Everyone has different ways of coping with the day-in-day-out toil of working a job, optimistically trudging toward whatever one’s version of a “weekend” is. But for many, to work often means to pour yourself into labor that doesn’t necessarily bring you any sense of joy, freedom, or expression.
Even though the heroes in this week’s best new comics find themselves working jobs on opposite sides of the law, they’re similar in the way that they move through their days with a keen sense that the things they’re doing aren’t exactly reflective of the people that they are. They work because they need to, because society demands it of them, but really? In their deepest heart of hearts, the heroes are weekend people longing to be their truest, most honest selves.
Addiction is a disease that lures people in with the promise of escape from the things that can make life unbearable. In some instances, drugs give people the sense of being freed from themselves in order to become part of a higher consciousness—something more than human. Boom Studios’ Bone Parish, from writer Cullen Bunn and artists Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimarães, imagines a world in which the newest and perhaps most powerful drug in the world does something markedly different to the people who take it.
Rather than giving people the sense that they’re transcending humanity, Bone Parish’s mystical ash allows people to vividly experience moments from the lives of the dead people the drug is derived from. The Louisiana-based family business that produces the ash robs local graves and traffics in the dealing of dead bodies in order to produce a product that makes people feel alive in unimaginable ways and, naturally, the drug’s popularity makes them the target of much larger pharmaceutical competitors.
Just beneath Bone Parish’s surface layers of magic, sex, and intrigue, there’s a particularly pointed critique of the real world pharmaceutical industry and the ways in which it has contributed to and profited from the opioid crisis. The Big Pharma group lurking in the shadows, attempting to convince the ash-producing outfit to give up its secrets, stands in for companies seeking to take advantage of the need for a particular medicine on the market. Of course, Bone Parish’s heroes resist, but in doing so the comic becomes a story about a big drug manufacturing seeking to capitalize on the advancements made by a smaller drug ring that’s potentially unleashed a horror that no one is prepared to handle. (Cullen Bunn, Jonas Scharf, Alex Guimarães, Boom Studios)
At times, it can be difficult to imagine where the U.S. will be decades into the future. What might America look like if we continue on our current trajectory of building walls to keep immigrants out while valorizing and deifying reality TV stars simply because we recognize them from screens?
Image Comics’ The New World, from writer Aleš Kot and artists Tradd Moore and Heather Moore, posits that in 2037, after our second Civil War, the U.S. will have broken after a massive nuclear conflict that leaves most of the country vulnerable to invasion. Of the few states that resisted colonization, California manages to assert its independence and become a gleaming reminder of what the American Dream used to be.
Of course, the dream the citizens of this California hold dear is a warped, far cry from the way we might think of American ideals today. In this world, the police state has been transformed into mass entertainment, with audiences participating in live decision-making about whether suspected criminals deserve to live or die. It’s a society that tells itself that it is safe and secure and happy, because to accept the fact that it’s actually broken and toxic on a fundamental level would be too devastating.
On some level, Stella Maris, The New World’s hero, knows this to be true—and that’s why she often goes against the audience’s vote when she’s out apprehending criminals on The Guardians, the televised program that’s equal parts American Idol, Cops, and RoboCop. Stella opts not to kill because she still has a keen sense of justice and understands that mob rule only leads to senseless death. But there’s little she can really do to escape the system other than give herself over to sex and drugs in an attempt to at least feel human, if only for a while.
It’s in this all-too-human escape that Stella finds herself coming face to face with Kirby, a freedom fighter rallying against The Guardians and the lie about the world it represents. In addition to its dazzling and clever visuals of what the near future may look like, what really makes The New World fun to dive into is how grounded in the present it feels. Even though the book is about people dealing with the consequences of the past, it’s also a reminder that existential turmoil is something every generation deals with in one form or another. (Aleš Kot, Tradd Moore, Heather Moore, Image Comics)