Comics Update 2018, Part 4 of 5: My Year in Image

Image Comics 2018!

Cool covers from the past 15 months. Art by (clockwise from top left) Bill Sienkiewicz; Jason Howard; Nick Pitarra and Michael Garland; Alex Ross; Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez; and Jeff Lemire.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. Over the course of the next four entries…I’ll be sharing what I’m currently buying every Wednesday at my local comic shop — series and miniseries alike, budget permitting, broken down by publisher as of the very end of February 2019, including lists of 2018 works that are either done or dead to me.

Image Comics has come a long way since the days of the original seven founders. Though most of them don’t keep their hand in the medium on anything approaching a monthly basis anymore, other creators continue to flourish under their aegis, happy to have a publishing home that lets them prove there’s more to comics than superheroes and movies.

Ongoing series and miniseries in progress:

Analog – Two-fisted world-travel noir from Gerry Duggan and David O’Sullivan. In a future where all of the internet is compromised and online privacy is functionally impossible, the only way to transmit sensitive information is via live courier. Enter Jack McGinnis, a guy navigating a furious, nosy world with nothing at his side but secrets, a gun, and bad luck. The beatings with every mission suck, but he knew the job was dangerous when he took it, because that’s how sci-fi goes sometimes for talented blue-collar roughnecks. It’s been several months since the first 5-issue arc wrapped up, but they swear there’s more to come.

Bitter Root – David Walker and Sanford Greene previously teamed up for an underrated stint on Power Man and Iron Fist, which may have annoyed other readers because their version of Danny Rand was extra jokey. I was fine with this, especially after the Netflix series came around and gave down-voters deeper regrets. Now adding co-writer Chuck Brown, the duo brings us a family of monster-hunters in 1920s Harlem. And that wasn’t exactly a safe era in the first place. The creatures aren’t the same old vampires or werewolves, but emerge instead from sides of black culture extremely rare to see in mainstream entertainment. The last two issues were almost too much of an adrenaline rush as exposition has taken a back seat to nonstop fight scenes, but I’m not sure I’m complaining. The back-matter essays that contextualize the lore are pretty educational for us outsiders, too.

DIE – What if you took the structure of Stephen King’s It, but instead of fighting a murderous super-clown, the kids and adults in their respective eras were reliving the ’80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as a horror story, and the Big Bad was Tom Hanks from Mazes and Monsters turned into a truly mystical, manipulative interdimensional overlord? Painted art by Stephanie Hans is like a high-end gallery showing on every page, while writer Kieron Gillen is engaging in ambitious, phenomenally detailed world-building, worrisome in its six-digit word count and rising. He’s exploring fantasy tropes and toying with them from within, but he’s also designed an entire RPG from the ground up to facilitate his vision, one that’s dredging up so many childhood memories for me — some I would dare label “definitive” in regard to my personal backstory — that I’ll need to devote a separate entry to this series in the near future. I have a lot of baggage to unpack here, and I blame Gillen for wheeling the baggage cart right up next to me.

Exorsisters – Ian Boothby (Simpsons Comics) and Gisele Lagace (Archie Meets the Ramones!) keep it sort of simple. They’re exorcists! They’re sisters! They fight demon crime! Except we learn at the end of #1 that one of those sentences isn’t quite true. Lighthearted comedy-horror, amusing but sometimes too fast a read.

Farmhand – After wrapping up Chew, artist Rob Guillory now adds the keyboard to his repertoire for a horror/SF take on the wide world of farming, which is a thing we haven’t seen regularly in comics since…um, does Jim Davis’ U.S. Acres count? But not just any old farming: if you thought Monsanto and other mega-corporations have been capable of disturbing things, check out these special grounds where the crops are spare body parts. I mean, the farmer isn’t a serial killer using severed limbs as fertilizer — instead of fruits and vegetables and grains, his plants are sprouting human limbs and organs and more. The farmer’s adult son is our viewpoint character trying to cope with the family business he may one day inherit, but is already forced to deal with the ramifications and dark consequences of a renewable source of transplant materials. I presume at some point the wrath of Big Medicine will descend upon them and try burning it all down, but we’re not quite there yet.

LeviathanChew‘s other half, writer John Layman, gives detail-oriented artist Nick Pitarra (The Manhattan Projects) an excuse to draw kaiju and blow up entire city blocks into clouds of meticulous debris, complete with bleeding casualties and faint echoes of Cloverfield and possibly some other fantasy concepts normally beyond Godzilla’s jurisdiction. Some months have passed since #3, but Pitarra needs time to render all that carnage in excruciating detail at the molecular level.

Man-Eaters – Novelist Chelsea Cain previously made fanboys rage with her late, lamented Mockingbird series for Marvel, which I thought was a great, smartly structured read, but I guess they sinned or whatever by daring to put the word “feminist” on a cover as if this was some sort of punk transgression. Now she and artist Kate Niemczyk are back and determined to upset the same dudes, who probably aren’t paying attention by this point. In a near-future where a virus allegedly turns pubescent girls into killer werecats, The Governments Who Are Presumably All Males decide for the greater good to step in and literally control womens’ bodies via mandatory elimination of puberty worldwide — no more menstruating means no more death and humanity is saved. Countless metaphors for the never-ending battle of the sexes ensue, along with a mysterious murder, a group of rebellious teens, and pages and pages of fake ads for products designed like jokes from a MAD Magazine story called “The Lighter Side of Patriarchy”…of which the creators were so enamored that the entirety of #4, cover to cover, set aside the ongoing story and was instead devoted to hammering those runnings gags into the ground. The line between satire and self-indulgence is a tricky one to walk, and I hope the book ventures back to the insightful side of it soon.

Manifest Destiny – Lewis and Clark and Monsters returned for a single four-issue arc in which…frankly, given the stresses and hardships and supernatural killings they’ve had to endure on their long journey through the western American frontier, we knew sooner or later there’d be mutiny. When you’re in a long-term story where most of the soldiers follow their leaders only because they think they have to, mutiny is an inevitable development, much like riots in prison stories. Now that we’ve checked that off, maybe the next arc can get back to actual monsters? Not that I’m begging to see more of our cast slaughtered, mind you.

Oliver – Screenwriter Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli, Rogue One) picks an odd premise for his first foray into the medium: Oliver Twist as future dystopia with a li’l Oliver who’s more than human and probably on the road to leading a rebellion soon. Everything I know about the original novel comes from pop culture references and the 1968 Best Picture-winning musical Oliver!, which bored me senseless, so I’m thinking I need to plunge into the novel itself for better appreciation, though my last encounter with Dickens’ prose was A Tale of Two Cities, which was a miserable experience for me as a complete ignoramus on the subject of pre-20th-century European history. Even if I skip the source material, Whitta’s tale is coherent on its own and looks beautiful as rendered by Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan, The Boys, New Warriors, and on and on) and colorist Diego Rodriguez. I suppose I’m missing any and all Easter eggs, but I’m in anyway.

Outpost Zero – Writer Sean McKeever (The Waiting Place, Sentinel, Teen Titans) returns to comics after a noticeable absence for character-driven SF about a weather-domed city, its adults with big origin secrets, and the teen citizens struggling to fathom why one of their friends committed suicide by going outside. It’s low-key compared to other Image titles, which is fine by me because I prefer a variety of tones and a relief from the Rated-R edginess that characterizes more than a few Image titles that other fans love way more than I do.

Paper Girls – The end is nigh! With last week’s #26 Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang just kicked off the series’ final arc, in which our time-traveling, news-peddling young heroines are strewn across four different points in time, some of which have been explained more in-depth than others, some of which still including their living counterparts, all of which will allegedly make perfect sense soon and hopefully won’t go for a total copout, like that time Y: The Last Man ended and we were all told, “Uh, the real secret is whichever theory you liked best!”

Rumble – John Arcudi and David Rubin keep the monsters a-comin’ and even brought in extras by sending Our Heroes to a faraway island to add more…though I missed the intensely downtown feel of the first few arcs and original artist James Harren. Rubin’s cartooning skills are fine, but for me, our human heroes Bobby, Del, and Timah thrive more when they’re grounded in the real world as starker contrast against our scarecrow swordsman protagonist and the outlandish menageries he has to keep stabbing to death.

Bitter Root!

Congrats on making it to the halfway point! Your reward is a page from Bitter Root #1. Art by Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi.

Series that were canceled or ended as the creators allegedly planned:

Astro City – Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross end a long run of not-so-ordinary superheroes with the intent to make the leap to original graphic novels instead of a tough monthly schedule. I appreciated the attempt to end on a high note, with a three-issue sequel to “The Nearness of You” — not just the best Astro City story ever but one of my all-time favorite comics period. Many a series in my lifetime have ended with an optimistic promise to return in another format, only to go off the rails behind the scenes and never return. Here’s hoping this one defies the odds.

Dead Rabbit – Another Gerry Duggan joint, this time with artist John McCrea (Hitman, The Demon), about a costumed robber who returns from retirement for righteous violent revenge or somesuch. The first issue was a bit coarser than Analog, but the whole thing was canned due to severe trademark issues and #2 was yanked from shelves before I could decide whether or not to try it again.

Descender – Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen have only temporarily wrapped up this act of their prettily watercolored, occasionally harsh spacefaring saga starring a happy robot boy, his happy robot dog, his evil twin, a jerk scientist, an angry alien woman, galactic armies, numerous robots, and Jack Kirby’s Celestials wearing different head-buckets over their normal head-buckets. Everyone is set to return later this year in the next chapter, logically called Ascender, which means it’s all uphill from here. But hopefully in the same entertaining way.

Flavor – Maybe Japan has lots of comics about cooking contests, but America doesn’t — Anthony Bourdain’s Get Jiro, Brian Wood’s Starve, technically Chew except its meals were grosser than anything ever ruined on Chopped, and now this short-lived all-ages fable of a land where their big cooking contest is the only way some aspiring lower-class citizens will ever transcend their meager upbringing and win at life. I was surprised to get to the end of #6 and learn this would be our last glimpse “presented in the single issue form”. For the rest of this paragraph, see previous notes re: Astro City.

Royal City – Yet another city closing its borders. In earlier essays Jeff Lemire had thought this story, about a broken family and the dead brother who haunts them at different ages, would go on for years, but instead wrapped up with #14 as the ending arrived to him sooner than expected. As he says in the afterword, “Maybe I am more restless now than when I did forty monthly issues of Sweet Tooth. I just have so many stories I want to draw now, and the idea of being tied to Royal City forever started to feel restricting rather than enriching.” To be honest, it’s refreshing in this day and age for a comic to end when its story and its creator are truly done, as opposed to being canceled for low sales or perpetuated unto eternity for corporate marketing concerns. Kudos to Lemire for his candor, for his self-reflection, and for sticking the landing on this book.

Miniseries completed in 2018/winter 2019:

Cemetery Beach – The finale hit stores last week before I could finish this entry, so now I’ve had to update this one last-minute to a completed project instead of “in progress”. On break from their more complicated series Trees, Warren Ellis and Jason Howard relax for a madcap seven-issue chase sequence through grungy future land filled with soldiers and explosive craft and speed-line backdrops where fights and explosions and running and zooming and more explosions can happen. Howard’s Silvestri-influenced style leans into a grittier, manga-tastic edge that, in the eventual trade collection, should make a compelling, jet-fueled thrill ride that demands to be visually injected in one sitting.

Titles I dropped, or tried once but failed to get hooked:

Auntie Agatha’s Home for Wayward Rabbits – Meeting Keith Giffen in person last year was a fun memorable moment, but his comics of late largely consist of characters bickering and squabbling and generally loathing each other, albeit with Giffen’s skillful ear for naturalistic dialogue rather than falling back on today’s catchphrases and memes. Two issues of that felt more than enough, though.

Proxima Centauri – Farel Dalrymple does not make comics for ordinary readers. Unreal creatures and imaginative vistas from beyond can be an eye-opening experience to view, but somehow whatever substance was meant to imbue them wasn’t quite connecting with me.

Snotgirl – In which the creator of Scott Pilgrim parodies vapid fashion bloggers, which I was absolutely on board with for a while. As I felt it tilting more toward standard modern romance, I got the sense I wasn’t the target audience, which is fine. Not every comic has to be for me.

Series on extend hiatus:

My past annual comics overviews included this section, which you’ll notice didn’t appear in Part Two or Part Three of this miniseries. This year every name on the list is an Image title. I’m sure it’s gratifying for creators to find such a company willing to work with them and to allow them the luxury of publishing whenever they feel they and their works are ready. For readers it can feel like getting five chapters into a 400-page novel only to have to set it aside for the next several months because all the other pages are still blank. By the time the other words are filled in, there’s a good chance your attachment to those five chapters from long ago has faded away like a lover who moved to another country. If you ever see them again before you die, great, but the passion won’t be the same.

Consider this a “wish you were here” postcard to the following four titles:

Copperhead – Two issues in 2018 and only the grand finale left to finish but with no ETA. Why must space westerns always vex me so?

The Dying and the Dead – Zero issues in 2018, possibly as Jonathan Hickman looks to replicate the 5-year hiatus that his S.H.I.E.L.D. just overcame.

Injection – On year-long break between story arcs while Declan Shalvey worked on some Marvel projects. Warren Ellis noted in his newsletter not too long ago that work proceeds apace, and Shalvey looks to be itching to get back to it soon per his own Twitter comments. More government-science-vs.-arcane-magic escapades in the offing, then.

Lazarus – After two issues and a special in 2018, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are back — next week, in fact — with the series relaunched as Lazarus: Risen in a quarterly format, much larger but presumably an easier frequency for Lark to illustrate. In my mind, an alt-history SF series of this staggering timeline-building density should benefit from larger reading chunks.

To be concluded!

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