One of the fun aspects of living at this particular point in a mass extinction event is that a lot of our media and fiction seems to have become awfully preoccupied with the end of the world. As a kid, I remember cold-war hysteria reaching a zenith in the ‘80s as we enjoyed Max Max, and Nausicaa, and Escape from New York, and hey why not throw Robot Jox on the list even though until recently I assumed it was just an awkwardly-titled porn.
Back in the '80s, I was a little too young to understand how close the doomsday clock was ticking to midnight, but it must have been in some way cathartic to settle into a story about how everything's going to end and there’s nothing you can do so you might as well enjoy yourself, and maybe learn how to skin a rabbit so you can survive in whatever wasteland awaits.
This week’s comic books seem to reflect a similar trend, but hidden in the ruins of the various flavors of world-ends are some grains of optimism: Compassion, rebirth, and even the capacity to love after everything’s been lost. If you need just a little whiff of something to feel hopeful about, read on for the week’s top recommendations, selected in partnership with our friends at Phoenix Comics, where all of these books are available to grab.
Simultaneously unsettling and lovely, Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures is the follow-up to 2018’s Gothic Tales of Haunted Love. It’s a 17-story anthology in which hearts break, are re-assembled, and struggle forward in the hopes of loving once more, with each writer and author taking rich advantage of the collection’s sci-fi constraints. I do love a good speculative space-story, but the book wisely allows the beeps and boops of technology to settle into the background to focus instead on human (and non-human) connections. Setting these tales in the future lends them a much-needed spark of hope for what's still to come, amidst such intriguing concepts as Parisian vampires, an undersea banshee, and a space station that falls in love. The world in which we live may break our hearts today, but as a wise philosopher once said, my heart will go on.
There are occasions on which I feel a deep frustration that comic books are as short as they are, such as when I discover an entire 100-page story that I want to devour in one sitting instead of waiting a month for the next issue. Such is the case with Crossover, which has totally captured my imagination. In the year 2017, comic book characters broke through into the real world, wreaking mayhem and destruction before they could be contained in a comic-proof bubble. In the years since, humanity has turned against superhero stories, with angry protesters demanding an end to comics and signs reading “God Hates Masks.” (Especially, I suspect, when they are worn so firmly on the nose.) It is into this powder keg that an escaped comic character wanders, further threatening the stability of a country already in a state of disequilibrium. It is maybe a bit too self-indulgent for Issue 1 to draw such ambitious parallels between comic book fandom and the real-world turmoil of the last few years—yes, we get it, Americans are dumb and xenophobic. But in the final few panels, there are hints of a more creative adventure to come, and we’ll just have to wait to find out if Issue 2 will torture its metaphor or allow it to fly free.
If you’re not entirely done with post-apocalyptic stories, the new Origins series is a tempting tale of humanity’s survival amidst the ruins of Manhattan. The art is truly wonderful, with lovely lush vegetation overtaking the familiar statues and subway stations of New York, and (of course) terrible dangers lurking in the reclaimed landscape. A lone android wanders the jungle, explaining bits of the lore—it would seem that humanity’s hubris causes its downfall, blah blah blah standard apocalypse stuff—and then we get to the intriguing twist: The man who invented the technology that killed humanity has been reborn as (it seems) a clone, given a sort of do-over opportunity to make right what once went wrong. His name is David Adam, which is again a bit on the nose but the art is so lovely and the promise of humanity’s second chance so intriguing that I’ll let it slide after a brief eye-roll. As depressing as it is to witness human civilization in ruins, I feel an uncomfortable satisfaction in seeing a book validate my suspicion that we are all completely doomed.
A few more fun titles to examine this week: Unicorns Aren’t Horny, a manga adaptation about a young woman named Emuko in a platonic relationship with her roommate, a unicorn. Emuko yearns for true love while her roommate prizes purity, which sets up a relationship that is far more psycho-sexual than the cute pink flowery cover might lead you to expect. There’s also a new adaptation of The Magicians, the novel that became a show and is now a trade paperback. A new batch of naughty young magicians arrives at the school to sow chaos and competition and teen drama—fans of the franchise will not be disappointed. And I hesitate to recommend this one, times being what they are, but Red Atlantis is a new series in which a U.S. election is destabilized by a wave of violent crimes. Created by a real-life Russian spy who defected to the U.S., the book may hit a little too close to home for some of us right now. There's also a second issue of Neil Gaiman's Norse Myths out this week.
And! Keep your eyes peeled for some glorious variant covers on Marvel books this week; PNW artist Jeffrey Veregge has created some beautiful covers for issues of Black Panther and Thor. These are just remarkable—Veregge and Marvel knocked it out of the park and I’d love to see these pieces blown up to poster size and hung on a wall.