Article by: Ed Allen
Explosions! Betrayal! Apocalypse! Aliens! Magic! Ridiculously big guns! Presidents! Clones! Things that are visually interesting!
Okay then, now that I've got your attention: I'm going to tell you about a few comics from my monthly pull list which feature all of the above and more. Lately I chopped my LCS subscriptions by half, partly to make room for new things but mainly because I'm tired of slowly plotted single issues that spend far too little of their precious page-space offering me excitement or provoking thought. The comics below have all survived the cull...
How best to describe this comic? On the surface it's a deep space action-adventure comic, set in an ultra-distant future where humankind as we know it has long been extinct, but it's actually so much more. It starts with John Prophet emerging from hibernation and undertaking a mission to reactivate a satellite but it quickly develops into an exploration of what it means to be human, of imaginative forms of alien life and of the depths of the galaxy itself. Every issue is crammed with suspense, unpredictability, action and littered with spurs for your imagination. As Prophet has developed, we have three main ongoing narratives with each following their own protagonists and each drawn by one of three artists: Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis and Farel Dalrymple (with the occasional issue or page drawn by series writer Brandon Graham). As a writer, Graham prioritizes the artist in a way that's unusual in today's writer-centric industry. He has given Simon Roy and Giannis Milonogiannis free reign to write their own stories within the Prophet universe and his scripts are quite minimalist in their use of dialogue and captions, leaving plenty of space for the artists to flex their storytelling muscles and giving them plenty of eye-catching things to draw on every page. He shows a lot of confidence in the reader, always moving things forward at a brisk pace, taking us through a kind of spacetime safari through all these strange places and inviting us read between the lines of his writing. It is a comic which actively seeks to engage our sense of wonder, asking questions of the reader as we ask questions of the story.
In my opinion Prophet is the best comic of the last year and if there’s any kind of justice in the comics world it should have an enduring legacy outside of critics’ circles. It probably won’t, because far too many people are far too interested in slogging their way through the endless minutiae of the Batman family’s existence or indulging in the infinite repetition of the X-Men’s soap operas, but it really should. Prophet is the perfect antidote to the malaise of inconsequential circularity and safe unoriginality that grips the ‘mainstream’ of the monthly comics marketplace. It will provide a revitalising injection of novelty and freewheeling creativity into your pull list and I’d be amazed if you regretted your purchase.
The only drawback is that you probably won’t have the faintest idea what’s going on if you pick up the latest issue tomorrow but there’s two trade paperbacks already published so it’s not hard to catch up and if you do decide to try wednesday’s issue then you’ll be able to take in the glorious artwork regardless. As an added bonus for monthly readers, Prophet has regularly included some of the best backup features I’ve ever seen.
Rob Liefeld gets a lot of flack from critics and fans but he has shown admirable good sense in allowing Brandon Graham’s team to run wild with his Prophet creation (and for giving Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell license to do the same in the recently concluded Glory). Long may it continue.
Most of you already know everything about this comic, so I’ll waste too much of your time describing it. Brian K. Vaughn writes tightly knit scripts of action, romance and mild intrigue with breezy pacing and plenty of reader-sympathetic hooks, usually throwing in an emotional gut-punch or two in every issue while Fiona Staples consistently dazzles with her 100% digital artwork and unique flair for character design. It may have won the Eisner award for “Best Ongoing Series” that should have gone to Prophet but it would be very churlish of me not to give Saga its due. It’s not particularly deep, nor but any original series that can compete with the big commercial properties of Marvel and DC for monthly sales is nothing less than a triumph.
The Manhattan Projects
Jonathan Hickman’s mean spirited and darkly humorous sci-fi thriller couples the epic scope of his Fantastic Four with the treachery and psychopathic menace of Warren Ellis’s Thunderbolts run. Hickman has misappropriated many of the mid-20th century’s brightest minds, including the scientists responsible for developing the first atomic bomb, and pits them against grotesque aliens, a Mason-controlled US Government and threats from within as they advance their bizarre science and reject the established world order. It’s the perfect canvas for his imagination and it comes without the overly oblique and portentous writing style he has developed during his time on Fantastic Four, Avengers and East of West.
Nick Pitarra’s art is like a weird fusion of Frank Quitely and the “Rugrats” animated series, with crinkly line-work detailing his characters and a geometric precision informing the perspective of his panels. It’s a style that allows for the subtleties of character drama and bleak comedy as well as intense action scenes and epic scale scene setting. The pages are highly detailed without becoming unreadably cluttered and Hickman seems to know how to write to get the best out Pitarra’s talents. It’s all highly impressive and I’m amazed that Pitarra has been able to churn the issues out on a monthly basis (give or take a minor delay or two, and a fill-in issue drawn by the superb Ryan Browne). If that weren’t enough for you, colorist supreme Jordie Bellaire is also working on The Manhattan Projects.
In the Comic Bastard’s 2012 round-up I picked issue #5 as the best single issue of a monthly comic I read last year and it was no fluke by Hickman and Pitarra. Every issue consistently delivers and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is one of the finest monthly comics currently on the shelves.
Catalyst Comix is Joe Casey’s latest superhero comic, a psychedelic revamp of Dark Horse’s mid-1990’s superhero properties, but there was enough of a sci-fi feel to the first issue that I thought I might as well squeeze it in here and unlike the other comics listed here you can get in close to the ground floor, with issue #2 coming out tomorrow (assuming you can also find #1 at your LCS).
Making use of an unusual anthology format, Casey brings us three ongoing stories every month that are all part of a shared superhero world. In issue #1 we had ‘The Ballad of Frank Wells’, a hyper-frenetic knock-down, drag-out super-brawler comic drawn by Dan McDaid, ‘Amazing Grace’ is trippy as hell (drawn by Paul Maybury) and ‘Agents of Change’ is a fusion of ‘gritty’ heroes with Ulises Farinas’s smooth yet detailed pop comic art. There’s not a lot of depth to the stories so far, beneath all the sound and fury, but what there is highly enjoyable if you allow yourself to be swept along in its wake. I really can’t emphasise enough just how beautiful every page of Catalyst Comix looks in your hands and I think this is Joe Casey’s most promising work for quite a while.
If you find your regular superheroes are becoming a little routine, a little too familiar, and you’d like to see something different from a cape comics, something energetic and fresh, then look no further than Catalyst Comix.
I hope these recommendations are of some use to you - I’m certainly looking forward to picking up the latest issues when I visit my LCS tomorrow!