Reviewed by Marc Mason
Eight new first issues that have crossed my desk lately. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Probably the most high profile of the group, AMERICA’S GOT POWERS (Image) delivers quite a bit of bang for the buck. Writer Jonathan Ross and artist Bryan Hitch offer up 40 pages of story for a mere three bucks, which is nice, and with Hitch doing the work, you know it’s damn pretty. The story introduces us to Tommy Watts, a non-powered young man whose brother happens to be a champ of the eponymous reality show the book is about. As we meet Tommy and go inside the workings of the show (surprise- it’s corrupt!) we also get a nice bit of world building and exposition, as well as the dynamic action that the artist is famous for. The characters are a little broadly drawn, though that’s somewhat to be expected in a first issue, and there have been enough permutations on the superhero reality show that the book really needs to find a way to set itself apart quickly. But I’ll admit to ignoring that quite a bit as I slowly perused the pages and enjoyed the level of detail and craft on display here. Ultimately, I wasn’t blown away, but I couldn’t turn away, either. I’ll definitely keep reading.
Coming close as far as high-profile books go, though, is THE SHADOW (Dynamite). Writer Garth Ennis knows his way around, his track record speaking for itself, and he hits the mark again here. His reintroduction of Lamont Cranston and his alter-ego is absolutely scintillating, a blast of exciting pulp that really grabs you from page one. Ennis has multiple things he must do here: introduce the character to a generation who has never read his adventures, tell a cool story for those who already know the character, and invest some emotional depth to the proceedings in order to give all readers a hook. He succeeds completely. By the time you reach the end of the book, you know everything you need to know and have multiple reasons to come back. As a bonus, artist Aaron Campbell has already proven himself to be perhaps the best period-artist in the business right now, and this book cements that reputation. This is one of the best debuts I’ve seen in a while.
Writer Jonathan Hickman has been raising his profile quite a bit over the last few years, and he once again works with artist Ryan Bodenheim on SECRET (Image). This book continued to show me a new, more interesting Hickman, a writer who now seems to have better grasp on his storytelling. Where his earliest work tended to lean toward incoherency, now there is a renewed focus on putting away the tricks and being efficient in moving the reader through the tale. SECRET tells us of a private security firm that isn’t exactly swimming in high ethics; that said, they sure are interesting. There is clearly more lurking beneath the surface here, as there should be with a book that is essentially a mystery. That’s something we don’t see a lot of anymore in comics, which alone gets my attention here. The pages are clear and have a sharp look about them, and the scripting is light and not overdone. This makes two winners in a row for me with Hickman. My opinion of his work has now begun to truly turn around.
Vampirella + Fight Club = VAMPIRELLA: THE RED ROOM, a fun new mini featuring comics’ sexiest bloodsucker (Dynamite). I’ve enjoyed writer Dan Brereton’s take on Vampi in the past, and he delivers again here with a story that is loaded with action and contains just enough character to keep the pace moving along. Conceptually, this is a no-brainer, and artist Jean Diaz does well with being turned loose to depict maximum carnage and mayhem. If you buy this book, you aren’t looking for intellectual stimulation – you’re looking for sexy, bloody fun. It delivers just that.
Jumping back over to mystery comics, MIND THE GAP also fits that description nicely (Image). Here, we get a two-track story; in one, we follow the friends and family of a young girl who has been injured and is in a coma as they cope with the accident and try and piece together how it happened; in the other, we follow the spirit/soul of the comatose victim as she puts her mind back together and discovers that there is very much something in the gap between life and death and she just might have some power and control that will shock the living and dead alike. Aided and abetted beautifully by artists Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, writer Jim McCann’s story does an excellent job of piquing your curiosity, gaining your interest, and delivering surprises that make you want to read more. As good as McCann’s other work has been, I should have known how good this was going to be, yet I was still surprised at how much I was into it.
About a month ago I interviewed writer Paul Tobin and we talked a bit about THE BIONIC WOMAN (Dynamite). Now, having read issue one, I can tell you that he wasn’t just blowing smoke about the book. You don’t need to have read THE BIONIC MAN to understand any of it, and you don’t need to have any familiarity with Jaime Sommers, either. Instead, everything you need to know and that matters is all right here in a very accessible spinoff from the main title. Using clever exposition and righteous action, we get a full accounting of who the lead character is and why she is in her present situation. Artist Leno Carvalho shows aptitude for action and quiet moments alike, and the book demonstrates Jaime’s new assortment of powers in intriguing and interesting ways. Spinoffs tend to be a crapshoot. This is a good one.
Writer/artist Raffaele Ienco certainly produces lovely pages. His colors are vibrant, the level of detail is impressive, and his action sequences are spectacular. All that said, I wasn’t fully sold on EPIC KILL. The story follows a young woman named Song who has been sent to a mental facility because she has gaps in her memory. Well, and because she’s a deadly assassin bent on killing a lot of people including the President of the United States. The disconnect here is simple: you don’t get any sort of idea of why it would be bad to keep this woman put away. She kills a shitload of people in making her escape, which we are meant to cheer on, yet we don’t have any idea why we should want her to succeed in her goals. Without that, there’s not much in the way of rooting interest for her beyond the kewl factor. Hopefully the next issue will deal with that.
MERCILESS: THE RISE OF MING (Dynamite) sure looks pretty. Artist Ron Adrian puts together pages that you can absolutely savor with your eyes. Writer Scott Beatty delivers a solid script, too. Yet somehow, all the pieces don’t quite feel put together here. Telling the origin of one of pulp’s great villains is an excellent idea, but it feels a little too clean. As a prince to his father, Ming is still kind of a dick. He’s not full-on evil yet, but you wouldn’t want to have a beer with the guy. So when he returns from a meeting with the hawk people and starts berating and murdering his scientists, it doesn’t come as a surprise. I realize this is carping, and I’ll stop – most readers and lovers of the FLASH GORDON stories are going to absolutely love this book. It’s a good comic. I was just disappointed in the direction the story took.