The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Lazarus, Catalyst Comix, Godzilla: Rulers of Earth, The Extinction Parade, and more!

First Impressions | Lazarus, Catalyst Comix, Godzilla: Rulers of Earth, The Extinction Parade, and more!
Published on Thursday, July 4, 2013 by
It’s time again for Zedric and Troy to review a new round of series debuts. This week, we look at Captain Midnight #0 and the first issues of Catalyst Comix, Godzilla: Rulers of Earth, The Extinction Parade, Lazarus, Satellite Sam, and X-Files: Season 10.If you have difficulty finding any of these issues, don’t forget that most can be reordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues were digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers.

Captain Midnight #0 (Dark Horse, $2.99)

  • captmid0p0Writer: Joshua Williamson
  • Artist: Victor Ibáñez, Pere Pérez
  • Colorist: Ego
  • Cover Artist: Raymond Swanland

Dark Horse Comics has been pushing its costumed adventurer content as of late, reviving Comics’ Greatest World characters such as Ghost and X, acquiring the publishing rights to Michael Avon Oeming’s The Victories and Dan Jolley and Leonard Kirk’s Bloodhound, and introducing readers to new properties like Jai Nitz’ Dream Thief and Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton’s The Answer!. Captain Midnight, based on the 1930s radio serial character, is another addition to the publisher’s growing stable of pulp-styled “mystery men” and out-and-out superheroes, and this “zero issue” collects the character’s adventures that first appeared in the Dark Horse Presents anthology last year, in preparation for the launch of the ongoing Captain Midnight series later this July.

The issue primarily deals with detailing the background of the character and explaining how he has been transported to the present-day, un-aged from his WWII prime. The use of the Captain America-esque “superhero-out-of-time” trope carries with it a small bit of risk and the added weight of externally-motivated reader expectations for the creative team—comparisons with Millar and Hitch’s work in issue #2 of the first Ultimates series and its translation to film will likely be inevitable—but writer Joshua Williamson and artist Victor Ibáñez handle the scenes of Captain Midnight literally flying into the 21st century deftly. The exposition doesn’t really get in the way of the narrative any more than it has to. Captain Midnight is smart enough to realize and accept that he really has been transported forward in time—readers are spared tiresome sequences of Captain Midnight having to be convinced repeatedly that he is in “the future”—and Williamson is right in trusting that most readers likely won’t be too interested in seeing the Captain engage in the bumbling fish-out-of-water awkwardness that is almost a given in stories featuring Golden Age heroes implausibly finding themselves in our present-day. This goes a long way in helping establish what is supposed to be Captain Midnight’s near-preternatural intellect and remarkable talent for situational improvisation.

An entertaining read that effectively builds reader anticipation for the ongoing Captain Midnight series.

- Zedric Dimalanta

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Catalyst Comix #1 of 9 (Dark Horse, $2.99)

  • catalystcomix1coverWriter: Joe Casey
  • Artists: Dan McDaid, Ulises Farinas, Paul Maybury
  • Colorist: Brad Simpson
  • Cover Artist: Rafael Grampá

While ostensibly a relaunch platform for characters from Dark Horse’s 1990s superhero imprint Comics’ Greatest World, those unfamiliar with the backstory of Frank “Titan” Wells, Amazing Grace, and the Agents of Change won’t be at a too significant disadvantage diving headlong into Catalyst Comix #1 without any prior knowledge of the characters’ prior appearances or the setting of Golden City: The story is at enough of a temporal and stylistic distance from the original Comics’ Greatest World comics that even long-time Dark Horse fans might have to recalibrate their expectations for the book.

The issue is divided into three sections: a 14-page lead story featuring Frank “Titan” Wells and art by Dan McDaid, and two seven-page back-up stories, the first featuring Amazing Grace and Paul Maybury’s art, the second featuring the Agents of Change and artist Ulises Farinas. The Frank Wells and Amazing Grace stories actually concern the same near-apocalypse event, viewed from the characters’ respective perspectives. The third story seems to be only tangentially related to the affairs of the first two, but I have no doubt that it will dovetail into the proceedings as the series moves forward. As writer Joe Casey explains in the backmatter section, the conceit of Catalyst Comix‘s format is that the three stories will take turns each month at the lead position. Whether or not this will change anything issue-to-issue beyond story position and page counts remains to be seen, but given Casey’s prior history of pushing the storytelling boundaries of the medium in titles like The Intimates, I fully expect to see some interesting experimentation with the format down the line.

Casey unleashes his inner Steve Englehart-on-acid with the book’s writing, driving scenes with bombastic (almost to the point of being recondite) third-person narration that borders on quaint in today’s comics milieu, but is entertaining nonetheless and actually even somewhat refreshing. However, it almost feels like there’s too much going on with the Frank Wells and Amazing Grace stories. The density of the text, the pedal-to-the-metal pacing, and the busy art can be a little overwhelming and wearying at times—I wonder if inserting the slightly more low-key Agents of Change story in between the first two stories could have helped even things out—but one thing readers won’t be able to complain about is a lack of action. Readers will get a lot of bang for their three bucks in Catalyst Comix #1. What all that sound and fury signifies is all potential at this point, but given the sheer level of craft on display in this issue, I’m willing to stick around to see if that potential is realized.

- Zedric Dimalanta

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Godzilla: Rulers of Earth #1 (IDW, $3.99)

  • Godzilla_Rulers_001-pr-001Story: Chris Mowry
  • Art: Matt Frank
  • Colors: Ronda Pattison
  • Lettering: Shawn Lee

Let’s get this out of the way first: I never liked the 1998 Godzilla film. “Loathe” is a bit too strong of a word, but my feelings towards it go way beyond indifference or simple annoyance. It’s not that it was an egregiously bad film for a “leave-your-brain-at-the-door-and-stare-at-the-explosions” big budget movie; the performances were passably decent, the special effects were adequate for the time, and divorced from the history and context of kaiju films, the creature design was actually quite impressive. But that last part about it being divorced from history and context is the key reason why I disliked the film when I first saw it then, and continue to harbor ill opinions about it to this day. Sony/Tristar took a distinct and unique film and pop culture phenomenon, scrubbed it clean of the features that made it what it was in the first place, slapped on a terribly generic screenplay built around a hole-ridden plot, and then tuned it to please marketing and the focus-testers. It was a classic case of the homogenizing process that so many properties go through as they are translated for Hollywood, with the results often coming out as wan and gormless pap that the audience forgets as soon as they step out of the theater. Was there anything “truly Godzilla” about 1998’s Godzilla? Roland Emmerich could have called it “Jurassic Park IV” or “Leviathan II” and the title would have made just as much sense.

But I digress.

When I first read online that Godzilla: Rulers of Earth would feature “Zilla” (the official name of the creature in the 1998 film given by Toho‘s licensing department to distance it from the original), I developed an almost masochistic curiosity about the title. Would writer Chris Mowry and artists Matt Frank and Ronda Pattison try to rehabilitate the much-maligned creature’s reputation among kaiju fans? Or would the creative team go in the opposite direction and find a way to creatively dispose of Toho’s misbegotten reptile son? Would they walk a “middle path” and surprise and satisfy fans and readers with a novel treatment of Zilla? As it stands, and as it should be for a first issue that needs to build suspense for the rest of the series, the answers to these questions and more aren’t readily apparent. What is clear however, is Mowry and company’s affinity and respect for the material reflected in the care afforded to the script and the art, and there are even numerous “Easter eggs” for keen-eyed fans of the Toho films and sly nods to scenes from the 1998 film. There’s a solid level of craft on the title, the dialogue does a serviceable job of filling in the exposition (the events of the title follow directly from those of May’s Godzilla #12) without bogging everything down and Frank’s crisp, stylized line art is complemented well by Pattison’s colors.

IDW’s Godzilla comics have been somewhat uneven in their quality although the trend generally seems to be one of improvement: I found Eric Powell’s Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters to be a bit of a mess, and while Godzilla: Gangsters and Goliaths and Duane Swierczynski’s Godzilla were competent entries in the long line of American comics that have adapted the Japanese movie monster for print, they only occasionally rose above that level. Much better was Godzilla: Legends and as I’ve noted in a recent review, James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half-Century War stands as an exuberant, entertaining, and wonderfully-illustrated tribute to the film icon, the best Western comics treatment of the property I’ve read in a long while. It is too early to tell with any degree of certainty where Godzilla: Rulers of Earth will fall within this spectrum, but if the first issue is to serve as any sort of indication, it might ultimately end up being one of the better ones.

- Zedric Dimalanta

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The Extinction Parade #1 of 11 (Avatar Press, $3.99)

  • extinctionparade01_00Writer: Max Brooks
  • Artist: Raulo Caceres
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

I’m not the hugest zombie fan. I’ve never read World War Z. The only exposure I’ve had to Max Brooks’ work was the G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds from IDW. It was good but lacking. It was unfinished. The short stories weren’t completed or followed-through.

So I was curious about this new series from Brooks. He returns to zombies, but in this time he throws vampires into the mix. I’m tired of zombies and vampires, I admit it. But I do like when new things are attempted with tired and old ideas. This one is fairly easy to figure out though. A zombie plague wipes out the vampires’ food source, humans.

Brooks does a good job of setting up the vampires’ arrogance. There have been small zombie, or subdead (since vampires are undead as well), outbreaks through the years but never anything serious and all were quickly contained (my biggest issue with zombies is that it could be contained if people weren’t stupid). This led to the vampires considering them jokes. But what happens when the zombies overwhelm the humans? What do vampires do then?

We’ll have to wait for later issues to find out. This first issue does a good job of establishing the thoughts of the vampires, especially the unnamed narrator. He’s careful not to make them out to be sympathetic. Reading most of the issue, I started thinking that the vampires weren’t all that bad, but in the space of three pages (a single-page sequence followed by a two-page spread), Brooks quickly reminded my why vampires are evil.

The story is interesting and could be a good angle to explore vampires and zombies, but it has to be much less wordy. Brooks, a novelist, tells us more then allows the comic to show us. There’s very little dialogue but too much narration at times. It doesn’t allow for development of the characters, they’re one-dimensional.

The art doesn’t help either. It’s messy, and not really in a good way. There’s a lot of detail, but the detail seems lacking. I know that doesn’t make sense, but just look at some of the zombies and you can see what I mean. The sheer amount of unique zombies is amazing but the close-up shots of individual ones make them look like shapeless masses. There’s no detail to the pieces falling off, the dangling arms or the burnt arms.

Extinction Parade is off to a decent start, but it’s excessively wordy with messy art. It’ll be hard to latch onto this one for any length of time.

- Troy Osgood

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Lazarus #1 of 3 (Image Comics, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • lazarus01_coverWriter: Greg Rucka
  • Line art and lettering: Michael Lark
  • Colors: Santi Arcas

In the afterword to the excellent Lazarus #1, Greg Rucka confesses to the reader a level of reluctance regarding writing another comic book featuring a woman protagonist: “Did I really want to do that again? I’m insecure enough that I second-guess things like this, now, because I’ve sincerely lost count of how many times, how many people, have asked me about ‘my women.'”

I’m one those innumerable people he refers to, as I gushed to the Oregon-based writer about how much I enjoyed his work writing the characters of Tara Chace in Queen & Country and Carrie Stetko in Whiteout while getting him to sign my copy of Whiteout: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 at last year’s inaugural Fan Expo Vancouver. I have no problem with Rucka writing another book headlined by a female lead. He’s written some very good comic books, enough that he’s collected four Eisners and a Harvey Award since 2000 (and an absolutely ridiculous 16 Eisner nominations and two Harvey nominations in total since he broke into the comics industry in 1998), and if continuing to write those very good comics means that he has to stick with familiar inspirations for characters, I’m sure his readers won’t mind. I certainly don’t.

Where Lazarus marks a bit of a departure from Rucka’s past creator-owned work is in terms of genre, which strays from the modern noir and espionage the writer is most readily associated with. The book is “ten-minutes-into-the-future” speculative fiction, with a story set in an America where the divide between rich and poor has grown almost immeasurably, a country that has reverted back to, for all intents and purposes, a feudal society governed by the few families that control the nation’s wealth, material resources, and access to scientific know-how. In this setting we find Forever “Eve” Carlyle, raised and trained as a “Lazarus”—a genetically-engineered, virtually unkillable armed retainer, commander of a private army, and symbol of paramilitary might—for the rich Carlysle family. After thwarting and killing armed robbers encroaching on Carlysle territory to steal seeds, Eve finds herself dealing with what I can best describe as the effects of post-traumatic stress. Rucka does great work cultivating the character of Eve in the moments where she questions her role, and even when Eve is off-panel and off-page, that character development continues as the discussions held by other members of the cast seamlessly sketch out Eve’s past and provide a rich context for the issue’s events even as a conspiracy builds in the background. Masterful stuff.

Lazarus sees Rucka reuniting with his Gotham Central co-conspirator, artist Michael Lark, whose well-formed, naturalistic renderings enhance the plausibility of the premise and setting whilst giving the well-choreographed action sequences an uncommon and visceral immediacy. And while many illustrators who apply a naturalistic approach to comics art often conflate realism with stiff figures, pedestrian panel and page design, and inscrutable, mask-like faces, Lark’s work is dynamic and engaging, and he is able to deliver subtle shadings of emotion with his fluency in depicting mood, gesture, pose, and facial expression. His visual design for Eve is also worth commenting on: the character is powerfully-built but still feminine, think of professional mixed martial artists like Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey, not at all thin and frail-looking like so many comic book warrior-women.

A superb miniseries debut all-around. Very highly recommended.

- Zedric Dimalanta

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Satellite Sam #1 of 5 (Image Comics, $3.50) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Satellite Sam 01-001Story by: Matt Fraction
  • Art by: Howard Chaykin

After spending much of the past several months working exclusively for Marvel—earning himself a much-deserved Best Writer nomination in this month’s Eisner Awards for his work on Hawkeye in the process—Matt Fraction returns to Image Comics, where he first garnered wider recognition and acclaim for his work on The Five Fists of Science and Casanova.

It only makes sense that Fraction would bring Satellite Sam to Image. Even though Marvel has its own creator-owned comics imprint in Icon (where the sequel to Fraction’s first Casanova miniseries was recently published), most observers would probably peg Satellite Sam as a tough sell based on its premise: Set in 1950s New York, it’s a murder-mystery played out against the backdrop of the intrigues and backroom corporate maneuvering of the early days of the television industry. Not exactly something Marvel can build a company-wide crossover around. Then again, more than a few network execs probably balked at the idea of a period drama set in post-Edwardian England or a show about advertising executives in the 1960s and yet here we are, with Downton Abbey and Mad Men pulling in impressive viewer numbers.

If nothing else, there’s a novelty to Satellite Sam‘s set-up. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fictionalized retelling of the effects of the “FCC Freeze of 1948” on the television industry and this is what Satellite Sam is, at least in part: The “Le Monde Network” in the comic is a thinly-veiled reference to the real-world DuMont Television Network (the location map of Le Monde’s station affiliates even closely mirrors the map of DuMont’s station affiliates) and the live TV drama Satellite Sam that gives the series its title seems to be a pastiche of DuMont’s Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. I’m quite interested to see if Fraction will take this into an alternative history direction, one where the disruptive, ahead-of-its-time innovation of Le Monde/DuMont’s coaxial cable broadcasting system beats out the over-the-air VHF broadcasting system used by its competition, or if he’ll choose to recreate and parallel real-world history. Either way, Fraction and industry legend Howard Chaykin (who seems to be spending a lot of time drawing half-naked women in stockings and garters for Image Comics these days) have already managed a small success with the issue’s opening sequence, effectively and creatively translating the stress and tension of live television production onto non-moving print.

Most of Satellite Sam #1 is devoted to laying down the groundwork for the rest of the miniseries and that’s alright. It has all the feel of a book that should be given time to develop and grow into its story.

- Zedric Dimalanta

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X-Files: Season 10 #1 (IDW, $3.99)

  • XFiles_001-pr-001Story by: Joe Harris with Chris Carter
  • Art by: Michael Walsh
  • Colors by: Jordie Bellaire

I’ll admit right off that I wasn’t a huge X-Files fan when the show was on. I don’t know why. I love the subject matter when it shows up elsewhere. Just never got into the X-Files. I’ve watched episodes, I know the overall story and I’ve seen I Want To Believe (thanks to the fiancée). The Giovanni Ribisi episode, where he attracts lightning, is the first episode I’ve ever watched.

With that in mind I wasn’t sure if I should be reviewing the return of X-Files. Well, not really return. X-Files has been in comics form before (from the short-lived Topps publisher) but this is the first time that it’s appearing in comics form in-continuity, pulling a Buffy and continuing where the TV series left off.

That can be a little scary if you haven’t watched the show. How closely will the comic be tied? Do you need to have intimate knowledge of the show to follow what is going on?

Luckily, Harris and X-Files creator Chris Carter, craft a good story that anyone can jump into. I don’t even think that having more knowledge will give a deeper meaning to the story. It’s very accessible. There are points made about the previous seasons, but there’s enough information given in this story to supply the context and not leave a new reader out of the loop.

That’s pretty hard to pull off, especially when it’s a show with a deep and complex history like the X-Files. The story itself seems interesting. The small hack into the FBI computers seems a bit forced as the impetus for Skinner to visit Mulder and Scully. I would have liked a stronger reason to start off the series’ return, but so far the overall story works.

The art by Walsh is a bit of a let down though. It has a Michael Lark feel to it, but the linework isn’t as tight as Larks. The expressions by Walsh are very flat, it’s hard to tell if there are expressions at all sometimes. The colors by Bellaire don’t really help. They don’t establish a mood beyond “day” and “night.”

The X-Files: Season 10 is a definite pick-up for fans of the show but non-fans will find stuff to like as well.

- Troy Osgood

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