One of my favorite genres in comics is the Rule of Cool – those comics that subscribe to the idea that if it's fun, looks good, and kicks ass, it doesn't always need to make sense. That's not to say they're just a hodgepodge of random things that mesh together like dry Play-Doh, rather that they use a heightened suspension of disbelief and a sense of hyperreality to explore ideas and feelings that are hard to access in more grounded works.
Let's take the best-known of these oddballs as an example. In Scott Pilgrim, Brian Lee O'Malley explores complex relationship dynamics, the painful process of growing up, and the communication issues of an entire generation in a comic that features vegans with superpowers, purses that contain infinite storage space, and convenience stores that manifest the deepest nightmares of your personal psyche. Critically, these unrealistic elements don't get in the way of the very real themes at the heart of the book. The fact that super-powered fights break out over the slightest provocation only further supports the idea that these characters, and by extension, most people, are willing to go to any length to avoid having difficult, meaningful conversations and would rather be physically assaulted than risk being emotionally vulnerable for even a moment.
BUT, critically, this article isn't about Scott Pilgrim, because you've almost certainly already read Scott Pilgrim (and if not, what are you waiting for?). We're here to talk about four more Rule of Cool comics that turn the visuals to 11 and leave reality at the door, starting with:
THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS
I could have filled this slot with anything Gerard Way's ever written, whether it's his excellent Doom Patrol run which prominently features a sentient ambulance that gives birth to the universe or the acclaimed Umbrella Academy, which isn't afraid to make its antagonist a goldfish in a mobile human suit. Killjoys is just too original, bright, fun, and bananas to ignore. An explosion of anarchic, post-punk energy and vibrant characters following their own indescribable code of ethics, this bizarre sequel to a musical album is brimming with insane ideas and more style than it knows what to do with.
Drawn to perfection by Becky Cloonan and colored by Dan Jackson, it's the kind of comic that pulls an eighty-foot-tall robot out of nowhere just when you think you've figured out all its quirks and twists. All the while it somehow manages to have something profound to say about the need for self-expression, individuality, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. The fact that it does so with costume shop vampire masks and random interludes of soda commercials makes this one a must-read.
Just like we can't get around Scott Pilgrim when approaching this topic, you can't talk about Rule of Cool without bringing up Grant Morrison, whose entire career is essentially attempting to recreate the manic energy of that era of comics where Superman might need to eat 80,000 hamburgers to save the day, somehow. We 3 is definitely darker and more of a gut-punch than the other entries on this list, but stands as a prime example of a comic that says so much with a concept ripped from the deranged ramblings of a conspiracy theorist.
The government is using stolen household pets to create highly efficient bio-weapons for military use and, when they escape, they must overcome their artificial intelligence and work together to find "Home," whatever that is and wherever it may be. Using minimal, broken dialogue, Frank Quitely's unnerving eye for anatomy, and some of the best uses of panel layouts I've ever seen in a comic, We 3 turns a nonsense story about mechanized house pets into a profoundly impactful story about morality, compassion, and companionship.
THE ARCANE COCKTAIL ENTHUSIAST
Shining the light on a creator that isn't already widely known and admired, let's talk about Jeff Rider's interesting foray into Rule of Cool, The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast. Mouthful of a title aside, the comic embodies everything you'd ever want out of the genre: it moves fast, it makes no apologies, and it looks good doing it. The world of ACE is one where a bartender from our world stumbles upon a spellbook that grants her access to a whole fantasy world and, more importantly, magical ingredients that spice up the normal bar-going experience and create some of the best cocktails in the known world.
Davide Puppo's hyper-polished style and sleek colors really sell a world where you can be fighting off drunk patrons one minute and doing battle with a fantasy beast the next. It shows an old guitarist turn into a living instrument to sing you the song of his people, parasites that turn people inexplicably violent, and cultist vulture ambushes all comfortably within a few pages; and yet, it is one of the most honest portrayals of working in a bar I've ever read, not in spite of, but because of it's over-the-top elements.
Look, I know I have a problem, and one day I'll start working on it, but I can't not talk about Dan Watters's weird, philosophical masterpiece Coffin Bound, particularly when it comes to this genre. Maybe it's a bit headier than you might expect a Rule of Cool comic to be, but it fits all the arbitrary requirements I employed. Abandoning a hard-and-fast state of reality, this comic bends what is possible to talk about interesting things in a brand new way. Add the mind-bending visuals from Dani and the distinct feeling that anything could happen and it's actively difficult not to get sucked into this absurdist tragedy.
Following the dying days of its protagonists, Coffin Bound uses dirt-eating assassins, flesh-removing exotic dancers, and heroin as religion to explore the boundaries of the fullness of life, the philosophy of the self, and beauty and necessity of art and creativity. It's larger than life because life is larger than we give it credit for. Like many other books in its genre, it bends the rules of reality in such a way that it becomes more visceral and tactile than a more grounded book could ever hope to be.
Alright, I couldn't just leave this list without some shameless self-promotion. MechaTon is my own entry into the diverse and incredible catalogue of Rule of Cool comics hoping to say something real with a story that breaks the rules of reality.
When an alien weapon in the form of a power glove crashes into the Earth and into the lives of a couple of well-meaning and lovable idiots, they gain the power to turn everyday objects into pilotable mechs. Does it make sense? No. Is it awesome to watch a hotdog stand-turned-robot beat the snot out of an irradiated cockroach? Oh, yeah.
Using Fernando Pinto's dynamic art style and Mayday Trippe's (who coincidentally colored the first Scott Pilgrim story) flat, vibrant colors, I and my fellow writer Dalton Shannon are using the language of nonsense to tell a real story about community, adversity, and the love between an idiot with a power glove and his backseat gamer of a sister. If you liked this article and you think that sounds rad, consider supporting the Kickstarter for MechaTon, which will be up and running until June 19th at noon.