Chris’s Comic Books
 

Chris’s Comic Picks: The New Deadwardians

Deadwardians-1I love libraries.

Having grown up an avid reader, many of my best memories are wandering among the stacks, picking out a sweet science-fiction book to take home and read over the course of a night. It’s not a far stretch to assume that a lot of these early experiences helped shape much of my life path, from a desire to write to my eventual decision to go back to school for my Master’s degree in English (with a sub-focus on Realism and Naturalism, but that’s neither here nor there). And, considering that such a passion for reading blesses (or curses, depending on your perspective) its owner with the eternal titles of “nerd” and “geek,” it’s not hard to see how one such as myself might grow accustomed to other hobbies whose users share such titles, like the aforementioned science-fiction and the comic books we’re talking about today. I’m sure, among comic book fans, I’m not unique in this experience. In fact, most of my comic book loving friends are also avid readers, even to this day.

Where I might be unique in this experience is that my love for libraries often finds its way into my personal life, specifically during vacations. I often find myself taking at least a little time out of one of my days to make my way to the local library and just check things out. What is the library’s layout? What does the library emphasize? Fiction? Non-fiction? How are all of the books organized? I don’t necessarily learn anything from my visits to these libraries, but I enjoy them anyway. A good library is like a good friend’s house. When you visit, you immediately feel at home. Continue reading

##

Chris's Comic Picks: Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

locke-and-keyChristmas has come and gone, and I hope in the spirit of the season, dear reader, you came away with a few new funny books to enjoy. My family has never been huge on giving gifts, but this year, my wife gave me a couple of books that I look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks. The first of which I want to talk about today: Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft.

I was first exposed to writer Joe Hill about seven years ago with his fantastic debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Like most readers, I had more than a little experience with his famous father, Stephen King, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Hill brought to the table a voice altogether unique from his father’s, and I enjoyed the novel immensely.

So, when I first heard about Locke and Key, a comic written by Hill, I was intrigued to say the least. On the other hand, though, I was trepidatious as well. It isn’t that I thought Hill would do me wrong, by any means. The man knows how to spin a great yarn, and I have faith in his ability. It’s that writing a novel and writing a comic book are two very different things. While there are definitely some similarities – a story is a story is a story – the ability to write one does not automatically gift you the ability to write the other. Still, I followed Hill on Twitter. I knew he at least understood the medium, so I knew he would at least bring some solidity to the project.

When I finally sat down to read Locke and Key, though, I was very pleased. Not only was the book “solid,” but it felt fresh compared to other horror comics I had read, in terms of pacing, characters, and perspective. While I’ve always thought Hill was a fantastic writer, Locke and Key convinced me that he is more than that. He is, dare I say it, a master storyteller.

The story follows the Locke family, mother and three kids, in the wake of the brutal murder of the patriarch, Rendell, at the hands of teenage serial killer, Sam Lesser. Nina Locke moves her and her three kids, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, across the country and into the Keyhouse with Rendell’s brother, Duncan. It’s a large house, with plenty of secrets hidden, which are slowly uncovered by the kids, who are each struggling with the death of their father in their own way. Tyler, the oldest, is angry and feels guilty for his father’s murder, Kinsey attempts to hide from the world, and Bode explores the house, finding a door that turns him into a ghost and a girl trapped at the bottom of a well.

While all of this is happening, Sam Lesser is in a juvenile detention center awaiting trial for multiple murders, when he makes contact with his “Master,” a spiritual entity that pushed him to commit the murders. The entity, which turns out to be the girl at the bottom of the well ensures him that she will help him escape, so that he may continue that which he was tasked to do: find a very special key somewhere in the Keyhouse.

As one would expect, all of these things come to a head at the end of the volume, as some questions are answered and even more are asked.

This comic works for a number of reasons, one of which is the idea of the house itself. Throughout the story, Hill takes great care to release little tidbits regarding the power and history of the house, and these tidbits are easily enough to whet my appetite for more information. I want to know what the deal is with the different doors. I want to know why the girl was trapped in the well. Above all else, I want to know what sort of history Rendell and Duncan had in the Keyhouse as kids, because from what I know, some major crap hit some fans at one point. In this sense, the house almost becomes a character in itself, no less important to the story than any of the Locke’s.

Where Hill nails it aside from the setting, though, is really in the pacing of the comic. The first volume collects six issues, each of which work together to detail the lives of the characters at a point of time in their lives. The first and last issue serve as omniscient narratives of the beginning and end of the story, respectively, while the middle four chapters are each from the perspective of one of the children in the story, Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, and Sam. These individual issues bounce between the time leading up to the murders and what happens to the characters afterward. It’s a very unique pacing style that serves the story well, as we get pieces of the puzzle in each one, revealing more and more about the characters and their experiences. What we end up with is a small slice of a much larger story, but a slice that feels self-contained. When I finished the final page, I certainly wanted to read more, but I didn’t have to. In these six issues, Hill tells a great story that works on its own, but still leaves plenty of mysteries to solve in later issues.

Overall, if you are a horror/fantasy fan, you can do a heck of a lot worse than Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. Heck, come to think of it, I’m not sure you could do much better.

##

Revisiting Sandman #2

sandman1

This installment is part of an ongoing series in which Christopher re-reads and analyzes one of the greatest comic book series of this or any age. Truth be told, he thinks way too hard about this series, but it’s okay: he knows that other people think way too hard about this series as well. He likes to justify his thoughts by telling himself that he is writing this series for those people.

When last we left Sandman, Morpheus, the King of Dreams, had escaped his captivity and returned to his realm to find it destitute and destroyed from the years he had been imprisoned. He is distraught to find that not only is his realm crumbling, but he also lacks the power to rebuild it. What follows is three stories, which involve Morpheus searching for three artifacts of his power: his sand pouch, his helm, and his dream crystal. These three artifacts were stolen from him by Roderick Burgess, at the beginning of his imprisonment.

Finding the first artifact takes him to England, where he meets up with John Constantine, who was the last known person to possess his pouch. Constantine tells him that the pouch was stolen from him by his ex-girlfriend, Rachel. When Morpheus and Constantine finally track her down, she is a shell of a person, under the control of dreams and addicted to the sand within Morpheus’s pouch. The fight is a short one, though, as Morpheus is the king of dreams, and this is his domain.

Through this story, we are given a glimpse into Morpheus’s personality primarily through the conversation he has with Constantine over Rachel’s fate. Morpheus is content to let her wither away, while Constantine insists that Morpheus help her. There a neutrality present in Morpheus’s response that makes it creepy as all get out. He’s not malicious in his decision to leave her alone, he just doesn’t care. Even when he chooses to give her peace in death, it’s not out of mercy or compassion. To him, her fate doesn’t matter. Interestingly enough, this portrayal is one of the things that makes Gaiman’s Morpheus so compelling. In a universe where main characters typically fall into two basic camps: heroes and villains, Morpheus is something else entirely, choosing between benevolence and malevolence as easily as someone might choose between soup and salad.

His pouch obtained, Morpheus heads to Hell, where he hopes to find the second artifact: his helm, which has come into the possession of a demon. In this story, Gaiman continues to build on the mythology he started creating with the first two issues of Sandman. On his way to meet Lucifer, Morpheus passes a cell, where an African woman begs him to save her. She refers to him as “Lord Kai’ckul,” to which he changes form to respond to her, creating the idea that Morpheus is the king of all dreams in all cultures, not just Europeans. The interchange is less than a page long, but it speaks volumes about Morpheus’s true power and status.

After meeting up with Lucifer, Morpheus is surprised to find out that the prince of darkness has relinquished total and complete control of Hell, splitting power equally among himself and two other rulers. In a show of force, the three rulers of Hell call forth the entire host of demons to have an audience with Morpheus, who demands his helm back. The demon who has claimed the helm challenges Morpheus to a battle of wits. If Morpheus wins, he gets his helm back. If he loses, he remains a resident of Hell for eternity. As with the previous story, the demon is no match for Morpheus, who wins easily. In one final show of force, Morpheus calmly walks past a million demons, as Lucifer vows to someday destroy him.

The final story of the trilogy follows Morpheus to a small town outside of Gotham City, where he hopes to reclaim his crystal from Doctor Destiny, a silver-age Justice League villain, who has been imprisoned in Arkham Asylum for decades. Back in the 1960s, Doctor Destiny created a machine to create reality from the fabric of dreams. In an interesting retcon, Gaiman establishes that Destiny used Morpheus’s crystal to power his machine. In the process, however, he modified the crystal in such a way that it no longer responds to Morpheus. When Destiny escapes Arkham, he becomes Morpheus’s most powerful foe yet, as he chooses to meet Morpheus in the realm of dreams.

Before the final battle, however, we are treated to my favorite story out of the first volume. “24 Hours” follows the experience of a group of patrons of a roadside diner, as Doctor Destiny uses the power of the crystal to shape their experiences and perspectives. The story takes place over an entire day, as Destiny toys with them and shapes them into his playthings, ultimately forcing them all to either kill each other or commit suicide. It’s a remarkably dark story that displays some of the more twisted elements of Gaiman’s storytelling. It’s a horror comic story in the classic sense of the term, and it’s one of the only comic books I have ever read that has truly scared me. It feels very similar to “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison, which I talked about a few weeks ago. A group of people become the toys of an all-powerful being, and the parallels are more than striking. More importantly, though, the story showcases the ambivalent nature of Morpheus’s power. While Morpheus is neutral in the use of his power, Doctor Destiny has no such neutrality. He is a malevolent and unbalanced force, and being able to wield the power of dreams to serve his own purposes creates a truly terrifying picture.

When Morpheus and Destiny finally do meet in battle, it’s the most interesting battle of the three stories, as Morpheus is clearly outclassed in terms of power. Destiny’s control over the dream realm using the crystal is so great, and his mind so unbalanced, that Morpheus’s pleas fall on deaf ears. It’s only through the manipulation of Destiny’s own hubris that Morpheus is victorious. After Destiny destroys the crystal, thinking it will destroy Morpheus, the King of Dream’s full power is released from the crystal and returns to him, making him more powerful than he has been in centuries. With his full power unlocked, Morpheus returns Destiny to Gotham. And in a brief show of mercy, Morpheus returns Destiny’s ability dream. It creates a nice parallel to the previous story, as it shows that the power of dreams is not nearly as important as the person who wields it.

Overall, these three stories each serve an interesting function within the Sandman mythos that Gaiman has created. In each one, a different element of Morpheus’s power is showcased, revealing to the reader that he is not only powerful, but one of the most powerful entities in the DCU. Whether he is going toe-to-toe with Doctor Destiny or standing up to the entire force of Hell, Morpheus is a force to be reckoned with, and this is made all the more potent by his calm and unfeeling demeanor. He is a force you don’t want to mess with, and this idea is cemented more and more with each story. It’s a testament to Gaiman’s abilities as both a storyteller and a worldbuilder.

In the next installment of Revisiting Sandman, we’ll be looking at only one story, but it’s an important one: the first appearance of Morpheus’s sister, Death.

##

Chris's Comic Picks: Secret Six #1

Secret-SixI was a late comer to Gail Simone‘s Secret Six. I’ve been a fan of Simone ever since I first read her run on Birds of Prey, but when she was writing Secret Six originally, I wasn’t collecting comics, so I didn’t have a chance to read it on a monthly basis. I was introduced to the title through scans that Simone reblogged on her Tumblr account. From the little glimpses I received in those scans, I fell in love with the characters and their unique voices. When I finally read more of the series — entire story lines, even — I knew that this was a comic I wanted to read. It had intrigue and comedy and tragedy and fun, and it was everything I loved about super hero comics, made all the better by Simone’s excellent writing and dialogue.

Simply put, I currently look forward to the day when I have enough spare cash lying around to buy the entire original run, because I feel like this is a book I’d like to have the entire run of.

Needless to say, I’m not the only one to harbor such feelings about the book. In the time since its run, it’s quickly become one of the the most beloved books DC has put out in this last decade, and for many, its absence in the New52 was a glaring error on the part of the comic book behemoth.

Jump ahead to the summer of 2014, when Simone ominously tweeted out the following:

Of course, it didn’t take long for the denizens of the Internet to crack her SECRET code, and it became fairly common knowledge from that point on, that Simone would be writing a new Secret Six series, set within the New 52. Which brings us to this week, when the first issue of the new series was finally released.

Now, as I said, I didn’t follow the original series when it was being published, but the stuff I’ve read since it ended made me excited about the idea of joining up with Simone on this new book, jumping in from the very beginning. Which is what I did this Wednesday, when I saw the first issue of Secret Six Vol. 2 hit the storefront on Comixology. What I got for my $2.99 turned out to be a great mixture of action, comedy, and character development. In short, I got exactly what I expected to get from a comic book written by Gail Simone.

The story quickly introduces the reader to everyone’s favorite Catman, Thomas Blake, in a dive bar in the middle of Mexico, hooking up with a couple patrons. Some government-types enter the bar and place Blake under arrest, which naturally led to a lot of Catman being all Catman-ey, which the whole jumping and scratching. After getting sucker-punched, Blake is drugged, and the comic quickly shifts to what appears to be the inaugural mystery of the book. Blake is locked in a room with five other villains. None of them have any history together, and they all appear to be as different as different can be. Veteran Secret Six-er, Black Alice, makes an appearance, along with Simone creations from Batgirl, Strix and Venriloquist.

SecretSix2From the character interactions to the situations to the environments, it appears that Simone has more than a few secrets waiting in the wings, and this is all made the more fun by Simone’s solid writing. She knows how to create rhythm in a comic book story that never gets boring. There are highs and lows, fasts and slows, comedies and actions through each page, and all of this is gorgeously brought to life through Ken Lashley’s visually interesting, sketchy art style. There are some artistic inconsistencies between the first and second half of the story, but nothing that hurts the overall consistency and flow of the book.

I lost myself in this first issue, and that’s a good thing.

In fact, I was so invested, the only part of the book I felt was jarring was the end, which I felt came a little too quickly. We aren’t given much of an introduction to the other members of the mystery group, other than their names, and I felt that was a shame. I like the new Catman, but one of the great things about the original Secret Six was the interactions and relationships between the characters. We didn’t really have time to get into that in this first issue, but I’m sure that will change as the issues go on. After all, Simone barely had time to fit her ragtag team of villains into an impossible situation, before the final page turned, and she managed to end it on a cliffhanger that will definitely get me back next month. In that sense, I guess it’s a success?

I don’t know yet if this is going to have the charm of the original Secret Six, which is beloved by fans from all walks of life, but I can say this: I haven’t collected comics in a while (three years of graduate school, followed by five months of unemployment will do that to you), but I am happy that I’m coming back to something as interesting as this. While the book does feel a little light on content, what’s there is fantastic, and I’m excited to uncover all of this book’s secrets in the coming months.

##

Chris's Comic Picks: Batman '66 – The Lost Episode

Two-Face-CoverI haven’t read any issues of Batman ’66, the comic book series based on the old TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. I’ve certainly seen the TV show, of course. I grew up watching reruns of this great show, and some of those classic episodes starring great actors, like Burgess Meredith and Eartha Kitt, led to many of my favorite childhood television memories. I’m well-acquainted with the TV series, and I would definitely count myself a fan.

I’m also well-acquainted with Harlan Ellison, the curmudgeonly old sci-fi speculative fiction writer responsible for such great stories as “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” “A Boy and His Dog,” and, arguably, the greatest episode of the original Star Trek series, “City on the Edge of Forever.”  I’ve read Ellison before, and I’ve been fairly impressed, so when I heard that DC planned to release a special issue of the Batman ’66 series based on an unfilmed Ellison treatment, I decided it was time to check this series out.

In the proposed episode, Batman and Robin seek to stop Two-Face, the scarred former district attorney, whose two-themed crime spree across Gotham has left the Dynamic Duo confused and off guard. It isn’t that the crimes themselves are odd – in true Batman ’66 fashion, all of Two-Face’s crimes are centered on the number two – it’s the aftermath that bewilders the caped crusaders. About fifty percent of the time, Two-Face returns the stolen goods plus interest. Batman explains it all by the flip of the coin. If the clean face comes up, the good side of Two-Face wins out; if the scarred face comes up, the bad side does. So far, all of this is fairly faithful to the comic book, which is why I can easily see how this treatment failed to make it to production.

Don’t get me wrong. As a comic book, it’s surprisingly satisfying. Actually, I probably shouldn’t say that. It wasn’t really surprising, I guess. I mean, you have a treatment written by a great writer, turned into a comic book script written by one of the great comic book writers of the last three decades, Len Wein. All of this is drawn by José Luis García-López, one of the great comic book artists of the 20th century. All in all, this is a superstar crew, who have turned out a fantastic final product that I can’t recommend enough.

It has action and comedy, witty dialogue and puns galore. It has many of the things that made the original series so much fun to watch, and in this sense, the story they’ve created for this “Lost Episode” issue of the series fits really, really well. On the whole, however – as an entire package – it feels like it misses the mark of what made the series so successful. If this would have gone to production, I think it’s safe to say that, like “City on the Edge of Forever,” Ellison’s treatment would have gone through substantial rewrites before the producers would even consider it close to being ready for primetime.

Two-Face-66For starters, Ellison left the origin story of Two-Face intact. I understand that the origin story is important for Two-Face. He’s a former justice fighter in his own right, whose scarred disfigurement causes his sanity to snap. For a show with bright colors that was invariably marketed to kids, the origin story is remarkably dark. I mean, the Joker: you can write him off as a criminal in face paint, made all the easier by Cesar Romero refusing to shave his moustache. It’s hard, however, to see the scars on the side of Two-Face as anything other than what they are: an extremely painful disfigurement that would push anyone past the breaking point. It’s dark and twisted, and pretty much the exact opposite of the original Batman TV series.

The other way I think it fails to miss the mark is in the character of Two-Face himself. Batman spends most of the “episode” talking about how Harvey is in there somewhere, and all Batman needs to do is get through to him to save him. This is of course seen in the ever-present coin, which makes numerous appearances, and even spurs he climax of the story, in a true Two-Face kinda way. The issue I have with all of this, though, is that Two-Face is, at his root, a very cerebral villain, and this seems to fly in the face of the ethos of the original series: clear-cut, good versus evil, Batman versus criminal. The series never dove into the mentally unstable side of the Joker, nor the different layers of the Riddler. The TV show eschewed much of the complexity of the comic books, which was still present even in the campy 60s stories, in favor of giving us themed villains, like King Tut and Egghead.

You can create all the number-two-themed crimes you want, you’re still dealing with a mentally-unstable criminal with multiple personalities, who dictates his entire life by the flip of the coin. The lines between good and evil begin to blur, and this blurring is made all the more murky through dialogue between Batman and Two-Face, whereas the defender of justice attempts to get the criminal to remember who he was. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but that feels a bit deep for a series where the Penguin steals jewels from an heiress and names his henchmen Hawkeye, Sparrow, and Swoop.

The end result, I think, is… odd. Again, it’s not a bad comic book, but I’m not terribly sure it would have made a good episode of the TV series. Or, rather, a good episode of the TV series as I remember it. And that’s as a kid, dressed in his PJ’s, eating Batman cereal (a promotional tie-in for the 1989 film), while watching reruns on The Family Channel. And, maybe that’s the most telling part of my experience reading my first issue of Batman ’66. Maybe I’m just a victim of that classic themed villain, The Nostalgiac, whose crimes all involve some sort of childhood memories.

And… and, now I just want to write The Nostalgiac into an issue of Batman ’66.

Hey DC! Hit me up on my pager. We’ll talk.

##

The Importance of Being Cyclops

Cyclops-vs-WolverineI’ve been working full-time for close to two weeks now, and it’s been a bit crazy here at the Ideal Comics Eastern Nebraska office. It isn’t that I’m not getting things done; I keep this site up and running, and we’re working on a number of projects behind the scenes, which we hope to announce very soon. And I’m still writing and editing and planning and plotting, and all of the good things that come with running an independent comic publisher. And of course, the money-making side of things hasn’t been any less busy. In addition to working 40 hours a week at my new job, I’m still finishing up the two classes I‘m teaching. It’s been hectic to say the least.

Through it all, though, I’ve learned one specific thing about myself that has been surprising to say the least: I am Cyclops.

Let me explain for those few of us unfamiliar with the X-Men. During the Claremont run, one of the most intense dynamics within the series was the relationship between Wolverine and Cyclops. While they had a mutual respect for each other, they could not be more different as characters.

Wolverine was brutal and unrestrained. He said what he wanted to say, and he did what he wanted to do. He was short and stocky, and he took no guff from no one. As a young male comic reader, like most young male comic readers, I wanted to be Wolverine. Heck, I probably thought I was Wolverine at times, much to the amusement of those around me.

Cyclops, on the other hand, was a tool. He was stiff and proper, and he always played by the rules. He was an authority figure within the world of the X-Men, and because of that, he seemed to limit the fun of the rest of the team with a stern, disapproving glare. In my world, when I looked at Cyclops, I saw my parents and teachers. I saw boring, and above all else, I saw everything I never wanted to be.

Which is why I’m so shocked to find that now, at the age of 32, I seem to have become Cyclops. Not with the laser eyes, of course. Though, admittedly, that would be pretty cool. No, I’ve become Cyclops, because I seem to want to kill fun where ever I look. Much like I would have, if I had laser eyes.

It’s not that I want to kill fun. It’s not like I go out of my way to kill fun. It’s just that when fun approaches me, I can’t help but beat it to a bloody pulp until there’s nothing left but, well, bloody pulp. Let me give you an example. We have a podcast that we record here at Ideal Comics. For the first month, we recorded an hour every week. I had a blast recording, and honestly, it was one of the things I looked most forward to each week. It was just three dudes chatting about stuff we enjoyed. It was like giving listeners a glimpse into our company meetings, because how we are on those ‘casts, is how we are in real life. I love sitting and chatting with those guys, and I think the results are awesome.

But, I can’t record them at the moment. I just don’t have time. And that kills me.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a twelve hour shift at my new job. I am tired, and my mind wants to shut down. The only reason I haven’t gone to bed yet is because I still need to finish this column. I’m quickly running out of steam, and I want to just skip the column this week, but I’ve made a commitment, and I have a responsibility to keep that commitment.

When did that happen? When did I become responsible?

In the old X-Men comics, Cyclops was the field leader of the X-Men, and he took that responsibility very seriously. This often lead to the stodgy, no-nonsense, authoritative persona I found boring as a kid. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve come to realize the truth of that character. Cyclops has to be responsible, because he is the leader, and he is responsible for the well-being of every member of his team.  If they get hurt, or if they die, it’s on his head, and in light of that, it’s easy to see why he comes off the way he does. It’s not that he’s boring; he just carries an immense weight on his shoulders, and weight like that tends to take its toll over time.

I get that, though my weight isn’t as heavy as, say, the responsibility for the lives of a group of people. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to educate my students. And as a husband and someday father, I have a responsibility to my family. I didn’t become Cyclops overnight. It was a slow process borne over time, and out of necessity. As I took on more and more responsibilities in my life, I became Cyclops. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. It was either do that or let a lot of people down.

As a kid, I wanted to be Wolverine. Wolverine got things done, but he did it his way. He spit in the face of authority, and as an angry, hormonal teenager, that sounded like exactly what I wanted to be. But, looking back, through the eyes of a 32-year-old, I’m pretty happy I didn’t turn out like that. As fun of a character as he is, and as loyal of a teammate as he is, I wouldn’t follow Wolverine into battle. He’s too unpredictable, and I’d be more concerned about being hit by a flying Sentinel head than by the Sentinels themselves. No, I’m happy just being Cyclops.

If that makes be boring, I think I’m okay with that. Personally, I think it would make me an excellent field leader for the X-Men.

##

Chris's Comic Picks: Soulbinder

Soulbinder1-Cover

I met Jimmy Wahl a few years ago on a comic book website. He went by a different name back then, but he was funny, knowledgeable, and quick. A few years later, he and I worked for a different comic book site as the editorial team, writing and selecting content to post for the small audience of the site, which was mostly composed of friends from other sites. It was during this period that I got to know Jimmy pretty well, and additionally, I got a chance to really read some of his writing.

I knew he was interested in writing comic books. He had told all of us as much a few times. But, I never got a chance to read any of his comic scripts. He never offered them, and I never asked. Our friendship was a professional one, and we kept our discussions on writing focused purely on the reviews and articles we wrote for the site.

This is one of the reasons I’m so excited to talk about Soulbinder. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic, dark comic book featuring a gritty atmosphere and intriguing story. But, additionally, it’s like seeing the culmination of a dream my friend has long had.

Soulbinder #1 is the first of five issues, all of which Jimmy plans to publish in the next year. The story is excellently-paced, with a healthy dose of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. The comic opens with a woman giving birth. The infant is stillborn with a crescent-shaped scar on its cheek, and as the mother watches in horror, its body is stolen by a mysterious figure. The entire opening sequence is shown using next to no dialogue, aided greatly by the bold linework of artist, Aaron Bolduc. Bolduc’s lines are heavy and black, heavily contrasted by large amounts of white space and a touch of grey here and there. The art itself aids in the mystery, creating the dark and gritty atmosphere that pervades the rest of the comic.

The story jumps ahead twenty years after that, and we the reader see the rest of the story play out. We see a cop named Tim investigate a murder, which he believes may be linked to similar crimes from twenty years ago. In the first issue, we aren’t told the connection between the birth in the opening pages and the murders in the second half, but that only adds to the intrigue. From the get-go, the first issue of Soulbinder creates a series of mysteries that beg to be solved, and I for one am excited to see it play out.

But, as excited as I am for the story of the comic book, I am also excited by the story behind the comic book. Like other creators, this has been a long process for Jimmy. “I’ve been working on the project in earnest for about 18 months, but the story and characters have existed in some form for years in my head and notebooks,” he says. It started as a character created for a website featuring a fantasy wrestling league.

“In my teen years I participated in online wrestling federations, which for those unfamiliar with what that is, it was a bunch of amateur, and often teenaged, writers coming up with wrestling matches and story lines infinitely better than the current stuff being televised by WWE. I spent most of my time writing a comedic tag team named Alcoholics Unanimous with a friend, but created a darker character for a change of pace. The darker character, which was called The Unknown up until a few months ago when I learned that Mark Waid has a series under that same name, grew on me and I developed it until it became what it is now, The Soulbinder.”

As an independent creator, Jimmy joins the ranks of countless others who have toiled away over the years with great personal investment to create something they’re passionate about.

It’s the story of independent comic books, and one I care about deeply. Independent comic books have existed for decades in some form or SB_1_COMPLETE PDF_page27_image5another, and they’ve run the gamut from brilliant and historically relevant to weird and twisted, sometimes all within the same book. They are always a labor of love, and the creators themselves are rarely motivated by a desire to get rich or be famous, but rather, they are motivated by the opportunity to tell a story that they want to tell, and have that story reach an audience.

It’s one of the reasons Jimmy chose Kickstarter to fund his comic. “I used Kickstarter for the purpose of extending the reach of the comic from the start,” he says, and he’s certainly not alone in this choice. “Kickstarter has something like 35 comic projects funded monthly, which, in an abstract way, makes them one of the largest comic publishers.”

As a whole, crowdfunding has changed the face of independent comics in much of the same way the Internet did twenty years ago. In the decades previous, independent comic books usually struggled to find an audience, often being relegated to comic shops local to the creator, and even then, they were usually glossed over by the mainstream books by DC and Marvel. There were some exceptions, of course. Bone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly come to mind. On the Internet, however, independent comic book creators could connect with fans across the country in ways they’d never been able to before, and that was a wonderful thing. It still is.

And crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, have only made that wonderful thing even better. By tapping into that increased pool of potential fans, creators can now fund their comic books and reach an even greater audience. Fans get new comic books from the creators they love, and creators get an opportunity to keep making comics, while reducing their initial investment. Everybody in this scenario wins.

It’s not a perfect system, of course. A lot of crowdfunding campaigns sometimes come down the whims of a fickle public. “I went in with tempered expectations,” Jimmy says. “I knew that Soulbinder wasn’t something that could match the magnificence of potato salad, so I didn’t expect to raise $50,000.” Still, he worked hard and advertised his campaign to friends and family, and ultimately it paid off: Soulbinder was funded within 30 days, and Jimmy sent the comic off to the printer immediately.

“The one thing that I can’t stress enough is that the comic should be ready to go to print the moment the money hits your bank account,” Jimmy says. “The biggest complaint of anyone backing a project is having to wait for their reward. Once your campaign ends start getting quotes from printers and getting everything ready to go out.”

On the whole, independent comic books are never going to die. As a labor of love, creators will continue to create them, regardless of the process they use. I love crowdfunding, though, because it makes the process easier, and anything that increases the presence of independent voices within the comic book industry is something that should be praised.

Here at Ideal Comics, we love the inherent idea of independent comic books casting off the shackles of the industry and going forth alone. When we started this company almost a decade ago, that was what we were trying to do. It’s why we funded our comic books ourselves and decided against distributing through Diamond Comics, often opting to talk to local stores ourselves. I still remember writing a personal letter to comic book shops around the country asking them to carry Zing Comics #1, and even getting a few issues onto shelves. It was a great feeling to see an idea we had worked so hard to produce finally come to fruition.

And when that idea results in a comic book that is as good, and fun, and intriguing as Soulbinder is, it’s even better. I’m excited to see where Soulbinder goes from here. Not just because I’m friends with Jimmy, and not just because I’m a fan of independent comics, but really, because I’m a fan of good stories, and Soulbinder – at least the first issue – fits that bill.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Soulbinder #1, you have a number of ways to do so. The comic will be available at New England Comics locations in Massachusetts beginning on October 15. Jimmy also intends to publish the comic on Comixology, though he doesn’t yet have a date for that (follow him on Twitter @JimmyWahl for updates). Lastly, he says, you can contact him by email to purchase a copy from him directly.

##