Legend of Korra, Shade and 8 more must-read graphic novels for July

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Jul 5, 2017

I always strive to bring you the greatest new graphic novel releases each month in this column, but just because they're new books doesn't mean the material always is.

This month is a prime example. Not only do we have brand-new original stories and the latest from fan-favorite franchises like Legend of Korra ​and Marvel's Nova, ​we also have new printings of Eisner-winning graphic novels, new collections of hit webcomics and fresh editions of groundbreaking superhero runs. The old stuff is just as worth digging into as the new, and it's always worth giving a second look to something you may have missed the first time around.

As always, this monthly list includes both trade paperbacks (TP) and hardcovers (HC) from a range of publishers (though Dark Horse is certainly out in force this month) that come with my highest of recommendations. Whether you're looking for high fantasy, superheroes, giant monsters or something a little more literary, there's a graphic novel on this list for you.

Whether you're a newbie or a hardcore fan, be sure to let us know what you've been reading or what you are looking forward to in the comments below. Happy reading!

ETHER, VOL. 1: DEATH OF THE LAST GOLDEN BLAZE TP

By Matt Kindt & David Rubin. Cover art by David Rubín. July 19 from Dark Horse.

It pains me to admit that usually I don’t like fantasy. It's not that I don’t like magic or the idea of fantasy, but I find that oftentimes writers try to inject too much logic and too many rules into something that by its very nature should defy logic. In fantasy, anything can and should happen, logic be damned.

This is why I connected so much to the journey of Boone Dias, the protagonist of the amazing new fantasy series Ether. Dias is a man of science, and he's single-mindedly determined to use his skills of logical deduction to help the magical world of Ether, whether they want it or not. The Ether is a dreamlike dimension filled with every type of fantastical creature imaginable, and one of their most celebrated — the heroic Golden Blaze — has been murdered, and Dias is the only one with the logical prowess to find out who did it. The investigation that follows challenges everything Dias thought he knew about the Ether, the real world and himself.

Ether is a stunningly emotional journey and a brilliant deconstruction of the fantasy genre through the lens of science from X-O Manowar and Dept. H writer Matt Kindt. But as great as Kindt's work on this series is, the true star of the show here is artist David Rubín, who pumps out page after breathtaking page of wondrous fantasy settings and unique, charming creatures. His work in this book is at times dour and gritty and at others vibrantly whimsical, creating a powerful visual contrast that drives home the tension at the heart of the book. Any fan of fantasy — and especially fans who are hard to please in the genre, like myself — absolutely must pick up the first volume of Ether.

 

SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL, VOL. 1: EARTH GIRL MADE EASY TP

By Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Kelly Fitzpatrick and more! Cover art by Becky Cloonan. July 12 from DC.

Shade, the Changing Girl is one of the standout titles of DC's fledgling Young Animal imprint, and if you missed out on the single issues, now's the time to find out what all the fuss was about. Collecting the first six issues of the ongoing series, Shade tells the story of an alien named Loma from the planet Meta who steals a coat made of madness that belonged to her favorite poet. She wields its strange abilities recklessly and ends up a galaxy away, trapped in the body of Megan, a teenage girl from Earth. Loma immediately finds her detached fascination with Earth at odds with the realization that Megan was a mean, vindictive girl, and no one is quick to let her forget it.

What follows is a wild, psychedelic story that I hesitate to call a "coming-of-age" story because it's more of a story about coming to terms with one's own personal madness. Writer Cecil Castellucci weaves a lyrical, multifaceted and surreal tale of a girl trapped in a human alien's body, while artist Marley Zarcone draws the most beautifully psychedelic pages you'll find on the shelves today. She draws visual inspiration from the original Shade's creator, Steve Ditko, but ultimately makes something completely her own, imbuing each panel with a fragile fluidity that makes it feel like it could melt right off the page. She's aided here by the inviting, trippy colors of Kelly Fitzpatrick, who gives the book a palette that makes it feel unreal, but never at the expense of clarity of storytelling.

All around, Shade, the Changing Girl is one of the most boldly different books being published by either of the Big Two right now. It's essential reading for anyone who likes their comics with a heavy helping of weird or wants to see a very different kind of story about a teenager coming to terms with their identity.

 

IT'S A BIRD NEW EDITION TP

By Steven T. Seagle & Teddy H. Kristiansen. Cover art Teddy H. Kristiansen. July 5 from DC.

Hang around comic book geeks for long enough and it won't be long until you hear this bit of conventional wisdom: Superman is hard to write.

The reasons differ depending on who you talk to. It may be that he's hard to relate to, that he's outdated, that he has too much baggage, or that he's too powerful. But for whatever reason, the Man of Steel has proven notoriously hard for writers to nail down, especially compared to someone like Batman, who has had countless stories celebrated as classics.

These assumptions and conflicts arose for writer Steven T. Seagle, and his journey figuring out what Superman is all about and what his answer should be is all chronicled in this auto-biographical graphic novel, It's a Bird. This book was originally published by Vertigo in 2004, and if you haven't read it before, I highly recommend picking up this new paperback printing. It's a Bird is a thought-provoking look into the cultural and philosophical significance of Superman and how he must evolve to fit a modern context. The artwork, by Teddy Kristiansen, is somber and graceful, so much so that it won him the Eisner Award for Best Painter in 2005.

If you like Superman, and especially if you don't, you must take this new opportunity to discover It's a Bird.

 

BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE TP

By Becky Cloonan. Cover art by Becky Cloonan. July 26 from Image.

Becky Cloonan is one of the most celebrated creators in comics today, and this reprinted volume is a perfect showcase of why. By Chance or Providence collects a trio of stories of medieval fantasy by the writer-artist of Wolves, The Mire and Demeter. Each story spotlights her incredible draftsmanship and control of pacing and framing as she weaves between scenes of shadowy horror and majestic scenery, and sometimes all in the same image. But her biggest strength is in her characters, as she creates people that feel real both in their appearance and in their inner turmoil.

These are tales of passion, magic and tragedy, drawn with an incomparably confident line and a vibrant though shadowy range of colors. If you're a fan of fantasy in the classic tradition, then these tales will be exactly what you need. In addition to the three stories, you also get an extensive look at Cloonan's concept art in the back of the book, which includes some truly stunning illustrations that are easily worth the price of admission on their own. Don’t miss this chance to explore some of the most well-crafted works of fantasy in comics by one of the medium's modern masters.

 

CURSE WORDS, VOL. 1 TP

By Charles Soule and Ryan Browne. Cover art by Ryan Browne. July 19 from Image.

Curse Words is a story about a wizard named Wizord and his koala companion and their decision to kick back in New York City instead of destroying the world as they'd originally planned. It may sound dumb, and it is, but it's the type of dumb that pushes things so far outside expectations that it becomes genius somewhere along the way.

Wizord is a powerful sorcerer who forgoes his master's orders to live a life of luxury in modern-day New York City and soon attracts a lot of attention for his magical services. Absurd hijinx follow as both real-world forces and magical ones try to wrangle Wizord and his powers, leading to an over-the-top crazy series of battles. The battles are both visually stunning and hilarious thanks to the masterful cartooning of God Hates Astronauts artist Ryan Browne, while Darth Vader writer Charles Soule injects characters that would otherwise be one-time gags with incredible amounts of personality and humor. I don’t make this comparison lightly, but Curse Words feels like a magical Rick & Morty, if Morty was more competent, and a koala. The brash, optimistic nihilism of Wizord and his colorfully and violently strange worlds will quickly win over the most jaded of readers, and present them with a style of humor not seen enough in comic books, as well as a perfectly wacky fantasy epic. Fall under the laughing spell of Curse Words this month, you’ll be glad you did.

 

THE LEGEND OF KORRA: TURF WARS PART ONE TP

By Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh. Cover art by Irene Koh and Heather Campbell.

Dark Horse has done an amazing job continuing the saga of Avatar: The Last Airbender in comics, letting readers know what happened after the war against the fire nation ended, and now they’re about to do the same thing with the second series, The Legend of Korra. This volume picks up right where the animated series left off as Korra and Asami attempt a much-needed vacation in the spirit world. But being the Avatar, trouble has a way of finding Korra.

Soon Korra and the gang find themselves caught up in a conflict between the spirits and humans as criminal elements reorganize, a shady developer wants to create an amusement park out of the spirit portal, and more threats arise. This book is the first volume of the Turf War trilogy, making it appear that Dark Horse will be publishing the Korra follow-ups in much the same way they did with Avatar, which got five stories in all, each published in three parts. A can't-miss volume exploring an all-new era of the Avatar world.

 

PLANETARY, BOOK ONE TP

By Warren Ellis, John Cassaday Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning. Cover art by John Cassaday. July 12 from DC.

Genre deconstruction is a tricky thing. When done well it can elevate stories to new heights and shine new light on undervalued or contradictory ideas, but when done poorly it can come across as crass or cynical. Watchmen rode this line very closely, and enough people misread it as pure superheroic cynicism that it ended up making the whole genre like that for a while.

But deconstruction doesn’t have to be negative. Superstar writer Warren Ellis has proven this time and again in the superhero genre, most notably with Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. at Marvel. But there’s no better deconstruction of—and love letter to—the superhero comic book than Planetary.

If you have never heard of Planetary, it’s the best book that Jim Lee’s WildStorm imprint ever produced, bar none. It stars the surly Elijah Snow, a "Century Baby" who was born to the minute at the turn of the 20th century, who is recruited to be a part of the organization called Planetary, which seeks to uncover the secret history of the world, calling themselves “Archaeologists of the Impossible.” While Snow is a classically irritable Ellis protagonist, the series never dips into cynicism or darkness, but instead presents of vision of superheroics that is more about the pursuit of knowledge and the preservation of life than it is about punching bad guys. Accompanied by the imitable artwork of Astonishing X-Men artist John Cassaday, this book is all around one of the finest examples of super-fiction around, and if you haven't read it before, this volume is a perfect chance to check it out. This new paperback printing contains the first half of the series and includes backup material only previously seen in the oversized Absolute collection, making it a great value.

 

NOVA: RESURRECTION TP

By Jeff Loveness, Ramón Pérez & Scott Hepburn. Cover art by Ramon Perez. July 26 from Marvel.

Marvel’s recent announcement of its “Legacy” initiative hinted at a push to present classic Marvel icons alongside — rather than being replaced by — their younger, more diverse counterparts. Their initial slate of titles, however, doesn't seem to be addressing that issue much, publishing much the same series they had before. It’s strange to me that this is something that Marvel seem to be struggling with, because they’ve already published a book that did it exactly right.

The most recent volume of Nova starred the young Sam Alexander, a Latino teenager who has acted as Nova for the last few years, following the death of the previous Nova, Richard Rider. While not a household name, Rider has a dedicated following that's been begging for his return for years ... and in this series, they finally got it, but no one ever said it was going to be easy. The series sees Rider suddenly and mysteriously return from the Cancerverse where he'd sacrificed himself to save the universe, but despite what he thought, he may not have returned the same, or alone.

Both Novas bond quickly, and the buddy-cop, veteran/rookie dynamic fell into place perfectly, with the smooth-talking Rich contrasting nicely with the perpetually awkward Sam. Neither character feels shorted; both of them having their own arcs, motivations and demons to deal with. The book is gorgeous, with artist Ramón Pérez (Jim Henson's A Tale of Sand) giving equal attention to both the wildly imaginative cosmic spectacle and the grounded, human moments, and the whole book is better for it. It's a charming, fun, adventurous book that is a prime example of how Marvel should approach allowing their legacy characters to co-exist. Plus it has a guest-star spot by the telepathic Russian cosmonaut dog Cosmo, whose appearance makes any comic a must-buy in my book.

 

KILL ALL MONSTERS OMNIBUS HC

By Michael May & Jason Copland. Cover art by Jason Copland. July 19 from Dark Horse.

The highly successful Kickstarter webcomic Kill All Monsters gets a new collection from Dark Horse, with all-new material!

Kill All Monsters is set in a world in ruin after mankind accidentally created giant monsters through nuclear testing in the 1950s. Now the only thing standing in between the remnants of humanity and utter annihilation is a small group of pilots and their giant robots. The group must not only overcome monsters both big and small -- they have to fight to survive on foot when one of their bots gets stuck, and stay together despite their differing opinions of Archer, an all-new A.I.-controlled robot that's set to replace them.

The writing by Michael May is clever and funny without being cheesy as the story pays homage to giant monster movies of the past but does some funny things to emphasize just how clumsy and cumbersome giant robots would be. The black-and-white artwork by Jason Copland perfectly fits the subject material, as he uses simplified backgrounds and the landscape format to allow the epic battles room to breathe.

In addition to the original Kickstarter story, this also contains almost 200 new pages, including the pages from Dark Horse Presents and a never-before-seen story, "Island of Giants." This book is jam-packed with content, is ridiculously fun and deserves a place on your bookshelf this month.

 

AVENGERS BY JONATHAN HICKMAN, VOL. 1 OMNIBUS HC

By Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opeña, Dustin Weaver, Steve Epting and more. Cover art by Dustin Weaver. July 5 from Marvel.

I know this book is massive and expensive, but I can honestly say it's completely worth it. Jonathan Hickman's run on the Avengers titles wove an incredible cosmic tapestry that made Earth's Mightiest Heroes live up to that hyperbolic title as they never had before. In this series, Iron Man and Captain America recruit a team of heroes that are far more powerful than any incarnation of the team before, with Hyperion, Star Brand, Night Mask, Captain Universe, Smasher, Manifold and more joining up with mainstays like Thor, Hulk and Captain Marvel, and complete wildcards like former New Mutants Sunspot and Cannonball. While the lineup may seem insurmountable, the team have their work cut out from them as they kick things off stopping a mysterious force from terraforming Mars and re-terraforming Earth, deal with the emergence of new powers after the White Event and confront Thanos and his formidable guards, the Black Order.

The big, bright Avengers issues are contrasted with the behind-the-scenes machinations of the New Avengers, which follows the "Illuminati" of Iron Man, Black Panther, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt and Doctor Strange as they try to work behind the scenes to stop the looming threat connected to everything that may end the multiverse. This collection brings all of Hickman's issues in this mega-narrative together in one book for the first time, and it makes for a rewarding reading experience unlike any other. You will be astounded at the sheer scope of the book's ambition and by its fascinating explorations of superheroes' ideologies by repeatedly placing them in impossible situations. This is the rare superhero book that is complex in its plot and themes and inner workings, requiring no outside knowledge, just a willingness to think and question what you're reading.

But even aside from all that, it's worth picking up for the insane lineup of artists and the amazing spectacle. At one point in this book, Thor kills a guy by throwing his hammer and sling-shotting it around a star. If that isn't what you’re looking for in an Avengers series, I don't know what is.