Let’s, for a moment forget about Marvel and DC – you know, the Big Two. It’s not easy to ignore them, with hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on big budget movies and TV shows. But let’s pretend they don’t exist, because you know what? It’s a more interesting world out there in comics land when you forget about Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. There are other companies who deliver amazing comics month after month. So this month I’ve decided to focus my highlights on some of the other publishers, most of all, Image comics who, over the past few years have delivered some of the best titles out there, from The Walking Dead through to Saga.
So, let’s take a look at October, shall we?
Conan is an unlikely a comic book star as you can imagine today. Born in the early 1900s from the imagination of Robert E Howard, Conan is as pulp a character as you can imagine. He’s also one who hasn’t particularly been ravaged by the usual sands of comic book continuity. He remains: strong, violent, impulsive and above all, a barbarian. Since Marvel lost out on the license to print and publish Conan comics, the wonderful Dark Horse has taken over and their catalogue of titles starring the titular character stems to over 100 issues. Not that you need to take note of that with Brian Wood’s incredible run on the title. Coming to an end now, with penultimate story arc ‘Black Stones’ concluding this month, Wood has adapted, in a rather straightforward fashion, Robert E Howard’s stories. More specifically, the run (which will total 25 issues) forms an adaptation of Conan novel, The Queen of the Black Coast in which Conan forms a relationship with a pirate queen named Belit. Wood has stated that he intended this run to be a more “modern take” on the character, but really, this feels classical, especially in terms of comics. Narrative captions coat the story in beautiful, pulp description, although dialogue is at a minimum. Where this modernity comes from then, is in the art. With a different artist on each three issue arc, Wood has roped in some of the best talent around. ‘Black Stones’ featured Paul Azaceta (‘Northlanders’, ‘BPRD’ and ‘Potter’s Field’), and previous arcs have seen art from the incredible Becky Cloonan. This reviewer would never have thought he would have picked up a single issue of Conan, but this run has been exceptional, and you should definitely get on board for the final arc, which begins in November.
It’s been both a good and a bad year for Ales Kot, who rose to fame with meta-comics like ‘Wild Children’. He was tipped to write DC title Suicide Squad, a run which lasted all of four issues, but now has come back from that with a new series at Image which should make DC feel ashamed for ever dropping him. Zero is what all comics should aspire to. Edward Zero is a Jason Bourne-esque soldier, working for an unnamed private firm. Each issue is written by Kot and illustrated by someone else: providing a self-contained ‘done-in-one’ story from different points in Zero’s life. Issue 1 saw him tackling a technologically advanced suicide bomber in the Middle East, and this month’s issue 2 goes back to Zero’s childhood, showing his training and his first attempt at killing. The latter sequence, in which a young Zero hides in his target’s house for days on end, waiting for the right moment to kill him, is one of the finest sequences in comics this year. Tense, clever and utterly frightening, Zero should be on everyone’s radar.
Image are responsible for two brand new series this month with the release of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet, and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly. It’s rather apt for the company to release both in the same month as they bear some similarities. Both titles show A-list creators taking on new creator owned books for an independent company, and both paired with artists they have worked with before (Brubaker and Epting on Captain America, DeConnick and Rios on their Norman Osborne miniseries). Both titles also purport to have an incredibly strong female lead, although both titles also subvert expectations by featuring male characters heavily at the beginning.
Velvet is perhaps the more traditional of the two, a Cold War thriller with the core concept being, what if Moneypenny was actually the most adept of all the spies? Brubaker excels at thrillers, and this is no exception. Characters are brilliantly realised, dialogue is full of nice touches, and the art is moody and evocative. As with all first issues of a comic, it’s tough to call as to whether this will retain this level of quality issue to issue, but the creative team have nearly always delivered (Brubaker’s other Image title ‘Fatale’ covers similar ground, with Lovecraft mythology crashing into noir, and is just fantastic, and Epting draws like he was born to draw this exact story). In conclusion, this is exactly what an independent creator-owned comic should feel like, a writer and an artist doing what they love doing. It should also be noted that the single issues for Velvet, as with most Brubaker comics, contain short essays on pulp literature, written by the brilliant Jess Nevins, giving buyers an impetus to jump on the title now, rather than waiting for the trade.
Pretty Deadly is a different beast. A mish-mash of western, horror and post-apocalyptic stories (although whether any of that will be the case within issue two is up for debate), its debut issue is heavy on atmosphere and immediate action, but low on overall plot and character. There is a beautiful story within the issue, a song/poem told by a young girl about an imprisoned woman and her tryst with Death, and a child born from that tryst. Elsewhere, a blind man who might not really be blind, and his companion, the storytelling girl, who dresses like a crow, but isn’t, are on the run from some people. It’s all very mysterious, and the art is gorgeous. At the moment though, it’s tough to work out what exactly this is. Other mash-up westerns have had similarly muddy debut issues (East of West being a prime example) and have gone on to become incredibly strong, so it may be worth continuing with for that reason. However, the current appearance is of an initially confusing, often vague comic which will likely frustrate as often as it impresses.
Look out for The Pull List 3 coming at the end of November in which DC will be talking about East of West and Young Avengers, amongst other things