The idea of identity is one of the more prominent themes that seems to be recurring throughout Shanghai Red, and it’s one that I didn’t expect to be so invested in.

I’ve been reading a lot of Jeff Lemire’s books recently. He’s an exceptional writer. Not every choice he makes as a creator lands with me on a personal level, but Black Hammer is one of the things that does. Maybe because it’s about fitting in - finding a group of people, or a person, that you can be comfortable with. That loves you. But doesn’t the X-Men do that? For me, The X-Men is about not being hated for who you are. I never get the sense that any of the X-Men are lonely, because they have each other to depend on (and they’re always dating each other). In Black Hammer, our heroes each need something on a personal level; they each need to be loved for who they are.

Dark Horse has released a brand new series titled Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men. As somewhat of a Lovecraft fan, I read the word “Eldritch” and yelled “yippee!” Are you meaning to tell me there's a chance that this series will feature themes and concepts inspired by the works H.P. Lovecraft? Well, after reading the very first issue, I can confidently report that the answer is...maybe?

The world of the Avatars is one of the fullest and most vibrant worlds created in the last 20 years. Aang’s journey in the three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender started out as a show for children and became one of the best television shows of all time (in my humble opinion). The Legend of Korra received a lot of flak for its portrayal of an emotionally difficult Avatar in Korra. That’s specifically why I loved it and her. Unlike The Last Airbender, it didn’t have the traditional three-act structure. Instead, over four seasons, you saw Korra grow into the Avatar we all knew she could be. In this final issue of the first Korra series in comic form, we see Korra take another huge leap forward, and it’s magnificent.

How to Train Your Dragon has been one of my favorite animated film series of the last few decades. It struck me immediately on a lot of different levels. It didn’t hurt that Toothless, the star dragon of the series, looked exactly like my cat. In fact, that was the point: The creators and animators wanted the dragon to resemble and act like pets that we recognize. The themes of not letting your fear guide how you view the world and learning to work together were handled in such an effective way. Seeing Hiccup (the hero of the story) basically become one with Toothless by the end was emotionally satisfying in a way few other stories have affected me. The flying scenes brought tears to my eyes.

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
-- William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Cullen Bunn is one of the most prominent horror writers in comic books right now. From his recently finished, Eisner-nominated hit, Harrow County, to his genre-bending offerings like The Damned and The Sixth Gun, his works are character-driven, world-building yarns that explore some pretty big themes. Cold Spots starts off on a smaller scale, staying fairly intimate and personal, as a private detective of sorts, Mr. Kerr - in true film noir fashion - is called back by presumably an old employer, Mr. Warren, to come to his large, cold mansion. Mr. Warren would like Mr. Kerr to find his grownup daughter, Alyssa, and the granddaughter, Grace, that he was given custody over. Usually, we become a little better acquainted with the main character early on in Bunn’s worlds, but, instead, a lot is left unsaid. This approach fits soundly into the film noir, mystery approach. My guess is that all of those elements will come to light when they need to and when they will be most dramatically effective. We’ve all had bad bosses, but the weight Kerr feels as he re-enters this world is pretty noticeable. Mr. Kerr comes across some information, perhaps a little too easily, and he’s led down a path that introduces a strange, supernatural element.

Adventure awaits within the pages of Ether. Boone Dias travels the alternate universe created from the runoff of all of the stories we tell. At his side is Violet Bell (a faerie warrior), Big Glum (the protector of the entrance to the Ether), and Grandor (a minotaur who Dias and company sprung from jail). They are on a mission to stop dangerous copper golems from entering the real world and creating chaos and destruction.

Coda takes place in the dredges of a post-high-fantasy world as everyone fights for what little of civilization remains. Some people are trying to rebuild society, some people have become marauders or rebels, and some people have become like the hero of this book. Hum could be one of the most intriguing anti-heroes that I’ve seen in some time. He keeps making decisions that surprise even me and yet feel completely in line with who he has become and what his ultimate goal is, which after the first three issues has been turned completely on its head in this fourth completely on-point issue.

When dealing with the esoteric and the surreal as part of a story, there are a lot of ways to go. I should say, I feel like there are a lot of bad, easy ways to go. Like, “Let’s throw everything into the pot, and the story not making sense will be weird!” There are fewer ways that actually work, but when they do, it can jostle your sense of reality. The creative team of Gideon Falls, a story about a place called the Black Barn that rests half in an alternate reality and half in the unconscious mind, and how it affects a certain group of people like a star slowly sucking everything circling it into its field of gravity, treads a fine line.

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