Mental Floss

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Rich Barrett
Jason Latour/Image Comics
Jason Latour/Image Comics / Jason Latour/Image Comics

Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews (though sometimes they are) but more pointing out noteworthy new comics that you may want to seek out. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. Southern Bastards

Written by Jason Aaron; art by Jason Latour
Image Comics

Two comic creators from the South collaborate on a new series that both reveres and pokes at the underbelly of southern culture.

The Jasons–Jason Aaron and Jason Latour–are good old boys, one from Alabama and the other from North Carolina. They are frequent collaborators.They co-wrote a Wolverine digital comic together and Aaron recently handed the writing job on Marvel's Wolverine & The X-men series over to Latour. In Southern Bastards, their new series from Image, Aaron writes and Latour provides the visuals (even the coloring with some assist from Rico Renzi) for a gritty, "Southern fried" crime story set in rural Alabama. The two Jasons pull from their own upbringings and past experiences to paint a picture of Southern culture that glorifies it a little, but looks into its dark side as well.

Much like Aaron's now classic Vertigo series Scalped, this is a story about a prodigal son coming home. Earl Tubbs returns to the house he grew up in down in Craw County, Alabama. He's now an old man and has no interest in staying in town for more than a couple of days while he handles the affairs of a deceased uncle. Earl's dead father who, back in the day, was the town's sheriff and wielded a baseball bat like Buford Pusser in Walking Tall, casts a long shadow on Earl's life, and he's reminded of this the moment he returns. His hometown has changed quite a bit and is now under the thumb of a man referred to as "Coach Boss." Naturally, Earl is not going to be leaving town as quickly as he had hoped.

The authenticity that the two Jasons bring to this book is a big selling point. Everything looks and "sounds" just right, from the ramshackle homes to the southern drawls. There are a lot of funny little jabs at southern culture (a "Y'all Haul" moving van, a logo for sweet tea that appears to be a mashup between Col. Sanders and the Kool-Aid Man), despite the fact that it's a mostly foreboding story. Latour is a rare case of writer/artist who thrives on working with other writers and artists (as opposed to simply making comics on his own). His drawings are so gritty and rustic, they look like they were chipped and peeled off of an old hand-painted liquor store sign. You can tell both Jasons are in their element with this story.

Here's a preview.


2. The Guardian Weekend Comics Special

By Various

Can some of today's top novelists actually write a good comic?

This past weekend, British newspaper The Guardian devoted their weekend special to an intriguing idea: They paired six well-known novelists with well-established comic book pros to make exclusive short comics.

Although the stated idea of the series is for the pairs to "create new works” together, a couple of the stories are actually adaptations of previously written short stories. The adaptations (one by A.M. Homes and the other by Margaret Atwood) are the wordier of the bunch and you can tell the artists needed to work with a little more dialogue and narration than most comic panels can comfortably hold. The others, where true collaboration took place, have interesting behind-the-scenes interviews posted on The Guardian website that give us a peak at how the writers and artists worked together.

The 6 writer/artist match-ups include:
• Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) came up with a great idea about a mom who decides to take matters into her own hands when it comes to dealing with school bullies.
• Christian Ward illustrates Margaret Atwood's Freeforall about a future in a world ravaged by incurable sexually transmitted diseases. This one is really more illustrated prose than comic, but Ward has some interesting and unique layouts going on here.
• Dave Eggers (editor of McSweeney's) chose to draw his own story, a tongue-in-cheek tale of a bison having a vision. It would have been interesting to see what an artist could bring to this story, but Eggers' own drawings give this a sketchbook-y feel, appropriate since he came up with the story while traveling.
• Michael Faber (Under the Skin) and Roger Langridge (Popeye and Muppet Show comics) made a fun little comic in which Barack Obama and David Cameron meet at a comic shop and discuss the impact of British and American comics on each' other's culture.
• Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) and Eddie Campbell (From Hell) have probably the most intertwined collaboration, telling the story of two lovers in which Campbell draws the man and Niffenegger draws the woman. They worked together to find an ending to this unfinished story that Niffenegger wrote years ago.
• And finally, Frazer Irving adapts a weird A.M. Homes (The End of Alice) story about a woman explaining a mysterious phone call to two odd investigators. Despite being simply an adaptation, this one may be the best looking of the bunch.

You can read all the comics as well as the behind-the-scenes interviews here.


3. The Love Bunglers

By Jaime Hernandez

The story of Love & Rockets' Maggie has been building to this moment for decades.

Jaime Hernandez is one of the comics world's undisputed masters. Unlike many other kings or queens of their mediums, his best work seems to always be his most recent. The Love Bunglers is a new graphic novel that collects a story that previously ran in two parts within the 3rd and 4th issues of the annual publication Love & Rockets. It is another chapter in Hernandez’s continuing exploration of the life of Maggie Chascarillo, and it is a profound one. Maggie deals with failure and loss in both the past and present and, towards the end, reconnects with longtime, on-and-off-again boyfriend Ray Dominguez.

The story of Maggie is one that Hernandez has been telling for over 30 years and it’s possible that this chapter is meant to be the ending he’s been working towards all this time. There’s a remarkable scene consisting of flashback panels recreating moments from Maggie and Ray’s history that will be immensely rewarding for loyal Love & Rockets readers. This article dissects each panel and the original scenes that they are referencing.

Although this book will have the most effect on readers who have been following Maggie's exploits all these years, the beauty of the way Hernandez tells her story is that it’s possible to jump in at any point—even at this late stage—and get hooked.

Fantagraphics has some preview images here.


4. Cleopatra in Space Vol. 1: Target Practice

By Mike Maihack

Mike Maihack's popular all-ages webcomic finds a new bookstore audience thanks to Scholastic.

Fifteen-year-old Cleopatra of the Nile is abducted from ancient Egypt just before her coronation as Queen and transported into the far future. She travels through the distant reaches of space and a prophesy stated by a race of talking cats says that she will be the savior of the universe. In order to prepare her for battle against the army of the alien Xerx, she must first go to school where she will learn how to shoot a ray gun, battle robots and, ugh, solve algebra equations.

Cleopatra in Space, the first in a multi-volume series, is one of those books I can't wait for my own daughter to be old enough to enjoy. It's got everything you'd want your own pre-teen to sink his or her teeth into: a smart, butt-kicking heroine, spaceships, a flying motorcycle shaped like a Sphynx, ray guns, high school drama, a love triangle, and talking cats. Maihack handles both action and comedy with natural ease. His artwork is stylish and cute and it's no wonder this comic was such a hit online (especially with all the cats), but he really is a great storyteller. I especially love his ability to get laughs with a simple reaction shot—like a snarky raised eyebrow from Cleopatra or a blank, disbelieving stare from her feline mentor, Kenshu.

Here's a preview of the first 13 pages.


5. Amazing Spider-Man #1

Written by Dan Slott; art by Humberto Ramos
Marvel Comics

The return of Peter Parker and a relaunch of the flagship Spider-Man comic (just in time for the movie).

For the past year, in case you haven’t been keeping up with it, the man underneath the Spider-Man mask has actually been Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doctor Octopus) inhabiting the body of Peter Parker. Their minds were switched when Octavius’ body died and we, the readers, had to assume that Peter’s mind and soul were lost forever (or until this story ran its course and it was time for a reset).

That story, which ran for 31 issues in the now-complete Superior Spider-Man series, was so much better than it probably sounds from my description. We were given a fresh take on Spider-Man–what he could be when put in the hands of someone else–and what it means to be a hero, especially for someone who used to be a villain.

Now, with some strategic planning on Marvel’s part, Peter Parker is back in his own body and the Amazing Spider-Man title replaces Superior Spider-Man just in time for the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2 in theaters next week. Writer Dan Slott, who has been shepherding the Spider-Man comics for a while, has brought his long-term Octavius plan to fruition and is now ready to give a fresh start for Peter and for readers who are ready to jump into a new Spidey comic.

Here’s a preview.