Pat: So Dean, every week we get Image Comics that consistently blow our mind terms of craft, quality and scope. Unfortunately, because of how Marvel & DC Comics dominate the news cycle and are constantly relaunching their books, ongoing Image series that we love tend to fall by the wayside. I think this is a problem because even if the series isn’t new or as hyped as when it debuted, the books Image puts out are still the best comics I’m reading by a pretty wide margin. So I thought why not talk to Dean, the NBC member that probably reads more Image series then any of us, to shine a light on what are the best comics being published right now.
Dean: This is a really good idea Patrick. There are some fantastic comics at Marvel and DC right now but good or not, these comics are always dominating the conversation. It feels like the hype is there for the early numbered Image books but once a title gets past its first or second arc the hype die’s down. I like to read my comics in publisher chunks and for me personally, the quality of the Image stack each week far exceeds any other. I like to compare it to golf. The average amateur golfer will shoot five terrible tee shots in a row wondering why they payed $80 to swat mosquitoes and look for a ball in the woods. Then, they will step up to that 6th tee box and hammer a drive right down the middle of the fairway and as their eyes slowly transition from the ball to the beautiful sky, the forest to the right and a river to the left they’ll turn to their friend and say, “We should do this every Saturday you know.” Image books are my 6th hole drive. They remind me how great comic books can be.
Pat: I agree and last week was a perfect example of that. The moment I read Kill or Be Killed I knew it was this weeks finest and the only books that made me want to reconsider were Paper Girls & Trees. Image Comics is still far and away the best and most daring of all the large publishers. But speaking of comics that aren’t getting enough shine; this weeks Tokyo Ghost continued to be an incredible showcase for the artist Sean Murphy.
Dean: Yes we will get to those first few books you mentioned in a little bit but Tokyo Ghost is a great place to start. Sean Murphy once again created some of the best looking pages of the week. There was one two page spread of the grass samurai warriors growing around Tokyo as they advanced on the enemy that is good enough to be framed on my wall. I am a fan of Chrononauts but that book was missing pages like these. Murphy’s ability to distinctly pencil a specific emotion on a characters face but also pull back and create these vastly beautiful wide shots makes him a very valuable asset to any book. While Murphy blows the art out of the water I think Remender holds his own on this story as well. At times it may feel like a little too much, which is what I think turned people off, but for me as a whole the story works very well. I think Davey Trauma is one of the most interesting and sinister villains currently in a comic book. I know you love what Murphy can do on this book but I am interested to her what your thoughts are on Remender and the story?Pat: I think Remender’s idea’s and writing continues to be a mixed bag here. Like you said with Murphy on Chrononaughts, what he is doing is so much more interesting here on Tokyo Ghost and I think at least part of that can be attributed to Rememnder. I suppose I don’t really know where the idea’s came from here but this comic is very consistent with the rest of Remender’s writing and in that sense, I think the anything goes aesthetic really opens up the book for Murphy to do some amazing work this time around. I included two pages in Freeze Frame but I could’ve done four. In that sense; I think Remender remains one of comics most important writers. His word building is extraordinary and that allows for the artist on the book’s he’s writing to do some really ground breaking work more often then not. We can say the same thing for Black Science which also came out last week; that comic continues to allow Scalera to be as imaginative as possible with his art like the latest off the wall issue.
In terms of Remender’s writing in Tokyo Ghost specifically, I think his metaphor is a bit clunky and that might have hurt the series overall. I understand what he’s saying; that our need to be constantly distracted by what’s available on the internet is allowing corporations to take over lives’ and ruin the world. And no doubt there is some truth in all that. With that said, I think it misses the flip side of our connectivity to the internet in that information and communication is more readily available then ever before. The internet has served as a powerful platform for social justice as is evident from the Black Livers Matter movement. In a lot of ways, the internet has been undermining corporations as much as it’s enabling them. So much of it feel’s like I’m reading the diary of a sixteen year old and that is because that’s the book’s world view; black & white. Compare that with what Ellis is doing on Injection with the same subject and Tokyo Ghost kind of feel’s like amateur hour.
Dean: True, Tokyo Ghost does not depict both sides but I don’ t think it needs to. It is a cautionary tale. I’m not sure cautionary tales always have room for grey areas. I don’t think it has anything to do with Remender being incapable of writing both sides. We see in Fear Agent how he clearly separates the actions of a nation with the actions of their military. I’m not sure I necessarily want him to get into the grey with Tokyo Ghost. I want to see how fucked up the world can get. If you think about it, it’s the same thing as the robots rising up and killing everyone except at the head of it all there may just be a man making money. I agree with you that the depth to the book is lacking, but I argue that it isn’t required.
Sticking with Remender, you mentioned also that Black Science came out this week. I think Remender has molded this book to align perfectly with Scalera’s talent. This comic surprisingly turned into a witty and funny story. I would say that Black Science would have rivaled Kill or Be Killed for the top spot. While Remender turns the wild and crazy up in Tokyo Ghost for Murphy to let loose, he turns up the humor and the weird for Scalera in Black Science. Most of this issue is Grant riding on a horse. This is one of the best “self-talk” scenes I have read or seen in quite some time. I am sort of a knit picky asshole when it comes to characters talking to themselves to let us know what is going on because most of the time it is not how a person would do it. I talk to myself all the time when I’m alone and if I’m alone with cats or dogs around, I talk to them. I don’t sit at a computer and say out loud what I am typing into the screen, that’s just stupid. I tried it right now and felt like an asshole. Grant explains to us exactly what we need to know for this issue and instead of his typical inner monologue we get him having a heart to heart with the horse he stole. He even starts picking on the horse after it gets spooked by an owl. It is funny, it lets me know all the information I need to know and it does it in a real way. When I opened up the book I got a real Beauty and the Beast vibe as Grant was riding a horse in a dark and snowy woods. That got me thinking about the talking to animals thing and I concluded that is why a lot of Disney movies work so well at hitting the emotional beats, in those movies the characters have animals friends that they talk to and share their feelings with. It’s real and it works. I guess I’m saying Black Science should be the next Disney movie…wait that can’t be right…
Pat: With Black Science, the series made a sharp pivot a couple arcs back that rejuvenated the comic in a way that’s really showing now. A lot of Disney tropes are being used here. I don’t think they’re being satirized but more reconfigured for the Black Science aesthetic. Perfect example is the witches house and how it appeared at it’s introduction versus what it ended up being. And Scalera does so much in this issue; the illustrations of Grant riding his horse through the snow is a perfect example, as is how he makes the witches house appear in it’s introduction versus what it ends up being. It’s all very wild and memorizing. In that way, Black Science has become a comic that’s really delivering on it’s promise and engaging me every week, even thought I felt like it was losing the thread at one point. Also, Moreno Dinisio’s colors throughout this issue are fantastic.
Dean: The colors were fantastic. All leading up to the last few pages with the witch. This book doesn’t even feel like a Sci Fi book anymore. Those Disney tropes being used have turned it into a fantasy comic, at least for this arc. I actually felt like I was in the Rat Queen world for a bit even though they are vastly different and Rat Queens sucks now. The tone of this book has taken a shift and as you say, it’s for the better. I’m excited for the dimension hopping that’s to come. I actually find myself not wanting them to find a way home at the moment so I can spend more time in whatever crazy dimension they end up on. Black Science is an Image book doing it right.
Pat: ” I actually find myself not wanting them to find a way home at the moment “
I’m actually starting to feel the same way as they’ve gotten so imaginative again. Black Science feel’s like a comic where anything can happen now and that’s really fun to dive into every week.
Dean: If we are going to talk imaginative comics then it is probably time to get into Paper Girls. It is no secret that Paper Girls is a favorite of NBC! and a favorite of mine. It is hard to believe this week was only issue #8. I know with names like Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang the comics probably don’t actually get pitched, but can you just imagine being in a room while the idea of this book is being discussed? How many Erin’s are we going to end up with? There not a number you could say that would disappoint me. BKV is at the level where I don’t really care what he does next with this story, I’m in. What did you think of this issue as the storyline splits the girls and the art dives into the giant slug territory?
Pat: That this continues to be one of the best ongoing series in comics here. Do you have any idea where it’s going?
Dean: If I was to sit down with all 8 issues I’m sure “where it is going” is in there somewhere. However, with just this most recent issue in my mind, I’m so busy wrapping my head around where we have been that I haven’t even considered where we are going. The last page of this issue is very intriguing to me though. It serves as more than just a shocking cliffhanger which BKV is kind of known for. This whole issue is so predominantly centered on making the reader feel comfortable with older Erin that the question of “who” isn’t even on my mind in the last page, the question I have is “why”.
Pat: Yeah, they’re playing with expectations and assumptions of the readers in a really cool way. It’s interesting that no matter how crazy Paper Girls gets, it somehow just keeps taking it to another level. It’s this twofold thing with Paper Girls in that all the elements of it’s craft are top notch while it keeps shifting into something else. This comic has so much elasticity with it’s premise while still feeling very grounded in our world. We were just talking about Black Science where because of it’s premise, dimension hopping through parallel realities, it can essentially be anything but Paper Girls is different. Paper Girls exist in a world that is purposefully familiar but they continue to be as imaginative and unpredictable as any similar comics comparison.
Dean: Yeah, good comparison of Black Science and Paper Girls. Paper Girls grounds us in a world very familiar by using nostalgia to draw upon memories. It is actually quite amazing how nostalgia is used as this tool in a completely whacked out world. BKV and Chiang are then free to pour all kinds of personality into the characters as they have already used our own memories as a world building tool. In fact, we have all done our own world building. Unlike Black Science where I had to wait until we got to the Witches house to know what it looks like, in Paper Girls I could tell you what stores were in the mall that the Erin’s didn’t investigate. I could tell you what the houses on the bay one street over from Mac and Tiffany look like. You could probably do the same thing, except your world would be different because you made it with your own memories. It is just like Stranger Things in this way. I was trying to avoid comparing the two because honestly you can’t compare Paper Girls to anything, but I ended up doing it anyways. Paper Girls is a book that we continue to praise and one that we cannot find a comparison to. I believe that is called genius.
Pat: 1. I almost did the Stranger Things comparison in the last response but held off
- Memory may end up being a huge thematic touchstone of Paper Girls when all is said and done. Or maybe the exploration of time and memory and how they are intrinsically related. The concept of nostalgia within the larger spectrum of humanities history, I feel like it’s something that’s very much in play with Paper Girls but to it’s credit, it’s very subtle and incredibly easy to digest.
But yeah, it’s genius which is why we can gleam so much out of this book
Speaking of genius; Kill or Be Killed…….
Dean: I LOVE the Brubaker and Phillips combo. There’s a reason they can do whatever the fuck they want for five years. I read Sleeper, Criminal and Incognito last summer while also reading The Fade Out in issues and they ended up being a few of my favorite reading experiences. While a Brubaker and Phillips book may visually look similar to each other they are actually far different. They thrive at the noir genre and it really is because of the characters they breathe life into. Patrick, we have talked about this before but I think Bru/Philips is best digested in 5-10 issue chunks. The Fade Out was the only book of theirs I read month to month and Brubaker can attest that I had no idea what the fuck was going on (editors note: Brubaker has dm’d Nothing But Comics over twitter multiple times to let us know Dean had “no idea what the fuck was going on” but his phrasing was much nicer) I was so used to inhaling ten issues at a time and analyzing them altogether immediately that I ended up overdoing it with the mystery of The Fade Out and missed shit like Dottie being interested in women. So in prefacing that I am a gigantic Bru/Philips fan, I wasn’t dying to get my hands on Kill or Be Killed because of my Fade Out experience. Which is no slight on The Fade Out, it’s one of the five best books of the last year, I just prefer this creative team in large chunks. Well, I was wrong. I’m back to Sleeper and Criminal feelings with this debut issue of Kill or Be Killed. This main dude in the book is Dexter but with an actual character arc and holy shit the art! Who knew Philips could haunt my dreams with a demon. Somebody get this guy drawing Outcast covers.
Pat: You know; I think I told you on the podcast that for the next Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser (can’t forget her) joint that I was gonna trade wait but having the debut line up with TWF, I had to check it out. I’m sure we all know what happened after that. I agree that what Phillip’s and Breitweiser do here is incredible and feel’s like an evolution of their style in a number of ways. I also think that Kill of Be Killed get’s the writing and plotting just right which was partially an issue I had with Fatale & The Fade Out; they felt a little too fleshed out for me to follow month to month. In Kill Or Be Killed it’s all very immediate. It’s still layering all the plot streams that are to be expected from these guys, but it does so here in a way that is exciting and engaging. Part of that is structure, it’s subtely non linear. It also drops the reader in and then designs a compelling main character. So much is going on in Kill Or Be Killed #1 but it manages to accomplish all of it’s ambitions wonderfully.
Dean: I completely agree. This was a near perfect first issue. The subtle non linear story telling builds the mystery and suspense that this team is so good at doing except at the end of the issue it feels like we receive the payoff. I am drawn back to issue two not because there is a mystery I need solved, I am drawn back because there is a compelling character I want to follow. In my opinion when a comic can do that, it has reached that next level. Now, before I get ahead of myself this was just one issue and we will have to see what happens in this story, but it was a damn good issue. Judging by this first installment, the creative team is back on that next level shit.
Pat: That’s a good point you made about the payoff. Part of my frustration with this teams Image work at times has been how they’ve stretched that payoff so far into their series that by the time we get to it, it’s hard to fully appreciate as a monthly reader because so much time has passed between issue’s and with so much content in the story in between. Next level shit is an apt description in that, how they handle that plotting actually feel’s closer to what we see from a lot of their peers in modern comic debut’s, I describe it in my review of Black Panther #1 where readers are thrown into the action while the book reveals it’s details on the fly. Weirdly; Kill or Be Killed kind of elevate that formula just by integrating it into their more measured style they are known for and in turn, that elevates their own style. That is by definition, next level shit.