With Independence Day a haze of red, white and blue in our memories, it’s officially summer reading season, and I’m back with my monthly list of suggestions for what should be on your to-read list. There are dozens of new hardcovers (HC) and trade paperbacks (TP) arriving at your local comic shops each week, and it can be overwhelming knowing which comic book collections and original graphic novels deserve your hard-earned dollar. So I’m utilizing my over six years of experience behind the counter of a comic book shop to let you in on the stories you just can’t miss this July.
This month we have underrated action, returning ronin rabbits, alternate versions of some of your favorite franchises, and much more. Happy reading, and as always, let us know in the comments what books you’re anticipating this month!
THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE TP
(By Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro. July 6 from Image.
While Image has been well recognized as being at the cutting edge of the comic book renaissance, there are still titles from the publisher that have been painfully overlooked, and chief among them is the Luther Strode trilogy by writer Justin Jordan (Green Lantern: New Guardians) and artist Tradd Moore (All-New Ghost Rider). The story of Luther Strode began in The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, in which gangly geek Luther transformed into an unstoppable fighting machine fueled by the power of an ancient murder cult that he learned about from a book he’d received through a comic book ad. Then, in The Legend of Luther Strode, Luther’s good-hearted nature made him a target of the cult, and their secret weapon, Jack the Ripper. Now, in the final book in the trilogy, Luther takes the fight right to their leader, Cain.
While Luther and his girlfriend Petra provide the series with a lot of heart, the true star of this show is the artwork. Tradd Moore choreographs some of the most jaw-dropping action sequences to ever grace a comic book page, with a dynamic, fluid style that blends the best of western superhero techniques and Japanese manga styles to create something truly unique and unmissable. If you have been craving a good action comic that’s unlike anything you’ve read before, then you have to read Luther Strode.
SCARLET WITCH, VOL. 1: WITCHES’ ROAD TP
(By James Robinson, Vanesa Del Rey, Marco Rudy, Steve Dillon, Chris Visions, and Javier Pulido. July 6 from Marvel)
After her starring roles in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, it was far past time to give Wanda Maximoff a shot at her first ongoing series, and it has not disappointed. The first volume collects the first five issues of the series, all written by James Robinson (Starman) with each issue illustrated by a smorgasbord of the industry’s hottest artists.
First, Vanesa Del Rey (Spider-Women) walks the haunted streets of New York with Wanda, which is followed by a trip to Greece to solve a Minotaur problem, beautifully painted by Marco Rudy (Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier). Then, Steve Dillon (The Punisher) and Chris Visions (Dead Letters) split duties on Wanda’s two-issue trip to Ireland, and then Javier Pulido (She-Hulk) illustrates Wanda’s journey to Spain, where she helps some nuns with a ghost problem. Scarlet Witch has tended to be defined by her relationships to men (her brother, father, or ex-husband in particular) and these stories do a great job making her an interesting character all by herself, and gives her a particular niche within the larger Marvel Universe. Fans of the character, of short and sweet, self-contained superhero stories, or of supernatural comics like Hellboy will love this series.
(By Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordie Bellaire. July 20 from Image)
What would you do if you found a dead superhero in the woods? That’s the question that has to be answered by kids when they find the world-famous hero known as Plutona one day after school, and keeping the secret—and figuring out what to with it—may tear Mie, Mike, Diane, Ray, and Teddy apart in ways they never could have imagined.
This dark coming-of-age tale comes from the mind of writer Jeff Lemire (Descender), who also illustrates special comic book sequences detailing the moments leading up to Plutona’s death, and from the pen of artist Emi Lenox (EmiTown), whose wonderfully expressive cartooning brings to life the grim reality of the children’s fantastic situation. A story about growing up, temptation and innocence in the small-town style that Lemire has perfected in his Essex County trilogy and Underwater Welder, readers will be taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion in Plutona.
THE CLOUD HC
(By K. I. Zachopoulos and Vincenzo Balzano. July 20 from Archaia)
This new original graphic novel from Boom! Studios’ Archaia imprint wasn’t on my radar until I read the preview included in their Free Comic Book Day sampler (one of the comics you should’ve picked up this FCBD), but I’m very glad I did, because I’ve been eagerly awaiting The Cloud ever since. One look at Vincenzo Balzano’s (Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne) beautifully surreal artwork will be enough to grab the attention of even the most critical of readers.
The Cloud is the story of a boy and his winged wolf—the titular Cloud—and their journey through the dreamlike land-above-the-clouds that Earth has become, thousands of years after the end of the world. Told from Cloud’s perspective, the story sees the duo on an adventure to find the child’s missing father, and to retrieve a wish that was stolen from him. Archaia has a proven track record with masterful all-ages fantasy, and this looks to be another strong addition to their growing catalog.
USAGI YOJIMBO, VOL. 30: THIEVES AND SPIES TP
(By Stan Sakai. July 6 from Dark Horse)
Some of you may be looking at this and saying to yourself “this guy wants me to start with a volume 30, is he insane?” But worry not, because not only is Usagi Yojimbo one of the longest-running and most high-quality books on the stands, it’s also one of the most accessible. Plus, returning to the series after a break to do 47 Ronin and the War of the Worlds-inspired spinoff Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, legendary cartoonist Stan Sakai is in top form.
The ronin rabbit’s adventures are very self-contained, but still immensely satisfying, with most stories only being an issue or two long, allowing for readers to jump in with any issue without any confusion. This collection includes the three-part story "The Thief and the Kunoichi" followed by four one-parters that see the wayward warrior exploring the perils of feudal Japan in as compelling of ways as ever. Readers won’t want to miss Usagi getting caught in the crossfire between two cunning women, his encounters with a one-armed samurai, his lesson in “suiseki,” the art of stone appreciation, his duel with a foreign swordsman, and much more. There’s never been a better time to discover one of most enduring characters in comics.
SOUTHERN BASTARDS, VOL. 3: HOMECOMING TP
(By Jason Aaron, Jason Latour and Chris Brunner. July 13 from Image)
If you haven’t made a trip down to Craw County, Alabama to meet the bastards that live there, you’re missing out some of the finest crime drama being currently being produced in any medium. This football-worshipping town’s story so far has focused on two particular bastards—the stick-swingin’ Earl Tubb, and his nemesis, head coach/crime lord Euless Boss—but in this new arc, the focus shifts between a handful of Craw County’s finest.
As the town reels from the death of one of the Runnin’ Rebs’ coaches and the team prepares for the upcoming homecoming game, we get six separate, but interlinked stories. We follow the sheriff’s corrupt investigation, witness a day in the life of hillbilly enforcer Esaw, learn what “true country” is from bow hunter Deacon Boone, and watch some cartoons with Tad Ledbetter before we watch the big game and the return of Roberta Tubb. In addition to Jason Latour (Spider-Gwen) providing his gleefully rebellious linework for the series, he also takes a turn in the writer’s seat for a chapter, joined by guest artist Chris Brunner (Loose Ends). This is dark, gritty, home-cooked crime, and quite simply one of the best comics being published.
WEIRDWORLD, VOL. 1: WHERE LOST THINGS GO TP
(By Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo. July 27 form Marvel)
By far the best thing to come out of Marvel’s Secret Wars event last year was the Weirdworld tie-in that reintroduced readers to the chaotic fantasy realm, so I was ecstatic when Marvel announced a new series for the all-new Marvel Universe. Sam Humphries (Green Lanterns) did a great job taking the reigns of the title from Jason Aaron (Mighty Thor), while the series’ secret weapon, artist Mike Del Mundo (Elektra) stayed onboard to chronicle the adventures of new series protagonist Becca. Arkon, the barbarian warrior from the previous volume, is left behind in the opening pages, as Becca climbs out of the wreckage of her plane and into the mad shifting patchwork realm known as Weirdworld, but the high school student and her companion Goleta the Wizardslayer make for a ridiculously fun and compelling pair of leads that more than fill Arkon's shoes. The pair, along with the former wizard Catbeast, are pursued by the forces of Morgan Le Fay across the many, increasingly bizarre landscapes of Weirdworld as they search for a way to return Becca home. Like its setting, this comic is bursting at the seams with creativity and magic, driven by the wildly colorful and gracefully designed digital paints of Mike Del Mundo. Comic fans commonly complain that the Big 2 don’t create enough new concepts or characters, but Marvel’s doing it here, and it’s some of the best work they’re putting out.
MAN PLUS, VOL. 1 TP
(By André Araújo. July 20 from Titan)
Man Plus is set in the cyberpunk dystopia of 2042, a future where corporation have become the dominant force in global politics, replacing nations and states. In Olissipo City, Portugal, where the story takes place, is the new center of a booming biotech industry that creates cybernetic modifications and implants for humans as well as autonomous androids. When one android goes rogue and is hunted by a mysterious cyborg shadow military unit, it falls on Captain Rodrigo and his team at the Special Operations Force to uncover what’s going on, before it’s too late.
This series is top-notch sci-fi from writer/artist André Araújo (Spidey) drawn with a fleshed out, efficient style that puts storytelling first but doesn’t skimp on the visual worldbuilding. This volume collects the first four issues of the series from publisher Titan Comics—who describe Man Plus as equal parts Akira, Judge Dredd and Blade Runner—but if you’re still not sold, you can check out the series online before you buy it, right here.
CAPTAIN MARVEL, VOL. 1: RISE OF ALPHA FLIGHT TP
(By Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Kris Anka, and Matthew Wilson. July 20 from Marvel)
Marvel’s been pushing Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, as their premier female hero for some time now, but to me, she hasn’t really felt that way within the Marvel Universe. Not that the previous volumes of the series were bad, but it always felt like readers were being told that Carol was great and super important, rather than just letting her prove it. Luckily, that’s exactly where this new volume of Captain Marvel succeeds.
Written by Agent Carter showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters with sleek, dynamic artwork from Kris Anka (Uncanny X-Men), this first arc gives Captain Marvel a new job as the commander of the Alpha Flight space station, making her and her crew the Earth’s first line of defense against extraterrestrial threats. This new position gives her a unique, vital, and easily-defined role within the Marvel Universe, all while deftly utilizing the character’s background with aliens, the military and the Avengers, allowing the Captain to soar to new heights while staying true to her core. If you’ve ever wondered what makes Carol Danvers one of the Marvel Universe’s most compelling heroines, this is the perfect place to find out.
(By various. July 13 from IDW)
Comic books have a storied history of dedicating issues to exploring “what may have been.” Marvel did it in the pages of What If…? and DC had their Elseworlds tales, and now IDW is joining in on the fun by speculating on alternate paths their biggest franchises may have taken in the pages of Deviations.
Five stories are included in this collection, each telling the tale of an alternate timeline of Ghostbusters, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The X-Files and G.I. Joe. One story is set a month into a world where the Ghostbusters never crossed streams that is ruled by the tyrannical Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Another wonders how the Ninja Turtles would be different if the four mutant brothers had been raised by Shredder instead of Splinter. If there’s one thing Optimus Prime is good at , it’s dying. But in the Transformers story we’re shown a universe where he never did. Top it off with a story about Fox Mulder being abducted instead of his sister, and another about a Cobra Commander that’s become too successful, and there’s truly something for every sci-fi fan in this collection.
BLOODSHOT REBORN, VOL. 3: ANALOG MAN TP
(By Jeff Lemire, Lewis LaRosa and Brian Reber. July 6 from Valiant)
Writer Jeff Lemire makes his second appearance on the list this month, this time penning the adventures of Valiant’s nanotech-powered super-soldier, Bloodshot. Lemire has given Bloodshot a surprising amount of pathos over his time writing the character in The Valiant and the first two arcs of Bloodshot Reborn, and this story doesn’t lose sight of that, even as it cranks the spectacle dial up to eleven.
In volume three of Bloodshot Reborn, we jump decades into the future of the Valiant Universe, to an era ravaged by climate change and beginning to look a lot like Mad Max. Bloodshot is trying to live a simple life as part of a small community of survivors, but necessity forces him reluctantly back into the fray, both alongside and against the future versions of Valiant heroes like X-O Manowar, Ninjak, and Shadowman. This bold new vision of the Valiant Universe comes courtesy of artist Lewis LaRosa (Punisher MAX), whose hyper-realistic style is as perfect a fit for the savage setting as it is for the quiet, imposing protagonist. Thanks to an high-octane change in setting and utterly beautiful artwork, Bloodshot Reborn: Analog Man is the most compelling arc yet from one of Valiant’s best series.