The Walking Dead: A brutal, terrifying, funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking, and surprisingly gripping post-apocalyptic zombie serial set in the South, it’s easily the best long-running genre serial in any medium I’ve come across in any medium since Battlestar Galactica. Indeed, although the obvious touchstones — Romero’s zombie films, 28 Days Later, Y: The Last Man — can certainly be felt, BSG seems like closest parallel. Like Ron Moore’s grim space serial, it’s about a small group of people who attempt to rebuild some semblance of a comfortable life in the aftermath of total societal destruction. So it’s a mix of large scale zombie action (frequent attacks are a way of life) with smaller, character-driven moments — pair-ups and break-ups, the pleasure of finding good food, the frustrations and follies of building new communities from the group up. As with BSG, it’s the sort of thing you might not think is going to be any good. I mean, zombie comics? Really? But writer Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adler (whose panel layouts are hugely important to the series’ success) have such a great grip on character and pacing — the series is incredibly intense at times — that I found, to my surprise, that I both actually cared for the people in the story and could not tear myself away. I blew through the 1100 page compendium, which collects the first 48 issues, in two days, and I’ve got the final three collections sitting on my desk ready to read.
Ravelstein: Sure, it’s old news to you lit nerds, so I probably don’t need to tell you how good, how warm, how almost indescribably human it is. I don’t get too much chance to sit down with ordinary, reflective fiction anymore — it takes a sort of stress-free mental quiet that I often have a hard time mustering these days — but Bellow is an inviting enough author that I can read him in small chunks, over the course of, say, a week, and always feel totally engaged.
Borderlands: One of the under-appreciated qualities of video games, I think, is how funny some of them are. Fallout 3 and Fable II were both smart RPGs, and recognized as such. But what was often overlooked was that they were surprisingly quirky and funny — not classic works of comedy, maybe, but delightfully screwy and absurd at times. Borderlands is another action-RPG (this one much more focused on action than most), and it, too, manages to be funny — in its own crude, bizarre way — a lot more often than you might expect. It’s also a thoroughly — perhaps dangerously — addicting RPG/shooter combo, made even more addicting by the fact that, thanks to the stream of downloadable add-ons, you can keep going pretty much forever.
Astonishing X-Men: Joss Whedon’s two-year run on this flagship X-book is everything you’d want from both a Joss Whedon series and an X-Men comic, and it really makes me sad that his X-Men movie script — which, as I recall, was supposed to feature a final showdown inside a Walmart — was never produced. And yeah, I know it’s old news for those who follow these sorts of things more closely, but since I basically didn’t read comics from about 1995 until 2008, I have a lot of catching up to do!