A potent blend of love, lust, deception, and betrayal can turn almost any story into a sublime reading experience. This week’s best comics have them all in spades.
The ability to navigate the treacherous waters of human desire is perhaps the one realizable superpower that would most likely change people’s lives, were they to suddenly manifest it. In different ways, both of this week’s picks for best new comic series explore the power that comes from being able to understand and manipulate the emotions and perceptions of others—and both series speak to how dangerous that power can be.
Image’s Twisted Romance is a devastatingly sexy comic, both for its frank (but tasteful) depictions of carnal attraction and the way the story centers on the predatory edge that can come along with human sexuality. When Sherri Rubenstein learns that her nightclub-owning husband is cheating on her with a hostess who works for him, she seeks out the services of Heartbreak Incorporated, the only agency in town that specializes in destroying relationships.
Unbeknownst to Sherri, by putting Heartbreak’s Misha Meserov on her husband’s case, she’s entangling herself in a centuries-old discord between supernatural forces that she can’t possibly understand. There’s more to Misha and Esther (the woman Sherri’s husband is cheating on her with) than meets the eye—and while they’re certainly something other than human, their existence is also inexorably tied to humanity and the need to be a part of it.
Writer Alex de Campi’s script reads like a timeless fairy tale that just so happens to be set in a modern metropolis that artist Katie Skelly illustrates gorgeously in her signature style that sells the series’ mature fairy tale vibe.
The carnality and danger of Twisted Romance’s core story are explored in different ways within the two supplementary stories included in the first issue: Leather & Lace, a queer, prose love story penned by Magen Cubed, and Red Medusa, a simultaneously gorgeous and disturbing comic about love and death written and illustrated by Sarah Horrocks. (Alex de Campi, Katie Skelly, Magen Cubed, and Sarah Horrocks)
Writer Mat Johnson and illustrator Warren Pleece’s Incognegro: Renaissance is a love letter to the Harlem of the 1920s where black thought and creativity were able to flourish and thrive, but it’s also a murder mystery rooted in the painful truths of the time.
Zane Pinchback, a young black journalist from Mississippi, moves to the big city looking to become someone: A writer, a thinker, a public intellectual of the times. But, as is often the case with creative talents trying to tap into the moment, his talents go largely unappreciated and he fights to make ends meet as a reporter and photographer. Though Zane’s black, his light complexion makes it so that people who don’t know him or his background often assume that he’s white—a quirk of his heritage that inadvertently draws him into Incognegro: Renaissance’s horrific series of events.
While at party where both black people and white people are in attendance, one of the black guests—a flamboyant gay aspiring writer—suddenly turns up dead in an upstairs bathroom and the death is ruled to be a suicide. But Zane isn’t at all convinced, and his skin color puts the white people around him at ease enough for them to openly imply that they don’t really care how the man died.
At a friend’s suggestion, Zane resolves to use his ability to “pass” to put himself in positions that would otherwise be inaccessible to other black people, hoping to discover the truth behind the potential murder and exposing the apathy that the city’s white population has for black death. Incognegro: Renaissance reads like a noir plucked from the 20th century that happens to be filled to the brim with timely, contemporary messages about the black experience and the very nature of identity. Zane’s passing isn’t about his physically appearing to be non-black, but rather about how we all define and navigate the rules and boundaries of identity as a culture. (Mat Johnson, Warren Pleece)