It’s June, which marks the official arrival of summer. Kids are getting out of school, the sun is shining, and it’s hopefully time to relax. And if you’re in relaxation mode, there’s nothing more refreshing than cracking open the pages of a fresh new graphic novel. But picking out the right one can sometimes prove to be less than relaxing.
Lucky for you, I’m here to help with 8 graphic novel recommendations for the month of June that you simply can’t leave off your summer reading list. We have superheroes and science fiction, daring exploration and high-stakes racing, big action and charming characters, or really anything else you could ever need from your comic book diet. I’ve included a selection of hardcovers (HC) and trade paperbacks (TP) that are both insular works and parts of ongoing series, so whether you want to binge-read a new epic or just enjoy a single volume, I’ve got you covered.
As always, if you have some recommendations for us, or if you have read books on a previous list, please share your thoughts in the comments below. And have a happy and comic-filled summer!
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MARTHA WASHINGTON IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TP
by Frank Miller & Dave Gibbons. Cover art by Dave Gibbons. June 7 from Dark Horse.
With the names attached to this book, it doesn’t really need my help to find an audience. This series began when Frank Miller was hot off the success of The Dark Knight Returns and Dave Gibbons had just wrapped up work on Watchmen. These two creators had both just changed the face of comics forever, and The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century is what they did next.
While not as well-known as their other works, Martha Washington is arguably far more unique, and might be more relevant today than either of those works. The book stars the titular Martha, an African-American woman born in 1995, and follows her for the next 100 years of life as she escapes the hellish projects she grew up in, gets thrown in a psychiatric hospital, joins the corporatized military and eventually plays a key role in the Second American Civil War. And that’s not even getting into the times she goes to space! It’s very character-focused sci-fi set against the backdrop of a nightmarishly absurd and alarmingly poignant future America that has shattered under the weight of its own corruption, greed, racism and sexism. While it may sound bleak, Martha’s determination, will to survive and strength of character remain an inspiring foundation for it all. A satirical epic from two masters of the form, worth reading whether it’s your first time or again with new, 21st-century eyes.
AVENGERS UNLEASHED, VOL 1: KANG WAR ONE TP
By Mark Waid & Mike Del Mundo. Cover Art by Alex Ross. June 21 from Marvel.
Though I was traditionally a Marvel guy when I was younger, these days I find myself gravitating away from the publisher, being more interested in what DC is doing with their universe, and creator-owned works elsewhere. But there are some writers and artists who I will follow no matter where they go, and Mike Del Mundo is just such an artist. From his work on Elektra, then to Weirdworld, and now to Avengers, Del Mundo is one of the most visually impressive and innovative artists working in comics today, and seeing him work his magic on the latest incarnation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a thrill. His charming cartooning wonderfully underscores the personalities of the team, from Spidey’s goofiness to the Vision’s stoicism, and the wild cosmic adventure is a perfect canvas for Del Mundo to completely fill with radiant color.
Speaking of that adventure, I should probably tell you about it before I write about the art for another 2,000 words! This oddball lineup of Avengers is a ton of fun, especially as they’re thrown up against one of the greatest foes in the team’s history: Kang the Conqueror. The time-traveling despot proves to be quite the difficult foe to foil, and the team may end up needing the help of a few more Avengers from throughout time. Mark Waid has a firm grasp on each of these characters, and he allows the plot to unfold through their actions rather than spontaneous events, making for a rewarding and engaging read. Easily one of Marvel’s most fun—and best-looking—titles at the moment.
THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN COMPLETE COLLECTION HC
By Robert Kirkman & Jason Howard. Cover art by Jason Howard. June 28 from Image.
You’d think that being written by the guy behind The Walking Dead would basically be a free pass to stardom, but The Astounding Wolf-Man is actually a sadly overlooked gem in Robert Kirkman’s bibliography. The series stars Gray Hampton, an extraordinarily wealthy businessman who is attacked and bitten by an Elder werewolf while on vacation with his family in Montana. When he wakes from the coma the attack puts him in, he finds himself able to turn into a werewolf, though not able to control it. With help from a vampire named Zechariah, Hampton learns to control his abilities and becomes the hero known as The Astounding Wolf-Man.
The series sees Hampton learning about his powers and the history of werewolves, as well as fighting a variety of odd villains and teaming up with other heroes, like Kirkman’s better-known creation Invincible. It’s a delightfully pulpy book that plays on the monster-hero archetype in clever ways, allowing for surprising pathos and depth of character, as well as ludicrous superhero adventures and humor. This collection puts all 25 issues of the series, as well as a crossover of Invincible, together in the same book for the first time, as drawn by Jason Howard, who nails the tone with big, bold lines and sleek, memorable character designs. Fans of Kirkman’s work — especially Invincible or his other book with Howard, Super Dinosaur — or anyone looking for a new twist on the usual werewolf story will want to add this one to their shelf.
X-O MANOWAR, VOL. 1: SOLDIER TP
By Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello & Diego Rodriguez. Cover art by Lewis LaRosa. June 28 from Valiant.
I regularly sing the praises of Valiant Entertainment’s incredible superhero universe in this column, but I must confess, even I was late to the game. By the time I sat up and took notice of all the great work that the publisher was doing, I’d already missed out on a few years of their flagship character’s series, X-O Manowar, and so decided to dig into other series instead. Well, a few more years went by, and after an impressive 50-issue run, that volume of X-O ended, leaving me a perfect chance to jump in with the first issue of a brand-new series, and holy cow am I glad I did.
This new story by Valiant veteran Matt Kindt (Rai, Divinity) and artist Tomás Giorello (King Conan) still stars Aric of Dacia—the Visigoth warrior who was abducted and enslaved by aliens only to break free using a living armor and return to Earth in the modern day as X-O Manowar—back in outer space. When we meet our hero he is living a quiet life on a distant planet, desperately trying to avoid war at all costs. But sadly for Aric, war is not done with him yet. The tragic, brutal tale is one of the most intense and action-packed stories you’ll read all year, with some truly astonishing artwork by Giorello that masterfully portrays the grim, savage beauty of the reaches of space and the horrors of war. Don’t be like me and miss out on your chance to learn what makes X-O Manowar one of Valiant’s greatest heroes.
ULTIMATES 2, VOL. 1: TROUBLESHOOTERS TP
By Al Ewing & Travel Foreman. Cover art by Travel Foreman. June 21 from Marvel.
I know, I said in the Avengers entry that I don’t read much Marvel, but when your pull list is as long as mine “not much” Marvel is still more than most people. Besides, I have to give credit where it’s due: Ultimates is a fantastic book. It features the coolest, most diverse and most powerful team lineup at Marvel—Black Panther, Spectrum, America, Captain Marvel, Blue Marvel and friggin’ Galactus—joining forces to correct things when they go wrong on a cosmic scale. The Ultimates are the team that’s so powerful it scares the governments of the world into creating a superteam to stop them. The Ultimates are who you call to solve the problem of a world-devourer, and then team up with that world-devourer to combat the powers of abstract entities like Order and Chaos. It’s high-concept, metaphysical cosmic lunacy in the merry Marvel fashion.
The book is written by Al Ewing, who continues his stellar work from the previous Ultimates series, building and redefining the hidden cosmology of the Marvel Universe while telling an exciting and accessible story about the responsibilities of being the best team of heroes the world has to offer. Art is provided by Travel Foreman, who nails the wild visual demands of this book, turning in his best work since Animal Man. If you like your superheroes solving huge problems with huge powers and even bigger ideas, then you’ll love The Ultimates.
ADVENTURES OF SUPERHERO GIRL, EXPANDED EDITION HC
By Faith Erin Hicks. Cover art by Faith Erin Hicks & Cris Peter. June 14 from Dark Horse.
Watch in amazement as the incredible Superhero Girl takes on the perils of being a superhero that other superheroes are too afraid to tell you! Such as: getting a domino-mask tan! Dealing with Canada’s lack of super-villains! Acquiring a cape! Learning to knit! Kevin!
This new hardcover edition collects the entirety of Canadian cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks’ Eisner award-winning webcomic into one volume, along with a selection of pin-ups. The comics are hilarious, each taking a snapshot of the life of an incredibly earnest young woman trying desperately to be the best superhero she can be, but often not pulling it off in the way she hopes. It’s heartfelt and clever and frequently adorable, and can enjoyed by readers of all ages. Faith Erin Hicks is one of the most versatile and interesting cartoonists in the game right now, and this volume is a perfect opportunity to find out why.
MOTOR CRUSH, VOL. 1 TP
By Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr. Cover art by Babs Tarr. June 14 from Image.
The best comics are invariably the stories that could only have ever happened as comics. Ones that are too weird, too big, too unique or too ambitious ever to make it as a TV show or a movie, ones too visual and too imaginative ever to make it as a book. Motor Crush is one such comic.
Imagine if you threw Speed Racer, The Warriors, Mad Max, Redline, Mario Kart, an entire case of bubblegum and a couple of strong shots of tequila into a blender, and you’ll have something close to the awesomeness that is Motor Crush. Set in a future sci-fi-metropolis that revolves around racing in all its forms, Domino Swift is on the fast track to standing victorious above it all. But she has to keep her temper—and her supply of the valuable racing fuel and drug called Crush—in check to have any hope of surviving in this cutthroat world of sport and celebrity.
Artist Babs Tarr—who is working with her Batgirl team of Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart—is the true star of this show, with stunningly designed characters and settings that make Motor Crush look like no other comic you’ve seen before—or anything else, for that matter. If you want speed, mystery and the coolest new protagonist of the year, then look no further than Motor Crush.
CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE, VOL. 1: GOING UNDERGROUND TP
By Gerard Way, Jonathan Rivera & Michael Avon Oeming. Cover art by Matt Wagner. June 28 from DC.
I’m a sucker for obscure comic book characters, but when DC announced Gerard Way’s Young Animal line would be reviving Cave Carson, I had no idea who they were talking about, and odds are, neither do you. But that’s fine! This comic requires no prior knowledge. In fact, it almost expects you to have forgotten all about him, as the series begins with its protagonist wallowing in obscurity, a washed-up former subterranean explorer whose work was being done by younger, better-funded adventurers.
Circumstances quickly change for Cave in this book, however, and he soon finds himself returning underground, along with his teen daughter and the gun enthusiast Wild Dog, in order to stop a crisis that could have dire consequences for both the Earth’s insides and its outsides. The story is a classic adventure tale with just a dash more heady weirdness, like if Indiana Jones had a bad trip. But underneath the strange creatures and underground caverns is a story of family, as Cave, a single dad, tries to reconnect with his daughter, who is growing up and apart from him. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is definitely a comic to keep an eye on, because even though I’d never heard of him, I’m really glad Cave’s back, and I think you will be too.