Pop Culture Corner: Top 5 Comic Books for May 2016

Top comics of May 2015By Nolan P. Smith

Staff Reporter

(Victor Valley)– May brought about a slew of groundbreaking, status quo shifting comic books. From DC’s landmark Rebirth, to Marvel’s relaunch of the Thunderbolts, to the futuristic 4001 A.D. from Valiant Entertainment, May was full of a a slew of exciting books. Check out my picks for the Top 5 Comic Books of May:

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DC Universe Rebirth #1

With the media storm surrounding the release of DC Comic’s DC Universe Rebirth, fans across the globe held the collective breath as we all hoped that the DC Universe would be saved from itself. Well, a hero has emerged, and his name isn’t Batman or Superman: It’s Geoff Johns.

Johns, longtime scribe for DC Comics and man behind so many epic storylines throughout the DC Universe, writes a blockbuster issue that spans across so many heroes and villains, as well as a plethora of artistic talent who send the DC Universe into it’s next phase.

Spoilers ahead for those looking to still check out this fantastic issue firsthand.

When the “New 52 Universe” hit, DC lost me as a fan. To forget about the history of the characters we have all grown up with was too ridiculous to imagine. Now, I tried to get on board for some of the titles, and some were pretty great (Animal Man, Batman), but for the most part, it lost me. Not all the heroes we have seen throughout the years were a part of this universe, including one that fans cried out for louder than anyone else: the man who took up the mantle after Barry Allen gave his life to save the universe- the Flash, Wally West.

The whole issue centers around West, the original Wally West, who has been lost in time and trying to find his way back to reality. He sees how the world changed during the New 52, and knows that someone is behind it. His trip around the DCU is a trip down memory lane as he visits a focal point of the whole Flashpoint event that changed it all, cries out to rally the long forgotten Justice Society, sees glimpses of a lost Legion, and comes face to face with his hero- Barry Allen. In an emotional sequence of events, West readies for the end when Allen pulls him back to reality, remembering the long forgotten DCU himself.

Who is behind this all is hinted at to a group nobody saw coming: The Watchman. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s masterpiece set a standard for superhero comic books, and now these violent characters are somehow connected to the DC Universe. Johns writes a love letter to the history of DC Comics, and sets a stage so grand, many of us can’t even fathom what is next to come. This issue restored my fate in DC, and has me on board for this “not a reboot” rebirth.

DC Comics has its Superman with Johns, let’s see where the universe goes from here.

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Thunderbolts #1

I remember when the Thunderbolts were first introduced in 1997- it was in an issue of the Incredible Hulk, during a time when many of the heroes had “died” during an epic fight with Onslaught. In the wake of a world with no heroes, the Thunderbolts emerged. I thought then, “cool enough character designs, but how long will they last?” Later, we found out that the team is actually the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes, and the name Thunderbolts became an icon in the Marvel Universe. Having been around for 19 years, I would say that they lasted a good bit of time.

Now, in 2016, we get the latest incarnation of the team, which has changed drastically throughout the years. This group is near identical to the original team, save for two main differences. Instead of the master strategist Baron Zemo/Citizen V in charge, the team is now lead by the Winter Soldier, following the events of Avengers: Stand Off, and Songbird is nowhere to be found. But how did this come about, and why is the team now following the former Bucky? Maybe because the all-powerful Kobik, a little girl who is actually the personification of the cosmic cube, is along for the ride as well.

Writer Jim Zub and artist Jon Malin bring back one of the greatest super teams of the 90’s, and do so in grand fashion. Back to the fold are Techno, Atlas, Moonstone, and Mach-X. With this issue, we get a set up for what’s to come, see the humble abode the team resides in, and the purpose of this team: that being to keep a watchful eye on S.H.I.E.L.D. after the debacle of Pleasant Hill. Of course, this mission is something Bucky’s old friend Steve Rogers is left in the dark . Zub scribes an issue that feels like it belongs in the original run of Thunderbolts, which is literally capturing lightning in a bottle.

Malin’s artwork feels like a throwback to the comics seen during the early years of Image Comics. It’s full of energy, and he captures the classic look of these character while still managing to give the designs a 2016 upgrade. Thunderbolts was one of my favorite series when it was first released, so to see the book relaunched and under the creative work of Zub and Malin, I couldn’t be happier. This issue ends on a shocking note, one that leaves us to wonder what exactly will happen with issue #2.

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4001 A.D. #1

Valiant has been showing us previews for months of their latest epic storyline- this time, we are flung far into the future- 4001 A.D. to be exact. The world is a very different place in the future- specifically New Japan, which is now a satellite orbiting Earth and is the last superpower, governed by an Artificial Intelligence leader known as Father. But after being turned on by his own creation, the hero known as Rai, New Japan is falling apart and Father is trimming the population by the thousands- welcome to 4001 A.D.

From writer Matt Kindt (Divinity II, Mind MGMT) with phenomenal artwork by Clayton Crain (Rai), the issue kicks off with a watercolor inspired prelude that introduces readers to the story of this future version of the Valiant Universe, and what a way to do it. We jump right into the story as Rai and his accomplice Lula, both responsible for delivering a crippling virus into New Japan as a way to try to destroy Father, are separated. Lula, still on New Japan and searching for her family, and Rai- outcasted to Earth, now part of a trio that includes a very familiar face in the Valiant Universe, and trying to find a way back to New Japan. New Japan is falling apart, and societies are being torn asunder, and we see this graphic, horrific act illustrated beautifully by Crain within the first few pages. From Lula’s encounter with her family amidst a crumbling New Japan to Rai and company coming across a relic left over from an old war with a strong connection to a flagship Valiant character that helps the rag tag band of heroes journey to New Japan and come face to face with Father.

Kindt has laid the groundwork here for a mini series that spans the reaches of the future of the Valiant Universe- including spin offs that show us what incarnations modern characters take that far in the future- like X-O Manowar, the Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot and more. Anytime Crain is attached to a book, you know you are getting some of the best artwork in comics, and this book is no exception. For a blockbuster event, you need a blockbuster team, and that is what we get with Kindt and Crain.

4001 A.D. #1 delivers on all fronts, cranking up the urgency and tension to 11 and making a war that has literally millions of lives hanging in the balance.

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Brody’s Ghost Collected Edition

When I first came across Mark Crilley’s Brody’s Ghost, I was instantly drawn in by the cover alone, not knowing anything of what I was about to expect. This collection includes all six black and white volumes of the series, as well as the color stories from Dark Horse Presents. After reading this collection, I can tell you exactly what I got:

This is one of the best supernatural, coming of ages stories I have ever experienced. Not just read in comic book form- one of the best stories, period, regardless of the artistic medium.

The story follows Brody, a down on his luck street musician who has absolutely seen better days. The break up with his girlfriend took its toll on the young man, to the point to where he let the rest of his life fall apart. Things hit rock bottom when he comes face to face with a young apparition named Talia. Turns out Brody is a ghostseer- someone who can see, hear and communicate with ghosts. Brody is enlisted to help Talia find the Penny Murderer, a psychopath who has been leaving a trail of bodies littered across the streets- bringing justice to this murder will apparently help Talia cross over to the other side.

Of course, the story is far more complicated than this, but it can all be summed up with this: when you hit rock bottom, you can either look within and find the strength within yourself, or you can simply exist in this life, making no real impact with the life you are given. Brody goes from being a broken man to being stronger than he could have ever imagined. Talia has far more to her story than Brody is led to believe, and reaches a part of her afterlife she didn’t see coming. The mystery of the Penny Murderer propels the story forward all the way until the end, but another growing subplot is between Brody and his ex-girlfriend Nicole. There are also more supernatural elements at work here as well, as Kagemura, a ghost sensei who trains Brody in the ways of the supernatural, is a big part of the story, as he helps mold Brody from a broken man into a hero.

The arc Brody takes is so well done, I was completely blown away by the last page. We get to know Brody and what makes him tick, we see him pushed literally to the edge when it looks like all hope is lost, and in the end, we see a very satisfying conclusion to the story. I became interested in the well being of these characters, making it through this massive collection in one sitting. I do hope we can revisit this world one day, but if its not meant to be, at least we get it all the volumes collected in this very affordable collection. Brody’s Ghost is a must read for fans of the paranormal, and honestly, for fans of great, coming of age hero stories.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1

One of last year’s best comic mini series is easily Black Mask Studio’s We Can Never Go Home. Well, writer of that series, Matthew Rosenberg, is back and this time brings us a tale of 4 junior kids and a bank heist with 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1.

With art by Tyler Boss (Lazurus), 4 Kids focuses on, well, four kids. 11-year-old Paige and her geeky group of misfit friends go from the a game of role playing to coming face to face with four grown, unsavory characters, somehow connected to Paige’s dad. But the key to this issue is the kids, and how natural and likeable these characters come across, panel by panel. Whether by the dialogue or the quirky captions that help shed more light on each character, it feels like these are characters you could run into down the street. Paige is the brains of the group, clearly the leader, Berger- the hothead and annoying one, Stretch- the tall awkward kid, and Walter- the smart, shy kid who’s dialogue and size of font illustrate the character so well, its unheard of.

The issue is heavy on the dialogue, as we get plenty of talking head panels, but when the dialogue feels this natural; this isn’t a bad thing at all. We don’t see how exactly a bank ties into the story, but by connecting the dots, its easy to see the four grown “bad guys” and Paige’s dad will bring about this bank heist for the adolescents. Boss’s artwork works really well for this caper, and uses the art of storytelling in comic books perfectly. The use of similar panels, same panels, and so forth really works well with this issue, and helps set the book apart from the previous titles in Black Mask’s library.

This is a good start to what is sure to be another hit series from Black Mask. With titles like We Can Never Go Home and Space Riders, this series has huge shoes to fill. That’s the thing, I don’t think it will fill those shoes- I think this unique series will stomp through its own path and leave it’s own hallmark of foot prints for books to live up to in the future.

Nolan Smith is a longtime reporter with High Desert Daily, covering everything from the opening of a new comic book shop to a series on the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. A long time resident of the Victor Valley, Smith has worked in the educational sector in the High Desert for the past decade. He is also the Editor and Co-Founder of Pastrami Nation- a pop culture news site which features news, reviews and podcasts on various aspects of pop culture, including comic books, video games, films, anime, manga, cosplay and more. You can visit Pastrami Nation at www.pastramination.com.

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