Comics Gobble: Gentle Boys, Hardcore Lady Types, and Shapeshifting Superheroes/Villains

Welcome to Comics Gobble! Staring today, you can look forward to Comics Gobble every Friday. It’ll be a weekly roundup of my favorite comics from the past week, accompanied by my observations and thinkings about those specific comics and reading comics generally. I’m new to comics and I have fallen for them hard, fast, and completely. I hope that my earnest newbie excitement is catching, because reading comics has brought me so much joy, solace, and inspiration over this first terrifying and overwhelming week, post-inaguration.

In the non-comics world, I’m currently reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. It is a beautiful and unconventionally structured memoir about parenting, queer family, and art. It is exquisite. It is also hard. I often have to read paragraphs over and over again before I understand them. It is stretching me, and though it is slow going at times, it is deeply rewarding.

On the surface, reading a comic is the opposite of reading a book like The Argonauts. Comics are fast. They’re almost exclusively dialogue. There are pictures! But, like The Argonauts—a kind of book that I’m not used to reading—comics force me use a different part of my brain. Visual art tells stories that words simply can’t. There are layers to comics that don’t exist in books that are entirely prose—not better or worse, but different. I often go back and reread a few pages in a comic book when I realize I’ve been reading too fast and not letting the part of the story that exists only in the art really sink in. It’s like learning how to read all over again with a different set of rules.

Reading comics isn’t hard, and they are fast, and that’s part of what I love about them. But reading comics is also teaching me to see things differently, to look at things differently. I have to pay attention to visual clues. Sometimes an important scene or a climatic moment is mostly an image, supplemented with a few well-chosen words. In the sense that books open me—to new ideas, new perspectives, new places—reading comics is opening me to a new way of understanding stories.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to need all the parts of my brain open and working for the fights that are coming, so I’m going to keep reading all the different kinds of books I can get my hands on.

Top Comics of the Week

The Backstagers, by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh

backstagersI absolutely loved this comic. Not yet compiled into a collected edition, there are currently six issues out (the 6th was just released a few days ago; I can’t wait to read it!) and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

The story follows five high school boys who work on their school’s tech crew. Unbeknownst to the rest of the school, backstage there is a magical world–dangerous and miraculous–that only the backstagers can access. Adventures ensue.

Toxic masculinity and the violence that stems from it is rampant in our culture, and this comic is a beautiful balm in the face of that. Here are boys who are tender and kind to each other. They express their love for each other, they tell each other when they’re afraid, they protect each other, they talk through their feelings. It is truly wonderful. The comic celebrates queerness, but also the sacredness of friendship, and all the different ways there are to be both gentle and strong, all the different ways there are to be a boy.

The art, and especially the coloring–is gorgeous and magical and felt like both a celebration and a commentary on gender norms at the same time. I loved this all-ages comic and I recommend it to everyone, but I’m especially excited to give it to every one of the young boys in my life.

Bitch Planet, Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine, by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

bitch-planetI found Bitch Planet terrifying and uplifting at the same time, much like living on this planet. In the chilling-yet-familiar sci-fi future of this comic, the country is ruled by the patriarchal and misogynistic “Council of Fathers”. Non-complaint women (i.e. women who think and act for themselves) are sent to an off-world prison.

The strength of these women–their stories, their actions, the choices they make–was the joyful and uplifting part, despite the bleakness and violence of the world and story itself.

One thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was the brilliant commentary on normalization in this comic. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, just one week into Trump’s presidency. The way that normalization functions in the terrifying society of Bitch Planet draws into sharp relief the dangers of allowing for the normalization of racism and misogyny in our own world, right now.

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters & Brooke Allen

lumberjanesFriends have been telling me about Lumberjanes for a while now; I finally read it and it is as awesome as they all said! I’ve only read the first two volumes and I cannot wait for more.

First, there’s the the pure joy of reading about this strong, smart, kick-ass group of girls fighting strange supernatural creatures and earning the coolest badges ever at the Camp for Hardcore Lady Types we all wish we’d gone to.

Second, in Volume 2 there was a League of Their Own reference that made me giddy with happiness, and, throughout the comic, instead of the usual exclamations (like oh damn!) they say things like “holy bell hooks!” and it is the best thing ever.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

nimonaThis book blew me away. It was so good. I’m a little bit at a loss for what to write about it, because I don’t want to give anything away. It was a beautiful story with amazing characters (especially Nimona who is currently pretty high on my all-time favorite fictional characters list).

I’ve noticed a trend, in the books I love the most–they all ask questions about what makes us who we are. There was one especially beautiful scene at the end of this book that perfectly opened that question for me: are we who we say we are, or are we who those who love us say we are? Do we get to choose?

This book gave me chills. I loved every single one of these comics, but if I could only recommend one–you know, if you’re a parent or you have a job or you’re busy resisting Trump and building a movement and you just don’t have time to read all the comics on the planet–this is the one.

Not-Quite-Gobble-Worthy Comics I Enjoyed

The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ & Amal, Volume 1: Poor Boys & Pilgrams, by E.K. Weaver

tj-and-amalThis road-trip comic is about two young men who meet randomly at a bar in Berkeley and decide–for their own different reasons–to drive cross-country together. Amal has just called off his wedding and come out to his family, and TJ seems to fleeing from–something.

I loved the understated quiet in this comic; the black and white art suited the mood of the story. It was a slow burn. The dialogue between TJ and Amal felt so real it was uncomfortable at times. I’m curious to know what happens and I’ll probably read the next volume; it just wasn’t completely extraordinary.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona

ms-marvelThere were a lot of things I loved about this comic, most notably, Kamala Khan, the kick-ass Muslim teenage-girl-turned-shapeshifting-superhero. Amid all the hate aimed at Muslims, Muslim Americans, women, girls, and people of Middle Eastern descent right now, this comic is relevant and important. Once again, I don’t know much about the history of superhero comics, but it seems likely that too many of them are about white men. In the real world, women and folks of color and queer folks are so often the ones doing the superhero work, and it’s really fantastic to see that reflected on the page.

I’m not really into superhero comics, though. At least I don’t think I am. I’m definitely planning on reading the next volume of Ms. Marvel, but there is definitely something about the superhero trope that I find less-than-compelling. I’m still trying to work out what it is.

Toil & Trouble, by Mairghread Scott, Kelly Matthews & Nicole Matthews

toil-and-troubleToil & Trouble is a retelling of Macbeth from the witches’ point of view. It’s been a long time since I read Macbeth; maybe that’s why I did not completely love this comic. I enjoyed reading the story from a different angle, but almost felt like it wasn’t enough of a different angle. Smertae, the main character, was compelling and intriguing, but I never felt like the stakes were high enough for her sisters, and so I didn’t ever fully buy into their actions. Maybe all of the is in the original text, but isn’t messing with the original the point of a retelling?

I absolutely loved the art in this book, especially the art surrounding the witches and their magic. The drawings of the witches transforming into animal beings were especially gorgeous.

Currently Reading

Black Science, Volume 1: How to Fall Forever, by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera & Dean White

black-scienceI’m only a chapter into this strange, sci-fi/fantasy space adventure, and so far I’m not wowed by the story, but I love the art. Here’s something I’m excited about: one of the things I love most about science fiction and fantasy–the astounding range of the human imagination–is magnified in comics. There’s not only an astounding range of imagined worlds, creatures, aliens, kinds of magic, etc.–but they are all drawn! In comics, the diverse and astounding creativity of humans shines through both in the written word and in art.

The verdict is still out on this one, but even if it’s not one of my favorites, I’m really enjoying the wild, imaginative art and the bright, almost garish palette.

Next Up

Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan, Jr

y-last-manA friend of mine lent me his stack of all ten volumes of this comic, and I’m really exited to start reading it. Given how much I loved Saga, it seems likely that other things Brian K. Vaughan has written will also be excellent.



Copperhead, Volume 1: A New Sheriff In Town, by Jay Faerber & Scott Godlewski

copperheadI signed up for ComiXology Unlimited, a digital comics platform (and an Amazon company, for better or worse). You can buy comics on the platform without subscribing, but at $6/month, it’s an affordable way to get access to a lot of comics. I don’t know if I’ll keep paying for it, but so far I’ve been enjoying it immensely.

In any case, I’ve been keeping a list of comics recommended to me by friends and (mostly) the internet. Many of them (at least the first few issues or the first volume) are available though ComiXology Unlimited, so I’m working through the list in alphabetical order. I don’t know much about this comic, but the first sentence of the publisher’s description–Welcome to Copperhead, a grimy mining town on the edge of a backwater planet.–was enough to make me want to read it.

4 thoughts on “Comics Gobble: Gentle Boys, Hardcore Lady Types, and Shapeshifting Superheroes/Villains

Add yours

    1. This piece was very interesting, thanks for sharing! The reactive v. creative argument is compelling. I’m interested to see how some of the newer non-DC/Marvel universe superhero comics that have come out recently stack up. One of the reasons I found Nimona was so brilliant was because it tangled and turned the superhero archetype on its head. It absolutely portrayed the villain as creative and imaginative, but then it asked “who is really a villain, and why do we labels some as villian and some as hero?” Fascinating!

      Liked by 1 person

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