Top Comics to Buy for April 24, 2019: The Replacer, Criminal #4, and more

By Zack Quaintance — One of the things I’ve pushed against since creating this site is recency bias. All of us—fans and critics—have a shared tendency to praise and promote new #1 comics above mid-run installments or even finales. While there is a certain and acute level of brilliance required to create a strong debut, I think we as an industry tend to lose site of just how impressive and also difficult it is to sustain an interesting graphic sequential story for five, 10, or—as is the case with one of our...     

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REVIEW: Fearscape #4, venture deeper into the mind of a failed writer

Fearscape #4 is out 2/13/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — I don’t entirely know what’s up in Fearscape. So, before reading Fearscape #4, I went back and re-read this series from its start, seeing if I’d missed any clues. I came back with a few things, but on the whole, I didn’t develop great theories about what’s happening or why. Certainly not any I’m confident enough to lay out here, dear readers (sorry, I really did read a whole lot of Fearscape today).

Before unpacking my re-read, let me say this is a strong ambitious comic. Artist Andrea Mutti and colorist Vladimir Popov’s designs are top-notch, as is their delineation of the Fearscape from reality. There is (likely intentional) confusion over meaning, but it is always clear when a character is fantastical or real, unless it serves the story to blur lines. Writer Ryan O’Sullivan does impressive work maintaining the insecure pretentious voice of faux-literary luminary, Henry Henery. I’ve tried complex voices like his myself—maintaining a consistent tone for four issues is truly impressive.

Now, on to my re-read. Two ideas stand out in this idea-dense comic. The first is the tearing down of usual story structure. The second is the culpability of readers in stories, ie if I’m not turning pages, nothing happens to characters, like Schrodinger’s fiction. The many references to these thoughts make me suspect disorientation is by design, and the real villain of this comic is stories in the first place, especially those of literary figures who thrive on validation for cleverness.

Interior artwork from Fearscape #2.

Conversely, there are ample references here to the learned reader versus the casual reader. The learned reader is, presumably, someone with a handle on what’s happening and how various meta-fictional touches are being deployed. This person maybe even knows why. The casual reader, meanwhile, is someone yearning for the predictable comfort of a Campbell hero’s journey, a story about a person—good or bad—who wants something, struggles, and emerges changed...often for the better. In Fearscape, the casual reader is derided by Henry Henry, perhaps more than anything (which is saying a lot because this guy derides all damned day).

The book is without question succeeding on disregarding conventions and discomforting casual readers. What remains to be seen, however, is if it uses that to tell an engaging story that raises questions about the art life and—in a broader sense—the human condition. To me, Fearscape #4 feels like a deepening psychological nightmare, a trip into the mind of a writer riddled with anxiety and imposter syndrome and desperation, having spent his career compartmentalizing personal ambitions while translating other work.

There are, however, elements that suggest a further skewing of reality...Henry not having parents but being Arthur’s ward, Arthur and his alzheimer's, Henry Henry telling us he’s dead. These suggest a deeper story, one I have not yet figured out but remain absolutely determined to experience.

Overall: Fearscape #4 is another strong issue of a meta-fictional comic about how it feels to have unfulfilled literary aspirations. This comic remains a must-read for English majors and literary dabblers, anyone who has taken a creative writing workshop or read canonical novel in a coffee shop and daydreamed about their name on its cover. 8.8/10

Fearscape #4
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics of 2018, #6 - #15

By Zack Quaintance —  The most difficult thing about a strong year for comics (like this one) is doing a year-end Best Of list. Now, to be sure, no one mandates websites do rankings. That would be a clear violation of civil liberties. There is, however, a part of the pop culture blogger brain that goes wild for it, whispering all year long...where does this one rank...and if you don’t satisfy that beast—well, bad things happen.

So, here we our with ours, freshly formulated for 2018 by our committee of one. Before we dive into part 2, which features in descending order selections #15 to #6 (Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25 is up now, with the Top 5 due later today), let’s rehash our ground rules:

  • No trades or OGNs: Building out our OGN coverage is a priority for 2019. We’re just not there yet. So, while I absolutely loved work like Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Box Brown’s Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, and Ryan Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal, you won’t find them here. Ideally, next year’s we’ll have an entire post dedicated to OGNs.

  • No webcomics, manga, or newspaper strips: Again, our site is a bit deficient covering these (if you are into these things, we’d love to chat about you writing for us!). I should, of course, mention that in 2018 someone under the pen name Olivia James took over the long-running Nancy strip and did amazing things with it (Sluggo is lit), but, again, you won’t find it on our list.

  • Longevity matters: New this year, you will find what I consider a key stat—how many issues were published this year. Late debut series like Die, Electric Warriors, and Bitter Root have tons of promise. They just haven’t been around enough to be a definitive comic of 2018. Ditto for comics that ended in April or earlier.

There you have it: guiding principles of our Top Comics of 2018. Now, without further adieu, let’s keep this bad hombre going!

15. Seeds
Ann Nocenti
Artist, Letterer: David Aja
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Issues in 2018: 2

The second issue of this series absolutely blew my mind. So much so it was enough to land this comic in our list, and at no. 15 too! I’m going to struggle to articulate why this is not only one of the best comics out today, but also the comic with the most potential to be an all-time great series. But here goes…

Writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja have clearly thought hard about the state of the world, dwelling on current trends, struggles, challenges, \and even a few victories to extrapolate a future the likes of which we’ve never seen. There are (as noted in yesterday’s list) many near-future disaster stories running through comics. Many of them do admirable jobs extending a fear or concern to logical places. Seeds encompasses much more with its predictions, in a way that feels impossibly novel yet so obvious you wonder why its ideas hadn’t previously occurred to you. If you start listing story elements—failing planet, media corruption, alien love story/menace—they sound a little rote, but the way these talented creators bring them together is nothing short of remarkable. Now, if only they could get a handle on the delays...  

14. Doomsday Clock
Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of delays (hey! would you look at that transition), next we have Doomsday Clock. Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank were as good as their word this year, mostly sticking to the every-other-month schedule they promised following Doomsday Clock #3. We got six new issues in 2018, and the last three were straight up killer comics. This series has, to be blunt, massive ambitions.

Indeed, the intentions of this comic are starting to crystalize, and if Johns and Frank can pull this off, they could end up with a story that speaks to the current rise of authoritarian governments across the globe, the reactions of the media and the populous, and what it means to be a public hero today, to take a strong position. It’s heady stuff, with potential to shape DC’s line and maybe even the stories the aging company does for the next decade.

13. Ice Cream Man
W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

As I’ve noted throughout, ranking the many many many excellent comics this year has been no easy feat. There were a ton of tough choices, but as my friend Rob from Panel Patter noted, at a certain point you have to choose, otherwise there’s no purpose to the endeavor. For me, placing Ice Cream Man was the most difficult decision. An anthology horror comic linked only by the titular (and hella creepy) ice cream man, this book has been a tour de force.

The reason it lands at #13 is twofold. No. 1, 13 is creepy and it seemed fitting, because aside from one other selection (we’ll get into that later), this is the highest-ranking horror comic on our list. No. 2, I’m trying to rank series for holistic reading experience. Ice Cream Man being made of vignettes makes that trickier. This book is easily one of the best comics of 2018, and we’ll heap more praise on it in future posts, specifically the Best Single Issues of 2018, coming later this week. For now, I’ll just note everyone should read this comic, just pick up random issues (they’re all self-contained) and go. The rate of success is high enough I’m confident you’ll all find flavors (sorry) you like.

12. The Wild Storm
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 8

It’s pretty amazing this far into a celebrated career, Warren Elllis is doing his best work, writing a slow-burning epic that strips down characters he’s handled for years before building them back into something searingly-relevant for 2018. This new The Wild Storm has a few familiar names, while remaining entirely accessible for first-time readers of this universe. And what Ellis is doing here is exploring the vast influence wielded by long-standing (and hard to comprehend) power structures.

He’s joined by Jon Davis-Hunt, one of (if not the) most underrated artists in comics. Davis-Hunt comes fresh from career work of his own on Gail Simone’s Clean Room, and as good as he was there, he’s hitting a new level, crafting graphic sequential storytelling both kinetic and real, capable of disrupting any visual laws of reality yet photorealistic and engrossing. As intellectual and nuanced a comic as we’ve seen, this is a must-read story.

11. The Mighty Thor / Thor
Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Mike del Mundo, Christian Ward, Jen Bartel, Various
Colorists: Matthew Wilson, Marco D’Alfonso
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 4 / 12

Jason Aaron’s ongoing run on Thor is the best long-form story happening in superhero comics, and it’s really not even close. Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder #1, which essentially marked the start of this current run, hit stands in November 2012, a vastly different time in the world and industry. Marvel has no other run close, with Hickman and Bendis gone from the company and Dan Slott off Amazing Spider-Man. Invincible has also ended, and DC’s main challengers—Batman and Deathstroke, for my money—date back to summer 2016, which is hardly a challenge at all.

Thor, however, keeps going strong, landing this year’s 16 issues (and a Jane Foster one-shot) at #11 overall on our list. Our committee of one suspects it will be higher next year, what with the War of the Realms coming. The Jane Foster finale was certainly a high point his year, but it felt like more of a pause than a proper finish, setting the table for what is sure to be some damn fine comics to come. In summation, 2018 was another great year for Aaron’s Thor run, but we all but guarantee 2019 will be even better, possibly the high water mark for this story.

10. X-Men Red
Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Carmen Carnero, Roge Antonio
Colorists: Ive Svorcina, Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 11

What a surprise this comic was. I’d tapped out on X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold, deciding to wait for whatever next big X-thing. Then comes an announcement of a third color, part of the Marvel Legacy line, which, let’s face it, was dead on arrival. But here’s the thing: Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar’s X-Men: Red was good. Like, really really really good. Taylor’s scripting understood the franchise better than any writer I’ve read in I don’t know how long, casting the team as equal parts superhero high-flyers and common defenders of the oppressed, all with a geopolitical angle.

It made Jean Gray the face of Xavier’s continuing dream, a brilliant move given her legacy (ahem) and similar skill set, and it faced the X-Men against threats essentially derived from the messages of hate coursing through the modern media landscape, be it reportage or social posting. It was a brilliant stretch of 11 issues that ended way too soon, and, in my opinion, it was the first real hint how the X-Men can be made relevant for 2018, 2019, etc., taking them out of their long-standing continuity mire. It will be missed, and I hope this new generation of X-writers draw from its example.

9. Vault Comics: Fearscape / Friendo / These Savage Shores
Ryan O’Sullivan / Alex Paknadel / Ram V.
Artists: Andrea Mutti / Martin Simmonds / Sumit Kumar
Colorists: Vladimir Popov / Dee Cunnife / Vittorio Astone
Letterers: Andworld Design / Taylor Esposito / Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 3 / 3 / 2

Okay, so this one is cheating, but of the three new Vault Comics launched by British writers with clear literary roots in the fall, I couldn’t pick any one to elevate above the others. They’re all incredible, and so I built myself a loophole (it’s my website, afterall), and included all three on the list. I heard Vault editor Adrian Wassel on a podcast earlier this year, saying comics could swing to a literary place that incorporates both recent cinematic storytelling trends and their unique ability to synthesize words and pictures. All three of these titles reflect that viewpoint.

You can read more thoughts about each on our Reviews Page, but let me run through them quickly. Fearscape is a look at pretense, literary culture, and how the nature of creative writing often sees authors bouncing violently between bouts of outsized ego and crippling insecurity. The voice is pretentious and incredible. Friendo is a meditation on the decline of late-model capitalist countries, specifically the United States, casting apathy, ceiling-less corporate greed, and the marginalization of government checks as truly terrifying villains. These Savage Shores is a gorgeous and deep commentary on imperialism, using misdirection to to create an engaging and tone-heavy narrative. Basically, all three of these are well worth your time, and I highly recommend them all.

8. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Mark Russell
Artist: Mike Feehan
Inker: Sean Parsons
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: DC Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Speaking of literary comics, Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (improbably) falls in that bin as well. Last year we highlighted Russell’s work on Flintstones. Another year and another smart take on a Hanna-Barbera property, and here we are again. In Russell’s re-imagining of this mythos, Snagglepuss is a basically closeted playwright during McCarthy-ism, trying to stay true to his values without running afoul of the federal government and staid societal interests.

Russell uses this premise to tell a sophisticated story that dances with ideas about life, art, politics, group think, and conservatism. The emotional core to this thing is the Huckleberry Hound character, whose tragic story beats brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. If reading a comic about Snagglepuss doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry—you’re not alone in that thinking. But Russell also uses the legacy of the character to do work toward the satirical points he’s making, to help drive them home.  

7. Wasted Space
Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 6 (counting the holiday special)

Phew, now we’re getting into the comics that I can’t imagine my 2018 without, the first being Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space. I have heaped my fair share of praise on this book over the past 12 months, and I’m not alone. In fact, Nerdist has called it “easily the best new series to hit comic shops so far this year.” For my money, it’s without question the best wholly new property of 2018, and I’m going to quote myself to elaborate on why...

Wasted Space to me feels like Star Wars by way of 2018, determined to honor the hi-jinx & high adventure of space opera while fearlessly exploring the central conflict of our times: where should one’s desire for comfort end and their obligation to combat oppression begin? I’ve compared Moreci’s absurdist, idea-heavy writing to the late David Foster Wallace and I stand by that, noting that Sherman’s chaotic high-energy art style brings the world to life in a special way. This is maybe the highest compliment I can give: in a day and age where i buy fewer paper comics than ever before, I still have a pull list and on it near the top is Wasted Space.

6. Thanos Wins
Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

Toward the end of 2017, Brian Michael Bendis left Marvel, dealing the publisher as significant of a writing void as I’ve seen in the past two decades, dating back to before Bendis established himself as the company’s prime writing voice. The thing about voids like that is they force publishers to take bigger risks and bring in younger, newer talent. For Marvel in 2018, that meant Donny Cates (among others).

One of Cates’ first charges at Marvel was to takeover Thanos in the wake of another essentially departing writer, Jeff Lemire, who seemed from the outside to be off to focus on the superhero universe he owned and created, Black Hammer. What Cates and past collaborator Geoff Shaw did with the final six issues of this run was absolutely remarkable, telling what is not only the best Thanos story of all-time, but the best end of the Marvel Universe tail this side of Jonathan Hickman. It’s called Thanos Wins, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Thanos Wins is as bold a statement as a young writer doing his first work at Marvel could have made. Aided by the out-of-this-world Geoff Shaw artwork and Antonio Fabela colors, Cates seemed to put all of comics on notice here, not being content to just decimate the very futures of these decades-old beloved characters, but insisting on doing so with wild grin viscerally affixed to his face. You might wonder, how do I know he was laughing and smiling as he wrote all of this. I think the better question, is how could anyone who’s read Thanos Wins doubt it?  

Read our analysis of Thanos Wins here!

Check back later today for our Best Comics of 2018, #1 - #5! Check out Best Comics of 2018, #16 - #25! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Best Single Issues and our Top Creators of 2018!

For the history-minded readers, you can find our Top Comics of 2017, Part 1, 2 and 3 online now!

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Fearscape #3 continues its dark examination of a failed writer’s mindstate

Fearscape #3 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — In Fearscape #3, writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Andrea Mutti’s meta exploration of the darkness inherent to an unsuccessful creative life gets...even darker. Now deep into its story, Fearscape continues to be a comic entirely unafraid of darkness, intent to use its clever pseudo-New Yorker literary fictive voice to unpack the worst sort of artistic impulses. This combination of fearlessness and form is making for a compelling (and intensely singular) comic, one bent on examining why such feelings (as well as the actions they give rise to) occur, what they mean, and the damaging potential they can have on one’s life and morality.

This third issue opens with some of the delusion that has been present throughout. It starts with what seems like a writer’s fantasy—finding a novel finished, exactly as you would have written it, without you having to do any of the actual work. But not so fast. It’s obviously not that easy (nothing is in Fearscape). The found book is not the work of our hero, Henry Henry, but of the bed-bound mentor whose home he essentially burglarized in the first issue before being swept into the mythical realm of the Fearscape. Henry Henry is not finding a book he wrote without remembering; Henry Henry is stealing whole a finished novel from a sick mentor. For shame!

Much of the rest of the issue is spent elucidating the mindstate of a plagiarist. What’s most impressive to me about Fearscape #3, though, is how it shows rather than tells (that old creative writing canard) a set of feelings that are incredibly personal. O’Sullivan continues to play with form for a third straight issue as he does this, putting rectangular narration boxes over the traditionally round word balloons during a mental episode, which creates a writer’s fantasy of what the hero wants to hear versus what’s really being said. It’s used with great effect to convey how someone as delusionally ego-driven as Henry Henry can justify plagiarism, altering the reality around himself to be comfortable with artistic theft in a way that feels heroic, at least to him, anyway.

Other familiar writerly feelings found in this issue include: the ennui (a very Henry Henry word, btw) of publishing fiction and finding out it’s not the cure to whatever ails you, finding that no one else understands your special interiority, and wanting in alternate turns to embrace and disavow the muse that motivates you to write (to say any more about this last one would give away the climax of this issue).

Fearscape had one of my favorite debut issues this year (if not my very favorite), and little has been lost as this story has proceeded. I am admittedly very much the target audience for this—a comic book reader/author of short fiction who has published here and there but not put out a full collection—yet I’m sure this story has quite a bit to offer anyone who has ever contemplated any sort of career in the arts, especially when its full scope becomes visible at its conclusion. I am, however, now ready for ol’ Henry Henry to either start some kind of growth, or to hit rock bottom. I’m just not sure how much more of his continued descent into delusional awfulness I can take (which is something I’ve said more than a few times about our current president—rim shot—thank you, thank you).  

Overall: A literary comic about what it feels like to be a struggling artist, Fearscape continues its descent into delusional frustration, doing so with a clever narrative voice and some visual tricks that convey a mindstate in ways only comics can. This is a must-read book for anyone who has contemplated the art life. 8.8/10

Fearscape #3
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Despite the name of this website (which is ironic!), I’m prone to Batman fatigue. It’s not that I don’t like the character. No, I think it’s pretty easy to make a case for Batman being one of the most compelling characters to ever grow from American fiction. It’s just that I don’t often see much new ground for stories about Batman to cover, so prolific are DC’s Batman releases. That said, I still fairly regularly find myself drawn into and torn up by well-done Batman stories.

This week ambushed me in that way. As you’ll notice shortly, two of our Top Comics to Buy for December 12 star the Dark Knight, while a third gets a recommendation in our new #1 comics section. So yes, this is a great week for all things Batman. It’s also a great week for Marvel’s (arguable) flagship character, Spider-Man, as Amazing Spider-Man hums right along and Miles Morales returns to Marvel’s pages just in time for his big screen review. Coincidence? Hardly. This is Marvel, and synergy is what’s for sale.

Now on to this week’s comics!

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

Batman Annual #3
Tom Taylor
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99
"THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PENNY!" Alfred Pennyworth has been Batman's most trusted ally and confidant since the Dark Knight first hit the streets of Gotham City. Now, witness Batman's battle for justice from Alfred's perspective and learn how harrowing that journey has been as Batman experiences one of the worst nights Gotham City has ever seen-a night that will push Alfred to the breaking point! Best-selling writer Tom Taylor presents an epic tale that promises to be one of the most Alfred stories ever told!
Why It’s Cool: This is an emotional and well-told Batman story that may have you tearing up within the first three pages. Taylor and Schmidt are a pair of creators deserving of much bigger stages, and hopefully incredible work like this will help them get there. This is also a self-contained story, so even readers who have been off Batman proper for a while, can still pop into buy this comic.

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
J. JONAH JAMESON has a new job as a shock jock, but is the world ready for a pro-Spider-Man JJJ? More importantly, is Spider-Man ready? His post-secret-identity relationship with Jonah was already complicated, but this very public embrace may put him over the edge! Spidey's definitely not ready for the Enforcers to come at him harder than ever!
Why It’s Cool: If it weren’t for Immortal Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man might be our favorite book at Marvel right now (with apologies to Black Panther and Captain America). It’s just been so good since launching with a new #1 issue in July, and now it has artist Ryan Ottley rejoining writer Nick Spencer to presumably replicate the creative alchemy that made the first arc so special. It also has some momentum, with last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #10 ranking as one of our favorite issues of Marvel’s flagship Spidey title in many, many years.

Bitter Root #2
David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorists: Rico Renzi & Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
An evil force stalks the streets of Harlem as Berg and Cullen face off against a deadly creature that may be more than they can handle. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a mysterious stranger unleashes furious retribution in the name of justice.
Why It’s Cool: The work of building this world and the way it works was set into motion so wonderfully by Bitter Root #1. Now, the creators are free to let us know more about their story and its characters. This is a visually lush and intellectually complex book, one that doesn’t flinch as it depicts monster hunters confronting ghoulish members of the KKK. In this second issue we learn more about the long-standing family dynamics at the heart of the relationships between our character. This book, simply put, continues to be an utter joy to read.

Detective Comics #994
Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Batman's strangest case begins as the new creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke take over DETECTIVE COMICS! Commissioner Gordon calls in the Dark Knight Detective when there's a murder at the Gotham City Aquarium-staged to look exactly like Thomas and Martha Wayne's crime scene, right down to the Playbill and pearls. How does this bizarre homicide tie into the shadowy monster that attacks Dr. Leslie Thompkins? This creature looks to wage a war on Batman-and it's using Joker Gas to do it!
Why It’s Cool: There’s so much Batman goodness packed into this first issue of the countdown to Detective Comics #1000, the comic that launched the character. It starts with a bizarre mystery and just gleefully builds from there. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this Tomasi/Mahnke run and hadn’t heard the kind of buzz one might expect for something like this, but this first issue is poised to build that excitement right back up.

Fearscape #3
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
Having escaped the clutches of the Fearscape, Henry Henry tries to... Aha! You'll use my name, I see, but won't let me speak! That you would require solicitation copy for the third issue, after the genre-redefining brilliance of the first two, is nothing short of a personal insult. The work speaks for itself. Any tale of my exploits should not be hawked to those asleep at the wheel.
Why It’s Cool: This meta story of literary writers’ doubt barrels forward, with protagonist Henry Henry returning from the mythical storytelling Fearscape realm to the real world. This is a singular comic unlike anything else coming out today, and every issue is one to be poured over. This story brims in equal parts with braggadocio and imposter syndrome. For serious patrons of the art and would-be creators, this series continues to be a must.

Check out our reviews of Fearscape #1 and Fearscape #2.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Batman Who Laughs #1

  • Defenders: Doctor Strange #1

  • Defenders: Silver Surfer #1

  • Fantastic Four: Wedding Special #1

  • Goddess Mode #1

  • Magic the Gathering: Chandra #1

  • Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

  • New Talent Showcase 2018 #1

  • Planet of the Apes: Simian Age #1

  • Sasquatch Detective #1

  • Spawn Kills Everyone Too #1

  • Vampirella vs. Reanimator #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Avengers #11

  • Black Panther #7

  • Cemetery Beach #4

  • Dead Kings #2

  • Electric Warriors #2

  • Hawkman #7

  • Lone Ranger #3

  • Murder Falcon #3

  • Oblivion Song #10

  • Outer Darkness #2

  • Redlands #9

  • Skyward #9

  • Supergirl #25

  • Superman #6

  • X-Men Red #11

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

REVIEW: Fearscape #2 Brims with Imposter Syndrome…in a Good Way

Fearscape #2 is out 11/7.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 debuted last month(ish) as a bonafide hit, selling out, necessitating a second printing, and earning copious praise from comic book creators and reviewers (many—if not all—of whom are aspiring creators too) alike. This was, perhaps, unsurprising. Fearscape’s first issue spoke directly to the feeling of yearning to be an inspired creative genius, and, well, falling short. Simply put, us readers had been there. It was painfully relatable emotional territory for the book’s target audience: monthly indie comics folks. That familiar state of mind was then expertly accompanied by a high stakes fantasy quest in another realm (which most indie comics folk also enjoy), and—BOOM!—narrative dynamite.

A first issue as good as Fearscape’s is a blessing and curse, though, reeling in the audience while setting the bar almost impossibly high for a follow up. In other words, some regression is to be expected. The same tricks that felt so surprising in the debut are less effective. There’s a bit of that in Fearscape #2, but the smart initial construction of this book’s tone, plus an equally smart twist at this issue’s end, make for another thoroughly engaging read. And really, I haven’t stopped being impressed yet with the pitch-perfect narrative voice writer Ryan O’Sullivan has created, nor the way he uses it.

To recap: protagonist Henry Henry (perfect name for a writer, the Guy in Your MFA Twitter couldn’t have done better) went to the home of his bed-bound mentor and stole a manuscript to pass off as his own. Before he successfully absconded with the work, he found himself confronted by a ghostly extra-dimensional muse recruiting Earth’s best storyteller to represent mankind in a fantasy realm called the Fearscape, where storytelling ability is needed to stave catastrophe off from afflicting the real world.

The plot is enough to make for compelling comics. Fearscape, however, adds a deeper character layer with the way it portrays its protagonist’s roiling imposter syndrome. Henry Henry constantly overcompensates with his pretentious narrative voice while outwardly acting like a total jackass. You can see why he does and says things, and it makes sense, even if you can’t help but resent him for it. Here’s a great example: an early sequence has Henry Henry brusquely telling his guide, Try to keep up, muse...followed in the next panel by this narration [The asthma attack which immediately followed the prior scene has been omitted for the sake of narrative cohesion.] It’s creative, meta, narratively-effective, and riddled with self-resentment. It’s perfect.

Fearscape continues to read as if O’Sullivan is taking a deep inventory of the worst and ugliest parts of his own motivation to create...then cranking them to 11 and putting them in a comic. You can practically feel the self-loathing (in a good way), especially as Fearscape #2 comes to its conclusion. And it’s this sincerity that separates this story from the hacky work it worries it may become. This book is rich with words and ways of thinking seemingly culled from ghosts of painful undergraduate creative writing workshops. These moments emotions are honest, staggeringly so.

Andre Mutti is also just such a versatile artist, given a chance to really shine in the fantasy landscapes and characters found in this issue. Mutti’s character designs are impressive, but it’s the level of clarity the artist’s storytelling techniques lend to the ending sequence (which has real potential to confuse) that really stand out.  

This second issue has me curious about the future of the book, too. This is certainly not a Fountainhead-esque experiment about the value of individualism and uncompromising work, but there’s definitely a point of view about artistry coming into focus. To me, the real mystery seems to be not how the world will be saved from the Fearscape or who will be the storyteller to save it, but rather what the real life creators have learned about craft and aspirations along the way. And, really, isn’t that what most stories are all about? Anyway, I’m so far lost in self-reflective theories here, I may need a long walk...

Overall: Fearscape #2 builds on one of the year’s best debuts to deliver another adventure in metafiction, one perfectly tailored for an indie comic audience. The protagonist’s imposter syndrome is so ugly and sincere that writerly types can’t help but relate, regardless of how painful it becomes, and there’s real honest beauty in that. 9.0/10

Fearscape #2
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Fearscape #1 by Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, & Vladimir Popov

Fearscape #1 is out Sept. 26, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 is the latest new series from fast-rising indie publisher Vault Comics, with hints of a diverse range of stories about stories, from movies like Midnight in Paris to famous cartoon shorts like Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Google it, you’re likely familiar…). This comic is smart and unique, and it pushes the limits of the sequential graphic storytelling medium, deploying a strong literary voice along with a concept that ranks among the best of today’s creator-owned comic wave.

It’s one part Saga, Monstress, or Wic + Div, and it’s one part that killer short story you read in The New Yorker, maybe by Zadie Smith, T.C. Boyle, or Lauren Groff. It’s an amalgam of your favorite graphic novels and that conversation you had last week with that annoying guy in tweed at your friend’s dinner party, the one who kept referencing his MFA.

Phew. That’s an onslaught of gimmicky descriptors, but this book grows from, speaks to, and stands upon mankind’s storytelling traditions. As such, references are perhaps the best means of giving readers an idea of what they’re in for when they open this comic. Now then, let’s get granular and go into Fearscapes’ plot, strengths, and best lines, shall we?

Plot: An otherworldly being called The Muse comes to take humanity’s greatest storyteller to The Fearscape, a realm of dark magic where human fears exist as living creatures. That storyteller is tasked with overcoming the greatest of all fears, thereby freeing humanity from them. The Muse comes for a venerable fantasy writer and instead finds Henry Henry (perfect failed author name, btw), a fraud who is busy stealing a manuscript from the home of the aforementioned famous writer, who is Henry’s friend/benefactor and is also sick and dying. It’s a lot, but Andrea Mutti’s artwork is clear and imaginative, and it orients the reader, while writer Ryan O’Sullivan makes excellent use of authoritive narration, which brings us to Fearscape #1’s single greatest strength...

...its voice, which is just pretentious enough to remind us what type of guy Henry Henry is (seriously, perfect name) without making us totally hate him, although holy wow is it close. Voice does so much work in this story, conveying that our main dude is a personification of imposter syndrome, oozing insecurity with his pretentiousness cranked to 11. It remains to be seen if the creators can emotionally vest us in the guy, but for now the intrigue and imagination is so compelling it doesn’t matter.

So, let’s get into some of best lines, including: All authors are ultimately translators; endlessly rewording stories and ideas we’ve heard countless times before.

And this resentful take on genre writing: Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world.

Finally, this shot at a particularly loathsome subclass of human: Yet, despite this, we shall still find ourselves opposed by the casual reader and, even worse, its mutated older sibling, the critic.

Overall: A nigh-perfect debut, a unique comic that pushes the boundaries of sequential graphic storytelling. Fearscape #1 is one part killer creator-owned comic, one part famous literary short story, and 100 percent not to be missed.  10/10

Fearscape #1 is available Sept. 26, 2018.

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.