Comic BooksOpinion

New Year, New Series: 7 Awesome Comics To Start On In 2015

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

We’ll be honest, getting into comics with almost no prior knowledge of continuity is pretty hard. Even with Marvel’s status quo-shifting MARVEL NOW! initiative and DC’s continuity-erasing (and aged fanboy-scorning) reboot The New 52, most newcomers would still have to backpedal through 2-3 years of comics in any particular title to understand what the hell is going on, and that’s (somewhat naively) assuming there’d be no crazy crossover event(s) to keep track of. Fortunately, there’s been a recent surge of impressive new titles from creator-owned publishers (Image Comics, Vertigo, Boom! Studios, etc.), and the two main publishers have created a few jumping-on points, either through hiring new creative teams to take existing titles in a new direction, releasing brand-new series of their own, or dropping Scott Lobdell and David Finch into a tiger cage. That’s why we’ve compiled a short list of younger series we’d recommend to those new to comics who don’t want to begin their new reading year playing catch-up with Scott Snyder’s Batman or American Vampire, Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, or Brian Michael Bendis’ enjoyable but highly confusing All New X-Men (though you totally should read those because they’re incredible). Featuring some of last year’s most well-received series along with some potential sleeper hits and 2015 breakouts, here are our suggestions for titles to start on for those looking to begin 2015 with a great new series.

7. Trees

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Writer: Warren Ellis

Artist: Jason Howard

Publisher: Image Comics

We hope you’re not opposed to Image Comics for whatever reason, because they show up on here a lot, though they’ve totally deserve it with all the new series they’ve dropped in recent times. Trees, written by Warren Ellis of Transmetropolitan and Nextwave fame, is one of the newest in the bunch (the first volume won’t be released until February 24th), and by far the most offbeat conceptually. The story begins in the near future, ten years after colossal trees sprout from various locations around the world, and features a rotating cast as they interact with Trees in China, Italy, and Svalbard (so far) and gradually discover the sinister motives behind the Trees’ presence. While that might be a dead giveaway that the trees are alien in nature, Ellis and artist Jason Howard do a fine job of depicting a world completely comfortable with living under the Trees’ dormant shadow, unaware of the slow, methodical invasion of their home beneath the soil. Chronicling a silent takeover of Earth a decade in the making, Trees is a strange, slow-burning sci-fi thriller that will hopefully grow beyond its sapling phase once its popularity really takes root. You may not be scared of trees after reading, but you’ll definitely question the shade you’re standing in.

6. Roche Limit

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Writer: Michael Moreci

Artist: Vic Malhotra

Publisher: Image Comics

Also fairly new to the Image comics family is the Moreci/Malhotra-crafted series Roche Limit, a self-described “sci-fi noir” set in a distant, dark future. Humanity’s dream of exploring the stars is no more on the deep space colony Roche Limit, situated dangerously close to a mysterious energy anomaly as the former beacon of discovery has devolved into a black hole (metaphorically) of crime, deceit, greed, corruption, and decay. Young rogue Alex Ford is in his element here, but when noted resident Bekkah Hudson sudden disappearance coincides with the arrival of a new drug synthesized from the planet’s minerals, he decides to help her sister in her search, plunging them and the heaviest hitters in Roche Limit’s criminal underworld into a grim odyssey that could rattle the colony to the very core. Dismal as it sounds, their take on a futuristic space colony is quite refreshing in how they demonstrate that humans leaving Earth behind doesn’t mean they’ll leave their societal and interpersonal flaws behind too, or as the first issue reads, “we were taking steps sideways, not forwards.” A mix of the darker futuristics of Blade Runner and Cowboy Bebop with the criminal aesthetic of Pulp Fiction and Sin City, Roche Limit is an ambitious new series that will show you just how dark the depths of space can get when the wrong people head for the stars.

5. Rat Queens

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Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe

Artist: Roc Upchurch

Publisher: Image Comics

The comic book community has overall been less than kind to its female members both inside and outside the pages, which is pretty abysmal when you realize 47% of comic book readers are women. Luckily, recent years have seen the rise of both creators and series dedicated to portraying women in comics as engaging, fully realized characters, but few come close to matching the beautifully shameless insanity within Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s pet project Rat Queens. This hilariously twisted fantasy epic centers on the eponymous 4-woman team of highly lethal maidens-for-hire, consisting of Hannah the Punky Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Warrior, Dee the Atheist Human Occultist, and Betty the Hippy Halfling Thief. They’re the type of gals who aren’t afraid to sucker punch a royal family member for saying they look slutty, and they’ll hunt down any horrific monster the world has to offer for the right price. It’s a gripping story chocked full of bloody duels to the death, giant monster battles, and all the cleverly crude humor and sardonic dialogue you could ever want. Rat Queens is the perfect blend of the dark comedy and female badassery from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kill Bill dropped in the most jaded, self-aware fantasy world ever conceived. Disney Princesses beware.

And speaking of awesome female-driven comics…

4. Ms. Marvel

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Writer: G. Willow Wilson

Artist: Adrian Alphona

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Now don’t worry. That this is the only entry from one of Comics’ Gruesome Twosome doesn’t mean it’s the only valid entry point into the revamped Marvel Universe, but we can conclude fairly confidently that it is the most well-crafted and unique starting point. Following the recent crossover event Inhumanity, the Inhuman King Black Bolt febreezed the Earth with the Terrigen Mists, an 80s hair metal fog machine that gives people with Inhuman ancestry strange powers based on their inner desires. Enter Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenage girl who got caught in the mists while sneaking off to a party. Sensing her adoration of current Captain Marvel Carol Danvers and her frustration about her own image, the Mists give her the ability to shapeshift, morph, expand, and contract any part of her body at will, also leaving her wearing an updated version of Captain Marvel’s old Ms. Marvel suit. Realizing she finally has the chance to follow in her heroine’s footsteps, she assumes the mantle of Ms. Marvel and begins fighting the growing super-powered crime wave in her hometown, while simultaneously trying to learn more about her Inhuman heritage and wrestling with constraints of her school’s social pecking order and her parents’ strict Muslim upbringing. This is a truly all-new Ms. Marvel, with creative action scenes and a deep, character-driven story about one of the few female Muslim characters by one of the even fewer female Muslim writers. If you need a fresh start in the Marvel Universe, this is hands down your best bet.

3. Southern Bastards

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Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Jason Latour

Publisher: Image Comics

Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town or suburb in the Deep South knows all too well the influence a successful high school football coach can have on the community, and in Southern Bastards the former Wolverine and the X-Men creative heads Aaron and Latour illustrate with needle-like precision how grim that cult of personality can become in the Modern South. In Craw County, Alabama, high school football coach Euless Boss is practically worshipped by the town for his deft leadership of the Craw County High School Runnin’ Rebs, to the degree that he doesn’t even attempt to hide his despicable nature or his vast criminal empire. The worst kind of villains are the ones that exist because the status quo encourages them, and Coach Boss wears his blood-stained swagger like a badge of honor. It’s the kind of sight that rekindles all the rage inside the newly returned Earl Tubb, back to settle his late father’s estate, when he realizes just how depraved Boss’s operation and the town’s complicity really is. A makeshift bat carved from the tree by his father’s grave later, Tubb has decided to extend his return to Craw County, dealing out justice to Boss and his cronies the only way he knows how. Latour’s bloodsoaked lens illustrates the physical ugliness of the residents and the environment to the brink of parody, and Aaron is no sweeter in his depiction of these unhinged, angry, and truly southern boys and girls. Southern Bastards is a crime/revenge story that unabashedly unveils the true face of the Deep South and dares you not to look away, and a fine example of how even an ugly world can tell a beautiful story. Somewhere, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor are nodding in approval.

2. The Woods

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Writer: James Tynion IV

Artist: Michael Dialynas

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Having made a name for himself as Scott Snyder’s wingman on Batman Eternal along with saving Red Hood and the Outlaws from the brink of collapse at the hands of the all-consuming abyss of evil known as Scott Lobdell, expectations were high but understandably perplexed when James Tynion IV announced his first solo series with artist Michael Dialynas would bear the ambiguous title The Woods. It’s such a simple name, but the concept it poses in the story is nothing short of mesmerizing, and sometimes even terrifying, as both the reader and the characters come to grips with the true meaning of that phrase. On a perfectly average day in 2013 Wisconsin at Bay Point Preparatory High School, all 513 people (students, faculty, staff) and the building itself are suddenly teleported to a mysterious alien planet light years away and the school is placed in the middle of what appears to be a colossal dark forest. If that isn’t weird enough, they find out very quickly that they’re not alone on this planet, and before long people are dying and factions are forming, but the focus is mostly on the main group of teenagers that venture into The Woods in an attempt to figure out how and why they came to be here, as well as find a way home. With a tightly knit, almost symbiotic relationship between Dialynas’s darkly surreal depiction of The Woods and its wildlife and Tynion’s teen conspiracy/survival horror storytelling, The Woods is a series that demands to be read, but hopefully not on a hiking trip.

1. Deadly Class

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Writer: Rick Remender

Artists: Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge

Publisher: Image Comics

As American Vampire and East of the West have demonstrated, there’s a dark side of American History that is seldom taught openly, which makes it perfect exposing through surreal reworkings. With his new series Deadly Class, Rick Remender (known for his work on Uncanny X-Force, Black Science, and the Avengers and X-Men crossover event “Axis”) fully embraces the anti-history, diving headfirst into the late 80s San Francisco punk underground through homeless, mentally scarred teenager Marcus Lopez, bent on killing President Reagan as “revenge” for his parents’ death (trust us, it’s explained if you read it). It’s a pretty hopeless goal and even Marcus knows it, but when he finally decides to concede defeat and kill himself he’s pulled off the ledge by Saya, the teenage daughter of one of most feared leaders of the Yakuza Crime Syndicate. Seeing potential in his drive and raw, violent energy, she recruits him into the Kings Dominion Atelier for the Deadly Arts, a secret high school where the world’s most notorious crime families send their problem children to be trained as elite assassins. With classmates like Saya, the son of a notorious Las Vegas smuggler, and the son of one of the top gangsters in South Central Los Angeles, it’s clear from the get-go that at this school murder is an artform and a dagger in your back is far from a metaphor. Complete with breathtakingly dense, colorful art from Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge, Deadly Class is a thrilling study on just how brutally the supposed “Reagan Youth” got backed into a corner, and how viciously they could bite back.

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