Three for Thursday: Independent Comics: Great Comics from Dark Horse, Image and BOOM!


Every Thursday I want to take a look at a handful of independent comics released for the week, meaning some that came from publishers other than Marvel and DC. Today we look at three.

John Flood #1
Writer: Jordan, Justin
Artist: Coehlo, Jorge
Cover Artist: Coelho, Jorge
Published by BOOM!   

I don’tt know about you, but I love a story that involves an interesting detective. As a reader, figuring out a mystery by following the deductions of a colorful detective has always brought me great joy. Unfortunately, in comics, we do not have a great tradition of strong detectives. The most famous, Batman, spends more time as a super hero than anything else. In fact, most comic detectives lean more toward wearing costumes and jetting around the world than working out complicated mysteries. Some would argue that characters such as Constantine, The Question and Hellboy meet the criteria for consideration as comic book detectives. They do solve mysteries, after all. True enough, but when their mysteries involve demons, the end of the world and even super heroes, well, one could argue that those stories align more closely to adventure and fantasy than mystery.

John Flood #1 Page

In any case, and any way you look at it, there is a noticeable lack of detectives in comics. John Flood, the new ongoing series by BOOM! Studios, looks to change that. In the tradition of quirky detectives, John Flood’s ability to discern patterns, make deductive leaps, and intuit outcomes stems from a government experiment that removed John’s need for sleep. Now in a permanent waking dream state, John solves mysteries that others cannot.

There is a lot to like about John Flood #1. For one, the artist for the book, Jorge Coelho, does a tremendous job with his consistency and ability to depict the world in which the story develops. His characters and their faces are particularly well done, creating a density to the narrative that otherwise would be absent. He reminds me of John Romita Jr. in many ways. A bit more playful perhaps, but his lines and composition share much with the longtime comic artist. And the story, written by Justin Jordan, is a solid piece of storytelling.

The story begins as we are introduced to Alexander Berry. A former police officer, Mr. Berry is recruited by a young lady to go to work for John Flood. Unsure if he wants the job, but curious about the position, he shows up at the address given to him. A run down mansion and the young lady, Lyta Brumbaugh, are waiting for him. Inside he finds an odd mix of … things. Books, maps, and statues lie around in a semi-organized manner. “Mr. Flood has hobbies,” Lyta tells Mr. Berry, “Lots of hobbies. Lots and lots of hobbies.” Mr. Berry and John Flood meet, and John tells him how he wants Mr. Berry to help him with a case. John, it seems, has just released a video that offers details on a serial killer that, to this point, only exists in John’s mind. The murders, thousands of them, have occurred all across the United States, have so far gone unsolved, and have not been connected by anyone or any police force. Except by John Flood. His unique ability to see patterns has given him the insight that not only does this killer exist, but that he has a moral obligation to find and stop him.

"Imagine someone who has no motive, leaves no evidence, has no pattern. Someone who could roam the country for decades, killing at will, never leaving anything for you law enforcement types to pick up. There’s no pattern. But the lack of a pattern? Is a pattern.John Flood, John Flood #1"

Part of the appeal of a mystery featuring an off-the-wall, yet genius, detective comes from the confidence we so often see from them. Even in the face of doubters or lack of evidence, these characters possess a conviction in their beliefs that is fun to follow. John Flood has some of that going for it. I suspect we will see some fantastical elements in the story sooner rather than later. An image plucked from John’s head would seem to implicate demonic forces contributing to the serial killer’s success, and BOOM! itself describes the comic as combining “the metaphysical with the procedural.” That may be unfortunate. I will wait and see how that plays out, but John Flood #1 was a fun and enjoyable read without having to rely on superheroes, ghosts or end of the world scenarios.

From BOOM!:

"What’s to Love: Justin Jordan exploded onto the comics scene just four short years ago with The Strange Talent of Luther Strode and caught everyone by surprise. Now he brings us John Flood, a series that combines the metaphysical with the procedural in a way we think is really fresh. Joining him is Jorge Coelho, whose fantastic work on Polarity and Sleepy Hollow made him a BOOM! favorite. Perfect for fans of Desolation Jones and Sherlock Holmes. What It Is: As the result of a government experiment, John Flood no longer needs to sleep, but now he’s in a constant dream state and sometimes can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t. But a side effect is that he sees patterns and makes connections no one else can, which serve him well in his new ‘career’ as a make-shift PI. Together with a burly ex-cop, Flood begins to investigate when he ‘sees’ one man responsible for thousands of unsolved murders, but now he himself has caught the killer’s attention."

John Flood #1 Cover

We Stand On Guard #2
Writer: Vaughan, Brian K.
Artist: Skroce, Steve
Cover Artist: Skroce, Steve
Published by Image

If you read my review of We Stand on Guard #1, you know that I mostly enjoyed Brian K. Vaughan’s new series about a group of freedom fighters making their way in a world that sees an American invasion of Canada. Yeah, the premise sounds wacky, but consider that it is an old, very old premise. Stories about freedom fighters in occupied France during WWII, the English standing up to French or Roman Empires, and of course Spartans fighting all legendary-like against Persians are just a few examples, historical ones no less, of the few against the many.

We Stand on Guard #2 Page

My one gripe was that the artist, Steve Skroce, seemed a bit overwhelmed with his new gig. His lines were inconsistent, and I did not get the sense that he understood depth and perspective very well. Maybe it was first issue jitters, but the art he gives us in We Stand on Guard #2 is much better. Panel to panel, I see the consistency that I perceived as lacking in the first issue, and the panels themselves feel more detailed.

What I like most about We Stand on Guard #2, though, is how Skroce and Vaughan fleshed out the world, and premise, that they introduced in the first issue. The invading American forces and their mission, for example, seemed a bit generic and lacking in any meaningful gravitas judging by the premier issue. Issue two gives us a better look at who these Americans are. Working out of a forward operating base in Nunavut, Canada, these people are more or less familiar to us. These were the guys, after all, who worked to control the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan these past fifteen years or so and have similarities to any occupying force: destroy insurgency and maximize your influence.

Issue two also gives sharper characterizations to the Canadians utilizing guerilla tactics against the Americans. A fellow talks about losing his spouse and how he came into possession of a coywolf (“Half coyote, half wolf. They started breeding after the weather [messed] up both their old habitats,” he tells us). We see more of where Amber, the young woman the story ostensibly hangs on, comes from, and the difficulties that she has had to overcome. And the climax of the issue where the leader of the group is ambushed by American soldiers is as quick, violent and entertaining as a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie.

For as absurd it may sound to center a story on the invasion of Canada by the United States, I recommend you get a taste of it before you spit it too far. Full of great military science fiction, strong characterizations and decent art, We Stand on Guard may not be the most original comic out there, but it is fun and immersive. I look forward to the next issue.

From Image:

"The summer blockbuster from BRIAN K. VAUGHAN and STEVE SKROCE continues, as the futuristic conflict between the Canadian freedom fighters and their American occupiers takes a shocking turn!"

We Stand on Guard #2 Cover

Baltimore: Cult of the Red King #4 (of 5)
Writer: Mignola, Mike
Artist: Bergting, Peter
Cover Artist: Stenbeck, Ben
Published by Darkhorse

I have half a dozen books that I have not finished reading lying about my house. It’s not that I have lost interest or that I am bored with them. Just the opposite. I have gotten so engrossed in the stories, so happy with having met the characters and been a part of their dramas, that I am totally against ending the relationship. Hanging in limbo, I may not know exactly how these books end, but I can live with that if it means I can hold onto that feeling of connection for a little bit longer. I will eventually finish these books, I always do, but I do find it interesting how we can rush or pause a story based on our feelings for it.

Baltimore: Cult of the Red King #4 Page

I am not totally sure that Baltimore: Cult of the Red King flies to those rarefied heights of stories we do not want to see end. It is a fairly muddled tale, really. Disparate characters, mostly stereotypes, seeking the origins and current enterprises of an ancient evil would not typically generate much excitement. And the art, while fine, is not anything to write home about. But still, Mignola and Co. have created an exciting and dangerous world in Baltimore: Cult of the Red King that I am loathe to depart. Perhaps it is the excitement and adventure. The story was slow to get moving, but once it did, it has been a nonstop roller coaster of witches and demons, smart action and memorable characterizations. And the characters, while being mostly stereotypes, are very good ones. Lord Baltimore, for example, is a solid representation of that haunted and driven leader in the vein of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab or Dracula’s Van Helsing.

Most likely though, the reason I do not want this story to end is its relative uniqueness compared to almost every other comic on the market today. It’s a period piece, for one, taking place in Victorian times in a world familiar enough, but askew just the right amount to seem like a different world entirely. More, Mignola puts his characters into some tight situations. Both in Tunisia and Russia, the “good guys” do not seem to stand a chance. Demons and cultists and witches and the possessed all want a piece of our heroes, and it is amazing that most survive the next page, let alone the next issue. It is a mad, mad world that we see in Baltimore: Cult of the Red King, but oddly enough, it is also a terribly difficult world to leave. It’s so darn interesting.

The series, now in its penultimate issue, sees our heroes on the brink of total collapse. Lord Baltimore is beaten silly and left for dead. The group in Carthage is bloodied and hounded by both the living and the demonic. Yet in Baltimore: Cult of the Red King #4 we see the good guys get some traction against the monumental forces of evil poised against them. Lord Baltimore, with the prodding of a passing ghost, picks himself up and continues the fight. The group in Carthage discovers that they can literally mask their way past the demons. For as bad as circumstances get, the good guys eke out a response that gets them through, at least for the moment.

Obviously, I look forward to the next and final issue of the series. Whether or not I will read it though remains to be seen. I just may buy it and place it on a table for a few weeks, another story that I am not quite ready to end.

From Darkhorse:

"The ancient origins of the Red King’s cult have been discovered. The influence of the Red King grows stronger, but Baltimore’s faithful allies have discovered the origins of the original cult. With this new knowledge, are they closer to ending the terror consuming the world or further than ever from salvation?"

Baltimore: Cult of the Red King #4 Cover

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