonds, and Paul Mounts blow that up in Immortal Hulk, which resembles an intelligent horror story rather than a superhero beat ’em up. It’s a road story with Bruce Banner on the run from the monster that comes out, wrecks, and kills when the sun goes down before morphing into a government conspiracy thriller and something more malevolent towards the end. Through cutting narration, Ewing reveals exactly what is going through Banner’s head while Bennett’s art shows the often gruesome effects of his rages. I also like how Ewing humanizes the supporting players from Walter Langkowski, who is struggling with his own monstrous nature to honest reporter Jackie McGee and even his opponent the Absorbing Man.
Immortal Hulk is the best comic of 2018 because it has a compelling plot, is a searing character study of an American pop culture icon, and is an homage to Jack Kirby and Bernie Wrightson while breaking new ground. (See issue 10’s final page.)