As an unabashed fan of superhero comics from the "big two", I admit I have a rather narrow perspective as to what makes for good comics. While I've never needed anything more than a simple "tights and fights" type storyline with some believable character moments sprinkled throughout, comics as a medium provide a realm of infinite storytelling potential. With that belief in mind, I recently began a little experiment to branch out from the traditional stories I so often enjoy. So in addition to my usual pulls, I am going to try the big "it" books of the moment. While many of the books I've been trying still come from the more mainstream companies, their themes are a bit more diversified than another "Spidey saves New York" type of yarn.
This desire to try the new books comes from two places mostly, the first of which is sheer boredom with my current collection. I know other readers out there feel me when I say that even your most favorite of heroes can become a bit stale after awhile. The second (and more important) reason for trying something different is that I want to find out for myself why certain books seem to garner universal critical acclaim. There are books that always top the critics' "best of" lists every year, many of which I've never even seen in person, or have tried and hated, or was just never impressed by. I mean, is it just me? Or are thousands of other people wrong about this stuff? It's probably the other people.....
So with all this in mind, I started checking out a few of the "Mature Readers" only books I've avoided for so long. Taking the attitude that I'm in it for the story, I'm willing to overlook the cursing, sex, and graphic violence that pervade these titles. Given my feeling that many people in the comic book world automatically translate these "adult situations" into good storytelling, I wanted to put aside any biases I may have and look to see if there was something I was really missing.
So with inhibitions cast aside, will you join me as I survey some of the initial "recommendations" I checked out?
Recommendation: Chew (Image Comics)
Recommended By: My friend Matt, as well as a slew of other comic review sites.
# of Issues Read: Just the first one. It was $1.00.
Synopsis: Detective Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he has psychic visions about whatever food he eats, tracing it back to its origins. The only food he can eat without tasting all the chemicals, pesticides, additives, etc. is beets. Things get a little wonky when he eats a soup prepared by a serial killer and sees all of the guy's former victims. He then ends up cannibalizing the perp to find about ALL of the victims. Apparently this catches the eyes of the government who hire him as a special agent.
Thoughts:This is one of the only series where I didn't get to read the whole first arc. I thought this book was okay, and Chu's powers lend themselves to some interesting "what ifs", but I wasn't blown away. With its cartoonish art offsetting the gruesome nature of Chu's powers, there is a "black comedy" (the Gross Pointe Blank kind, not the Death at a Funeral kind) vibe throughout the whole issue. However, I had a really hard time thinking I could stomach (pun intended) reading a monthly about a guy who eats people. I could see trying the first trade, but I honestly could take it or leave it.
Verdict: I could see why people would like it, but I wasn't in awe.
Recommendation: Scalped (DC/Vertigo)
Recommended By: The reviewers of Comic Book Club, a lot of famous writers, and I'm assuming Satan.
Issues Read: 1-12 (and I picked up three other trades to read this weekend)
Synopsis: Taking place on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Scalped follows young Daishell Bad Horse, a full blooded Native American who left his reservation at the age of 13, as he returns home after a 15 year absence. Bad Horse is a bad MOFO, and he gets hired on by the corrupt chief to be a tribal cop. The twist is that Bad Horse is working for the government to bring down the corrupt chief.
Thoughts: This is the grittiest comic book I've ever read. Every other word is an F-bomb, plenty of heads are blown off, drugs are smoked/snorted/injected, and of course there's plenty of shacking up. Even the protagonist is a junkie killer who in one seen unloads two full clips of ammo on another undercover agent before shooting him in the genitals and brain. It's truly horrifying to think I'm even reading this.....BUT...There is something totally compelling about it all. Writer Jason Aaron has crafted such an atmospheric book that you really feel like you're part of the prison that is the "Rez" (what they call the reservation in the comic). None of the characters would be likable as real people, but you find yourself caring for them. The storyline is a big cat-and-mouse game, with each of the characters using the others for their own agenda. I think Ed Brubaker said it best in his introduction to volume 4 that good crime stories are about people falling down and going about as low as possible, and Scalped delivers this in epic fashion. Every page has a feeling of heaviness, accentuated mostly by the use of harsh language and deep inks.
Verdict: I'm still reading it, in fact I can hardly put it down. If you have no qualms about reading about the absolute pits of depravity, you may like this book. Also if you really like anything HBO or FX has ever done, you'll probably like this book.
Recommendation: Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo)
Recommended By: Marc, and Society at Large
# of Issues Read: 10 (first two volumes)
Synopsis: A mysterious virus kills everything on earth that has a Y-Chromosome, except for a young man named Yorick and his pet monkey. Now in a post-apocalyptic (a.k.a. Estrogen flooded) world, Yorick and some of his compatriots have to figure out how to save the human race from extinction.
Thoughts: There has been talks of this being made into a movie for a long time, and now I see why. This book provides an interesting look at issues of gender, politics, and society without getting too preachy. There are little nuances about the manless world that I never would have been considered. Because most of the mechanical/engineering jobs in the world are held by males, it's an interesting idea to think that all that kind of support could be lost in an instant. We also have the fact that most politicians are male, and the whole notion that maybe some women WOULDN'T want men in the world. Writer Brain K. Vaughn excels at creating a tense world which asks a lot of good questions, beckoning readers to examine the mysteries themselves. While the art is good enough, it is the one thing I've always thought was kind of lacking in Y. It just seems so plain, but it helps set the tone by maintaining a realistic feel.
Verdict: This is my new favorite comic book. I admit it everyone, you were right. I just wish I would have got into this back when I lived in Michigan, since the library there had all the trades. Oh well, now I'll just have to buy them all. Yorick's everyman (pun totally intended) quality mixed with the mystery of just what the heck happened to everyone, along with the ever present danger of the world make for a darn good read. And although I've only read 2 trades, I have to say my favorite character is Y's sister Hero.
Recommendation: The Walking Dead (Image)
Recommended By: My friend Nathan, Spike TV, and anyone who just started reading comics in the last 5 years (except JT for some reason).
# of issues read: 1-12 (first 2 volumes)
Synopsis: We follow a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse as they simply try to survive.
Thoughts: I've known about this title for a long time, but always avoided it. Mostly due to the violence and language, but also because I was quite over the "zombies are awesome!" trend before it even started(I was all into Screamo at the time). But after watching the AMC show I jumped on the bandwagon, purchased some trades, and was quite impressed to find an interesting, character-driven comic that really manages to create something out of nothing. I mean, you know the people are going to run into zombies in different locales every issue, but it's always manages to put me on the edge of my seat. And the black and white art adds a nice touch to the overall feel of the book. I still don't have complete confidence in Robert Kirkman as a writer, but he has crafted a zombie book that is at the very least his own.
Verdict: I'm into this book now, but I have a feeling that as the excitement about the show wanes so will my heightened interest in filling up my collection with more of this series.
Recommendation: Sweet Tooth (DC/Vertigo)
Recommended by: Unanimous geek approval across the internet/ comic review sites. Oh and Geoff Johns has a quote on the cover calling this a "must read."
# of Issues Read: 1-5 (volume 1)
Synopsis: This takes place in a post-apocalyptic (are you sensing a theme here?) world and stars a youngin named Gus, who is a deer/boy hybrid. After living a sheltered life with his father, Gus finally ventures out of the forest and is hunted due to his Hybrid status. Gus is saved by a punisher-esque character named Jeppard, who promises to take him to a Hybrid reserve. Violence ensues, and Gus and Jeppard build a unique rapport.
Thoughts: Along with Y, this was one of the less graphic books I tried. While there are plenty of scenes of violence, some interaction at a brothel, and some naughty words, there is an innocence to this book. Mainly due to the naivete of the main character Gus, a.k.a "Sweet Tooth", we can't help but see the world of darkness through the eyes of a child (he's 9). With the juxtaposition of the gruff and deadly Jeppard, there is an undercurrent of warmth in the danger the two share.
Verdict: I read this through last week and I really didn't know what to think. People LOVE this book, and they think Jeff Lemire needs to be put on the $5 bill, but I can't figure out why. It's good, but maybe I'm not savvy enough to see how it's the greatest comic ever. I'll try the second volume at some point to see what happens with Jeppard, who is the main reason for me buying this trade.
So that's it for now. I also bought the first volume of Ex Machina, a few issues of Brubaker's Criminal, and I'm currently eyeing other titles such as Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants and Brian Azzarello's 100 Bullets. What do you guys think out there? Are there any books you get tired of hearing about as being the greatest thing since sliced bread? And are there any of the titles above that you've tried? Let me know. And until next time, Long Live Our Legion!