Comics

Five Great Books They Won't Talk About At Comic-Con

a page from Revolver

Revolver is just one of the titles Comic-Con might not bring you, but we're glad to. DC comics hide caption

itoggle caption DC comics

It's been quiet, in comic book circles. Too quiet.

This past week has seen fans, creators and publishers girding their loins for Comic-Con. That means no major announcements, no nuggets of gossip, nothing but protracted discussions on the particulars of loin-girding. Yesterday, the skies above us buzzed with San Diego-bound airliners, each bearing a higher-than-usual percentage of passengers harboring inordinately strong opinions about, say, Psylocke.

Meanwhile, tumbleweeds rolled lazily down the carpeted halls of Marvel and DC, past crudely made Gone LARPin' signs affixed to publicist's doors. Even the most bellicose comic book messageboards quieted down to a dull ad hominem roar.

This is the great inrush of breath that precedes Comic-Con. Later today, the first bits of news will start to leak out, and very soon it will become difficult to keep up with announcements about movies, television shows and videogames. There may even be one or two about, you know, comics. Crazier things have happened.

So in this nerdy caseura we are afforded, before newly announced graphic novels start soaking up the convention buzz, it makes sense to look back at books released over the past few months that deserve, but may have escaped, your attention.

We may not get another chance, because seriously: Apres today, le deluge nerdique.

the cover of Revolver
DC Comics

Revolver, by Matt Kindt. Published by Vertigo.

As he did in the graphic novels Super Spy and 3 Story, Matt Kindt takes what seems a familiarly pulpy genre premise — in this case, travel between parallel earths — and places it on a fully imagined but resolutely human scale. As Sam finds himself involuntarily shuttling back and forth between a reality in which America has been brutally attacked by unknown forces and his "normal" life of credit card debt and a dead-end job, Kindt explores the emotional stakes with subtlety and restraint. As I watched Sam putting what he learns in one reality to use in another, I found myself thinking of books I've loved by Don DeLillo and Paul Auster — books in which the mundane details of contemporary consumer culture collide with abstract and implacable concepts like terrorism. Of all the books I've read this year, Revolver is the one I haven't been able to stop thinking about.

The cover of Beasts Of Burden
Dark Horse Comics

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Published by Dark Horse.

An interior page from Beasts Of Burden
Dark Horse Comics

Let's start with the freaking adorableness that is manifest in this collected series about a disparate band of canines (and some cats) who band together to protect their neighborhood from all manner of paranormal animal threats: haunted doghouses, a rain of frogs, undead Lhasa Apsos, etc. But don't be misled by Jill Thompson's gorgeous, expressive (did I mention: adorable) watercolors — this is, in the end, a horror book, with a fair amount of blood, guts and dark magic. Writer Evan Dorkin plays with our inborn predisposition toward Man's best friend to imbue these stories with heart, and plays with our preconceptions about breeds (a cowardly Doberman, a pug who talks like a Dead End Kid) to imbue his characters with clearly defined personalities.

Weathercraft, by Jim Woodring. Published by Fantagraphics Books.

Yeah, look, I can't articulate why I love this book as much as I do. For a (just about) wordless comic, it's about as dense and challenging as it gets, packed with symbols that demand decryption and hairpin plot turns that will have you flipping back a few pages to make sure you're still up to speed. It's also, frequently, kind of gross and nightmarish. Nonetheless, Woodring's vision is so strong, so uniquely his own, and so exquisitely rendered (in panels that look like the woodcuts of Rockwell Kent, if Rockwell Kent took LOTS OF PEYOTE) you'll likely find yourself returning to Weathercraft again and again, to explore its disturbing depths.

Warlord of Io, by James Turner. Published by SLG.

Turner's witty space opera about the goof-off son of an intergalactic tyrant who inherits an evil empire is a lot of fun, which will should come as no surprise to readers of his Rex Libris series.  We should be grateful for this chance to read the complete first volume — last year, major comics distributor Diamond insituted a policy change that made it next to impossible for small series like this one to make it into comic shops.  Not that the publisher's bitter about it or anything: "Finally, the comic you did not get a chance to buy becomes the graphic novel you will ignore!" screams the promo copy. But ignore Warlord of Io at your peril; you'd be missing out.

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft, by Marc Carter and Tony Salmons. Published by Image Comics.

The plot: struggling writer H. P. Lovecraft becomes the chief suspect in a police investigation even as his darkest, slimiest visions start coming to life to terrorize the town of Providence. The reason it works: Writer Marc Carter creates a Lovecraft given to enjoyably purple-tinged narration that feels absolutely right, and Tony Salmons' art is suitably creepy: the guy knows his way around a Shoggoth's tentacular eye-stalk.

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