Comics have been in the news lately, and unfortunately, not all the news was good. While I have heard nothing but praise for DC’s newest reboot (goodbye New 52, hello Rebirth), its success was marred by Marvel doing what seemed unthinkable: they decided after 75 years a good way to shake up Captain America was to make him a Hydra agent. Needless to say, the reaction has not been favorable; if anything, after such great steps forward in great stories like Matt Fraction’s run of Hawkeye and the new Ms. Marvel, this felt… more than a few steps back.
I will not unpack my own thoughts and opinions on it because, by now many, many more people have said it better. There was also distressing news that broke that effectively ended my relationship with the Rat Queens series, sadly. However, despite this, fellow nerds, there are comics out there for you, and they are great. Maybe somehow impossibly great in the case of one.
Writing: Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art: Emma Ríos
Colors: Jordie Bellaire / Lettering: Clayton Cowles
Death has a daughter who wears his markings, and her name is Deathface Ginny. Equal parts Western and Horror tale, Pretty Deadly follows the adventures of Ginny and those she meets as a Reaper. The first five issues were collected into a trade in 2014 and focus both on her origins, and those of another female character named Sissy. I confess I cannot say more because this is a short series and doing so would give away a lot of the plot of the first arc. What’s great about Deadly is its variety of women and the roles they inhabit. In Volume One alone we have six named women who contribute to the plot, and three side characters who contribute or support it. Some of the roles are bigger than others, but given the typical dearth of women in Westerns, the variety is nonetheless appreciated.
As expected of someone named Deathface Ginny, Ginny is fearsome. Everything about her is told in folklore style, full of half-truths and theatrical flair. Like Pecos Bill except much scarier. She even has something of a nursery rhyme to summon her. Ríos both draws and inks the book, and the lines are a beauty only enhanced by Jordie Bellaire’s use of color. The series is published intermittently, but if you find yourself interested most of the issues are available for digital purchase.
Writing: Marguerite Bennett / Art: Marguerite Sauvage, Laura Braga, Bilquis Evely, Mirka Andolfo, Ming Doyle
Fans of superheroes and A League of Their Own rejoice — we finally have something that mixes both! It is written by a woman! It is drawn by women! A lot of comics often go for what I think of as the ‘edgy’ factor — they want to be seen as mature offerings so they try to make a story as dark and gritty as possible, as if being a true mature title means you have to gargle with whiskey and razor blades every morning. Bombshells thankfully, is none of that. It’s more akin to the first Captain America movie. The setting is just before World War II, and as part of the effort to combat the Nazis, the United States has started a secret group.
Called the Bombshells, its female DC Comics characters donning fashionable costumes and fighting evil, each for different reasons. Batwoman is a thrill-seeker hungry to fight for a cause and knock in a few heads with her trusty baseball bat. Supergirl and Stargirl are Soviet defectors, super-powered propaganda tools of Stalin’s who leave Russia after they learn the Soviets are using the war as a cover to kill accused enemies of the state. Wonder Woman feels a need to serve out of a sense of duty; to her, it feels wrong that other countries must fight for the peace her home on Themyscira enjoys. Catwoman acts as a double agent, spying for the Allies while she dines and dances with the enemy, and they are all lead by indomitable Amanda Waller (who we’ll see in this summer’s Suicide Squad). Despite the dark setting, the book often feels peppy and as light on its feet as a swing dancer. The art shifts in style and color choices between the different artists, but while that can sometimes be jarring for a series, here it works out in part because of how the styles are paired with the story being told at the time. Doyle’s use of darker colors and heavy inks work well for the introduction of Huntress as part of an underground resistance to Hitler, while Sauvage’s style was pitch perfect for an introduction to the series by being bright and colorful.
Writing: Brian K. Vaughan / Art: Fiona Staples
I am going to confess something right now with Saga: it almost makes me angry how good it is. Not in a jealous way. I just sometimes have a problem understanding how good it is. Everyone says Saga is good, and they are right! That should not be possible. I almost do not believe it exists sometimes, but it does and we are all lucky to have it. In a nutshell, Saga is the story of Hazel. Hazel when we first meet her is an infant, a newborn to be precise, with the adult Hazel narrating the events of her life from that moment onward. So what we are watching is her parents, star-crossed lovers from warring races, fall in love, elope, have a baby and try to make a life for themselves. While they are on the run from just about every party with a stake in this long-fought war their people have been in. Life’s complicated like that.
I know that already sounds like a lot of tricky ground to cover but truthfully, Saga has so much more happening on top of it. Alana and Marko are the centerpieces, but Vaughan and Staples have the audacity to make me care about so many other side characters. Whether a person is around for one issue tops or has been around since issue two, these twin dynamos do everything to characterize and give insight to each one. The series has gone on long enough now that other little families have developed (as a result of Marko and Alana forming their own at that), including one made of a psychic orphan, a cat that can sense lies, and Marko’s spurned fiance (awkward). Aside from each of these players having backstories and feelings and flaws for me to invest in, there are plenty of moments of humor too. Because life is funny, even if you are the butt of the joke at the time.
The series put out its first omnibus (which covers trades 1-5 inside) already, and the series just keeps rolling on. Do yourself a great favor and check it out; the depth of the cast almost ensures you will find a favorite even if it does not turn out to be any of the mains (who will at times do things that could potentially offend). I am never completely certain how I want a series to turn out at the end, but if I never had an OTP before Saga, I do now. I want those two crazy kids to make it so very badly it hurts.
So forget the reboots or the ‘event’ comic stunts designed to temporarily boost sagging sales if you disagree with some aspect of those stories outright. You do not need them to enjoy comics. There are plenty, I say plenty, out there to enjoy.