Welcome to another edition of Top of the Pile, where the staff of Comic Vine picks out their top books of the month and tells you why these series are the top of the pile. February was a pretty big month for comics and featured a look into what BATMAN ETERNAL will be like, UNCANNY AVENGERS getting pretty nutty, and THE BUNKER transitioning from digital comic to print book. Let's see what the staff picked for their favorites for February 2014.
Here's the funny thing, I didn't think I was going to be too excited over this issue. The idea of BATMAN ETERNAL is interesting but, of course I can't help be a little skeptical over a weekly Batman comic. There was also the fact that this issue is interrupting the flow of Zero Year, which I'm digging.
How silly of me to doubt this series. Scott Snyder and Dustin Nguyen have given us the ultimate teaser issue with big SPOILERS for what's coming up in the series and Batman Universe. Things are going to get crazy and we definitely have something to look forward to.
What is it about Matt Fraction's HAWKEYE I find so incredibly charming? Combined with David Aja's art, The book has me hooked with its more down to earth feel and the humor always catches me off guard.
Hawkeye's been around a long time and has fought incredibly over-powered supervillains. This series has been refreshing in showing some toned down adventures while remaining completely captivating. And of course that was that crazy ending too.
Rick Remender and Wes Craig's journey to the 80s has me completely hooked. Usually when we see past decades in different media, the presentation is usually over the top in trying to capture the essence and end up too over the top. That's not the case here. The story may take place in the 80s but we're not being pounded over the head with attempts at capturing the nostalgia factor for those that lived through it.
With a focus on a secret high school for assassins, Remender has shown us some of his plans at creating a variety of different characters and mixes the "charm" of the high school experience amped up with the student population being trained to become killers.
We've known that the story involves the past, present, and future timelines but, for some reason, having this second part of the series jump forward 200 years caught us off guard.
Even though there's only four issues left of the miniseries, we're introduced to an amazing new futuristic world that leaves you begging to see more. I don't want this series to end but at the same time, I cannot wait to see what Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy have planned for the final issues.
Many times we hear, "This issue changes everything." In this case, it is true. Mark Waid has put Matt Murdock through the wringer in this series. Matt has had to fight battles as he's been targeted in both his Daredevil guise and Matt Murdock persona. With a surprising declaration last issue, this will now move Daredevil to a new place. And I'm not just talking about his relocation to San Francisco. Daredevil's life has always brought great risks. Things will become even more dangerous with his declaration, even if most people already knew or suspected.
This was a great final issue to the volume and gets you excited for the next issue/volume.
Honorable Mention: THE BUNKER #1 (oversized print version)
I hate to admit it, but I'm a trade waiter on INVINCIBLE. I didn't start reading this series until somewhere in the 30s, so since then, I have to patiently wait 6 months to get my INVINCIBLE fix, unless I have to review it. This past volume was nuts in all the best ways possible. The story primary deals with Invincible searching for Angstrom Levy, while trying to balance home-life with Atom Eve. This truly is the best superhero book on the shelves. Writer Robert Kirkman somehow makes this series better and better, month after month. Each story builds on the last one and elevates the book.
The other HUGE star of the show is the art work of Ryan Ottley is, as always, pure brilliance, especially with the colors of John Rauch. Artistically, this is one of the best looking on-going series, not just at Image comics, but in all of comics. On top of everything else, the cliffhanger ending for this story is freaking awesome.
Is it weird to see a Thor book on here? If you listen to the podcast, then you know I'm not the biggest fan of the character or Asgard in general, but this issue blew me away. I've always been a fan of future-stories and that's part of what we get here. Since Jason Aaron took over writing duties, this series has explored three different Thors: the past, the present, and the future.
What really blew my away was the last page of the issue, featuring one of my favorite Marvel characters putting older Thor in a bit of a predicament. Artist Esad Ribic does stellar work on this book as well, with Ive Svorcina on colors. These two know how to artistically tell a story beautifully and there are some epic-looking splash pages here as well. For the first time, ever, I have a Thor book on my pull list.
You know how to get me to love your book? Put a small, weird cult into the mix that has homicidal tendencies. GHOSTED #7 is a great example of how to grow a story while keeping in the same tone as the rest of the series. Sure, a bit of the heist elements of what made me fall in love with this book are gone, but writer Joshua Williamson makes you forget all of that by enveloping the reading in an incredibly interesting story, as well as introducing really cool new characters, which could die at any moment. You'd think that would be enough, right? On top of everything else, we get to see some fantastic art from Davide Gianfelice.
This series continues to be one of my favorites. Not only is it consistantly great, but it appears on my list for Top of the Pile almost monthly, and it was one of the books on my Top of the Pile Year End Wrap-Up. Stop reading this and go buy it, silly-head!
There's a lot of first timers on this list, this month. What's great about Dynamite's THE TWILIGHT ZONE is that it really feels like the original TZ series, except extended a bit. The second issue is filled with just as many twists and turns as the first issue, and this is a must read book for Twilight Zone fans. Writer J. Michael Straczynski captures everything we love about this series with a modern twist. For a second issue, it ended up being very new reader friendly, catching up the reader without it really feeling like a catch up page, in the early parts of the book. Fans are also treated to some fun action here too.
When it was announced Oni Press would be putting out a print version of one of my favorite digital books (spoiler alert, it's the BUNKER), I was super-pumped. Joshua Fialkov's concept of a group of friends finding a bunker filled with information about the future, alone, is brilliant, but when you add in the addition that it was the future versions of these characters that put this bunker together, my head exploded from awesomeness. While the story itself is fantastic, what makes this a top book is the time Fialkov spends on developing these characters. This is a character driven story in a hyper-interesting world. The big change between this and the digital version are the new colors from artist Joe Infurnari. The colors are subtle and a step up from the already beautiful art in the digital format. Overall, this is the start to something incredible.
Honorable Mention: SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN Vol 1
This is the second month in a row now where GREEN ARROW is without question my first "top of the pile" pick. Why, you ask? Well, I'll tell you, kind reader. Firstly, Andrea Sorrentino is undeniably one of the most brilliant artists currently working on comics. Month after month, the guy (along with colorist Marcelo Maiolo) produce some beyond stellar pages with gorgeously engrossing environments, immensely creative panel layouts and praiseworthy character work. Secondly, Jeff Lemire is doing huge things with the Green Arrow mythos. He's incorporating plenty of pre-New 52 characters and elements, yet paving his own and completely unique path for Oliver. Big things are happening and this event has felt impressively epic. Plus, he's even teasing what comes after this arc, and that has me every bit as excited, too. Third, wait... is a third even necessary? Aren't those two reasons good enough? Fine, if you really need a third, it's the fact this book is still a mere $2.99. As so many other books get slapped with a $3.99 price tag, the best comic around still remains affordable and worth every single penny. Hell, they could make this book $4.99 per issue and I'd still buy it. I'd complain to no end if that was the case, but I'd absolutely shell out the cash every month for a book this stunning.
Agent Preston has been a big part of Deadpool's life ever since the whole zombie President madness went down. With this chapter, co-writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn finally reveal whether S.H.I.E.L.D. can pull her from Wade's tormented mind. We won't reveal if she renews her lease in Wade's brain or if she finds herself in a shiny new LMD body, but let's just say the outcome isn't as simple as you may think. While this issue is overloaded with comedy and tremendous visual gags, it ultimately boils down to a great character study. You see, Duggan and Posehn haven't simply been moving Wade from one story to the next. Everything has taken a toll on the character and they're doing a phenomenal job bringing a strong layer of development to a man who's far too often viewed as nothing more than a clown with a healing factor. If you honestly consider yourself a Deadpool fan, you're doing yourself a major disservice if you don't read this volume.
Well, it looks like the team's peaceful and much-needed vacation is coming to an abrupt end. The Ninja Turtles previously fled the city and they're spending time in Northampton to recover and reflect after what went down in City Fall. But the last issue revealed the Foot Clan has finally located the heroes in a half shell. Tom Waltz is able to provide a couple of final heartfelt moments before a new mutant makes a shattering debut and we're thrown back into some good ol' fashioned melee goodness. The timing is perfect, too. As much as I've enjoyed this insightful look into each character, this formula could have potentially overstayed its welcome if it kept on for another whole issue or so. Instead, we were given just the right dose of character-driven narratives before making the turtles grab their weapons and fight for their lives. Ross Campbell has been a superb choice for this story. His style works perfectly for the more emotional and scenic moments, yet he can also deliver big time when the punches start to fly. And then there's that ending. There's a 100% chance it'll make any turtles fan smile and count down the days until the next issue. I bet at least one person out there exclaimed, "Go, ninja, go!" when they saw that final splash page.
The cover of this issue should say, "Justin Jordan and Matteo Scalera unleashed" because damn, this was a crazy fast-paced issue that's pumping with energy. The overall picture hasn't moved forward all that much, but the action scenes in this one are ridiculously entertaining and brutal. I can't get enough of Scalera's style -- it's full of motion and grittiness. To top it all off, Jordan sets aside some pages to give the lead, Orson Gage, some additional depth. He's able to implement it without hindering the book's quick pacing, too. Plus, the cliffhanger heavily implies the next issue will give us some answers about the heist gone wrong. DEAD BODY ROAD continues to feel like a very awesome R-rated action movie and that's most definitely a very good thing.
Deadpool makes the list twice? What is this madness? Is Marvel paying Katzman in chimichangas?! Or, and far more likely, it's possible this volume is being picked twice because it has been fan-freaking-tastic and continues to impress. In case you somehow missed it, Mark Brooks' cover is an Alien parody, and yes, that is 100% relevant to the issue and not just there for laughs. Deadpool's been down a particularly dark road as of late and this issue gave him a chance for him to vent. It just so happens that his version of venting is horrifically killing any and every bad guy in his way. This isn't simply Deadpool flipping around, gunning and stabbing everyone in his path, though. Duggan and Posehn let artist Mike Hawthorne have a hell of a lot of fun with this issue and it's his visuals that tell this story. Hawthorne's panel layouts allow for some hysterical yet terrifyingly cinematic ways for Deadpool to take down his prey. It's twisted, violent, and legitimately funny.
This book had, by FAR, the most to overcome in terms of expectation. Though hopping over a low bar is easy, it's not always preferable because people bring a LOT of baggage with them and based on the number of comments I saw that were SHOCKED this book was scoring as high as it was, that baggage was definitely present. Marguerite Bennett has taken what is, on its face, an incredibly weak concept and run full-bore in the other direction, carving out the character's personality and distinguishing her not just from the "other" female Joker follower, but from other Batman villains. The battle in her mind over whether or not she's actually crazy, whether or not she wants to be a killer, whether or not she even KNOWS what she wants is so much more genuine and interesting than someone who just declares themselves a homicidal lunatic (something that rings so completely false).
Meghan Hetrick also bursts onto the scene, giving us art that is stomach churning, dark and, in its own twisted way, very beautiful. While grim and gritty is becoming played out, much like zombies if you can do it right, you should definitely go for it because people WILL respond. The colors, by Michelle Madsen, really help break away from the generically gritty tone so many others fall into by breathing a different kind of tone and feel into the visuals. I'm hoping for great things out of this character.
This is an odd book to "single" out because it was part of a double issue, and while I liked the Green Lantern story, this was the reason for the season as far as I was concerned. Charles Soule introduces Kara Zor-El to the roster of the Red Lanterns, but he also picks up Guy Gardner and company on Earth and cements the deal between he and Hal Jordan over who patrols Earth, and while all this doesn't sound terribly interesting on paper, but the way Soule writes each, individual character, giving them their own highly distinct voices means that an issue can sustain something like this and neither lag nor feel like merely filler. I'm hoping Supergirl sticks around for awhile in this one. Alessandro Vitti back on fulltime visuals is another great thing about this issue as his razor-sharp eye for detail is put to amazing use on the twisted forms of the Reds and of Ysmault, as well as the B-plot with Atrocitus that I didn't even mention above. The action is a series of great snapshots, but it really is the dialog that once again showcases his talents. I'm always impressed when an artist manages to make two or more people talking look dynamic and interesting and that's exactly what Vitti does. And, of course, Gabe Eltaeb's colors are an absolute necessity in a book that has a color in its title. Lest the color red dominate all, the palette is actually extremely diverse and colorful, showcasing the various locals beautifully.
Cards on the table: I am an absolute SUCKER for well-written alternate histories. Forget "facts" and "what actually happened," give me far-out, bizarre what-ifs, the less likely but still grounded in historical fact, THE BETTER! Rob Williams takes a Britain in the throes of the blitzkrieg and supposes "what if the Royal Family actually had all the powers and abilities of legend?" So what we've got is essentially a what-if, WITHIN a what-if because not only is it an alternate WWII, it's an alternate medieval history supposing the legends of King Arthur and such were all true. I love it because of their stance of non-involvement, which is more well-thought out than "we have to keep ourselves a secret because people won't understand" and uses things like the French and Bolshevik revolutions to say "they won't understand and, oh yeah, they'll MURDER US. RIGHT to death." The dialog is witty and brief, sounding wonderfully British to my Yankee ear and I am on pins and needles for issue 2. Simon Coleby's muddy linework is reminiscent of Mike Deodato but create a much more blurred, frantic tone that lends itself perfectly to the battlefield and gives the royal party a suitable sense of moral ambiguity. The colors by JD Mettler look like something out of some old newsreel combined with the palette of World War II-era comics, giving it a tone of historical hyper-realism, so real that it becomes unreal and is there any more perfect a tone for historical fiction?
Another Charles Soule comedic action gem, this one with another inclusion to make me love it all the more: Strong Guy as the Lord of Hell spinning out of one of the final issues of X-Factor. General Ross made a deal with Mephisto and, SURPRISE, got more than he bargained for! There's a terrifically wry wit permeating this entire issue, elevating it above its somewhat mundane foundation (kill-happy superheroes kill stuff) and not just by its inclusion of the likes of Ghost Rider and Mercy but by a slight wink and nod to the audience about how absurd/humorous this collection of personalities really is. and Soule accomplishes that by having a given character take the situation either entirely too seriously or not in the least bit seriously. Those are the only two options and the juxtaposition results in SO much hilarity. Carlo Barberi is another unlikely fit that makes this book go so well. With fluid, dynamic character designs that trade more in jagged, sharp lines and overblown proportions than dark, grim visuals that a book like this might otherwise call for, the tone of super, duper serious hilarity is represented wonderfully. Israel Silva's colors emphasize this further, making the entire issue one that is trying not to giggle while it gives a eulogy.
Rick Remender is clearly NOT afraid to GO THERE. This book, as I previously said, demands that you forget about continuity and when it occurs because now it's doing its own thing and you'd better get on-board, particularly if you find yourself bemoaning how predictable superhero comics are. Will it go back to status quo eventually? Yes, of course, that is, fortunately or unfortunately, how major, ongoing titles work. But I haven't the SLIGHTEST idea how it will get there from here, this is a massive shake-up that will apparently carry forward for the foreseeable future. I give this book all the credit in the world for trying something THIS bold in mainstream superheroing. I want to say more, but the book is still new enough that I dare not other than to say if you haven't been reading, go pick up the last few or pick up the trade when it comes out (soon!). Steve McNiven's art is as good as its ever been, reading more like a movie that you keep blinking for long period of time, catching only frames of action, but all of it still clearly in motion. This isn't an action book, but don't tell McNiven that as his visuals are so beautifully realized and spirited that everything is lent such an elevated sense of gravitas. Jay Leisten's inks and Laura Martin's colors elevate this material with Leisten's defined, strong lines calcifying that sense of gravitas while Martin's colors breathing life into all of them, making them stand out all the more. The fact that we also had Justin Ponsor, Matt Milla and Larry Molinar on colors, but all of it looks seamless, is further testament to how well this entire book holds together.
Thanks for enjoying another edition of Top of the Pile with us. Make sure to let us know in the comment section, below, what you're top five books for February were. We'll see you in April!