Spill Zone, Doom Patrol and 8 more must-read graphic novels for May

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May 3, 2017

Comics are weird. Not the people who read or make them, necessarily, but the medium itself. They occupy the narrative space between novels and film, they never are quite understood by the mainstream, and they tend to have a blatant and charming disregard for the usual boundaries of genre.

Well, this month's must-read graphic novels include a whole lot of the weirdness that makes comics wonderful, with time-traveling sorcerers, ragtag superteams, twisted realities, genre mashups, and crazy crossovers. But despite the weirdness, there really is something for everybody this month, whether you like reading non-fiction, romance, pulp adventure, or horror, we have the trade paperbacks (TP) and hardcovers (HC) to tickle your most fantastic fancy.

If you're looking forward to reading something else coming out this month, or if you read something off of last month's list, please be sure to let us know in the comments. Happy reading!

 

SPILL ZONE, VOL. 1 HC

by Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland and Hilary Sycamore. Cover art Alex Puvilland. May 3 from First Second.

Spill Zone is an all-new series of sci-fi graphic novels about a young woman named Addison, whose parents—and hometown of Poughkeepsie—were swallowed up in a bizarre extra-dimensional event. The town and its residents have been transformed into an eerie and hauntingly colorful fun-house mirror of its former self, and despite the government's quarantine, Addison returns to the town to photograph the macabre spectacle.

Scott Westerfeld may be the name that brings readers to the book—he's the author of the Leviathan and Uglies young adult trilogies of novels—but the reason they'll stay is for the amazing visuals by Alex Puvilland and colorist Hilary Sycamore. The Spill Zone is brought to vibrant, terrifying life, with gorgeous and twisted imagery that gives the comic a look unlike any other.

The story is surreal but grounded in a relatable character, who risks everything for her art and what family she has left, and leaves you begging for more once you finish it—inevitably in one sitting. If you don't believe me, you can always see for yourself, since Spill Zone has also been serialized online. And if that's not enough, you can also give it a try on Free Comic Book Day, with the prequel story Spill Night.

 

DOOM PATROL, VOL. 1: BRICK BY BRICK TP

by Gerard Way, Nick Derington & Tamra Bonvillain. May 31 from DC.

The flagship book from rock star Gerard Way's Young Animal imprint was always going to be under a lot of scrutiny. Would it effectively set the tone for the rest of the line? Would it live up to the crazily high bar of Grant Morrison's run? Would it be different enough from Umbrella Academy to justify its existence? Would the ambulance turn out to be alive?

I'm happy to inform you that the answer to all of those questions is an enthusiastic yes! The first volume of Doom Patrol is the first trade paperback out from Young Animal, and it sets the expectations of quality high for the rest of the emerging line. It has lived up to the hype by taking elements from the title's past, tossing them in with some new characters and crazy ideas, and giving it all a bold new look, and it has worked wonders. The series is both new reader friendly while also being a challenging and rewarding reading experience. It's dark in places, but also proudly, even—joyfully—weird, expertly walking the tonal tightrope that Doom Patrol's legacy creates.

The new characters feel right at home with classics like Robot Man and Flex Mentallo, and it all feels like the book that Nick Derington and colorist Tamra Bonvillain were born to illustrate. They inject just the right amount of humor and cartoony fun into some existentially dire situations, providing levity and coherence to a fairly complex book. Doom Patrol looks like and reads like no other superhero series on the stands, and is the perfectly different breath of air for those drowning in Rebirths and Secret Empires.

 

MOONSHINE, VOL. 1 TP

by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso. Cover art by Eduardo Risso. May 24 from Image.

If you've been reading comics for a while, you should know that if the creative team is Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, you should pick the book up. The Eisner-winning duo behind 100 Bullets, Spaceman, and Flashpoint: Batman—Knight of Vengeance do their best work when they're together, and their best work is about as good as it gets.

The latest series from the pair is Moonshine, and horror series set during the prohibition, about a New York organized crime family's enforcer who is sent to the backwoods of West Virginia to track down the Holt family, and their infamous moonshine. The only problem is that not all of the Holts are ready to sell their family's business, and even fewer are willing to risk their lycanthropic secrets.

It's bloody, it's horrifying, and it's stylish, as gangsters and werewolves collide in this beautifully illustrated and cleverly told tale that no fan of noir or horror should go without.

 

TARZAN ON THE PLANET OF THE APES TP

by David Walker, Tim Seeley, Fernando Dagnino & Sandra Molina. Cover art by Duncan Fegredo. May 17 from Dark Horse and Boom! Studios.

When I talked to co-writer David Walker about this series last fall, I knew this was going to be a great book. His excitement was palpable, and he had a deep appreciation of the mythology of the Planet of the Apes franchise that was infectious. And I know, excitement doesn't make great comics, but you know what does? Apes, dinosaurs, high-flying jungle action, time travel, monsters, family drama, and wonderful, pulp-inspired artwork. And Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes has all of that in spades.

Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes poses a simple question to its readers: what if Tarzan was Caesar's brother? It's a short logical bridge to cross between stories of super-intelligent apes and of men raised by apes, and the two world blend near-seamlessly, creating a fresh look at both well-explored franchises. The science-fiction sensibilities of Planet of the Apes grow completely naturally from the pulp adventures of Tarzan, and the creative team does an admirable job of making each setting feel like a natural progression of the other. The artwork by Fernando Dagnino and Sandra Molina is lush, detailed and cinematic, perfectly suited to the tale they are telling. The artists make every page turn feel like a treat that you want to savor, because you never know what wild scene they're going to show you next.

Whether you're familiar with both franchises or neither, this is a great introduction and exploration of the ideas that make both legendary series lasting parts of pop-culture.

 

DEADMAN: DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE TP

by Sarah Vaughn, Lan Medina, José Villarubia & Phil Hester. Cover art by Stephanie Hans. May 31 from DC.

Gothic romance is probably not a genre you tend to associate with DC superheroes, but nevertheless, Boston Brand—the ghostly acrobat known as Deadman—recently found himself in one, and a good one at that.

In Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, Deadman meets Berenice, a young psychic woman who has moved into a massive Victorian-style mansion with her boyfriend. As you'd expect, the mansion is haunted, possessed by a dark force that attracted Deadman's attention, but has refused to let him leave. Together, Boston and Berenice investigate the secret history of the house, and meet some of its now-deceased inhabitants, and quickly find themselves tied up in a tale of love, murder, vengeance, and horror far older than they.

The story is compelling and uses the sometimes over-wrought tropes of the genre effectively, creating a tale that is both unique to, but also at home in, the DC Universe. The artwork from Fables artist Lan Medina is lavishly rendered, allowing the reader to feel the cold touch of every shadow, and hear the creak of every floorboard in vast, gloomy estate. One of the most interesting genre experiments that DC has conducted in recent years, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is well worth your hard-earned comic book dollar.

 

THE UNWORTHY THOR TP

by Jason Aaron, Olivier Coipel, Frazer Irving, Russell Dauterman, Esad Ribic, Aaron Kim Jacinto & Matt Wilson. Cover art by Olivier Coipel. May 24 from Marvel.

After Jack Kirby and Walter Simonson, I don't think there's any more definitive Thor artist than Olivier Coipel. When he and J.M. Straczynski relaunched the character after his several year absence from the Marvel Universe, he reinvented and updated the look of the Asgardian cast. While the space-god spirit of the original Kirby designs were kept, Coipel buffed up the armors and furs and made Thor and co. look more rooted to their Viking origins, and though there have been a few tweaks here and there, the timeless aesthetic has stuck in the ten years since. His run was full of power and pathos, and all too short, which is why I was very excited to see that he would once more be contributing to the thunder god's cosmos in The Unworthy Thor.

In Unworthy Thor, both the former thunder god and Coipel get to cut loose as the Odinson repeatedly tears through hordes of the Collectors monstrous and varied goons, giving Coipel a chance to show off his keen eye for action, and design some wicked baddies. But of course Coipel isn't doing this alone. He's drawing a story by Jason Aaron, who is no Thor slouch either, having held the fate of Asgard in his hands for the last five years. He writes a compelling tale, as the shamed deity finds himself in the possession of the Collector, who is also the current owner of the hammer of a Thor from a dead universe. With the help of a few unlikely allies, Thor fights like never before to keep the hammer out of evil hands, and finally reveals why he has left Mjolnir in Jane Foster's. Guest spots by other mainstay Thor artists are just the cherry on top of this volume, which is a must-have for any fan of Thor.

 

DIVINITY III: STALINVERSE TP

by Matt Kindt, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn & David Baron. Cover art by Jelena Kevic Djurjevic. May 3 from Valiant.

Months before Marvel made the internet mad by letting their universe get taken over by Nazis, Valiant did it better, but they let theirs get taken over by the Soviet Union. Completing the trilogy of Divinity books, Divinity III: Stalinverse used one the omnipotnent cosmonauts that the series stars to re-write reality so that the Soviet Union took over the world. It is then up to a few select Valiant heroes who remember the way things were to find the first Divinity, and awaken him so that he can fight back.

The new Valiant's first and best new creation, Divinity has been pure comic book gold since the very beginning, and the latest series doesn't buck the trend. The series is thought-provoking, strangely prescient, beautifully drawn, and incredibly imaginative. Bombastic and reality-bending comic book action plays out across a decades-spanning difference in politics that's a feast for both the eyes and the mind. If you want the best Valiant has to offer, pick up all three volumes of this amazing series.

 

KINGSWAY WEST TP

by Greg Pak, Mirko Colak & Wil Quintana. Cover art by Mirko Colak & Wil Quintana. May 31 from Dark Horse.

If you were one of the legions of people who made it known that they wanted an Asian Iron Fist in the TV show, and are looking for more Asian heroes in comic books, you absolutely have to check out Kingsway West. This fantast western miniseries from Totally Awesome Hulk writer Greg Pak flew infuriatingly under-the-radar last year, but now's the perfect time to give it a shot.

Kingsway Law is a Chinese gunslinger who wants nothing more than to stop slinging his guns, but I think we all know how that usually goes. Kingsway lives in a fantasy version of the Wild West that is waging war over a magical ore, and his experience in conflicts of the past have him pulled violently into those of the present. Artist Mirko Colak populates this strange desert setting with all manner of fantastical creatures that look like they could have been torn out of a Miyazaki movie. Kingsway West used Asian fantasy stylings to breathe new life into the tired settings of the western genre, and created a world and a hero that is refreshingly original and needed. Believe me, you can't draw your wallet fast enough.

 

DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE SORCERERS SUPREME, VOL. 1: OUT OF TIME TP

by Robbie Thompson, Javier Rodriguez, Álvaro López, Jordie Bellaire, Nathan Stockman & Tamra Bonvillain. Cover art by Rafael Albuquerque. May 24 from Marvel.

It's no secret that Marvel likes to use their comic book line to strike while the movie publicity iron is hot. There always a handful of extra series about whenever new heroes are making their big screen debut, but unless they're the main title, tend to be short-lived and forgetful. I was largely expecting this to be the case with Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme when it debuted last year, but boy was I wrong, because this is one of the most fun, and best-looking Doctor Strange stories in years.

The story's setup is simple enough: Merlin recruits a team of Sorcerers Supreme from across time to assist him in solving a problem that Merlin himself caused. But then Merlin dies, and the team is left to solve his problem—and each of those that he had promised to solve for them. Each sorcerer is given a strong and distinct personality and each fills a different niche of Marvel magic, whether it's a grown-up Wiccan, a Native American Ghost Rider, a cocky young Ancient One, or a conniving Isaac Newton.

But the thing that takes this comic from good to great is the art of Javier Rodriguez. His character designs are iconic and engaging, and his page layouts are some of the most inventive I've ever seen. There are some spots where it feels like the artist is playing a magic trick on you, as he has characters pulled sideways out panels and get lost in physics-defying libraries, and enemies use black gutters to attack the sorcerers, and much more. It's impossibly good, nailing the reality-twisting visuals of the original Ditko comics, but expanding on them in ways that haven't been done before. It all culminates in a choose-your-own-adventure issue that sticks the reader in a time loop and challenges them to find their way out, and it must be experienced to be believed.

 

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D

by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi. Cover art by Koren Shadmi. May 10 from Nation Books.

One of my favorite graphic novels released last year was Box Brown's Tetris, which told the story of the invention of the world-famous video game, and how its success and the creator's were not one in the same. It placed the game as both a product of and a creator of a very specific moment in time, and made me appreciate the game more than I ever had before.

Now David Kushner and Koren Shadmi are aiming to do something similar with the origins of Dungeons & Dragons in their new graphic novel Rise of the Dungeon Master. While I personally am not as big a fan of D&D as I am of Tetris (draw your own conclusions as to what that says about me), I'm just as curious to see how this story plays out. D&D is infamous for having massive cultural blowback at the time of release, and a look at how that experience effected the man who created the game is sure to be a fascinating one. Plus, D&D's system formed the basis for pretty much every RPG that followed, so seeing the thought process that led to that will also be interesting.