It’s summertime in the city, a season and a setting that are usually only considered by indie comics creators who are writing humorous and/or erotic stories about sweat, sex, and subway delays. There aren’t many essential entries in that ignoble subgenre of quasi-autobiographical comics and comic strips , unfortunately (though the Hugo Pratt–scripted and Milo Manara–drawn sexy Native American drama Indian Summer is sorta fun in a sleazy and very dated kind of way). But if you are in the market for a good comic book this summer, you’re probably looking for something light enough to stow in a carry-on, breezy enough to match your seasonally diminished attention span, and high-concept enough that you can devour it in one poolside sitting. Worry not, socially maladjusted readers: We made this list of cool, zippy graphic novels just for you.
Supergirl: The Silver Age Omnibus vol. 2, written and illustrated by Various Artists
It’s easy to forget how charming superhero stories can be when they’re not weighed down by Frank Miller’s and Alan Moore’s by-now well-loved creative hand-me-downs. But this collection of blessedly surreal, self-contained, and brief Supergirl stories is a welcome reminder that light and silly is often better than grim and gritty in a modern world that seems to be perpetually on the brink of collapse. See Supergirl use elaborate disguises (including a stilt-enhanced Superman costume that she hides in a hollow tree) and ridiculous powers (super-ventriloquism and super-hypnotism!) to fend off evil wedding suitors, rotten foster parents, and mysterious alien strangers. Marvel at ludicrous plot twists and adorably bratty supporting characters, like Comet the Super-Horse and Streaky the Super-Cat. Gasp reverently as frequent Super-creators, like writer Leo Dorfman and penciller Jim Mooney, cram in more entrancingly weird ideas in a twelve-page backup story than most modern comics artists can in a six-issue-spanning, twenty-two-page-long story arc. Fun for most ages.
Supergirl: The Silver Age Omnibus Vol. 2 is out now.
Bad Girls, written by Alex De Campi and illustrated by Victor Santos
De Campi and Santos’s bubbly and bloody thriller follows three nightclub performers on New Year’s Eve 1958 as they fight to escape Havana before Fidel Castro’s revolution topples dictator Fulgencio Batista’s crooked but familiar bribe-fueled status quo (think Casablanca meets The Wild Bunch, only set during The Godfather II’s New Year’s Eve in Havana sequence). De Campi and Santos bring out the best in each other’s work. De Campi (No Mercy, Twisted Romance) characteristically excels at psychologically complex characterizations, and never once overburdens readers with padded backstories, or pedantic history lessons. And Santos (Filthy Rich, The Mice Templar) brings an infectious dynamism to every action scene with clean line work and bold panel layouts that bring to mind formative draftsmen like Jim Steranko, Darwyn Cooke, and Bruce Timm. De Campi and Santos should work together more often.
Bad Girls is out July 17.
Vs., vol. 1, written by Iván Brandon and illustrated by Esad Ribic
This winningly gory, character-driven sci-fi/action story often feels like a reboot of Rollerball, in that it also follows a grim, over-the-hill athlete whose career is manipulated by media executives, commercial sponsors, and fellow players. The biggest difference between Rollerball and Vs. is that Brandon (Escape, Black Cloud) focuses more on the world outside of lead protagonist/space gladiator Satta Flynn’s head, since Vs. is also about humble heroine Major Devi and the systemic conditions that keep her down in order to better prop Flynn up. Colorist Nic Klein — penciller of the Brandon-scripted Drifter — brings out the best in Ribic’s ink-intensive hand-painted art, making futuristic skylines and battlefields jump off the page with a vibrant mix of purples, greens, and oranges. Maybe the best-designed book on this list.
Vs., vol. 1 is out August 8.
The Best of Witzend, written and illustrated by Various Artists
God bless the good folks at Fantagraphics Books for celebrating witzend, an odds-and-ends underground magazine that was originally compiled and published by mega-influential cartoonist Wallace Wood in 1966, and then by long-standing editor Bill Pearson from 1968 to 1985. This streamlined collection is worthwhile just for gorgeous illustrations and one-off stories from titanic creators like Vaughn Bodé, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Archie Goodwin, and Wood himself. Pearson also notably provides down-to-earth historical context in a couple of interviews and essays, where he credits Wood with inspiring artists to focus on creator-owned work as opposed to work-for-hire projects (none of witzend’s contributors were paid, but each retained his work’s copyright and reproduction rights). Pearson’s also refreshingly honest about why there’s so much naked lady flesh crammed into witzend’s pages: Many featured artists imagined that they were rebelling against the sanitized, generic constraints that were imposed on them when they worked on Marvel and DC Comics’ superhero and monster-intensive titles. Come for the dimpled asses, stay for the oral history article, featuring choice quotes from Pearson, Ditko, and others.
The Best of Witzend is out August 14.
Exit, Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Sean Parsons, Mark Morales, Howard Porter, Mike Feehan
Russell (Prez, The Flintstones) delivers another extraordinarily good melodrama based on a questionably absurd high-concept premise. Here, he reimagines Hanna-Barbera’s goofy pink mountain lion as a troubled, openly gay playwright living in 1950s New York who, when asked to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee, struggles to remain loyal to his neglected wife, his human male lover, and his estranged childhood friend Huckleberry Hound (now a closeted alcoholic and a blue puppy dog–man). Russell’s dialogue and knack for seriocomic plot twists gives this bizarre project a shockingly sturdy emotional resonance and sensitivity. Highly recommended for anybody who’s open-minded enough to read a story about queer talking animals who congregate at the Stonewall Inn, daydream about putting on a show, and contemplate the vital necessity of outsider art at a time when too many Americans considered otherness to be the nation’s greatest threat (Heavens to Murgatroyd, talk about contemporary relevance!).
Exit, Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is out August 22.