This article originally appeared on JHU Online in December 2008.
GODLAND by writer Joe Casey and artist Tom Scioli is one of the most wonderful and weirdest comics being produced today. Imagine the demon offspring of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Arthur C. Clarke pouring LSD into your skull while exposing the mysteries of the Universe through imagery unseen anywhere else, with words and sentences previously unsaid by any human in any language. It is a superhero comic with the funniest villains in comics and it is a cosmic/sci-fi book with an equal focus on whacked out universal enlightenment. Astronaut Adam Archer gets zapped with incredible powers by ancient beings while on a botched trip to Mars, and finds himself being the sole protector of Earth as both he and Earth become the regular targets of ancient intergalactic bad guys, home grown (increasingly bizarre) supervillains, and his own government (not to mention family drama with his three fiery sisters). Scioli's art is Kirby-retro yet fresh, and Casey's stories and dialogue are bizarre and different in a way that leaves you in awe and thirsting for more. As the series winds into its "final year" with this last ish's #25, the gorgeous 12 + issue Godland Celestial Edition (available now) is a perfect starting point and comes packed with tons of supplementary material and an introduction by Grant Morrison. Plus paperbacks for volumes 3 and 4 are out collecting through issue 24 – a perfect time to jump on. I can't think of a reason not to read this.
Hamburger-shooting Elvi Modoks! Cursing Celestials! Broccoli Men! Mindless One's dancing to "Thriller!" Tabitha Smith (boom)! If you like your super-hero comics grounded in logic and sanity, then cover your eyes and hide your children because Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. would like to flip your world upside-down and throw copies of Not Brand Echh at your head. Writer Warren Ellis and illustrator Stuart Immonen's little Marvel masterpiece of pulp pop parody came out during those heady days leading up to Civil War and seemed to fall under the radar a bit. Nextwave, told in easy to digest two-issue arcs, tells the story of a group z-list Marvel superheroes on the run from a SHIELD-like organization lead by a suicidal nutcase named Dirk Anger ("Mommy!"). The story starts mid-plot with Monica Rambeau, Machine Man, Tabitha Smith, Elsa Bloodstone and The Captain on the hunt for monsters released by the Beyond Corporation and the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, for whom they used to work. As they hunt down more monsters and interdimensional threats ("Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction"), the conspiracy by Beyond/H.A.T.E. grows deeper and more patently insane. This book is positively nuts in the good Godland sense, with over-the-top plots and a twisted, beautiful internal logic separate from the normal Marvel universe and every other comic book universe, for that matter. Don't usually like Marvel comics? Tired of superhero comics in general? Want something so bracingly different you find yourself dizzy and thirsty for more? Read Nextwave. It is a synthesis of creative writing, energetic and fiery art, and cutting edge design... It is a distillation of everything that a superhero comic book is, a manic, unhinged masterwork of the form, an overlooked gem, and some of the most unbridled fun I have ever had reading a comic. All 12 issues are available in one softcover.
On a completely different note, I picked up Percy Gloom on a whim while perusing our shelves, and what a beautiful surprise! It would almost be a disservice to try and describe Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom from Fantagraphics... Part cutting satire, part fairy tale, part nightmare (and back again), Malkasian has crafted a disarmingly simple tale about the overwhelming forces of loss, love, government & society, and religion. The story starts with the title character, a short, balding little man named Percy Gloom as he travels abroad for the first time to search out his dream job as a writer of safety warnings. Gloom is overly cautious about everything and is doted upon by his mother; he is seemingly in a state of constant suffocation by the weight of the world, his own familial destiny, and a dark secret from his past. He comes to the headquarters of his dream job located in an odd little city hiding some deep, dark secrets of its own. At first, the story seems to be about breaking free of the constraints of life and taking chances, but the story soon takes many weird and wonderful turns and becomes something so much more - a story of profound heartbreak and loss, of redemption, and of freedom not just from the overwhelming weight of life but from the poison of corruption and power wielded by both the zealots and the broken. I haven't given many details of the plot here: this is a book to be experienced, not just told about. Percy Gloom is a work of surprising beauty and grace that has an emotional punch, a story packed with surprises that leap off the page and stick with you, and not just in the simple yet surprisingly versatile charcoal-like cartoon illustrations. Malkasian has given the world as perfect a work as can be achieved in several dozen pages of a comic, a breathless stunning piece of art.
c) 2008, 2013 Jeffrey O. Gustafson