Founded by Sebastian A. Jones in 2007, Stranger Comics is a comics publisher who established the fantasy universe of Asunda with the 2009 publication of issue 1 of The Untamed. The Untamed told the origins of Niobe Ayutami, a Black elven-human girl who would become Stranger Comics’ flagship character.
Fifteen years later, Stranger Comics now has a sprawling collection of comic books expanding Niobe’s story with an incredible cast of characters, intricate worldbuilding, and gorgeous artwork. Here are ten of the best comic books from Stranger Comics (previously published or published this year) that I read in 2023.
- Niobe and Dura #2 by Sebastian A. Jones, Prentice Penny, Sheldon Mitchell, and Darrell May
A young Niobe is in the care of the great shaman Dura. They are fleeing the first undead, Vastar, Dura’s own brother, through the jungles of Ugoma. Dura must teach Niobe who she can be, all the while knowing WHAT she could become if she falls into Vastar’s hands. If he can get to Niobe, Dura will have to make the ultimate choice.
This particular issue shows the origin of Asunda and the conflict between Dura and her brother Vastar. Sheldon Mitchell’s artwork is lush and lovely here. Furthermore, Darrell May’s lettering enhances the magic of Sebastian A. Jones’ and Prentice Penny’s words and Dura’s backstory by giving it a solemn yet resilient tone.
- Niobe: She Is Life by Sebastian A. Jones, Amandla Stenberg, Ashley A. Woods, Darrell May, Hyoung Taek Nam
Niobe, the child of prophecy first introduced in The Untamed, is on the run both from her destiny and those who would see it unfulfilled. She finds shelter among her mother’s people, but when a boy is murdered, it sets off a series of events that will lead to war.
As I’ve written before, this book was my introduction to Stranger Comics and to Niobe as a character. Ashley A. Woods’ artwork and Darrell May’s lettering are breathtaking, complimenting Sebastian A. Jones’s introspective and tense plot.
- Tales of Asunda: Mother’s Hands #4 by Sebastian A. Jones, Matteo IIuminati, Arianna Pisani, Canaan White, Blond
When Niobe is lost, and in need of guidance, Dura takes Niobe back in time to see Nadami, the mother Niobe has never met. This is Stranger Comics’ most recent comic from the series Tales of Asunda, which is a series of standalone stories focusing on different characters. Notably, this particular comic takes place after the events of the graphic novel Erathune.
Not only does this issue feature the very first appearance of Niobe’s mother, Nadami, in the Asunda universe, but it also reunites an adult Niobe with Dura. Sebastian A. Jones tells a beautiful love story between Nadami and Powlorre, two Galemren elves from different tribes. Matteo Illumaninati’s pencils and inks are supported by Ariana Pisani’s colors, the latter of which provided dynamic battle sequences.
- Niobe and Dura # 1 by Sebastian A. Jones, Prentice Penny, Sheldon Mitchell, and Darrell May
Niobe’s homeland of Ugoma is under threat from Vastar, a being who wants to take Niobe to The Untamed (the devil who possessed her father, King Andrek III). After some of her fellow Galemren elves sacrifice themselves to protect Niobe, the shaman Dura arrives to give Niobe shelter and guidance.
This issue starts an ongoing series that takes place just before the graphic novel The Untamed Vol. 1: A Sinner’s Prayer. Sebastian A. Jones and Prentice Penny’s story shows Dura becoming a surrogate mother to a young Niobe while protecting her. Some of the most visually striking pages from Sheldon Mitchell are of Dura braiding a Galemren feather into Niobe’s hair. Darell May’s layouts also establish Dura’s brother Vastar as a menacing person through his gritty lettering.
- Niobe: She Is Death by Sebastian A. Jones, Sheldon Mitchell, Darrell May, and Hyoung Taek Nam
This sequel to Niobe: She Is Life sees a heartbroken Niobe harden her heart and become a bounty hunter who hunts down sex traffickers who are capturing young girls. While doing so, Niobe runs into someone from her past and must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to protect others.
Writer Sebastian A Jones tells a dark and powerful chapter of Niobe’s story. Sheldon Mitchell’s artwork matches the series’ morose tone with earthy and bloody colors with occasional brightness. Darrell May’s layouts and lettering compliment writing and artwork by symbolizing the struggle of light and darkness within Niobe.
- Tales of Asunda # 1: First Kill by Sebastian A. Jones, Julio Brilha, and Darrell May
Starting off the Tales of Asunda series is a stand-alone issue focusing on the characters Niobe and The Stranger, aka Hareth. Hareth is a swordsman and assassin who served as Niobe’s first mentor. Weaving two different moments in Niobe’s life, this issue tells of Niobe’s very first kill.
Sebastian A. Jones pens a powerful tale that shows how Niobe learned that the decision to kill can be an act of mercy or punishment. Accenting Jones’ words is Darrell May’s lettering, which enhances the dialogue and inner monologues by giving it emotional heft. Julio Brilha’s artwork is exquisite to look at, making this story magical and gritty all at once.
- Erathune by Sebastian A. Jones, Darrell May, and Sheldon Mitchell
Two souls to claim and Buxton can be free of his cursed axe for good, but both reside in the home from which he was banished on pain of death for killing his brother. With Niobe and Skarlok at his side, he will return just as war approaches and ultimately must choose between saving a town that shunned him and becoming free of his burden.
While this tale stars the dwarf Buxton Stonebeard, it also features the silver elf Skarlok and an older version of Niobe. Sebastian A. Jones and Darrell May write Niobe with a gravitas that sees her more comfortable in battle while also nodding to events from her past (esp. Niobe: She Is Life). The story also presents some interesting implications for her future. Sheldon Mitchell’s artwork has a morose tone similar to that of Niobe: She Is Death that suits the violent and bittersweet plot and character arcs.
- The Untamed Vol. 2: Killing Floor by Sebastian A. Jones, Peter Bergting, Darrell May, Jae Lee
Hareth and Niobe, a dead man and a would-be savior, travel to the port city of Asarra Bay, a haven for thieves and killers, two of whom may know the whereabouts of Hareth’s family. They just so happen to be the ruthless leaders of rival assassin guilds, and neither has much love lost for Hareth. It soon becomes clear that both have their own plans for the young child of light. Meanwhile, a child of shadow waits jealously for revenge, and Essessa, the right hand of The Untamed, is impatient to collect the devil’s due.
While The Untamed Vol. 1 saw Niobe in Hareth’s shadow, this volume allows her to take her first steps forward as a warrior in her own right. Sebastian A. Jones’ writing takes the grit of Hareth’s character and adds the budding hope of Niobe’s potential. Peter Bergting’s art and Darrell May’s letters showcase this in dark and light colors that reflect the setting and emotional tension between characters.
- The Untamed Vol. 3, Issue 2 by Sebastian A. Jones, Peter Bergting, and Darrell May
The Stranger is bound for the icy realm of Herfang in search of his wife and child. But the Gods have other plans, thanks to his companion, Niobe Ayutami. The unlikely pair will find themselves in the heart of the Ugoma jungle, where Niobe will come face to face with her brother Waso (from the pages of Dusu: Path of the Ancient) for the first time.
Coming off the tumultuous events of The Untamed Vol. 3 issue 1, this issue sees Niobe and Hareth at a tense crossroads after mistrust starts to build between the two. At the same time, the two have come across Niobe’s fellow Galemren, the Tribe of The Gathering Wind. Sebastian A. Jones juxtaposes Niobe’s relationship with Hareth and the Galemren in a thoughtful manner as Niobe starts to discover her roots. Peter Bergting’s artwork and Darell May’s letters are warm and light with greens, whites, and browns that seem to represent Niobe’s budding growth.
- The Untamed Vol. 1: A Sinner’s Prayer by Sebastian A. Jones, Peter Bergting, Darrell May
A cloaked Stranger slips into the rustic Town of Oasis, changing things forever. Ten years it had been since he ran this town with malice and harshness. Even then, there was hope for his soul. His wife and daughter were on the verge of turning him from wickedness. But they were murdered, and so was he. He is granted seven days to reap seven souls and gain a chance at revenge. Conflict arises as a young girl (Niobe Ayutami) reminds him of his murdered daughter. She acts as his conscience and becomes his only hope for salvation.
Stranger Comics’ very first comic book offering reads like a spaghetti Western with sprinkles of fantasy. Sebastian A. Jones writes Hareth, aka The Stranger, as a lone cowboy-like assassin returning to a dank and nearly desolate hometown as he paints a bloody path with the slightest chance at redemption. Peter Bergting’s artwork is at its roughest here, but it suits the grimness of the story and setting. Darrell May’s colors and lettering gradually go from dark to light, contrasting the characters of Hareth and Niobe well.
Latonya “Penn” Pennington is a Black-Asian genderqueer freelance contributor and poet. They’ve written a plethora of pop culture criticism at sites such as Popverse, Into More, Comics XF, and many more. As a poet, they’ve been published in places such as Black Sci-fi’s Scribes of Nyota, Fiyah Lit magazine, and The Daily Drunk. Check out more of their work on their website Words From A Penn.