Five Underrated Comics You Should Be Reading
By Robert Starsmore (@Jono616)
With only the top few books even approaching 100,000 copies sold each month, you could make the argument that all comics are underrated when compared to the summer blockbusters they inspire. I wanted to highlight five series that I find particularly underrated even among the comics reading audience. Sales figures are based on estimates by Comichron.
1) Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme
For years I’ve heard comic creators say one of the dream characters they want to work on would be Doctor Strange, but editors always told them as a rule Doctor Strange books do not sell well. When Marvel announced they were making a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange you knew that rule would change. What I was not expecting however, was two ongoing series starring the Sorcerer Supreme. When this book launched I assumed it would be a mini-series, but with an 8th issue recently solicited it seems like this series is continuing for a while – and here is the thing, they could have just made this series the main title. Don’t get me wrong, I like what Jason Aaron is doing with his book, but Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme, written by Robbie Thompson and drawn by Javier Rodriguez, is everything I want from a Doctor Strange comic. The premise of this series is that Merlin (yes that Merlin) has pulled various Sorcerer Supremes from throughout time to help fight a powerful enemy. These sorcerers include Sir Isaac Newton, an adult version of Wiccan and a teenage version of the (at the moment not so) Ancient One. Rodriguez’ pencils provide the whimsy and surrealism that a book about this many magic based characters needs. This series proves that a comic does not have to have universe shattering ramifications, it can just be a fun adventure story. With issue 5 selling at 19, 402 copies this series is only selling about 10,000 less than the main title but far below where such a well done Marvel comic should be.
The elevator pitch for Birthright, by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan, is what happens to the characters from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Never Ending Story after the adventure. For a child who has experienced this whole other realm full of untold wonders how can they return to a world that has been standing still while they have gone through this huge transformation. It plays out a little differently in this comic, in that when the kid in question comes home he is a full grown adult who looks like he would be played by Jason Momoa or Chris Hemsworth in a movie adaptation. Throughout the series we get flashes back to what happened to him in the fantasy realm of Terranos as we find out what leads to the first issue twist that he might not be quite the hero we think he is. As much as this is a full on fantasy series, at its heart Birthright is a story about family. While Mikey was away only a year went by in the real world, but in that time his family fell apart. Now as they try to figure out who this warrior claiming to be their son is they have to figure out how to revive those relationships – including some surprise additions to the family along the way. With issue #22 selling 7,025 copies this book has far less readership than it deserves.
3) Deadly Class
If Stranger Things was a love letter to the 80’s movies, Deadly Class is simultaneously a love letter and a middle finger to being a teenager in the 80’s. If being a teenager is not hard enough, this series is follows a group of students at an underground high school for training assassins. Literally, the school is located in an underground cavern. I will put a disclaimer that I know this series is not for everyone – it is crass and violent featuring explicit sex and drug use. While we root for the main characters I would hesitate to describe them as likeable. All of that is to say, I love this comic. Deadly Class is a great example of an entire creative team working perfectly in synch. Writer Rick Remender imbues the book with autobiographical details, which give the story the authenticity it needs to sell this bizarre premise. Jordan Boyd and Rus Wooton provide pitch perfect colors and lettering respectively. The star of the show for me is Wes Craig’s pencils – they are kinetic, expressive and the way he uses negative space is amazing. Issue #26 sold only 9,760 copies, but this series also has the biggest possibility to see a huge jump in readership as it has been optioned by the Russo Brothers (who directed Captain America Winter Soldier and Civil War) and if it gets a TV series I would expect to see a huge jump in the sales of trade paperbacks (collections of single issues) at least. If this sounds interesting to you there are two great jumping on points. A new school year just started with issue #22 giving us a whole new set of freshmen to follow. Alternatively, if you want to go back to the beginning Image comics has an incredibly smart introductory trade program where the first collection of all their comics are priced at $9.99 making it super easy to give this series a shot.
Even among the “Big 2” publishers, anthologies have always been a notoriously hard sell. With issue #13 selling only 3,957 copies it is very evident that for editors Brandon Graham and Emma Rios Island is an absolute passion project. The book carries a $7.99 price tag which makes it a tougher sell for retailers, but each issue is also 100+ pages with beautiful oversized art. Most science fiction anthologies feature shorter stories around 8 pages or so, and one of the things I love about this series is that the bulk of each issue is comprised of 2 or 3 longer stories which really allow them to breath. This series is weird in the best sense of the word. There are issues that feel like one big fever dream. If you are coming from mainstream comics Island might be a little jarring, but if you are looking to expand your comic horizons this is a great sampler for what else the medium has to offer. It has new installments of existing properties including Farel Darymple’s “Pop Gun War”, Fil Barlow’s “Zooniverse” and Brandon Graham’s “Multiple Warheads”. This book has also been a great platform for creators known primarily as artist to showcase their writing ability too with stories like Simon Roy’s “Habitat” and Emma Rios’ “I.D”. Some material from this anthology such as “Habitat” and “I.D” has been collected in their own trades but for the bulk of the material, including a lot of shorter pieces and art pages Island is the only place to find it, so do yourself a favor and challenge your perception of what comics can be.
5) Green Lanterns
With the highest sales on the list (and me having previously written an article about it), this one is kind of a cheat, but I will take any opportunity I can to champion this series! Plus, I wanted to include a DC book and when it comes to their much underrated Young Animal line so far I am part of the problem not part of the solution. Looking at the last couple months of sales data Green Lanterns has been dropping about 1,000 copies sold per issue which means it has yet to find its bottom, and that is a distressing trend for such a wonderful series. However it is not just the drop in numbers that made me include the book on this list – this series is underrated in a different sense of the word, while it still sells well I’m surprised at how little I see this series talked about online. Books like Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur have a huge following among the Tumblr crowd and I just don’t see this book mentioned in that same light. This book is not only a well done superhero comic, but a great example of diversity done right.