I think it goes without saying that this review will contain spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness. If you haven’t seen it you probably should. OF course if you’re buying this book without seeing the movie your existence puzzles me and I don’t know of what help I can be to you.
The issue begins at the trial of Benedict Cucumberbatch’s Khan following the events of Into Darkness. I know Cumberbatch’s casting as Khan is still a touchy subject for a good number of people, so the panel where the Federation is confused as to why this whitebread Englishman is purporting to be Khan while the photo they have for him clearly looks like Ricardo Montalban puts a great big grin on my face
The book then turns into an origin story for Khan, beginning in the 1970s where a company is interested in genetically engineering super soldiers. Khan is shown as a cripple who through genetic tampering in combination with a superior intellect grows into a violent, sociopathic threat.
I don’t know how “canon” this story is meant to be. I know that Robert Orci gets a “story consultant” credit on the opening page, but beyond that I do not know if anything contained herein will do anything to assuage the feelings of people offended by Cumberbatch’s casting as Khan. It is shown that young Khan does indeed look far more dark skinned than Cumberbatch, so are we going to find that the Khan from Into Darkness may not be who he claims? I doubt it because the general public is not going to read this book, so it would do nothing to add to the story unless they adapt part of it for the third installment of the film franchise, which I doubt very much will happen.
On its own merit the book is interesting and easily a recommended read to Star Trek fans. Where the series will go after this first issue is a real mystery, one better kept than Abrams’ attempt to hide Cumberbatch’s identity as Khan.
Charles Soule has busted onto the comics scene with a fiery vengeance. His name is popping up all over the place. Last week I lauded his Superman/Wonder Woman # 1 as being one of the best books of the week and a huge surprise in my eyes. He’s slated to write a new She-Hulk book for Marvel and this week his creator-owned book from Oni Press, Letter 44 hits shelves. How does it measure up when compared to his other work?
I will say that the premise is interesting. The idea is that the incoming president recieves a letter from his predecessor outlining the fact that upon taking the job he learned of the existence of an extra-terrestrial craft within the solar system. This of course freaked the man out somewhat hard and his response was to send a team into space to intercept the craft. All of this seems like a great premise for a book. It could really sing if handled correctly. The stumble comes in this instance when Soule insists on making the book an obvious parallel to Barack Obama’s entry into the oval office. The departing president is a not-at-all veiled pastiche of George W. Bush and the book posits that the wars in the middle east were an attempt to battle-harden our troops in the event of hostile alien contact.
Revisionist history doesn’t work when you don’t have the stones to actually utilize history’s characters in a fictional manner. This book could have been really great satire if Barack Obama were the protagonist. But the problem is Soule is writing this book several years too early to utilize his term as president effectively. Better still would have been if Dubya had been our protagonist. Instead we get these effigies that don’t necessarily have the weight we would like for this story.
Now, the art is gorgeous and Albuquerque’s pencils on the page drawing the stars makes me pine for the days of Blue Beetle, but on the whole the first issue fails to live up to the weight of its own premise.
One of the more interesting of the bunch is Afterlife With Archie, a book that takes our beloved Riverdale gang and drops them into the middle of a macabre horror story, far removed from the malt shop merriment Archie, Jughead, and company are so usually assorted with.
Beginning with a distraught Jughead appearing in the middle of the night at the doorstep of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, begging for mystical assistance in saving his beloved pup Hotdog after a late night run-in with a vehicle (later revealed to be driven by a familiar face to Archie readers). What follows is equal parts Romero and Pet Sematary, with artwork by Francesco Francavilla all draped in dark black, orange, and purple hues that evoke a very specific, spooky vibe.
Writer Robert Aguirre-Sacasa pulls no punches in giving a story that in no way belongs on the kiddie rack. In an interview with the New York Daily News he explained his ambitions with the story; “It’s a hardcore horror book,” said Aguirre-Sacasa, a Harvey Award-winning writer who melded his personal interests and horror obsessions into influences for the book. “This is why I was meant to do comics.”
If you’ve never read an Archie book, don’t worry, this book reads well as a straightforward horror comic. If you’re a fan of the Archie pantheon however, every page packs an extra punch. As far as Halloween horror comics go, Afterlife With Archie is the one to beat.
I guess we can just say with certainty that we have entered the age of the crowd-funded comic book boom. Kickstarter has really changed the way we look at creator owned books nowadays. The guage for whether the audience is there is built into the concept. If you trust the talent involved and are willing to invest in them, they will repay you with a title that you can then judge with the benefit of knowing what you were getting from the inception.
I think the process has helped the industry in many ways. I think that Kickstarter is going to be the thing that gives creators the opportunity to do everything they deserve to do in the medium. You hear horror stories of books being shot down by editors years ago and you wonder what life they might have had in today’s climate. I’m sure more than a few rejected scripts are finding their way to Kickstarter projects.
Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Rocket Girl # 1 is definitely a shining example of how Kickstarter can work and work well. Amy and Brandon bring us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands at the moment, a considerable feat if you consider the amazing spread of new books we get each and every week. I have been pumping out review after review for new creator owned books and I have gone on record as saying we’re in the middle of an Image renaissance where in a few years time people will look back and stutter in amazement at how many wildly inventive titles the company released.
The story revolves around an officer in 2013’s New York Teen Police Department who goes back in time to investigate an organization who has allegedly been altering history to grow their influence in the market. The book is the sort of high-concept science fiction that is sorely lacking in today’s comic book market. What is simply amazing is how the scriptwork is vibrant and stylized in a way that matches Reeder’s dazzling art. While Montclare gives us dialog that does a great deal of worldbuilding and allows the characters to become realized to the reader in ways that are both subtle and organic, Amy Reeder does the same thing with the art; it is expressive and stylized in such a manner that it forces the book to stand out and grab the reader’s attention. Much like Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, which I applauded a few weeks back, Rocket Girl is a perfect blend of script and art that many other comics simply wish they could attain. The elements that make this book meld into something truly special and leaves us entertained and fulfilled in the way that a monthly comic should.
If you’re looking for a new debut issue to hop onto, I strongly suggest you toss this onto your pull list. I’ve already grabbed a few extra copies to hand out to some friends because I truly do think this is an amazing book that can truly be a cross-genre hit.
I have been more than a little harsh towards DC lately. I feel like they just don’t know how to communicate with their audience in a way that doesn’t come off as condescending anymore. Their PR campaigns and their outreach to the folks that buy, read, and love their books leave a lot to be desired. The publicity for Superman/Wonder Woman for example, just seemed off message from the get-go, as if DC didn’t understand what audience they were reaching to with this one. DiDio’s comparison of trying to appeal to the Twilight audience angered many of DC’s loyal fans, a great example of how out of touch the company is with most of its publications. I think that the books should speak for themselves in most cases, but part of the publishing game is talking up your product and that is one of DC’s recent failings. They just aren’t very good at being their own hype-man.
This is unfortunate considering that Superman/Wonder Woman is a surprisingly well-written, beautifully drawn book. I did not have high hopes for the first issue because the DC hype machine made me feel that I wasn’t in the target audience and that the writing would likely not be in line with what the characters are experiencing in their own titles. I am happy to say that I was proven wrong. Writer Charles Soule, who has been making a name for himself in recent months, gives Diana and Clark some real depth here. Obviously the crux of the story is their relationship, and he uses that coupling as an excuse to better explore the character traits of each of the heroes as individuals. Like a mathmatic equation, we get to see the individual parts that comprise the eventual answer that is their relationship. It isn’t melodrama in the way I was expecting. I am quite impressed with how well everything gels together. The bouncing back and forth between Clark and Diana in their civilian lives and in the midst of a crisis gives the reader varied perspectives that also make the narrative flow smoothly.
Let me also state for the record that this is probably Tony Daniel’s finest work. His pencils are clean and strong with the ink and color work making every panel pop in a way that I haven’t seen from his artwork thus far. I may have been dismissive of him at times, which I now regret because if this is his A-game it is easy to see why he has become a top-tier artist.
Simply put, this is a major home run for DC. One they desperately needed.
I spent a good part of my time as a comic book fanatic turning Image Comics into a punchline. We all remember the nineties. Now it has the nostalgic place in our memories the way that previous decades did. You can use the nineties as a period piece now. We’re far enough removed from it to work. The way Scorsese made us look at the seventies and eighties when he made Goodfellas, I can imagine someone doing for the nineties; distilling the time period down to its elements and showing us what we were all too caught up to see. I look at the Image comics output of that era and, generally speaking, it was nonsensical man-child crap that was disposable then and outright embarrassing in hindsight. So of course as a know-it-all nerd I would joke about how Image was a garbage imprint and that they could never put out anything worth reading. I feel like the last ten years have been a veritable challenge to every notion anyone ever had of Image. Kirkman’s Walking Dead and Invincible were revolutionary. Bendis cut his teeth on Powers there. It has become the creator-owned slice of heaven that the founders of the company intended it to be. Books like Morning Glories, Saga, Lazurus, and Thief of Thieves are the sort of thing that prove creator owned comics can be done to perfection and reinvent ideas associated around a single company. The last ten years have been a controlled burn in making me eat my words about Image as a company.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is going to be another one of those books from Image that makes everyone sit up and take notice. While DC comics relies on gimmick covers to sell books with characters that nobody recognizes and Marvel works harder on mining their character catalog out for TV and Film adaptations, real visual storytelling is taking comics in the direction it needs to go and the one company publishing those books right now is Image. Fraction and Zdarsky give us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands. Visually or narratively, I dare you to find something that compares. The voice of our lead character recounts the story of her oddball sexual education in comedic and dramatic flashbacks that give us a good sense of who she is as a fully realized concept before ever getting to the crux of the book’s premise. We learn that she finds herself stuck in time, a swirling mass of colors and euphoria enveloping her as she reaches sexual climax. This is obviously a frightening and unnerving experience for her, one for which there is no context or assistance readily available. Suzanne is mysterious, and a mystery herself, but she is also fully fleshed out and her quirks and tics seem like logical and organic reactions to stimulus from the character’s background. The dialog that spews forth from her may seem hyper-realistic in the style of a Diablo Cody screenplay at times, but while Juno was just some quirky teenager, Suzanne’s sensibilities and personality traits can be traced back to her childhood trauma. What we see of her is a mix of the shield she puts up to cover her pain and frustration as well as the resigned true self that she tries not to let slip. This is a well written, character-driven book. Matt Fraction has really outdone himself here.
Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the book sing though. His artwork is unlike anything you will see at DC or Marvel. His line-work is crisp and doesn’t fall into the overly realistic post-Hitch style that we see so much of nowadays but instead presents us with clean artwork that flows from panel to panel effortlessly. He has a mastery of body language and facial expression that this book requires to truly work. Suzanne emotes more than a little bit with her body and a look in her eyes or the sloop of her shoulders holds as much meaning as any of her dialog. This is a book about sex, after all, and how important are the little details like the positioning of a hand or the angle of someone’s face when trying to convey a sense of intimacy? Zdarsky seems to understand this and peppers the book with expressive, emotive artwork that may not be everybody’s cup of tea but serves this book better than any artist out there right now.
In all seriousness, this is a compelling book. If you like truly well written characters and intriguing stories I suggest you buy this issue. My shop ordered a metric ton of them. Because myself and the store manager believe that the market for good, outside-the-box comics is only growing and we want people to have the opportunity to read something like this at its debut. Don’t kick yourself like you do for not getting in on Walking Dead, Invincible, or Saga at the ground floor. Pick this one up and remember just how engaging comic books can be.
I really enjoyed the last Hawkeye series with Mockingbird. I’m not a huge fan of the character and so I don’t mind seeing different takes on him from different writers. I’m certainly not going to pitch a bitch about the way Marvel used him in The Avengers on YouTube the way some people did. I will admit that the current re-design of his costume strips him of some of what makes him visually unique, but his costume is systemic of the current trend in comics where a stripped down sense of utilitarian design work is en vogue. However, a costume does not make the character. So is the book focused on a character worth reading about?
Matt Fraction and David Aja reteam and bring back some of the magic they worked with Immortal Iron Fist on a character who needs a steady hand more than just about any solo character in Marvel’s stable. With his profile raised considerably because of his appearance in The Avengers Hawkeye needs to validate his own existence somewhat. He isn’t a particularly interesting character most of the time. He’s a side dish to the main entree in team books. He’s someone who is born to share the spotlight. Fraction luckily is one of those writers who really knows how to dig deep and find the things that work about a character and this is one of his strongest debut works since Iron Fist or Invincible Iron Man. I personally have been enjoying the majority of his work but will admit that he can fall into a little bit of a lull sometimes. His Uncanny X-Men run was about 50/50 and Fear Itself had none of his usual flair.
With Hawkeye, Fraction seems to get back to the nitty gritty. We get maybe a page and a half of Barton in costume and the rest of the issue follows his exploits while he’s not on duty. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a hero story. It isn’t about him going to pick up milk or wash his car. Instead we get a closer look at how Barton views himself; in the context of his role as an Avenger, in the shadow of Captain America, and as a simple man without powers standing next to men who can shatter planets. Fraction utilizes the first issue to tell a stand-alone story that explains why Barton does the things he does and where his moral code comes from. And Fraction tells us more about Barton through the way he treats a simple dog than most writers do with an entire series worth of heroic exploits. I know some might say its a cheap trick to play the wounded animal card, but Fraction nails it and nobody can really deny how effective the issue is.
I was planning on giving the series a pass entirely but the first issue was good enough that I can see myself following it through. I know for a fact that there are less deserving books that I’ve stuck with for the duration. I figure this one isn’t going to disappoint me anytime soon.