June may be behind us, but before publishers start releasing new books this month, we’re going to take a look back at some of the releases we loved but didn’t cover on Batman-News.com. Also, since June was Pride Month, I took it upon myself to read and cover some gay-themed comics. Now, as some of you know, I am gay. I’m not necessarily quiet about it, but I’m also not one to shout it from the mountaintops. I’m content just being me, and I don’t think being gay defines me. It’s merely a piece of who I am. In fact, I often tell people that I am a man who just happens to be gay.
What might surprise some of you though, is that I’m typically not a fan of gay media or gay entertainment. I’m not opposed to it, it’s just that, more often than not, I find the quality of “gay projects” to be quite poor. Hence, if you asked me about reading comics featuring gay themes or characters prior to this month, I’d have directed you to the likes of Midnighter, Batwoman, Shatterstar, etc – comics and characters that most of us, especially those of us who frequent sites like Batman-News.com, are already familiar with. So, this was as much of an educational exploration for me as it was an “assignment.” (Fun fact: Nobody assigned me to cover gay comics, hence the quotations.)
Now, that doesn’t mean that all of the comics on this list are LGBT themed, just that we made a point to seek out some books that fit that genre. We also have standard coverage here as well. So, without any further ado, let’s enjoy some comics!
Artifice Vol. 1
Artifice surprised me. Knowing that I wanted to read a number of LGBTQ themed books in honor of Pride month, I found myself purchasing as many different books as possible that looked like they would be interesting, or, at the very least, decent. One of the first books I read – based on a recommendation – was Young Protectors… And I absolutely hated it. It was poorly written, slightly offensive, and just so gay-cliche in a, “I’m jailbait but we’re not having sex so it’s perfectly ok” type of way that I genuinely felt as though I’d wasted my time and money. Then I noticed that the author of Young Protectors, Alex Woolfson, had also written one of the other books I purchased, Artifice. So, naturally, I sat Artifice to the side determined I wouldn’t read it, and the month went on. Then, last week, I saw that it was unread, had forgotten the correlation – or that it was even an LGBTQ themed book – and read it. And I’m glad I did.
The opening scene grabbed my attention right away. There’s a man, Deacon, in custody, with two security guards watching over him. The story would soon reveal that Deacon is a prototype, android soldier, and that he’d gone off mission, killing a number of his handlers. The entire book is an exploration to determine why Deacon went off mission, and slowly, answers start to unfold. I’m not going to say that Artifice is amazing, but it is quite good. There are a number of themes that touch on humanity, the line that separates programming versus emotions and feelings, and, of course, being gay. While Artifice doesn’t necessarily delve as deep into these ideas as say Battlestar Galactica or Dollhouse, it still does a respectable job – especially considering the idea of an android serves as a metaphor for being gay.
There are moments where the script is heavy-handed, but it’s not nearly as bad as Young Protectors. I’d also say that the gay romance scenes (PG-13) make up the weaker aspects of the story. As for the art, Winona Nelson delivers some decent work. The characters look great, but the background and scenes can feel empty at times. The sequential storytelling is also decent, but there are definitely times where you can see a lack of experience in the action scenes. Overall, I found this to be a rather surprising book, and I hope Woolfson follows up with a second volume due to the cliffhanger ending.
This was a pleasant surprise from a fairly new publisher. I heard about Blackbox through Scott McDaniel– you know, used to pencil Nightwing and Daredevil and a bunch of your other favorite characters– and managed to get some review copies of this series. It’s written by Chuck Dixon– you know who that is– with art from Jethro Morales, colors by Bryan Arfel Magnaye, and letters from the incomparable Taylor Esposito. The book is military focused, with the main character Melissa relegated to duty in Central Command when she really wants to see action in the field.
She gets her chance sooner rather than later, though, when a group of young girls are abducted by a group of West African terrorists, as her commanding officer receives the order to implement an unexpected change in tactics. The writing and pacing are solid, and while the art is a little spare at times, there’s good storytelling all around. My favorite part, though, is when you find out why the book is called Militia, which made me laugh and groan all at once.
The biggest question I had going into the relaunch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the same question I’ve had for Angel. “Will they get the tone right?” I’m happy to say that for both books, they’ve definitely accomplished this task with flying colors. The characters and tone are spot on here, and even though the only familiar character from Angel we’ve seen up to this point is Angel himself, the featured supporting cast (Lilith, Fefe, and even those who have already met an unfortunate end) feel like they could have easily been in the show. But this issue also gave us the introduction of Fred – who many of you know is my favorite Buffyverse character – so I’m ecstatic.
Even from a story perspective, there are two main narratives running throughout the arc. One with present-day Angel, while the other store is a flashback featuring Angel’s soulless form, Angelus. Both stories have been rather gripping, and both carry a certain weight to them without ever being too dark. But that’s what makes Angel great. No matter how dark things get, there’s always hope. See, Angel isn’t, nor has it ever been, about winning. Angel is about fighting the good fight, knowing at some point, you, personally, will lose… but hoping that your actions will inspire others to take up that fight. One of my favorite lines from the show is “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” We see that idea alive and present in the comic. This is an incredible read, and Bryan Edward Hill and Gleb Melnikov are delivering on all fronts. Angel is everything you want in a story, so go add it to your pull list before you get too far behind!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #5
After more than a month long break, we finally get to learn Xander’s fate… And it’s not good! While we still don’t completely have answers, we are towing a line that I’m sure has been fans waiting with baited breath. The fact that Jordie Bellaire is willing to risk one of the main characters – specifically one of the original three of the “Scooby Gang” – and not receive complete backlash speaks volumes about his ability to craft engaging stories while also respecting the source material.
At the end of the day, this version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is very much the story we know and love, with similar themes and relationships, but it is also very fresh, and a far cry from being a mere retelling. This team is taking risks, and I absolutely love it! If you’re a Buffy fan, you need to be reading this book! Trust me! It’s Buffy and gang at their finest, and with Drusilla and Spike serving as the big bad, you know you’re in for a treat!
This issue did see David Lopez step in to replace Dan Mora on art. While Lopez’s art isn’t bad, I do hope this is just a temporary transition as I do feel he’s quite inferior to Mora. Lopez is a decent storyteller, but the way he draws eyes really bothers me. Everyone looks shocked or possessed in nearly every panel, and that took me out of the reading experience more than once.
Fence Vol. 1
Out of all of the gay-themed books I read throughout the past month, Fence was easily my favorite! Nearly everything about this book is great! I mean that! The story follows Nicholas Cox, who, as best as I can tell, is a foster kid that has a love for fencing. In fact, he loves fencing so much, that he’s hoping that it will help lead him to a better quality life, including opportunities at boarding schools that he’d otherwise have no chance of attending. Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of fencing, so that made me a little hesitant to read the book, and while fencing is prominent here, it’s not the reason you love this book.
You’re going to love Fence because of its characters! There are a slew of kids featured in this book – all with varying personalities and motivations that are quite engaging and relatable. In fact, while reading this, I thought – more than once – “Wow! This reminds me of Gotham Academy!” There’s just so much heart and innocence found in Fence that it’s infectious. Once you start reading, you want to read more. You want to see where the plot takes you, but you’ll also find yourself just wanting to spend more time with these characters! C.S. Pacat writes such amazingly wonderful, engaging interactions, and they’re illustrated beautifully by Joana LaFuente.
And while this is an LGBTQ themed book, there’s no graphic content. Considering the gay community seems to default to nudity and sex so often – it’s a culture thing, I get it, but I also feel that it’s an attempt to overcompensate for terrible writing in media – it was refreshing to read a story that didn’t need to rely on that. Being gay doesn’t define any of these characters, it’s just a part of some of them. The narrative is there, but it’s hardly in your face. If you’re potentially interested in introducing LGBTQ themes to your kids/tweens, Fence is the perfect book. They’ll also have fun and learn a few life lessons along the way.
CHAPTER HOUSE COMICS
I’ve been trying really hard to check out new comics from different publishers. For budget reasons, I won’t be able to continue reading all of these books monthly, but this will at least give me a better idea of what’s out there, what I might want to circle back to once it is released as a trade or graphic novel, and then, maybe, something will impact me enough that I’ll decide to read it monthly… Freelance falls more so into the trade-wait category.
While the book is high energy and quite fun, there’s not much substance to it… At least not yet. We’re thrown into the story without any context or introductions, and you kind of have to figure things out as you go. While I’m fine with this for a few pages, the book fails to provide any answers throughout the course of the issue to provide any context . All you really know is that the main characters are explorers/ heroes, and that the main character has some mystery surrounding him – mainly who/what he is and where he’s from.
There are plenty of exciting elements to be found here, and the writing and art aren’t bad per-se, but with such a unique world in front of me, I need something to grasp onto. Unfortunately, there’s nothing there. There could be something there down the road, but not right now. Will I put this on my trade-wait list? Sure… But it’ll be more towards the bottom.
Invisible Kingdom #4
This series continues to be a lot of fun. G Willow Wilson and Christian Ward have brought the two main characters, the space pilot Grix and the spiritual none Vess, together pretty fast, and now they have to work together to escape the clutches of the followers of the Invisible Kingdom. The relationship between Grix and her crew members is deepened, although I think there is still a lot of room to explore the supporting characters more and give them more depth. Christian Ward’s art continues to be a feast for the eyes, though. If you’re into highly psychedelic interstellar art, this comic has plenty of cosmic imagery and sci-fi madness. The action is good, the story is fun, and I expect the stakes to get raised significantly in the next issue, as #5 will be the conclusion of the first arc. This only being issue #4, there’s still plenty of time to catch up and hop in and join a diverse cast of characters on a trip through an alien universe!
Eve Stranger #1
Who is Eve Stranger? She’d love to tell you, but even she doesn’t know. Each day, she wakes up to find a note from herself explaining her life, where she is, and why she would have items such as a gun and syringe lying in front of her… And it’s really freaking interesting.
David Barnett and Philip Bond deliver an intriguing and fun story that is reminiscent of the Bourne franchise, but different enough to prevent from feeling like a copycat. While there is a deeper mystery here that will be worth exploring, the initial journey of discovering who Eve is, is equally entertaining. There’s action, mystery, humor, heart, and it’s a great read that I’ll definitely be reading monthly! I don’t want to give anything away, so go check out the book!
This is a very special book. It’s a brand-new fantasy world, but at its core—fittingly, if you’ve read the book—is heart. The writing and visual storytelling are just simple beauty: not much poetry to the dialogue: no flashy panel layouts—just solid, effective paneling and composition, with language that you feel in your bones before your head.
What a wonderful book. The themes of hope and courage ring true, and it’s absolutely amazing how much character and humanity Booker and Zucker are able to imbue on their little clockwork creations. This is one of the best comics of the year. Check out my full review and the Comics Now episode where Brian and I discuss it further.
Usagi Yojimbo #1
It’s weird seeing Usagi in color, but it’s good color, and the rest is the same excellent Stan Sakai work that I’ve seen before. The artwork is super fun, of course, and the subject matter is far less whimsical than the artwork—but never depressingly grim. This is the kind of fantasy that kids ought to read: not needlessly offensive, but also not ignorant of the harsher realities of life.
Yeah, this was great. Though I’ve wanted to for a long time, I’ve never read more than a special or one-shot with Usagi, so I came into this pretty fresh. By no means would I say I’m an expert in the mythology or anything after just a single issue, but I never felt lost either. Sakai successfully makes his world feel large and with quite a bit of history, but also manages to make it friendly for new readers.
And yeah, like Brian said, the art is beyond great. Love this aesthetic.
I’m loving Ascender even more than Descender. It was a neat choice to have this book begin with a focus on Andy’s world, after beginning with his robro Tim’s back in the first series. Bandit is still a lot of fun, Mila is independent and interesting, and the artwork is so good it shouldn’t be legal.
This is one of the absolute best books being published right now. When you hear Skottie Young’s name, you probably expect something cute, weird, or both. You likely don’t expect something this difficult and rewarding. Jorge Corona is in top form, and paired with Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s colors, his artwork is amazing.
Neon Future #1
I know I’m stumbling onto this a little late, but when I saw DJ Aoki was the visionary behind this comic, I was more curious than anything. He’s a DJ. I didn’t expect much… In fact, I was preparing myself for the worst, so perhaps that’s why I liked this comic as much as I did… because I loved it!
Neon Future depicts a technologically advanced, dystopian future where the world is at adds concerning technology. Visually, this is a stunning book! Neil Edwards and Jeremy Raapack deliver respectable pencils that range from good to great, but it’s Abraham Lee’s colors that really make this book something special. The range of tones he uses, and the juxtaposition of the “two worlds” is magnificent.
The script is also quite good. There’s an arsenal of writers credited here, and while that can sometimes signal the downfall of a book – too many cooks in the kitchen is usually a bad thing – this appears to be a case of the best ideas being pulled to streamline a tight story. No, there’s really nothing completely new here, but it’s executed incredibly well. I’m interested in the main characters, the stakes are high, and the plot is both exciting and gripping! If there’s one book you feel like giving a chance, make it Neon Future.
Chad in Amsterdam #1-2
This series is created, written and produced by Chad Bilyeu, and it’s illustrated by numerous talented artists. It’s an autobiographical comic about Chad’s adventures in Amsterdam as an American immigrant. Since I’m from Holland and can be found in Amsterdam often, I figured it’d be neat to promote Chad’s series here. Those who are familiar with Amsterdam will recognize many elements in these stories, from actual streets to existing restaurants and bars, and even the (in)famous Red Light District. Those who aren’t familiar with Amsterdam might be intrigued by the unique aesthetic and voice of this series, and might even want to visit the city one day. Each issue features several short stories, ranging from 1 page to about 8 pages, and each story is illustrated by a different artist. The stories can be hilarious, critical, and outrageous, but all of them are very honest. So if you have a bit of spare time and are looking for some highly entertaining, light reading, look no further! Chad in Amsterdam #1 and #2 are available at http://www.chadinamsterdam.nl/ and Comixology. For more in-depth commentary, check out my full review of issues #1 and #2 here. Lastly, issue #3 will be released in July, so keep a close eye on Chad’s website, Twitter and Facebook. Enjoy this magical carpet ride through the Weed Capital of the World!
Bigfoot Bill: Shadow of the Mothman
Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel crowdfunded Bigfoot Bill last year, and it delivered a month or two back. The physical object is exquisite, with gold foil, embossed letters, and great texture on the cover. The interior quality is also top-notch. The story itself is very funny, with a number of rewarding running gags, and plenty of kinetic cartooning. I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth, and I can’t wait for Doug’s Earthworm Jim book, which is funding on Indiegogo now.
Generations is a beautiful book. It’s rare that I read something that hits me on such a personal level, but Flavia Biondi managed to do so with this masterpiece. As one of the selections I purchased to explore gay-themed books, I put this story towards the bottom of my reading list for a few reasons. But this book isn’t so much about being gay as it is about family and love.
Matteo, the lead character, left his small, conservative hometown in Italy after his father reacted poorly to him coming out. Now, a few years later, Matteo is returning home from Milan because he has nowhere else to go. He’s returning to a family who doesn’t actually know him, a father who doesn’t speak to him, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. He’s returning, to what he thinks is nothing. Certain that he isn’t welcome in his father’s home, Matteo finds sanctuary with his nan… and subsequently, his three aunts and cousin who also live there.
After years of running from his problems, Matteo is finally forced to face them head on, and in the process, he discovers the true love and grace that can come from family. This isn’t a book about being gay. This is a book about perceptions, expectations, and coming to terms with reality. Family is family. Love is love. And you can only truly experience it if you honestly open yourself up to allow yourself to experience it. While every character shows or experiences this in one form or another, it’s Matteo who grows the most and gains the most because of it.
Yes, it’s a simple story. No, there isn’t much in the way of action or excitement. The story is, however, incredibly relatable and engaging. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes on a few occasions because I saw so much of myself in Matteo. Every once in a while, you find a book, show, film, whatever that is so personal and special to you that you know you will forever cherish it. Generations is definitely one of those books.
If you choose to read any of the LGBTQ books, please let it be this.
Black Cat #1
I’m not going to say I had high hopes for this book, but, like with cats, curiosity got the best of me. I’ve always enjoyed Black Cat in the confines of Spider-Man, so I figured, “Why not give this book a shot?” Was it worth it? Sure.
Now, there’s no denying that Black Cat isn’t the pinnacle of writing or storytelling, but it is a fun – even if outrageous – book. It’s a heist story all the way, and Jed McKay isn’t afraid to ham it up a little bit. But when you’re trying to tell an engaging, fun story that isn’t bogged down by overly high stakes, you want something a little juvenile and slapstick. The art from Mike Dowling, Travel Foreman, and Nao Fuji is also quite fun and engaging. There are times when it is a little inconsistent though, and I have to question some of their choices with Felicia’s hair at times – but seriously, that’s about as far as my complaints go concerning the art. What this book will really have to contend with is how to remain relevant in an abundance of weekly releases, and how to be something more than a Catwoman knock-off.
Despite being fun, this is definitely a trade-wait book for me.
Silver Surfer: Black #1
This is one of my favorite books of the year so far. Tradd Moore’s artwork is ridiculous, and I love his use of negative space—especially on the first spread. And if you thought you knew where this story was headed, you probably don’t. I won’t spoil it for you here, but you ought to go read it now.
Savage Avengers #2
If you like high energy, brutal, visceral, action-packed comics… then Savage Avengers is definitely the comic for you! While I can’t say that it’s necessarily a great comic (yet), it’s still highly entertaining. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the overall tone of this book is quite reminiscent of Netflix’s Daredevil. It’s a dark, bloody battle from start to finish. And when you feature characters like Wolverine, Conan, Venom, Voodoo, and Punisher fighting the Hand in the Savage Land… Yeah. That alone should be enough to grab your attention. And just think, the story hasn’t even introduced Elektra yet!
Unpacking is graphic! Yes, there is a warning on the cover that this is for adults only, and this is a gay story with that warning, so I should have known what I was in for. I guess I’m just so used to the “big two” that despite expecting some graphic content, I assumed it would be due to language or a flaccid penis here or there, but this book went way further than I expected it to. I’m talking, fully detailed sex scenes that didn’t bother to shy away from sensuality… And because of that, I was not a fan. Not at first anyway.
The book follows Matt, a man in his late thirties who recently separated from his partner of eight years. He’s just moved into his new apartment, has yet to unpack – hence the title – and doesn’t appear to be in a rush to do so. Newly single, he’s sworn off the idea of relationships, and is just looking for physical encounters with no strings attached. And boy, does he have them. It’s at this moment that I decide this book isn’t for me. There are too many examples of gay media that rely too heavily on shallow relationships, hot bodies, and sex that they’re a dime a dozen… Not to mention, they’re typically poorly written/ realized. Actually, poorly written/ realized is probably being too nice for some of these projects. Regardless, I’m well aware that there are plenty of people who will probably love this book for this very reason, I’m simply not one of them.
Despite my feelings, I decided to at least finish the first chapter to see it this book goes anywhere, or remains a collection of hookups. There are three chapters in all, so I figured I owed the creators – and myself since I’d already purchased the book – the opportunity to try and win my favor. I reach the end of the first chapter, and I start to see a story shaping up – incredibly slowly, but it’s apparent that something is in the works. So, for whatever reason, I decide I’ll go ahead and try the second chapter to see if it can pull me in… And surprisingly, it does.
As the story moves forward, it becomes quite clear that this is a character study. Macisaac takes what I initially thought was a shallow story and goes into a deep-dive exploring a number of themes, moralities, expectations, stereotypes, and emotional impacts that are found within the gay community, as well as the straight community. Matt isn’t shallow. He isn’t necessarily just looking for sex. He’s numb. He’s shut himself off because he’s found himself incapable of forgiving his past relationship, but he’s also afraid to let anyone in.
As I become more familiar with the characters in this book, I start seeing glimpses of people that I know. Hell, I even start to see aspects of myself. The book provides a good coverage of the gay community, different lifestyles within the community, and the personal struggles a number of people live with – both gay and straight. It’s good, and if you can get past the graphic content, then it’s well worth the read. Yes, some aspects are a little obvious, but the overall project is well thought and executed. The art, on the other hand… Well, to say that it’s rough would be generous.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Comic Book
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t plan on reading this book, much less cover it. It’s pure camp, and that’s not exactly my thing… But then, for whatever reason, I decided to go ahead and purchase it and give it a read. Then the debate on whether I should cover it or not came into play. On some levels, I really enjoyed this book. And then, on other levels, I found it completely generic. Ultimately, though, there were too many scenes that I found so incredibly funny, that I felt I needed to give this book some sort of a write-up.
So, what works here? The dads. As I’m sure you can tell by the title, this book is all about dads, and no, the “daddy” aspect is not a play on words… Or maybe it is. Who am I to tell you what you can and can’t like. Anyway, the book is a collection of individual stories featuring characters that live in the same fictional city. Some have infant children, others have toddlers, and some have teenagers. But it’s the exploration of these fathers, and the sheer joy/humiliation one can feel as a father, that makes this story an absolute blast. I’m completely serious, if you’re a father, you’ll find moments that are completely relatable (and I’m saying this as a dog dad/ uncle). The kids can also be highly entertaining as well, and I’m sure some of you parents out there will giggle as this book will remind you of memories with your own kids.
What doesn’t work? The dads are all gay. Now, hear me out before you start beating any anti-LGBTQ drums! There are times where having gay men works incredibly well and elevate the story. An example of this is the first story, “Much Abird About Nothing,” where former college roommates meet up for the first time in years to attend their college reunion together. Both men are single fathers – one of which recently went through a separation – and both openly share how they’re both just trying to figure things out without looking like an idiot. Throughout all of it, you get to see them as fathers first, friends second, and potentially more than friends by the end of the story. It’s honestly a great read that’s heartwarming on a number of levels. The gay elements aren’t forced, nor are they the main focus. Relationships are first.
But then there are the other stories. In some of these, the gay theme does feel forced, and it honestly takes away from some quality storytelling that’s taking place. I enjoyed seeing these men act completely awkward as fathers. That’s where this book succeeds. The gay aspects mostly fell flat. Overall though, it’s a decent read that features a number of writers and artists, so if you have some spare time and money, check out this light-hearted romp.
SMALL SCALE STUDIOS
I… I absolutely loved this book! If you’ve been a frequent visitor of the site or follow me on Twitter, then you know that I love dogs. In fact, I tend to prefer dogs over people. So, when I saw a new book about a dog on Comixology, I knew I needed to read it… And then I crossed my fingers and prayed for it to be good. Thankfully, it is.
This is a one-and-done story that is great for the family. If you have kiddos, then I recommend that you pick up Odie! The story surprisingly simple, but outstanding none-the-less. Odie is a Cardigan Welsh Corgi that has lost his way from home and is trying to get back. He encounters a number of trials and tribulations on the way, and there’s a point where I found myself wondering, “How is this going to end?”
Aaron Michael Sullivan should be proud because he accomplishes a lot within 26 pages! I didn’t realize this was a one-and-done story at first, so I did have a slight issue with how quickly the story wraps up, but all things considered, it’s great. Elli Puukkangas deserves a ton of credit for the art here as well! Not only is it beautiful, but drawing animals in a way to make them both look realistic and have them emote without making the book look cartoony or corny… That’s a tall order that is met perfectly!
Seriously, this is a great, quick read that’s good for all ages. If you love dogs, give it a read. If you have kids and like to read them bedtime stories, read this book. There are great themes and it will warm the heart! I hope this creative team has other adventures planned, because I’m so ready to spend my money on Odie!
What were your favorite comics of June? Are there any LGBTQ books that I need to add to my reading list? Sound off below and let us know what you think about these titles and more!