Image Comics leads the pack in interesting titles.
Superheroes are flying off the page and onto the screen at a furious pace. Both Marvel and DC Comics have been filling out their film repertoire with films like The Avengers (and its spin-offs) and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. These films have pushed comics to the forefront of popular culture and laid the groundwork for even more adaptations. The Hellboy films, Red, the Kickass movies, and last summer’s 2 Guns are all based on comics, and movies based on graphic novels (long form comics, or serial compilations) like V for Vendetta,Watchmen, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World have all achieved both critical and commercial success. On smaller screens, comic book adaptations, though less common than those in theatres, have become no less influential.
In late 2013, Marvel launched Agents of Shield on ABC, a televised tie-in to its film universe, which will be wrapping up its first season soon. The television adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has maintained a huge following since its 2010 debut and broke numerous viewership records in its first season. The Walking Dead has also—like countless comics before it—been adapted into a much beloved series of video games.
All this exposure means one thing: the comic book industry, which has on more than one occasion been in danger of disappearing altogether, has achieved a level of prominence previously unheard of; heck, comics are almost cool. If all these movies, games and television shows made you even remotely interested in diving into comics, many excellent stories have been published in the past year. Here are four great new series.
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
Imagine having sex and—right when it’s ending, just as you’re about to cross the proverbial ‘finish’ line—time stops. That’s life for Suzie: Every late night encounter ends in isolation, someone’s face is frozen in a contorted position and everything is silent, completely silent. Everything changes for her, however, the night she meets Jon. After a lengthy conversation about Nabokov’s Lolita at a party, the two decide to settle into a more intimate activity. They quickly discover, after doing the deed, that neither are frozen. Upon realizing that both Suzie and Jon suffer from the same affliction, they decide to do the only logical thing when confronted with the ability to freeze time: rob banks.
Sex Criminals is not only one of the most intriguing comics I’ve read in the last few years, but also one of the best written. Matt Fraction, who has made a name for himself writing books like Hawkeye and Iron Man, as well as the universe-spanning Fear Itself event for Marvel, has created some of the most organic, genuinely funny dialogue I’ve ever read. The art is also fantastic. Chip Zdarsky’s use of hard, black outlines and a vibrant colour palette give the book a clean and vivid look. Especially pretty are scenes where time has stopped and characters are within “The Quiet,” or as Jon calls it “Cumworld.”
The second issue features possibly the only cover of a Queen song in a comic book… and it’s amazing.
East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta (Image Comics)
Imagine the United States’ Civil War ended differently. Imagine a meteor crashed in the centre of the country and brought with it a third Great Awakening and the establishing of seven nations. What once was the United States of America is now the Union, the Confederacy, and the Endless Indian Nation, among others. The west coast has become an extension of China and the site of the meteor crash, Armistice, has become holy ground for many on the continent. This is East of West, set in 2064, the first year of the apocalypse. The leaders of the American nations have heard the message and not only know of the coming end, but are looking forward to it. The four horsemen have been born in the desert. There’s only one problem: Death is missing, and seems to have forsaken his siblings in favour of holding the world’s end at bay.
The book is part western, part sci-fi, all badass. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have crafted an extremely compelling world over only a few issues. Hickman’s story is dark, and Dragotta has created a setting that is at once beautiful and desolate.
Hinterkind by Ian Edington and Francesco Trifogli (Vertigo)
The world has ended: humanity has been decimated by an incurable and vicious plague; thousands live where billions once held dominion; strange creatures have begun appearing and filling the empty space. Sounds like The Walking Dead, right? Wrong. The creatures that appear are not zombies, but beings thought to have only existed in fairytales. In Hinterkind, faeries, elves, trolls, and the like were nothing more than evolutionary offshoots pushed to the fringes of the world by the rapidly expanding human population over the last few thousand years. Now that humans have all but disappeared, these fabulous creatures are back with a vengeance and looking to solidify their place in the world by any means necessary, including killing off, eating, or enslaving any remaining humans. The story follows Prosper Monday, a girl living in a village situated in what used to be New York City’s Central Park as she ventures out into the world and combats the many dangers of a newly hostile planet Earth.
The writing is excellent and the setting is interesting, but Francesco Trifogli’s art is the real star of the show. Between the lush pictures of a re-forested New York and the disturbing and gritty depictions of characters of various species, this book’s a stone-cold stunner.
Manifest Destiny by Chris Dinges and Matthew Roberts (Image Comics)
What if the journals of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark had contained more than what is available to the public today? What if, on their journey into the unknown land of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, they encountered creatures and phenomena of a supernatural nature? Chris Dinges and Matthew Roberts have an answer. Narrated as if part of the expedition’s journal, the comic reveals a secret part of Lewis and Clark’s historic journey. Beset by all manner of difficulty, like buffalo/minotaur/centaur creatures, contagious plant zombies, and treacherous crew members, the expedition tries to sort truth from myth as they navigate, catalogue, and map the United States’ newly acquired territory.
Matthew Robert’s art is beautiful, but what really completes the look of the book is Owen Gieni’s colouring work. Everything has a tint of a colour you wouldn’t expect to find in a primarily wooded setting. One look at the cover of the first issue and how it organically works in shades of purple into an otherwise straightforward sunset and it’s apparent that you’re in for something special. This book is a visual treat and fun take on alternate history fiction.
Honourable Mentions: Saga, Black Science, Jupiter’s Legacy, and Archer & Armstrong (or really anything from Valiant Comics).