The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Rich Barrett
John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson/DC Comics
John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson/DC Comics / John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson/DC Comics

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. 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. The Sculptor

By Scott McCloud
First Second

In a way, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor is actually a superhero story, but one in which the hero uses his powers not to save lives, but to create deeply personal art for himself. The hero of McCloud’s story, David Smith, is a struggling artist who is visited by Death (in the form of David’s late grand-uncle Harry) and is given the gift to be able to sculpt anything he can imagine from any surface that he touches. David will only be able to use this gift for 200 days, after which he will die. Without hesitation, he accepts Death’s offer to give his life to his art and sets out racing against the clock to make his impression on the world. Things get complicated, however, when he meets Meg, who he immediately realizes is the love of his life.

McCloud has taught us a lot about the mechanics of comic storytelling in his seminal comic theory books Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics. Now, he’s using everything he has learned from writing those books to create his first work of comic book fiction since his Zot! series in the 1980s. The result is outstanding. This is a visually rich work that shows a masterful attention to detail—both human and architectural (New York City is rendered with as much love in this story as are David and Meg). While David may be the protagonist, it is Meg who McCloud develops into the most nuanced and complicated character, rising above being simply a muse for David to become one of the most interesting and realistic characters to appear in a graphic novel in many years.

There are traces of David Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp and even The Fountainhead here as McCloud looks at the psyche of a driven artist, but at its heart it is a tragic romance and emotional page turner that looks at what it really means to make something with your life.

I interviewed McCloud about the making of this book and other things for Mental Floss last week. You can read the interview here.


2. Vaccines Work: Here are the Facts

By Maki Naro
The Nib

With the debate around vaccinations in the news, a December 2014 comic from’s The Nib has recently been making the rounds online. Maki Naro adeptly lays out the facts about how vaccines work and dispels some of the myths that have caused such a stir among some people. He does it with a lot of humor, but most importantly with a good handle on the truth.

Naro is a comics blogger for Popular Science where he helps explain things like the immune system, polymers, weird bugs, and much more. He’s quite good at this sort of thing, and this comic is a great example of him in action. Read it here.


3. Superman #38

By Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson
DC Comics

We forget that when Superman debuted back in 1938, his power set was pretty limited. He could leap tall buildings, sure, but that wasn’t real flying. Otherwise he was mostly super-strong. In those early years he picked a number of new powers that we’ve come to take for granted and, according to the graphic above, he’s stayed pretty consistent with those powers for decades now. Now, this week, issue 38 of Superman introduces his newest super power: Super Flare.

DC is calling Super Flare “the most destructive power Superman has,” so we’ll have to see what kind of uses he puts that towards. I encourage Superman fans out there to comment below and tell us how accurate that timeline above is, because I find it hard to believe he hasn’t added anything new since Heat Vision in 1949. (I can see not counting those electric powers he had back in the ‘90s, though.)

We also get a subtly redesigned costume for the Man of Steel in this issue. He’s already been sporting an updated outfit since DC’s “New 52” relaunch in 2011, one with a high collar, some metallic looking lines, and a lack of red outer-underwear. However, this slight modification loses the high collar and introduces little updates like fingerless gloves. Here’s a picture of it as well as a preview of the issue.

In other Superman news, volume 3 of J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Earth One also comes out this week. It’s a modern re-imaginging of Superman’s early days in which he finds himself up against  Dr. Lex Luthor and his evil genius wife Dr. Alexandra Luthor. Preview it here.


4. Nameless #1

By Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Image Comics

Even the most mainstream of Grant Morrison comics—say, his run on Batman or his recent exploration of DC’s alternate earths, The Multiversity— is going to have a healthy dose of weird, but when he busts loose on his own creations like The Filth and Seaguy, that’s when we get the unfiltered Morrison.

Nameless is a sci-fi horror comic that re-teams Morrison with his Batman, Inc. collaborator Chris Burnham, whose detailed lifework and intricate panel layouts are often compared to Morrison’s most famous collaborator, Frank Quitely. Described by the writer as an "anti-human voyage to the hopeless outer limits of cosmic nihilism and cruelty,” it is a mini-series about a hero named Nameless who leads a team of astronauts to stop an asteroid from colliding with the Earth.

As with almost any book by Morrison, you’ll probably need to read this a couple of times to get a handle on everything he’s trying to do here. Burnham pushed himself to the next level as an artist with his work on Batman, Inc. and it will be great to see him as unfiltered as his collaborator on this one.

Here’s a preview.


5. The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #1

By Eric Powell
Dark Horse Comics

Eric Powell’s pulp horror-comedy The Goon is up there with Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in terms of creator-owned characters that have managed to resonate with fans for a good number of years now. Powell has been telling stories for over 15 years about this hulking, zombie-fighting mobster, and recently the comedy that has driven this series through the years has been giving way to plenty of tragedy.

In 2014’s mini-series An Occasion of Revenge, Powell dropped a bombshell on fans that left a lasting change on his hero. Now, the new 4-issue mini-series Once Upon a Hard Time picks up where that story left off, with a Goon who is now more monster than man, and promises to give us one of the most important Goon stories ever. This is by no means a jumping-on point for new readers but one that longtime fans will probably not want to miss out on.

Powell is on top of his game these days, especially artistically. He’s given his chiseled looking characters a new level of realistic detail that, with the muted, nearly black and white tones, makes it look torn from the pages of Mad Magazine and the EC Comics of the mid-20th century. Here are some sample pages.


6. Hourly Comic Day

By various

On February 1, cartoonists all over the world took part in the annual Hourly Comics Day, rendering the events of their day, as they happen on an hourly basis, for every hour the cartoonist is awake. If the act of creating diary comics is a way for cartoonists to exercise their cartooning skills, Hourly Comic Day is like the New York City Marathon, testing the limits of their stamina (not that you have to spend Hourly Comic Day doing diary strips, but that tends to be the most popular approach).

There are many, many comics to peruse, and the best way to do it is to browse the hashtags #hourlycomicday on Twitter and Tumblr. Some cartoonists have compiled their comics on their personal websites or Tumblrs in one easy-to-read spot. Cartoonists of all experience levels joined in the fun this year. Here are a few of them:

• Boulet gives us an amazing example of a non-diary piece that he somehow drew all in one day.

• Joe Decie turns some wonderfully loose sketches of his family into a story of his day with them.

• Emily Carroll has some wry comics about making comics, playing video games and hanging out with her wife. Two sets of comics here and here.

Eleanor Davis’ comics are full of hilarious observations about her home and work life.

Lizz Lunney depicted herself as a cat throughout the day.

Dan Berry walks us through his day of parenting and home repairs.

Marc Ellerby interestingly runs out of steam and ponders if Hourly Comics Day would be better if it wasn’t on a Sunday.

Sarah McIntyre gives us a day in the life of her character Sarah Tops of the Dinosaur Police.

Raina Telgemeier drives home from a comics convention.

And Kristyna Baczynski is motivated by the likes she gets from her hourly comics as she posts them on Tumblr.