Welcome, readers! Welcome to The Humble Rumble! Join Deadshirt video game editor Kyle Herr and plucky newcomer Yen Nguyen as they bumble, fumble, and occasionally mumble through the contents of the newest Humble Bundles. For those of you out of the know, Humble Bundles are a (usually) bi-weekly collection of PC or Android games sold on a pay-what-you-will basis. The cool thing about them is that you can decide how you split your payment among the developers, the charities that Humble Bundle supports, and Humble Bundle’s own bandwidth costs. But enough explanations, let’s get down to the main event!
What does your dollar(s) get you?
Kyle: Welcome back to the Humble Rumble! This time we have a special treat for everyone, Deadshirt Comics Editor Max Robinson! Why is he here you ask? Because the newest Humble Bundle is brought to you by Image Comics. That’s right, Image is offering digital trades aimed at introducing new readers to some of their most popular titles.
Max: Yeah this is my first Humble Bundle purchase so, as a consumer, I was pretty fascinated by how this works. Image has really distinguished themselves lately by making big moves and wrangling top talent for creator-owned books, so offering the first volumes of some of their headliner books (in a variety of digital file formats) for an insanely low price like this is a huge deal. I should note that we’re only going to be discussing the seven books originally available for download, not the Walking Dead collections available at a higher donation or the handful of other books that were offered as free add-ons this week (Saga Vol.2, Invincible Vol. 1, Manhattan Projects Vol. 1).
Kyle: I’m not the most avid reader of comics, at least I haven’t picked up monthlies for awhile, so Max decided that this would be a good opportunity to take me to school. Let the lesson begin!
Space. TV robots nailing each other. A baby.
Max: Saga is Image’s crown jewel book. Saga marked Brian K. Vaughn’s return to comics after a pretty long hiatus and most of my comics friends read this. I’m a big fan of BKV’s Y: The Last Man and I liked the first five issues collected here, admittedly with some reservations.
Kyle: The extent of my knowledge when it comes to Saga was a panel from a comic that I saw reposted on twitter, but I am familiar with Brian K. Vaughn, if only because I’ve read a little of Y: The Last Man. This collection was not my favorite of the bunch, but I really did enjoy the universe that was built by these first five issues. The artwork and design was definitely my favorite aspect and the plot seemed alright too, I just couldn’t get into the dialog which seemed a little too casual and contemporary for the space opera setting.
Max: Vaughn seems to be deliberately pushing back against “sci-fi talk” with the dialogue in Saga and while I think that’s a cool idea, it’s definitely grating at times. The thing I really dig about Saga is that it just throws a whole bunch of shit at you really fast. “THERE’S A MASSIVE SPACE WAR AND A PLANET WITH A FOREST OF SPACE SHIPS AND GHOSTS WELL BYE.”
Kyle: That was definitely the strongest quality of Saga. Here is a man with a TV for a head fucking a lady with a TV for a head and they’re all just named Robot with a number after their names and are apparently some form of royalty. There’s also a Boba Fett bounty hunter guy and he was dating a giant spider lady at some point. The fact that this stuff just happens without some kind of dialog about how strange it is was probably the coolest thing that I noticed about this title.
Max: Fionna Staples brings so much to this, I think. Like you said, the art and design is really outstanding. That scene where The Will (the Boba Fett bounty hunter guy) goes to the weird sex planet and gets greeted by those horrifying “giant head on two legs” party girl aliens was like “wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Kyle: Great, now I remembered the giant party girl head aliens. Let’s just move on before you give me any more waking night terrors.
Dames and demons.
Max: I love Ed Brubaker comics and his frequent collaborations with Sean Phillips are always really good reads. They’ve done straight crime noir (Criminal) and noir-y superheroics (Sleeper and Incognito); Fatale is their take on a horror book.
Kyle: I can’t say that I’m at all familiar with Brubaker, Phillips, or this series, but I was pleasantly surprised once I got into it. I’m a sucker for noir and a bigger sucker for the kind of lingering cosmic horror elements that this book steadily introduced as the plot progressed. Art wise, I was a huge fan of the muted color scheme, I found it very fitting and it really did wonders for a few very subtle panels displaying the more ominous and grotesque nature of this story.
Max: Lovecraft stuff is pretty played out at this point, but Fatale makes that element really work by putting Lovecraft’s trademark “uncaring cosmic horror” alongside stock noir existentialism and seeing what happens to the characters. Series lead Jo is an immortal cursed with the ability to inspire ravenous lust in men and that’s a pretty interesting way to examine the concept of the “femme fatale.”
Kyle: Yeah, Jo was a pretty good example of a new twist on an old concept. I was impressed by the way that she was depicted and the way that Walter’s ability to see beyond the standard fabric of our reality was implemented. The fact that this curse was something that he eventually accepted, albeit begrudgingly, rather than simply going insane over was pretty damn interesting. Especially once he decides to bargain with the monsters that have plagued his periphery since childhood for a chance at ridding him of his cancer.
Max: There’s a bit right at the end of this that’s so goddamn creepy, in the epilogue? Total career highlight for Brubaker/Phillips.
C I B O P A T H Y
Max: Chew was sort of the first book in this newest wave of high concept Image books, definitely the first one I remember buying. There’s a lot to dig here.
Kyle: Chew is actually the only book on this list that I have read, and coincidentally is still my favorite. I really love this series and only stopped reading it due to dropping my pull list back in college to reduce the amount of money that I was spending every month. Who couldn’t love the concept of a Bird Flu epidemic wiping out large swaths of the world’s population, leading to a total federal ban on chicken and a black market centered around selling delicious fried fowl? Plus you know, the whole detective that can literally take a bite out of crime to catch a glimpse of the solution to a case angle.
Max: Chew’s a very fun book. Guillory’s art and Layman’s weird slapstick scripts work together pretty beautifully.
Kyle: Oh yeah, I love Guillory’s art! Everything is very exaggerated and full of expression, specifically the faces of the characters. I had a lot of fun rereading this one and caught a handful of things I missed the first time through.
Max: The bit where Tony’s splashzoned with vomit the second he falls in love is *kisses finger tips*.
Kyle: That panel really sums up the tone of Chew in the most perfect way possible.
It’s basically The Prisoner plus Degrassi
Max: Hi. I fucking hate this comic book, Kyle.
Kyle: I’m right there with you, pal.
Max: Nick Spencer’s written some comics I really like. He did a cool Jimmy Olsen back-up feature a few years ago and Superior Foes of Spider-Man is like crazy funny stuff. That said, Morning Glories is everything I don’t want in a comic. “Teens get sent to boarding school where nothing is what it seems” is a cool enough premise and this book…doesn’t really do anything with it?
Kyle: Not to mention that almost every one of those teens is extraordinarily unlikeable and there’s this random ghost man that they always run into with a penchant for intangibly shoving his hand into the back of peoples’ heads and popping their eyeballs out. I guess the school is run by supervillains or something? After reading this I still can’t tell what the spinning geometric shape machine that ghost man lives in is supposed to do and why the school is built around the thing since the whole premise of this first book is: “We need to get out of this place!”.
Max: I’m cool with long term plotting and setting up mysteries and stuff. I liked Lost! But Morning Glories just ADD runs from one weird for the sake of weird thing to the next with nothing keeping you interested. Even worse than that is the fact that there’s this weird hypersexualization of a bunch of 16 year old girl characters in the art. Dress shirts don’t cling to boobs like that, man.
Kyle: There’s no question that it’s gross, but I can’t say I’m surprised. This series is set in a boarding school after all. Maybe if it strayed away from that gross old relic I would have been able to put up with some of the other problems a bit more. But unfortunately everything just kind of comes together to form a perfect storm of shit.
Max: It’s the sort of art I’ll begrudgingly put up with in a Marvel or DC book but at Image, where there’s a real focus on having strong TEAMS on each book, it’s a black eye. Image is putting out a number of really interesting, ambitious books right now and Morning Glories honestly just feels like a lame network TV series pitch.
East of West
Hate, not heritage.
Max: Hickman’s a writer with a background in architecture and graphic design so it’s not much of a surprise that his books come together like a guy building a car. I didn’t love East of West as much as some of the other books in this bundle, but he lays a really solid foundation for future stories. Dragotta’s art, especially the extreme focus on really stark colors (whites, blacks, yellow-blue-green on the different horsemen of the apocalypse) really stands out.
Kyle: This book’s art was probably the strongest aspect in my opinion. The color themes that Max mentioned are really cool in that they kind of color code the horsemen based on their roles. The plot that it sets up is alright but again, lots of apocalyptic stuff in a lot of these comics. I’m not saying it’s a completely dried up well, but it’s hard to stay fresh when everyone is relying on it.
Max: The alternate history/future angle of this took a little while to warm up to but Hickman makes it work.
Kyle: I agree. Alternate history is something that can become a huge mess if it’s done poorly, but I think that it works here. So while this book wasn’t my favorite, it was at least notable in that it had some pretty decent art and an alternate history angle that works without being too heavy handed.
Zombies but not zombies.
Kyle: This book puts a really cool twist on the typical dead walking the earth plot. Out of a big pool of titles involving zombies or otherwise formerly dead people, this one seemed to be the freshest to me. It seemed grounded in reality, yet with an edge of magical realism. I really enjoyed the focus placed on how a family deals with both loss and crisis without another instance of channeling apocalyptic imagery. This is just a small town in Wisconsin where twenty-some people rose from the dead for some reason and the drama surrounding it.
Max: It was weird reading Jeff Lemire’s intro where he talks about how this isn’t like OTHER zombie comics and then you read it and it’s about a super-strong zombie lady murdering people?
Kyle: Ok yeah, there is some pretty standard zombie stuff in this book, I’ll admit it. That aside, I did really get into the setting and the artwork was eye catching to me most of the time. Especially the weird Pumpkinhead ghost thing.
Max: The Under The Dome-y premise didn’t light my world on fire, but I’ve been a fan of Mike Norton’s art since his Green Arrow/Black Canary run and I’m glad this book lets him cut loose a little with weird horror/small town stuff. I would’ve preferred more character focus rather than “set up a bunch of long term plot devices.”
Kyle: I agree with that. After finishing this book I don’t feel like anything was really resolved and it certainly doesn’t stand out as a standalone book, though not many of these really did. The fact that the main character is a single mother was really cool to me, but Seeley didn’t seem to do a whole lot with it. The plot seemed to focus more on her as a sister and a daughter than as a single mother trying to maintain her relationship with her son while trying to solve cases surrounding the “revivers.” I would have liked to see more story elements relating to that relationship than the others.
Max: The attempts at humor in this also fell really flat for me. “Old white guy loves rap!” “The bad guy loves Limp Bizkit!”
Kyle: Oh yeah, Limp Bizkit jokes. Another thing my subconscious was forcing me to ignore. Fucking thanks, Max.
Max: Comics are a tapestry, Kyle.
*holographic display screen*
Kyle: I never really thought that I needed a comic that seemingly goes out of it’s way to name the lead character in such a way that her name is almost exclusively a play on words, and it turns out that I was right. The dialog in Lazarus got to me in a similar way to the dialog in Saga. There were just so many instances where a sentence was ended with a character speaking the protagonist’s name, which happened to be “Forever.” This caused a lot of goofy sounding exchanges that sounded like everyone was musing about eternity.
Max: I liked Lazarus. It took a little while to get going, but the weird action sci-fi take on Dallas that it’s going for works for me. Naming the character “Forever Carlyle” was really dumb and yeah Rucka’s a little too precious about that. Lark’s pencils here are good and the big showcase moment of the four issues collected here (Forever facing off against an army of soldiers) was superbly paced and a treat to read. It’s interesting that there’s a ton of apocalyptic imagery/settings in almost all of these Image books.
Kyle: This one in particular, which is made more apparent by the need to label each location with some kind of population note that points out the number of “family members, serfs, and waste” in each area. I suppose it helps with world building, but it seemed pretty superfluous to me.
Max: A lighter touch would’ve been nice. The cool thing about like Saga was that it was happy to let you figure out some stuff for yourself, Lazarus is almost nonstop exposition. The parts where it wasn’t so focused on that are where it shines: the scene where Forever dictates terms with the head of the rival Morray family was really exciting and tense; her moments of vulnerability when she talks to another “Lazarus”.
Kyle: Like many books, this comes down to an instance of telling way more than showing. It’s clear that the non-expositional moments have weight, but there is just so much time spent on explaining everything that I was frequently just bored reading this book. I suppose this was mostly set up, though, so it might get better as it goes. I know a few people that swear by this title.
Max: To be honest my biggest issue with Lazarus was that it was pretty slight. At four issues, this is the shortest of the books offered in the bundle and not much actually happens? Comics aren’t TV but if this was a TV show, this would’ve been an hour-long pilot episode. Rucka brings enough interesting concepts to the table that I’d keep reading, though.
Should you go for the average or stick to the cheap seats?
Max: Overall, this Bundle was a pretty decent showcase for the kind of books Image is putting out right now.
Kyle: So here’s the big question, do you spend as little as possible without looking like an asshole, or do you hit that bonus tier? Well here’s the thing. This bundle has three tiers of rewards, something Humble Bundle has started doing more often. The highest tier ($15+) gets you the first and the most recent Walking Dead book. We opted out of that level because we need to cram burgers in our faces so I personally wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want those books. That said, the second tier ($9.94 at the time of writing) is definitely worth it. You get Chew, Saga, Fatale, and Revival, plus three other books that were just added this past Tuesday. When you think about it, each of these books would run you over the average donation in print form, so this is a great deal for curious comics fans, even if you’re unsure of the contents of the bundle.
Max: Yeah when you consider that $10 is what any one of these books would cost normally on their own, this is an amazing deal. Unless you REALLY want the first and…20th? volumes of the Walking Dead (why did they put two non-sequential collections in here?), you don’t need to spend more than about $10. It’s worth emphasizing that Image/Humble Bundle offering these books in a couple of different file format options really adds to the value. You can read these on your laptop as a high res .pdf; you can pop ‘em on your kindle as an .epub file. Image is the only major publisher offering their comics without some kind of DRM slapped on it and this Humble Bundle is essentially a genius advertising tool for that fact. I’m curious as hell what the impact of this will be on their overall sales for the next year, and it’s a great way to get some new readers. I’d love a follow up Bundle with the first collections of newer releases like Sex Criminals and Velvet somewhere down the line.
Kyle: All in all I think this is one of the better bundles to date in terms of value and I would like to see other publishers get involved as well! So there you have it, the Humble Image Bundle! See you next time!