The Independent Scene
I'll just tell you this up front--I'm not that into superheroes.
Frankly, I'm tired of them. There's too much baggage associated with their characters. Years of continuity and back-story clog up what should be an enjoyable reading experience. And to be honest, there are only so many powers, so many costumes, and so many names you can use before you've seen them all.
That's why I'm heavy on the "indie" side of comics. Publishers like Boom! Studios, Big Dog Ink, Antarctic Press, Archie Comics, and many others fill my pull box. It's rare that you'll find a Marvel or DC book in that box, and even rarer that you'll find an Image or Dark Horse book.
I'm always encouraging readers devoted to the Avengers and the Justice League to come over to the independents and see what they're like. A break from superheroes is what the comic industry needs, and there are lots of great writers out there besides Hickman, Bendis, Millar, Johns, Ennis, Ellis, and their copy cats.
So here are some of my recommendations if you're interested in exploring the indie side of comics.
Freelancers is published by Boom! Studios, one of the larger forces in indie publishing, and features the adventures of Val and Cassie, two kung-fu bounty hunters who grew up in an orphanage. As they traverse L.A.'s glitz, glamor, and grime, their mentor becomes one of Los Angeles County's most wanted criminals, and it'll be up to Val and Cassie to bring him in...if you can pry them away from the nearest food truck.
Freelancers #1 hits the shelves in October for the introductory price of $1.00 and features the work of Ian Brill (from Boom's Darkwing Duck series) and the art of Joshua Covey. I'll tell you that I'm really excited about this series, because I'm getting a big Blue Estate-like vibe from its themes and cover art. Boom! has done some great work lately with creator-owned series (such as Fanboys vs. Zombies and The Hypernaturals) and I believe Freelancers is going to be their next big hit.
Keep your eyes peeled for issue one's Phil Noto cover and keep your eyes on the Diamond Previews catalog, so you can get your hands on the first and future issues of Freelancers.
Fanboys vs. Zombies
Fanboys vs. Zombies is published by Boom! Studios and is up to Issue #6 as of this post. Launching in April, the series chronicles a group of fanboys and fangirls attending the 2012 San Diego Comic Con in the midst of a zombie infestation. Having watched every zombie movie, played every zombie video game, and read every zombie comic book, they feel they're our best (and only) hope to defeat the zombies and bring order (and Twitter) back to the world.
Fanboys vs. Zombies started off with a $1.00 introductory issue that featured eight different covers that included the likes of Khary Randolph, Ale Garza, Humberto Ramos, and Eddie Nunez. The series is written by Sam Humphries (who also writes Boom's Higher Earth) and features the art of Jerry Gaylord and the awesome coloring work of Nolan Woodard. The series is chock-full of nods to movies, anime, comics, convention stereotypes, and geek culture, with character dialogue written in text-speak and anti-zombie weapons borrowed from every video game under the sun.
I've been a huge fan of this series from issue #1 and I've been hooked ever since. There's at least one character that everyone can relate to or identify as an anime/comic stereotype, and the tongue-in-cheek humor is always spot-on and never offensive or inappropriate. That says a lot in a comic book industry that seems determined to push the boundary of the indecent on a daily basis.
This series comes highly recommended if you like your zombie comics a little on the humorous side and empty of pointless zombie rules only die-hard fans seem to be aware of. Keep you eyes on the Previews catalog or ask your local comic book store to add Fanboys vs. Zombies to your pull box. You won't be disappointed.
If you grew up in the 1980's and had an 8-bit NES system, chances are you know who Mega Man is. The video game's premise was simple--Mega Man, a two-tone blue robot, had to defeat Dr. Wily and his army of robot masters. The trick was that after you defeated a robot master (such as Cut Man, Bomb Man, or Guts Man), you gained their special ability, which you then used to defeat another robot master.
Archie Comics' Mega Man comic book, which started back in 2011, has reached Issue #17 as of this post and is a big hit with fans young and old. Writer Ian Flynn and artists Patrick Spaziante (issues #1-4), Chad Taylor (issues #5-8), Ben Bates (issues #9-12), and Jonathan Hill (issues #13-16) have brought an anime/manga-style look to the comic that makes it accessible to everyone and doesn't alienate those who prefer their comics drawn in the Western style. While the comic does tackle the Nintendo games (they've covered games 1 and 2 so far), there are story arcs between the games that flesh out the characters and allow for Flynn and his rotating stock of artists to flex their creative muscles and develop a whole new universe for Mega Man to inhabit.
This has quickly become my favorite comic book every month, thanks to Ian Flynn's fresh writing and Patrick Spaziante's breathtaking covers. The series just wrapped up their latest story arc, Spiritus Ex Machina, and will be tackling the origin of Proto Man with Issue #17, which just came out this week. If you aren't reading this title, you're missing out on a comic that's a lot of fun and a break from the melodramatic and overly-serious comics that are on the shelf today. Ask your local comic book store to add Mega Man to your pull box and start getting in on the action today, and keep your eyes open for New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, Ian Flynn's new superhero series that features the art of Ben Bates.
The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West
If you've seen the classic film The Wizard of Oz or read any of Marvel's Oz material, you probably think you know the Land of Oz. So did I...until I read Big Dog Ink's The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, written by Tom Hutchinson and illustrated by Alisson Borges. This comic turned L. Frank Baum's classic story into a neo-western tale and re-imagined a whole universe of characters (including a Tin Man who's a bullet-proof, tough-as-nails sheriff and a Toto who's a black stallion). Instead of ruby slippers, Dorothy is armed with revolvers that fire ruby bullets, and she's a tough-as-nails gunslinger who's been searching for the yellow brick road for three long years.
Wicked West just wrapped up its six-issue run, but Big Dog Ink has announced an ongoing series launching in October. The series has featured covers by Borges and fan-favorite artist Nei Ruffino, and the ongoing series will launch with a cover by Eric Basaldua of Zenescope fame. Tom Hutchinson (who also writes Critter and Ursa Minor for Big Dog Ink) used his imagination when he created Wicked West and reinvented a set of characters in a smart fashion, instead of making Dorothy some older, over-sexed femme fatale or turning the Tin Man into a Terminator-like cyborg.
This series took me by surprise and I've been hooked ever since. Hutchinson proves that a comic is nothing without its script, and he delivered the goods on every issue of Wicked West. Alisson Borges's art is lean when it needs to be and didn't clutter up the panels with too much detail or inking. Kate Finnegan's colors enhanced Borges's art and brought everything to vivid life whether you were in Oz or Dorothy's native Kansas. If you enjoy comics that remix classic novels, are a big fan of The Wizard of Oz, or both, The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West should be in your pull box come October.
Feel free to leave comments and/or feedback on your favorite indie titles and which comics you think should make the next Quick Takes list.
Until next time, this is Justin A. Swartz, signing off!
(And don't forget to check out my other blog, Movie Monday, where I review movies that I find for ten bucks or less!)
--Justin A. Swartz