Indie Saturday!

by Ben Peirce

After a few hectic weeks of 48 Hour Film-making and Stanley Cup Playoff immersion, I finally found myself with an obligation-free Saturday this week. And since i actually managed to get out of bed before noon, that meant digging into a stack of comics. Now, it just so happened that the I had the most accumulation at the “indie” end of my to-read pile this morning so today I had the pleasure of devouring 6 issues – a trade’s worth of singles – of some of my favorite creator-owned comics.

Now before anyone gets their spandex in a twist, I include Vertigo and Wildstorm titles in this list “indie” comics and while both of those imprints are published by D.C. Comics, they are all creator-owned properties and created in what I consider the independent spirit. I’ve received some heat online because I consider Vertigo/Wildstorm/Icon/etc. to be “indie” but I think that the term independent should speak more to the creative process than it does to publishing and distribution. So there. You don’t like it? Read someone else’s blog! Now on to the books …

Invincible #71 • Image
Robert Kirkman (w), Ryan Ottley / Cliff Rathburn (a), FCO Plascencia (c)

Invincible is one of 2 Robert Kirkman-penned Image comics that I read religiously. This is a fairly traditional superhero book with many of the same themes and conventions we expect from the spandex set (good vs. evil, power vs. responsibility, giant robots vs. cool one-eyed aliens). What makes Invincible special is that it’s a decidedly modern take on superheroes that exists in a world entirely of Kirkman’s invention. So while the book has a familiar vibe, the ideas stay fresh. Minus the tried-n-true red-n-blue, Invincible has the same appeal that Ultimate Spider-Man had before it started venturing into been-there-done-that territory. Issue #71 is the culmination of a story that’s been building since the series started in 2003, so if I’ve piqued your interest you should consider starting at the beginning but you don’t have to. Bottom line, if you like good superhero comics you should be reading Invincible, period.

Ex Machina #49 • Wildstorm
Brian K. Vaughan (w), Tony Harris (a), J.D. Mettler (c)

This book makes me a little sad every time I read it these days. It’s not the subject matter, or that the series will be wrapping up with the next issue. It’s the fact that this once-great comic seems to have fallen so far off the rails of late. It’s hard for me criticize things I love but Ex Machina, which I once called my favorite series, has admittedly taken a downturn in the last 10 or so issues as it approaches its finale with #50. The story is still interesting but the supernatural reveals we’re getting now took so long to play out that they’ve not completely taken the place of the political drama that drew me to the book in the first place. On top of that, the art has seen a paradigm shift in recent issues since inker, Jim Clark left the book. In his absence they colored directly from Tony Harris’ pencils for a couple issues which looked fine but has since been replaced by a self-inked Harris that’s a complete departure from the look of the series to date. Not bad per se, just not my Ex Machina. In BKV we trust though. I’ll certainly be picking up the final issue and I hope that my favorite writer can impress me with what may be his swan song in comics.

Hellboy in Mexico or “A Drunken Blur”Dark Horse
Mike Mignola (w), Richard Corben (a), Dave Stewart (c)

I am not a regular Hellboy reader but I have taken the occasional dip in the Hellboy waters, so far with underwhelming results. Hellboy is released in short loosely-connected miniseries giving readers many chances to jump in a long the way. In doing so though, I’ve always felt completely lost. I’ve read a couple Hellboy minis and a handfull of one-shots and I always feel like I’m missing something. For whatever reason though, I keep trying and in this case I’m glad I did. In this one-shot, Hellboy recounts a story of his youth when he spent a few months in Mexico battling vampires alongside a trio of monster-hunting luchadores. Do I really need to keep going? If you like the idea of Hellboy but don’t know where to start, this might be a good place. Plus there’s a nice essay in the back by series editor, Scott Allie that sheds a lot of light on Hellboy, the B.P.R.D. and past and future plans for their universe.

Sweet Tooth #10 • Vertigo
Jeff Lemire (w/a), Jose Villarrubia (c)

In terms of tone, this is the most “indie” of the books I read this week. Sweet Tooth is the singular vision of Jeff Lemire* who writes, pencils and inks the story and it’s wrought with Lemire’s familiar focus on mood and character. His art is intensely expressive but far from photo-realistic. And there isn’t a cape in sight. But in terms of pacing and story development, this series reads with the same intensity of Y: the Last Man or the Walking Dead. In the first 10 issues, Sweet Tooth has given us love, action, heartbreak, innocence-lost, betrayal, psychoanalysis, ice hockey and human-animal hybrid kids. Simply put, Sweet Tooth is a post-apocalypitic road movie (Y:, the Road, Mad Max, etc.) but there’s enough Jeff Lemire heart in this book to give you pause and remind you that even kids with deer antlers need love.

* Check out our interview with Jeff Lemire in Episode 017: “Nobody’s Business”

Joe the Barbarian #5 • Vertigo
Grant Morrison (w), Sean Murphy (a), Dave Stewart (c)

Joe the Barbarian is another book near-and-dear to the Near Mint heart. Written by the great Grant Morrison and drawn by past guest Sean Murphy**, Joe is the story of a boy whose insulin-deprived fever dream leads him into a world where he straddles the gap between fantasy and reality. In one world, Joe is stumbling from his attic bedroom to the kitchen of his Portland, ME house to find some sugar and potentially save his own life. In the other, he is “the Dying Boy” a legendary champion and the last hope for a band of dwarves, freedom fighters and warrior rats unitted against the evil shadow king. While the two worlds are certainly playground for Morrison-esque layering and subtext, the story is turning out to be a remarkably straight-forward adventure and shouldn’t be a turn off for those of us who can find Grant’s work “too out-there” at times. Meanwhile, Sean Murphy’s art makes every page an absolute treat to look at. Wait for the trade if you must, but don’t let this one pass you by.

** Sean Murphy was a guest on Episode 021 of the podcast

iZombie #2 • Vertigo
Chris Roberson (w), Mike Allred (a), Laura Allred (c)

Along with Hellboy, this is the only other book on my list that I’m not reading on a regular basis. That said I bought both of the first 2 issues of this new series, which is making a strong bid to be added to my monthly pull-list. iZombie is a light-hearted take on the supernatural in which ghosts, zombies, vampires and werewolves all exist but face the same everyday challenges we all do … plus the added hassle of having to eat brains once a month to keep from “going all inarticulate and shambling”. The characters are a lot of fun, like Ellie a 60s-styled go-go-ghost who’s a bit of an airhead, Claire, Nemia and the rest of the hot vampire chicks who run Bloodsports Paintball and of course our loveable grave digging zombie lead, Gwen. Mike Allred’s (Madman) art completes the package. He and his wife/colorist Laura are magic together and their whimsical style is pitch-perfect for this Buffy-meets-Scooby-Doo-esque faux-horror romp.

There you have it folks – 6 titles to get you creator-owned juices flowing and sure to give you plenty of indie-cred then next time your standing in line at a convention, trying to be cool. Now someone pass me some Spider-Man before I lose Josh completely!

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