Hawkman #1( DC Comics) / Quicken Forbidden ( Cryptic Press) / Girl Genius ( Studio Foglio)

Daniel's Comic Book Column # 5, March 2002
by Daniel P. Dern (ddern@world.std.com)

(This month Daniel made a valiant attempt to broaden our horizons by looking at some "Alternative" comic titles. What I'd really like to find is some comics that have Science Fiction or Fantasy tie-ins. If you read (or even better publish) comics that you think fit under that criteria, feel free to email Daniel your suggestions at: ddern@world.std.com Thanks -- Ern)

At the 39th Boskone (February 2002, in Framingham, Mass), Editor Ern correctly chided me for talking primarily about comics from DC (part of Times-Warner,  not a division of Beatrice), and also suggested I do a column about Spider-Man, given the upcoming movie of Everybody's Favorite Webslinger.

So I'll talk about Spider-Man -- next month.

Meanwhile, let's talk about some comics that aren't from DC -- or from Marvel. (I've done a fair bit about some Marvel titles during the past several months, including Spidey, in point of fact.)

Daniel's Comic Pick of the Month:                      

Hawkman #1(DC UNIVERSE |  FC, 32 pg. $2.50)

First, though, This month's Recommended Title, which is from DC: Hawkman, Written by James Robinson and Geoff Johns; art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. You loved these guys on Starman, JSA, Hourman and other titles, you'll like this one.

Beyond DC/Marvel: The Alternatives

OK, back to the main topic.

"Alternative" a.k.a. "independent" comic books often means simply "comics from some publisher other than DC or Marvel" (or, arguably, "Archie Comics). These run the gamut from spin-offs from DC and Marvel through self-published titles. (Some formerly alternative titles/publishers have been acquired by DC or Marvel.)

"Alternative comics" also includes the space once called "underground comix" -- Zap, Mr. Natural, the Fab. Furry Freak Bros., the Overland Vegetable Stagecoach, Tales of the Leather Nun, and so on, many of which were inarguably "adult" in language, image and action.

However, there lots more to alternative/independent comics than just the undergrounds. There's Dave Sims' CEREBUS (which I confess I haven't read more than a few of), chugging along faithfully for 20+ years. There's Love & Rockets, Howard Chaykin's AMERICAN FLAGG! (arguably an underground), at least two kick-ass Oz-based series (plus Eric Shanower's intensely delightful original Oz "graphic novels"). And who can forget Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Some have even made it to screen, often with arguably better luck than Marvel's had until last year's X-Men non-travesty. E.g., MYSTERY MEN and, on TV, The Tick. (We're talking just live-action here, not counting cartoon/animation.)

I owe my introduction to independent comics largely to Usenet, specifically to the rec.comics group. (This was before the renaming/re-org -- I lose track whether it was the "Great Renaming" -- to the rec.arts.comics, and subsequently sub-grouped to rec.arts.comics.* groups.)

Specifically, Alan Moore's MiracleMan, Originally published as "MarvelMan" over in England. Collected in four hard-to-find trade paperbacks (heh), MiracleMan explored the premise of the consequences of superheroes to the world at large. Great stuff, I reread them regularly.

There are probably hundreds of alternative/independent comic titles out there. At the Beyond Men in Tights: Comics without Superheroes panel I was at on  at the 2001 World Science Fiction Convention, and, IIRC (If I Recall Correctly), some similar panel at Boskone or ReaderCon or Arisia within the past year and a half, several participants brought along six to twelve inch stacks of alternative titles, all or nearly all without costumed superheroes, from publishers other than DC or Marvel.

Some of these are excellent, with writing and color art that rivals the output of the Big Two publishers. Some are in black and white. And some, of course, aren't so hot.

Since I (clearly) haven't been following the alternative/independent scene thoroughly, I thought I'd turn to some of my comic-reading friends for their recommendations.

Carol Cooper, a New York based cultural critic who has reviewed comics, pop-music, movies, and books at various times for various publications, including *The Village Voice*, *Honey,* *Elle,* and *Rolling Stone*, suggests:

"The first title I must recommend is Quicken Forbidden, a title written by Dave Roman and Illustrated by John Green, and published by Cryptic Press, 365 Smith Street, Freeport NY.,11520

"It could be described as a niftily surreal heroic fantasy, featuring a adolescent female protagonist named Jax Epoch who discovers an interdimensional portal and suddenly has to deal with a vastly expanded sense of "reality." Imagine an episode of *The X-Files* peppered with some of the magic and attitude of the Harry Potter books, and you get the idea. Smart scripting, vivid black & white art."

And Carol's second recommendation:

Adam Warren's Dirty Pair, from Dark Horse Comics, 10956 SE Main Street, Milwaukie, Oregon, 97222

"When artist/writer Adam Warren got permission to do an American version of Haruka Takachiho's already-famous Japanese SF comic, he took the existing futuristic satire about two "genetically-enhanced" female secret agents several steps farther into ultra-violet humor by peppering his story arcs with wry American perspectives on radical feminism, punk-rock attitude, and post-modern political theory. The results are seldom less than fun, and often brilliant."

Next, I turned to Tom Galloway, who, in his own words, "has been reading comics for 92.68% of his life, been on what became the Internet for 52% of his life, and managed to combine the two by being voted Favorite Poster in the rec.arts.comics newsgroups' Squiddy Awards four years running. He also owns a drawing of himself done by Phil Foglio on a plate with the caption 'Tom Galloway went to Lunacon '85 and all he got was this lousy Foglio plate.'"

Tom knows more comic, SF and other trivia than I ever hope to, as he's regularly demonstrated at Mark Olsen's Trivia Bowl evening sessions at several Boskones. Here's Tom's recommendations:

Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio, published by Studio Foglio at www.studiofoglio.com 

"First off, it's by the Foglios, the male half of which won two best Fan Artist Hugos way back when before turning pro and who are known in both the SF and comics worlds for good writing, good art, and a twisted sense of humor. Second is the overall concept; it's set in a world where Mad Science works, at least for those who possess what's called the Spark.

"So we get marvelous contraptions, interesting new lifeforms, and characters who'll get so caught up in a passionate debate about what's wrong with an aircraft engine and how to redesign it better that they'll forget that the reason for engine and how to redesign it better that they'll forget that the reason for the debate is that the ground is rapidly approaching...

"Good news is that it's still near the beginning, so you only need to get five issues (and possibly the optional blueprints issue 0 which tells about the characters, including some who've yet to make an appearance) to be up to speed. Bad news is that Phil's said this is what he'll be working on for the next 5+ years, so you'll be in a constant state of waiting for the next issue to come out for a while. Back issues are available at the website."

And Brenda W. Clough, author of stories and books including How Like A God (you can read her novella "May Be Some Time", which is currently on the Final Nebula Ballot, online at www.analogsf.com), who adds to our store of knowledge:

"I've been collecting BATMAN since childhood. This has probably warped my character, and may be responsible for the novella I have on the final Nebula ballot this year (in which, wrenching it back to comics, Buck Rogers is a notable influence)," 

She suggests:

PROMETHEA ART: http://www.dccomics.com/directcurrents/comics/Aug9/covers/down/dPrometheaBk1HC.jpg

TOP TEN art: http://www.dccomics.com/directcurrents/comics/Apr18/covers/down/dttenbk1tp.jpg

"You could hardly miss with some of the Alan Moore titles -- PROMETHEA and  TOM STRONG is still ongoing, and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN film in development, starring Sean Connery as Alan Quartermain), and TOP TEN can be picked up in trade-paper compendiums. I've also enjoyed Eric Shanower's AGE OF BRONZE, [Retelling the Trojan War - DPD] which is ongoing in single issues but has the first eight or so collected now."

(Dern here again) Technically, Promethea, Tom Strong and Top Ten don't fall under the rules here, since ABC (American's Best Comics) is owned by or otherwise part of DC, but a) they're all great -- I've been following most issues of all three titles, b) they're in no way part of the "DC Universe," and c) they're all great comics.

Thanks to my guest opinionators. With any luck, your local comic shop will have some or all of these, and while you're there, grab the latest Cerebus, and see if they've got any MiracleMan issues or collections in stock.

Next month: It's web time!

-- Daniel P. Dern

Daniel P. Dern is a free-lance technology writer. He was previously Executive Editor of Byte.com. He can be reached at:  ddern@world.std.com /(www.dern.com)

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu