Turn Back the Pages: Chew

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Chew graphic novel cover

“Kristen,” you say, “I’m tired of superheroes.”

I know, I know. You’d never really say that. Superheroes are awesome. But let’s say you wanted to try something a little different, something unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Then have I got the comic for you.

Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory is such a unique book. I’m not sure how to categorize it. Crime fiction? Science fiction? Humor? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s awesome.

The Basics

In a world where 116 million people died from bird flu (or what the government claimed was bird flu. It’s a conspiracy!), the sale and consumption of poultry is illegal, and underground restaurants that serve chicken dinners have cropped up like speakeasies.

Crazy enough for you yet? Because it gets better.

The Weird Powers

Our hero is Tony Chu, and he’s cibopathic. What’s that mean? To quote the first issue, “That means he can take a bite of an apple, and get a feeling in his head about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used on the crop, and when it was harvested. Or he could eat a hamburger, and flash onto something else entirely.” The only food he can eat without his powers acting up is canned beets, so he’s pretty much blessed with suck, as TV Tropes would say.

Tony’s also a cop, and it doesn’t take long for his abilities to be turned to crime-fighting. Since he has to taste something to get a psychic impression, this ends up with him eating some very gross stuff. Just…the grossest stuff. If you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you.

The Hard-boiled Detective Story

The character dynamics are fun. Tony has a hotheaded cyborg partner, a boss who hates him to comically extreme extents, and a perky food reporter love interest (who has neat culinary-related powers of her own). The plot has all the twists you’d expect from a book that could fit in the mystery/conspiracy genre, and there are lots of schemes Tony foils that hint at larger intrigues. The whole thing has a sort of dark, noir atmosphere yet somehow manages to support some really over-the-top humor. It’s a weird book, but weird in a good way.

If you’re interested, start with volume 1 and see where it takes you. I guarantee it’ll be to a place you don’t expect.

Have you read Chew? Have you read anything even remotely like Chew? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Turn Back the Pages: Spider-Girl

Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Spider-Girl swings forward on webbing between skyscrapers

Confession time, Internet. I’m not that big of a Spider-Man fan. I like him well enough, and I’ll be seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming on Saturday, but he doesn’t make my top 10 list of favorites superheroes—or even my top 20. That being said, I totally dig Spider-Girl.

Who’s Spider-Girl, you ask? Well, that would be May “Mayday” Parker, teenage daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. She’s from an alternate future where Peter and MJ’s first child wasn’t stillborn and that whole Spider-Man selling his marriage to the devil thing never happened (Ugh, I hate that storyline so much). And she is amazing.

The Spider-Girl series (plus The Amazing Spider-Girl and The Spectacular Spider-Girl) has a lot going for it. There’s the consistently good writing and art, for one thing. The supporting cast is a nice mix of old Spider-Man characters and new faces, and there are the great villains you’d expect from a Spider-Man rogues gallery. (Honorable crime boss and supervillain Black Tarantula is a standout—and also who I ship with Mayday. But then, I have a thing for hero/villain romances, which is probably obvious to anyone who reads my books.) But the best part of the series is Mayday herself: an incredibly likeable protagonist who, like her father, is often conflicted about being a superhero and makes great personal sacrifices to do the right thing.

If you’re a Spider-Man fan, you’ll enjoy the familiar blend of high school drama and superheroics. If Spider-Man isn’t your thing, you might like that Mayday focuses more on avoiding pointless fighting and trying to reform her foes, and that she has a support network in her family that Peter never did. The Parker family dynamic is my favorite thing about the series. I love seeing happy, supportive families in superhero fiction (or any fiction, really). Peter and Mary Jane continue to be an awesome couple, and reading about a retired Spider-Man being an overprotective dad is just plain fun.

I’m going to link to the first volume (which is super affordable at only a few bucks for a manga book-sized collection), but the nice thing about Spider-Girl is that it was a long-running series. So if you like it, there’s a ton of material to read. Plus, Spider-Girl is part of the bigger MC2 universe, so you’ll meet lots of other heroes like A-Next, the future Avengers team that came together when Loki (Who else?) attacked, and the X-People, a new version of the X-Men led by Jubilee.

If you’re looking for more web-shooting and wall-crawling after watching the movie, you could do a lot worse than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Girl.

Do you have a favorite Spider-Girl storyline? Want to share your thoughts about Spider-Man: Homecoming? Let me know in the comments.

Turn Back the Pages: Agents of Atlas

Turn Back the Pages is a new biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.

Agents of Atlas Cover

Superhero comics are like Nutella—they go with everything. You can mix superheroes with science fiction, espionage, urban fantasy, or even 70s kung fu movies, and it works. On a superhero team book, genres get thrown into a blender (Superman’s sci-fi roots plus Wonder Woman’s mythical origins, with a dash of Batman’s crime noir, for example). But few teams encapsulate that delightful hodgepodge of different elements better than Agents of Atlas.

The Agents of Atlas were the Avengers before the Avengers. Formed by the government in the late 1950s, they saved the world a few times and disbanded soon after. Now, over fifty years later, they’re pulled back together to face a shadowy new threat. The team is as follows:

  • Jimmy Woo: FBI agent and team leader. Got old, nearly died, and got young again, but lost his memories in the process. Figuring out who or what nearly killed him is the driving force of the plot.
  • Venus: Self-proclaimed goddess of love. Sweet and adorable. Often topless. Voice can mesmerize people and make them stop fighting.
  • The Uranian: Dude with a complicated backstory from the planet Uranus. Kind of mopey, but has a cool spaceship.
  • Namora: Cousin of Namor, prince of Atlantis. Swims, flies, and punches things really hard.
  • M-11, the Human Robot: Mysterious yet helpful robot. Doesn’t talk much.
  • Gorilla Man: A man who got turned into a gorilla by a curse, and as a side effect is immortal. Can shoot guns with both his hands AND feet. The best.

Agents of Atlas #1-6 tells a complete story, and considering that it’s only six issues, it’s amazing how writer Jeff Parker manages to make each character so well-rounded and pack the plot with so many twists and turns. It starts off with a flashback to the team’s golden age, goes to Jimmy on the brink of death in the present day, and then it’s off across the globe to get the team back together and track down leads.

This is a fun book. Not that there aren’t dark moments, and the characters are forced to acknowledge truths about themselves that they’d rather not face, but it’s wrapped up in action, adventure, and a twisty espionage plotline with an ending you won’t see coming. The Agents of Atlas just seem to enjoy each other’s company and saving the day, and it’s a treat for the reader to go along for the ride.

I’d recommend you buy the graphic novel, since it has cool extras in the back like character sketches, author’s notes, and reprints of the characters’ first comics from the 40s and 50s. Bonus material is important, because once you finish this story, you’ll definitely be wanting more.

Have you read Agents of Atlas? Interested in checking it out now? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Top 5 Wonder Woman Comics You Need to Read

Wonder Woman is awesome. You know it; I know it. But when it comes to looking through her seventy-plus years of comic history for a book to read, it can be hard to know where to begin. Hundreds of writers and artists have worked on her over the years. Some of their stories are excellent, but simple probability states that some are… well, some are pretty awful.

You don’t want to read the awful ones, but don’t worry. I’m here to help with a list of Wonder Woman comics that are–incoming pun–absolutely wonderful. This isn’t meant to be a universal list but just my personal favorites. If you loved the movie and are looking for more stories about Diana, Princess of Themyscira, these are great places to start.

5. Wonder Woman by George Perez

Wonder Woman Cover

Honestly, this one could make the list based on art alone. Perez’s art is stunning, even if you don’t read the words—and you should definitely read the words, because the stories are great, too. There are so many good ones, so I’ve linked to Vol. 1 for simplicity’s sake. It’s got the origin of the Amazons (or make that one of the many, many origins the comics have gone through over the years), our favorite god of war, and the supervillain Cheetah—who might be Diana’s greatest foe. Well, her or Circe. Both are great.

Perez’s run on Wonder Woman is a classic, and there’s a reason for that. Check it out on Amazon here.

 4. Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman

Sensations Comics Cover

Sensation Comics is a collection of short Wonder Woman stories by different writers and artists. There are good ones, great ones, and some that are pretty meh, but overall it’s a wonderful collection (pun intended). My favorite is Brace Yourself by Jason Bischoff in Issue #2. It’s about a young Diana’s quest to defeat her mother in combat and earn her Amazon bracelet, and it’s heart-warming and adorable. It you enjoyed little Diana on Themyscira in the first part of the movie, you’ll love this story.

There’s a huge variety of stories from silly to serious, but they all have something to offer. You can download it here.

3. Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon by Greg Rucka

Eyes of the Gorgon Cover

There’s only so much I can say about this storyline without spoilers: the richly developed supporting cast (Ferdinand is the best!), the fantastically-written Diana, the mix of myth and modern-day. But I need to spoil you to really sell it, so don’t click on if you want to be surprised. Continue reading Top 5 Wonder Woman Comics You Need to Read