Friday, September 13, 2013


For reasons that are too complicated and dull to get into here, today was my first chance in the last two weeks to visit my local comicbook store. That meant a bigger stack of new stuff than I normally get, but there was something else unusual about this particular haul: six different #1 issues from six different publishers. Seems like a statistical improbability, right? So let's quick look at each of them and see who comes out the gate strongest, and who is left limping in the back of the pack.

Batman Black and White #1 (DC): Everyone should buy this, and here's why: it's fun Batman. Black and White was a much-loved anthology series from the 90's, and DC has decided to bring it back, which is a great idea. Especially because the creators who work on the five 8-page stories in this issue take the opportunity to tell Batman tales that are lighter, less serious, and way less depressing than pretty much any of the current in-continuity Bat-Family books. They're not all straight comedy, but neither are they tragic melodrama, which is refreshing and entertaining as all get out. So let's all pick up a copy to let DC know that Batman can be a good time. I won't fully recap or even review each story here for the sake of space, but they're all good on the writing and art fronts both. They examine very different aspects of Batman's character and reality, but never really contradict or clash with one another. The best-looking and best-written was the Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story by Maris Wcks and Joe Quinones right in the middle. Harley was of the classic yuk-yuk variety that made her a fan favorite in the first place, so that was great. And Quinones had a lot of nice tiny touches, particularly Batman's glowing eyes. Each of these tales did something better than the others, though. Chip Kidd and Michael Cho's opener was retro but original, capturing an old-school superhero feel in a brand new narrative. Neal Adam's piece was intentionally confusing and discomforting for the sake of a solid final page, and though it was a little ham-fisted, it had the most interesting thing to say, a valid point about the Bruce Wayne/Batman relationship that I agree with 100%. Howard Mackie and Chris Samnee did the last story, and get serious points for using the Ventriloquist in a way I haven't seen before, both in terms of Wesker and Scarface's roles and the way the villain relates to Batman. Coming in second overall was John Arcudi and Sean Murphy's tale of Batman fixing the Batmobile after an especially intense car chase. With the best action and ending, this is the creative team I most want to see more from, especially Batman material. So yeah, this is a winner top to bottom, not something I'm used to thinking about current Batman comics.

Brain Boy #1 (Dark Horse): While essentially a character study, this issue struck an excellent balance between introducing its main character and developing its plot. Everything we learn about Matt Price a.k.a. Brain Boy (a nickname he despises) comes from seeing him in action. Having him as the narrator is helpful, too, of course, but it's really getting to watch him utilize his various abilities in the field that makes this comic so strong. And Price's explanations of his mental skills are succinct, perhaps some of the best power description writing I've ever seen. Fred Van Lente has clearly taken his time to figure out the ins and outs of his protagonist, and it pays off throughout this debut. Price's hot-headedness, youth, arrogance, and tremendous power are all clearly and quickly displayed, so that by the time the issue comes to a close he feels familiar. He's got a good sense of humor, too, never taking himself or his work too seriously. It gets him into some trouble, but it's also his most endearing quality. For all of Van Lente's stellar work, though, Brain Boy #1's greatest strength is artist R.B. Silva. Considering how many new characters he had to design, his inventiveness is astounding, as nobody really resembles anyone else in attire or demeanor. Yet the world is still cohesive, because Silva includes enough tiny details to make it look and feel real. The way he does Price's powers is just as good—no, better—than Van Lente's descriptions of them. Each new move have its own imagery, but just like with the cast, they all fit together. Most impressive was Silva's skill at mixing the goofily comedic with the horribly grim, once again managing to make them mesh seamlessly. This book has plenty of both, and that blended tone is a big part of what makes it so good. I believe Brain Boy is an old property being revamped by this team, but if that's true I have no experience with any earlier versions, so I didn't really know what to expect. After reading this issue, my expectations for future chapters are pretty damn high, because there really wasn't a single page I disliked. It's fast-moving but easy to follow, and built around a great hero with an intimidating powerset who's already involved in some terrifying, mystifying shit. More, please.

Eternal Warrior #1 (Valiant): This turned me off on its very first page when the title character punched his daughter in the face to try and stop her from joining him on the battlefield. It never got better. The "story" of most of the issue centers on a huge fight in ancient Mesopotamia. The Eternal Warrior (Gilad Anni-Padda) and his people fight against the forces of the death god Negral, for reasons undefined. It doesn't go well for Gilad's side until Xaran, the daughter he tried to keep out of the battle with physical abuse, shows up riding an elephant and overruns the enemies. For a hot second, everyone's happy, but then Xaran decides to go a step further and trample the women and children on Negral's side. This does not sit well with her father, so they trade blows yet again, and ultimately Xaran throws a spear through his chest and the chest of her brother Mitu. Gilad survives because he's immortal (hence "Eternal Warrior") but Mitu dies, and then we jump to the modern day where Gilad is hiding out in Africa somewhere and trying to lead a life of peaceful solitude. Except, wah wah, Xaran arrives at his doorstep, announcing that she, too, is immortal, and saying she needs his help with...something. Oh, but first her presence makes Gilad's dog go insane, so Gilad has to kill it, which is just disgusting and stupid and pointless. There's SO MUCH death, animal and human, leading up to that point, throwing in a scene of a man snapping his own pet's neck was a step too far for me. I have no idea what Greg Pak is going for with this ultra-violent debut that does almost nothing to establish the characters or a plot or...anything, really. It's just fighting. The first half of the issue is a war we have no reason to care about. Then modern Gilad kills his dinner in the African wilds, there are a couple pages of reflective calm, and finally Xaran shows up and causes the dog death scene before introducing some kind of threat/conflict that I don't understand whatsoever. It's jumpy, rushed, unfocused writing that starts low and goes nowhere. Artist Trevor Hairsine doesn't help much. His work is rough and chaotic, and while that fits the madness of the opening combat, it often makes it hard to tell what's happening or who it's happening to. It's easy to mistake Gilad for either of his children, and none of them look quite the same from one page to the next. I've been really enjoying Archer & Armstrong, the series in which this character was introduced, but Eternal Warrior lacks any of that book's fun or structure. I found myself surprised it had ended because so little had been accomplished.

Kings Watch #1 (Dynamite): I expected this to be the best of the batch, and while Brain Boy gave it a run for it's money, Kings Watch takes the cake when it comes to these six #1 issues. And it is Kings Watch, not King's Watch, even though in the actual story people reference the "King's Watch." I double checked the inside cover where the copyright information is, and I know it makes no sense because it makes it look like the telling is telling a bunch of kings to watch it, or announcing that they do, but what can I tell you? It's Kings Watch for sure. And it's amazing. Jeff Parker not only gives us his versions of main characters The Phantom, Mandrake, and Flash Gordon, but also what is already a surprisingly large supporting cast. There's an incredible fight scene (see below), the beginnings of an impending apocalyptic danger, the expected handful of jokes from Parker, and some stunningly efficient characterization. Each new member of the cast has an immediate presence, and Parker shows us who they are through the simplest actions, words, and choices. I say Parker, but of course Marc Laming deserves equal credit, for the character work especially. When Phantom, Lothar, and an elephant have an 8-page fight with a humungous humanoid dinosaur creature, the sheer awesomeness of it is all Laming. That's pretty much all we get as far as meeting the Phantom, but it's more than enough to see what kind of guy he is. Laming draws spaceships and cityscapes just as well as he does giant lizards and jungles, so it's all beautiful. Most importantly, he gives great depth to every character. For such a fantastical book, it's marvelously realistic, making everything feel a little heavier, scarier, and more believable. A great deal goes on in this issue, because Parker and Laming both pace each scene brilliantly. They jump around the globe, handle a half-dozen or so major characters, have fun, and keep the story moving constantly forward, and do it all with aplomb. This has the potential to round out 2013 as one of the best series of the year, assuming it maintains the high energy and smart structure of this first issue.

Mighty Avengers #1 (Marvel): So I broke a promise to myself and spent money on another comicbook drawn by Greg Land. With Al Ewing writing and a team including two of my favorite characters (Luke Cage and Monica Rambeau) I figured it would be worth the crummy art. And you know what? The art was better than I expected, so all in all I'd say I made the right call. Land still has a hard time making human faces look human, especially Monica, whose hair and facial structure seem to change every panel and who also looks a lot different than she ever has before. But there are some really strong layouts in this comic, and the stiffness that's usually such a pervasive part of Land's action scenes is nowhere to be found. Everyone moves fluidly and naturally, which is a major improvement over his previous work. Ewing does a pretty solid job of introducing his cast, and gives them all their own voices, outlooks, and motives. And the threat that is going to bring the team together shows up in a destructive and impressive way, so all the pieces of a decent debut are here. Theoretically working against the book is the fact that it's an Infinity tie-in, but speaking as someone who hasn't read any of Infinity, I still understood everything that happened here. Well...maybe not the super brief scene with Dr. Strange toward the end. I'm assuming that's something from the event itself, but it only really lasts for a page of this issue, and its purpose is mostly just to let the villain say some creepy-sounding but largely meaningless things, as villains are wont to do. So it pulls that off, anyway. Catching up on the current statuses of a few characters I adore and meeting a couple new ones (new to me, anyway) who I'm eager to see more of is a decent way to start off a new series. Being pleasantly surprised by an artist I usually hate ain't half bad neither. So in the end I think I'm slightly more excited for this title than I was before, which I suppose is the mark of a successful (if not exceptional) opening chapter.

Reality Check #1 (Image): A well-done, straightforward introductory issue. The main character is comicbook writer/artist Willard Penn, who narrates directly to the reader, giving us his full background in the cleanest, clearest possible way. He's struggling to get his career going, has a juvenile and somewhat cowardly approach to romance that doesn't seem to do him much good, and the defining moment in his life was the death of his older brother Timmy. The two of them were best friends, and Timmy was sort of everything Willard wanted to be—an incredible artist, good with women, confident, popular, etc. Losing his brother gave Willard a new drive when it came to creating comics, and he's let every other aspect of his life go neglected in pursuit of that dream. Lucky for him, his latest series, Dark Hour, had a wildly successful debut, so after years of hard work, Willard is finally getting what he wants. Unfortunately, he's having a hell of a time producing the next issue, feeling as if his ideas have been literally pulled out of his head. On the final page, he discovers that is exactly what's happened, when Dark Hour himself shows up in the flesh asking Willard for help. This is purely set-up, but that's all it wants to be, taking its time to lay a foundation sturdy enough to hold up whatever else is coming in future issues. Writer Glen Brunswick makes Willard a well-rounded sad sack, lonely and a little afraid of the world, but still doing his damnedest to achieve his dreams. Brunswick also includes some smart and quirky humor, with the cream of the crop being when Dark Hour's Black-Cat-esque girlfriend Demonica says, "I don't steal retail!" The more lightweight feel of this series is matched by Viktor Bogdanovic's artwork, whose lines have a softer edge. Dark Hour has a good-looking but not-too-flashy design, and his secret identity, Thomas Scott, hits just the right level of Bruce Wayne knock-off. Intentionally so, as Willard himself describes Dark Hour as "libidinal Batman" (another joke I enjoyed). Would it have been even more impressive if Brunswck and Bogdanovic had gotten past the preliminary stages of their premise? Obviously yes. But for a first issue, getting all of the pieces in place, making me care about the cast, and ending on a big reveal that will undoubtedly launch into some kind of awesome superhero adventure is more than enough. I got exactly what I wanted out of Reality Check #1, and I'm anxious to see what else this title has in store.

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