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The Sandman Universe, Fantastic Four & More in Required Reading: Comics for 8/8/2018

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It’s quite a week for returns. Marvel’s first family comes back to comics after a three-year hiatus (for more than half of the team, anyway), while one of DC Comics’ most treasured mature-readers mythos launches a brand-new mini-imprint. The Sandman Universe lays the groundwork for four new series, and serves the dual function of reigniting DC’s Vertigo imprint. If neither of these properties tickle your nostalgia fancy, we’ve got new launches too: Hot Lunch Special, Black Badge and the first collected volume of DeadEndia all showcase independent comics at their most original and personal. Rounding out the pack is a one-off for Miles Morales, a doorstopper for Batman ‘66, new Delilah Dirk and Predator outings and an all-new, all-classic continuation of Supergirl. May you have a Fantastic week catching up on our Required Reading.


Batman ‘66 Omnibus
Writers: Jeff Parker, Harlen Ellison, Tom Peyer & More
Artist: Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Dario Brizuela & More
Publisher: DC Comics 
For those who mourn the time when Batman meant capes and capers and straightforward silly stories rendered in bright colors, Batman ’66 was a breath of fresh air when it transitioned to comics. Embracing the ridiculousness and joy of the show that starred Adam West and Burt Ward, the comic largely stuck to friendly jaunts that were, unsurprisingly, much less “grimdark” than most superhero comics offer today. Though the price tag on this omnibus is steep at $125, it collects all 30 issues of Batman ‘66, as well as Solo #7 material and The Lost Episode, originally written by Harlan Ellison to introduce Two-Face into the TV show mythos. The all-new cover art by Martin Ansin is a gorgeous tribute to the book’s contents, and the talent that contributed over the years is numerous and diverse. This is a must-buy for fans of Batman generally, the 1966 TV show specifically, or anyone nostalgic for a time when a crisis in Gotham meant that Batman had a set of rainbow-colored costumes ready to go. Caitlin Rosberg


Black Badge #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Tyler Jenkins
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Fresh off the success of Grass Kings, which ended in May, Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins bring a brand-new story to BOOM! Studios this week Black Badge. Best known for complex, compelling stories like Mind MGMT, Dept. H and Ether, Kindt has a particular skill when it comes to worldbuilding and shaping characters. Jenkins and colorist Hilary Jenkins employ a painterly watercolor style that uses negative space and shape to create impressions and evoke reactions where details might get in the way of the story. Grass Kings was remarkable in that it told a story about isolation and corruption without deifying individuals who are messy, nuanced and occupy the massive gray area between what is right and wrong. Black Badge seems to follow pretty closely in the footsteps of Grass Kings and Mind MGMT in particular; it stars a group of not-quite boy scouts who are used to complete clandestine missions. Trained to be elite warriors, the Black Badges set out to manage their latest task, and to clean up the mess that adults have made of the world they’re about to inherit. Caitlin Rosberg


DeadEndia Vol. 1: The Watcher’s Test
Writer/Artist: Hamish Steele
Publisher: NoBrow Press
Haunted houses, time travel, wizard pugs—DeadEndia has everything going for it. This supernatural romp features a diverse cast of characters, including a trans masc lead in sweet, well-intentioned Barney, trying to survive the daily grind of customer service work at a theme park with some very spooky secrets. Written and illustrated by Hamish Steele, DeadEndia is free to read on Tapas and the first physical volume arrives this week from NoBrow. Steele’s playful, cartoonish style and beautiful colors create a vivid, engrossing world that will get you instantly hooked. The character designs are particularly refreshing; Steele delivers a cast with a wide variety of identities and experiences, all thoughtfully explored in ways that feel authentic and accessible. Barney in particular is a delight; it’s great to see a trans masc character not on the hypermasculine end of the gender spectrum and not drawn as perfectly passing at all times. DeadEndia is fun, well-written, and it’s free to sample online—there’s no reason not to check it out. C.K. Stewart


Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules
Writer/Artist: Tony Cliff
Publisher: First Second
Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk series has been a joy to read: a fantastically well-written and -drawn main character (who happens to be a woman), smart supplementary characters, exciting settings, plenty of action and a cheetah-like pace. They’re good for all ages, and the only problem with them is that they don’t come out nearly fast enough. Pillars of Hercules finds Delilah and her colleague traipsing from Europe to Asia and back to Europe in full Indiana Jones-style rollicking adventure. Hillary Brown


Fantastic Four #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Sara Pichelli, Simone Bianchi, Skottie Young
First created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1961, the Fantastic Four has long been the thematic core of the Marvel Universe, although their sales rarely reflect the honored spot they hold in the hearts of many “True Believers.” The most recent Fantastic Four ongoing series concluded in 2015, and Reed and Sue Richards, their children and the Future Foundation think tank for young geniuses ended the epic Secret Wars event charting unexplored regions far, far away from Earth. Sue’s brother Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch, and family friend Ben Grimm, the Thing, stayed behind, tangling with the Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy before joining up for the excellent Marvel Two-in-One. This Wednesday, Marvel’s first family makes its triumphant return…kind of. Fantastic Four #1 functions mostly as a primer issue, setting up Slott and Pichelli’s gameboard. That isn’t to say that the issue under-delivers; Slott has previously written The Thing and the Human Torch, and slips back into their voices easily. One character makes a major life decision, and another seemingly returns to his old ways in a back-up illustrated by Simone Bianchi. Some fans may cry foul that Fantastic Four #1 doesn’t rush along to a reunion, but a final one-pager drawn by Skottie Young anticipates and counters that criticism. Marvel has published no shortage of #1 issues this summer, but this is in the running for the most heartwarming debut of the season. Steve Foxe


Hot Lunch Special #1
Writer: Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
There’s been a swell of horror and noir comics, but much to the consternation of the flyover states, big swaths of America typically aren’t considered for settings. Southern gothic and desert mysteries are great, but Hot Lunch Special is posed to be one of the first books to show just how weird things can get in the Midwest. The story pits a Lebanese family, the operators of the largest vending-machine sandwich business in their corner of the country, against the Irish mob in Chicago, a perfectly Fargo-esque concept that leaves a lot of room for mystery and fun at the same time. With books like Quantum & Woody under his belt, writer Eliot Rahal is no stranger to balancing absurdity and emotional heft. It’s a bit more surprising to see Jorge Fornes on non-superhero title; Fornes has credits on a couple different X-Men titles, and most of his work thus far features big blockbuster fights and cape-and-cowl adventures. Something more intimate and isolated like Hot Lunch Special will be a departure from that, and an excellent opportunity to show off his range. Caitlin Rosberg


Predator: Hunters II #1
Writer: Chris Warner
Artists: Agustin Padilla, Neeraj Menon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Hmm, whatever could have inspired Dark Horse Comics to publish a new Predator series in 2018? Perhaps an upcoming film installment? Cinematic timing aside, Predator: Hunters II finds the titular hunters—humans who have survived clashes with the alien trophy hunters and somehow want to try their luck again—chasing the Predators into an Earth warzone, where they find themselves at odds with a shady government group. Writer Chris Warner returns from the first volume, while new artists Agustin Padilla and Neeraj Menon provide a more dramatic, grimier look than Francisco Ruiz Velasco’s fine-lined work in the previous outing. The hunters make for a neat returning concept, as there are only so many times readers can watch the same alien-versus-human meat-grinder occur, and with art that better fits the book’s tone, Predator: Hunters II makes for a great holdover before the upcoming film. Steve Foxe


The Sandman Universe #1
Writers:   Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Si Spurrier, Dan Watters
Artists: Bilquis Evely, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara
Publisher: Vertigo/ DC Comics 
This year marks not only the 30th anniversary of The Sandman’s debut, but also the story’s triumphant return. Neil Gaiman himself is ushering the character back, along with a talented group of creatives who will spin out into four new Sandman-related titles. The Sandman Universe is a special one-shot issue that kicks off the separate series and reintroduces readers to the characters and the world that Gaiman created alongside artists like Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Jill Thompson. Gaiman provides the plot for the book, but writers Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Si Spurrier and Dan Watters provide the script, and each of the four will then go on to write one of the other books: Hopkinson on House of Whispers, Howard on Books of Magic, Spurrier with The Dreaming and Watters taking over Lucifer. Artist Bilquis Evely, who did an incredible job with Wonder Woman thanks to her beautiful, detailed style, draws a framing story that suits The Sandman Universe right down to its bones. Beyond its literary merits, The Sandman has long acted as an entry point for many comics fans, and it’s exciting to give readers new and old a similar opportunity to fall in love with the medium all over again. Exciting things are happening at Vertigo and DC’s Black Label, and The Sandman Universe is the first big part of that. Caitlin Rosberg


Spider-Man Annual #1
Writer: Bryan Edward Hill
Artists: Nelson Blake II, Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Annual issues of big comic series are something of an anomaly. They’re a great opportunity to draw in new readers by telling a complete story in a single issue and they can serve to bookend or kick off arcs, but they can also lack context and be confusing interruptions. At the best of times they can highlight talented creators and fun stories, or jumpstart interest in characters with fading popularity. This year’s Spider-Man Annual is at an awkward crossroads, but Miles Morales has an incredible creative team to help him out. There hasn’t been a new issue of the Morales-starring Spider-Man series since Brian Michael Bendis, who created and guided the character for the past few years, left Marvel and Miles behind. This annual features writing from Bryan Edward Hill of Postal and The Wild Storm: Michael Cray fame. He’s got help telling an all-new Spider-Man origin story from previous collaborator Nelson Blake II and Marvel veteran Mark Bagley, and there’s even a back up story by Emily Lerner and Alberto Alburquerque. Hopefully this marks the start of a new era for Miles, but either way it will be fun jumping back in continuity to see how the Brooklyn-based member of the Spider-Man family tackled the Skrull Invasion before he’d even taken on the spider-mantle. Caitlin Rosberg


Supergirl #21
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Publisher: DC Comics 
Here’s a mild spoiler: Supergirl doesn’t get around to wearing her atrocious new costume in this issue, and Marc Andreyko and Kevin Maguire’s first collaboration on the Girl of Steel is all the better for it. Steve Orlando wrapped up a solid run on Supergirl earlier this year, one that worked to combine the classic appeal of the character with the modern interpretation seen on television. Andreyko and Maguire’s version is much more in line with the ‘80s stories, spinning as it does out of Brian Michael Bendis’ similarly faithful take on Superman. With her shrunken home of Kandor destroyed by new villain Rogol Zaar, Supergirl makes up her mind to leave Earth and search for information about Zaar among the cosmos. Maguire may not be operating at his JLI peak, but he’s pretty darn close, turning in unimpeachably appealing superhero pages throughout. While Supergirl #21 may not hold the more youthful appeal of Orlando’s run, throwback fans should be pleased with this take—especially when they meet Supergirl’s surprise costar for her trip to space. Steve Foxe

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