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Aquaman, Klaus and the Crying Snowman, Livewire & More in Required Reading: Comics for 12/19/2018

Comics Lists Required Reading
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Here it comes: the final New Comic Book Day before Christmas. If you’re one of the dozen readers who actually glance at these introductory paragraphs, you know that we’re big fans of holiday anticipation, and this week just happens to come with a perfectly festive treat: Klaus and the Crying Snowman, this year’s installment of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s super-Santa serial. If Christmas isn’t your jam, the next few days brings a different sort of treat in the form of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman debut, and DC Comics didn’t sleep on the synergy opportunity. Aquaman #43 marks a dramatic change in direction and the DC Comics return of Bitch Planet writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. If you simply don’t care for bearded barbarians from the North Pole or Atlantis, fear not: we’ve got eight other stocking stuffers below. Merry (early) Christmas—it’s time for Required Reading.


Aquaman #43
Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Artist: Robson Rocha
Publisher: DC Comics 
This winter ushers in a new era in Aquaman history, with the film preceded by a big change in creative teams. Kelly Sue DeConnick has spent much of the past few years focusing on creator-owned comics and non-comics work, but Aquaman #43 marks her arrival at DC, which will be followed (eventually) by her Wonder Woman contribution to the DC Black Label imprint with artist Phil Jimenez. After the conclusion of the “Drowned Earth” story, DeConnick and artists Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques bring Arthur to a new arc and a new remote location where there’s a mysterious young woman ready to care for the wounded, amnesiac hero. DeConnick has a particular skill when it comes to big, exciting superhero stories that help to redefine characters and evoke powerful emotions; the Carol Corps is proof of that. The timing for this issue couldn’t be better with the upcoming movie, and DeConnick has a lot of passionate fans who may flock with her to DC Comics and, as part of a rising tide, drum up enthusiasm and excitement online. Caitlin Rosberg


Darth Vader #25
Writer: Charles Soule
Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli & Daniele Orlandini
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli had a tough act to follow when they launched Darth Vader in the shadow of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s expertly plotted series of the same name. More than two-dozen issues later, it’s fair to say Soule and Camuncoli nailed it. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Darth Vader finally accomplished something few other Star Wars series have even attempted: explaining how the vaguely insufferable Anakin Skywalker truly became the Dark Lord of the Sith. Soule’s Vader has been a monster in the making, with each new decision bringing him closer to the man-machine in black who first intimidated audiences in 1977. Camuncoli’s pencils, finished by artist Daniele Orlandini in this most recent arc, are perfectly suited to the more action-focused Sith saga Soule has plotted. It’s sad to witness the end of another Vader era, especially with only a controversial mini-series on the horizon, but Marvel can now lay claim to two nearly perfect runs for the iconic character. Steve Foxe


Freedom Fighters #1
Writer: Robert Vendetti
Artist: Eddy Barrows
Publisher: DC Comics 
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of Grant Morrison’s career at the Big Two of Marvel and DC Comics is how long it takes—if ever—for other creators to successfully expand on the bounty of new toys he adds to the shared sandbox. The Multiversity is a prime example of this: dozens of new worlds and countless potential characters created over the span of nine issues in 2014 and 2015, with almost no follow-up from DC beyond the it’ll-get-here-when-it-gets-here Multiversity Too sequel in the works. That all changes this week thanks to Robert Vendetti and Eddy Barrows’ Freedom Fighters, an expansion of the team as imagined in Morrison and Jim Lee’s Mastermen issue. Taking a page from former iterations of the Freedom Fighters, this crew of patriotic heroes exists in a world where the Nazis emerged triumphant from WWII, and maintain control of the United States decades later. Vendetti has found ample success untangling Hawkman as of late, while Barrows’ work throughout the New 52 and Rebirth eras has established him among the top of DC’s artistic pack. It’s great to see a Multiversity concept springing out into its own book, but if nothing else, we’re just happy to see superheroes fighting Nazis. Steve Foxe


Infinity Wars: Fallen Guardian #1
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Andy McDonald
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Infinity Wars has been a weird event. Its predecessor, Infinity Countdown, felt stronger on almost every level, tying up threads from Gerry Duggan and co.’s excellent Guardians of the Galaxy series while expanding the scope of the Infinity Stones made famous by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Infinity Wars, on the other hand, has suffered from Mike Deodato Jr.’s impenetrable current art style and a laugh-worthy plot twist in which Gamora created a Marvel-only sequel to the Amalgam Universe. While some of the tie-ins have been perfectly pleasant, it’s hard to take the cosmic stakes of Infinity Wars seriously when reading about Arach-Knight, Weapon Hex and Soldier Supreme. This week, Infinity Wars concludes with its sixth issue, which we’ve known for a while will require the sacrifice of one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Only Star-Lord and Groot feature on the GotG relaunch cover for January, which leaves Drax, Gamora and Rocket as possible candidates. The one-shot Fallen Guardian will memorialize the unlucky space-hero, and cap off a mostly enjoyable Guardians era for good, opening the door to whatever madness Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw have planned next month. Also ending this week: Extermination, an excellent, if delayed, X-Men event overshadowed by Uncanny X-Men’s launch in October. Steve Foxe


Klaus and the Crying Snowman
Writer:   Grant Morrison  
Artist: Dan Mora
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
It should come as no surprise that we’re recommending Klaus and the Crying Snowman this week—we already named it one of the 25 Best Comics of 2018 after getting a sneak peek at it a few weeks ago. Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s initial Klaus series was solid, but took until the final issues to really feel like a Morrison joint. Each subsequent Christmastime one-shot, on the other hand, encapsulates the boundless imagination—and unfettered optimism—that marks Morrison’s finest work. Every scene of Klaus and the Crying Snowman contains more creativity than dozens of straightforward superhero series that came out in 2018, and Mora’s artwork has grown by leaps and bounds with each passing year (this issue makes a strong case that Marvel needs to get him on Thor before Ragnarok claims us all). Christmas can be a stressful, or at least expensive and heavily commercialized, time of year, but in Morrison and Mora’s hands, it’s exactly what it should be: a reassuring, warm embrace in the middle of winter’s coldest nights. Steve Foxe


Livewire #1
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artist: Raúl Allén
Publisher: Valiant
As Valiant continues to expand and invest in their superhero universe, more characters are being given an opportunity to shine. With the popularity of Faith backing some of the shared stories, it’s exciting to see Livewire getting a solo title of her own. As writer Vita Ayala and artistic team Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín team up for the new book, Livewire’s story is in a state of real uncertainty. A super-powered “psiot” with the ability to manipulate technology with her mind, Livewire has helped to save lives, but her choices have put her in serious danger. She’s running from her past and her former friends, not to mention the government that she used to serve. With her future up in the air, what remains to be seen is if Livewire can be a hero at all anymore. Ayala has contributed one-shots and shorts to both Marvel and DC Comics, but it’s their work on The Wilds and Submerged that has earned them a reputation for fascinating, character-driven adventures that evoke strong emotional reactions. Like Faith, Livewire is poised to expand the Valiant universe not only literally, but also to encompass new readers who aren’t attracted to the other core characters—and Ayala’s name should prove to be a big part of that outreach. Caitlin Rosberg


Regular Show: Comic Conned
Writer: Nicole Andelfinger
Artist: Mattia Di Meo
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
We don’t often spotlight them, but BOOM! Studios consistently publishes extremely enjoyable original graphic novels set in the worlds of their many cartoon licenses. From Adventure Time and Regular Show to The Amazing World of Gumball and Steven Universe, BOOM!’s OGNs are often a sneak peek at creators to watch; Kate Leth, Zack Sterling and Josh Trujillo all cut their teeth on these oversized “episodes” before moving to BOOM!’s monthly series and beyond. Regular Show: Comic Conned is written by Adventure Time Comics and Munchkin contributor Nicole Andelfinger and illustrated by Adventure Time/Regular Show’s Mattia di Meo, and finds Mordecei and Rigby doing everything in their power to secure tickets to the local comic convention to meet their favorite action star. Regular Show has always excelled at skewering nerd and millennial-ish culture, and with surprisingly few good send-ups of comic conventions in print, Comic Conned is a good bet for a self-aware, self-contained pre-Christmas read (or a last-minute gift for the convention-attendee in your life). Steve Foxe


She-Hulk by Soule & Pulido: The Complete Collection
Writer: Charles Soule
Artists: Javier Pulido, Ronald Wimberly
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
It’s not often that comic creators get to bring real-world job experience to superhero stories; even the careers that superhero alter egos take on aren’t typically much of the focus. But Charles Soule’s unique perspective as a lawyer gave his run on She-Hulk an air of credibility right along with a fun story rooted in friendship and legal dramas that felt like a much cheerier Dick Wolf production. Jennifer Walters isn’t just a lawyer though, she’s also She-Hulk, and Soule and artist Javier Pulido take her through both courtrooms and street fights, with help from friends like Patsy Walker (a.k.a. Hellcat) and resistance from rivals like Matt Murdock. This new volume collects Soule’s entire run with the character: 12 issues of She-Hulk, Wolverines #13 and a story from the Gwenpool Special. Hopefully it will also include all of Kevin Wada’s incredible covers, which featured saturated watercolor portraits of Jennifer at her most heroic, both in uniform and in the courtroom. Caitlin Rosberg


Thor #8
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike Del Mundo
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Since the end of Jane Foster’s run as The Mighty Thor earlier this year, Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s new saga of the Odinson has done an admirable job of filling the niche that Jane occupied so splendidly for the last few years. This eighth issue marks the start of a new arc, and finds Valkyrie and Angela joining the intrepid hero. After his struggles in Hel, Thor is trapped in Heven at the whims of warrior angels. It only makes sense that he would turn to his sister Angela for assistance, and hopefully with Valkyrie’s extra help, she’ll be able to break him out of the angels’ inescapable clutches. Aaron and Del Mundo (with a guest spot from Tony Moore) have delivered a fun high-fantasy story with the first seven issues and there’s no indication of that changing any time soon; Aaron shepherded Jane Foster and Odinson through some massive changes in the last five years and Del Mundo’s wild and ambitious visual world building is perfectly suited for a big, magical story like Thor. Caitlin Rosberg


The Witcher: Of Flesh & Flame #1
Writer: Aleksandra Motyka
Artist: Marianna Strychowska
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
As someone who has played all of five minutes of CD Projekt RED’s smash-hit video game The Witcher 3, I can attest that Dark Horse’s previous The Witcher comics have been enjoyable dark-fantasy romps even if you can’t tell Yennefer from a rock troll. Those series involved comic regulars like Paul Tobin, but Of Flesh & Flame takes a different route, enlisting The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt game writer Aleksandra Motyka and Polish artist Marianna Strychowska for a blast from Geralt’s last. Strychowska’s work is pleasantly fluid, capable of matching The Witcher’s aesthetic without feeling overly posed or stiff. With the Henry Cavill-starring The Witcher TV series in the works at Netflix, it’s wise for Dark Horse to keep these non-playable stories on shelves, for those of us who like pale men fighting weird monsters but don’t have the time to commit to 80 hours of open-world exploration. Steve Foxe

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