Apr 30, 2013

[Comics] Geek Titles of Interest

I'm at a weird point in my life when I'm not actively following any Marvel or DC Comics. I pretty much quit DC after The New 52 (and yes I tried to give it a decent shot) and Marvel just hasn't really hooked me until the peak of Marvel's cosmic-related titles as penned by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Since then, things just haven't been all that engaging.

Beyond my continued following of the various IDW Transformers comics, I have recently fallen in love with two newer titles with very different flavors. One is the fantasy science fiction comic, Saga, and the other is the alternate history science fiction comic The Manhattan Projects. Both were launched by Image in March 2012 and since then have provided me a rich source of entertainment and enjoyment in the comic book sphere.

One has to be thankful for truly original stories to come along. It's a little harder to discover such titles given most geek circles endlessly discuss the Marvel and DC stories and characters more than anything else. But thankfully these titles have generated a similar degree of interest over time, and thus the reason both Tobie and I have become rather engaged with the books.

First, let's talk about Saga, the space opera / fantasy written by Brian K. Vaughn, the same man behind Y: the Last Man. The comic centers around two, well, truly star-crossed lovers in the form of Alana from the technologically-advanced Landfall Coalition and Marko from the magically-enabled Wreath. In true Romeo and Juliet style, their two planets have been at war for years now, but one thing led to another and the two fell in love. Now Alana is with child and to some extent this child is narrating our story.

The new little family unit is finally discovered and the respective worlds dispatch resources to deal with the couple and yet secure the child alive. Landfall sends Prince Robot IV, who has a head that resembles a TV screen. Wreath hires mercenaries to capture the couple including a man known as The Will along with his partner, Lying Cat. Thus Alana and Marko are doing their best to escape the forces of both sides of the way while trying to keep their child safe - a child that also seems to defy all knowledge of what is possible between Landfall and Wreath.

Apart from the gorgeous art of Fiona Staples, the richness of the setting of this comic is quite phenomenal. You have the somewhat violent clash between high technology and magical cultures, each with their respective ways of dealing with things. Whether it's complex weapons and interstellar starships to spells that are powered by secrets, there's a lot to explore in this universe. And it seems each twist and turn in the story also leads us to more and more fascinating realities. And this makes for some interesting challenges in terms of internal consistency, but they certainly manage things well enough.

The core Romeo-and-Juliet nature of the romance may seem like a trope, but Alana and Marko are anything but strereotypes. I love Marko's fervent desire to protect his family and yet his oath to becoming a pacifist in light of the way. It's such a classic way to provide him an additional level of challenge to face - an internal conflict that makes things tricky indeed.

Vaughn's story style here feels a lot more like his television work - every issue seems to end on a cliffhanger and he's able to juggle a wide variety of character plot lines most effectively. And it doesn't feel like too much is going on - the story is revealed at a comfortable enough pace that keeps things going and the required cliffhanger is enough to drive you mad before the next chapter. Definitely a most well thought-out series.

On the other hand we have The Manhattan Projects, the science fiction comic book series created by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra. The premise of this series is how the "Manhattan Projects" is more than just the attempt to create the atomic bomb but a wide variety of various projects that feel a lot more like science fiction.

A lot of the names that we've come to associate with the beginning of the atomic age such as Oppenheimer and Einstein are featured in this series. But this is not just a reenactment of history - here each character has their own agendas and quirks. Thus instead of Daghlian having just died from radiation poisoning, now he's an irradiated human who appears as a man in a lead suit with a floating, glowing skull for a head. And Laika, the dog that the Russians had sent into space, appears to have the ability to talk.

The Manhattan Projects is much lighter reading with a degree of comedy woven into things. And I really appreciate that approach to the entire story - it helps balance out the darker concepts and the violence that inevitably comes along. After all, this was a war project after all and the exotic technologies and weapons developed by these bright minds aren't exactly going to lead to world peace with a few heads flying.

This comic has quite the large cast of crazy characters and the story of each one certainly has a lot of crazy fun to things. It seems that the biggest challenge that each man faces is not some external threat but ultimately themselves and their own trauma or limitations. Each has clearly sacrificed to get to where they are now but the question becomes have they given up too much.

The art style is both simple and complex at the same time. There's a crazy amount of detail that goes into showing the various wrinkles and creases on everyone's faces for one. And yet key parts of the story are better stressed through the use of basic color differences - typically red and blue as ways to differentiate central players from supporting characters and things of that nature.

Both of these comics are well-written, complex and fulfilling on so many levels. And I can't imagine how any of you can't be reading one if not both of these titles. And perhaps this post can help encourage you to do just that.
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