Break from Batman: Locke & Key, Vol. 1 and best January comics list

I spent January reading the first volume of a new classic horror series from IDW and I also lost 2 of my favorite monthly comic book series, but man did they have good endings! In case this is your first time reading a “Break from Batman” article, let me tell you what it is. I spend all month reading Batman comics for this site and then I write, some might say, overlong reviews of them. By the end of the month I need a break! So why not recommend all the best stuff I read that isn’t Batman related? If you follow my reviews and find that you agree with them more often than not, Break From Batman is your best opportunity to branch out. Comics are getting pricey and there’s nothing worse than spending three or four bucks on something you’ll never want to re-read or share with a friend. I only list the very best books I read when I post a Break from Batman. There isn’t a single book here that I don’t feel is worth every penny. Naturally, I can’t read every book that comes out, but if I do read it and I do love it, it ends up right here and usually we have quite a few readers just like you and me who write a few suggestions of their own in the comments section at the bottom of the page. We’re all helping each other read the best books possible.

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

locke-key-1-welcome-to-lovecraft-hcSome might look at this month’s graphic novel pick and say “This comic is from 2008!”

Well, it’s new to me and I absolutely loved it so this is what’s happening. There are a number of comics out there that I really want to get into because the buzz around them is so great like Harbinger, Chew, Goon, The Walking Dead, Mind MGMT, etc. But I’m so far behind on what’s going on that I can’t. So I made it a point this month to get Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and guess what, I finished the whole thing in two nights and immediately picked up volume 2. That’s another great thing about suggesting a book from a few years ago: if you love it then you can get a lot more of it ASAP. There are five graphic novels out there right now so if you get hooked, you’ll be more than satisfied for weeks to come.

What’s Welcome to Lovecraft about? This is something that kept me from checking out the book, too. I never quite understood what the premise was of this series. Just by looking at the name “Lovecraft”, an homage to H.P. Lovecraft, you should know that it’s going to be spooky. And if you’ve read any of Joe Hill’s other work, or the work of his famous father, that’s a pretty good clue as well. The book begins with terrible tragedy as a family loses their father in a brutal attack by two drifters. The surviving mother and her three children move away to the family’s ancestral home, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts where they try to begin a new life. Through multiple flashbacks we learn more about each child and their relationship with their now deceased father, even uncovering how the drifters were no strangers to this family at all. As if that rich drama wasn’t enough for you, the youngest child discovers an old key that transforms any door into a gateway that when passed through turns him into a ghost. While exploring the house and playing with his new spectral form, the young boy begins to hear whispers. These are the same whispers that drove the drifter to kill the boy’s father, whispers, echoes that he hears still. Oooooo. Hopefully I did an alright job peaking your interest there. I can see now why it’s so hard to explain the premise. It’s an odd balancing act of getting the hook out there without giving away any of the fun surprises, and there are many.

Locke & Key, Vol. 1 is a highly imaginative, scary, and emotionally compelling book that’s very, very hard to put down. The artwork is clear and highly detailed. There are several occasions in which the same panel is repeated with only minor changes that you have to examine closely to find the details leading up to a turn of the page reveal that makes your jaw drop. It’s a really great effect. Rodriguez picks some truly perfect angles for these images that give the book a cinematic feel, it’s no wonder that Hollywood has been trying to turn this thing into a TV show or movie for years. Another aspect that absolutely has to be praised would be the faces. Such an emotional, heartfelt book as this needs to have characters with expressive faces and Rodriguez  doesn’t disappoint. This is such an important part of any horror story: if you don’t empathize with the characters, if you don’t CARE about what they’re going through then you won’t ever be scared yourself.

I’m intrigued. There was never a dull moment in this book for me and I think everyone reading this article should go give this series a shot. Since it’s been on shelves so long you can probably find it on Amazon or eBay for an affordable price. I’ll probably start reading volume 2 very soon…well, now seems good.

SCORE: 10/10

 

The Best January Comics (That I read)

Listed in no particular order…

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Sweet Tooth #40

Vertigo

New Reader Friendliness:   Absolute Zero

Genre:   Post-apocalyptic, something, something with animals… it’s complicated

I teared up a little. Not gonna lie here. This was a beautiful, bittersweet conclusion and I really couldn’t have asked for a better ending. This was my favorite ongoing comic and now it’s all over. Seriously, one of the best endings to a series I have ever read.

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Daredevil: End of Days #4

Marvel

New Reader Friendliness:   Low

Genre:   Superhero

It’s written like a final Daredevil story and it draws a lot from Citizen Kane. I wouldn’t recommend you pick it up without reading parts 1-3, though. Since I don’t know that much about Daredevil’s history I’m sure I’m not enjoying this book to the fullest extent, but for me to be as enthralled with it as I am with so little knowledge about the character’s mythology says a hell of a lot. In this issue we see what became of Bullseye and The Punisher.

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Godzilla: Half-Century War #4

IDW

New Reader Friendliness:   Medium

Genre: You know what Godzilla is!

I can’t get enough of this book’s artwork. Every page could make a kick-ass poster. When I first heard about this series I shrugged it off because a book about a monster knocking over buildings didn’t sound like something I could get invested in. I was wrong. Each chapter has taken place at a different point in history and follows a soldier who has spent his life trying to bring this beast down. And did I mention the artwork is amazing?

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Punk Rock Jesus #6

Vertigo

New Reader Friendliness:   Low

Genre:   Social commentary, sci-fi…it’s complicated, too

Like Sweet Tooth #40, I can’t say a whole lot about this book without spoiling anything. This six part mini series never had a weak issue and I can’t wait to read it all again in trade paperback form.

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Black Beetle #1

Dark Horse

New Reader Friendliness:   High

Genre:   Superhero

If there’s one book on this list that a Batman fan could fall in love with it’s Black Beetle #1. Why’s that? Because it’s the closes thing we’re going to get to an ongoing 1940s Batman comic. This is pulp storytelling at its finest, folks and you shouldn’t be scared by it because you’ve never hear of Black Beetle before. Sure, it looks like one of those re-imagining/reboot books much like the new Shadow or Green Hornet or something and you think you might need some prior knowledge about this character and his world, but here’s the thing: Black Beetle is an entirely new creation. It’s much like how the Rocketeer felt like he was ripped from pulp novels of the early 20th century when in fact he wasn’t invented until 1982. And talk about gorgeous artwork! If you read Batman: The Black Mirror then you’ll immediately recognize Francesco Francavilla’s unique style from those beautifully done Jim Gordon shorts.

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All-New X-Men #5 & #6

Marvel

New Reader Friendliness:   Low

Genre:   Superhero

This has been an emotionally rich story that’s been surprisingly accessible to a new fan like me. All I knew about X-Men was what I knew from the movies and cartoons and what I had overheard about Avengers vs. X-Men over the summer from chatter around the web and at the local comic shop. The idea of having the X-Men’s hopeful past selves come into the present and see how horrible things have become is a really unique idea and makes All-New X-Men one of the freshest superhero comics you can read at the moment.

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Saga #9

Image

New Reader Friendliness:   Low

Genre:   Sci-fi fantasy 

They’re shaking things up over at Saga this month as the story switches over to the bounty hunter The Will exclusively. I’ve always liked the cut aways to him and his giant cat that knows when people are lying so it was fun to stick with him and his supporting cast of characters for a full issue. In fact, it proved that The Will himself is a strong enough character to carry a series all his own.

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Thor: God of Thunder #4

Marvel

New Reader Friendliness:   Low

Genre:   Fantasy/mythology/epic/not your typical superhero book

It’s amazing how well writer Jason Aaron balances time between these three different Thor tales and finds the right voice for the character at vastly different points in his life. I said it last month and I’ll say it again, this is epic storytelling in every sense. and one of the very best comics you can buy right now in terms of story as well as art.

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 The End Times of Bram & Ben #1 

Image

New Reader Friendliness:   High

Genre:   Comedic fantasy

This new series explores the humor and the kind of situations the world would encounter if suddenly all the decent folk were raptured up to heaven. The story focuses on, of course, Bram and Ben, who are roommates at the time when all the faithful disappear. Oddly enough though, one of the roommates is raptured only to be sent right back to earth moments later and the other is left to wonder what it is about himself that made him unworthy of floating up to heaven. The rest of the world doesn’t quite understand that it was the rapture yet and that leads to some debate as to whether or not it was a mass alien abduction or something. I found it to be fun, quite funny and I’m curious to see where this story goes in the future. It’s not about lampooning Christianity as much as it is just playing with the idea of “What if it’s right?”

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X-O Manowar #9

Valiant

New Reader Friendliness:   High

Genre:   Sci-Fi

Ladies and gentlmen, we have a jumping-on point! X-O Manowar could make a sci-fi fan out of anyone. This is a great series and it makes me physically angry that not enough people are talking about it. It’s a Visigoth in a super powered alien robot suit fighting off an alien invasion alongside a ninja and yet none of it comes off as silly in any way. It works and it’s awesome. Each issue of this and any Valiant comics opens with a concise recap to bring you up to speed and with a new arc beginning, this is a great time to come aboard and give this series a chance. The artwork this time around isn’t quite as consistent with off-putting faces yet stunning action scenes that light up the imagination but overall the story is highly engaging and should hook a lot of new readers ready for some adventure.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan #1 & #2

IDW

New Reader Friendliness:   High (assuming you know who the Ninja turtles are)

Genre: Superhero? Do we say that the turtles are superheroes? 

Finally! I found a good jumping on point for a TMNT series! I still need to start from issue #1 of the main title, but for now this gets the job done. The turtles don’t actually play much of a role at all in either of these issues. Instead, most of the story so far has taken place in flashbacks to Japan in the age of the samurai. It is there that we are told the legend of how the Foot Clan came to be, which is admittedly something that never once crossed my mind before but now I’m very excited to hear about it. I grew up loving the cartoon and played with all of the toys but once Batman: The Animated Series started I moved on from Turtles and never looked back. Reading these two comics was a very nostalgic experience and has me more excited to read the ongoing series than ever before. Seeing the mysterious history of the foot clan unfold is fascinating in itself as a samurai comic but it’s clear that the story is drifting more and more into Shredder vs. Turtles territory and that stuff looks like it will be just as cool as I remember it being when I was 5. And the dynamic artwork that captures the look of ancient Japan is breathtaking so if you’ve been mulling over getting into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles again, now’s a good time to try it on.

What were the best books you read this month?

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