Last month, I (Ryan) had the privilege of presenting at Summit City Comic Con. While there, I had the good fortune to meet Comfort Love and Adam Withers, the married-couple creators of The Uniques. Comfort and Adam are independent comic creators, and by “independent,” I don’t mean “publishing for someone other than Marvel or DC,” I mean “promoting their work at the con circuit and self-publishing with print on demand.” Comics are their full-time job, and if you’ve run across them at a con, odds are you’ve seen their delightful presentation, “Creating Your Comic From Concept to Publication.” Turns out self-publishing as a full-time job, which is what they do, is at least as much “running a small business” as it is drawing and writing.
Their main work thus far is, as mentioned, The Uniques. They’ve got nine issues out so far, available individually in either hard copy or a variety of digital formats, in trade paperbacks, or my preferred edition, Vol. I of the omnibus, which has all nine issues. You have to buy directly from them, which in a sense is surprising, because if the big guys were writing stories this good they might not be seeing the sales slump they’ve complained of for the past decade or so.
And make no mistake: The Uniques is good. I had dinner with Comfort and Adam after the con, and they explained it this way: The Uniques is an exploration of a world in which superheroes are real in the way that the Marvel Civil War should have been but wasn’t. A lot of comics are basically magical realism. Fantastic stuff happens, but the world at large just sort of goes on the way it always has. This despite the fact that the mere existence of something like telepathy would have enormous implications for daily life. The Uniques is set in a world where those implications are real. Humanity is now made up of “uniques,” people with supernormal powers, and “typics,” people without them. The background history is still being revealed, but thus far we know that the first uniques showed up in 1939. They fought in World War II on both sides, but the outcome of the war was largely the same. Virtue, the first unique to appear, delivered the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example, but the bombs were still delivered. The rest of the century unfolded more-or-less as we know it–Vietnam happened, with uniques again participating on both sides–but the presence of uniques added a level of tension to the Cold War that was lacking in the history we know. The Soviet Union apparently didn’t dissolve in the late 1980s, and things were coming to a head in 1993 when a team of uniques from both sides of the conflict joined forces to put an end to the Cold War. How hasn’t been revealed yet, but there are hints that this is going to be central to the larger plot. Regardless, uniques are a recognized part of society, and as the story unfolds, we’re seeing how legal and administrative structures have evolved to deal with them.
Only we’re seeing it without a writer’s revolt that led to Iron Man acting like a complete jerk for about two years, and Mr. Fantastic finally abandoning his normal uselessness to create a seriously evil system of incarceration. Heck, we’re seeing a society that actually makes use of uniques and the technology that goes along with them. But more than that, the pro-reg forces in Civil War were supposed to have the better part of the argument. Unfortunately, any message, pro- or anti-reg, was completely lost in the ensuing soap opera, inconsistent conception of the core laws at issue, and what seem to have been political disagreements amongst the writing staff. Remember, Civil War came out at the height of the Second Gulf War, and the media was still full of stories debating the merits of the war and the US’s continued detention of alleged “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay. Some of those issues continue to be pressing, but there may have been enough time between then and now to permit a more detached, less immediately political discussion about related issues. The world of The Uniques assumes that there is some compromise to be made between security and liberty, just as a practical matter, and some of the characters are significantly motivated by their attempts to figure out where they fit in that compromise. Marvel, on the other hand, seems to have been surprised by the idea that any kind of compromise is even warranted, much less appropriate, and the whole thing is somewhere between a dork age, canon discontinuity, and downright negative continuity.
So over the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at the Uniques, seeing how Comfort and Adam are creating what may fairly be called the most robust venture into a world that takes superheroes and supervillians both seriously and in stride.