February 4, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic day for Image comics releases. Not to mention I picked up a great book from last month that I had missed originally, The Dying and the Dead, from Jonathan Hickman, which is fantastic and you should definitely read it if you’re at all interested in the works of Hickman or the themes of loss, death, and holding onto something for too long.
ANYWAY. Let’s break down the comics I’m reading.
The final comic in the first arc of Birthright from Joshua Williamson. This arc started off with a bang, flipping typical fantasy cliches & motifs on their head and weaving an all-new fantasy story set in our own world. This issue, #5, closes out the beginning of that story. It doesn’t inspire a lot of hope that this story will continue to be as original or thought provoking as originally promised, but it’s possible that later issues or this next arc will surprise us. Williamson has a knack for starting out with great promise in his first arc and then spinning his wheels during the second, so let’s hope that isn’t the case here. I’m holding out hope, because I absolutely love the idea for this and I love the artwork by Lucas & Bressan a LOT. 3/5
Here’s another Williamson book, Nailbiter. The first arc was absolutely brilliant, setting up a fascinating premise (a town that seems to spawn serial killers) and an interesting mystery, complete with unique characters and great writing that was compelling until the last issue. Issue 10, which closes out the second arc, was… underwhelming, to say the least. The greater mystery of the first arc had almost no progress made in this second, and a few of the teases at the end of arc 1 had little or no payoff here. Hopefully Williamson is planning on paying those off a bit later on, but right now… I might be jumping off soon, like I did after the third arc of Ghosted, the other book Williamson is writing now. I would suggest that maybe he just has too many books going at the same time, but Hickman seems to do just fine with that. 2.5/5
Wytches #4. Here’s a book that continues to impress me. In the penultimate issue of the first arc, we gain a lot of interesting backstory into the relationship of Charlie and his daughter, Sailor. The artwork is as dark and beautiful as ever, and even the tiniest details of the story are compelling. It’s fun to get backstory or exposition in a tense, dramatic scene instead of just two people talking, and this issue has a very tense scene of exposition before a hauntingly beautiful suicide. Seriously, if you haven’t started reading this book, give it a shot, because it’s fantastic. 4.5/5
The other great thing about Wytches is what comes after the story. Most comics will throw in a letters page or a few pieces of extra artwork. Wytches also includes an essay written by Scott Snyder, usually about something extremely personal, relating to his childhood, relating to his relationship with horror, and the reasons why he has decided to tell this story. It makes the book even more compelling as you understand why it’s being told and why it’s so different from other horror books out there.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Nameless. I knew it was sold as a sort of sci-fi horror book, and the cover had three alien-looking astronauts, so I was definitely intrigued. I open the book to find… nothing about space. The whole book seems designed to frustrate the reader, or at least to pique your curiosity. Instead of anything sci-fi, it almost seems like a sort of odd mixture of fantasy and noir. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s a dream, considering most of the story involves our lead character running from 4 angry fish-men after stealing a “dream-key” from a woman. None of this makes any sense, and I’m sure it isn’t supposed to. Hence, the frustration.
At the end of the first issue, someone does seem to be heading into space, so I’ll AT LEAST check out #2 before deciding whether I’m going to tap out. I don’t have high hopes.
Velvet is always a great book. Even if sometimes it takes 3 months between issues, you know it’s because you’re going to get quality storytelling with well-thought out twists, realistic characters, and gorgeous artwork. I’ve never been disappointed by an issue of Velvet, and I’m hoping it stays that way. Take as long as you need between the books, Brubaker. If you keep the quality this good, I’ll be along for the ride.
East of West is by far one of the greatest comics currently running. It’s the alternate history of the world in a futuristic, apocalyptic Science-Fiction setting, complete with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and horrific creatures, all vying for control, or at least some sense of security in a world gone bad. The characters are fascinating, each with their own rich backstory and their own unique motivations for doing what they do. This is a book where every single detail is thought out, planned, and executed in a way that feels natural in the world Hickman has created. For a while, it seemed as though East of West was just a random assortment of one-off issues about different people surviving in this strange world, but the longer it runs, the more clear it is that every single detail has its purpose, and every panel on every page is going to pay off later on. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone who has ever had even a passing interest in science fiction. 5/5
And now we come to Saga, which has come back from another hiatus to begin this 5th arc in what is becoming one of the greatest science-fiction/fantasy stories ever told. It doesn’t hurt that I’m madly in love with Alana (Fiona Staples has brought her to life in such a realistic and beautifully compelling way), but the storytelling simply cannot be beaten. Having the narration told by the protagonists’ daughter, from some point in the future, is a way to both give us information about what is going to happen and also build tension in some of the most creative ways. This issue is both heartbreaking and beautiful, and I’m expecting the rest of the arc to be the same. Keep it coming, Brian! I can’t get enough. 5/5
That’s all for this week. Next week it looks like the only book I’m picking up for sure is Walking Dead #137, but I might check out this new book, “Empty.” We’ll find out!