If you follow the right twists and turns and forks in the path through the forest near the town where I grew up, eventually you’ll find your way to a castle. The way doesn’t look like much at the outset, just a dirt track between some trees, but an hour’s hike up hills brings you to a stone tower built about a hundred years ago with a remarkable view. When I was in high school, it’s where I liked to bring boys I had crushes on: Skeptical at first, it sometimes took some prodding to get them to persevere uphill, but the endeavor was eventually rewarded—by a scenic outlook, and also occasionally with a furtive makeout session when other hikers weren’t around.
I am telling you this not only to brag about how outdoorsy I am, but also because there are several intriguing new comics out this week that I think will reward similar perseverance and patience. These first-issue books offer promising hooks, and while the stories are only just beginning I have a feeling they’re heading somewhere good. They could always let you down, like the time I forgot which path led to the tower and accidentally led a date to the parking lot of McDonalds; but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
As always, these titles are selected with assistance from our friends at Phoenix Comics, where you can pick up all of these books and also the latest HOT GOSSIP (by which I mean Magic: The Gathering cards).
A haunted house, escaped ghosts, and a ‘90s teen punk band: I like it. In Issue #1 we meet Ami and her unpopular band, The Home Sick Pilots. Seeking a gig to compete with the trendier kids, she hits upon a brilliant adventure hook: “We should throw a gig in the house that kills people.” Now that’s how you grab a reader’s interest! Equally grabby is the haunted house itself, which seems to be a living thing; and the press materials describing the book as Power Rangers meets The Shining. Languid summer nights meet teen ennui plus a hint of supernatural horror to come, and I am fully onboard.
The X-Men have a spaceship shaped like a giant sword, and Issue #1 does the usual setup legwork to present what feels to me like Mutant Star Trek. Okay! That sounds neat! I’m on board for whatever this will become. There’s not a ton of story here—mostly just introductions that maybe could have waited for the second or third issue—but sci-fi nerds will appreciate the worldbuilding and detail, down to the well-designed uniforms and techno-doodads. An appearance by Magneto feels a bit like the blessing bestowed by DeForest Kelley’s cameo in the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation; a familiar face popping by to say “make this a good one, kids.” I am intrigued by the promise of interpersonal drama amongst the surprisingly large ensemble of this book—though if you’re not well acquainted with the Marvel universe, certain elements may slip past you unless you have a wiki pulled up, or have easy access to a friendly neighborhood nerd.
(Also, if I could vent for just a MOMENT: Comic book creators, I would like to invite you to consider titles that are at least somewhat distinctive. Have you any idea how many other books—how many other comic books, in fact—have a title like “SWORD” or “THE SWORDS” or “SWORD OF SO-AND-SO” or “SO-AND-SO OF SWORDS”??? It would be super cool if titles made the reader say “oh yes I know exactly the book you mean” and not “wait is that the one with … no, which one was that?” THAT IS ALL.)
As an object, Adventureman #1 is perfect: An oversized extra-long hardcover, the book begs to be picked up and gently leafed-through, admiring the absolutely gorgeous steampunky art. And as a story, it is … okay. The narrative bounces between a golden-age tale of over-the-top heroism and a contemporary bookseller named Claire who relishes those old tales of derring-do, and you will be SHOCKED to learn that these two narrative threads eventually seem as though they will intertwine. (Not unlike The Drowsy Chaperone, with a Man in Chair describing action in a story that unfolds before the audience’s eyes.) Claire is an ordinary every-woman of the type one normally finds in an “adventure found me” story, and it takes so long for that adventure to begin that I’m not sure the book benefits from its own length. The old-timey art, though—gosh, it’s nice to look at. I don't know where we go from here, but I’m hoping the next installment of the story fills out the pages as well as the art.
An absolutely pleasant little book of goofs by Noah Van Sciver. Please Don’t Step on my JNCO Jeans collects a whole bunch of one-page comic strips into a loose self-effacing memoir. The story that emerges from the joke-a-page pace is that he’s nervous, neurotic, and befuddled by the world, a condition with which everyone except self-confident psychopaths can identify. The comics look like the sort of thing once used to find floating in the margins of alt-weeklies, back in the days when those were printed, because that is indeed where Van Scriver’s work often appears. The book is appealingly chunky, and would slip nicely into the oversized pockets of the apparel referenced in the title. It’s the sort of thing that makes you say “ha! Trenchant.”
There’s a new series launching soon that is a crossover between Locke & Key and Sandman. Issue #0 is out now, but I’m going to hold off until Issue #1 is out to offer an endorsement. But if you want to get a head start on your reading, by all means, go for it.