There are a lot of comic books published every month. Like, at least four of them. And for someone who has been reading comics since childhood, there are times where the sheer volume of books being published can get overwhelming, even if you don’t read X-Men titles. The two biggest publishers, Marvel and DC, each have an intricate universe that carries on a complex interwoven meta-narrative that has run continuously, in one form or another, for decades, somehow subsisting even before variant covers were invented. And if you’re the sort of person who has things like a job or a family, or who enjoys eating food, there simply isn’t enough time to read everything that’s being published.
Fortunately, both Marvel and DC have in recent years launched online subscription services, where you can read a substantial portion of their respective libraries, with more books added each week. I’m a comic book collector, I can’t imagine a future where I didn’t want to get printed comics, but I consider myself a reader even more than a collector. And there’s a definite comfort to knowing that I don’t have to get all 1,124 books published a month (that’s 10,419 covers) in case there’s something I might want to read later. For books that I’m not enthusiastic about, things that I would be reading just to fill in a gap, it’s great to know that I can always go to the app a few months after release and it’ll be waiting there.
The best part about this system, though, is that when you go back and look at the stuff you missed, sometimes you find a gem that you may not have otherwise read at all. Since I’ve started reading these comics digitally, I’ve stumbled on several titles that I passed on in print, but really came to enjoy after the fact. So this week, for your edification, I’m going to share four comic series from the last few years that I didn’t read when they came out, but I’m sorry I slept on now.
Duo (DC/Milestone Comics)
Milestone Media, which has published through DC on and off for 30 years now, came back in 2021 in a big way, and while a lot of attention was given to the return of characters like Static, Icon, and Hardware, less attention was given to some of the new properties released in that universe. Duo, from writer Greg Pak and artists Khoi Pham and Scott Williams, focuses on David Kim and Kelly Sandborne, an engaged couple whose research in nanotechnology is on the verge of a breakthrough. With the right funding, David and Kelly believe they could revolutionize medicine: healing injuries, combating disease, even reversing the aging process itself. When they approach an investor to take their work to the next level, instead they find themselves under attack. Kelly is thought to be killed, but David soon discovers that she’s been saved by the nanobots the only way they could: transplanting her consciousness into his own mind. Now, sharing one body and immense power, David and Kelly have to stop her killers and find a way to separate.
Duo is a really great book. It takes elements from one of the old-school Milestone comics, Xombi, but also incorporates concepts and themes that feel more like the Starhawk/Aleta body-sharing dynamic from the old Guardians of the Galaxy or Valiant’s original Second Life of Doctor Mirage, about a married couple in which the husband was a literal ghost. The character beats between the two of them are great, with some surprisingly funny moments even turning up at Kelly’s memorial service, and the book deftly deals with the troubles of having the person you love literally living inside your mind. We don’t get a real grasp of what the villains are up to until the third issue, but the character building and questions raised by the story are more than compelling enough to pull us in even before that point. Modern Milestone is doing a lot of interesting stuff, but I’m surprised to discover that this book is my favorite of the pack.
Aquaman and the Flash: Voidsong (DC Comics)
Ah, the miniseries. When the concept first really came to prominence in the 1980s, a comic book miniseries felt like an event, like something special. Now it almost feels inconsequential, with “ongoing” titles being relaunched every twelve minutes and proper miniseries feeling somewhat inconsequential. The idea of a miniseries starring the Flash and Aquaman facing an alien invasion felt like the sort of book that would never be referenced again, never have a serious impact on that “meta-narrative” I mentioned before, and therefore would be easy to skip. And I was wrong to feel that way.
The above description of the series, written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and with art by Vasco Georgiev, is technically correct, but despite what Futurama would have us believe, that’s not always the best kind of correct. As the story goes, an invasion fleet immobilizes the entire planet with a sort of harmonic weapon (the titular “Voidsong”) that affects everyone except for the Flash and Aquaman – who were both insulated from the sound for Comic Book Reasons – leaving those two heroes as the only ones who can save the world. The great thing about this is that Aquaman and the Flash are not a traditional team-up pair. Sure, they’ve both been members of the Justice League since the very beginning, but when time comes for the heroes to pair off you’re more likely to see the Flash pal around with Green Lantern, while Aquaman hangs out with Wonder Woman or the Martian Manhunter. You almost never see these two, specifically, in a story together, and the story neatly moves from an early personality clash to a more respectful relationship in a very entertaining fashion. If you skipped this book because it wouldn’t “count,” I hear ya, but I’m telling you that we all missed out.
Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky (Marvel Comics)
Among Stan Lee’s Silver Age creations for Marvel Comics, Daredevil is probably the one I’ve read the least. It’s not that I dislike the character, but an awful lot of writers over the years have taken the approach that Daredevil is the hero that absolutely can never be allowed a single moment of joy. A lot of the modern runs on his book have had him suffer one tragedy after another without ever even a hope of peace or happiness. Years ago, when I was sent Marvel comics to review for the late, lamented Comixtreme website, I reached a point where I started to dread any new issue of Daredevil not because the book wasn’t good, but because I knew it would be so bleak I would need a shower afterwards.
Fortunately, Marvel seems to have decided that Spider-Man is now the character that will never be allowed anything resembling happiness, cheer, or entertainment, so Daredevil has lightened up a little bit. Chip Zdarsky, who is one of the more interesting writers working in mainstream comics today (under duress, it sometimes seems), took over the series in 2018. His version, admittedly, isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs: early in the series, Daredevil accidentally kills a young man in the commission of a crime and eventually turns himself in to the police, getting sent to jail still wearing his mask. It’s a ridiculous concept, the masked hero in maximum security with a bunch of criminals, but once you accept the sheer lunacy behind it the story is fascinating. Zdarsky’s interpretation of Daredevil feels very in-character but, despite the dark inciting incident, manages to avoid the utter hopelessness so many writers have brought to the title.
Zdarsky’s run on the book went for 36 issues before it was restarted with a new #1 because it was a Wednesday. The current volume is on issue 11 and I don’t know how much longer it’s going to go, but I’m certainly along for the ride.
The Nice House on the Lake (DC/Black Label)
DC’s Black Label imprint is…well, I’ll be honest, it’s a mess. It was originally announced as a place for more “mature” versions of traditional DC heroes (“mature” here is being used in its traditional Latin definition, “more likely to drop an F-bomb”). The stories were also said to be out of continuity, except for the ones that aren’t. And sometimes they’re oversized and sometimes they’re not, sometimes they have characters formerly published by Vertigo and sometimes they have characters related to Batman. That’s about 90 percent of the time, actually. But sometimes they have absolutely nothing to do with established DC characters whatsoever. If you asked me to define what exactly the Black Label comics are supposed to be, the only consistent answer I could give you would be “something I would not give my eight-year-old nephew.”
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what Black Label is, James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake is the gem in the crown. In this sci-fi/horror series (which I should stress has absolutely nothing to do with the DC Universe), ten people are invited for a week-long vacation by their mutual friend Walter at a…well, at a nice house on a lake. The cast is a very eclectic mix of people from Walter’s life – friends from high school, friends from college, friends from later. Some of the characters have a history with each other, others are nearly strangers, with Walter being the only link between them all. Before they can even settle into their vacation getaway, though–
Ah hell, I don’t want to tell you anything else, because this is a book built on mystery and surprise. There’s so much going on here, and almost all of it is built on character, which is fantastic. It’s a wild comic that takes a horrific turn at the end of the first issue, at which point it becomes virtually impossible to predict where things are going from one minute to the next. The book ends with a sequel hook, and I desperately hope that DC (or Black Label or whatever) is already well into working on the next volume, because while this series does come to a relatively definitive conclusion, there’s plenty more to explore and I can’t wait to do it. I won’t be sleeping on the sequel.
Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. There are, of course, other books he slept on besides these. For example, if you didn’t read Justice League Vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes, you can consider yourself one of the lucky ones.