The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | The #1s of May 29 and June 5, 2013

First Impressions | The #1s of May 29 and June 5, 2013
Published on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 by
[UPDATED] Troy and Zedric discuss X-Men #1, The Wake #1, Clive Barker’s The Next Testament #1, Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, Astro City #1, King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1, Earth 2 Annual #1, and The Last of Us: American Dreams #1 in today’s First Impressions. NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues were digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers.

Daredevil: Dark Nights #1 of 8 (Marvel, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • dd_dn_01_00Story & art: Lee Weeks
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Lettering: Clayton Cowles for Virtual Calligraphy
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Religious motifs play a significant role in the narrative and visual design of Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, the first issue in an eight-part miniseries that will serve as a continuity-independent story showcase for three different comics veterans: The first three issues comprise Lee Weeks’ “Angels Unaware”—a story that has Matt Murdock battling against injuries, gangs, and a blizzard to bring a waiting transplant patient a donated organ. Issues four and five will have the blind crimefighter taking on alien invaders in David Lapham’s “What a Day, What a Night,” and the final three issues will see Daredevil taking his talents to South Beach to team up with Misty Knight for a kidnapping rescue mission in the Jimmy Palmiotti-written, Thony Silas-illustrated “The Trip.”

Daredevil’s religious background has always been an important part of the character’s make-up—one could probably make the case that Catholic guilt is one of his prime motivators as a costumed crimefighter based on some of the stories written by Frank Miller, Ann Nocenti, and Dan Chichester in the 1980s through the early 1990s—and long-time Daredevil artist Lee Weeks clearly sets out to tell “Angels Unaware” with storytelling devices and imagery inspired by Christian themes, such as an early sequence that takes its cues from the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This and other nods to the Christian influence are effectively interwoven in the narrative for the most part, augmenting the events on the page instead of distracting from them, although I can understand if some readers might find the regular in-panel insertion of Biblical verses to be lacking in subtlety. It is Weeks’ art that really grabs my attention in this issue, however. The artist has long been one of my favorite all-time Daredevil illustrators—he’s right up there with David Mazzucchelli and John Romita, Jr. in my personal top three list of DD artists—and he does not disappoint in the least with this outing, inking his own pencils in a manner reminiscent of Klaus Janson’s bold inkwork on the monthly Daredevil comic book back in the 1980s and employing a dynamic “camera” that doesn’t undermine, and in fact enhances, storytelling clarity. It will be interesting to see how the miniseries will hang together as a whole given the somewhat disjointed, quasi-anthology nature of its format, but given the quality of this first installment and the overall body of work of the creators who will subsequently take over from Weeks in the coming months, Daredevil fans have lots of reasons to look forward to the rest of Daredevil: Dark Nights.

- Zedric Dimalanta

Astro City #1 (DC/Vertigo, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • astrocity1_00Writer:: Kurt Busiek
  • Artist: Brent Anderson
  • Colors: Alex Sinclair
  • Lettering: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

This is my editor’s pick of this batch of first issues for one simple reason: Astro City is back. I’ve loved this series since it was first created so many years ago (60 issues, according to Busiek, I’m way behind). That being said, I’m a little disappointed in the return. In his piece in the back of the issue, Busiek explains that they never stopped working on Astro City, there are ten or so issues in the can. You can feel the continuity from the previous series to this one. Characters like American Chibi help give it a small amount of freshness, but this is definately not a true #1.

The story itself is a bit odd, particularly Busiek’s use of The Broken Man. I really didn’t like it and hope there’s a larger story going on because as it is, it really took me out of the story. What should have been really similar to the first Astro City #1 so many years ago, an ordinary citizen’s view of Astro City, instead comes across as very strange. It’s jarring to read, interrupting the flow of the story.

I’m a bit disappointed in the actual first issue of the returning Astro City but I’m so glad it’s back.

- Troy Osgood

Earth 2 Annual #1 (DC, $4.99)

  • EARTH2ANN_Cv1Writer:: James Robinson
  • Pencilers: Cafu & Julius Gopez
  • Inkers: Cafu & Cam Smith
  • Colors: Pete Pantazis
  • Lettering: Carlos M. Mangual
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

When I first heard about this book, it was before James Robinson had announced he was leaving Earth 2. Before that, this book had meaning, it was going to serve to help move some of the stories in Earth 2 along as well as introduce new wrinkles and new stories. The annual does that, but now with Robinson leaving, how much of it matters? Does anything introduced in this annual matter anymore? Not all the threads will be resolved by Robinson and not all the threads will be picked up by the new writer.

It’s a shame because there are some interesting things being set up and it’s obvious that Robinson had a long term goal for Earth 2. There’s enough in this issue along for a couple year’s worth of stories in the main book. Earth 2 needs an annual like this one, a story that adds to the overall tapestry and pushes along existing storylines well introducing new ones. There’s a lot that goes on in the Earth 2 book, so having supporting material can only help.

That is if the supporting material is under the direction of the world’s architect. Robinson has created this new world, he’s shaping it, filling it, and he should be the one that controls it. But it’s a work-for-hire situation and Earth 2 is one of DC’s better books so they want to captialize on it. That means it starts getting out from under Robinson’s control, and rumor is that was why he left. Really can’t blame him.

The end result is that this annual is just wasted. If Robinson was remaining, this annual would be very important. The new Earth 2 Batman is introduced, we get more Big Barda and Mister Miracle, a look into the mind of Captain Atom (Al Pratt), the introduction of Captain Steel, Red Arrow gets mentioned, Kanto creating super villains. There is just a lot of groundwork laid and most of it will probably go to waste.

- Troy Osgood

King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon #1 of 6 (Dark Horse, $3.50) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • kingconan_hotd_1_cvrWriter: Timothy Truman
  • Artist: Tomás Giorello
  • Color art: Jose Villarubia
  • Cover: Gerald Parel
  • Based on the original novel by: Robert E. Howard

The tested Conan creative team of Truman, Giorello, and Villarubia reunites in King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon, the comics miniseries adaptation of the first and only full-length Conan novel written by creator Robert E. Howard. As with many of their past Conan comics collaborations, it is the synergy between Giorello’s line art and Villarubia’s coloring that readers will first notice—they’ve actually gotten even better working together as complementary parts of a visual whole if readers familiar with their already impressive prior work can believe it’s possible, although Giorello still sometimes goes a little overboard with his overlapping panels. This isn’t to say that Truman’s work as the book’s scribe is any less important, but unless a reader is familiar with Howard’s particular brand of purple prose, the level of craft Truman displays in translating the Texan’s ornate and flowery passages into something more suitable for comics can be easily missed. As with several of Truman’s adaptations, he has chosen to set The Hour of the Dragon within a frame story, which I suppose might be a little distracting for Howard purists, but it is a technique I feel helps tie in the miniseries with the rest of Dark Horse’s original Conan material based on their interpretation of the Hyborian Age timeline while at the same time not detracting from the work as a whole.

- Zedric Dimalanta

The Last of Us: American Dreams #1 of 4; 2nd print (Dark Horse, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • lastofus01_2ndprint_coverWriter: Faith Erin Hicks, Neil Druckmann
  • Artist: Faith Erin Hicks
  • Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
  • Cover Artist: Julian Totino Tedesco

Video game tie-in comics often get a bad rap as rushed, cheap marketing gimmicks that are little more than extended print ads that the playing faithful foolishly pay for. Recent collaborations between video game developers and comic book publishers have changed that perception somewhat, with members of the video game production team taking a direct hand in creating the comic books, resulting in stories that don’t have the embarrassing canonical errors of their predecessors and a more unified approach overall. In the case of The Last of Us: American Dreams #1, Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann worked with Faith Erin Hicks (The Adventures of Superhero Girl, Girl Comics) to craft an intriguing prequel to The Last of Us, the highly-touted PS3-exclusive survival-action game set for release this week. Hicks is in fine, fine form on the title, showcasing her talent for depicting emotion and mood using quiet, expertly-staged moments as well as a facility for clear and unambiguous action/fight-scene choreography in some of the issue’s more violent sequences. It’s easy to root for the young protagonist Ellie, an orphan who tries to hide her vulnerability and youthful exuberance behind a surface demeanor of toughness as she tries her best to make it through her first day in a strictly-policed paramilitary camp on the edge of the conflict between humans and a zombie-like horde known as “The Infected.” Parents should be cautioned against picking this title up for younger readers, though: Despite Hicks’ “all-ages” looking art, this is mature-readers stuff through and through just like the “Rated M for Mature” game it is based on, with violent themes and situations and very coarse language. As with most video game tie-in comic books, the immediate appeal of The Last of Us: American Dreams will likely be limited mostly to those potential readers already invested in the game, but the level of craft on the book is solid enough that even non-video game players or players uninterested in the source material should derive at least some measure of entertainment from it.

- Zedric Dimalanta

Clive Barker’s The Next Testament #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99)

  • NextTestament_01_preview_Page_1Writers: Clive Barker, Mark Miller
  • Art: Haemi Jang
  • Letters: Steve Wands
  • Cover: Goni Montes

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this review incorrectly stated that the comic was co-authored by Mike S. Miller, and not Mark Miller. We most sincerely apologize to both parties for any confusion this may have caused.] The Next Testament is a horror comic series that features in its first issue many of the recurring themes and tropes we’ve come to associate with Barker over the years: ancient artifacts that can be used to summon extradimensional beings or access other dimensions, the suggestion of cosmic horrors and demonic invaders, and an inversion of the traditional Judeo-Christian good-evil dichotomy. There doesn’t seem to be much of anything new going on with The Next Testament, at least for readers already familiar with Barker’s work, but I can say that only because much of the first issue consists of setting up the mechanics of the plot and fairly little character development. Artist Haemi Jang does a solid rendering and storytelling job, although the visuals don’t really “pop” in any significant way. Still, the mystery behind the identity of the purported Christian “God” of The Next Testament is enough to keep me curious about where Barker and Miller are going with this, at least for the next issue or two.

- Zedric Dimalanta

The Wake #1 of 10 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99)

  • TheWake_MainWriter: Scott Snyder
  • Artist: Sean Murphy
  • Color art: Matt Hollingsworth
  • Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

I’ll be honest, the reason I picked up this book was for the Sean Murphy art. Loved his work. He’s got such a strong sense of design and a unique style. The pages are amazing. And this book was no let down. It looked great. Highly detailed. The characters were all unique. Well laid out and designed. Just wonderful to look at. Snyder is a solid writer and The Wake is well written. The pacing is interesting, starting off with the way the world is now and then starting to show us how it got there. The mystery is well set up, even though there is a very strong The Thing (either version) feel to the story. I am interested in seeing where this goes. I have a feeling it would make a good horror movie. As long as Murphy continues the strong work, I’ll definately be picking it up.

- Troy Osgood

X-Men #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • 2912509-xmenWriter: Brian Wood
  • Penciler: Olivier Coipel
  • Inker: Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales
  • Color art: Laura Martin
  • Lettering: Joe Caramagna for Virtual Calligraphy
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

This book has been advertised as the all-female X-Men team. That’s all well and good, and there’s a sudden influx of all-female teams. Diversity is the buzzword, and one of the knocks on Marvel Now! has been the lack of books starring female characters. Personally I think a book should star a strong character, whether they’re male or female is irrelevant, but Marvel made this book, so let’s look at it a couple of ways. First. as a book starring an all-female cast, and then as a new X-Men book.

Aside from Jubilee, this is the same cast of X-Women that appeared in the Chris Claremont/Milo Manara one-shot a couple years ago. All the characters, aside from Jubilee, are in other books already. Now I really don’t mind that as I am a fan of all the characters on this “team” but it would have been nice to use this opportunity to show some of the other X-Women (Dazzler, Blink, Dr. Reyes, Magma, Karma, Aurora) and/or their associates. The idea of the all-female team is a hard concept to pull off. It never comes across as organic. The exception is the recent Fearless Defenders because the point of the book is for Valkyrie to create a new team of shieldmaidens. That mission statement means it’s going to be all women. But with this X-Men book, even though Wood does a decent job, it still comes across as forced that this particular group came together and there are no male X-Men around. How will it work in the future? How Wood manages the premise will determine if this book succeeds or not.

The story itself is strong, decent. The set-up works very well even if the reveal of Sublime’s sister is telegraphed from the beginning. And that brings us to the second way of looking at this book, as a new X-Men book. Each of the Avengers books exists for different reasons. There’s the main Avengers book (which is the big missions), New Avengers (which is the illumaniti secret missions), Secret Avengers (the spy stuff) and Uncanny Avengers (the mutant/human coexistence stuff). Each book has a clear and distinct direction. Even during Bendis’ team, Avengers was the bigger and more cosmic stuff and New Avengers was magic and street level. But with the X-Men, that doesn’t hold true as much. The books tend to blend together, especially with Bendis writing Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men. The three main books don’t really have distinct directions but they focus on specific groups and the reason those groups work together. Uncanny is Cyclops’ group, All-New is the young time-displaced X-Men (which still isn’t completely working for me yet) and Wolverine & the X-Men is the Jean Grey school. But then we get Astonishing X-Men and this title, X-Men. Why do they exist? What is the purpose behind them except to let the specific writers tell X-Men stories with the characters they want to?

Does all that mean this was a bad book? Of course not, it’s Brian Wood. The book is worth reading, I’m just wondering how it will work the next arc and the arc after that. And it’s got Coipel art. That’s enough reason to get it right there. Coipel draws the best Rogue.

Oh yeah, and how do you retcon Jubilee’s vampire status? You never mention it.

I hate that.

- Troy Osgood

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