This morning, the internerd exploded with news that Marvel Comics is going to relaunch their monthly comic line as part of an initiative called Marvel NOW! It's pretty clearly a response to DC Comics' "New 52" initiative. Marvel will publish the first issue of one new series every week from October through February. The hook—the thing that's supposed to get new readers interested—is that apparently some of the X-Men are now Avengers and maybe vice versa.
If you are 99.9% of the human race, you probably don't care about this news. But that's okay, because monthly comics are starting to get good again, and the best books aren't coming from Big Superhero publishers; they're independent, creator-owned books, and they're coming out in monthly digital editions. I've already told you about Double Barrel, a massive new two-man anthology comic that revels in all the fun and adventure that used to be present in monthly comics.
And now a new publisher has just started putting out some interesting new work. MonkeyBrain Comics is a creator-owned publisher (based in part on Image Comics, which is still doing great work, by the way) that digitally published the first issue of five different comics series yesterday. They don't look like anything Big Superhero is publishing, and they each should appeal to a wider audience than most of what DC or Marvel is publishing. I'm not going to offer full-blown reviews—I'll review collected editions when and if they come out, but single issues, especially first issues, aren't enough to render an effective judgment on a book—but I can give you my impressions.
The one to look out for here is Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, which is about a young woman trying to find a third way between the real world and the world of magic. Nick Brokenshire's art is dense and cartoony at the same time, and it manages to convey action and personal moments with great clarity. At $1.99, it costs a buck more than MonkeyBrain's other comics, but it's also a lot longer and a lot denser than the rest of the books, and way more interesting than any first issue Big Superhero has published in the last few years.
I love that the majority of these books feature female protagonists. October Girl takes a while to get started—at 99 cents, you won't feel cheated by the slow-burn beginning—but it looks to be a fantastical story with horror elements, with art that resembles Mike Mignola's Hellboy work. We meet the protagonist in a fairly generic setup—she works as a barista but would rather be a bookseller—and then things go weird on the last page. Bandette has a lot more action, but it's not a brainless fight scene; it's a chase sequence. The protagonist is a masked thief on the hunt for some Rembrandt drawings. Soon enough, the cops are on her tail in a game of cat-and-mouse. Colleen Coover's art is the best of the lot here, a simplistic, animated style that reminds me of the great Alex Toth.
Aesop's Ark isn't really up my alley, but I"m glad MonkeyBrain is publishing it. It's a more nontraditional comic, with artwork and text interacting in weird, sketchy ways, and it's about the animals on Noah's Ark telling each other stories to keep themselves occupied until the rain breaks. Fans of Sandman or Beasts of Burden should give it a shot. Edison Rex is the closest thing to a Big Superhero book that MonkeyBrain has. The first issue is a fight sequence between a Lex Luthor analog and a Superman analog. But the premise is an interesting one (it's reminiscent of Mark Waid's work on Irredeemable and Incorruptible, but with a totally different, cheerier tone) and the book feels vibrant and upbeat—it would almost be a kid's comic, were it not for the significant death scene that takes place in this issue.
The big problem with MonkeyBrain Comics right now is the same problem as Double Barrel—they're only available through Comixology, which keeps all its comics locked up in DRM that requires you to read the comics in an app or online. I believe that most comics buyers want to own their comics as files, and I don't believe that's an outrageous request. I think that eventually, comics publishers will start to go that way—e-book publishing is slowly but surely bending in that direction—but until then, it's worth supporting these artists who are doing interesting work in a new medium. Three months ago, there were no monthly e-comics worth supporting. Now there are six. How awesome is that?