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What's good in comics now

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March: Book One Congressman John Lewis's Biographical Graphic Novel

This is by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order, but here's a look at some of the best titles in comics now:

Casanova: Acedia

What it is:
A sci-fi espionage thriller with a James Bondian protagonist who looks like Mick Jagger. Innovative, packed with intelligence, wit and a self-awareness that revels in the fact that it is a comic book.

Why you should read it:
The current volume maintains Casanova's impossibly high standards and is supplemented by back-up stories written by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon.

March

What it is:
A biographical graphic novel series based on the life of Congressman John Lewis and his experiences in the heart of the civil rights movement. Two volumes have been released, and a third is expected in 2016.

Why you should read it:
Nate Powell's cartoony and iconic art style creates an intimacy - the memories of John Lewis become a vivid and immersive experience. The details of the era as co-written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin depict small moments - focusing on the grounded reality of organizing lunch counter protests, Freedom Riders and the march on Washington. These small moments create a depth of understanding of the era that your history textbooks lacked.

Black Science

What it is:
A time-travel adventure featuring a deeply flawed scientist driven by an obsessive quest. Imagine Doctor Who re-imagined as a cable tv series with a Don-Draper/Walter-White dose of anti-heroism.

Why you should read it:
Matteo Scalara's artwork has a painterly beauty, bringing some of the aesthetics of fantasy art and injecting them into a science context. Rick Remender's storytelling is frenetic, tension-filled, glooming with pathos and relentlessly brain-melting with its assault of sci-fi ideas.

Southern Bastards

What it is:
A deep-fried tale of small-town crime, a redneck Sopranos with a high school football coach as crime boss. A little bit Walking Tall, a little bit Friday Night Lights.

Why you should read it:
Jason Latour's sparsely-lined and jagged-skewed artwork rings true to its environment: the details of BBQ joints and high school football fields are rendered with the eyes of a true Southerner. Jason Aaron's story presents a complicated relationship with its subject: a reverence for the courage and character of the good people of the South and a damning rage for the retrograde dark underbelly of the region.

Shutter

What it is:
It's the answer to an awesome question you never knew you wanted to ask: What if JK Rowling was an Indiana Jones type adventurer?

Why you should read it:
Leila Del Duca's artwork almost single-handledly rescues the art of the splash page. Full-page and double-page spreads have become so commonplace in mainstream comics, they frequently lose their impact - but not here. Every "wow" moment is earned and exquisitely paced. Joe Keatinge's writing brings a pulp-fueled cliffhanger adventurism, hilarious side characters, and it's full of heart. If you're looking to fill that Harry Potter void, this could be it.

Bitch Planet

What it is:
A feminist subversion of the women-in-prison exploitation genre. A sci-fi Orange is the New Black.

Why you should read it:
If there was a female Quentin Tarantino from a parallel dimension that chose to write comics instead of directing movies, the result might look something like this. Each issue is supplemented with a guest essay from a feminist writer.

Chew

What it is:
A bizarrely-premised comedy about Tony Chu, a gifted detective in a post-Avian-flu foodpocalypse where the FDA is the most powerful government agency. Chu has the ability to see the past of any organic thing he consumes.

Why you should read it:
Blisteringly funny. Consistent. Every one of its 50 issues has been entertaining. Packed with comedic-gold easter eggs by artist Rob Guillory. Irreverent humor by writer John Layman. Halfway through the 2010's, it's a strong contender for comic of the decade.

Sex Criminals

What it is:
A comedy about a girl who has a unique power: whenever she orgasms, time stops. She meets a guy with the same abilities. With great sex powers comes great opportunities, so they decide to rob banks.

Why you should read it:
Did you not read the above? The premise alone did't sell you? OK. Fine. It's laugh-out-loud funny, that much is obvious from the situation; but what's unexpected is the humanity and compassion for these strangely afflicted protagonists. Chip Zdarsky's artwork is frequently at drop-the-mic closing-bit levels of humor. Matt Fraction's narration is frank, unsparing in its honesty, full of wit and cleverness.

Ms. Marvel

What it is:
A 21st-century superhero story starring a teenage Muslim girl that follows the classic architectural tropes of Marvel superhero stories while refreshing it for the modern age.

Why you should read it:
With the glut of superhero films and multiple reboots of Spider-Man and Batman, the origin story format may feel tired and worn - but it's the lifeblood of the genre, and Ms.Marvel delivers an origin story the feels new - full of angst and social relevance. It maintains the sense of wonder, gets a bit meta, and feels a bit like what John Hughes characters might be like if they had social media.

Airboy

What it is:
A pair of comic book creators struggle with adapting a golden age hero. Airboy is a meta-fictional dark comedy in which the creators insert themselves as characters in the world.

Why you should read it:
Writer James Robinson contrasts the heroic ideals and moral virtues of a protagonist of a bygone era with his bouts of self-loathing and self-destruction, to absurdly comedic effect. Artist Greg Hinkle renders characters and settings in a cartoony style that's densely packed with authentic details. There's been a mini-controversy surrounding the second issue of the series that's led to an interesting discussion, but the series as awhole thus far is hilarious, bold and entertaining.

The Sculptor

What it is:
A giant graphic novel about an artist struggling to break through, written and drawn by the most well-known observer and commenter on the form of comics, Scott McCloud.

Why you should read it:
The renowned theorist Scott McCloud breaks through with a fictional work that meets or exceeds the olympian heights of his non-fictional/analytical books and essays on comics. The Sculptor is a heart-breaking meditation on the question: just how far is an artist willing to go, what are they willing to sacrifice, for their work? The question is beautifully explored in nearly 500 pages of soul-crushing depths and soaring heights, where every panel, every page turn, every composition is rendered by a master of the medium at the heights of his creative powers.

Fight Club 2

What it is:
A comic/graphic-novel written by Chuck Palahniuk, a sequel to his original novel Fight Club. Art by Cameron Stewart.

Why you should read it:
I am Jack's Raging Bile Duct of a comic book. This is a Wednesday, that means bowel cancer, right? Or blood parasites? What came of Project Mayhem? What's up on Paper Street? Where's Marla? Is the clam chowder safe to eat now? I'm not Tyler Durden anymore? (yes sir, of course you're not, sir). Find out what is up with the space monkeys: the all-singing all-dancing crap of the world.

Secret Wars

What it is:
Marvel is relaunching their entire line of books by bringing its multiple universes together - but before the colliding multi-verses settle into one harmonious space, an epic battle will decide the future. Written by Jonathan Hickman (the polymath of modern comics creation), with art by Esad Ribic.

Why you should read it:
This is an opportunity to see Marvel's biggest characters re-arranged and de-contextualized, just for a moment. A break in the usual flow of heroes and villains. Identities are fuzzy. Alliances and rivalries are shuffled. Destinies are not set. The status quo of the Marvel universe is replaced by a Game-of-Thrones-like purgatory, in which God Doom rules over barons and an army of Thors enforce Doom's justice. After decades of continuity, it's insanely difficult to make these characters do something that feels entirely new and free, but that's just what Hickman is achieving here.

Milton Lawson

Milton is a writer living in Houston. Comics, travelogues. Go Astros. Go Texans.

A short comic about an indie music shop written by Milton Lawson with art by Dave Chisholm

A travelogue about four friends taking their first trip to Europe. Now available on Amazon.com.