The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction, Day Men, Batman ’66, and more

First Impressions | The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction, Day Men, Batman ’66, and more
Published on Monday, August 5, 2013 by
We look at the first issues of The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction, Day Men, Batman ’66, 3 Guns, and more in today’s First Impressions. 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.

The Rocketeer & The Spirit: Pulp Friction #1 of 4 (DC/IDW, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • RocketeerSpirit01-pr-001Story: Mark Waid
  • Art: Paul Smith
  • Colors: Jordie Bellaire
  • Lettering: Tom B. Long

Zedric Dimalanta: That The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction will be any good isn’t necessarily a given, even with the esteemed Mark Waid quarterbacking the miniseries and fan-favorite artist Paul Smith providing extraordinary illustrations. Crossovers, particularly those featuring characters from different publishers, too often fall back on a well-worn formula designed to please fans of both characters: The co-protagonists meet via some contrived coincidence, engage in some extended fisticuffs over some hackneyed misunderstanding, and before a definitive winner of their bout comes through, they realize that they actually share certain goals and come to an agreement to unite as allies against a common threat.

The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction #1 doesn’t stray from this pattern, but even within the confines of the formula, Waid manages to introduce some relatively novel quirks. He establishes that the Rocketeer, with his advanced technology, possesses some distinct advantages over the Spirit in the straight up bout that signals their first meeting, instead of playing it out as a perfunctory, zero-sum mock battle with no narrative implications. And while the Rocketeer and the Spirit inevitably become allies in pursuit of a mutual goal (the investigation of a cross-continental murder mystery), what really unites them is the bond shared by their mentors who, as it turns out, fought together during World War I, and their parallel, somewhat adolescent, befuddlement at their contrasting romantic partners, the Rocketeer with the sultry and fickle Betty, the Spirit with the headstrong protofeminist Ellen Dolan.

While Waid and the co-protagonists are the headlining features of the title, what might ultimately convince readers to stick around for the duration of the miniseries is the art of Paul Smith. The former Doctor Strange and Uncanny X-Men penciler manages to respectfully reinterpret elements of both Dave Stevens’ and Will Eisner’s artistic nuances, whilst still maintaining his own distinct graphic style. In the hands of a master illustrator and visual storyteller like Smith, the iconic (in the graphical sense of the word) nature of Stevens’ and Eisner’s character designs really stand out, making the scenes where they and their supporting cast interact an enjoyable and instructive read.

The Spirit & The Rocketeer: Pulp Friction #1 isn’t likely to earn plaudits for breaking new ground as far as story design is concerned, but it is beautifully drawn and entertaining to read, managing to be reassuringly familiar and even slightly predictable in its beats without being boring—a notable feat in itself in the case of cross-publisher crossovers.

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Day Men #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • DayMen_01_preview_Page_1Story: Matt Gagnon, Michael Alan Nelson
  • Art: Brian Stelfreeze

Troy Osgood: There have been a lot of vampire stories throughout the history of popular literature, such that it becomes pretty hard to tell an original one. Sometimes the writer has to go to an extreme to make it somewhat original, like vampires being all sparkly in the daylight. And sometimes the writer just has to find a new angle. Day Men is not completely new, there have always been humans associated with vampires, their minions that help the vamps during the days. What is new is the organization that Gagnon and Nelson have created, and it really is something that I’m surprised hasn’t been done before.

David Reid is a “day man” for the Virgo family of Vampires. His job is to protect their interests during the day. Anything from cleaning up a feeding ground to recovering stolen property to picking up the drunk member of the family. We also meet Casey Kennedy, who is the head of business and operations for the family. It’s here where the writers make their mark. What other vampire story has their human familiars actually deal with IRS tax forms and accountants?

The story is interesting and Nelson does a good job with the script. David’s tone carries nicely through the pages and the narration is easy to follow and does a good job of filling in the story. I’m curious to learn more about the world of the Day Men but really there is something more important to talk about with this comic.

The main hook for most readers however, will likely by the Brian Stelfreze art. It’s been a long time since seen the 12-Gauge Comics founder has worked on a monthly comic and it’s a welcome return. Excellent pages all around and with his unique style.

Day Men is worth a look, not just for the Stelfreeze art, but the story as well. There’s potential here.

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Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 of 2 (Dark Horse, $3.50) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • ljohnasl1p0Story: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
  • Art: Sebastian Fiumara
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Letters: Clem Robins
  • Cover: Tonci Zonjic

Moira Hunger: The story takes place in Chinatown, where a number of Chinese gangsters have been robbed and murdered, yet this is left unavenged by their gang. Lobster Johnson and crew quite literally stumble upon this and begin their investigation. At the same time, one homicide detective begins his own investigation and the Chinese mob prepares yet another courier for a possible suicide run. Naturally, the courier is attacked, a terrific gun battle ensues, and Lobster Johnson and his crew rush to the Tong safehouse at the very last minute only to find it engulfed in flames. The very last page reveals the assumed murder—a large, Japanese person, sitting calmly in a chair, surrounded by suitcases of burning money and…monkeys wearing grimacing masks.

At this point, I hied myself to Google and did a quick search. This is apparently Crimson Lotus, a Japanese spy who was first introduced in the main B.P.R.D. book during 2005’s “The Dead” storyline.

I’m pleased to say that was the only time I felt a little lost in the book. This information wasn’t strictly necessary for me to enjoy the story…I mean, monkeys in creepy masks are quite enough of a cliff-hanger on their own, am I right? I’ll be honest – this is my first introduction to Lobster Johnson and anything having to do with B.P.R.D. Sure, there’s some obvious backstory that I’m missing, but enough is presented to the reader that I didn’t feel too lost. The introduction of Lobster Johnson’s assistant, Henry, was solidly done without too much exposition, as was his reporter informant, Cindy. I had just enough information handed to me to be able to get into the story and understand their world.

The art is very well suited to the 1930s setting and pulp atmosphere of the book. The criminal underworld is sufficiently seedy without going overboard. That terrific gun battle only lost me in one place, but as I re-read those pages to get a better feel for the flow of action, I think that it was deliberately done that way. Where were those shots coming from? (I don’t like monkeys enough that I’m just going to pin the blame on them for the time-being.)

This issue intrigued me enough that I definitely will be picking up issue #2, despite the proliferation of creepy, mask-wearing, possibly gun-toting monkeys.

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Gamma one-shot (Dark Horse, $2.99)

  • gammaos1p0Story: Ulises Farinas, Eric Freitas
  • Art: Ulises Farinas

Zedric Dimalanta: A bizarre, dream-like experience, Ulises Farinas and Eric Freitas’ Gamma is equal parts Pokémon parody, future sci-fi Western, and a commentary on the Vietnam War. At its core though, Gamma is a story about a man who has hit rock-bottom in his personal and professional life and his journey, against all odds, to recover a measure of self-respect. Twenty years ago, Dusty Keztchemal was the Monster League Champion, celebrated the world over as the planet’s best competitive monster trainer and a sex symbol. When the world is plunged into a conflict against rogue giant monsters, Dusty is recruited to lead a monster trainer army to rid the world of their threat. What should have been a quick mission turns into a war of attrition that lasts five years, and Dusty comes out of the experience severely traumatized, branded a coward for life after being caught on film abandoning his loyal pet monsters and comrades-in-arms in a losing battle in order to ensure his own evacuation from the war zone. Dusty then spends the next several years literally serving as a punching bag, working as a bar attraction that frustrated patrons can slug in the face for $50 a pop, and blowing his meager earnings on drink and prostitutes. A series of incidents however, force Dusty to come face to face with his past, and while his attempts to recapture his faded monster trainer glory are met with something less than success, it is in the process of rediscovering his monster trainer skills that he reconnects with a positive sense of self-worth.

The one-shot is seemingly set up as the introductory, open-ended chapter to what could be a continuing adventure, but it also works as a self-contained, stand-alone work, even if the deliberate weirdness and genre mash-up nature of the whole affair threaten to keep the reader at a remove from the emotional and thematic underpinnings of the story. Less ambiguous is the engaging quality of Farinas’ art, with its ligne claire aesthetic and flat colors suggestive of the Saturday morning animation Gamma satirizes.

An interesting, even personal, work worth seeking out for those looking for something very different from the usual sci-fi adventure comics fare.

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Batman ’66 #1 [Print edition] (DC, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Batman_66_001prev_001Story: Jeff Parker
  • Art: Jonathan Case
  • Lettering: Wes Abbott
  • Cover: Michael & Laura Allred
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Joe Milone: First, I have to start off this review by saying that I am a big fan of the Adam West Batman show, so when DC announced that they were going to put out a comic based on the series (which coincidentally, ties in with The Mattel toyline about to be released) I knew this was a book that I needed to have my shop pull for me. And in my opinion issue # 1 was a success.

If you were looking for a dark Batman, then this isn’t the book for you. If
you want a fun, old school comic, then you have come to the right place. Jeff Parker nailed the lingo and feel of the old show, the dialogue matched up and I could “hear” Chief O’Hara speak his lines in that Irish accent. And without spoiling anything, all of the TV show gags were in place.

As for the art, it was very “mod.” All the players felt like they stepped out of the screen and into a comic. Jonathan Case did an excellent job with the actor and character likenesses.

All in all, if you want a fun Batman comic, this is the book for you. If you like your Batman more serious then I would avoid this book like the plague. As for me… bring on issue #2!

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Captain Midnight #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99)

  • capmidnight01massaferaStory: Joshua Williamson
  • Art: Fernando Dagnino
  • Colors: Ego
  • Cover: Felipe Massafera/Paolo Rivera

Zedric Dimalanta: Writer Joshua Williamson scores a hat trick by appearing in three consecutive editions of First Impressions, although that hat trick will have to be recorded with an asterisk, seeing as how his first appearance was for Captain Midnight #0. Captain Midnight #1 is the “real” debut for the series starring the eponymous Golden Age of Radio serial adventurer.

“Competent, unrepentant fun” would be one phrase to describe this outing. The issue picks up right where the zero issue left off, with our hero the Captain on the run from the American government after being transported into 2013 from 1942. Another threat looms in the background as the descendant of one of Captain Midnight’s WWII Nazi foes has her own designs on capturing him as well. Williamson, both in this issue and in the Dark Horse Presents vignettes that were collected in Captain Midnight #0, does an effective job of establishing the tone of the title as a fast-paced, relatively light-hearted modern pulp hero adventure—think of 1980s pulp revivals like Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer or Chuck Dixon’s work on Eclipse Comics’ Airboy—that plays the action straight without becoming self-serious or mired in unintentional parody, allowing him to get away with having a femme fatale antagonist named “Fury Shark” and the occasional on-the-nose, expository dialogue like the following

timevortex_talk

Fernando Dagnino’s art is capable and in keeping with the writing, less concerned with technique and naturalism than with propelling the plot forward and showcasing the action. The switch from Victor Ibáñez and Pere Pérez’ art from issue #0 struck me as slightly jarring, however.

How long Williamson and Dagnino can maintain the book’s fun, Nazi-bashing appeal without descending into tired trope-laden mediocrity is a fair question to ask—they aren’t exactly exploring new ground here—but for now, Captain Midnight is a welcome entry to the comics field that thankfully and to the ultimate benefit of stylistic diversity, resists the trend of the deconstruction of the classic adventure comics hero archetype.

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Red Sonja, Vol. 2 #1 (Dynamite, $3.99)

  • RedSonjavol201prev_001Story: Gail Simone
  • Art: Walter Geovani
  • Colors: Adriano Lucas
  • Lettering: Simon Bowland
  • Cover: Nicola Scott
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: I really wanted to like this. I did. Really. While Gail Simone is not my favorite writer, she is a good writer, so having her do Red Sonja seemed like it could work out well. I do not buy into the theory that a female writer will be better at writing females. A good writer is a good writer, regardless of gender.

There’s nothing here that sets Simone’s Red Sonja apart from other versions. Nothing makes it stand out. There’s very little in the way of depth to Sonja. She comes across as just “the female Conan” but with less character development. I don’t think that’s what Dynamite was going for.

The plot is kind of odd. The old king needs help so he sends a couple of weird girls off to find Sonja so she can come back and train the women and children of his kingdom, to form them into an army to defend his kingdom because a plague took all his male soldiers. Yeah, just a bit odd. The set-up is pretty formulaic as well: The old people the king rescued Sonja from are the same ones attacking his kingdom.

There’s a lot of weird dialogue and moments in this issue. The king and his soldiers act like they’ve never seen women before (You can see this scene in the preview). The two twin ladies, who don’t give their names to Sonja, have some of the most groan-worthy dialogue I’ve read in a while. Parts of this feel like a caricature of fantasy stories.

But the worst part is the art by Geovani. The rendering itself is not all that bad, he has a good handle on figures’ anatomy, basic forms are good and he pays attention to details. He doesn’t draw Sonja with overly large breasts, which in her chain mail bikini I can easily see a lot of artists doing. His art falls apart in the storytelling. There are some confusing layouts that don’t allow the story to flow smoothly. It’s rough. I hope that more issues between Simone and Geovani help smooth out those problems.

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BarCode: Catalyst #1 of 6 (River Comics, $2.99)

  • RiverComics_BarcodeIssue1-001Story: J.M. Thakar
  • Art: Jackie Diaz
  • Additional story elements: Jonathan Blitstein

Zedric Dimalanta: There’s no denying the creative ambition and intriguing premise of neophyte comics creators J. M. Thakar and Jackie Diaz’ Barcode: Catalyst, the first six-issue cycle in a series intended to run for 18 issues, although their execution of that ambition falls short. Something of an alternative history/science-fiction/disaster fiction mash-up, the book’s setting is an Asian archipelago modeled after the Philippines caught between the man-made disaster of World War II and the natural disaster of an asteroid-triggered volcanic eruption. The decision to replace the Southeast Asian nation with a fictionalized stand-in whilst keeping all the other sovereign players in the region the same is an odd one, although I am giving Thakar the benefit of the doubt and assuming that this substitution will serve some narrative purpose. The script is functional, but serves as little more than a delivery device for exposition and the unnecessary spelling out of character motivations, although there are a few moments where more subtle character interactions lend a naturalistic flair to the dialogue. Worth noting is the romance between protagonist Dr. Verma and his wife, which feels genuine and not at all forced, in contrast to other elements of the writing.

More problematic is Diaz’ art, which incorporates traditional 2D illustrations and 3D CGI models. The combination never looks organic or seamless, with the differing qualities of the textures, lighting, and rendering resulting in a jarring, off-putting aesthetic. Characters are stiff and too often, panels are restricted to straight ahead medium shots with little variety in their composition. And while I am inclined to give the creators some leeway in terms of the inaccuracy of the technology shown in the comic—characters are shown using what are clearly Cold War-era helicopters early in the issue—the inconsistency with how that technology is depicted is too obvious to ignore: In one panel, characters are shown boarding a Mil Mi-6 helicopter only for that helicopter to be inexplicably depicted as a Mil Mi-14 four panels later before reverting to a Mil Mi-6 in a subsequent page. It’s an oversight that upends the internal logic of the narrative and undermines the reader’s suspension of disbelief, not to mention that it calls into question the level of craft applied to the art.

There’s the promise of an entertaining comic book, an intriguing one even, at the core of BarCode, but I just can’t recommend it based on what I’ve read and seen in the series’ first issue.

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Ballistic #1 (Black Mask, $3.50)

  • ballistic01prev0Story: Adam Egypt Mortimer
  • Art: Darick Robertson
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Troy Osgood: Hmmm… I’m not quite sure what to feel about this comic. I love Darick Robertson’s art. Always have, ever since his New Warriors days. He’s one of the few artists that having his name on it, makes the book an instant buy for me. As for this book…

The world is interesting. Visually, it’s crazy. This is like Robertson’s work on Transmetropalitan on acid. It’s a mix of high technology and organics. The columns in a bank are spines, the air conditioner is alive and uses eyes to see the rooms. There’s an organic talking gun that plugs into the protagonist’s arm. There is a lot of crazy stuff in this comic.

But is it good? I don’t know. I’m still not sure how I feel about this. The level of weirdness won’t be for everyone, but it’s a damn good looking book. There is a ton of detail and so much to see. I have to spend a long time on every page taking it all in. It’s a crazy world that Mortimer and Robertson have built. I’m just not sure if it’s too crazy for me.

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3 Guns #1 of 6 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99)

  • 3guns_01_coveraWriter: Steven Grant
  • Artist: Emilio Laiso
  • Cover: Rafael Albuquerque
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

I hesitate to call 3 Guns an example of unpretentious comics craft since doing so suggests all manner of pejorative connotations about the work and its necessary counterpart of “pretentious” comics but I can’t really think of a more appropriate adjective for the first issue of the sequel to 2007’s 2 Guns. 3 Guns, like its predecessor, is an unapologetic work of pure popular entertainment in the Hollywood odd couple/buddy cop movie mold that reunites the undercover agent protagonists from the original miniseries in a new situation ripe with potential for mistaken identity hijinks. 3 Guns‘ script and plot (what plot can be gleaned from the first issue, anyway) are loaded with all manner of stylistic baggage—there’s a quippy quality to the dialogue, ridiculously convenient coincidences galore, and a violent-but-not-too-violent character to the action—that practically scream PG-13 summer movie fare but Grant is an experienced enough writer that he can use reader expectations for the purpose of streamlining the storytelling and reducing the need for explicit exposition. As with 2 Guns, my interest in 3 Guns is rooted in it being a demonstration of practiced comics craft and storytelling technique, not in whatever original and artful story ideas it may or may not have. To that extent at least, 3 Guns succeeds.

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