Life A.D.

Last week, Image Comics released book one of A.D.: After Death, a three-part sci-fi spectacular that could easily be the best comic book series released this year. This also happens to be the work of two of today’s top comic book talents, with multi-awarded Scott Snyder writing the script and the equally talented Jeff Lemire providing his signature style of art in full color. Both creators have separately done terrific work in the science fiction genre, so there was no way I was going to pass up this masterpiece.

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A.D. explores a world where the human race finally found a cure for death. The story follows Jonah Cooke, who seems just about as average as the next guy, except he has a habit of stealing things.

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It’s gotten so bad that he even stole a cow on his last day at work.

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Other than that, not much is known about the protagonist’s current situation, although the story does go back to his childhood several times. These flashback scenes are more text-heavy, allowing more room for storytelling.

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Snyder’s writing is thick with emotions, adding a lot of depth to the story.

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And as good as his prose is, you’ll equally enjoy Lemire’s art, which dominates the comic book’s future scenes.

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What makes the comic even more enjoyable is that it is presented in large format, so it is actually much bigger than your usual comic book – perfect for showcasing Lemire’s art. Overall, the first book is a solid opening issue, giving you a glimpse of what a deathless future is like, while allowing you to get to know the protagonist just enough to make you want to know more. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two issues.

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The secret of Murder City

Over the past few years, many a comic book series has transitioned to the small screen with much success. From superhero-based shows like Arrow, The Flash and Daredevil to supernatural dramas such as Outcast and the record-breaking The Walking Dead, fans have been treated to a plethora of live action adaptations of their illustrated favorites. “There’s no better time to be a comic book fan,” as they say, and it seems the comics-to-TV trend isn’t dying away anytime soon.

Here’s another comic book series that many believe could be the next hit TV show.

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Nailbiter: The Murder Edition vol. 1

Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Mike Henderson, Nailbiter is a crime/mystery comic that takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon, a (fictional) city which gave birth to 16 of the most notorious serial killers in the world. In this first volume, NSA Agent Nicholas Finch travels to the city to investigate the disappearance of his friend Charles Carrol, an FBI agent who went missing while investigating the cause of the town’s apparent penchant for producing psychotic murderers. It doesn’t take long for the hot-headed NSA agent to find trouble…

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…and for trouble to find him.

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Without any solid leads, Agent Finch reluctantly turns to the most notorious Buckaroo Butcher for help – Edward “Nailbiter” Warren – a serial killer whose M.O. involves kidnapping men and women who have a habit of chewing their fingernails, keeping them alive long enough until their fingernails grew back and chewing his victims’ fingers to the bone before killing them.

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I didn’t think something with such dark subject matter could be this much fun. A good gory comic is one that balances out its intense scenes with the other elements of the story, and the creators of Nailbiter play that game really well. There’s definitely a lot of action, as well as some heavy parts, but somehow the comic manages to throw in some humorous jabs from time to time.

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What I like most about this comic book series is that it has a lot of personality. Not only will you enjoy its dynamic characters but you’ll also get the feeling that the city has a life of its own. You’ll want to get to know the place as much as its people, except you can’t really do that. Not this early in the story anyway. So you just find yourself hooked on the mystery surrounding Buckaroo, Oregon.

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Overall, Nailbiter is a thrilling read that is sure to suck you in from the very first page. Great characters, great storytelling, and playfully sinister art all come together in this exciting murder mystery series. If I had to guess why people want to see this on television, only one thing comes to mind: they probably can’t get enough of it.

A tale among stars

As a kid I never really found sci-fi appealing. I was raised on fairytales so fantasy was my natural first choice as far as genres go. When I was about eight years old I discovered I liked horror as well and to this day, those two genres are what I constantly look for regardless of medium. What they have in common is that there are elements of the fantastic in them – supernatural beings, magic, and everything that humans can’t create or become.

Sci-fi (or at least the common notion of it) is about technology, steel, everything artificial and fabricated. Even when it deals with distant worlds, it is nothing unreachable. No matter how out-of-this-world the stories are, they are still grounded on science. And science is what humans do so I never saw it as anything special. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got to read this comic book series called Saga that I became more interested in the genre.

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Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is about as sci-fi as you can get. It is a true space adventure spanning an entire galaxy. It has all manner of life forms from people with horns and wings to biomechanical robots with TVs for heads to large cats that can tell when you’re lying. It is a reality where space bounty hunting is a lucrative career path and spaceships are a common form of transportation; so common that they literally grow on trees. There’s even an entire planet that deals in interplanetary sex trade and a giant flaming gorilla (because why not?).

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So what makes Saga any different from other sci-fi stories? Well, BKV wrote it, that’s what. Like Vaughan’s other works, his character development for Saga is top-notch. First he lets you fall in love with protagonists Alana and Marko, who got into a forbidden relationship in spite of being from rival races that are locked in an endless war with each other. Despite their biological differences, they actually end up having a baby and get chased throughout the galaxy for it (hence the space adventure).

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Then, Vaughan introduces you to their would-be captors: a bounty hunter named The Will and his trusty sidekick Lying Cat. You’ll end up liking them, too, just because they’re a cool pair. There will be parts where you want the protagonists to get away, but at the same time you also end up worrying about what happens to the bounty hunters. It feels like the good guys are good guys and the “bad” guys don’t seem so bad so part of you roots for them, too. And that’s one of the things I enjoy about this story – even the bad guys are likeable.

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Oh, and then there’s Prince Robot IV. He’s a bit of a douche but he does make the story that much more interesting. I guess you can say he’s the main bad guy of the story.

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Beyond all the weird elements of sci-fi, Saga is packed with humor, action, serious and heart-felt moments, great characters and so much more. This series made me realize that genres aren’t always what make stories enjoyable, and that the best stories are the ones that are able to transcend those delineations anyway. It’s no surprise that Saga is what many believe to be the best comic book on the shelves today. And if you know comic book fans, you know that that compliment isn’t something that gets thrown around lightly. This series really does live up to its hype.

Fatal attraction

This week, I’m rereading the first volume of the crime/mystery/horror series Fatale from the ultra-talented duo of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. It’s been over a year since I read it and I just recently got a hold of the second volume so a little refresher is in order.

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Fatale Deluxe Edition Volume One. Collects the first two story arcs Death Follows Me and The Devil’s Business.

The story revolves around Josephine, a woman with an obscure past riddled with very deadly secrets. She doesn’t age, and she has the apparent ability to charm men into doing whatever she wants – just some of the side effects of a curse placed on her decades ago. And of course, that kind of power comes with a lot of trouble. Dirty cops, occult worshipers, demons and pretty much every manner of shady individuals want a piece of her.

It’s quite hard to find a series where the level of art matches the level of storytelling – even more so when both are on an exceptional level. The story is multi-layered. You have so many things intersecting, so many plot threads coming together to weave a beautiful noir tapestry. That, in itself, is a treat. If this were prose, I’d still read it. But then you get art like THIS and everything feels perfect.

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Phillips’ illustrations fit the story extremely well. Most of the first story arc takes place in the 1950’s and you feel like you’re transported to that era when you read this book.

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The attention to detail is astounding; from the clothing, to the hairstyles to the cars and the scenery. It’s like reading one of those classic films where everyone looks so elegant – but with a dark, gritty twist.

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I don’t always reread previous volumes before getting into the next one, but this series deserves the attention. I’m actually enjoying it more the second time around and I’m seeing some details which I might have missed or forgotten. More than anything, I’m getting really pumped up for volume two, which should be another great read.

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Awesome cover art for the second volume. Collects the last three story arcs West of Hell, Pray for Rain and Curse the Demon.

The modern gods

Stories about superhumans have been around perhaps as long as civilizations existed. From religious texts, to Greek mythology, to today’s novels and comic books, we see all sorts of beings capable of performing the most amazing feats. Whether these stories were products of pure imagination or inspired by real-life events, people have always been captivated by the idea that greater beings exist. And oftentimes, the heroes that emerge in such stories reflect, in some way, what’s going on in the world.

At a time when nations were on the brink of war, Superman was born, and the savior that the world desperately needed quickly rose in popularity and forever changed the comic book industry. Similarly, Captain America enjoyed the adoration of countless readers, being the man who would willingly take on the Nazis at the height of their power.  In Grant Morrison’s book Supergods, the author noted that it is no coincidence that the two most popular superheroes today are playboy billionaires who happen to be geniuses, referring to Iron Man and Batman. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that says about our world’s current state.)

Last month saw the birth of yet another super being with the debut of Image Comics’ Huck. In their latest comic book series, writer Mark Millar and artist Rafael Albuquerque introduce their version of the everyday hero.

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Covers A and B for Huck #1

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Covers A and B for Huck #2

Huck is about a man who has incredible strength, speed, invincibility and the apparent ability to find humans and objects no matter where they are in the world. What makes him unique is that he uses his powers to do good deeds for everyone in his community. And by good deeds, I don’t mean he fights off super villains and stops natural disasters from happening. I’m talking everyday good deeds like returning a lost necklace and… well… taking out everyone’s trash and buying everyone lunch.

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He fights terrorists, too.

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The series is only two issues in but so far it has been a delightful read. One of the reasons I like reading superhero stories is that they tend to give you that “everything will be alright” feeling. And in a world where even the most mundane good deeds are becoming more and more scarce, Huck reminds us that these things matter just as much as stopping the bad guys.

Millar and Albuquerque combine great storytelling and dynamic art in this promising tale about the hero that the world needs. I’m really hoping they get a long, solid run with this series.

Those stories you won’t tell mommy

If you frequent comic book shops and bookstores then you’ve probably spotted this shamelessly pink graphic novel on the shelves. You’ve probably taken a closer look (or pretended to “accidentally” glance at it) and found that the gold font on the cover says BIG HARD SEX CRIMINALS. And maybe you got curious about it but you just can’t bring yourself to actually pick it up and bring it to the counter. I know. I’ve been there too.

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The thing with sex stories is that they have to be good. Otherwise, it’s just porn on print. What Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky did with Sex Criminals is pretty smart. Yes, the book has lots of nudity. Yes, the book is packed with silly sex jokes. Yes, there are pages that made me a little embarrassed to be reading it in public. But beyond all that, the characters are surprisingly relatable and the story does make enough sense for you to take it seriously.

What I liked the most is the way the characters break the fourth wall – that is, they literally speak to the reader in some panels – and it feels like they’re sharing their lives with you.

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You become their confidant and you find yourself deeply engaged in their lives. You know their problems and frustrations, their fantasies and fears, their childhood stories of curiosity and discovery, and then you realize how honest the book is. That, although it is a wild, dirty, sex sci-fi story, there is something very human to it.

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So you do the thing that humans do: you sympathize. And that’s when you realize you’re willing to tag along no matter where their sexed-up adventures take them. Sex Criminals is what you get when two very talented guys decide to get a little crazy – I really doubt you’ll read anything like it. So go ahead and pick up that pink book you’ve been eyeing. You might just find yourself quite satisfied once you finish it.

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A magickal Halloween

A few weeks ago I wrote about some new releases from Image Comics; this one made it just in time for Halloween. Black Magick is a dark fantasy series about Rowan Black, a detective for Portsmouth PD who’s also secretly a witch. In this first issue, Detective Black finds herself in the middle of a hostage taking orchestrated by a perpetrator who seems to know all about her dual identity.

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Black Magick #1 by writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Cover A by Scott, magazine cover by Rick Burchett, cover B by Jill Thompson.

I really like it when Image releases magazine-sized issues. It’s always a treat to read comics in large formats – even more so with Scott’s art.

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The illustrations are mostly done in grayscale, which sets the tone very effectively. The use of color in some panels makes the scenes more intense and just really eye-catching.

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Story-wise, the first issue sets up the mythos well, revealing just enough about the protagonist without giving too much away. You get a good sense of the type of world in which the narrative exists, and the writer teased just enough to make you feel that something big is coming. And, again, the art is simply magnificent. Anybody who’s a fan of magic should definitely follow this series. This might be the best we’ve seen from Rucka and Scott, and I can’t wait for issue #2.