Need something to scratch that Stranger Things itch while waiting for the show’s second season? These three comics should help tide you over.
Like what seems to be 99% of the Netflix-viewing population, I’ve fallen in love with Stranger Things, the new horror series from writer-director siblings Matt and Ross Duffer, starring a group of talented young actors led by Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, as well as David Harbour and a resurgent Winona Ryder.
The period show (it’s set in 1983, in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana) combines the best elements of 1980s escapist family film fare—think Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Richard Donner’s The Goonies—with the propulsive small-town American horror of prime Stephen King (novels such as It, Firestarter, Pet Sematary, and The Tommyknockers come to mind). Rounding out the series are a hypnotic synthwave score and a period-appropriate soundtrack. The Duffer Brothers aren’t just going for cheap nostalgia, though—Stranger Things is definitely informed by modern sensibilities and nuance, particularly in its presentation of its characters’ various social, familial, and emotional issues.
So what’s a Stranger Things fan to do while waiting for the as-yet unannounced next season? Why, read comics, of course! Listed below are three modern comics set in the 1980s that tackle similar themes:
Juice Squeezers, Vol. 1: The Great Bug Elevator by David Lapham (writer/illustrator) and Lee Loughridge (colorist)
Publication date: December 2013–April 2014 (four-issue miniseries); August 2014 (paperback collection)
Official synopsis (from Darkhorse.com): Tunnels made by a legion of giant bugs crisscross the fields below Weeville, and only one thing can stop them from overrunning this quaint California town: the Juice Squeezers. A covert group of scrawny tweens, the Squeezers are the only ones who can fit into the cramped subterranean battlefield and fight the insects on the frontlines!
Review excerpt: “While the comic’s ‘kids vs. giant bugs’ conceit can ostensibly be read straight-up as a low-stakes tween/young teen adventure, there’s a darker undertone to the whole affair for those who are inclined to look for it that serves as commentary on the modern state of unending war, where each succeeding generation unquestioningly inherits and perpetuates the conflicts of its parents, without knowing or understanding why the wars started in the first place. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise, this is a kid-friendly adventure comic that expertly and stealthily manages to broach basic themes of a political and military nature without devolving into tedium.” (Click here to read my full review of Juice Squeezers #1.)
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Cliff Chiang (illustrator), and Matt Wilson (colorist)
Publication date: October 2015–August 2016 (ongoing series); March 2016 (paperback collection of the series’ first five issues)
Official synopsis (from ImageComics.com): From Brian K. Vaughan, #1 New York Times-bestselling writer of Saga and The Private Eye, and Cliff Chiang, legendary artist of Wonder Woman, comes the first volume of an all-new ongoing adventure. In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.
Review excerpt: “The book’s five chapters are largely devoted to laying down the groundwork for the series’ science-fiction conceit—the creative team has a lot of fun with it, with pterosaur-riding invaders and a time-travel conspiracy plot twist that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories—but there is also what seems to be an overarching theme about growing up and realizing that adults don’t have all the answers, and that they can be as clueless and as afraid as their children when it comes to facing life’s existential challenges.” (Click here to read my full review of Paper Girls, Vol. 1.)
Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar (writer) and Tommy Lee Edwards (artist)
Publication date: July 2008–December 2008 (six-issue miniseries); January 2009 (hardcover collection); July 2009 (paperback collection)
Official synopsis (from Marvel.com): Young Toby Goodman lives an ordinary life, filling his days with Marvel comic books as an escape from dysfunctional family. Then one day Toby stumbled across an old house, inhabited by the villains that terrorize the Marvel Universe. At first, no one believes what he claims to have seen, but that was before the bodies started turning up.
Review excerpt: “Stephen King’s influence on Millar’s writing for the miniseries should be obvious to any reader familiar with the bestselling author’s work. The intersection of growing adolescent pains, horror, and fantasy; the highly self-aware protagonist/narrator; the small town setting; and various plot devices featured in Marvel 1985 are hallmarks of King’s It, The Body, The Regulators, and lesser known works such as The Word Processor of the Gods, The Monkey, and Umney’s Last Case. Like King before him, Millar deftly employs a conversational narrative tone pioneered and mastered to great effect in horror and fantasy by SF Hall of Famer Ray Bradbury… Despite being steeped heavily in Marvel Comics superhero lore (and the subset of that lore extant in 1985 at that), Marvel 1985 is accessible to even the superhero comic book novice, requiring of the reader only a superficial familiarity with Marvel’s most popular properties and a very basic understanding of superhero comics and the niche they occupy in popular entertainment.” (Click here to read my full review of Marvel 1985.)