The 11 graphic novels you must read this February

I’ve been saying it every month for a year now: There are way too many good graphic novels out there. Even I can't get to them all!

It can be a daunting task knowing where to start on your journey into the four-colored funny books, with new trade paperbacks (TPB) and massive archival hardcovers (HC) releasing every Wednesday, and that's not even getting into all the different types of stories out there. Lucky for you, I'm here to help.

Using my seven years of experience selling comics and graphic novels from behind the counter of one of Oregon's oldest comic shops, I've compiled a list of the upcoming month's greatest graphic releases that should be on every Syfy Wire reader's list. February features horror anthologies, small-scale science fiction, psychedelic dark fantasy, great superhero stories from right now and years past, and much more!

 

BRITANNIA TP

by Peter Milligan, Juan Jose Ryp & Jordie Bellaire. Cover art by Cary Nord. Feb. 15 from Valiant.

As far as I can tell, Valiant Entertainment doesn't publish bad comics. That said, I've found that no matter what company is publishing the comics, they're almost always better when the creators are allowed to cut loose with their own original creations. Luckily, Valiant hasn't been content with just reviving their old classics and resting on their laurels -- lately they've been giving new ideas a chance to thrive in their unique shared universe, ideas like Divinity, Savage, and Peter Milligan (Eternal Warrior: Days of Steel) and Juan Jose Ryp’s Britannia.

Meet Atonius Axia, the world's first detective, a former war hero of Nero's Rome who's been chosen by virgin priestesses to receive sacred knowledge ... and chosen by the crazed emperor to investigate strange attacks on the front in the far-off land of Britannia. The series takes a sledgehammer to the idea of genre by mixing historical fantasy, murder mystery and horror into a wildly unique tale that's at once like nothing you've read before and also right at home in the ever-growing Valiant Universe. Juan Jose Ryp's (Clone) delicate line work brings to life the ancient world and its mysteries to stunningly detailed life while Jordie Bellaire's color palettes perfectly capture both the self-indulgent glow of Rome and the dark, foreign wastes of Britannia and its monsters. An immediately accessible and boldly creative work that's perfect for anyone looking for something truly different to read this month.

 

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE HC

by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, & Ryan Hill. Cover art by Gabriel Rodriguez & Ryan Hill. Feb. 8 from IDW.

Horror legend George Romero's anthology television series ran for nearly 90 episodes starting in 1983 as it told short stories in a range of genres, and you may not know that it was nearly rebooted a few years ago. Joe Hill — son of Stephen King, whose short stories were adapted for episodes of the original series — was to be the creative director of the rebooted television series, but sadly it never made it past the pilot at The CW. Fortunately for fans, comic books are always ready to pick up the creative ball and run with it when other mediums drop it!

Joe Hill took his scripts for the first three episodes and reunited with his Locke & Key collaborator Gabriel Rodriguez to bring the Darkside to IDW for a four issue series. If you've read the utterly brilliant Locke & Key, you'll probably need no further convincing to pick up another horror series by the same team, but if you haven't, here's a rundown of the three stories ... 

We open with "The Sleepwalker," about a guilt-ridden lifeguard who causes those around him to fall asleep uncontrollably. Then, the two-part "The Black Box," in which the Briterside organization tries to cure a man's seemingly supernatural seizures. Finally, in "The Window Opens," the full power of the Darkside is unleashed. Each of the tales is distinct and satisfying while building up the overall mythos of the strange twisted mirror world. Horror enthusiasts should book a vacation to Darkside as soon as possible.

 

THE INTERVIEW HC

by Manuele Fior. Cover art by Manuele Fior. Feb. 22 from Fantagraphics. 

There are few publishers in comics as universally celebrated as Fantagraphics, so any time they release a new book, it's worth taking note. But this one not only has that going for it -- it's also the highly anticipated second English-language release from Italian artist Manuele Fior. Fior won the Grand Prize at prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival for his first graphic novel 5,000 km Per Second in 2010, which Fantagraphics brought to the US last year. And this month they're bringing Fior's critically-acclaimed intimate science-fiction tale The Interview to English-language readers.

The Interview is a small-scale near-future story about what happens to a middle-aged Italian man named Raniero when messages from an alien race begin to appear in the sky. Raniero is a psychologist, and — despite being initially skeptical — he begins to become fascinated with one of his patients who believes she can understand the messages. The icing on the cake is the beautifully expressive black and white artwork by Fior — a former architect — which appears simplistic but is intricately and compellingly designed. This is a fascinating release that anyone with an interest in European comics or science fiction shouldn't miss.

 

SNOTGIRL, VOL. 1: GREEN HAIR DON'T CARE TP

by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung & Mickey Quinn. Cover art by Leslie Hung & Mickey Quinn. Feb. 22 from Image.

After Scott Pilgrim and his wonderful graphic novel Seconds, I was definitely going to be on board for whatever Bryan Lee O'Malley did next, but I was definitely a bit skeptical that I would enjoy a series about a fashion blogger. It just seemed way outside my wheelhouse, and not exactly great comic book subject material. Thankfully, as I all-too-often am with such presumptions, I was wrong.

Snotgirl is silly, sexy, weird and wonderful in equal doses as it follows the life and emerald locks of Lottie Person — both the real Lottie and the one she shows off online. You see, while Lottie is painfully fashionable, she's also prone to rather dramatic allergies, hence the titular nickname she's given by a mysterious cool girl she meets at a swanky party one evening. When the meeting goes strangely south, Lottie begins spiraling out of control in a whirlwind of self-destructive behavior as she tries to figure what — and who — is real.

Snotgirl is as clever as you'd expect from the author of Scott Pilgrim while also being a poignant dissection of the self-obsessive tendencies that are amplified by social media. To match the tone, Leslie Hung expertly swings her art style between sultry and cartoonishly goofy, often on the same page, while maintaining a visual consistency that gives Snotgirl an instantly recognizable and alluring look. One of the strangest, most delightful and most relevant comics on the stands.

 

ABSOLUTE WONDER WOMAN BY AZZARELLO & CHIANG, VOL. 1 HC

by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Kano & Matt Wilson. Cover art by Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson. Feb. 1 from DC.

Brian Azzarello (Dark Knight III) and Cliff Chiang (Paper Girls) decided to begin their run on Wonder Woman by giving the Themysciran heroine the one thing she'd never had: a father, and by extension, a family. Unfortunately for Diana, her new family's squabbles are literally the stuff of legend, and she's about to experience it firsthand.

This epic clash between Wonder Woman and the gods of Olympus will take her around the world (and above and below it) in a journey to discover the truth of her birth, and to defend the life of an innocent child. Wonder Woman has never been more full of adventure and action than in this run, which redefined the character for the New 52 era. This edition collects the first half of the critically acclaimed story in DC's massive and revered Absolute format, giving Chiang's brutally elegant artwork the god-sized treatment it deserves. If you're a Wonder Woman fan with some money burning a hole in your pocket, this is one wonderful tome that cannot be missing from your bookshelves.

 

KONG OF SKULL ISLAND, VOL. 1 TP

by James Asmus, Carlos Magno & Brad Simpson. Cover art by Nick Robles. Feb. 15 from BOOM!

Sure, there's a King Kong movie coming out this year, but who needs to watch a movie when you can read amazing comics instead? This book collects the first six issues of the ongoing Kong of Skull Island series, and it will be the most entertaining monkey-business you'll find in any medium this year. Writer James Asmus (Quantum and Woody) reigns in his more well-known humorous tendencies in this story to tell a gripping tale that finally reveals the origins of the giant apes and the tribes that brought them to Skull Island. This story has everything: romance, drama, political feuds, tragedy, heroism and, of course, Kongs fighting crazy dinosaurs.

But as great as the story is, the true selling point here is the unfathomably intricate artwork of Carlos Magno (Lantern City). This series wasn't really on my radar until I happened to flip through the pages of the first issue when it came in, and I was immediately sold. Magno's line work is some of the most impressive I've ever seen, and it infuses the story's primal subjects with the appropriate amount of awe. For fans of giant monsters and massively talented artists, this is a must-read book. And if you're still not sold, check out my interview with the creative team and a preview of issue six.

 

DETECTIVE COMICS, VOL. 1: RISE OF THE BATMEN TP

by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Raúl Fernández, & Alvaro Martinez. Cover art by Eddy Barrows & Eber Ferreira. Feb. 1 from DC.

I promise I'm not just putting books I've interviewed authors about on this list. I can't help it if I get interviews with people who make awesome comics.

I'll admit I was pretty unenthused about DC Rebirth when it was announced. I was not a fan of most of the New 52 era, but Rebirth felt like a lot of talk from the same people who'd messed everything up in the first place. However, I'm happy to report that DC has more than risen to the challenge, and one of the jewels of the line is appropriately the title from which DC gets its name.

With the relaunch of Detective Comics, the series returned to its original numbering and also transformed into something I've personally been wanting for a while: a true Batman family team book. The Dark Knight himself calls in the help of Batwoman to train the next generation of heroes: Spoiler, Orphan and Red Robin — as well as the reformed Clayface — into an effective crime-fighting unit. The team quickly finds themselves in over their heads and leaderless against the heavily militarized force known as The Colony. Can they rise to the occasion? I'm not going to tell you here, but I will tell you that whether they do or not, you'll get some of the most compelling Gotham action in years in the process.

 

SEVEN TO ETERNITY, VOL. 1 TP

by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth. Cover art by Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth. Feb. 15 from Image.

It's hard to say what I love most about Seven to Eternity. The beautifully outlandish characters and their strange magical abilities? The anything-can-happen nature of the dark fantasy world of Zhal? The lovable exiles of the Osidis family? All of these things are important ingredients in the recipe of greatness with which Avengers: Rage of Ultron collaborators Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña have concocted this weird fantasy masterpiece. But behind all the gorgeous art and uninhibited imagination is a thematic core that is striking in its immediacy and poignancy.

When do you compromise? When do you rebel? When does standing by your moral convictions become more about you than those around you? What responsibility do you ultimately have to the fate of the world?

These are the massive questions asked in Seven to Eternity, as Adam Osidis, one of the last people to have resisted the temptations of the all-seeing Mud King, is forced to question whether resistance is still worth it when his family's survival is on the line. The Mud King has conquered the land of Zhal by granting the deepest desires of people's hearts, they only need to let him see through their eyes. Seven to Eternity is a story about how to deal with the overwhelming hopelessness that comes with the awareness of the evil that has taken over the world, and it's a story that every comic reader — heck, every reader full-stop — needs to try.

 

FUTURE QUEST, VOL. 1 TP

by Jeff Parker, Evan "Doc" Shaner, Steve Rude, Ron Randall, Craig Rousseau, Jonathan Case, & more. Cover art by Evan "Doc" Shaner. February 15 from DC.

You know when you come across one of those stories that seems such a natural fit, such a stroke of creative elegance, that you can't believe it hasn't been done before? That's the kind of comic book that Future Quest is. I never knew I wanted a shared universe made up of Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, the Herculoids, the Impossibles, Birdman and every one of your favorite Hanna-Barbera superheroes and adventurers, but as soon as it was announced, and as soon as I experienced it, I don't know how I ever lived without it.

Jeff Parker (Batman '66) and Evan Shaner (Convergence: Shazam!) somehow created a seamless world out of the pulpy, golden age-inspired franchises of the legendary Alex Toth without sacrificing anything from any of them. Whether you grew up watching any of these cartoons or you're just discovering them for the first time, you'll be unable to resist their timeless charm and will find yourself swept up in a high-flying adventure of the highest order. Unquestionably the best of DC's Hanna-Barbera imprint, this is the perfect dose of classic comic book fun, no matter your age.

 

NEW AVENGERS BY BENDIS COMPLETE COLLECTION, VOL. 2 TP

by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch, Frank Cho, Steve McNiven, Mike Deodato Jr., Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Olivier Coipel, Pasqual Ferry, Jim Cheung, Alex Maleev & more. Feb. 15 from Marvel.

I'll admit that I'm a bit biased with this selection. The very first comic book I ever went out and bought with my own money as a kid just so happened to be Avengers #500. I watched over the next few months, enraptured with peak-pubescent awe as then rising-stars Brian Michael Bendis and David systematically and mercilessly destroyed the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, who I'd only just begun to fall in love with. And then, they did something even crazier: they put them back together, but in a way unlike anything that had come before.

Bendis has more than his fair share of vocal detractors — and they're sometimes right — but if I had to point to the pinnacle of his genius, the finger would be directing squarely at the issues collected in this volume. This collection follows the newly formed team of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Captain America and Iron Man as they head off to Japan to fight ninjas with the mysterious Ronin, witness the destruction of Alpha Flight, attend the marriage of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and are torn asunder once more by a superhero civil war.

This is the stuff that made The Avengers an A-list franchise, and Bendis didn't do it alone. Just look at that list of artists up there! I challenge you to find a better line-up of artists on a comic book, all within a year or so of each other. These comics are full of beautiful, funny and exciting widescreen action that, if you're not careful, could make you fall in love with superhero comics. I know they did it to me.

 

LAKE OF FIRE TP

by Nathan Fairbairn & Matt Smith. Cover art by Matt Smith & Nathan Fairnbairn. Feb. 22 from Image.

Alien invasion stories are a dime-a-dozen these days, but every once in a while one comes along that offers something truly different. Something that looks at the genre with a fresh pair of eyes and gives us something that makes us think. If you want a story like that, then let me have the pleasure of introducing you to Lake of Fire.

Lake of Fire tells the story of what happens to an unsuspecting village in the French Pyrenees when an alien ship crash lands nearby in 1220 A.D. The only thing that stands between them and certain annihilation by the hordes of voracious monsters is a band of crusaders they don't want and a heretic, neither of which understand the threat they face. Though the readers are aware they are aliens, the villagers and knights think they're devils, unable to comprehend what they are bearing witness to.

This complete collection of the five-issue Image Comics series is written by Nathan Fairbairn, who's taking the writer's seat for the first time after earning his reputation as an Eisner-nominated colorist. He's also coloring the book, over the lines of Matt Smith (Barbarian Lord), and together they've created a great visual style reminiscent of Mignola in places of horror while the brighter parts reminded me of more modern cartoonists like Faith Erin Hicks. A tale of desperation, sacrifice and facing the unknown — and one of the year's most original science fiction stories.

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