Hey kids! Comic books!

This is what I've been reading lately to take my mind off of everything else. (I still read "real" books, too. I'm 450 pages into the new Murakami, skipping around in Hitchens' last collection, and intermittently picking my way though McCollough's John Adams biography. But what's the fun in talking about that?)

Batman (new series, DC)

I've explored some of DC's "New 52" (though certainly not all of it), and in fact, it was my wife's very thoughtful birthday present a few months back of a whole stack of issues #1 from that series that got me back into the comic book store on a regular basis. I've enjoyed several of the titles--Action Comic's working class hero take on Superman is really fresh, and I like the dark take on the Olympian gods in Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman--but the clear standout for me is this new Batman series, and the "Court of the Owls" storyline. In fact, it's the only superhero book I plan to keep buying monthly, at least for now.

It's hard to explain succinctly, but Batman goes up against this mysterious secret society that has run Gotham from the shadows since the beginning, and who may have been responsible for murdering members of his own family many generations back. The art is visceral, the writing is tight, and the story really unlike anything I remember reading in a Batman book. The latest issue has Batman trapped in an underground labyrinth, being slowly driven mad. The panels start to rotate and go out of order, forcing you to turn the book around and try to make sense of what is happening. It sounds terribly gimmicky, but it works.

I get the distinct sense that the fallout from this storyline is going to define this reboot of the franchise.

Clive Barker's Hellraiser (Boom! Studios)

Barker has a brilliant, if perverse, imagination. Two themes that run throughout his books: 1) Be careful what you wish for, and 2) Monsters are not born, they're made. Nowhere are both themes explored in more painstaking detail than in Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart, and the Hellraiser movies based on it.

This series by Boom! picks up 20 years after the second Hellraiser movie, and pretends that the other seven sequels didn't happen (as most fans of the original movie would prefer to do.) Kirsty Cotton has dedicated her life to seeking out LeMarchand's devices--the gateways to Hell like the one that destroyed her family--and destroying them. Along the way she's found a small group of people who, like her, have managed to survive the Cenobites. Her personal vendetta against Hell consumes her. Meanwhile, the Priest (aka "Pinhead") has grown weary of his existence, and is haunted by the memories of his own lost humanity that Kirsty forced him to regain. He has hatched a plan to escape Hell, and steal salvation, but he must first find a suitable replacement. His attention turns to the only human that ever defeated him...

This is probably not for everyone. Much like the movies, the violence is frequent, intense, spectacularly gory, and provocatively sexualized. But if you like your stories gothic, your good and evil ambiguous, and your demons eloquent, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything better than this.

Also, the art is spectacular.

Near Death (Image)
 This is a brand-new series that follows a contract killer who decides he must save as many people as he has killed in order to avoid the hell he saw waiting for him in a near death experience. The once prolific killer goes into the business of foiling other contract hits, quickly making himself the number one target of the underworld to which he used to belong. It plays out like a classic, hard-boiled crime story. The hero does good things, but his motivation is purely selfish. Also, it is set in Seattle, and the urban landscape is portrayed with incredible attention to detail and realism, which is really cool.


Thief of Thieves (Image)

Another new crime series from Image, and only one issue so far. Basically, it's a heist book, and it looks great. Can't wait to see what they do with this one.


Mr. D said...

Comic books, from what I can tell, are undergoing a bit of a renaissance these days. Might have to check out a few of these.

(I still read "real" books, too. I'm 450 pages into the new Murakami, skipping around in Hitchens' last collection, and intermittently picking my way though McCollough's John Adams biography. But what's the fun in talking about that?)

That sounds like a good reading list. Eclecticism is a valuable thing.

Brian said...

I get bored easily. Have to change things up, and often.

Brian said...

There's a great essay at the end of ToT #1 where the creator states that his mission is to make comic books something everybody reads. He wants the statement "I read comic books" to be no more remarkable than "I watch movies".

A big part of that is extending the medium into non-superhero genres (which is hardly a new thing, but I think a lot of people not already into comics don't know that.)

Gino said...

yeah, like Astrix.
bring him stateside, already.