September was a great month for long-running series reminding us what made them so compelling in the first place, specifically Saga #47 and The Wicked + Divine #31 (Southern Bastards #18 was also close). This is comforting. There’s been much quality churn in the big two of late (blame superhero box office success and resulting corporate interest) and I wonder where comics would be without these steady books from the vanguard of Image Comics’ recent renaissance. There's always imaginative and strong work to be found in true indies — ahem Vault Comics, ahem Lion Forge — and while I suppose the mainstream might consider Image indie, it hardly seems like it, as the company's books are in most shops.
Marvel and DC, though, are basically like struggling sports teams in die-hard cities: no matter how much they suck, hope springs eternal because we grew up rooting for them and, hey, how cool would it be if they defied all odds and got better? Keeping with sports analogies, DC Rebirth is a resurgent team having a surprising big year … in that this is nice and all but fans are still waiting for them to fall apart because we've been burned in the past. Two things I’m doing, though: 1. Knocking off sports analogies (‘bout time, right?), and 2. Enjoying DC Rebirth while it's strong. This month is a good time to savor DC, to be sure, with the publisher delivering a foundation for a character-defining maxi series in Tom King’s Miracle Man #2 and a rare well-done modern mega event in Scott Snyder’s Dark Knights Metal #2.
Also, my top five for September includes Snotgirl. So, without further adieu...
5. Snotgirl #7
Snotgirl’s Lottie Person is the anti-hero antidote (antilote?...antilottie?...oh jesus, I'll stop) for the hyper-masculine angsty middle-age men that swept prestige TV a few years ago, your Don Drapers and Heisenbergs and whatnot. Where those guys methed it up or leveraged power and looks to abuse women, Lottie is just selfish and vapid and consumed with appearances. She also has severe allergies and green hair. Like Don Draper and Walter White, though, one can make a case that she’s a product of environment.
I’ve been all in on Snotgirl from issue #1, enthralled with the promise of monthly work from Scott Pilgrim’s Bryan Lee O’Malley, and, sure, after returning from hiatus this summer, Snotgirl is now every other month, but one of the reasons I gave this book a top five slot is that the added time really shows. This seventh issue is a significant improvement over the end of the last arc. The script is just as clever, but the book has regained a sense of purpose and pacing that had gotten a bit jumbled, evidenced here by intriguing B and C plots — her foe waking up and the detectives, respectively — that seem to be building.
Basically, this book is funny, hip, and could be a timely satire of Internet/Instagram looks versus truth culture, something (correct me if I’m wrong) no medium has quite nailed.
4. Dark Knights Metal #2
Much has been written about Metal, and even more has been said during awkward exchanges at registers in comic shops (one side always seems to enjoy those more than the other, btw), but I still want to note that Metal, the biggest event so far in the Rebirth era, is a perfect blend of what the publisher got right in the New 52 and the back-to-basics simplicity of Rebirth.
The Snyder-Capullo Batman run was New 52's best sustained work, possibly one of the best runs ever done in-continuity for the character, or any other big two character really (I may compile a list of my all-time favorite in-continuity runs soon). It obsessed over the idea that Batman’s insistence on fighting crime was at its core a young man escaping the trappings of adulthood, not getting married, having kids, settling down, etc. This was great (and also a theme in all of Snyder’s short stories from his excellent collection, Voodoo Heart) but what gave it lasting emotional heft was often funneling it through Alfred’s perspective, the ersatz father who wanted his adopted boy to just be a happy man, pitting Alfred's desire against Bruce's powerful trauma and Gotham City's need for safety. Anyway, my point is it was serious and well done.
Metal isn’t that, not entirely. It posits a New 52-ish question — what if DC had a corresponding dark multiverse — while also delivering rocking set pieces (Justice League-themed Voltron, anyone?). Basically, Metal blends high-minded motifs from the Snyder-Capullo New 52 run with rocking superhero accessibility from Rebirth. It’s a great hybrid, even better because the Rebirth storyline (especially with Superman) is bending towards a reality that deliberately includes bits of both pre- and post-New 52 continuities as a plot device (the full extent of which is likely to be made clear in Rebirth mastermind Geoff John's forthcoming event/Watchmen sequel, Doomsday Clock).
3. Saga #47
The first act of Saga #47 is jarringly normal. A boy watches dysfunctional caretakers interact in what might be Earth, might even be suburbia. Jarring because this Saga arc started with an old west-themed issue on an alien abortion planet, something far nearer its cruising altitude than the suburbs. The second and third acts then contain plenty of the factors that have made Saga Image's most successful book since The Walking Dead: twists, earned obstacles, increased stakes heading for our protagonists, ongoing exploration of a central metaphor (star-crossed inter-species lovers from perpetually warring species), plus world-building, world-building, world-building. It's amazing that this deep in the run Saga's world is still being satisfyingly fleshed out.
Saga is my favorite ongoing series in comics, and this issue is a digression from its central plot, to be sure, but these sort of side trips are one of Saga’s strengths. Basically, issues like this are the reason why, upping the stakes significantly for the little family at the story's core, an impressive narrative feat that never feels like filler. Even one of the best writers in the industry (if not the best), Jeff Lemire, has struggled with this at times in his own excellent sci-fi opus Descender. But Brian K. Vaughn consistently nails it in Saga.
They say this is an unfilmable story (who’s they? I don’t know, the Internet? Someone says it), and that may very well be true. But Saga is tailor-made for serial monthly graphic storytelling, and an issue of this quality after 47 tries is even more remarkable because it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect.
2. Mister Miracle #2
Look everyone, it’s a month of proclaiming my favorite this and my favorite that! I’ll come right out and say it: Tom King is my favorite writer in comics. I’m a sucker for a backstory that involves struggle, and King’s creative journey is filled with it. He’s late to the comic creator game, having logged time in the CIA after 9/11 (no big deal), and he took a risk by quitting his full-time to stay home, watch his kids and write at night. He misfired on a novel (which I'd still like to read), before fighting into comics and rising to the top. Since then, he's been cranking out modern classic after modern classic (Omega Men > Vision > Sheriff of Babylon), and Mister Miracle is poised to be next in line.
King’s stuff on more well-known superheroes has been fine, better than fine, but he really shines when taking characters with inherent wackiness seriously and then going right for the heart strings. He certainly did that with Vision and within his Batman run with Kite Man (Kite Man!), and he’s doing that again here with Mister Miracle, aka Scott Free.
Issue one hinted that King would play with form, one of his strengths, while issue two reminds us who exactly Scott Free is (grew up child-swapped to the evilest being in the universe as part of a peace agreement, escaped horrendous conditions over and over again until it become second nature). Issue 2 isn’t as offbeat or perplexing as issue 1, but that’s fine. It does the unsung work of giving Scott Free meaningful relationships in his life. This story is going to land somewhere powerful, and it's on us to enjoy the journey as much as we can.
1. The Wicked + The Divine #31
Let's compare The Wicked + The Divine this month to Saga, both of which were reminders of how excellent and taken for granted these books can be. Yet, whereas Saga has long been a carefully-paced slow burn with occasional flare ups that tear you down and make you cry, Wic + Div has been crescendo after crescendo, putting readers in a small boat in a tumultuous sea of remixed religious dogma and obsessive music fandom.
This month’s wave was the biggest to crest since the demise of the series primary antagonist, Ananke. Kieron Gillen loves telling readers broad strokes of upcoming arcs in this book's backmatter, writing stuff like in three issues there’s a major surprise, in four issues we have a guest artist, etc, and I swear he’s said a few times that we'd be ramping to an end game soon. Now, however, I suspect Gillen is still having better ideas, still not ready to start winding this story down, and it's not hurting the book at all. He's got so many pieces in play that suddenly losing one in this issue was surprisingly tough to see, a reminder of the lush and mysterious journey we've been taking with all these people. That's good writing.
We’ve been given one certainty over and over from the start: Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. That's right, our sexy embodiments of modern music stardom are not long for this world, but how exactly they will destroy each other is the pressing question Gillen continues to ask on a scale as effective as it is grand.