One of the (many) things I picked up on this year's Chicago trip was the trade paperback of Honor Brigade.
Never heard of it you say? Well, let me introduce you....
Plus Co. is one of the largest companies in the country... but things are not as they seem under the surface of Plus Co. and it's CEO, Adrian Conroy, has secrets. Thrust into the midst of all of this is mercenary and sabotuer Toy Boy with an axe to grind against Conroy, the upstanding public hero Lightning Rod, a slain former cop and Plus Co. security guard given a new lease on life as the undead avenger Dead Eye, a young, single father whose prodigious strength and lack of sensation make him the nigh indestructable Slam but also make him afraid to touch his son, Conroy's half-brother tranformed by alien intelligences and bonded to a high tech space exploration suit as The Suit and Mystery Girl a young woman with total amnesia apparently a victim of Plus Co.'s machinations but left with the uncanny ability to copy the superpowers of others.
This disparate group is brought together -- some enemies, some allies -- as the plans of Plus Co. are revealed. Once upon a time Honor Brigade was one of the premiere superteams but now it's time for a new Honor Brigade... if Plus Co. doesn't destroy them before they can get started... and also assuming these heroes don't kill each other first.
Honor Brigade is notable for a number of things. First of all, it wasn't published by DC or Marvel. It wasn't even published by some of the bigger independent publishing firms -- not Dark Horse, or Image or IDW or Ape Entertainment or any of the others you could name.
No, Honor Brigade was published by this guy:
In this day and age Tom managed to write a complete, six-issue miniseries, get an artist, produce the six issues within a quite reasonable length of time, get them published, and do all of the publicity for them himself.
And if that were not enough, he made enough money on the original run to have the whole thing collected in a trade paperback edition, have it colored where the original was in black and white, AND hire a few writers and artists to add some short stories featuring several of his Honor Brigade characters as well as pin-ups. And these are no slouches with stories written by the likes of Gail Simone and pin-ups by the likes of Coleen Doran among others. It's amazing how well others get Stillwell's characters. Perhaps because they are, in many ways, so relatable.
On top of all of that.... The story is just GOOD! Tom understands something about comics -- you don't have to have nothing but conflict in order to have conflicted heroes. You don't have to make your heroes nothing but walking piles of angst in order to make them "interesting".
He takes a healthy slice from the Silver Age -- when heroes were more outwardly heroic and less inclined to constantly straddle the line between good and evil -- but then tempers it with modern attitudes. These are heroes who have problems and hang-ups but instead of navel-gazing about them they are determined to go out there are DO something about it.... even if what they do might not exactly be the right thing... or the legal thing.... or the sane thing in Toy Boy's case.
Tom has an ear for dialogue and, a few gramatical missteps aside, the whole thing is rollicking fun as it goes from witty banter to touching moments to heroic speeches to villanous proclamations. It all works and it all feels remarkably real... and in many places laugh-out-loud hillarious.
And if that were not enough, Tom has followed up Honor Brigade with a one-shot story featuring his character of Toy Boy called Toy Boy: What Happens in Vegas. Check out the fun little YouTube video advertising the story:
And coming this October, Stillwell is following things up with yet another Toy Boy one-shot: Toy Boy: Strangers With Candy. You can check out a preview of it HERE
While it may seem like Toy Boy is hogging the spotlight right now... well, that's just what he does. Tom has created one of the break-out hit comic book characters that I've read in a long time... and I read a lot of comic books so that tells you something. But seriously, Toy Boy is snarky, anti-authority, insane and utterly charming under Tom's pen and you could almost believe that he's taken on a kind of life of his own. But rest assured, Toy Boy can't keep the spotlight forever... Lightning Rod controls electricity and sooner or later he'll just short it out. : >
But the fun doesn't stop there. If you ever get a chance to talk to Tom (and I highly recommend it as he's one sharp cookie) you'll see that he's got more ideas for stories and characters running around in his head then there probably is room for in the world. He already has plans for more Honor Brigade one-shots featuring some of the other HB characters aside from Toy Boy and he also had ideas for at least two other superhero comic book titles. And populating all of these titles are a wealth of characters. He has a poster showing all of his characters in his Spinner Rack Comics universe and for each one of them if he doesn't have a backstory already in mind he at least has the germ of an idea. Each one of the characters has a superhero name and a power set already fleshed out in his head and some of them are insanely clever and you wonder why no one has tried it before. Take, for example, his team of superheroic cheerleaders -- Team Spirit, or his resident psychic Mind Mime or the currently defunct criminal team of thieves Grand Larceny. Any one of these could probably helm at least a complete comic book mini-series and he's got probably close to a dozen like that lurking around in his imagination.
So if you like your comics a perfectly balanced mix of action, adventure, drama, conflict, and humor all wrapped up in bright colors and eye catching art then check out the Honor Brigade world.
You can buy copies of the color Honor Brigade TPB HERE
And you can buy a copy of Toy Boy: What Happens in Vegas HERE
And if you ever run into Tom Stillwell at a convention, tell him Stressfactor sent you.