Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios (Image, $9.99, 9781607069621)
Fox and Sissy are traveling troubadours in the Old West who tell the story of a great beauty and the greedy mason who loved and imprisoned her. The beauty yearned for death, and Death came. He loved her, too, and even though it pained him, he granted her wish and let her die--but not before she bore him a child. Death raised the girl as a reaper of vengeance, and now those who have been wronged can call on Deathface Ginny to avenge them. This is only the beginning of the story.
DeConnick and Rios's weird western tale combines apocalyptic imagery with traditional folklore like shape-changing animals and even a smattering of high fantasy. Fox and Sissy make a great pair of main characters, especially once you realize how much more they are than originally advertised. As great as they are, however, the show is consistently stolen by whomever happens to have the spotlight at any given moment. Johnny Coyote, Big Alice, Deathface Ginny, Sarah, Death himself and the beauty he fell in love with--as well as the bunny and butterfly in the framing story--all could easily support their own stories (and hopefully will in subsequent story arcs). Big Alice especially needs to feature more in the future, as she is currently my favorite character in comics.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who enjoys their Old West a little bit weirder, and readers who enjoy a large cast of interesting characters.
Hellboy in Hell, Vol. 1: The Descent by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse, $17.99, 9781616554446)
Hellboy was killed in battle with the Nimue, Queen of Witches, after she was possessed by the Ogdru Jahad and turned into a dragon. Now, Hellboy is in Hell (the title kind of gives that away), trying to figure out what is next for him.
Mignola has been telling the story of Hellboy and his world for the past 20 years, during which time he has created a universe populated by all manner of ghosts, gods, gargoyles, giants and goblins from every folklore and mythology imaginable (even the Malaysian penanggalan!). That might seem daunting for new readers, but this collection is numbered one for a reason. Mignola has reset Hellboy, deftly wrapping up most of what came before and getting Hellboy ready for the next phase of his life (death?) while referencing Milton's Paradise Lost, Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Dante's Inferno.
And for the first time in almost a decade, Mignola is drawing Hellboy, too, which alone is worth the price of admission! Mignola is a master of both shadowy, gothic atmosphere and monster design.
Handselling Opportunities: People who love immersing themselves in world mythologies, folklore and religions (and if you're a new reader, do yourself a favor and check out everything that came before).
Secret, Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim (Image, $16.99, 9781607066224)
Grant Miller works for private security firm Steadfast Security Holdings, and he's very good at his job. He's surrounded by equally talented colleagues, including his brother, Marcus, his wife, Veronica, and his best friend, Thomas, making this job very much a family affair. But when Thomas is murdered in London during an op gone wrong, Grant starts to suspect something shady is happening. "You'd think given a career of fighting a war of lies, we'd all be better at sussing such a thing out," Grant says. "Instead, it's what gets us killed."
Hickman's high-concept worldbuilding in both his Marvel and creator-owned projects is possibly the best in comics today, and he consistently and amazingly pairs that with excellently crafted stories. In Secret, Hickman tries his hand at the more-established, but no less high-concept genre of espionage thrillers. He tells a story that at first glance may seem familiar to spy thriller fans, but is still original and unlike what they've seen before.
Handselling Opportunities: Fans of both old-school spy novels like John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and modern spy movies like the Bourne adaptations.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second, $17.99, 9781596436589)
Anda is a California girl recently transplanted to Flagstaff, Ariz., where she starts playing Coarsegold Online, a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). In the real world, she's a nerdy high school student trying to make friends in a new school, but in-game, she's a warrior and looked up to by many newer players. She starts taking missions to hunt and kill gold farmers, players who illegally collect valuable objects in-game and then then sell them to players who have a lot of extra real money and less patience to earn them properly, until she befriends Raymond, a poor Chinese kid working 12-hour days to make enough money to survive.
Doctorow's story is mostly about the very real economics that are at play in the virtual worlds of MMORPGs and how they affect people in different parts of the world, in different strata of class. Wang's cute, cartoony art is a perfect counterpoint to this weighty subject matter, and while this is a very good story with a very important message, I was more attracted by the various bullying that different characters suffer or perpetrate.
There are many instances of bullying in the book, from seasoned MMORPG players bullying noobs, to D&D players deriding a fellow student because she wants to start a board game club with games like Jenga and Scrabble, to the institutionalized bullying of companies overworking their employees and denying them benefits while threatening to fire them. This is a more subtle message, but just as important to learn. Bullying can happen to anyone at any time, and those who suffered through it are often the worst perpetrators.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who has ever been bullied for the things they've loved for ages, the things they've only recently learned to love, and the things they might hate, but cannot change. Also, economists.