Our latest round up of some of the best indie comics around sees us look at: dark superheroes in Ruthless, burnt out rock stars who go on multi-dimensional adventures in Eric; and shamanic Peruvian gangsters in Trujillo.
Ruthless #1 (VellEity Comics)
Ruthless is a dark take on the cult of superheroes and their influence on young kids. Ruth is from a poor family who is being raised by her hard working older sister and crazy nana and is obsessed with superhero the Grey Phantom. But when tragedy befalls the family she looks to escape the grimness of reality and escape into the world of superheroes. But instead of turning to her one time hero, she seeks his nemesis online, the dreaded Bubak. This kind of unconventional twist on the cult of heroes has a very Mark Millar-esque tone to it, and the graphic promo art for issue #2 reinforces that. It’s not a cheery read and scenes such as Ruth being bullied at school or the big reveal of Bubak are particularly harrowing and macabre – but it makes for a more interesting read as a result. The art style reminded us of early Greg Capullo on Spawn with a scratchy style that revels in the darker moments, while the black and white artwork avoids that traditional negative of indie superhero books – sub standard digital colouring – but it could do with something to help lift the artwork. Ruthless certainly feels fresher than many of the other dark superhero books we read, and with it’s a strong central premise mixed with a good understanding of the genre it make it feel like a book which has enough of an edge to sustain a really interesting series.
Eric by Tom Manning
Tom Manning’s latest graphic (the follow up to 2015’s Run Off) starts in fairly familiar circumstances. Our titular hero is a washed up rockstar from the 60s, who owes a lot of similarities to Brian Wilson – from the surf pop start to the drug addled present. But when his manager attempts to reignite his career with a Best Of Collection it leads to a breakdown on morning TV that sees Eric encounter strange characters who may be from another dimension or may just be figments of his imagination. As his first TV appearance goes viral his career begins to take off and an appearance on late night TV sees him transverse multiple realties while performing a song and creates a surreal and psychedelic series of scenarios which leaves the reader as confused and confounded as Eric himself. Eric is a difficult book to sum up, as describing the events in it don’t really do it justice. It’s one of those books which revels in it’s non-conformity and has the confidence to take the story in really strange and peculiar directions, meaning you have to embrace the weirdness and soldier on regardless as it pays off in the end. After the familiar rock star story start, it evolves into whole chapters which see Eric involved in a western style train heist, while he is also pursued by sinister owl like creatures who are reminiscent of those in Scott Snyder’s Batman run. At first you assume this is all just some latent acid trip in the brain of Eric, but Manning manages to make it into much more than that. It’s has elements of a science fiction pulp adventure, but with the intelligence and ambition of Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison – while never loosing sight of a musical/counter culture core running through out. The artwork has a kind of comix rawness to it in terms of composition, but the slick finishing of a more contemporary book. It touches on the darker side of the 60s as well as what it is to be famous and while not always the easiest of reads, Manning’s confident tone and ambitious direction makes it feel like something you’ve never encountered before and that is no bad thing.