The best comics to read right now: 4/20 edition
Hey, loyal readers, it's time again for our monthly comics spotlight column. Going forward, we've decided to change up the format a bit: Instead of just reviewing the best comics each month, we'll come up with a selection of comics both new and old that center on a timely theme.
In this case, April contains a day when people across America celebrate the joys of marijuana and stoner culture. Regardless of whether that substance is legal in your area or not, we've put together a lineup of comics that contain cool art, interesting stories, and even helpful facts about the history of weed in this country.
Read on for our picks.
Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America (First Second)
Box Brown (writer/artist)
Box Brown's in-depth history of marijuana in America — and the various ways it has been policed and outlawed — is fascinating and informative regardless of whether you've ever imbibed the drug yourself. After all, weed has been at the forefront of policy discussions in the U.S. over the past decade, with the formerly verboten drug now legalized for recreational use in 18 states and decriminalized in 13 more. Brown's well-researched history shows how the illegality of marijuana in the first place was always driven by falsehoods, propaganda, and a desire on the part of law enforcement and politicians to have an easy excuse for locking up non-white Americans.
The history detailed in Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America is often enraging or depressing, but also enlightening. Brown, who has previously published a history of Tetris and biographies of comedian Andy Kaufman and wrestler Andre the Giant in a similar style, is a master cartoonist and storyteller whose layouts are extremely readable. Panels contain important information but never in an overwhelming way. Readers will walk away with a newfound appreciation for the important role marijuana has played in recent American history and culture.
Ghost Cage #1 (Image)
Nick Dragotta (writer/artist), Caleb Goellner (co-writer)
Having proven his artistic skills on previous collaborations with writer Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta is now in the driver's seat for this new three-part miniseries. Ghost Cage depicts a futuristic world lorded over by a super-scientist who controls access to energy. But with his great tech tower under assault by terrorists, this billionaire builds a new android — who, with the help of one eager tech-support employee, sets out to destroy the tower's monstrous secrets before they can fall into dangerous hands.
Published in black and white, Ghost Cage consciously evokes its classic manga inspirations like Akira and Astro Boy while also showing off the majesty and scale of Dragotta's line work. The innovative character designs, well-paced action, and concepts that merge sci-fi with fantasy — much like the cyberpunk Americana of Dragotta's work with Hickman on the epic series East of West — will give your eyes more than enough to ponder and marvel at.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (Boom Studios)
Ram V (writer), Filipe Andrade (artist)
"The point of life, my friend, is to be smoked," the personification of Death says during a key scene in one of last year's best comics. Now available in collected form, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is simultaneously cosmic and human in scale. It begins with the goddess of death getting laid off from her duties in a bureaucratic afterlife, and follows her through a series of mortal incarnations as she attempts to understand the human savior who is prophesied to create immortality and put her out of a job forever.
Along the way, Ram V's writing explores the seemingly oppositional but actually complementary relationship between life and death, while Filipe Andrade's art tackles both divine magic and human frailty with aplomb. Don't miss it — and if you dig Ram V's writing, be sure to check out his work on Swamp Thing as well. Like the classic Alan Moore run on the character, Ram V uses the guardian of the green to make visually stunning, mind-expanding comics.
Ody-C: Cycle One (Image)
Matt Fraction (writer), Christian Ward (artist)
The Odyssey may be one of the oldest and best-known stories in Western culture, but trust us when we say you've never seen it like this. Matt Fraction and Christian Ward rocket the ancient Greek epic into the far future, with spaceships replacing boats and the vast expanse of space standing in for the Mediterranean Sea. The Ody-C creators also invert the genders of the classic characters: This story follows the conqueror-queen Odyssia instead of wily Odysseus. The problems and questions facing them are similar, though, namely: As great warriors who have finished their prolonged war, do they actually want to return home?
Fraction puts a space-age sheen on Homer's poetic language, while Ward makes each page more striking than the last. It's a perfect comic to read when you're in the mood to have your mind blown.
Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #2 (DC Black Label)
Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Gene Ha (artist)
Kelly Sue DeConnick's graphic-novel trilogy about the history of the Amazons before Wonder Woman arrived will be illustrated by three different artists. Phil Jimenez set a high bar with his work on last year's first installment, making ancient Greek goddesses like Athena and Hera look cooler than they ever have, but Gene Ha matches that standard with his equally impressive art in the recent second issue. He manages to blend the divine and the mortal as the various Amazon tribes (each inspired, both in personality and aesthetic, by one of the six goddesses who created them) start freeing human women from slavery and teaching them the ways of Amazon culture.
Our protagonist is Hippolyta, who will eventually be the mother of Wonder Woman. Usually depicted as regal and wise, this version of Hippolyta is young and searching for meaning. Like the first part, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #2 frankly explores the history of sexist oppression, and the violent reactions from men (not to mention the male gods they worship) when women fight for freedom.
Fun note: Since DeConnick and Fraction are married, if you read both Wonder Woman Historia and Ody-C you'll get to see each of their (different, but equally fascinating) interpretations of classic Greek mythology.