Look, sometimes I just like everything, all right?
I don’t want you to think I’m one of those critics who writes insincerely positive reviews because I get a kick out of seeing myself quoted on posters or covers. I can be harsh, too! Just not right now, because this is the first week that all three of my recommended comic books are of five-star quality.
There are really and truly some gems in this week’s releases, but I can understand if you’re skeptical of any review that’s like “everything is great!” For those skeptics I offer a bonus lightning-round review of Cyclopedia Exotica, a book of cute stories set in a world where humans and cyclopses live alongside each other. Well, kind of alongside each other; the book cleverly deploys one-eyedness as a metaphor onto which all manner of real-life minority classifications can be superimposed. It’s a neat exploration of otherness, observed from every possible angle — which is perhaps twice the number of angles it truly seems to warrant. Three stars out of five!
There, I told you I could be critical. But now let’s focus on the titles that I can love more wholeheartedly, which is the case with three show-stealing issue #1s this week. Thanks as always to Phoenix for presenting me with too many good books!
TIME BEFORE TIME
Comics love diving into the post-apocalyptic well, so if I’m going to enjoy yet another “the world has ended, now what” story, it’ll need something a bit more than a speculative premise. A surprising temporal twist, perhaps, or a hero whose life is unexpectedly complicated. I would also accept a mysterious stranger with an unknown agenda. Fortunately, Time After Time has all of those. It’s a hundred years in the future, and a shady organization is in the business of sending refugees to the distant past or stealing artifacts from the future. It seems like any time period is better than this time period, which is why two friends resolve to steal a pod and escape. But oh no, who could have foreseen that plans for their little heist would go wrong? Issue #1 takes a few pages to warm up, since there’s a lot of premise to get through — here are the rules of the world, here’s how time travel works, etc etc — but by the midway point, our main character’s desperation starts to make him more interesting than the bland everyman he seems to be at the start. Add in an unexpected familial twist to the oily villain who runs the time-travel gang, and by the time I reached the explosive fiasco that derails everything in the final pages, I was hooked.
Writers: Declan Shalvey & Rory McConville. Artist: Joe Palmer. Colorist: Chris O’Halloran. Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
Rating: ⌛⌛⌛⌛⌛ (5/5)
Isn’t it nice when everything just comes together? Excellent art, an engaging mystery, and perfectly-paced dialogue keeps Silver City humming along like a dream — which is fitting, because the author says that it’s based on her own dreams about mortality. Here’s the premise: When one dies (as our main characters do on the first page of the book), one goes to Silver City, a sort of urban afterlife weighed down by bureaucracy and malaise. Seems straightforward enough, but there’s something peculiar about this afterlife; something odd about the figures in charge of it, something wrong about the city’s strange boundaries, and something definitely off about the changes our heroine is experiencing. I’m totally hooked by this setting and particularly the character dynamics, with characters whose deaths are separated by years (sometimes decades) commingling. I also find myself lingering on the way we think about death and what we imagine comes next. Every culture’s afterlife is something fabricated by humans, so why shouldn’t the “real” afterlife be an anthropocentric city?
Story: Olivia Cuartero-Briggs. Art: Luca Merli. Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀 (5/5)
HOUSE OF LOST HORIZONS
I know I’m coming late to this, but I just watched Knives Out at last and hooboy is that a real corker of a film. Having consumed all the Murder She Wrote that I can, I’ve had a hunger for a new cozy mystery for days now, and House of Lost Horizons really hits the spot. It’s the 1920s, a rich man has been killed in a remote manor, and everyone’s a suspect. PERFECT, say no more, I’m obsessed. Oh, but actually, wait, say one more thing: The cover boasts that it’s “from the world of Hellboy,” which makes me wonder to what extent there will be a supernatural element to the mystery. There are clues that this is far more than your standard “the butler did it” fare, with some disturbing dreams mixed with the delicious hints of every idiosyncratic character having something to hide. It’s truly a feast, and I can’t wait for more.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson. Illustrated by Leila del Duca. Colored by Michelle Madsen. Lettered by Clem Robins.
Rating: 🕵️🕵️🕵️🕵️🕵️ (5/5)
ALSO: A GAY SON, ASIAN VOICES, and THE TULSA RACE MASSACRE
But wait, there’s more good titles this week. Check out I Think Our Son is Gay, a sweet manga that takes the perspective of the mother of a young teenage boy who is maybe gay, maybe something else. I’ve seen plenty of coming-of-age stories about the individual for whom age is coming, and it’s a nice change of pace to see it from the point of view of family. Also intriguing is Across the Tracks, an illustrated telling of the real-life race massacre in Tulsa; and DC continues its Festival of Heroes with a great anthology of stories by Asian authors. Stephen King’s book, Sleeping Beauties, has been adapted to comic form, and I’m interested in Stone Fruit, a collection of queer stories of lesbian aunts dealing with family drama.
And also: This isn't a comic book, but the wonderful author Malinda Lo is doing a book giveaway for teachers, librarians, and LGBTQ+ centers, so get on that if you work at one of those places!