As Jon noted in an earlier post, the One Comic crew really enjoyed taking the piss out of the ludicrous Comixology blurb for Alan Moore's Providence #1. A very good comic, definitely. "A breathtaking masterpiece of sequential art"? That's a very tall order.
(Here's our review, by the way. Our verdict? "Dunno.")
That said, what contemporary comics are masterpieces? Classics in the making? Or just 'important'? Or, to phrase it more accurately, "Today is Friday and I really need a post, so here are five comics I've liked recently."
So let's get to it...
Copperhead (Jay Faerber / Scott Godlewski)
Summary: SPACE WEIRD WESTERN PUNK NOIR. A sheriff with a mysterious past rocks up to the backwater world that's her new home. What should be a quiet rural (SPACE-rural) posting immediately heats up with theft, murder and alien-monster attacks.
Why it might be a masterpiece of sequential art: SPACE WEIRD WESTERN PUNK NOIR. A tidy little mystery, well-integrated SF elements, excellent Western inflection, and the sort of rebellious punk atmosphere that comes from casually revisionist themes and badass art.
Why it might not be a masterpiece of sequential art: SPACE WEIRD WESTERN PUNK NOIR. It is, you know, what it is. Firmly encamped in genre traditions, and happily bouncing around inside the boundaries of (multiple) genres.
Breathtakingness: A light gasp of elation.
Summary: Every outgoing President leaves his replacement a letter - "Russia sucks, beer in the fridge, don't forget to feed the cat'. That sort of thing. In this case, the new President gets a... surprise. The narrative is split between the chaos on the Earth and the 'surprise' in space - a shuttleload of astronauts off to poke the alien thinger.
Why it might be a masterpiece of sequential art: As well as being utterly bonkers high concept story, Letter 44 is actually two good comics in one - a West Wingian political thriller and a twisty hard SF space adventure. What feels like a great idea for a one-off is actually a suspenseful adventure.
Why it might not be a masterpiece of sequential art: It is a bit goofy, and errs more on the side of 'fun' than meaningful. That's no bad thing - there's every chance that Letter 44 could've be ponderous, but it never is.
Breathtakingness: The merciless vacuum of space.
Why it might be a masterpiece of sequential art: Snarky, sneaky take on prison dramas and reality TV and the future of class and the prison system. A fast-paced dystopia reminiscent of the halcyon early days of American Flagg (if not better).
Why it might not be a masterpiece of sequential art: Hmm. Well, for the first, establishing, issues, there's more about world-building and character-building. That may change and settle down, but right now, it is a bit more of a gritty Ellisonian think-piece than a fully fledged narrative.
Breathtakingness: Being choked in a prison riot.
Trees (Warren Ellis / Jason Howard)
Why it might be a masterpiece of sequential art: Screw 'high concept' - let's invent 'tall concept': when you slam something down in the middle of a setting and then watch the world react to it. And that's Trees. Big ol towering alien thingummies have stuck themselves all over the world. Society, as it does, reacts. A big comic with big thoughts, but very much about the human reaction rather than the technobabble.
Why it might not be a masterpiece of sequential art: It is taller than it is, um, deep. Trees skips around from one place to the next, showing how life moves on (or doesn't), but, aside from a few tenuous links, there's not a holistic story. At least not yet.
Breathtakingness: A bit of panting at high altitude.
Wild Children (Ales Kot / Riley Rossmo)
Why it might be a masterpiece of sequential art: 'Children gone bad' is a popular theme in all fiction - genre or not, graphic or not. But, although often powerful, it doesn't mean much more than the obvious shock and horror. Wild Children is about high schools rebelling - violently - but it is using that rebellion as a metaphor for, well, art. But also society. And also a sort of... philosophical oppression. I'm not sure how to explain this, honestly. There's some hand-wavey superhumanness, but the 'comic book' elements are so self-aware as to make this the most innovative, self-reflective use of comics I've read... argh - since Watchmen!?
Why it might not be a masterpiece of sequential art: N/A. It is.