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James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics
James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics

The 12 Most Interesting Comics Released in April

James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics
James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics

Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics, and comics-related Kickstarter campraigns that we recommend you check out.

1. ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1

By James Stokoe
Dark Horse Comics

Timed to coincide with “Alien Day” on April 26th (the date was chosen because 4/26 matches LV-426, the name of the moon on which the film Aliens takes place), this highly anticipated new mini-series is James Stokoe’s next foray into popular movie monster territory. Previously, the visionary artist produced two astounding Godzilla books that showed off his attention to finely detailed destruction. Expect that same level of stylish intricacy being applied to H.R. Giger-designed spaceship technology and oozy Xenomorph anatomy. The first issue sets things up with your typical Aliens premise—a lone engineer is  trapped on a spaceship with a Xenomorph—and lets Stokoe just run with it in his own way.

2. BATMAN #21

By Tom King, Jason Fabok, Jay Leisten, and Brad Anderson
DC Comics 

When DC kicked off their line-restarting publishing event last summer with a one-shot comic called DC Rebirth, they dropped lots of hints that they were planning on bringing the characters of Alan Moore's Watchmen comic into DC continuity. There were allusions to Dr. Manhattan’s Martian palace and Batman even unearthed the iconic smiley face button from a wall inside the Batcave. Yet, almost a year later, DC has not done much to follow up on these teases. Now, in a four-part story called “The Button” that will run in two issues of Batman and two issues of The Flash, those two hero detectives will team up to solve the mystery of this smiley face button while DC will risk the ire of Watchmen fans who are likely still steaming from the 2012 decision go against Moore's wishes and make the Before Watchmen prequel books.

3. COLLECTING STICKS

By Joe Decie
Jonathan Cape Books


Collecting Sticks is a camping story for those who aren’t all that comfortable with outdoorsy activities. In it, Joe Decie describes what “glamping” (glamorous camping) is like with his wife and son: a drive to the woods to stay in a rented cabin that's furnished with beds and within walking distance of a grocery store. They wrestle with building a fire, sketch the scenery, argue about the lameness of Jango Fett, and, of course, collect sticks and other found objects (that can be sold on eBay later). Decie portrays himself as a bit of a nebbish, but he and his family are perfectly happy with their version of camping and their endearingly sarcastic-but-loving dynamic is infectious.

4. CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION MOON / CATSTRONAUTS: RACE TO MARS

By Drew Brockington
Little, Brown Books

Dogs have had their turn in space, so why not see what cats can do? Drew Brockington has debuted his first two graphic novels at once, and they mark the beginning of a delightful—and even educational—series set in a world populated by felines and starring an intrepid band of cat astronauts. Book one, Mission Moon, starts off with an energy crisis on Earth that requires the CatStronauts to install a solar power plant on the moon before the last bit of energy runs out. In book two, Race to Mars, they’re called upon again to compete against other countries to be the first cats to land on Mars. Like little cat versions of Matt Damon in The Martian, they must use some technical know-how and real science to complete their missions and get themselves out of some jams. Young readers will get a kick out of the cute cat jokes, but will also learn some simple facts about aeronautics along the way.

5. X-MEN: GOLD #1 / X-MEN: BLUE #1

By Marc Guggenheim, Ardian Syaf/By Cullen Bunn and Jorge Molina
Marvel Comics


Marvel’s X-Men franchise has been in an oddly diminished place for the past few years. Star players like Wolverine and Cyclops are dead, and mutants, in general, have seemed of secondary importance compared to Marvel Cinematic Universe-driven titles like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and even The Inhumans (the X-Men film franchise is controlled not by Marvel, but by Fox). Now, in an effort to harken back to an era of peak popularity, Marvel is returning to the informal Blue/Gold team structure that was used to differentiate the two main X-books during the 1990s, although with different rosters for each team. X-Men: Gold will be led by Kitty Pryde, who is fresh off a stint in space with the Guardians, and will consist of Old Man Logan (the inspiration for the new Logan film), Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Grey. X-Men: Blue will have the original teenage X-Men—Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, and Beast—who have been transported through time to find themselves stuck in the present.

This relaunch was saddled with some unintended controversy when online readers of X-Men: Gold #1 pointed out that the artist, Ardian Syaf, had hidden some anti-Christian and anti-Jewish messages in that issue’s artwork. Marvel has since released an apology, fired Syaf from the book, and even pulled the issue from Comixology’s digital storefront, promising that future printings of the book will feature revised artwork.

6. IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS

By Kristen Radtke
Pantheon Books


While in college, the path of Kristen Radtke’s life was influenced by two events: the death of her uncle from a congenital heart disease that she herself may share, and the discovery of some photos in a rundown building that would spark a years-long fascination with ruined places. Radtke’s first graphic novel is part travel memoir/part environmental journal/part philosophical exploration of the places that human beings leave behind. She explores coal mines, deserted American cities, an Icelandic town buried in volcanic ash, and even imagines a future New York City flooded by climate catastrophe. Her photorealistic illustrations give this book a documentary-like feel; her essay-like writing and her own presence throughout the story add a personal and emotional element.

7. NAMELESS CITY VOL. 2: THE STONE HEART

By Faith Erin Hicks
First Second


The middle volume of Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy comes on the heels of an announcement that the books will be adapted into a 12-episode animated series. This volume picks up where the last book left off, and continues to build on the friendship between Kaidu, the son of the leader of the invading Dao army, and Rat, the native orphan of the beleaguered Nameless City. That friendship becomes strained when Kaidu is made privy to a secret that could help his father bring order to the City, but at the cost of betraying the culture of its people. Hicks’s beautiful artwork is full of intricately drawn vistas and manga-style action, giving this story of political intrigue a snappy, addictive pace. 

8. THE INTERVIEW

By Manuele Fior
Fantagraphics



Manuele Fior’s 5,000 km Per Second, the winner of the prestigious Grand Prize at the 2010 Angoulême International Comics Festival, was released in English last year by Fantagraphics to wide critical acclaim. This year, we get to read his 2014 follow-up, The Interview, which takes 5,000 km’s knack for depicting brooding relationship drama and adds a tinge of existential sci-fi dread. Set in Italy in 2048, it follows a psychologist trying to hold his marriage together when he has a close encounter with a UFO, followed by an even closer encounter with a young female patient from a free love commune. This is a gorgeous and moody book that uses science fiction to explore the way the nature of relationships changes from generation to generation.

9. THE REALIST: PLUG AND PLAY

By Asaf Hanuka
Boom! Studios



Asaf Hanuka is well known for his collaborations with his twin brother, Tomer (their most recent graphic novel being 2015’s The Divine). But in his native Israel, Asaf is best known as the creator of The Realist comic strip, which has been running in the Israeli business magazine Calcalist since 2010. Boom! Studios is releasing the second collection of Hanuka’s strips which are short (sometimes even one-page), full-color observations about parenthood, achieving work/life balance, and the geo-political world around him. He has a comedian’s knack for pointing out the little, relatable moments we all share in life and his drawings burst with such creativity that you’ll chuckle with appreciation if you aren’t already chuckling with fellow parental commiseration.

10. BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW #1

By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Yona Harvey and Butch Guice
Marvel Comics

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes his Black Panther series from the African kingdom of Wakanda to the streets of Harlem and turns it into a team book comprised of prominent black superheroes like Luke Cage, Storm, Misty Knight, relative newcomer Manifold, and, of course Black Panther himself. Marvel Comics fans may recognize the name “The Crew” from Christopher Priest's short-lived 2003 series of the same name, about an all-black team of heroes. Coates has nodded to Priest as a comic book influence before—particularly his run on Black Panther in the late 1990s. Outside of comics, Coates is a famed writer on race relations and the black experience and will no doubt be addressing such issues in this new series, which begins with the Crew looking to solve the murder of a Harlem activist. Coates is joined by co-writer Yona Harvey (who worked with him on the Black Panther spin-off series World of Wakanda) as well as veteran artist Butch Guice.

11. SPENCER & LOCKE #1

By David Pepose, Jorge Santiago, and Jasen Smith
Action Lab Entertainment 

Calvin & Hobbes fans might just love this gritty crime drama about Detective Locke and his imaginary partner/stuffed panther Spencer (though I can also imagine some will revolt at seeing even analogs of Bill Watterson’s precocious young boy, his imaginary tiger, and their supporting cast depicted in such a bleak and adult way). Writer David Pepose, artist Jorge Santiago, and colorist Jasen Smith get a lot right as they age up this Calvin stand-in into a tough, slightly unhinged cop who has to revisit his past to solve the murder of his childhood friend Sophie Jenkins. 

12. WITCHLIGHT

By Jessi Zabarsky
Czap Books


The debut book from new publisher Czap Books (a company funded through a successful Kickstarter last year) is a beautifully illustrated, LBQT-friendly adventure by Jessi Zabarsky that originally ran as a Tumblr webcomic. Witchlight is about two women—innocent, naive Sanja and dark, adventurous Lelek—who are thrown together on a journey across a magical land. The two get to know each other and learn about themselves and the idea of growing close to another person in this sweet, manga-inspired fantasy.

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King Features Syndicate
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Comics
8 Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

A comics page staple for nearly 65 years, Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois is a celebration of the mundane. Married couple Hiram “Hi” Flagston, wife Lois, and their four children balance work, school, and family dynamics, all of it with few punchlines but plenty of relatable situations. This four-panel ode to suburbia might appear simple, but it still has a rich history involving a beef with The Flintstones, broken noses, and one very important candy bar wrapper.

1. IT’S A SPINOFF OF BEETLE BAILEY.

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker had been drawing that military-themed strip for four years when a friend of his named Lew Schwartz approached him in 1954 with a new idea: Why not create a strip about a nuclear family? Around the same time, the Korean War was ending, and Walker had sent Beetle home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois. Drawing a line between the two, Walker decided to pursue the suburbia idea using Lois as connective tissue. Hi and Lois was born: The two strips would see their respective characters visit one another over the years.

2. A CANDY BAR HELPED DEFINE THE STRIP’S LOOK.

Already working on Beetle Bailey, Walker decided to limit his work on Hi and Lois to writing. He wanted to collaborate with an artist, and so both he and his syndicate, King Features, went searching for a suitable partner. Walker soon came across ads for both Lipton’s tea and Mounds candy bars that had the same signature: Dik Browne. Coincidentally, a King Features executive named Sylvan Byck saw a strip in Boy’s Life magazine also signed by Browne. The two agreed he was a talent and invited Browne to work on the strip.

3. HI ORIGINALLY HAD A BROKEN NOSE.

As an artist, Walker had plenty of input into the style of Hi and Lois: Browne would later recall that trying to merge his own approach with Walker’s proved difficult. “When you draw a character like Hi, for instance, you immediately set the style for the whole strip,” he said. “You have already dictated what a tree will look like or how a dog will look, just by sketching that one head.” In his earliest incarnation, Hi had a broken, upturned nose to make him seem virile, puffed on a pipe, and wore a vest. Through trial and error, the two artists eventually settled on the softer lines the strip still uses today, an aesthetic some observers refer to as the “Connecticut school style” of cartooning.

4. EDITORS WERE WARY AT FIRST.

When Hi and Lois debuted on October 18, 1954, only 32 papers carried the strip. The reason, Walker later explained, had to do with concerns that he was spreading himself too thin. At the time, cartoonists rarely worked on two strips at once. Between Hi and Lois and Beetle Bailey, there was fear that the quality of one or both would suffer. Editors were also worried that having two artists on one project would dilute the self-expression of both. Walker stuck to his intentions—to make Hi and Lois a strip about the small pleasures of suburban life—and newspapers slowly came on board. By 1956, 131 papers were running the strip.

5. TRIXIE MAY HAVE SAVED THE STRIP.

With readers a little slow to respond to Hi and Lois, Walker had an idea: At the time, it was unusual for characters who don’t normally speak—like Snoopy—to express themselves with thought balloons. Walker decided to have baby Trixie think “out loud,” giving readers insight into her perspective. Shortly after Trixie began having a voice, Hi and Lois took off.

6. CHIP IS THE ONLY CHARACTER TO HAVE AGED.

Like most comic strip casts, the Hi and Lois family has found a way to stop the aging process. Baby Trixie is eternally in diapers; the parents seem to hover around 40 without any wrinkles. But oldest son Chip has been an exception. Roughly eight years old when the strip debuted, he’s currently 16, a nod to Walker's need for a character who can address teenage issues like driving, school, and dating.

7. IT LED TO HAGAR THE HORRIBLE.

Browne might be more well-known for his Hägar the Horrible, a strip about a beleaguered Viking. That strip, which debuted in 1973, was the result of Browne’s sons advising their father that Hi and Lois was really Walker’s brainchild and that Browne should consider a strip that could be a “family business.” By 1985, Hägar was in 1500 newspapers, while Hi and Lois was in 1000. Following Browne’s death in 1989, his son Chris continued the strip.

8. IT ALSO HAD A BONE TO PICK WITH THE FLINTSTONES.

The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s modern stone-age family, premiered in primetime in 1960, but not exactly the way the animation studio had intended. Fred and Wilma were initially named Flagstone, not Flintstone, and the series was to be titled Rally ‘Round the Flagstones. But Walker told executives he felt the name was too close to the Flagstons of Hi and Lois fame. Sensing a possible legal issue, they agreed.

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Pop Chart Lab
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entertainment
A Visual History of Captain America’s Shields
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Captain America has gone through plenty of wardrobe changes since his comic book debut in 1941, but it’s his iconic shield that has had the most makeovers. Over the past eight decades, fans have seen the shield change its shape, color, and even the material from which it’s crafted. For the folks at Pop Chart Lab, the shield’s storied history provided the perfect subject matter for their latest poster.

On this piece, the company teamed with Marvel to give a rundown of 50 of Cap’s shields—from the instantly recognizable to the downright obscure. Here we see his classic Golden Age shield, with its slightly different color scheme, and the different variations from Jack Kirby’s time-traveling Bicentennial Battles book. Then there are entries like the vibranium shield he received from Black Panther in Captain America #342 and an adamantium one made by Tony Stark.

Those different shields just scratch the surface of the deep cuts Pop Chart Lab provides. There are also shields from Captain Americas across Marvel’s numerous alternate universes, like the ones used by the Ultimate Universe Steve Rogers and the android Cap from Earth-725.

Each shield is illustrated to match its comic book counterpart and comes with a description specifying the series it debuted in and which Earth it exists on (the Marvel Universe has thousands of different versions of Earth, after all).

The posters will begin shipping on May 23, and you can pre-order yours now starting at $29 on the Pop Chart Lab website. You can check out a full look at the poster below.

Pop Chart Lab's Captain America shield poster
Pop Chart Lab

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