Let's start with a confession: I might be a little in love with Brian K. Vaughan. Even before I knew who he was I admired him, back when I sat around book shops reading the collected Y:The Last Man series, having no idea and not caring who wrote it. I just knew I loved the story, that it was better and edgier and more meaningful than some other comics I'd picked up. And that makes sense now, looking back. Because that's just what he does, and he does it well.
Saga. If you don't know this title, find it and pick it up. There is a shortage of good fantasy comics in this (Skullkickers is the answer to that problem, I fervently believe),and sci-fi material seems so...done. It's hard to find a new science fiction idea these days. But Saga is...fresh. It's a tantalizing blend of fantasy, sci-fi, whimsy, ghosts, rocketships made from trees, sworn oaths and swords and robots and babies with horns being born in mechanics' shops. It's a story about the power of family. And it is hands-down one of, if not the, best comics running today.
On another facet of my Brian K. Vaughan obsession, I've been reading Ex Machina. Now, there's an old, worn-out sci-fi title for you.Latin used to be trendy, you could use all these mysterious phrases and make your stories sound scientific and cutting edge and ethereal...but now it's getting old. So why read a series with a name like that? Because it is the the most socially conscious comic I've read short of Watchmen, and Watchmen was a story for another time. In Ex Machina, Vaughan has created a story addressing the modern world post-9/11, and that is the most interesting thing about it: a writer being willing to confront a culture still raw from such trauma. The story follows Mitchel Hundred, the only known superhero in the world, retired, and now the mayor of New York City. He faces a host of political traps, ethical conundrums, webs of intrigue, and life-threatening scenarios. And he always learns something, comes out the other side of the conflict with a greater understanding of his place in society and society itself. It's a deftly woven story, spun as only Vaughan can spin.
Now, I have developed another love in my comics forays. I've become a little (and maybe more than just a little...) disenfranchised with superhero comics, and a different genre has captured my imagination: crime comics. A year and a half ago at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel discussion with Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka talking about exactly this type of comic, and realized all of a sudden why I liked Brubaker's Winter Soldier so very much. It had more in common with The Hunt for red October than with, well, superhero comics. Those are the kinds of comics I want to write, dark and intricate and mysterious, more than just high-flying action. Of course, I'm not opposed to high-flying action. But I've always loved a little cloak-and-dagger. So when I picked up the first volume of Brubaker's Criminal series, having just finished researching his career for a wiki page on www.comicvine.com, I found just what I'd hoped for between the pages. Gritty, street-level, pull-no-punches noir, where the ink in the shadows practically reeks of tobacco and whiskey and gun smoke. The characters are real people.They love and cry and bleed like real people, described by Brubaker's pen and brought to life in Sean Phillips' panels. Every page is a treat. Every volume is worth buying. It's a masterpiece of modern noir, for those who still appreciate such tales. I certainly do.
And last but not least, let me touch on a years-long love affair with the X-Men. The Ultimate X-Men, to be fair. I started reading these volumes in bookstores six or seven years ago, volumes titled The Tomorrow People and Return to Weapon X. I didn't really get it back then. I knew I liked the art, and the characters were cool. But I didn't know the writers then, and I knew nothing about the other versions of the X-Men. Here, Wolverine is a remorseless savage turned father-figure/jilted lover, with a hardcore bromance going between him and Colossus. Who is gay. Which Nightcrawler just doesn't understand. Meanwhile, Beast dies, and Storm loved him so she gets emo and really badass and...well, it's all great. The bulk of it is written by Mark Millar. The Mark Millar. The Kick Ass guy. Bits and pieces have been picked up by, um, Brian K. Vaughan (no prizes as to why I like this series) and Robert Kirkman. He's sort of a big deal. So, I picked this whole series up at discount about two years ago, 19 volumes for $190, except 14, which is where I'm stuck until I can find it. It's been years in the making, but I'm finally at a point where I can look up from these books and say "Oh this? Yeah...READ IT."