The Epics of Enkidu comic book features an autistic superhero in what could be the sequel to the oldest known story in human history: The Epics of Gilgamesh. The story takes place in a modern setting where Enkidu is brought back and does not remember who he is. His brain works so fast that everything around him moves too slowly. This makes him act socially odd and interact with the world differently, but it also helps him analyze everything. He sees the patterns of things that can happen before they happen, which is handy in a fight, but not when you try to communicate with him.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite pieces of fiction is Frank Miller’s Sin City series. I discovered it at the Las Vegas public library about eighteen years ago when I checked out the A Dame to Kill For TPB. It was the most awesome thing I’d ever read, with over-the-top brutality and an atmosphere that was darker than the blackest noir. It was so intense about being intense that it was funny and morbidly serious at the same time, and the first thing I did after reading it was read it again. Then I tracked down the other stories! One had dinosaurs.
For a while I had the complete series in an awesome collected edition, but those books were smaller than the full-sized TPBs, and there’s just something about this series that suits being as big as possible. The original TPB collections also appear to include more pages than were printed in the original serialized formats, such as extra splash pages for multiple perspectives of Dwight holding a dude’s head underwater in a toilet in The Big Fat Kill. The one missing ingredient in the earliest TPBs is color, the use of just one primary color as an accent to individual stories, such as the yellow highlights in the TPB for That Yellow Bastard. Still, I’m okay without the color if I get a bigger page size!
The black and white art is insanely melodramatic, as shown in a couple pages of Marv walking in the rain from the first Sin City TPB, later titled The Hard Goodbye. The text is like a hard-boiled detective novel with the volume turned up to eleven. I not only love this scene, I love that it goes on for ten whole pages — eleven in the TPB!
While writing last week’s post about Next Men, I looked into some other John Byrne works I hadn’t seen yet, including his stint on The Sensational She-Hulk. That run is best known for relentlessly breaking the fourth wall and having the characters be aware they were in a comic book. Byrne based the fiftieth issue on a gag that he had been killed, and the cast needed to find a new writer and artist. So, he showed how some of his friends in the industry would do a She-Hulk story. That’s how we got a couple pages of a Sin City She-Hulk.
This post was made possible by this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to buy comics. Recent store credit made it possible to reconnect with the Sin City TPBs that first hooked me on the series. Thank you!
This week’s pick from the indie comics short box is Utopiates, a four-issue black-and-white series focusing on characters who take a drug that temporarily alters their personality and emotions, but with violent and disastrous results.
The first issue opens with a full page of Gen-X angst that sets up what, at first, appears to be a simple tale about a young man who takes a drug to escape the dull hopelessness of his life.
By the end of the first issue, it becomes clear this tale is not so simple. We learn that the drug is somehow giving people specific personality traits because it is composed of genetic material copied from specific people. I don’t buy that bit of pseudo-science at all, but playing along with this central idea of injecting genetics like drugs does make for some interesting developments. For example, the young man in the first issue starts killing people his drug dealer assigns to him, but when he injects some Jack Ruby DNA, he kills the wrong person. This doesn’t end well for him.
The second and third issue tell the story of a different young man who served in a war as part of a private military contractor’s invasion force. We learn that he and all the contractors were constantly hopped up on one of these genetic drugs to reduce their fear and increase ferocity.
This two-part story shows how the soldier does not adapt well to normal society after his contract is complete and he can no longer get his drugs. The robotic psych counselor the company forces him to see is useless, so the young man starts looking for a source of the drug. His path leads him to discover whose DNA he and his troops were injecting.
The fourth issue tells the story of another former soldier, a woman who becomes an assassin for hire much like the character in the first issue. It suggests that the mysterious drug dealer in all these stories is giving out these gene-drugs and manipulating people as an art form. I found that motivation a bit lackluster, but I suspect that if the series had continued, then writer Josh Finney would have given us more depth and detail about what makes the dealer tick.
I love the artwork in this series, with Finney collaborating with artist Kat Rocha to produce moody, dramatic pages that look amazing without color. I don’t know why the series ended, but it feels like it could be a treatment for an ongoing TV series with action, adventure, mystery, futurism, and a bit of social commentary. Finally, it’s possible that Finney took the name of the series from a 1964 book detailing research into why people take LSD. You can read a review and summary of that book in the University of Chicago archives.
The four issues of Utopiates make a fairly quick but thought-provoking read, and you can have them for about $2 a piece.
This week’s pick from the indie short box of comics is the complete four-volume collection Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition. It’s also an entry in the big box of free comics series, because I wouldn’t have this collection if not for this blog’s readers. This espionage thriller featuring a British female spy comes from the mind of crime novelist Greg Rucka and an art team that changes with every major arc, giving each episode a unique look and feel.
The four volumes total nearly 1500 pages, which includes the entire single-issue series and three supplementary Declassified series, plus a slew of extras such as interviews, scripts, and sketchbooks. I loved it, with a few reservations, and it was maybe the third time I read the series.
Years ago, I sold a complete collection, and you can see photos of the interior art and full-color covers in my old post about the collection. I had discovered a few scattered issues in a used bookstore and gradually pieced together the set before selling it. With the Definitive Edition, it was great to read it all again in chronological order.
Still, you will find a few a gaps in chronology. Queen & Country is also a series of prose novels, and the comic-book adaptations sometimes skip a novel. “These events take place after the events in [novel]” comes up at least once. But, you get enough context from each story to follow along anyway, and a helpful flashback or two fills in the important gaps.
With the Definitive Edition, you won’t get the full-color covers, though the black-and-white versions are high quality. The page size is slightly smaller than a typical comic book, which occasionally makes the lettering a little hard to read. It was not as bad as the Tintin collection, which practically required a magnifying glass. I only struggled in a couple of stories, such as the first one where Tara’s thoughts appear in a cursive script that didn’t fare well from being shrunk.
The black-and-white art of the original series still looks incredible at this size, though some of the edges of panels disappear in the gutter — unless you want to test the limits of how far you can force the book’s spine open. A wider blank space in the gutter would have been a good thing. But, each of the four volumes is a sturdy paperback with a solid binding and high-quality paper.
Overall, it’s an awesome way to enjoy the complete series, and way easier and more cost-effective than trying to hunt down all the single issues one-by-one.
The art and writing are top-notch, with a compelling lead character who does some bad-ass spy stuff but has way more interesting internal and emotional conflicts than, say, James Bond. Tara Chace has depth, and she changes over the course of the series, and her world is turned upside down more than once. She has a strong supporting cast, and several merit standalone stories as leads in their own right.
Toward the end of the series, reading it one weekend as I did, I noticed there were an awful lot of scenes of people talking in offices, and pages of people having discussions that made a point but didn’t really advance the adventure. These were interesting for a while in the beginning, but by the end I was way more more invested in what Tara was doing than what some guys in offices were droning on about, and I skipped a few scenes.
You’ll probably feel the same way about the leading lady, and your mind might be blown at the cliffhanger ending of the series, and you might even want to pick up some of the novels afterward!
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 collaboration with Sean Phillips on Criminal, one of my all-time favorite works of fiction.
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.)