New Comic Wednesday: Independent Comics

Today in lieu of doing a review about one specific title that's come out, I wanted to chat briefly about a few different independent comics I'm currently reading (some of which came out today), why I think you might like them, and some things you can borrow from them for your role-playing games.

As I've mentioned before, I'm really more of a DC guy. I love the characters that I grew up with on Saturday morning cartoons, specifically the Superfriends. But, as I've gotten to know the guys at my favorite local comic book shop, they've gotten to know me and my preferences and have started to recommend things to me based on my likes. They've noticed that I tend to like World War II stories (particularly with a "weird" or supernatural bent to them), I like the Pulp Noir and Post Apocalyptic genres, and I'm just a sucker for a good, well-written story no matter the setting.

All of the books below were recommended to me by the guys at my shop, and they're actually among my favorites right now, even above some DC titles with more familiar characters. Let that be an example of why it's good to chat up people who are very involved and passionate about the same things you are, and also to keep an open mind. A year ago, I never would've dreamed of reading a book like Ten Grand or Lazarus because they don't feature capes and cowls.

Quickly before getting into the titles, unfortunately none of these are good for kids. So, moms and dads out there, pull these books out to read after your little ones have gone to bed.

Now onto the list...

This is a World War II comic that takes place in the waning days of the war in Europe. It's mid-April 1945, and the European part of the war is almost over. The Allies know it. The Nazis know it. There's nothing that can save the Third Reich. Well, except for a secret Nazi government program that's being rushed to the battlefield - augmented human soldiers, known as an ubermensch. There are two types - the low-level panzermensch (the rank-and-file troops) and three really powerful soldiers called Battleships.

This is really a straight-up war book. It's not an alternate history "What if Nazi Germany won World War II?" story. The way is still going on, Germany is in shambles, and having three supremely powerful soldiers who are strong enough to defeat masses of enemy troops but aren't designed to "hold" areas after they've been captured, aren't really enough (yet) to change the inevitable outcome of the war. But they do change the dynamics of how the Reich is falling and it's interesting to see where the story is going.

Why You Should Read It: This is one of the few "war comics" I've read that really captures the idea of being at war. It's not fun. It's not all "guts and glory." It's brutal. People die, including the "good guys." It's great wartime storytelling that doesn't treat the super-powered soldiers as frivolous additions, essentially turning into just another "superheroes in World War II" type of book.

Any Ideas for RPGs? Yes, of course. This book is ripe with ideas for people playing a "Weird Wars II" style game, using a system like Savage Worlds (or of course the system of your choice). I also remember there was a d20 WW2 Supers campaign setting called "Godlike" that I never picked up but from what I read about it, somethings like Über seems perfect for integrating into that setting and exploring the possibilities of how super-powered soldiers really would affect the war back then. 

Issue #3 hit the stands today.

This is... I'm not really sure how to describe it. Part hard-boiled detective story, part supernatural thriller, part redemption story, all thrown together in an unpredictable ride that keeps you guessing as you read it, trying to figure out exactly just what kind of story you're reading, and then marveling that where you end up is nothing at all like where you thought you'd be. 

But What's It About Really? [Minor Spoilers] Joe Fitzgerald is a former hit-man who was killed while trying to finish "one last job" and now works for "the powers above" to do jobs for them when they ask. In return, every time he dies while committing a righteous act, he is allowed to spend a few minutes in Heaven with his beloved wife, who was killed at the same time Joe was. In order to make money to pay the rent, Joe takes on jobs for hard-luck cases, charging ten thousand dollars, an amount that he thinks will weed out the crazies, but isn't so much that someone who really needs his help couldn't somehow scrape it up. The first case we witness is finding a missing girl, who it turns out was kidnapped by a cult. Then things start to get weird...

Why You Should Read It: This book has two of the industry greats as the creative team - writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Spider-Man) and artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell) have created such a cool concept, and a great character in the form of the "protagonist" Joe, that I was instantly grabbed by the first issue. The writing on this is just top-notch, but that's not to discount the art, which fits the story perfectly.

Any Ideas for RPGs? Yes, again. There's lots of great adventure stuff in here for GMs running a supernatural type modern game, and the strength of Straczynski's writing provides plenty of character studies that can be copied or serve as inspiration for players as well as for GMs designing NPCs.

Issue #3 hit the stands today.

This is a brand new title by fan-favorite author Greg Rucka (Queen & Country, Gotham Central) and artist Michael Lark (Batman, Gotham Central) that my comic shop guys added to my list because "You like good comics." I believe that was the rationale they used. People have been looking forward to this one for a long time apparently.

This is a semi-post apocalyptic book where the world's wealth and power is essentially held in the hands of about 0.0000001% of powerful families. Besides the main family members, each family has "serfs" who are people like guards and servants and stuff. Everyone else is called "Waste." And each family also has one specially selected family member who is given special education, training, combat skills, technology, and other assets, and becomes their family's sword, shield, and protector. They are renamed "Lazarus." As the title implies, there's some abilities for a Lazarus to come back from the dead via some advanced medical science they're been imbued with.

Lazarus the comic is about the Lazarus of Family Carlyle, a woman known as Forever, and what it means to be expected to be an emotionless enforcer and killer for her family.

Why You Should Read It: The world-building in this book is simply amazing. There is so much detail and thought that went into creating the world and how things work. As a bonus in the first issue, there's an interview with Rucka where he talks about where the idea sprang from and the resources he used to help craft the world in which the story takes place. The science, economics, and everything have been well thought-out.

Any Ideas for RPGs? See above on "why you should read it." This is a great example of how one simple idea can spawn the creation of a whole setting and world, and it's something that every role-player can learn from.

Issue #1 came out last week.

This is a bit of a cheat because The Wake is published by Vertigo, which is an imprint of DC Comics, so it's not technically independent. But, it's not part of their New 52 superhero line, and the Vertigo comics have a whole different sensibility that's much closer to an independent mentality, so I'm going to go ahead and include it here.

The best way to describe this book is "underwater horror story." But there's some time-travel involved, government conspiracies, crazy scientists, and some vaguely Cthulhu-esque underwater guys that are pretty darn creepy. And it's set in an underwater research station in which all of the main characters are, for all intents and purposes, trapped.

Why You Should Read It: This is horror storytelling at its best. It's not gory, although there is blood and stuff like that, but it's horror in the sense of creepy and downright scary. It almost reads like a movie script - the visuals combined with the writing really help you to fill in the gaps and see what's happening. It's written by current Batman writer Scott Snyder, and he's just superb here. The art is by Sean Murphy, best known for his work on Teen Titans, Hellblazer, and Sean of the Dead. His work here is extremely evocative and moody, with a level of detail that's perfect for this type of book.

Any Ideas for RGPs? Running an underwater session - or do you want to run one? Or do you just need ideas on how to incorporate the feeling of claustrophobia into your game? Perhaps you need some ideas on what it might feel like for a character to see something that really isn't there, and moreover, they know that it shouldn't be there, but they see it anyway. What might that do to a person who is trapped in a confined space with people he doesn't really trust...?

Issue #2 came out last week.

This isn't the full list of my favorite independent comics, but I'll definitely be writing more reviews on those in the future.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Iced tea with a splash of lemonade
Listening: "Django" by the Modern Jazz Quartet


  1. I'm a little surprised to see a Vertigo title on your list not because it's not good but because I'm sure DC said they were shutting Vertigo down. I suppose they must have changed their minds on that one.

    Godlike uses the d10-based One Roll Engine and it looks quite fun but I don't know whether it would support a full campaign.

    1. There were some issues with Vertigo and many of the titles were canceled or just completely changed (e.g., Hellblazer was canceled and replaced with Constantine, which is part of the "main" New 52 universe and doesn't just have the same edge any more). Then the editor left (or was fired... I can't recall) and it looked like the writing was on the wall.

      Recently, they just hired a brand new editor and announced six new titles, and also a new mini-series prequel to Sandman written by none other than Neil Gaiman, and there's a new American Vampire series coming out, and they just brought back Astro City by Kurt Busiek.

      Looks like they're really trying to make a go of it.


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