Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hey Y'all, Comics!

In middle school, I used to take all my allowance and blow it on a fist full of comics. Every week or so, I'd bum a ride to the local comic book store and load up on anything that looked interesting, then pore over the fat stack of magazines all afternoon. It was a pretty good time to get into comics. Not only were the big superhero publishers putting out some pretty good stories, but there was a burst of weird, amazing, and fantastic independent and art comics appearing on the shelves those days. Over the years, as graphic novels have come along, I've drifted away from the thrills of "comic book day," but there's a bunch of really great comics titles out right now, so I figured I'd talk about some that really excite me!

Lots of us here at guyslitwire have a love of classic SciFi, especially the work of H.G. Wells, and, over the years, there's been lots of great comic book takes on his most well known work The War of the Worlds. Now you can add to that the fun, quirky, pull-no-punches Wild's End, an anthropomorphic tale of a sleepy British village invaded by merciless alien robots sometime in the 1930's. At first, the story comes across as a character and setting piece, but then the brutal destruction of the aliens begins to build, and the frightened desperation of the characters and their harrowing situation quickly sets the story on fire. Drawn by I.N.J. Culbard, the fantastic adapter of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle, this comic is like War of the Worlds as imagined by the love child of Simon Pegg and Beatrix Potter.

 Sometimes I get really tired of Batman. I feel like he's been done in much the same way for twenty years now. But there's a slew of interesting books out now that are set in Gotham city, which is a rich and fascinating setting full of promising stories to tell, especially with some of the background recent Batman writers have invested in the city. Background like mysterious secret societies and dark longstanding powerful families whose history is uncovered by students at the oldest private boarding school (Gotham Academy), or what happens when the oldest, creepiest criminal insane asylum is destroyed, and all the inmates move into Wayne family home (Arkham Manor). My favorite of these books, though, is Gotham by Midnight, about a police task force that solves the arcane and mystical crimes which occur in a city long-haunted by evil supernatural forces. It's spooky and moody, with an interesting cast of characters, mostly new, plus one classic: Jim Corrigan, the perpetually haunted cop. Plus, it's got great art by Ben Templesmith, somebody who has already proved he can do both moody crime drama (he did Fell with writer Warren Ellis) and offbeat horror (30 Days of Night).

A lot has been written about the new Ms. Marvel, about how she's the first Muslim title character from a major comics publisher here in the US, or how her sales have been surprisingly explosive, or how this book is at the forefront of a slew of books that acknowledge there are a bunch of girls and women who'd love to read a superhero comic book without having to see a bunch of fanservice. And all that's true, but not why I like the book. Why I like this book is that it's FUN. Just straight up. out-and-out, see-a-bewildered-new-superhero-try-to-sneak-out-of-the-house-to-save-the-world fun. The art is funky and new, and the creative team has even managed to take the creaky old team up idea of slapping Wolverine into a book he doesn't fit and making it fresh and fun and revealing. Plus, Ms. Marvel can make her fists really huge and punch things, which is always awesome. Oh, and her new pet is the Inhuman teleporting giant bulldog Lockjaw, and you can't go wrong with Lockjaw as your sidekick.

Finally, the last book is straight up bizarre in its premise, I don't know any other way to describe it than a retelling of the Odyssey as a space opera as performed by Cirque du Soleil, designed by the artist who did album covers for Yes, and filtered through the minds that brought you Barbarella (film or bande dessinee, you take your pick). Oh, and did I mention that all the genders are flipped? Except, there are no real men, instead there are intersex beings-- and gods, and psychedelic space battles, and on and on. Imagine a comic that came inside a prog-rock concept album from the never happened time when Ziggy Stardust fronted Rush and they toured Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War and caused riots and women left the cities of Europe to form collectives along the Black Sea where they designed computer programs for the end of the world. Can you see that in your mind? This comic is something like that, only strange to behold. There's an online prologue story here, if you want a sample.

What comics have you been reading lately? Anything to recommend?

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