Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.
1. New School
By Dash Shaw
Dash Shaw is one of the new generation of exciting comic creators who exist in a nexus between comics and the New York contemporary art scene, much like Paul Pope and Molly Crabapple. Shaw's 2008 debut graphic novel, Bottomless Belly Button, made a huge impression on the comic and book publishing world with its deceptively simple drawings and whopping 700-plus page count. It had profound things to say about the way modern families interact and was just as good as any literary prose family drama you'd see in the New York Times Book Review. Since that book, he has experimented with webcomics (Bodyworld), short comic stories (collected in The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.), animation, and even music.
New School, his first major graphic novel release since the 2010's Bodyworld, tells the story of Danny, a young boy trying to bring his older brother, Luke, home from a remote island with an amusement park called Clockworld, that recreates historical events. Set in the '90s, Danny is a fan of both the X-men and Jurassic Park, and the story, told through the distortion of his point of view, seems to fuse elements of those bits of pop culture together.
Shaw is an experimental artist and storyteller. He uses a combination of ink drawing, hand painted animation cels, Photoshop and other media to create this book. A glance at the pages here shows a bold, unusual use of color that seems part Power Mastrs, part Asterios Polyp.
2. Lazarus #1
Written by Greg Rucka, art by Michael Lark, colors by Santi Arcas
In Greg Rucka's dystopian vision of the future, our current economic woes have extrapolated out to the point that all the world's wealth has been divided among just a handful of powerful families. One of those families, The Carlyles, have genetically modified a women they named "Forever" into their own unkillable assassin and protector. Forever has been led to believe that she is a true daughter of the Carlyle family but she is treated more like an animal or a machine and human nature—if indeed she is truly human—causes her to question who and what she really is.
Rucka is known for writing strong female characters—Renee Montoya from Gotham Central, Carrie Stetko from Whiteout, Tara Chace from Queen & Country, and the list goes on and on—though less for writing science fiction, so this is both familiar and unfamiliar territory for him. He has re-teamed with Gotham Central artist Michael Lark, whose realistic drawing style, inked with expressive brushing, is reminiscent of some of the great realist cartoonists like Alex Raymond, Alex Toth, or David Mazzuchelli. Both Lark and Rucka typically work in a very street-level method of storytelling which will most likely make the sci-fi aspects of this story pretty palatable for those that normally shy away from that kind of stuff.
By Becky Cloonan
Becky Cloonan (Demo, Conan, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys) recently released the third and final installment in a series of mini-comic short stories she has been self-publishing the last couple of years. Following Wolves and The Mire, Demeter is another beautifully illustrated tale of medieval horror that delivers a satisfying and nearly poetic story in just about 30 some odd pages. You can tell by reading this or any of the two previous mini-comics that Cloonan's heart is in telling these types of stories.
Demeter shows us two lovers who were torn apart by the sea and brought back together by a terrible bargain. The story reads almost like a dark poem and Cloonan's black and white artwork—richly inked and matched with digital gray tones—is sexy and very creepy. I highly recommend buying the print version of the mini which you can order for $5 through her online store because the design and printing is just luscious in person. However, the real reason I've mentioned it this week is that Cloonan has just released it digitally through Comixology's Submit program for creator-owned comics where you can read it for just 99 cents.
4. Batman/Superman #1
Written by Greg Pak; art by Jae Lee
I imagine that the "/" in Batman/Superman is intended to give a modern, edgy and internet-y feel to an old idea: the Batman & Superman team-up comic. Historically, there has almost always been a comic with DC's two top-selling characters featured together, but usually it has been called World's Finest. That name is already being used for a comic starring their two female counterparts, Huntress and Power Girl, but it's name recognition value is limited to longtime, in-the-know comic fans. This book looks like it's aiming for a newer audience, particularly due to its use of artist Jae Lee.
Despite his popularity and his years doing them, Lee can often seem like a daring choice for a superhero book. His style is dark and foreboding; his smoky, ethereal backgrounds can give you the sense that his stories are taking place somewhere in hell. But, he is coming off doing the best work of his career on The Dark Tower books for Marvel and Before Watchmen: Ozymandias for DC. His recent switch to developing finished art from his pencils rather than inks has given his work a new, more detailed and dimensional appearance.
Lee and writer Greg Pak have set this comic during what we longtime comic book fans like to call "Year One" where they examine the first ever meeting between the two title characters. Since DC relaunched all their comics and, to a certain extent, the continuity within them, this is uncharted territory that many fans have been anxious to see.
It was recently announced that the "/" will be a thing as a new series called Superman/Wonder Woman will begin in October.
Here's a preview of some unlettered art from Batman/Superman #1.
5. Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist
By Asumiko Nakamura
Asumiko Nakamura has become one of the most acclaimed mangaka in Japan, but her work is little known here in the U.S. She began her career over ten years ago, creating erotic and romance manga and has become particularly known for her yaoi (also known as "Boys' Love"—homoerotic manga that is primarily aimed at younger, female readers). Utsubora is considered her masterpiece and is the first of her books to be chosen by U.S. manga publisher Vertical to be translated and released here in order to gauge the appeal of her work for potential future releases.
Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist is a noir mystery about two novelists, actually. Aki Fujino is a young author who is about to release her debut, titled Utsubora, when she is found dead from an apparent suicide. Shun Mizorogi is a once acclaimed novelist who is in a creative dry spell when he meets and becomes infatuated with Aki Fujino as well as another woman who looks just like her and seems to share her same memories.
Information and preview images of this book is sparse, but this glowing review contains a number of sample pages and they look absolutely stunning. Nakamura's thin, caricatured line work is gorgeous to look at. Her sense of page composition and willingness to let her scenes breathe quietly on their own seem to create a contemplative, mysterious atmosphere.
This new book is a large, complete volume of the entire story that was serialized in Japan. It weighs in at 464 pages and is written for mature readers with some scenes and overall themes that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.
MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK:
- Kim Thompson, co-founder of Fantagraphics Books, passed away on June 19th after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 56. Thompson was one of the most influential figures in comics, being integral in bringing to the public the finest work from the most reputable cartoonists in the industry such as Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Over at The Comics Journal, an array of cartoonists that have been affected by Thompson's life share their touching and funny stories about him.
- Archaia, the struggling publisher of such acclaimed books as A Tale of Sand and Mouse Guard, was acquired by Boom! Studios, another piece of growing evidence that Boom! is quietly building itself into a major player in the comics industry.
- Despite the success of Man of Steel at the box office, some major shakeups are occurring amidst Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment. Jeff Robinov has been forced out as Warner Bros. president and a new leadership team is moving up in his place. Robinov had been directly overseeing the DC Entertainment division which includes the comics publishing portion. And Legendary Pictures, the studio that partnered with Warner Bros. to develop all three Christopher Nolan Batman movies and the latest Superman film, has ended the partnership over a contract negotiation dispute. This has been a successful creative partnership but does it mean that Warner Bros. and DC are looking to be more like Marvel in how they control the movies made from their properties?