The best comics from July: Hellboy returns, the X-Men relaunch, and more
Hey there, true believers! I apologize if you missed our regular comics column at the beginning of July. We're gonna try and change things up a bit: Instead of doing a monthly roundup of upcoming comics, we're gonna reorient this column to review the highlights once people have gotten a chance to read them.
Here goes nothing!
Best new books
Hellboy and the BPRD: The Secret of Chesbro House #1 (Dark Horse)
Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola (writers), Shawn McManus (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist)
This may not be the beginning of a new ongoing comic, but it's still a fun kickoff to a two-part story. Mike Mignola's epic Hellboy saga reached its technical conclusion a couple years ago, but the protagonist's long career still leaves plenty of gaps to be filled in. Here, Hellboy shows up for a seance at a decrepit mansion and finds more than he bargained for. This haunted-house tale has a funny premise (aided by the comical expressions McManus gives these characters), in which each surviving relative of the mansion-owning family comes out one by one to further complicate the backstory and further annoy Hellboy. You can rarely go wrong with a fresh Mignola Hellboy tale, and this one sets itself up well for the coming conclusion.
Superman and the Authority #1 (DC)
Grant Morrison (writer), Mikel Janin (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist)
July saw the launch of first issues for several big-name comic series. Among them was DC's Superman and the Authority, which writer Grant Morrison has said will be their last superhero comic book for the foreseeable future as they move more into TV writing. DC has recently relaunched Superman's status quo, with son Jonathan Kent officially taking over the role of Man of Steel in Superman: Son of Kal-El, which also began in July. Jon was enjoyable as a child Superboy, but his rapid aging in recent years has depleted a lot of his early charm. To be fair, DC's Infinite Frontier reset has made it clear that Jon's ascension is not necessarily a good thing, and maybe interesting stories will come from that. But for now, Superman and the Authority is telling a more captivating story of an aging Clark Kent trying to make some real change in the world before his hero days are done.
Janin illustrated the best issues of Tom King's Batman run, and he makes Clark look beautiful in old age while also giving some punch to the Fortress of Solitude's sci-fi nonsense. Morrison did a great job connecting the history of superhero comics to the trajectory of the 20th century in their book Supergods, and connecting Superman so firmly to JFK is an interesting evolution of that connection. We don't always have to pretend Superman is an ageless being totally disconnected from reality; rooting him in real history (even if it's a very idealized Boomer nostalgia vision of JFK) can give him some weight, especially when the story is about Clark reckoning with his old age. Interesting to see how far Morrison takes all this — and also what they do with the actual members of the Authority, who despite their title placement do not show up in this debut.
X-Men #1 (Marvel)
Gerry Duggan (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Marte Garcia (colorist)
A new act began for Marvel's mutants as X-Men got relaunched, with House of X mastermind Jonathan Hickman passing the torch of the X-line's flagship book to Marauders writer Gerry Duggan. While Hickman's X-Men was basically an anthology series, where each issue focused on different characters around the mutant island paradise of Krakoa and planted various story seeds that will be paying off for a long time to come (with issue #6's Mystique tale laying the groundwork for this fall's Inferno event and issue #7's introduction of the Crucible ritual opening the doors for Way of X), Duggan's take is clearly going to be more classic superhero fare, albeit with a Krakoan edge to it. The introduction of the X-Men's new Central Park treehouse makes it seem like this will be a fun superhero playground to hang out in. Naming the treehouse headquarters after Seneca Village, the real-life Black community that was destroyed to create Central Park in the first place, is another example of how the Krakoan era is trying to present an alternative fantasy of the future rooted in real struggle.
Most of all, it's great to see artist Pepe Larraz finally drawing a consistent monthly X-Men comic. Larraz drew House of X, which alongside R.B. Silva's work on Powers of X set the artistic standard for the X-Men's new golden age. Larraz has since returned to the line for key issues, like the three biggest chapters of X of Swords and June's beautiful sci-fi one-shot Planet-Size X-Men, so every fan of Krakoa should be delighted we now get to see his art (accompanied by Marte Garcia's eye-popping colors) on a monthly basis.
Barbaric #2 (Vault Comics)
Michael Moreci (writer), Dwight Gooden (artist), Addison Duke (colorist)
We missed calling out the debut of this rocking new fantasy comic last month, but it's not too late to catch up. The first issue of Barbaric introduced us to Owen the barbarian, whose rough and rowdy ways are constantly at odds with a curse that compels him to "always do the right thing," and his Axe — capital A because it's a character, a blade with a face that gets drunk off blood. That's already an incredible premise, well executed by Moreci's writing and Gooden's art, but issue #2 expands this universe even further. We get to meet Soren, a female sorcerer who Owen saved from being burned at the stake last issue, who now introduces us to this world's version of magic. The flashbacks to the difficulties Soren faced as a young witch growing up in a medieval world add some pathos to the cranky comedy and blood-squirting violence of Owen and Axe, and she eventually creates a fun cliffhanger ending for the issue.
It will be interesting to see what other aspects of fantasy storytelling Barbaric moves into as it continues. Right now we've got a barbarian and a sorcerer; might we see a full Dungeons & Dragons-worthy party at some point?
Nightwing #82 (DC)
Tom Taylor (writer), Bruno Redondo & Rick Leonardi & Neil Edwards (artists), Adriano Lucas (colorist)
Tom Taylor has been writing Nightwing for a few months now, but July's issue featured a major revelation that tells us a lot about where the larger story is going. Anyone who enjoyed Taylor's All-New Wolverine as much as we did should know that Taylor loves expanding the families of his characters. Just as he once gave Laura Kinney a sister (Gabby, who remains one of the most delightful X-Men characters around, thereby making her current situation in this month's issue of New Mutants by Vita Ayala and Alex Lins all the more horrifying) Taylor has now given Dick Grayson a half-sister as well. In addition to complicating the dynamic of the already-large Bat-family, the fact that this new relative also connects to Tony Zucco (the murderer of Dick's parents) sets up a lot of interesting potential for tension.
This issue is a bit lacking in the high-flying visuals by Bruno Redundo that have made this Nightwing run feel so energetic; instead, Rick Leonardi and Neil Edwards take point for a lot of flashback sequences focusing around Dick's late parents, the circus acrobats known as the Flying Graysons. Since the Flying Graysons are usually just part of Dick's backstory, it's cool to spend some time with them as actual characters who made mistakes but tried their best. Clearly this book is going to have a lot of family feelings.
Legacy is a natural theme for Dick, since he literally invented the concept of the superhero sidekick, but now in addition to him making a name for himself in Bludhaven and reckoning with the inheritance bestowed on him by Alfred Pennyworth's will, we get to see Melinda Zucco reckon with her own complicated legacy. That stuff is definitely more compelling than the reappearance of Blockbuster.