Star Hawks, The Metabaron and 8 more must-read graphic novels for March

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Mar 6, 2017

And lo, it comes once again: that time when I tell you of all the graphic novel greatness that's set to grace your local comic shop shelves in the coming month. And this month is dreary, rainy March, which means you're going to be in dire need of reading material!

March's releases include trade paperbacks (TP) and hardcovers (HC) from a myriad of publishers and across a range of genres. We have new works of young adult fantasy, all-ages favorites, new editions of horror-noir cult hits, collections of comic strip classics and so much more! So whip out your reading lists and take notes, and then be sure to let us know what you're looking forward to this month — or what you've enjoyed from previous months' lists — in the comments below!

BLACK HAMMER, VOL. 1: SECRET ORIGINS TP

by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart. Cover art by Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart. March 29 from Dark Horse.

It seems like a month doesn't go by when Jeff Lemire doesn't make his way onto this list somewhere. Between Moon Knight, Inhumans vs. X-Men, Descender, A.D., Bloodshot Reborn and most recently Royal City, Lemire seems like he might be under some sort of curse that will kill him if he stops writing or drawing comics for more than five minutes. What's even more incredible than the volume of the output, however, is the quality and the diversity of it. Whether it's a family-focused small town drama or a high-concept superhero epic, Lemire can do it, and in Black Hammer, he does both.

Black Hammer is the story of a small group of superheroes who have recently stopped and survived a Crisis-style multi-versal upheaval, only to find themselves stuck on a rural farm, far away from the world that they'd previously called home, with their abilities in disarray. The resulting tale manages to both pay homage to heroes of every past era of comic books at the same time as it weaves a deep interpersonal drama between the characters. The haunting artwork of Dean Ormston and subdued colors of Dave Stewart drive home just how out-of-place these characters are in this quiet new setting and do a marvelous job of visually representing the various archetypes that each character represents without outright repeating what has come before. A strange twist on the super-genre from one of comics' most productive and versatile talents.

THE DAMNED, VOL. 1: THREE DAYS DEAD TP

by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree. Cover art by Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree. March 15 from Oni Press.

Before they got to work taming the horrors of the Wild West in their legendary series The Sixth Gun, Cullen Bunn (another member of the "how does a single human write this much" club) and Brian Hurtt collaborated on a project that brought supernatural terror to another fabled period of American history: the Prohibition.

The Damned is a guns-and-gangsters-style noir story, but with demons! The series stars a cursed man named Eddie who upon dying will steal the life of the next unfortunate person to touch him and come back to life, over and over again. Things get hairy for Eddie when he is hired by a demonic mafia boss to get to the bottom of a deal gone wrong with an opposing family.

This new edition is re-collecting the original five issue (plus a zero issue) series from 2006-2007 and presenting it in color for the first time, thanks to the talents of the third member of The Sixth Gun team, colorist Bill Crabtree. This release comes just in time to catch readers up before The Damned returns later this year as an ongoing series. Plus this volume is only $9.99, so I'm pretty sure there's a special ring of hell waiting for you if you don't give The Damned a try.

DEATHSTROKE, VOL. 1: THE PROFESSIONAL TP

by Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Joe Bennett & Larry Hama. Cover art by Aco. March 8 from DC.

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of Deathstroke at all. He's overly serious and over-hyped. This is a guy that's supposed to be the most deadly mercenary in the DC Universe, and yet he's most known for repeatedly failing to kill a bunch of teenagers. I get that he has his fans, but to me, he was just the guy I'd pick if I wanted a cheap win in Injustice.

But then DC went and got Christopher Priest to write the book.

Best known for his work at Marvel on Black Panther, The Crew, Captain America and the Falcon and many other titles, as well as co-creating Valiant's Quantum & Woody, Priest is nothing short of a living legend. So when he was announced as the writer of Deathstroke for the DC Rebirth, I had to check it out, no matter my feelings on the title character, and the series did not disappoint. Aided by the riveting, cinematic artwork of Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett, Priest wove a web of deceit, guilt, violence and revenge that is startling in its complexity, while still being startlingly personal. The series recounts Deathstroke's earliest missions — as well as his great failures as a father — and how they echo through his life in the modern day. To top it all off, this six-issue collection climaxes with a wildly cerebral showdown between Deathstroke, his daughter Ravager, and Batman and Robin that has to be seen to be believed.Deathstroke is quite simply one of the best books DC is publishing right now, and you owe it to yourself not to miss it.

AFAR TP

by Leila del Duca & Kit Seaton. Cover art by Kit Seaton. March 29 from Image.

One of the most exciting titles announced at last year's Image Expo in Seattle is finally releasing this month as an original graphic novel called Afar. A wildly imaginative young-adult fantasy book, Afar is written by Shutter artist Leila Del Duca and drawn, colored and lettered by The Black Bull of Norroway artist Kit Seaton, and is a strange and wonderful blend of genre.

Afar follows a young girl named Boetema who lives with her brother Inotu in the middle of a vast desert on a planet whose technological revolution collapsed due to war and massive sandstorms. One day, Boeteema discovers she is able to astrally project her mind into the bodies of people on far-away planets while she sleeps, which allows her to escape her harsh reality and explore new and strange creatures and places. It's a psychedelic fantasy that takes readers into the vast reaches of space through the mind of a young girl, whose visits to these exotic locales are rendered in mind-bending, vivid color and filled with captivatingly creative designs. Don't miss out on this colorful and daring new book.

IRON FIST: THE LIVING WEAPON COMPLETE COLLECTION TP

by Kaare Andrews. Cover art by Kaare Andrews. March 29 from Marvel.

The true test of a great comic book movie or show, to me, is very simple: does it make me want to read lots of the character's comic books afterward?

So far, all of Netflix and Marvel's co-productions — Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage — have made the grade, and if I were a betting man, I'd guess that the release of Marvel's Iron Fist on March 17 will put me in a similar mood. And if you'd like to join me on my Iron Fist kick (puns always intended) then Marvel's got you covered with the very well-timed release of a complete collection of writer/artist Kaare Andrews' incredible run on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon.

This 12-issue story from 2014 pushed Danny Rand to his absolute limits in an artistic spectacle of tightly choreographed yet chaotic action that forces Danny to confront the sins of his father — and of K'un-Lun — as war erupts from within the immortal city in which he was raised. Andrews provides an easy entry point into the Iron Fist mythos while still providing a refreshingly original take on the character that hits notes ranging from classic kung-fu to horror to noir and introduces new elements to the world that fit right in like they've always been there. It's one of the best-looking, most intense Iron Fist tales out there, and at least a couple of moments will make you feel like you've had your undying heart ripped out and your chi stolen. Plus, it'll catch you up for when Kaare writes the follow-up Iron Fists later this year. A must-have collection for Iron Fist fans old and new.

THE METABARON, BOOK 2: THE TECHNO-CARDINAL AND TRANSHUMAN

by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jerry Frissen & Niko Henrichon. Cover art by Niko Henrichon. March 15 from Humanoids.

One of the hardest things about getting people to read comics is asking them to jump into stories that have been growing for decades. It can be intimidating and a bit overwhelming. While the universe spawned out of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Mœbius' The Incal is perhaps not as old as the Marvel or DC universes, it does still have a sprawling and intricate mythology of its own that can make it hard to know where to start. Well, luckily for you guys, I was in the same boat, having only ever read The Incal -- and none of the other spinoffs that have come out over the last 30-plus years -- when I jumped in with The Metabaron.

Totally accessible as an entry point into this wild, operatic sci-fi world, this series follows the last of the Metabarons, a dynasty of unstoppable, technologically enhanced warriors, as he resists the powers oppressing the galaxy. The Metabaron is a strange, visceral meditation on the evils of religion, war and greed, and in Book Two the story will be presented by the incredible Niko Henrichon, who is best known for his sublime work on his graphic novel Pride of Baghdad with Brian K. Vaughan. Fans of European comics, of massive-scale space science fiction or of simply beautiful comic books should seize the opportunity to get in on this new series set in one of the most legendary worlds in the medium.

4001 A.D. DELUXE EDITION HC

by Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Jody Houser, Rafer Roberts, Fred Van Lente, Robert Venditti, Clayton Crain, CAFU, Doug Braithwaite, Robert Gill, Tomas Giorello & Clayton Henry. Cover art by Ryan Sook. March 29 from Valiant.

Big summer events in comic books rarely live up the hype (looking at you, Civil War II), and despite being supposed gateways into the medium for new readers, often can be barriers that are built with labyrinthine continuity and tie-in lists as long as your arm. Luckily for comics fans, though, Valiant has made a name for itself by subverting audience expectations and assumptions about how superhero universes operate, and their summer events are a prime example of why. From Harbinger Wars to The Valiant and now to 4001 A.D., Valiant has remained focused on story and accessibility first and not on publishing more and more issues.

4001 is set in — you guessed it — the year 4001, when Japan has become a gigantic flying sentient city made up of countless sectors and modules all run by a mysterious artificial intelligence called Father. Father's primary tool for enforcing his will in the city is through a series of bio-technological katana-wielding warriors called Rai. But when Rai discovers the dark truth behind New Japan and its effect on the Earth below, he is forced to incite open rebellion against the place he's given his life to. This collection includes the main four-issue series, plus the tie-in issues of Rai and the four one-shot tales starring the future versions of Valiant characters Shadowman, X-O Manowar, Bloodshot and War Mother. And it's all printed at a larger size so you can marvel at the artwork of 4001 artist Clayton Crain, whose work gives the impression he dipped a paintbrush into an oil slick and a neon light and splashed it across a canvas made of chrome. Blockbuster action of the highest order that no science fiction or superhero reader should be without.

STAR HAWKS, VOL. 1: 1977-1978 HC

by Ron Goulart & Gil Kane. Cover art by Gil Kane. March 29 from IDW.

Gil Kane was inarguably one of the most influential comic artists in the medium's history, having touched on and influenced nearly every major Marvel and DC franchise, including drawing the "Death of Gwen Stacy" storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, co-creating the silver age Green Lantern and Atom and Marvel's Iron Fist, just to scratch the surface. His comics influence wasn't only felt in the floppies, however -- he also made his mark on the funny pages with a pulpy sci-fi adventure strip called Star Hawks with science fiction novelist Ron Goulart.

Born out of the space opera renaissance helmed by the success of the original Star Wars, Star Hawks was a wholly original creation that was unique in its use of a 'two-tiered' format that made it twice as tall as other strips and allowed Kane to innovate with his panel layouts. The strip followed Rex Jaxan and Chavez, two agents of the interplanetary peacekeeping force known as the Star Hawks, as they policed the planet Esmeralda of the Barnum System from their orbital space station, the Hoosegow. The stories are charming and adventure-filled, but the standout is Kane's artwork, which renders some truly astonishing design and architecture work in a small space, creating an aesthetic that looks part Kirby, part Frazetta, and all Kane. If you're looking for some retro adventure fun, look no further than Star Hawks.

JSA: THE GOLDEN AGE DELUXE EDITION HC

by James Robinson & Paul Smith. Cover art by Paul Smith. March 15 from DC.

Writer James Robinson's most well-known work from the '90s is easily Starman, but JSA: The Golden Age deserves just as much recognition, and with a brand new hardcover printing, there's never been a better time to check it out. The Golden Age is set during the waning days of titular era in a slightly different post-World War II DC Universe and explores many of the issues that the returning soldiers, the newly prosperous nation and those left behind were dealing with at the time. A cast of some of DC's oldest and greatest heroes — including the original Green Lantern, Johnny Quick, Starman, Hourman, Atom, Liberty Belle, Robot Man and many more — grapple with the new reality that they're faced with, one that is almost unrecognizable to the one in which they'd dawned their masks. The themes of the story have never felt so relevant as the heroes try to find their place in a nation gripped by paranoia that may give way to utter destruction, as they question whether they're needed or wanted any longer, and as they discover that patriotism is in action and not in speech. It feels in many ways like a grimmer prequel to Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, and I can think of no higher compliment. As DC prepares to revive the Justice Society for their newly Rebirth'd universe, take this chance to look back on one of their defining stories of days past.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY TP

by Chynna Clugston Flores, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews, Maddi Gonzalez & Jenna Ayoub. Cover art by Mingju Helen Chen. March 1 from BOOM! and DC.

Red scare and lost superheroes, dystopian futures, mercenaries, living weapons, demonic noir … I'm really on a bleak streak this month, huh? Well, if you're clamoring for some good all-ages fun to lift your spirits, then I have just the friendship-powered crossover for you.

The sleuthy scouts of BOOM! Studios' smash hit Lumberjanes team up with the troublemaking students of DC's Gotham Academy for some spooky supernatural mystery-solving in what can only be described as the modern-day equivalent of that one episode of Scooby-Doo when Mystery, Inc. met the gang from Speed Buggy. When a professor from Gotham Academy goes missing, the kids find a strangely anachronistic postcard in her office that sets them in the direction of a strange cabin out in the woods ... woods which they run into the Lumberjanes in, who are looking for their similarly missing camp director. The tones of both titles fit together perfectly while the casts are still different enough to be entertaining. The rugged outdoorsy camp kids play well off of their prep school counterparts in delightful ways that will make you immediately want a sequel upon finishing it. Frights, friendship and fun for fans of both series, as well as new readers.