Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific written by Brian Wood, art by Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown (Dark Horse)
The Massive takes place in a near-future Earth that has been ravaged by multiple environmental and social disasters. The Kapital is searching for its sister-ship, the Massive, which has gone missing somewhere in the now-inundated world. It continues to adhere to environmentalist group Ninth Wave's core mission of saving the world by saving the oceans, but how do you save a world that has, for all intents and purposes, already ended?
The Massive takes the position that if we do nothing about the environmental issues we currently face, we will find ourselves in a world thrown into chaos by radically altered weather patterns. And on top of that, Wood creates some amazing characters that you can't wait to learn more about.
Brian Wood has made a name for himself by creating multiple, much-lauded, creator-owned series, including DMZ, Supermarket and Northlanders, that deal with a range of political and social issues. The Massive continues in this tradition--but at the same time, it's very different.
Handselling Opportunities: People who are politically active and worried about the environment, and people who enjoy environmental science fiction, or "green fiction." And if they come back for more, you can show them the second volume, Subcontinental.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (First Second)
Delilah Dirk is an adventuring swashbuckler of indeterminate origins who literally crashes into the life of Selim, the eponymous Turkish Lieutenant. Selim is in the employ of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who is the worst sort of boss, when Delilah attempts to steal some scrolls and is caught. As Selim details all the rather outlandish information he's recovered from the would-be-thief for the sultan, Delilah makes her daring escape and accidentally implicates Selim, who was just trying to do his job. And so begins the partnership of a simple man and a rather complicated woman.
Tony Cliff originally published Delilah Dirk as a webcomic before getting picked up by First Second, a publisher who has a pretty amazing track record. The story is reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons games, with Delilah filling the role of warrior/rogue, and Selim filling the role of mage/cleric, but without the benefit of magic (he's basically a bookish coward who can't shoot a magic missile). Cliff's art is clean and his faces are very expressive, but I do occasionally feel no sense of motion, which is not the greatest thing in a comic about buckling your swashes.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody looking for a good adventure yarn featuring a strong, yet imperfect female protagonist, and Dungeon Masters looking for new ideas for their games.
Lazarus Vol. 1: Family written by Greg Rucka, art by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Brian Level and Santi Arcas (Image Comics)
The wealthiest families have carved up the world and rule their domains as fiefdoms. The 1% have literally taken over the globe. The few people who can provide a valuable service to these families are well cared for; all others are considered waste. Forever (Eve for short) is the Lazarus of the Carlyle family: the sword against her family's enemies, and the shield that protects them from other families. She has been given the best her family can offer, including genetics, training, technology and assets. She is an almost unkillable daughter, sister, bodyguard, detective, general, one-woman black ops team, diplomat, executioner and science experiment all rolled into one.
Rucka is known for creating strong female characters, including Carrie Stetko (Whiteout), Batwoman, Tara Chace (Queen & Country), Renee Montoya (Gotham Central) and Sasha Bordeaux (Checkmate). He's created another one in Forever Carlyle, a woman who craves her family's love more than anything else, possibly because she was genetically engineered that way.
The first volume of Lazarus is a complete story that builds a world and introduces all the major characters (and a fair number of minor ones, too). I have always enjoyed Michael Lark's art, going back to Scene of the Crime. He has a very noir quality, and he always uses shadows and grime well, an antithesis to the very polished and slick comic art that's prevalent nowadays.
Handselling Opportunities: Occupy Wall Street-type activists, and people who enjoy their dystopias from the point of view of those most likely responsible for them.
Johnny Hiro Vol. 2: The Skills to Pay the Bills by Fred Chao (Tor)
John Hiro is a 20-something New Yorker. He works at a sushi restaurant that pays him a meager wage, rents an apartment in Brooklyn that's heavily subsidized (thanks to his constantly traveling writer friend who owns it), and takes his girlfriend, Mayumi, on nice trips upstate when he can afford it. Occasionally, he fights competing sushi chefs, catering companies and giant monsters.
Johnny Hiro is difficult to categorize. It starts off as a collection of slice-of-life vignettes with humor, drama and philosophy included in roughly equal measures. But then you realize John Hiro lives in a New York that is more magical than you first realized. For one thing, it gets attacked by giant gorillas (and other giant monsters) on a somewhat regular basis, and competing sushi restaurants have gang-style turf wars on its streets. At its heart, however, Johnny Hiro is about the difficulties of adult life in a big city: trying to chase your dreams while making sure you can pay your bills, trying to be a good partner to the person you've chosen to be with, while at the same time worrying you'll never be good enough for them. It is something most of us are extremely familiar with (or perhaps it's just me), and it makes Johnny Hiro not only a hilariously entertaining read but also a powerfully poignant one as well.
Even though this is a second volume, it works quite well as a stand-alone collection (though some characters are not reintroduced), but the first volume, Half Asian, All Hero, is also highly recommended.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who has ever chased their dreams, so basically everybody who has ever lived. And seriously, just handsell both volumes at the same time.