Friday, November 1, 2013

Saying goodbye to the mainstream; hello, Indie.

Saying goodbye to the mainstream; hello, Indie.
by rick olivares

This year, 2013, is probably the first year since the explosion of Image Comics where I began to buy a lot more independent comic book titles.

When Image first came out, I picked up all their titles (Youngblood, Spawn, Wildcats, Wetworks, Cyberforce, Savage Dragon and Shadowhawk) along with stuff coming out from Dark Horse (Sin City, Nexus, X, Ghost, and Alien vs. Predator), Valiant (X-O Manowar and Turok). There was Pacific Comics’ The Rocketeer when I could find it.

But I soon dropped many of them as they lacked substance with most opting to present flashy art that were nothing but Jim Lee clones. So I reverted back to the traditional Marvel and DC books that I read.

The one indie title I kept was Nexus. On a rack teeming with superheroes, he was the anti-hero. The covers screamed super-heroes but it was more than that. It was a space opera/science fiction/Dr. Seuss/dark comedy about a cosmic assassin haunted by dreams that instructed him to put the kibosh on the bad guys. And I loved it and still do. If I were to name my favorite comic book of all time it would be Nexus.

That was supposed to be Uncanny X-Men. That title is singularly responsible for my loving this four-colored medium. It is the one title that I have collected for the longest time. But my love for the X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil has waned over the years. And I can say that after having read everything that has been put out in the last 42 years.

I feel that the majority of DC and Marvel comics published today are all spawns of Frank Miller’s Born Again saga in Daredevil (where they put the heroes through hell and back) and Chris Claremont’s X-Men tome Days of Future Past (where the heroes’ end of days is chronicled), and Alan Moore’s The Watchmen (heroes gone mad and bad).

You might wonder where is The Dark Knight Returns? Sorry, but if there is any apocalyptic future that inspired a lot then it is Days of Future Past and it came out way ahead of The Dark Knight that isn’t technically part of any Batman future. In fact, it paved the way for DC’s Elseworlds line.

In the last 20 years, comics have become events with supposed death stories, paper versions of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, and revisionist yarns. The latter especially rankles me. How many times has DC tried to reboot its Universe? And then they trumpet their new storylines and number one issues. Ah, all designed to get more money out of the fans’ pockets.

What every happened to good old storytelling? The render moot Peter Parker’s marriage, send the young X-Men into the present, or even create a new universe with 52 titles.

I remember reading an interview with Marv Wolfman and George Perez about what went wrong with post-Crisis on Infinite Earths – that DC did not reboot all the titles from issue #1. This time they did it but rather than start with an origin story for its characters they had all this backstory where you aren’t sure what from the old universe is real and what isn’t?

I am displeased with the direction the X-Men titles have taken. It’s all Wolverine this and Wolverine that. I hate what Marvel has done trying to foist the character upon all that he is in almost every team out there that’s it’s become a joke. He is not an Avenger. When there’s a cry of “Avengers Assemble” you see him charging out there with his claws extracted. Why are you popping your claws if you aren’t going to disembowel foes? What was the whole point of the recent Battle of the Atom storyline? You expect me to believe that a Trojan gambit in the Infinity War was going to work?

The recent Joker story – The Death of the Family – left me angry. This is what it has come to – racking up body counts where it is a joke to try and throw the Joker in jail and try and rehabilitate him. Osama Bin Laden had his men blow up the World Trade Center and he got Navy Seals shoving lead up his ass for his trouble.

What was the point of the Trinity War? Another chance for superhero to fight one another? Then it’s followed by Villains Forever. Hello, Civil War-DC style.

The Big Two has been pretty much short on vision and terrific storytelling and large on gimmicks and tried and tested storylines. The basis for a Big Two story is – make each her go through hell and comeback.

The two terrific and must-read books that Marvel put out with solid storytelling and artwork – Mark Waid’s Daredevil and Ed Brubaker’s Captain America – and they reboot the issue all over again but it’s not the same.

And sad to say it, but I am pretty much done with DC and Marvel. I can say that with finality after reading and collecting their books for about 42 years now. I feel bad because it’s like losing an old friend but at the same time I am happy because there are a lot of alternatives out there.

Not since 1992 have I have purchased more indie comics. Unlike that wave of creampuff releases (Youngblood looked like it was conceived, written and drawn by a third grader), there’s a lot to like today.

Dark Horse
I collect the two titles that I first read back in those early 1990s – Nexus and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I love how Dark Horse has collected all the old Nexus material into Omnibus volumes; it’s cheaper and it gives new readers a jumping on point. Although I hope they do the same for the issues from the past 10 years or so. Hellboy, since it’s inception, I have collected and read eagerly.

The three new titles I picked up are Godzilla (Seriously! I kinda enjoy all this monster/Kaiju stuff), Shaolin Cowboy (Geoff Darrow at his finest) and The Massive (about a post-Global Warming earth).

After many of the original founders left taking with them their excuses to get geeks’ hormones raging, the company was turned over to Jim Valentino who proceeded to bring in a lot of independent creators with an emphasis on quality and innovative storytelling.

That second phase proved successful and it was followed by his successors as editors-in-chiefs Erik Larsen and Eric Stephenson.

In fact, Image has cemented its name as the indie outfits with some really groundbreaking stories. Here is what I read now: The Walking Dead, Saga (a space opera set against a backdrop of an interstellar war between two races), The Manhattan Projects (an alternate future where the creators of the atomic bomb are a think tank for mad scientists), Peter Panzerfaust (a retelling of the Peter Pan fairytale set in World War II France), Rat Queens (a fantasy story about a band of assassins), Rocket Girl (about a teenage cop sent back into the past to investigate a corporation’s crimes against time), Sidekick (about a superhero who never quite made it; it has the feel of James Robinson’s excellent Elseworlds story from DC - The Golden Age), and Velvet (a spy story). 

I have loved and enjoyed the late Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer ever since I discovered the old books at a bargain bin. I have his collected editions but have been mostly disappointed in IDW’s new books where they come up with short arcs that really do not amount to much. The recent team up with The Spirit is actually the best one that has come out since Cliff’s New York Adventure, the last that Stevens’ wrote and drew.

Danger Girl. Came out initially as an Image title but has since moved to IDW. The Charlie’s Angles of the four-color print medium.

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City has long been a favorite of mine. It has moved houses from Image to Vertigo. One of the initial offerings from Homage Comics (along with the excellent Leave It To Chance), expect a monthly dose of solid storytelling that takes the superhero genre to a whole new level.

Bill Willingham’s Fables is pure genius. It is amazing how he has kept at this for 11 years now (and still going strong).

The one book I get is Uber, a story set in World War II where a Nazi Germany in its death throes unleashes a cadre of supermen on the advancing Allied and Russian forces. The result is catastrophic and the Allies have to come up with their solution to counteract these weapons of mass destruction. The art could really use some work but I still enjoy it.

Oni Press
It was only recently that I began to pick up Oni Press’ books and I have picked them up a chunk of their titles.

It started out with The Mysterious Strangers, a book with retro kitsch in mind that harkens back to the old Avengers of Emma Peel and company. It’s not heavy but it reminds me of why I read comics in the first place – they were supposed to be fun.

I love Greg Rucka’s Stumptown, a detective story where its heroine every bit mortal and real. At times I feel like I am reading Frank Miller’s and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One mashed with old television show The Rockford Files.

I also picked up the one-shot Toy Story-inspired Wars in Toyland although it’s a one-shot graphic novel. I tried out The Avalon Chronicles that will remind one of The Chronicles of Narnia. It has a nice feel to it but I am not really crazy about the black and white line art that is actually weak.

The one Oni Press book that has become a must read and collect is The Sixth Gun. It’s a Western horror story that is written and drawn in a manner that evokes the great Paul Smith.

Think Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider meets Hellboy. The result is a lushly drawn and wonderfully written book that shoots up to the top of my list of five favorite books right now (alongside) Astro City, Fables, Saga, and Sidekick.

It also should be noted that since 1992, there have been at least 21 indie comics that have adapted in film or television with some to great success – 30 Days of Night, 300, The Adventures of Tintin, Alien vs. Predator, The Crow, Dick Tracy, Hellboy, Judge Dredd, Kick Ass, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Red, Road to Perdition, The Rocketeer, Scott Pilgrim, Sin City, Spawn, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Walking Dead, and Wanted.

If you’re not really a comic book reader, I’ll bet you’re surprised that many of these films owe their inspiration and start to indie comic books.

Having said that, here are some books that should be adapted into film or television:
The Sixth Gun (there was the failed pilot episode)
Y The Last Man
Daytripper. Yes, Daytripper that I will swear fealty to until the day I die (and that is fitting given the story).

If you’re looking to get into indie comics here are some titles that have a beginning and an end so it isn’t too pricey for you to pick up:
Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper (Vertigo)
Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker (Vertigo)
Bill Willingham’s Fables (oops this is on-going but pick up the first volume of the collected editions; you’ll thank me for this one fine day). (Vertigo)
Habibi by Craig Thompson (Pantheon)
Frank Miller’s 300. (Dark Horse)
The Cackle of the Frost (Fantagraphics)

Other stuff that I have enjoyed but have ceased publication: Tom Strong, Promethea, Leave It To Chance, and Aria. 

It’s a tough decision to give up on the old stuff I used to read from Marvel and DC but the alternatives are just as good if not better. Besides, if I want to read some great Spidey stuff, I’ll just pull out my Lee-Ditko, Stern-Romita Jr. comics or the old Claremont-Byrne and Claremont-Lee X-Men.


Some people have asked me why I still read comic books at my age. My answer is, I grew up on them. I grew up on baseball, Sports Illustrated, paperback novels, CDs, and football jerseys. I still am very much in touch with my hobbies to this day. So that’s your answer.

In fact, I am voracious reader who reads a lot from the New York Times, Time, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer, Four Four Two, Reader’s Digest, and Bleeding Cool.  

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