This Week's New Comics: Borb, Convergence, and the Finale to Blade of the Immortal
Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.
By Jason Little
Jason Little’s Borb follows a down-on-his-luck homeless man who finds himself dealing with one horrible turn of events after another—broken legs, loss of teeth, prison, trench foot, and a pair of pants that won’t stay up. It’s printed in a small, landscape-format book sized to fit one beautifully drawn black and white 4-panel strip per page. Little, best known for his 2002 book Shutterbug Follies, is a skilled and highly acclaimed cartoonist who teaches in the cartooning program at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Here’s the thing about Borb: it’s often a very uncomfortable read because the plight of this unfortunate man is often played for laughs. This may seem insensitive of Little until you realize that the slapstick humor and the format and presentation of the story itself is all part of the point. The lovable hobo is an archetype that goes back to the Tin Pan Alley era, and Little’s style of drawing here is a deliberate homage to the work of the great newspaper strips of that time period like Gasoline Alley and Little Orphan Annie. He’s telling a vagabond story in that Depression-era style but with graphic, realistic modern day situations that actually happen to real victims of homelessness. A lot of people may still find that to be offensive, but there is no way this book will not get a reaction out of you. It is an early contender for book of the year.
Borb was originally serialized online on a daily basis to further simulate the comparison to early 20th century newspaper strips and is making its debut in print next weekend at the MOCCA Arts Festival in New York. You can pre-order a copy here.
2. Convergence #0
By Dan Jurgens, Jeff King and Ethan Van Sciver
Spring is going to be a time of change and renewal for DC Comics. For the duration of April and May, all of their regular titles will cease publication and be replaced by special “Convergence” issues featuring characters reverted to iterations from a continuity that had been wiped out in 2011’s line-wide reboot. Convergence is DC’s big crossover event of 2015 that will not only pause all of DC’s ongoing titles, but will pave the way for an unspecified reset of the status quo and a line of brand new titles.
Convergence #0 kicks things off by picking up from the end of two year-long weekly series (Futures End and World’s End) as well as the recent Superman: Doomed crossover. Classic Superman villain Brainiac has brought heroes and villains from across various timelines, “Elseworlds,” and rebooted continuities throughout DC history together on one desolate planet to save the universe and all of reality (this is, coincidentally or through some weird cross-publisher osmosis, strikingly similar to the plot of Marvel’s big upcoming Secret Wars event). What the planned outcome of this series will be is unknown at this time, but it seems possible that the usage of popular and nearly forgotten characters from these different timelines will result in some sort of cherry-picking of who gets to stick around in the future.
While DC’s regular ongoing comics are on hold, the publisher will be moving its base of operations from New York to California, a big change for the company that has been headquartered in Manhattan since its inception in the 1930s. This shift to the west coast, where it will be closer to the goings-on in Hollywood, will most likely have more lasting effects—even if they are mostly behind the scenes—than any we’ll see from Convergence.
3. Blade of the Immortal Vol. 31
By Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics has been publishing translated editions of Hiroaki Samura’s epic supernatural samurai manga Blade of the Immortal since the mid-1990s, originally in the format of monthly comics and later in book-size volumes. Samura concluded the story with the last chapter being released in Japan in 2012 and the 31st and final volume of the English editions hitting stores in the U.S. this week.
Blade of the Immortal follows the exploits of Shogunate-era samurai Manji who is cursed with immortality—a helpful affliction for a warrior, but one he wishes to undo by killing 1000 evil men as a way to atone for his past sins. Part of Manji’s quest involves helping a young girl named Rin avenge the death of her parents who died at the hands of a swordsman named Anotsu Kagehisa. Volume 31 sees Manji and Rin’s quest come to an end and the final showdown with Anotsu.
This has been one of the more popular manga with U.S. audiences over the past couple of decades, weathering the ups and downs of the U.S. market. Part of its success is the appealing mix of samurai violence, supernatural mysticism, and an existential reflection on life and death. Dark Horse continues to produce the English editions by rearranging the panels of each page so it can be read in the more Western-friendly left-to-right format.
While Comixology has yet to be beat as the platform of choice for most readers, the next battle in the digital comics war has been the race to become the “Netflix of comics”—a subscription-based “all you can eat” library. Marvel was first out of the gate two years ago with their Marvel Unlimited app which gives you access to over 15,000 of their titles for $9.99/month. New releases are held back by six months and the app is famous for its buggy-ness, but it’s hard to argue with how much it has to offer if you’re a Marvel fan.
The newest player in the race to be the Netflix of comics is Scribd, which has been offering an unlimited e-book subscription service since 2013. Originally launched as a “social publishing platform” allowing users to publish and share original writing, Scribd has developed into the keeper of the world’s largest digital library of e-books and audiobooks. In February of this year they added digital comics to the mix—10,000 of them, to be precise—including selections from big name publishers like Marvel, IDW, Top Shelf, and Valiant. What makes Scribd an interesting competitor for other digital comics platforms is that, for their monthly price of $8.99, you get unlimited comics as well as all of their e-books and audiobooks. Much like Netflix though, the bulk of their hundreds of thousands of books and comics are mostly void of popular new releases. They have both Marvel and Comixology beat, however, with their superior browsing interface.
While there are some really good Marvel choices in here and some downright classics from Top Shelf and IDW (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, March Book One, Locke & Key, and Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books), one of the most appealing selling points of Scribd is that you can use it to catch up on Valiant Comics’ impressive, interconnected universe of titles that were released back in 2012. Fans of contemporary, cinematic, and realistic superhero comics will eat these up.
5. Space Riders #1
By Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Alexis Ziritt
Black Mask Studios
Space Riders begins with our hero floating lifelessly through the cosmos with a dagger stuck through the faceplate of his astronaut’s helmet. But this is just a flashback as Capitan Peligro prepares to embark (minus one eyeball) on an even more dangerous adventure in his skull-shaped spaceship with a band of pirates called the Space Riders.
Sometimes, comics are at their best when they play at the other end of the pool from the cinematic realism of most modern superhero and genre fare. A comic like Space Riders revels in being ridiculous and over the top while creating a visual experience you can only get in this medium. Alexis Ziritt is an interesting young artist who bombards readers’ senses with hallucinatory color and outrageous and meticulous imagery. This book takes Jack Kirby’s 1970s space operas and drags them through the 1980s, scraping up bits of heavy metal rock poster design, macho Hollywood action, outsider art, bad acid trips, and some Heavy Metal magazine spectacle along the way.
Ziritt is working with writer Fabien Rangel Jr. of the supernatural pulp comic Doc Unknown. He fits into the up-and-coming category, and the same can be said about their publisher, Black Mask Studios. I wrote about them just last week with their release of the super-powered teen runaway drama We Can Never Go Home. Black Mask is just introducing themselves to the public right now and they look like they’re going to be a source of wild and unexpected creator-owned comics.