1. Dark Horse Presents (No. 23, Oct ’88, Dark Horse) – William Stout, Leopoldo Duranona, John Arcudi & Rick Geary
Quincy Rhoads’ review of Jesse Reklaw’s graphic memoir Couch Tag (Fantagraphics 2013) got me thinking about certain content limitations of The Big Two (i.e., Marvel & DC). Occupying 80 to 90% of the comic market share it’s understandable why the two biggest mainstream comic producers might avoid certain sociopolitical content. It was precisely against this background knowledge that comic book store owner Mike Richardson, founded Dark Horse Comics in 1986. Dark Horse Presents was the first title published by the emerging company and quickly became their flagship title until its millennial retirement. As this particular 1988 issue of Dark Horse Presents attests, Richardson was not afraid to tackle even the most sensitive of historical subject matters, such as the United States’ near genocide of the Filipino people at the turn of the century. Retold from the perspective of an anonymous third lieutenant, here is but a gruesome excerpt of Dark Horse’s exposé of the “Filipino Massacre”:
In 1898 we [the United States] took the Philippines from Spain and immediately set up military control[.] . . . The thing that upset me the most was when we’d round up the people in a Moro village and have them dig a large pit; then we’d make them take off their clothes and stand in the pit; then we would fire into the pit until everyone was dead . . . I’ll never forget the first time I hit a baby . . . The U.S. Army admits to slaughtering 250,000 Filipinos in the “Moro Wars”[.] But, a third lieutenant in the Philippine Scouts felt at least half a million were sent to death[.] But, according to Galloway and Johnson’s book “West Point: The Power Fraternity” the United States was responsible for the deaths of over three million Filipino men, women, and children[.] Making this the largest single act of genocide until Hitler[.]
2. American Splendor: Odds & Ends (Dec ’97, Dark Horse) – Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm, Sam Hurt, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Gerry Shamray & Zoe Zabel
More intellectual revelations from the group at Dark Horse. This time Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) schools us on the singular brilliance of the Russian literary avant-garde: “Between 1900 and 1935 more outstanding modernist writers came out of Russia/USSR than any nation. Chances are you know nothing about them, not even Andrei Bely, whose novel, ‘Petersburg,’ was considered by Nabakov to be one of the four greatest prose fiction works of this century. Why? Because they died young (often were killed) or were shut up, and their works were suppressed by Stalin. . . . There was this poet, Velimir Khlebnikov, who was so great – as far-out in his way as Ezra Pound. One of his proposals for the future was ‘to breed edible creatures in the lake which are invisible to the naked eye, so that every lake will be a pot of soup – already made, even if uncooked.'”
3. The Royals: Masters of War (No. 3, June 2014, Vertigo) – Rob Williams & Simon Coleby
Though an imprint of DC, Vertigo over the years has earned a reputation for publishing challenging books – sometimes outdoing its tiny rival Dark Horse in terms of the execution of certain crossover concepts. The current run of The Royals: Masters of War is a prime example. Where this title really shines is capturing the feel of the World War II era with one minor twist: What if superheroes had been amongst us as the Allies fought the Axis? If you’re a history buff you’ll appreciate the characterization of figures like Churchill and Roosevelt as they deal with the personalities and caprices of the varying gods amongst us. Nothing quite like this right now on the market. The bits of politicized alternative history (e.g., Robespierre and the French Revolution as a move against extra-human powers in the European aristocracy) and a serious re-imagining of our shared collective past is what will keep you coming for more.
4. Trillium (No. 7, May 2014, Vertigo) – Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
I’m such a fan of Jeff Lemire right now. Born and raised in a small farm in Ontario, this Canadian comics fan does it all: write, draw, muse existentially about Animal Man. Widely praised for his “moody, humanistic” pathos, his newest book on the Trillium title certainly won’t disappoint. If you’re looking for a book that experiments with the aesthetic grammar and structure of comics, and actually succeeds in its formal innovations (unlike, the current run of Sandman [ahem, snark]), check this out. There will be a narrative, and psychic, reason as to why you’re flipping and maneuvering this particular issue to read it. Plus for all you lovely conlang nerds: book designer Chris Ross has actually taken the time and energy to create a decode-able “language of the Atabithian alien race” for certain of the alien speech bubbles. Have fun decoding it! Please inform the rest of us what the blue guys are saying.
5. Sex Criminals (No. 3, Feb 2014, Image) – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY, is loving this series right now. Don’t let the Image logo fool you, this is not what you think. The story thus far according to the holiest of holy writer gods Matt Fraction (you must check out his ongoing run on Hawkeye – again, not what you think): “Hundreds of years ago there was nothing. But then there was something because of a Big Bang which, like all explosions, made a bunch of stuff, but in this case it was the universe. So there was a lot of matter and anti-matter and photons and probably quasars and phonograms and green lanterns and trons and antitrons. Some of these probably got together and . . . created plants and things and then little single-celled amoebas, who were like ‘fuck this! Single cell suck!’ So they grew more cells and became . . . dinosaurs which ran around being pretty cool. But then an asteroid hit the planet and killed them all . . . Luckily though some dinosaurs survived . . . These dinosaurs had now become humans. This is called ‘evolution.’ They also grew opposable thumbs so they could hold tools which is how masturbation was invented. With the invention of masturbation, humans realized they had so much to live for and so they set out to create environments which would extend their lives, giving them more time to masturbate.”
Okay, if you’ve already read Sex Criminals you know that the above synopsis is misleading. Total bullshit in fact. Uh-huh, that’s right. This book is that good, I’m not going to spoiler it for you. Just use your cunning yelp app to find your nearest neighborhood comics shop and find a copy of Sex Criminals. It doesn’t matter which issue you start with. 1 or 2 or 3 or 4. You’ll dig it. But hurry. They’re already in their fourth printing. You’ll thank me later. Scout’s honor.