The 10 Best Comics of June 2011

Welcome back to your monthly dose of amazing, MTV Geeks! We’ve been scouring the racks for some great comics this month, and though we got a little delayed getting this out, what with celebrating the country and all, here’s your look at what was the best of the best. And remember: this is for individual issues, not arcs, or series; so newbies, feel free to jump right in, and read ‘em up:

10. The Goon #34

I’ll admit it: I’m a comedy snob. Whether you think anything I’ve ever written on this site is funny or not, I’ve been working in the field since college, and its gotten to the point where very few things actually make me laugh out loud. Not because I’m dead inside – though I am. It’s because after a while, you get the structure of jokes, and appreciate them rather than find them funny. So when you find something that DOES make you laugh out loud, it’s a precious, precious thing. This issue of the Goon made me giggle like a pre-teen school girl. Which is pretty appropriate, actually, as writer/artist Eric Powell takes on the tween pop phenomenon, making, dark, hilarious observations mixed with the usual grotesquerie of The Goon and company. The Twilight spoof at the beginning – and its forced brevity – are particularly amazing, as its well trod territory that Powell finds a new path through. Pitch black humor doesn’t get better than The Goon, and Powell nails it in this issue.

9. Invincible Iron Man #505

Say what you want about Marvel’s Fear Itself event, but the main title – and the spin-offs – have been doing an excellent job of conveying the world crushing weight of what’s going on. Writer Matt Fraction and Artist Salvador Larocca do a fantastic job in this issue of creating a mood of absolute terror, as an amped up Grey Gargoyle turns all of Paris into stone… And Iron Man realizes that the more he tries to fight, the more people he’s killing by getting bashed through their statue forms. To take the destruction of a superhero fight and find a way to make it scary after so many, many times the world has been destroyed is one thing. But to find a way to make the myth of Medusa (in modified form) as pulse-poundingly relevant and bloodcurdling as it is here is another thing… And then there’s the last panel, that, with a simple wordless touch, gets across just how bad things have gotten with nary a superhero looking up at the sky telling us, “This is it!” in sight.

8. Rocketeer Adventures #2

We were huge fans of this series of short stories featuring Dave Stevens retro-pulp creation The Rocketeer from last issue. This months just seals the deal. If a tightly written and drawn story by Mark Waid and Chris Weston, respectively, wasn’t enough, there’s a gorgoues two page pinup by Geof Darrow, a fun story by Lowell Francis and Gene Ha (the team on DC’s Project Superman) mixing baseball with superheroics, oh, and a brand new Darwyn Cooke story. That’s right: Darwyn Cooke, working in the retro era he works in best. I really can’t say enough about how tremendous and fun this book is. If you’re a fan of comics that are good, then you have to pick up Rocketeer Adventures… Because its great. And that’s better than good.

7. X-Men Legacy #250

This anniversary issue of Mike Carey’s “side” series to the X-Universe is brimming with more ideas than a dozen other comic books. From a brand new use of Professor X’s son Legion’s powers, to a story told backwards, before rocketing back to the start (end?), this is as smart, and experimental as anything in superhero comics. More than that, Carey infuses each character with their own thoughts perspectives, and feelings that go beyond, “Let’s punch that guy, but a lot this time.” Everything, from the conflicts, to the powers, to the choices are motivated by character, the way it should be. Seems like faint praise, I know, but the X-books right now have never been better… And this is the best of them. Plus, despite being the book that deals with the “legacy” of the X-Men, and dealing with years of continuity, every issue is instantly accessible.

6. The Sixth Gun #12

We were blown away by this book when we read it this month, not knowing anything about previous issues. Yet Cullen Bunn’s horror/fantasy/western hybrid stands out from the pack for its superb pacing, inventive ideas, and cinematic feel. Like the excellent Locke & Key, The Sixth Gun is a comic book that takes the best of cinematic language without lapsing into being a movie pitch. We can’t wait for issue 13.

5. Empowered: Ten Questions For The Maidman

Adam Warren’s complex, character driven, completely hilarious series Empowered is an underrated gem. Originally started as a way of injecting humanity into the ridiculous amount of BDSM commission requests the writer/artist would get at conventions, Empowered has grown to be one of the more complex, deeply charactered superhero universes in current comics. This one-shot may be briefer than the usual Emp story, but by focusing on a reversal of the age-old, “Why does Power Girl have a hole in her costume?” debate, it does a better job of explaining – and not explaining – than PG’s comics ever have. Plus, Warren continues to be the best plotter in the business, neatly setting up and wrapping up the story in a few short pages without a single wasted panel. If you’ve never picked up Empowered, go buy the first volume, now. NOW.

4. Mystery Men #1

I was a little leary of David Liss’ Marvel Universe retcon, as not only have there been a number of pulp throwbacks in recent years, but setting the origins of the Marvel Universe back ten years seemed like a winky prequel type disaster waiting to happen. Well, I was sure wrong about that. Not only is Liss’ script spectacularly tight, with new characters you instantly want to know more about, but – rare for new characters – they all have multiple layers. I know, right? They’re not just one thing, they’re a bunch of things! Seriously, this is way rarer in comics than you would think it would be allowed to be. Also, Liss has a secret weapon in artist Patrick Zircher, who’s style is like a mix between John Cassaday and Dennis Calero, taking the best elements of both and blending them into a seamless whole. This is a supernatural mystery that has me chomping at the bit for the next chapter (so lucky me, it already came out, and is just as good as issue one). Though they’re intrinsically different, those looking for a fix to tide them over until the next issue of The Twelve should look no further than Mystery Men.

3. Scalped #50

Jason Aaron’s Scalped is good, you guys. Well, duh, you say. His comic, which has accurately been described as, “Sopranos set on a Reservation,” has been justly critically lauded, and continued to be excellent for fifty months no – no small feat. But this anniversary issue takes things to another level, with two brilliant, beautiful linked short stories. The first, a haunting (but also kind of hilarious) story about how what goes around comes around provides layers and meaning to the series as a whole. Meanwhile, the second story touches on the “origins” of the characters we see in the series, while never feeling like a prequel, so much as an inevitability. Plus, there are gorgeous, in story pin-ups by everyone from Jill Thompson to Steve Dillon. And lastly? Even if you’ve never, ever read Scalped before, you can pick up this issue, and jump right in; while for constant readers, there are plenty of pay-offs. How many comics can say they’re as good at issue fifty as they were at issue one? Probably just Scalped.

2. Thunderbolts #159

This title is almost the opposite of our last book, as it’s an anthology deeply mired in the events of Fear Itself, with nearly no explanation. A mystic hammer has fallen on the supervillain prison The Raft, breaking it – and most of the prisoners – wide open. The Thunderbolts, and their back-ups The Underbolts, all supervillains on temporary parole themselves, are tasked with cleaning up the prison themselves, as all the authorities are incapacitated or dealing with other worldwide problems. The basic idea? How we deal in the aftermath of a disaster; and like every excellent issue of Thunderbolts (and this stands among the very best), whether, given the choice, we fall on the side of heroes or villains. There’s no easy answers here, as in each superb story, people we thought would act bad, act good, and vice versa. More than anything, it’s the consistency of tone and weight each story gets that make this issue so spectacular. Usually you get a goofy story to lighten things up in the middle, but not here. Each tale illuminates the event – and the recovery – in a different way. It may not be new reader friendly, but new readers who give it a chance will be well rewarded.

1. Batman Incorporated #7

This issue makes a pretty good case for Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham being contractually obligated to work on Batman together forever. Batman teams up with the Reservation based Batman Man-of-Bats, and his son, as they work together to take down criminal organization Leviathan. And it’s just insanely fun. I know this makes two months in a row, but I’m honestly boggled by how much fun it is to read a Grant Morrison comic so straight-forwardly exciting as this is. And in the midst of that, there’s some true social commentary, teases for the rest of the series, and quite possibly one of the best last panels in a comic, ever. That’s not even mentioning Burnham’s art, which may provide the most direct synthesis between picture and words in a Morrison comic since Frank Quitely. Sure, Burnham’s art is reminiscent of Quitely’s, but at the same time, his angles, characters, and use of the grotesque (check out the upsetting image waiting Man-of-Bats as he bursts through an unopened door towards the beginning of the issue) are uniquely his own. It’s a bummer that there are only three issues of this title left – but it’ll make the wait for next year’s Batman: Leviathan series all the sweeter.

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