Top Indie Comics of 2013: Pulp Thrills, Surprise Powers and Intelligent Horror
2013 has seen a lot of things happening in the world of comics, with both DC and Marvel launching new titles whilst others have been cancelled. There’s been various events too from DC’s Trinity War to Marvel’s X-Men Battle of the Atom . In a different corner of the comics world far removed from the superhero antics of the big two there’s been plenty of other stuff happening, exciting stuff which may have slipped under your radar.
Whilst there’s been lots of great stuff from Image like Velvet, Lazarus and Bedlam I think everyone knows that Image have long since stopped being eligible as being classed as an indie publisher.
Here’s a quick look at some of the best stuff happening in indie comics you might not have heard about over the last 12 months.
It should be noted the only reason Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising, which is one of the best on-going indie comics, isn’t featured is it started in 2011. You should go pick it up now if you like comics and want to support indie creators. It’s one of the best things you’re probably not reading it’s that simple.
In a very much real world setting an incurable STD named G-Plus that kills in six months is running rampant amongst the population. A side effect of G-Plus is it bestows unpredictable powers and abilities.
The story follows the situations of three infectees Verity who has just found out she has G Plus, Weasel formerly of chart topping band ‘The Whatever’ who has since gone solo and Monty a comedian and media personality.
There are numerous different elements to Death Sentence, exploring the stigma of having an STD , the rarely touched upon theme of impending death, the reality and horror of suddenly developing super powers in a real world setting and more besides. The title also features some anarchic and twisted humour, Verity raging at her callous boss after realising she’s infected , ‘Why don’t you stick your artwork right up your urethra?’ to a scene involving Monty, two police officers and a tea pot which is possibly the funniest thing in comics this year.
Dowling handles the art well, impressively conveying that Verity, Monty and Weasel are real people in a real world, that’s just gone a bit mad.
Dept. of Monsterology from Renegade Arts Entertainment features two field teams working for Dunsany College’s Department of Cryptozoology, Mythological Studies, Parapsychology and Fortean Phenomena or Department of Monsterology for short.
Opposing the Dept of Monsterology is the Lamont Institute. Sebastian and Jocasta Lamont are the leaders, a pair of callous and ruthless body jumping relic hunters who rely on mercenaries to back them up in the field.
The story is split across two very different settings, Challenger embroiled in a project in South Pacific and Carnacki in Budapest with events shifting between the two.
Gordon Rennie’s writing crackles with a pulp inspired glee, with plenty of nods to its numerous influences. The ship that Challenger is using is named the Derleth, a name that any Lovecraft fan should pick up on. The host of characters are a memorable mix from Amelia Court – the kickass heroine of Challenger and her partner, Harry Wilmington (a brain encased in a durable robotic body), to the wise cracking psychic necronaut Dominic Belasco, Jong Sunam a former Gurka and initiate of the Hidden Temple of Munificient Enlightenment and his pupil the young and feisty Samwi who has a talent for astral projection amongst other skills.
P.J Holden brings this world to life. Alongside the large cast of characters there’s dinosaurs, Chinese vampires, bestial merfolk, sunken ruins and more besides all shot through with a sense of foreboding atmosphere.
In the near future Earth is overcrowded and resources are running out. In a desperate bid for mankind’s survival huge spacecraft are constructed. 95% of Earth’s population seeks out a new home amongst the stars aboard these spacecraft. This isn’t where the story of Exit Generation from writer Sam Read is set though, in a sublime narrative shift this story is about those have been left behind on Earth to a presumed certain death.
The main character of the story is Jack whose parents were split after his father was selected for the exodus while his mother was not. The Earth Jack lives on is a utopia compared to the Earth of old. The vast majority of the population is now gone so resources are now abundant and war is a thing of the past. Jack lives in this idyllic world spending his days hanging out with his friend Mo. Jack whilst appreciating his environment is bored and as a coping mechanism has developed an obsession for cultural elements of the past. Action films and the anarchic energy of punk music being two of his favourite things.
Jack’s life is destined to become far less boring though when aliens show up with less than peaceful intentions.
Along with its narrative u-turn Exit Generation is ripe with potential and also features a relatable starting point with overcrowding and distribution of resources both being real world issues. Exit Generation doesn’t get bogged down in social commentary though but rather opts for sci-fi pulp antics as realised by Caio Oliveira’s great art.
From Oni Press, writer Cullen Bunn and artist Joëlle Jones, Helheim is the tale of Norseman Rikard, son of Kirk, and how he becomes the unwitting pawn in a war between the powerful witches Bera and Groa.
Helheim takes some great elements, vikings, dark magics, witches, mythology and interesting characters and shakes them all up with Bunn’s writing and Jones’ great art and the result is one of the best takes on Norsemen in comics.
Featuring a great sense of pacing the norsemen’s scramble for the safety of their settlement being one example, there’s an ominous sense of atmosphere which permeates throughout as the narrative continues. Helheim features a signature visual language, Jones’ approach to action stops things from becoming a confusing mass of limbs despite how brutal things gets in the numerous battles. There are a variety of themes working away in the background from the examination of just what a father son relationship can endure and the echoes of Frankenstein, as seen when Rikard encounters Kadlin a young girl who sees the pain ,confusion and sorrow in Rikard rather than the monster he sees himself as.
Helheim features some brutal action but it also has heart to it.
Despite being a mainstay at Dynamite for several years Red Sonja has always been viewed mainly as a lesser character to Robert E Howard’s more famous creation Conan. Gail Simone taking over writing on the title for a relaunched series has seen the flame haired warrior standing shoulder to shoulder with her more well known male counter part.
This new Sonja, possessing a new back story which casts her as a former pit fighter who fought for the amusement of a sadistic tyrant has become one of, if not The best example of a bona fide heroine in modern comics.
Simone’s opening arc has had the warrior woman being branded as an outcast, stricken with the plague, come face to face with her former comrade in arms from the fighting pits of her past and endure fever induced hallucinations about her past amongst other things. This is alongside establishing Sonja as being as much a lover of drinking and roughhousing as Conan ever was and a memorable encounter with a group of thieves demonstrates that she is no easy mark either.
Red Sonja veteran Walter Geovani has visualised Simone’s story with a talent for composition and a flare for action as the story unfolds and breathing life into the numerous rogues, tyrants, thieves and other characters.
Uber from Kieron Gillen is set during the closing stages of World War II. In this alternate history with the fall of Berlin imminent, and with it Hitler’s defeat, a secret German programme for manufacturing enhanced super-soldiers turns certain defeat into unlikely victory. This victory has nightmarish repercussions for the on-going war and soon the British are attempting to create their own super-soldiers thanks to a British spy who holds the secret to the German’s super-soldier programme. Elsewhere other forces are trying to produce their own enhanced soldiers to fight off the German threat.
Uber stands out for several reasons the first being that Gillen has approached the story from a completely serious perspective. There’s no winking at the reader or subtext commentary about superhero comics and one of his aims was changing the way Nazi’s had become harmless pop culture bad guys. Another thing that stands out is Gillen has meticulously researched the history of WW2, originally writing an epic 25,000 word ‘bible’ for the series, explaining every element in the historically based fictional story he was creating. Uber isn’t about people with superpowers but rather how people react to power and human nature.
Uber is a brutal and visceral work not for the squeamish or easily offended and this brutality is rendered with skill by Canaan White. At ease handling both Churchill in The Cabinet War Rooms of London and the sheer horrifying destructive power of Battleship Siegfried one of Hitler’s Ubermensche, White’s detailed art is at turns both disturbing and awe inspiring. It’s telling that Gillen’s afterword for issue#0 ends with ‘I hope you don’t enjoy it’.
From Boom! Studios, horror master Clive Barker and co-writer Mark Miller comes an intriguing and disturbing story and a return to intelligent horror in Next Testament. Julian Demond has amassed a fortune through industry however he abandons it all to go searching for something and he finds Wick, a being of immense power who claims he is God. Julian’s son Tristan and his girlfriend Elspeth meanwhile find themselves fleeing for their lives from the enthralled Julian and the malevolent Wick, who is displeased with what has become of humanity in his absence.
Wick is a fascinating character, with the inquisitive nature of a child combined with a callous indifference to suffering and pain. His power is also seemingly limitless and the different manifestations of this power, one being causing every plane in the sky to fall, are as imaginative as they are horrific.
Haemi Jang’s art captures the insanity in all its lurid disturbing glory.