A couple of days ago, io9 published this piece about comics that deserve more love and attention. It’s a great piece and James always delivers. He’s right too, every book on that list is great.
But, I was talking to a friend of mine about it and he made a very good point. Adam P Knave is a fiercely prolific, kick ass comic writer and one half of the Knave/DJ Kirkbride gestalt who write one of my all time favorite books. He agreed with me that the piece was great but pointed out that throwing Marvel and DC books in there diluted the purpose a bit. It’s not that the two big companies don’t produce some excellent books that deserve talking about, because they absolutely do. Rather it’s that the comic industry as a whole remains, decades past the point this was healthy, fixated on everything they do. Comic critics, despite the incredible amounts of them, tend to focus on the big two and when the entire industry is talking about half its total output, that’s all most readers focus on.
But there’s so much more out there. I’ve worked either in or adjacent to the comics industry for 16 years. I’ve never seen it more interesting or creatively vibrant than it is now. So, it’s time to start talking about that here.
Every now and then, this feature will run. It’ll include short reviews of a handful of excellent non-big two comics you may not have picked up on as well as covers, art samples and buy links. Basically, think of this as a cheat sheet for the good stuff.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Yes it’s a Vertigo book but the current Vertigo slate is excellent and not really talked about. This is actually the sequel/prequel to Suiciders, which I reviewed on the blog a while ago. There, the story focused on the different ways the city’s premier deathsport changed those involved in it. Here, the story centers on Trix and Johnny, siblings whose lives were upended by the earthquake that tore the city apart. Johnny remembers the world before. Trix was born in the physical aftershocks. The psychological aftershocks still rock them.
Bermejo’s script, like the previous volume, does a lot of worldbuilding without being expository. Trauma is a constant in their lives and each page is built around the inevitability of violence. You see it in Alessandro Vitti’s art, Jordan Boyd’s parched, sunbaked colour palate and Jared K. Fletcher’s taut lettering. This is a world of people braced to throw the next punch so they don’t have to take it. It’d be easy to call it cyberpunk or post-apocalyptic but it’s not quite either. Instead this is LA Story wielding a baseball bat with a nail through the end, The Warriors transferred to a devastated west coast and angry as Hell about it.
That anger, and the terror that comes behind it, is what drives Bermejo’s script. Every character, from Trix and Johnny to Trix’s not quite boyfriend D-Troy and former Suicider, The Coyote, are angry. All of them have something to lose even in this world. Every one of them is ready to fight. The only question is who and if they’ll still be standing at the end.
This is tense, character driven SF filled with violence and the promise of more to come. Bermejo’s first volume impressed but this looks set to be even better. Grim, epic and humane SF storytelling that deserves your attention.
Suiciders: Kings of Hell.A Issue 1 is out now with issue 2 due this week priced around £2.85 for a physical copy. It’s on comixology over here too.
Suiciders Volume 1 is out now. You don’t need to read it to get this story, but you should, it’s great.
Josh and Mac are criminals. They’re…well they aren’t great at it but they are inventive. And lucky. To a point.
Josh and Mac are also police detectives. They’re…well they aren’t great at it but they are inventive. And lucky.
MAAAAAYBE not lucky enough though.
Spencer and Lieber last teamed on the wonderful Superior Foes of Spider-Man and they bring a very similar feel to this. Roy and Mac are assholes but they’re assholes who clearly last caught a break two or three Presidents ago. Their bad luck is coupled with a fundamentally decent nature that neither of them seem to have noticed they have. The pair are balaclava clad innocents and you honestly don’t know whether to pat them on the head and tell them it’ll all be okay or check your pockets after they’ve gone.
Actually do both.
Spencer’s script is light on its feet and heavy on complexity. It’s Elmore Leonard in a panel grid, Leverage with way less of a moral compass. Always light hearted and always ready to turn on a dime it may be the best first issue you’ll read this year.
Lieber has an incredible sense of proportion, character and the individual mannerisms that make us who we are. Spencer’s script is very funny. Lieber’s art makes it hilarious and is the iron glove around the iron fist of the darker moments too. Ryan Hill’s colours are amazing too, especially the sepia toned flashbacks which manage to be nostalgic at the same time as cheerily horrid. Finally, Nic j. Shaw’s lettering and design gives the book the crisp, cool element that Mac and Josh think they have.
Funny, nasty and clearly just the start of a very fun ride, The Fix is good natured sunlit noir of a sort comics, and pretty much everything else, could do with more of.
The Fix issue 1 is out now priced around £2.85 for a physical copy. It’s on comixology over here.
There are few quicker ways to my heart than stories set at, or under, the sea. Dept. H issue 1 does just that.
The daughter of a brilliant, and almost certainly murdered, scientist travels to the deep sea lab where he died and finds herself faced with an embarrassment of suspects. A biologist who talks to his subjects, a self-appointed chaplain, an eccentric security chief, her own brother, her father’s best friend and her estranged childhood friend staff Dept. H and all of them have reasons for wanting him dead. Only Mia wants to know the truth but when everyone wanted someone dead, how do you catch the real killer?
Matt Kindt’s scripting, lettering and art are all deceptively simple, loose structures. But as the book goes on you begin to see not just how tightly plotted it is but how tightly designed. Kindt’s style pushes back against the increasingly small spaces Mia survives inside and his natural gift for expressive characters is only accentuated under the sea. Most impressive though is the colour work from Sharlene Kindt. The book’s palate is strained and tense, like its characters and the use of colour impresses throughout. There’s a particularly brilliant moment which uses the interstitial spaces between panels for an image which is both flashback and context for the conversation happening over it. The multi-layered storytelling matching the multi-layered conversation it depicts.
The whole book feels effortless so obviously a huge amount of work went into it. Confident and pacy but focused on the same minutiae that life in small spaces brings to light it’s an unflinching start to what promises to be complex, gripping undersea detective fiction.. Buy this and make notes, everything you see will be important later.
Dept. H issue 1 is published by Dark Horse and is out now priced £2.85 for a physical copy. It’s on comixology over here.
So there you go, three books, all great, all at the start of their runs. Go pick them up and I’ll see you back here next time.
(Thanks to Travelling Man, as ever, for the review copies)