Image have hit upon a great idea for releasing comics, they’ll put out five or six issues (or a complete story arc) in single issues, and then collect them, leaving a few months in-between arcs for those who are a little late to the party to catch up, in the hope that those folk will then go on to pick up the single issues. It’s a smart move, and it’s meant that people getting into books like Saga, Bitch Planet, or Sex Criminals (three of the best things they’re publishing) don’t have to feel like they’re being left behind anytime.
In fact, we’ve just come to that point with Saga writer, Brian K Vaughan, and Wonder Woman artist Cliff Chiang’s latest comic – Paper Girls. An Amblin-esque sci-fi adventure about four paper deliver girls in the 1980s who, one night, stumble into a war between time travelling teenagers and adults. It’s indebted to the films of Spielberg, with a wonderfully grimy approach to details. Issue 5 hit this month, which means the first collection will be out soon. It’s worth picking up, though Vaughan’s trademark “what’s really going on here?” approach to drawing out the narrative is more grating here than it is in, say, Saga. It’s Cliff Chiang on art which makes this a must read – his art in Wonder Woman was great, but stymied perhaps by editorial mandates. Here he’s paired with Matt Wilson on colours, and the whole thing looks gorgeous. There are several brilliantly realised sequences – not least of which is a fantastically gory Poltergeist inspired dream.
Less successful perhaps is Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars, a four issue mini series spin off of his brilliant Manhattan Projects. In The Sun Beyond the Stars, we follow Yuri Gagarin, and Laika on a bizarre Star Wars inflected adventure. Given Hickman, and artist Nick Pitarra’s previous work on the main series, this held a lot of promise, and it sort of works; there’s still the weird humour, wonderful design work, and fun dialogue that the original series had in spades; but something is missing. Perhaps it’s the the characters – Gagarin isn’t much of a presence, and Laika, is more of a bit player in his narrative. It has a strong ending, but the final few pages (which, thanks to Pitarra, contain some of this years best art) aren’t quite enough to make up for four issues of middling story. Let’s hope we get more Manhattan Projects still, as the remaining characters on Earth have plenty of weirdness left in them to explore.
Now on to something non-Image. We’re up to Chapter Three now of Changling Studios Beast Wagon, and it shows no sign of stopping. On the back of the issue it says, ‘They will not go quietly’ and I can’t help but feel that this doesn’t just refer to the animals in the zoo, riled up and ready to fight back against the tyranny of the zookeepers, but also the creators, Owen Michael Johnson and John Pearson. This is a loud, brash book; often weird, hallucinatory, and experimental, but never anything less than brilliant. Pearson’s art draws the line between dream like and photorealistic (just look at some of his animal work, the acid trip with the tortoise in particular) in a way that most other artists would never be able to pull off. It’s reminiscent of Vertigo in the 80s and 90s – and that’s one of the highest compliments I can give a book. All three issues should be available online through Changeling Studios website, and I urge everyone to seek out copies and buy them.