Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Embracing the NEW in Comics: SAGA and The New Wave of Next-Great-Comics

The New Wave of Comics For the Digital Era

- A couple of weeks ago, I had a great time at my first ever Wonder-Con event. The pop-culture convention, slightly smaller cousin to the San Diego Comic-Con, is typically held in San Francisco, but this year came to Anaheim since the SF convention center was undergoing renovations. My friends and I braved some heavy So-Cal rain and a hugely-congested parking situation, and ended up packing in a lot of coolness into a single day of geek-nirvana. With a more manageable size than SDCC, it was relatively easy to jump from one panel to another without a lot of hassle, as well as to roam the convention floor in search of sweet merch.

We attended some great panels on that rainy Saturday: we saw the FOX movie panel, featuring the first-look at the new PROMETHEUS trailer, as well as live (!) appearances from writer Damon Lindeloff, stars Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender, and legendary director (and one of my personal film heroes) Ridley Scott. The trailer looked awesome, and it was great seeing all of those big names live and in person and having some great dialogue about the film. The second half of the panel covered ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, which looked like a lot of fun. We also saw this really intriguing panel for SOUND OF MY VOICE, the new indie sci-fi/thriller film from Brit Marling, who did Another Earth. The movie looked packed with potential, with a mind-bending story about a cult centered around a woman who claims to be a time-traveller from the future. We saw the first fifteen minutes of the film, which really drew you in and posed some fascinating questions. The icing on the cake was having some of the actors come out in character, as members of the cult - trying to get us to join them. Nice little marketing stunt there. We also went to an awesome panel / event called THE TOURNAMENT OF NERDS. It was hilarious - essentially a comedy showcase where very funny people debated the merits of various geek icons in a single-elimination tournament. So one round might see two comedians arguing over who would win in a fight: Freddy Kreuger of The Undertaker, another might be who's the better supporting cast member: J. Jonah Jameson or Alfred Pennyworth, and another might pose the mind-bending question of: which is better, The Twilight Zone, or Ferris Bueller's Day Off (lesson learned: NEVER underestimate The Twilight Zone). Good times.

In any case, what I'm leading up to is this: my first-ever Wonder-Con was a great time: I saw some great panels, bought some cool artwork, met some interesting and creative folks, and got to hang out with a number of friends. But what I didn't have a lot of excitement for - what I didn't see a ton of excitement for in general at the show - was comics.

Over the last several months, my geekiest hobby has quite simply burned me out. Like many, I've gone mostly digital. I now read a majority of new comics on my iPad, and while I still don't 100% love the experience, I've gotten much more used to it, and appreciate the benefits in terms of space-saving. Going digital though has forced me to reevaluate my comics-buying preferences a bit. In physical form, comics can be more of a comfort food. There's something nostalgic and relaxing about sitting down with a new Flash or Superman comic book. But in digital, some of that nostalgia-factor is taken out of the equation. Without that, and without the collectibility aspect, you become much more laser-focused on story and art. You begin scrutinizing the content in a way that is on the same level with TV or movies. Point being: there's no reason to buy a digital comic EXCEPT for the quality of the storytelling, and so I've found myself becoming more discerning with what I'm reading as I've gone digital.

The other reason I've been reevaluating is DC's New 52. Now that the initial storyarcs in all of the rebooted DC titles are wrapping up, I have to admit that only a handful of the new books have 100% grabbed me. Now, in the past, I might have hung on to books I didn't love only because I'd followed some of their storylines and characters for years and years. I had a fondness and attachment for them that drove me to stick with the DCU through good times and bad. But now that there is a relatively clean slate - again, I am much more laser-focused on quality. Books that kick ass on a monthly basis - the standouts like Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Batman - I'm in like Flynn. But a vast majority of the rest of the books - that have run the gamut from mediocre to just okay - I find myself eager to drop. Certainly, my wallet will thank me for not spending money on books that I only sort-of enjoy.

That said, the generally sorry state of mainstream superhero comics had me sort of down on the whole medium for a while. I used to get excited for the big new storylines and shake-ups, for the new creator changes and new spin-off titles. But now, I was feeling a double-whammy of comics doldrums. One, I wasn't liking a lot of the mainstream stuff I was reading, and two, I didn't have much of an attachment to the books as a whole. Where once I would have been outraged that these books weren't up to par, now ... I just felt kind of "meh" about the whole thing - at least they were screwing up "new" versions of the characters, and not the versions that I grew up with (back in the days before all superheroes were required to wear multi-jointed metallic armor with popped V-collars).

And yet ... in just the last couple of weeks, I have felt pretty re-invigorated as a comics fan. A huge upside to shopping digitally via the Comixology store is that even small indie titles are but one click away. And you never have to worry about books being under-ordered or selling out. And if you get on board a little late, or miss an issue or two - no problem, and no need to hunt down hard-to-find back issues. Combine the convenience of digital with an influx of new, slightly-out-of-the-mainstream books that have come out of the gate firing on all cylinders, and hey, all of a sudden, comics are back. And most of that has nothing to do with superheroes.

And think about it: you've just got a new iPad or Kindle Fire - what better to get you hooked on the wonderful world of comics than a brand-spankin' new series with no baggage or prior knowledge required. So ... what new books should you be reading? Here are five books that are for adults, that are new and different, and that seem off to a cracklin' start:

1.) SAGA

- Several years ago, writer Brian K. Vaughan changed comics forever with his seminal series Y: THE LAST MAN. A funny, moving, thought-provoking story for the ages, Y instantly established BKV as the new king-of-the-hill in terms of comics scribes. Vaughan followed up Y with the similarly-great political thriller Ex Machina, as well as a couple of one-off projects like the amazing graphic novel Pride of Baghdad. But then, BKV left to write for LOST, and years went by without any new comics from the man who helped give new life to the industry. But now, the best is back - with a new ongoing comic called Saga that looks to be vintage Vaughan. Issue #1 came out last month, with #2 set to be released this week. It's hard to know what to make of Saga so far, except that it has all kinds of potential to be awesome. It's Star Wars meets Romeo & Juliet meets Y: The Last Man. It's a sprawling sci-fi outer space epic filled with weird alien races, and political struggles to rival Game of Thrones. But most of all, it's jam-packed with BKV's knack for humanistic, relatable characters (even in crazy settings), and his trademark ear for great dialogue. SAGA is just getting started, but it's already clear that this book is destined for greatness.


- I really dug the just-released first issue of this Vertigo-published horror-mystery. It takes place in an alternate history where Edwardian London has been ravaged by a zombie apocalypse. To help quell the death and destruction, once-secretive vampires have come out into the open, offering to change people into the undead so as to be resistant to the zombies. The result - a crazy alt-history where zombies and vampires are at war! And, in the center of all this, a vampire detective investigates something that this undead era hasn't seen in years - a bonafide murder. Great writing, cool world-building, sleek art - this is one that has some promise.


- From crime-writer extraordinaire Ed Brubaker, and his frequent partner-in-crime, moody artist Sean Phillips, comes a brand new noir series that, so far, is pretty badass. The twisting plot is still unfolding, but after four issues, I'm really intrigued. Basically, a hard-boiled 1930's-era detective is wrapped up in an occult mystery, involving evil supernatural mob-bosses, Lovecraftian monsters, and a beautiful / immortal femme fatale named Josephine. To say more would be spoiling, but I will say that this book oozes atmosphere.


- The first issue of this series just came out a few weeks back, but I'm already dyin' to know where the story can possibly go. Basically, this is another alt-history book, that ponders what would have happened if The Manhattan Project *wasn't* just a place where the atomic bomb was developed, but a crazy mad-science factory where all sorts of insane stuff was going on? What if Albert Einstein and Oppenheimer were working on dozens if not hundreds of crazy projects back in the day, few if any of which were ever actually revealed to the public. It's a great premise, and the first issue of the series - penned by Jonathan Hickman - has a particularly killer twist to boot.


- From Paul Cornell, who's made some big waves the last few years at DC, this is another new Vertigo series with a great premise. In the American Southwest, Senator Arcadia Alvarado is about to launch her presidential campaign. She seems to have some momentum on her side and grassroots support. But the stress of the campaign isn't the only thing on her mind - as it turns out, Alvarado is also a multiple-time alien abductee - and she has strong suspicions that a full-scale invasion is imminent. I really dug the first issue of Saucer Country's X-Files meets West Wing vibe, and am really curious to give this one a shot and see where it goes from here.

- So there you have it. Some great new books, all with the potential to be the next big thing. Of course, there are some other amazing books out there that you should try out: Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Sweet Tooth, The Walking Dead, Invincible, and Fables are just a couple that I highly recommend. So get to buying. Or downloading. It's a brave new world out there.

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