Friday, February 10, 2017

John's Top Five Single-Issue Comics of 2016

Continuing our comics love, John shares his favorite single issues of comics from 2016, and where you can find them here at the library. See Meredith's list here.

1. Black Widow #1, September 5, 2016 (Black Widow, Vol.1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted)
A page from Black Widow #1
I, and I suspect a lot of other people, were a little apprehensive at the thought of a new run of Black Widow with a different creative team. The previous run, written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Phil Noto, set the bar very, very high. Even though the new team (Mark Waid and Chris Samnee) had two top notch runs of Daredevil under their belts, one had to wonder what they would bring to this project that was new. The answer is: lots. Where Edmondson and Noto’s Black Widow was tense and brooding, Waid and Samnee’s was like being shot out of canon from the opening panel. Noto’s artwork used subtle colors to convey mood and emotion. Chris Samnee is all about powerful, dark contrasts and intense action. Each succeeds masterfully in his own way. But the important elements are the same: Natasha Romanova, the former Red Room-trained life taker, trying desperately to balance the scales of her prior misdeeds, willing to break any rule to do it. It’s hard not to love her and fear her at the same time. Which is just as it should be.

2. All-New Wolverine #6, March 9, 2016 (All-New Wolverine, Vol. 1: The Four Sisters)
I used to love Wolverine, but the Fox X-Men franchise, and decades of soap opera twists in the comics, had really exhausted my interest. Give credit to Marvel for finding pretty much the only way to rekindle my interest: they made Wolverine a girl. Okay, Logan is still flitting (or maybe slitting) around somewhere, but the rebooting of the franchise with it now centered on X23, the product of a replication of the Weapon X Program, adds a major dimension of interest. Laura Kinney is less tormented than Logan, but just as lethal, capable of absorbing incredible amounts of punishment, and generally a lot of fun to watch. The opening arc of the reboot sees her helping four genetically modified sisters learn about their origins, escape government control, and find a path to freedom. The central theme (as it so often is with arcs arising from the Weapon X program and its cognates) is having the power to decide how one is going to live one’s own life, and getting payback on people who try to prevent one from doing it. There are really good cameos throughout this arc, from Warren Worthington III, to Wasp, to Dr. Strange.

3. Daredevil/Punisher #4, August 17, 2016 (Daredevil/Punisher: Seventh Circle)
This is the culmination of an excellent mini-arc done (predominantly) by Charles Soule and Szymon Kudranski. The key issue here is one that is touched on throughout the arc, and in the recent second season of the Netflix series Daredevil. How different are Daredevil’s methods (i.e. disable bad guys with often violent methods) from the Punisher’s (i.e. just kill them). Meredith and I argued about this for days after the Netflix series, which is a sign of the interesting moral complexity of the show (although it had some other problems), and a similar point is made here. I’m a huge fan of Daredevil in all his incarnations, and this was one of his better outings. It has all the intense fight scenes you want from something like this, but it also highlights the intense character of Matt Murdock, for my money one of the very most interesting in the world of comics.

4. Ghosts
Raina Telgemeier, whose past credits include Drama and Smile (and a couple of Eisner Awards), presents a beautifully drawn and plotted story of two young girls who move to the California coast and become immersed in Latino culture. Catrina, the older daughter, is unhappy about the move, undertaken to find a climate better suited to her younger sister’s cystic fibrosis. Soon both girls begin to learn about the significance of the Day of the Dead in Latino culture, and of the prevalence of ghosts in the area. Ghosts is a moving meditation on love, sorrow, and courage. Telgemeier was the subject of a certain amount of criticism by people who accused her of appropriating a culture of which she was not a part, but she clearly researched the topic extensively and treats it with sensitivity.  

5. Mighty Thor #10, August 17, 2016 (Mighty Thor, Vol 2: The Lords of Midgard)
Panels from Mighty Thor #10
Mighty Thor is yet another of Marvel’s recent reboots of classic characters redone as female (see All-New Wolverine above). This is arguably the best of the bunch. The Odinson has lost the virtue necessary to carry the hammer, so Jane Foster has stepped into his boots. She has a lot to cope with: conflict among the ten worlds, the unwillingness of Asgardians to accept a woman in the role of Thor, and she’s dying of cancer to top it all off. This title has had some ups and downs, but they’ve really hit their stride with a series of interlocking plotlines featuring the corporate villains at Roxxon and the attempts of the dark elf Malekith to take power in Asgard and throughout the ten worlds. One of my favorite bits is that Jane Foster/Thor is working extensively with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon who is delightfully hard edged. You’ve got to love a lady whose first inclination when confronted with super-powered villains is to let the gat hum (see panel above). The most compelling part of this arc is the juxtaposition of Jane Foster’s fragility versus Thor’s strength. What you find is that Jane Foster is strong in both incarnations, even though it’s only in the latter that she gets to punch people in the face (which is admittedly much more satisfying).

Join us in two weeks for Marilyn's top five comics!

~John F.

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