My favourite comic of 2010 was Scott Morse’s Strange Science Fantasy, a six-part miniseries published by IDW. Each issue of the series explored a different facet of pulpy B-movie sci-fi tropes—one dealt with hot rodders in a postapocalyptic future, another featured an amazing colossal soldier sent into space to battle invading cosmic gods…you get the idea. Morse, a Pixar animator in his day job, thrillingly channeled his love of big-idea SF into a form of cartoon storytelling that can only really be described as “pure comics”—not always totally linear or easy to explain, just a creator’s enthusiasm spilling out onto the page in fast & furious fashion. I found Morse’s enthusiasm infectious, and I suspect that enthusiasm will carry over into his new series, Crime And Terror, a new collaboration with writer Steve Niles (30 Days Of Night, Criminal Macabre).


Crime And Terror is said to be forthcoming in a series of original 80-page, self-published hardcovers, but I got my first taste in the form of a special limited edition preview book. This limited, signed edition is printed on cardboard pages with rounded edges in an oversized format, and features two short stories by Niles and Morse. The first, “The Bee’s Knees” follows a lovestruck duo of bank robbers on the run from the law, determined to live together forever—quite literally, it turns out, while the second, untitled story features an ever-shrinking group of survivors surrounded by an army of the living dead. Both of Niles’s stories have a similarly hard-boiled vibe, complete with first-person narration, brought to vivid life by Morse’s blocky, splashy artwork (someone once described his art as looking like a mix of Jack Kirby and Darwyn Cooke, high praise indeed).


I thought “The Bee’s Knees” worked a lot better than the second, but that could just be that I’m suffering from a bit of zombie overload these days (zombie comics, movies, and TV shows seem to be multiplying at a rate that makes their fictional counterparts look lazy!). The “crime and terror” promised by the title certainly can be found in the first story, but the second tale is pretty much just straight-ahead survival horror. Each revolves around a doomed romance, defiant in the face of overwhelming odds. Maybe this will be the thread that connects the future Crime And Terror stories? Based on this early taste, I’m definitely curious to find out.

Dave's Faves of 2010! Well Into 2011, Even!

This should have ideally been finished and posted somewhere around, oh, December, but general holiday craziness (and ongoing work on my comic Slam-A-Rama, on sale now!) kept me from compiling a list of my favourite comics of 2010. Better late than never, eh? Anyways, here goes. In no particular order...


STRANGE SCIENCE FANTASY By Scott Morse (IDW): Definitely not for everybody, but this six-part mini almost single-handedly restored my faith in single-issue comic books in 2010. Genres collide in this loving mash-up of sci-fi, film noir, and any number of other styles and tropes that might have at one point or other influenced Morse. The perfect antidote to Big Two event fatigue (see my original review here).


ELMER By Gerry Alanguilan (SLG): This absurdist fable imagines a world where chickens have gained the ability to think and speak, and chronicles their ensuing struggle for civil rights. Alanguilan's highly detailed, expressive artwork perfectly realizes the concept's equal potential for both humour and horror (see my original review here).


SET TO SEA By Drew Weing (Fantagraphics Books): A gentle giant of a poet is abducted into a life of high-seas adventure, with scary and ultimately uplifting results. This handsome little hardcover tells a story in full-page illustrations, in an intricately-detailed style reminiscent of conflicting influences like Tony Millionaire, Eric Shanower, Craig Thompson, and Steve Purcell. A special LBW shout-out goes to my pal Chris MacLaren to recommending this one to me after it initially flew under my radar.


THE SIXTH GUN By Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (Oni Press): The weird, wild West comes alive in this supernatural oat opera. A roguish thief and an innocent young girl join forces to prevent the forces of evil from taking possession of six magically-endowed pistols, possibly at the cost of their own souls. A more rewarding monthly read than most offerings from the big two, but the first six are available in trade paperback form now too.


PARKER: THE OUTFIT By Darwyn Cooke (IDW): It’s hard to imagine how Cooke could have stepped up his game any further after his initial Richard Stark adaptation, The Hunter (see my review here), but this latest Parker caper effortlessly blows its predecessor away. Parker’s criminal fraternity wages war on the organized crime cartel of the book’s title, and the myriad of cons and stick-ups are presented in a dazzling array of different artistic styles.


THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER By Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee (Marvel): I hate that I live in a world where a book as charming and fun as this can’t even get a lousy twelve-issue commitment from its publisher. Marvel would likely blame it on the poor sales of all-ages books, but I’m gonna say it has more to do with the roughly eighteen zillion other Thor titles this book had to compete with for shelf space and reader dollars. It’s a damn shame, because this is easily the best of them. This freshly reimagined origin story for the Thunder God is a true "all ages" book--meaning, it's a great read for anybody, no matter their age or gender.


OFFICER DOWNE By Joe Casey and Chris Burnham (Image): The hyper-violent offspring of books like Judge Dredd and Marshal Law, this double-sized Image one-shot, starring an unkillable (or, at least, easily resuscitated) supercop, takes the prize for intricately-drawn carnage (see my original review here).


WILSON By Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly): Soon to be a film from Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), this chronicle of an aging, disaffected loner trying desperately to connect with his estranged wife and daughter deepens with every re-reading. Come for the one-page Sunday Funnies styles, stay for the crippling emotional despair! (See my original review here.)


ATLAS By Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman (Marvel): I figure this latest relaunch of the revived 1950s-superteam-that-never-was (which I previously praised here) probably suffered as much from having a “Heroic Age” banner atop it as its previous incarnation (Agents of Atlas) did from having a “Dark Reign” banner atop it (take a note, Marvel, line-wide banners don’t encourage new readers, they drive them away!). Either way, five issues isn’t nearly enough to savour the globe-spanning fun of a team that featured a talking gorilla, a spaceman, and a 3D Man (among others). Let’s hope these guys make their way back into the spotlight sooner rather than later.


"Snapshot: Revelation!" from DC UNIVERSE: LEGACIES #8, By Len Wein and Frank Quitely (DC): A reasonably faithful 10-page retelling of NEW GODS #1 (with some other assorted Fourth World recaps thrown in for good measure). For straight-up clarity, call it the anti-FINAL CRISIS. And Quitely drawing Kirby's New Gods? Get outta my dreams, DC UNIVERSE: LEGACIES! Kudos to Mr. Quitely for drawing the most hideous “true face” of Orion I’ve ever seen—dude looks like he just snuck a peek into the Ark of the Covenant:


Will You Live To See The "Dawn Of The Gearheads"?

 I didn’t really know how I felt the first time I finished reading the first issue of Scott Morse’s new IDW series Strange Science Fantasy, only that I’d liked it a lot. A second read-through convinced me that I loved it. It feels less like a comic than a piece of unique art that just happens to be in the form of a comic book, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious or off-putting. I’m not saying it’s for everybody—I can almost imagine that, had I been in a different mood when I read it, I might not have cared for it at all—but it most definitely felt like something deeply felt and weirdly personal that had been successfully married to a particular pop sensibility. If that’s not art, then I’m not sure that I know what art is.


The first issue of this six-part mini reads like Rebel Without a Cause meets The Road Warrior, as directed by a coked-up Ralph Bakshi and then adapted into an E.C. science fiction comic. In a dystopian drag-racing-obsessed world, a mortally injured gearhead is reborn as The Headlight, an inspiring figure and leader of hot-rodders whose face has been replaced with a helmeted porthole of blazing light. The Headlight and his followers seek to smash the old order and create a new society, enlisting the aid of some technologically tricked-out animals like the “V-Eighp”. Hints of a larger metaphor appear, then are dismissed just as quickly—a guy dressed like a superhero is run down at one point, and The Headlight deals some righteous justice to “the fat cats, those who dined on the muscles of the dreamers”. These blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em asides linger in your consciousness just enough to give the reader a taste of the artist’s own ideas about this stuff, without hanging around long enough to belabor the point.


And the art! Oh man, this is one crazy-looking, gorgeous book. Morse’s animation background informs every panel of this book, from the rubbery forms of both the gearheads and their hot rods, to the shocking vibrancy of the colour scheme. There’s even a one-page strip by Paul Pope! On both a narrative level and a visual level, Strange Science Fantasy is a comic that you experience more than you read. You can’t really sit and think about the story or the characters, because, well, there sort of aren’t any. It’s more like listening to a really great song with totally bizarre lyrics, that you then listen to a few more times trying to figure out just what the hell the songwriter is trying to say. You just don’t know why, but you just know you like it. Or you don’t, as the case may be. Like I said at the top, it’s not for everybody, but it was kind of just what I needed at just the right time, I guess. Does that make sense?