(Editor’s Note: We said something about plans in our previous article and how they easily go awry. We planned to do a Comic Round Up on Marvel next, so enjoy this article about few independent titles that I’ve (re)discovered since coming back to comic books again.)
It feels weird calling this article the “little guys” when I’m reviewing 2 Image books. I mean, they have some comics that have a definite “little engine that might” quality, but they also have the old gray mare in Spawn and the 900 lb. gorilla that is The Walking Dead. Still, they are considered independent, and with the rate I’m picking up titles, “the little guys” might soon outweigh even that 900 lb. gorilla, so I’m sticking with the title.
Chris and I were talking a few weeks (maybe a month) ago about our newly found interest in comics. I was still in my Wonder Woman trades only, Batman, and only books that had the Secret Empire flag on them phase. One of us mentioned that there were so many good books to read right now. If it was me who said that, I followed up with the following. If it was Chris, then it was my reply. In either case, I said, “I know, and I have barely even touched DC comics and haven’t even considered any of the independent books.”
Side note: I was still reading Spawn, a book that will be included in this independent book review. What can I say? I didn’t consider Spawn an independent book then and I’m changing my mind now to suit the theme. As if there’s no precedent for that around here.
Well, I’ve now ventured into the world of independent comics outside of Spawn and my poor budget is about to take even more of a hit. Similar to my adventures into both Marvel and DC, I have really enjoyed both of the new books that I’ve read and that will most likely lead to me spending more time with the independent rack. It’s either the best of times or the worst of times, too, as August promises to be light on volume each week due to the “extra” Wednesday. Oh well, more fodder for the next article!
When I picked up the latest issue of Spawn, the woman who owns the store that I’ve adopted as my LCS remarked something about a new Spawn in my pull.
Side Note: I’ve only started the pull, am not sure that I set it up the way that I wanted to get all of the issues I want, and am a little embarrassed by my “mainstream” tastes. The comic book store is in a very eclectic city and I always get the sense that the town itself is judging me for my comic book tastes.
Nonchalantly and trying not to let my embarrassment over my comic choices show, I replied, “Yeah, Spawn is a relic from my reckless youth.” It must have worked on some level because she chuckled and said, “Yeah, we all have those, don’t we.” Whew, crisis averted. She also continued the conversation by saying, “It’s about the art,” to which I nodded and then she continued, “and this cover is so cool.” That’s the cover up there and yes, it is cool.
As far as the story goes, it’s been a bit hit and miss. The first issue that I read felt very familiar as if it’s all been done before. I know that the book has been around for over 20 years, is about 2 years short of #300, and hasn’t experienced a full reboot or crisis in that time. So, it’s gotta be tough to keep coming up with new stories. Still, it was slightly disconcerting to come back to such a ho hum issue. I even considered just jettisoning Spawn to the trash bin of history. I did so with The Walking Dead and while I’ve recently considered a return, Chris talked me off of that ledge.
But, Spawn and I have history, Man. I was there from the beginning. I bought issue #1 off of the rack when it was released. I replaced the first 150 issues (because I threw them out during one of my moves) 20 years ago when I got back into comics again for the Civil War event. The Walking Dead was part of a phase. It was a college thing. I was curious, okay?! Spawn will have to get a lot worse for me to abandon the book completely. So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s actually steadily increased in quality as far as the writing goes. The latest arc, that’s starting with 276, isn’t great, but it’s good enough to keep me interested at least in the short run.
The Good – The art quality for this book has always been great and some amazing artists have worked on the book. That hasn’t changed. Todd McFarlane has an eye for what works visually on this book.
The Bad – The writing is uneven and was almost enough to turn me off from the book, but it has shown signs of improving.
The Ugly – I called Spawn the old grey mare. While she isn’t as long in the tooth as some of the Marvel or DC books (and they’ve even tried changing some of those books to loud and angry nerd shouts), but it is one of the longest running books not published by one of those two. It is showing it’s age.
The verdict: If you’re a fan, you know what you’re getting. If you’re not, there’s not really much here to recommend over some of the other books out there. I will say that if this current arc doesn’t pan out and I’m crunched for money, this will be the first book to go.
I was in line at the comic book store, waiting to pay for my latest haul of Secret Empire tie in books, when I overheard the guy in front of me talking to the owner of the store about Sam Kieth. I’ve already mentioned that I feel weird about not having as many “offbeat” comics in my reading list and Sam Kieth is as “offbeat” as they come. I’ve been a fan of his since discovering him during my first discovery of comic books as a teenager. Like Todd McFarlane, I wasn’t aware of Sam Kieth’s work with Marvel and DC. I found him through his Image book, The Maxx.
Side note: See, I used to be much more hip and with it. Image probably never was the “fringe” of comics, but it was alternative in a time when that word had a much more positive meaning. I suppose that I’m just getting safe in my old age, falling into patterns from my youth.
The Maxx was, and probably still is, my favorite comic book of all time. Like most Image books, it suffered from delays, but I always looked forward to every new issue. Also, like Spawn, I trashed my Maxx books, but bought the entire run again. Unlike Spawn, or any other book for that matter, all of the books are in a binder for safe keeping. I loved the weirdness of The Maxx and how it wasn’t typical comic book stuff. Now I might need to go back and read it again.
And, back to the present. After a casual conversation about the books in my hand, that ended with an awkward admission (as an attempt to gain some cred) by me that I thought Ultimates has been a really good book lately, I quickly changed the subject. “What’s Sam Kieth been up to?”The owner’s eye’s lit up, she mentioned the title, and took me over to the rack. Only issues 2 and 3 were available, but she said that she would try to get issue 1 for me. She was great about getting me issue #5 of Secret Empire, so I have no doubt that she will make good on it.
It might just be the bias of having read The Maxx, but similar themes run through Eleanor and the Egret. It is nowhere near a carbon copy of it, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t notice the similarities. Strong female protagonist accompanied by a non human ally. Weird creepy man in black. Flash backs (though in The Maxx, it was not always clear if they were flashbacks, flash forwards, or alternate realities) that serve to drive the story. Okay, so maybe there aren’t as many similarities as I thought and I’m just reaching here.
In any case, the book is very good. I don’t know the writer, but apparently he’s very well known for something that he did while I was away from comics. I will say that I’ve enjoyed this book so much that I might have to go back to read that series one of these days. Eleanor is not your typical comic book stuff, even more so than The Maxx wasn’t. It revolves around an artist turned art thief and her pet bird, who seem to have a bit of a bone to pick with another artist for some reason. They steal this other artist’s paintings and the bird eats them. I know. It sounds weird. And it is weird. In my opinion, it’s very good, too.
The Good: Sam Kieth’s art takes me back to the beginning and reminds me again why I love comic books. It isn’t always just about the beautiful photorealistic art. Sometimes, the fuzzy lines and muted colors work just as well, if not better.
The Bad: It’s not a book for everyone. If you are super hero only, avoid this book. There isn’t anything for you here.
The Ugly: As with any of these indy companies, I wonder how long they will last. I know that it isn’t the wild 1990s anymore, but I’d hate to get invested in a book only to see it killed due to low sales or delays.
This past week was light on the main books. There was no Secret Empire, only one or two tie ins, the Hulk generations book, and a new Batman. Instead of putting away the rest of my budget for next week, I started to wander through the independent titles. At first, I thought I might get suckered back into The Walking Dead, but the book just doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I also found myself looking at Kirkman’s other book, Outcast. That looked really good, but I had already committed to my new obsession. Maybe next time.
While looking at the racks, I noticed the name “WARREN ELLIS” on one of the books. I know him best from his insane super hero book Nextwave: Agents of HATE followed shortly after by my discovery of his work on Thunderbolts at the same time. He was somewhat restricted by the characters in Thunderbolts. However, at that time, it was a book with completely bonkers Green Goblin, off his rocker Venom, nutso Penance and Bullseye, and slightly less crazy, but still perfect for Ellis’ off the wall writing style, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Songbird, and Swordsman. He faced less resistance from the roster in Nextwave, as it was mostly 3rd and 4th tier characters that nobody ever heard of and he could be much crazier with them. I read his Thunderbolts, but I loved Nextwave and it put Warren Ellis on my must buy list.
While checking out, I remarked what a slow week it was for books and the owner replied, “Going to be that way all month because of the 5 Wednesdays. Need to spread it out.” I talked about picking up Injection to fill the void because of my undying love for Warren Ellis. She said that she loved the book, but it could get a little hard to follow because it is vintage Ellis. And, boy is it ever. If you thought I had a tough time explaining the plot of Eleanor, this one is beyond words.
The Good: Nextwave was Warren Ellis with minor restrictions. This is Warren Ellis with the gloves completely off. She said that it might be difficult to follow. I didn’t find that to be true, but the story is absolutely insane in the best way possible.
The Bad: I blew through the first two TPB volumes in no time at all. That leaves only 4 issues and then I think I have to wait until October for Issue #15. Bummer.
The Ugly: It took me until the end of Volume 2 to realize that he’s writing the series to focus each 5 issue story arc on one of the 5 main characters. I’m not sure how he will handle it if it goes beyond 25 issues, but that was a bit embarrassing.
Okay, I’ve branched out and bought a few other DC books. I’m now entrenched into two independent books. I’ve admitted to Chris that I may go hunting for the Dale Keown variant cover for the Hulk Generations book even though I already bought the main cover. I’m deep into comic books again and there isn’t much hope for me now.