Don’t worry, comic books aren’t dying. With the second instalment of my guest posts recommending media, my friend Matt is recommending us 5 comic book series he think’s you should check out.
Matt Attanasio hails from Long Island, New York. He writes things—mostly fiction. He also fancies himself a comic book enthusiast, Dungeon Master, gamer, metal head, Liverpool FC supporter, and all-around nerd. He occasionally dabbles in a nice single-malt scotch. He’s currently writing his first novel and a handful of short stories, in addition to working at Marquis Who’s Who as an editor and staff writer. His personal motto is a quote ripped straight from his favorite movie, The Iron Giant: “You are who you choose to be.” You can read more of Matt’s work on his website, www.mattattwrites.com. (he/him)
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The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen
Considering that my first encounter with writer Kieron Gillen’s work wasn’t all that great, I was thoroughly surprised by how enthralled I was with The Wicked + The Divine. The team of Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Clayton Cowles craft an abundantly complex book, one that brings to question some of the most pressing topics of the 21st century. The main crux of the story revolves around various mythological gods being resurrected every 90 years and how, in the words of the author, “They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead.” Each of the modern-day gods are represented as music industry icons, and they must each grapple with the weight of their fame and godhood as they slowly begin to die off one by one. (Editor note, i.e. Artie: low key this last line has me interested in reading…)
What makes this such a compelling story is how deftly Gillen is able to juggle his abundant cast of characters and provide each of them with a meaningful story. Furthermore, he weaves in a plethora of exceptional thematic elements, such as sexuality, illness (mental and physical), abusive relationships, idolization, and religion, to name a few. The idea of pop stars as modern-day icons is at the forefront of the book, and it’s handled quite well, to the point that it’s almost unsettlingly accurate to the real world.
On the flip side, since all of the characters are given such incredible attention to detail, the overall plot of the book stumbles from time to time, especially in the third act when all of the various threads start coming together. Even still, the mystery at the heart of the series is consistently gripping, to the point that you’ll find yourself flipping through the pages in no time. And speaking of pages, McKelvie and Wilson offer some truly captivating ones; their realistic yet deftly animated style is perfect for this kind of story, and it’s hard to imagine it being envisioned any other way.
This book has infinite appeal to younger audiences, with the main plot being interesting enough to keep older readers invested throughout. It falls just shy of a perfect score, but I still give it my highest recommendation.
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Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan
Ever since I started reading writer Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga (another book you should definitely read), I’ve been working on reading anything and everything else written by him. That includes one of his other major Image books, Paper Girls. This loveable, coming-of-age tale follows four 12-year-old girls through a wild, time travelling adventure, with the fate of the space-time continuum on the line. So, you know, fun stuff right off the bat.
In truth, this book almost feels like a sleeper hit for Vaughan. It’s not nearly as deep or dramatic as some of his other works, but it may very well be the most unabashedly fun and endearing of them. When I first stumbled upon this one, I picked it up on impulse, simply because it had Vaughan’s name on it. I finished and learned to love the book because of how very different it is from everything else I’ve read by him. Not to mention, the duo of artist Cliff Chiang and colorist Matt Wilson are on full blast here. Chiang’s style is equally simplistic yet stylish, with just the right amount of flair for a story like this.
For me, the most refreshing part of this book is how it tells such an adult story through such a youthful lens. That, and just how excellent the character work is. And it’s all bound together by a beautiful heart steeped in the importance of friendship. There are a few lapses in tone from time to time, or instances where finer details or developments maybe get left by the wayside, but it’s nothing that will drastically detract from the overall quality.
This is another book I think will definitely appeal more to younger audiences, given how much youthful charm there is, but similarly to The Wicked + The Divine, the plot is complex enough for adults that it’ll keep them engaged throughout. This is another book I can’t recommend enough.
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East of West by Jonathan Hickman
Similarly to Brian K. Vaughan, I’m a sucker for anything written by Jonathan Hickman. In all honesty, he’s probably my favorite writer of all time. I learned to love his work after reading his run on Avengers, and I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by him since. To that affect, East of West is right up there as some of Hickman’s best work.
Alongside artist Nick Dragotta, Hickman crafts a story that is equal parts epic and endearing. The story takes place in a dystopian America in the year 2064, with the nation having been split into seven parts in 1908 following an extended Civil War. Since that time, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have risen and taken under their thrall influential leaders from each nation. Their goal: end the world. The Horseman Death, however, has turned from the path of his kin after falling in love and having a child. The story follows Death as he seeks to find his son after he was taken from him, while other forces work to either end or save the world.
That’s the most abridged version of the plot I think I can possibly give. Like most other Hickman stories, it gets real complicated real fast. But in a good way. Trust me.
Similar to Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF books from Marvel, East of West deftly tackles the concepts of motherhood, fatherhood, and family. Furthermore, the story also, at the surface level, details what one might be willing to endure to protect or obtain such things. There’s an extravagant amount of nuance to Hickman’s writing, so much so that the thematic elements of his stories aren’t often noticeable until later reflection. But when you start to connect the dots, they come together in some truly magnificent ways.
Another thing I’ve always admired about Hickman as a writer is his ability to wrangle such impossibly large casts of characters and still give them all unique personalities and motives. There are certainly times where they all start to sound like one another (Hickman tends to write incredibly dense dialogue), but it’s never to the point that it gets confusing or annoying.
Nick Dragotta’s style is enigmatic, being equal parts under and overstated. His ability to effortlessly deliver both subtle character moments and giant demonic monsters and have it all feel equally impactful is impeccable. He perfectly envisions this world and its characters as Hickman imagines them, and it’s made all the better by Frank Martin’s colors; this is truly an unstoppable creative team.
All-in-all, this is one of my favorite titles in recent history. That said, this is definitely a book for more advanced audiences. It’s not as complex as some of Hickman’s other books, but it’ll still require you actively pay attention, so go into this one with a thinking cap on or something. Even still,
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Silver Surfer by Dan Slott
It’s not often I’m deeply moved by a Marvel comic book; it does happen from time to time, but it’s not exactly what I expect going in. However, to my immense surprise, few books have evoked as much of an emotional response from me as Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer did. Which is weird because, previously, the Silver Surfer, as a character, had never appealed to me all that much. I was, however, always a fan of Slott’s long-lasting run on Amazing Spider-Man, so I picked up his Silver Surfer a few years back just to see what else he had to offer as a writer. Best decision I could’ve made at the time.
Accompanied by artist Michael Allred and colorist Laura Allred—who provide nothing but gorgeous pages from beginning to end—Slott’s Silver Surfer is a story about two very different people coming together and going on epic, universe-spanning adventures together. The book sees the stoic Silver Surfer himself, aka Norrin Radd, joined by Dawn Greenwood, an endlessly charming young woman from Anchor Bay, Massachusetts (not a real place, which is unfortunate, based on how wonderfully the location is established). The tagline of the series is “Anywhere and Everywhere—Hang on!” Which is highly appropriate, as the story sees the Surfer and Dawn travelling throughout the cosmos, visiting thousands of worlds, discovering captivating cosmic phenomena, and meeting hundreds of new people. In many ways, it almost reads like Doctor Who, but not at all in a copycat kind of way.
Slott’s Silver Surfer largely succeeds because of how deftly it tells unique and individual stories from issue to issue without ever losing its fantastical allure or luster. The storytelling is classical and, honestly, a little weird at times, but it also somehow feels fresh; it plays with the concepts of exploration, friendship, family, and being unafraid of the new and unknown, and it’s all tied together by an absolutely enamoring romance. It’s a pure thrill-ride, front to back, with an endless amount of heart at its core.
I own the omnibus for this run, and it’s honestly one of my most treasured books. This is a genuine “feel good” kind of book that is sure to leave a positive impact on anyone who reads it, so definitely make sure to add this one to your reading list.
Support the blog and buy a copy here! (couldn’t find a copy of vol 1 on bookshop)
Locke & Key by Joe Hill
I’ve saved the best for last. Written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key is one of my favorite pieces of literature of all time. A gripping story filled with immaculate—and sometimes grizzly—artwork make this one of the most insanely entertaining dark fantasy pieces of all time.
The story follows the Locke family, specifically the kids, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, as they move with their mother into their old family home, Keyhouse, following the murder of their father. Not long after arriving, the kids begin discovering strange keys around the house that possess magical powers. At the same time as the keys are being found, so too are other, more sinister dangers. It’s not long before the kids are wrapped up in an ongoing fight for their lives, as dark forces from another realm seek to take over the world. Using the magical keys and the secrets of the Keyhouse, it’s up to the three children to save, well, pretty much everything.
To borrow a word from the blurb on the back cover of the hardcover compendium, this is a truly “sprawling” story. I oftentimes wonder just how the hell such a book exists. Joe Hill’s unfathomable attention to detail is on full display here, and Gabriel Rodriguez delivers some of the most realistically unique pages I’ve ever seen in a comic book. The story is perfectly paced, driven by a vividly engaging cast of characters, each with their own tales to tell and secrets to discover. The relationships and internal traumas of each character are given the perfect amount of context and depth, and the family dynamic at the heat of the Locke’s is so vividly realized; it’s one of the most brilliant family dynamics I’ve ever read. On the surface, I think these would all be interesting characters to read about on their own, but when you throw magic keys into the mix, they shine even brighter.
Speaking of magic, there’s lots of it in this book. The thrill of discovering what each new key does is half the fun of the book. It’s also half of where all the anxiety comes from, because more often than not, the bad guy has them, and he does some really fucked up shit with them. This is one of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever seen in a piece of literature, and I still have yet to find anything nearly as interesting elsewhere.
And, to top everything off, I think there’s always something to be said about a good book that knows exactly how to wrap everything up and end on the highest of high notes.
This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, nor anyone below the age of 10 (maybe), but I can assure you, should you choose to dive into Locke & Key, it’ll be one of the best reading choices you’ll ever make. Of all the books on my list, this one gets my absolute highest recommendation.
Support the blog and buy a copy here!
I hope everyone enjoyed reading Matt’s top 5 recommendations for comic books to check out! I can confirm, this guest post series will just be racking up books on my TBR. If you want to check out more comic books, graphic novels or magna, check out my previous post here of recent reads. Don’t forget to check out Piper’s recommendations from last month! You can find Matt at his blog, on instagram (you’ll also find some cosplay there), and twitter!
If you like the gayer shit, I post about what I’m reading on IG quite a bit and have posted about Artie and The Wolf Moon, Harley Quinn: Eat Bang Kill! Tour, Fence, and of course Heartstopper! And more here on the blog and on my YouTube channel too. Don’t forget to consider donating to my Kofi or becoming a member on the book club tier! It helps keep this going and hopefully be able to send future and past guests a lil thank you when I can!
See you next time!