We at io9 tend to cover a lot of comic book news, but there are a lot of smaller titles that, while not making headline news, are absolutely worth checking out (and then telling all your friends about how awesome they are). Here are just some of the criminally underappreciated series out right now that you should be reading.
Ms. Marvel may still be the Queen of Marvel’s all-ages output (for very good reason), but for me, Patsy could give it a run for its adorable lunch money. Following the trials and tribulations of Patsy Walker as she tries to balance superheroics with a regular life of work, renting a flat with her new best friend Ian, it’s a slice-of-life comic set in the quirkiest boroughs of Marvel’s New York that rarely takes itself seriously.
It’s arguably not even that much about superheroes, despite being jam-packed with a whole host of them, but the earnest sense of fun and boundless optimism Kate Leth instils Patsy with is completely charming to read, and Brittney L. Williams and Megan Wilson’s art is candy-coated joy on every page. It’s refreshing and fun and incredibly cute, making it a nice palette cleanser in the current world of superhero comics.
DC has had a shaky track record with trying to integrate characters from the Wildstorm comics imprint into their own universe, and this is probably their best attempt at it yet. Written by Steve Orlando and with art by ACO, Midnighter follows the crazy life of Lucas Trent—best known as Midnighter, who uses his powers of precognition to know his opponents moves before they even happen in a fight. These leads to some of the best-choreographed fight panels in a comic today, and in general Midnighter packs a ton of humor and action in every issue.
But its greatest strength is its handling of Midnighter as a gay male hero, giving a frank and refreshing look at his private life in the wake of a breakup with his long term partner, another Wildstorm hero called Apollo. Orlando never makes it Midnighter’s defining trait, but its hugely important to the character, and one of the most interesting examples of an gay lead in a mainstream comic right now.
I’ve been a big fan of Harbinger since Valiant’s 2012 reboot—and one of its bubbliest characters, Faith (a.k.a. Zephyr), got her own spotlight series this year from Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage that has been a joy to read. Faith’s powers are relatively simple: she’s telekinetic and mostly uses that ability to allow herself to fly. But Faith takes that simplicity to its heart, and uses it to tell a story about the simple delight of superheroism, and about fantasy and reality—Faith is a card-carrying nerd who often daydreams about her escapades while working as a blogger, in gorgeous panels drawn by guest artist Sauvage—in some really satisfying and heartwarming ways. The actual bits where Faith is going about on her superheroic adventures are pretty good, too!
The bad news is that Faith as a miniseries is nearly at its end, with one more issue out next week. But it is returning as an ongoing series later in July, so thankfully there’s a lot more to come.
Here in the UK the old Archie comics weren’t that common, so I didn’t quite have the context for Archie Comics’ big revival last year under the auspices of Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz, and Jen Vaughn (and now with new artist Veronica Fish). But even then, I’ve been hooked on the smart, funny hijinks of Archie and his friends in Riverdale.
Like Patsy on this list, the appeal is the slice-of-life character drama, which Archie delivers in spades as one of the most iconic redheads in comics tries to navigate high school and romance—but it’s a a slick-looking, snappily written series that oozes a sense of modern style that makes it as fun to look at as it is to read.
The main Wonder Woman series at DC has been rough for a while now—in fact, I ended up dropping the series late last year, tired of Diana feeling like she was being left out and going through the motions while her male counterparts went through huge, interesting shakeups. But then along came Legend of Wonder Woman, a digital-first series by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon, and it gave me exactly the sort of Wonder Woman tale I wanted. Yes, it’s another origin story, but for a character who’s had some really bizarre and problematic origin tales over the years, Legend does a fabulous job of honoring the most traditional aspects of Diana’s history will keeping things simple for new readers. The more focused aspect of the character has also lead to spending a lot more time with Wonder Woman at her earliest stages of her superheroic career, giving her a real emotional arc and development as she goes from child to hero.
ODY-C is a bit weird for an ongoing comic—and it is ongoing, but it comes in fits and starts, sometimes a run of monthly issues, sometimes you’re waiting two-to-three months for the nextBut the downtime is totally worth it as you try to break down everything that happens in Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s trippy, mindbending alternative take on Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey.
With Odysseus now a female hero, Odyssia, the journey home of the iconic poem becomes a fantastical, gorgeous trip through space, gods and monsters rendered as weird scifi monoliths that wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of a Jack Kirby sketchbook (with Ward’s psychadelic colors to match). It’s a bold take on a literary classic that is downright gorgeous to look at.
Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls is almost indescribable at times. Following a young group of friends delivering papers by day and encountering bizarre otherworldly creatures and events at night in a Cleveland suburb, it’s a sharp mix of the normality of teen life and bizarre scifi that takes a twist the moment it gets going and never stops surprising you.
Cliff Chiang’s art is, as usual for him, sublime, but special attention has to be paid to Matt Wilson’s remarkable color work on the series—Paper Girls thrives in cool colours that layers in vivid shocks of purple or or yellow that screams the ‘80s style of the book’s setting while never overbearing the general tone of the comic. It’s a book that matches its great storytelling with an equally bold visual style.
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s dark steampunk fantasy saga stands out in a sea of superheroes and scifi as one of the best ongoing fantasy comics right now. Its protagonist, Maika, is trapped at the centre of a magical conflict between the human race and supernatural creatures, finding herself inextricably linked to a powerful creature inside her—but it’s also a gorgeous, heartbreaking examination of slavery and power that just happens to take place in a world of magic and monsters. Also, as Evan Narcisse over at our sister site Kotaku recently championed, it stars quite possibly the most badass cat in comic books.
Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s scifi series was pretty much instantly licensed for a movie the moment it came out—and it’s easy to see why. Set in a future where robots have been outlawed in the wake of a bloody human/robot war, Descender follows Tim-21, a young robot originally designed to provide company for children on the run in a world that hates him simply for what he is. It’s classic scifi man vs machine stuff, But Lemire shapes a damn good adventure yarn out of it all. Emboldened by Dustin Nguyen’s incredible painterly artwork Descender is a beautiful, frequently heartbreaking series to watch unfold.
Okay I lied, I write about this one a lot. A lot. But there’s a reason: The Vision is without a shadow of a doubt my favorite ongoing comic right now. It’s totally out there from what I would normally read, or even expect from a Marvel book, but Tom King’s intense, contemplative, and regularly haunting yarn about the Avenging Android Vision building his own robot family—and how quickly those things go wrong—took a vigorous hold from its very first page and has yet to let me go.
Pair it with artwork from Gabriel Hernandez Walta that is as beautiful as it is disconcerting at times, and Jordie Bellaire’s gorgeous use of color—a blend of vivid splashes of intense hues in shocking moments with a muted, earthy tone that looks like nothing else Marvel put out at the moment—and you have a series like no other. I recommend it to anyone and everyone when I get the chance, so here’s another one: read this comic.
There’s obviously a ton more comics out there (even in my dangerously expanding digital library) than these. Got any current series you’re reading and don’t think they get enough love? Put them in the comments! We could all do with some reading recommendations every once in a while.