Join us as we recount our impressions and share multi-page previews of several newly-launched titles from Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, and Image Comics. NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues were digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers.
Akaneiro #1 of 3 ($3.99, Dark Horse)
- Story: Justin Aclin
- Art: Vasilis Lolos
- Colors: Michael Atiyeh
- Letters: Michael Heisler
- Cover: Shu Yan
Based on the recently-released free-to-play action-RPG of the same name, Akaneiro #1 offers a decent enough stand-alone reading experience for a tie-in comic, and that’s speaking as someone whose familiarity with the source material is limited to reading the various reviews—the game’s reception was mixed, with a Metacritic rating as of this writing at 56—and viewing gameplay videos on YouTube. The basic conceit of the hack-and-slash video game is that it’s inspired in part by the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but filtered through Japanese folk mythology. Readers familiar with the prior work of lead game developer American McGee shouldn’t be too surprised with the premise, as his previous biggest hit, American McGee’s Alice, was a macabre take on another public domain children’s tale. The links to Little Red Riding Hood don’t become too obvious until about a third of the way through the issue. Prior to that, the story follows standard adventure conventions: A young, brash heroine sets out from her village to make a name for herself as a warrior fighting against some manner of supernatural threat. Aclin does a good job of making the whole affair accessible to someone not too well-versed in the video game’s story, but it is Vasilis Lolos’ highly-stylized art, which looks like a cross between the works of Stan Sakai and Bryan Lee O’Malley at first blush, that stays with the reader. A competent effort all around—this is no quick and cheap cross-promotional product—but Akaneiro‘s immediate appeal will likely be limited mostly to those potential readers already invested in the game.
The Bounce #1 ($2.99, Image)
- Writer: Joe Casey
- Line art & color supervision: David Messina
- Color art: Giovanna Niro
- Lettering: Rus Wooton
- Graphic design & story consult: Sonia Harris
Joe Casey is on a mission to free superhero comics development from what he sees as the currently stultifying grip of the Big Two and bring back “the daring experimentation of the 2000s.” Readers, pundits, and comics pros may disagree with Casey’s assessment of the industry’s current state (or his view of superhero comics from the early and mid-aughts, for that matter), but no one can dispute that he’s putting his money where his mouth is: From 2011’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker to the controversial, banned-on-comiXology Sex, and now to this month’s The Bounce, the former Uncanny X-Men scribe is on a tear, combining practiced craft with “mad ideas” abandon and creating superhero comics that hark back to the spirit, if not necessarily the style, of Warren Ellis’ work on The Authority and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Garth Ennis’ The Pro and The Boys, Grant Morrison’s Seaguy, as well as Casey’s own The Intimates and Gødland. The issue introduces readers to the eponymous superhero, a quippy stoner crimefighter who could very well have started life as a pitch for a mature readers-rated, Marvel MAX version of Speedball. Drug use is clearly a central theme in the title: The protagonist spends his time between supervillain tussles pulling massive bong rips at home or chasing after more exotic highs in the local club scene, the district attorney tasked with investigating the setting’s supervillain threat pops prescription painkillers like they were Skittles, one of the presumptive villains drinks a cocktail garnished with gecko, and the ending sequence reveals a character whose superhuman ability seems to be that he can be inhaled as a superpower-activating psychotropic vapor. It’s too early to tell where Casey is headed with all this, but the set-up is quite intriguing and David Messina’s art is practically J.G. Jones-esque in its well-tuned balance of naturalism and stylization. Definitely worth keeping up with for at least its first story-arc.
The Deep Sea one-shot ($2.99, Dark Horse)
- Script: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray
- Line art: Tony Akins
- Color art: Paul Mounts
- Lettering: Bill Tortolini
The Deep Sea is listed as a one-shot, but functionally, it reads very much like an open-ended first issue for a miniseries or ongoing series. The story revolves around a deep-sea exploration crew lost 55 years ago in an undersea accident, only to be found in the present-day not having aged from the time of their original disappearance. In short order, all manner of giant sea creatures begin appearing in the vicinity of their rescue. A link between the crew’s Rip Van Winkle-like reappearance and the rise of the giant sea monsters is hinted at, but elaboration of that mystery is left to future installments of the story. The Deep Sea first appeared as a serial entry in the Dark Horse Presents comics anthology, so it’s quite likely that we do end up having a full-blown miniseries follow-up, or at least an anthology continuation to this initial tale. The long-time writing duo of Palmiotti and Gray offer up an entertaining read, a sci-fi actioner that wouldn’t be out of place as the first act in a Hollywood summer movie that remains somewhat lighthearted and lively despite the introduction of graphic horror elements in the issue’s back half. The art by Tony Akins (Wonder Woman) serves the book well, with a dynamic and playful vibe that underscores the modern pulp feel of the book. Solid stuff that has me hoping that the rest of The Deep Sea story gets told sooner rather than later.
Doomsday.1 #1 of 4 ($3.99, IDW)
It took several minutes after reading the first issue of John Byrne’s new apocalyptic science-fiction comic Doomsday.1 to pin down what made it feel so vaguely familiar: It shares a central plot element with Larry Niven’s Hugo Award-winning 1971 short story Inconstant Moon, that of civilization falling victim to a massive solar flare. Unlike Inconstant Moon however, Doomsday.1, as the title suggests, goes beyond the events of the day the world as we know it ends. The issue closes with a group of survivors, astronauts who’ve escaped the worst of the flare’s radiation, making earthfall in one of the few places left habitable on the planet. I’m curious to see if Byrne will be pulling inspiration from another popular Niven work, Lucifer’s Hammer (co-written with Jerry Pournelle) for the story going forward of a fragmented human society trying to reestablish itself after a cataclysmic, extinction-level event. Byrne does a decent enough job of replicating the economic storytelling of 1970s “hard-SF” but it does leave the issue wanting in characterization and the science that informs the story seems a little dated: Offhand, I’d think that a burst of solar ejecta powerful enough to vaporize a significant portion of the Earth’s surface water would be strong enough to rip away the magnetosphere and most of the atmosphere with it, and that Doomsday.1‘s astronaut survivors should have been the first to succumb to the radiation from the event, exposed as they were. That being said, I obviously haven’t put as much thought into the idea as Byrne has, so I won’t dispute the science of the story’s premise too much, in case I’m missing something real obvious. I rarely comment on comic book covers unless they’re especially impressive or they’re unusually poor, and I have to say in the case of Doomsday.1 #1’s standard cover, it’s unfortunately the latter, an indecipherable mess of red and yellow-green splotches when viewed at a distance. By contrast, the interior line art and storytelling is typically solid, if somewhat unspectacular, Byrne. Doomsday.1 has some issues with its execution that keep me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation, but for those readers starved of modern “hard SF” comics, this will have to do for now.
Dream Merchant #1 of 6 ($3.50, Image) [EDITOR’S PICK!]
Nathan Edmondson has built himself a solid reputation as one of contemporary comics’ more prolific and talented purveyors of modern military/espionage fare. His work on The Activity is sleek, polished stuff, the kind of character-driven, high-stakes action-drama one can easily imagine being adapted for film or premium cable network television. Dream Merchant is a radical departure from Edmondson’s recent work in that it is a fantasy-horror title—although it should be noted that the writer has tackled fantasy themes in a prior work, 2009’s Olympus—and it is heartening to see the writer step outside of the military/espionage genre where he has found much success and stretch certain dormant creative muscles. The debut issue—a hefty and value-priced read at 48 pages for just $3.50—follows Winslow, an institutionalized patient who has trouble telling apart the waking world from the persistent world of his dreams. Things take a turn for the fantastical when seemingly sinister elements from his dream world start infiltrating reality and with the help of one of the institution’s cafeteria workers and a mysterious cloaked figure, Winslow embarks on an adventure to find out what exactly is going on. The set-up and premise may seem like fantasy boilerplate and the mental illness metaphor too plain, but Dream Merchant really shines when Edmondson focuses on characterization. The internal monologue of Winslow’s opening flashback sequence manages to be affecting while touching upon the intrinsic and undeniable appeal of a parallel fantasy world just a step removed from humdrum daily life. Novosadov is a new name to me, but if his artwork on Dream Merchant is any indication, he should be up for more assignments and more accolades soon enough. Certain sequences are imbued with just enough surrealist flair to emphasize the breakdown of normal reality and the intrusion of Winslow’s dreams and nightmares but the action remains consistently easy to follow. Image Comics and Nathan Edmondson look like they have another potential winner on their hands.
Dream Thief #1 of 5 ($3.99, Dark Horse) [EDITOR’S PICK!]
It makes for an interesting bit of synchronicity when two of the best comics debuts of May 15 have the word “dream” in their title. That’s really where the similarities between Edmondson and Novosadov’s Dream Merchant and Nitz and Smallwood’s Dream Thief begin and end, though. While the former has a bit of a Ray Bradbury/Stephen King/Clive Barker vibe to it, the latter is of a piece with the hybrid superhero-noir-horror of comics like Brubaker and Phillips’ Fatale or DeConnick and Noto’s recent revival of Dark Horse’s Ghost. Dream Thief‘s protagonist is a thoroughly unlikeable fellow: An unemployed slacker with delusions of being a movie director, John Lincoln cheats on and mooches off of his girlfriend while spending his time getting drunk or getting high with his best buddy, so it’s a credit to the ability of writer Jai Nitz (Green Hornet, Kirby: Genesis—Silver Star) that he is able to make Lincoln credibly sympathetic when it begins dawning upon the panic-stricken Atlanta stoner (how’s that for synchronicity again!) that he might be possessed by a magical Aboriginal mask that uses his body to perform revenge killings while he sleeps. Nitz flashes some “only-in-comics” storytelling chops with the creative use of second-person narration as a device for introducing a plot twist towards the end of the issue. Artist Greg Smallwood does great work in this issue, using imaginative panel construction and background graphics (see the two-page spread in the preview gallery below for one example) to propel the visual component of the narrative in novel ways, but not at the cost of storytelling clarity. As strong a miniseries debut as I’ve read all year.
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher #1 of 2 ($3.99, Dark Horse)
- Adaptation and art by: Richard Corben
- Lettering: Nate Piekos of Blambot
- Original story by: Edgar Allan Poe
“Hilarious” and “Edgar Allan Poe” don’t normally go together but the juxtaposition couldn’t be more apt in horror comics legend Richard Corben’s irreverent adaptation of Poe’s Gothic horror classic. This isn’t Corben’s first attempt at adapting Poe: In 2006, the Heavy Metal and Eerie comics magazine illustrator and recent Eisner Hall of Fame inductee adapted some ten Poe works for Marvel’s short-lived revival of The Haunt of Horror, published under its mature readers-rated MAX imprint. This adaptation of arguably Poe’s most celebrated prose work brings a sense of closure and completeness to Corben’s series of Poe adaptations. Corben’s caricatures bring into focus the abject strangeness and absurdity of The Fall of the House of Usher‘s cast. The artist’s renderings are—for lack of a better term—”stunningly grotesque,” with exaggerated, highly-detailed features and overly-dramatic expressions. A treat for fans of classic horror comics and creative adaptations of classic literature alike.
Half Past Danger #1 of 6 ($3.99, IDW) [EDITOR’S PICK!]
What initially looks like a staid and gritty World War II book and an homage to Silver Age G.I. Combat and Our Army at War comics quickly enters genre-bending Weird War Tales territory when protagonist Staff Sgt. Tommy “Irish” Flynn’s infantry squad encounters a pair of Tyrannosaurs while on combat patrol in the South Pacific. Stephen Mooney’s Half Past Danger #1 marks the beginning of what should be an eminently enjoyable, fast-paced, leave-your-hang-ups-at-the-door pulp adventure with snappy dialogue bursting with the slang and meter of the stylized patter of decades past. The opening issue narrative does little more than assemble the main cast that features stock characters such as the hard-drinking Tommy “Irish” Flynn, the square-jawed US Army officer Captain John Noble, the raven-haired MI6 femme fatale Agent Huntington-Moss, and their mysterious suit-wearing martial artist companion, but the level of visual storytelling craft on display more than makes up for the lack of meaningful character development. Mooney’s art is quite impressive, combining elements of more naturalistic, non-superhero comics rendering and dynamic, “in-your-face” panel and page composition, although if I were to have one very, very minor quibble, it’s that I wish he had relied more on his inking than his coloring to render volume, lighting, and shadow, which in turn would have evoked a more organic, classic comics look. Excellent stuff, put me down for the next five issues!