Sorry to say this, but comic books and graphic novels are as integral and important an aspect of geek culture as video games and sci fi movies (or long-winded high fantasy books). You may call yourself a geek, but if you have not experienced these five insane and awesome graphic novels for yourself, in my opinion, you are only partially a geek. A FULL geek knows that comics are a huge part of our culture, and were essential in forming us into antisocial dreamers we are today. Though everyone may know Batman and Superman and the X-Men, there is much more to comics and graphic novels than just dudes who wear spandex and fight bad guys (though not to undermine, that is a HUGE aspect of it). Here are 5 graphic novels you all have no excuse for not reading, as they will make you better at being a geek.
This week has to be this writer’s favourite week of the month when it comes to comics shipping. Dial H for Hero, Animal Man, Earth 2, Stormwatch, Swamp Thing and World’s Finest, the cream of the DCnU.
IDW continues Transformers: Regeneration One, while the second volume of Guarding the Globe hits the shelves alongside its elder brother Invincible, and the original X-Men learn about the whole new world they have created. Vampirella continues to play with the cast of Dark Shadows. I believe I am finally beginning to see why Lady Death has the fan following she does, and most importantly, Shadowman #2 is out.
If you have missed the Valiant relaunch so far, then I urge you to give them a look. Just as the ‘original’ Valiant was different from the roots of the few Gold Key characters it gave life to, and Akklaim attempted a further re-imagining of the concepts, the new Valiant possesses a vibrancy that upon reflection, the previous incarnations lacked.
Maybe they were all very much of their era, because I do recall how excited the painted issues of Valiant’s first run made me. Yet the drama of Chris Stanchek coming to term with his powers while evading the machinations of Toyo Harada contains a depth and complexity that the previous incarnation failed to reach. And while we have all enjoyed the interplay between Archer and Armstrong in the past, that same dynamic is still there, but Archer seems that much more relatable, for a guy fostered by an evil, faux-Christian ninja cult, that is.
In this season of relaunches and revamps, the most enjoyable new title I have seen was ironically entitled Comeback #1, written by Ed Brisson and illustrated in a wonderful Noir-esque style by Micheal Walsh. With a similar feel to Saga or Higher Earth, this focuses on a company that travels back in time to rescue people from their untimely deaths after receiving rather large deposits from the late victims’ families. As a set-up issue, it certainly piqued this reader’s interest but the inference of a plot does not even begin until the very last page.
And you know, that is just the way I like it. Image Shadowline is certainly putting out some excellent material these days, unafraid to stretch the boundaries of the comics market in a way that is totally new yet somehow harkens back to the world when comics could look at ANY subject matter, not just spandex. I may even be overcoming my spandex addiction!
Nah…. Maybe not.
It is always a pleasure when a good comic leaves you with that pensive feeling; where you put down the magazine and simply retreat into one’s own thoughts. Even if they are a little nebulous and ill defined.
The first issue of Bedlam from Image Comics may well still be found on the shelves, and it offers a veritable delight of crime waves, psychosis, hungry reporters and no short amount of blood. Fairly standard ingredients to many a thriller, but the writer Nick Spencer slowly reveals a city that has been plagued by a genius serial killer who may or may not have been captured.
The killer offers the city a choice – kill him within the hour, and multiple bombs implanted in schools around the city will never explode. Or to be more specific, bombs implanted in the school children themselves. Which rather tells you the depths of depravity this guy will sink to.
And the fact this is hardly a family-friendly read. Parents beware!
All the Warren Ellis-esque trappings aside, this story raises many great issues about the nature of the society we live in, and the compromises we all make balancing our freedoms against societal needs. In the mean time, we are not even sure if the killer is truly dead, nor what form of psychosis (if any) drove him.
The highlight of the issue for me has to be an impassioned plea by one of the city’s councilmen, in the face of a hostile and incredulous press corps as the city attempted to celebrate its triumph over the man that had shrouded the city in a cloak of fear.
We see a well thought out declaration of the difference between a man and his myth, which in the light of yesterday’s election is only too relevant. Where what we expect and what we fear can be a world away from the reality of a situation; and how our beliefs can stand in the way of just getting on with the day to day business of living.
I said I put the comic down at the end, but to be honest, it was every few pages, and the issue raised so many questions within the story as much as in the real world, that I cannot wait for the next instalment.
Come join the fun.
When I think of Jonathan Ross, affectionately known as Wossy, I think of film reviews, pop culture interviews of no significant depth, irreverent and somewhat annoying radio shows and no shortage of controversy, certainly in the Emerald Isles.
Yet here in the UK, it was a significant moment way back when he first came out as a comics fan, helping comics rise out of the murky depths of uncool into the hip and cool thing that it is today. Yet I struggled with the thought of Wossy writing comics, and regret to say that I totally missed his first series Turf.
I am so pleased to discover that I was wrong. I finally got around to reading the first issue of America’s Got Powers and I must say that I am suitably impressed. Set in San Francisco which for the story had had its own ‘White Event’ or ‘Big Bang’ that resulted in a generation of children born with powers. Of course such creatures could not be afforded human rights, so they were forced into camps, and when they came of age, forced into televised tournaments. All they can compete for was a life outside of the camps, risking life and limb in the process for a blood-hungry public, overseen by a Senator of questionable (read no) morality and of course a military interest, seeking a way to exploit the youths.
Just from this first issue, this series reminds me strongly of the classic Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski, only updated for the new decade. Rather than the X-Files approach, this series takes the empire of Simon Cowell and the meat grinder of young dreams and aspirations and turns it into the gladiatorial combat that we are treated to most Saturday nights. Of course, this story allows for the presence of an almost messianic character to bring hope to the powered, a formerly unpowered member of the generation, the only one believed to be born with no extra ability.
If only the youth of today, lining up to have their dreams shattered by callous and eccentric judges could have a similar figure.
The second issue of America’s Got Powers is in the stores today.
Returning to the issue of last week, and the revelation that DC’s new, all-spangled gay character is to be Alan Scott, I find myself wondering why. Firstly, DC has an excellent gay character in Batwoman, who could simply have been promoted a little more; did we really need all this hoopla and press-courting? I repeat the point I made last week. This is cheap.
Secondly, what bright spark chose Alan Scott? If I have to read one more column joking about how he is the keeper of the Emerald FLAME and that his only weakness is to WOOD; as beloved as it is, my laptop will be sent flying through the window.
I would like to see how they plan to introduce his children, Jade and Obsidian this time. For that matter, Obsidian, though wiped from existence thanks to the Flashpoint, Obsidian had already been established as a gay man. Why not relaunch Todd as a high profile character, and build upon the history already established?
Regular readers of this column will be well aware of my conflicted opinions of Rob Liefeld early work for Image and the original cast of Extreme Studios characters. Great characters in the right hands, really good ideas that drove the plots, but some of the most terrible execution in their early days.
Youngblood were indeed a good team with a diverse selection of members, motivations and histories, tied nicely to the Spawn continuity before the great split. Let’s not mention how they were also an obvious merging of the Teen Titans and the Avengers. However, Alan Moore’s treatment of Supreme and the excellent three issue Judgement Day demonstrated just how enjoyable the Extreme house could be.
No one could deny the force of Liefeld’s enthusiasm, and so it was truly a pleasure to pick up Prophet #21 last week. Initially, John Prophet was viewed as a second-rate Cable (and back in the days when Cable wasn’t that cool either). Yet the character has so much more potential than that, and thanks to the new offering at the hands of Brandon Graham and Simon Roy, the great heights to which John can ascend can be seen on the horizon.
If I were to compare the new Prophet to anything, my first instinct is to think of the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Awaking in a world as foreign as the plains of Barsoom seen in the recent re-launch of Burroughs’ once lesser-known property John Carter, Prophet is treated to a far future Earth where everything has changed dramatically.
Apart from the desolation, the first clue has to be wildlife with four jaws rather than two, something that hasn’t been new since the late Eighties, but always remains cool for some reason. Life have evolved, there’s little sight of people as we know them, yet Prophet takes it all in his stride, with very basic actions concentrating on survival he reveals hints of a great politics behind his current situation and this new world.
I foresee great things for this title, if the standard is maintained. The other feeling I get from this title is the same feeling provided by the Dark Tower, only without all of the many volumes that I have missed (maybe with a bit of Kamandi thrown in). If you have never read Prophet before, it really does not matter; none of the previous knowledge seems relevant for this issue.
I also congratulate Mr Liefeld on the new series numbering, which prevents any confusion. Although having a guide for Youngblood when it arrives, detailing which issue of which series is considered which number would be greatly appreciated.
Taking the opportunity of the Christmas period to catch upon my comics reading (and supplementing this with fanfic when I reached the bottom of the stack), I must confess that I re-read Jonathon Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF (Future Foundation) numerous times.
Although I have raved bout this particular run of the FF numerous times already, and enthused about the quality of story-telling that has gone into the title, it is hardly a dramatic revamp of our favourite Foursome and their family. Cleverly weaving in all of the traditional facets of FF lore, I am finding myself wanting to know where Lyja is (considering the manner of Johnny’s resurrection), or hoping for the return of Sharon Ventura. Exploring the many fanfic sites, one is confronted with multiple line-ups, some making sense and some really out there. Strangely enough, the more bizarre line ups (such as one including Ken Connell the Starbrand) were just as enjoyable, if not more so than the traditional unit.
Do you, like myself, feel a little cheated that we never really saw any quality stories starring the ‘New’ Fantastic Four, the line-up of Wolverine, Spidey, Hulk and the Ghost Rider. Now there’s a Hollywood blockbuster right there, and a grouping that should have received far more attention.
Although changes in the status quo are not necessarily good, nor traditional stories necessarily bad, it would be nice to see a true deviation from the standard formula, and not have to rely on ‘Ultimate’ labels or the appallingly short What-If’s. Even the ‘massive reorganisation’ of the X-Men strikes me as a repetition of previous themes, as fun as it is.
So, my attention was drawn to Previews and a solicitation from Image Comics set for March. Hell Yeah!, created by Eisner and Harvey award-winner Joe Keatinge and Elephantmen’s Andre Szymanowicz promises to think outside the box when it comes to the lifestyle of super-heroics. Promises that we have heard before, but every so often have actually materialised in the form of a quality product.
This obviously whetts my ‘ooh, new world….’ appetite, although some of Keatinge’s words worry me.
…..when Image Comics debuted, it made me realize all the rules and restrictions I saw in other superhero comics didn’t have to exist. Anything could happen. You could kill lead characters in first issues. Obliterate long-standing villains in a page turn. They could be in different tone than what’s normally presented by the diversity shown in anything from Youngblood to Casual Heroes. They didn’t have to be noble, they didn’t have to maintain the same status quo. It was turned into a genre where the term ‘impossible’ didn’t exist. Due to all this my imagination went into over drive and after twenty years of percolating in my brain, Hell Yeah was born.”
Readers views of the birth of Image vary widely, as did the quality of offerings. Yet most of the initial characters remain with us to this day, so they obviously got something right. And as a die-hard Savage Dragon, Spawn and Stormwatch fan, I would be the last to criticise. (Well, that last statement is maybe not true.) Even the Liefeld house of characters received a tremendous boost at the hands of Alan Moore, most especially Supreme, and it was a shame that the surge in quality could not be sustained by sales.
So I look forward to the coming year, and I hope that the high quality in the industry we have seen recently will be maintained, but perhaps with some real changes in the status quo for our favorite characters.
Just not another New 52, please.
So, are there any of the so-called ‘new readers’ out there reading this column? Anyone recently discovered the worlds of comics due to the movies or the DC relaunch and has been drawn into the accompanying universe of message boards and articles? Anyone?
As more and more of the market turns to mail order or more importantly digital, it is increasingly hard for this fan to tell whether the Holy Grail of ‘New Readers’ being drawn into our cosy little world has been achieved or not. Is the new reader little more than a mythical beast?
Certainly the sales figures would bear out that there is a strong possibility that the new reader is indeed real. Despite the year beginning with the same falling numbers, by November, comic sales had topped sales from the same month during the previous year by an impressive margin, and exceeded the year-to-date figures from the previous year.
However, one has to account for the completists, those serious collectors amongst us that would dive into the events like Flashpoint, Fear Itself or the DCnU with gusto. Yet none of us seem to have escaped the icy grip of the recession that we keep hearing about, so I wonder if the completist has become an endangered species.
Sales have swung from month to month from the comics to the graphic novels. Now the graphic novels are an interesting aspect, they have long been considered the ‘respectable’ face of the industry. Before ‘geek’ was ‘cool’, the graphic novel was how ‘normal’ people were exposed to comics.
The very fact that such terms feel so very long ago shows just how far the industry has come. Why, I almost feel nostalgic thinking about the differential that was assumed between comics’ fans and ‘normal’ people from previous decades. The Frog Brothers, thankfully, remain solidly in yesteryear.
I think I believe in new readers. (And anyway, if they are like fairies, I don’t dare say that I disbelieve in them!)
Now, for the recommendation of the week. Having been drawn to the more noir-seeming titles, my first pick from the pile was Fatale #1 from Image. Written by Ed Brubaker, it seems like a set up similar to the Unwritten, with wonderful noir Forties action juxtaposed with modern descendants of an original mystery. Oh, and a little element of Boom’s Fall Of Cthulhu thrown in for good measure. (Enough to keep me happy at least.)
As the various new spandex titles from DC and Marvel are starting to bed in, Fatale offers a curious mix of a breath of fresh air, and those elements that drew me to Boom in the first place, and I heartily recommend it.
So, Fear Itself finally concluded (sort of) this week, and unlike Dark Reign, I find I am quite looking forward to the fallout. We can anticipate a new Defenders series, Hulk and Banner are split, a new Thunder God and a more prominent role for Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, which is not before time.
Yet my attention has been drawn away from the large events with two new mini-series and a third series that should be a HUGE event for fans everywhere.
One question demands to be asked. Just how many stories can companies tell about zombies?
Of course, zombiegeddon makes the perfect backdrop for stories about human nature itself, and the Key Of Z #1 is no different. Created by Evil Ink and released by Boom, Key of Z is a bit of an anomaly where the interior art is far better than the cover art.
Speeding through the actual zombiepocalypse, the story follows in the footsteps of the Walking Dead, and admirably so. Of course, there seems to be quite a few more living survivors of the outbreak than is traditional for such stories, which makes for an interesting mix.
Meanwhile, if your taste varies more towards the humorous, Joshua Williamson has written a light-hearted treatise on alien abduction in Xenoholics #1. At least, I hope this is supposed to be a comedy, as I found myself laughing a number of times. The comic pokes fun at itself, full of thwarted ambitions and wry observations from the very first page. Starring an encounter group of abductees, we see a range of personalities from the ordinary housewife confronted with the less than ordinary aspects of life to the hopelessly eccentric. A reporter that infiltrates the group takes the ‘straight man’ role, but his scoop is soon overshadowed as crop circles are replaced by concrete circles on national TV.
Finally, a crossover so logical it should have been long-awaited, the cast of Star Trek The Original Series (I refuse to say Start Trek TOS, it just sounds wrong,) come face to face with a selection of time lost Legion of Super-Heroes. (There seems to be a lot of that about, if you look at the DCnU.)
These are classic era Legionnaires, from some time during the original Levitz years, and I am ashamed to say I do not recall which story this particular grouping is from, but it quickly overcomes the awkward seven-century difference between their respective eras.
Nicely, this does not transplant either cast into the other’s universe, but both casts into a third, avoiding all the cringe worthy moments and clichés that such crossovers can generate.
Of course, the two teams have yet to actually encounter one another, so no doubt we may yet see the traditional fight before team up, but no matter. This was worth every cent I paid for it.
I certainly did not anticipate shades of Flex Mentallo, one of my all-time favourite series. A series that one would think would be very hard to imitate, and I am pleased to report, no such attempt was made.
Other than the similarity between Flex’s Muscle Mystery and Luther Strode’s Hercules Method, the direction of this new release from Image is completely different. The story begins with the familiar convention of the geeky high school teenager, bullied and certainly a candidate for getting sand kicked in his face, seeking a method to toughen himself up. Resorting to the tried and tested (and somewhat failed) method of sending off for a technique catalogue, a series of calamitous incidents eventually unleashed the potential of the techniques that Luther had practiced that until now had delivered a frustrating absence of results.
Yet that is a rather two-dimensional view of the story. It is implied that Luther and his mother have escaped the attentions of an abusive husband and father, they are certainly on the run from someone. Behind the Hercules Method itself, there is some shadowy organisation with no doubt nefarious aims. And the opening scenes are more reminiscent of an Avatar title such as No Hero, a stark contrast to the rest of the issue. This is certainly no standard teen hero book.
Written by Justin Jordan with art by Tradd More, The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode is full of little moments of humour set against the true horror of the story – high school. Seriously though, the whole feel of the issue is like that of the better 2000AD stories, if obviously americanised. After reading and then returning to check the front cover, I was disappointed to learn this is only to be a six issue mini-series, I can see the character having a lot more potential than that.
Talking of the ‘feel’ of a story, this week sees the release of both Stormwatch and Justice League International #2’s. If I was to sum up what I thought of the new DCU, I rather see these two titles, alongside Frankenstein and Animal Man as the flagship of the new approach. It’s not quite WildStorm, but it’s certainly not any DCU that we have seen before. Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, Post-Zero Hour, Post-Infinite Crisis; this is different to all of them. There’s a grittiness that is worlds apart from the dire ‘Dark’n’Gritty’ era of the Eighties and Nineties, a whole new texture. So far, it seems to be a winner, at least for this writer.
Let’s hope the sales support this.
Two first issues caught my eye this week, the first eagerly awaited and the second a total surprise.
Some months ago I promised the esteemed J. T. Krul a review for Captain Atom #1, and the day has now arrived. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. I like it, but there are a number of factors that make me question the whole ‘soft-reboot’ business, to which I need to go into further detail.
Firstly, I love the Captain’s new look. If anything based on a masterful use of colouring, his illuminated form simply exudes power. Thing is, I loved his old look as well, the chrome skin (the fabled alien metal that granted his previous two incarnations their power) is gone. Or at least obscured by the internal furnace of his power.
I fear that he seems even more generic in appearance than previously. Reminding me of the Acclaim incarnation of Solar, Man Of The Atom, or numerous Marvel characters as they achieve cosmic power. Remember the Ethicals from Machine Man? Or maybe he is Nova Frankie Raye with a small mohecan hairstyle.
As his appearance tends more to the ephemeral angelic being, so to has his personality shifted. No longer the brash, confident military man, he seems somewhat humbled. Of course, if his recent experiences in Action Comics and previously as Monarch are still valid, this is only to be expected.
To the latter half of the issue, this can be explained by some news he receives, yet this insecurity is apparent from the first page.
Dr Megala has returned, not as a little red-haired cyborg trolley this time, but more as a balding Stephen Hawkings. Again, I love the new look, it adds a degree of realism. (Yeah, realism. That why we read comics. For the realism.) I will miss Megala the shopping cart, but I applaud his return.
But what does this do to the story of Invasion!? Both the Captain and the original, (well, second) incarnation of Megala were essential in that story. We have seen that the Crisis On Infinite Earths still happened, but has the Invasion? Maybe the new Hawkman will let that cat out of the bag.
No sign yet of General Eiling. Does this mean he was the monstrous General seen in the pages of JLA? Or did that never happen now? Where does that leave the good Captain’s stint with the JLE?
I almost wish we had seen a full reboot. Or at least have a character or two who recalls the previous timeline, so we can identify the differences. For example, since when can the Captain perform molecular re-arrangement? Since this issue it seems.
Who does he think he is? Firestorm? My thoughts wander back to Solar again.
There, that’s the gripes out of the way. If the Captain was a totally new character however, I would love this. If you are new to Nathaniel’s adventures, this is an ideal title. Having some prior knowledge only helped me to jump to conclusions or at shadows.
My other treat has to be Vescell #1 from Image. By Enrique Carrion and John Upchurch. There’s no being burdened by years of history with this title, nor any lengthy exposition; nothing more than one paragraph on the inside cover.
Setting the scene: there’s another dimension that scientists broke into that contains scary demonic things, and a company that markets personality transfers between bodies. Got that?
Then in true cinematic style, we dive straight into the tale of one guy, a bodyguard who has a gun in which lives a fairy and a girlfriend who can only enter this world by possessing others. His tale is told against a backdrop of corporate intrigue and political corruption and has to be the best thirty-four pages I have read in a long time. This is a title of which I want to see a lot more of, as the tale leaves a lot of plot threads lying around as mere decoration, in a fashion that does not overload the reader. At the end of the first issue, I was satisfied. Hungry for more, but satisfied at the same time. A rare occurance these days, I normally find either one or the another, but both is a treasure.
Think Pulp Fiction with fairies and demons. Or maybe what would happen if Disney fell under the control of Tarantino, with a smidgeon of Clive Barker thrown in for good measure.
Please sir? Can I have some more?