This is the second time a book published by DC Comics has broken the rules and earned a place in my indie short box. This time, it’s Metalzoic by the legendary team of Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, and there’s not much about it you can call “mainstream”. Metalzoic takes place in a future where the Earth is ruled by intelligent, mechanical beasts patterned after modern and prehistoric animals — and boy, do they love to fight!
Yes, you just witnessed a brutal showdown between a gorilla with a saw blade on his head, and a lion with a chainsaw for a tongue and metal skis for feet. Do I really need to say anything about the story’s plot, or is that cool enough for you? Two of my favorite pages show a shark attacking a caravan of wooly mammoths during a trek across the ice.
It’s like some sort of psychotic nature special! I can almost hear David Attenborough narrating it for a BBC documentary.
O’Neill always delivers wonderfully twisted artwork, but he pulls out all the stops to illustrate Metalzoic‘s endless mecha-menagerie.
The story is interesting, especially since the main character — the saw-blade gorilla — is a brutal, amoral hell-raiser whose brawn and ferocity might be the only thing standing between the Earth and total destruction.
And just look at him go!
When all this takes place and how it came to be are slowly revealed throughout the story. We don’t get a clear timeline until about 50 pages in. It might have been helpful to see a historic summary earlier in the story, so here it is.
If you’re like me, and you wish Godzilla movies would cut out most of the human-related nonsense and just show more monster fights, then this 64-page epic adventure is the book for you!
Collector’s Guide:Metalzoic; DC Comics Graphic Novel #6, 1986. Though it’s often out of stock at MyComicShop, you can usually find it on Amazon for between $15 and $30.
This week’s pick from the short box of indie comics takes us once again into the world of crime fiction. A History of Violence from John “Judge Dredd” Wagner and Vince Locke really puts the “novel” in “graphic novel”, telling a deeply detailed story in its nearly 300 pages. I read it years ago but didn’t see the film until this summer. The book was more satisfying, especially the ending, which is a visceral punch to the gut in print but completely re-written and watered down for the film.
So, let’s start at the beginning, because A History of Violence opens with murderous intent.
Pretty soon, the murderers stop for a bite to eat in typical, small-town America, where everything is quaint, peaceful, and family-friendly. But when they try to start trouble at the local diner, the dude at the counter decides homie don’t play thatshit, and he totally destroys them.
Diner dude wastes these guys and becomes a local celebrity. There, the story gets bogged down with scenes of his resultant interactions with the yuk-yuks from Anywhere, USA as they fawn over him at little-league games and other scenes I could skip. But this shift in the hero’s calm, daily life gets kicked up a notch when the leader of a criminal organization recognizes diner dude in a newspaper article, and decides to visit.
This scene begins a gradual reveal of diner dude’s past, and how he came to be involved with the underworld in his youth and eventually assumed a new identity so he could live a pastoral life in Generic, USA. The middle third of the book tells that story as a flashback, and it’s almost as much fun as the part in the Godfather novel where we flashback to Vito Corleone’s rise to power in his youth.
The first time I read A History of Violence, I couldn’t put it down. But upon re-reading, I could have done without so many extended, dialogue-heavy scenes of regular folks standing or sitting around while having an interpersonal drama. It often feels like this could be a real barnburner of a tale if we could just cut some of the “normal folks chatting in a mild state of distress” scenes, and get into the absolutely fucked-up criminal world that really drives the plot and drama. And by “absolutely fucked up”, I mean pages like this:
Earlier, I implied I didn’t like the movie, but mostly what I hated were the changes to the ending. In fact, the film did a better job portraying the shoot-out on diner dude’s lawn where his son was involved, and the film had a somewhat tighter pace. Also, Ed Harris as the eyeless criminal guy totally rocks.
I’m a bit ambivalent about the art in this story. The panel layouts and the visual storytelling of both quiet conversations and brutal conflict are top-notch, but I can’t escape the feeling that that I am looking at a sketch of the story instead of the final version. The art is very scratchy, and while it has a visceral power, after a couple hundred pages I started wishing another inker would come along and tighten it up. On the other hand, this is a gritty and compelling story once you get into it, and a gritty visual style suits it well.
Fans of crime fiction should read A History of Violence at least once because, despite its flaws, it is a dramatic and emotional journey that not even the film could match, and it isn’t a story you will soon forget. The original edition is long out of print, but the 2005 reprint will run you about $20.
This week’s pick from the short box of indie comics comes from Ricardo Delgado, whose Age of Reptiles is among my all-time favorite comic books. Hieroglyph delivers Delagado’s signature style of primarily visual storytelling with vast landscapes and non-verbal drama, only in a science-fiction setting on a faraway planet.
This four-issue series published by Dark Horse is full of visual splendor, as a lone explorer seeks to understand a distant planet and the unusual beings who inhabit it — and, along the way, make some really awful decisions and narrowly escape with his life several times.
Part of the fun of this series — and something which was commented on many times in the letters pages — is that we don’t really know what the deal is with the alien beings and all their activities, their strange and massive temples, and their relationships to each other. We experience the planet and its inhabitants the same way the explorer does: with incomplete information, leaving us to try to work out the meaning for ourselves.
The fourth issue of Hierolgyph is the problematic one, because it undermines exactly what made the first three issues so much fun. Eventually, a recurring alien character appears at the explorer’s ship and — lo and behold — it has sorted how to speak English, and it launches into exposition to explain everything we’ve seen so far. I don’t know if this was an editorial decision or an authorial one, but I would have been much happier with just about any other ending that did not involve aliens expositing in English.
Despite fumbling the ball in the fourth quarter, Hieroglyph is an intriguing read for most of its run, and Delgado’s ability to portray the feelings and reactions of both human and non-human characters through purely visual means is without peer. You can have it for only $3 or $4 per issue.
Like last week’s pick from the short box of indie comics, this week features another crime story with a bad-ass female lead. Down is a four-issue series by Warren Ellis with art from Tony Harris and Cully Hamner, and its portrayal of a police officer infiltrating a violent criminal organization reminds me in some ways of one of my favorite films: The Departed by Martin Scorsese. Down isn’t quite as complex, as the fast pace and tight focus relentlessly blaze through the story up until the bitter end. But like The Departed, this story doesn’t end where you think it will.
Down puts our leading lady into the middle of a conflict between crooked cops and even more crooked gangsters, and every step of the journey takes her into increasingly questionable decisions about just whose side she is on. In her quest to get close to the criminal leader, she is forced to consider just how far she is willing to go to maintain her cover.
Down has a high body count and graphic violence, but I feel the real intensity takes place around just how much her experiences deform and re-define the protagonist’s conception of who she is and what role she wants to play in life. At some point, she realizes she has crossed a line she can never step back over and return to normalcy, and her only option is to choose a new path of her own design.
It’s one of my favorite of Ellis’ short works, and all the better because it doesn’t end with a big explosion, a convention he tended to over-use when he seemed to be cranking out a new series every week. It’s a fun read if you like crime fiction and bad-ass women, and you can get it for about $2 an issue.
Today’s pick from the short box of indie comics is Felon, a four-issue series from the mind of Greg Rucka, who is known for both his crime stories and his preference for writing female lead characters. I have a few other Rucka gems to share with you later, but they all feature a detective as the main character, and this one follows the adventures of a remorseless criminal.
She’s a bad-ass without being an over-the-top action hero, and even though we are sympathetic to her because her crew screwed her over, she isn’t exactly role-model material. She’s concerned about one thing, and one thing only, and this focus on her goal is apparent from page one. She is released from prison and only has three words to say:
She sticks to this simple, direct goal through three issues of violence, and the plot is pretty straight-forward, even when a new heist enters the picture. But the drive, the unrelenting focus she maintains, and her subordination of any empathy or morality to the intensity of her avarice made a huge impression on me. Felon influenced my own stories about an unrepentant female criminal who constantly smokes cigarettes and blasts anyone who gets in her way, so I owe Rucka and company a debt of gratitude.
But it’s the fourth issue that really blows my mind. The third issue brings an end to the heist story, and you wonder what’s next, but then Rucka turns the world upside down. The fourth issue introduces a female detective who is on the trail of our leading lady, completely switches to her point of view, and shows how her focus on the case destroys her personal life. Also, the first three issues are full color, but the fourth is black and white. The titular felon only appears in flashbacks related by other characters, such as a scene that recalls one of her robberies and demonstrates just how cold she can be.
Felon is a quick read but a fun one if you love crime fiction and bad-ass women, and you can get it for about $2 an issue.
Today’s pick from the short box of indie comics features an issue that doesn’t even exist yet! But it will soon, because the Kickstarter for Lords of the Cosmos #3 is now underway, and it is the tenth Kickstarter from Jason Lenox, whose work first appeared on this blog about six years ago.
Let’s have a sneak preview of artwork from a series Jason describes as a “sci-fi and fantasy comic for fans of He-Man, Thundercats, Heavy Metal, and Flash Gordon!”
The 1980s nostalgia is strong with Lords of the Cosmos. Jason says, “Take all your retro action figure and geek-out fantasies, throw them in a blender with some cheap tequila, put that bad boy on high, and drink whatever mangled, gnarled mess comes out!”
This week’s pick from the indie box isn’t even indie, having been published by DC Comics, but it has an indie feel and showcases the talents of two future superstars. Scene of the Crime is an early collaboration between Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, who would later do an amazing run together on Daredevil at Marvel.
Scene of the Crime follows the adventures of a private investigator as he unravels an increasingly sinister and fucked-up story, and I wanted to love it. It would probably make a solid movie. But after the second issue, I was flipping through pages to see the big reveal. The narration in the captions starts in first gear on page one and never really accelerates, and the art is sometimes too clean when it could use more grit and grime.
Scene of the Crime faces a structural problem in that we as readers get hints that the investigator has some past tragedy, but we don’t get told what it is until the final pages. This makes it feel more like a postscript than something crucial to understanding the character’s motivations, and by the time we get there, the main story is basically over. So, did it really matter? It feels like it didn’t.
Despite its flaws, Scene of the Crime is a glimpse into the early days of a writer and artist team who eventually crafted tightly-wound, tense crime stories. The four-issue series shows the team has the ability to tell a complex tale of crime and mystery, and I see it as a stepping stone to later masterpieces such as the Brubaker/Lark run on Daredevil and Brubaker’s epic collaboration with Sean Phillips on Criminal, one of my all-time favorite comic book series.
Today’s pick from the box of indie and small-press comics is Tales of the Cherokee. Let’s have a look at Gene Gonzales’ illustrated version of the Cherokee creation myth in “How the World Was Made.” Dig that splash page featuring the worlds above and below!
Below is another tale, a Cherokee love story Gene calls “The Origin of Strawberries.”
This week’s pick from the short-box of indie and small-press comics deals once again with Unnatural Selection, much like the Elephantmen issues we looked at by Casey & Ladronn. But this pick comes from CrossGen comics and deals with evolutionary developments in the course of a war between humans and reptilians.
From the reptiles’ perspective, they’re the good guys. One of them discovers that by eating the humans, the reptiles get smarter and more adaptable like humans. This change allows them to kick our butts in intergalactic warfare. But the politics and religion of the Saurians make things more complex, as does interpersonal rivalry that can only be solved through sword fights and ass kicking!
Hell, yes! It’s like Mark Waid wrote this one just for me, and the artwork is so much fun though this whole story, from the creative panel layouts to the glorious colors.
Saurians: Unnatural Selection is a two-issue limited series telling the tale of the reptile that first made the discovery that eating people is the smart thing to do for an evil space dinosaur, and even if you never followed CrossGen’s main titles, this is a damn good story!
This is Sold-Out lampoons the comic book industry of the 1980s, and no one walks away without a few lumps. It’s too bad the creators never did a sequel satirizing the 1990s speculator craze. Long-time comic book fans will enjoy picking out the altered comic book titles on the racks and the ridiculous hyperbole about the medium we know and love.
My favorite moment might be when a rodent and a turtle use random words from the dictionary to come up with the title of the latest black-and-white indie sensation: The Catastrophic Obsequious Belgian Hibernation Retrieval. Someone must create that book!
This Is Sold Out has an outrageous second issue that concludes the story as the “Color Police” get together to eradicate all competition for the black-and-white madness. Absolute lunacy!
-From Sold Out; 1986, FantaCo. Last we checked, FantaCo was defunct and this title is out of print.
Inside the indie comics box today, it’s Teknophage: a walking, talking, totally evil dinosaur who rules a world much like ours, only infinitely more terrible. Teknophage feeds on souls, which he extracts from helpless humans in the horrifying vats of his mobile city. He cruises his planet spreading misery every where he goes. Many have tried to overthrow him, only to have their souls ripped from their tortured bodies and consumed.
Rick Veitch created this evil bastard reptile for Tekno Comix, a Neil Gaiman venture. With artist Bryan Talbot, Veitch blends horror, science fiction, and a cynically hilarious social satire to make Teknophage a story you will never forget – assuming you survive!
Here is a preview of the pages where Teknophage recounts his earliest days as just another evil telepathic dinosaur, and how he discovered the multi-dimensional technology that made him master of the planet.
Collector’s Guide: – From Teknophage #4-5; Tekno Comix, 1995.
Today we open the indie short-box to find the first and only issue of a series that never happened: Salvador!
The ultimate intent of the lavish, wordless art remains a mystery to me. I felt like I followed the central character’s journey, even though the world was unfamiliar to me, and I could draw some conclusions about what it was all about. But did this episode set up a longer storyline, or is this issue a self-contained story? What did the creators think was coming next?
The blurb in the back of the book, which you can see in the scans below, says Salvador was to be a five-issue series, and the main character was a “savior for DNA discards” in a world of genetic engineering gone awry. He can fly, but he was born brittle, so he is easily broken. I don’t know if that will help you make more sense of this unfinished work, but have a look at these gorgeous pages anyway.
Collector’s Guide: Salvador #1; Boom Studios, 2007.
The short-box of indie and small-press comics this week crawls right out of the gutter to bring you the underground skateboard glory of Thrasher!
Thrasher Comics came from High Speed, the publishers of Thrasher Magazine, who also produced the art magazine Juxtapoz. You don’t need to be a skater to dig the artwork in Thrasher Comics, however. Here is a sample: L. E. Coleman’s “Skate Greats of History,” featuring Elvis Presley skating on a guitar, and Julius Caesar skating the Colossuem.
Though it’s unsigned, Thrasher contributor Ken Jones informed us the cover was created by Kevin Ancell. The style brings to mind the work of Rick Griffin. Griffin did freelance work for Thrasher Magazine and even designed several Vans shoes, a brand loved by skaters everywhere.
– From Thrasher #2; 1988, High Speed.
Here to introduce the descent into the dreamworld is a strange and nameless beast who begins every issue of this unique series.
In Rare Bit Fiends, Rick Veitch made his dreams into pages of comic book art. Don’t look for traditional stories in Rare Bit Fiends. You’ll only find the psychedelic language of dreams and the weird workings of the inner mind. Veitch’s artwork is in top form.
Below is a sample of an illustrated dream whose narrative comes from a special-guest dreamer Neil Gaiman and rendered by Roarin’ Rick in ultra-cosmic perfection!
What’s inside the short-box of indie comics this week? Dystopic, post-apocalyptic future? Check. Girls kissing in punk-rock gear? Check. Ass kickings? Check. Tattooed mutant brothers living in a vandalized World Trade Center with a massive stockpile of weed? Check.
How about a guy eating cockroaches? Dudes hacking off a dude’s limbs and feeding them to rats? One totally stacked mama running a vicious gang of leather-clad boy-toys who kill on command? Check, Check, Check!
What’s there NOT to like about Zero Killer?!? Arvid Nelson put together a monumental adventure story with complex characters in this six-issue series published by Dark Horse. Illustrator Matt Camp made the story come to life perfectly, including a rockin’ wraparound cover featuring dinosaur skulls! It’s like they made this one just for me.
What’s inside the short-box of independent and small-press comic books this week? It’s Elephantmen from Image Comics! Now, you might argue that Image Comics is too big to be considered “indie” or “small press” anymore, and maybe you’re right. But I remember when it was a start-up company with only a handful of titles, and one important thing remains the same: a focus on creator-owned projects.
Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen is one of several books that made me pay attention to Image Comics after having written them off years before as having better art than story, and too much focus on spandex-clad super-types. While that judgment might seem more accurate if you consider the quality I encountered in the earliest issues of WildC.A.T.s and StormWatch when Image began, even those titles became pretty awesome a few years later. So, Image can thank Richard Starkings for getting my damned attention, and I also thank Richard for the amazing tutorial he created that taught me how to letter comic books using Adobe Illustrator. See the Comicraft company website for awesome fonts, and that tutorial which is well worth the $10 if you want to learn how to letter digitally.
In the Unnatural Selection story–one of my favorites–Joe Casey and Ladronn created a gruesome future history for Richard Starking’s Elephantmen. A future where soldiers are bred from men and beasts, incubated in horrific labs, and indoctrinated as murderous slaves. Dig the following sample pages from Elephantmen: Unnatural Selection. We witness the birth of the starring character Hip Flask and the strange brand that gave him his name. Also, we encounter the brutal training and combat our hybrid heroes endured before they gained their freedom. One thing is for sure: mad scientists are jerks!
What’s inside the short-box of indie comic books this week? The punk-rock mini-series that glorifies juvenile debauchery and ill-advised life choices as only Brian Wood and Steve Rolston could bring you: Pounded!
Did you ever have one of those mornings when only the F word will do? Heavy Parker has, too! In the third and final issue of Pounded, after getting his ass beat, Heavy makes it through four whole pages of a lousy morning with just one word to describe his feelings.
Pounded from Brian “DMZ” Wood and Steve Rolston is a quick read but a fun one. It’s much more guy-oriented than Wood’s work on New York Four and New York Five. I got the impression those were written for a young female audience who finds drama in texting and… texting… and more texting about texting… PLEASE KILL ME! But in Pounded, we get rock and roll, tough talk, sex and drugs in the bathrooms of concert venues, brutal fist fights in the street, and plenty of profanity! Man out with Heavy Parker today. Guaranteed to improve your fucking morning!
– From Pounded #3; Oni Press, 2002.
– Reprinted in the Pounded TPB (which is more often in stock.)
What’s inside the short-box of indie comic books this week? Nemesis, published by the UK-based Eagle Comics, and originating in the pages of 2000AD. Thanks to my high-school buddy Brian and his older brother Michael, the insanity of British comic books was percolating into my awareness by the mid-1980s, and by the time creators such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis (to name just a few) were working on mainstream franchises at Marvel and DC (or their subsidiaries), I was primed for a ‘British Invasion’ of American comics that rivaled that of blues-based rock music in the 1960s.
For me, it began with Nemesis. When Brian saw this creative team sparked my interest, he also shared with me Marshall Law and Metalzoic. Since then, I’ve dug O’Neill’s art on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Mills’ work on Flesh, which I only discovered decades after its original publication.
The following self-contained short story about Nemesis begins in a dungeon where alien species are imprisoned, along with humans suspected of harboring or assisting aliens. Though they suffer, their spirits are lifted by memories of the revolutionary alien warrior, Nemesis!
Nemesis the Warlock! His name strikes fear into the hearts of humans everywhere. Humans living in a religious monarchy that persecutes and exterminates all aliens. Just look at this glorious propaganda poster for Torquemada, the arch-nemesis of Nemesis and totally disgusting scumbag.
That’s right. This evil freak is everywhere, spearheading an inquisition across the galaxy to torture and murder peace-loving aliens! It’s almost like living in the United States in 2019!
But take heart, species of the universe. Nemesis the Warlock has an even freakier face than Torquemada, and his sword is way more huge! So huge that it has its own origin story — a violent, grotesque space epic of suffering and sacrifice for all the wrong reasons. Suck it, humans!
“Indie Box” will be a series of posts named after the cardboard short-box where I store a modest collection of independent and small-press books that were limited series or very short series, or even a single issue. The Indie Box series began yesterday and will appear every Wednesday at least through September and — if all goes well — through the end of 2019.
Two things prompted this new series. One was the recent arrival of a stack of comic books that necessitated re-organizing my short-boxes to make space for everything, and that event made me realize how many small-press gems I have that have never been featured on this blog. This oversight needs rectified!
The second prompt was that every time I try to edit and update older posts on this blog now — from 2013, for example — WordPress gives me an error that it can’t recognize the post’s URL, and it kicks me out of the editor. The only solution I can find is to go through the older “wp-admin” route to edit posts, and that post-editing format is one or two generations outdated now. (If you have a better solution, please leave me a comment, because I have tried and failed for more than a year!)
The new Indie Box series will combine several things. First, I’m pulling older indie comics posts from this blog’s earliest years and giving them fresh updates with new text and links for you, and in the process converting them to new posts I can edit in the more recent WP editor for my own sanity. Second, I’m digging into a digital archive of comic book scans that never got unpacked and previewed for you on this site, and that archive includes vintage goodies by writers such as Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, to name a few. Third, I’ll be dusting off the scanner to capture some of my favorite pages from my physical collection so you can enjoy a look inside lesser-known and under-rated comics that rocked my world.
This week, the indie short-box holds the only issue of Alexis I’ve ever seen. This book is so small-press that it might as well be extinct — which is a shame for a book with bold and exciting black-and-white artwork, boobs, and tentacles.
Individual issues appear sometimes on eBay and Amazon, but with little agreement on the market value. I’ve never seen a listing for a full set of either Volume 1 or Volume 2, and certainly not both together. [This is no longer true! See my update in the Collector’s Guide below.] Each volume was five issues long. Below are my scans of issue #5 of the second volume. It seems like a grand climax to a fun story with awesome art that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’d love to see the other nine issues.
Art & Story by Adam Kelly. Published March, 1996 by Kim Thompson and Gary Groth of Eros Comix, a defunct imprint of Fantagraphics. The inside cover contains this text: “RETAILERS ARE INSTRUCTED NOT TO SELL THIS PUBLICATION TO MINORS.” Compared to some of the publisher’s outright porn comics advertised in the back of this issue, Alexis #5 seems pretty mild.
Collector’s Guide: I have no idea where to find this series. Do you? Leave a comment and enlighten me. UPDATE: I found a store that currently has all issues of Volume 2, and a package deal containing all ten issues of Volumes 1 and 2. Prices are about $10 per issue. See the listings at AbeBooks.com.