This week of comics is extremely strong. So strong, in fact, that I found I had neither the time nor strength to write about everything coming out. If I did, I don’t think a single one of you would have made it down the last book, which would be a shame. It’s one of my favorite comics of the last few years, which is saying a lot. But not as much as this week’s breakdown, which also includes a cricket term, but to be fair I thought it was a hockey term.
The Weekly Comics Breakdown, later than usual but now with more words than ever before!
Comics to Look Forward to This Week
Joe Golem Occult Detective #2 (of 5) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Patric Reynolds and Dave Stewart (Dark Horse)
You’re going to see a lot of Noir stories in this column, as there are few genres I enjoy more. There are so many interesting unexamined dark alleys of society that Noir explores in the guise of a mystery, and there are numerous series that use Noir successfully to explore their own Western, Horror, or Sci-Fi (Black Market excepted) universes from a different angle.
Joe Golem is applying this Noir filter to an occult world full of witches and the Old Gods. A great flood enveloped much of Manhattan back in 1925 and 50 years later Joe Golem is trying to solve the mystery of children getting abducted in the Drowning City. The trail leads him to a figure known as the Rat Catcher, who seems to be dragging the children into the canals of New York, but of course the Rat Catcher is going to only be a small piece to a much darker, more depressing puzzle.
The story doesn’t seem to be connected to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, as the shit didn’t hit the fan in that universe until fairly recently in-book, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of connection down the road. Regardless, Joe Golem looks like it’s going to be the kind of murky (metaphorically and literally) story that I can’t help but appreciate.
Paper Girls #3 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson (Image)
I know I just wrote about this series last month (link) when the second issue came out. You can read a breakdown of the series at the link and decide if that tickles your fancy. But I forgot to mention one of the great things Vaughan likes to include with his comics: backmatter. Backmatter is the end of a comic where generally some letters answered by the series editor would go or in some cases a few pages of that issue’s art without any ink or dialogue. As a matter of course, the backmatter doesn’t make it into collected editions, so it’s kind of an incentive to buy the single issues.
For most publishers that’s exactly what you get as a comic book reader, and it’s fine but not really what makes me want to buy a single issue and not wait for a trade. Comic creators at Image have been including unique backmatter that’s engaging and makes me seek out issues I’ve missed and in some cases buying two copies of the same comic (We’ll get to that shortly). Robert Kirkman has a lively letters column community in the back of The Walking Dead, and he actually responds to most of the letters himself. Sex Criminals has a sex advice column in the back of each of their issues that was popular enough to be collected into a book. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips almost always have guest essayists talking about Noir in some form or another. Starting with Saga but continuing through his other comics, Brian K. Vaughan asks people to write physical letters back to him, fill out surveys, and generally interact with him in a way that is extremely rare between a creator of any sort and his/her fans.
Vaughan has gone one step further with Paper Girls, and I’m simultaneously loving it and cursing him as I fight against every comic collecting bone in my body to tear out the latest bit of backmatter he has back there and sending it back in. Don’t get me wrong, I read every comic I buy, with just a vain hope of it being worth something 40 years down the road. But I also hate damaging books in any way, which is exactly what Vaughan is asking buyers to do every issue. Issue #1 had a request to join the paper syndicate’s paper delivery kids’ club. Issue #2 had this survey to fill out about 1988, as well as the first of four pages that need to be cut out and put together to make a poster. These bits of backmatter are exactly the random bits of fun that publishers threw in for kids back in the 80s and 90s, and I love it. But I also have to cut shit out of a comic book, destroying its worth as a good condition comic ready to be sold. I think it’s Vaughan’s continuing attempt to break my generation of comic readers out of our collective 90s speculation PTSD, and it’s terrifying. I’m also checking my mailbox every day for my American Newspaper Delivery Guild Membership Card.
Rocket Girl #7 by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (Image)
Rocket Girl is both really easy and a little hard to recommend. The concept and story alone are amazing: DaYoung Johansson is a teenage cop from the wacky future of 2014, in which cops have to retire as soon as they hit twenty, then she gets flung back to present-day 1984 by the the Quintum Mechanics Corporation. There, she happens to meet the future heads of Quintum Mechanics and inventors of the time machine that sent her back. The comic bounces between both futures as we learn more about Dayoung’s origin in a very different 2014 and the origins of Quintum.
Amy Reeder’s art is outstanding, and she not only creates a fully-fleshed 2014 that looks nothing like our 2014, but she also creates a wonderfully nostalgic New York City that looks like that city from 1984, if only through my filter of movies and TV shows from back then (so not particularly grounded in reality, but realistic enough). The colors are bright and Reeder’s facial expressions are always delightful.
However, Rocket Girl #6 came out in May 2015. That’s a six month break between single issues. I can hardly remember what happened in issue 6 so trying to keep the plot coherent in my brain is a challenge. This may be a better comic to wait for the trade, although if they keep the delays up it may not even make it to another trade. Hopefully issue 6 is the start of a much timelier release schedule.
New Comics to Try This Week
Mystery Girl #1 by Paul Tobin, Alberto Albuquerque and Marissa Louise (Dark Horse)
Dark Horse has been working hard to introduce new comic properties after they lost their license for Star Wars and this looks like it’s going to be a great addition. Mystery Girl is the story of a woman in London who seems to know the answer to any question asked of her. She knows where the remains of a dead soldier are in the Middle East, down to the GPS coordinates. She knows where a fleeing criminal tossed his gun while he escaped. But she doesn’t know why she knows, or what happened to her over the last ten years.
It’s a strong hook and an interesting central mystery, with bright and cartoony art. It’s written by Paul Tobin, who has a great online comic called Bandette at Monkey Brain Comics. Mystery Girl looks to have the same carefree attitude to it as we learn what happened to Trine and how she helps everyone who comes her way.
Sheriff of Babylon #1 (of 8) by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Nick Napolitano (Vertigo)
Another new release from the hopefully reinvigorated imprint Vertigo, Sheriff is going to be a self-contained story within eight issues. Vertigo has a tendency to do this, where we know the story is going to be limited, but they issue the comics as singles before collecting the comic into a trade. I guess it’s a better way to to get people excited for a book and then spread the buzz for the trade waiters. In any case, this book looks promising.
Sheriff takes place in Baghdad in 2003, towards the very beginning of the Iraq war. Our main protagonist, Chris Henry, is a police officer from America tasked with training the new Iraqi police force. One of his trainees ends up dead, and he sets out to solve the murder with the help of Baghdad’s last police officer from before the American invasion. I’m starting to see more books and comics addressing the Iraqi War, especially this period when we thought we had won. This book is looking at it from a different angle as well, focusing on a contractor as opposed to the Iraqi people or the American military so it should be a fresh take on not only the police procedural, but the war as well.
Totally Awesome Hulk #1 by Greg Pak, Frank Cho and Sonia Oback (Marvel)
I’m a little bummed that Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s actually interesting and fun Secret Wars crossover event wasn’t able to wrap up before the Marvel reboot, but at least the new #1 comics seem to be taking a note from that series and just creating fun comics that aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Like Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck and Spider-Gwen, Totally Awesome Hulk is taking a great character that we haven’t seen in awhile and using Secret Wars as an excuse to reinvent them for a fresh start.
When I last read comics that contained Amadeus Cho, one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe and new Hulk, he was helping Hercules stay one step ahead of his brother Ares (Yeah, I agree it’s kind of weird that there are Greek/Roman gods in the Marvel Universe on top of the Norse aliens but not really other religions, but you know with comics). Now we have a new super intelligent Hulk that keeps his personality regardless of his size and skin color. I’m not sure what kind of long term stories will result from this Hulk reboot, but I tend to keep reading fun comics much longer than I do self-serious comics with ever-increasing stakes ad absurdum.
Barrier #1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente (Panel Syndicate)
We get to see Brian K. Vaughan on the breakdown again this week in a last minute addition, because he just released Barrier on Tuesday without any advance warning. He can do this because it’s a comic he and co-creator Marcos Martin are selling on their website Panel Syndicate. Vaughan and Martin wanted to create and sell comics strictly as digital comics, allowing them to use a unique page format (as you can see from the landscape cover) that isn’t easily printable, and the much more unique selling price of pay-whatever-you-want. Their first comic, The Private Eye is an amazing 10-issue series focusing on a future without the internet. Issues came out regularly in non-DRM files, which allowed readers to read them on their tablets, computers and even browsers without messing with third-party apps or vendors.
The process was so successful that they decided to start a new limited series, Barrier, and a giant 53-page issue to get the ball rolling on a five issue total series. You can pay from anywhere from $0.00 to your entire savings account based on how much you like the comic. The nice thing is you can just download the comic for free, read it, and then go back and send money directly to the creators for exactly how much you think your entertainment was worth.
I guarantee that you’ll want to pay these guys handsomely. I’ve already downloaded the comic and read it all the way through. Martin’s art with Vicente’s colors is just as gorgeous and vibrant as the Private Eye, however the story takes place in modern Texas instead of future Los Angeles. The two protagonists, Liddy and Oscar, start in two entirely different parts of the world (Texas and Honduras respectively) but by the end of the first issue their lives will become intrinsically linked. Seeing the way Martin presents these two lives moving closer together through the comic is something I’ve never seen done with comic panels before. Comics that stretch and challenge how to tell a story with panelled images are always my favorite. I can’t wait to see how else Martin creates new ways to tell stories in this series.
Another interesting aspect to Barrier is the dialogue. Because half of this issue takes place in Honduras and Mexico, there’s a lot of Spanish. Every bit of dialogue that is supposed to be Spanish is actually in Spanish, and not just in parentheses. Vaughan wanted the comic to be authentic, as well as trusting that Martin’s art is strong enough to tell the story without native English speakers needing to know exactly what’s being said. I think his trust is well-placed. I have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish and I could tell exactly what was going on and how the characters were reacting, even with only getting two words in five. And the way this first issue wraps up is leading me to believe that language is going to be an integral part to the story and development of these characters. I’m really looking forward to the next issue of this comic, digital cash in hand. I really hope it’s soon.
*****New Comics to Try This Week BONUS SECTION*****
Image Firsts – Comics for a $1 – Publishers will sometimes re-release first issues for a $1.00 to get new readers interested. It’s a nice way to sample a comic and maybe grab the latest trade to catch up and start buying the singles. Image is re-issuing seven comics this week, all of which are solid, so I’m going to see if I can pitch each one in a single sentence.
Birthright #1 – A boy disappears into an alternate fantasy world in which he becomes the Chosen One, while his family falls apart back in our world.
Bitch Planet #1 – Future Dystopia where all women lose their rights and can be sent to a prison planet at their husband’s/father’s whim.
Copperhead #1 – Wild West on a distant planet with a new human sheriff who must deal with a crooked mayor, a reluctant native deputy, and raise her son.
Descender #1 – Gorgeously drawn and painted comic about an android Pinocchio who finds himself one of the last Artificial Intelligences left in the Galaxy several years after an alien A.I. attack.
Nowhere Men #1 – Four scientists start a company to change the world with their discoveries and inventions and this comic takes place after the inevitable break up of the entrepreneurial band.
ODY-C #1 – Completely gender-swapped Odyssey set in space with some of the most psychedelic art on the shelves right now.
Wayward #1 – Half-Japanese, half-Irish girl returns to Japan to live with her mother where she soon finds out that the myths and monsters of Japan are real and tied to her in inexplicable ways.
Trade Waiting is the Hardest Part
iZombie Omnibus by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred (Vertigo)
You may be familiar with the name iZombie. Now into its second season, the CW show has carved out a nice niche in my weekly viewing line-up. I was a pretty apprehensive when the series was announced for a number of reasons: DC hasn’t treated their properties with the same success as Marvel, and it was going to be a show on the CW, but mostly because more than most comics, iZombie is almost unadaptable. Wisely, the show’s creator Rob Thomas (not that Rob Thomas, or even that Rob Thomas, but man wouldn’t it be crazy if they were all the same person?) took the comic’s name and very basic hook to create a zombie Veronica Mars procedural, which is much better than it has any right to.
Why would a faithful adaptation be nigh impossible? It’s a goofy, fun zombie comic that takes any crazy concept Roberson came up with and somehow seamlessly weaves it into the ongoing story of Gwen Dylan, the zombie undertaker. She has to eat a brain once every month to keep her personality intact, but at the same time she’s assaulted by the memories of the people she eats. In order to dampen the onslaught, Gwen tries to fulfill their dying wish while trying to figure out how she was turned into a zombie. She’s also best friends with a Mod ghost from the 60s and a gay were-terrier. Eventually a sexy frankenstein’s monster shows up, vampires and mindless zombies (not to be confused with the thinking and feeling Gwen) both invade the town, and it ratchets up from there.
It’s a pretty bat-shit story, but Roberson is able to make it work in a fun and organic way. There’s even an extremely interesting in-universe explanation for the different types of monster that borrows from Ralph Waldo Emerson and couple of other sources: People are born with an over-soul (thoughts and memories) and an under-soul (emotions and appetites), and the various monsters are manifestations of one or the other soul getting stuck after a person has died. Here’s a breakdown from the comic that explains the concept much better than I can, and you can admire the artwork:
Of course, without the amazingly vibrant art of Mike Allred, iZombie would just be an interesting work of literature and not nearly as memorable. The story plays directly into Allred’s strengths by having him draw as many different kinds of monsters while making them seem human and almost cartoony. The story remains light and cheery even as we see Gwen dig into some brains
or the Dead Presidents reporting to zombie Lincoln
Vertigo is finally collecting all 28 issues in one collection, probably trying to cross promote the show with the comic. The last few issues feel a little rushed, as the relationship between Roberson and Vertigo’s parent DC began to deteriorate, but it’s still a solid read all the way through. Even a cursory read of the comic by TV fans will reveal how different the two iZombies really are, but I hope that the TV fans still give the comic a chance. It is one of the more creatively outlandish and entertaining comics from Vertigo in quite some time.
The Private Eye: The Cloudburst Edition Hardcover by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente (Image)
A hat trick for Brian K. Vaughan?! This is unheard of in the five or so weeks I’ve been writing The Weekly Breakdown. No other creator has had a continuing series, new series and trade paperback released in the same week. But I can’t think of anyone more deserving, especially considering the comics in question. I mentioned The Private Eye in my breakdown of Barrier, but let me go into more detail, because the idea behind this comic is pretty genius, and the ways in which Vaughan explores the implications of said idea are so interesting that they almost overshadow the actual story.
Imagine a world in which every secret, dirty thing that you’ve ever written, sent, searched for, commented on, stored or watched online was stored in the cloud. OK, that’s actually pretty much if not entirely true at this point. Not much of stretch. Now imagine that all of this information was disseminated on the internet for absolutely everyone else in the world to see, and it happened to everyone else so you could see their closeted cyber skeletons. The consequences of this “cloud burst” are far-reaching: some 50 or more years later there is no internet, people value privacy to the point of assuming physical avatars to wear in public and hide their faces, and news agencies are controlled by the government.
In the year 2076 a PI is a paparazzo, or unlicensed journalist, who has been hired by a woman to figure out who killed her sister. Finding out any information in this extremely guarded society is already difficult, but like all good Noir what PI finds goes much deeper than a dead body. Vaughan also throws in a couple of French assassin twins and a tattooed senile octogenarian who keeps trying to check Facebook on a broken iPhone. Every character is interesting, and he’s obviously been wanting to write a great detective story, with the Chandler dialogue and dark humor that accompanies one.
It’s easy to see that Vaughan has fleshed out this supremely paranoid world and tried to imagine how Americans might react to this kind of catastrophe, and then how that would affect society for an entire generation. Instead of trying out different personalities and ideologies online, young people are encouraged to try them out in real life. How would people interact with one another in real life when every aspect of that person has been obscured and manipulated.
The costumes people wear are so insanely inspired,
and I bet Martin had a blast coming up with such varied wardrobes and masks. Similar to the panels I mentioned for Barrier, Martin also really knows how to use the landscape of his pages in dynamic ways
as well as drawing some breathtaking action sequences:
I want to keep posting pages from this comic, but you’ll see how awesome it all is when you order the Cloudburst Hardcover and it reaches your door. Or, you could read it all right now on Panel Syndicate. As I mentioned above, this comic launched Vaughan and Martin’s website of pay what you want digital comics. Pay the $50.00 dollars for the hardcover from Image if you want this on your shelf by all means. But you can also pay $10.00 or $20.00 for the whole thing if you don’t mind only having it on your tablet or computer. Please pay more than $10.00 dollars for this comic though. Panel Syndicate is an amazingly unique way to show creators that their efforts are worthwhile. You can pay them directly for a truly original comic and keep the new comics like Barrier continuing unabated.
Fantastic Comics and Where to Find Them
I hope some of these comics appeal to you. If they do, make sure you go out and buy them, either digitally or in the tactilely unsurpassed form of print. Unless the comics are already big sellers or limited series books, buying the single issues is your best chance to make sure that comic persists. This is particularly true when it comes to Image and other Independent publishers. The creators are paying the publishing costs out of their own pockets and a comic that sells low at first very rarely picks up new readers in the short term.
Digitally, you have a few different options. Comixology has every major publisher and a lot of minor publishers. If you’re a big Image fan, you can go directly through them and cut out the middle man. Another plus to Image’s site is that you actually own the comic, DRM-free. You’re not just paying for the right to look at the comic, you can download a .pdf and do what you will with it.]
Paper comics can be found at your Local Comic Book Shop, and should have discounts if you start a pull list with them, which is basically having them order and reserve comics you like every month.