Comic Book Herald is a blog focused on suggested reading orders for both new & long-time fans, comic book reader technology for multiple devices, and talking about awesome comics. Comic Book Herald is a site dedicated to guiding enthusiastic comic book readers through the immense amounts of Marvel books and trade paperbacks available.
America’s Best Comics (ABC) was a comic title that originally ran from 1940-49 and featured such golden age and pulp heroes as The Black Terror, Captain Future, Doc Strange, and the Fighting Yank. Sadly, Standard/Better/Nedor, parent company to ABC, folded in 1956, during the crash in comic book sales brought on by the Cold War.
Then, in 1999, Alan Moore resurrected both the name and even placed its characters in supporting roles. And to be clear, Moore’s rebirth is, in many ways, tremendously faithful. There is a lot of Golden Age and pulp elements, ranging from Doc Savage look-alikes (with equally silly names) to talking animals that solve crimes. But rather than collapse into nostalgia, the elements add to the painstakingly researched comic and real world history, making the whole thing feel cohesive. All of this is pointed at telling readers about the (then) present. New heroes and ideas seem brighter here. Magic seems deeper and somehow natural.
Taken as a whole, Moore’s America’s Best Comics is a contemplation on the nature of story, heroics, and the supernatural. Both as literary elements and as cultural forces. That it manages to do this while also providing martian death rays, huge sword battles, and gruff anti-heroes is a testament to the genius talent pool the label had.
This is probably why, pound for pound, ABC is one of the most award winning superhero publishers around. Proportionally, they’ve won more industry awards than either Marvel of DC comics.
There are many ways to organize these books — from cultural reference to magic vs science– but I think it’s best we keep things simple for now and sort things by in-universe chronology.
I must confess, I’ve read no more than one full comic in this run. This is in part because they just don’t add much to Moore’s run, and also because the vintage writing does not age well. Still, if you’re keen on knowing everything, Visual Editions, Inc has reproductions on Amazon for about $15-20 an issue.
Since these are golden era books, the stories don’t interconnect in a concrete timeline. So reading the issues in order should suffice.
The first of three pillars in the main ABC universe, Top 10 focuses on Neopolis, the city built to house superhumans. It’s a police procedural, political thriller, and direct commentary on how comics impacted the war effort in WWII.
Chronologically, the Forty-Niners takes place right after the end of the original ABC universe. The story focuses on the construction of Neopolis as seen through the eyes of Steve “Jetlad” Traynor, ace pilot from the European theater… and his arch nemesis, Leni “Sky Witch” Muller.
Tom Strong is Moore’s analog for Doc Savage and other classic science heroes of the pulp era. Tom and the rest of the Strong family find themselves battling across different times, planets, and realms.
What does a serial killer who targets superheroes look like? We’re introduced to Robyn “Toybox” Slinger, the newest police of Precinct Ten, and the poor, unlucky hero who needs to catch the Libra killer.
I remember being bowled over by the way Moore mixed classic and modern aesthetics here. This is mostly just an intro story, and yet aesthetics lock into place from the get go. There are gruesome, terrible murders, drugs, and sex workers beyond even what you’d expect from Image, Vertigo, or Marvel Knights. There’s also a talking dog that could have just walked out of a Binder/Swan Superman comic.
Promethea is the second pillar in the main universe and it serves as Moore’s pulpit for talking about magic. Again, the research here is fascinating as he pulls from “real world” magic of history, legend, and folklore, and applies it to the brand of magic that’s unique to comics.
The story follows college student Sophie Bangs who’s in a futuristic NYC, studying the history of mythic warrior “Promethea.” Shadowy forces try to violently drive Sophie away from her studies. This chain of events leads Sophie to transform into the warrior she sought.
Once again, we see an introductory book. And like before, it’s shockingly good. Promethea is passionate, imaginative, and deeply personal. It also really shines with Moore’s greatest strength: making the reader feel they’re sharing something intensely intimate. Something just for them.
Like all fantasy books, Promethea needs a little more wind-up. Book two is the classic “hero learns their history and their powers” chapter of myth.
This means the story can’t get too crazy as there’s more establishing to be done. But Sophie does get to fight a horde of demons and a secret cult named The Temple.. So it’s not all exposition. Steady on.
Another anthology book, this time cataloging adventures from across Tom’s century of adventures. Even though this exists across multiple times, it should be read here as it introduces some characters that become important in Tom Strong, Book Three
S.M.A.S.H. was a superteam belonging to the original America’s Best Comics! They predate both the JLA and the Avengers by about 20 years, but they haven’t been seen in print since 1949. Moore explains this abscence by saying they’ve been in suspended animation all this time. But now, S.M.A.S.H. must square off against Tom Strong and Terra Obscura, ABC’s newest superteam.
If you’re new to Comic Book Herald, you might not know this about me, but Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT is approximately my 2nd favorite comic book of the last 25 years (seriously, it’s documented right here: https://www.comicbookherald.com/the-best-comics-of-all-time/). I like it so much I own every issue, the hardcovers, the newly released omnibus editions, and the Kickstarted vinyl album. I’m, uh, a bit of a fan.
As such, I get desperately excited when Kindt’s name is tied to a new comics project, and re-reading Black Badge for my mid-year 2019 favorites recently, I was reminded exactly why.
Kindt has an uncanny ability to find the subtly sinister in the seemingly innocent, transforming the Boy Scouts of America into counterintelligence organization run by shadowy forces (And founded by William Randolph Hearst for… reasons). Whether it’s his work in Mind MGMT, Grass Kings, Ninjak, Unity, etc, there’s a through line of conspiracy and dark tendrils creeping into everything you thought you knew. Mind MGMT does this better than literally anything I’ve ever read, but Black Badge taps into a similar vein, running secret mission on top of secret mission, and rendering the limits of a mere double agent useless.
The characters are some of Kindt’s most memorable as well, wonderfully illustrated by Grass Kings collaborator Tyler Jenkins. The teens running espionage missions behind the auspices of friendly scouting reminds me distinctly of Deadly Class’s early days, with seemingly endless stories at the core of each character welcomed into this world.
It’s that possibility that makes the twelve issue run of the series so full of unused promise. I can easily see the various “Badge” factions extending this book for 100 issues and spinoffs. Plus, Kindt and Jenkins use the second half of the narrative to craft a fully fleshed out history, meaning there’s a wealth of past stories to be told.
Nonetheless, there’s always value in a concise and direct story, and Kindt and Jenkins have a good one here. Black Badge is one of my favorite comics of 2019!
COMIC BOOK SHOPPINGTREND: Walmart Comics
It’s been a few months since I wrote about Walmart’s DC Giants (and where to find them), although I’ve been grabbing chapters of the Tom King and Andy Kubert Superman Giant whenever I have to run to the superstore.
This week, my scan of the available material (which now involves me squatting in a literal checkout line… comics are not my Walmart’s priority) revealed both a new chapter I didn’t have, and a copy of Superman Giant #1 as part of a $10 for 10 pack.
Since I didn’t have the first issue (I initially decided I’d only buy the King/Kubert run, but now feel like I need the complete set), this felt like a good time to explore what’s in these 10 packs. While DC offers $10 for 10 packs, Marvel offers similar items except $10 for 7 comics (and no giants).
First things first, the DC pack is a very good deal, and would have been a truly delightful treat for 9 year old me. Despite the oddity of the collection (more on this in a moment), I can easily visualize pouring over these issues until they fell apart. If the intent is relatively cheap on-ramps for new readers, then I do think there’s some value here.
The biggest challenge with the 10 pack is that it’s a mix of 4 #1 issues, and 6 surprise grab-bags that seemingly could come from anywhere. Here’s what came in my package:
Superman Giant #1
Batman: Night of the Monster Men #1
Batman: Eternal #24
Future’s End #13
Batman: Trinity #1
Earth 2 #27
Justice League United #4
Injustice: Harley Quinn #1
Future’s End #20
Future’s End: Trinity of Sin – The Phantom Stranger #1
Tossing a child twenty issues into Future’s End reeks mildly of cruel and unusual punishment. Like I said, there’s a certain window of exploratory reading where wide-eyed curiosity is going to overshadow the absolute lack of context. Getting into comics is 85% excitement about missing details that can fill in all these questions you might have.
But I swear, if a single lad or lass walks away from a Future’s End tie-in referencing a Trinity War spinoff without a lifetime of questions (and fear of both strangers and phantoms), I’ll be flabbergasted.
LOVE OF THE WEEK
It can feel silly to try to put into words, but it’s shockingly rewarding to pick up an issue of a comic book that feels like it’s made of much higher quality paper than the floppiest of floppies.
I’ve had this experience over and over with Black Badge from Boom Studios. The covers are thick, almost cardboard-like compared to much of what I read from Marvel or DC. It’s like holding a revered tome that should be kept behind glass.
Obviously, I’ve discussed my affinity for the work as art above, but the actual physical feel of Black Badge is a tactile treat. And the book still costs a very regular $3.99. Love it!
Maybe it’s just where I’ve been focusing my attention, but 2019 has felt like a lot of good comics, without the introduction of (many) absolute knockouts that feel like potential all-timers. As a result, my favorites for the year are a mix of ongoing series continuations and new title launches.
Likewise, publishers Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Boom, Dynamite, and Vault are represented with at least one selection below (Image leading the charge with just under half of the picks).
All of this is of course acknowledging that there are undoubtedly a plethora of great books that I simply haven’t managed to read yet, so if you see some of your favorites missing, I’d love to hear about them! In order to help ensure the list captures a larger sample of the year’s best, I’ve also included John Galati’s picks and write-ups for must-reads.
Finally, I also fully expect a number of upcoming releases (Hickman’s X-Men) to compete for spots on the best comics of 2019 before all is said and done. Not to mention the inevitable surprises that occur along the way.
Until then, below you’ll find our picks for the best of 2019.
The Black Hammer universe has held a steady place on my year-end best-ofs since debuting in 2017, and although you could anticipate some signs of attrition, the Jeff Lemire written superhero universe remains one of the best comics being published. Since Black Hammer is spread across a variety of interconnected tales, I prefer to rank the shared universe as one cohesive entity. So far in 2019, we’ve had:
Black Hammer: The Quantum Age #6 (series conclusion)
Black Hammer: Age of Doom #7 to #11 (the series finale in issue 12 will release August 2019)
Black Hammer ’45 #1 to #4
Lemire teaming with Matt Kindt on the Golden Age ’45 series is the stroke that ensures the Black Hammer universe remains a contender for the best of 2019!
Venom is a weird character. In the 90s he was a goofball anti-hero. Then he spent a decade as a cannibal edge-lord. After that he was a super soldier mercenary.
And in 2018, Venom became something out of a 1920s cosmic horror story. Thanks to Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, Venom is back with his first host, back to basics, and building from there. In this way, Cates is doing something similar to what Ewing is up to on Hulk; they’re both absolutely ripping down the boundaries on their character’s lore.
In this case, Cates is channeling his inner Lovecraft or Leiber to finally take these symbiotes, these tentacled space aliens, and turn them into the Eldritch horrors they should always have been.
Cates then takes that bigger premise and crams it full of gore, terror, action, and fun. And now he has Carnage in the mix, so everything is set to turbo. Honestly, it’s a hell of a balancing act he’s pulling off on this book and you really need to see it.
This is a monster story set to burning, shattering beats of the Harlem Renaissance. It’s the story of the Sangeryes, a family of once-great monster hunters, and their attempts to save New York from the forces of darkness. A family that’s lost so much to the violence of this nation, and its monsters.
The book uses the metaphors at its disposal to ask questions like “how do you save people who hate you?” and “what is the cost of not doing so?” These questions give the characters a lot more depth than you’re likely to find in similar books, and gives the gorgeous artwork a lot more to convey.
There’s a tendency for best of lists to overlook long running series in favor of the new kids on the block. Considering East of West has been with us for nearly six years, it’s understandable the Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta epic could be taken for granted as a bedrock of consistently great storytelling.
In 2019, this feels like a mistake, as East of West gears up for the conclusion of the series with East of West #46. The inventive blend of politics, mythology, and the apocalypse has been one of my top 50 favorite comics of all time since it debuted, and the series hasn’t lost a step.
Naomi, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane
By John Galati:
Batman: Gotham Central is a Batman book that barely features Batman. In a way, it’s the character’s absence that tells us the most about him, his world, and what it would mean to live inside of it.
This trio of books — Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Naomi — work together to pull off a very similar trick. They take all the things you think you know about the Big Blue Boyscout and his city and then show you how little you’d considered.
Naomi is an adopted daughter, living in a world where Superman’s origin is cultural knowledge. Something people don’t even know how they know. So when Superman and Mongol crash into Naomi’s small town, it feels like an origin story. It raises questions about Naomi’s past and her future. This is a detective book with the ultimate question being “how do you grow up in a world with Superman?” This title is great and feels at turns like Alias (only sincere) or Ultimate Spider-Man (only with better support.) This is a perfect starting point for a new DC reader.
Jimmy Olsen becomes the brave everyman trying to live in a crazy world. A mixture of Ford Prefect, Twoflower, and Matt Fraction’s own Hawkeye. Jimmy shows how Superman can inspire even mortals to adventure.
Lois Lane, on the other hand, is every bit the hardnosed reporter you’d expect from Greg Rucka. She is determined, fearless, and brilliant. But most importantly, Lois Lane exists to show that sometimes, mortals can solve important problems that Supes is either powerless to address or simply doesn’t notice.
Die is, first and foremost, a character-driven horror book. Its premise should be familiar by now: a group of kids plays a tabletop RPG only to be transported into the world, finding real danger there. The kids grow up and are forced to return to face the kid who was left behind in the game realm. It’s part Stranger Things, part IT. But it’s also a whole lot more.
Gillen fills the book with character moments that tug hard at the reader’s emotions. Stephanie Hans’ artwork is truly phenomenal. Some of the best I’ve seen all year.
Also, the comic has spawned its own tabletop RPG. And while I haven’t tried it yet, I’m thrilled to see this sort of cross-over action in comics.
If there’s any downside, it’s this book might not land as well for people 35 and up. Die makes some changes to those decades for the purposes of telling the story, and while that’s great… it’s also sometimes distracting.
This light-hearted book is the perfect way to get a new reader into the Marvel universe. It’s funny and exciting in the way comics should be, and it doesn’t require 30 years of knowledge understand.
The Unstoppable Wasp tells the story of Nadia, daughter of Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man). Nadia is on a mission to bring together every girl genius in the Marvel universe. And that’s just about all the backstory you need. Every other bit of backstory you might need is provided through clear, efficient context (as opposed to just an editor’s box.)
Between this, the clean artwork, and fun tone of the writing, The Unstoppable Wasp provides both an accessible entry point to the universe and a story that’s just plain fun for everyone.
Despite affinity for Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson’s comics credentials, I was skeptical of Assassin Nation as anything more than a forgettably fun time. Fortunately, the concept (all the best assassins in the world come together for one group hit) and the humor (there’s a glorious character named F&*$ Tarkington) is partnered with instantly compelling characters and drama.
There’s a ton of chaotic action and extreme violence, but the desire to keep reading comes from the character beats, whether it’s quests for revenge, Fingerman’s arrogance, or Dave and F&*$’s unlikely friendship. The twists are relatively predictable to date, but even so, the book is too full of contagious energy to keep down.
I’m a sucker for generational stories. Father-son, mother-daughter, siblings, even time-displaced hero and younger self. Familial bonds ad a dynamic to any interaction between two people, mixing love and frustration, conflict and concern. Put this story in space or another setting filled with danger and I’m on board.
Make that story written by Jason Aaron and I will force my money into your hand while making full eye contact.
Because no one does character strife quite like Aaron. He has that way of conveying how characters can love someone even when they shouldn’t. How you can want what’s best for someone and want to strangle them, all at the same time. And friend, does he know deep character wounds and the way they drive us.
Dennis Hallum and Stephen Green contribute by giving us a universe that feels old, practical, fragile. The space suits are clunky things that could have voted for Carter. Set against mind-bogglingly gorgeous splash pages, those suits look so human and so vulnerable.
It’s early days on this series, but if it keeps this up, it might make Book of the Year. Well, if it can beat out Little Bird.
One of my 10 favorite comic books of 2018 has continued its anthology of twisted excellence in 2019, with the most significant world-building and connective tissue we’ve seen from the series yet. I’m not entirely sure that pulling the curtain back on the monster inside the ice cream truck is a net positive, but I’m absolutely intrigued to see how it develops in this “Twilight Zone” style book.
At the end of the day, Ice Cream Man can be just about *anything* making it one of the clearest monthly must-reads on my pull list. It’s one one of the most playfully inventive comics of recent memory. The feeling that every next issue could be an “issue of the year” contender makes Ice Cream Man perpetually exciting.
Matt Kindt’s one of my favorite storytellers in comics, and his collaborations with Tyler Jenkins have resulted in one of my favorite partnerships (see their work on another Boom release Grass Kings). Black Badge takes one of Kindt’s best skills – finding the almost comically dark underbelly of the seemingly innocent – and turns the boyscouts into covert superspys.
Any comic book with literal back matter depicting the Boy Scounts Handbook, 1911 that includes the diagrammed phrase “Garrote hidden in headband” is basically an automatic entry on any list I make.
Batman’s best villains have a strong psychological component. In fact, there are plenty of Ph.D. driven articles and even a few books that attest to this idea. But for my money, the best Batman writers tap into something older, deeper, and less clinical than the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
The Last Knight on Earth digs into that darker territory that’s outside the safe confines of classification. Coming after the delightfully mental Dark Nights: Metal event, this stand-alone story pushes Batman to it’s wildest conclusion.
Batman is famous for being a solitary figure, so this book puts him at the end of the world. Bats frequently struggles with questions of his sanity and violence, so this book gives him the severed head of the Joker to carry around. He worries that he might not solve a mystery in time to save the world, so let’s put this after the worst has happened.
And how can a man who prepares for everything survive the end of the world?
All of these things prey on one common fear (and misconception) that mental health is somehow contagious, unavoidable, maybe even inevitable. That we are as hopeless before it as Armageddon. This book engages those primal fears in a way that’s compelling without glorifying it or asserting its..
The last 10 years have seen an explosion in independent comics, and not just in terms of volume. Independent comics as a whole are getting more experimental again and pushing the medium creatively like we haven’t seen since the early 90s.
Now seems like the perfect time to run through some of our choices for best in each category.
First, a definition of “indie:”
Creator-owned, creator controlled – While I love series from Vertigo and Marvel Knights, their comics are still under the thumb of corporate concerns. They have greater leniency, but not “independence.”
Nothing too big– While we celebrate books like Hellboy and Walking Dead, they’re kinda their own thing at this point with their own artistic concerns. If you’re big enough to have a movie franchise or a television series, you need your own list.
One per author– Some creators on this list have had an amazing decade, putting out multiple titles of note. So to keep things interesting, we’re going to judge those creators against themselves as well, and just highlight what we feel is their best offering.
A young girl is catsitting for her parents. Her sister is with her. They talk about family and trips.
Calvin, an airman in the US Airforce, offers to put his childhood friend, Teddy, up for a while. We learn that Teddy’s girlfriend had gone missing a month before, and either this event or something else has left Teddy a quiet, child-like shell of a man.
The catsitting girl is Sabrina. Teddy was her boyfriend.
These calm, small details form the basis of this utterly haunting story. Crucially, this book is not a “true crime” style story which follows familiar procedural details. Instead, it is a focus on the modern state of “tragedy.” How it’s no longer private anymore and belongs to click-bait articles and half-baked commentators more than the victims or the accused. The book reevaluates concepts like “evidence,” “fact,” and “trust” in this internet addicted, post-Trump era. Most of all, it is a frighteningly clinical and dispassionate look at what has become of our lives.
From the pair that brought us American Born Chinesecomes a brand new story from Chinese legend. But impossibly, this one is real. Boxers & Saints is a two-book set telling the true story of the “Boxer Rebellion” of the late 19th century China. It’s a complicated tale about a battle between five armies:
A coalition of Western forces (including England, France, Russia, America, Italy, and more) who wanted control of the opium trade
One rebel Chinese faction who believed that practicing kung-fu and traditional mysticism would make them literally bulletproof
An opposing Chinese faction led by a local man who believed himself to be the long lost brother of Jesus Christ
It’s an incredible story. And just like in their previous work, Pien and Yang do an impressive job of detangling legend and presenting it in a fashion that’s both easy to follow and faithful to history.
Having magic face-off against conventional armies is by no means a new concept, but I’ve never seen it like this. The Divine is a wild reimagining of the Htoo rebellion of 2000 when twins Johnny and Luther Htoo lead a child army to overtake a Thai hospital. Only now it’s Yaksha temple guardians and dragons versus planes and tanks. All of this is illustrated in a bright, almost feverish style similar to James Jean’s work.
And yet Battling Boy exists and is enjoyable. This is the conflict. There is a fun, all-ages read to be had in this book. There’s a pre-teen demigod battling monsters in a futuristic dystopia future. There’s a kind of pop-culture mythology at play that’s fascinating and fits well with the manga-influenced art.
None of that answers the questions about Pope. But it presents a reason to consider the book.
A twisting, turning, writhing story about childhood fantasy. A book that’s wholly unsuitable for children.
The Wrenchies is a post-modern, post-apocalyptic fairytale in which packs of feral children must fight the manifestations of childhood nightmares in order to survive. But in that maelstrom is a shockingly complex story which could take several readings to totally grasp. The book rewards as it shocks, questions even as it revels. It’s a great read, but not the easiest one on the list.
This is the story of Anya, a teenage girl who struggles to fit in at a snobbish, private school. Like all teenagers, Anya blames this on her parents, Russian immigrants whose bleak and taciturn style influences the aesthetic of the book. Anya acts out in your standard teenage rebellions (short skirts, smoking, skipping school). All of this is rendered in a wonderfully realistic way… which makes the supernatural turn so fantastic.
Like in a fairytale, Anya falls down a well and encounters the ghost of another young girl, Emily, who is bitter for having died before she could have had the kind of normal life Anya has.
The rest of the book feels like a perfect blend of teenage angst and fantasy. Great plotting, realistic feel of high school. Ghosts. A great book for girls without being pigeonholed as a “girl’s book.”
The Silence of Our Friends is sort of the precursor to March. The book follows the struggles of two families – one black, one white – as they fight for civil rights in Houston, Texas. Much like March, the book focuses on the day-to-day degradations and humiliations faced by adults and children alike during this time of extreme social upheaval in lush, lyrical ink drawings.
Told in small scale and without much celebrity, this book perfectly captures the dread and beauty of the era.
Andre the Giant was like something out of a folktale. So mythical that it seems almost sacrilege to call him by his real name, André René Roussimoff. Everything about him was larger than life. A professional wrestler, a movie star, a violent drunk who would pick up every tab. He had a soft laugh and an almost shy personal style who was arrested in Iowa for beating up a cameraman. He loved life to excess but lived his whole life with a death sentence.
This book attempts to tell that whole story, without making Roussimoff either the heel or the face. Instead, it tries to express the fullness of the giant in an artistic style that is as beautifully minimalist as Andre’s private demeanor seems to have been.
This is a different look at the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. Namely, what it meant for LGBTQ women of color at the time.
St-Onge’s style paired with San’s colors gives the book a fantastic feel. Franklin’s characters feel emotive and lively in a way that makes them feel more animated than drawn. This, in turn, really makes the reader feel their way through this rocky romance. We watch these women fall in love, fall out of it, grow up, marry husbands, and find each other again at 50.
The book truly feels like loving someone at an imperfect time, and the miracle of a second chance.
Garth Ennis is one of the most consistently excellent comic writers going. His work on Punisher, Hitman, Preacher, and The Boys is all top-shelf work, but they all show that Ennis can have a definite type when it comes to stories: Big guys with big firepower bringing justice to the world. Essentially, Ennis is always making a cowboy movie… even if it sometimes has powers and angels in it.
This is what makes A Walk Through Hell so interesting. It’s basically two steps to the left. This is Garth doing X-Files or Kolchak, with ramped up suspense and a fair bit of blood. And all of it beautifully illustrated by Sudžuka.
There is a difference between “frightening” and “unsettling.” To illustrate this: Jason and his machete are scary; a man watching you from a street light is unsettling. The shock and adrenaline rush of Jason is a lot of fun, but the man watching you? That will stick with you. It crawls under your skin.
That’s the experience of reading PTSD Radio. It starts as an anthology with seemingly unrelated stories. But as you read on, the stories form a kind of conspiracy. There’s a deeper story here about old gods, modern blasphemy, and ghosts that haunt people rather than places.
You know the story. A flood is coming to wash the Earth clean. Noah builds an ark to save two of each animal. God, in his mercy, saves Noah and his family from the end of all creation. This is the story of the other ark. About Shrae and his ship filled with every monster imaginable, and the God of Hell that brings all this into being. The story is about asking one question: can an unholy ship filled with vampires, ogres, and beasts work together to survive?
If you liked Dark Nights: Metal but wished it had a soundtrack by Behemoth, this might be for you. This might definitely be for you.
This is a very different take on the American Armageddon. A clone of Jesus of Nazareth gets his own reality television show, which sets in motion the potential end of days. The writing is fun, with characters that feel fleshed out but still rough around the edges. The plotting is manic and fun, but still makes time for introspection or criticism. But best of all is Murphy’s art which feels exactly like the punk and goth zines I grew up with, only with a little more comic flare. There are scratchy lines, overprints, scenester layouts, and I swear he’s using zip-a-tone.
But don’t let all that grunge put you off: this book is supremely easy to read. And a hell of a lot of fun, too.
What do you want from a follow-up to Avengers: Endgame? Historically, Marvel has followed up the biggest most game-changing events in the MCU with lighter comedies or character introductions (Ant Man & The Wasp, Doctor Strange). The reaction has been a mix of praise (this mint after a heavy meal is exactly what was needed!) and resignation (well, I guess not every story can be the biggest one ever told).
For my money, the MCU’s never needed a transition film with a sense of purpose as strongly as Spider-Man: Far From Home. The entire MCU has come to as close to an ending as a comic book storytelling perpetual motion machine can come. Which of course, leads to the question I’ve been pondering: “What do you want from a follow-up to Avengers: Endgame?” Before I get to how effectively Spider-Man: Far From Home meets my criteria, I should explain the muddled criteria.
1) 5 years later acknowledgment – Endgame jumping 5 years into the future – and for the first time putting the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of sync with our own timeline – is one of the boldest and most exciting developments in the film. “Far From Home” is the first movie that needs to make some sense of this!
2) Glimpse of the future – It’s a new era for the MCU, and Spider-Man is predictably at the forefront of the new wave. It’s “Far From Home’s” job to clarify elements of this future.
3) Surprises – Above all, I want my expectations to be shattered, and to come face to face with ideas I hadn’t anticipated! Oh, and while doing all of the above, I also want a killer Spider-Man movie. I don’t ask for much, huh?
* NOTE: Spoilers Follow *
How Well Does Spider-Man: Far From Home Follow Avengers: Endgame?
First things first, Spider-Man: Far From Home is an extremely enjoyable Spider-Man movie, full of the wit, charm, and spectacular action that made Spider-Man: Homecoming one of my ten favorite entries in the MCU power rankings (updated rankings below!). There’s really no question in my mind whether this is a worthwhile film, or whether the MCU continues its unprecedented reign of excellence.
Tom Holland is easily my favorite Peter Parker, Jake Gyllenhall transforms Quentin Beck into the *best* Spider-Man villain in the MCU, and Zendaya is so unquestionably the best Mary Jane in cinematic history it’s offensive for anyone to even suggest otherwise. Everything about this Spider-Man universe makes me want it to continue for as long as humanly possible. With that said, let’s explore how “Far From Home” works as the follow-up to Endgame.
1) 5 Years Later Acknowledgement
There were two potential on-ramps for “Far From Home’s” first Endgame connections, and the high school powerpoint recap was definitely the right call. Rather than wallow in the emotion of Endgame’s finale, “Far From Home” recapped the events in the tried and true Marvel Studios method of the comedic undercut.
There’s still a part of me that wants to see “The Blip” explored more thoroughly (the world seemed borderline apocalyptic!) but that was never going to be “Far From Home’s” lane. Instead we get the minimum requirements necessary to move on, with the likes of Aunt May hosting a benefit for those who blipped and suddenly found their lives uprooted, or Martin Starr’s wife “pretending” to blip in order to run away with a new man.
There’s definitely a part of me that feels like the world seemed a little too well recovered too quickly, allowing Peter’s Europe vacation to carry on like very little had changed. The further we get from Endgame with the world overly “business as usual” is going to feel like a missed follow-up. All in all, I’d say “Far From Home” does just enough here to keep the chains moving, without really excelling.
2) Glimpse of the Future
Intriguingly, Spider-Man: Far From Home simultaneously appeared to address the dilemma of a post-Endgame Avengers, while never actually intending to answer the question. While I would have been curious to see some new look Avengers, or at least a sense of who’s on call (Thor, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel were all firmly *out*, at least for the moment), “Far From Home” benefits from the feeling that nobody else is coming to save the day.
The result is a stakes-raising sense of isolation, but no real clues to the direction of the MCU at large. The biggest picture clues actually come from the final post-credits tease, with the *real* Nick Fury (and yes, I love that it wasn’t actually Nick getting played by Quentin Beck) on a Skrull-y space station. I like to think Nick would come back from Endgame thinking he needs to point his eye on the cosmos at large, or get blindsided again.
Has a post-credits sequence ever done more to elevate a film’s standing than Spider-Man: Far From Home? The mid-credits scene is a direct continuation of Peter and MJ’s first websling, and transforms a romantic ending into a completely new world for Spider-Man. In the words of Anchorman, “that escalated quickly!”
I was *expecting* either the reveal that Mysterio wasn’t actually dead (never believe *anything* you see with Mysterio!), or the reveal that despite his BS, the multiverse was actually real (more on this in a moment). Instead, “Far From Home” catapulted Mysterio’s lasting impact (he cements Spider-Man as a murderer *and* reveals his identity to the world), and dropped the return of the one and only J. Jonah Jameson, JK Simmons!!! Mysterio himself wasn’t a surprise for me, but I still hadn’t anticipated his exact game, his connections to Tony Stark, or even that the entire multiverse story would be a lie.
The real twist came in the mid-credits though, and for my money, it’s a 5 star twist. Complete and absolute win on this front, changing the landscape of everything Spider-Man related from here on out. And that’s all before we even talk about Skrulls!
Where Does Spider-Man Far From Home Rank in the MCU Power Rankings
Whereas Marvel’s other 2019 entries led to some serious hand-wringing (I ultimately placed Avengers: Endgame #2 all time, and Captain Marvel among the “Good” third tier), Spider-Man: Far From Home actually feels pretty easy to place.
The Spidey sequel’s ceiling is Thor: Ragnarok (Far From Home simply isn’t as funny, nor is it a serious contender for a Tier 1 “Best” movie), and the floor is Captain Marvel. I can make a case for Far From Home rivaling Netflix Daredevil (all three seasons), Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Iron Man (the OG). Ultimately, though, the real challenging question remains: is “Far From Home” better than “Homecoming.”
My gut post-viewing reaction is a pretty easy “yes,” but two things keep me from settling on the ranking that easily 1) How much is recency bias factoring into my ranking and 2) “Homecoming” is surprisingly divisive among Spider-fans, which kind of makes me want to stick to my guns and defend the movie wherever possible. “Homecoming” also benefits in my estimation for seamlessly weaving Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe after around eight years of assumptions that he simply couldn’t join.
Ultimately, though, I simply prefer the villain (good as Keaton’s Vulture is, Mysterio is among my MCU favorites), visual effects, and stakes of “Far From Home.” They’re very comparable movies in many regards, but “Far From Home” feels like the better re-watch to me.
Tier 1: The Best
1) Avengers: Infinity War
2) Avengers: Endgame
3) Jessica Jones (Season 1)
5) Guardians of the Galaxy
6) Thor: Ragnarok
Tier 2: Great
7) Captain America 3: Civil War
8) Black Panther
9) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
10) Daredevil (Seasons 1,2,3)
11) Spider-Man: Far From Home
12) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Tier 3: Good
13) Iron Man
14) Captain Marvel
15) Captain America: The First Avenger
Tier 4: Perfectly Average
16) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
17) Iron Man 3
18) The Punisher (S1, S2)
19) Ant-Man & The Wasp
20) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
Tier 5: Mixed Feelings
22) Runaways (Season 1)
23) Doctor Strange
24) Luke Cage (Seasons 1 & 2)
25) Thor 2: The Dark World
26) Cloak & Dagger (Season 1)
Tier 6: I’ll Only Watch With a Comic In Hand
29) Agents of SHIELD (Seasons 1 through 4)
30) Agent Carter (Seasons 1 & 2)
31) Iron Fist Season Two
32) Incredible Hulk
Tier 7: Nope
33) Iron Man 2
34) Jessica Jones (Season Two)
35) Missing a stair
36) Iron Fist Season 1
37) Cat sick in your bed
10 More Thoughts on Spider-Man: Far From Home
1) My “Far From Home” Dreams
Before viewing, I made a list of Spider-Man Far From Home hopes and dreams. Here’s my list, and how the film stacked up!
+ Get WEIRD with that multiverse. I want Spider-Man and Mysterio to actually travel to alternate realities, instead of just “elemental monsters” coming to them. As unlikely as it is, too, a “dark” Tony Stark would blow people’s damn heads off (I have a supply of fishbowls readily available).
What happened: Definitely not this! The multiverse was entirely a ruse, and alternate realities are still an apparent pipe dream in the MCU.
+ Ned as an agent of SHIELD.
What happened: Ned got married, and was too distracted with Betty Brandt to really be of much help to Peter. I can still totally see Ned running comms next to a baffled Maria Hill, but no dice.
+ Quentin Beck’s world threatened by the Beyonder, and he’s just trying to save his own butt.
What happened: I flippin’ love Secret Wars.
+ At least one alternate reality hero busting through the multiverse and into the MCU for good.
What happened: Again, no multiverse. I really bought into that idea, huh?
+ No other spider-people. Let Sony’s animated “Into the Spider-Verse” own the corner. It’s fine.
What happened: Well, technically this one hit! It’s not super relevant given the direction of “Far From Home,” but anything resembling a “Spider-Verse” will be a really tough story to pull off in the MCU without looking like the imitators.
While I tend to find it strange when fans are beholden to the plot promises of trailers, I actually found myself baited hook, line, and sinker into Mysterio’s claims of a Marvel multiverse. I was too excited for this array of alternate realities to make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to even think straight.
So yes, I’ll admit to some disappointment that the multiverse played zero role in “Far From Home,” and worse, doesn’t appear any more likely to happen in future films. This still feels like the clearest path to new franchise introductions (here’s looking at you, Fantastic Four), but it’s just foolishness to question the MCU brain trust at this point.
3) Sinister Six
I don’t know that the film needed it, but the complete absence of Michael Keaton’s Vulture and the would-be Scorpion was mildly surprising after “Homecoming’s” tease that they’d remain relevant. Vulture was also keeping Spidey’s identity in his back pocket, which sure seemed like an important detail, until it was, you know, broadcast to the world.
This could be the Spider-Man PS4 talking, but it’s starting to feel like MCU Spider-Man is pretty well positioned for a Norman Osborn or Otto Octavius to corral the budding rogues gallery into a Sinister Six showcase.
4) What is Dead May Never Die
Marvel’s actually been appreciatively careful about bringing characters back from the dead, but Mysterio would be a great first trial run. The illusion of his death is built into the character concept (whereas, say, Crossbones return would feel like diminishing the permanence of death).
Likewise, Gyllenhall’s Mysterio as Avenging mentor was such a convincing performance that I’m actually rooting for the return of the version of his character who’s like “No, I’m actually Mysterio from Earth 833.” This will, of course, be a lie, but still!
5) There Is No Mandarin Award – 2019
The “There is no Mandarin Award” for villain most thoroughly wasted in service of the plot could well go to Mysterio! If he’s actually dead (he’s not), that would be an enormous waste of a great Spider-Man villain.
That said, even if Mysterio is dead for realsies, he still can’t touch the astonishing repeated wastefulness of Ronan the Accuser (our frontrunner from Captain Marvel, and still champion). If that was Mysterio’s one shot at glory, he maxed out pretty effectively. Meanwhile, Ronan’s the only repeat winner of the coveted CBH “There is No Mandarin” award, a feat the entire Kree empire should be proud of.
Our past winners:
2013: The (Not) Mandarin
2014: Ronan the Accuser
2015: Baron Von Strucker
2018: The Black Order
2019: Ronan the Accuser
6) Spider-Man YOLO More
On one hand, I get high school Peter Parker wanting to live a somewhat normal life. That said, it felt like Peter goes “Spider-Man No More” way too easily! Honestly the concept of Peter Parker taking a summer vacation with no plans to Spider-Man is quite at odds with the guilt typically motivating the character. It’s believable, but it felt odd to me.
I was briefly irritated that he seemed to be turning his back on responsibility, but of course every time he does this, he gets pulled back in and can’t help but, well, help people. I’ve never once taken issue with the franchise’s shorthand for Uncle Ben, but this felt like a moment where a clearer Uncle Ben presence would have made not packing a Spidey suit a much more fraught decision.
7) The Gift
Tony’s gift to Peter is… genuinely strange. The capability to order a drone strike is played for laughs but … wtf Tony?
I’ll be honest, I find the entire Stark Enterprises / Peter Parker relationship pretty confusing. If Tony had indeed made up his mind that Peter was the future, why not formalize this with actual access to Stark industries equipment or facilities? Especially given his ongoing ties to Happy, how much access does Spider-Man actually have?
It’s also worth calling out that Tony Stark – noted *former* weapons developr – has satellites all over the globe capable of devastation on near unimaginable scales. He died the hero, but the ethical implications of Tony’s continued defense efforts look *weird* in high school Spidey’s hands.
I’ll admit this is all digging into a plot device mostly played for laughs, but I found it troubling. Cool glasses, though.
8) You Can’t Fight Love
16 year old Ned basically getting married on the flight to Europe was a damn delight. Welcome to the MCU Betty Brandt!
9) Missing: Black Panther
I don’t get why Spider-Man would ask what Avengers are available and stop after Doctor Strange, Thor, and Captain Marvel. Sure, Iron Man and Cap are off the board, but you’re telling me SHIELD isn’t in contact with Hulk, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, Ant-Man, Wasp, or the nation of Wakanda? I get the future of the Avengers is uncertain, and “Far From Home” is taking a shortcut to keep this Spider-Man movie focused, but that seems like plenty of allies to consider.
My hope is T’Challa and Wakanda are responsible for getting the next wave of Avengers up and running.
10) The Unbeatable Hydro Man
Finally, Peter better hope he never faces the one true Hydro Man, given his approach to fighting the water elemental was shoot two webs, get soaked, and run around barely keeping buildings from collapsing. I don’t want to say Spider-Man was useless, but not exactly using any of that Parker brain in the first skirmish.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is uniquely situated to carry the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a post Endgame future (no easy feat), and based on early indicators, both Mysterio and concepts of the Marvel multiverse will be major factors.
Best Comics To Read With Spider-Man: Far From Home! - YouTube
I’ve put together a list of the comics I’ll be most curious to read or re-read prior to Far From Home. As you’d expect, there’s a healthy mix of Mysterio’s greatest hits, but I also want to consider the fact that this is a “Spider-Man and the multiverse” story, which is inherently less common.
Mysterio debuts in Amazing Spider-Man #13, and he’s a member of the original Sinister Six in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, but my personal favorite Silver Age Mysterio comic (and simply one of my favorites) comes from 1968 by Stan Lee and John Romita Jr. In these two issues, Mysterio strikes back at Spider-Man by 1) building a tabletop amusement park (great start) 2) plotting to convince Spider-Man he’s 6 inches tall and drive him insane 3) Celebrate!
There are better Spider-Man vs. Mysterio comics, but there aren’t a lot that feature Mysterio going quite so extra (ok, who am I kidding, that’s Quentin Beck’s whole mood). Mysterio stages an entire alien invasion – complete with The Tinkerer’s alien pals from Amazing Spider-Man #2! – and is ultimately undone when Peter Parker (finally) uses Mysterio’s own illusions against him!
Any Spider-Man comic with Marcos Martin interiors is special, and this Mysterio showcase written by Dan Slott is no exception. The three issue Mysterio feature comes smack in the middle of “The Gauntlet,” in which Spider-Man has previously faced off against Electro and Rhino and is soon to face the Lizard in “Shed.”
In addition to an imaginative expansion of Mysterio’s typical illusions, “Mysterious” falls smack in the middle of narratives surrounding Mister Negative, the Maggia, and F.E.A.S.T. In other words, it’s insanely tied to PS4 Spider-Man and easily the best recommended read for fans of the video game!
It is to Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s undying credit that the event bringing Peter Parker of Amazing Spider-Man and Miles Morales of Ultimate Spider-Man – one of the highlights of the entire Marvel Ultimate Universe – is the byproduct of weird old Mysterio’s multiversal machinations. Spider-Men doesn’t really solidify Mysterio’s prospects as a villain to be taken seriously, but it does tease those aspirations.
Of course, the main selling point here is Peter and Miles meeting for the first time, and while it’s not quite as user-friendly as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s very close.
If the multiverse is, in fact, at the heart of Far From Home, then the suite that inspired Into the Spider-Verse is a great Spider-centric primer on alternate realities and infinite Spider-people. As the name suggests, Spider-Verse is the madcap event that brings in basically every “What-If” Spider-scenario imaginable, and brings the likes of Spider-Gwen (and oh so many others) into the world of Marvel Comics.
I don’t necessarily expect Far From Home to leverage this event as on the nose as “Into the Spider-Verse” (hard to imagine how that wouldn’t feel like duplicated efforts), but its spirit is deeply integrated into the Spider-Man mythos for the decade.
At this point, the Marvel comics work of Jonathan Hickman feels like a stock inclusion on any MCU-related reading (not to mention any best-of list worth its salt). The concept of Marvel’s Multiverse is at its absolute best throughout the Jonathan Hickman written sequence of comics connected in the pages of Avengers.
I’ve read seven issues of the newly relaunched Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man by Tom Taylor and Juann Cabal, and not a one has featured Mysterio. No matter, this is still my pick for a modern ongoing that gets to the root of what makes Spider-Man such a beloved and enduring character.
If nothing else, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 (aka the debut of Spider-Bite) is one of the best comics of the year, superhero or otherwise. Spider-Man is ever present, and ironically placing him pretty squarely in the “neighborhood” is the opposite of “Europe vacation,” but Taylor and Cabal are locked into why Peter Parker is special, and that’s always worth a reminder.