This article was originally published at Loser City on December 10, 2015.
People tend to reminisce about long gone eras, arguing that things were always better way back when. But when it comes to comics, there’s no denying that the 21st century has seen the medium explode in unprecedented and unpredictable ways. For many people, that has come primarily in the form of the advent of the superhero blockbuster, and it’s certainly true that comic book adaptations are enjoying a dominance at the box office. Yet for those willing to look beyond Marvel and DC, there’s an even more exciting revolution taking part, as pop and art comics alike are undergoing a renaissance.
At Loser City, we feel that the 2010’s have been an especially exciting time to be into comics, thanks to the wealth of incredible material being produced as well as the emergence of more and more new perspectives from creators and fans who have historically been underserved in the medium. We wanted to take this opportunity here in the middle of the decade to look back at the phenomenal material that has already emerged and anticipate where comics are going next. Comics continues to have growing pains and a number of major issues hold the medium back from its true potential, but we have chosen this time to focus on the positive and hopefully introduce you to the works we believe are currently making up the modern canon, whether they be completely new works, material newly translated works or long running series that continued in this decade. We already wrapped up parts one, two and three so be sure to check those out. Or if you’re already caught up, jump right in…
40. Andre the Giant
by Box Brown
Published by First Second
I had a few wrestling toys when I was a kid, but I never really got into it the way anyone else did. It wasn’t until I saw the Mountain Goats perform at Lincoln Hall that I gave the mythology and history of wrestling some serious thought– this was before Beat the Champ, thanks to a long introduction to “Ox Baker Triumphant”– and Andre the Giant: Life and Legend fell into my lap shortly afterward. Box Brown had already been on my radar, but that was my first exposure to anything of his with a significant length. While Brown is telling someone else’s story here, the style remains distinctly his, and there are clear choices to exaggerate the presence of Andre on the page, requiring he always be the largest character in a given scene no matter what it means for proportions.
Andre the Giant makes it clear that while Brown seems to prefer to work in smaller page counts, he can string those together to tell a compelling portrait of a unique life. By serving up a series of vignettes from Andre’s life, Brown makes the whole work an easily digestible chunk of wrestling history as well as a deeper look into the life loneliness of a celebrity that readers of a certain generation remember more as the giant from The Princess Bride than they do as one of the men who helped elevate wrestling from the dimly lit brawls to the stage show it is today. – David Fairbanks
39. How to be Happy
by Eleanor Davis
Published by Fantagraphics
In this short story collection, the question is never answered. Eleanor Davis never gives us a direct route, only a makeshift map with obstacles, both physical and emotional, along the way. We aren’t the only ones adrift. Most characters in How to Be Happy are also looking for something: affirmation, vigor, an “ah-ha” moment. Many even just the simple acknowledgment that they exist — that they can feel and are felt.
Davis is an artist that always seems to make the right decision. This book assembles concise, minimal snippets like “Make Yourself Strong,” which is done in broad black and white, with lingering, more taxing stories like “No Tears, No Sorrow.” It’s in this chapter where the characters are drawn unframed, Davis letting the bright colors themselves serve as the forms instead of applying a thick outline. This leaves them exposed and more fluid as they take a seminar on how to cry. Davis’ choices throughout are sincere and appropriate, her pages genuine and gorgeous.
On one of the first pages of How to Be Happy and on the back cover, there is an image that sticks. It’s of people plunging from the sky. Underneath is another person, hands splayed and body quivering, ready to make the snag. This is the perfect metaphor for the book — Eleanor Davis makes comics that are ready to catch us if we fall. – RJ Casey [Note: RJ Casey is currently on the Fantagraphics staff. He wanted to let you know because when it comes to full disclosure, he’s a good boy.]
38. Omega Men
Written by Tom King, Art by Barnaby Bagenda, Colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr, Letters by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
This comic was cancelled because it refuses to chew readers’ food for them. Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda are producing a book for DC Comics that is smart, well-crafted, and carefully considered; so to say it’s having trouble finding a mainstream audience is a serious understatement. This comic uses the 9-panel grid to break down units of storytelling into smaller units that frequently build up to moments where one or several tiers will melt into a single image paced to pack a punch. It’s also a sci-fi comic about insurgents staging a terrorist campaign against a foreign power that has invaded their homes and it *gasp* acknowledges that there are some moral complexities to be found.
The Omega Men were a Marv Wolfman creation, a group of freedom fighters going up against an evil empire; King acknowledges that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Though the titular characters are ostensibly the protagonists, a large portion of the narrative is carried by the ringless Green Lantern Kyle Rayner while they hold him as a political prisoner, forced into a passive state. The second issue of the series, arguably the best superhero comic published this year, is a powerful meditation on faith ending with a 9-panel page calling back to an earlier recitation of the Lord’s Prayer with the Green Lantern’s oath in its place. That hokey oath is imbued with power as Bagenda and King break it down line by line across the 9-panel grid, turning those words and the belief put into them into a willful act of defiance and survival. – Mark O. Stack
by Anuj Shrestha
Published by Study Group
The influence of David Cronenberg’s body horror films has loomed large over the modern era of comics, popping up in previous entries on this like Change and Masterplasty and Multiple Warheads. These were works that featured rogue tumors and surgical grafts and werewolf dicks, set in near futures or far futures or some other distant timeline. Anuj Shrestha’s Genus isn’t so dissimilar it isn’t recognizable as Cronenbergian in its own way, but the botanical body horror it presents is more Kafkaesque, its messages and symbols as likely to come from an astute taco vendor as from the transformation its protagonist undergoes, from low class human to enlightened pod person.
Shrestha’s art is a graft of its own, an eerie assemblage of Adrian Tomine’s placid character work with the ominous, surreal detailing of Charles Burns. Genus is a comic that looks half-remembered in the way nauseating fever dreams are, stable enough to not weird you out at first but off-kilter enough to eventually do a number on your brain once you attempt to decipher meaning. Shrestha is clearly communicating a lot of things about modern life in Genus, like the feeling we have that whatever we’re doing isn’t what we’re meant to be doing, the sensation that the people around us are more naturally gifted with better luck, more organic in their fortune, more peaceful in their consumption. But what makes it a true horror work is its unease, the awareness its characters have of their doom and their desperate struggles to escape that anyway, all the while pondering “why me? what the fuck did I ever do?” – Nick Hanover
36. Killing and Dying
by Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Originally published in Optic Nerve #12-14, Killing and Dying represents the most current work from cartoonist Adrian Tomine and a clear statement on his place and significance within the North American comics scene. Utilizing clear compositions and linework, Tomine effortlessly distills modern life into recognizable scenes and emotions. Each of the six stories collected in this volume touch upon mundane subject matter enhanced not by melodrama, but how closely they connect to our own lives.
The stories sublimate big emotions into small moments accompanied with a deadpan sense of humor. Joke telling and social awkwardness in “Killing and Dying” beautifully underline the loss of a mother and wife, while a series of increasingly unfortunate romantic interactions in “Amber Sweet” denotes the effects of porn on dating. All of these episodes offer windows into broader lives, delivering just enough of a glimpse to evoke a desire for more. Tomine’s observations are astute, but he is not interested in delivering messages. Instead Killing and Dying encourages comics readers to engage more carefully with the world around them and to pay closer attention to the details. – Chase Magnett
35. Hark! A Vagrant Vol. 2: Step Aside, Pops
by Kate Beaton
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
It’s difficult to find something new to say about Kate Beaton. The lady has lunch with people like Guillermo Del Toro so she’s Kind of a Big Deal. But, if her second collection Step Aside, Pops!does anything, it shows exactly why.
Beaton’s importance lies in her range of approaches to history, literature, and culture. Her famously hilarious Strong Female Characters strips laugh in the face of the thoughtless caricatures that have spawned across “post-sexism” media. Her reduction of Wuthering Heights plays like an inside joke to those who love Emily Bronte or gothic horror. And fellow comics critic Mark Stack would kill me if I didn’t mention the “Lois Lane, Reporter” bits.
Beaton not only always finds what we need said, but also digs up what we need remembered. She will make you google Katherine Sui Fun Cheung and feel amazement. She will make sure you don’t forget Dr. Sara Josephine Baker’s contributions to the world we know today. And then in between, she will draw out an entire cartoon about Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” that will leave you in a bizarre trance. Beaton doesn’t have limits, she’s a critic, a comedian, and a scholar all wrapped up in one. – Ray Sonne
34. Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1
by Ed Piskor
Published by Fantagraphics
2015 accidentally became the year we finally talked about hip hop and comics. Except it was the wrong goddamn conversation. Marvel cashed in with a series of hip hop variant covers, aimed at paying “tribute” to classic hip hop album art, yet they failed to pay real tribute to the one sided love affair hip hop has had with the company for decades. That’s how we ended up with a bunch of lazy appropriation and not a single fucking cover of Ghostface Killah’s alter ego Tony Starks or MF DOOM being MOTHER FUCKING DR DOOM. But that’s okay, because a longer, better, more interesting conversation between comics and hip hop has been going on elsewhere thanks to Ed Piskor’s brilliant history Hip Hop Family Tree.
Originally serialized on the web, Hip Hop Family Tree’s first volume was republished by Fantagraphics in a beautiful edition that adds real weight to Piskor’s musical genealogy project. Utilizing a style that apes both Bronze Age comics and street art, Hip Hop Family Tree told the story of the 20th century’s most dominant new musical form from the ground up, showcasing the early exploits of legends like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Rick Rubin and more as they begin to define the new artform and take over the world. This wasn’t some poorly planned and executed riff on classic albums done only to push variant units, but a real love letter to hip hop from a real fan and that makes all the difference. – NH
33. The Love Bunglers
by Jaime Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics
The Love Bunglers is a desert island book. One that deals in love, forgiveness, and acclimation. While many in alt comics have started favoring detached style over story, Hernandez doubles down on the sentimental narrative. A narrative, in fact, that’s been percolating for three decades.
Whether you know Maggie and Ray from Love and Rockets or not, this comic catches you up quickly by detailing both the pleasant and horrendous tipping points in their lives. In bouts of sudden aggression or simple household tasks, the pacing is smooth and pin-point precise. Hernandez is able to render the passage of time through his character’s faces and bodies: a saggy paunch here, a new wrinkle there. Frankly, I’ve never seen an artist more in control of their medium than Hernandez is, especially in the final climactic sequence. This is where his characters have to process the numerous times they’ve had to settle, had to forlornly move on, or had to “bungle” up their lives. Who can’t relate to that? I wouldn’t say The Love Bunglers has a happy ending, but one that is maturely optimistic, surely earned by both Hernandez and the characters he’s run through the ringer.
This is a desert island book, and it isn’t the swirling sand that’s making you tear up. – RJC [Note:RJ Casey is currently on the Fantagraphics staff. He wanted to let you know because when it comes to full disclosure, he’s a good boy.]
The first few months of 2014 were not kind to me. It would be unfair to attribute all of this to readingNijigahara Holograph three times over the course of a week to review it for Comics Bulletin. But let me tell you something: Inio Asano understands humanity.
Solanin approached the ennui of the twenty-something and the search for identity in profound ways. Nijigahara Holograph examines the depravity humanity is capable of and then leaves it up to the reader to decide if we are even worth saving. At first it starts off as an exploration into the accidental injury of a young girl, leaving her comatose, but the town quickly begins to unravel and even if a character is not directly or indirectly involved with the injury, they reveal themselves to be just awful human beings.
Despite being published in English after Solanin and What a Wonderful World, Nijigahara Holograph is actually much older. While Asano’s cartooning is a bit less polished, it fits right alongside his current works, as if he was born with an incredible capability to convey emotion through art and it just inches along year by year, getting better and better. – DF
31. Real Rap
by Ben Urkowitz
Published by Oily Comics
Real Rap is about a fat idiot who can’t rap, but does. From that simple premise, Ben Urkowitz takes us on a hilarious, disquieting journey through a modern-day Brooklyn that doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself or its denizens. This New York might not be the scum-ridden wasteland of The Warriors or legion other pop culture visions of the city, but it’s still dangerous in its way, a place where no one gives a fuck about your dreams or your life. Urkowitz’s big dirty balloon people slink and snigger their way through imposing environments that are at once fun-seeking and openly hostile to those not willing to join the party; rarely have I seen the claustrophobia of New York, external and otherwise, manifested with such clarity. This comic has probably the funniest attempted suicide I’ve ever read, and that’s all you need to know about Real Rap in a nutshell: inanity and failure can only take you so far before you fuck up and actually do something good for once. – Christopher M. Jones
30. Eel Mansions
by Derek Van Gieson
Published by Uncivilized Books
In our long love affair with Derek Van Gieson’s Eel Mansions, Keith Silva and I have tried to label it in many ways. From a “paen to the anxiety of influence” to a “canticle to the creative act” to a “big OM for idiosyncrasy and self-expression”– we did our best to encapsulate the groove Van Gieson is throwing down with this book. But really, after all of it, we ended up with just the brittle edges of the brownie in the cake pan. While delicious, our declarations miss the moist substance in the center.
Because Eel Mansions is more than just the sugar and the eggs and the butter and the chocolate, no matter how much you mix it or how long it’s left in the oven. A matter of fact, it’s more than just dessert. Eel Mansions is a full fucking meal. It’s got ingredients you’ve never even heard of before, let alone tasted. Van Gieson is pulling shit off the back shelves that even grandma didn’t know were there, and he’s using cooking techniques they sure as hell don’t teach you in culinary school.
Eel Mansions is a comic book about everything churning in your stomach as your digestive juices flow. It will either leave you satiated or nauseous depending on your palate, but either way, it’s a meal you will never forget. In the end, let’s just cook it up and say this: EEL MANSIONS IS FUCKING BEAUTIFULLY BONKERS and one of the best comics of the first half of this decade. – Daniel Elkin
by Richard McGuire
Published by Pantheon
Comics are about time. The organization of panels, the basic units of comics measurement, is really the organization of time. Some people play around with linearity, they slow time up and speed time down, but few people really address comics’ ability to go any-when and back again in an instant. Richard McGuire is one of those few people.
Originally published as a 6-page comic in Raw back in 1989, Here is the story of everything that happens in one corner of one room across all of history. McGuire expanded this notion into a 300-page book, but the premise remained the same. Each page would be a single image set in a certain time, but as the book continues, the images grow increasingly complicated, as inset panels start popping up, and then inset panels within those inset panels–each one a different epoch. People and pets are fragmented and splintered across a hundred different pages, and you’re privy to the same setting seen a dozen different times at once. The gestalt is this beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, a collage of an image superimposed over itself ten times, and the realization that Richard McGuire has produced something that formalistically outpaces everything published since his original experiment was published. There are hints at and allusions to plot, but Here is more of an artistic and intellectual exercise than a narrative one. It overwhelms you with its affecting approximation of the way time is experienced–crushing you and revitalizing you in one simultaneous gut-punch. – Shea Hennum
by Kevin Huizenga
Published by Fantagraphics
The genius of Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges is that nothing really happens in any of these comics. What doesn’t happen, though is incredibly profound. Huizenga’s comics aren’t about exploring our external experiences. Instead his work is about exploring our internal experiences. He explores our monologues and reveries, our relationship with time and with space. He offers profound insights into abstract ideas and gorgeously realized ways of explaining the inner world to ourselves.
Ganges #1 contains one of the most beautiful visions of marital bliss I’ve ever read, with a reverie that’s so peaceful and profoundly happy that it brings tears to my eyes. Ganges #4 has visionary moments that show our search for truth, for profundity in our daily life, and our relationship with time. The impression of time exists purely inside Glenn Ganges’s mind, as an abstract concept displayed above his eyes like a series of computer monitors in the mind’s eye. Ideas and times float in and out of the grids, continually shifting under Glenn’s gaze as he tries to come to grips with important dates and regrets and all the thousands of thoughts that burst into one’s mind when they can’t fall asleep.
Ganges haunts me like no other book I’ve ever read. Huizenga’s presentation of abstract ideas is so fascinating, so beautiful and so thoughtful that it deeply changes the way I look at the world. Comics can illuminate your life and Ganges is proof. – Jason Sacks
27. Moon Knight: From the Dead
Written by Warren Ellis, Art by Declan Shalvey, Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Marvel Comics
For a readership that has invested itself in a serial medium, it’s a little funny how turned off we tend to be by episodes. Of course, #notallreaders, etc., but by and large, it does seem like the majority of modern audiences want something to sink our teeth into–something or someone to become invested in and follow through, if what’s available on the shelves is any indication. And indeed, what better way to get people to buy more comics than a ‘to be continued’ at the end of every issue?
So how do we explain the success, acclaim, and brilliance of Jordie Bellaire, Warren Ellis, and Declan Shalvey’s six issue, episodic take on a B-list (or, more realistically, C-list) character like Moon Knight?
In some ways, I think the above explains it all. The Bellaire-Ellis-Shalvey team up was a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room, an outright defiance of direct market madness and conventional wisdom. It was an example of what direct market, corporate-owned comics could be when we abandon the carrot-and-stick method of comics creation and comics sales. We were all dying for something new, something fresh, and the Moon Knight format did that for us all–and the craft did it too.
In Moon Knight, you see Ellis do the absolute most with the absolute least. Sometimes you’ll get 5 consecutive pages with no dialogue at all. He gives you exactly what you need–nothing more, nothing less. Meanwhile, Bellaire and Shalvey show you a dynamic character who is not simply dressed in white. He is white. His silhouette, his 2D-ness in an otherwise 3-D environment, his melding into the white space of the very page. The ideas get wilder and wilder and each episode, stranger and stranger, but the team nails it almost throughout.
Moon Knight Vol 1 was akin to a beacon in the darkness, a moment of “I was blind, but now I see.”
Death was boring. And so Moon Knight stood up. – J.A. Micheline
by Becky Cloonan
Demeter is Becky Cloonan’s gorgeous story of a two lovers with the sea between them. Every night the man, an amnesiac, asks the woman to tell the tale of how she found him after a storm wrecked his boat. In this and the woman’s desperation to not have the waves take him as they did before, it all unfolds. Taking from a variety of sources, including manga, fairy tales, and the gothic,Demeter makes an incredible tale in a mere 30 pages. Cloonan’s art and writing are psychically powerful, stirring in their depth, and mystical in their evocation of longing and tragedy. Comics rarely sees a talent like Cloonan, but stories like “Demeter” are worth hundreds of what sits on the stands today. – RS
25. Criminal: Last of the Innocent
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Sean Phillips, Colors by Val Staples
Published by Icon/Marvel
Last of the Innocent is the best of the Criminal series and some of the best work that Brubaker and Phillips have done together. It’s more ambitious than the rest of their work, though not wider in scope– like the rest of the Criminal books it focuses tightly on one damaged character and his story. But in the case of Riley Reynolds, lately of Brookview, now of the city, they have a subject that’s at once more and less than their usual hardboiled hard men. Riley is an all-American boy made good, a social climber who married up and then got bored quick. He finds it hard to bear the petty humiliations his father doles out, or the inattention and demands his wife does. Returning home to his idyllic hometown to see his father, he gets nostalgiac for simple home town life, where he was at the centre of a group of good friends, adored by the girl next door and his stoner best friend, adored by a town that believed in his potential. But Riley chose bad girl Felix over good girl Lizzie, married her and moved to the city to be her man. What if, he wonders, I could change that? What if I could move back to Brookview and not lose– the money, the power, the property, his pride– anything that mattered? So Riley decides to kill his wife.
As with the rest of the Criminal series, Last of the Innocent is a crime comic. Much of the narrative is taken up by planning, executing, and covering up the crime. Characters from previous Criminaloutings make guest appearances. Gumshoes, well meaning but ineffective cops, and crime lords people the background. But although the crime is the plot, it’s not what the comic is really about. Last of the Innocent is the best dark Archie comic that never was – that is, Brubaker and Phillips have constructed a neat Archie pastiche and fused it with hardboiled tropes to ask, what might these Riverdalians be like in a world full of disappointment and consequences? Veronica analog Felix says of Riley that “when no one was looking at [him], he didn’t even exist.” Best friend Freakout says that Riley “always did think the world revolved around you.” All the world revolving around a hollow man who kills for nostalgia, not, in fact, for the simple life in Brookview, but for the feeling of it; of being able to play out his personal story, however he likes. Phillips’ illustration of Riley’s myth-making, flipping between that familiar Criminal muddiness to an instantly recognizable Archie-like world for Riley’s memories of Brookview, makes it obvious. The neater trick is how, by the end Riley has managed to live in that nostalgia, an immortal shadowless Riley Reynolds, while the rest of the world continues on in grime. But the crime comic milieu of Criminal isn’t “the real world” either and this whole exercise, the shifting style, Riley’s manipulations, his and Lizzie’s old collection of comics that goes from romance to crime to comedy, puts the whole thing– both sides of Last of the Innocent-– into question. Is it all just toxic nostalgia? Last of the Innocent is a comic about comics and the myth of them, so that last question is for you, reader, not Riley Reynolds to answer. – Megan Purdy
24. Viewotron #2
by Sam Sharpe
Sam Sharpe is the kind of cartoonist your favorite cartoonist recommends to you. If you’re lucky, you might discover him at a table and be intrigued by the word “Viewotron” and the cover to the first issue in this sporadically published one-man anthology series. Then you might see Viewotron#2 at a Chicago comic shop and pick it up, unaware that 40 pages later it will leave you in a shambles as Amtrak launches you out of the city.
Sharpe tackles an incredibly difficult subject– having a parent with schizophrenia– and examines it as an adult who is trying to live his own life at the same time. The choice to anthropomorphize the characters struck me as odd at first, but because Sharpe uses different animals or different breeds of dog for people outside his family, it forces a recognition for the reader, to see that he and his mother are related and how that realization might impact him. It also makes the whole thing a bit easier to jump into, and thus a bit easier to tear you apart. It was nominated for Eisner and Ignatz awards in 2014 as well as earning a spot in Best American Comics for that year.
Finding a copy might be tough, but right now Radiator Comics looks to have it in stock? – DF
23. Boxers & Saints
by Gene Yuen Lang
Published by First Second
Boxers & Saints is the sort of work that one expects to find absolutely festooned with festival prizes and accolades when looking over its book jacket, such is its sprawl and pathos. As it stands, Gene Yuen Lang’s masterpiece will have to stand as a relatively overlooked comics odyssey, carrying literary ambition and heft that is increasingly rare to find regardless of medium. Lang’s clean, bendy, Nickolodeon-friendly linework initially adds a layer of whimsy to a story that soon shows itself to be strikingly violent and sorrowful; death is an ever-flowing river in the throes of the Boxer Rebellion, and even the strongest ancient magicks seem to pose little threat to the efficiency of colonial devastation. If his simple, “cartoony” style wasn’t already his trademark, I’d guess that Lang implemented it in this story simply to fuck with the reader more once the story launches full-bore into the harrowing war opera it merely hints at being in its opening act. Playfulness turns to frenzied mayhem without so much as a whistle of warning, and one scene in particular takes such a nasty turn with the reader’s expectations of sentimentality that it feels more profoundly shocking and wrong than witnessing a thousand soldiers’ screaming deaths in a hundred gaudy Hollywood war films.
Boxers & Saints is a story that asks what it takes to protect the soul of a nation and at what point tragedy becomes not an unfortunate inevitability of war, but its very body and final purpose. I don’t know if Gene Yuen Lang meant to imply that everyone else doing comics right now is a worthless fucking coward by publishing this, but he did, and he’s right. Maybe better comics have come out since 2010, but I can’t think of a single one that feels as comfortable being significant as Boxers & Saints. – CMJ
22. Afterlife with Archie Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale
Written by Roberto-Aguirre Sacasa, Art by Francesco Francavilla
Published by Archie Comics
In Twelve Cent Archie, the first full length scholarly work on the comic, scholar Bart Beaty argues that the original Archie stories are recursive. Every day in Riverdale is like the other. Betty and Veronica fight over Archie in an never-ending love triangle. It is eternal teenage drama where the football team always wins and every girl is a babe.
Afterlife with Archie disrupts the banal, repetitive perfection of Riverdale with the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with artwork by Francesco Francavilla,Afterlife is the company’s first title not aimed for children. The comic is genuinely scary. Jughead’s beloved dog Hot Dog is killed. He seeks out mystical help from Sabrina, America’s favorite teenage witch. Her resurrection spell goes wrong and Hot Dog is now a member of the undead. Jughead is subsequently infected.
Afterlife presents the Riverdale gang as heightened, darker versions of their characters. Good girl Betty has some snarky one-liners, perhaps the result of finally having grown tired of being a perennial pollyanna. Cheryl and Jason Blossom have gone totally creepy in a Flowers in the Attickind of way. Veronica is gloriously wicked, using the ensuing chaos as an opportunity to position herself as Archie’s #1 girl. These updated interpretations are complemented by a superbly dramatic film noir color palette.
Afterlife is a comic I never knew I needed. It manages to retain interpersonal relationships established in the original comics while also adding complex back stories. Smithers is revealed to be devoted to Veronica due to a promise he made her dying mother. It is also shockingly touching, Archie’s dog Vegas saving his life is a particularly moving moment. The citizens fight the zombies. At one point two cheerleaders burn down local hangout Pop Tate’s, perhaps signaling the death of everything you thought you knew about Riverdale. Afterlife is not a bunch of silly teenagers flailing around in the apocalypse, it is a daring comic that challenges everything you thought you knew about Riverdale. – Francesca Lyn
Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Art by Nate Powell
Published by Top Shelf
The problem with so many progressive, Oscar baiting films is that they’re told from the perspective of condescending middle aged men. They’re sterilized versions of history, clearly intended to make other middle aged white men feel better about how less racist they are than other middle aged white men. I suppose there is plenty of time for one of those guys to turn John Lewis’ story into an Oscar grab but I hope that day never comes, because he has told it so much better himself in March.
A collaboration with aide Andrew Aydin and phenomenal indie artist Nate Powell, March isn’t your typical sad sack biocomic, it’s a vivid document of the Civil Rights era, taken straight from the memories of one of its most important figures. Powell brings Lewis’ rural adolescence into perfect clarity, depicting pivotal moments in Lewis’ childhood that later influenced his activism in SNCC (including the comic that eventually inspired the creation of March) as well as the compromises Lewis had to make early on, like deciding whether he was willing to put his family at risk in order to gain entrance to a white college and eventually his triumphs as one of the Big Six figures in the Civil Rights movement. March isn’t a sterile document that pats modern society on the back for its progress, it’s an unflinching memoir that ties directly into the current struggles still being fought in our country, with each release of the trilogy tragically close to heartbreaking new incidents of racism, making it a work that may never truly be finished. – NH
For the rest of the 100 Best Comics of the First Half of the 2010’s: