Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2016 Part 6: Graphic Novels and Comic Books

2016’s Best Releases from DC, Fantagraphics, First Second, IDW, Top Shelf, and Vertigo

Dec 22, 2016 By Christopher Roberts Web Exclusive
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We know that Christmas is almost upon us, but if you're still looking for some last minute gifts for comic book fans, here's the sixth and final part of Under the Radar's 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, in which we highlight some of the best comic books and graphic novels of 2016. They range from fantastic superhero tales to hip-hop and comics history lessons to adult coloring books and beyond.

Also check out the first part of Under the Radar's 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, which centered on music reissues, box sets, and vinyl, as well as part 2, which covered adult board games, part 3, which got into collectibles and toys, part 4, which featured some of 2016's best DVDs and Blu-rays, and part 5, which included technology and apparel items.

Graphic Novels and Comic Books:


Art Ops Vol. 1 (Vertigo/DC)

SRP: $14.99

Art is quite literally alive in this story. The Art Ops version of protecting the Mona Lisa from a potential art theft was to free her from the canvas and place her into something like witness protection, a life of bagging groceries. Reggie wants nothing to do with Art Ops, but is conscripted to guard "Lisa" when most of the entire organization up and vanishes. And it may be the best place for the man to call home; after all, his right arm has been replaced with something out of a psychedelic painting, blobs and streaks of bright paint angling to take over the rest of his body. These and more wild, weird, art-as-supernature concepts come alive thanks to Shaun Simon, Mike Allred, and Matt Brundage, in clever, stylish fashion. The Statue of Liberty and Michelangelo's David run amok; ignored art pieces show that art is not just bad, but it can be evil; and Reggie discovers more about his roots. Maybe a little disjointed in its "concepts per page" density taking priority over clean storytelling, but fun all the same. By Jeremy Nisen (Buy it here.) 


Back to the Future Volume 2: Continuum Conundrum (IDW)

SRP: $19.99

We will never get another Back to the Future movie, at least not until creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale both die, but Doc and Marty's adventures continue in IDW's regular comic book series, which is co-written by Gale. Volume 2 collects issues 6-11 and features our heroes in two different places in the timeline. Doc is back in the Old West after the main events of Back to the Future Part III, but before he creates the steam train time machine you see at the end of that movie. He creates a more basic, HG Welles looking makeshift time machine to go to the future to get the parts needed to build the time train. Doc arrives in 1986 with amnesia and finds Marty, who is bored with average high school life and longing to be on time travel adventures with Doc again. He gets more than he bargained for when Doc and Mary go even further into the future than they've ever been before. It seems certain that no matter what timeline they are in, Back to the Future fans will get a kick out of this collection. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DC/IDW)

SRP: $24.99

The nostalgia factor is sky high when The Dark Knight meets the heroes in a half-shell in DC Comics' and IDW's playful and sublime Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After a portal transports the Ninja Turtles from their world to Gotham, they team up with the city's brooding vigilante. Together, the five of them race to defeat The Shredder and Ra's al Ghul-the former has followed the turtles over and set his nefarious sights on Gotham-before the quartet's mutagen wears off in the alien world, and they revert to non-ninja turtles. For anyone who grew up in the '80s or '90s, the Batman/TMNT team up is the stuff of dreams, and in this six-issue miniseries, it achieves perfection. James Tynion IV's script and Freddie E. Williams II's art perfectly bring life to these five iconic heroes, paying homage to both Batman's dark nature, as well as the Turtles' collective levity. Comic book crossovers don't always work, but Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proves how great they can be when done properly. By Zach Hollwedel (Buy it here.)


Coloring DC - The Flash: An Adult Coloring Book and Coloring DC - Supergirl: An Adult Coloring Book (DC)

SRP: $15.99

Adult coloring books are a thing now and DC has wisely gotten in on the action. The Flash and Supergirl coloring books feature classic and modern black & white art by the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Carmine Infantino, Andy Kubert, Francis Manapul, Amanda Conner, Gary Frank, and others for you to color in. Would be great for aspiring comic book artists to practice on, for big kid comics fans, or, of course, for actual kids too. There are other Coloring DC books too, featuring Wonder Woman, Batman, and other heroes. By Mark Redfern (Buy The Flash here. Buy Supergirl here.)


The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 and Comics & Stories Gift Box Set (Fantagraphics)

SRP: $49.99

Fantagraphics' exhaustive and impressive Peanuts project continues with the final two volumes of The Complete Peanuts series, collected together in this handsome gift box set. Volume 25 compiles Charles M. Schulz's strips from 1999 and 2000 and Volume 26 collects various appearances by Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and friends in comic books, storybooks, advertisements, and more. Volume 25 even includes an introduction by President Barack Obama! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Goodnight Batcave (MAD Books)

SRP: $14.99 

The folks behind MAD Magazine have put together this funny parody of Margaret Wise Brown's enduring 1947 children's book classic Goodnight Moon. This version is written by Dave Croatto and drawn by Tom Richmond and, as the title suggests, takes place in the Batcave. Batman tries to go to sleep, but the Batcave is invaded by most of his villains (including The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and more). It's sure to amuse children of all ages. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Hip Hop Family Tree Book 4: 1984-1985 (Fantagraphics)

SRP: $27.99

Ed Piskor's graphic novel anthology of the early days of hip-hop continues with the fourth volume, spanning 1984 and 1985, pivotal years in hip-hop when MCs and DJs began to break through the underground into mainstream music. Piskor covers the rise of artists like Dr. Dre, Beastie Boys, and Rakim, using their own lyrics to note the significant biographical milestones, all while beautifully illustrating the scene in rich comic realism. Hip Hop Family Tree is impressive in its scope and detail, as if cultural history was always the intended format of comics to begin with. But with hip-hop the history feels especially significant, as context and influence are often crucial to understanding lyrics and themes. Hip Hop Family Tree offers that context perfectly, shading music that is at times political, often self-aware and reflective, and constantly building upon its fascinating and visceral through an artfully crafted new medium. By Cody Ray Shafer (Buy it here.)


The Legend of Wonder Woman Volume 1: Origins (DC)

SRP: $29.99

The retelling of origin stories is a common practice in superhero comics. Sometimes it effectively reframes the character, other times it comes off more of a cash-grab. Wonder Woman celebrated her 75th birthday this year and so DC presented several retellings of her origin and The Legend of Wonder Woman was by far the best of them. Writer/artist Renae De Liz takes the hero back to basics, resetting the story in her original World War II era. She also doesn't rush Diana's transformation into Wonder Woman. The first issue/chapter focuses on Diana as a young girl, a child princess of a mystical and hidden island of Amazon women. Eventually as she grows into a woman, American World War II pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on the island, which sets forth a chain of events that leads Diana to America and then to the European battle front. The basics of the tale are familiar to Wonder Woman fans, but De Liz tells it with such grace and respect. Diana has rarely been written so sympathetically, a true outsider in man's war-torn world. If Warner Bros. hadn't already moved ahead with a Wonder Woman movie set in World War I I'd suggest adapting this into a feature film. The good news is that De Liz has promised more adventures of this version of Wonder Woman, with perhaps her take on other Justice League characters also being incorporated. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


More Heroes of the Comics (Fantagraphics)

SRP: $34.99

Drew Friedman brings us another nearly four-score illustrations of comic creators from the past, with bios to accompany them. The clear writing and singular art are easily digestible, amusing, and informative-this is as good of a comic-book-related coffee table book as there could be. Binge-reading it in particular brings alive another era, when comics mostly meant guys in collared shirts and ties poring over panels. A time when you could start pushing a broom around as a teenager and be illustrating or editing books a few years later. It's not only well-known names that we are treated to here. In addition to the likes of Nick Cardy, Dan DeCarlo, Ross Andru, and Otto Binder (among many other well-known comics giants), there are people who only worked in comics for a spell, or worked on titles mostly forgotten. And some surprises-such as Ray Bradbury's inclusion for his work on EC titles. Friedman's portraits also captures a certain something-his art is an actor, emoting on behalf of his subjects in a way that the text cannot by itself. Most any comic fan should enjoy this, particularly those who want to delve into comics' history on a moments notice. By Jeremy Nisen (Buy it here.)


Patience (Fantagraphics)

SRP: $29.99

Ghost World and Wilson creator Daniel Clowes returned in 2016 with Patience, an engrossing and trippy science fiction tale that only Clowes could tell. In 2012 Jack comes home to find her pregnant wife Patience murdered. The police arrest him as the only suspect and spends many months in jail before being let go due to lack of evidence. Cut to 2029 and Jack is a broken man still haunted by the unsolved murder. When he stumbles across time travel he journeys back to 2006, to before Patience even met him, to help stop her murder. It's recently been reported that this deeply affecting and psychedelic tale is to be adapted into a movie, with Clowes writing the script as he did with Ghost World, so get on board now. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


The Realist Cartoons (Fantagraphics)

SRP: $44.99

Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century's, Paul Krassner's satirical magazine The Realist published some of the most lauded and controversial cartoons, lampooning every aspect of American culture. Fantagraphics has put together a collection of those cartoons, featuring the work of notable pioneering alt-comic artists like Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, S. Clay Wilson, Jay Lynch, and more. Krassner contributed the book's introduction, detailing the magazines rise and decline, and defending the publication's devotion to sacrilege as America's answer to Charlie Hebdo. The Realist Cartoons is a noteworthy entry into the history of underground comics and political satire, from a time when political correctness was a conservative burden worth skewering. Another way to put it, it helps us remember a time when the political and cultural climate was vulnerable to parody, instead of the joke itself. By Cody Ray Shafer (Buy it here.)


Superman: American Alien (DC)

SRP: $24.99

Superman: American Alien is the best Superman story since Grant Morrison's All Star Superman. Writer Max Landis, who gained popularity with a viral video about the '90s arc The Death and Return of Superman, deconstructs the character in search of his humanity. The setting is updated, and the origin arc completely reconfigured, but it seeks out the heart of The Man of Steel in a way that extends beyond any contemporary landmarks and finds a universal quality that is often lost in Superman comics and films. American Alien excels as a Superman story because it acknowledges the qualities that made the character interesting to a 1940s audience are not necessarily the same qualities we need to see in Superman in 2016. But it also proves that The Man of Steel is more malleable than we presumed, and that a search for the Kryptonian's soul could lead to his most human story to date. By Cody Ray Shafer (Buy it here.)


Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real! (IDW)

SRP: $39.99

Comic book historian Craig Yoe digs deep into comics history to highlight some of the more unlikely and mainly forgotten heroes from the Golden Age of comics (the 1940s). Jon Morris' great 2015 book from Quirk, The League of Regrettable Superheroes, covered similar terrain, but the difference here is that Yoe presents full stories for each hero. Each tale includes an introduction by Yoe that explains the character and the writers and artists behind them. There's also an extensive introduction at the beginning of the book. And what super weird heroes these are. There's The Hand, which is a giant disembodied hand that punches out crooks. Madam Fatal is a man who cross-dresses as a grandmother to fight crime. Catman and his girl partner Kitten are a bit of a ripoff of Batman and Robin. There are heroes inspired by Davy Crocket and bodybuilder Charles Atlas. And Kangaroo Man fights alongside Bingo, the Amazing Kangaroo. This is sure to give any comics fan both a chuckle and an interesting history lesson. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Tetris: The Games People Play (First Second)

SRP: $19.99

Writer and artist Box Brown's treatise on Tetris is a real treat. According to Tetris: The Games People Play, Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris' creator, "believed that games were the perfect confluence of humanity and technology. Games model the human experience. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally." Tetris not only shares Pajitnov's story and worldview in relaying the origin of the game and its rise to near-ubiquity in the '90s, it also plumbs the depths and breadth of the concepts and philosophy behind gaming itself. It also chronicles, as a necessary consequence of explaining the Tetris phenomenon, the backstory of a little company called Nintendo and several of the other players that had a hand in Tetris' world takeover. Throughout all of this-business machinations, Russian politics, software piracy, the roots of mobile gaming, and more-Brown's clear storytelling and deceptively simple and expressive cartooning serve to enrapture, but never bog down, a reader. Fantastic book. By Jeremy Nisen (Buy it here.)


The Twilight Children (Vertigo/DC)

SRP: $14.99

Darwyn Cooke's death in May shocked and saddened comic book fans the world over. Since 2000, the prolific artist-and infrequent writer-lent his unique and unmistakable aesthetic primarily to the DC/Vertigo Universe. It is therefore fitting that one of his final works was The Twilight Children, a wholly original, absolutely mysterious collaboration with legendary writer Gilbert Hernandez. The miniseries, now collected in one volume, tracks the seemingly random appearances of bright, white orbs in a small Latin American town. The glowing, inexplicable spheres have the power to transport people to unknown realms, induce blindness, seem to usher in the presence of a mysterious and possible paranormal woman, and draw the attention of scientists and government officials. A tale as strange as it is beautiful-as Cooke's work always was-The Twilight Children doesn't so much concern itself with explaining the orbs' raison d'etre, so much as it explores the ways in which they affect the lives of the town's residents. The Twilight Children is more a character study than anything, but creative as it is, it merits more than one reading for its full effect to sink in. By Zach Hollwedel (Buy it here.)


Unfollow Vol. 1: 140 Characters (Vertigo/DC)

SRP: $14.99

What would you do if you were a 24-year-old social media mogul dying of an incurable disease? Larry Ferrell, a billionaire 18 times over in Rob Williams' immediately engrossing Unfollow, uses his wealth to show humankind's true colors. Ferrell randomly selects 140 people from around the globe and flies them to his private island, where he informs them that when he dies, his estate will be divided equally between them. Immediately, each of them, some already wealthy, inherits over $130 million. However, if one or more of the 140 dies, then Ferrell's fortune is split between the survivors; the more people who die, the wealthier each survivor becomes. Unfollow recalls The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, but it's a gripping story with its own unmistakable identity. Artists Mike Dowling and R.M. Guéra cleverly help realize Williams' vision, promising to bring life (and death) to 140 different characters (we only focus on about a dozen in the first volume), each with his or her own set of rules, beliefs, and skeletons in the closet. From page one, the intrigue of Ferrell's decision to "randomly" select 140 people, coupled with the fluid morality of each of those people, makes Unfollow impossible to put down. Click the "like" button on this one, and then run to your comic book shop for more. By Zach Hollwedel (Buy it here.)

Also Worth Considering:

5,000 km Per Second (Fantagraphics)
Band for Life (Fantagraphics)
Batman Volume 10: Epilogue (DC)
Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope (Fantagraphics)
The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Other Horror Stories (Fantagraphics)
The Complete Suiciders: The Big Shake (Vertigo/DC)
The Dark & Bloody (Vertigo/DC)
DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis (DC)
DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths (DC)
DC Universe: Rebirth (The Deluxe Edition) (DC)
Demon Volume 1 (First Second)
The Fun Family (Top Shelf)
Harley Quinn's Greatest Hits (DC)
The Jekyl Island Chronicles (Book One): A Machine Age War (IDW)
Johnny Boo Goes Like This (Top Shelf)
Last Man: The Rescue (First Second)
The Longest Day of the Future (Fantagraphics)
Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater (Top Shelf)
March Book Three (Top Shelf)
Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories (Fantagraphics)
Nod Away (Fantagraphics)
The Princess Bride: A Storybook to Color (IDW)
Samurai Jack: Tales of the Wandering Warrior (IDW)
Teen Titans Earth One: Volume Two (DC)
Visual Abuse: Jim Blanchard's Graphic Art 1982-2002 (Fantagraphics)
We Told You So: Comics As Art - An Oral History of Fantagraphics Books (Fantagraphics)
Who Killed Kurt Cobain? (IDW)
Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume One (DC)
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon (DC)


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December 26th 2016

nice post thanks for sharing brief info..i like book..

common rail
April 23rd 2017

Nice Graphic Novels and Comic Books i want to get it.