This Week's New Comics: Secret Wars, Exquisite Corpse, Black River

Rich Barrett
Pénélope Bagieu/First Second
Pénélope Bagieu/First Second / Pénélope Bagieu/First Second

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.

1. Secret Wars #1

By Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Marvel Comics

Marvel’s big 2015 event brings back a name that is familiar to us kids of the ‘80s: Secret Wars. Whereas the original 1984 mini-series was a  battle royal of heroes and villains who were teleported to a planet called "Battleworld," 2015’s Secret Wars promises to be a darker, more catastrophic affair (but still with something called "Battleworld”). It is the culmination of a years-long storyline that writer Jonathan Hickman has been building in his Avengers and New Avengers comics, and it will bring about the closest thing the Marvel Universe has ever had to a reboot.

In New Avengers we’ve seen that universes have been dying in pan-dimensional collisions called “incursions.” At the beginning of Secret Wars, the Marvel Universe that we’ve been following since 1961 and the Ultimate Marvel Universe will collide and effectively die. By the end of the series, a new Marvel Universe will presumably emerge, but before we get there we’re going to see a new Battleworld created from a patchwork of old Marvel eras and events like Age of Apocalypse, Civil War, and Inferno. This will all somehow feed into the new Universe we’re going to get in the end.

Marvel has a very short preview available here.


2. Exquisite Corpse

By Pénélope Bagieu
First Second 

Pénélope Bagieu is kind of a big deal in France—not only is she the bestselling author of multiple graphic albums, but she also publishes a popular diary webcomic and has even been knighted with the prestigious Order of the Letter of Arts. Despite this, she is virtually unknown here in the States. Exquisite Corpse—originally released in French in 2010—is the first of her graphic novels to receive an English translation, and it should make it pretty clear to us why she’s so popular in her home country.

In Exquisite Corpse, Zoe is a car show “booth babe” trapped in a loveless relationship who falls for a reclusive novelist. Not being a reader herself, she has no idea who he is, but once she does a little digging she learns things that cause her to see his strange behavior in a whole new light. Bagieu does a wonderful job of making you think you’re reading one type of story and then throwing a couple of narrative swerves along the way that shift it from rom-com to light horror to stylish con job territory and back.

Her cartooning style is a sheer delight. It's very French in its aesthetic, with a fresh color palette, elegant and fashionable line work, and a comedian’s sense of physical humor. Fans of cartoonists like Kate Beaton and Katie Skelly will surely find something to latch onto here.

First Second has a preview here.


3. Black River

By Josh Simmons

Josh Simmons’ first full-length graphic novel since 2007’s House is a dark, post-apocalyptic survivalist story that makes The Walking Dead read like an all-ages comic. In Black River, a group of women (plus one man) traverse a devastated countryside in search of a town they learned about from a found diary. Along the way they do some things that sound fun on the surface (take a drug called “Gumdrops," have sex, and even go to a comedy club) but are imbued with Simmons’ sense of absurdist depravity and sheer, unsettling horror.

Nihilistic, apocalyptic fiction seems a dime a dozen in today’s landscape, but Simmons manages to shock most jaded readers by giving you the sense that anything horrible can and will happen. There are some seriously disturbing scenes that are made all the more chilling by Simmons’ black and white artwork and the seeming glee he takes in depicting them. That’s not to say it’s a completely dire read—the dark humor gives these women a strange but believable presence and life within this terrible world.

Fantagraphics has a preview here.


4. Wonder Woman ’77 Special

By Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley and Richard Ortiz
DC Comics

Following the success of DC’s Batman ’66 (which brought the Adam West version of Batman into a comic book series) comes a one-shot special that does the same for Lynda Carter and the Wonder Woman of the ‘70s. In this extra-sized comic there’s Cold War espionage, roller skating, disco music, and photo-realistic artwork by Drew Johnson that calls to mind Carter and the rest of the cast of the original Wonder Woman TV show.

Like Batman ’66, this is one of DC’s “Digital First” comics, so it will initially only be available on Comixology starting this week. You can view some preview images and buy it here.


5. Broken Frontier Anthology

By various

Comics news site Broken Frontier is getting into the publishing game via Kickstarter with an eponymous science-fiction anthology. They have pulled together an interesting lineup of international creators to produce 27 different stories. There are people like Cullen Bunn, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Greg Pak, and Nathan Fox who are professionals with mainstream appeal and lots of experience in genre-based comics. There are also some unusual choices from the indie-comics world like Jamie Coe, Box Brown, and Noah Van Sciver, not to mention some brand new names.

The book is planned to be a 250+ page hardcover but, interestingly, the publishers have reached a deal with digital comics distributor Comixology to allow backers who receive the digital edition (normally just a regular old PDF in these crowd-funding scenarios) delivered to the Comixology app with all the “Guided View” bells and whistles that a standard digital comic would come with. As far as I know, this is the first time Comixology has partnered with a crowd-funded comic in this way, even though it's basically just an extension of how their Submit program for self-publishers works.

Broken Frontier has 16 days to go as of this writing and still a ways to go to achieve their goal, so consider helping them out.