Last year, Alex put together a list of trades to look for if you're at your local comic shop for Free Comic Book Day (or anytime, really) and weren't sure what to get. This year, everyone is pitching in suggestions. We're joined by guest hosts Tony and Andrew, as well as friend-of-the-show Meghan, host of the podcast Judging Book Covers. If that's not enough options for you, pay attention for updates to this year's list and check out last year's list.
I'm going to keep it to the point here, because there's plenty of me recommending comics in Clearing the Backlog already. And this year, I'm picking books that are good at representation and diversity.
If you like stories about ___________, then you'll probably enjoy __________.
- Dysfunctional superheroes trying to solve a mystery, Black Hammer.
- Dysfunctional children trying to solve a superhero mystery in the forest, Plutona.
- Dysfunctional teenagers trying to survive alone in an alien forest, The Woods.
- Dysfunctional teenagers trying to survive alone in Los Angeles, Runaways.
- Relatively composed teenagers trying to find work-life balance, Ms. Marvel.
- Impossibly composed college kids with uncanny work-life balance, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
- Arguably composed adults trying to find work-life balance, Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat.
- Precocious workaholic kids and their dinosaurs, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
- World-weary workaholic teens and the eldritch monsters they channel, Monstress.
- Former assassins who want to prevent others from being made into monsters, Black Widow.
- Effervescent former assassins who want to do radical science, The Unstoppable Wasp*.
- Dysfunctional superheroes fighting radical science, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
* The Unstoppable Wasp is only available in single issues at the moment. But it's my favorite comic right now, and I want it to sell well. So if the shop you go to has it, buy those singles.
Harley Quinn and Power Girl
By Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Stephane Roux, Elliot Fernandez, Flaviano, and Moritat. Published by DC Comics.
Want a super awesome intro to my favorite superhero ever? This is it. PG and Harley do some dimension hopping, someone wears a lot more white than normal, and three-eyed pink cats definitely happen. And no, that’s not a euphamism for weird space dicks. But there may or may not be weird space dicks… Girl book? Fuck yeah. Badass? C’mon… Butts!? All of them. All of the butts. This book is a really fun BFF romp like no other. And Vartox basically wears a Slave Leia costume for half of the book, proving that skimpy costumes are just as good on men as they are on women. Maybe I’m just partial to fuzzy guys? Probably...
The Manhattan Projects
By Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. Published by Image Comics.
There is no chance that you haven’t heard me rave about this series yet. This book is about all the fucked up ways science can go wrong. Aliens? Probably bad. Albert Einstein? Good and bad (and badass). Oppenheimer? One terrible, crazy, scary motherfucker. Manhattan Projects twists the science of the 20th century until the past looks like a cruel joke and the future terrifies and enraptures you beyond measure. Are we secretly being ruled by presidential AI gone bad? I’m not saying… but I’m just saying. Maybe. Has this made any sense? No? Good. Science. Bad.
[Backlogger's Note: There are six trade paperbacks of this. Or two hardcovers that span the first four trades, if you prefer.]
By Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Published by Image Comics.
I know. I’m so late to this party that I’ve somehow managed to arrive Just in time for the next party. I’m sorry. But this book, though. This book is truly about life. It’s about war and sex and love and fucking and babies and horrible tragedies and cocks and tits and did I mention fucking? But mostly, from what I can tell, this is a story about loss. In Saga you have two people from warring factions who fall in love and make a family. It is NOT Romeo and Juliet. Because that is about two horny teenagers being all emo and killing themselves and shit because their parents hate one another. If this book eventually ends in Alana and Marko killing themselves so Landfall and Wreath can see how stupid they’ve been for hating one another (and if that actually fucking works?!) then I am the most done with it. But I’ve binge-read 7 volumes of it in a little over two weeks, so I’m basically an expert at this point and that’s definitely not going to happen. I hope. But a word of warning to those out there that feel feelings acutely when reading books or watching tv/movies: Brace yourselves. There is some seriously tough shit to come to terms with over the course of these books. Like I said, this book is about life. And life is hard and ugly and it hurts a LOT. But it’s also beautiful and completely worth being a part of.
Mike's Recommendations (We Assume.)
Deadpool: Too Soon?
By Joshua Corin, Todd Nauck, Reilly Brown, Jim Charalampidis, and Andy Troy. Published by Marvel Comics.
Do you like buddy cop stories but hate the competency of the cops? Deadpool’s got a murder-mystery just for you!
Deadpool has assembled “the funniest characters in the Marvel universe” in an effort to create the perfect Christmas card. But then murder strikes! Now Deadpool must get to the bottom of things before the murderer strikes again...and again...and again. Not to worry; Squirrel Girl is there to help. Thankfully, Deadpool is roughly as good at teamwork as he is at detective work…
Only 4 issues in the run, so this is a good “one-and-done” volume, if you’re looking for something new, but don’t want to get too invested in another ongoing narrative.
By Paul Pope and Hilary Sycamore. Published by First Second Books.
Paul Pope’s Battling Boy is, unless my soul has been desensitized by the world, a good all-ages super-hero/fantasy/pulp mashup that has a great heroic feel and very lively artwork that reminds me a bit of Jeff Smith’s Bone. It’s basically like Thor’s kid having to go make a place for himself.
[Backlogger's Note: If you dig Battling Boy, Paul Pope, J.T. Petty, and David Rubín continue telling stories in its world in The Rise of Aurora West and The Fall of the House of West.]
By Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice. Published by Vertigo.
Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice’s Northlanders is to comics what, well, Vikings is to tv. It’s the Viking-est Viking thing ever to go Viking in comics. Pretty light on fantastical elements (if there are any at all), it’s all just badassery and quaffing and blood blood blood.
[Backlogger's Note: There are six more volumes after the first, and they include a crazy number of very talented artists. Or you can go all-in and grab a couple of over-sized hardcovers.]
By Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta. Published by BOOM! Studios.
Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta’s Potter’s Field reads like a Martin Scorsese crime flick; it’s about a guy known as John Doe who takes care of unsolved crimes using favors and subterfuge, bringing justice to the names on the headstones of Potter’s Field cemetary. It’s tight and cerebral, and a lot more satisfying than I thought it would be at first.
By Tom Taylor, David Lopez, David Navarrot, Marcio Takara, Ig Guara, Nathan Fairbairn, Jordan Boyd, and Mat Lopes. Published by Marvel Comics.
Thanks to Alex, All-New Wolverine is one of my most favorite comics of all time. Did you see Logan? Pick up All-New Wolverine and you won't be disappointed. With "guest appearances" by Old Man Logan, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Angel, Gambit, Nick Fury, Cap, a literal wolverine named Jonathan, and more, plus a Civil War II tie-in under her belt, there's so much to love. I will admit that I'm SO BEHIND in reading, but you better believe that I'll be spending some time with Laura this summer!
By Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich. Published by Dark Horse Comics.
I've talked about it on air before, and even @mahaines didn't hate it! Writer and artist Joëlle Jones captures some fantastically grotesque moments juxtaposed against the cheery images of the 1960s in Dark Horse's Lady Killer. Impeccably dressed housewife and hitwoman Josie Schuller is equally at ease juggling her kids and Tupperware parties as she is disposing of the bodies. Jones' art is killer, quite literally, and her gore splashed pages are truly a delight.
[Backlogger's note: Lady Killer 2 is on shelves in single issues now, with a trade due in later this year.]
Various creators. Published by EMET Comics.
A huge supporter of EMET Comics and their rotating campaigns, I have backed and received both Finding Molly and Fresh Romance. Their model is really different from the standard comics world, as they start their print run with a Kickstarter campaign. And if you're thinking that sounds sketchy, let me stop you right there. Their reputation is such that their comics are usually OVERfunded within 3-5 days. #GiveIndieAChance! After the Kickstarter run, their books and merchandise are available on their website. Finding Molly is a relatable story about an artist fresh out of college looking for her big break. And there's cats! And Frida Kahlo! (Like, a lot of Frida Kahlo.) And Fresh Romance (volume 1 and the current volume 2) are full of romantic short stories featuring couples that wouldn't be typically featured in mainstream media. EMET's commitment to producing work that steps outside the norm, and outside superhero conventions, is pretty fuckin' cool.
[Backlogger's note: You won't be able to find all of EMET's offerings in your LCS, but Fresh Romance did get a release through traditional comics distribution. So look for it!]
Lumberjanes and Rat Queens
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooke Allen, Carolyn Laiho, Carey Pietsch, and Carolyn Nowak. Published by BOOM! Box. Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler, and Owen Gieni. Published by Image Comics.
My old standbys Lumberjanes and Rat Queens are still on the table... and I like to mention them together because I like them for a lot of the same reasons! The central figures are a band of young, badass women who combat all sorts of dark, mysterious, and/or mythical creatures, while remaining really relatable. One (Lumberjanes) is just a looooooooooot more kid-friendly than the other. Rat Queens is a solid rated-R, for sex, drugs, and language, if you're into that kind of thing. (I am!)
The Jekyll Island Chronicles
By Steve Nedvider, Ed Crowell, Jack Lowe, J. Moses Nester, and S. J. Miller. Published by IDW Publishing.
For a little local flavor, check out The Jekyll Island Chronicles if you're at all interested in Georgia history and/or steampunk. I bought this book as a gift for a friend and had to read it myself first because it looked so cool. The writers occasionally pop up at my local 2nd and Charles shop (Kennesaw, GA) so I've gotten to speak with them about the insane amount of detail that went into producing this book. Meticulously researched (including the exact detail on the fireplaces in the real-life Jekyll Island locations!) and set after WWI, the book also features Nikola Tesla, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie. (I know, right?!)
By Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery, and Andy Belanger. Published by IDW Publishing.
A sprawling fantasy series focusing on a war between Shakespeare's greatest characters. Alliances including Hamlet, Juliet, and Richard The Third wage battles against such villains as Macbeth, Iago, and Prospero among others in an attempt to reach the man Shakespeare himself. Full of treachery and romance this series should appeal to readers of Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Fables. I often said this is the best Vertigo Series not published by Vertigo. Highly recommended.
Four Volumes are currently available and the first two issues of a new series, a prequel about Juliet have just been published.
The Extinction Parade
By Max Brooks and Raulo Caceres. Published by Avatar Press.
Max Brooks (World War Z) tells the story of a post apocalyptic world where vampires and zombies war over the remaining humans. The story has a unique take of what happens to vampires when the food source begins to run dry and a race faces its potential extinction. Dense and bloody art by Caceres makes this one of the best horror comics in years. Recommended for mature audiences only.
Two volumes are available.
Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure
By Bill Willingham and Sergio Davilla. Published by Dynamite Entertainment.
Fun adventure set in a alternate history city called Legenderry, where a young amnesiac woman finds herself the target of a mysterious cabal of assassins. Along the way she encounters steampunk versions of such famous characters as Vampirella, Red Sonja, The Green Hornet, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Zorro and others. Good characterization and bright colorful art enhance this tale.
Available in one complete volume (in addition, spin-off series by other creative teams about Green Hornet, Vampirella, and Red Sonja are also Available)
Afterlife with Archie
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla. Published by Archie Horror.
With Betty and Veronica, Riverdale, and probably more Archie comics being featured for FCBD, here's a possibly lesser known miniseries for the Archie gang. What would you do to keep your pet alive? Risk a zombie apocalypse? Jughead sets the darkness in motion when he brings a dead Hot Dog to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and begs her to bring him back to life. Using dark necromantic magic, Sabrina brings something back in Hot Dog…something dark and sinister. Written in ten issues over two years, this miniseries is a great read and a different look at the gang as they fight for their lives. And yet still, Archie is being asked: Is it Betty or Veronica that has his heart? This comic is probably a good PG/PG-13 – it's not terribly gruesome, but it is still zombies at the end of the day.
Note: This is frequently discussed with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but they are two separate stories.
Start with Volume 1; Volume 2 is to be released in 2017. This series has hit some snags, but it has been confirmed that has not been cancelled!
By Joshua Willamson, Mike Hnderson, and Adam Guzowski. Published by Image Comics.
What makes a serial killer? Nature, nurture? What if they're all coming from the same environment?
Nailbiter is a series about the mysterious small town of Buckaroo, OR, where sixteen of the nation's worst serial killers have been born. Hothead NSA Agent Nicholas Flinch pairs up with Buckaroo's most recent serial killer, Edward "Nailbiter" Warren, to solve the mystery that began with a missing FBI agent obsessed with the town. Unfortunately, once you get involved in Buckaroo's twisted drama, it's hard to get out. This comic is dark and bloody, and occasionally I feel uncomfortable with how much I laugh at it.
Start with Volume 1; Volume 6 comes out May 3rd.
By Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson. Published by Image Comics.
Did you also watch Stranger Things on Netflix and think it was just a little male heavy in the casting, despite absolutely loving it? Paper Girls is the comic for you! This is a science fiction comic following four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls who suddenly find themselves in the middle of an alien invasion one Halloween morning in the 1980s. But is it aliens? Or creatures from Earth from a different time? This comic has a way of reeling you in without giving you enough detail in what's going on. It is all your cliché movies with a gang of nerdy boys mashed together with cliché coming of age stories about teenage girls, then twisted another 180 degrees.
Start with Volume 1 (though if you can find the issues, the 80s colors are phenomenal!) Volume 3 comes out in August 2017, so there is plenty of time to catch up.
By Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi. Published by Marvel Comics.
I personally don't read a ton of superhero comics and had to get into comics by reading less "traditional" ones. Spider-Gwen is the only superhero comic I keep up with, primarily because I've always loved Gwen Stacy. This alternate Spider-verse hero comes from Earth-65, and was originally introduced as a minor character in Spider-Man's "Spider-Verse" storyline (along with Spider-Ham, who occasionally still pops up and probably should get his own series again. And wears a Spider-guin hoodie.)
What's great about this comic is that, like traditional superhero comics, you don't necessarily have to start at the beginning. There is no origin storyline (yet?), just a quick blurb at the beginning of her first appearance in the "Spider-Verse," and at the beginning of Volume 0. If you're looking for a good twist on Marvel characters and not having to trudge through an origin story, Gwen Stacy is your girl. Plus, the outfit and the clothes and The Mary Janes!
You can start really with any volume, but I recommend Volume 1, then go back and read Volume 0 and all of her past appearances.
Edited 5/1/17 @9:08pm to add a couple more picks from Mike. Edited 5/2/17 @10.07pm to add Adam's pick. Edited 5/3/17 @9:49am to add Laurel's Picks.