March's Number Ones - The Indies

As promised, here's a look at new series that started rolling out in March from indie publishers. Yays or nays?
Magnus Robot Fighter by Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith for Dynamite. I'm a fan of this character from way back. By way back, I mean the original Valiant, though I also loved their reprints of the original Russ Manning Gold Key series. I like the premise of a not-so-ordinary human who fights robots with his fists, and the future as presented in those stories had a shiny utopian feel that reminded me of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Jim Shooter brought the character back only 5 years ago at Dark Horse, and I loved it again, though it didn't make it past its fourth issue. This time, as part of Dynamite's Gold Key imprint, there's actually an effort to reboot and redesign the series (all other attempts had been very close to the original) and well, I still like it. Magnus is trained in virtual reality and the real world is a bit grubbier than earlier takes on the year 4000, but it makes Magnus a fish out of water, and the world he's about to take on all the more mysterious (but also updated to fit modern-day notions about technology). Is this going the Cylon route? What's going on? Van Lente is one of my favorite writers right now, but it's Cory Smith's art I really want to commend. His action scenes are incredibly dynamic (I'm reminded of , and his inventive designs are cool and fun.
Keep reading? A confluence of people and concepts I like, but I would recommend it to others as well.
Evil Empire by Max Bemis and Ransom Getty for Boom! In the prologue, we're presented with a near-future dystopia. How do we get there in 25 years? That's the crux of the present-day main story, a rather gabby political tale set during a presidential election. We mostly follow a progressive-thinking singer and the Democratic candidate, but when tragedy strikes the Republican candidate's family, the poll waver. So a lot of realpolitik, and I'm usually interested in that (search for previous reviews of Saucer Country and Letter 44, for example), but the last page is such a twist, it might destroy any verisimilitude the story otherwise had.
Keep reading? I might give it a second issue to see what the series is really like month-to-month.
Headspace by Ryan K. Lindsay, Eric Zawadski and Chris Petersen for Monkeybrain. Shane is a real person apparently trapped inside someone else's deranged mind. How? Why? These are only a couple of the mysteries set up in the first issue. You'd think the experience would be surreal, but there's a solidity to the world of "Carpenter Cove", a New England town beset by a man's personal demons, that gives the story its coherence. Things are "off", but internally consistent. And we get relief from this anyway, with sequences taking place in the real world (though they don't seem concurrent with the inner reality), cool and gritty superspy action, with some clever story-telling touches. Each world is represented by an able artist (Zawadski and Petersen), so there's no mistaking the transitions. I'll confess a preference for the real world stuff, though both are good, even if I'm not entirely sure that IS the real world. Shades of inception?
Keep reading? Yes, though I hope dropping to 12 pages for each subsequent chapter isn't going to slow the reveals down too much.
Sovereign by Chris Roberson and Paul Maybury for Image. I'm not entirely sure what to think... We're presented with three chapters, each occurring either in a different time or in a completely different fantasy culture, and in each, the protagonists fight some manifestation of unlife. Roberson's conceit is the idea to create a huge fantasy world without making it Eurocentric. My thoughts went to the AD&D when it incorporated The Horde to the Forgotten Realms, creating (Mid)Eastern lands that were alien to gamers more used to the Western castles and dungeons and Cino-Japanese opera. I'm sorry to go off-medium like that, but Sovereign really is hard to describe... and latch onto. It may prove too opaque for the casual reader. Part of the problem, and yet, it's the reason I liked the book, is Maybury's illustrative style, which wasn't always clear. I like how unsettling his line can be, and in the first chapter at least, you almost feel like you're looking at some ancient culture's wall drawings. It's possibly on purpose, because the next two chapters are more open and cartoony, while stiff suffering from unclear action. Definitely thrown in the deep end with this one.
Keep reading? It's got my curiosity if not my total attention. I don't plan to be too patient with it, but I'll look at another issue.
The Auteur by Rick Spears and James Callahan for Oni Press. Last month, I expressed disappointment with One-Hit Wonder, a series about a has-been actor who becomes a serial killer. I guess what I really wanted out of that series is here in The Auteur. The book is about a Hollywood producer trying to recover from the worst flop in movie history, going into this crazy mindscape to draw on ideas he only thinks are good. It's a trip into the mind of Michael Bay! The book is irreverent to a fault, filled with crazed violent imagery, cursing and the occasional nudity, made fun by Callahan's funky art. The take-down of Hollywood values isn't new, but it is funny and ridiculous.
Keep reading? Not only is it a fun read, I really don't know where it's going. And that's a plus.
Worth by Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno for Arcana. Here's another humorous conceit - a Vietnam era superhero with the power to talk to machine finds himself incapable of dealing with computers and becomes irrelevant. While we get some period moments, the bulk of the action (or lack of action) takes place in the present, with Grant Worth now a curmudgeon who hates anything with a chip in it. He's a man of his generation! And in every generational story, there must be a younger model coming to replace the older. That looks to be the teenage robotics buff living in his neighborhood, who's really good with HIS generation of technology. There's humor, and thematic coherence, and maybe an actual threat from the new machines, unless Worth is completely paranoid.
Keep reading? Worth it. I'm already it awaiting the next issue.
Veil by Greg Rucka and Tony Fejzula for Dark Horse. A young woman walks out of the sewers naked and incoherent, spewing nonsense rhymes. A kinder-than-most street kid called Dante takes her under his protection, but as her psychic powers are revealed, it may be that she doesn't need it. Rucka's new horror series is very odd indeed. Veil herself isn't, as of the first issue, able to communicate clearly, so we're left wondering if she'll ever be anything more than a plot device in her own story. Cards on the table: I HAVE read issue 2 already, by which time she's better able to hold a conversation, though her origins, apparently demonic, are no less mysterious. What brought me back for a second go was the art, frankly. Fejzula's work is cool and distinctive, and perfect for this kind of thing. I love his rats! Yeah, it's that kind of a book.
Keep reading? Well, I did, didn't I? My continued interest in the book kind of depends on the next couple of issues. If it keeps surprising me, then I'll keep reading it.
Stray Bullets: Killers by David Lapham for El Capitan/Image. Stray Bullets is back and it's like it never left. Now, I'm not sure how much of the original run I read - I could check, but my comic book long boxes are a mess right now - probably half. Could I (and thus could the uninitiated reader) pick up Killers without having read the original series? Of course. Stray Bullets has always dealt in one-off crime stories, even if they involved some recurring characters. Lapham is kind of the Balzac of crime comics, using a large cast moving through the same world over several decades. This first issue of Killers (I don't know what the subtitle will do for the series, will these stories tie into each other more tightly?) features a young boy who sneaks off to the local strip joint and returns with drawings of boobs. On one of these outings, his life intersects a little too closely with crime and action-tragedy ensues. Stray Bullets is a lot like I remember it: Dense and subtle character studies with brutal violence attached, the modern equivalent of an EC Comics story. It's the kind of book you can read twice in a row, and get a lot more on the second read.
Keep reading? Yes, and I really want to read the original stories (again and for the first time) too.

Did I save you a few bucks? Cost you a few? Read up, kids, because the end of April is coming fast!


snell said...

All 5 issues of worth all already available on Comixology...

Image just published the Stray Bullets Uber Alles" edition, reprinting all 41 issues of the original series...a relatively inexpensive way to keep up. It's supposedly a Diamond exclusive, so your comics shoppe can order it, but there are already copies turning up on Amazon & EBay...

Siskoid said...

Arcana's quick to "go to (digital) trade" !

Stray Bullets can also be had digitally at 1.99$ an issue (first one's free right now).

Señor Editor said...

Only read Veil out of these, and I pretty much agree with your take on it. The best 'indie' thing I picked up last week was the new Corben/Poe oneshot "Premature Burial" from Dark Horse. I also thought "The Fallen" #1 (from Monkey Brain) was a pretty interesting first issue in March, with a somewhat new take on a popular and done to death genre.

Siskoid said...

Well, as I've said before, I've never been disappointed with a Monkeybrain release, though there are so many now, I only try the ones with premises that interest me. I guess The Fallen fell through the cracks for that reason(?).

Señor Editor said...

Thanks for the heads up on Headspace! Picked both issues up today and immediately reviewed them, good stuff.

Siskoid said...

And it looks like the second issue ISN'T just a 12-pager.


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