This week caught me unawares, at least I had no idea that there were around 20 books I wanted to have a look at, having gotten myself a little distracted with some comics scholarship projects. But there they were. I walked along the new releases and the stack piled up at my local shop Conquest Comics. These first looks will be a little shorter than usual to try to give each some room for your attention. There are a wide range of genres and interests represented, from several new Image books, to ongoing Vertigo, Marvel, and Dark Horse books. It's a nice feeling to know that most comics readers will find something this week that strikes their fancy, but if I had to pick my top 3? Hmmm. Drumhellar, The Occultist, and Hinterkind. Still, that's a hard call to make.
Protectors Inc. from Image teams up J. Michael Straczynski, Gordon Purcell on line-art, Michael Atiyeh on colors and Troy Peteri on letters and it's one of Straczynski's "Joe's Comics" line. It opens with an ominous lack of rain and lots of lightning and thunder and leaps into backstory on the appearance of costumed heroes including The Patriot, super-powered by a meteorite, but there's a pretty interesting angle here about the titanic fighting of superheroes in a neo-Greek style who are just bored enough to grapple from time to time. They have cities "paying damages" for their combative behavior, and there's a full superhero line-up in a retro mode with a military angle to the narrative. That's our set up and it is enough to pique your interest in a soap-operatic relationship between beings who might be a little less than super-mature in their choices. Those are the old questions posed by pulp stories about heroes, and it's still relevant to bring them around again and remind yourself that you don't have to be Tony Stark to have an ambiguous legacy. Purcell's artwork is fresh and appealing, making sure the retro aspects don't feel heavy or too nostalgic. It's a book I'm prepared to have a second look at when the next issue arrives, and I'm probably not the only person who feels that way.
Drumhellar's arwork, by Riley Rossmo, grabbed me right away. It's sketchy, emotive, perfect for blended fantasy elements. This is likely to be a book that makes a mark on readership and gets a significant fan following. It's also new from Image, under the Shadowline Production imprint. These imprints are increasingly forming little colonies for themselves at Image and do give readers an idea of what kinds of style and attitude to expect from each. The first four pages may be the strongest intro to a comic that I've read in awhile, taken as an isolated unit, for surprising the reader and scrambling their expectations about the realities depicted in the book. There's lightning, there are ghouls and strange creatures, and a central character who's nonplussed by his life in Big Lebowski fashion, and the colors on the book, also by Rossmo, are gorgeous. The weirder things get in the plot, scripted by Alex Link, the more appropriate the art and color choices seem to become. There's an intriguing melodic aspect to the visual pacing, too. This is one of those comics that will be equally beautiful in a collected edition, but I wouldn't wait that long to check out this off-beat walk through magic and more concrete reality.
Alex + Ada, also from Image (so many new books each week that it is a little overwhelming but the range is impressive, so the launches are far from samey), by Jonathan Luna (story, script, letters, design), and Sarah Vaughn (story, script), reminds me again of what I noticed about Sex Criminals, the developing relationship genre comics coming from Image. It's a great thing that there's room for works that would have previously been self-published or small press presented in a more "mainstream" format that readers can acquire in shops. But this is also a genre comic in an understated sci-fi way, in a world of clicking robots and media interface. Alex is recovering from an old break-up, and we watch the nuances of his daily life before the topic of a possible "android girlfriend" is brought up by worried family members and this begins to establish the ongoing plot of the book. The success of this book will be determined by the low-key tone established by Luna and Vaughn in both their writing style and in the artwork. It's not a new idea for a sci-fi work, but so far the book is presented in a compelling way. Alex is clearly depressed by his crisp, futuristic life and the artwork does plenty to make you feel the weight and sterility of the world he's moving in. The question is whether an artificial thing, moving in the same artificial world as Alex can change all that for him. It's a strong first issue.
Painkiller Jane launches from Icon (a creator-owned division of Marvel) this week, written by Jimmy Palmiotti, with a main cover by Amanda Conner, art by Juan Santacruz and Sam Lotfi, colors by Paul Mounts, and lettering and design by Bill Torolini. Palmiotti has always had a great instinct for drawing strong teams of creative types together, and fans have been waiting for this comic so it should generate plenty of attention. The first thing I noticed about the book was actually the colors. When you see an interesting color scheme, something that strikes you as being different from what you typically encounter, it's like hearing a new song on the radio that you realize has a special quality and could start charging up the charts. Mounts has a way of moving between realistic tones and mid-range psychedelic choices that is more subtle and striking than many other colorists who have a taste for popping hues but don't necessarily try to integrate them in a more grounded way. The layouts for the pages are also very tightly designed, packing in plenty of action and dialogue without slowing things down. This gives you the sense of a substantial story compressed into a single issue . Santacruz knows how to render action and keep the adrenaline moving and a wide range of characters from Palmiotti give the story scope. In short, you get pulled in pretty quickly. It's a powerful first issue and bodes very well for expectant fans. A "welcome back" essay from Palmiotti also explains the labor of love he's been pursuing since 1994 and gives insights into Jane's design and psychology as a character.
The Occultist returns in its second issue from Dark Horse, and I have to admit I had a moment of anticipation, just a little jolt, when I saw it on the shelf. It's a fun book for many reasons and plays to my taste in comics in a direct way. Story is by Mike Richardson and Tim Seely, with art by Mike Norton, colors by the great Allen Passalaqua, and letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot. There's plenty high-end about that production team. Strange phone calls and stranger behavior open the book and then we're right into a mystical dreamspace for Rob, and astral spirits. Rob is walking straight into stranger and stranger elements, a thin divide between the real world and the occult world, this issue. The particular wow factor of this installment is a trip several characters take as astral projections, with excellent artwork and colors pursuing that concept. For Rob, this is as mystical an experience as he could hope to experience, a brush with "God". There's a seriousness to the levity in the book that continues to appeal, and it makes for the perfect Wednesday reading. If you aren't reading The Occultist yet, it's still on my recommended list.
Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight returns with Bee Vixens From Mars #2, with each 2 issue segment planned out to reflect a different grindhouse film genre. The double splash page with worshipping bee-women nude and semi-nude should give you a clue that the hints and plot-wheels turning in the first issue are now bursting into full-color life for readers. This issue is gloriously disturbing, and Chris Peterson's art is still gripping with its chunky lines accompanied by Nolan Woodward's pulpy, bold colors. Expect piles of severed heads, explosive gun-shots, and yes, giant maggots. There's a great sense of pacing in Bee Vixens that's even more apparent in issue #2, never heavy, always spot-on in terms of action, and it's just a playfully imaginative book from writer Alex de Campi. This book sells itself, but if the word isn't out enough yet, it won't be long. This is a flagship book for pulp movie fans and an unforgettable foray into grindhouse film visuals and concepts for comics.
Baltimore: The Infernal Train is back in its third issue, completing the arc from Dark Horse. The energetic mini-series doesn't let up, and it's still one of the strongest Baltimore stories yet, not surprisingly, since it's in the hands Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck, and Dave Stewart. But even for this team, they seem to be pulling out all of the stops. There seems to be a theme of severed heads and stormy weather in plenty of the comics this week, but those elements are particularly at home in a Baltimore Comic. The Vampire Hunter is back in his crazy combat element against a trainload of sinister beings about to take over a town only we have motion and highspeed hijinx that might remind you of the recent Wolverine film. I'm particularly happy with some explication the issue contains about the "Red King" and his "priests" as an influencing power on the human world, explaining more about the occult strife that the first World War stirred up, creating Baltimore's vendetta. The issue also calls into question Baltimore's own "damned" state and links him to his enemies in uncomfortable, but very thought-provoking ways. There's a big surprise in this issue, but I'll leave it to you to discover. If you're a fan of Baltimore and you've been falling behind, you'll kick yourself if you don't read this issue from cover to cover. You can take my word on that.
Marvel's Iron Man starts a new arc this week, and as an Iron Man reader, I'm particularly enthused to see some hard core science fiction themes taking over. Issue #18, continuing to be written by Kieron Gillen, with pencils by Joe Bennet, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Guru eFX, and lettering by Joe Caramagna, has a decisively different feel to the previous arc, but that's something exciting. Iron Man is a character and a series capable of great variety and Gillen seems to be relentlessly pursing that angle to bring us a world-hopping and technology-questioning series. We start off 30 years in the future, at a station orbiting the earth, so the "space" themes of the past arc are still in play. Iron Metropolitan arc splash pages are probably going to strike you as a Metropolis homage (the film), but the electronic feel and schema is sharply modern, too. This is further backed up by the appearance of a female android in a state of meltdown over the ways she's been consistently used as a servant, commenting on the excesses of this future society for the reader. But the mind-bending developments in the book are really focused around the idea that humanity is now "extinct in the wild" and that Tony Stark can now command ghost-fleets of futuristic suits. The warning that Tony can't "trust the A.I" lingers. This book is a bold move, a sudden setting of the stage for big things, and I'm impressed. This is a Stark story that's going to reframe and make you think about the premises of Tony's life and mechanical genius, and the implications of his ongoing work. It's a big, future world for Tony and the book is suggesting an epic scale that could be quite a yarn for fans.
Lastly, we have the already head-turning Vertigo series Hinterkind, which pursues the lives of post-apocalyptic teams of humans dealing with an evolutionary come-back by the natural world. The cover for issue #2 is a selling point, with characters falling into blue space, reminding readers that this is a series about the unknown. If you think you know what the next page holds, you're probably living in a false sense of security. That means great writing from Ian Edginton, and equally strong artwork from Francesco Trifogli that shies away from following adventure or fantasy tradition too closely in visual terms. We had wild animals in issue #1, but here we launch into neo-mythical ogre creatures, beings previously driven to the verges of the human world, almost to extinction. But now they're back and there is some hell to pay. We've got relationship tensions, the entrance of a new character who seems modeled on James Fennimore Cooper's Pathfinder (aka Leatherstocking, and Edginton is a highly literary man), Fairy Queens, internecine intra-species struggles, and maybe even the big question: can humans and mythical beings find some kind of ground for cooperation or is it going to be all knives out? Hinterkind is a series that so far doesn't know its own limits, and that is a fantastic thing. Rather than being a fairly goofy fantasy-element mash-up (though those can be appealing), it has a level of earnestness that speaks to the concerns of apocalypse narratives and that makes it feel significant, enabling it to carry themes that would otherwise be too heavy in an action-adventure story. Here's to Hinterkind never really finding limits for itself.
Wow! That is certainly all from me this week Live from my local comic book shop, Conquest Comics, in New Jersey. If you can believe it, that isn't even all the books you should be looking out for this week. I'm also taking home the new Trillium, Green Hornet #1, and the S.H.I.E.L.D Origins compilation from Marvel. What were your top books this week?
Special thanks to Conquest Comics in New Jersey. You can find their Facebook page here. They are currently dominating POP vinyl collectibles with their White Phoenix exclusive and now have their Metallic Harley Quinn exclusive in stock.
Hannah Means-Shannon is senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart.org. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.