The Paybacks now in its second volume moves from Dark Horse to Heavy Metal and continues to be the most fun you'll have with superheroes in the Western hemisphere.
I don't read as many superhero books as I used to. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out whether that's because something has changed with me as a reader or the number of good superhero books being published has declined. (For what it's worth, I wager it's quite a bit of both). In any case, there are still some great superhero books out there, just not in the places you'd expect. One-Punch Man is probably the most popular, or at least the one with the most meteoric rise in the last year. My favorite on the manga side of things is actually My Hero Academia. That's for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it's sort of carrying a torch that Naruto used to carry, it's smart without being annoyingly cerebral, character designs are original and interesting, and it takes seriously the relationship heroes have to their society.
If you asked me my favorite non-manga superhero book right now, my answer would be The Paybacks.
And there are a lot of things to like about The Paybacks; it's sort of a confluence of the best parts of many different contemporary takes on the superhero genre. But all of what makes The Paybacks successful is anchored by Geoff Shaw's art and Dee Cunniffe's colors. Shaw's angular, ink-forward approach is matched perfectly by Cunniffe who, just from scrolling through his twitter feed for a little while, seems to have a knack for working with art that already has a lot of personality before color is added. I've pointed this out before but it bears repeating: The Paybacks is probably one of the only comics on shelves right now that has this varied a color palette, yet which also sees the colorist exercising total control over that palette. This is a comic that often feels colorful and muted at the same time, and the achievement of an aesthetic that feels that tight is not a small one.
Rahal and Cates' blend of humor, intrigue, and violence is also only possible because Shaw is tremendous at drawing expressions. The timing of this comic completely revolves around story beats where characters stare blankly, or mourn a loss, or instantly become full of rage, or turn their heads in a delayed reaction, or express confusion or surprise or... you get the point. The spreads are gorgeous too but this really is a comic driven by character reactions.
On the writing side, what makes this comic special is the way that it leverages traditional aspects of superhero comics for small, satirical moments. Even where that satirical ground has been tread either by other stories or in this story already, The Paybacks often puts familiar things together in unique configurations, keeping the story fresh and moving the plot forward. Fans of One-Punch Man will no doubt be accustomed to minor villains appearing in dramatic fashion who then turning out to be very easily dispatched. Fans of... well, pretty much anything published since Watchmen have seen some sort of way-too-powerful analogue for Superman. The moments in which the first issue of this second volume crams these things together, however, are wholly new, and feel even fresher since they are occurring in contrast to our repo-hero friends.
Even with the big reveal at the end of the first volume and the massive impact it had in this issue, this series is still a fundamentally mysterious one: Who is this Pierce guy putting all these wannabe heroes into debt? How does this van hold so much stuff inside of it? Why does the Driver do Pierce's dirty work despite seeming like a sympathetic character? How does a grocery store get away with charging three dollars for a fucking cantaloupe?
I might stick around for answers to these questions even if the comic didn't look so good; but, with its mix of humor, intrigue, compelling characters, and superhero-punchery, I'm in this for the long haul.
[su_box title="Score: 5/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
The Paybacks Vol. 2 #1
Writers: Eliot Rahal & Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Publisher: Heavy Metal
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital