Thursday, 20 March 2014

Comics: Series I Adore

I haven't blogged about comics for a while, so long that I don't remember the last time I did, to be honest.  As I've just successfully converted my housemate to the joys of Sleeper, I thought I'd throw something up about the series I actively follow. For the sake of my own sanity I'm going to avoid the bear pit that is superheroics as there's nothing I'm that invested in: though I am enjoying both Jonathan Hickman's Avengers and the Michael Bendis All New X-Men. Both are solid books with good writing (though I do worry that Bendis has done his usual make over job on the original five X-Men to a slight degree) and a solid Science Fiction core. Also, both books are taking risks, something that superhero books seldom do.

My main interest lies outside of the world of spandex and capes these days, and has done since DC decided to reboot their universe and completely change what I knew in their quest to appeal to people who grew up in the Sixties (only grimmer and with more weird lines).

Lock and Key comes from the pen of Joe Hill and features a family who are forced to move back across
America to Lovecraft, New England, when their father dies. The old family home has its stock of terrible secrets and one in particular is very interested in the family and in revenge. The teenage characters begin to peal back the layers of mystery surrounding their new home and the strange keys they find. It's a well crafted story, with a lot of darkness, both inner and outer, to pit the characters against and enough strange ideas for three series.

Sleeper is old now, it was published under the Wildstorm imprint when that was still a thing and is a strong, dark spy story with very little light in it. The protagonist has gone undercover in a crime organisation that's
growing at a worrying rate; his task to find a way to topple it from within. The problem is he doesn't know if he can trust his boss, John Lynch and there's a strong chance that he's just got in over his head. One thing I like about this is that the superpowers are pretty screwed up here, one character sickens unless she's deeply unpleasant to other people for instance and the sense of the protagonist existing in a wilderness of mirrors is well wrought.

Chew by contrast is bright, weird and brilliant. Set in a world where chicken is banned because of bird flu scares, our hero Tony Chu is able to see the past of anything he ingests. When he gets moved to a new agency he becomes involved in ever weirder investigations, mostly involving food (though a homicidal cockerel called Poyo is also involved). The strength here is in the imagination the creators bring to bear on the comic, filling it with ever weirder ideas that somehow just work perfectly.

Elephantmen is a lush European style book that I haven't read that much of. The premise is that a mad cult
created an army of hybrid soldiers (from elephants, rhinos, hippos and so on) during a war between Africa and China that left Europe a devastated wasteland. The comic picks up after the war, exploring how the characters fit into society and what they do now that they are no longer soldiers. Horrific images arrest the eye but at its heart this is a beautifully crafted piece about outsiders trying to fit in.

Perhaps one thing that seems a little strange is the relationships between the Elephantmen and the women around them. There's an uneasy tension, as three women that the series has focused on so far are obviously enamoured with the protagonists. The difference is size between the characters and the alieness of the Elephantmen is impossible to avoid.

Saga is a weird Science Fantasy book, set in outer space and filled with all sorts of wonderful things, like cats that know when you lie, trees that are rockets and a myriad of races are involved in a war that hasn't, as
far as I recall, been fully explained, but which looks rather like a space borne version of Heaven versus Hell (except the angels are fascists and the demons are horned magic hippy vikings). Well plotted and written, the book blossoms from the first page and gets its hooks into the reader quickly. It's probably the youngest series here and as far as I know it's still in the expansionary phase, building plots rather than tying them up. As the series grows it promises to be very good indeed.

Usagi Yojimbo should surely count as a classic, with simple art and masterful storytelling. I fear the world may be a bit 'childish' for a lot of readers, the characters are anthropmorphised animals after all and that often means that adults will dismiss the tactic as 'kids' stuff'. The writing however is solid and even though the protagonist is a hare, he's also a ronin (masterless samurai) with all that entails. Sam Sakai, the creator, draws on the richness of Japanese folklore and culture and its in part this that makes Usagi an all ages read rather than just something suitable for children

Hellboy is a revelation, taking pulp tropes and mixing them with a number of other wonderful ingredients, to
create something that has elements of horror, myth, conspiracy and the end of the world. The series is 20 this year and its longevity seems almost odd. The creator, Mike Mignola is an artist, only growing into writing as a result of Hellboy and the first series was penned by John Byrne (but let's not hold that against it). Over the years the series has grown, pushing its hero to battle increasingly dangerous threats and spinning off a sister series, BPRD. Mignola's world is convincingly dark and unpleasant, his heroes hold the line against a host of threats that could topple the 'natural order' (i.e. the one we like) and he doesn't flinch. Where most comics in the same vein would press the status quo button regularly, the Hellboy universe steadfastly moves towards its own Armageddon.

So there you have it, a few of the comic series I enjoy.

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