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Thumbs, Black Cat, Minecraft & More in Required Reading: Comics for 6/5/2019

Comics Lists Required Reading
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June announces itself with vigor this week, as the comic shelves fill up with everything from sultry feline thieves (no, not that one) to a Latinx-inspired teen fantasy romp to a sci-fi social-media thriller. We’ve also got trades galore, as the first volumes of some of our very favorite comics finally drop their first collected editions. For many North American readers, June means cutting out from work early and kicking it on the beach. We recommend lots of sunscreen—and the comics suggested below.


Black Cat #1
Writer: Jed MacKay
Artists: Travel Foreman, Michael Dowling, Nao Fuji
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Although Felicia Hardy and Peter Parker don’t have much shot at rekindling their costumed romance, what with Mary Jane Watson back in the picture, Felicia’s thieving alter ego has nonetheless been a constant presence throughout Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man run, especially the just-concluded “The Hunted” arc. Starting this week, Felicia spins off into her very own—and very first—ongoing series. Writer Jed MacKay is one of Marvel’s greenest talents, with credits on the transitional Man Without Fear series, the digital-first Daughters of the Dragon and various shorts, which makes Black Cat a first for him, too. Joining MacKay are main artist and Daughters of the Dragon collaborator Travel Foreman, Unfollow’s Mike Dowling (who is listed in soliciations but not cover-credited) and cartoonist Nao Fuji, who provides a backup “Marvel Meow” short. To kick things off, Black Cat comes into conflict with the New York chapter of the Thieves Guild—fingers crossed for a Gambit cameo? Steve Foxe


Cemetery Beach Vol. 1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Publisher: Image Comics 
For a lot of readers, seeing Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s names together on the cover of a book is more than enough to sell it. Ellis and Howard are the minds behind Trees, and Ellis has a career and reputation that spans mediums and genres. Cemetery Beach is just the sort of wild and weird story that both Ellis and Howard excel at, and all seven issues are collected into a trade paperback that comes out this week. The story revolves around a man who calls himself a professional pathfinder. He arrives in a far-flung, terrifying location and has to race to reach his extraction point. Thankfully, he does have an ally to rely on along with his training and skills, but he’s found himself on a world that sounds like Australia on steroids: a distant colony planet that was filled with criminals and left to its own devices generations ago. Everything wants to kill them, and they’re still too far from their destination. The dialog is sharp and snappy, and Howard’s art is dynamic and angular in fascinating ways. The book would make a great gift for longtime Ellis fans and people who love science fiction like Altered Carbon but are hesitant to dive into comics. Caitlin Rosberg


City of Others 10th Anniversary Edition
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Bernie Wrightson
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer Steve Niles is best known for creating 30 Days of Night, the vampire horror story about an isolated Alaskan town that’s plunged into darkness both literally and metaphorically when vampires descend. In late 2017, Niles reimagined that terror-fueled story with a new six-issue miniseries, and as pop-culture perceptions of monsters continue to cycle, the time is ripe for a return to another of his stories. For the 10th anniversary of its first publication, City of Others is getting a hardcover special edition from publisher Dark Horse Comics. With Niles at the wheel and Bernie Wrighston’s stunning art, City of Others is a foray into horror comics guided by the masters; Wrightson co-created Swamp Thing with Len Wein and went on to contribute to a slew of grim and scary books, including Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf. This book stars a killer named Stosh Bludowski who seems to lack most familiar human emotions and feelings. He focuses on anger and murder for hire until he discovers two of his marks won’t die, and the mystery of his own identity and origin unfold. The hardcover collects all four issues from the original series, and is a must-read for fans of Niles, Wrightson and horror comics as a whole. Caitlin Rosberg


Die Vol. 1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Publisher: Image Comics 
Kieron Gillen And Jamie McKelvie’s ever-shocking pop masterpiece The Wicked + The Divine is just shy of its finish line, after years of tightly wound plotting and hip-AF emotional manipulation, so it’s something of a mercy that Gillen’s next series has already launched to great acclaim, softening the blow. Die, in classic Gillen fashion, refers to both the 20-sided tabletop-gaming necessity and the very real risk of mortality one might face if one were suddenly transported into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for real. Fully digitally painted by former Journey into Mystery and WicDiv contributor Stephanie Hans, Die Vol. 1 collects the first five issues and sets up the irresistible premise: decades ago, a group of nerdy teenage friends were transported into a fantasy gaming world. All but one returned, but none of them could physically say a word about what they had been through. Now, as middle-aged adults, they’ve each received signs that their campaign is far from over. Like Stephen King’s It via Gary Gygax, with a somber reckoning on J.R.R. Tolkien thrown in for good measure, Die feels poised to carry on WicDiv’s must-read legacy, especially with page after page of sumptuous fantasy art from Hans. If you haven’t yet joined the game, now’s the time. Steve Foxe


The Dreaming Vol. 1
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artists: Bilquis Evely, Abigail Larson
Publisher: Vertigo/ DC Comics 
Of the four Sandman Universe titles that debuted this year, none carry the torch of Neil Gaiman and co.’s landmark literary epic like The Dreaming. Writer Simon Spurrier, artist Bilquis Evely, colorist Mat Lopes and letterer Simon Bowland have worked in perfect lockstep to bring Sandman devotees back into a realm both familiar and inexorably changed, with each issue reintroducing familiar (and not-so-familiar) faces in unpredictable ways. Spurrier’s writing on titles like Cry Havoc and the recently concluded Coda handily prove why he was the right voice to follow—not imitate—Gaiman, but it’s the team of Evely and Lopes who steal the show each month; every page of their work feels like an event, something not meant for a “mere” monthly comic. Even the original Sandman never looked quite like this. It was a controversial decision to bring back the world of The Sandman without Gaiman’s pen directly guiding happenings, but Spurrier, Evely and the rest of the creative team have made an undeniable argument for passing the reins and keeping Dream’s story alive. Vertigo has always had a reputation for attracting trade-waiters—consider the wait over. Steve Foxe


Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1
Writers: Al Ewing, Tini Howard, Donny Cates, Others
Artists: Yildiray Cinar, Ibrahim Moustafa, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s explosive Guardians of the Galaxy wasted no time in jettisoning a host of Marvel’s cosmic characters through a goddamn black hole. Since physics are—to put it lightly—a little different in the Marvel Universe, rather than crushing their atoms into nothingness, that black hole led to the adventures we’ll see in this week’s Guardians of the Galaxy Annual, which catches up with some of the space-bound characters not yet spotlighted in Cates and co.’s ongoing series. Cosmo, Darkhawk, Nova, Adam Warlock and Quasar all get their moments here, with Cates sharing page space with talents like Al Ewing, Tini Howard and Ibrahim Moustafa. GotG has been one of Marvel’s most exciting books since it relaunched, which makes this annual an out-of-this-world addition to the current cosmic canon. Steve Foxe


Hotel Dare
Writer: Terry Blas
Artist: Claudia Aguirre
Publisher: KaBOOM!/ BOOM! Studios
Hotel Dare is a fun, adventurous story that includes everything from space pirates to wizards with magical beards to a summer trapped with grandma doing chores. The book stars three siblings who begin their journey when in the course of cleaning the titular Hotel Dare, they discover that their grandma’s hotel contains portals to other worlds. These sorts of sibling shenanigans are popular subjects for middle-grade graphic novels, but Hotel Dare has the benefit of deeply imaginative writing and bright, appealing art. The character designs, in particular the non-human ones, are charming and appealing; it wouldn’t be strange to see them in a popular animated show, and their voices are unique enough to leap off the page. The book also gracefully deals with the particular challenges that can come up when some siblings are adopted and others aren’t, but doesn’t make adoption the center of the story. It’s about three young people finding each other and themselves, defining family on their own terms and taking brave steps to protect themselves and others. Caitlin Rosberg


Ignited #1
Writers: Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo
Artist: Phil Briones
Publisher: H1/ Humanoids
If superhero comics have a responsibility to reflect our real world, then superhero comics featuring teenage characters have more to reckon with than ever before, including the seemingly omnipresent threat of school shootings. Marvel ComicsChampions series (perhaps clumsily) tried to tackle this wave of violence in a special issue last year, and now Humanoids’ nascent superhero universe is confronting gun violence in schools head on with Ignited, their first ongoing shared-universe title. Written by Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo and drawn by artist Phil Briones, Ignited opens on the first day back at Phoenix Academy High, where returning students and faculty are still haunted last year’s horrific attack. Friends and colleagues were lost to senseless violence, and some of those who survived underwent changes—they Ignited, gaining supernatural abilities they barely understand. It’s a lofty goal to launch both a shared universe and such a sensitive, topical book in one, which is all the more reason to pick up Ignited and see how the creative team pulls it off. Steve Foxe


Minecraft Vol. 1
Writer: Sfe R. Monster
Artist: Sarah Graley
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
As crazy as it is to imagine, crafting videogame Minecraft is still going strong, with over 144 million copies of the game sold across various platforms. Both licensed and unlicensed tie-ins have abounded in other media, but this week’s Minecraft Vol. 1 is the somehow very first official comic set in the world of the gaming phenomenon. Written by Beyond co-editor Sfe R. Monster and drawn by Kim Reaper’s Sarah Graley, Minecraft follows everyday kid Tyler and his diverse group of friends as they travel the Overworld and seek to take on the ender dragon. If you’re a fan of the franchise, that sentence probably sounded pretty entertaining. If you’re not, you may still want to grab a copy as a gift for the dedicated Minecraft-er in your life. Steve Foxe


Thumbs #1
Writer: Sean Lewis
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Publisher: Image Comics 
Fears about the role that technology plays in everyone’s lives are far from new, but an increasing number of comics have premiered that try to directly confront some of the trouble technology can bring. Thumbs is about a young man who, after years of being raised by a program named MOM™ app, becomes one of many young people manipulated into an army that is targeting the government at the behest of a titan of industry who guides their lives through technology. The creative team behind The Few has returned for Thumbs, and it’s always a good sign when collaborators want to work together again. Thumbs feels just outside the realm of immediate possibility, which could make it really terrifying in context. Comparisons to all sorts of technology-focused dystopian science fiction are already being made with Thumbs, but it sounds most like Ready Player One with just enough Social Network for flavor. The danger there is that those stories are often hobbled by their focus on a very narrow demographic of people, namely socially isolated young white men, and Thumbs could easily fall into the same trap. Given Lewis’ and Sherman’s past projects, though, Thumbs looks to be a compelling summer read. Caitlin Rosberg

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