Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Old City Blues Volume 2 by Giannis Milonogiannis (Archaia, $12.95, 9781939867025)
After Europe was struck by severe storms of acid rain, governments collapsed and society fell. Powerful corporations saw an opportunity for new business and made secret deals to own and govern city-states across Europe in return for capital and technology. New Athens is one of those city-states, teeming with crime and corruption. It's up to the New Athens Special Police Division 10 (or SDX) to keep it as safe as they can, while attempting not to anger their corporate overlords.
Milonogiannis has created a cyberpunk world at its grittiest, where enhanced cops fight barehanded against mechs twice their size, chase down hackers across multiple cybersystems, and shoot warning shots into fleeing suspects' shoulders. Both the story and art are heavily influenced by Japanese manga, specifically Ghost in the Shell and Akira, but the visual styles of Western cyberpunk also make their presences felt, especially during wide city shots.
While this is the second volume, Milonogiannis quickly sets up his world and his characters in the first eight pages, thereby negating any need to read the first volume, but it's worth a read, too, because it's just as good as this one.
Handselling Opportunities: Cyberpunk aficionados of all stripes, especially fans of William Gibson and Masamune Shirow.
Nemo: The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf, $14.95, 9781603093200)
Imagine Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert's Wold Newton universe, but with nearly every literary character and conceit from around the world thrown in for good measure, and you begin to scratch the surface of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe that Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill have created.
In the sixth volume in the ever-expanding LoEG universe, we find Broad Arrow Jack and the new Captain Nemo (daughter of the original) breaking into Berlin at the height of World War II to rescue their kidnapped daughter. Unfortunately for our protagonists, this Berlin has sprung from the mind of Carl Rotwang and is a true Metropolis. To make matters worse, the Twilight Heroes, Germany's answer to the British League, are waiting for them.
Part of the fun of reading a LoEG book is figuring out all the references and Easter eggs Moore and O'Neil have crammed into their slim volumes. My favorites in this story are the inclusion of German filmmaker Fritz Lang's creations Maria (from Metropolis) and Dr. Mabuse (from The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) as German super soldiers. We also get to see Ayesha She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed in action. And finally come face-to-face with Adenoid Hynkel, the Hitler analogue, originally from the Chaplin film The Great Dictator. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, have no fear. Critic and historian Jess Nevins has fantastic notes at his website (which come in handy when Moore decides to write a third of the book in German).
Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoyed Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary, and people who are intrigued by shared universes like the Wold Newton.
Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano (Fantagraphics, $29.99, 9781606995839)
Ten years ago, Kimura Arie was pushed down a well by her classmates for spreading rumors about a monster living in the Nijigahara Tunnel who would bring about the end of the world. She's been in a coma ever since. Suzuki Amahiko transferred to the same school after a failed suicide attempt in Tokyo, then moved away again at the end of the year. Kohta was a bully who loved Arie, and got more and more violent after her coma. He now works at a supermarket. Various other students, teachers, and parents both affected by and responsible for Arie's "accident" appear and intersect throughout Asano's mind-bending story.
The two time periods, present day and 10 years ago, run concurrently and switch viewpoints faster than you can say David Lynch, which makes for a somewhat confusing and frustrating read the first time around. But once you get to that ending and realize what's been happening and who all the characters are (and were), the second reading becomes a lot more satisfying.
Warning: people reading this hardcover because they loved Asano's previous book Solanin are in for a rude awakening. These two books are as different as night and day.
Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoy David Lynch's work (especially Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive) and any other fiction that at first glance seems firmly rooted in reality before veering off into crazy unreality.
BUZZ! by Ananth Panagariya and Tessa Stone (Oni Press, $19.99, 9781620100882)
"In a world where spelling bees are more dangerous than mixed martial arts and more popular than any sport ever devised, one group of ragtag spellers unite to destroy the secret society behind it all or die trying. Because losing a match surely means D-E-A-T-H!"
That (or something very much like that) had to have been the pitch the authors delivered to Oni Press when they first talked about this book. This not-quite-our-world features a society built on the English language, where every class in high school is somehow related to the language arts (except for PE, of course), back-alley spelling bees exist for those banned from official matches, and a shadowy organization called the Spelluminati run everything and remove undesirables with swift efficiency. Words and letters can be (and often are) used as weapons in the right mouths (and occasionally hands) in videogame style matches where dichotomy can be more dangerous than thaumaturgy.
While the world is interesting enough and the main characters engaging, the awesome cast of supporting characters is very enjoyable: they're other spellers who come with superhero names, great gimmicks and excellent, word-related backgrounds. My favorite is the Immortal, who is rumored to have been alive since the first spelling bee, and knows the meaning and history of every word thrown at him.
Handselling Opportunities: Fan of magical realist comics like Scott Pilgrim, Sharknife, Street Angel and Suburban Glamour, among others (it's pure synchronicity that they all start with "S").