Last week, Bria put up a post regarding independent comic books. For those of us who are tired of the gimmicks and the ploys that the major publishers use to draw in readers but who still want that classic superhero feel, we still have options. Bria hit on some of them already, like the perennial favorite, Watchmen. I’m going to hit on some of the others that I consider to be my personal favorites.
Image Comics is a company that began in the 1990’s that’s been successful on the basis of writing original stories and allowing the creators to maintain ownership of the intellectual property.
The company may have been best known for its early star IP, Spawn. For those of you that haven’t read it, I’d avoid it. It may have held up then, but now it feels over the top and really rather silly. Really, I feel like that might be true for any of Image’s early titles; you may have heard of the ‘EXTREME’ attitude of so many of the titles with titles like Blood Squad or Death Shoot. In all seriousness, the one that I’m thinking of in particular is Young Bloods. Avoid it. At all costs.
As time went by though, the quality really amped up. In the early 2000’s, the company picked up a writer who had worked on a title he’d self published, Battle Pope. His first real superhero title is called Invincible. Later on, he also began a series that has exploded in popularity when it got a television adaptation, The Walking Dead.
That’s right, I’m talking about Robert Kirkman. I’m going to focus on his superhero title, Invincible (Comixology). Up front, I’m going to tell you, if you are a bit squeamish about gore in your titles, then you’re going to want to avoid this. The graphic nature of The Walking Dead isn’t something unique to that title.
The primary protagonist, the eponymous Invincible, tells an interesting story. The entire concept is turning the classic Superman origin on its head. Invincible is the son of the best known hero on the planet, Omniman. He’s told when he was young that his father is an alien that has come to Earth to bring peace and technology. Not too many issues in, we discover that the story was a lie and the Omniman is on Earth to conquer it.
Invincible is a title that explores a concept that’s been batted around by other authors a lot; what is it really like to be a superhero and how does it affect their personal lives? Titles like Spider-Man have taken a look at this, but they’ve been weighed down by character history and the rest of their universe. Invincible starts out free of that obstacle. Image is also an environment that is free enough to let its authors do some really appalling things to their characters that the big publishers might not let fly. Take my word on it: some seriously screwed up stuff happens to this kid, and it makes for great reading. Even if it is unpleasant at times, it reads like some of this stuff could really happen with a teenager who develops the most powerful set of super powers on a planet full of superheroes.
The greatest thing about trying to get into this comic is that it’s new enough that there isn’t a whole load of material, it won’t cost you a fortune to get everything published up to now, and most of it is available in quite large omnibus collections. The first volume is available on Amazon for $12 used and contains what must be a full year’s worth of material.
This is a title that I strongly recommend. I personally own the first seven volumes of the comic and I’d love nothing more than to try to keep up with it. It never ceases to surprise. Beyond Invincible, Kirkman’s superhero universe has expanded with other titles like Tech Jacket, Brit and another one-off or two starring characters like Atom-Eve. It’s all worthwhile.
V for Vendetta (Comixology) is a comic that is less pleasant than the Rorschach portions of the Watchmen. Take my word on that. If you’ve seen the movie, go ahead and forget about that; this book is much more high minded, thorough and political.
The art is haunting, the subject is gritty and the writing is superb. If you can separate this comic from the people who see it as a political handbook, (don’t kid yourselves, they exist; I went to grad school with them) then the book is very good. Most people see it as a warm-up for Alan Moore before he gets to Watchmen. It may be that, and it honestly doesn’t have the cultural relevance of Watchmen, but it’s still quite good if you have the stomach for it and are in the mood for what equates to some serious literature in the form of graphic designs.
You can pick this comic up for next to nothing, really. It’s been used in college classes, which might mean that students have held onto it, but search Amazon for a used copy and you can pick it up for under $10 before shipping. If you get it new, it’s under $14 and ships free with a Prime account.
Let’s be honest, you’ve at least heard of Hellboy, haven’t you? It made two live action movies and, what, three animated features? And they were, at worst, okay and at best, great. If you’ve seen the movies, you have an idea of what you’re looking at; the tone of the second one is generally closer to the comics, at least as far as the main plot.
For those of you that haven’t seen them, who are you and where have you been for the past eight years? Mignola’s signature work has been around since the mid-90’s and has evolved quite a bit. The primary plot has remained the same; Hellboy fights supernatural threats.
The mythology of the series is very well researched. When Mignola writes about the Tuatha da Danaan, they are what they’re supposed to be like, faeries. Not fairies, mind you, but faeries, supernatural beings of various natures, sometimes benevolent, but most times not. At other times, Hellboy will be fighting a Lovecraftian horror of original design.
Ultimately the most difficult thing about getting into this series is figuring out where. No matter where in the story you start, it’s fairly accessible, but there are varying degrees. I’d recommend the story “Right Hand of Doom.” It isn’t the first collection, but it is representative of the series and it is one of the best known stories.
You can find this used for under $6 and new with Prime free shipping for just over $12.
There’s plenty more high quality work in the independent publishers. If you can find it, you ought to read it. If you’re reading this and have a favorite independent comic, tell us what it is in the comments.