Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Ballantine, $25, 9780345529374)
Katie is the 29-year-old chef of Seconds, the restaurant she helped start but doesn't own. She's trying to open her own restaurant, but there are contractor and money issues. She's having a semi-secret tryst with Andrew, the younger chef taking over for her at Seconds, whom she cannot stop fighting with. And her ex-boyfriend Max keeps showing up at the restaurant, trying to talk to her. In short, she's having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. And then she finds a mushroom and instructions on how to fix her mistakes.
The follow-up to the critically acclaimed and cult favorite Scott Pilgrim series was always going to be tough for O'Malley, but he's handled it with grace and aplomb. Katie is a natural successor to Scott, extrapolating from his first forays into adulthood to present her fumblings out of what remains of her 20s. Katie is neither likable nor unlikable because she's too much like us, constantly screwing up and constantly trying to do better, all of which is exacerbated by literal magic mushrooms, house spirits and time travel. The other characters in the story are little more than props for Katie to play against (with the exception of Hazel), but that can be forgiven as, unlike Scott Pilgrim, Seconds is first and foremost a character study.
The ending felt rushed and could have benefited from 20 or so extra pages, but overall, an extremely enjoyable read about one person's quest to simply be better.
Handselling Opportunities: Fans of "new adult" fiction, but with a lot less sex, and fans of magical realist texts from Borges to Rushdie.
Trillium by Jeff Lemire (DC/Vertigo, $16.99, 9781401249007)
Dr. Nika Temsmith is a scientist on Atabithi in the year 3797. She is one of the last 4,000 remaining humans left in the universe as a sentient virus named the Caul hunts humanity to extinction. She is studying the Atabithians and a special flower within their main compound that might hold the key to a vaccine the Caul will be unable to adapt to.
William Pike is an ex-British soldier on an expedition in the Peruvian jungles in 1921. He fought in the Great War and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is searching for the Lost Temple of the Incas that is fabled to contain untold riches. Both Nika and William find the temple at the same time and begin a romance that spans the entirety of time and space.
Lemire has made a name for himself telling incredibly quirky stories, but Trillium is possibly his least quirky story ever, even with the time travel, psychotropic plants and lost Incan tribes. Nika and William are literal star-crossed lovers, separated by nearly 2,000 years and entire star systems who somehow manage to find each other. "Before all of this, I was broken, Nika," William says. "But as soon as I saw you, I knew that I wasn't alone anymore.... I knew you were broken too. I was broken, but together--we're not broken anymore." Sappy? Yes, but it still hits you right in the gut.
Handselling Opportunities: Fans of great romances, and people who like their soft sci-fi mixed with a little mysticism.
Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy by Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, Doug Moench, Timothy Zahn et al. (Marvel Comics, $34.99, 9780785154495)
Star-Lord supplies scintillating '70s sci-fi suspense! And trust me; you, too, will communicate alliteratively once you read these stories. The collection contains the earliest Star-Lord stories, all before he became a part of the larger Marvel Comics universe, back when anything was possible and nobody had to worry about pesky continuity--and before he became a wise-cracking, raccoon-and-tree-befriending movie star.
Englehart's origin story is good, but the real grooviness begins with Claremont and Moench's stories that follow. Claremont is teamed up with his future Uncanny X-Men partners John Byrne and Terry Austin for stories in which Peter Quill overthrows would-be warlords, visits alien worlds where a drop of water can last a lifetime and takes on an entire civilization in a 100-kilometer long spaceship. Moench follows up with stories about what it means to be human, what it means to have faith and what it means to be alive. In short, everything excellent sci-fi is made out of.
Zahn finishes up with a three-part story of the man who takes up the Star-Lord mantle after Peter Quill goes missing. It's more of a superhero tale, but still contains a lot of the same sci-fi tropes present in the earlier stories.
Handselling Opportunities: Fans of vintage science fiction adventure stories like Flash Gordon, the E.E. "Doc" Smith Lensman series and original Star Trek.
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain (Self Made Hero, $24.95, 9781906838782)
In 2002, Arthur Vlaminck has just landed a fantastic first job: he is the newest speechwriter for Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, the larger-than-life French foreign minister. At first, Vlaminck is happy in his job. Stressed, but happy. De Vorms is demanding, but he has a clear vision and knows what he wants. And then the U.S. decides to invade the Kingdom of Khemed.
Antonin Baudry, the real-life person behind the pseudonym Abel Lanzac, was an adviser to the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in the lead-up to Operation Enduring Freedom, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Here he portrays a fictionalized account of his time as a diplomat that is as hilarious as it is terrifying. There are laugh-out-loud moments that will startle your fellow morning commuters (on almost every page, really), but then comes the sobering realization that it's very probable that world leaders and their staffs actually behave in this manner, and oh my God why haven't we all died in a massive fireball of ego, bureaucracy and doublespeak?
Handselling Opportunities: Fans of political satire-cum-exposés who aren't afraid to see how the sausage is made.