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Sweet Smell of Success

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Jeff Lemire is living out the comic book fairy tale, starting as a Xeric Award-winning self publisher to indie superstar and, now, the creator of Vertigo’s latest ongoing, Sweet Tooth.

You see them at conventions, prowling the internet and attending courses on how to break into or write for comics. These are the hopeful. The fans whose lifelong dream is to become a comics creator for either DC or Marvel.

Their road is a long and difficult one and for every person who breaks through there are hundreds who never make it. But the one beacon of hope for every wannabe writer or artist is that true talent does win out. An example of this happens this week as Jeff Lemire begins a new ongoing series for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

Lemire’s rise to this point was meteoric. While it wasn’t overnight, it did take only four years to go from the realm of self-publishing to working for one of the big two. And he garnered accolades and awards along the way.

The writer/artist broke on the scene in 2005 with his self-published effort, Lost Dogs. This debut effort won the award that year from the Xeric Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing talented artists and giving them grants to help defray the cost of self-publishing.

The Xeric Foundation was not the only ones who recognized Lemire’s talent. Top Shelf published the creator’s next effort, Tales from the Farm in 2008, which would become part of his Essex County Trilogy.

If Lost Dogs put Lemire’s name on the map, the Essex County Trilogy made people stand up and take notice. The trilogy won Lemire the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Award for Outstanding Cartoonist, The Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent, and the Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award recognizing it as one of the books written for adults that have appeal for young adults. In addition to all of these honors, the series received good notices from Entertainment Weekly, Whitney Matheson of USA Today, and Blair Butler of G4TV.

Even with that much acclaim, independent creators have a hard time breaking in at Marvel or DC. Luckily for Lemire, he caught the eye of Vertigo’s editorial staff.

Lemire made his Vertigo debut earlier this year with a graphic novel called The Nobody. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, it told the story of a disfigured man looking to start a new life in a small town, but the mystery surrounding him stirs up the town. While the graphic novel was hitting stands, Vertigo was starting to solicit Sweet Tooth to stores.

Sweet Tooth is the tale of a post-pandemic America inhabited by a handful of human survivors and the seemingly immune human-animal hybrids. Gus is a cross between a man and a deer that must fend for himself in the devastated world, his only companion and protector being a brutish drifter named Jepperd. Together, they set off to find a legendary sanctuary called “The Preserve” where Gus can be with his own kind.

The concepts in the new series aren’t entirely new. Lemire previously examined a young man bonding with a simple yet hulking adult in Tales from the Farm. The post-pandemic wasteland has been the focus of stories ranging from The Stand to just about any zombie fiction you can name. Heck, even the alienated half-deer/half-boy was looked at, of all places, in the video for Fall Out Boy’s single “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.”

But while the pieces might not be all that original, that doesn’t mean that the whole will not be unique. Lemire’s writing style is haunting and full of melancholy, and his simple, yet expressive artwork aids in the storytelling. His fans know that Lemire will make this series into something special.

There might be some haters out there who have never read anything by him who think his success is undeserved. Well, Sweet Tooth #1 is only $1.00. You can find out for yourself whether all the acclaim and success is warranted. You might be surprised at what you find.

Also out this week:

Magog #1

Magog was created in the pages of the Kingdom Come miniseries as a none-too subtle, and none-too-positive commentary on the big-gun-wielding, big-shoulder-pad-wearing, shoot-first-and-don’t-bother-to-ask-questions characters popularized by Marvel and Image in the 1990s. In other words, the character was a negative view on what was in comics of the day.

Flash forward 13 years for a dose of irony. Not only has Magog been introduced into the mainstream DC Universe, but he is starring in a brand-new ongoing series. No, he doesn’t get a miniseries like most other characters get, he gets a full-on ongoing from the get go. And my guess would be that it will be commenting on absolutely nothing. What a difference a decade makes.

Keith Giffen (W), Howard Porter (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Strange Tales #1

The term “eagerly awaited” is often used in comics, but I don’t think it applies to Peter Bagge’s “The Incorrigible Hulk,” because it is hard to await something that looked like it would never arrive.

Back in Marvel’s more adventurous days, they commissioned the indie legend to create two stories featuring their most famous characters, Spider-Man and Hulk. Bagge’s The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man hit shelves in 2002, but a regime change and a string of successful films made Incorrigible too risky to release. It sat in a file cabinet for nine years. But this week it is finally sees the light of day.

Bagge’s story appears in this anthology and he is joined by some of the biggest names in independent comics such as Dash Shaw, James Kochalka and Jason all working on Marvel properties. An excellent bridge between the world of mainstream and art house comics!

Various (W), Various (A), Marvel Comics, $4.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Cars: Radiator Springs #1

I don’t know if this speaks to the popularity of each individual Pixar franchise, but the Incredibles follows up it’s introductory BOOM! Studios miniseries with a bright and shiny ongoing. Cars follows its miniseries with…another miniseries? Maybe it’s just that the powers that be thought the animated superheroes were a better pick for a regular series.

Anyway, this series should be a special treat for fans of the film, as it will delve into the backgrounds of some of the other residents of Radiator Springs. The film couldn’t tell us everything about the supporting cast, so this series will correct that for us all. First up is Flo and Ramon with tales of how the other cars came to this town to follow.

Alan J. Porter (W), Albert Carreres (A), BOOM! Studios, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Red Tornado #1

He might be the Rodney Dangerfield of the DC Universe, as he doesn’t get a lot of respect. He is considered by some a poor imitation of Marvel’s Vision (both are robots created by villains to infiltrate and destroy the JLA and Avengers respectively, only to turn against their masters) even though Red Tornado appeared two months prior to the Vision.

While Aquaman and Hawkman get more attention for their numerous revamps and retcons, Reddy has had his share of those, too. He has become an air elemental, a chaperone for Young Justice, and been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over his 40 year history.

Well, the Red Tornado is heading for yet another revamp, and he is being retconned to be one of many other “Red” robots which include Red Torpedo, Red Inferno and Red Volcano. Will this one be the one that gives the character the respect it deserves? Maybe, maybe not.

Kevin VanHook (W), Jose Luisi (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

The Torch #1

Speaking of robots with a lot of deaths and resurrections, we come to the Golden Age Human Torch. He was one of Marvel’s first characters and one of the last to be revived. He has had his share of different incarnations (including a brief period when it was believed he was reconstructed as the Vision, to tie everything together) and has been destroyed again and again.

His status currently stands as destroyed, but, perhaps, not for long. In honor of Marvel’s 70th anniversary, the company looks to bring the classic character back, and one of the major players is a man who has a certain affinity for the Golden Age—Alex Ross. Two robot revamps in one week. This could be the start of a trend!

Mike Carey & Alex Ross (W), Patrick Berkenkotter (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Eight-Issue Miniseries.

Robert E. Howard's Thulsa Doom #1

How creative was Robert E. Howard? So creative that even his bad guys get comic books of their own.

Thulsa was a bad guy who plagued Kull in one of Howard’s stories and went on to face the character when Kull made the move to comic books. After the Kull comic was cancelled, Thulsa went on to pester another Howard creation, Conan the Barbarian, in his comic book. He even was the bad guy in the Conan the Barbarian film, portrayed by James Earl Jones (going to show that Darth Vader wasn’t the only baddie Mr. Jones had a role in bringing to the screen).

While Kull and Conan are over at Dark Horse, Red Sonja is at Dynamite. So Thulsa has gone on to plague his third Howard creation. This series’ first arc will show his rise to power. 

Arvid Nelson (W), Lui Antonio (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Marvel Zombies Return: Spider-Man #1

I think the Marvel Zombies phenomenon has just about run out of steam. It should. After four miniseries, a crossover with Army of Darkness and assorted tie-ins and one-shots, Marvel is just about at the end of what they can say about the franchise. Well, other than a full-on attack on the regular Marvel universe, but the chances of that happening are slimmer than the Zombie Scott Summers.

But Marvel isn’t one to give it’s successful sub-genre go away with out a bang, and that is just what the are doing. Every week this month, a new one-shot will hit stores, most written by authors with experience in the zombie horror prose genre, including Monster Island’s David Wellington, Patient Zero’s Jonathan Mayberry, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ Seth Grahame-Smith. These authors will be bookended by the most recent Marvel Zombies scribe Fred Van Lente.

Fred Van Lente (W), Nick Dragotta (A), Marvel Comics, $5.99. One-Shot.

Solomon Grundy #7

While DC’s Solomon Grundy is not your normal zombie, he is a member of the undead. It has been established that his body consists of wood and plant matter instead of rotting skin and bones, but he definitely died and has come back to a shambling mockery of life.

So, it’s only natural that since he is a dead man walking, he would be pulled into the Blackest Knight crossover. His cursed alter ego, Cyrus Gold, was on a quest to get rid of the curse that made him change into Grundy before the Blackest Night hit. Did he succeed, or was he too late? Well, since Bizarro and Man-Bat face off against a Black Lantern Grundy in the pages of Superman/Batman, my guess is that he was too late.

Scott Kolins (W/A), DC Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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