I just realized it's been a while since I provided a rundown on the comics I've been currently reading — for better or worse — so here's what stood out in my stack:
USAGI YOJIMBO (ongoing)
By now it's become predictable for me to recommend whatever issue of Stan Sakai's USAGI YOJIMBO is out, so once again I do just that. I've said it before and I'll say it again: whether you like samurai sagas or not, there's simply no denying USAGI YOJIMBO's rank as the best ongoing book out there. Period. The stories and art are never less than grade A and you know you're onto something good when the only — and I do mean only — complaint to made against the book is that the reading of each issue is over too quickly, an especially agonizing state of affairs when the series is in the midst of one of its multi-issue arcs. If you haven't been reading this series you really have no idea what you're missing, but luckily for you the bulk of it has been collected into around twenty volumes or so. TRUST YER BUNCHE and read this! NOTE: although I give this series the highest recommendation possible, keep in mind that the first few volumes, while still good, don't have the visual polish that Sakai would develop as the series progressed, but the same can be said of most great comics, so get off your ass and pick it up. NOW, damn you!!!
JONAH HEX (ongoing)
Good old-fashioned Western nihilism and degradation of the human spirit served up monthly by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and whichever artists happens to available (including such top-notch illustrators as Darwyn Cooke, Rafa Garres and the incomparable Jordi Bernet). If you appreciate violent Westerns straight out of the Sergio Leone school of six-gun carnage, you won't be disappointed.
VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION (mini-series)
Never in a million years would I have expected to ever recommend a book showcasing a character who's always been a second-stringer at best, and more than once I've dismissed her as an uninspired Animal Man minus the Y chromosome, but it's finally time for readers to sit up and take notice of Vixen and what can be done with her when handed by the right creative team. Returning to her hometown in Africa with the goal of exacting vengeance upon the man who murdered her mother, Vixen runs into a foe who puts her within inches of Death's door, but that major-league ass-kicking serves as the catalyst for some serious enlightenment regarding the nature (no pun intended) of her wildlife-channeling abilities. Long believing that her powers stemmed from the talisman she wears, Vixen discovers that she has a far more direct connection to the natural world and that she's more powerful than she ever imagined... The Justice League turns up in this to offer assistance when they think she needs it, but all too swiftly they find themselves soundly beaten by the bad guy, a villain with resources of a magnitude that can even bend the Man of Steel to his every whim, and we all know how potentially horrible that can be! This one's not over yet, but I'm on board for the full trip and have thoroughly enjoyed every panel of it thus far. I seriously doubt this will RETURN OF THE LION will spur much interest in the character, but if sales are good enough and she's granted her own ongoing book, DC would be ill-advised to hand it over to anyone other than G.Willow Wilson and Cafu, the creative team who have spun gold from three decades of straw (although Vixen did rock on the Warner Brothers JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoons).
ARMY @ LOVE: THE ART OF WAR (mini-series)
This second round of Rick Veitch's anti-war satire dishes out more comedic vitriol and insanity that's just as much fun as its predecessor, with each panel dripping absurdity. The only caveat here is two-fold: this is best enjoyed by those who already like Veitch's lysergic sensibilities, and the first series is required reading to understand what's going on here, but that's been collected so pick it up and get crackin'!
MADAME XANADU (ONGOING)
Usually a huge nothing whenever she pops up, Madame Xanadu has finally been crafted into a viable character that not only is fully deserving of the reader's attention, but is also actually interesting enough to place this series among the top three or four books I anticipate reading each month. No, I'm totally serious! For get all the previous bullshit you've endured involving the hitherto unexplained seeress and surrender to the writing skills of Matt (MAGE) Wagner and the charming art of Amy Reeder Hadley, a creative duo that breathes life into what could have been another of vertigo's assembly line fantasy books. Opening during the days of Arthurian legend, the series explores the mysterious Xanadu's origins and takes her (and the readers) on a journey spanning centuries on her way to the present day, and her adventures on the way involve interactions with important moments in history and some of its famous (and infamous) figures, with the ever-enigmatic Phantom Stranger showing up at every turn to irritate the living shit out of Xanadu with his code of non-interference. One of the best books Vertigo is currently putting out, I wonder if anyone's reading this and I also wonder if Vertigo knows just what a gem it has on its hands. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to those who love fantasy and faeries and that kind of shit, but if you can't take it kinda "girly" you might not be as enthralled as I am.
Now that the war-driven overall arc that propelled the story from the first issue is over (as of issue 75), FABLES is pretty much starting over again and is thus far still worth reading. That's all I'll say about it except that it's another series the casual reader can't just jump into, but the whole shebang has been collected so you win. Oh, and Bigby rules and long(er) live Frau Totenkinder!!!
THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES (ongoing)
Marvel's take on the legendary Hercules has largely been entertaining from the get-go when he first showed up to serve as the Mighty Thor's opposite number over forty-years ago, but depending on what's being done with him his adventures either totally rock or just lay there like a corn dog doody, bobbing on the surface of your toilet's liquid component. This post-WORLD WAR HULK run thankfully keeps its head on the most important thing that superhero comics have to offer, escapist Fun with a capital "F", along with a healthy dose of loony humor so often missing from spandex operas that take themselves as seriously as THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER, and I've been glued to it since its launch. It's setup is pretty much that of a "road" adventure in which Herc serves as a half-assed mentor/big brother figure to super-genius Amadeus Cho while the to get themselves into and out of all manner of superpowered insanity, and it barely stops to catch its breath before the reader has enough time to realize exactly how ridiculous it all is. There's action galore, romance as Herc attempts to nail every female capable of physically surviving his amorous attentions (successfully bagging Snowbird, Namora and, most impressively, She-Hulk thus far), would-be romance as adolescent Amadeus tries and fails to get laid, cosmic quests featuring a variety of gods from diverse pantheons, and...Oh, hell, just pick up the collection already!
GREEN LANTERN and GREEN LANTERN CORPS (ongoing)
Going strong for just shy of fifty years after flagrantly ripping off E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman concept, DC's Green Lantern books are easily the most epic in scope of the company's monthly offerings and since the return of damned near everybody's favorite GL, Hal Jordan, a few years ago, the series has never failed to entertain and both books are among my monthly "must reads." After last year's "Sinestro Corp War" the rules on a Green Lantern's abilities and duties has been re-written by the Guardians of the Universe and those revisions of their ancient laws have lead to yet more changes that have spelled out all kinds of messed-up shit for those who bear the ring, and as any fan of ongoing dramas will tell you, nothing holds the audience like totally fucking with the characters' status quo. There's plenty going on in these books and they're gearing up for yet another multi-issue epic story, "The Blackest Night," so I don't recommend getting started with this series unless you begin with the first collected volume of writer Geoff Johns' run ("Rebirth") and the first volume of GREEN LANTERN CORPS, also collected, but once you're up to speed there are few superhero books that offer as much bang for your buck.
FANTASTIC FOUR (ongoing)
While most of Marvel's output has been middling to downright lousy over the past decade or so, no book has suffered so great a creative decline as that featuring my favorite of the company's super-teams, and not even the gorgeous artwork of Bryan (THE AUTHORITY) Hitch can stem the malaise. The problem here is scripter Mark Millar, whose would-be epic storylines wallow in their own portentousness while only yielding long stretches of boredom, the result of hauling out many of the Fantastic Four's now-done-to-death tropes. I swear, if I see Galactus or alternate universes/dimensions one more time I'm going to scream, and the totally without point or real effect arc involving the Sue Richards of the future showing up to mastermind a dull plan and inevitably die just went nowhere. The FF has long been a book that languished in creative purgatory between its runs of genuine excellence (Lee & Kirby and the John Byrne era being the obvious frontrunners), and no matter how tarted-up the current material may be by Hitch's contributions, what you still have is a very attractive loaf of Wonder Bread. I have no idea how long it'll be until the FF once more get jolted back to life, but I can sure as shit tell you I won't be holding my breath.
THE WALKING DEAD (ONGOING)
Easily the single most depressing comics series going, this one nearly lost me around a year ago when I found its narrative to be meandering a bit too much, but I'm back to being riveted to its gruesome charms. If you aren't reading this chronicle of a post-Romero-style zombie apocalypse, do yourself the favor and start at the beginning with its first collected volume. I practically guarantee you'll be hooked in no time, work your way through all of the collecteds and join those of us who share the monthly agony of waiting for the new installment. You'll be glad you did.
THE HAUNTED TANK (mini-series)
Yet another Vertigo "re-imagining" of an old DC property, this one's a lot more fun than I ever expected it to be. Taking the ghost of Confederate Civil War General Jeb Stuart from his original task of acting as a mentor to one of his descendants during tank missions in WWII and transplanting him to Operation Iraqi Freedom could have gone wrong and been seen as trite in many ways, but thankfully that didn't happen and the readers win. Now manifesting to the crew of a tank in the middle of the desert, Stuart's shade seeks to guide his most recent relative, and both he and the soldier are shocked to discover their genetic connection because the soldier is black. Less a look at the war in Iraq than an amusing character study of the tank crew and the ghost, this one's just barely out of the gate at two issues, but I'm interested in reading more. Plus Henry Flint's art reminds me of an homage to Frank Quitely, so I certainly don't have a problem with that.
And do you have any recommendations or warnings to share with Yer Bunche and the other readers of this here blog? Please feel free to write in!