I love comic books and graphic novels! This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my blog. I’ve had a brief love affair with sequential stories (going on seven years now), but I’ve made a heavy investment of time and money in the pursuit of the hobby.
My favorite creators aren’t typically writing superhero fare. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, G Willow Wilson… None of these are primarily known for their superhero comics (though Alan Moore is very well-known for his deconstruction of the superhero genre). My favorite writers are also, generally, pretty straight forward.
But comics can be a weird place, especially as the comic creators who are publishing now are far enough in the shadow of influential tales like Watchmen and Sandman to have grown up reading them and being inspired by them.
This post is meant to celebrate the weird and the strange in comics. Many writers and artists are popular in the mainstream (like Grant Morrison), but are still able to do work that is almost avant-garde in style. Here are some of the strangest comics I’ve read in my short time enjoying comic books.
5. Walt Simonson’s Thor
Technically, Simonson’s work on Thor isn’t that strange, all things considered. But for a superhero comic, it seems exceptionally weird to me. All told, Simonson (working as both artist and writer for much of his run) brought odd new situations to the life of Marvel’s most famous Asgardian for nearly a decade.
In this nine-year span, he introduced a character named Beta-Ray Bill, Thor himself turned into a frog by Loki, and even a frog version of Thor (yes… a frog with Thor’s powers that is separate from Thor himself as a frog).
Beta-Ray Bill is an alien who, surprisingly, has the ability and worthiness to wield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. The story, character’s name notwithstanding, is actually quite good. The coloring of the books, like many comics from the pre-digital age, hurts the hell outta my eyes, but they’re well worth checking out just the same.
Also consider that Simonson took care of both scripting and art duties for much of his run… And delivered (near as I can tell) monthly. Genius comic critic Chris Sims has a nice Top Ten List worth checking it out too.
4. Brother Power The Geek by Joe Simon and Al Bare
There’s really not a lot to say about this oddity from the DC archives. The series ran only two issues in 1968, but is a sort of weird genius comics. Not quite a superhero comic, not at all any other kind of comic… The two issues are downright bizarre.
In an attempt to channel the hippie culture of the time (and, according to Wikipedia allegedly the more philosophical side of Silver Surfer), Simon created Brother Power with a Frankenstein-esque origin wherein a mannequin is dressed up in bloody, sweaty hippie clothes and comes to life when struck by lightning.
The two issues are almost inconsequential outside of the origin and the supposed final appearance of Brother Power, as he’s shot into orbit on the orders of Governor Ronald Reagan. The title was quietly cancelled by DC’s editing and publishing staff and forgotten.
Well almost forgotten. Neil Gaiman retained the knowledge of the character and brought Brother Power back in Swamp Thing Annual #5 (which was supposed to be Gaiman’s inaugural issue on the series, but wasn’t because of another DC editorial fuck-up regarding Rick Veitch’s plans for Swamp Thing to meet Jesus). There are scans to the original series online, so check ’em out if you’re bored.
3. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
When I was just starting out reading comics about seven short years ago, one of the first titles recommended to me was Transmetropolitan. A co-worker had seen me reading both comic books and Hunter S. Thompson and told me, “Read Transmetropolitan. It basically is Hunter S Thompson living in a Phillip K. Dick world.”
And this is such an apt description that I’ve used it often to recommend the series to people hunting for a new comic to read. The series stars Spider Jerusalem (best name ever, right?) in his battle to bring justice to the fucked up 23rd Century United States… through journalism!
Big guns, drugs and plastic surgery on-demand, unfrozen cryo-refugees wandering deep in culture shock by the brave new world they’ve been thrust back into… oh and I swear there’s a talking dog who is also a cop. That sounds like it probably came from this series.
Ah dystopia. Who doesn’t love a good dystopic future? Check out the first trade. You get a nice, full story there (well, pretty much) so that if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be out much. Ellis fills the series with a nice mixture of humor, social commentary, and the amount of messed-up shit I’ve come to love from him.
2. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen
Oh man… When I first read Nextwave, I was but a wee lad, in Marvel Comic terms. I think I had read Civil War and Old Man Logan. That was about it. Maybe by then I had read Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways. I can’t be certain. But this comic is like a crash-course in the odder side of the main Marvel 616 universe.
Nextwave is a rogue superhero team who defected from H.A.T.E. (because everything in Marvel is an acronym… from S.H.I.E.L.D. to S.W.O.R.D., H.A.T.E. stands for Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) when it was discovered that H.A.T.E. was secretly funded by the evil Beyond Corporation.
But… that’s not that important. All that matters is that they’re fighting Dirk Anger (an even-more-ridiculous Nick Fury) and his massive collection of U.W.M.D.s (Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction, naturally), which includes Fin Fang Foom, Elvis MODOKs, and a giant red tyrannasaurus named Devil Dinosaur.
Reading the series is a weird distillation of just about everything that makes comic books wonderful… and also what makes Warren Ellis one of the craziest bastards in comic writing. It doesn’t make sense… but it is funny as hell.
1. The Filth – By Grant Morrison, Chris Weston, and Gary Erskine
And on the other side of the publishing fence, we have Grant Morrison’s mad, perverse, disconcerting Vertigo-published series The Filth.
The series begins with a man named Greg Feely buying immaculately dirty porn from a convenience store. This is pretty much the last normal thing that happens in the book.
Greg Feely is simply a cover for a man named Slade (presumably no relation to Deathstroke, given that Slade in The Filth has both eyes and is outfitted in gaudy, colorful outfits that would even make Jack Kirby think twice). This man, Edward Slade comes in from the cold to rejoin a secret group known as The Hand.
The Hand, comprised of sub-groups like The Horns, The Finger, and The Fist, is best described by the character Nil, “We’re garbagemen Ned. We stop the world’s backyard from stinking.” Ned, Nil, and other members of the Hand (including a chimp with a penchant for assassinations) go on all kinds of adventures to maintain the Status Q and… I’m really confused. The whole thing is a bizarre conglomeration of surreal, abstract ideas and over-the-top perversity. I’m not sure if it works, but… it does have people being attacked by gigantic sperm, so… there’s that!
I’m fairly certain there’s more weird comics out there. A good deal of them are probably written by Grant Morrison. His runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol (or anyone’s Doom Patrol, really) are some of the best, weirdest comics of the 80s. Then there’s Alan Moore’s Promethea which is an odd combination of superhero comics and Kabbalah… But not weird enough to be included here.
What’s everyone reading out there? I’m midway through A Storm of Swords and I’ve been bouncing between comics, YA fiction, and odd medical history books in the last couple weeks… I’ll be back soon with more!
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