A couple months back, Image Comics held their ImageEXPO and announced all their upcoming titles and plans for 2015. As I sifted through the news and Tweets and Facebook posts about all the new books we’re gonna be getting something dawned on me… They’re all set in outer f***ing space. OK, that’s an exaggeration. They’re not ALL set in outer space. But it feels like 85% of them are. So then I started looking at Marvel and DC’s titles, and ones from other independent publishers. It’s ridiculous how many comics rely on the crutch of “let’s just put it all in space” to explain their plots. Granted, many comic characters have origins in outer space and so you can’t expect them to abandon the concept altogether, but the fact that it’s becoming a widely overused trope (I assume I’m using that word correctly) is concerning because eventually it stops being a valid concept. “Oh look, ANOTHER comic about an unassuming hero/heroin (…now I know that can’t be right…) in a dystopian future who has to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring justice to Planet X in the Delta Quadrant. And oh goody, the entire first arc takes place on a spaceship. Great.”
It’s just irritating. Not that I don’t like some comics that are set in outer space, I do (SAGA, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Science), I just hate that it’s becoming such an easy way for people to tell mediocre stories. All they have to do is put their half-assed plot on a planet in a far-off galaxy and suddenly all the colorful and bizzare characters make it seem like they’re trying harder than they actually are. It’s like, they’re giving you a caramel dipped onion. You see it on the stick, all golden and delicious-looking. You think it’s a wonderful caramel apple. But then… you bite into it and begin cringing at the piercing bitterness. You have been betrayed by what you thought was a delectable treat. (KHAAAAN!)
OK, that’s a tad melodramatic. But, it is an overused plot-setting in today’s comic world, and for that reason I decided that I wanted to spotlight some great comics, currently being published, that do not employ the “outer space” excuse in order to tell a good story. Now, that doesn’t mean that some of them don’t have supernatural elements, which I guess could instigate some people to label me a hypocrite for having an issue with space comics but not supernatural ones, but those people are tools and can go to hell.
To help me with this list, I reached out to my fellow 4LNers Cameron and “formerly Straight-Edge” Bill for their thoughts on a few different series. We hope you’ll enjoy our list for… The Best Comics NOT Set In Outer Space.
I’m a big fan of Jason Aaron. Ever since the first volume of Scalped that a friend let me borrow, I’ve been hooked on the dude’s writing. He has a versatile writing abilities, but his most common style is something that I call “visceral sensitivity”. His writing style is very brutal, but it’s never a glorification of violence. He uses the cruelty as a way of making the story hit you all that much harder. I say all that to say… Southern Bastards is one of my favorite books right now, for that very reason. It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s cruel. But it has heart. He gives you something to hate and then explains to you why it happened and how the characters got there. Nothing is superfluous. Everything has a point, every character has a reason for why they do what they do. If you want to read a really good comic with no superheroes, no supernatural elements, and no outer space cliche’s, then you should check out this series.
The current Punisher series is like a cake (or an onion). Every issue is another layer that you peel back each month to see more of the story unfold. There are things that were set up in the very first issue that are resonating still, even into the most recent issue (#16), which just released. This is my absolute favorite version of Frank Castle and I really, REALLY, hope that Marvel is planning to keep Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads on for whatever comes for the character after all this Secret Wars junk.
Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta
This book is a slow-burn. The creators intentionally designed it to be slow-paced, and they will tell anyone who asks that, and they will be unapologetic. Outcast takes its time with the set-up and unleashes the drama and terror at the most opportune time. With the most recent issue (#7) we see the start of a whole new story-arc, and Robert Kirkman seems to be recycling the format because they definitely put a lot of work into introducing what appears to be just the beginning of the dark, defining journey for Kyle and Reverend Anderson, the unassuming protagonists who (somewhat) reluctantly come to the aid of people who’ve been possessed by demonic spirits. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially if (like with Southern Bastards) you are someone who is interested in comics but just finds yourself uninterested in the mainstream superhero series’. You can pick up Vol. 1 in a comic shop near you right now, and as I previously mentioned, issue #7 just hit comic shop stands, so if you find yourself so inclined, you could get completely caught up in less than a day… just saying.
Escape From New York
I don’t have to say too much here (but I probably will anyway). Did you see Escape from New York and LOVE IT like a good, red-blooded American? Do you wish that you knew what happened to Snake Plissken immediately following the events of the film? Can you read? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions then you need to run out and pick up the fist handful of issues in this series. As a big fan of the “Escape from…” films (and just Kurt “Your rules are really beginning to annoy me” Russell in general), I personally love this comic. There have been many film-sequel comics lately that try to recapture the feel and vibe of their source film but this one (as well as the Big Trouble in Little China book) stands out as totally hitting the nail on the head (if that nail was being driven into some bad guy’s eyeball by Snake himself.)
Deathstroke (2014 – ongoing, so far…)
I kid you not, the very first thing I did after reading this was text Bill and tell him to go get Deathstroke #1 IMMEDIATELY, because at the time it was the most brutal, and intense mainstream comic I had ever read. I say “at the time” because there are now five issues out and this title has only gotten more and more brutal. In the most recent issue (#5), the first 15 pages of the book are just a fight between Wade and Batman (with Harley Quinn having instigated it). It’s the most ridiculous fight scene I’ve seen depicted in a comic since… I don’t even know… maybe something from when Garth Ennis was writing Punisher? If you do like superhero comics, but are more interested in series’ that have some bite to them, pick up this book. It’s got so much bite that you’ll have to get stitches.
All-New Ghost Rider
I’m not gonna say I saved the best for last… but of you wanna say it I won’t stop you. The thing I’ve really loved about Felipe Smith’s run on Ghost Rider is that, besides giving us an awesome new Rider to love, he created a series that is self-contained, fun, BRUTAL, and manages to make some positive social commentary without being preachy.
Wytches is one of the few horror stories that I have ever read. I’m not much of a fan of creepy crawlers and things that go bump in the night, but I jumped on this book because it’s a creative team that I love. Scott Snyder and Jock, you can’t go wrong with that team. Along with the two of them Matt Hollingsworth is adding the colors and just blowing my mind. It’s a horror story about Wytches coming for a teenage girl who has more then likely been “pledged” by someone in the community. The story takes place in a small southern city, and mostly in the woods, and inside trees. It’s a story about things that go bump in the night, it’s a story about out past haunting us, and it’s a story about never being able to get away.
Another book by Scott Snyder, and this book can be a little terrifying as well. The latest story arc has Joker back in Gotham releasing complete terror on Batman, the Batfamily and the citizens of Gotham. This is just more reasoning on why no one should ever live in Gotham. Everything that happens in this story takes place in, or near, Gotham. The closest we got to Space was a Batman/Superman fight above the city. This has been the most consistent DC book since New 52 Relaunch and it’s one of the few books that hasn’t made a trip to space, or another Earth for that matter. It’s a self contained book and doesn’t jump between planets or galaxies.
Two people fall in love. They have sex. They stop time during intercourse and climaxes. They rob a bank to save a library. They learn that butt stuff and whatnot is dangerous. Other people have this power too. They become a problem. There is nothing going on in space. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are funny. This book is mature.
An Intergalactic Police Officer jumping from planet to planet to stop crime… oh wait. That’s in space. Never mind. Bad example.
C.O.W.L. is one of my favorite books out there. It’s a gritty tale centered on a group of unionized superheroes in 1960’s Chicago – nothing spacey about that. The whole series has been terrific, and I would highly recommend picking up the trade paperback of the first arc. Ironically, this book is published by the mostly sci-fi-centric publisher Image, proving that titles don’t have to be set in a dreary, dystopian, future, alternate galaxy to be successful. Dreary, dystopian, 1960’s Chicago works just fine.
Ninjak is the newest re-addition to the Valiant family. It follows Colin King, aka Ninjak, a highly-skilled assassin/spy/ninja working alongside MI-6 (the same place that James Bond works). The first issue had him globetrotting from Russia, back to the UK, and to Asia to dismantle the sinister sounding Shadow Seven. Admittedly, this book just launched so there is a chance that they will somehow end up in space, but I have a strong feeling the setting will be almost exclusively Earth.