New York Comic Con kicked off on Thursday, attracting comics and pop-culture fanatics from around the globe to the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan for celebrities and cosplay. Oh, and comics. Here’s a selection of the 10 most subversive comics we spotted at NYCC.
10. Zenith: Phase One
This one provides a couple of twists on the tried-and-true comics standby, the superhero. Reprinted after a long dormancy, Grant Morrison and Steve Yowell’s Zenith: Phase One pushes against the ideal of the superhero, depicting its lead character as an entitled pop-star prick who nonetheless stands between the world and cosmic annihilation ($25, 2000 AD). And the more modern Suicide Risk by Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande explores the idea of drugs that create superpowers…and a rush of superpowers that inevitably creates violent assholes. With great power comes a lack of accountability, no matter what the better angels of our nature say.
Proudly feminist, and unashamedly fun, Lumberjanes is an all-ages book focusing on monster-fighting girls at summer camp, kickin’ booty and having ridiculously cute adventures. Written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, with appealing, energetic art by Brooke Allen, these canoe trips are plagued by river monsters, and spelunking leads to ancient temples. And as a kids’ book inclusive of same-sex relationships, and a scouting organization that doesn’t get hung up with the God thing, Lumberjanes brims with girl power and personality. ($3.99/issue, Boom!)
8. Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd: Any of the chronicles of the top cop of Mega-City One will do — in these days of police overreach and regular reports of unwarranted uses of force, Dredd is more relevant than ever. “People who say they wish Judge Dredd were around miss the point,” says 2000 AD’s Michael Molcher. “He’s a warning.” Beyond satirizing the police state, the comic also takes wicked aim at other aspects of American culture. So why not start with Judge Dredd: Fatties ($15), and get a glimpse at the overindulgent lifestyle of Dredd’s world…and then resolve to hit the gym right after the con.
7. 36 Lessons in Self Destruction
Closer to home is 36 Lessons in Self Destruction ($15, Locust Moon Press), a collection of Rob Woods’s Depressed Punx comics. Living on the fringe in Philadelphia, dealing with poverty and mental illness, Woods relates his experiences through a number of recurring characters, such as Downer Duck (a cranky mallard who rants in his thought balloons, but can only express himself by inarticulate quacking) and Dopey Danny Doofus the Dedicated Dickhead, always on the brink of suicide without the competence to pull it off. Heartfelt stories from underground.
6. The Undertaking of Lily Chen
Of course, political and religious subversions aren’t the only things on the plate. There’s also subversion of genre. Senior editor Callista Brill at First Second described Danica Novgorodoff’s The Undertaking of Lily Chen ($29.99) as “Sort of if the Coen brothers did a western and set it in modern China.” A woman on the run meets up with a man looking for a “corpse bride” he can bury with his dead brother (to prevent a lonely afterlife). A grim tale skewed by its setting, and its teller.
5. God Is Disappointed in You
Not quite a comic, God Is Disappointed in You ($19.95, Top Shelf) is a retelling of the Bible in more direct, modern language by Mark Russell, with cartoons by Shannon Wheeler. It makes the good, the bad, and the weird stuff in the Bible apparent for anyone to see, hanging its oddball dirty laundry out in plain view. The book design completes the subversive package, evoking an actual Bible with its leatherette cover and its silver-edged pages. And the words of Jesus (“Saul! Saul! What the hell, man?”) are in red.
Based on an idea by Alyssa Milano — and let’s acknowledge that I’m as surprised to be writing that as you are to be reading it — Hacktivist ($24.99, Archaia) follows a pair of social-media moguls who pull double duty as an Anonymous-like hacking collective, as they work to assist an Arab Spring-like revolution in Tunisia. Written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, and illustrated by Marcus To and Ian Herring, apparently all the hacking tricks have a degree of realism, having been enacted by Anonymous or other groups.
3. Climate Changed
Moving from the social to the scientific, we come to Climate Changed, by Philippe Squarzoni ($24.95, Abrams ComicsArts). Squarzoni is a journalist who didn’t know much about climate change as he began researching the book, and the volume follows him as he learns about it, digging deeper and interviewing experts in the field, all depicted with detailed black-and-white linework. (And while you’re at Abrams, check out Jean-Pierre Filiu & David B.’s Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations and 2012 bestseller My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf’s reminiscence of the serial killer as a young man.)
2. March, Book One
Right next to The Montgomery Story is March, Book One. The first of three graphic novels by U.S. Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March chronicles the Civil Rights movement through Lewis’s first-hand accounts and experiences. Lewis intends the book to have a similar effect to the Montgomery Story on a new generation. Book Two is due in January. ($14.95, Top Shelf)
1. The Montgomery Story
The most subversive comic available at New York Comic Con is at the Top Shelf booth, a reprint of The Montgomery Story, a comic first published in 1957 and approved by Martin Luther King Jr., who saw the pre-published pages and made editorial changes. Most important is a section in the back called “How the Montgomery Method Works,” a blueprint for passive resistance. This comic has been translated into countless languages (a Top Shelf rep showed me Spanish, Arabic, and Farsi). It’s an instruction book for changing the world, and it continues to do so. ($5, despite a 10-cent price on the cover.)
See also: Amazing New York Comic Con 2014 Cosplay