Comic book fandom was shaken to its core on Monday when Image Comics sent out a press releasing announcing JAN'S ATOMIC HEART AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of seven short stories from cartoonist Simon Roy, who writes and draws PROPHET with Brandon Graham. Used to the relentless assault of interconnected super-mega-crossover event comics from Marvel and DC, readers just don't know what to make of a collection of short stories that stand alone on their own merit.
"I just don't know what to make of a collection of short stories that stand alone on their own merit," said one regular comic book reader, confirming our suspicions. "
"As with so much of Roy’s work, the title story in this collection deposits the reader in a fully-formed world while allowing them to see just a tantalizing slice of life in it," reads the press release, which we had to personally read seven times just to make sure we weren't hallucinating this whole thing. "Jan is waiting for a new body after his previous body was destroyed in a car accident, and he’s none too pleased with the outdated robot “loaner” he’s using in the meantime—even before he begins to suspect it played a role in a Lunar terrorist attack."
"What is Spider-Man doing while this is going on," wondered another confused reader. "He's gotta show up by issue #3, right?"
But there will be no Spider-Man. No Wolverine. No Batman or Batgirl or Joker's Daughter. Not even Rick from THE WALKING DEAD. Instead, there will be new characters, in new settings, with no inter-story continuity whatsoever.
"In every story, Roy brings familiar attitudes to strange settings, whether it is in the banal brutality of imperialism, the unpredictable bond of friendship, or the everyday concerns that exist even in the most alien of places," the press release continued, leaving readers bewildered."The tone ranges from grim to poignant and even humorous—even within a single story."
"A... sin-gal story?" asked a third comic reader when learning of the book. "I don't understand."
Indeed, it's rare enough that comic book stories, at least in mainstream comics, begin and end in a single installment, but it's even rarer that the stories actually have any kind of value beyond padding the bonus pages of a $7.99 super special #900 issue. The stories in JAN'S ATOMIC HEART AND OTHER STORIES do not tease the reader to pick up a line-wide #1 reboot event later in the year. They aren't meant to piggyback on the sales of a blockbuster event book and never be thought of again. The aren't a creative team's only means of treading water while their mid-range superhero book awaits the next Universe-sweeping status quo change. They are simply meant to read, enjoy, and appreciate.
The Outhouse got our hands on a single advance copy of the book, gave it to a group of real comic book fans, and observed their behavior all day. At first, the readers were dumbstruck, unable to comprehend this odd tome of "short stories" and what, if any, intrinsic value it might hold for them. For the first couple hours, none of the fans even opened the book. They just placed it on a table in front of them and stared at it, scratching their heads. At one point, a particularly brave reader reached out and flipped the book open.
"Aaahhh!" gasped the other fans, clearly frightened, as they sprung back from the table and cowered. The brave fan slammed the book shut immediately and dove underneath the table.
By sixteen hours into the experiment, the fans had constructed an elaborate altar around the book, and were worshipping it as some kind of primitive god. We were forced to call it quits before things got out of control.
"I don't know that I've have much use for a comic like that," said one fan in the post-experiment interview, though she admitted that "maybe it could prop up the wobbly leg on my kitchen table."
Another fan insisted that, though he had come to accept Image's non-traditional genre exploration in some of their ongoing monthlies, this type of radical storytelling technique is just too much, too soon.
"Maybe in ten or twenty years," he balked. "Maybe then the world will be ready for this. But a comic that features multiple one and done stories that aren't ancillary material for a larger brand with more global cross-branding marketing synergy is just not gonna fly in 2014."
"This is America," he clarified.
Two of the participants were admitted to a hospital for medical treatment, but they are currently in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. All of them will receive professional counseling, funded by The Outhouse, for as long as they need to get over the experience.
According to the press release, JAN’S ATOMIC HEART collects seven stories, some of them never before published: “The Cosmonauts,” “Jan’s Atomic Heart,” “Good Business,” “Shipwrecked with Dan the Gorilla,” “Bar Fight,” “Homeward Bound,” and “Hunter Killer.” It will be in comic book stores on March 26, in bookstores on April 8, and is available for preorder now.
So if you're looking for an oddity to impress and possibly terrify your comic book reading friends and family, preorder a copy at your local comic shop today. Under no circumstances, however, should you attempt to read it.
JAN’S ATOMIC HEART AND OTHER STORIES by Simon Roy
112 pages, black and white, paperback
In comic book stores March 28, bookstores April 8
Available for pre-order now