Why Aren't You Reading...
By Alan Donald
Well. Why not? CrossGen comics first hit our shelves about a year and a half ago and at the time they made quite a splash but since then people have gradually started to take less and less notice of them. Whilst this is a new independent company it is not one to be ignored. The quality of production is higher than Marvel and for the moment few of the title actually have adverts. Creator-wise this is no small-timer either. Giants of the industry such as George Perez (classic Avengers artist and the man behind the incredible Crisis on Infinite Earths) have worked for them and others such as Mark Waid and Chuck Dixon have left other big companies to join up (Chuck left DC where he wrote virtually their entire universe). But none of this is important. What matters is what they are like to read.
The first thing to consider is the structure of the titles. All of the CrossGen titles exist in the same universe, much like DC and Marvel do but there's a twist. Firstly there is no (or very little so far) interaction between any of the titles and most of them focus on completely different planets, parts of the universe or even eras. There is a link though, the sigil. Most of the titles feature a sigil bearer (or a power related to one). These individuals were selected by beings of immense power and they too now possess mystical abilities. But Hey! Don't worry about all that, all you need to do is find a title you like and settle in.
Ruse: Sherlock Holmes with a twist. This is a terrific read especially for those who enjoyed Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This title combines fantastic visuals with great ideas and a fantastic story.
Negation: This features characters and concepts set up in a few of the other titles but that isn't important as you can pick it up blind and enjoy it. A vast universe spanning empire ruled by God-Emperor has gotten bored. The omnipotent ruler has decided to take an interest in other dimensions, other realities. Using his power he gathered 100 unlucky souls from the CrossGen universe to experiment on. Many of these being possess great powers, but these powers don't seem to work properly within the Negation's reality. This is classic Sci-fi, nicely paced with the twist being it's really a prison drama. The first issue has elements of the Great Escape in the comic Steve McQueen would be playing the lead role of Kaine. Good stuff.
Crux: They were the Atlanteans. Brilliant. A race of artists and philosophers with enormous mental and physical powers lived in Utopia. They had but one purpose, to look after and guide Homo sapiens, the new species on the planet. Then they vanished, a terrible tragedy befell them and Atlantis disappeared into legend. Countless years later 6 (only six) Atlanteans awake in the ruins of their land to find that the human race has vanished too. Mystery, adventure, fantasy and fun.
Meridian: A happy world, the Planet Demetria found great chunks of its surface propelled into the air by explosions and instead of crashing down the islands stayed there, floating. This is a story about murder, betrayal and revenge. One sigil bearer can heal and one can destroy. Visit this fantasy world of floating ships and brave revolutionaries.
Mystic: This is a world of magic. Water Nymphs ensure the plumbing works, short order shaman rustle up magical dinners and will-o'-the-wisps light the dark streets. 7 major houses presided over the land and the ruler of each house held the spirit of the houses founding master within themselves. This changed when the rebellious Giselle was given the sigil by a mysterious stranger, as well as its power she absorbed all 7 spirits into herself and now she isn't just sexy and mischievous, she's sexy, mischievous and the most powerful mystic to ever walk the land.
Sigil: Sci-fi adventure. A human planetary union is at war with the lizard-like Saurians. Mix in personal grudges, strange powers, sexy ships and weird allies and you get this great adventure.
Sojourn: Trolls, evil rulers, ancient prophecies and magic bows, this is Sojourn. An ancient evil has risen again and only the sole survivor of a massacre and a roguish bowman can stop it. Intrigue, romance and adventure.
The First: Like Gods they lived until the appearance of the sigil bearers, beings with powers they did not bestow. Come live amongst the Gods.
Crossgen Chronicles: This title picks one of the others to focus on and it investigates the past present or future in greater depth.
Why? Well there's the small matter of it being the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, the iconic matter of Judge Dredd and the fact that it is not only the place to see the hottest new talents in comics get their big breaks but also the place some of the legends return to for fun. In this day and age anthology titles (comics made up of more than one story) are rare and of those that exist 2000AD is the best. Very British in origin 2000AD has always been at the cutting edge of youth culture and though it has lost its way now and then it is firmly back on track now. The new editorial team has made good on its promise to return the feel of the classic 2000AD whilst keeping the stories and art as fresh as can be. And hey, even on a bad week it's worth the cover price for the Judge Dredd story alone. On the shelves weekly and if you can't get enough check out back issue selections!
...Lone Wolf and Cub?
Why? This is a masterpiece by anyone's standards. A major influence on a generation of artists such as Frank Miller this is one classic that stands the test of time effortlessly. A simple tale of a former Samurai turned assassin and his young son these stories can be read individually or combined with great enjoyment. As with many classic Manga tales this is an epic told at its own pace. Subtexts and back stories build up very gradually and it's only after reading a few volumes that some of the patterns and plots become apparent. It's ironic then that unlike some American comics where stories have to be wrapped up within 6 - 12 months max and where there is often a definite defined tale running week to week that this wide reaching, ambitious and in-depth tale is far more accessible than most of its American cousins. You can pick up any volume of Lone Wolf and Cub and enjoy them utterly without needing to know anything about them (other than perhaps the helpful glossary of Japanese terms at the back). Simple but deadly, much like Lone Wolf's fighting style.
Why? It is only in recent years that American comics have begun to catch up with the Japanese for sheer diversity in the styles of comics available. A simple comparison of Ranma ½ with Lone Wolf and Cub epitomises that very diversity. Lone Wolf is a hyper realistic telling of the life of a man and his son. It is a dark and gritty tale with the occasional heart-warming moment with the assassin's son. Ranma on the other hand is a pure comedic romp. The whole set up behind the book is so ludicrous that it defies belief and the plot lines are so out there that you have to marvel at the insanity of the writer but it works. Ranma ½ is, like Lone Wolf and Cub, one of the best comics ever produced. In many ways it offers an insight into contemporary Japan that we in the west may lack especially the Japanese sense of humour. Some things are universal and others you need time to adjust to but when you do. Individual Ranma tales are superb but when read en masse the story suddenly seems like a pebble dropped at the top of a mountain that, in a matter of seconds, becomes a giant snowball and then, soon after, becomes an avalanche. Subplots, in jokes, visual humour and more combine with an increasingly insane story to produce something truly unique.
...Guide to the DC Universe 2001-2002?
Why? Well some comics aren't as easy to pick up as the two mentioned above and DC likes to lend a hand. This is a quick review of some of the major story lines of last year as well as a preview of what is to come. The main story is an intriguing one that allows for an unique perspective on the past years events and recaps them succinctly.
Why? Because it's one of the biggest shocks in my life. I always thought that the Legion was an overblown example of all I hated about team titles. It was. Now things are different. Recently we had the whole "Legion Lost" story that I have to admit I missed (I'll have to hit the back issue selection I think we've got a lot of it there) but this was followed by a series of one-shots called "Legion Worlds". These issues focused on individual characters and planets within the futuristic DCU where Legion is set. These were superb but it's one thing to tell good tales about individuals, Legion is by definition a team title, and what a title. The new series started with a bang and hasn't stopped. The stories are built on the past tales but no knowledge of them is needed to enjoy this. We have conspiracies, murders and stories about both individuals and the whole galaxy. A great comic with a great ending in issue #3, one that I never saw coming.
...Ultimate Marvel Team Up?
Why? If I've told you once. This is one of the most underrated titles around. Ultimate Spider-Man is (let me check.oh yeah) a top selling title, but the Team Up (by the same writer and featuring the same character) sells very few. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING!!! Issue #11, Peter Parker and friends visit the mall in the big city. They bump into someone Peter knows, they talk about deep issues that reflect real world issues and the story ends. Nothing special? The someone Peter knows is Logan (who recognises his scent from Ultimate Team Up #1). One of Peter's friends reveals a little about themselves by managing to put a few facts together to reveal that Logan and his friends are Mutants. They discuss the issue in a frank and honest way. They part company. Simple. Simple but deeply cool, bigger issues than the comic book idea of Mutants are really being discussed here, and Peter's discomfort is a joy to watch.
Why? Because it is another underrated Spider-Man book. This title focuses on the effect that Spider-Man has on those around him. We've seen a crap opening story about some sort of spider-infection, we've seen the very funny and heartbreaking story of the time Rhino got intelligent and we've seen one of the most critically acclaimed single issue stories of all time. The simple tale of a mobster calmly going to his own execution was indescribable and hard to live up to. This latest tale does well. "Gentleman's Agreement" is a story that is difficult to fathom at the beginning but gradually makes more and more sense. It's compelling from the onset but its various twists and turns make you gasp and wonder.
Why? Because there aren't enough good stories about strong women. Peter David (Star Trek Novelist and Captain Marvel writer) brilliantly presents the new Supergirl a heroine with the powers Superman had back in 1938 (able to leap a tall building in a single. etc. i.e. she doesn't fly, she leaps) with such restrictions on the characters the writer can create more interesting tales, and he does. This is a funny, fast paced and addictive title.
Why? Aside from the up and coming stuff (the fight with Shiva and Bruce Wayne: Murderer) this is one of the best (and some months THE best) titles on the market. The creative team aren't afraid to explore different styles of story telling and content. Even read as a simple hero book this is magnificent. Don't be put off by the title, don't expect any hooky, cheesy stuff. This is Da Bomb, honest.
Why? It's a new Top Cow title for starters. Inferno is a similar title to Universe that'll link up with it to make sense of the Witchblade/Darkness/Fathom/Tomb Raider universe so it's a good buy on that level. On a pure enjoyment level this is still a must. The tale is original, horrific and compelling. Like all the best stories this one starts very simply: To save the world a gateway to Hell is built but someone doesn't close it properly, thousands of years later it is unlocked. Idiots! The army are sent in and fail and thus we eagerly await issue #2.
Why? Because they make you realise what a load of rubbish Hollywood films and Commando and Victor comics have been feeding us for years. The phrase 'war is Hell' wasn't created lightly. Who better than Garth Ennis to bring to life such graphic and realistic stories? Every tale is beautifully crafted and you quickly get to know and believe in the characters. The inevitable tragedies are all the more powerful because of the emotional investment that Garth Ennis' excellent writing forces you to put into the characters. With each of these tales Ennis has managed to make the reader realise that countries do not go to war, people do.
Why? Because it is new. Because it is different. Because I haven't got a clue what it is about and yet I NEED to have issue #2. There seems to be a Matrix thing going on here but I think even that barely scrapes the surface. Unlike many of these 'confusing' first issues this is one that still managed to hold my attention to the end and leave me wanting more (rather than wanting out as is often the case). Beautiful clear art and great storytelling lead us into a world at war and then a future of peace. The mutants had the humans beaten but they struck back. in the end who won, was the war even real? Read it, draw your own conclusions. This is good. This is one to watch.
(Visit Alan online at [email protected] Online, don't forget to tell him SBC sent you!)
Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?
Leave at message at the Silver Soapboxes Message Board.