Limited-Run Comic Books: Three Obscure and Worthwhile Series
Well, ol’ Johnny got himself a new subject: comic books! Which means he gets to spend his first article gushing over some of his favorite stories. Some of those favorites are major events in major labels with excellent character arcs, such as DC’s Identity Crisis or Marvel’s Civil War. Other times, I show love to series that were recommended to me by friends and experts of graphic novel fandom; series I would never have heard about otherwise.
By way of passing that passion on to you, the Hobbes Lives readers, I’d like to gush over three particular limited-run series I’ve enjoyed over the last few years. One of them is a completed epic of adventure satire; the other two are ongoing series–one a tale of fantasy horror nearing its morbid end, the other a space-faring saga of never-yielding weirdness. Even if you’re not a fan of comics, or if you’re just looking for something outside the purely mainstream, hopefully there’s a new favorite to be found here!
What do you get when you mix Indiana Jones, The X-Files, and a century of pulp fiction? Thankfully, not another awful alien-studded Jones sequel. It’s Planetary: the wild, gorgeously illustrated journey of five “archaeologists of the impossible” through 100 years of superhero history.
Created by writer Warren Ellis and illustrator John Cassaday, Planetary sets up a reality separate from, but adjacent to and heavily influenced by, the pop culture icons of Marvel and DC, not to mention Godzilla, Dracula, Doc Savage and more. The three protagonists, who work for the Planetary organization to uncover these mysteries of the universe, have abilities of their own, ranging from the familiar (Jakita Wagner is super-strong and Elijah Snow is cold, man) to the delightfully abstract (The Drummer can see and communicate with information streams–all kinds).
The team’s adventures seem fairly routine at first; that is, if you can call the discovery of the multiverse and giant island monsters routine. Mostly, their duties for Planetary seem to be observational and non-confrontational. That’s when “The Four” arrive on the scene. A familiar-looking four-person team, who in an alternate universe are heroes, but in the universe of Planetary are hell-bent on keeping all the world’s extraordinary secrets to themselves, on trouncing all of Planetary’s plans and ideals.
And from the beginning, there are tantalizing secrets to uncover. Who is Elijah Snow, and why did Planetary seek him out? Why were so many extraordinary people born on January 1, 1900? Will the electric UFO gods appoint The Drummer manager of the universe when they transphase in from dimension 10? Save for that last one, with a solid arc of 27 issues, Planetary wraps everything up neatly and satisfyingly.
While not existing directly in the DC universe, Planetary is owned by Wildstorm, and therefore by DC, which allowed for a quite amusing Batman crossover (keep your eyes peeled for the special bat-spray). To my knowledge, any talk of making a movie or TV series from the franchise didn’t go far, which would be an impressive challenge to take on–not just for the series’ hyper-technical sci-fi jargon, but for the casting (Josh Brolin as Snow?). Perhaps Planetary is a franchise best left untouched, that it might exist solely as pulp satire perfection on the printed page.
Locke & Key
What if you could open a door and become a ghost for an afternoon? What if you could unlock your own head and toy with your knowledge and inner demons directly? What if a series existed that employed the brilliant conceit of magical keys that unlock infinite fantastic possibilities? That series would be called Locke & Key.
Whereas Planetary allows conflict to manifest itself later on, the story of L&K is born on the back of horrible conflict. A seemingly deranged teen murders Rendell Locke, the patriarch of the Locke family, causing his wife and three children to uproot their lives and head east to Lovecraft, Massachusetts, Rendell’s boyhood home. And in the course of exploring Keyhouse, their father’s mansion, the kids–especially Bode, the youngest–discover a great array of keys. These keys have the power to unlock the secrets of the mind, the power of the living shadows, and passage between life and death, and much, much more!
But while the Lockes unlock the mysteries of Keyhouse, their father’s killer is hatching a scheme to follow them east, aided by a mysterious mystical spectre Bode comes to know as ‘the lady in the well.’ Her true nature and intentions for the Locke family become clearer as the series continues, and with only two issues to go before the series runs its course this summer, things are really coming to a head. The family may have survived this long, but I am consumed with dread for what is to unfold!
Writer Joe Hill, quite literally the heir to the twisted mind of Stephen King, has concocted a universe of fantasy and horror that may be downright terrifying, but is as real and easily accessible as anything you’ll come across on your comic or bookshelf, with tightly written teenage angst that JK Rowling WISHES she could nail down. Complemented by Gabriel Rodriguez’s precise but unique art style, Locke & Key is probably my favorite limited-run series to date. Hell, it’s so accessible that FOX nearly picked it up as an ongoing TV series! But, well, you know how FOX is… Stay tuned for new Arrested Development episodes on Netflix!
Renowned comic writer Brian K. Vaughan (also a writer for some seasons of Lost) wanted to write an outer space sci-fi series to match favorite tales from his childhood, especially Star Wars. It seems, however, that a story about a mystical “Force” and a quasi-religious order doing battle with noisy glowsticks was waaay too straightforward to match his bold, and often raunchy, imagination.
Enter: Saga. The tale of Marko and Alana, two actual star-crossed lovers fleeing for their lives and that of their newborn child, from the seemingly endless conflict between their two alien races. Incorporating elements of magic and bizarre tech, Saga is a world replete with spell-casting swords, human wings (both real and robotic), a race of TV-headed humanoids, and something called a Sextillion, which is pretty self-explanatory.
Sound like too much to take in? Never fear, because at the core of Saga‘s journey is a chemistry and an increasingly hilarious dialogue between the two protagonists that overflows with genuine wit and affection. I was skeptical just looking and the first volume’s cover, but despite their wings and horns, Marko and Alana are perhaps the most genuine couple I have ever encountered in comics or otherwise. And they get to explore the mysteries of space while falling deeper in love!
Saga is a series that explores all visual possibilities–the art spearheaded by Vaughan’s imagination equal, Fiona Staples. The eye-catching boldness of the series even sparked a recent quasi-controversy, when online content provider Comixology seemingly misinterpreted Apple’s content policies and briefly withheld an issue portraying some forms of gay intercourse. I will reiterate here that early on, the series featured a place known as Sextillion, which is what it sounds like and appeared accordingly. Vaughan insists that all images featured in Saga are for storytelling purposes, so that includes the Sextillion, the gay stuff, and the giant with the mountainous testicles (just assume I’m telling you the truth when it comes to this series).
Suffice it to say that Saga may not be for those with delicate sensibilities, but for readers seeking to revel in literary and illustrated imagination, it simply can’t be bear. And with only 12 issues in print, there’s plenty more to come, and plenty more for Marko, Alana, and baby Hazel to see.
So there you have it, three excellent graphic miniseries. If you pick up just one of these limited-run comics in each of their respective genres, I’ll feel that I’ve done my job. If instead you ignore my passionate recommendations, prepare thyself for the hot, steamy wrath of vengeance! Or I’ll just try again later with some different series.
Mikael Page, codename “Here’s Johnny,” is an NYC-based comedian, writer, and Amazon shopper. Check him out on YouTube, and if you see the UPS guy, tell him he owes Mikael two new electric toothbrush heads.