Happy Thanksgiving, sci-fi fans! You didn’t think I’d forget about you just ’cause it’s a holiday weekend, did you? Of course I wouldn’t. And just to show you how much I love you, I compiled a list of awesome sci-fi comics you should be reading right NOW. Like, seriously. Download the Comixology app on your phone or tablet, enter your payment info, and get to downloadin’. Some of these comics are ongoing and some of them are one-offs, but all of ’em are superb.
Without further ado…
I have a thing for stories about anthropomorphic animals. But not cute, cuddly anthropomorphic animals. I mean humanoid beasties who drink, smoke, swear up a blue streak, and carry big-ass guns. And I got all that I wanted and more with Richard Starkings’s bleak sci-fi comics series Elephantmen, published by Image Comics.
The titular Elephantmen are genetic hybrids of humans and different species of animals (zebra, warthog, crocodile, elephant, hippo, rhino, camel). A mad scientist bred them to be soldiers and mercenaries. After UN forces defeated the mad doctor and “liberated” the Elephantmen, they integrated into human society…but with varying degrees of success. The shell-shocked, traumatized Elephantmen are all screwed up in some Freudian way or another, and even though many of them are successful and have good jobs and even human girlfriends, they struggle to adapt to a society that isn’t entirely sure it wants them.
The series centers around the doings and intrigues of Obadiah Horn (pictured), a humanoid rhinoceros and successful Los Angeles businessman; Hieronymus “Hip” Flask, a humanoid hippo who works for the Information Agency (an intelligence-gathering arm of the law enforcement community that keeps tabs on the reintegrated Elephantmen); and Ebeneezer Hide, a humanoid elephant who works with Hip. Other reappearing Elephantmen include Casbah Joe, a humanoid camel who runs a nightclub; Trench, a zebra hybrid who works with the Los Angeles Police Department; and Elijah Delaney, a crocodile hybrid. Imagine Blade Runner but with animal-human hybrids instead of replicants, and you’ve got Elephantmen. It’s the stuff sci-fi comics dreams are made of.
Don’t judge a comic book by its cover. Saga is nowhere near as warm and cuddly as the above image would have you believe. Au contraire: it is one of the bloodiest, most overtly sexual, most violent, most graphic comic book series I’ve ever read. Heads will explode. Characters who you’ve known only minutes (yet have come to know and love) will die, suddenly, inexplicably, and in the most unpleasant of ways. The darkest, dirtiest depths of sexual and moral depravity will be showcased, graphically. People will be pushed to their psychological limits—and then a million miles past them, with predictably messy results. You’ve been warned. This series is not for the faint of heart.
Yet if you can get past the graphic violence and sexuality, a heartrending (and occasionally heartwarming) tale of family is left behind: a man and a woman from two warring alien races, and their little hybrid daughter (pictured above). The whole universe wants that little girl—some to exterminate her as an abomination, others as a political symbol, others for ransom to either one of these factions. But all Mom and Dad want to do is find someplace safe to settle down and raise their child, outdistancing the war and all its insidious tendrils. Fate, however, keeps inexorably dragging them back into conflict. You couldn’t ask for a better sci-fi comics premise.
Saga (another title from Image Comics) is a fiendishly well-written and well-illustrated series. It’s a space opera for the 21st century with HBO levels of sexuality and violence, true. But it’s still a jolly good story for all that. I love comics which test their characters to the limits and force them to undergo character development, and this story’s got that in spades. Just be prepared for some mood whiplash. The series thrives on it.
#3. Winterworld: La Niña and Winterworld: The Stranded
The Winterworld concept goes back a couple of decades. In 2014 and 2015, however, IDW revived the title and put it back on readers’ radar screens. As sci-fi comics go, it’s a doozy.
Winterworld: La Niña and Winterworld: The Stranded take place in a world gone white: the surface of the Earth has been frozen solid, even the seas. We follow hard-bitten, bearded survivor Scully, his young female sidekick Wynn, and their pet badger Rah-Rah as they attempt to survive in the frigid hell that is now…the Caribbean Sea. It’s a lot more dangerous than it sounds. Roving packs of bandits who’ll kill for a winter parka, a bite of food, or a piece of equipment; packs of wolves and roving polar bears, wandering down out of the north; and other dangers prowl the bloody snow. Imagine if the whole world turned to Antarctica, then imagine trying to survive in it, even for a day. Every mountain is now an Everest, every frozen-over town or shipwreck a possible ambush. That’s Winterworld. It’s a great concept and an even greater comic series. I’m about to start reading Winterworld: Frozen Fleet myself.
Planetoid, the third title on this list to be published by Image Comics, only has two volumes out. And I’ve only read the first one. Some sci-fi comics hook me slow. This one hooked me fast.
The lead character’s name is Silas. Formerly a soldier in a space war, he is now a two-bit pirate. He crash-lands one day on a mysterious planetoid that seems totally abandoned; nothing but junk and pools of industrial waste meet his eyes. But this planetoid is even nastier than Silas imagined: roving gangs of alien-sent cyborgs keep the local human population under terror-stricken control. Silas, who’d hoped to outrun war, now must run straight into one, uniting the planetoid’s nomadic and hostile factions into an army to fend off the cyborg militia and build a new home among the stars.
Okay, I over-dramatized a little. A hard-bitten old soldier meets a hot woman, shows the local yokels who’s boss, and then orchestrates an epic battle and sticks it to the hostile alien overlords. Kinda like Terminator meets that silly 1998 movie Soldier. But the story is amazing any way you slice it. Excuse me, I’m off to read Volume 2 now…
Maybe the newest title on this list, Riptide is a four-issue series published by Red 5 Comics (one of my favorite publishers). The art style is a little cartoonish, but the concept is what I’d call dang near perfect.
In the not-too-distant future, a giant asteroid tears by Earth. Its passage is close that its tidal pull actually drains the Gulf of Mexico. Naturally this causes a bit of a problem for all the people out on the Gulf on fishing boats, oil rigs, and cruise ships.
Suddenly stranded on the treacherous, muddy bottom of the sea, our intrepid survivors must find a way to get back to shore before the ocean roars back into the Gulf and a tsunami obliterates the Gulf Coast. Almost everything you can think of that could go wrong does go wrong. Sunken shipwrecks and great pools of water (packed to bursting with angry, frightened, hostile marine life, like in the picture above) now litter the ocean floor. And our protagonists must hike through this strange hell on foot. Sounds like a fun day at the beach, huh?
So there ya go. My picks for the best recent or ongoing sci-fi comics on the market today. Now get off the Internet and get reading (and get writing)!