The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Sheltered, Uncanny, Blood Brothers, TMNT New Animated Adventures, and more

First Impressions | Sheltered, Uncanny, Blood Brothers, TMNT New Animated Adventures, and more
Published on Thursday, July 18, 2013 by
It’s time again for Zedric and Troy to review a new round of series debuts. Today’s article looks at the first issues of Sheltered, Uncanny, Ghosted, Avengers A.I., Blood Brothers, Quantum & Woody, TMNT New Animated Adventures, and more. 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.

Sheltered #1 (Image Comics, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Sheltered01Co-created and written by: Ed Brisson
  • Co-created and illustrated by: Johnnie Christmas
  • Coloring by: Shari Chankhamma

Zedric Dimalanta: Ed Brisson’s debut as an Image Comics lead writer in last year’s science-fiction miniseries Comeback (read the review here) was a solidly crafted and entertaining outing, although it was almost undone by a circuitous, one-twist-too-many time travel plot. There doesn’t seem to be any threat of that happening in Sheltered, a “pre-apocalyptic tale” about a community of “preparationists” or “preppers” (what we would have called “survivalists” in a time before the term became associated with paranoid, self-styled militias and fringe-wacko anarcho-primitivists) that Brisson is producing in collaboration with one of his Murder Book accomplices in artist Johnnie Christmas, whose work on the title—with its emphasis on clear expression and gesture and a “roving camera” that makes even talking head sequences look dynamic—brings to mind that of fellow Image Comics artist Riley Rossmo. Brisson manages a deft balance here, using naturalistic dialogue and low-stakes character interactions in the issue’s outset to present the prepper community of Safe Haven as just like any small, tight-knit, rural community composed of families—readers get to know the principals as people first, not as the easy, outsized caricatures they are too often made out to be in other media—albeit one that has an obsession with the notion of post-disaster/societal collapse survival.

Without giving too much of the story away, part of the philosophical thrust of Sheltered seems to be thus: What are the implications for our traditional notions of community and family when survival is to be held as the highest good above all else? It’s an intriguing question that Brisson seems intent to answer in a most entertaining and thrilling way given the nail-biter ending of the first issue. Definitely a miniseries worth following in the coming months.

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Uncanny #1 (Dynamite, $3.99)

  • Uncanny01Story by: Andy Diggle
  • Art by: Aaron Campbell
  • Cover: Jock, Sean Phillips
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: I haven’t read much Andy Diggle. Read a couple issues of the Losers and some of his Daredevil, but the premise of this sounded interesting so thought I would check it out. I’ve always liked the idea of the power that lets you learn everything from people around you, whether its Taskmaster & Finesse’s ability to mimic or Weaver’s ability to know everything by touch. That’s always been one of the more interesting powersets out there. And someone that uses it for selfish gains?

Count me in.

Diggle does good outlining Weaver’s personality as well as setting up a larger mystery for the first arc. Weaver doesn’t have a good bone in his body, or so it seems and so I hope it remains. Sorry, I’m tired of the “bad guy finds a conscience” stories. Writing a pure bad guy, keeping it interesting, is tough, but I would love to see someone try.

The plot of the first issue is fairly standard. Cocky guy gets in over his head, has to escape, gets help but at a price. I feel like I’ve seen it a dozen times before. I hope there’s some twists and turns coming.

Fans of Andy Diggle will like this, but I don’t think there’s enough for this to really stand out on it’s own.

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Ghosted #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • ghosted01_coverStory by: Joshua Williamson
  • Art by: Goran Sudžuka with Miroslav Mrva
  • Cover by: Sean Phillips

Zedric Dimalanta: Writer Joshua Williamson makes his second appearance in as many First Impressions articles with Ghosted #1, a heist-movie-meets-the-supernatural comic created in collaboration with Croatian artist Goran Sudžuka (Y: the Last Man, Hellblazer: Lady Constantine). Williamson switches from the enjoyable modern pulp of last month’s Captain Midnight #0 to Hollywood pitch high concept with the new Image Comics miniseries that sees thoroughly unlikeable protagonist Jackson T. Winters sprung from incarceration by a mysterious, geriatric benefactor who tasks the former career criminal with the mission to prove the existence of an afterlife by “stealing” a ghost from a reputedly haunted house.

Apart from the supernatural twist that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mike Mignola comic book (oh, and uh, an opening prison rape scene—let’s all hope that doesn’t earn the miniseries an iOS ban, although given what the ban has done for Saga and Black Kiss II‘s respective profiles, maybe it would ultimately be a good thing), the set-up proceeds as one would expect from a typical piece of heist fiction: Winters assembles a team of specialists for the job, each member filling some nominal team function and/or fictional character archetype. To be honest, I was ready to dismiss Ghosted #1 as “sufficiently competent, but not particularly interesting” until I got to the issue’s last page, which immediately turned what was shaping up to be a somewhat perfunctory exercise in genre hybridization into a contemporary take on the EC Comics-styled “suspenstory.” Ghosted #1 is one of those miniseries premieres that is very tricky to evaluate: It ends on a tantalizingly winning crescendo of a cliffhanger, even as the build-up to that note doesn’t readily inspire commitment from the reader. Given my experiences with Williamson and Sudžuka’s prior comics work however, I have a healthy measure of confidence that the rest of the miniseries will live up to the promise hinted at by the end of the first issue.

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Avengers A.I. #1 (Marvel Comics, $2.99)

  • avengersAI01coverWriter: Samuel Ryan Humphries
  • Artist: Andre Lima Araujo
  • Cover: Dustin Weaver
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: Another Avengers title. This one spins directly out of the events of Age of Ultron but some time has passed since then. Age of Ultron ended pre-Marvel NOW! and it’s hard to understand when exactly in the post-Marvel NOW! era this issue takes place. So was this virus out there for months or days? Age of Ultron #10 was all about making Henry Pym a new man. Well it worked and it didn’t. There’s nothing in this issue that shows Pym as anything other then what he’s been. He tampered with A.I. again and it’s come back to bite the human race in the ass, again. He’s egotistical and slightly crazy and nothing in this issue makes him sympathetic.

In fact, the way he acts and talks in this issue, he should be behind bars.

The rest of the cast is alright. I’ve never found the Vision interesting and found the contradiction in this issue confusing. The contradiction is that Pym says the Vision is orbiting the sun because his Ultron Imperative was activated. This command, buried in all descendents of Ultron (all? There’s only two) is constantly calculating odds of survival and figuring out new ways to increase them. The Vision died awhile ago, that’s the contradiction. Why didn’t he have this imperative back then? Did it just activate with Ultron’s death? That to me seems a little fishy. Ultron dies, and his descendant (but only the Vision, not Victor Mancha) starts adapting and finding ways for himself to survive? No one stopped to think that Ultron planted his own code into that imperative so the descendent would live so Ultron could live?

I just don’t see the need for this series. The plot is okay, nothing special. Monica Chang having Pym kidnapped (and Pym allowing himself to be kidnapped) seems a bit odd. Why would Chang, just recently promoted, pull a move like that? Pym is connected. Why wouldn’t she go through channels? Why would Pym allow himself to be taken, and with a bag over his head? None of it makes sense. It’s just there for Humphries to create some drama.

The art is fairly boring. The character’s faces have a rounded quality that is a bit odd to see panel after panel.

I’m a big Avengers fan, but really don’t see the need for this book.

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Blood Brothers #1 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • bldbro1p0Writer: Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller
  • Artist: Evan Shaner
  • Colorist: Dan Jackson
  • Cover Artist: Juan Doe

Zedric Dimalanta: Gagerman and Waller’s Blood Brothers #1 has all the well-timed, easy wit of a polished “bromantic comedy,” with the added bonus of some exceptional sequential art from Evan “Doc” Shaner (Buddy Cops, The Storyteller). Best friends Nick and Tree are a pair of one thousand year-old vampires, living under the radar in Las Vegas where they work as bounty hunters, subsisting on black market blood that they buy from the Red Cross. Much of the humor in the book is derived from the odd-couple interactions between Nick and Tree—the former is certainly the more reserved of the two and he longs to live a “normal” life and settle down with his human girlfriend while the latter is an unrepentant party animal and horn dog who relishes the vampire life—but funny too are the single-panel cutaways to humorous scenes from their past (a running joke in the issue revolves around Renaissance artist Michelangelo being a particularly grabby orgy enthusiast). It’s the type of comedic device that can get old pretty quickly if misused, but the way Gagerman and Waller utilize it is more Highlander: The Series than Family Guy—the quick flashbacks aren’t simply mined for cheap laughs and an easy way to introduce changes-of-pace, they’re also used to meaningfully establish character and context without resorting to dull exposition. There’s a plot in the book about some nefarious plot to resurrect a master vampire, but for most readers, it will only be worth noting as a framework for the entertaining banter and excellently-choreographed action courtesy of the creative team.

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The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man #1 (Marvel Comics, $2.99)

  • superiorfoesofspiderman_1_coverStory by: Nick Spencer
  • Art by: Steve Lieber
  • Covers by: Marcos Martin, Skottie Young, Shane Davis, Matthew Waite
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: I wasn’t sure what to make about this book. Nick Spencer is hit or miss for me. He tends to overcomplicate the stories, try for too high a concept. So what was he going to do with a book about the Sinister Six (really the Sinister Five)?

I like what he chose to do.

There’s a fun tone to this issue. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It knows it’s about a bunch of low-grade criminals and proceeds accordingly. There’s some bumbling and some stumbling. The gang, you actually start to enjoy reading about them. Their antics are funny. Watching Shocker and Speed Demon try to buy bird seed is funny. You start to understand why Spider-Man makes short work of them.

But then hidden inside the jokes and antics is actually a good plan by Boomerang. It’s a serious plan with some twists and turns that highlights the dark side of the world these people live in.

Lieber’s art really helps. The layouts are masterful. The book looks great. It reads great. The symbol word balloons are a nice device, not overused, fitting in well when used. I’d love to see more by Spencer in this vein.

I’m not sure what Spencer can do with this series, how far can take it before it starts feeling forced or old, but the first issue was very interesting and a fun read.

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Dawn: The Swordmaster’s Daughter and Other Stories one-shot (Image Comics, $3.99)

  • dawnsmd_coverStory and art by: Joseph Michael Linsner
  • Lettering by: Jeff Eckleberry

Zedric Dimalanta: Dawn: The Swordsmaster’s Daughter and Other Stories is “trending” as some would describe it these days, but likely for all the wrong reasons, which is really unfortunate. The contentious allegations contained in the issue’s “backmatter” editorial aside, this one-shot is actually fairly entertaining stuff, even for those only marginally familiar with Linsner’s neopaganism-inspired Goddess of Birth and Rebirth. The issue is divided into three stories, with the first story “freely adapted from a samurai folk tale,” the second story a retelling of the Western Asian parable known as “Death in Samarkand,” and the third tale inspired by an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita. The first two stories stand well enough on their own and should be accessible to those new to the character, although Linsner makes it clear that these are entries in a longer story that spans centuries in the fiction’s timeline. The third story is a bit of a headscratcher though: It seems to be a preview of the upcoming fourth volume in the Dawn graphic novel series as much as it is an adaptation of a portion of the ancient Hindu epic.

For a lot of potential readers though, the main draw for this one-shot is Linsner’s art. The New York-based artist-writer does stylized, lushly detailed renderings that have uncommon depth and volume (think horror comics legend Richard Corben’s work, if Corben concentrated on making people as attractive as possible instead of spotlighting their physical imperfections). The character designs do reflect the era in which Dawn first appeared in comics, for better or for worse: Many of those who made it through the late 1980s will quite possibly find a nostalgic charm for the mullets, layered hair, bolero-style leather jackets, and the thigh-hugging tapered jeans that the one-shot’s characters sport, but just as many others may find the fashions terribly dated.

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Order & Chaos #1 (Lodie Publishing/comiXology Submit, $2.99)

  • Order_and_Chaos_Issue1-001Story by: Fred Boulos
  • Art by: J.C. Grande
  • Colors by: Giuseppe Pica
  • Lettering by: Josh Aitken
  • NOTE: Order & Chaos is a digital-only title available exclusively on comiXology.

Zedric Dimalanta: There’s an organic, almost manic, enthusiasm to Fred Boulos and J.C. Grande’s Order & Chaos #1, the first installment in a self-published miniseries about an American mercenary playing the part of the puppetmaster to the various warring factions in a developing world nation. That energy and enthusiasm aren’t enough to make up for the rawness of the script or the art however. The comic too often forgets the primary visual storytelling rule of “show, don’t tell” with the occasionally platitudinous dialogue that is further weighed down by leaden and sometimes repetitive exposition and clunky first-person narration. Grande’s line art and page and panel compositions are rough, although there is a certain (if quite limited) appeal to the book’s coarse aesthetic that reminds me a bit of Dan Panosian’s early 1990s X-Force work.

There’s the germ of a sufficiently entertaining comic in here—stories featuring mercenary anti-heroes messing about in the Third World, The Dogs of War-style, have their appeal—but for it to flower within the span of the three-issue miniseries, it would have to be with a rapid escalation of the primary creative team’s level of craft and polish, which I don’t see happening in short order. That being said, there’s nothing in the issue to indicate that this progression won’t happen in any future Boulos/Grande collaborations.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures #1 (IDW, $3.99)

  • TMNT_NewAdv-01-pr-001Story: Kenny Byerly
  • Art: Dario Brizuela
  • Colors: Heather Breckel
  • Lettering: Shawn Lee

Zedric Dimalanta: Putting out a successful licensed comic book based on a popular animated property isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s not just a matter of transposing narrative and visual elements from one medium to another: What works in a full-motion medium may not necessarily work in a comic book, where pacing is partially determined by the reader—even simple things creators may take for granted like the timing and effectiveness of a punchline can change so much in the translation from television to print—and where readers are active participants in filling in what happens “in the gutters” between the panels of each page. Additionally, character and background designs streamlined for ease in animation and multiple re-renderings can end up looking under-detailed and lacking in “visual pop” on the static page.

It’s too early to tell if IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures will achieve the same commercial success and fan acclaim as, say, BOOM!’s Adventure Time comics or Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender serial graphic novels, but if it doesn’t, it likely won’t be for a lack of understanding and appreciation by the creative team for the differences between animation and comics. Unlike Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Animated, Vol. 1: Rise of the Turtles (reviewed here), the story by Kenny Byerly is a new one, not simply an adaptation of a previously aired episode’s screenplay. It has the same kind of relatively low-stakes all-ages friendly action and humorous character interactions of the popular Nickelodeon series‘ one-and-done episodes, though, which should make it particularly appealing to the younger (and young-at-heart) fans of the show. That’s really who this comic is for—readers unfamiliar with the current series will probably be a little surprised at Donatello’s unrequited crush on April O’Neil or the fact that she is already a ninja-in-training under Master Splinter. This isn’t to say that the comic is inaccessible for those just discovering this latest incarnation of Eastman and Laird’s most enduring creations, just that the comic starts out seemingly “mid-season,” with the assumption that readers who pick up this issue are already familiar with the basic, established character dynamics and relationships from the show. Also worth noting is Dario Brizuela’s art. The Argentine artist’s figures are reasonably faithful to the show’s character models, but his rendering is idiosyncratic enough that the book’s art stands on its own merits. He also displays a capable handle on panel-to-panel transitions and wisely mixes up distances and points-of-view. A solid spin-off and licensed comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures likely won’t make converts of readers who aren’t already interested and invested in Nickelodeon’s take on the property, but existing fans of the show should find a lot to like in this first issue.

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Quantum & Woody #1 (Valiant, $3.99)

  • Quantum-&-Woody-001-01Story by: James Asmus
  • Art by: Tom Fowler
  • Colors by: Jordie Bellaire
  • Letters by: Dave Lanphear
  • Cover: Ryan Sook
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: I’ll admit right off the bat that this series was going to be a tough sell to me. I was never a huge fan of the original Valiant series, though I liked the second run, the Acclaim version, a little better. I always loved Christopher Priest’s Quantum & Woody. It was like nothing else on the shelves at that time. The individual chapter headers, the irreverent and offbeat tone, the characters and the goat (can’t forget to mention the goat). All of it combined to create one of the most unique comics.

So I approached this with some trepidation. I try not to compare the new things to the old. Everything in the memory is greater then it was back in the day, it’s hard to compete with that, so I try not to. But this one? This was going to be hard to compare.

Asmus doesn’t bring the same magic that Priest did, but he tries, to his credit. The chapter headings work, the jumping around in time works, but the characters just aren’t the same. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they aren’t as strong as the original Quantum and Woody. They’re not as fleshed out, as full, or well-rounded. They just aren’t as strong.

The book itself is decent. The new Valiant has been putting out some dynamite work and this might be the weakest of the lot so far, but a weak Valiant title is still better then 90% of what DC is doing these days.

I think the biggest miss with the title is in the art. One of the things that helped sell the tone of the original book was Mark Bright’s art. It was a realistic style. So when strange and silly situations were happening, it contrasted with the art which was more serious but it worked. Fowler is a good artist, but his style isn’t that realistic. It seems more at home with a funny and strange book, with the exaggerated movements of the characters, and while it sounds counterintuitive, Fowler’s more cartoony style detracts from the humor.

Sadly, I know I’m comparing this new version to the old, which I said I try not to do. But with Quantum & Woody, I just can’t help it. I’m going to give this a chance to grow on me though, to separate itself from the original. The debut carries enough promise that it’s worth giving the next issue in the series a chance.

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Henchmen one-shot (Robot Paper, $4.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • henchmenone-001Story: Jamison Raymond
  • Art: Ryan Howe
  • Colors: Esquared Studios
  • Cover: Dave Dorman
  • NOTE: The original publication run of Henchmen was funded using Kickstarter, but the comic is now available for general purchase at HenchmenComic.com.

Zedric Dimalanta: One of the great things about the growth of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo is that is that it has allowed for the democratization of funding for deserving creative endeavors that, for one reason or another, would be hard-pressed to raise capital on their own. Jamison Raymond and Ryan Howe’s Henchmen is one such project, a (somewhat surprisingly) proficient debut comics work from industry newcomers that would likely not seen the light of day without the generous support of online backers.

Henchmen protagonist Gary is a down-and-out fortysomething loser: recently fired from an anonymous office job, recently divorced, and recently recovered from a half-assed suicide attempt. He tries to rebound by applying for a vaguely-worded classified ad that turns out to be one for a henchman position in a bowling-themed supervillain’s criminal organization. Raymond certainly isn’t the first writer to attempt the “lower-rung-henchman-as-Joe-Shmoe-simply-trying-to-make-ends-meet” metaphor in comics, but he does so with an uncommon emotional verisimilitude and a knack for comedy, both of the absurdist and the more conventional variety. Raymond’s efficient but effective dialogue and first-person narration make it so that anybody who has had to settle for low-paying entry-level jobs, endure various workplace embarrassments, and suffer the direction of idiot bosses just so they can make the rent and pay for their child’s dental bills will find Gary a sympathetic lead. The sheer bizarreness of his situation—toting an assault rifle, holding up banks while dressed up in a papier-mâché bowling pin costume alongside similarly clad foot soldiers—serves to highlight the existential despair of his midlife crisis. The comic is about more than just documenting Gary’s sad-sack existence, though. When, in a moment of clarity, Gary decides to grab an opportunity to get out from under his supervillain boss, the reader can’t help but cheer him on. It’s a fitting coda for a personal project that has managed to succeed in its execution and publication without the backing of established publishers or distributors.

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