Sunday on the Broken Frontier

I almost never do this, build a whole column around a single book. But once in a while, a project comes along that's worth putting front and center.

Recently, I've been going through one of these 'meh' periods long-time comics fans go through every so often; you know, when you look around the comics world and you think, Jeez, what a rut we're in. DC's rebooting their whole line again, Marvel's relaunching a bunch of their core titles with new #1 issues again, and everywhere I look it's nothing but stunts and crossovers and other similar flailing from a comics industry that looks like it's trying to survive by eating itself, and I wonder why I still bother with the damn things at all.

This is usually when I get the forcible reminder that Marvel and DC aren't the whole comics industry. Really, they're not even mainstream any more. Superhero comics are a hobbyist thing now, relegated to an insular specialty market that's about on the same level with the one for model train enthusiasts and scrapbookers.

But the important thing to remember, the thing that is so easy to forget when you spend too much time inside the superhero bubble, is that comics, the artform, is healthier than ever. This is really one of the best times to be a comics reader in the history of the medium in terms of the diversity of the material available and how much of it is out there. "Mainstream" is all about indy publishers and bookstores and the internet. That's where the real action is.

And this week, exhibit A for the current explosion of cool comics all over the place is Broken Frontier, a massive new anthology from A Wave Blue World.

It's almost three hundred pages of brand-new work from both proven talents and new faces and it just left me grinning like a little kid at how great it was. I think the last time I had a big dopey grin on my face like that at an unexpectedly-awesome new comics discovery like Broken Frontier was stumbling across Star*Reach from Mike Friedrich back when I was in high school... a project that Broken Frontier has a great many similarities to.

Now, full disclosure-- Tyler Chin-Tanner, the co-editor of Broken Frontier and the honcho at A Wave Blue World, is a friend of ours. We met when he was our booth neighbor at Emerald City a few years ago and we occasionally correspond. But Tyler's just one of forty creators represented in this book. Among the others are familiar names like Fred Van Lente, Cullen Bunn, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, as well as names new to me like Carla Berrocal and Edie OP.

The project was produced in tandem with Frederik Hautain of the Broken Frontier website and funded through Kickstarter. It's exactly the kind of new-media project all of us comics pundits have been suggesting, hoping for, and daydreaming about for the last decade or so.... getting out of the box with something where creators didn't have to worry about licensing problems or company-wide continuity or whatever, and instead could just cut loose and tell stories. The more I think about it, the more Broken Frontier strikes me as being basically the equivalent of the Dangerous Visions science fiction anthologies in the sixties and seventies-- but done for comics.

Rarely if ever does every story in an anthology hit with me-- not even in the aforementioned Dangerous Visions or Star*Reach -- but I don't think there's a single entry in Broken Frontier that's a clunker. I quite liked "Phantom Limb Ghostpuncher," a straight-up horror-adventure piece from Greg Pak and Tom Raney.

The title makes it sound like some sort of in-your-face parody thing like Judge Dredd but really it was a lot more than that, it had real depth and pathos.

My only complaint is that it was over too soon. I wanted more.

Then there's goofball stuff like "The Beard" from Fred Van Lente and Alison Sampson...

The wonderfully lyrical and gorgeous "In the Night, Mountains Grew" by Marguerite Bennett and Varga Tomi...

"Dark, Dark World" from Cullen Bunn and Nathan Fox...

...I could go on and on. But I won't, because first of all I'm gushing and it's a little embarrassing, and more importantly, you should check it out yourself. The book itself is $40, which is really quite reasonable considering it's 27 stories, hardcover, in full color. You can pre-order it here. Or go get one yourself at the Emerald City Comic-Con in a month or so, because that's where it makes its public debut. Or get a digital copy from Comixology for $19.99.

However you do it, you should get one. Especially if you're having a crabby-old-fan moment about current superhero comics like I was. There's lots of genre material in Broken Frontier that feeds that hell-for-leather, let's-GO-for-it love of adventure stories that got me into comics in the first place. Not just "Ghostpuncher" but also stories like "Plunder" from Phil Hester and Danial Warren Johnson and "It's About Time" from Hautain and Percio, but those were just the ones that jumped out at me; there's all kinds of other stuff in there too. Like we always say around here, the best cure for bad comics is good comics.... and despite what it feels like in the superhero corner sometimes, there's plenty of those out there. This is just one of them. Treat yourself. Explore a little.

See you next week.

Hardcore: Reloaded #1

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