Saturday, July 4, 2009

It Came From the Back Issue Bins! #1

Jason Shayer

Welcome to the first installment of 'It Came From The Back Issue Bins!' What I’d like to do is to use this space to take a look at horror comic books, both old and new. Despite reading a ridiculous amount of superhero comics in the late 70s and early 80s, I’ve found myself drawn to stories with a darker side. Marvel had its Dracula, Man-Thing, Morbius, Werewolf by Night, and Frankenstein, while DC had its Swamp Thing, House of Mystery, Phantom Stranger, and House of Secrets.

There’s been a clear resurgence in horror comic books with the success of The Walking Dead, 30 Days of Night, and Cal MacDonald. A lot of the classics are also being reprinted in hardcover editions, like Creepy and Eerie, EC (which has unfortunately gone on hiatus), and Atlas (Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish), to tap into this growing trend.

That’s enough preamble, let’s move right into the blood and guts, shall we? Here are five horror comic books you should be reading (in no particular order).

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Crossed (Avatar)
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Jacen Burrows

If you’re at all familiar with comic books, you’ll know that Ennis is no stranger to over-the-top, black humor or gore (take a look at his Hitman, Preacher, and his Punisher runs). Ennis and Burrows don’t hold back and come at you, at full speed, depicting the horror of this apocalyptical world and forcing you to watch. And it isn’t because you want to watch, it’s because you can’t not watch. Like all apocalyptic fiction, it gets you thinking about how you would react in such a horrifying situation. And that mind frame helps bring the story alive in all of its gore and violence.

The series certainly doesn’t waste any time thrusting you into this terrifying vision of the end of the world. If the final sequence of issue #1 doesn’t shake you, there’s something wrong with you. What’s great about this series is how it carefully balances the outward violence with the characters’ inner struggles to stay human through this inhuman ordeal. Issue #3 is a great example of what this series does best.

The title of the series comes from one of the virus’ symptom where a rash spreads across the victim’s face in the shape of a cross. Crossed will run 10 issues in total, including the #0 issue and #5 has just come out. What are you waiting for, go get it.

If you like The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, give this series a chance.

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Impaler v2 (Top Cow)
Written by William Harms
Art by Matt Timson

If you’re looking for a vampire story with teeth that’s a refreshing change from the teen romance stuff that passes as vampire fare these days, you’ll love Impaler. Homicide Detective Victor Dailey teams up with the immortal hero Vlad Tepes as a horde of vampires overruns the Eastern seaboard.

Impaler made its debut in 2006 in a three-issue miniseries which has been recently reprinted in the Impaler Volume 1 trade paperback. Harms has a lot of solid ideas, taking the familiar and putting his own twist on them, and is weaving a strong story around them. The vampires are more like shadow creatures and Vlad is supernatural hero bent on driving these vampires from the world.

Volume #2 opens up the story’s scope and pulls in other characters for their view point into this near-apocalyptical event. This volume will run six issues. New artist Matt Timson's art is impressive as he uses mixed-media to provide a rich variety of evocative panels. The action scenes in issue #2 with the US military trying desperately to stem the flood of vampire is jaw-dropping.

If you like 30 Days of Night and Blade, you won’t be disappointed with Impaler. After speaking with Harms, he had this to say about his comic book: “Impaler is the horror comic that I’ve always wanted to read. It’s vicious, terrifying, and the vampires are absolute monsters. If you love horror comics, Impaler should be on your reading list.”

You can read an online copy of Impaler v1 #1 at

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Dead Irons (Dynamite)
Written by James Kuhoric
Art by Jason Shawn Alexander

“99 Innocent Souls, 6 Undead Monsters, 1 Shot to save the world”
Dead Irons is labeled as a supernatural western and lives up to its billing. Both its creators have solid experience in horror comics and it shows. Jason Shawn Alexander’ art is a cross between Jon J. Muth and Bill Sienkiewitz and has that photographic feel to it combined with a powerful cinematic flow.

The cover to issue #1 by Jae Lee is what drew me in. Turns out that Lee designed the characters and served as artistic director for the series. Using Jae Lee, who’s currently drawing Marvel Comics’ high profile Dark Tower comic book series, helps to get you to pick up the issue, but it’s the story and art that grab you by the collar and pull you in for the ride.

I found the first issue a bit difficult to follow in terms of sorting out the characters and exactly what was going on. However, I just went with the flow and kept reading and everything started to fall into place. So, instead of trying to pick up these issues individually, look out for the hardcover collection shipping near the end of the year.

Check out the great trailer for the series:

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Jonah Hex (DC Comics)
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by a revolving cast of artists

While not technically a horror comic book, Jonah Hex does walk close enough to the edge to be called dark fiction. Veteran co-writers, Palmiotti and Gray, have teamed up on horror franchises, like Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And while their superhero stories are impressive, it’s Jonah Hex that’s always stick with me.

To be honest, I’m shocked as hell that a Western title in this comic book market has almost 50 issues and seems to be going strong still. Month after month, this book continues to deliver strong, powerful stories with a dark edge that’s satisfying. Most issues are self-contained, so the easiest way to see if it’s for you is to pick one up. And if you anything like me, you’ll be hook after a few issues and then stuck ordering all the trade paperback to catch up. The art is surprisingly consistent for a series that has several revolving artists like Jordi Bernet, Paul Gulacy, and Phil Noto, who are all quite adept at capturing the look and feel of the Wild West.

If you like Western or just want to read a damn fine comic without crossovers, tie-ins, or spin-offs, pick it up. And with the feature film coming next year, there will be a lot of attention paid to this series. You can also pick up a black and white trade paperback of his original 70s series, reprinting tales from All-Star Western and Weird Western Tales.

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Captain Britain and MI13 #10-15
Written by Peter Cornell
Art by Leonard Kirk

Unfortunately, this selection has some bad news. As a comic book series, it’s been cancelled. However, the Power-That-Be have at least allowed the creative team to finish their phenomenal run. This cancellation does highlight everything that’s wrong with comic books today. This title is one of the better written mainstream fare, but just doesn’t get the in-house support that it needs to get. The first story arc was mired in a crossover which didn’t do it any favors.

But, enough with ranting and let me get on with why I think this series is worth picking up. One word: Dracula. Dracula’s been banished from the Marvel Universe since the mid-1980s and has come back with a vengeance. Not satisfied with stalking the shadows looking for victims, Dracula lives up to his heritage and mounts a full-scale vampire invasion of Great Britain. He plans to use the unofficial home of magic in the Marvel Universe as his vampire nation.

If that isn’t enough to draw you in, let’s talk about the good guys. MI13 is a government branch established to protect the United Kingdom from supernatural threats and is led by the iconic Captain Britain. Add the Black Knight, Blade, and Spitfire, and you have a dynamic cast that complements the storyline. In particular, I’m impressed with how Blade was brought onto the team and humanized. Cornell manages to move Blade beyond the two dimensional vampire hunter that he’s usually characterized as.

There has been enough buzz on this series that it will be reprinted as a trade paperback this fall, Captain Britain and MI13 Vol#3: Vampire State.

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And that’s it for this installment. Feel free to send me any suggestions as to what I should look at or if there’s anything out there now that are really doing something for you, let me know.

--Jason Shayer