My favorite comic book, graphic novels reads of 2021

Captain Orion, longtime reader of comics and graphic novels, of strangerworlds.com, writes:

2021 was a quiet year for comic book stores and retail shelves, but the awesome new reads keep coming.

The impact of the ongoing global pandemic continues to affect the industry, creators, publishers. Yet, there the push to keep sequential arts remains perpetual in a forward direction, from and for folks who are passionate for its pure form of art and storytelling. Comic books and graphic novels will never die as long as there are intelligent creatures who can distinguish, interpret, enjoy visual storytelling. But in our present days, that may change in format, and how they are received.

For myself, I am well aware of the new trends of online comics as long form storytelling, particularly with WebToons, and scrolling comics. I do find that evolving form interesting, but found nothing yet that has grabbed me. There are many new webcomics series self-published as well, which I hope to explore in 2022. But for last year, it was all about print and what was available at comic stores, borrowed from friends and local libraries.

I’m often excited if a favorite writer or artist is involved, so there might be a bit bias for how much involved with a read I get. In 2021, I was especially excited to see many favored names prominent on shelves, especially Mark Russell, J.H. Williams III, Naoki Urasawa, Tom Taylor, and more. I also discovered new favorites for the years ahead.

Many of those, I will share below as my best comics and graphic novels of 2021, which I highly recommend for 2022…

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2021

Stray Dogs

Writer: Tomy Fleecs Artist: Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics (limited series)

It’s scary being the new dog. In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can’t remember what happened. She doesn’t know how she ended up in this house. She doesn’t recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just…can’t…recall…Wait! Where’s her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what’s happening, and how she’s going to survive this. They say there’s no such thing as a bad dog—just bad owners.

Stray Dogs is an underrated hit and an exhilarating reading experience. By that, I mean looking at the old cartoons. mostly from Disney where house pets and street animals are humanized, to a point of talking and having there own lives. But, also with a realistic approach keeping in mind their physical limits. Stray Dogs brings it all to a creepy extreme, with grisly murder and dark turns where nothing is off the table for the fates of some very cute, talking animals. Throw in some many nail-biting moments, leading to an epic finale. And overall, Stray Dogs is an awesome read.

BEST FANTASY (and NEW) SERIES of 2021

ECHOLANDS

Writer: W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III Artist: Dave Stewart, J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

In a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history, a reckless thief, Hope Redhood, holds the key to excavating its dark, strange past—if only she and her crew can escape a tyrannical wizard and his unstoppable daughter. But fate will send them all on a path leading to a war between worlds. Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships. It’s going to be a helluva ride!

This series is a bold mix of magic, technology, world-building, but with a unique feel and presentation, bringing the reader on a dreamy, wild journey. Echolands delivers well with a landscape oriented pages, utilizing J.H. Williams III (which I know well from Batwoman, Promethea) inventive use of panels and transition. It’s all very fast-paced as we follow Hope and friends are in constant danger, but also for the reader to slow-down and really take in beautiful complexities of this strange, fantastic adventure full of interesting concepts. Also, love the extras every issue brings, expanding upon both the insights of the creators and the world of Echolands. This brings what true fantasy should be, without limits and breaking the boundaries of the fantastic.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES of 2021

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Simone Di Neo
Publisher: BOOM! Entertainment (monthly Series)

Captain Malik and the crew of the spaceship the Vihaan II are in search of the only resources that matter — and can only be found by harvesting the giant corpses of alien gods that are found on the edge of human space. While other autopsy ships and explorers race to salvage the meat, minerals, and metals that sustain the human race, Malik sees an opportunity to finally break free from this system: by being the first to find a living god. But Malik’s obsession with the gods will push his crew into the darkest reaches of space, bringing them face to face with a threat unlike anything they ever imagined, unless the rogue agent on their trail can stop them first…

This is some crazy cool sci-fi fun, told with modern digital coloring, slick animated style, and fluid storytelling. There’s action mixed with moral reflection on our place in the stars, and the limits sentients ponder on breaking. But also, the story feel believable with space physics and engineering that doesn’t seem like made up nonsense. Our main hero, Captain Malik, is the cosmic romantic with an deep life-story bringing him to the edge of the known, and beginning of the unknown. It’s all a wonderful story unfolding in vibrant color and dramatic faire, giving this hard sci-fi a wicked sharp edge. I look forward to see where this all goes!

BEST COMICS PANELING of 2021

The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Writer: Heloise Chochois Artist: Kendra Boileau
Publisher: Graphic Mundi – PSU Press (graphic novel)

A young man has a horrible motorcycle accident. He wakes up in the hospital to discover that one of his arms has been amputated. Then a portrait on the wall of his hospital room begins to speak to him. The subject of the painting introduces himself as Ambroise Paré, the French barber-surgeon who revolutionized the art of amputation. From this wonderfully absurd premise, the two begin an imaginary conversation that takes them through a sweeping history of surgical amputation, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Unencumbered by pathos or didacticism, this graphic novel explores the world of amputation, revealing fascinating details about famous amputees throughout history, the invention of the tourniquet, phantom limb syndrome, types of prostheses, and transhumanist technologies. Playfully illustrated and seriously funny, The Body Factory is sure to delight anyone interested in the history and future of medicine and how we repair and even enhance the body.

This read is both a wild story journey and a real look at the history, science, psychology of amputations and prosthetics. The story is also psychological, dealing with a protagonist dealing with the loss of his body part, and coming to terms with what comes next. It’s fascinating on that level where the situation can happen to us, what how we can understand, given it’s necessity to history and medical solutions. There are parallels of the fictional, the non-fictional, textbook information, mixed in a strategic placements giving the reader a broader understanding of the subject matter. The Body Factory gives much on this unfortunate situation that amputation brings, yet also giving an enlightened approach on the act of living through fixing ourselves. Telling this through expressive art, story mixed with information through this inventive, entertaining style, is awesome.

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES of 2021

Superman: Red and Blue

Writer/Artist: (Various)
Publisher: DC Comics (limited series)

Around the world, everyone knows that when they see a red-and-blue streak in the sky, it’s not a bird…it’s not a plane…it’s Superman. Collected for the first time in its entirety, this unforgettable anthology series showcases fresh new visions of the Man of Steel in his two signature colors!

A series of very diverse stories about Superman, sometimes from different perspectives, that give a fresh look at a character that some would think all has been done to. Those people would be wrong. There are some very interesting takes on Superman, his strengths and weaknesses, and what helped make him so iconic. All of these stories, with an artistic challenge where only red and blue colors used. I loved every issues, and excited to read about Superman again.

BEST CREATIVE STORYTELLING of 2021

Mawrth Valliis

Writer/Artist: EPK
Publisher: Image Comics (graphic novel)

During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets. A fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format, sci-fi adventure through Mars’s mysteries all told in its original Martian form.

It’s a short read with a lot of heart. There’s a pursuit across a Martian landscape, leading to some fantastic twists and turns. But, also, there is no exposition of an Earth language. It’s all in “Martian.” giving the reader a more alien feel, and more reading of actions, reactions, and situation. There is more show, don’t tell, and I love that. The use of colors are fantastic, the choice of opposites of blank and white in our two main characters are brilliant. The end is haunting, leaving room for the reader to ponder its overall message and true nature of the story.

BEST SATIRE SERIES of 2021

Not All Robots

Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: AWA Studios – Upshot (monthly Series)

In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them in this sci-fi satire from Mark Russell (The Flintstones, Second Coming) and Mike Deodato Jr. (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Resistance).

I love Mark Russell’s style at satire with Prez, Flintstones, God is Disappointed in You, dark but with a mix of wit and humor to it all. But here is a brilliant escalation in Not All Robots; to what happens when machines are made to be more human, with attitudes and status. There is a lot of back and forth with human elements/ That includes taken in all the insecurities are also inherited with both humans and machines that they create. But there’s also a lot of metaphorical moments, bouncing back to who we treat as machines today, who we take for granted, and groups we take in as cheap, willing labor. It’s funny, because we see the absurdities that Mark Russell loves to mix as cartoonish tropes brilliantly disguised as current, real human issues.

BEST IMPORTED SERIES of 2021

Asadora!

Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher:
Viz (published in monthly volumes, 16 volumes)

In 2020, a large creature rampages through Tokyo, destroying everything in its path. In 1959, Asa Asada, a spunky young girl from a huge family in Nagoya, is kidnapped for ransom—and not a soul notices. When a typhoon hits Nagoya, Asa and her kidnapper must work together to survive. But there’s more to her kidnapper and this storm than meets the eye.

Asadora is a historical fiction, science fiction, and suspense mystery all rolled together. There’s much stroy to follow with multiple plotlines, but with memorable characters that we trust will eventually be more connected – a signature style to the storyteller that brought us Monster, 20th Century boys, Pluto – all great works but took time to develop. There’s only a few volumes in the US so far, and off to a big start. Asadora gives more in curiosity with real life events mixed in with science fiction familiarities; all rooted deep in Japanese culture. We also get some great developments, with some tense reactions. But Naoki Urasawa’s art style seems more detailed than ever here. I’m excited, and looking forward to reading more of this in 2022.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Monsters

Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Publisher: Fantagraphics (graphic novel)

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters is brutal, mean, and really putting the “graphic” into graphic novel. The art is amazing with a story that leads through the familiar territory of government experiments gone out of control, but then heads into darker territory into both physiological and psychological. It’s started as a Hulk story, then kind of mutated over time, with elements from Barry Windsor’s work on Conan and Marvel’s Wolverine story of Weapon X. There is amazing passion that comes from telling the grand story of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters, which comes out as an uncomfortable, emotionally-driven masterpiece.

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSICs of 2021

Berserk Deluxe Editions

Writer/Artist: Kentaro Muira
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (published in volume compilations)

Not much else needs to be said about the amazing epic story of Berserk and art/storytelling of Kentaro Muira. His sad passing in 2021 has brought fans and new readers together to further appreciate his great work and what we will miss in the years ahead. But to best appreciate his work I believe, are these amazing deluxe hardcover compilations of his smaller sized manga volumes, all beautiful brought on larger, high quality pages. For myself in later years of rereading, this will be how I best enjoy the story of Guts and his many companions and challenges.

BEST HISTORICAL COMICS of 2021

The Comic Book History of Animation

Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
Publisher: IDW Publishing (limited series)

Incredibly informative and very entertaining. From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age, no bits of significant knowledge of moving art is forgotten and so well put together. Everything makes perfect sense, especially in the critical turn of my growing up with Saturday morning commercialized cartoons, anime binges through college, emotional Pixar masterpieces, and all in between and moving ahead. Much behind the scenes is explained, including many rough legal spots and bitter feuds, leaving the history of the industry as cartoonish and wacky as expressed through every chapter.

That’s all my favorites for the 2021 year. I probably missed or overlooked some as I could only cover so much. I would love to read your favorites in the comments below.

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology comics adaptation returns with a new volume

Recent news release from Dark Horse Comics:

The comic book adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s best-selling book, Norse Mythology, will continue from Dark Horse, this coming month of June. Eisner-winning comics writer P. Craig Russell, with artists Matt Horak (The Punisher, The Covenant), Mark Buckingham (Hellblazer, Miracleman), Gabriel Walta (Barbalien: Red Planet, Sentient), Sandy Jarrell (Archie, Meteor Men), and colorist Lovern Kindzierski (The Worst Dudes, The Sandman) will team together for the upcoming six-issue follow-up series, Norse Mythology II.

Explore the origins of poetry—good and bad—in this tale of malicious dwarfs, suspicious giants, and the wise god Kvasir, whose eventual fate leads to the creation of a powerful mead that many will fight and die for.

Also available will be a variant cover for each issue by longtime comics artist, David Mack.

“It has been an absolute delight working with the slate of artists assembled for our adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology,” says Russell in a recent DH press release. “Sending the artists the layouts and then seeing their finished pages come rolling back in, each having brought their own unique artistic vision to the page, has been great fun.”

Norse Mythology II #1 (of six) will arrive in comic shops on June 16, 2021.

David Mack variant cover:

The Whispering Dark creators reimagines World War II with The Secret Land

Interesting news from Dark Horse Comics…

Coming soon, from writer Christofer Emgård and artist Tomás Aira, the creative team duo behind The Whispering Dark, return to Dark Horse comics with a new, upcoming cosmic horror mini-series and fictionalized reimagining of World War II in The Secret Land.

It is 1945, and Hitler is dead. Ben and Katherine are supposed to be together, happy. Instead, Ben fights the war in the Pacific with reckless heroism, believing his fiancée to be dead. However, Katherine lives, undercover aboard a German submarine.

As Ben tries to move on, the US Navy receives a message. The Nazis are plotting their return, powered by strange and foreboding technology in Antarctica. When Ben learns Katherine is there, he knows he must go too.

As war engulfs the edge of the world, Ben and Katherine confront the truth about the boundaries of love, and what lies beyond them.

“Ever since The Whispering Dark I’ve been looking to reprise my collaboration with Tomás, and The Secret Land finally provided the perfect opportunity. This mini-series began life as a pulpy horror tale (it does have both Nazis and tentacles in it…), but at its core it’s really a story about commitment, longing and loss. I feel Tomás has conveyed this beautifully through his evocative art and I hope the readers out there will feel the same.” said Christofer Emgård in a recent press release from Dark Horse Comics.

“Chris’ amazing script hooked me from day one and I was eager to flesh out these characters and continue building this terrifying world. Bringing the Otherlands to life has a strange fascination for me, and often I find myself fearful of the very monsters I’m painting, while adorning their abominable visage with teeth-covered appendices. There’s probably no better place to set up the darkest monsters than in WW2 but this time, humanity has upped the game, I’m rooting for them as I draw them! “ adds Tomás Aira.

The Secret Land #1 (of four) arrives June 9, 2021, at the comic stores everywhere. Emgård and Aira’s previous miniseries, The Whispering Dark is available now in collected trade paperback for $17.99.

COMPASS sets new comics adventure, history, and more for this summer

Image comics recently announced an all-new, five issue miniseries by acclaimed writer/creator Greg Rucka (The Old Guard), writers Robert Mackenzie and Dave Walker (Lazarus Sourcebook) with artist Justin Greenwood (Stumptown, The Fuse, The Last Siege) “to take readers on a breathless journey” in the forthcoming Compass, starting in June.

In Compass, readers meet Shahidah El-Amin, a main character who is many things: scholar, cartographer, astronomer, mathematician, scientist, explorer, adventurer, and—when need be—two-fisted fighter. Setting out from Baghdad’s legendary House of Wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age, Shahi’s quest brings her to 13th-century Britain…where the Welsh are whispered to possess the secret of eternal life. But Shahi’s not the only one after it…

“Compass was born out of our desire to tell a story of discovery without colonialism, of adventure without exploitation—something with the verve and energy of the pulps, but with a perspective that hadn’t been seen much in that genre,” said Mackenzie in a recent press release. “Getting there was its own process of discovery, and it’s been a joy to work with co-creators who have the talent to truly unearth Shahidah‘s quest. I’m so pleased to be able to share Compass with the world.”

“This story has been with Robert and I since our earliest days writing together. We wanted to step into a world that felt definably real—but still with the thrills of haunted ruins, ancient wonders, deadly rivals,” said Walker. “Justin found that world immediately and brought it to life, and Daniela, Simon and Greg have all added their inimitable touches to truly make it something special.”

Greenwood added: “Compass has just the kind of energy and fun that I’d been looking for in a new project. The sense of adventure is palpable in every issue and Shahi is one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever gotten to draw. Compass being a teen book is also a big bonus for me creatively, as my kids are finally getting old enough to read comics too. I’ve always enjoyed this type of pulpy action comic but being able to share it with my family is a new and gratifying experience. Very excited to share what this talented creative team has been cooking up.”

“I fell in love with Dave and Robert’s idea the moment they shared it with me. I love stories rooted in historical truth, in facts that have somehow been overlooked or—more frequently, I think—ignored in favor of another, more ‘traditional’ narrative,” said Rucka. “As much as Compass is an action-adventure with all of those wonderful pulp elements I adore, its engine is personal and intimate, ultimately about the friendship between two very impressive, very capable women from two very different backgrounds. As soon as I realized that, I knew Justin was the only artist who could deliver what Dave and Robert were after. I’m very proud to claim a very small part in making this book come to life.”

Compass #1)will be available at comic book shops and digitally across many digital platforms, on Wednesday, June 16th.

Here’s a four page preview in the meantime:

Thanks to Image Comics for the preview, visit imagecomics.com for more!.

Lady Mechanika returns to comic stores and, and raise steampunk brows

Recently announced, the fan-favorite steampunk adventure series by comic artist and storyteller Joe Benitez, Lady Mechanika will return with in 2021 with a new publisher, Image Comics. The adventure begins anew with a special Free Comic Book Day 2021 edition of her first appearance for participating comic shops on Saturday, August 14. Then, a new Lady Mechanika story series launching this September, also from Image Comics.

Lady Mechanika follows the story of a young woman during the Victorian Era who is desperately in search of the secrets to her past—a past that left her with extraordinary, but unnatural, mechanical limbs. Lady Mechanika publishing run began in 2010, carried on with multiple mini series, all then self published by its creator Joe Benitez.

The entire backlist of Lady Mechanika will be made available from Image Comics too, beginning this August with the long anticipated reprints of the volume one trade paperback and hardcover editions. These reprints will join a total of seven trade paperbacks and five hardcover editions of the beloved series.

“I’m very excited that Lady Mechanika is moving to Image!” said Benitez in a recent press release from Image Comics. “We hope this move will provide an opportunity to share the series with a new, wider audience, and also give us more time to focus on our creative strengths while letting the experts at Image handle publishing and marketing. We have so many stories to tell, hopefully this will help us get more of them out faster. The next story arc we’re calling ‘The Monster of the Ministry of Hell-th’ will deal with a piece of Lady Mechanika’s haunted past. Check out a preview of the new book in our FCBD issue!”

Eric Stephenson, Publisher & Chief Creative Officer at Image Comics also added: “We’re pleased to welcome Joe back to Image. Joe got his start at Image, as part of Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, and he has grown into a phenomenal talent over the years. What he has built for himself with Lady Mechanika is truly impressive, and it’s exciting to be part of what comes next for this incredible series.”

The FCBD 2021 edition of Lady Mechanika will include the stand-alone short story “The Demon of Satan’s Alley,” which first introduced Lady Mechanika and her steampunk world (Lady Mechanika #0)—plus a preview of “The Monster of the Ministry of Hell-th,” the newest story by series creator Joe Benitez which will debut this year at Image Comics.

Contact your local FCBD participating comic shop to learn more about these exciting freebies and more and don’t miss out on the opportunity to participate in FCBD 2021 on Saturday, August 14!

A strange look back at the obscure Black superheroes of the Golden Age

I love comic books, and its long, strange history through its mainstream American publishing. Imperfect, by way of how Black superheroes have developed over the many decades, but in an awesome, positive direction. I am a reader of color, of mixed race complexation, yet often identified as Black because of my darker skin tones and facial features. Yet, I haven’t thought much of my representation throughout my many years of reading. I was more concerned with inclusiveness, being part of the grander designs of those comic book multiverses, and that is enough.

Yet, I ponder over some often said comments on the arguable statement of Marvel’s Black Panther, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, being our first mainstream Black fictional superhero. This is certainly believed, since the recent popular and award-winning Marvel movie brought much attention to this previously mid-tier character of comics. It’s probably true, before I research anything.

When we often think Americanized super-heroes of a top-ten tier, we think the most prominent in this modern age – Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America, Wolverine, Hulk. Most of these, have long standing roots dating back through decades of comic book history. All of these have primarily Caucasian appearances, set to their most known popular incarnations.

Since then, we have Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Cyborg, Storm (X-Men), Falcon, Luke Cage, Static Shock, Blade, Black Lightning, and more. All Black and proud, part of a building legacy. And it’s great that we get representation out there for comic readers, especially for those very young and discovering comics for the first time.

In my early years, I discovered my first Black super-hero in the comic pages of 1980s run of The New Teen Titans written by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. He was part of a very super-team where all seemed equal, together, a group of young friends with personal problems and gripes, yet also helping to save their city, planet, universe, and beyond. Part of that team, was Victor Stone, better known as Cyborg – a young African America man who became part machine, resulting from a tragic accident. With that, the powers and strength of an enhanced body, and he can a shoot powerful, sonic energy blast from his arm cannon. Cyborg was awesome, and still is. So, he is my first mainstream Black superhero. Storm of the X-Men follows a close second.

Though my readings and early obsessions with big comic book crossover melodramas, especially Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, Infinity Gauntlet – I would learn of many more black superheroes. I would read many more comic titles from 25 cents bins, and become obsessed with sourcebooks like DC’s Who’s Who, and Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. Many more of mine favorites include the Black Racer, Bronze Tiger, Vixen, Bishop, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart), and more

So for this Black history month, I looked back to this recent claim that Black Panther was the first black superhero. Black Panther appeared in Fantastic Four #52, released in 1966 as an African king from the fictional land of Wakanda. He would not be well-known for a while in the mainstream until the recent movie. And, he was far from any top favorite super-heroes as I enjoyed those closer to the X-Men and DC Teen Titans more. I liked the costume, and I like panthers, and that was it. I never realized how significant T’Challa really was, until later on as I enjoyed critically acclaimed runs by Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, Reginald Hudlin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. He also showed up in various cartoons, toy shelves, video and board games in the over the last two decades.

Yet, what legacy for Black superheroes, is known before the arrival of our king of Wakanda? Before 1966, to the Golden era of comics of the 1930s to 1950s?

So, I dug through the awesome archive of human history that is our Internet and its many searchable resources. I also picked through some comics history on my shelf including the highly recommended recent book, Invisible Men, The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books, by Ken Quattro. Here are my compiled findings.

The first Black superhero to hit the niche pop culture of early comic books appeared first in 1934 in the Mandrake the Magician. daily newspaper strips. Lothar is Mandrake’s best friend and crimefighting companion, also an African prince of the “Seven Nations” a fictional league of African jungle tribes. His super power was his mighty strength, stamina, and invulnerability to any weapons, and magic. his early appearances had him featured as a servant with poor English skills. His clothing choice was typical of such depictions of a mighty, yet very foreign African man at the time.

Well, Lothar seemed also a bit stereotypical of the African muscleman. manservant (possibly slave as well). Yet, that was far more acceptable and dignified than racist depictions of Blacks in comics of that time. Among the most dubious was “Whitewash” Jones, a young, very minstrelized patriot who joined Captain America’s Sentinels of Liberty in pages of Young Allies, published by Timely Comics in the 1940s (later Atlas Comics, then reborn as Marvel Comics). I don’t count him, or Ebony White (The Spirit, by Will Eisner), or Steamboat (Fawcett’s Captain Marvel series), or any awful racist depictions of the era. They don’t inspire, and held back the potential for better Black superheroes in a time where real life African Americans fought proudly yet segregated, throughout World War II.

I did a bit more digging and found the Red Mask featured in the pages of Best Comics, in 1939 which only lasted four issues, and very short printed. Unlike Lothar, the Red Mark stood alone, featured in his own stories. He wore a simple red mask, and fought bad guys. Weirdly, his skin color changed from cover to cover, and in the pages as well. But, for sure he was an African (edit: correction, not African but likely a Pacific Islander) chief who masqueraded as a heroic masked fighter. Not much else is known.

But then, a real surprise came in 1947 with an obscurity, All Negro Comics – a single-issue, small-press American comic book published, written and drawn solely by African-American writers and artists.

Inside this special issue were multiple stories including “Ace Harlem” was an African-American police detective. The featured superhero was Lion Man, the first Black hero created by a Black man (Geo. J. Evans Jr.). He was “a college-educated African American sent by the United Nations on a mission to a uranium deposit on Africa’s Gold Coast, where he adopted the mischievous orphan Bubba.” Though his character costume was jungle-tribal style attire, it meant to more to inspire black American pride in their African heritage.

Yet, still a jungle-themed man, but with noble intentions at least.

Eventually came Jungle Tales #1-7, released circa 1954 featuring Waku of the Bantu, another African prince protagonist hero who battled sometimes battled supernatural foes. His serialization was part of an anthology of tales published by Atlas Comics (previously Timely Comics, and then soon rebranded as Marvel Comics). Waku was a more developed hero who favored non-violent solutions, yet skilled at martial combat, by writer Don Rico and artist Ogden Whitney. The comic art and storytelling was high quality…

And that pretty much all, ushering in a new Silver Age of comic books to come with the rise of Marvel Comics and the evolution of DC Comics. The Black Panther of Marvel Comics would arrive, though still carrying on the jungle royalty archetype. At least T’Challa wasn’t restricted to a loincloth, and hailed from a nation that was more technologically advanced, yet remained hidden and low-key to prevent the curiosity of outsiders.

The 1970s would play up a new type of African American hero, the urban tough city streets defender with the likes of Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart), Black Goliath, Misty Knight; major players of the Blaxploitation era. Black Vulcan of the Super Friends TV cartoon, I think, was the first Black superhero to hit the mainstream beyond comic books.

Soon after, many more including the New Teen Titan’s Cyborg, where I jumped in. The 90s brought so many more Black superheroes of all types, including African princes to jump back in. Some would get an upgrade and felt more fitting to our modern era. Even Mandrake’s Lothar developed into more in his character reboot alongside Mandrake in the Defenders of Earth animated cartoon and comics. He was still a loyal bodyguard, but described not as an African prince. According to his action figure package lore, he is a “Ninja from the Caribbean.”

So yes, African American and Black superheroes in general share a strange yet developed tradition, which may not have had the best beginnings, but will remain and continue to represent, and be admired and inspire for centuries to come.

Comics Preview: BREAK: RUN, a glow-in-the-dark story, currently offered via Kickstarter

Break: Run

Cartoonist: Nima Afshar
Release Date: Currently part of a Kickstarter campaign ending soon, summer 2021 for campaign backers
Format: Full colour 60-page square-bound comic
Publisher: Three Fold Comics (threefoldcomics.com)
Price: $10 (AUS) for digital, $20 (AUS) for printed via its Kickstarter campaign, which offers more for backers who purchase beyond that. For this crowd-funding campaign, click here.

A post-apocalyptic cyberpunk adventure…

On a deep space colony where nuclear war has already damaged the planet, we find Branko Nourbakhsh and his people trying to find their way. His commanding officer Amon decides to slaughter a mining crew who calls for help, stealing resources in order to help their clan survive. Branko opposes Amon but is unable to stop him.

Ten Years later in the City of Argos, Branko is contacted by an old friend. It’s happening again; he must return. But a bounty has been placed on Branko’s head, he has to get past trackers and bounty hunters. Time is running out.

This is a very ambitious, first full-length glow in the dark comic book graphic novel, using a silkscreen printed technique for separated layers. The experience is further optimized with a ultraviolet black light.

Break: Run‘s creator, writer, artist is Nima Afshar, an Australian cartoonist of cyberpunk, sci-fi, and other imaginative stories. This book is his latest project offered to all through his current Kickstarter.com project, where you can purchase a limited run copy.

Here’s a video explaining more of Break: Run and its creative process:

Here’s a preview of sample pages from break: Run. Nima Afshar offers a larger preview of the first 24 pages at threefoldcomics.com.

Huge thanks to Nima Afshar for providing the information, art, and leads to his great project. Time is running short for his Kickstarter project, so get your copy now if interested!

YA Graphic Novel Preview: Forever Home by Jenna Ayoub

Forever Home

Creator: Jenna Ayoub (writer/artist)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios via their YA Kaboom! imprint Release Date: February 17, 2021
Format: Graphic novel, smaller-sized for younger readers

An all-new story about finding your place and learning to love where you are..

Willow has had a nomadic childhood—with two parents in the military, staying put has become a pipe dream. And when the family arrives at their latest stop— the historic Hadleigh House— Willow encounters something that doesn’t help her chances of finding home…ghosts!

Hadleigh House’s spectral residents have been scaring off would-be homebuyers for decades, and they intend to keep the house to themselves. But Willow’s not about to let some nagging spirits force her to move for the millionth time. As Willow spends time in the house and gains the ghosts’ respect through her own strong will to stay in the house no matter what, they find that all of them belong there. Together, the restless spirits are finally able to find some peace, and Willow finds a home. Then it’s just a matter of convincing Willow’s parents that this old house is the one for them- ghosts included.

Forever Home is a fresh graphic novel for middle grade and younger readers by cartoonist Jenna Ayoub (Adventure Time), from Boom! Studios through its Kaboom! young readers imprint.

Check your local and online comic book stores for availability and order options. Digital version is available at the BOOM! Studios webstore or purchased from content providers, including ComiXology, iBooks, Google Play, and Madefire.

Huge thanks to BOOM @ Studios for the following preview. For more on this release and more, visit www.boom-studios.com.

Made in Korea sci-fi comics series explores AI and identity, this Spring

This May of 2021, Image Comics plans to release a new science fiction story six-issue monthly series to comic store shelves, Made In Korea, by writer Jeremy Holt (Virtually Yours, Before Houdini) and artist George Schall (Planet of the Apes, Chasing Echoes).

Made In Korea follows Jesse, the world’s first true A.I. system, on an exciting exploration of what it means to be a family in an age when biological parenthood is no longer a reality.

“As an identical triplet and Korean adoptee, I wanted to explore my own self-exploration of identity through the lens of science-fiction,” said Holt in a recent press release. “I think anyone that is looking for a new take on an artificial intelligence story will thoroughly enjoy what George and I have crafted.”

Schall added: “In a genre that often feels old because of how fast our world evolves, Jeremy has managed to write a story that feels both very personal and relevant to this day. Doesn’t matter if you’re a sci-fi fan or not, there’s something everyone will be able to relate to in this comic.”

Made In Korea #1 is scheduled to hit shelves in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and will be available at comic book shops and popular digital apps on Wednesday, May 26.

In the meantime, here’s a five -page early preview (thanks to Image Comics, visit imagecomics.com):

The Old Guard returns to comic shelves with a new Tales anthology

The creative work of writer Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández’s critically-acclaimed comic book (and adapted into a Netflix original series) work The Old Guard returns in 2021 with an an anthology arc in The Old Guard: Tales Through Time. This six-issue series from Image Comics is now set for this April.

This new anthology will feature an array of top industry talent with new stories from series co-creators Rucka and Fernández, joined by such contributors as: Vita Ayala, Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Matt Fraction, David F. Walker, Horacio Altuna, Rick Burchett, Valentine De Landro, Justin Greenwood, Kano, Nicola Scott, and more.

“I’m always a little stunned when people want to come and play with our toys, to be honest,” said Rucka, in an exclusive feature at Polygon. “It helps me with my own writing. It’s easy to get set onto a track with a character or an idea—having someone come in from outside for a visit, so to speak, allows a fresh perspective, and pushes me to rethink my own assumptions and conclusions about these characters.”

Andromache the Scythian—a warrior over six thousand years old, who has fought more battles than she cares to remember—has kept one constant companion through her long lifetime of combat…her labrys. Andy’s battle axe takes many forms, and many lives, in its centuries at her side, a story told by The Old Guard creators Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández.

Meanwhile, Nicolo “Nicky” di Genova and Yusuf “Joe” al-Kaysani, lovers since they tried (and failed) to kill each other in the First Crusade, spend an evening at Berlin’s famed Eldorado nightclub in the twilight era of 1932, sharing drinks with drag queens and fistfighting Nazis in an all-new story by writer Andrew Wheeler (Another Castle: Grimoire) and Jacopo Camagni (Nomen Omen)!

Fernández told Polygon: “It’s amazing, and a beautiful exercise, to see how other minds conceive, understand and even suggest something over what we’ve done from scratch. This opens a new way to understand how these characters could be seen from other eyes. All of a sudden, they have a life, a voice of their own.”

The Old Guard: Tales Through Time #1 will feature 3 multiple covers with cover A (above) by Fernández, cover B (see below) by Jacopo Camagni, and cover C (see below) interconnecting “Battlefield” Variant by Leandro Fernández will be available at comic book shops and popular digital platforms on Wednesday, April 21.

[NEWS]The Old Guard comic series returns with a new Tales Through Time Anthology, coming this Spring

Special thanks to Image Comics for providing the awesome covers. Visit imagecomics.com!